Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sermon: Transfiguration – 2012

29 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 17:1-9

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear friends, it’s easy for us to get comfortable in our surroundings, to be so surrounded by sin and sickness and death, so as to start to see such things as “normal.” These things become “normal” only in the mathematical sense: they are the “norm” in that they are common.

But just because something is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is right. Just because something is “normal” doesn’t mean that it is supposed to be that way.

In fact, if we believe the Bible, we learn that many things that are “normal” are actually wrong. We consider it so “normal” to be sinful that the old saying is: “To err is human.” We excuse evil by making reference to “human nature.” When we fail at something we say “I’m only human.” But this is to miss out on what it means to be human. For nobody is more human, more completely human, more purely human, fulfilling the very goal of humanity itself, than our Lord Jesus Christ.

He did not sin in thought, word, or deed. He did not make an error in anything. And His human nature is perfect.

We poor miserable sinners are the ones who are not complete. There is a piece missing from our humanity – a missing piece that only Jesus can fill.

On the mountaintop, Peter, James, and John did not have a “normal” day. They did not see the “normal” manifestation of Jesus with their eyes. For he was “transfigured” – literally “metamorphosized” – changed in form – right before their faces. For “His face shone like the sun.” That is not “normal” to our fallen human nature. We are so darkened by sin, so distant from the light of God’s glory, that our faces are dull. Moses temporarily glowed in his face after seeing God. But Jesus – being fully God and fully man – glows with uncreated divine light. Normally, He hid such displays of His divine power, but on this most abnormal of days, He lets His light shine before His fellow men, that they might glorify their Father in Heaven.

And the Father glorified the Son from Heaven, saying in an abnormally audible voice: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.”

For us so-called “normal” people who are afflicted with sin, that voice would be anything but normal according to God’s creation. According to our fallen nature, it is not normal for God to declare that He is “well-pleased” with us.

And the reason for that is “sin.”

But what a remarkable event, dear brothers and sisters! What a glorious gift the Lord has given Peter, James, and John, and all of us here present who hear this declaration anew: “This [Jesus] is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”

For Jesus not only lacks sin, Jesus is the embodiment of love: Jesus is the perfect man; Jesus is God; Jesus has come from God to man, being God and man, to reconcile God and man. And in Christ, the “abnormal” is made “normal” as a Man is once again God-pleasing and worthy of being listened to. Once more, a Man walks in the cool of day in the presence of God. Once more the beams of divine light shone from a Man, and the glorious voice of God rings out triumphantly to the ears of men desperate for Good News.

And this is indeed Good News, dear friends, the good news that He has come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, to bring to completion the broken humanity of Elijah and Moses, to metamorphosize himself so as to reveal His true divine nature, kept hidden so as to appear “normal” in a world where the “normal” is sinful and incomplete.

“When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”

Things that happen to us that take us out of our comfortable zone of “normal” are terrifying. We can’t predict the future, and so it scares us. We have not gone through death, so it torments us. We sometimes doubt the very things we know and believe – which horrifies us. But like Peter and James and John, we hear the Lord say it once more: “Rise, and have no fear.” “Rise, and have no fear,” dear friends!

“Rise!” He bids us: rise from sin, rise from shame, rise from fear, and yes, even rise from death. Rise up out of the sinful, fallen world that has the illusion of “normal.” Rise and lift up your eyes and see “Jesus only.” “Rise, and have no fear.”

We can live our lives with the comfortable words of Jesus “have no fear” ringing in our ears and governing our lives. In Christ we need not fear anything – be it “normal” or “abnormal.” For in Christ, what we have is “completeness.” We have Man elevated back to the image of God, even as we have God come down in mercy, metamorphosized into the form of a Man. For He truly is God and Man, truly mighty and merciful. He has come to die so that we might live, to be perfect so that we might have pardon.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is what it means to “Rise, and have no fear,” to lift up one’s eyes, and see “Jesus only.”

For when we see “Jesus only,” we see Him who is the Father’s beloved Son, and we can indeed “listen to Him.”

For as Peter also confessed, and as the Church confesses with Him, Jesus has the “words of eternal life.” There is no other person or place to go! And with Peter and James and John, we can come down from the mountain where we hear His Word, return to our lives where the “normal” seems “abnormal” and where the “abnormal” masquerades as “normal” – knowing the truth about who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us. We know what is truly “normal.”

He has made us complete in forgiveness. He has restored us to the normalcy of life. He has fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. He has delivered to us Good News. He has risen from the dead to show that death is abnormal and life, eternal life, is normal, and eternal! And the living and forgiving Christ Himself invites us: “Rise, and have no fear.” Let us lift up our eyes and see “no one but Jesus only.” Amen.

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

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Welcome to the New (and Not Improved) America

Is this the kind of America we have to look forward to?

The right to a trial is not just a good idea - it's the natural God-given law!  Americans are foolish to allow it to be taken away from anyone for any reason.  And politicians who support it must be aware of where this leads.  And don't say that such things can never happen here.  They already do - and with the full support of the majority of Republicans and Democrats in the federal government.

I fear that our window of opportunity to reclaim our liberties is closing, but maybe, just maybe, American totalitarianism isn't inevitable.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thank you to the Rev. John Dreyer

We had an outstanding visit from our dear friend the Rev. John Dreyer, who serves as a recruiter (real title: Admissions Counselor) for Concordia Theological Seminary - Fort Wayne.  We had a blast!  I mean, he was working like a dog and not having any fun at all (this was a working trip, after all).  I don't want John to get in trouble with Rast.  I mean, President Rast.

Anyway, thanks to Pastor Dreyer for preaching at our Wednesday evening Mass, faithfully proclaiming God's Word and sharing in the most holy body and blood of our Lord - as well as making connections with men in the area interested in serving in the holy ministry.

Grace and I go back about a decade with John, and below is a picture of us together at my graduation from CTSFW in 2004.  It was obviously a more flattering camera angle seven and a half years ago as the gray hairs were sparse, if not rare!

Rev. John Dreyer and Vicar Larry Beane, 2004

Must be the light in the church...

Rev. John Dreyer and Rev. Larry Beane, 2012

Here is a link to our pictures after yesterday's service and during today's visit to the French Quarter - including the Napoleon House, Jackson Square, the St. Louis Cathedral, Arcadian Books, the Cafe du Monde, and a walk along the river.

What a great joy to catch up with a brother pastor and friend!

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Remarkable Dr. Iris Mack

Dr. Iris Mack grew up in a housing project in New Orleans and has a truly remarkable story.

Even without the obstacles she overcame, just looking at her list of accomplishments is extraordinary and inspiring:
  • High school valedictorian
  • Double Bachlor's degrees from Vassar in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics
  • MS in Mathematics from UCLA (Research Fellow at Bell Laboratories and holder of a patent in fiber optics)
  • Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard (only the 2nd black woman to earn this doctorate from Harvard).  Dissertation: "Block Implicit One-Step Methods for Solving Smooth and Discontinuous Systems of Differential/Algebraic Equations: Applications to Transient Stability of Electrical Power Systems"   
  • Executive MBA from the London Business School
  • Investment banker
  • Professor at MIT, University of San Francisco, and Clark Atlanta University
  • NASA astronaut semifinalist
  • Lecturer in London, Paris, and Zurich
  • Whistleblower at Enron
  • Tangled with two former treasury secretaries of the United States (Rubin and Summers)
  • Correctly informed Harvard of the impending disaster facing its endowment because of risky derivatives (they not only didn't listen to her, at the cost of billions of dollars, but also fired her)
  • Founder and CEO of Phat Math - a comprehensive approach to mathematical education
  • Author of Mama Says "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees!" (available on Kindle for $2.99 here!) and currently writing Energy Trading and Risk Management as part of a multi-book deal with Wiley Publishing House
  • She is also into serious weight training, running, and amateur aeronautics
  • She currently works as an investment banker in London and speaks Spanish and French
More details here.  Her insights into economics and involvement in political matters can be read here.

And by the way, you may wonder who someone of Dr. Mack's economic insight and real-world experience is endorsing during this presidential election cycle (certainly no tinfoil-hat wearing racist kook, to be sure).  You can read about it here in Dr. Iris Mack's own words.  She believes that he is "the only presidential candidate who understands the current dire straits the economy is in and the only one with a coherent plan to fix things.... the only non-elitist candidate and the only candidate that would put the country back on the road to liberty."  Pretty high praise coming from someone of her caliber!

Swedish Lutheran?

This guy is häftigt!  Does the Church of Sweden - Mission Province have a Specific Ministry Program?

Hooray for Gretnawood!

"Father Hollywood" as a name for this blog began as a joke (I was working at Hollywood Video during my first call).  But it seems like life imitates humor.

New Orleans is sometimes known as "Hollywood South" since Louisiana offers tax breaks for movie-making, and so a lot of films get made here.  And here is a pretty current list of projects.  For some reason, Gretna - and more specifically, my neighborhood - always seems to be involved in filming, whether for commercials or movies.

The Paperboy was filmed at a local house just off 5th Street.  It has not yet been released.  Deja Vu was filmed in 2006 and features a good bit of New Orleans, as the story takes place on our side of the river at the Algiers Ferry Station.  Love Song for Bobby Long (2004) was filmed at a local Gretna house just off the levee bike trail.  We're also still waiting for Killer Joe to be released, some of which was filmed at our local restaurant, Common Grounds - including some of our waitress friends playing waitresses in the movie.  This still from the movie was taken inside the restaurant, and this one looks across the neutral ground to the po-boy shop ("The Iron Grate Grill" on Huey P. Long Ave. formerly "Johnny's") across the way.

Right now, filming is happening for a Will Ferrell movie called Dog Fight (aka Southern Rivals) - a comedy based on Southern politicians during an election cycle.  The movie is apparently set in South Carolina, though downtown Gretna has been made over into the fictional town of Hammond, North Carolina.

A vacant lot has been mocked up with building facades, while fake building fronts were placed on real buildings across the street.  Gretna City Hall had a new facade put on it, and even the glass door had gold lettering with the new "town" embossed on it.  We took a couple strolls around the set and took some pictures.  There was a good attention to detail.  Some of the extras who were driving around explained that they received North Carolina license plates and even stickers to cover up their Louisiana inspections on the windshields!

In the casting call for extras, it seems that the movie will be rather politically incorrect.  It looks like fun!  Filming should be going on for another week or so.  I have no doubt that more will be on the way.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chaplain Hollywood

I was installed as chaplain of the David Crockett Steam Fire Company No. 1 on January 7, 2012.

Here are my pictures from the installation.

David Crockett is the oldest continuously operating volunteer fire company in the United States.  As Mayor Harris pointed out, Crockett has not merely met monthly since its founding in 1841, the company has provided uninterrupted 24-7 fire protection on a volunteer basis to the City of Gretna since that time - absolutely without interruption!

This is extraordinary, especially considering the rough ride Gretna has been through in the last 171 years: the War Between the States, federal occupation, two world wars (keep in mind Gretna's German heritage), the Great Depression, and numerous hurricanes.  Through all of these catastrophes and upheavals, David Crockett has not even shut down for one second.

Crockett also has not just a sterling record but a well-earned reputation for excellence and diligence.

The annual installation was a joyful celebration that had many high points, such as the swearing in of officers, the mayor's speech, the address by the state fire marshal, and the acknowledgment of fifty years of perfect attendance by Anthony Labruzza.  The meal was excellent, and fitting to such an auspicious occasion.  I also got to meet the Rev. Frank Carabello, the retired pastor of our good neighbor St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, having served there for thirty years.

I am very grateful to fire service veterans treasurer Lynn Coyne (who invited me) and president Gordon Carbo (who appointed me).  I'm also grateful to LCMS chaplain the Rev. Dean Kavouras of Cleveland, Ohio, who serves as police, fire, and FBI chaplain, for his advice to me and also for his wonderful book (published by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation) chronicling his chaplaincy work in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001: Nine One One The Aftermath: The Word Works.

I'm looking forward to supporting the men who protect Gretna from fire and other disasters.

Sermon: Epiphany 3 – 2012

22 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 8:1-13 (Rom 1:8-17)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

When man was first created and placed in the Garden, there were no Jews and Gentiles, no lepers or paralytics. There were no soldiers and no slaves among men. There was, however, life and wholeness and wholesomeness and a perfect union between God’s will and man’s will.

That unity of will was broken when man first said: “Not Thy will, but my will, be done.”

After that, we began to see what our sinful will brought into the once-perfect world. Men were divided by tribal factions and fighting. Diseases brought disfigurement, debilitation, and ultimately, death. Greed led to warfare, and men became slaves to one another. Man’s will and God’s will went in two different directions.

This, dear friends, is the world that our Lord Jesus came into. He came as a Jew to “reap some harvest” among the Jews and to be a blessing to the Gentiles. He came into our fleshly existence of death in order to preserve us unto life. He came as the perfect divine general of all the heavenly hosts, and yet was willing to be crucified by sinful human soldiers under orders to a man who claimed to be a god. And in order to set us free from bondage to sin, He Himself took the form of a slave. And even as a Man who is fully God and as God who is fully a Man, He taught us to pray: “Thy will be done” even as He earnestly prayed that the cup of His suffering might be taken away from Him.

His will is God’s will, and He has come as a Man to restore man’s will back to God’s will.

The Jewish leper understood the will of Jesus when we sought out the One who could heal him, confessing: “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” The leper knew his wretched condition. There was no denying it. He could not will himself better. He could not heal himself clean. He knew his hope lay in Jesus, in His power, and in His will: “If you will, you can.”

The Lord Jesus wastes no time. “I will; be clean.” And even as the universe came into existence through this Word of God, this Word Made Flesh pronounces the leper’s flesh to be clean with a mere word – by His very will.

“I will; be clean.”

And the Lord gave Him a divine command: “Go!” It is not a task for him to do in order to earn cleansing. Nor was it a condition lest he forfeit his healing. Rather, the Lord Jesus told him to “Go!” and claim the victory of cleanness over and against the law of Moses that condemned him. Indeed, at the Word of the Word Made Flesh, the priest of Moses was to have no choice by to declare the leper to have been cleansed by Jesus. Indeed, in Christ, the leper can fulfill the law of Moses. And the Lord’s divine “Go!” is a divine gift!

The Gentile centurion also understood the will of Jesus when he sought out the One who could heal his servant, saying: “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And when the Lord Jesus offers to come, the centurion says something amazing: “I am not worthy… only say the word.” The centurion knows that he is unworthy. And even though he is not the one who is paralyzed, he understands his inferiority before the One whom he addresses as “Lord.”

But He also knows that Jesus need only utter a word, and the Word Made Flesh can, by His will and His command, heal the corrupted flesh of the paralyzed servant. Like the Jewish leper, the Gentile centurion understands that Jesus “can,” He has the power, and he also understands that if it is the Lord’s will, the healing will happen – even as the centurion gives orders and receives orders, and orders are carried out in a chain of command. “For I too am a man under authority,” he says.

The Lord Jesus “marveled” at the centurion’s faith. And the Lord Jesus likewise issues the joyful command “Go!” to the centurion: “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” “Go!” and claim the victory of healing. And “the servant was healed at that very moment.”

The centurion’s belief, his faith, was not in himself, his own word, his own authority, his own goodness, or his own might. His faith is in Christ alone, in His word and will alone. The Lord Jesus does not send the centurion to the priests of Moses, but rather sends him as a messenger of Himself, an envoy to deliver the good news of the word and will of the Word Made Flesh.

Dear friends, Jesus comes to us in the same way. He breaks into our Word exercising His divine will that we be restored, healed, and forgiven. Jesus comes to us in order to unite our will to God’s will, to deliver the promise of life and restoration by means of the very faith we have in His Word. The Lord Jesus wills that we be forgiven of our sins, healed of our infirmities, and restored to eternal life. He wills the healing of the cross even as He obeyed His Fathers will in going to the cross and in teaching us to pray to the Father even as He does: “They will be done.”

His will is done, dear brothers and sisters, His will is for us to have salvation and life, and so we do! He also gives us the command to “Go!” – to go out into the world as forgiven sinners, healed of our leprosy and paralysis, raised from death to life, having wills being formed by the Holy Spirit to conform to the will of the Father – all by means of the Word and will of the Son who has come to redeem us.

He bids us to “Go!” and “make disciples” as His envoys according to whatever calling He gives us, living out our vocations as forgiven sinners, witnesses of what His perfect will and powerful Word have done for us, as soldiers under orders to believe and receive His gifts – as well as to share those gifts in whatever way He wills us to do.

Dear brothers and sisters, the days of our broken world are numbered. Our Lord’s will be done! Our Lord’s Word be fulfilled! He has come to break down the barrier between Jew and Gentile, to forever abolish leprosy and paralysis, to forever rid existence of warfare and to liberate every man from every type of slavery. He invites us to “Go!” into life as a healed, forgiven sinner with faith in His Word and in His will, with life and wholeness and wholesomeness and a perfect union between God’s will and man’s will made perfect once more in eternity!

For this gospel is truly “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. To the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

“Go!” dear forgiven sinners, Jews and Gentiles; “Go!” from faith, for faith; “Go!” for “the righteous shall live by faith” in the will and the Word of the Word Made Flesh whose will and Word makes all flesh new. Amen.

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Русские идут! The Russians Are Coming!

And I think it will be even more fun than the movie!

On Friday, January 27, Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, Louisiana will host three guests from our sister church body in Siberia: the Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin (bishop of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church), the Rev. Dmitri Dotsenko (pastor of St. James Lutheran Church, Novokuznetsk),  Miss Natasha Sheludiakova (church musician of St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Novosibirsk), accompanied by the Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Marshalltown, Iowa and president of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society).

They will arrive around 5:00 pm for a potluck and will make a presentation at 7:00 pm. 

For more information, please contact me by e-mail: pastorbeane at gmail dot com.

Sermon: Confession of St. Peter – 2012

18 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27 – 9:1

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today the Church commemorates not a person, but an event. More accurately, a confession. In fact, even more accurately, the Church commemorates two confessions – both coming from St. Peter the Apostle.

Halfway through the narrative of the life of Jesus as revealed in the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark, after preaching and teaching and working countless miracles, Jesus does a kind of spot-check at that point, posing a question to the disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”

The answers are many and varied: John the Baptist, Elijah, maybe a prophet of some kind. Jesus then refines the question, narrowing the focus to the confession of the disciples themselves: “But who do you say that I am.”

As is often the case, St. Peter acts as spokesman of the group. He answers forthrightly. Although the text doesn’t explicitly say, it would be well within Peter’s impulsive character to blurt out the answer without much forethought, getting to the punch before anyone else has had a chance to weigh in. He says: “You are the Christ.”

“You are the Christ,” confesses St. Peter, confessing the cosmic reality that Jesus is not some kind of rehashed reincarnation, nor is He merely just one more prophet. No indeed! This is not a reincarnation but the incarnation. The days of the prophets have come to an end. Now is the time for the coming of the One whom the prophets confess. And so Peter confesses – speaking a bold revelation not revealed to Him by flesh and blood: “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, the Promised One, the Redeemer, the Savior, the very fleshly Son of God who is God in the flesh.

Peter has answered well. He has made the good confession. He knows who Jesus is in His heart, and with the overflow from his heart, he speaks this sterling confession with his lips. And Jesus tells Peter and the disciples to keep this confession to themselves for the time being. For the Lord’s time has not yet fully come.

And so the Church commemorates this confession of Peter, this statement of the frank and forthright fisherman that would earn him the nickname “Peter” – that is “The Rock Man.” And Jesus would also promise to Peter that upon this rock – the rock of his confession – the Lord Jesus would build a church out of the living stones of men who confess this same confession. And not even Satan and hell would be able to topple it.

And yet, Peter’s confession doesn’t stop here, dear friends. For Peter is, like us, a sinner: one who is still subject to the delusions and temptations of the devil.

Jesus reveals another truth about Himself: “the Son of Man must suffer” and “be rejected” by the leaders of Israel. He would “be killed. And after three days, rise again.” Jesus has revealed Himself as Savior, as sacrifice, as the Atonement for sin! But Peter, who had just confessed Jesus as the Christ, takes Jesus aside and rebukes Jesus! He scolds Jesus for revealing this to him. For this suffering Jesus is not the Jesus Peter has in mind. For what glory is there in following a suffering Jesus? Don’t we all want a victorious Jesus – which is to say, a Jesus who is victorious in the way we want Him to be? We want a Jesus in our own image, of our own making.

Of course, it is not Peter’s place to rebuke God, but vice versa. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, but now he needs to confess his sin against the Christ. Unlike his earlier confession, this confession is a confession is diabolical. “Get behind me, Satan,” says our Lord. “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Peter’s second confession is not a good confession. He has sided with man over God, sided with Satan over Christ. He has sided with his selfish impulse for glory over Christ’s selfless impulse of the cross and forgiveness. And Jesus calls Peter to repent. Jesus calls Peter to reject the devil along with all the devil’s works and all his ways. Jesus calls Peter to once more confess Jesus as the Christ – not merely as a leader whose coattails can be ridden to glory.

And while the Church doesn’t celebrate Peter’s second confession – Peter’s momentary devilish delusion, neither does the Church cover it up. The evangelists have recorded it, the Church proclaims it, and the Holy Spirit has made it known to us. And thanks be to God! For if Peter – mighty Peter, the holy apostle Peter, the bishop of Rome Peter, the spokesman of the apostles and the member of the Lord’s inner circle Peter is subject to such doubts and bouts of selfishness, what great comfort it is to us, dear friends! And what a blessing it is to be rebuked by Jesus – for when Jesus says: “Get behind me Satan.” He is not insulting us, but rather exorcising the evil right out of us! For He has not come to condemn, but to forgive.

Indeed, that is the whole point of this confession: “You are the Christ.”

And what’s more: “If anyone would come after me,” says our Lord, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And though Peter was humiliated at the time of the Lord’s rebuke, the rebuke truly did cast out Satan and bring healing to St. Peter. For within a few decades, Peter the bishop and preacher was to do just as the Lord bade him to do: he would indeed take up a cross of his own and make the best and holiest confession of all: the confession of Jesus in blood. St. Peter’s greatest confession of all would be his confession of Jesus the crucified One in his own martyrdom, as Peter was himself crucified confessing the crucified Christ.

Dear friends, we may never be called upon to shed blood in confessing Christ. But we do indeed confess that Christ shed blood in order to save us! We may not be crucified for being a Christian, but Christ was crucified in order to make us Christians. And we are called upon to bear the crosses He allows us to carry – especially the joyful burden of confessing Him as God and Lord, as Savior and Redeemer, even as we confess our sins.

For even as Peter had two great confessions, so do we, dear brothers and sisters! We confess the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of the Nicene Creed, the Faith that confesses before Jesus and before the world: “Jesus is the Christ.” And the Church also confesses – along with St. Peter – that “we are poor miserable sinners.” We confess the faith, and we confess our faith. We confess what Jesus has revealed to us, and we confess what we have done to Jesus as well as what He does for us!

Along with Peter, we confess to our Lord Jesus: “You are the Christ.” Along with Peter, we hear the Lord Jesus rebuke the devil: “Get behind me, Satan.” And let the Church never falter in either confession – for without both confessions, we are lost. We confess that we are sinners according to our sinful flesh in need of a Savior, and we confess that Jesus is that very Savior come in the flesh to save us.

Flesh and blood has not revealed this to us either, dear friends! This is St. Peter’s confession. This is the Church’s confession. This is our confession! Now and unto eternity!


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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sermon: Epiphany 2 – 2012

15 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“The wine ran out.”

It may not seem so at first, dear brothers and sisters, but this is a result of the Fall, of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and of the curse and punishment doled out to man as a result of his rebellion from God.

The fact that anything – even wine – runs out is a manifestation of “scarcity.” In other words, there is not enough stuff for everybody. And so, there must be competition and some kind of mechanism to figure out who gets what. Some end up on top, and some on the bottom. God told Adam: “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.”

Man must work to eat. And because of this curse upon the very ground, the ground is stubborn. Some climates produce very little. Some people cannot work enough to pay for the food for their families to eat. And our sinful nature causes us to be lazy, to scheme to find ways for other people to provide us with a living, to steal, to foolishly squander our resources on luxuries instead of necessities, and to resent those wealthier than we. Our sinful nature also causes us to hoard and not share with those who are in genuine need.

And because of this scarcity, governments were instituted and economic systems developed to figure out who gets what in society. And whether it is a free market or a centrally planned economy, there is never enough. That is why our Lord told us point-blank that we would always have the poor with us.

“The wine ran out.”

There are few things more divisive – and potentially violent – than politics. When we have kings, we have scarcity. And so revolutionaries cut off the king’s head and start a democracy. And there is still scarcity. So democracies become republics. And there is still scarcity. And republics become oligarchies and welfare states and warfare states and empires and dictatorships and tyrannies. And there is still scarcity. Under capitalism, communism, fascism, and anarchy – there is still scarcity. The powerful and well-connected always have abundance while others have nothing. For there is still scarcity.

“The wine ran out.”

Dear friends, we do live in a bi-polar world of the Kingdom of the Left and the Kingdom of the Right, a church and a secular government. We do need to order ourselves politically in some way. But no matter what, we must understand that there is no Utopia, no perfect system: except one: the government of the City of God, Heavenly Jerusalem, the Kingdom of the King of Kings, the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His mother has been telling us for two millennia: “Do whatever He tells you.”

Jesus has come to restore Eden, to replace scarcity with abundance, to roll back the ravages of sin, to crush the chaos and tyranny of Satan under His heel, and even to reverse the ultimate result of death itself!

“Do whatever He tells you.”

For His Word is truth! His Word is power! His Word forgives. His Word restores, revivifies, and resurrects. His Word gives life.

For we are all victims of scarcity, perhaps the rich even more than the poor! For no amount of money can buy what Jesus gives away for free – His life, His body, His blood, His Word, His forgiveness, and His communion with the Father! No amount of money can turn water into wine – but Jesus can, and Jesus does. “Do whatever He tells you” – for His Word is a promise, and what’s more, His Word is a promise that fulfills itself!

“When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from,” He proclaimed: “You have kept the good wine until now.”

For not only did the Fall result in scarcity, but also corruption. Not only does wine run out – along with bread, with water, with money, shelter, clothing, and with life itself – but it also runs down. Inferior wine is a result of the Fall just as much as scarcity. And the same is true with inferior bread, water, money, shelter, clothing, and life.

“Do whatever He tells you,” dear brothers and sisters!

Our Lord Jesus offers not merely an abundance of perfect wine for the wedding feast at Cana, for this was a “sign,” a glimpse into a deeper reality. He offers (truly offers, as in the sense of a sacrifice), He offers the wine of His blood without price, without scarcity, without counting the cost, without being filtered through politicians – He offers His saving Body and Blood freely, as well as the flowing waters of baptism and His Word of forgiveness! These are offered in abundance, in direct opposition to the scarceness we have brought on ourselves by our sin. The wine of His blood, the bread of His body, the water of His baptism, the Word of His forgiveness are abundant and perfect, and they cannot be hoarded, bought, sold, or bargained for – not at any price, not by any bureaucracy. For there is no price, dear friends! Love can never be purchased, for it is offered gratis and received gratefully.

Indeed, our God (who is Love) has kept the good wine until the time came for the Son to offer it to us in the wineskin of His own flesh, given to us in the chalice of His own passion, presented to us on the table of His own cross.

For hear the words of Blessed Amos, who prophesied of the wine of Christ and His people: “The mountains shall drip sweet wine and all the hills shall flow with it… they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine. And they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”

In Christ, scarcity is undone. In Christ, inferiority is nowhere to be found. In Christ, there are no strongmen or tyrants or hoarders or brokers. There is only abundance, grace, mercy, joy, and forgiveness that lasts forever!

Look at how this Good News of forgiveness and eternal life frees us from being selfish and self-centered! Look at how we Christians are able to love, freely love, even as Christ loves us! As St. Paul preaches: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.”

That is what life in Paradise is like, dear friends, the true and eternal Utopia in which there is no scarcity, where there are no strife and struggle and warfare and greed, where wine flows freely, even as the forgiveness of sins drips sweetly from the very mountains, where life is endless and perfect.

For you, Lord Jesus, “have kept the good wine until now.”

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Siberian Adventure - Day 24 - July 20, 2011

Begin: Yekaterinburg
Fly to: Moscow (Domodedovo Airport)
Fly to: Washington (Dulles Airport)
Fly to: Kenner (Louis Armstrong Airport)
Drive to: Gretna

My alarm goes off at 4:30 am.  Dan is up and ready to shower.  I begin to pack my bags and close up my cot.  I am able to IM with Grace one last time.  We are very excited.  I am bleary-eyed.  The sky looks as bright as it did three hours ago when I went to sleep - not quite dark.  In a matter of minutes, the sky becomes blue.

I distribute my things between bags and pack clothing as best as I can to protect fragile items.  I pack my backpack inside my carry-on in case I can't have my carry-on with me under my seat.

Father Sergey arrives on time and drives us to Yekaterinburg's Koltsovo Airport.  The language barrier and time of day makes it a quiet ride.  Before we leave the car to walk to the terminal, Sergey gives me two CDs - the ones he had been playing in the car.  He gives the third disk - Dire Straits - to Dan.  He accompanies us to the terminal.  He joins us through the preliminary security search.  It was not aggressive, but I was frisked by a lady officer - something that (at least so far) is not done in the U.S.

We head to the check-in line and say goodbye to Sergey (who has to work at his full-time secular job today), and head off to security.  Again, the blue footies and the naked-scanner.  This time I see that there is a small locked room blocked off by frosted glass where the naked-scanner operator works.

We make it to our gate and a bus drives us to our plane.  It is an A320 - not large but not small either.  There are three seats on each side per row.  Dan and I are seated together.

The Ural Airlines staff is friendly, but they speak almost no English - but enough.  Our flight to Moscow is less than two hours.  They serve a hearty boxed breakfast - which is almost like every other meal in Russia: salad, hot dish (chicken and rice in my case), bread, butter, cheese, meats, a cookie, a small cup of tea, and even a little chocolate bar.  I save the bread, cheese, meats, and chocolate to bring back home to share.

Our flight was wonderful and comfortable.

We arrived at Domodedovo Airport, and it is very familiar thanks to my introduction by Elena.  What was formerly exotic and a bit intimidating had become comfortable.

There are a few new experiences, however.

We were selected for some kind of interview after checking our luggage.  Perhaps this was because of the crucifix around my neck.  We were asked what we had in our bags.  The young woman x-rays our bags, but strangely, there is no operator at the console to look at the images.  She then had us open our bags and rifles through all of our things, asking questions about whether or not we have "cultural" items.  What the hell does that mean?  The only reason I think I know what she might be after is because of the story I had heard of the LCMS pastor a couple years back who was detained at the airport because he had an antique crucifix that he had purchased.  He had bought it legally, but such things are not permitted to leave Russia.  The irony is that in the Soviet Union, such things were destroyed.  Now, taking them out of the country - even if you have purchased them legally - is not allowed.

The lady officer handles my books repeatedly and asks questions about "icons."  Since all of my icons are in my checked bag, and none of them are antiques, I answer "no" to all of her questions.  She wants to know what souvenirs I have.  I explain that I have refrigerator magnets, coffee mugs, etc.

She is finally (though reluctantly) satisfied, and we hastily repack our things and leave.

We head to Passport Control.  This is in a section of the airport known as Passenger Control.  Dan and I go to different lines, as he has one of the new electronic passports with the chip.

There are two young women decked out like Panamanian generals in the booth.  One takes my passport and unceremoniously removes it from the plastic cover.  She looks at it, looks at me, yawns, and flips through it trying to look official.  I stand patiently.  She doesn't ask me any questions at all.  She gives me my passport back and turns on the green light for me to exit.

At security, we were again (for the second time, I believe) asked if we had packed our own bags.  We then head to the blue footies and the naked-scanner, assemble our stuff, and finally emerge into the airport proper.

As the airport has wifi, I was able to IM with Grace.  Dan and I have to hang out and wait for the United agent to show up.  Dan discovers the self-check-in kiosks and is ale to get his seat assignment and boarding pass.  Mine will not work for some reason.  I have to wait until 9:15 for the United personnel to arrive.

In line, we meet an elderly man who is a native Russian who has lived for more than 30 years in San Francisco.  He is a trained mathematician and was a designer of computer chips in Silicon Valley.  His wife is dying of cancer.  The details of his story are unclear.  He considers both Moscow and San Francisco to be his homes.  Like many scientists and mathematicians, he went to school in Novosibirsk.

The United agent is a young Russian woman who asks me if I packed my own bags.  She takes my passport to another clerk, and there seems to be some kind of discussion.  I wait.  I still have no seat assignment and no boarding pass.  She finally returns with my passport and sends me to the booth to check my bag.

The agent there asks me if I would like to upgrade to Economy Plus for $100.  I decline.  What seems to be happening is that the economy seats have been overbooked.  Nevertheless, I receive what appears to be a boarding pass, though without a seat assignment.

Lacking available airport seating, Dan and I take up a position near the elevator in the main part of the airport.  We have some time.  We take turns going to the bathroom - there are long lines.  I'm able to briefly IM with Grace again.

I'm reflecting on the airport security issue.  We went through the naked-scanner.  I'm wondering why we still have to remove our belts and shoes if they are able to look at the inside of our gonads.  I guess it keeps the blue-footie people at their jobs.  More likely it is the general principle of Soviet government (from which we in the United States are not exempt) according to one of our Russian friends: to humiliate and dominate the individual at every turn.  It's about control.

Anyway, I would like a coffee, so Dan and I take our carry-ons and go for a walk.  Ah!  A nice coffee shop whose Cyrillic letters spell out "Coffee Mania."  It's a mania all right!  A cappuccino is $13 U.S.  A simple cup of tea is even more!  There are vending machines in the airport, but we don't have any small bills.

We return to our gate to learn that our flight is delayed.  I get online and send a few e-mails and facebook "thank yous."  We learn that our plane has "mechanical problems."  Great.  We find a small airport magazine store that sells drinks.  A plastic bottle of Coke is only 47 rubles (a little more than a buck and a half).  Iced tea is 170 rubles.  Interestingly, Diet Coke (Coke Light in Russia) is twice as expensive as regular Coke.  It's made, I believe, with saccharine - and tastes terrible.  I buy us a couple drinks and pay with Visa.

Prior to boarding, there is yet another agent at the gate who asks us if we packed our own bags.  There are not enough seats at the gate, and we are standing - like many others.

After a long wait, we board.  Dan and I are not sitting together.  In fact, he has been put into an Economy Plus window seat, while I am again in "the middle of the middle" for the longest part of the trip home.  We are informed that our connecting flights are being rerouted.

I'm squished between two Russian guys whose families are in the rows in front and behind.  I had taken my Nook, my computer, and a couple books and put them in my backpack at the gate.  This enabled me to have them under the seat in front of me while my red wheeled-carry-on is overhead.

At 2:45 we are in the air - about two hours late.  Our connections are being rescheduled.

I'm tired.  I'm going to take a nap.

Here come the drinks.  I order a ginger ale.  The stereotype is true: all the Americans want ice while the Russians decline.  The Russians prefer juice - orange or tomato - while the Americans prefer soda - as a rule, that is.

Dinner (lunch?) was not as good as what the Russian airlines served.  It wasn't bad, but rather just tasteless.  The salad was a bowl of leaves that tasted like paper.  I took a bite and didn't touch the rest.  One of the Russian guys next to me asked me what the salad dressing was for.  I told him that it was for the "salat" - and then told him that Russian "salat" is better.  He laughed.

The chicken dish with rice wasn't bad, nor was the little cake - a sort-of mildly industrial strawberry.  he bread was definitely industrial.  Welcome back to America!  Rather than risk another instant coffee, I opted for a tea.  Less of a gamble.  It's hard to screw up tea, though it was not served with the bag as it was on Russian flights.

I would have liked to have practiced Russian with my neighbor, but I didn't even know enough to get started.  I will have to work on it.

It's 8:00 am NOLA time and our plane is crossing the border from Sweden to Norway.

I sure hope that either I can make my connection or get another route home today.  This is a long flight, but knowing that I will see Grace and Leo makes it a great joy!  I can't wait to get home!

The stewardess comes by with the coffee.  It is brewed!  I'm sure drinking coffee will be a mistake.  My poor system is not going to know whether it is time to sleep (it is 8:00 pm Novosibirsk time) or time to wake up (it's 8:00 am NOLA time) - but I'm really Jonesing for a coffee.  The Moscow Airport cheated me out of my cappuccino by its avarice.  So, no matter the consequences, I'm having my coffee, dammit, and with milk and sugar to boot!  It's not good, but it's coffee - and it didn't set me back twelve bucks either!  I figure this will help ramp me back up to the good stuff.

I almost bought a Turkish coffee urn at the Moscow airport, but Dan had warned me about the Moscow prices (confirmed by the cappuccino), and I said "nyet."  Besides, I really didn't have room in my carry-on.

After all of this liquid, I have to pee.  I'm in the middle of the middle, of course, just as I was on the way to Moscow, and both of my seatmates are sleeping.  I nudge the poor guy on my left and say: "Извините. Туалет." (Excuse me. Toilet.).  He's a good sport, and gets up to let me go by.

I have to wait a long time.

After returning, my seatmate speaks to me in broken English.  He says, "I love God."  I remember this expression from one of Richard Wurmbrand's books.  This seems to be an idiomatic way of confessing Christianity.  Indeed, he is a Christian - a Pentecostal.  He knows that I am a Christian, perhaps from my table prayer and sign of the cross, or maybe because of the cross around my neck.  I tell him that I am a Lutheran pastor.  He has lived in the U.S. for a few years, though English remains difficult for him.  His wife and children are in the seats behind us.  His children are fluent in English.  They used to live in California, and now they live in Maryland.  They just returned from a seven-month trip to Belarus to care for elderly relatives.

I get back to writing and he gets back to sleeping.  Since we are back in the Western hemisphere - just off the coast of Iceland and almost to Greenland - I change my wedding ring back to my left hand.  It feels more natural there, but has been on my right hand long enough to create a small calloused ridge.

After several hours of transferring journal notes, I decide to rest my hand.  I'm beginning to get a little tired.  It's 12:20 am Novosibirsk time, 12:20 pm New Orleans time.  We're heading into Labrador.  We have covered 5,396 km at 34,000 feet, 3:09 (hours) to destination, 2,500 km to go.  It is -38C outside of the plane.  Our ground speed is 517 mph, 835 km/h.

We land about an hour late.  It does look like I will miss my flight.  I meet up with Dan as we rush off the plane.  We head to customs, go through quickly, pick up our bags, recheck our bags, and go through security again - even though each minute that goes by means missed connections.

People are steamed.

The line is chaotic.  People are frustrated and in a hurry.  I finally emerge to inquire about my flight.  The board says it has left.  The customer service rep, an elderly man, is smart-alecky and rude, being quite obnoxious to a couple of German girls in front of me - who don't seem to understand his "humor."  He sends me to customer service at C-20, and tells me with a smirk. "There will be a long line."  I consider for a split second telling him this is why Americans are not always liked around the world.  Instead, I thank him for his "help."  Welcome back to the United States.

Anyway, I rush over to gate C-20 and meet up with Dan.  This is the selfsame place that I had met Herbert and Klaus at the other end of this adventure.  And it isn't quite over yet!  Dan had phoned me and met me there.  From the line of unhappy international travelers, I ask him if it is possible just to go back to Siberia.  Things are not looking good.  The clerk informs me that there are no other flights to New Orleans today.  He could get me to Houston.

But, here comes a break in the gloom, a tiny crack in the window of opportunity that could slam shut any second.  It seems that there are (what else?) mechanical problems on the flight to New Orleans, and it hasn't actually taken off yet.  He suggests that I run to the gate - which is a long, long way.

Dan and I sprint along the airport.  At the gate, I am told we are waiting for information.  Nevertheless, I am given a boarding pass!  Of course, this assumes that we will fly.

Dan and I head to the bar and enjoy a final пива - a couple of Stella Artois.  We were both very pleased with how the trip went, and both expressed appreciation for one another as travel companions.

We say goodbye, and I head back to my gate.  There is a Starbucks on the way, and a latte makes friends with the beer in my belly.  They seem quite as compatible as Dan and I seem to be.  I return to my gate, and it turns out that I have even more time to wait.  So, I walk back, meet up with Dan again, and wait with him at his gate.  After a short wait, he boards and departs.  I walk back to my own gate, and, thanks be to God, we are boarding!

I am even in Economy Plus this time on the A319.

God willing, I will be with my family at home soon!

It's time for this adventure to draw to a close.  We land at New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport - which is actually in nearby Kenner where Grace and I first lived when we moved to the area - with Leo in tow in utero.  That was an adventure of a different sort, as planes used to fly so close to our home that we could just about see the faces of passengers in the windows.

We land!  With excitement that borders on disbelief, I head to baggage claim.  And there they are: Grace and Leo!  My bag arrives quickly.  Leo is beaming as both are clinging to me with excitement.  Grace drives us back to Gretna where we celebrate my homecoming to America with ice cream at McDonald's.

So now, this adventure has ended, and our adventure together as a family begins anew.  Thanks be to God!  Amen!

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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sermon: Baptism of our Lord – 2012

11 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ is a great mystery. For baptism is a washing away of sins. But Jesus had no sins. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance. But our Lord had nothing of which to repent.

This mystery is reflected in St. John’s reaction, whose gut reaction was to refuse Jesus baptism with words reflecting his shock: “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

What’s the point of washing someone who is not only clean, but pristine, perfect, immaculate, and without so much as a single cell reflecting a flaw of our fallen world? As Jesus Himself said: the people who are well don’t need a physician. And God certainly doesn’t need forgiveness.

Jesus needs no baptism.

And yet He submits to it, just like a poor, miserable sinner; just like a sinful son of Adam; in the very manner of the same vast crowds of the tax collectors and sinners who lined up to take the plunge in the Jordan at the hands of this eccentric preacher of righteousness. Righteousness.

The Lord’s explanation of the mystery uses this very word “righteousness.” For Jesus answered John’s protests: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And only then does his blessed cousin consent to cleanse God.

Our Lord Jesus did not come into our world merely to teach us right from wrong, to give us ethical principles, to leave behind things we have to memorize in the catechism. All of these things are related, but only secondary to the one great important truth about Jesus: He has come to save us from our sins. He is our Champion, our Redeemer-Kinsman, the One who rescues us from death itself. And He does this by imparting righteousness to us.

As our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ was baptized and cleansed from our sins – and His baptism of water was completed by His baptism of blood. For at the cross, He was to become sin for us – sin that He promises is washed away through baptism, by means of the faith that makes us well, by the pledge of a pure conscience – indeed, in the very repentance His holy cousin John came preaching in the wilderness!

Jesus had no sins of His own to wash away. But He took ours. Jesus had no consequences and punishment to bear for His own transgressions. For He took ours. Jesus had no need of sacrificial blood to reconcile Himself with His Father – rather He gives us His own blood: at the cross and in the cup.

For something else happened at our Lord’s baptism, dear brothers and sisters, dear fellow baptized and redeemed sinners. And it happened “immediately.” As the Lord emerged from the water, as He drew His first breaths of our foul air following this public action of taking our sins upon Himself: “the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” And then came the spoken revelation from the Father Himself, the voice that was to be repeated at the Lord’s Transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We are baptized into the most holy Name of the Most Holy Trinity!

This is not just God the Father accepting His Son Jesus and praising His righteousness. For the baptism of our Lord pleases the Father, the obedience of the Son pleases the Father, the humility of the Son pleases the Father. The act of accepting the burden and punishment of sins He did not commit pleases the Father – because, dear friends, think of just how profound this is: the Father is pleased in our redemption, in the Son’s cosmic rescue mission to drag us literally out of the fires of hell and to restore us to what we were created to be – all by the draw and the call of the Holy Spirit.

This is what it means “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus did not come just to teach us about baptism, nor to set an example of baptism, but to become baptism, to be the washing away of our sins that saves us.

He, Jesus, is the “servant” whom God “upholds,” who is “chosen,” who bears the Spirit, and indeed, He has come to bring justice. And even when He was being rained upon with the unjust blows of fist and scourge, of nails and spear, He did not “cry aloud or lift up His voice.” He manfully, what’s more, divinely, endured our punishment and bore God’s wrath – and in bearing that wrath of God He pleases God. For it pleases God to save us!

Such is the love the Lord has for us, dear brothers and sisters. That love, that incarnate love, that redemptive love – is the heart of the mystery of the baptism of our Lord.

And so we who have been baptized into the Lord’s name, the Triune Name of the Triune God, numbered among His redeemed, we who are grafted into His Church and wedded to the perfect Bridegroom, have been elevated to righteousness with Jesus who emerged triumphant from the water and from the grave. Not many of us are deemed “wise according to worldly standards.” Not many of us are of our own nature “powerful” or of “noble birth.”

Yet here again is the mystery, dear friends, the love of God and the mystery of the righteousness He gives to us, His beloved: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong,” the low and those who don’t even count in the world’s eyes “so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”

Here is what ties it all together, what it means to be a Christian, the glories of the mystery of the love of Christ, the revelation of the Holy Trinity and of Holy Baptism. Here, dear friends, is the significance of the baptism of our Lord: “Because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Indeed, we confess with John: “I need to be baptized by You,” Lord Jesus. And so, by God’s grace and according to the wonder of His love and mercy, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and by the righteous obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ – we have been. And in Christ, we too are the Father’s beloved sons and daughters, vessels of the Holy Spirit, whose boast, whose only boast, is “in the Lord.”

“I need to be baptized by You,” and indeed, Lord Jesus, “You come to me.” Amen.

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

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sermon: Epiphany 1 – 2012

8 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 2:41-52

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Did you not know that I must…”

The word “must” may well be the most extraordinary word in today’s Gospel. Of course, the fact that Jesus refers to God as His Father is also extraordinary. He is God’s Son. He knows it. He confesses it. And His mother and step-father must to come to grips with it. But that little word “must” when Jesus says: “I must…” easily misses our notice.

For what does it mean that Jesus “must” do something? He is the King of the Universe. He is God. Isn’t it a contradiction to say that Jesus “must” do anything? Isn’t this a little like the question: “Can God make a stone so heavy that He can’t lift it?” Is Jesus bound by the word “must”? “Must” God do anything?

We all understand the word “must.” We must all do all kinds of things we would rather not do. We all have responsibilities and chores and things we don’t like. There are things we must do because others depend on us. And when we must do something, it also implies that we have no choice or control of the matter.

So, how can Jesus, as God, also live within the confines of “must”? How can He really be God at all?

Well, dear friends, this “must” is the very love of God itself. For love always acts against the self-will and self-interest. Mothers and fathers routinely sacrifice for the sake of their children – out of love. Police, firefighters, and military personnel make sacrifices out of love for country and community. Christians of every vocation have a list of things they must do – which have been collected into our catechism’s “table of duties.” These duties are done out of love for the sake of people who depend on our doing them. They are also our priestly sacrifice to God as a thank offering. As Jesus said: “When you fast…. When you give alms…. When you pray….”

When the 12-year old Lord Jesus said: “I must…” He did not mean that He was begrudgingly obeying an order out of fear or compulsion, but rather He was doing His saving duty out of love for His Father and for His creatures. This love is why He took flesh in the first place, laying aside His glory to live in our fallen world of pain, misery, and death. And out of love He even “must” forgo the pangs of death – not because He has called death upon Himself by His sins (as we have), but rather because it is what He must do to save us.

Jesus must be in His Father’s House because that is what a Son does, that is who a Son is, that is who the Son of God is, and that is what the Son of God does. As the Word Made Flesh, He is found in the flesh where the Word of God is proclaimed: “in [His] Father’s house.”

And this was true when our Lord was 12 years old at the Temple, when He was 33 years old at the cross, and even now, two millennia later as He is still present where His Word and flesh are present – for, by, and with the people He loves, forgives, restores, saves, and gives life.

“I must be in My father’s house.”

One remarkable thing about our Lord’s statement is how often one hears people today make the bold claim: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” What a selfish contrast to the humble statement of our Lord and God: “I must be in My Father’s House.” If Christ must be in His Father’s house, why would Christians not be?

For to be a Son is to have a Father. To be a child of God is to call God Father, to hear His Word, to be where He is revealed, to be where He is. And the Father is most fully revealed to us in His Son. To be with our Father is to be with the Son – and to be with Him is to be where He is found according to both His flesh and promise.

“I must be in My Father’s house.”

Those who disbelieve in the Real Presence in Holy Communion sometimes mock this teaching by saying that God is not called up by priestly magic when a pastor says words over bread and wine – like a genie being conjured up to do our bidding. And that is most certainly true. Pastors do not conjure up God, and certainly have no magic to offer. Instead, we invoke God, call upon Him, as He invited us to call upon Him – calling upon His Most Holy Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, invoking the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and submitting to Him and His Word when He said: “Do this in memory of Me.”

For the Lord isn’t commanded into bread and wine by magic words, rather the Word Made Flesh joins us in the flesh according to His own miraculous Word and promise. For just as God the Son “must be in [His] Father’s house,” so too must the Word Made Flesh keep His promises. And the Lord has promised us: “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” He must keep His promise.

Indeed, He cannot not be present in Holy Communion within His confessing Church that invokes His Word and uses His own promise-laden words, words which must do what they say. God does not come to us like a captive genie to do our bidding as a reluctant slave, but rather joins us freely as God Almighty, captive to His own love for us, faithful to His own Word in order to save us, His beloved – even taking the form of a slave in order to redeem us in word and in deed.

“I must be in My Father’s house.”

Dear friends, this holy house is the Father’s house – as are all holy houses that bear a Christian altar, a Christian pulpit, and a Christian font – all holy houses be they big or small, elaborate or simple, wealthy or poor – and Jesus “must” be in His Father’s house. It is His promise to us, dear friends.

If you wish to find Jesus, you must find Him where He must be found. You will find Jesus here among your brothers and sisters who confess Him who was obedient to His Heavenly Father and submissive to His fleshly mother and step-father. Jesus has taught us to be submissive and to be present where He is present. For if you want to experience the living God, you must find Him where He is living – where His presence and promise are, where He must be – and where we must be as well – out of love, in His mercy, under the forgiveness of the cross, in the majesty of His Word, in the mystery of the altar and in the presence of His potent words of forgiveness and eternal life.

In His submission He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” Holding onto Jesus we join Him in this wisdom, stature, and favor – even as we join the Lord Jesus in His confession and promise: “I must be in My Father’s house.” And concerning the Lord Jesus, who must be in His Father’s house, there is no other name by which we must be saved.

And we join Him not just here, but in eternity. “I must be in My Father’s house,” now and forever, thanks be to God!


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

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Technical Difficulties, Comrades!

That's CCCNN for you!

HT: Lew Rockwell

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

As Christmas winds down...

God jul, alle sammen!

If you liked the above, then Happy New Year!

Sermon: Epiphany (observed) – 2012

4 January 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 2:1-12

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In his most famous short story, author O. Henry illustrates what true love is. It is a Christmas story of a poor husband sacrificing what is most dear to him to buy his wife a gift. It is also the poor wife sacrificing what is most dear to her to buy her husband a gift. And though both are materially less well off, the demonstration of love for one another shows that they are rich indeed.

O. Henry called this story “The Gift of the Magi” as the Magi are the wise men who brought gifts to the Holy Child, who was Himself the greatest gift of all. The wise men presented the best of their treasures to the Lord: “gold and frankincense and myrrh,” and the Lord Jesus offered His very body and blood as a sacrifice of love for all men – even Gentiles from afar.

Love is not only a mystery, it is also a paradox. For the more one gives in love, the richer one becomes. Our Lord Himself taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The gifts of the magi who traveled to see the boy King are love offerings and sacrifices of thanksgiving. They are also something else: a confession. In giving these gifts, these wise men from the east are proclaiming to the world and to all of history that they confess this Jesus to be Prophet (bearing the sweet aroma of God’s Word), Priest (surrounded in the smoke of the incense of the divine presence of God), and King (possessing the richness of material treasure). And this long journey of these men was not merely for the purpose of attending a party or to drop off a few parcels. Their purpose was simple: “We… have come to worship Him.”

“We have come” dear brothers and sisters, “to worship Him.”

That is why the wise men came from hundreds of miles away. That is why we have come here this evening. We have come to “worship Him.” And yes, He gives us the very same gifts as He offered to the wise men and all men at the cross: the forgiveness of sins through the atoning sacrifice of His blood. For like the husband in the O. Henry story, He is the perfect Bridegroom who withholds nothing – not even His very lifeblood – from His dear bride. And yes, we also offer Him gifts here as well – our own treasures in the form of monetary instruments that were at one time made of gold, the incense of our prayers, and the sweet myrrh of our hymns of thanks and praise – even as the bride in the O. Henry story: the Church withholds nothing – not even her most treasured possessions – from her dear Bridegroom.

But this gift exchange is not our primary purpose. We have not come in order to put money in a plate. Nor have we come out of sheer selfishness to get something. No indeed! For we give, and yes, we receive these holy gifts in faith. We receive these gifts in faith, love, gratitude, and in worship of the One who gives us everything.

The church is indeed like a hospital. We come to the church to get well. But it is not a for-prophet healthcare enterprise – rather it is a hospital that runs on charity and love. That is why we give gifts, dear friends. If we owe God our money, and if that is why we are here – we might as well put a check in the mail and gripe about the cost. No, we come in person “to worship Him,” to be with Him in the flesh, to be where He is, to adore and love Him. And because of that, we joyfully bear gifts – like the magi – as an act of faith, love, and confession before all men around the world and in every time that Jesus is Prophet, Priest, and King.

He is God in the flesh!

He is our Lord, our Savior, our Redeemer, our beloved Bridegroom. We worship Him for who He is, not because of what He does for us. And yet He does everything for us, holds nothing back, and rains treasure upon us now and even unto eternity. For He loves us, dear friends. He has come into the world to redeem the world, and to buy us poor miserable sinners back from death and hell, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

The magi “fell down and worshiped Him.” So do we, dear brothers and sisters. Just as these wise men knelt before their King – who for all the world looked like an ordinary helpless baby – we too fall upon our knees before the Lord who manifests Himself in Holy Communion – which for all the world looks like ordinary bread and wine. And this most holy sacrament is His gift to us: His true body and His true blood, one and the same as that which the wise men worshiped.

As the saying goes, “wise men still seek Him.” And yes, wise men still worship Him. Wise men still know the meaning of love, both in the meager sacrifices we can offer the living God as well as the priceless and incomparable sacrifice offered for us poor miserable sinners at the hands – hands of a little child and hands of a carpenter pierced by nails – at the very hands of the very God. Hands that receive gifts in our imperfect love; hands that offer and distribute gifts in His perfect love.

Today we celebrate the event the Church calls “the Epiphany of our Lord.” An epiphany is a shining forth, a revealing. It is what you see when the light is turned on, and the true image of a thing that was hidden becomes visible.

Love may be invisible in and of itself. But, dear friends, even as love is seen in the acts of love – like the husband and wife in the story, like the love we Christians have for one another, and for our fellow men in this fallen world – so too is love clearly shone forth in the cross, the empty tomb, the communion rail, the pulpit, the baptismal font, in the forgiveness of sins, and in countless acts of forgiveness and mercy, great and small.

Love shone forth as an epiphany to the wise men who came to worship Love incarnate, God incarnate, the forgiveness of sins incarnate, and life incarnate. God who was hidden on account of our sins shines brightly (on account of our forgiveness), shining as an epiphany before wise men of every age who confess Him as Lord.

And we poor sinners who have been forgiven are rich indeed. For “we have come to worship Him.” Amen.

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

Monday, January 02, 2012

My Siberian Adventure - Day 23, July 19, 2011

Begin: Chelyabinsk
Drive to: Yekaterinburg
Drive to: Polevskoya
Drive to: Yekaterinburg

I woke up a little on the late side and took a shower.  I was beginning to think that there was no hot water - but my patience was rewarded.

Dan, Alexy, and I enjoy a very nice buffet breakfast in the Green Restaurant downstairs - which is included.  This breakfast is like Russian supper - with sausage, chicken, and pasta - along with more typical breakfast foods like boiled eggs.  There are also the traditional drinks - water and fruit juices.  One berry drink is translated as "hip drink."  Father Alexey doesn't know why.  The music is a little odd, quite loud, a sort-of disco or fitness club version of Indian or Middle Eastern music.  I actually dig it.  We check out of the hotel and meet Father Sergey.  I'm armed with bottled water that Alexey purchased for me.  Russians drink a lot of bottled water.  This one is sparkling ("living.").

We drive to a drab factory building where Dan's wife's company has a branch office.  He hopes to get inside for a picture, but security won't let us in.  We wait in a cramped reception area.  A manager with whom Father Daniel has corresponded comes down and apologetically gives Dan some brochures to take home.

We hit the road which is terribly bumpy, posing for pictures at the sign indicating that we have just left Chelyabinsk.  The terrain between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg is wide open with bright yellow fields.  There are birch forests in the distance.

We arrive at the church flat, drop off our things, and eat lunch at the food court - at Blinoff, a pancake (blini) place.  It's outstanding!  I had a pancake with "old Russian meat" - which is a spiced beef - as well as a cherry pancake with a sweet condensed milk sauce.  I also had a soulanka, a roll, and a coffee (which was not instant!).  The pancakes are actually crepes.  They are made on the spot on two large griddles.

After lunch, we head off the to the Orthodox diocesan store for my last opportunity to buy icons for souvenirs.

Father Sergey drives us to the archbishop's residence - which is opulent.  There is an army of Mercedes and Lexus cars.  We see bearded and cassocked clergy surrounded by secret-service-type bodyguards with sunglasses and earpieces.  It was rather surreal - quite a contrast to our own bishop with his Toyota.  A lot of people have apparently been turned off to Christianity in Russia because of the financial dealings of some of the Orthodox churches.

After parking, we walk into the store and start shopping for icons.  Of all of our icon-buying trips, I have been unsuccessful in finding an icon of St. Raphael the archangel to bring back to Grace.  Even now I can't find one - until I visited the very last room and looked at the very last icon!  I see a small icon of an angel.  The Cyrillic letters are hard to read, but I sound it out and it comes out like "Raphael" to me.  I point to the icon to buy it, and the lady says: "Raphael."  Very cool!

Father Daniel and I pick up some icons and Father Alexey buys a stack of books.

Afterwards, we head back to the church flat for a quick change of clothes.  We all get into our clericals as we are headed to the local ELKRAS congregation for a visit.  This is Father Dennis's congregation, the pastor I offended regarding women's "ordination."  His predecessor was a woman who was there for three years.

Father Sergey drives.  He has been playing an interesting and eclectic mix of very good pop music in the car: soundtracks from House, MD, an album called Dead Man's Bones, a collection of Christmas tunes by Annie Lenox, some blues, and Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms album.  Father Sergey is a Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler fan.  Dan asks about Dire Straits and I fill him in on the Brothers in Arms album.  Sergey listens in with amusement.

The ELKRAS parish is located in Polevskoya.  The congregation meets in a rented room in an office complex.  We are greeted warmly by the pastor, who is young and speaks some English and German in addition to Russian.  The congregation is nearly all older women.  There are two younger women and one young man and one old man in the congregation.

Fathers Sergey, Daniel, Alexey, and I sit in the front row behind the small keyboard.  Father Alexey translates as Father Dennis explains that we will sing a couple hymns, have a prayer, and then we (the guests) will speak.

The service book has many short hymns.  They are essentially "praise songs" of a Taize character.  We sing one such song, singing the Russian part three times, a Latin translation twice, and then repeating the Russian again.  The next song we only sing n Russian.  Dennis led the singing and played the electronic organ.

There is a small but dignified altar set up for communion with a Bible situated in the middle.  There is also a small, dignified pulpit.  Both altar and pulpit are adorned by a pair of flickering candles.

There is a small icon of Christ on the wall, under which are three western depictions of our Lord.  There is a little table underneath with a candle, an open Bible, and a crucifix.  On the Bible is an Orthodox rosary.

After a short prayer, Father Dennis introduces us.  I spoke about our congregation back home, about New Orleans, and about my family.  Father Daniel does the same regarding his family and parish.  I related the story of how Grace had once told me that she would live anywhere but New Orleans which everyone found amusing.  I also told them how Grace was the daughter of a nun and the wife of a priest who was given a most appropriate name for a Lutheran pastor's wife.

Afterwards, a lady asked about Hurricane Katrina.  I took her e-mail and will send her links to pictures.

Dan also spoke about the catechism and the sacraments.  I spoke about the heroic nature of Russian Lutheranism and implored them not to take their freedom for granted as, unfortunately, many Americans do.  Sergey and Alexey also give brief addresses.

The congregation was very hospitable and treated us to tea and dessert pastries afterward.  They gave us a box of them to take with us.  I offered to take some home to my family, but they warned against it - as they were home-made with sour cream.  So I took a picture instead.

We drove back to the church flat in Yekaterinburg and reflected on what a tragedy women's "ordination" is.  These are nice people who have been led astray - including women in their eighties who had never seen such things in he churches of their youth.

We arrive at the flat and say our goodbyes to Father Alexey.  He is flying back to Novosibirsk, having found a flight for the same price as the train would cost.  Father Sergey will be by at 5:20 am tomorrow morning to bring us to the airport.

Dan and I change clothes.  I check e-mail and have an IM session with Grace.  I send my dad a SnapYap message.  Dan and I head back for one final visit to the beer tent.  First, we decide to walk around the mall.  Unfortunately, it is in the process of closing.  But we take a short walk and snap a few pictures.

We drop into the beer garden to find our familiar waiter working.  He knows just what beers to bring us.  I decide to eat, and so does Dan.  I order mante (steamed dumplings) and a plav (rice and meat).  The portions are pretty good-sized, and the price is reasonable.  Dan also orders a plav, and along with the beers and a generous tip, the total is 600 rubles - about $20.

Our waiter takes our picture.  We explain that we are flying back to America tomorrow.  Actually, Dan explains in Russian accompanied by hand gestures.

We head back to the flat to pack.  I decide to shower then rather than waiting until 4:30 am.  I am excited to be going home, as I am missing my wife and son terribly!  It is hard to fall asleep as my mind races.

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