Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sermon: St. Andrew – 2011

30 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 1:35-42 (Ezek 3:16-21, Rom 10:8-18)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

St. Andrew has the honor to be the first of the Lord’s disciples. In fact, he was a disciple of John the Baptist and the one who introduced Peter to Jesus. St. Andrew was among the first to hear what we hear nearly every time we gather for worship: “Behold the Lamb of God!” St. Andrew truly bridges the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the lambs offered as sacrifices and the Lamb offered as the one all-availing sacrifice, between Israel’s twelve tribes and the Church’s twelve apostles.

And Andrew is drawn to Jesus. “Rabbi… where are You staying?”

What a glorious question? It is a question that leads us to the Church, the place where Jesus is found in our world, in our time, among us, in ways that we can see and hear and taste. What wonder that St. Andrew was able to not only seek out God in the flesh, but to call Him teacher – which is an invitation to be taught.

St. Andrew is a man of conviction and courage. He has just basically invited himself to lodge with God.

And how does our Lord react to this rather forward question (“Where are you staying?”)? “Come,” says Jesus, inviting the disciple, “Come and you will see.”

“You will see” says our Lord. And Andrew was to see indeed! He would see our Lord preach and teach, cure the sick, cast out demons, and even raise the dead. He would see a Man who is God and God who is a Man. He would see the ultimate wisdom, patience, kindness, joy, and suffering. And St. Andrew was indeed to partake in all of these as a disciple of Jesus Christ and as a preacher of the Word of God. He would see many brought to the Messiah.

Imagine how amazing it was to follow Jesus to His home and to lodge with Him! Imagine what it must be like to be under the same roof as Jesus, to see and touch the flesh of the Lord, to hear Almighty God speak His very word!

Dear friends, this is the privilege of being a Christian, of being in the Church. And yes indeed, they are one and the same. One cannot be a Christian apart from the Church any more than there can be an arm apart from a body. And there is no Church apart from Christ, as if a body can exist without a head. For where the Master is found, there are His disciples. And among the students, there is certainly the Teacher.

“Teacher, where are You staying?” That is what every Christian should be asking – not in an intellectual way, as if trying to Google some piece of trivia or to satisfy curiosity. No, this is something deeper. Indeed, when we Christians ask “Teacher, where are You staying?” we want to be where our Teacher, our Rabbi, is to be found. As students, we seek to learn. And we are learning something more profound than facts and figures. We are learning by living, and in Christ, we live in love, from love, for love, and by love – for God is Love, and Christ is God incarnate.

The love Jesus has for us is a perfect love, without ulterior motive, untarnished by selfishness and unblemished by a wandering eye. Our Lord’s love for us is pure and chaste, limitless, and unconditional – unlike the so-called love with which the world is enamored to death.

St. Andrew became the first of the disciples, the first to come to Jesus. He was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. And he brought his own brother, Simon Peter, to Christ.

And while much of our attention is focused on St. Peter, the leader of the apostles, the brash, the loud, the controversial, Peter the beloved writer of two epistles of the New Testament – we must remember that Peter was brought to Jesus by Andrew.

Everyone is brought to Jesus by someone. And Jesus calls preachers to draw men to Himself – preachers like Peter and Andrew. And both of these fishermen were themselves to become “fishers of men.”

For as Paul would ask: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

St. Andrew and His brother St. Peter were “sent ones,” that is to say “apostles.” St. Andrew brought the Gospel to his own household, as well as to a group of Greeks who sought Jesus. And St. Andrew would, like his brother and like his Master, die on a cross. Indeed, he was, like Ezekiel, a “watchman for the house of Israel.” As a preacher of Christ and forgiveness, he was also a preacher of why Christ came: sin. He called people to repentance, and he forgave those who repented. He baptized. He administered the Lord’s Supper. He is one of those of whom St. Paul spoke of: “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

This is why this first apostle’s feast day sets the first week of the new church year. For this new follower of the New Testament brings us anew, along with St. Peter, to Jesus. St. Andrew confesses with us and with Christians of every age: “We have found the Messiah.”

Dear brothers and sisters, we too have found the Messiah, the Christ, the One who is the Lamb of God, the Lamb who is God, the sacrifice which takes away our sins, and the very God of very God who was made Man. And along with St. Andrew, we seek to be where Jesus is, to stay with Him, abide with Him, lodge with Him, to be near unto Him and to hear Him. And this is why we are here in this place at this time, dear friends! We have been brought to Jesus by the apostles and those who came after them. And we too bring others to Jesus, who likewise gives them forgiveness and salvation and life.

Let us ever pray with St. Andrew: “Rabbi, where are You staying?” and let us ever seek to be with Him, learning from Him, and walking with Him, even if, as it did for St. Andrew, that road leads to a cross. For we too have “found the Messiah,” dear friends! We have found the Christ! Behold the Lamb! Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sermon: Ad Te Levavi (Advent 1) – 2011

27 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 21:1-9 (Jer 23:5-8, Rom 13:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord.”

Whenever a prophet says “Behold,” we can do one of two things: either we listen to the prophet, or we can listen to other voices. We are always listening to something, dear friends. We are either resonating with the Word of God, or our ears are being tickled by the noise of this world.

“The days are coming.” Some people didn’t believe Jeremiah when he spoke these words 26 centuries ago, they didn’t believe them 20 centuries ago when their fulfillment began with the coming of our Lord, and many do not believe them today as we wait for the completion of the fulfillment when our Lord returns.

Nevertheless, dear friends, the Lord speaks, and we do well to listen to that ever-faithful Word. “The days are coming when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king.”

And even though the people did not fully grasp what kind of a King they had in Jesus, they received Him the same way they had received his ancestor King Solomon – “humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” Solomon was to become a king great in might and power and wisdom – and yet rode into the city of his father David on a humble donkey. For Solomon’s greatness lay within himself as opposed to within the trappings of the external riches which he enjoyed.

So too, King Jesus, also a Son of David, a Son of Solomon, the very Son of God, rides into David’s Royal City on a donkey. And this King is great in might and power and wisdom – exponentially greater than His grandfather Solomon, for this King’s Father is God, and this King is God!

God riding on “the foal of a beast of burden.” God becoming a humble man to die for sinful men. God riding triumphant into Jerusalem to the cheers of Hosanna merely a week before being condemned to the jeers of “crucify Him!” And yet, in spite of their later treachery against the Lord, on the day of the advent of their King, they cried out: “Hosanna!” – which is to say that this King is also their Savior. They are right to cry out “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” For this King is to be blessed by those whom He has blessed, for He bears the blessed name of the Lord – the name that is above every name, the name by which we are saved, the name into which we are baptized, the name through which we have eternal life – the name that is to be spoken with reverence and worship and yet with joy and jubilation! All hail King Jesus!

This King has come to save His people through the cross, though they would refuse to save Him from the cross. This King has come to die upon the cross for all people whose sins have placed Him on the cross. This King has come to forgive the sins and bring to life of all of us who put the One without sin to death. This King has come to conquer – not in warfare to lord over and enslave people, but rather in peace to live and die in perfect humility in order to liberate humanity.

Indeed, this is a King greater than David and greater than Solomon. This is a King like none other, and His Bride the Church continues to receive Him with royal pomp and circumstance, with thanks and praise, with reverence and awe. And, dear friends, we wait for His return.

And yet, even in our waiting for Him to return, He abides with us in the great mystery of His Word and His sacraments. For this King’s Word is not just Law, but reality. This King’s Word is not merely a command for His subjects, but life for His beloved people. This King’s Word is a Word of forgiveness, life, and salvation. This King’s Word draws us into His kingdom as fellow heirs and rulers with Him in the promise of a new heaven and a new earth!

And so we wait, dear friends, we wait in anticipation and joy, in praise and in glory. We continually sing “Hosanna” to our Savior King week in and week out when we gather around the same flesh and blood as those who “cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” We too are filled with joy to hear the royal announcement: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as we hail Him at our altar and receive Him into our very bodies. We too can hardly contain our excitement as He draws near to us.

The anticipation of Christmas – especially from the point of view of the Lord’s beloved little ones – is a flicker of the kind of joyful expectation we should have for the return of our Lord. For no matter how tired and overwhelmed we are, no matter our pain and depression and loneliness, no matter how burdened we are by sin, death, and the devil – we join the pilgrim throng on the streets of Jerusalem and throughout the world singing “Hosanna” and cheering the ever-nearer approach of our Lord and King. Each year we are a year closer to His return and His re-creation of our bodies, our world, and our universe as they were meant to be before creation was trodden down and corrupted by sin.

This is why St. Paul’s warning is a fresh today as it ever was: “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” We do not wait in gloom and sorrow, but in joy and hope. This, dear friends, is what empowers us to “walk properly” and to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”

The Lord is just around the corner, and He is calling us, dear brothers and sisters, calling us to follow Him, to wait for Him, to be healed by Him, to be made anew in forgiveness and life – awaiting the return of Paradise in a glorious new heaven and earth that has no end.

This is the Advent, the coming of the Lord, foretold by the prophets of old, played out in the coming of our Lord into Jerusalem, and yet to be fulfilled in the return of our Lord in His triumphant return!

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord.”


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve – 2011

23 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Deut 8:1-10, Phil 4:6-20)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We all know we should be grateful. We are all taught to say “thank you.” We all know that there is something terribly wrong when a person is an ingrate. But with God, this is not just a matter of being polite.

For unlike us, God is not concerned about His own feelings or His ego. God is perfectly all-loving. And so when the Lord speaks through St. Paul to tell us: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” it must be for something other than not hurting God’s feelings or for us not to look like a social oaf. In fact, St. Paul completes the thought by saying that as a result: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So when we “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving” and “call on the name of the Lord” – it is really for our benefit, not to give God a big head.

What is it about gratitude that is so important? After all, we have already received the benefit of God’s grace, haven’t we? Moses recounted to the people how God had already promised to bring the people “into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…. And you shall eat and be full.”

Indeed, this promised land could well describe our own America – for we lack nothing and we most certainly “shall eat and be full” – especially tomorrow!

So what difference does it make if we are grateful or not? What does it matter to us if we pray? As we confess with Luther in the Small Catechism: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

Dear friends, when we receive with thanksgiving, we confess that we have indeed received unworthily. We acknowledge God’s love for us, and we accept these gifts of God on faith. And as we all know, faith is important! Faith is our lifeline to continue receiving these gifts. For, dear brothers and sisters, apart from faith we can do nothing. Apart from faith we have no hope. Apart from faith we have no life in us! And so, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving is a sacrifice made in faith, the faith with which we commune with the living God, the faith through which we are saved.

And this, dear friends, is the work of Christ! He is the Victim and the Priest; He is the Host and the Feast; He is our Life and Salvation. To Him belong thanksgiving, because He is the Giver of every good gift. And He is the Gift itself!

Indeed, the Lord Jesus cured ten lepers – the grateful and the ungrateful. He took away their sickness, their shame, gave them the gift of life, and restored to them that which was lost. He did this through His Word and His presence in the world. And only one returned in thanksgiving, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

This man received God’s grace in faith – genuine saving faith. And this man offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord. He comes to where Jesus is found in His flesh and in His Word, fulfilling promises, healing, saving, and strengthening faith. This man came to Jesus to offer thanks and praise to the One who saved Him! And he, not Jesus, is the beneficiary. It is his faith that is strengthened by Christ’s faithfulness.

Our Lord observes: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Our Lord is not concerned with etiquette or even with His own feelings. For listen to the next thing the Lord pronounces, dear friends. “And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”

Dear brothers and sisters, we all have much for which to give thanks. Did you just draw a breath of air? God created an atmosphere with just the right mix of oxygen. By means of a complex series of electrical impulses and muscular contractions, you pulled just the right amount of air into your nostrils and windpipe, led into your lungs and air sacs, transferring just the right amount of oxygen through the microscopic walls of your capillaries, enriching your blood to nourish every cell in your body, exchanging oxygen for wastes, which are returned in the same bloodstream to be exhaled as carbon dioxide through your nose. And you live to draw another breath. And if this process is interrupted for even a few minutes, we die. The Lord watches over us in “plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” In the spirit of thanksgiving, we learn to depend on the Lord and “in whatever situation to be content.”

We live in a country where most people around the world would like to live. We are free to come and worship the True God without fear of persecution. Even the poor among us are well-fed and live in luxury compared to the vast majority of the world’s people. We are blessed to have homes, cars, vacations, clothing, health care, televisions, entertainments, conveniences, technology, temperate weather, and many other things we pray for when we ask for “our daily bread.” And most of all, we have salvation through the blood of Christ who saves us at the cross and delivers salvation to us in His Word and in His sacraments! We can, like the Tenth Leper, approach Jesus, adore and worship Him, thank Him, and receive Him in His flesh and in His Word. And we come, unworthy as we are, to this rail where He blesses us and proclaims anew the forgiveness of sins, granting communion with the Most Holy Trinity, and bestowing upon us eternal life.

What more could we ever want or need in this body and life, dear friends! What more could we ever desire at this time and in this place?

Let us live each day of our lives in fervent and humble gratitude for all that our Savior has done for us, continues to do for us, and will do for us unto all eternity! Let us realize that our faith – which is itself a gift of our Savior – is a faith that has made us well! Let us continually offer our lives as thanksgiving, enjoying the gifts of God – both temporal and eternal. Let us pray every moment of our lives, praying with every breath we draw, praying with gratitude and thankfulness for Him who gave everything for our sakes.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 20 - July 16, 2011

Visit: Yekaterinburg

Father Daniel and I slept in a bit and went to the hotel's breakfast.  It was a very western buffet meal that included sausage, rice, cream of wheat (which looked not unlike grits and jambalaya), also bread and a hard-boiled egg.  I also had a coffee with milk.  There is a TV on in the dining room which has what seems to be a 24-hour news channel tuned on.

Father Sergey picked us up and drove us the short distance to the church.

We met several people - including Deacon Victor Shtraube (from Chelyabinsk) and his expecting wife!  I spoke with a young layman about 25-years old or so.  He speaks English though not fluently.  His name is Vadim, and he lives in Siberia in the city of Kurgan between Yekaterinburg and Omsk.

He's a member of Father Sergey's parish (Sts. Peter and Paul) and has a 6-hour bus commute to attend church on Sunday.  His parents are atheists, though his grandmother was Russian Orthodox.  He had been baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, but was never able to understand the liturgy because of the language barrier (Russian Orthodox liturgies are not conducted in Russian, but rather in Old Slavonic).  He stumbled upon a children's Bible, and that set him on the course to become a Lutheran.

I have a cup of tea.  Father Sergey shows up with a half-liter bottle of Mountain Dew for me.  My Russian brothers are sensitive to my caffeine addiction, and they genuinely care about my comfort.

We have a brief prayer service along the lines of Daily Prayer according to our Lutheran Service Book (LSB) hymnal.  Father Sergey is dignified as he leads prayer.  I'm seated in one of the small pews next to an older woman wearing a head scarf.

I believe my friend Vladimir (see page one of this Siberian Lutheran Mission Society newsletter, "A Lutheran Soul") - who speaks very good French - has arrived.  Father Daniel has begun his lecture.  We will have two hours each today.

After an hour, we take a break.  I met Vladimir, and gave him a small gift: a fridge magnet from New Orleans which has some French on it.  I explain to him that le français est une langue officielle d'état de la Louisiane, et il y a beaucoup de personnes qui parle français dans notre état (French is an official language of the State of Louisiana, and there are many people who speak French in our state).  We chat back and forth in French, as I am certain that I've butched the language.  I am, however, amazed at how much I am able to understand as Vladimir speaks, though my own spoken French is terribly rusty.  I think being immersed in a non-English environment has stimulated the linguistic part of my brain (then again, maybe it was the Mountain Dew...).  Vladimir is quite fluent and enjoys speaking French as much as I enjoy hearing it.

In fact, it feels good - liberating, actually, to be able to speak in another lingua franca of the world, to be enjoying conversation with Vladmir in a language that is native to neither one of us, with neither one of us relying on a translator.  As we chat, we are speaking with more rapidity.  It's a great encouragement to grow in understanding and fluency in multiple languages.

After Dan concludes his lecture, we speak to the lady sitting next to me (our translator, as I will learn later, is Evgeny, a young guy who has only been speaking English for about a year and a half).  Her grandfather was a Lutheran pastor who was executed by Stalin.  He had served in the Volga region.  As a young woman, she wished to go to medical school, but was not permitted to study because her grandfather had been condemned as an "enemy of the state."  She was mocked as a student because of her Christian faith, which she retained even after all that her family had suffered.  I asked her to write her name for me, and she wrote in my little notebook "Альвина" - the letters of which I could not read very well in their cursive form.  Father Alexey later rendered this into Latin letters for me as "Alvina."  She is more commonly known by the diminutive form "Ала" ("Ala").  The German form of her name is "Albina" - and although I did not make the connection at the time, the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society had run a fascinating three part article telling Albina's story - which you can read here: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

It was a great honor to have my picture taken with Albina.

Father Alexey gives his lecture on Romans.  We break for lunch, and a large group of us walks over to the Cafe Dadazh (where we went yesterday) - where we have a very typical Russian "business lunch" with a bit of Asian influence, consisting of salad, soup, and a main dish of chicken and rice.  We also drink a peach soda - shared by the four of us at our table - served in very small glasses - and we finish with tea.  The salad is dry (in a good way).  No glop.  The soup has some kind of seafood or fish in it.  It reminds me of New Orleans.  I'm seated with Father Alexey, Vladimir, Vadim, and another young guy named Evgeny (who previously served as my impromptu translator in my chat with Albina).  It turns out that he is a 4th year Orthodox seminarian.

After lunch, Father Alexey concludes his lecture.

I begin my Augsburg Confession lecture at about 4:00 pm and go on until about 6:00 with a break after about an hour.  My listeners seem engaged - especially Evgeny.  I cover the history part and I get through Article 8.

When I field questions, one attendee raised the question of the validity of a baptism conducted by a woman "pastor."  I answered that my pastoral practice is to treat such "baptisms" as outside the church.  One ELKRAS attendee (ELKRAS is the German missionary denomination in Russia, a more liberal body that "ordains" women), a young pastor named Dennis, became quite agitated.  I calmly confessed what I believe and what my pastoral practice is.

I was a little concerned, not wanting to offend my hosts, but Father Alexey assured me that my answer is actually the same answer as the position of the SELC.  To make things more interesting, we will be traveling to Dennis's congregation to speak to them on Tuesday evening.

Afterward, Fathers Alexey and Sergey take Dan and me to McDonald's.  It looks similar to its American cousin, only with Cyrillic letters.  Russia has similar language laws as Quebec, and this regulates the amount of English that can be used on signage.  I don't know how Traveler's Coffee gets around this.  The McDonald's sign looks like this: Макдоналдс - a direct transliteration.  I order the equivalent of a Quarter Pounder, known is Russia as a Royal Cheeseburger (Роял Чизбургер).  In Russia, you have to pay extra for condiments.  Dan and I both order "large" drinks.  The clerk says something in response to Father Alexey, who looks at me gravely and says: "Uh, Father Larry, he says that the large drink is a liter."  Of course, this is considerably smaller than the large in the U.S. (which explains why Americans are considerably larger than Russians).  Father Daniel and I, unfazed by the liter, laugh and confirm our order with Alexey.  Also, there are no ice in the drinks.  I never saw an ice machine in my time in Russia.  I also believe one of the staff was scolding me for taking pictures.

The four of us (Dan, Alexey, Sergey, and I) go outside to eat under one of the red and yellow umbrellas.

Next, we make an excursion to the "Alcohol Supermarket" subtitled: "Magnum" where Dan shops for cognac - which is of very high quality and considerably cheaper than in the states.  He has promised to bring back a bottle for a fellow pastor back home.

Afterward, our Russian brothers drop us off back at the hotel.

Dan would like to buy another bottle of Armenian cognac (Ararat brand), and I need some batteries.  We stroll around, find a supermarket, make ou purchases using a combination of gestures and pidgin Russian.  The clerks are helpful and friendly.  Dan buys a bottle of Ararat, and I purchase a small bottle of "Мохито" (mojito).  Dan forgets to buy himself a beer, and the store has no AA batteries.

We walk back.

We see a funny sight: a drunken man carrying a bottle in one hand, and in the other hand he holds a cellphone to his ear.  Paying no attention to his surroundings, he crosses the busy highway, chatting and swaying between the zooming cars.  It looks staged.  The traffic doesn't even slow down.  He staggers at a steady pace completely absorbed in his phone call.  Somehow, he arrives untouched at the other side without missing a beat, talking in his cell the entire time.

We visit a little kiosk where a customer can bring an empty beer bottle and the clerk will fill it with any beer that they have on tap, charging by the amount.

It's now well after ten, but the sky is still bright.  We stroll back to the hotel.  I enjoy an extended chat with Grace and upload pictures.  Our room in the Atlantic Hotel has a large and deep bathtub, so I indulge in a steaming hot bath.  My knees get sore sometimes, so the soak feels very good.

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

Sermon: Last Sunday – 2011

20 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 25:1-13 (Isa 65:17-25, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ tells a story that contrasts wisdom and folly, showing us the difference between being wise and being foolish. But unlike the philosophers, Jesus is not just talking about what will make us happy in this life, he is talking about eternity.

And the bottom line on wisdom is this: have your priorities in order. This is a hard lesson to learn. Hopefully it comes with age, but not always. Hopefully we learn such lessons from those who teach us, but sometimes we must learn from our mistakes.

In this fallen world, we can’t have everything. In our human limitations, we can’t be in more than one place at the same time. A wise person will use his resources wisely, and a fool will use his resources foolishly. A wise person will set priorities, and make first things first; a fool will convince himself that important things can wait. A wise person invests his time, talent, and treasure in a way that will bring a long term return on the investment, whereas a fool only thinks about the pleasure he can experience in the present.

And, dear friends, there is no longer term than eternity.

Just as a wise person saves for a rainy day, and a fool spends money he hasn’t even earned yet – so will the spiritually wise “store up treasures in heaven” while the spiritually foolish will convince himself that nothing bad will happen to him so he might as well have fun now. The wise live for the kingdom; the foolish only live for themselves.

Our Lord Jesus not only teaches us to be wise, He uses the Parable of the Ten Virgins to teach us the consequences of being spiritually foolish.

“The kingdom of heaven will be like,” He says. Our blessed Lord is not simply imparting wisdom so that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise, achieving our potential on the job or on the golf course, or just for the sake of self-actualization. Rather, He is trying to keep us out of hell. For that is the end result of foolishness. Dear friends, the Lord Jesus has sacrificed His life as a ransom, an atonement, a redemption, a buy-back, to pay for the sins of the whole world. It is a free gift of grace extended to every human being who draws a breath, and even those yet unborn. This is the good news, the best news in human history.

And to the wise, this good news is their top priority. It is the single most important thing in their lives. It is where the wise channel their time, their thoughts, and their resources. But to the foolish, this news is either not believed, or it is believed but relegated to a low priority and largely ignored.

For “the kingdom… will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” Five girls were prepared for their journey to the wedding feast, with lamps trimmed and full of oil. However, the other five were foolish, having wasted their time, talents, and treasure on other things rather than on being prepared for the return of the bridegroom.

This story that Jesus continues to tells even today is a tragedy. While it ends well for the wise virgins, the prepared, the girls who had their priorities in order, it ends like a nightmare for the foolish virgins, the unprepared, the girls who did not have their priorities in order. For they didn’t merely lose a few hours while they went to the store. Rather, they lost eternity serving themselves instead of being obedient to their Master. For “Those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

“The door was shut” dear friends! Jesus compared himself to a door, a portal into heaven, a pathway from this broken world of sin and death, a passage to the world made new, a world in which we will resume our feast in paradise that was interrupted by our fall into sin. “For behold,” says the Lord, “I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” We will be so joyful in our restored paradise that we won’t even remember what it was like to be afraid of death, to mourn the loss of loved ones, to be grieved by pain, to be harassed by crime, to be gnawed by hunger and poverty, to be unsure of ourselves, to be tempted by sin, to be depressed, to be addicted to substances, to be betrayed by friends, to be attacked by enemies, to feel distant from God, or to be worried about hell.

“I will rejoice in Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “and be glad with my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.”

This is what lies beyond the door into which the wise virgins entered with the bridegroom, with the Lord Jesus Christ. And listen to what lies beyond the door that was shut, leaving outside the five foolish virgins, who cry out too late: “Lord, lord, open to us.” “But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” And so our Lord concludes his story with a sobering lesson, and, dear brothers and sisters, we do well to listen very carefully. Are you listening? Please listen now. Listen to this single sentence from our Lord. Please listen as if this is the last thing you will hear in this life: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The foolish virgins were foolish because they believed they had control. They were foolish because they allowed selfish desires to be made a priority over the bridegroom and the wedding feast.

Our Lord calls us to be wise, to be prepared, to trim our lamps, to have our oil already – so that when there is a cry at midnight: “Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” – we will be prepared. The wise do not begin evacuating when the storm has arrived, but are prepared ahead of time, ready to go hastily on short notice. It is a matter of priority, of thinking beyond the present, of wisdom

Dear brothers and sisters please hear me. This world is falling apart! The things that are of such a high priority to us now count for nothing in the kingdom of heaven. The things that make us happy and sad, that motivate us, that in some cases control us, these worldly things only distract us from the kingdom.

It has been said that Americans “worship their work, work at their play, and play at their worship.” This reflects the messed-up priorities of our culture. The church’s counter-culture has a different view, one that comes from the Word of God: “You shall have no other gods.” “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” “Take up your cross.”

The Word of God is wisdom only to those who receive it in faith. For in faith we wait for the Bridegroom to return. In faith we know there is a new heaven and a new earth awaiting us. In faith we receive the gift the Lord Jesus earned for us at the cross and delivers to us in the Gospel and in His sacraments. In faith we confess our sins and in faith we receive absolution. In faith we live out this salvation in wisdom, with heavenly priorities, storing up treasures in heaven, and crucifying the old Adam with his fleshly passions and selfishness. In faith we live day to day in our baptism, in a life of repentence.

In faith we confess that the Lord is returning, but also in faith we confess our ignorance of when: “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

For they are the foolish virgins, those of misplaced priorities, those who think there will yet be time to trim their lamps when the Day of the Lord is upon us suddenly and without warning.

Dear friends, the Lord weaves this tragic tale not to frighten us, not to upset us, but rather to warn us. “Watch” He says. The word translated “watch” literally means “be vigilant.” It means to keep vigil, to be prayerfully awake and aware, waiting in joyful expectation for the Bridegroom to come, with our lamps trimmed and full of oil, ready to leave this crumbling and broken world in the blink of an eye for an eternal life where “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox,” where all creation lives together harmoniously, where sin, Satan, and death will not even be called to mind, and where we will live out the Lord’s making of His broken creation His own priority, a priority of love, and that life of love and joy will have no end.

Watch, therefore. Watch in joy! Watch in expectation! Watch in hope! Watch…

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

The One Year Bible's Old Testament Reading...

... for today edited and set to music courtesy of the Delta Rhythm Boys (who have a very interesting history).

The standard recording of "Dem Bones" is here.

On Quality of Life

From Peter Kreeft's commentary on Blaise Pascal's Pensées called Christianity for Modern Pagans, page 58:

[Pascal writes]: Man's greatness comes from knowing he is wretched: a tree does not know it is wretched.  Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is greatness in knowing one is wretched. (No. 114).

[Kreeft writes]: Thus the greatness and high dignity of Greek drama.  It is not only that the wise sufferer is rewarded in the end, like Oedipus (and Job), but that even in the act of suffering well there is dignity, because the suffering is not just a negative event in the physical world but also a positive event in the spiritual world.  By the sufferer's understanding and will, his suffering is granted entrance into this second world.  It becomes not merely an event in space but an event in consciousness.  It is taken up to Heave: the Heaven of thought, even if not the Heaven of bliss.

How utterly low and brutish is the level to which a human mind has to sink before it csn look at an old lady in a nursing home bed suffering some incurable disease and call this life and this suffering "meaningless", lacking in "quality of life".  To call this the "quality of life ethic" is like calling a cannibal a chef.

If this sneeringly snobbish judgment is true of the old lady, it is true a fortiori of Christ.  If her cross of suffering, her death-bed lacks "quality", then His cross and death-tree also lack "quality".

"Quality" is thus used as a professional euphemism for sex and money.  We find this brutish mentality only  in the "upper" classes, the professional and "educated" people, especially journalists and professors, not among the poor, not among real people.  Such "intellectuals" are as intelligent as radical "feminists" are feminine."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Endangered Species: A Politician with Integrity

I'm not a big fan of politicians.  But Nigel Farage is a glorious exception.  He is a man of courage and integrity.  Not only is he fearless about speaking truth to power, he's fun to watch.  You can see his opponents cringe when his name is called.  And while he speaks, you can watch them contort their faces, gesticulate, wag their heads, and shift uncomfortably from cheek to cheek.  I make it a point to watch any newly uploaded YouTube videos of Nigel Farage speaking in the European Parliament.

Mr. Farage (as part of a larger home-rule movement called "Euroskepticism") has repeatedly argued that the European Union is nothing more than an un-elected bureaucratic superstate designed to rob member states of their sovereignty and freedom.  Member nations are repeatedly denied referendums - and when they do vote "no," the euro-crats use deceptive end-runs to achieve their goals anyway.  And unlike most politicians who are concerned with keeping their jobs, Farage doesn't just look the other way and play along.  Nigel Farage is quick to remind Europe of its history of tyranny, and does not shy from even pointing out the bloody careers of some who sit in the European Parliament.

Now we are seeing the collapse of the euro - hardly a surprise as Socialism is always a failure - be it Soviet Socialism, National Socialism, or Bureaucratic Socialism (which has a perfect two-letter abbreviation).  And Nigel Farage is there to call a spade a spade.

Watch and be amazed.

Update: Here is the proof that Nigel Farage is right!  You can judge for yourself what to think of the euro-crats and their plans to form a political union without the consent of the member states.  For some reason, this just sounds like a bad idea to me, and yes, I'm definitely whistling Dixie here!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 19 - July 15, 2011

Visit: Yekaterinburg

I slept in a little.  The other guys are still asleep.  I instant-message a little with Grace and Leo for a short while (where it is still July 14, twelve hours behind me).  I take a shower - and it is a real treat!  It's a high-tech little booth with shower heads everywhere - and even a radio!  It's so high-tech, in fact, that I have to ask Dan how to turn on the water.

We have a typical breakfast of bread, cheese, meat, and tea.  There is a nice, fresh baguette of French bread and only real butter - not a bit of margarine in sight!  Father Daniel and I chat about the happenings back home in the Missouri Synod.

Father Alexey gets up as well.

A pile-driver pounds out its rhythm outside.  The windows are open and the sounds of the city enter the flat.  Father Alexey is chatting with Father Sergey on the computer.  It's a nice day - very sunny.  There may be thunderstorms later in the day.  Father Sergey will be by to get us in an hour and a half.  I pass the time doing some reading.  I wonder if my vision is getting worse.  The 1.5 glasses are getting a bit blurry and I'm now taking out my 2.0 spectacles for a spin.  Maybe my eyes are just tired.

The latter leg of the trip is the most difficult.  I'm homesick.  But I'm also looking forward to meeting Father Vlad and the people of Holy Spirit - Chelyabinsk.

Dan, Alexey, and I went to lunch close by to the church at a delightfully cozy Asian place called Кафе Дадаж (Cafe Dadazh).  The meal was nice.  I had a chicken shish kabob - which was basically wings.  There was a very mild sauce that was tasty.  I also had French fries for the first time in Russia, a side of onions (very strong, I barely ate any).  I also had a coffee with sugar.

We joked about how Tim Quill ate here a year ago - and we carried on about it.  We marveled that we were at the famous Tim Quill table.  The Rev. Dr. Tim Quill was the head of the Russian Project at Concordia Theological Seminary.  He is beloved of the Russian clergy - and held in equally high esteem by me.  I have pages of pithy quotes from Professor Quill, and count it a high honor to call myself his student to this day.

On the way out, I purchased a half-liter of Mountain Dew from the cooler for 50 rubles.  I explained to Alexey that it has the most caffeine of any major American soft drink (so I've been told anyway).  The clerk was chuckling at me, explaining that the only people who ever buy it are foreigners.  We all had a good laugh.

We take the short stroll back to the church flat and wait for Father Sergey.  Dan and I cannot resist playing around with the large pothole in the parking lot and taking pictures.

About 6:00 pm local time, we check into a local hotel.  I believe we will be staying two nights, as the church flat is spoken for by some other visitors.  They take our passports to register us.  The lady at the desk speaks decent English and has clearly been trained in customer service.

Father Sergey drives us to the imposing Orthodox church erected on the site where the Romanovs were murdered.  It was only built a few years ago, and the gilded onion domes radiate in bright shining gold tones.  People are selling icons and religious books in small booths on the street.

We take some pictures.

A lady speaks to Father Alexey.  She has invited us to a concert set to begin in a few minutes in the adjoining building which is technically the patriarch's residence.

We put on those weird blue show-covers like they have at the airport.  We go up the majestic marble staircase.  A small crowd is gathered.  A woman is seated at a piano - which is reputed to be the same instrument played by the Romanovs when they were in exile.

There are several powerful poetry readings interspersed with intense piano flourishes.  Since Father Daniel and I don't understand the Russian readings, we slip out.  Father Sergey has gone off for about an hour, and Father Alexey has been quietly translating the poetry for us.  The lady who invited us directs us to another performance - this time a woman who plays traditional Russian folk instruments and sings.  She was simply amazing!  One of her instruments was similar to an auto-harp, though without the buttons.  Another was a kind of pipe that could sing like a bird.  I need to get the names of the instruments from Father Alexey.  The performance was mesmerizing.

We visit the display of the Romanov memorabilia - which includes a hand-written note from the eldest daughter to her father, the deposed Tsar, shortly before the family was murdered.

We also visit the inside of the church very briefly.

Alexey explains that during Soviet times, the fate of the Romanovs was not known.  Nothing of the pre-Bolshevik era was taught in school.  Russians began to  learn what happened to the Romanovs under the governorship of Boris Yeltsin (he was from Yekaterinburg).  As the word began to spread, Yeltsin had the house where the Romanovs were killed torn down.

Father Alexey explained about the many strange and inexplicable things that happened to the people who shot the Romanovs and tried to cover up their crime.  The plan to destroy the bones of the family failed.  They had been buried in a mine-shaft, and had recently been discovered.  DNA tests confirmed the identity.  The church was built, and the truth could no more be hidden.  Eventually, the truth wins out even when it seems that injustice will prevail forever.

Fathers Alexey and Sergey bring us back to the hotel, the Atlantic.  Dan and I walk to the mall hoping to get dinner.  It is close to 11:00 pm.  The mall is closed except for a billiard hall.  We walk and find an open beer garden.  No-one there speaks English.  We order three plates of shasklik - not knowing what kind it was.  Our waiter was patient and displayed a great sense of humor.

We also had a couple beers.  I also ordered a Pepsi Africana.  I had no idea what it was, and so I tried it.  It is a Pepsi with lemon and lime - very tasty!

We walk back to the hotel.  It's now midnight, and still twilight.  I IM (Instant Message) and Snapyap (video conference) with Grace and Leo.  Dan is watching movies on his computer.

Here is a link to all of my pictures of Day Nineteen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

My Siberian Adventure - Day 18 - July 14, 2011

Begin: On the train toward Yekaterinburg
Visit: Yekaterinburg

I just woke up on the train.  It's about 10 minutes until 9:00 am.  Fathers Alexey and Dan are still asleep.  The screen on the window is pulled down and consequently it is absolutely dark in the cabin.  I had no idea what time it was when I awoke.

We all slept soundly.  I slept well in spite of my consumption of Coca-Cola with its lovely bouquet of caffeine.

The ride is very smooth, and this train yields a superior experience compared to Amtrak as far as the ride and the comfort of the cabin go.  Unlike our last Russian train, there is no bulky mattress to contend with.  The beds merely fold out and the seat cushions function as a mattress.

I am on one of the top bunks.  It's quite comfortable.  Dan and Alexey are on the bunks below.

I get up, put on my jeans, descend the little ladder, and make my way to the bathroom at the end of the car.  We stopped briefly at the station in Tyumen.  I clear a little section of the table and have a little morning Coca-Cola.

Dan and Alexey get up.  It is nearly noon.  We were all a bit worn out from the travel, I think.  We eat some cookies for breakfast and have tea.  We enjoy more good conversation regarding the history of Lutheran Christianity in Russia - especially recent history regarding the Lutheran Church of Ingria and the situation of fellowship with the Missouri Synod.

I have been copying notes from my pocket moleskine into my leather journal, and I am finally caught up!  Dan is reading Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment on his Kindle.  Alexey is scanning his Lonely Planet Guide to Russia - which he finds to be so-so.  We are having a brief technical stop, as explained by the staff, to empty the toilets (in some matters, Russians do not shy away from "TMI"), after which we will be in Yekaterinburg (in about 12 minutes).  I need to pack up!

We arrive at Yekaterinburg on time.  The staff is competent and polite.  We exit the train and go into the rather run-down train station.  The signage is bilingual.  We make our way outside and cross the street to the parking lot.  Father Sergei Glushkov meets us there, and we pile our things into the back of his small but nice mini-SUV.

Our drive takes us past the main square - as evidenced by the Lenin statue and the impressive Soviet-era administrative building.

There is also a shiny new Orthodox church nearby - and a Traveler's Coffee.  The attire seems to be a little more casual here than in Novosibirsk.  There are not as many high-heels, although the dress is still on the stylish side.

There is a lot of western influence here.  We passed a large Subway restaurant - which I understand is quite popular in Russia.  However, the business model is different.  You have to pay for each topping and condiment.  Father Alexey explains that if something is free in Russia, people will take it - even if they don't like it.  The idea of "free refills" on drinks in the U.S. is inconceivable to the average Russian.

There is a huge number of restaurants int he downtown district, and a lot of advertising.  My first impression of Yekaterinburg is that is has the feel of being a much bigger city than Novosibirsk - when in fact it is smaller.  Novosibirsk is actually the third largest city in Russia after Moscow and St. Petersburg.  Yekaterinburg is the biggest city in the Ural region.  Technically, we have left Siberia.

A cafe outside advertises "Интернет 24" (meaning 24-hour Internet) and a sign says "Free Wi-Fi Spot" (in English).

There are huge shopping centers.  One has a large theater and a water park (Аквапарк).

We make it to the church flat.  It's a small apartment, and one of the rooms is the sanctuary of Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church.  It is simple and yet churchly.  There is a large, elegantly hand-carved crucifix.  There are kneelers.

In a side room in a model of the old Sts. Peter and Paul building - which was demolished by Stalin in the late 1930s.  This parish is a continuation of that parish, but unlike many Russian Orthodox congregations, has not received any restitution from the government.

We head over to a mall food court to eat.  We settle on the not-so-subtle McDonald's knock-off called McPeak's.  The prefix "Mc" appears in front of many of the menu items; they even serve "McBeer."  McDonald's filed a lawsuit against them, but lost.  I had a shwarma and a side-dish of some kind of middle-eastern pasta with vegetables.  I also had a Pepsi.  Dan had a McBeer.

Afterwards, we head back to the flat.  My Nook e-reader, which has been "rooted" - which is legally modified to expand its capabilities - occasionally has a hiccup.  It took me a while to reboot it, but I got it squared away.  There is no wifi in the flat, but Father Sergei has loaned us his USB phone connection so we can have Internet access.  Trying to preserve his airtime, I get online briefly.

After taking it easy in the church flat, we will be going for a stroll around Yekaterinburg.

Father Daniel, Father Alexey, Father Sergey, and I get into Father Sergey's car, and Sergey drives us first to a surprising monument near the main highway that goes all the way to Moscow.  This memorial commemorates the deaths of innocent people killed in the concentration camps and the gulags.  I have never heard that such a monument exists.  There is a large cross that dominates the vista of the park grounds.  There is also a series of bronze plates carved with thousands of names and the dates they were killed.  It is a somber reminder of the Stalin-era Soviet totalitarianism that was erected under the Yeltsin presidency.  Father Alexey translates some of the stones for us, and takes pictures with his Nikon.

Next, we visit another monument (Russians are fond of visiting statues and memorials and posing for pictures - which was wonderful for me as a tourist) - one more frivolous than the last one.  This marker demarcates the continental border between Europe and Asia.  Here we take pictures, shoot video, and just plain goof off.  There are often weddings here.  There are mileposts indicating the distances to various cities around the world.

We go downtown to where Yekaterinburg was founded.  We visit the monument downtown to the two co-founders of the city - one of whom was a Lutheran.  The center part of the city is absolutely beautiful - sporting both a river and a canal.  The main street is called (what else?) Prospect Lenina.  A lot of people are out and about, enjoying the gorgeous weather.

We make a pilgrimage to the original location of Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church - which, of course, was razed by Stalin.  We take pictures under the plaque that commemorates the original site of the church. I took a picture with Father Sergey - the current pastor of this congregation, whose immediate predecessor was shot.

We visit Father Sergey's office (he works a full-time secular job in Information Technology).  There is an outstanding view of the city from his desk - five stories high.

Father Sergey then drops us off at the church flat, where Father Daniel and I drink tea, eat cookies, and converse until about 1 a.m.

Here is a link to all of my pictures of Day Eighteen.

Sermon: Trinity 21 – 2011

13 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 4:46-54

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

One of the reasons the Christian faith has so much trouble in the current culture is that we discount faith for reason. In other words, in our world, if we can’t see it, touch it, measure it, analyze it, put it in our hands and send a text with it, eat it, drink it, weigh it, and put it up on YouTube – then it doesn’t exist. It might exist, but it certainly isn’t important. It might be important, but we have other priorities.

In our culture, we want things we can see and hold, and they had better do something for us right here and right now. There is no room for faith in the culture we live in. Faith is seen as primitive and superstitious, as unfit for life in this modern world.

But, dear friends, we exercise faith every time we turn on the power button of a gadget. For we expect something to happen. We don’t know for sure that it will – since we can’t see into the future. Sometimes things don’t work as they should. But our reason does give way to faith when we find it reasonable to believe that the light will turn on when we flip the switch.

We Christians put faith in God’s Word – both in what God says and who God is. For we find it reasonable to believe the One who created all things visible and invisible. We find it reasonable to conclude that the Word of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Word Made Flesh – is true and trustworthy. Moreover, we have reason to believe that the Word of God is powerful and effective: “Let there be light, and there was light.”

Science can analyze light, measure light, and even harness light as a means of energy. Technology can move light to where it needs to be to serve us. Business and commerce can make light available to the customer. A child can turn on a light switch and make a room bright.

But only God – by means of His Word – can make light.

The Maker of light has enlightened mankind by revealing Himself to us – especially by coming to us as one of us. “Jesus Christ is the light of the World, the Light no darkness can overcome.” And in the darkness of sickness and death came an official whose little son was dying. And this father came to the Son of God, who in turn had come to Capernaum to bring light to those who dwelt in darkness. Our Gospel recalls this historic meeting in which the flint of this man’s need struck the steel of the living Christ.

The official knew – he believed – in the divine power of Jesus. He believed enough to seek out Jesus. He believed for the sake of his dying son whom He loved. He did not know that Jesus had just told Nicodemus that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” All he knew at this point is that he seeks to redeem the life of his own dying son. And he “asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”

In response, Jesus speaks to the crowd by addressing the official. He says: “Unless you (and this is the plural “you”),” that is to say: “Unless y’all see signs and wonders y’all will not believe.” Jesus had turned water into wine at Cana. It seems that word was getting out about His miraculous abilities – and people wanted to see the show.

Some things never change, dear friends. People want a freak-show religion. People love the lurid and ostentatious. The media radiate with stories of crooked filthy-rich TV-preachers, of snake-handling charlatans, of folks who claim a miraculous gift when all they are really doing is speaking nonsense words that mean nothing. People want to see the sideshow of staged miracles and healings – all carefully filmed at just the right angles to make for compelling TV. People still demand signs and wonders. People still want a Jesus that does tricks and entertains. Indeed, entertainment is the national religion of the United States.

But this official who came to Jesus is different. Of course Jesus knows this. The official calmly repeats his prayer: “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

Death is the wages of sin. Death is what we got when we coveted the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know evil all too well, its bloody wages are shown when we die the death we deserve. But the One whose life-giving blood paid for all evil by His own undeserved death spoke to the official: “Go, your son will live.” The original Greek text is more blunt: “Your son lives.” He lives! He lives, and in Christ and by Christ he has conquered death. He lives because the Author of Life has said so. “Let there be life…”

At this point, the official could have demanded a sign, or dragged Jesus to come to confirm His Word. He could have scoffed at Jesus, or even gotten angry with him for scolding the people for their lack of faith without signs. He could have justified himself or picked a fight with Jesus. But instead, he “believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.” He believed. He had faith. In Christ and by Christ, he believed the Word.

And this belief, this faith, was manifested in his works. For after he believed, he went. He obeyed. He carried out the wishes of the Word made flesh whose Word gives life. He believed the Word.

At the very moment that the Lord spoke, the son’s fever left him and he recovered. “Let there be life.” This is what happens when we believe. We have life. We have forgiveness. We have healing. And the healing that Jesus gives is more than skin deep. For it is eternal. For even though we will die in the flesh, we will rise again in the flesh – according to the Word Made Flesh who Himself rose in the flesh.

And notice what happens to this Word. It is brought home by the official, now a witness and proclaimer of the Word. “And he himself believed, and all his household.”

The healing Word of life was not confined to the son, but also came to the father and the entire household. The Word gives faith. Faith brings forth healing. In healing there is life. And in this life, the Word goes forth again and again to do its healing work – like beams of light shattering the darkness.

Dear friends, the Lord Jesus has come as a beacon of light in our dark and sinful world to bring us light and life. He has come to bring healing and restoration, reconciliation and resurrection. He has come on a mission of mercy motivated by love, armed with the Word, and bearing the gifts of redemption and faith.

It is in this faith that we receive this faith, we are made new in body and spirit, we are brought again to life in a restored creation that will indeed once more be “very good.”

For we actually do have a faith that is rooted in what we can see and hold, a faith that does something for us right here and right now. It is not a “what” but a “who” – Jesus Christ. He has come into our world in the flesh and gives us life that has no end. He comes to us in His body and blood that we see and hold as bread and wine. He comes to us in His Word that we hear. It is a Word of hope and promise and life. The Word, Jesus, brings forgiveness and healing, and is both the source and the fulfillment of our faith.

I know my faith is founded
On Jesus Christ, my God and Lord
And this my faith confessing,
Unmoved I stand on His sure Word.
Our reason cannot fathom
The truth of God profound;
Who trusts in human wisdom
Relies on shifting ground.
God’s Word is all-sufficient,
It makes divinely sure;
And trusting in its wisdom,
My faith shall rest secure.


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

Two new guests for breakfast

Two years ago, I reported on the Hollywood family's morning ritual of Scripture reading.  Since that time, the practice has been expanded and altered to an extent.

Back in January, we decided to add a guest lecturer to our morning ritual - St. Augustine of Hippo.  We began to read a chapter from his Confessions each morning, followed by a very brief meditation and prayer from Augustine as found in Augustine Day by Day.

A few weeks ago, we made a slight modification to the rite by having the ESV narrator read the daily offering from the One Year Bible while we follow along.  For further study, as the narrator reads, I skim the New Testament text in Greek and the Psalm readings in Latin.  The narrator moves along at a good clip, and this is not the time for parsing and memorizing vocabulary.  The timing works out pretty well as the narrator wraps up the Old Testament lesson about the time that I am serving the cappuccino.

After ten months of learning from our dear brother in Christ and doctor of the church, the sainted bishop of Hippo, we have for the past week invited a couple of other great Christian minds into our home (upon the advice of, and kindly introduction by, the Rev. David Petersen): a fellow named Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) and his modern-day commentator and interpreter Dr. Peter Kreeft.  We are still praying with St. Augustine and enjoying his short meditations through the end of the year - but it is getting a little crowded at our breakfast table.  It is fortunate for us that we don't have to feed all of these people - though they are certainly feeding us.  The Pascal-Kreeft book is entitled Christianity for Modern Pagans - and it is a running conversation between the two as the latter engages the former's famous work, the Pensées, carrying on like old friends.

Our lectio continua is truly the highlight of the day: a time of God's Word, meditation, theology, and philosophy - a few moments of monastic peace each morning, any of which can become a day transformed into a sudden maelstrom of activity, stress, tragedy, or just plain hard work.  Our morning ritual is a time to stop and listen to the still, small voice of God's Word and to bask in the glow of saints and Christian thinkers - washed down with the most un-monastic treat of a frothy cappuccino.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Father H. on Issues, Etc.

I had the great pleasure to be on the world's greatest Christian radio program, Issues, Etc. yesterday (November 10, 2011) in a pastor's roundtable with the Revs. Todd Wilken (host of the program and assistant pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Millstadt, Illinois) and Brian Holle (pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church, Lebanon, Illinois) on the topic of the upcoming Gospel text according to the historic one-year series for Trinity 21: John 4:46-54 ("Jesus Heals the Official's Son").

Here is the link where you can listen.

This is my second time on Issues, Etc.  I was interviewed on May 11 of this year on the topic of the Augsburg Confession.  You can listen here.  I really enjoyed the great discussions with fellow panelists and with callers who asked challenging and intelligent questions and who made outstanding contributions to the conversations.  That is the rule rather than the exception at Issues, Etc.!

If you're not familiar with Issues, Etc., it is an eclectic and informative talk radio program run by confessional Missouri Synod Lutherans (under the auspices of "Lutheran Public Radio") and presented from that perspective - and yet includes guests who run the gamut from every point of view.  Pastor Wilken treats his guests with respect and yet balances this with his own steadfast confession.  Issues, Etc. is especially a treat if you are a Lutheran, but you don't have to be to enjoy the "Cross-Centered Christ-Focused" format.  It is definitely a balanced presentation of both a thinking-man's Christianity and a faith rooted in Christ's love in the Gospel.

You can listen live (Monday through Friday, 3:00 - 5:00 pm) here.  And, you can peruse the archives any time here - and note the diversity of guests and topics!  These programs make for great podcasts to listen to on a long commute, while exercising, or for old-fashioned family listening time.  They provide insights not only into the timeless Scriptures but also on the ever-changing face of our culture and how the Christian faith intersects with it.  The program also serves as much-needed theological education and discussion all over the world.

You will definitely find something interesting and uplifting at Issues, Etc.!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sermon: All Saints (transferred) – 2011

6 November 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 5:1-12 (Rev 7:2-17, 1 John 3:1-3)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus points out the many differences between the kingdom of this fallen world and the kingdom of heaven. For example, in the eyes of the world, riches are considered a formula for happiness. But in the kingdom of heaven, poverty of spirit is blessed. In the eyes of the world, those who mourn are seen as being punished, or unlucky, or just plain losers. But in the kingdom of heaven, our mourning will give way to comfort from the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God Himself.

Similarly, the world frowns on the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. Rather the world values brute force, the self-serving, the mighty, the dominant, and those who seek out conflicts and battles and achieve victory by raw power.

One of the most profound differences between the world and the church involves persecution. In this world, persecution is meted out by the powerful over the weak – often as a means to “put people in their place,” to lord over the defeated, to humiliate and humble one’s foes, and to exercise what St. Augustine called “the lust for domination.” But our Lord tells us that suffering persecution is a cause for rejoicing! For this is a mark of the church. Which means that if you are persecuted for the sake of Christ, it is evidence of your salvation, of your blessedness. It is a cause for joy!

These are indeed great differences in the way the world and the kingdom of God operate.

But there are also similarities.

In this life, especially in our fallen world, we need mentors, heroes, examples. We need teachers and trailblazers, role-models and helpers. We need forebears in the faith to show us how to live out the life of the kingdom. We need real-world examples of what the Lord’s kingdom looks like, to be in the grace of God, under the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the comfort of the Comforter.

We are saved by grace. We receive this grace through faith. It is given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ through His blood as a free gift. And yet, we need examples of how this manifests itself in our dark and fallen world. We need heroes and heroines to show us how to bear up under persecution. And there is no shortage of such saints!

This is what All Saints Day is all about.

We look to the past and the present, and we reflect on the lives of our sainted brothers and sisters – some known and celebrated by the entire church, others who are lost to history. We rejoice in the victory won in Christ by those who lived long lives of service to the Lord and His Kingdom, as well as to the martyrs whose lives were cut short by the devil’s servants, and yet whose lives continue to serve as a testimony of Christ and as a witness of faithfulness to believers and unbelievers alike.

Indeed, they bear the title “children of God,” and we confess with St. John: “See what kind of love the Father has given us.” The Lord in His love and mercy has given us heroes and heroines in the kingdom who have shown us the path to walk, the same path as our Lord who said to them and to us: “Take up your cross and follow Me!” We follow in the footsteps of those who followed the Lord even unto death, and then, even unto life.

Dear friends, we are not alone in our walk – though our own footsteps are heavy laden and we are exhausted at times. We walk the same path as our dear brothers and sisters of old: saints, martyrs, doctors of the church, pastors and laity, men and women, parents and virgins, the old and the young, Jew and Gentile, the mighty and the weak – heroes and witnesses all. Indeed, we are not alone, for as St. John testifies: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.”

And they sing their eternal song from the eternal liturgy! We have joined them today, singing the great hymn “Dignus est Agnus,” “Worthy is the Lamb!” On earth, they were fed to lions. Their terrified children were taken from them. They were burned at the stake, humiliated and mocked, tortured by beatings and crosses. They were tempted to be unfaithful to Jesus by the offer to save their own lives and the lives of their children who were also tortured.

Dear friends, being a Christian is no trifle. The saints remind us not only of the high price paid by our Lord Jesus Christ for our forgiveness, but also the high price in blood that is required of some Christians in making the good confession before kings and princes, before the wicked world and before the holy church. And though we may never be called upon to die as martyrs, but we are all most certainly called upon to live as martyrs, as witnesses of our Lord Jesus, as those who die to self in order to live in Christ.

The Lord’s promise is for every man, woman, and child who faced sword and beast, stake and cross, prison cell and torture: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” And that promise is for us.

Rejoice and be glad!

To this day we have brothers and sisters who sit in lonely isolated cells: men and women who would give anything just to see their beloved spouses or children even for a single second, just to touch them one more time, just to speak face to face a single word. They would give anything to do for a single second what we take for granted every day. Rather they would do anything except one thing: deny their Lord and Master.

At this very moment, Pastors Behnam Irani and Youcef Nadarkhani sit in cold, dark cells in Iran for following the Lord’s call to preach. Today, Pastor Ilmurad Nurliev is serving his 437th day in a cell in Turkmenistan. Imran Ghafur, a Pakistani layman, is in his 859th day of captivity for the sake of Christ. He has asked for our prayers and rejoices that the Lord is using him for the sake of the kingdom. Asia Bibi remains also in a cell in Pakistan in her 870th day of captivity – only she has actually been sentenced to hang – to the terror of her Christian husband and two young daughters. There are many, many others who today are giving up their freedom and even their lives as a testimony and a witness to our Lord’s message of the cross, of forgiveness, of freedom from the devil’s dominion, and of the promise of the resurrection and eternal life.

How we need such heroes today, dear friends!

We do not need more “heroes” who can throw a ball, play a guitar, shock and scandalize with their behavior, those who throw money around or bully others. We don’t need any more “heroes” as the world sees them, but we need the encouragement and the example of our brothers and sisters who are willing to lay down their lives as a thank offering to the One who laid down His life for us as a sin offering – the one all-availing sacrifice for the sin of the world!

How weak and shameful we are by comparison! How quick we are to allow other things to take precedence over our Lord and His Word! Oh, how badly we need heroes to point us to the path that leads to the cross and the empty tomb, the way that leads to life and victory and glory!

How we long for the day of vindication for all the saints, that day about which we all sing, whether seated comfortably in freedom on a padded pew cushion, or chained in agony to a concrete slab:

“And when the fight is fierce the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong,
Alleluia! Alleluia!”

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

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