Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sermon: Wednesday of Invocabit – 2012

29 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Gen 22:1-18 (Jas 1:12-18, Mark 1:9-15)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

A woman who claims to be a Lutheran pastor in Sweden wrote the following in a national newspaper:

“There is no fallen creation and therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement is irrational! Throw out all the talk about sin, guilt, shame, blood, slaughtered lambs and other horrors! It has no place in modern times, among enlightened people!”

To put it a different way, her argument runs like this: “There is no fall, and therefore no atonement is needed. Since there is no atonement, blood sacrifice is nothing more than primitive cruelty. In fact, we should not even talk about such things because we are modern, enlightened, ever-so-smart people!”

And what is only hinted at, but not said outright in her statement, is that there is no such thing as sin. For without sin, there is no fall, no atonement, and no cross.

If this is true, dear friends, then the cross did not save us through the sacrifice of our Savior, but merely served to torture to death a man no different than you and me. If this is true, then Jesus died in vain, and that putting away such beliefs in Him as redeemer is what it means to live in “modern times among enlightened people.”

Dear friends, in the “modern times” of the last century alone, such “enlightened people” have tortured and slaughtered other human beings by hundreds of millions. Far from seeing “enlightened people” proving that belief in sin in these “modern times” is “irrational,” we have seen a hundred years of sin and evil of proportions more epic than even in the Bible. World War I brought the entire world into total war. Hitler murdered some eight million plus. Stalin killed somewhere near sixty million of his own people. Cambodia’s Pol Pot killed around two million men, women, and children in his killing fields. And with all of the injustice and terrorism in the present, the current century isn’t looking any more “enlightened” than the last one. And even if we as individuals are not in a position to murder people by the millions, we do not go a moment without sinning in thought, word, and deed.

The only way any person living in “modern times” to consider mankind to be “enlightened” and to consider the doctrine of the fall to be “irrational” a person must be deluded, deceived by the world, the devil, and one’s sinful flesh.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers,” warns St. James. For what was true at the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; at the time of the crucifixion, in the age of the Christian martyrs under the Romans – is still true today. There is sin in the world, sin that must be atoned for, and sin that was and is atoned for, dear friends: atoned by Christ’s bloody death on the cross! He died for Adam and Eve, and He died also for the most so-called “enlightened” of us living in these “modern times.” As James says, “do not be deceived….” For regarding the Father, “there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Dear friends, man’s sinful heart has not changed. Rather in these “modern times” mankind has used the “enlightenment” of technology to find a way to sin on a grander scale. And as St. James reveals to us, the Lord has not changed either, “no variation or shadow due to change.” Even as the wages of sin is death, it still is. Even as a Lamb had to be sacrificed to atone for sin, He still is that sacrifice. And even as the Lord was merciful, dear brothers and sisters, indeed He ever shall be. None of that has changed. It matters not whether we lived in the days of Abraham or in “modern times.”

The Lord made a promise to Abraham four millennia ago. The Lord kept His promise. Indeed, the Son of Abraham would be sacrificed on a hilltop, as a Lamb “caught in a thicket” of thorns wrapped around His head. The Son of Abraham would indeed tread condemned by decree of God up a hill carrying the wood for the sacrifice. And indeed, the One who loves us, He who would not withhold His Son, His “only-begotten Son,” from us,” would carry out the payment for our sins Himself because He loves us. God did indeed “provide for Himself the Lamb” for the offering.

The word “Son” in Hebrew means “male descendant.”
The Son of Abraham who was to die was not Isaac, but a later Son who was to come at the fullness of time two millennia later. That Son of Abraham was also the Son of God, who died as a sacrifice, an atonement, for the sake of all other sons and daughters of Abraham, sinners all of us, we who so smugly claim to be “enlightened” and “better” than our ancestors who understood all too well the wages of sin.

And shame on any so-called church that would claim to ordain those whom God has not called, who teach that which God has not revealed to us! And woe to anyone who would teach that the “holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of [God’s] beloved Son, Jesus Christ” was all in vain, that God did not actually say “you shall die” to Adam and Eve in His warning to them about sin. For in rejecting the atonement, one rejects the cross. In rejecting the cross, one rejects the Crucified One, the Son, the gift of eternal life, and ultimately, such a one rejects and snubs the very love of God. And to reject God in this way is to declare oneself a god, or in this case, a goddess.

The inability of some who claim to be Christians to confess the connection between the redemptive Lamb, the atoning cross, and the transmission of that forgiveness is baptism is stunning – especially among those who recite the Nicene Creed week in and week out. Even Hollywood sees this connection clearly, as evidenced by movies like The Godfather and Gran Torino – in which redemption through the shedding of blood is played out in connection with a church’s baptismal font. Throughout human history we have seen soldiers sacrifice their lives for love of country and hearth and home. We have seen parents sacrifice their lives for their children. Even animals will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their beloved offspring. Love and sacrifice are part and parcel of our existence in this fallen world.

The world may not embrace this truth, but it is truth. And for any so-called Christian to deny this truth is evidence of the very sin that such a person denies among the “enlightened” of the “modern age.” To deny sin is to be deceived.

Again: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers!” For “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

For the ultimate “good gift” and indeed the pinnacle of the “perfect gift” is the gift of the Son, offered upon the cross, whose blood is given to us freely as atonement and as sacrament, the “only begotten Son” of the Father, the Crucified One to whom the Father says: “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”

For indeed, “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

And wherever this Gospel is proclaimed, there will be blood! The cross is proclaimed and borne by those called, truly called, to preach this good news. The Church – she who bears the cross of oppression and persecution – is covered in blood, and more importantly, covered by blood – the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And upon our altars one indeed finds no blood of bulls and goats, but rather the blood of the Lamb in the cup, the blood of the one all-availing sacrifice, with the unblemished sacrificial flesh of the Lamb, offered to us as a sacramental gift, in the very words of the Lamb Himself: “for the forgiveness of sins.”

“For the forgiveness of sins,” dear friends!

Let us continue to confess “Through Jesus’ blood and merit, I am at peace with God” even as we partake of His body and blood at the altar until He comes again.

For as we observe and as Scripture testifies, there is a tragically fallen creation. Therefore the whole doctrine of the atonement of Christ Crucified is not only true, but it is the supreme act of love, “irrational” love to fallen man, maybe, but divine perfect love for those being redeemed! Throw out all the talk about what “enlightened people” we are in these “modern times,” and other such horrors! Let us freely acknowledge our “sin, guilt, [and] shame,” and let us take refuge in the “blood” of the Lamb, the Crucified One, the “beloved Son” in whom the Father is pleased.”

For us by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us He gave His dying breath.

O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!


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

Monday, February 27, 2012

You know you're getting old when...

... you enjoy the music played at Wallgreen's.

This means that you are officially part of the "drugstore demographic" and management wants you to be in a good mood and eager to buy stuff - specifically things that the pharmacy sells.

Gone are the days when the "drugstore demographic" is listening to Al Jolsen on the Victrola, Tommy Dorsey or the Andrews sisters on 78s, or even Elvis or the Beatles on 45s.  We have even progressed beyond Pink Floyd on LP.  No, sir, we're long past that in the world of the pharmacy.  In fact, 70s and 80s music is increasingly de rigueur on the apothecary airwaves (now piped in via satellite radio).

The playlist for FH's evening excursion tonight was a couple of old, memory evoking faves, reproduced here :

1) Arlo Guthrie's "City of New Orleans" (1972)


2) Van Halen's "Love Walks In" (1986)

Quite different tunes, but I like 'em both.

"City of New Orleans" is one of those American folk tunes that is impossible not to sing or hum when the refrain debuts in your head.  As I made my way to the cash, a middle-aged Gretna police officer was singing along softly.  I walked past him whistling the chorus.  The tune makes me think of our family's trips in recent years between New Orleans and Chicago by the Amtrak line of the same iconic name (and between Chicago and Milwaukee via the Hiawatha): the various sights and sites mentioned in the lyrics, the feeling of being rocked to sleep, the little passing slice of Americana that one inevitably encounters in such an epic rail trip in a cozy sleeper car with wife and young son:

Mothers with their babes asleep,
Are rockin' to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel.

"Love Walks In" is more personal to me - being a tune that reminds me of playing it on cassette (these were crude plastic shells that contained - it's almost embarrassing - a cellophane tape rolled manually around two spools with music encoded - it sounds ridiculous these days - magnetically onto the tape.  I played the album (Van Halen's 5150) cranked up as loud as it would go in the stereo unit mounted in the fairing of my Suzuki GS850L motorcycle - which I rode everywhere from work, to church, to picnics and parks with friends, to solitary camping trips in the mountains - at the ripe old age of 22, five years before meeting my future wife.

Contact is all that it takes
To change your life, to lose your place in time

Such glorious memories - thanks to Wallgreen's and their blasted marketing strategy to lull me into being a good consumer according to my own mortality!

However, I can be encouraged that I was not there to buy pain killers or stool softeners or supplements for the prostate or denture cream.  I am not quite surfing that demographic wave, at least not yet.  Instead, (and this may be one of those sentences never before written or spoken in the English language) I was buying a gallon of milk, a cat bed, and a package of Fig Newtons.

Yes, I was Jonesing for Fig Newtons.

Does that mean something?  Am I just this side of having to stock up on Doan's Pills, hot water bottles, enemas, and Grecian Formula?  How far does one have to connect the dots to get from Arlo Guthrie, Sammy Hagar, and Fig Newtons before this becomes a "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" thing?  Then again, I have just been reminiscing about the cassette tape and the days before cellphones, PCs, downloadable music, and my motorcycle that was made 30 years ago (which would today qualify for antique plates).

Well, I guess I'll know for sure that it's all downhill when Wallgreen's starts playing 1990s grunge.  And I can only hope and pray not be fated to picking out a new walker while Britney Spears sings "Oops, I Did it Again" - a fate worse than death.

Meanwhile, for the time being, I'll gladly take Guthrie and Hagar, Amtrak and Suzuki and Nabisco and reflect between Fig Newtons:

Another world, some other time
You lay your sanity on the line
Familiar faces, familiar sights
Reach back, remember with all your might

Good night, America, how are you?
Say, don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Singing a Song vs. Living a Song

Popular songwriter Jim Steinman has written a large corpus of distinctive works performed by many singers from the 1970s to the present, most notably Meat Loaf (Marvin Aday). His music is just plain fun. Much of it is tongue-in-cheek with witty and even poetic turns of phrase and a big theatric and/or operatic sound to back up the main vocal lines.  His music often avoids falling off the cliff of pretension with some good old-fashioned self-parody and humor.  At the same time, there is much upon which to cogitate.

The Steinman tune "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" was a top-40 hit in 1981.  In fact, on the radio in the office of the Superintendent of Akron's pubic schools when my dad drove me over to his office to pick up my high school diploma (I attended Summer school and racked up enough credits to graduate a year early).

The 1981 arrangement and performance that was on the radio (especially Cleveland's legendary WMMS) that summer is reproduced in the first YouTube below (it was released as part of a Jim Steinman solo project, but he was not the vocalist).  It has the characteristic Steinman flair - playful lyrics, operatic chorus, and epic instrumental sound.  The singer is good - especially considering how the song took off on the radio.  But he is only singing the song, not living it.

Jim Steinman's 1981 version...

In 1993, Meat Loaf took the wheel of the vocals as the same tune was re-released as part of his Steinman-authored Bat Out of Hell II project.  Listening to this version is like the former with the intensity cranked up a few notches - if not exponentially - and then ripping the knob off and throwing it away.  I think it's obvious why the decades-long collaboration between lyricist and vocalist has survived and prospered.

The contrast between the two is stunning.  It is as though Meat Loaf said: "Now I will show you how a Steinman song is sung.  Step back, sit down, and get out of the way."  Or as Mrs. H. said, the former is singing the song, whereas Meat Loaf is living the song.  And a piece of music - whether a pop tune or an opera - with lyrics like: "You've been through the fires of hell / And I know you've got the ashes to prove it" ought to be sung with conviction - as one who has been there, done that, and has survived to tell the tale.

Postscript: I blogged about Meat Loaf nearly four years ago here.

Meat Loaf's 1993 version...

New Orleans: Reality vs. Perception

I was watching an episode of a BBC program in which British comedian and actor Stephen Fry (who played Jeeves opposite Hugh Laurie's Wooster in the TV adaptation of (the uproariously funny and brilliant) Jeeves and Wooster) visits all fifty states of the American union.  In this episode, Fry travels up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Minnesota.

I was interested in how he would find Louisiana - especially New Orleans.  Of course, there is only so much one can see in a short time, and even less that will survive the cutting room floor.  Basically, Fry visited Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras, interviewed an alleged voodoo priestess (a white Jewish lady from New England, actually), and toured the Angola prison.

That was it.

His conclusions were as fake as the New Orleans accents in the movie The Big Easy.  Laughably so!  Of course, the whole Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street thing is a gross distortion of what Carnival is really like.  It's like summarizing American cuisine by showing a kid eating chicken nuggets at McDonald's.  Yes, you will find Americans doing so, but it's a rather narrow stereotype of a much bigger totality.  And in fairness, Bourbon Street is a tourist area that caters to tourists and is filled with tourists.  It's a little like visiting Chinatown and concluding that the average American speaks fluent Mandarin.  Great story, shame about the facts.

But it makes for sensationalistic TV I suppose.

The really laughable part was the time wasted on the whole "voodoo priestess" thing.  I mean, really!  Fry went so far as to conclude that voodoo is the spiritual bedrock of New Orleans.  Can he actually believe this?  Of course, there were (and perhaps still are) real practitioners of voodoo.  But what you find in the French Quarter are souvenir shops and (once again) tourist traps.  Moreover, the overwhelming spirituality of New Orleanians - even if only in a cultural or nominal way - is Roman Catholicism - so much so that the poster advertising the most recent LCMS Youth Gathering featured the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Louis (the spiritual hub of New Orleans) as part of its logo.  But to watch this show, one would think that Christianity runs a distant second to voodoo, that your average Louisianian carries his car keys on a real shrunken head, and sticking pins in effigies of rival football coaches (well, the last one might be true... just kidding).  Actually, the real spirituality of New Orleans is indeed football - the Saints, LSU, Tulane, and your various and sundry Alabama fans.  It is impossible to walk around New Orleans for any length of time without seeing a Saints jersey or a billboard with Drew Brees's picture on it.  A close second in the hearts of the local culture involves the lifestyle that focuses on music and restaurants (both with an authentic regional uniqueness) - quite independent of both Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street.  But Fry chose to focus on something as arcane as voodoo.  And of course, Angola Prison.

Boy, they saw him coming!

Obviously, the screenwriters had in mind a very shallow stereotypical and preconceived picture of Louisiana, and seized on it: Bourbon Street Mardi Gras, voodoo, and a prison.  There was an obligatory tour of the post-Katrina Ninth Ward - but of course, the impression was given that only black neighborhoods suffered under Hurricane Katrina (because of the implied conclusion that the population of Louisiana is racist - yet more sensationalism that can be disproved by even a cursory real visit).

In contrast to the hackneyed Fry job, here is a story from our local paper that you might not hear about in the rest of the country and world - a piece that captures the big-heartedness and sense of community that maybe isn't quite as compelling as voodoo.  But it does involve Mardi Gras, though if you're looking for vomit-stained college girls from the midwest exposing themselves, or chickens being sacrificed, or lurid scenes of prisoners being marched around by rifle-toting guards - you will be disappointed.  It does, however, demonstrate what the vast majority of real New Orleanians think of drunken knuckleheads at the local parades and how children (especially the handicapped) fit into our complex and cosmopolitan culture.

I think the headline in the print edition sums it up: That's How We Roll.

It's too bad that Stephen Fry didn't dig a little deeper.  For the real Louisiana is way more interesting, intricate, incongruous, and intimate than his producers' limp and lazy attempt to create a lurid, and yet ultimately, plastic (and boring!) image that is more imagination than reality.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sermon: Invocabit – 2012

26 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 4:1-11 (Gen 3:1-21, Heb 4:14-16)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when the author of Hebrews implores us to draw near to the throne of grace “with confidence,” he means boldly, openly, and plainly. He means that we can walk to the King’s throne as if we are the crown prince, without hesitation and without worry that we don’t belong there. He doesn’t mean that we should be flippant or take this great privilege for granted. But He does mean that we should not be cowardly when we poor, miserable, and yet forgiven, sinners draw near to God.

What a great contrast to what we deserve as Moses has laid before us in the third chapter of Genesis! Adam and Eve were anything but bold and confident, frank and open, when they broke the Lord’s law, when they sinned against the Lord’s commandment, and when they betrayed the Lord’s trust.

In fact, in their shame, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.” They knew what they had done and they understood the justice they deserved. When God sought them, they were the very opposite of bold and confident, frank and open.

And when the Lord confronted them, bidding them to confess, they were anything but bold and confident, frank and open in their confession. Instead, Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the Serpent. And indeed, it was the Serpent who sowed the seeds of doubt: “Did God actually say…?”

But, dear friends, this seed of doubt was not to be the last seed to be sewn. In fact, the Lord Himself promised to the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” – literally: “her Seed.” “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

And so the great conflict – in fact the Greatest Conflict in History – began with a human act of sin, and with the promise of a human act of redemption! For it was to be not a seed of doubt planted by the devil, but the Seed of Faith planted by the Father – that would secure eternity and bring forth victory – even in the shadow of that most dark and horrid of days.

For our Lord Jesus is the Seed of the woman, the Offspring not only of Eve, but also the Son of the virgin Mary, conceived without the seed of a man. He is the Warrior who has come to avenge mankind from the lies of the father of lies and his loathsome “did God actually say…?” seed of doubt. And Jesus, our Seed-Warrior is also our King-Priest. He is the Son of David, the One whose reign never ends, the One through whom we, the fallen seeds of Adam and Eve, conceived in sin and disobedience and death – can approach the divine throne of grace with confidence: bold and confident, frank and open. And what’s more, He is our Priest, the one who offers Himself as the Lamb: the sacrifice and priestly work of His own nail-scarred hands, even as the malicious and mendacious devil bruised His heel at the cross.

This Priest atones for us with blood, His own blood, His own perfect blood, He who “has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God,” our very own “great High Priest” whose death gives us life, whose blood gives us confidence to “draw near” to the God whom we have offended with our sins, whose Word sustains us in ways that bread alone cannot. For as Jesus – the Seed of the woman, the High Priest, the Lamb of God pure and holy, the Redeemer, the Savior, the Word Made Flesh, the Crucified One – teaches us anew this holy day: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Dear friends, our Lamb dies so that we might live! Our Priest offers sacrifice so that we might draw near to the throne of grace”! Our promised Seed crushes the head of the lying serpent, and the Word made flesh sends forth His Word to us in order that we might wield it as a double-edged sword to beat back the temptations and assaults of the devil, crushing his head under our feet.

For the Serpent continues in his lie: “Did God actually say…?” to this very day.

Did God actually say that we are sinners? Yes indeed. “Let us hold fast our confession.” Did God actually say that the Lord Jesus is our High Priest through whom we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace”? Yes indeed, “Let us hold fast our confession.” Did God actually say that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”? Yes, indeed. “Let us hold fast our confession.”

And we hold fast our confession as our Lord held fast His confession, even during His own temptation. For our High Priest is indeed able to “sympathize with our weaknesses” as He is truly “One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

And what a blessing that we do not simply have a Priest who preaches at us and tells us what to do, but one who leads the way, marching into battle ahead of us, slaying the enemy with the sword that is His very Word!

What a blessing that we have a Savior who has the power and the authority to command: “Be gone, Satan!” as well as passing that authority on to His ministers who speak in His name: “It is written!”

And thanks be to God that by Christ’s power, through Christ’s authority, by means of Christ’s Word, and in Christ’s name, “the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Though we are sinners and deserve death, we are given life in the Word. Though in our shame, we have no right to approach the throne, we are given confidence by means of the Word. And though in our separation from God, we have no power to fight against the old evil foe, we are empowered to make use of the Word by the Word of God in the flesh, the promised Seed, our High Priest!

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Amen.

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hollywood (again) in Gretna

Above is the video of this report from FOX-8 News (New Orleans).

On the heels of Will Ferrell's "Dog Fight," another crew was filming in Gretna yesterday for another movie ("The Hot Flashes") a block away in our local coffee shop and neighborhood eatery, Common Grounds.  CG is getting to be as well known as a movie set as it is for its shrimp po-boy and Fazzi's barbecue chicken.

I guess the days are coming to an end when you can google "Hollywood" and "Gretna" and my blog would pop up at the top of the list!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sermon: Ash Wednesday – 2012

22 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It’s easy to forget this universal truth, even as we universally try to forget it. We don’t like to confront our own mortality. We change the subject. We speak in euphemisms to avoid the obvious. And we take all sorts of pills and powders and potions to cover up the evidence that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We buy Oil of Olay and Grecian Formula to create the illusion of youthful appearance. Bawdy pharmaceutical commercials try to lure an aging population to behave like hormonal teenagers.

“Remember, O man…”

Remember, O man, that man was created in the image and likeness of God, man and woman, perfect in every way, without cells that would age and without the curse of disease and decay. Remember, O man, how you sinned, man and woman, surrendering the perfection given to us as a gift. Remember, O man, that “the wages of sin is death,” and that “we all like sheep have gone astray.”

“Remember, O man,” that no amount of cosmetics or chemicals can take away sin, the very thing that has brought death into our world and into our own lives.

We need to remember because we try so hard to forget. We make ourselves busy with all sorts of distractions so as not to remember that we are dust, that we are sinners, and that we will indeed return to dust. We work and make money, which we spend on toys and games and distractions so that we won’t remember. We invest years of our lives in sports and television and hobbies so that we won’t remember. We find all sorts of excuses to avoid studying God’s Word and hearing the Word preached so that we can’t be reminded. We drown our mortality in entertainment and distractions, all so that we won’t remember. But it doesn’t work.

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This is why Jesus is constantly reminding us of realities that cut through the clutter and get right to the point. Jesus says: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them,” as if it matters what others think of us. For “remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Our heavenly reward from our heavenly Father is far more important than the temporary praise of fallen men in this fallen life.

“Remember, O man…”

Our Lord reminds us: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do.” For, as our Lord reminds us, such people “have received their reward” already in this short life. But remember, says our Lord, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Remember, O man…”

“And when you pray,” our Lord reminds us, “you must not be like the hypocrites” who put on a good show, eager to be seen by others. But again, “remember, O man” that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Remember, O man…”

“And when you fast,” says our Lord, “do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.” For, as our Lord reminds us, such people “have received their reward.” “But when you fast” (“when” you fast, as our Lord reminds us), “anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others.” And our Lord reminds us again, “your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Some may feel that we should not “disfigure our faces” with an ashen cross, but rather should “anoint your head and wash your face.” But, dear friends, the cross of ashes is not a sign of your fasting, it is a sign of your mortality. It is not a boast about how good we are, but just the opposite. It is a stark reminder to us and to all men who are likewise marked for death – whether with or without a cross – that we are indeed dust, and to dust we shall return.

“Remember, O man…”

If this reality drives you to fast as a sign of repentance, than your fasting should be in secret. There is no need to proclaim to the world what we are giving up for Lent or to make a show of it.

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

And most of all, dear friends, please pay heed to our Lord’s last reminder. We may choose not to confront our mortality by avoiding God’s Word and by refusing to strive against our mortal sinful nature in a struggle to lead a godly life. Instead, we may turn to the world’s allurements of bread and circuses, of sports and sexuality, of hobbies and music and entertainments. None of these are bad in and of themselves. In fact, in their right context, they are gifts of God. But how many people use these things as an idol, as a substitute for the Word of God? How many would not think of missing a parade but will gladly miss Divine Service? How many would not think of missing even a few minutes of the game, but think nothing of missing Bible class? How many will think nothing of spending money on restaurants while shorting the collection plate as the church struggles to pay bills?

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Remember what our Lord reminds us again: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On that day when we return to dust, how important will that jersey be? That prized throw? That antique car? That smartphone? That laptop or iPad? On that day when we return to dust, who will remember who the MVP in the last Super Bowl was? Who had the biggest house in the neighborhood? Who could afford the plastic surgery? Whose kids went to the best colleges? On that day when we return to dust, where will our treasure be?

“Remember, O man…”

We need to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We need to remember that God loved us even in our sinfulness and in our mortality to the point where He sent His only-begotten Son into our flesh, to likewise partake of death – even the death of the cross. “Remember, O man,” that God the Son became a man, so that He might remember you before His Father in heaven!

“Remember, O man…”

Remember that Christ died on the cross for you, that he did not bear ashes symbolic of death on His forehead as a sign, but rather He bore our cross unto the death that He did not deserve, so that He could mark us with the sign of the cross at Holy Baptism. Remember that this baptism is not simply water that washes away ashes and dust from the body, but rather washes away sin and death, drowns the Old Adam destined for dust and ashes, and marks us with His cross so that even though we will die, yet we shall live!

“Remember, O man!

Dear brother and sisters, by the Lord’s grace and in His love, let us use our remaining time before we return to ashes wisely, putting God’s Word first, allowing Jesus to remind us that though we shall die, we shall conquer death because He has conquered death! Let use this time of Lent as an opportunity to repent of our foolishness and our forgetfulness of what is truly important. Let us turn from death and toward life! Let us store up our treasures in heaven, and remember that all things in this fallen world are only so much dust and ashes, but that in Christ, we have “treasure in heaven,” the treasure of forgiveness, salvation, and a life that will have no end.

“Remember, O man!”


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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sermon: Quinquagesima – 2012

19 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (Isa 35:3-7, 1 Cor 13:1-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!” Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord Jesus has great encouragement in store for us today, and it is wrapped in an irony that should make us stop and ponder its meaning: the blind who see, and those with sight who lack vision.

No less than “the twelve,” – the followers of Jesus, the holy apostles themselves – were subject to fits of blindness, such as when our Lord told them something incredibly important: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”

This sounds like something they would do well to pay close attention to, and if they aren’t understanding it, maybe they should ask Jesus some questions.

Our Lord continues, speaking about Himself: “For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”

Our blessed Lord has just revealed to the Twelve the eternal mystery of the atoning passion, death, and resurrection of God in the flesh. This does sound kind of important, no?

“But they” – the followers of Jesus – “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”

They are blind to the very clear preaching of Jesus. They don’t want to hear it. Maybe they are paying attention to other things. Maybe they are focusing on what they want to be true rather than what is true. Maybe they have forgotten that they are the sheep and that our Lord is the Shepherd, and they would do well to pay attention, even when (and maybe especially when) it seems hard. At any rate, they don’t see it.

But, dear friends, contrast this with what comes next.

A blind man, not a disciple of Jesus, but a shameful beggar, cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Without even being able to see, this blind man (who is an embarrassment to the community) has the vision of Jesus as the “Son of David,” as the Messiah, as the living Vessel of the living God’s life-giving mercy.

And his vision of Jesus bears fruit, as Jesus restores the man’s sight, proclaiming: “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And, as St. Luke reports, “immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”

This is so typical of God’s kingdom (which is anything but typical). The blind man sees. The one who cries out for mercy receives it. But at the same time, the ones who don’t like what Jesus has to say manage not to understand the simple message of the Gospel.

This blindness of the disciples concerning the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus would hang over them up to the first Easter itself. For even though Jesus told them over and over what was to happen, they were blinded by their own conceit and sense of self-destiny to see what was coming. Peter told Jesus this was just not going to happen. James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’s right and left. They were blinded by ambition and their own wants.

It was not until the risen Christ appeared to the apostles that they were to finally see, really see, what Jesus revealed to them on the way to Jerusalem. And it would not be until the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost that the apostles would go forth from Jerusalem not only “seeing,” not only understanding, but also proclaiming, preaching, opening the eyes of those in Jerusalem and all over the world who were trapped by the darkness of idolatry and the blindness of sin.

Dear friends, our Lord invites us to take to heart the prayer of the blind beggar s we join him in our liturgy: “Lord, have mercy upon us!” We too are blind beggars crying out for mercy: “Christ, have mercy upon us!” We blind beggars given sight, by God’s grace through Christ, are also invited to give praise to God with our prayer of hope: “Lord have mercy upon us!”

We are invited to leave our own self-inflicted blindness, to stop being beguiled by the world’s trinkets and distractions, to truly listen to Jesus and really understand His Word, to pay attention to the proclamation of the preachers of every time and place who have come to announce the grace of God as the Lord’s mercy that is indeed upon us.

We are approaching a time of year to have our blindness lifted, a season of study and understanding, of crying out for mercy, of fasting, of praying, of almsgiving, of confession, of repentance, of seeing, truly seeing our desperate need for a Savior. We are coming into a season where we will have the opportunity to be immersed in the Lord’s mercy by increased study of His Word and by a more frequent participation in His Sacraments.

The theme of Lent has always been: “Lord, have mercy on me!” And what is “mercy” but love in action, love our Lord has for us in redeeming and healing us, and love that impels us to glorify God in our own acts of mercy in love for our fellow sinners?

St. Paul teaches us anew about this love, this perfect love, this Christian love showered upon us recklessly by our merciful Lord like throws from a parade float, love that we in turn share liberally with our fellow blind beggars who likewise lack vision apart from Christ.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

If we have all of the doctrines of the Bible and of the Small and Large Catechisms of Martin Luther and of the entire Book of Concord and of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, but lack love, we are nothing.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

This love is what our Lord brings to the blind man. Love is what impels our Lord to “endure all things” – even a cross, even to be “mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” Love is what motivates our Lord to show mercy upon us by enduring flogging, crucifixion, and being laid in a tomb. And it is love that raised our Lord Jesus from the grave. And the Lord loves us even when we do not understand these things, being blinded by our own sinfulness and selfishness. For he has come to show mercy to the blind, to save sinners, to bring life to the dead and pardon to the lost.

Let us open our eyes! Let us see the vision of the Lord Jesus in His passion, death, and resurrection, in His Word and Sacraments, in the fellowship of His saints – which is to say, dear brothers and sisters, in His mercy and in His love!

Our Lord has come to give us vision, not only to see our own sinfulness “in a mirror dimly,” but to see our merciful Lord as He is “face to face.” For in His passion, death, and resurrection, we have redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life. We have victory over sin, death, and the devil. And we are indeed given the gifts of “faith, hope, and love.”

As the Lord’s servant, I proclaim anew to you what our Lord Jesus and the apostles have proclaimed to the world, what God has revealed through the preaching of the prophet Isaiah, words Isaiah likewise preached to a people who have been beaten down by their oppressors and by a world that does not care to understand the Word of the Word made flesh, a Word of encouragement and hope, a Word of mercy and perfect love:

“Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened.”

“Recover your sight,” dear brothers and sisters, “your faith has made you well.”

“Lord, have mercy upon us! Christ, have mercy upon us! Lord, have mercy upon us!” Amen.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Russian Lutherans Make New Orleans Newspaper

The January 31, 2012 visit of an LCMS pastor from Iowa (Rev. Dan Johnson) and four fellow Lutherans from Siberia (including Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin, Rev. Dmetri Dotsenko, and Miss Natasha Sheludiakova) to Salem Lutheran Church in Gretna, Louisiana was written up in the Times-Picayune's February 16 edition, which you can view here.  The print edition included the above photo.

The delegation also toured downtown Gretna and took in some jazz in the French Quarter.  You can see pictures here (via Flickr) and here (via facebook).

Breathtaking pictures of Novosibirsk, Siberia

Check out these remarkable wide views of the landscape of Siberia's capital and Russia's third-largest city and one of its scientific and engineering centers of higher learning.  Novosibirsk is also the headquarters of Confessional Lutheranism in Russia, the home to both the cathedral church (St. Andrew) and the seminary (Lutheran Theological Seminary) of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Miter Tip: Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

This is pure Soviet-style government...

Above: a cautionary tale from 1947
And it isn't in Russia.

Is this what the founding fathers had in mind when they declared independence from a government in which they complained of putting in place "a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance"?

By what right does any bureaucrat (who is getting his marching orders from Washington under the auspices of the USDA) have to come into a local school and interfere with what a parent feeds her own four-year old child?  Has a crime mentioned in the Constitution been committed here?  Has any crime at all been committed here?  At what point do we come together as a people and tell the federal government (and its surrogates in the state governments) "enough is enough!"?  I have not read the state constitution of North Carolina, but I suspect there is nothing in that document in which the people delegate to the state power to determine what parents feed their young children.  And if there is, shame on them!

And what a coincidence that these same "standards" in North Carolina are imposed by state bureaucrats in the other states.  What a coincidence, huh?

This is pure Soviet-style micromanagement of individual families and Kremlin-like domination over the states.  This is worship of the State.  This is not just Big Government.  Rather, we live in the days of the Government-god.  And the irony is that Americans call their national holiday "Independence Day" and spend fiat currency that says "In God We Trust."  You don't get much more Orwellian than that.

We are a people more dependent than our 18th century ancestors ever were!

In this North Carolina case, the dirty-work is being carried out by a state (as in one of the fifties) bureaucrat - but we all know the dirty little secret that our states today are mere puppets of Washington.  The federal government takes money from the people, and then doles it back to the people based on their state governments' compliance with (i.e. subordination to) Washington's dictates.  Isn't this yet more irony when you consider whom the City of Washington was named after?  The states have been reduced to being bossy big sister au paire surrogates of a super-Nanny State.  And there is a revolving door between the political offices in the state capitols and in Washington (which should really be renamed "Lincoln") - as the most efficient parasites who operate under the Democrat and Republican banners at the state level are tapped for bigger and better careers in looting at the federal level.

Once again, this is top-down tyranny - as all tyranny really has to be.

The USDA should be abolished.  The US Department of Health and Human Services should be abolished. All unconsitutional activity of the federal government needs to be brought to a screeching halt. And the people of North Carolina (whose ancestors accounted for a fourth of all of the quarter million Confederate deaths in the War Between the States) should stand on their hind legs and reclaim their rights as free people.  If you can't even send your four-year old to school with a non-government-approved sandwich, you are slaves.

And a good number of Americans think the federal objective of the War for Southern Independence was the abolition of slavery!  Another irony.

I wonder what it will take before Americans (whose modern notion of "freedom" seems to be some kind of abstract bumper-sticker slogan or "Go USA" type cheerleading) start telling their governments to mind their own business.  That is what real freedom is.  If you cannot even make a decision regarding family meal planning without bureaucratic oversight (even being compelled to purchase a state-approved meal), you are not free, Comrade.

HT: Mike Adams and Karen De Coster, the latter of whom sums it all up quite well:

The child was forced to eat processed chicken nuggets - after all, they meet the federal dietary guidelines! - in place of the lunch her mother chose for her. And the parents can be charged for the federalist foods provided to their children without their permission. Does this quote from the article bring you to the realization that you are sending your children to a centrally-planned, totalitarian gulag?
“With a turkey sandwich, that covers your protein, your grain, and if it had cheese on it, that’s the dairy,” said Jani Kozlowski, the fiscal and statutory policy manager for the division. “It sounds like the lunch itself would’ve met all of the standard.” The lunch has to include a fruit or vegetable, but not both, she said.
This is the consequence of a government's fascist "war" on obesity and its fraudulent health & wellness paradigm.

Of course, as government takes over more and more, this kind of thing seems more and more "normal."  And when members of the political parties will typically excuse such actions as "for the health of our children" if these policies are being carried out under their own political party.  Even when they don't approve of such tactics, they won't cede the power because they think they will use such power properly when they are elected.

But then again, that is exactly how Soviet systems work: it is a bureaucratic and autocratic denial of liberty (often replacing parental authority with state authority) carried out in what appears to be a democratic process by a single party that claims it is acting "for the good of the people."

All that's missing is the hammer and sickle.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Should Counterfeiters Go to Prison?

The above is a recent speech before the European Parliament.  And Mr. Bloom is right!

Central banking (including our Federal Reserve System) is nothing other than theft by stealth under the color of legitimacy.  We are being looted by our own banking system.  Finally, people are waking up to this.  This should be seen as a moral issue (rather than being treated as arcane politics or as simple disagreements about economic policy).  If the local grocer were constantly changing the value of his scales (defining a pound as a little bit less and less each day), or if the gas stations were to jimmy up their pumps so that each successive gallon is smaller than the last gallon, we would be calling for trials!

The dollar is likewise a standard symbol of measurement.

This is why when private citizens print valueless paper and pass it off as dollars, they are convicted of counterfeiting.  It is a serious crime that undermines the entire economy.  In fact, the reason your quarters and dimes have serrated edges is because in the days when these coins actually contained silver, and the edges guarded against crooks shaving some of the silver off of the coins.  The joke is on us - there is today no reason for edging on any of our coins (with the exception of the nickel, which ironically is smooth-edged, as it is still made of real metal - at least for the time being).  The reason is because every bit of precious, or even industrial metals, has been removed (again, with the exception of the nickel. for the time being).  It's almost wrong to call them coins when they are really tokens.

So, counterfeiting is a crime, but when government (at the behest of bankers) manipulates the currency (by means of removing the metal from the coins and printing banknotes backed by nothing out of thin air - thus devaluing the dollar to their own advantage), we're all supposed to treat this as moral and legitimate.  Why?  Because the government says so.

Even the Scriptures condemn such playing around with standards of weights and measures.

Of course, a lot of people turn to Romans 13 to argue that government can do just about anything, because by definition, if they are doing it, it must be legal.  Some will distort Luther's doctrine of vocation to attempt to bully people into submission and subjugation to the state, even when the state is committing immoral acts.  Indeed, as the analogy goes, a surgeon takes off peoples' clothes and cuts them with a knife - and within his vocation, this is legal.  If someone off the street, not a doctor, were to do the same thing, it would be a crime.  Some use this analogy to make the case that if a private citizen were to print banknotes on his printer, it would be counterfeiting.  But if this private citizen were part of a super-secret elite group of bankers in bed with government - than somehow the very same act of counterfeiting is ipso facto legal.

This is a gross abuse of Luther's doctrine of vocation.

Government does not have carte blanche.  Theft is theft, and when government does it, it only compounds the sin by adding corruption to stealing.  We should hold those in government - especially judges and politicians - to extremely high standards of morality, as they essentially can, by force, take from us that which is ours - our property and even our lives.  Agents of the government have the power to put innocent people in prison or even to death.  We no longer have the right to trial or the guarantees of the fourth amendment in some cases.  A corrupt government is almost impossible to fight - especially a government that increasingly encroaches on the rights and the constitutional protection of its citizens.

And the sad part is that schools do not teach about money, banking, and the federal reserve.  Nor do colleges and universities typically even broach the subject.  Very few theologians would even see this deliberate theft as a sin.  Many, in fact, will congratulate themselves on voting for candidates who give fiery speeches about Christian morality all the while approving (or even abetting) the manipulation of the currency to the detriment of honest people who work for a living.

Also sad is how partisan people are.  No, Republicans, you can't blame Obama for this.  No Democrats, you can't blame Bush.  This is a bi-partisan syndicate that is 99 years old.  Almost no-one in the federal government will say anything bad about it or even approach it as a matter of moral principal.  But that is starting to change, both in Europe and in the U.S.  China (which is the number two holder of U.S. debt, right behind the Federal Reserve) is buying massive quantities of gold.  Gold-backed currency cannot be manipulated by bankers anywhere near the ability to do the same with a central bank with government-run printing presses.  Could it be that the Chinese Central Bank knows something our own bankers and bureaucrats don't?  Namely: ponzi schemes eventually run out.

Mr. Bloom's speech above shows that this is becoming a front-burner issue around the world, as every currency on the planet is today managed by central banks and manipulated by cartels of bankers, politicians, and bureaucrats.  Some countries (like China) may well see the writing on the wall as they try to find an exit strategy out of holding U.S. dollars (the post-WW2 world reserve currency) in savings, and instead seeking something of real value (such as gold) to store value and issue notes against.

The current system - even when it isn't ending up in riots and civil strife as in Greece - creates bubbles and booms and busts, transfers wealth from the poor to the rich, bankrolls federal boondoggles and military quagmires (in which central bankers, politicians, and their children do not shed blood), discourage thrift and savings and encourage borrowing and debt.

It also makes us (Americans) dependent on other nations to bankroll the whole ponzi scheme - and if and when they decide to get out, we will be left holding the bag.

Should someone in Weimar Germany have gone to jail when an entire nation was impoverished through outright theft of the value of the Deutschmarks in people's pockets?  This is money that people earned at a specific rate and then were forced to spend at another rate (think: some people were in a position to do just the opposite, namely bankers and those who can spend the cheap printed money before it devalues with the passage of time).  This is money under which contracts were signed at one value, and which devalued exponentially in the middle of the contract.

The same thing (hyperinflation) happened recently in Argentina and Zimbabwe.

Should those who benefit from this go to prison (like Bernie Madoff, who did not have government "cover" for his crimes)?

Actually, the founding fathers of the United States (who warned repeatedly against central banks and "paper" money) did not think such people should be incarcerated.  They had another penalty in mind.

Will there come a day when currencies are again honest and constant in value?  I'm afraid things will get a lot worse before they get better.  But on the other hand, thanks to the lessening of government control of information thanks to the Internet, this issue is now on the table.  And it is an issue that is being looked at from across the political spectrum: from conservative investment firms, mainstream conservative thinkers, and even youthful Occupy Wall Street folks on the left.

Ending the Fed is something people from all across the political spectrum ought to be able to agree on.  There are few teachings more universal than the Seventh Commandment.  The Fed has been allowing institutional theft from the people of this country for a century.  It's nice to see this being recognized in the European Parliament as well.

Thank you once again, Mr. Bloom!

Consider an investment: not of money, but of time.  The following 42 minute documentary (or read the transcript here) explains the whole thing - including why this is relevant.  The film's style is dated (it was produced in 1996) - which is actually good.  You can see how things have gone since that time.  A lot has happened in the world's economy - especially since 2008. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sermon: Sexagesima – 2012

12 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 8:4-15

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord’s parable is as fresh and new today as it was when He perplexed and stunned His hearers with it twenty centuries ago. It is as vibrant and alive for us as is any living fruit hanging from a tree just waiting to be plucked and eaten, even as its seeds likewise bear continue to bear the promise of new plants and trees in a grand succession from creation until the end of time.

As with all of the Lord’s parables, this Parable of the Sower teaches us poor miserable sinners trapped in a poor miserable world what life in God’s Kingdom is like – and it is the very opposite of poor and miserable! For in this fallen world, without some kind of grounding in our own life and experience, without the Lord’s pulling up the blind just a crack to give us a little peek into heaven, we could never even begin to understand the Kingdom.

For a world without sin, a world of eternal joy, a world bereft of death itself is as unseen to us as what goes on inside a microscopic cell as it divides and grows. It is as complex as the DNA codes studied by scientists who become more amazed at creation as mankind’s knowledge of life’s intricacy increases. And yet, there is an element as easy to grasp as a child planting a sunflower seed in a Styrofoam cup, pouring water on it. And watching the results.

Our Lord challenges us to think about the Kingdom, even as He invites us to live in that Kingdom. And He asks us to ponder the mystery of the life of that Kingdom that He gives to us yet again this morning, dear brothers and sisters!

And think of this mystery as a question: “What is more powerful, the earth with its diameter of about 7,900 miles and a mass of over six-sextillion tons, or, a single mustard seed that is about a sixteenth of an inch in diameter and weighs about seven hundred-thousandths of an ounce?

The world scoffs at such questions, because to our sin-impaired eyes and minds, bigger is better, might makes right, and that which is small appears weak and not worth considering.

But consider this, dear friends: the world cannot replicate itself. The world does not contain the microscopic hidden codes imbedded by the Creator to reproduce itself. The world is not encoded with the machinery to heal itself. In short, the world is not alive.

But the tiny seed is!

The seed is more mighty than the world because it has buried within it something more powerful than the tallest mountain, the mightiest waterfall, the most awe-inspiring ocean, or even the most terrifying hurricane or tsunami. The tiny seed has information. And this information, this “word” if you will, comes from God Himself. This “word,” that is, the encoded DNA of the tiny seed, has the power to procreate, to feed the entire world’s population of animals and humans from its offspring, to turn the power of the sun into living, breathing organisms. And it is so perfect that a single error in the DNA could even destroy all life on the planet.

This is the power of the Word of God.

We are only now figuring all of this out from the scientific angle. But, dear friends, Jesus, being the Creator Himself in the flesh, knew this two millennia ago. And He uses this knowledge of how seeds reproduce to teach us about God’s Kingdom! “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The power is in the seed, that is, the Word. The power is not in the world. Soil cannot produce life. Not even mountains and oceans and canyons and the depths of the sea can transfer the building-blocks of life. But keep in mind what the world can do: it can interfere with life. And in this fallen life, it most certainly does.

In the parable, the life-bearing seed is stifled by the world in three scenarios.

In the first scenario, the seed lands on “the path” where it is unable to germinate. The path can block the seed’s DNA from carrying out God’s wishes. And as the Lord explains, this is like the Word of God being heard but not taken to heart by those who hear. And just as a bird will come along and snatch the un-germinated seed, so too does Satan take away the stillborn faith of a person who allows the world to prevent the Word of God sinking into his heart.

In the second scenario, it lands “on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.” The seed begins to follow the DNA sequence, it sprouts, it grows, it raises its leaves sunward, but lacking a decent root system, it is doomed to die. The Lord explains that these are “those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” The world cannot create faith in the believer, but the world has the power to interfere in the grounding that a believer has in God’s Word. When our faith is shallow, it will fail under the wind and storm, under the scorching heat and drought conditions that we suffer in this fallen world.

In the third scenario, the stubborn little seed finds itself “among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.” It dies before reaching its full destiny as life-bearing and life-giving fruit. Our Lord teaches us that many indeed hear God’s Word and have a depth of being rooted in the Word, and yet “as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” The world has no power to create life, but our fallen world, by its hostility to the Word of God, with our help, finds ways to pull the plug on the remarkable power of God’s Word to bring forth life, growth, fruit, and multiplication.

But there is a fourth scenario, dear brothers and sisters, a scenario of hope that the Lord offers us by His power and according to His good and gracious will, by the mystery of His cross, watered by baptismal mercy and nourished by His very body and blood. For even if only a small minority of seeds ever germinate, set down roots, survive the dangers of the world, grow to maturity, and bear seeds hundredfold, we know that it happens! Life is indefatigable, and not even the world’s hostility can stamp it out!

You can see evidence of this every time your eyes behold a blade of grass, every time you gaze upon the beauty of a luscious orange hanging heavy with juice on a tree, every time you bite into a sweet crisp apple, and with every beautiful flowering plant you see with your eyes to give you peace and joy, a token and reminder of the ancestors of these same plants who shared the Garden of Eden with our own ancestors, a token that serves to remind us of the joys to come in eternity. And through the wonder of DNA, God’s imbedded word in His creation, there is indeed an unbroken chain of life extending back to the Genesis and Paradise itself, DNA that in Christ is now part of the Creator as much as it is a part of the creation.

Though our world is broken, and in spite of the “culture of death” that has plagued our race since that most terrible of days when we first disobeyed God’s Word, the Lord Jesus came into our world to make us receptive to life once more! The Lord Jesus came into our world as a single Seed Himself, the Seed of the Woman, who germinated with the DNA of the Creator imbedded with us on a mission of mercy to the whole creation!

Our Lord turns our rebellious nature into good soil. He is the living Word, the Seed that falls to the ground and dies, but rises to multiply by the billions. His Word is spread by humble sowers over the 7,900 miles of the world’s expanse, and yet the Word they proclaim has the smallness of a mustard seed and the exponential power of God’s promise.

Dear friends, the world may be mighty in its opposition to the Word. But the Word has the power! The Lord Jesus seemed so tiny as the Babe in the manger, as the dying Man on the cross, as the corpse in the tomb – but He carries with Him the power and might of the living Word. And He has the power to transform our own hardness of heart that resembles the path, our own shallowness that resembles the rocky ground, our own distractions that resemble the thorns, and make us the Good Soil of the Church, those who receive the Word and yield a hundredfold. And we know that Word creates faith – faith by hearing – even as our Lord Jesus invites us to hear: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Word of God is the DNA that bears fruit, that brings forth life, that perpetuates and replicates itself unto every generation. The Word of God is information – but it is not just a bunch of zeros and ones in a computer program. The Word bears information that is proclaimed in preaching, and it is Good News. The Word of God is the forgiveness of sins won for us by Christ’s coming into our world, the Seed of the woman who bears this perfect DNA, who falls into the soil of a grave, and who bursts forth alive according to the Word begotten of the Father – the Word made flesh in His flesh – the Word spoken over bread and wine (also of seeds), a Word that transforms that bread and wine into the very Word made flesh, given to us for the forgiveness of sins.

And the Lord continues to throw the seed of the Gospel to every generation, multiplying His life-giving Word and imbedding it into good soil so that it may multiply and continually create new life. This is the power of the Word, dear friends, and it is implanted in you anew this very day!

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Amen.

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

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Sermon: Funeral of Helen Elizabeth Green

5 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Job 19:23-27 (Rom 6:3-11, John 11:20-27)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Gary, Michael, Amy, Jillian, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and guests: Peace be with you.

“I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Job said these very words thousands of years ago, and indeed these words were “inscribed in a book.” And truly, “what comfort this sweet sentence gives.” Job uttered this bold confession of hope in the midst of profound sorrow and suffering, in the devastation of mourning, death, and dashed hopes. It is a remarkable statement, for in the throes of death itself, it abounds with glory, teems with victory, and is dripping with the very stuff of life.

“I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Job does not merely dream, hope, or have a hunch. He knows. Job doesn’t say that maybe someone someday might beat back the scourge of death, but rather he confidently refers to this hero as his “Redeemer” – the one who purchases his own mortal life back at a ransom. And listen to Job’s defiance in the face of death and the grave: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

With his own mortality looming, Job is confessing that a very specific Redeemer would appear in time and space to buy Job back from death and suffering, to defeat Satan and sin, to restore Job and all the redeemed back to what God had created him to be: alive and awake, filled with peace, love, and joy, perfectly healthy in body and soul, at harmony with all creation, and never again to die. For it is death itself that is doomed to die.

We Christians know who this victorious Redeemer is, who has come into our world to defeat death through death. And in light of the cross and the empty tomb, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the life-giving promises of baptism and forgiveness, and in the sure confession of the mighty Word of God – we know not only who our Redeemer is, but we know that our Redeemer lives! And we too shall see God in our flesh, with our very eyes.

And yet we still struggle in this fallen world: with sin, sorrow, sickness, and sadness. We suffer with health problems, with aches and pains, and with the ravages of aging. And yes, we are confronted, even surrounded, with death: our own mortality as well as that of our beloved ones.

And in this fallenness, today we are a broken family. We are confronted with the bitterness of death. Our dear sister in Christ, Beth Green, is not able to unite her voice with ours in praise of our Redeemer. We cannot see her with our eyes or touch her in our flesh. And according to what our senses tell us, according to what the world would have us believe, and according to the lies of the malicious devil, we may be tempted to believe that we shall never again see our dear wife, mother, grandmother, friend, and sister in Christ again.

We may be tempted to say useless and shallow things like: “She lives on in our hearts” or “she lives on every time we remember her.” But we Christians join Job in confessing a literal physical resurrection – a resurrection of Beth even as we confess the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

For our Lord Jesus Christ died in our place for our sins. He has taken on our mortal flesh to make our flesh immortal. He is our Redeemer, and yes, He lives!

And because He lives, we live. Because He lives, Beth lives. “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

For “Do you not know,” dear friends, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.”

“Do you not know?” asks St. Paul. Indeed, we do know, dear friends, for as Job said: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Beth too knows that her Redeemer lives. And in her flesh, in her baptized flesh, in her flesh that partook of the Lord’s flesh and blood – she shall see God.

And in her flesh she shall see a God who is merciful, a God full of pardon and peace, a God who is the Lord and giver of life, a God who is love. Indeed, she now sees this God in her spirit, even as she awaits the resurrection of the flesh on the last day, even as we too confess and await this bodily resurrection.

Our Redeemer Jesus Christ gave us a little glimpse of His power over death and the grave even amid the sadness and mourning of Mary and Martha. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” said a heartbroken Martha to her Redeemer. But the Lord Jesus did allow her brother to die, even as, in His hidden wisdom, He permitted our sister in Christ Beth to die. We do not know all the answers, for we are not God. But we do know the promises spoken by God: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

And the Lord asks us today, even as we mourn, the same question that He asked the mourning Martha: “Do you believe this?”

And we confess together in this place and with all Christians of every place, with St. Martha, and yes, with St. Beth, and with generations of saints yet to be born: “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

“I know that my Redeemer lives!”

As we leave this holy house where Beth confessed her Redeemer together with us, where we partook of the flesh and blood of our Redeemer together, where holy absolution happens and where baptisms take place, where the confession that our Redeemer lives is spoken and sung – we will sing together yet again Job’s confession: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” The hymn opens with this confession and closes with this confession. And between these two confessions, in the course of the hymn, we will sing together twenty-nine times the words: “He lives.”

Dear friends, this refrain is the beating heart of the Christian faith. We Christians do not merely teach morals or wax nostalgic about a great man. We are not carrying out religious rituals for the sake of tradition. We are not performing psychological rites for the sake of closure. Rather, we are confessing together that we know that our Redeemer lives. We are celebrating the victory of our Lord over sin, Satan, and the grave. We are anticipating the physical resurrection of all believers – including that of Helen Elizabeth Eaton Green – in the real and literal sense. And we are crying aloud in victory: “He lives, she lives, we live! For I know that my Redeemer lives!”

He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there.

He lives, all glory to His name!
He lives, my Jesus, still the same;
Oh, the sweet joy this sentence gives:
I know that my Redeemer lives!


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

Sermon: Septuagesima – 2012

4 February 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 20:1-16 (Ex 17:1-7, 1 Cor 9:24-10:5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus tells us a lot about God’s Kingdom, and about our fallen nature, in this remarkable parable of the workers in the vineyard.

For God is generous in His kingdom, and we poor miserable sinners are most certainly not only ungrateful, but spiteful. We need to repent of this self-centeredness and live humbly, rejoicing in the Lord’s goodness which we most certainly do not deserve nor have earned. For to receive the Lord’s gifts and yet remain self-centered and to begrudge the Lord’s generosity is to miss the whole point of the Lord’s coming, and may even lead to missing the Lord’s kingdom and salvation itself.

So we do well to ponder very carefully our Lord’s parable.

The storyline involves a boss hiring workers. The bottom line is that some worked a full twelve hour shift, others worked only one hour. But the boss paid everyone the same pay – which is the pay he promised to the workers who worked a full day of twelve hours.

Instead of seeing the boss as kind and generous, providing opportunity and wealth to all, the ones who worked twelve hours see the boss as unfair, and they grumble against his generosity. And this, dear friends, is a matter of focus. Instead of focusing on the blessings we receive from God, we sinners like to focus on other sinners to see if they are bigger sinners than we are. And for us poor miserable sinners, the answer is always a poor miserable “yes.”

This happens in churches all the time. We look to see what people are wearing. If they are dressed better than we are, they are pious show-offs. If they are not dressed as well as we are, they are disrespectful slobs. We want to see who is crossing themselves and who is not, and we make judgments as to whether our neighbor says “AH-men” or “AY-men.”

Instead of such silliness, we should be so engrossed in prayer, so worshipful of our Creator, so sensitive to the egregiousness of our own sins that we have no clue whether the lady next to us is wearing a skirt or if the fellow two pews over doesn’t cross himself.

And this focus on comparing ourselves to others leads us to such sins as “boredom.” Yes, it is a sin to be in the miraculous presence of God, hearing the universe-creating Word, partaking of the miraculous sacraments, enjoying the death-defying fruits of Christ’s eternal victory over sin, death, and the devil, receiving the gift of eternal life won for us by Christ’s suffering and death upon the cross – and responding by being “bored.” This is nothing other than selfishness and self-centeredness. It is the same attitude displayed by the grumblers in our Gospel reading as well as the grumblers in the reading from Exodus.

We grumble and complain and gossip because we are selfish. We think God owes us what we want, when we want it – because, of course, we think we are so good and deserving – so much better than our neighbors. When the Israelites were thirsty, they forgot God’s goodness and started to grumble about their freedom from slavery. The grumblers were ready to stone Moses to death. Moses correctly asked them: “Why do you test the Lord?” Their selfish grumbling was sinful, for it was really disrespect to God. Many times Moses was to the point of despair because the children of Israel were ungrateful and selfish in the face of all of the Lord’s blessings.

Dear friends, we can always find something to grumble about. We can always look at the Lord’s generosity and begrudge His grace to others. We can always look for ways to get out of worshiping God, seeking ways to entertain ourselves instead. And that is exactly why we must repent, why we need a Savior!

In the Lord’s parable, the business owner made a contract and kept it. He provided an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. But when the workers ceased to thank God for their blessings and instead focused on their neighbors, making judgments about their neighbor’s worthiness – which was really a judgment against the owner’s sense of fairness – they allowed themselves to begrudge the master’s grace. And they began to hold that grace in contempt, thinking they were entitled to more – certainly more than their neighbors.

The Lord is warning us anew of the dangers of such hardened hearts and selfish attitudes, for as St. Paul reveals to the Corinthians, and to us, concerning the children of Israel: “with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Dear friends, the Lord is interested in saving all sinners. We are no better than our neighbors. And we must never question God’s judgment or sense of fairness. For if God were truly “fair” according to our fallen sense of justice, He would give every sinner what he deserves. And what we all deserve is death and hell. And we know it.

Instead, He pays us a wage not based on our sin (which is death), but rather gives us a gift (a gift purchased and won by Christ’s blood shed for us), and that gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

How can any of us grumble? How can we be bored in the presence of God? How can we begrudge the salvation of anyone? Why do we think ill of our brother because of his clothing or piety? By what right do we accuse God of being unfair by showing mercy to sinners?

Dear friends, we can rejoice precisely because God is merciful to sinners! We are the ones who have arrived late to the banquet table. Most of us are Gentiles whose ancestors knew nothing about the covenant made with the children of Israel long before the Lord called our ancestors out of idleness to labor in the fields of the Lord. We deserve nothing but wrath, but receive nothing but pardon. We deserve to die of starvation and thirst, and yet find ourselves feasting on the Lord’s body and blood.

And what, dear brothers and sisters, what could be considered boring about reflecting on what the Lord has done for us: rescuing us from the death we deserve, vanquishing all of the foes that seek nothing but our destruction, and being with us in word and deed as a loving Father who cares for us, as a divine Son who loves us as our Big Brother, and as a doting Spirit who constantly calls us and entices us to receive the gifts of God – whether we have worked one hour or twelve, whether we are dressed in rags or in regal finery? What is there to be bored about in loving God and being loved?

As St. Paul teaches us, there is a prize awaiting us. And so we train for victory like an athlete. We run the race with joy knowing that there is a crown waiting for us at the finish line, not merely a perishable wreath, but an imperishable.

And if we are honest with ourselves, we are the least worthy of all of God’s creatures to cross the finish line. And this, dear friends, is all the more reason to rejoice and to boast in Christ alone: for “the last will be first, and the first last.” The Lord is generous! The Lord is gracious! The Lord keeps His promises! Thanks be to God!


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