Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 19 – 2012

30 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 9:1-8 (Gen 28:10-17, Eph 4:22-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Our Lord Jesus doesn’t just complain about the rotten condition of our fallen world – He has done something about it.  He has come into our world to fix the world; he has come into our lives to renew our lives; He has come into our stubborn hearts to recreate them into contrite hearts.  And this He does as God, commanding darkness to become light, ordering water to become wine, decreeing the sinful to be righteous – all by His word alone.

Only God can do such things.  And only faith can accept the reality that God has become man, and has done this.

Those without faith are without hope.  They are also without a clue as to how a man can forgive sins.  In fact, not recognizing their Creator standing before them, they accuse Him of blasphemy.  For when our Lord Jesus speaks as only God can speak: “Take heart, My Son, your sins are forgiven,” it is not just a wish or a hope or a prayer – it is a done deal, a fait accompli, a reality. 

And yet in spite of this reality – a reality that played itself out in front of the eyes and ears of the scribes, they believed in a different reality, a “reality” that was not real at all.  They jumped to the wrong conclusion in their jaded faithlessness: “This man is blaspheming,” they claim.  And they really believe this.

But again, our Lord Jesus does what only God can do, reading their hearts, “knowing their thoughts,” saying, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?”  And then He challenges them.  “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’”

“So that you may know…” says Jesus.  And then the paralytic “rose and went home.” 

Jesus puts it all on the line.  Either He is a fraud, or He is the Son of God.  Either He is a magician or showman, or He is the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel.  There are those who talk the talk, but Jesus does so much more.  He walks the walk that would end on the cross.  And He walks again out of His own tomb.  He afterwards He would walk with men who did not recognize Him at first, until as He broke bread in a mystical meal.

Sometimes there is more to reality than what meets the eye, more to what is real than our cynical, self-serving, and sinful selves want to believe.

For our “old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” does not want to believe that God has come into the flesh.  For He did not come to put on a show, work a few miracles, toss us a few softballs, and then leave.

Jesus came to radically reorder our very lives.  Jesus came to be the most important thing to us.  Jesus came to make everything else unimportant by comparison.

That is why He lays down the challenge: “Which is easier to say…?”  For Jesus can easily forgive sins.  He is God.  He was born into our world to be the atoning sacrifice.  He promised to do it, He has done it, and He is here to remind us of it, and He distributes that promise to us anew.

Even today there are those who marvel that God “had given such authority to men.”  God gave the authority to forgive sins to “men” – in the plural.  For God the Father delegates authority to the Son, who in turn delegates that authority to the apostles, to the ministers of the Church.  And while pastors have no power to cure paralytics, they have been given the joyful command to pardon the penitent, and the somber duty to bind the sins of the impenitent and call them to turn from their evil ways from death to life.

But again, “when the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”

We glorify God for His mercy.  We glorify God for His forgiveness.  We glorify God for His presence in the sacraments.  We glorify God for giving us pardon and peace through the ministry of the Word.  For just as surely as the paralytic was cured of his physical infirmity, he was pardoned of his spiritual iniquity.

And this is not blasphemy, for it is God doing it.  And even today when the pastor speaks these words: “As a called and ordained servant of the Word, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins,” He is doing so based on this authority given “to men.” 

Those who deny this authority do so for lack of faith – faith in the Lord’s words, faith in the Lord’s promise, faith in the Lord’s authority itself.  Those who deny this authority act in the manner of the scribes whose jaded lack of belief stood between them and the glory of God.

And the glory of God is to be found among things that are not always as they seem.  Jacob went camping, and using a rock for a pillow saw a vision.  He saw the reality that lurked just behind what his eyes could see and his ears could hear.  The Lord rolled back the veil and showed him what was really happening: “Behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.  And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!”  And God spoke His glorious, gracious promises to Jacob in that place.  And Jacob would declare: “How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” – even though when the vision ended, all he saw was a field with a rock in it.

Dear friends, we need to see reality through the promises of God.  This is called “faith.”  We need to see redeemed saints when all our eyes see are ourselves and others who “are by nature sinful and unclean.”  We need to look at a world broken by sin and death, and instead see the glorious destiny built upon the ladder that reaches to heaven.  We need to see the bread and the wine, and confess that there is more than meets the eye.

And even in this humble place, we must keep in mind that this is where Christ is proclaimed, where Christ is present, where Christ comes to us to “forgive us, renew us, and lead us,” giving us delight in His will and in walking in His ways, putting away falsehood and speaking the truth with our neighbors in the realization that we are “members one of another.”

So, dear friends, let us glory in the Lord’s miraculous work.  Let us hear His miraculous Word.  Let us partake of His miraculous sacraments.  Let us bask in His miraculous forgiveness!

Take heart, my son.  Take heart, my daughter.  Take heart O child of God.  Take heart, you who are by nature, sinful and unclean.  “Take heart, your sins are forgiven!”  And thanks be to God that He has indeed “given such authority to men.”

“How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Amen.

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sermon: Funeral of Elodie Fleming – 2012

29 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 10:10b-15, 27-30 (Ps 123, 1 Cor 15:51-57)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear Calvin and Zoe, family members, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and honored guests, “Peace be with you!”

Today is indeed a bittersweet day, a day in which we feel the sting of death, a day of mourning and of loss.  But it I also a day of victory over death, of happy memories, of the triumph of the entry of one of the Lord’s beloved saints into eternal rest.  It is a day of two opposite extremes.

For even as we mourn, Elodie enjoys the eternal reward won for all of the Lord’s redeemed by our Lord Himself at the cross.  For Elodie, like all of us in this fallen world, knew the sting of battle.  But in eternity, she knows perfect and genuine peace.

This is the paradox of the Christian life.

We live in a world of evil, of sadness and sickness and death.  We live in a world of disease and pain and the struggles of old age.  We live in a world of conflict and bullying and aggression.  We live in the world we have degraded by our sinfulness and lovelessness.

The Psalmist knew of the brutality of the human condition in this corrupted world.  He prayed: “Have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.  Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.”

This broken, fallen, corrupted world is why we have lawyers (to protect victims) and pastors (to forgive the penitent).  In this world, pastors need lawyers and lawyers need pastors.  In eternity, there will be no need for either.  But thanks be to God that we limp along together in this life, plying our vocations to take care of one another out of love – love for one another, love for God, and love for that which is just and right and holy.

Like all of us, our dear sister in Christ Elodie knew about contempt, about jealousy, about treachery.  She excelled in her studies and advanced to great heights in the academy and in the field of Chemistry – and did so in a day and age when this was rare for a woman.  She suffered the sting of death upon the loss of her dear husband.  Even late in life, Elodie was not exempt from grievous heartache and unspeakable suffering.

And at the end of her life, she was rendered weak and frail, bereft of the vivaciousness and vigor that characterized her long life.  Such are the ravages of this fallen existence.

In her weakness, I prayed with Elodie: “Lord, let at last thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom, bear me home, that I may die unfearing.”  And on this day, we pray not for Elodie, but with her.  Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all angels.  And far from the chubby children and effeminate creatures depicted in a lot of art, the angels described in the Bible are fierce warriors, soldiers bearing the sword of the Lord, avenging evil and defending us from harm – physical and spiritual.  St. Michael is often portrayed with a breastplate and broadsword, slaying the “old evil foe” who “now means deadly woe.”  These heavily armed angelic “watchers” and “holy ones” do the Lord’s work, and they indeed did their work to bear Elodie home to her Lord, to her Savior, to her Redeemer, to her God.

And though I am no fierce archangel, I too had the privilege to bear the sword in defense of Elodie – the sword of the Word of God, to be an instrument to protect this blessed lady in her time of weakness and frailty.  Indeed, as St. Paul teaches us, when we are weak, we are strong – for when we are weak, we do not depend on ourselves, but rather on Him who strengthens us!

For pastors and angels and archangels only serve the Lord, whereas the Lord Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is the Good Shepherd who “lays down His life for the sheep.”  He is no hired hand who flees during times of trouble, but is rather the “Good Shepherd” who stays and fights and proclaims: “I know My own and My own know Me.”  I read this passage to Elodie in her suffering.  For He who suffered for us strengthens us by His Word, His promise, His very presence.

He says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”

This is the victory that we have – even in death, dear friends!  Even in death!  For Elodie has fought the good fight and finished the race. She was given the victor’s crown.  Early in her life, a pastor placed the sign of the cross on her forehead in remembrance of the baptism that saved her, through which the Lord Jesus credited her with His work on the cross.  And very late in her life, I repeated this action, the sign of the cross on her forehead in remembrance of the baptism that saved her, through which the Lord Jesus reminds all of us that He has claimed us, branded us as His sheep, marked us with the holy cross, fed us by the word and watered us by the sacraments.  Our Good Shepherd has defeated the wolf who attacks, and our Good Shepherd leads us safely to green pastures and still waters.

The Lord still provides His angels – as well as human helpers – like lawyers and pastors – to guide and protect His people from evil.

For we are not immune from evil.  We sin much daily in thought, word, and deed.  Elodie was a sinner, as is everyone here today, as is everyone on the planet.  We need God’s forgiveness and His grace.  This is why the Psalmist prays “Have mercy upon us, O Lord.”  This is why our Lord went to the cross.  This is why we are baptized, why we confess our sins, why we receive the Holy Sacraments, and why we rejoice to hear the words of the Gospel.  And when our day of death comes, in Christ we can rejoice with St. Paul, saying: “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting.”

“For this perishable body” says St. Paul in the Holy Scriptures, “must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”

Dear friends, this is the central mystery of the Christian faith.  For “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today is indeed a bittersweet day – bitter for us as we must endure (at least for a time) the sting of death.  But it is a sweet day, a day in which death has been defeated: at the cross, at the baptismal font, at the communion rail, and in the Word of God.  Elodie has conquered death because Christ has conquered death!

This is why the angels, the “watchers” and “holy ones… raise the glad strain: ‘Alleluia!’”  This is why the “bearer of the eternal Word most gracious” magnifies the Lord.  This is why the “souls in endless rest” join with the Twelve, the martyrs, and all the saints triumphant – including Blessed Elodie – to sing the heavenly “Alleluia!”

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

In New Jerusalem joy shall be found,
Blessings of peace shall forever abound;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor the things prayed for come short of the prayer.

Peace be with you!  Amen.

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Friday, September 28, 2012

From France to Canada, and to Eternity!

In twelfth century Brittany (today part of France), the university professor, philosopher, and theologian Peter Abelard wrote a hymn in Latin: O Quanta Qualia - which can be found today in Lutheran Service Book as hymn # 675 ("Oh, What Their Joy") - a magnificently beautiful anthem that calls to mind the victory of "the blessed ones" in Christ, the "endless sabbaths" the "crowns for the valiant" and "rest" for the "weary ones."  It ends in a high doxology to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The hymn made it into English in the 19th century via translator John Mason Neale (whose own life and ministry are extraordinary!), often sung in English to the 1681 Parisian tune Antiphoner.

Hoping to find a Latin version, I ran across the above absolutely euphonic plainchant rendition, recorded by singer Azam Ali, who was born in Tehran, raised in India, lived in the United States, and now resides in Montreal.  And so Peter Abelard's French hymn written in Latin, popularized in English, has been recorded in French Canada by a Persian singer - in its original Gregorian form.  It is simply magnificent!  I have never heard of Azam Ali, and I discovered this video by accident - or should I say, serendipity.  What a delight!  This version of O Quanta Qualia appears on Miss Ali's 2002 album Point of Grace, a multilingual collection which features medieval music sung in Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Could Peter Abelard have ever imagined that his Latin hymn would have made such a journey through time, space, and nationality from 12th century France, being sung by 20th century Lutherans after being translated into English by an 19th century Anglican priest who was named after a Puritan but who became a persecuted high churchman of the Oxford Movement, then being recorded in Latin by an Iranian-Indian-Canadian and listened to worldwide on iTunes and YouTube in the 21st century?

That is a long way indeed!

And yet this is nothing compared to the eternity confessed by the hymn:

We, where no trouble distraction can bring,
Safely the anthems of Zion shall sing;
While for Your grace, Lord their voices of praise
Your blessed people shall evermore raise.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Kids Learning Real World Economics

Although I think American kids (not to mention adults) eat too much junk food, I think too much government meddling is far more damaging.  In fact, part of the reason Americans are so fat is that too many of us actually believe the government when it tells us to eat lots of grains and carbs.  How's that working?

I had to cheer when I read this account of students not only refusing to eat what the federal government (elected and self-appointed) pushes on them, they are willing to go without and/or find clever ways to beat the system.  Way to go, kids!

Even young people know that you cannot centrally plan supply and demand, and that whenever government starts mandating what we eat, the human will to freedom will find ways around it: including a black market resistance movement.  Awesome!  Parents should take advantage of this opportunity as a teaching moment, a true-life civics lesson, a laboratory of market forces and of the underground economy.

This is a heart-warming story of free enterprise and hope for future generations of Americans with the wherewithal to resist the Nanny State.  Maybe parents should have their kids write letters to Mrs. Obama reminding her that she is not elected, and not even her husband has constitutional authority to interfere with local school administrations and the most private decisions of all: what we private citizens choose to eat and what we choose to feed our families.  I don't tell Mrs. Obama what to feed her children (it is certainly none of my business and way off of my radar screen).  It never dawned on me that I should care what she feeds her own kids.  Heck, I'm not even sure how many kids she has.  What they eat is just not that interesting to me.

At any rate, every Nanny State claims to be "protecting the children" when it usurps the rights of the people.  The sooner children learn to say no to overreaching government, the safer our liberties will be in the future.

That reality alone is a great lesson in practical economics for these kids!

Could any other rock band...

... have pulled this off?

I watched a documentary on Queen called Queen: Days of our Lives - fascinating! As a bonus, here is an electric performance at Wembley Stadium from the Live Aid concerts back in 1985:


For originality, musicality, and showmanship it's hard to beat Queen.

History Repeating Itself?

No real surprise about that, but it's too bad that it is happening on our watch.  I'm not really going out too far on a limb to predict that this won't end well.

The shame of it is that if we only pay attention to history instead of listening to talk radio entertainers...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 16 – 2012

23 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 7:11-17 (1 Kings 17:17-24, Eph 3:13-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Most of our lives are spent in a kind of routine.  We go to work during the week.  Many of the tasks are repetitive.  We raise children, telling them to clean their rooms over and over.  We look forward to the weekend, to our sports and hobbies and things we like to do.  We follow a set pattern, a liturgy, if you will, tracking through the year, football season, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter, and summer vacations, and then we do it all over again.

We have our ups and downs, with a few surprises thrown in.  And some of the surprises really knock us for a loop and take us out of our routine.  We often call such things: “matters of life and death.”

When we have a close shave with something dangerous: perhaps a car wreck, or a near miss, maybe a visit to the emergency room, or even an extended stay in the hospital.  Such a matter of life and death may involve us, a loved one, a friend, coworker, or a relative.  Maybe something happens to a stranger just a little too close to home.  We think about our own mortality, the reality that there will come a certain day, though we know not when, when we will draw our final breath on this side of eternity.

In those moments of life and death, our priorities shift in a hurry.  The things that were so important fall way down the scale.  Things like our anxiety over money, over jobs, over our houses and cars, over what schools our children will be attending – all become of secondary importance.  Our hobbies and entertainments that consume so much of our time and money and attention suddenly fade to the background.  Our grudges and hostilities too take a back seat to the matter of life and death.

You might say that the Christian faith is a matter of life and death – though many people treat it as a hobby.  It is something that gets our time and attention when there isn’t something else more important to attend to: be it work or school or sports or a social activity.  When we are confronted with a life and death matter, the real life and death nature of the Christian faith jumps out at us again.  Then we renew our prayer life, our fellowship with the saints, our confession and absolution, and our communion with the Lord in the Eucharist.  This is the very embodiment of the faith itself.

God created Adam and Eve and breathed life, perfect life, eternal life into their bodies.  He placed them in a perfect world in a perfect existence.  But sin brought death and destruction to that “shattered bliss of Eden.”  The first man and woman, our first parents, knew the sadness of the matter of life and death, of being expelled from the garden and losing that perfect communion with God.  They knew the heartache of having their one son murder the other.  And they would experience their own decline of health and death.

The children of Israel experienced life and death throughout their history.  The prophets called the people to repent of the way that leads to death, imploring them to choose life. 

The prophet Elijah was confronted with death – a terribly tragic death, the passing of a widow’s only son.  The mother gave birth, gave life, to this son.  And because of sin, she experienced a tragic matter of life and death.  The prophet prayed to the God of Life and Death for His help and His aid.

And this, dear friends, is where God gives us a surprise we did not expect nor could predict.  For this is most certainly a matter of life and death.  But it is also a matter of something else, a divine twist on the plot, a joyful ending to what was a tragedy: a resurrection.

Life, death, resurrection.

There is the entire Bible summed up in three words.  There is the history of mankind expressed in three words.  There is the Word of God boiled down to three words.  Indeed, here is the account of Jesus Christ in three words.

Life, death, resurrection.

Mankind was created and given life.  Mankind sinned and died.  Mankind has been redeemed and will live again.  Our Lord Jesus Christ was “incarnate… of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”  He was crucified, died, and buried.  “The third day He rose again from the dead.”

Life, death, resurrection.  Creation, redemption, sanctification.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit. 

Our Lord shows us that our matters of life and death do not end with death.  Our Lord demonstrates resurrection to us even before His own universe-altering resurrection.  And like the prophet Elijah, the Lord Jesus Christ turns a widow’s tragedy into a triumph.  The young man’s once-living and now-lifeless body lay on an open coffin, carried by bearers on their way to the tomb.  He was “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow” – a small preview of our Lord Himself, “the only Son of His mother, and she was a widow.”  The Lord is moved by compassion for this mother, even as His own dear mother would experience the tragedy, the matter of life and death, of watching her only begotten Son die before her eyes, as the sword pierced her own heart.

The Lord says to the widow: “do not weep” – for he knows that this is not a sad day for her, but a day of unspeakable joy.  She doesn’t realize it yet, however, as she only knows that this is a matter of “life and death.  But Act Three of this drama is about to turn a tragedy into a comedy, a somber day into a day of joy and gladness, a death into a restored life.

“Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Life, death, resurrection.

“And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 

“God has visited His people!”

Life, death, resurrection.

This is not just the account of a widow and her son of 2,000 years ago.  It is also the account of a virgin who gave birth to a Son 2,000 years ago.  It is also the account of all of us, born into life, condemned to a fallen world of sin and death, baptized into a resurrection to new life, a life in Christ, a life that overcomes death, a life that has no end.

Dear friends, we will have matters of life and death.  We don’t know when they will be or what shape they will take.  But the Lord is here for you here and now.  And it is a matter of life, death, and resurrection.  The very body born of Mary, that died on the cross, that rose from the tomb, that very body comes to us truly, miraculously, and bearing the certain promise and the sure gift of life – for He is the Bread of Life. 

And the blessing we speak over the bodies of the saints awaiting burial is appropriate for us here and now: “May God the Father, who created this body; may God the + Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep [you] to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.”  Amen.

The Christian faith is truly a matter of “life and death – and resurrection.”

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations. Forever and ever.  Amen.”

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

All the (Not So) Young (Joe) Dudes

"All the Young Dudes", as performed by Bruce Dickinson

My friends and I owe a debt of gratitude to Tim "Ripper" Owens, former front-man of the British heavy metal superband Judas Priest (among other well-known metal acts).

Before he became a world famous rock star, he was an ordinary kid from Akron, Ohio who delivered office supplies by day and sang in local heavy metal bands by night - including our hometown heroes U.S. Metal - crafting an epic stage persona and cultivating his resonant mega-voice. My friends and I met Tim a few times, but never really got to know him. He replaced our old buddy Jimmy Williams as the lead singer for U.S. Metal when Jim headed out to California in search of stardom (he became a co-founder of Graven Image and became a local heavy metal institution in his own right in L.A.).

Through an absolutely amazing turn of events, Tim realized his dream and was invited to become the lead singer of his all-time favorite band, Judas Priest. He went from being just Tim from Akron to being the platinum-throated globe-trotting "Ripper" and touring with world-class celebrities. 

But in spite of his success, Ripper did not develop an ego problem and put Akron, Ohio (and his old friends) in the rear view mirror (and I know who my northeast Ohio friends are thinking about just now...).  By every account, Tim remains a nice guy, a family man, one who often looks for ways to support worthy causes, who can still belt it out with his big bombastic, even operatic, vocal apparatus. Although he tours around the world in various heavy metal music projects, Ripper owns a local bar and restaurant in Akron. He has not turned his back on his old friends - including Jimmy Williams, his predecessor in U.S. Metal who was a kind of voice coach and mentor for him as a young singer.

In fact, Tim recently did something very cool.

U.S. Metal Coming Back?

He set up a reunion of his old bandmates in U.S. Metal to sing at the local Rockin' on the River in Cuyahoga Falls (the Akron suburb where I grew up). Word spread like wildfire thanks to facebook. Back in the 1980s, U.S. Metal developed a fanatical following of young northeast Ohio rock and rollers - including myself and my three friends: Rick, Ron, and Tim.

At that time, I was working as a software consultant in New York. I would fly or drive back to Ohio every other weekend. My friends Rick and Ron Gjurkovitsch (brothers and fellow alumni from Walsh Jesuit High School) and Tim Cerepak (who worked with me at my aunt's restaurant when we were teenagers) would converge on Friday nights wherever the guys were playing: the venue I most remember being Ramon's Nightclub - though there were a few others, such as the Temple Tavern (Akron), Genesis and Filthy McNasty's (Kent) or even at a rollerskating rink in New Philadelphia (which for me was a cold ride in the back of a pickup truck, though I earned a warm spot in the driver's seat on the way back by virtue of abstinence).

On Friday nights, it was off with the silk ties, jackets, dress slacks, pencil protectors, and away from the computer terminals, and on with the tattered jeans, leather jackets, bandannas, and chains. We would stand right in front of the stage (probably having scarred eardrums to this day) and "mosh" with the band. As they played, we would mess with them mercilessly. We would grab their feet, their instruments, and try to crack them up.  It's a wonder they didn't hate our guts. But they seemed to like having us around. We were backstage before the show and after the show.  One of the guys' girlfriends once sniffed, "He likes being around you guys more than me!"

U.S. Metal sang all the well-known covers of metal tunes from the late sixties up until the contemporary standards of the period - with a few originals thrown in. Jimmy Williams fronted the act either bare-footed, in socks, or wearing over-the-top fuzzy slippers - providing an interesting contrast to his leather and chains. He played the lead role as a true showman.  He shrieked, growled, grinned, and strutted around with his long locks trailing behind - typically downing beers between songs - which must have provided and interesting flavor clash with his ubiquitous cherry Halls lozenges. Scott Jones had tightly-curled tresses down his back, always a smile on his face, and played his guitar with energy, precision, and sheer joy. Chris Jones (Scott's brother) was more reserved (as bass players often seem to be), sporting a full-blown 80s mullet and laying down the intricate bass lines like a walk in the park. Rick Shore played the drums like a madman, on one occasion leaping over his drum kit and brandishing his sticks like nunchaku as a fight was about to break out in the audience.

On one occasion, a couple of us spent the day with the band on one of the beautiful lakes near Akron. It was relaxing and crazy at the same time. We almost sank the boat twice. It's a wonder it was able to float at all with so much beer aboard.  I hope the statute of limitations has passed.

Rick, Ron, Tim, and I even had a collective nickname: the Joe Dudes. This was because we called everyone "Joe." Jimmy (being the singer) was "Joe Singer." Chris (the bass player) was (you guessed it) "Joe Bass." Scott was "Joe Guitar."  Rick was "Joe Drums" - although we sometimes called him "Mantis" because that was his previous nickname. We knew "Mantis" from prior pickup basketball games. I don't know if anyone remembers this little bit of Joe Dudiana or not, but I nicknamed Tim "Joe Throat" because of his remarkable set of pipes (of course, "Ripper" is a far cooler appellation). Similarly, other guys got "Joe" monikers. The guy who sold U.S. Metal t-shirts became known as "Joe Shirt." One of the guys who used to sing with the band from time to time showed up in a tuxedo one day, hence: "Joe Tux." There were a few non-Joe nicknames as well: Brother George, Shake n Bake, the Shrunken Head, Pan Head, Gums and Roses, the Toe Tappers, the Soap Brothers, etc. They all have their stories.

There was even a remarkable 88-year old fan who treasured his time at the nightclubs.  Harry wore a leather jacket (gift from the band) and sported a button that said: "Not too old to rock and roll").  He was proud of the leather, and always wore it to the shows.  All the patrons loved him.  When he was tragically murdered, several band members and Joe Dudes attended his funeral.  His son was the pastor who presided over the funeral, and he was quite touched to see us there for the service.  It turns out that Harry was a deeply devoted husband who attended his ill wife for many years.  When she passed, he began going to the rock and roll clubs and spending time with young people.  It made him feel alive.  His enthusiasm was infectious.  He was an institution.  He is missed to this very day.

The band would sometimes invite us Dudes up on stage to open a song or two with them. It makes me laugh to think that today I sing the ancient western Mass twice a week in public as part of my liturgical duties, and even recorded a CD with a choir while at seminary. But before all that, I had just the tiniest taste of being on stage as a heavy metal singer.  And even that little taste was awesome.  The guys were really good to us.

For added craziness, on Halloween, the Dudes we would put on wigs, spandex, leather, and other heavy metal gear and we would "become" the band for a day. We referred to that activity as being in "full regalia" - and hence the name of our mythical band: Full Regalia.  We knew we were posers, but it didn't matter.  We had a lot of fun.

A typical Friday night out went like this for me: I would work at the Kraft General Foods office in Rye, New York (aka the Taj Mahal) writing the order-entry system for one of the largest corporations on the planet using a not-so-well-known software package (called SYNON) which enabled me to be a hotshot consultant commanding a huge hourly rate - at least for my employer - the consulting company. I was admittedly paid pretty well for a twenty-something, but the consulting company actually made out like bandits on the deal. But they did give me flights and a company car and a decent per diem.  And I still got to have my second life as an Akron metal-head.  So I shouldn't complain.

At four o'clock pm Friday, I would leave the Taj Mahal, drive my tiny Ford Escort eight hours across I-80, traversing the entire states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I would roll into Akron about midnight, and join the Dudes and the band for a couple hours of ear-splitting rock and roll, flashing colored lights, occasional pyrotechnics, and the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. Afterwards, at 2 a.m., the Joe Dudes would head to the local (and now-defunct) Bob's Big Boy for the breakfast buffet. We ended up getting to know all of the workers so well that we typically glommed our food for free. Our craziness carried on for about another hour or so. I would then slip exhausted over to my parents' place and catch a few hours sleep. I'd spend Saturday getting caught up with family and friends. I would attend Divine Service at Redeemer Lutheran Church Sunday morning, and then I would return to New York, leaving about 4:00 and arriving back at my digs at about midnight. This went on for a few years.

Here are some pics from about 1990.

And this is the kind of thing you can do when you're a young Dude. But over time, we kind of drifted apart. My visits home became less frequent. We all got married, had children, advanced in our jobs, bought homes, etc. Eventually, I went to seminary. The rest of the Dudes moved up in the world. Jimmy went to California. Ripper made the pinnacle of rock stardom. U.S. Metal (and the Joe Dudes) came to an end.

Until August 17, 2012, that is.

This is why I want to thank Tim Owens for remembering his old friends and not turning his back on his roots. Tim had arranged the reunion with U.S. Metal at Rockin' on the River. He paid for Jimmy to fly in from California. I arranged to fly in for a quick visit - only my second time back in The Falls in nearly a decade.

But the reunion almost didn't happen. Tim's schedule suddenly changed (he was on tour in Europe with the Dio Disciples, a Ronnie James Dio tribute band), and he could not make it back to Akron. I couldn't get out of my airplane ticket, so although I was disappointed, I decided to come up anyway and enjoy a visit with my folks. I would hopefully also see the Joe Dudes - whom I have now known for more than 30 years. Scott Jones (the U.S. Metal guitarist) and I swapped a couple facebook messages, and he wanted to join us as well.

But it got even better!

The U.S. Metal show was going to happen after all (though without Ripper) at Tim's restaurant: "Ripper Owens Tap House" as part of a show featuring the local band Fractured. My friends picked me up, and it was like old times. Rick wore his mint condition U.S. Metal shirt (25 years old?) and Ron was so metaled-up that my dad didn't recognize him. For my part, I donned my 1986 Aerosmith concert tee.  Three of the four Joe Dudes got to Ripper's in the late afternoon and enjoyed wings and beers. Tim joined us shortly.  It was all laughs after that.  The Tap House is a kind-of Heavy Metal version of T.G.I. Fridays or Hard Rock Cafe combined with a sports bar. There is, of course, metal memorabilia on the walls. There is also an intimate stage for live bands - and Ripper often has top-names roll into Akron for shows. Needless to say, there was a lot of reminiscence, teasing, and laughter. Aside from grayer (and shorter) hair, we all really look pretty much the same.  By the way, the food at Ripper's is excellent!  If I still lived in N.E. Ohio, I would be a regular.  It would be a great place to write sermons.  And the days of the stale beer and smoke smell are over.

Anyway, a couple hours later, Jimmy and Scott rolled in. They recognized us immediately. They moved us to their table, and we took pictures and recalled the old days. We saw people we had not seen in a quarter century. It was a grand reunion!

We are still posers, and Jimmy took advantage of my being there to get himself a halo
Fractured played a few songs, and then at about 11:00 pm, invited Jimmy and Scott to come up. Tim Zuver (who played drums and sang with U.S. Metal before Rick Shore's tenure) also mounted the stage. It really was like the old days - except for two things: 1) There were no thick clouds of tobacco (and other kinds of) smoke, and 2) people had their camera phones and were shooting stills and video.

The guys played a short but intense set, and it was nothing short of magical. It was like going back in time. We all became 25 again and moshed with the band. Hopefully, none of the middle-aged throng needed chiropractic adjustments the next day.

In the course of the evening, we met Jimmy's wife and Scott's wife and son (who is a newly-minted police officer). Chris had a family obligation and could not make this reunion - but he did contact me by text message and we were able to catch up a little bit. Scott (now a fit fifty years old, whose locks are today closely-cropped) told me that he played some Christian rock music with his church - and was a bit surprised by my disapproval. I'm more of a traditionalist when it comes to worship. As much as I love my rock and roll, I won't surrender my chorales and Gregorian chant.  He promised further discussion with me on the topic - and I hope it happens!

The Dudes and U.S. Metal have all gone on to lead productive lives. And yet we all still love our heavy metal. It was a great joy to see my old friends again.  We always got along well with one another, went through good times and bad together, and are once again in touch after a too-long hiatus.

Thanks again to Ripper Owens (a real class act) and to Jimmy and Scott for putting on a great show and re-uniting the Joe Dudes and our U.S. Metal friends. Joe Tim, Joe Ron, Joe Rick, and I are all looking forward to our next reunion.

So, what do you say, guys? A.D. 2022 at Ripper's?  By the way, here are all of my pictures from the Reunion.  As Harry reminded us all those years ago, we are "not too old to rock and roll!"

Not Bob's Big Boy, but close enough for rock 'n roll

Bonus: For hanging in there and reading this whole blog post, here is Ripper Owens covering Iron Maiden's "Flight of Icarus" (the singer of Iron Maiden was, and is, Bruce Dickinson).  "Icarus" was often covered by U.S. Metal.  Enjoy, and don't fly too close to the sun!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Video-Encyclical from the Archbishop

The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod seldom wades into political waters. Lutherans have a reputation for simply accepting every government mandate as somehow divinely inspired. I'm gratified to see this (rightful!) defiance against state compulsion in our church's leadership. As the reverend president points out, the LCMS was founded in part owing to resistance to state tyranny, coming to America because of our commitment - cultural and constitutional - to liberty.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

On Motorcycling

The following quote from actor and cycling enthusiast Ewan McGregor sums it up...

"When I leave work on a motorbike, pull on my helmet and move off, it doesn't matter if I've had a good day or not.  With no phone, no stereo and no traffic to sit in for forty minutes, contemplating what's happened during the day, I am concentrating so hard on what I'm doing and where I'm going, and making sure that no one is pulling out to kill me, that by the time I get home my mind has been cleared of any troubles.  Motorcycling gives me anonymity and I don't have much of that in my life.  It's an escape from being stared at.  When I'm flashing around on my bike with my helmet on I'm just another geezer on the road and that's nice.  But, above all, there's something about riding a bike - the concentration and the single-mindedness of it, and the desire to get it right, taking a corner fast without losing control, doing it beautifully, getting into a groove and winning the battle between your head telling you to do one thing, the bike wanting to do another and your body in between - that I miss like hell if I don't get to ride it every day."

~ Ewan McGregor, Long Way Round, p. 18.

McGregor's adventure (with Charley Boorman) riding from England, across Europe, through Russia to the far east, taking a plane to Alaska, and then riding from there to New York is chronicled in the DVD series of the same name: Long Way Round.

There is no greater way to travel - whether across time zones or just going to work.

Here are a few pics from an adventure I enjoyed with my dad in 1981 visiting Spruce Knob, the tallest peak in West Virginia:

Larry Beane, Sr. and his Suzuki GS 850 L

Larry Beane, Sr. 

Larry Beane II

Monday, September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 15 – 2012

16 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 6:24-34

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Some of you might remember a song from 1988 by Bobby McFerrin called Don’t Worry, Be Happy.  The title is actually the catchy chorus of the tune sung over and over.  It’s a sweet and joyful little song that is more an invitation to have a positive attitude than it is a command.

For if we are upset, sad, depressed, distressed, or anxious, having someone simply command us: “Be happy” won’t make us happy.  In fact, it can even come across as being na├»ve or insensitive.  And besides, the year 2012 is not 1988. 

We are in the midst of a world economic meltdown.  Many of us work multiple jobs to pay the bills.  Mother and fathers sacrifice to educate their children.  Many of our people are deep in debt, and we make less money than we did even when Bobby McFerrin first sang to us of hope and happiness.

Our embassies and flags around the world are burning.  Our troops are at risk in far-flung continents.  We are all 24 years older than we were in 1988 – which means more health issues to be concerned about.  We do have much by way of anxiety and distress.  And Bobby McFerrin is not the only person who tells us “Don’t worry, be happy” – our Lord Jesus does as well.  And when our blessed Lord tells us to do something, be something, or not to do something, or to refrain from something – we do well to listen attentively and take His words to heart.

He thus He says: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  And the sense of the original Greek text can be translated stronger than “do not be anxious.”  The word actually says: “Don’t even think about such things.” 

Our Lord is telling us that even when we see the world collapsing around us, we shouldn’t have a care in the world.  And He even scolds us, albeit gently, for our “little faith” when we do worry. 

And unlike Bobby McFerrin, our Lord gives us an explanation as to how we can rise above our anxiety.  He teaches us from the nature of creation and our place in it: “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”

What glorious comfort!

Dear friends, as crazy as the world is, as uncertain as our times are, as racked by sin and death and sickness and doubt that we are in this fallen existence – we still have a God who is not just in charge, but who has created everything.  And what’s more, He still takes interest in His creation.  He still watches over every tiny organism, every cell, every molecule, every electron.  He promises in His Word that He has come to make all things new, to roll back the corruption that causes us anxiety, to restore life to the death that we brought into the universe – for He has paid for our sins in full at the cross, and made good on His promise by being the firstfruits from the grave. 

And when our thoughts are on such things, when we are focused on God’s Word, we can join St. Paul in asking in triumph: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

It is only when we take our eyes off of Jesus and look to the uncertainty of this world that we become anxious and worried, distressed, and even depressed. 

God takes care of the birds and the lilies and even the grass.  And so God cares for you, dear brother, dear sister, dear friend.  “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?”  He asks.

Of course, our Lord Jesus doesn’t answer this question, because we know it already.  It is a resounding “Yes.”  The Lord cares about you, and He will provide for you.  “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Instead of simply trying to improve our mood with a happy song to cheer us up, the Lord gives us real, solid, ironclad reason to be joyful, to dispense with anxiety, to be hopeful, and to put the burden of our worries on Him who cares for us!  It is not just a call for us to be happy, it is rather a divine promise that we shall be eternally happy.

In fact, the word sometimes translated as “happy” is something deeper and more lasting than a passing emotion.  In this very same Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus speaks of His followers as not being merely happy, but “blessed.”  We are blessed because He has blessed us.  We are free from anxiety because He has freed us from anxiety.  Dear friends, our worries and troubles are just that: “our” worries and “our” troubles.  They are what we bring to the table, the baggage we drag around with us – all because of our lack of focus on that which is truly important.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is where the Lord leads us in this passage, the conclusion to what it truly means to be freed from anxiety and to be connected to a life of joy through faith:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

“Don’t worry, be happy.”  Or as our Lord puts it: “Do not be anxious.  Be blessed.”  For you have been blessed by Him who rules all things, who loves His creation, who forgives your sins, and who grants us, His beloved people, the gifts of life, joy, peace, now and forever more.


on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Truth is the best propaganda."

“American traditions and the American ethic require us to be truthful, but the most important reason is that truth is the best propaganda and lies are the worst. To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful. It is as simple as that.”
Edward R. Murrow, Director, United States Information Agency, May 1963

Friday, September 14, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gretna Heritage Festival!

Great lineup this year in my back yard October 5, 6, and 7.  Y'all (all 200,000 of you) come!  We have space on the floor and a few bedrolls.  Heritage Fest has become a great Gretna tradition.

Pastor Nadarkhani Freed!

The Rev. Youcef Nadarkhani, who refused to recant his Christian faith even when sentenced to death - a sentence upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court - has been freed from prison after 1062 days!

Deo gratias!

Let us continue to pray fervently for our persecuted brethren.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 14 – 2012

9 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Most Lutherans are familiar with the old motto associated with the reformation: “Sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura,” – Latin for “By grace alone, through faith alone, according to Scripture alone.”  This describes how we are saved by God, how we have access to Him, and how He reveals this reality to us.  It is not through our works, through our worthiness, and not according to human reason.

“Sola fide” – through faith alone – is controversial to this very day.  How does faith work?  What is the nature of faith?  How much of our faith is really Christ’s faith at work in us? 

In fact, the Church often speaks of the “mystery of faith.”  We don’t understand it.  We can’t put it under a microscope.  We are not able to measure it.  A computer cannot analyze it. 

Our Lord teaches quite often about faith.  He uses metaphors and stories and parables and illustrations.  But today, dear friends, the Lord does not use any figure of speech, but speaks to us plainly.  He uses a real-life incident as an object lesson about faith.  And today, the Lord Jesus links faith to something else: gratitude.

“Rise, and go your way,” He tells the grateful Samaritan former-leper whom He has healed, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

We often hear the Lord speak these very words to people who have received a miraculous healing.  Salvation is, after all, sola fide – through faith alone.  Apart from faith, we have nothing.  But with faith, there is power – even the ability to move mountains.  And thus we pray with the father of another person the Lord once healed: “I believe, help my unbelief.”

But notice today how the Lord links faith, that is, belief, to something else, something that demonstrates faith: gratitude.  “Then one of them” whom Jesus had cured of leprosy, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

“Giving Him thanks.”

Jesus was moved by this display of faith.  He was also distressed that the others who had been healed were not there right along with this “foreigner” to give thanks to Jesus where Jesus is to be found.  “Were not ten cleansed?” our Blessed Lord asks.  “Where are the nine?”

“Where are the nine?”

I know there is a lot of distress in this congregation because there are so few here with us.  Christian churches all across the country are finding the ranks thinning , as the older parishioners become unable to attend services and the very old reach the end of their span of days in this vale of tears.  By contrast, the younger generations of Americans are like “the nine” – they are those whom Jesus has cleansed by Holy Baptism, and yet they choose not to return to where Jesus is to be found to give thanks to Him.

It makes us concerned for the future of our churches, and it fills us with anxiety for the future of our country.  We have become a “people among the nine,” ungrateful to our crucified Lord who has cleansed us with Holy Baptism and with the very blood of the Lamb.  And as much as it grieves us, we can only imagine how much it grieves our dear Lord, who suffered unspeakable agony on the cross for each and every person on the planet, only to be rejected by these same people for whom He died: especially all the baptized and confirmed who, week in and week out, gather with the nine instead of turning back to praise God in a loud voice.

For sola fide is linked to sola gratia – by grace alone.  We are saved by the Lord’s kindness, His mercy, His willingness to go to the cross, His forgiveness, His sacrifice: the blood and water from His side, His passion and death, His body and blood given and shed for you!  And grace, that is “gratia” is closely linked with “gratitude.”  For when one is shown a grace, one is grateful.  It is a recognition of grace.  It is a sign of belief.  It is faith!

In other words, the grateful Samaritan gives thanks out of the faith in his heart, the very faith that has made him well.  He has faith because he has received grace.  For what else is there to do when we have been rescued from death but to thank our Savior and offer our life as a thank offering to the One who offered Himself as a sin offering for us?

And this gratitude, dear friends, is not limited to once a week for a church service.  The Lord showers His grace upon us every day, every hour, every minute, and every second.  We are constantly being bombarded with His grace, and thus it is our duty to “thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  This is most certainly true.”

And so, dear friends, let us ever be grateful.  Let us never take the Lord’s grace for granted.  Let us never hold the Scriptures in contempt.  Let us never be indifferent to preaching and His Word.  Let us always hold the Lord’s Supper to be the most important thing in our very lives.  For in being present where Jesus is, we can indeed praise Him “with a loud voice.”  We can fall on our faces before Him, “giving Him thanks.”  

Sola gratia.  Sola fide.  Sola Scriptura.  We are saved by grace, through faith, as revealed in Scripture.  There is no other way, no other option, no other requirement.  And for this we are grateful beyond measure.

In addition, the Reformation fathers spoke of “solus Christus.”  For it is only Christ who carries out this saving work.  It is only Christ whom we thank, only Christ whom we praise with a loud voice, only Christ in whom we place our faith.  In gratitude for His healing mercy to us, dear brothers and sisters, let us also proclaim with the Church: “soli Deo Gloria” – to our God alone be all glory, now and forever.  Amen.

on the sickness of sinto the next - and d w liars and sons of the devil, tament, a bloodye people on
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Moleskine for the 21st Century?

The Moleskine is a seemingly anachronistic product in this day and age of smartphones.  But the company is doing well and they are expanding into related markets other than the simple pocket notebook with which its name has become synonymous.  Moleskine claims descent from the little notebooks used throughout history by famous writers and artists - even the brand name was the creation of a writer (Bruce Chatwin) who relied on them before they disappeared briefly from the market - even though detractors accuse Moleskine of stretching the truth on this.

The above video shows the "correct" pronunciation of Moleskine - the point of which is that there is no correct pronunciation.

Since last year's trip to Russia, I carry one with me everywhere I go.  It stays in my back pocket, and I use it to take notes in meetings, write prayers, make to-do lists, jot down numbers, websites, ideas - anything and everything.  I then copy important notes to the Internet (I'm trying out Evernote now) and/or to other journals (such as my edited travel journal I kept in Russia).

The little 192-page notebook (in all its various formats and sizes) has become so popular that there is a sort-of Moleskine community of people who share artwork, ideas, and even hacks to make the Moleskine even more useful. I recently submitted my own hack-that-isn't-reall-a-hack: rather an idea as to how to keep a pen and Moleskine together in the back pocket, using the Fisher Space Pen.

I'm at the tail end of my current notebook - which I have been using since September last year.  It is actually a Moleskine knockoff called a Picadilly.  It's not quite as nice, but it did hold up pretty well.  I had previously blogged a link to a review comparing the two.

After I complete this notebook (about ten more blank pages left), I'm going back to Moleskine.  It's one thing to read reviews, it's something else to use the products oneself.  Just on personal examination, the Moleskine is simply more robust with a cover that feels more like leather than cardboard.  Besides, the Picadilly is no longer available at Border's for five bucks.  They can still be gotten online, but at just a smidge less than the Moley.  And considering that it may last for the better part of a year, the extra couple bucks in cost is worth it to have the better quality.

Even in this day and age of the iPad and iPhone, the Moleskine has a few advantages: You can use it any time on a plane, it doesn't have to be charged up, you can keep it tucked away in a pocket without worrying about sensitive electronics being damaged, it only costs about twelve bucks, it can be coordinated with digital data storage, and writing with pen on paper has some distinct advantages in terms of creativity.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sermon: Trinity 13 – 2012

2 September 2012 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 10:23-37 (2 Chron 28:8-15, Gal 3:15-22)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“Which… proved to be a neighbor?”

The technical term for this kind of a question is “a softball.”  This is a question that is beyond easy.  It is obvious.  It’s a question that is so simple that we could almost call it a rhetorical question.

Could even this Pharisee, a lawyer whose goal is “to justify himself” by putting Jesus “to the test” have answered this question any other way than to reply: “The one who showed him mercy”?  Could he have in any way made the argument that the priest who turned his back on the dying victim was the right answer?  Could even a hotshot lawyer have made a case for the heartless Levite who did the same thing as the priest to be the example of mercy?

In fact, like a good lawyer Himself, Jesus argues His case with only one right answer, an obvious answer, an answer that also points to Himself.  For Jesus is the Answer.  And the question is “Who is merciful to me, a poor, miserable sinner?”

The question is “Who” and the answer is most certainly “The One who showed him mercy,” Jesus.

Some people believe Jesus the rabbi is giving a discourse on ethics, teaching the lawyer a lesson about right and wrong.  He is doing nothing of the sort.  That is the very point of our Lord’s story.  We all know right from wrong.  We all know mercy when we see it, when we experience it, when we do it, when it is shown to us.  We know right from wrong because it is engraved on our hearts, it is engraved in the stone tablets, it is engraved on the pierced hands of Him who has never done wrong, and who is the living embodiment of righteousness.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is no stunning revelation of ethics.  Everybody in the world, believers and unbelievers alike, everyone knows who the good guy in the story is.  For only an evil person, a person lacking in morals, or perhaps a person who is deranged could see “mercy” in the actions of the priest and the Levite.  Only a wicked or very sick person takes pleasure in the suffering of another human being or another living creature.  We know it is wrong not only to bully and assault and rob people, but we also know it is wrong to turn a blind eye to suffering, to have the power and the ability to help in some way, but to do nothing. 

We also know it is wrong to rely on our own station in life or perceived righteousness to justify ourselves.  It is wrong for a minister or church worker to presume he has no obligation to show mercy because of his churchly vocation.  It is wrong for a Christian to believe that he is absolved of sinful behavior because of his church membership, his grasp of doctrine, his attendance at services, his family’s history, or his past deeds or gifts to the church.

We cannot justify ourselves any more than medieval pilgrims could buy salvation by putting coins in a coffer or staring at relics in a glass case.

We cannot justify ourselves any more than the victim in our Lord’s parable could have willed himself well or overcome his own weakness and heal his own infirmity.

No, he needed a good priest or a good Levite – or in this case, a Good Samaritan to come and show him mercy.  He needed salvation and healing.

It’s easy for us English-speakers to separate salvation from healing.  We might be tempted to see salvation as purely a spiritual matter.  To be “saved” might make us think of our souls going to heaven when we die.  To be “healed” might make us think of getting rid of a cold or being cured of cancer – a purely physical matter.  But in fact, in the Greek of the New Testament, there is only one word for both.  To be saved is to be healed, and to be healed is to be saved. 

The victim in our Lord’s parable was injured and in danger of death.  He needed to be saved by being healed.  He needed to be healed by being saved.  He needed a healer and a savior.  He needed to be shown mercy.  And that is where the priest and the Levite failed.  They could have been instruments of healing and salvation, but in their selfishness, they chose not to be inconvenienced.  It was the lowly Samaritan who was the healer, the savior, the shower of mercy – the one who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell.”

Dear friends, we have all fallen.  We have fallen into sin.  We have fallen into the hands of the chief robber himself, Satan.  We have fallen wounded and battered and bleeding to death, unable to heal ourselves, unable to save ourselves, in need of mercy.

Indeed, we know right from wrong.  We know that we act more like the priest and the Levite.  We know that we seek to justify ourselves.  We know that we put Jesus to the test.  We know that we are cold to others in need of mercy.  We know that we fail to “go and do likewise.” 

Jesus did not come to teach us right from wrong.  We know that already.

But we do know who our Good Samaritan is.  We know who is our Healer, our Savior.  We know who shows us mercy!

For it is not the priest or the Levite, not the Law of the Old Testament, not the office we hold or our hereditary class that saves us, heals us, and shows us mercy.  Rather it is Jesus, Jesus only, the lowly One who was treated like a Samaritan, rejected, scorned, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, the crucified One, the One who “on the night in which He was betrayed took bread.”  It is our Lord who “had compassion” on us poor, miserable sinners, who “went to us” even as we sin against Him, He who “bound up” our wounds, who seals us with baptismal oil and heals us, saves us, by means of His Eucharistic wine, His very blood.  It is Jesus who sets us on His own animal, conveying us to the Heavenly City, preparing lodging for us with the Father, and who even pays for our healing, for our salvation – mercifully, with His very own lifeblood.

Jesus is the Good Samaritan, dear friends.  He has healed us, saved us, and shown us mercy.  And like the self-justifying lawyer looking to test Jesus, we can only answer the great question posed by our Lord in one way.  There is only one right answer to the great question “Who proves to be a neighbor to fallen mankind by healing them and saving them?”

The answer remains: “The One who showed him mercy.”

Jesus, dear brothers and sisters, Jesus alone shows you mercy, saves you, heals you, forgives your sins, and gives you eternal life!  Amen.

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