Wednesday, June 22, 2011

President Harrison on Preaching

I was never a big fan of The Lutheran Witness - until recently, that is!  It has had a makeover, both in terms of its appearance and layout and in its theological relevance, rigor, and readability.

I'm impressed!

The current issue not only has a great piece by Rev. Christopher Hall about the Athanasian Creed, there is also the president's column here. The Reverend President Harrison has done the church a great service with this article.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about what preaching is and what preaching isn't. 

Preaching is not the imparting of information (though there is certainly a didactic (teaching) element in preaching).  Preaching is not entertainment (though there is certainly a way of delivering a sermon that is not tedious or trying to the hearer).  Preaching is not there to make you feel good about yourself or improve your self-esteem. Nor is preaching "about the gospel."  Rather, preaching "is" the gospel - as both Dr. Sasse and his pupil President Harrison remind us - not to mention St. Peter whose Acts 3 sermon is highlighted in this article.

One of my classmates - a friend and fellow LCMS pastor from a different district than in which I serve - has gotten a lot of grief from his parishioners because he preaches too much using the word "you."  His hearers do not like it when he tells them "you are sinners" and "you need to repent" (though they do not apparently have a problem when he also tells them "you are forgiven").  They even reported this to the district president who did not defend this pastor, but rather took the other side of this issue.  My friend and colleague, a faithful preacher of Christ and of the gospel of forgiveness, was scolded for doing too much "you" preaching.

Thanks be to God that President Harrison understands and articulates that real Christian preaching is "you" preaching.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Athanasian Creed on Issues, Etc.

This is the week of Trinity Sunday, and in many denominations of Western Christianity, it is customary to recite the Athanaisian Creed.

Roman Catholics tend to bury it in the Office of Prime, a prayer office typically said by monks and nuns.  Some so-called "high church" Anglicans use the Creed on Trinity Sunday.  But where we find its use really blossom is among Lutherans - where it is not only the third document in our 1580 book of confessional writings known as the Book of Concord, but where it is also traditional to recite this ancient confession of  faith during the Trinity Sunday Divine Service.  In fact, the constitution of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod requires that the "Synod, and every member of the Synod" accept the Athanasian Creed and must do so "without reservation" (page 13).

You can find it in your Lutheran Service Book on page 319.  And here is a Lutheran Witness article (by the Rev. Christopher Hall) from the current (June 2011) issue on the Athanasian Creed (also known by its Latin name, Quicumque Vult).

In some ways, the Athanasian Creed is shocking.  It opposes the popular modern view that all religions are equal, that any god is God by any name.  The Creed makes the unequivocal case that salvation is dependent upon holding "the catholic faith."  The word "catholic" is a Greek transliteration of the words κατά (kata) and όλος (holos) that mean "according to the whole."  It points us to the wholesome, holistic faith of the apostles and of the whole Church - as opposed to the private opinions of this individual or that person or of this cult or that sect - whose theology stands at odds against the church in its collective confession.  The opposite of "catholic" is not "Protestant," but rather "heretic."  According to the Athanasian Creed, the catholic faith can be boiled down to two main overarching concepts: the Trinity and the Incarnation.  This is described as "the Christian truth" and "the catholic religion."  And the Creed makes it clear: there are no non-catholics in heaven: "This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be saved."

The Creed also concludes with this sobering warning: "Those who have done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire" - which if misunderstood, could be interpreted to be "works righteousness" and a repudiation of salvation by grace alone.  Actually, the conclusion of the Creed is a paraphrase of our Lord's equally sobering warning.  Jesus does not say that salvation is a result of works.  Rather we know that good works flow out of a living faith, just as good fruit appears on healthy trees, and diseased fruit grows from rotten trees.  It is good for us to hear this warning lest we become complacent and begin to take advantage of God's grace and to forget why we were created and for what purpose we were saved by grace!

Issues, Etc. has recently concluded an outstanding four-part interview with the Rev. William Weedon on the Athanasian Creed.  You can listen here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sermon: Holy Trinity and Baptism of Vanessa Wooten – 2011

19 June 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 3:1-17 (Isa 6:1-7, Rom 11:33-36)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“I bind unto myself today
The Strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.”

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

“Whoever desires to be saved must, above all, hold the catholic faith…. And the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity.”

“Blessed be the Holy Trinity
And the Undivided Unity:
Let us give glory to Him
For He has shown mercy to us.”

“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

We heard all of these confessions of our faith today, on this remarkable day, this Lord’s Day, this day of victory for the Triune God and His redeemed, this day of reckoning for Satan and the demons and those who serve them.

Indeed, one confession we might add to the above is the Psalm: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For every Lord’s Day is a day made by God, a day of rejoiceful victory over sin, death, and the devil, a day to honor the Holy Trinity, a day to honor and sing praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us because the Father so loves us and desires to save us, sending the Holy Spirit to comfort us and bring us to Christ.

For Trinity Sunday is not just a day to dust off old theology books and try to explain the unexplainable – for indeed, we confess with St. Paul: “How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord…?” We are not here to make sense of God, but rather to confess His majesty. Nor are we here merely to confess His unsurpassed majesty, but to rejoice in His unbounded mercy! “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”

Dear friends, this is why the confession of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is important. This is why Christians around the world slow down and confess the longest of our creeds on this day. This is why the Church was willing to spend centuries fighting against the heresies that would belittle our God into an idol, that would reject the divine revelation of God in His Word that He is indeed Trinity in Unity, that would spurn the God whose will it was to come in the flesh to save us. For a God that is not Triune is not our Savior, Such a god would not come to us as one of us incarnate, and would certainly not preach that, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…. You must be born again.”

Indeed, we worship a God who reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And what’s more, a God who commissions His Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is one name, yet three persons, “neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.” For in this Trinitarian Baptism, in this confession of the Triune God, the Trinitarian Christian truth is proclaimed: “Whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

Vanessa, our dear sister in Christ, in your baptism you have bound unto yourself today the strong name of the Trinity. Today, the promise of God to save you has been signed by the cross, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and delivered by the water and the Word according to our gracious Lord’s command and promise. Today you have been given the gift of the sign of the cross, to be made on good days and bad, in times of special piety and prayer, and on those days when it seems you have no faith at all and no prayer comes from your heart. For in those times, the Holy Spirit will do the praying for you, just as Christ has done the saving work on the cross for you, and the Father has created you and loved you so as to send you His Son and His Spirit to redeem you.

And if you feel unworthy of such an honor, of such grace, of so great a gift: that’s a good thing. For not one of us is worthy of God’s grace. Not one of us is worthy of His love. Not one of us is worthy of His blood shed for us. But more important than being worthy, we are loved by the Triune God. That is the Christian truth, the truth of our baptismal faith. That is what it means to be “born again,” to be “born of water and the Spirit.”

And it is the love of Christ that compels us, that saves us, that draws us to the Most Holy Trinity in spite of ourselves.

For here in this holy place on this holy day, we are all like the holy prophet Isaiah: sinners unworthy to stand before God. In his confession of sins, he said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.” And rather than give Isaiah the punishment he deserved, the Lord gave him the mercy he did not deserve: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

“Your sin atoned for.”

Our sins have been atoned for by God’s mercy, through Christ’s blood, by means of the cross, lavished upon us in Holy Baptism carried out in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The angels sing the praises of God for His majesty; the saints in heaven praise the Lord for His mercy; the devil and his hordes of demons cry out in defeat; and we, the Church on earth, purchased by the blood of the Lamb, join with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven, singing with Isaiah: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”

Dear friends, the unfathomable glory of the Trinity is the unseen glory of the cross. That glory is not manifest in what is unknowable, but is shown rather in what is known to be true from God’s Word. We cannot understand the inner workings of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we are indeed baptized into that one “strong name of the Trinity,” the only name with the power to give us forgiveness, life, and salvation.

On this Holy Trinity Sunday, this holy baptismal day, we join with all the holy baptized from every time and place, in heaven and on earth, in time and in eternity, in singing praise to the Most Holy Trinity:

“O holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth;
Your majesty and glory fill the heavens and the earth….
O all majestic Father, Your true and only Son,
And Holy Spirit Comforter – forever Three in One….
May we with saints be numbered where praises never end,
In glory everlasting. Amen, O Lord, amen!”

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

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"It's like Nemo on your sushi tray... Who woulda thought? It figures."

According to this article, the City of San Francisco is considering a ban on pet goldfish since "fish are often mass bred under inhumane conditions or stripped from the wild."

Meanwhile, according to this article the City of Los Angeles is interested in banning corn dogs for school kids and replacing them with (wait for it...): sushi.

So, some Californians don't want people to keep them alive in aquariums, but feeding them raw to school kids is a good idea.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against pet goldfish, sushi, or the State of California.  The confluence of these two news stories just struck me as ironic.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Stomp-stomp-clap, stomp-stomp-clap

Today, June 17th 2011, Leonidas Beane discovered "We Will Rock You."

I guess for a six-year old energetic boy, this is an irresistible anthem - as it is for sports fans and middle-aged classic-rockers the world over since Queen first blasted it out on the airwaves in 1977 (I was thirteen at the time).  Now Leo wants to sing it and play it on the piano. 

Below is the 1985 Live Aid (was that really 26 years ago?) rendition of the song with its "We Are the Champions" appendage that shows the high-energy polished performance of the band. Of course, Freddie Mercury had his issues - which ultimately led to his early death. But what a set of pipes (he could effortlessly cover four octaves) and what showmanship!

So, as long as there is any sports team anywhere that needs shot of adrenaline, and as long as somebody wins a championship in any sport played around the world, you will likely hear the "stomp-stomp-clap," Brian May's guitar virtuosity, and Mercury's soaring aria-like vocal punch ringing in your ears.

Or not.

After all, it's just pop music. But it sure is fun!

High Mass Without Communion, Part Deux (or Del Två)

Back in January, this post concerning communion frequency in Sweden as reflected through the pastoral eyes of Bishop Bo Giertz generated a good bit of discussion.  The Rev. Eric Andrae, the Swedish-born LCMS pastor, scholar, author, translator, and president of the International Giertz Society has provided some additional insight, which he has graciously permitted to be published here.  Pastor Andrae is perhaps the world's leading scholar on the life and writings of Bo Giertz.

[For the rest of this article, I'll meet you over at Gottesdienst Online where you will be free to comment]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scandinavian Conference on Lutheranism Online!

Here is something not to be missed - even if you missed it!

This was a conference on Scandinavian Lutheranism held June 6-8 at one of our sister seminaries in Canada - Concordia - St. Catharines (Ontario).  This has been a long time coming, as Scandinavian and American Lutherans have been becoming closer and closer over the past few years.  Indeed, the Lutheran world is shrinking, as faithful, confessional Lutherans from Kenya and Madagascar sing the same liturgy and partake of the same sacraments with their brothers and sisters from Siberia and Sweden.

Note that you can see photos as well as listen to the lectures as podcasts, or even watch them as videos!

This is what we could call an all-star line-up of Lutheran theology.  It's been my privilege since my time in seminary to become friends with, and follow the stories of, many of our Scandinavian brethren whose confession of the biblical and catholic faith has landed them in hot water - with the secular state as well as the rudderless bureaucrats from their own church bodies.  They are squeezed between the pincers of worldly power and churchly apostasy.  These men who serve as bishops, priests, and deacons - as well as the faithful laity, men and women alike, who feed on the Word and Sacraments from their pastors for the forgiveness of sins - are true heroes.  Year after year they proclaim and confess the Gospel, bringing light to a culture that decays and grows dimmer with each passing year.  And they do so with courage, integrity, and not without a sense of humor.

This conference is almost a homecoming for me, as it includes

  • Rev. Dr. John Stevenson, a dear friend and father in Christ who was the retreat speaker for Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church's congregational retreat in 2006.  The British-born Dr. Stephenson is also the general editor of the Confessional Lutheran Dogmatics series, holds degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham, and is a delightful teacher and churchman.  
  • Rev. Eric Andrae, another great friend, also spoke.  Pastor Andrae was also a retreat speaker at Salem Lutheran church - giving a version of his autobiographical lecture back in 2009.  It was a real joy, privilege, and treat to have heard his presentation.  Pastor Andrae, who was born in Sweden, is also the leading scholar on Bishop Bo Giertz, perhaps in the world.   
  • Rev. Matthew Harrison, the president of the Missouri Synod also spoke.  He was my first field work supervisor in seminary, and was the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church where I attended from 2000-2003, and where I was ordained in 2004.  President Harrison is the author, editor, or translator of many works pertaining to church history, Lutheran theology, and the Christian faith and life.
  • Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki was also one of my professors at Concordia Theological Seminary (who is in my ordination photo, second from the left) , a true Christian gentleman and rigorous scholar who demands as much of himself as he does from his grateful students.  Dr. Masaki was born in Japan, lived for a while in Norway, and continues to serve as professor of systematic theology (and oversees the STM program) at Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne.
  • Another speaker, Rev. Juhana Puhola, is a Finnish-born confessional pastor who was awarded the Sabre of Boldness in 2009.  He is the only presenter that I have not met nor know personally - although we have communicated by e-mail.  As one of the editors of Gottesdienst, I was on the board that voted to recognize his service to Christ, the Church, and the Gospel with the Sabre.  In fact, read here Pastor Puhola's moving nomination...

We recommend that the Rev. Juhana Pohjola (STM [CTS]), Dean of The Luther Foundation in Finland (Luther-Saatio; which is associated with the Missionary Province in Sweden and Finland), is awarded the Sabre of Boldness.
Not only does he support and supervise Lutheran pastors in their ministry of the Word, but he also actively opposes those leaders in the Church of Finland who are breaking down the faith and confession of our Lutheran heritage, instead of defending these gracious gifts of our Lord and Savior. 
 As an example of his noteworthy and courageous work in Finland, we would specifically like to mention an episode that occurred at a Sunday service in his congregation in Helsinki.  The bishop of Helsinki, Eero Huovinen, came to the service; he is a leading Luther scholar and a daunting man respected man throughout Finland. Rev. Pohjola took him aside in order to speak with him privately; this bishop not only ordains female pastors, defying the Word of God, but he even refuses to ordain confessional Lutheran theologians that will not compromise in this matter. After a short conversation, the bishop asked if Rev. Pohjola was going to refuse to administer the holy supper to him. Rev. Pohjola requested that the bishop would not put him in such an awkward position by coming to the altar.

Indeed, the bishop did not join the communicants, but afterwards, when all of it became public, the Rev. Pohjola was warned that he would be disciplined - for almost “disciplining” this renowned bishop. Actually, Rev. Pohjola never did withhold the supper from the bishop, since he did not come forward!  Nonetheless, Rev. Pohjola was given an opportunity to admit his “mistake,” to recant, if you will, but steadfastly refused.

As such, Rev. Pohjola was not permitted to serve as a pastor for three months. He was not allowed to celebrate in church, he could not preach, he could not wear his clerical collar in public. He could not officially take care of the flock assigned to him by God.

The situation in Finland for confessional Lutherans has become more difficult in recent years, and the aggressive harassment from the state, church leaders, and, especially, the media, requires a wise and courageous response as it is seen in the work of Rev. Juhana Pohjola and The Luther Foundation in Finland.

For any further questions in this matter, please contact us.

Submitted by Rev. Jakob Okkels, Rev. Erik A. H. Okkels, Rev. Eric R. Andrae.
21 January A+D 2009 

Rev. Juhana Pohola currently serves as a resident professor at St. Catharines and is the dean of the Luther Foundation in Finland.  He also took part in the historic consecration of Bishop as the Lutheran (Mission Province) Bishop Matti Väisänen of Finland.

What a great opportunity for those who were able to attend. And if you missed it like I did, thanks to technology, you don't have to miss the presentations.  Please keep your faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in your prayers as they continue to hold high the cross as a beacon of hope for the world.  And thanks to the faculty of St. Kitt's for hosting this conference!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Way to Go, Ohio!

Now here is the kind of thing I can support government doing - at least as long as the State gets a freewill donation to pay for the piece of paper that the proclamation is printed on and the governor uses his own pen to sign it.  Now that's what I call good government.  Just don't get too attached to it.

And it's hard to feel too sorry for a pampered kazillionaire athlete who says things like this about the people who make it possible for him to become the American version of royalty by playing a game with a ball.

But unlike paying taxes to the State, if you don't want to support the lifestyles of the professional athletic elite, you don't have to.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Libido Dominandi

Yet another account of what many will, no doubt, describe as TSA stupidity: the idea that TSA workers are low-paid simpletons who lack common sense.

I don't believe this is the case at all.  I believe this is rather a case of what St. Augustine called libido dominandi, the lust for domination.  It is the sinful desire to rule over other people, to bully, to use one's power to make other people do things or comply with orders.  And while there may be a million psychobabble reasons for such behavior, there really is only one explanation: sin.  People love pushing others around.  There is a little fascist inside every bearer of original sin.

This is a special temptation for those with government power and/or authority.  I saw it first hand as a corrections officer.  Of course, there are rules and there is authority.  But what causes a man (who otherwise seems easy-going and socially normal) to enjoy making as much noise as possible in the middle of the night every 20 minutes so as to deprive inmates of sleep?  Does it add to his quality of life or make society any safer?  The only thing that is satisfied by such actions is libido dominandi.

In our current climate, TSA agents are given a lot of power.  They have a captive audience, and they know it.  They have the ability to look at anyone they choose naked, simply on their word.  Likewise, they can select anyone they choose for what is euphemistically called a "patdown."  And what's more, they can threaten to fondle and grope, thus exercising power over people who are trying to avoid such treatment.

For the sinful "Old Adam," at least in many cases, this is just too much to resist.  In the case mentioned above, the TSA agents are obviously not keeping the planet safe for democracy by refusing to allow a parent to speak for his mentally disabled son, nor by seizing his toy plastic hammer and trying to convince everyone - themselves included - that this was in the interest of airline safety.

Technology has changed since the days of St. Augustine, but fallen human nature hasn't.

Green is the New Red?

Sermon: Pentecost – 2011

12 June 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 14:23-31 (Gen 11:1-9, Acts 2:1-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We in our sinful, fallen state are very good at one thing: taking that which is good and corrupting it into something which is bad. We do it all the time, and it explains much of the misery we see around us, the struggles we must endure, and even death itself. For death is the wages of sin, and sin is the corruption of that which God made perfect.

For example, language is a gift of God. We humans, created in God’s image, were equipped with ears and mouths so that we might communicate by words. And it is through the Word that God created all things: “Let there be… and there was….” But what do we do with this marvelous gift? Instead of hearing God’s Word, we open our ears to gossip, curse, and misuse God’s name. Instead of building up one another in Christ, we build monuments to ourselves like the Tower of Babel. Instead of obediently spreading around the earth, we concentrated in one place. Our use of language became so corrupted that God had to confuse our tongues in order to make us submit to His will.

Technology is also a gift from God. We have brains and the capacity to learn. We are created in the creative image of the Creator God. And yet, what do we use technology for? To build a tower of rebellion, to harness the power of the atom to slaughter innocent people by the millions, to put pornographic images in cyberspace, to tune in as comedians and respected media figures bring disgrace upon Christ and shame upon His Church, to create entertainments that take the place of preaching and God’s Word – all distractions from God’s grace.

When God confused our tongues to humble us, there was the added complication that it divided people into tribes unable to peacefully communicate with one another. Different languages means different cultures – and to sinful people, that means hatred, war, covetousness, ethnic strife, and the frustration of not being able to communicate. How many Americans become resentful when we are offered service in Spanish or when the voice at the other end of the phone bears an Indian accent? How many wars have been started because something was lost in translation? How many people never heard about the good news of Jesus Christ because of a language barrier?

And that, dear friends, is the good news of the miracle of Pentecost! The curse of Babel has given way to the blessing of the Holy Spirit’s descent upon the Church. The refusal of man to scatter to populate the world has given way to the obedience of the church to “go and make disciple of all nations.” The old tribal feuds and nationalistic pride have yielded to a trans-global and transcultural Church that is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, knowing no race or tribe or tongue, a unity under the headship of Christ.

"If anyone loves me,” says our Lord, “he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” That Word is accessible to Jews and Greeks, to Romans and Barbarians, to “mad dogs” and Englishmen alike, saying “we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” Our Lord makes His home in palaces and mud huts, in tents and igloos, in mansions and shanties. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit dwell in the hearts of those who believe and who confess the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – regardless of the language of that confession.

Our Lord also tells us in this troubled world yet plagued by wars and feuds: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” For we are not to be divided by tribe and tongue, race and culture – but rather we are to offer thanks and praise to God among every tribe, tongue, race, and culture for what the Lord has done for us, the entire world: “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”

For that is the source of true and lasting peace, eternal peace, between between men and between God and mankind. It is the peace of forgiveness, the peace of the reconciliation of the cross, the peace of the blood of Christ crying out for the builders of Babel and the builders of bombs. It is the peace of God that passes all understanding, poured upon us in gracious baptismal water, pronounced upon us in life-giving words of absolution, fed to us in the mystery and miracle of the Lord’s forgiving presence in the Holy Eucharist.

And yet, dear friends, the world (for whom the Lamb was slain, for whom the Lamb was sacrificed) still hates Jesus, despises the Church, and wishes to destroy the truth. The world still clings to the corrupting notions of the Serpent in the garden and the vainglory of the architects of Babel. And like a foreigner in the midst of people of another tongue, the world does not understand.

Pentecost was the Holy Spirit’s antidote to this lack of understanding, this barrier of language between men, and between God and mankind. In burning flames of purification and divine love, the Holy Spirit came to bring us the peace proffered to us by the Prince of Peace, who promises: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” For indeed, The Son has gone to the Father and He has sent His Spirit to convict the world concerning sin, concerning righteousness, and concerning judgment. And in that conviction stands the cross, calling to the world to repent, to seek the blood of Christ, to yield to the Spirit’s beckoning for life and salvation.

Dear friends, Pentecost is not just the fiftieth day after Easter. Pentecost is not only Acts 2. Nor is Pentecost something as shallow as the seeking out of spiritual gifts – real or imagined – to puff oneself up. Pentecost is the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel, in her relentless missionary work, in her day to day administration of the sacraments, and in the eternal reality we Christians confess concerning the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

And although we are still adept at corrupting that which is good, the Lord Himself is far more abounding in mercy to redeem that which is corrupted. And although death is the wages of sin, life is the wages of divine mercy. And by the Holy Spirit, may the Church continue in this proclamation and confession until the Lord returns. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Beautiful Custom of Unity from Russia

Here is an expression of "walking together" in the faith (which is what the word "Synod" means) as expressed by the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church from the "unofficial blog of St. Andrew's Congregation" in Novosibirsk.  There are many reasons why such an expression of unity among the clergy would not work in the Missouri Synod:
  • The synodically approved cross would likely be a magenta corporate logo with a registered trademark notification.  
  • The "confessional" types would condemn a cross without a corpus to be Nestorian.
  • No matter what the cross would look like, it would be politicized. 
  • It would become a "Formula X" issue that would bring out the secret desire of every Lutheran pastor to be Martin Luther nailing the theses to the church door and burning papal bulls while shouting "Freedom of the Gospel!" at the top of his lungs.
  • It would have to be made so as to clash neither with traditional clerical garb nor khakis and polo shirts.
  • It would be required for deaconesses, DCEs, DCOs and other "Ministers of Religion - Commissioned" to also be presented with the same synodical pectoral cross, thus ruining it.
  • To work in the U.S., there would have to be a place for decals honoring one's favorite college or NFL team.
But for our brothers in Russia, the priestly pectoral cross works out well, and it is a beautiful traditional expression of both the Holy Office and the unity of the congregations served by these men.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Culturally Backward?

We live in strange times - politically and culturally.  The Weiner Circus is just one example of something factual that is zanier than a Will Ferrell movie.  And here is an example of how various opinions are a cultural bellwether.

In fairness to Chris Mathews, he does make it clear that he personally finds congressman Weiner's antics to be, shall we say, not of a good ethic.  But on the other hand, I think he paints an accurate snapshot of the culture clash of the country and the reputation of those who still hold to an ethical standard at least in part pegged to Christianity: "people in the rural areas of this country who are Christian conservative culturally - you can say backward if you want...don't like this kind of stuff."

To much of the cultural elite, Christians in "flyover country" between the east and west coasts are considered "culturally backward" for disapproving of a married man taking pictures of his genitals and sending them to women. 

"Culturally backward."

Actually, it's the opposite.  People who do not approve of such things are normal - even if the majority - or at least only the upper crust of the opinion-makers - beg to differ. 

But by the same token, I think the antics of Ben Bernanke are far worse and ultimately will destroy more lives.  But then again, if his name had been more ironic, like Ben Counterfeiter, it might attract more media attention.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Why not check it out...

... and lock it in!"

This was one of the slogans of the late Sister Pearlee (Pearlee Toliver - 1918-2002), a Mississippi native and  Louisiana radio institution, whose program is now immortalized by way of vintage clips available on YouTube.

Above includes one of her legendary commercials for Matt City, a Monroe, Louisiana music store. You can currently find her spots for Specialty Sound (parts one and two), as well as Smith Furniture and Hill's Barbecue.  I suspect more are on the way, considering the number of recordings that were made and passed around during her thirty year reign as the Jewel of the Dial in Monroe.

Sister Pearlee went viral before anyone knew what that was.  Fifteen years ago, I was receiving cassette tapes of her unique radio programs in the mail .  When she died in 2002, NPR aired a tribute (which includes one of her commercials for a local bail bond company) that is worth a listen.  To the very end of her long life, she was spinning gospel records and hustling for sponsors.  In order to pay for her radio gig, she aired way more commercials than records - and her unique and quirky style made the ads the main reason to tune in.  Once you started, you simply could not stop listening.  She would glide effortlessly between sponsors in her deep South storytelling style.  She hawked everything from seafood ("If that seafood ain't fresh, Bubba don't open his doors") to menswear, auto repair, bail bonds ("Call Diddy Bop. Diddy Bop will be there in the next 15 minutes to get you out of jail"), and music stores - all local Monroe places of business.

And now, thanks to the Internet, Sister Pearlee can be heard and enjoyed around the world.  By all accounts, she was a devout and grand lady with a big personality and a work ethic that did not quit.  Here is a delightful excerpt from a book entitled Louisiana Faces: Images from a Renaissance that captures Sister Pearlee perfectly. 

She was the real deal, the Jewel of the Dial, my Christian friends, so why not check it out, and lock it in!

Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem

"The daughter of a high Communist official, herself a Christian, learned one evening that she must face the firing squad at midnight.  Executions were frequent, and death sentences were passed on paltry pretenses, often for revenge.

This girl, before going to meet the 'midnight bride' - as execution was known - held a last supper of oat gruel and water with her cell companions....

As the girl was taken out, she raised her voice in the Creed.  Passing through the vaulted gallery, it echoed from wall to wall.  The words were those we say in church.  But it was a different Creed, because she meant every word.  She went to death for the one God and was received into life everlasting."

~ Sabina Wurmbrand, The Pastor's Wife

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Actually, that is in the Bible, CNN

Ho hum.

Yet another "Debunk the Bible" piece in CNN.

The premise is fair enough: there are a lot of sayings people think come from the Bible but actually don't, such as "God helps those who help themselves" and "This too shall pass."  But in the midst of these rather dull "revelations" comes this:
"Those details may seem minor, but scholars say one popular phantom Bible story stands above the rest: The Genesis story about the fall of humanity.

Most people know the popular version - Satan in the guise of a serpent tempts Eve to pick the forbidden apple from the Tree of Life. It’s been downhill ever since.

But the story in the book of Genesis never places Satan in the Garden of Eden.

“Genesis mentions nothing but a serpent,” says Kevin Dunn, chair of the department of religion at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

“Not only does the text not mention Satan, the very idea of Satan as a devilish tempter postdates the composition of the Garden of Eden story by at least 500 years,” Dunn says.

Getting biblical scriptures and stories wrong may not seem significant, but it can become dangerous, one scholar says."

The problem with many scholars is that they're not very scholarly.  While it's true that the tree was not the Tree of Life, nor is there any mention of the fruit being an apple, and indeed, Genesis does not identify the Serpent as Satan - contrary to the title of the article "Actually, that's not in the Bible," well, actually, the identification of the Serpent with Satan is in the Bible.  Twice. See Rev 12:9 and 20:2.

I mean, is it really too much to ask of a Bible scholar to actually read the whole book?  Sadly, the level of biblical illiteracy is what allows slipshod scholarship and reporting to go unchecked, and people actually believe such nonsense.

Monday, June 06, 2011

New Siberian Lutheran Newsletter!

Here is the May 2011 issue of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society, including:
  • Part Two of "How Did I Become a Christian" by Leonid Tsibizov, the remarkable story of a young man's conversion
  • "An Interview with Pastor Igor Kizyaev" who conducts prison ministry in Siberia
  • "Winter Visitation in Siberia," an account of Bishop Lytkin's travels in the Siberian winter

As a reminder, St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Novosibirsk has a blog run by Fr. Pavel Khramov.  You can also check out the website of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) - note there is an option for English (see the English flag - the red cross on a field of white), the website of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Novosibirsk (the site is frequently offline), and the Russian-produced documentary about our sister parishes and brother pastors in Siberia: The Other Half of the Truth.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sermon: Exaudi – 2011

5 June 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 15:26-16:4 (Ezek 36:22-28, 1 Pet 4:7-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

“The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.”

In the eyes of the world, the recently deceased Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a hero. He helped people to avoid suffering. For in the eyes of the world, helping people to die rather than to suffer pain is a high act of moral compassion. And of course, compassion is a great virtue, as is trying to alleviate suffering. But at what cost? Should we “put people out of their misery” like we do animals – or does human life hold value even in suffering?

Martin Luther went so far as to consider suffering to be a “mark of the Church.” In other words, a church that is too comfortable is no church at all. For the Church is always attacked by the devil, and so suffering is always something that goes along with the Christian faith. Didn’t our Lord invite us to follow Him by also inviting us to take up our own cross?

And yet by contrast, the world mocks any suggestion that suffering may actually be noble. The world cannot understand our Lord’s teaching to turn the other cheek, to pray for our enemies, to forgive those who hurt us, and to count ourselves blessed when we are slandered and persecuted for the sake of the kingdom. Nor does the world understand one of the last words our Lord uttered in excruciating suffering on the cross: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” In fact, the word “excruciating” means literally the pain of the cross. And it is this cross we Christians take up, embrace, sign upon ourselves in remembrance of baptism, and look to with repentant joy – counting it a privilege to suffer for the sake of the Lord and His service, knowing that the Lord’s suffering was not in vain; that we are forgiven by means of His excruciating passion and death. And this is too much for the world to stomach.

Which is why there are those who count killing Christians to be a service to God – even as our Lord promised. In St. Paul’s day, the Jews persecuted the Christians. Later, Paul would himself be executed by the Romans. Roman Christians would one day suffer at the hands of Pagans. Christians would later suffer at the hands of other Christians, then at the hands of Muslims, Fascists, and Communists – all of whom count it a benefit to the human race to torture and kill Christians. Indeed, today marks the 716th day of captivity of Pakistani wife and mother Asia Bibi, who is also facing execution by hanging for the crime of being a follower of Jesus. Today is also the 3,718th day of imprisonment for a young Chinese woman named Li Ying – the niece of a pastor. She is not allowed to have a Bible, and instead works 15 hours a day making cheap exports that make their way to us here in America. Pastor Vahik Abrahamian has been imprisoned in Iran since last September, and spent his first 40 days in prison in solitary confinement and torture – all for following Christ. “Whoever kills you,” says our Lord, “will think he is offering service to God.”

The only way our brothers and sisters can suffer so courageously, still carrying forgiveness and peace in their hearts, is because of the Lord’s promise: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me.”

No one will suffer for a cause he doesn’t believe in. And while many will suffer for an evil cause, our brothers and sisters suffer for the sake of love, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of forgiving their enemies and praying for their captors, for the sake of Him who suffered and died and walked out of His own tomb. No suicide bomber or fanatical cult member can make the same claim. We Christians can suffer for the Lord because the Lord has suffered for us. We can love our enemies, because our Lord loved us even when we were His enemies. And yet, we are now reconciled with the Father. We are now at peace through the cruciform ministry of the Son. We are now made whole in the truth of the Spirit – who bears witness about the Christ whom the Church also confesses.

St. Peter teaches us that our faith is so radical, so countercultural, so at odds with the reasonable people of this world, that we should consider persecution to be business as usual: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as though something strange were happening to you,” says the apostle. He teaches us that what we should consider not being persecuted as weird. We should expect to be attacked, mocked, marginalized, lied about, or even imprisoned or put to death – as followers of Him who was Himself attacked, mocked, marginalized, lied about, imprisoned, and indeed put to death – even the excruciating death of the cross.

St. Peter counsels us: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may 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 rest upon you.”

Sabina Wurmbrand, the wife of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand (both of whom were imprisoned and tortured for many years by Communists for no reason than that they were Christians) wrote about her time in prison with women of every walk of life – from prostitutes to nuns. On one occasion, she asked the nuns if they were permitted to sing hymns in prison. Sister Veronica said: “We are allowed to sing, and they are allowed to beat us” as Sister Sophia showed Sabina her many bruises and scars. They counted it a privilege to suffer for, and with, their Lord who suffered for them and gave His own life as a ransom for them and for many in order to reconcile us to the Father.

And so why should we count it odd to suffer far less than these for our own confession of faith? Certainly we share Luther’s confession that bearing the cross is one of the marks of the Christian. For even if we can make friends with the world to an extent for the sake of the Gospel, ultimately, the world still hates us, and it will turn on us like a rabid animal. For the world hated Him who came before us, who died for the sins of the world, who has called us to take up our cross and follow Him.

Dear friends, we make the sign of the cross not to remember the suffering of the cross, but to confess the benefit of the cross as delivered in our Holy Baptism. For the Lord Himself speaks through the prophet: “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you.” This is repentance! This is regeneration and rebirth!

This, dear friends, is more than the world can stand, more than the devil can stomach, more than our sinful flesh can bear. And this promise is the very essence of faith, and it is something we Christians hold onto, come what may: even the “fiery trial” of suffering and persecution. For we know what the cross means: not merely pain to be avoided, but rather reconciliation to be effected. In His cross we find our Savior, and in His death we find our life.

The world doesn’t approve of this any more than it approves of Him. For this is the way of the cross. It is the way of forgiveness, life, salvation, reconciliation, love, hope, joy, and peace – even in times of suffering. For even in our crosses, this is our refrain, this is the Church’s confession, this is our answer to all the pain and suffering of this fallen world: “God… be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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

Saturday, June 04, 2011

End It, Don't Mend It

Just in case you were wondering what the Federal (sic) Reserve (sic) bankers (sic) are up to these days - especially considering that China has wised up and is pulling the rug out from under the dollar (which is in a tailspin), the credit rating of the United States is about to plummet, Americans are more pessimistic than ever of the economy ever recovering, Alan Greenspan is frightened and is calling for big tax hikes, job growth is stagnant (half of the new jobs last month came from McDonald's!) while gold is traded at a rate of 3,795% higher than it was 40 years ago when Nixon "closed the gold window" and took the dollar off of its last remaining peg to gold.

They must really be busy working on important things pertaining to the economy.  They must be agonizing day and night trying to figure out how to stabilize the dollar.  They must be  assembling the finest economic minds to troubleshoot and correct what has led to the current crisis that threatens the American way of life and even the economic health of the world.  Right?  Well, not exactly.  Are you ready for this?  They're pushing a gay rights agenda.

Yes, indeed, that is what the Fed ought to be doing about now.

Well, to paraphrase a line from Dirty Harry in Magnum Force, if we were put back on the gold standard and could once again trust our currency, "I wouldn't care if the whole Federal Reserve..."

End the Fed!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Heroic Sisters in Christ

In my previous post about The Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, I mentioned that many of his books are available in the Kindle format for a dollar.  Similarly, his wife Sabina's autobiographical work The Pastor's Wife is likewise available for a buck.  It is also intriguing reading, especially after reading Richard's autobiographical accounts (Tortured for Christ and In God's Underground) - both also available for a dollar.

Obviously, their stories intertwine when they are together, and they diverge for the many years they were cruelly separated by their Communist captors. I began Mrs. Wurmbrand's book (I am currently 32% done), and it is fascinating, terrifying, enraging, saddening, and yet ultimately a triumph for the Gospel.  It is not maudlin, nor does Mrs. Wurmbrand either dwell on, nor minimize, the painful and cruel aspects of her incarceration.  She emphasizes the work and fellowship of Christians in the prisons and their work in confessing Christ - and she does so with grace, courage, quiet faith, and even humor.

One anecdote concerns a group of nuns Mrs. Wurmbrand befriended in Christian sisterhood and worship.  Nuns don't always get good press these days, and nearly every alum of Roman Catholic grade schools has anecdotes about screaming sisters wielding rulers and just generally being ugly.  Maybe these tales are completely true, maybe they are embellished, and maybe it's just the bad that stands in most people's memories.  I would imagine as is the case with most Christian charity, true good works are largely unseen.  Regardless of the impression most people have of nuns, one can't help admire the pluck of Mrs. Wurmbrand's friends under fire in her own words...

There were two Catholic sisters who glowed with calm goodness.  Uncomplaining, they looked after the older women.  They washed sore bodies.  They sang hymns.  They brought comfort where none was looked for.
"But are you allowed to sing?" I asked at our first meeting.
"We are allowed to sing, and they are allowed to beat us," Sister Veronica replied.
Sister Sophia, the younger of the two, showed livid bruises on her arms and neck.

I highly recommend Mrs. Wurmbrand's inspiring book, and if you can read books on a Kindle or Kindle reader, what a great opportunity to snag a whole suite of books written by Richard and Sabina for a dollar each!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Sufferology and the Christian Life

The Voice of the Martyrs is an organization that serves the persecuted church around the world in more than 50 countries.  It was founded by a Lutheran pastor, the Rev. Richard Wurmbrand (1909-2001) of Romania, who spent 14 years in Communist prisons. Pastor Wurmbrand was a prolific author, and (good news), a lot of his books are available for Kindle (or any Kindle reader, including a rooted Nook Color) for a dollar!

The full-color monthly newsletter of The Voice of the Martyrs is available free of charge by simply e-mailing VOM at the  This month's issue (June 2011) focuses on Christian persecutions in India.  The current issue contains an excerpt from Wurmbrand's devotional Reaching Toward the Heights from page 320:


"Many... will betray one another." ~ Matt 24:10

One of the darkest features of the Chinese church under communism has been the denunciation movement, when friends and members of the same family were turned against each other in betrayal and hate, everyone seeking only to save his or her own skin.  A "Christian" conference in 1951, attended by 152 Protestant leaders, asked the death penalty for the Methodist Bishop Chen and the Evangelist Ku-Jen-en.  The Communist Party was more gracious than the brethren.  They gave the bishop only five years of prison.  No one heard anymore from Ku.  He probably died in some jail.

The Christian pastor Lu Chih-Wei was attacked in a public meeting by his own daughter: "I now accuse my father, for the way in which he has blinded me, causing me to lose my standing with the people."  The father wept.  She continued. "Do you think that your false tears are able to bribe my conscience?"  

Good Christians, thousands of them, could be induced vehemently to denounce their beloved ones.  Brother Sun, editor of the Christian Farmer was subjected to such mental pressure that he committed suicide.  Only a few resisted, among them Watchman Nee and Wang-Min-Tao.

Your not becoming a traitor and your resistance in times of intensive trial depends on your earlier Christian life.  When, after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the Lord appeared to Ananias, He told him how to teach a new convert: "I will show him how many things he must suffer for My Name's sake" (Acts 9:16).

Every Christian church that does not teach its members the main religious science, sufferology, does not fulfill its duties.  Impose upon yourself mortification.  Learn to suffer and not to yield.  The time may come when you will need this knowledge.

This is the Theology of the Cross.  This is the reality that many of the world's Christians live in day in and day out.  Reading VOM is a real eye-opener about what being a follower of Jesus Christ is in much of the world.  Our brothers and sisters need our prayers and our support, and we need to be careful about taking our liberties for granted.  The Christian faith has always been a martyriological faith.

Sermon: Ascension Eve – 2011

1 June 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Acts 1:1-11

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

One of the signs of our broken and fallen world is our impatience. We don’t like to wait for anything. We know what we want, and when things are not the way that we want them, we want things to change, and we want them to change right now.

In the Garden of Eden, there was no reason for anything to change. There was contentment (at least until the Serpent appeared as the first expert in the field of marketing, to convince Eve of her own discontentment with her life). When all things were perfect, there was no reason for impatience.

But in today’s world, after 6,000 years of decay and corruption, and in a day and age of expected instant gratification – we want what we want, and we want it in nanoseconds.

The original apostles of Jesus had been His students for three years. After going through the agony of helplessly watching the Lord’s crucifixion, and joyously spending 40 days with Him in His triumphant resurrected state (“presenting Himself “alive to them after His suffering by many proofs”) – it was now time for the Lord to leave them and to send them into the world. They were ready to make disciples of all nations, going forth baptizing and teaching. It was time for the training wheels to come off, time for the tassel to be moved to the other side of the funny square hat, time for the next phase in the history of the world.

But not so fast! For Jesus “ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait…” They were being reined in, told to hold their horses, they were like soldiers familiar with the old saying: “hurry up and wait.” Although they thought they were ready, there was still one more thing they lacked, and that was the “promise of the Father” which Jesus repeated: “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

But the disciples were eager. After 400 years of waiting for the last words of the prophets of the Old Testament to be fulfilled by the King and the kingdom, the disciples were in no mood to tarry.

And so, “they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’”

“At this time” means “right now.” It reflects the same impatience of a child who wants the toy now and not after the eternity of eternities that is the time until Christmas or one’s birthday. And granted, the disciples were not asking for a toy or a truck or a trinket or a treasure – nevertheless, they longed for the kingdom and they did not want to wait for its appearance.

Dear friends, longing for the kingdom is no sin. In fact, what Christian doesn’t yearn for the coming of a new paradise of perfection, joy, and eternal life, a new heavens and a new earth, a Paradise Restored? Who doesn’t earnestly desire to see an end to all sickness, sadness, pain, suffering, anxiety, wars, hatreds, sin, and death itself? But what is sinful, brothers and sisters, is to impose our own will on God instead of, in the words of Dr. Luther, “letting God be God.”

Well-meaning Christians, eager for the Lord’s return, force the square peg of biblical prophecy into the round hole of their own misinterpretations and desires. And when these forecasts fail (as our Lord promises they will), the Church suffers and the faith of many falter.

The disciples have been commanded and exhorted to “wait” – and so must we. For “it is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.”

And yet, our Lord doesn’t leave us helpless. Look at the promise the apostles wait upon, the promise given to the Church, the promise we who have been redeemed and renewed lay hold of: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Dear brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit was given to the Church at Pentecost. And the Word was preached, sins were forgiven, demons were cast out, and eternal life was given to the people called out of darkness into the marvelous light. The Holy Spirit was given to the pastors of the Church of every age when they were called to forgive the sins of those who repent and to retain the sins of those who do not. And the Word is preached, sins are forgiven, demons are cast out, and eternal life is given to the people called out of darkness and into the marvelous light. And do not forget, the Holy Spirit was given to you at your baptism. And you hear the word preached. Your sins are forgiven. Your demons are cast out. And eternal life is yours as people called out of darkness into the marvelous light.

This promise is why we can wait, dear friends. And make no mistake – our waiting is hard. Just as the children of Israel waited through centuries of occupation and oppression. Even as generation after generation rose and fell with not a peep from God, no hint of the Messiah, and for all the world, the appearance that God had either forgotten His promise, or didn’t exist at all. And yet, the remnant of Israel held onto the promise for dear life, not knowing how or when the Lord would deliver.

But when the time was right, when their wait was over, according to the great and merciful will of God, the Lord Jesus took flesh, dwelt among us, preached, taught, gave us Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper, took our sins to His cross, gave His life for us, and rose from the dead to demonstrate His victory. Then He rose to take His place of honor at the Father’s right hand. And He has commanded us to make disciples, to preach the Word, to travel to the end of earth to declare this Good News and to spread the Kingdom. And yet, we wait. It is good to wait patiently for the Lord, for we know the promise and we know He will deliver on that promise. And when He does, it will be sudden, glorious, decisive, and final.

The disciples were left speechless when Jesus ascended into the heavens. For a while, all they could do was just stare into space. Sometimes we, overwhelmed by the changes and chances of life in this fallen world, can merely stare into space and wonder what we should do next, hopelessly trying to figure out God’s will and God’s schedules.

But listen anew to the angelic message to the apostles, to the Church of every time and place, and to all of us here in this holy house at this holy time: “Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into Heaven.”

That is the promise that gives us hope, even as the Holy Spirit gives us power, the cross gives us the kingdom, and the Word of God gives us the faith by which we are saved. We confess with St. John the apostle “Maranatha!” He is coming soon. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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