Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Easter 3, 2024

16 Apr 2024

Text: Luke 7:18-35

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

John the Baptist is also John the Prophet.  He is the last, and in many ways, the greatest of all the prophets.  And yet, the kingdom of God that John proclaims, paradoxically, makes even the one who is least in the kingdom even greater than he!  For John is a preacher of righteousness, of being made perfect.  John does this by proclaiming Christ.  And Christ makes all of us perfect by His coming: His Incarnation, His passion, His death, and His resurrection – which John and all the prophets proclaimed.

Jesus says that John is even “more than a prophet,” for He is the pinnacle of the prophets.  He is the prophet prophesied by the prophet Isaiah: John is the “messenger,” the one who “will prepare [the Messiah’s] way.”  He is the last of the prophets and the first of the Christian preachers. John’s father Zechariah prophesied about John as well, which St. Luke recorded for us, and which we often sing in Matins: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High… to prepare His ways… to give knowledge of salvation… in the forgiveness of their sins… to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

And now it is John who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.  He is in prison, having been arrested by Herod, who was offended at his preaching.  Now it is John who needs to hear the good news, whose feet need to be guided into the way of peace.  And so it is now the Christ Himself who preaches the kingdom to the prophet who went before.  It is the fulfillment of the kingdom proclaimed by the King Himself that brings comfort and peace to John.  For as John’s father also prophesied about Jesus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  For we shall be “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,” serving Him “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.”

John’s days will be cut short by his enemies who hate us, by a man who calls himself king of the Jews.  John’s preaching will be silenced.  But the Word cannot be silenced.  The kingdom cannot be stifled.  The fulfillment of John’s proclamation cannot be suppressed.  For the word of the prophets has been fulfilled by the Word Made Flesh: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”  The kingdom has indeed come with signs and wonders, but more importantly, by the cross, by the real King of the Jews who is the King of the universe.  And just as John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water, John the evangelist will testify of the blood and water that flowed from our Lord’s pierced side when the kingdom was brought to its completion.

John’s preaching, his own life and death – and his own coming resurrection on the Last Day – all testify about the King and the kingdom.  “Wisdom is justified by all her children.”  We are wise to heed the prophets, and we are wise to see in Jesus their glorious fulfillment.  We are wise to continue to hear Christ preached, even sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to be drawn into the kingdom, and to become even greater than John by the grace of the King about whom he prophesied. 

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Easter 2, 2024

9 Apr 2024

Text: Luke 4:31-44

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Our Lord’s ministry began by surviving an assassination attempt in His hometown of Nazareth, after He had announced that He is the fulfillment of Isaiah.  But Jesus doesn’t just talk, He preaches and teaches in a way that His hearers were “astonished,” for “His word possessed authority.” 

Our Lord’s authority is backed up by what He does with it.  He demonstrates His authority over even “an unclean spirit.”  This demon announces Jesus in a way that is even more shocking than our Lord’s preaching that nearly got Him killed.  The demon confesses: “I know who You are – the Holy One of God.”  But this confession will not redeem the rebellious angel.  For he serves the devil.  And it is not the demon’s place to speak, and certainly not to the Son of God.  Our Lord “rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him.’”  And Jesus cast out the demon effortlessly, and the people “were amazed.”  They asked, “What is this word?  For with authority and power He commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”

Our Lord’s reputation spreads quickly.

But Jesus not only takes charge over evil spirits, freeing the victims of these demons.  Jesus also has compassion on the sick.  He cured Peter’s mother in law, and soon after, “all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him.”  Jesus healed them by laying His powerful and authoritative hands on them.  He cast out more demons, and the demons continued to admit in their rage, “You are the Son of God!” 

Our Lord’s ministry, however, was not primarily that of a healer and exorcist, but as a preacher.  “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God,” says Jesus.  And He takes His leave for “other towns” as He “was sent for this purpose.”  Jesus has come to undo the damage that sin has ravaged upon mankind: sickness, strife, chaos, lack of communion with God, guilt, demonic influence, up to and including death itself.  Our Lord’s miraculous ministry will roll back all of these effects of the fall, and His preaching – and the preaching of those whom He will send – will proclaim the coming of the kingdom and the coming of our King!

And that proclamation of the kingdom and the power and the glory of the Father continues to this very day, dear friends.  And it will continue until Jesus returns again in glory, and this age ends with the beginning of a new heaven and a new earth.  For Jesus is the King who wields both authority as given to Him by the Father, and power in His own right as God in the flesh.  And we remain “astonished at His teaching,” for “His Word possess[es] authority.”

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday after Easter, 2024

2 Apr 2024

Text: Heb 10:1-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

The old covenant had “but a shadow of the good things to come.”  Its rituals were not “the true form of these realities.” The sacrifices of the Old Testament did not have the power to “make perfect” those who participated in them.  The lambs were tokens of the Lamb.  The blood of beasts was a token of the blood of Christ.  For as the author of Hebrews puts it bluntly, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”  But these tokens were signs of a promise – the promise fulfilled by Jesus in His crucifixion: the actual sacrifice that these shadows and tokens pointed to.

Many Christians claim the old covenant is still in force with the biological children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  There are Christians who claim that we should continue to keep the Jewish Sabbath and rites like Passover.  Some Christians annually butcher the Lord’s Supper in the form of an unhistorical Seder meal.  Just as in the days of St. Paul, there are Christians who want to return to the slavery of the old covenant with dietary rules and rituals that were temporary pointers to the eternal reality of our great High Priest and His once-for-all sacrifice.  But what does the Holy Spirit teach us through the Scripture in this Letter we call Hebrews?  “He does away with the first in order to establish the second.” 

God has not abandoned the Jews, nor has he replaced them.  But He has replaced the old covenant, and in the new covenant, He invites all nationalities, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be His chosen people!  For the fulfillment of every aspect of the old covenant has come.  For our Lord Jesus Christ “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” and He “sat down at the right hand of God.” 

The revelation of God is not only for people of one ancestry.  But through that one nation, just as He promised, through the “Seed” of Abraham – God has blessed all peoples of the earth (Gen 22:18).  The Law is no longer limited to stone tablets in an ark in a temple under the stewardship of one nation.  Rather, quoting Jeremiah (31:33), “this is the covenant... I will put My laws on their hearts and write them on their minds.”  And what’s more, the new covenant is not only the Law and the realization of our sins, but is also the Gospel, again in fulfillment of Jeremiah (31:34): “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

This new covenant, as Jesus teaches us, is not found in the “blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain,” but rather in the cup of His blood (1 Cor 11:25).  And as the author of Hebrews confesses: “Where there is forgiveness of these [sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer any offering for sin.”  The promise has been fulfilled.  The sacrifice has been offered and accepted.  So we Christians share in the fellowship of His blood, and “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  So we sing with the hymnist:

But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

Amen.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Holi Saturday? CUW Employee Doubles Down

At Prabupadha's Palace of Gold, Moundsville, WV, 1991


Concordia University Wisconsin’s Facebook Page continues to honor the Hindu festival Holi - which fell in Christian Holy Week this year. One of their employees (at Ann Arbor), an Academic Support Specialist, has lashed back against criticism of CUW by scolding those of us who don’t approve. Her Facebook profile makes no mention of her religious beliefs, nor do I have any mutual online friends with her - which suggests that she probably isn’t a Lutheran. But she is belittling Lutheran laity and clergy who have expressed a theological objection to something that our university is doing. And during Holy Week.

I guess she knows better how Lutheran Christians should treat this matter than we do. This is one of those times when the name of our university system is ironic. Indeed, in terms of the vaunted goal of fostering “Lutheran Identity,” Discordia Wisconsin has a lot of "Lutheran Indentitying" to do.

In response to my pointing out that Hinduism is not a culture but a religion, and that there are indeed Indian Christians - including Lutherans - and that “there are a lot of ways to celebrate Indian culture without endorsing rituals to Hindu gods,” her reply was to educate me as follows:

Hinduism is a big part of the culture in India!  There's nothing wrong with learning other religion [sic] and cultures [sic] holidays and traditions!  It's surprising to me that others spend this much time being angry.  Bring love into the world not anger.  I'm not directing this at just you but everyone who is ridiculously upset in these comments.

Understanding, respecting, and observing with the people who celebrate different religious holidays than us [sic] is not the same as idol worship.

It is a good thing to be knowledgeable and accepting of different cultures (and yes religion is apart [sic] of culture.  I will not be commenting further but again would suggest looking at the love and acceptance you can bring into the world through God instead of the hatred and anger.

She concluded her correction of me and all the other "hateful" Lutherans with a heart emoji.

I'm not suggesting that every employee must be a Lutheran.  But to show such callous insensitivity to her Christian employers and supporters of the university suggests that there is either no training for non-Lutheran and non-Christian employees so that they know what we believe, teach, and confess, or HR is prioritizing woke idealism over a commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ and our confession of the faith.  Or maybe, and perhaps more likely, it's just not a priority.

This is classic wokeism: to scold us for expressing our opinions based on our faith - and then couch it in syrupy love-talk.  But we know what it is, and we know where it comes from.  

Instead of engaging further after accusing all of us of hatred and not properly confessing God, her response was to block me and remove "Academic Support Specialist at Concordia University Ann Arbor" from her bio.  I double-checked the screenshot to make sure that I'm not misstating things.

Again, I'm not suggesting that Concordia employees all be Lutherans, but it would be helpful if they respected our faith and did not attack us during Holy Week.  

On a personal level, and as a postscript, I would encourage everyone to find an authentic Indian restaurant, preferably with a buffet, and try everything.  Indian food is wonderful (and, of course, varies considerably depending on region).  And I personally find Indians to be delightful and fun to hang around with.  My best friend when I lived in New York (a Hindu) and his roommate (a Muslim)  - took me to a countless number of Indian restaurants in Manhattan.  I once had an Indian cab driver try to refuse to take my money because I spoke with him in a few words in Hindi (I said some things that made him laugh).  I was making authentic chai at home long before it became popular in America, and probably before my critic was born (the secret is that you have to start with the dark, black, tannin-rich Assamese tea that makes your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth, none of that American sockwater).

One of my fondest memories (from thirty-three years ago) was driving in my tiny little ford Escort, crammed together with four of my Indian friends, leaving the Upper East Side of Manhattan at 4:00 am to drive to Moundsville, West Virginia, to visit a strange curiosity: an exotic gilded building - which was a Hare Krishna shrine.  One of my Hindu friends was not impressed with the Hare Krishna sect, as she believed that they were, what we would call today, LARPers - not real Hindus.  But we all had a great time on our roadtrip (see picture above, taken long before smartphones and selfies.  I'm easy to pick out.).

So, far from being ignorant of Indian culture and hateful toward Indian people, and in need to being scolded and educated - as my critic seems to surmise - I have great affection and respect for Indian culture.  It is a false accusation to accuse us of hatred, though that is currency among young people who want to discredit instead of constructively engage those who hold different beliefs than they.  They should apply their criticism and their woke bromides to themselves.

All of that said, and as St. Polycarp declared before his execution: "I am a Christian."  And the Lutheran confession within Christianity is what Concordia University Wisconsin is committed to.

CUW and its employees ought to respect Christians and the Christian faith.  It seems like so little to ask.  And though it is a bit early liturgically, I'm going to say it anyway: "Christ is risen!"

At the Assam Center, Edison, NJ, 1991, I'm on the left, and Prayag is on the right.  Good times!

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Holi Week?

On Holy Tuesday, one of our Concordia Universities celebrated the Hindu festival Holi.  [The post has been removed without comment.]

It seems that “the origin of the festival is traced in Hindu mythology legends, one of which tells the story of a female demon, Holika, and her brother, King Hiranyakashipu.”



Holi has an entry at Wikipedia. It "
celebrates the eternal and divine love of the deities Radha and Krishna. Additionally, the day signifies the triumph of good over evil, as it commemorates the victory of Vishnu as Narasimha over Hiranyakashipu.


Here are the Wikipedia links to those commemorated by this festival:

Krishna (/ˈkrɪʃnə/; Sanskrit: कृष्ण, IAST: Kṛṣṇa [ˈkr̩ʂɳɐ]) is a major deity in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the eighth avatar of Vishnu and also as the Supreme God in his own right. He is the god of protection, compassion, tenderness, and love; and is widely revered among Hindu divinities. Krishna's birthday is celebrated every year by Hindus on Krishna Janmashtami according to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, which falls in late August or early September of the Gregorian calendar.



Radha (Sanskrit: राधा, IAST: Rādhā), also called Radhika, is a Hindu goddess and the chief consort of the god Krishna. She is the goddess of love, tenderness, compassion, and devotion. In scriptures, Radha is mentioned as the avatar of Lakshmi and also as the Mūlaprakriti, the Supreme goddess, who is the feminine counterpart and internal potency (hladini shakti) of Krishna. Radha accompanies Krishna in all his incarnations. Radha's birthday is celebrated every year on the occasion of Radhashtami.



Vishnu (/ˈvɪʃnuː/ VISH-noo; Sanskrit: विष्णु, lit. 'The Pervader', IAST: Viṣṇu, pronounced [ʋɪʂɳʊ]), also known as Narayana and Hari, is one of the principal deities of Hinduism. He is the supreme being within Vaishnavism, one of the major traditions within contemporary Hinduism.



Narasimha (Sanskrit: नरसिंह, lit. 'man-lion', IAST: Narasiṃha), sometimes rendered Narasingha, is the fourth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu. He is believed to have incarnated in the form of a part-lion, part-man being to kill Hiranyakashipu, to end religious persecution and calamity on earth, thereby restoring dharma. Narasimha is often depicted with three eyes, and is described in Vaishnavism to be the God of Destruction; he who destroys the entire universe at the time of the great dissolution (Mahapralaya). Hence, he is known as Kala (time) or Mahakala (great-time), or Parakala (beyond time) in his epithets. There exists a matha (monastery) dedicated to him by the name of Parakala Matha at Mysuru in the Sri Vaishnava tradition. Narasimha is also described as the God of Yoga, in the form of Yoga-Narasimha.



Hiranyakashipu (Sanskrit: हिरण्यकशिपु, IAST: Hiraṇyakaśipu), also known as Hiranyakashyap, was a daitya king of the asuras in the Puranas.

In Hindu mythology, Hiranyakashipu's younger brother, Hiranyaksha, was slain by the Varaha (wild boar) avatar of Vishnu. Angered by this, Hiranyakashipu decided to gain a boon of invulnerability by performing tapas to propitiate Brahma. After his subjugation of the three worlds, he was slain by the Narasimha (man-lion) avatar of Vishnu.



Holika (Sanskrit: होलिका, romanizedHōlikā), also known as Simhika, is an asuri in Hinduism. She is the sister of the asura-kings Hiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha, and the paternal aunt of Prahlada.

The legend of Holika Dahan (Holika's burning) signifies the triumph of righteousness over sin. Holika is associated with the annual bonfire on the night before Holi, the festival of colours.



Concordia University Wisconsin is the university that suspended and banned CUW professor the Rev. Dr. Gregory Schulz for calling out the university's problem with wokeness.  As of today, Dr. Schulz has been suspended and prohibited from teaching any of his classes - though with full salary - for more than two years.

The best construction is that the university's International Center is ignorant of what Holi is all about.  And that is a terrible thing.  It shows that in spite of all the talk of "Lutheran Identity," we can see how important it really is in practice.  Sadly, this confusing celebration during Christian Holy Week vindicates Dr. Schulz.  And as we have seen some five Concordia universities fall in recent years - beginning with the most "woke" first, one can only pray that God will be merciful and spare this university (and our synod), and that those in charge of CUW will lead the university away from wokeness and cultural syncretism back to a clear Christian confession within our Lutheran tradition.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy - Tuesday of Holy Week, 2024


26 Mar 2024

Text: Heb 3:1-19

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus is the New and Greater Moses.  Whereas Moses was a faithful “servant,” our Lord is the faithful “Son.”  If we consider the people of God as a “house,” Moses is a structurally important part of that house.  But Jesus is the “builder” of the house, worthy of glory and honor denied even to one as great as Moses.  And because of our “confidence” and “hope” in our Lord Jesus Christ, “we are His house.”

The author of Hebrews cites Psalm 95 – which was customarily the first Psalm sung in the ancient prayer order of Matins – to remind us how important “today” is: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 

“Today” means now, the present, this very moment.  We cannot change the past (though we can learn from it).  We cannot control the future (though what we do now can change its trajectory).  But in the present time, “every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’” both the Psalmist and the author of Hebrews remind us to “exhort one another every day.”  We are in this house together, and as people of the same household, we live and work and grow up and grow old together, striving to keep one another from hardening our hearts “as in the rebellion,” when the followers of Moses spurned his leadership and rejected the Word that God delivered to them.  Their falling away from faith, their provocation of the God who saved them, their rebellion against the man God sent to rescue them made God Himself “swear that they would not enter His rest.”  For “their bodies fell in the wilderness,” and they did not enter the Promised Land “because of unbelief.”  For in their unbelief, they were unfaithful.

Dear friends, let us not only read the Word of God, but let us “hear His voice” and take heed.  Let us not be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  Let us learn from the past, and let us have a future of “hope” – “hold[ing] fast our confidence” in the New and Greater Moses, who leads us out of the slavery of sin and death, a captivity to one older and worse than Pharaoh.  Let us not rebel against Jesus, or fall away, but let us remain faithfully in the house and in the household, walking behind Him into the Promised Land.

For we do indeed live in a day called “today.”  And the author of Hebrews makes the same urgent plea as St. Paul that we live and repent and believe now, in the present, today.  As the apostle wrote to the Christians in Corinth, citing Isaiah: “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you,” and then adding this truth: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

Behold, dear friends.  Behold the present.  Behold today.  Behold the good news that one greater than Moses brings: the builder of the house, the Savior of the world, the propitiation of our sins, our only hope (who is our certain hope) for eternal life.  Behold the Promised Land!  Behold the rest of the eternal Sabbath!  Behold victory over sin, death, and the devil!  Behold, Jesus Christ our Savior! 

Amen.

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

 

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 5, 2024

19 Mar 2024

Text: Mark 14:53-72

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Jesus has been brought to an illegal nighttime hearing before the “high priest,” the “chief priests and the elders and the scribes” – and others on the Council.  Their plan to suborn perjurers who would give false testimony “against Jesus to put Him to death” is falling apart.  Their own stories don’t match.  The best they can do is hearsay evidence about our Lord’s prophecy that the temple would be destroyed, trying to distort that into a terroristic threat.  “Yet even about this, their testimony did not agree.”

The high priest and his associates have bungled the plan.  At this point, they must have been worried that they would have to let Jesus go free, and then there would be a backlash from His supporters.  And who knows how the Romans might respond!  If our Lord wanted to be found not guilty, it would have been an easy thing for Him.  But that is not the plan.  For Jesus has not come to save Himself from injustice, but to save us from justice.  He is not making a case for His own judicial innocence, but for ours.  The high priest questions Jesus, and at first, He “remained silent and made no answer.”  And here, the high priest must have been almost panic-stricken.  For they had no case.

But the question was never really about terroristic threats.  They all want to know if Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  For this is what really worries them.  Jesus works miracles.  Jesus forgives sins.  Jesus does things that only God can do.  And so the high priest interrogates Jesus again, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  And here is where Jesus testifies, telling them the truth that they both want to hear, and do not want to hear: “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

Not only does He testify that He is the Messiah, the Son of Man, but also the Son of God.  He is “I am,” the divine name that the high priest himself is forbidden to speak. 

And this, dear friends, is why the world hates Jesus.  He is God incarnate.  He is fully human and yet fully God.  He is the God who created the world, who has come to save the world, and yet He is condemned by the world.  He has come to rescue mankind from death, and mankind is putting Him to death.  He is the true High Priest of all nations, who has come not to condemn – and yet the high priest of His own nation has ordered Him to be condemned.

They mockingly bid Him to “Prophesy.” 

And Jesus, the great I AM in the flesh, the one whom all the world will see “seated at the right hand of Power” has indeed come to prophesy, to speak forth God’s Word.  For He is God’s Word by whom creation was made, now appearing within that creation – being judged and condemned by that creation.  Jesus has already prophesied concerning the temple – which will be destroyed in forty years.  He has already prophesied that Peter would deny Him.  But Jesus has come to prophesy forgiveness, life, and salvation to all who believe in Him, that His blood atones for the world, and not even death could hold Him: for He has conquered death. 

Jesus speaks the prophetic good news of God to all creation, because He is the Word of God: the Creator. 

Amen.

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

 

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Live Not By Lies! - Redux

Almost a year ago, I wrote an encouragement to read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's essay, "Live Not By Lies."

I'm reminded of that essay often.

A couple people have sent me screenshots of a guy who is writing about me by name - in a forum that is invisible to me - with some, shall we say, interesting accusations.

The good news is that he is not a brother pastor.  I don't know the guy.  I don't believe we have ever met.  We're not even Facebook friends.  I don't really care what some random guy on the Internet thinks about me (even if he is a Lutheran).  But I do care about the truth.  And he is not speaking it.  There are some people who have read his remarks, who are not happy about them, and have written to me.  He is attacking my reputation, and the reputations of others.  He is also running down Gottesdienst (for whom I write and serve on the editorial board), and trying to lump us all together.  

First of all, everyone is entitled to his opinion.  Disagreeing with me, and even disliking me, is just fine. I also have no problem with someone being vociferously critical of Gottesdienst.  To each his own. But I do have to admit being disappointed at being spoken about by name in a format that I'm not a party to - by a fellow Christian and Lutheran.  But I also realize everyone operates by his own core values.  At any rate, I decided against publishing a response at Gottesblog.  This is really more of a personal matter, so I'm responding here.   

There are basically three issues that I would like to reply to:

1) Donald Trump

My critic writes:

Virtually everything that Larry writes identifies his own Trumpist-Right Wing Populist politics with the cause of God.  I used to love Gottesdienst when it was about liturgy.  Now it's about the politics of the writers, which are predictable based on their age, gender [sic], and social class - in other words, most of their positions are generated by sociological factors which are simply baptized by them into being divine mandates.

He mentions Trump a second time in his screed.  As far as Gottesdienst goes, my critic assumes that we editors and writers are all in lockstep regarding politics and in our assessment of Donald Trump.  One of my fellow editors in particular, with whom I go back many years, is vociferously anti-Trump, and is vocal about it.  He did not vote for him, and will not vote for him.  He thinks Trump is gross and disgusting.  Why my critic thinks we all vote and think as a bloc is beyond me.  There is just no evidence for this.  Moreover, our editors and contributors include three generational cohorts: boomers, Xers, and Millennials.  We are all male (which is a sex, not a gender), because we are all LCMS clergymen.  Yet we do not think in lockstep.  And the suggestion that all people of the same sex, the same age, and the same socioeconomic status all think and vote the same way is bizarre and does not comport with reality.

As for me (not that it is any of my critic's business), I voted for Trump.  I will probably do so again.  I liked many things about his presidency: the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the appointment of a good number of conservative constitutional judges to the federal bench, and even the slight tax cuts and minor rollback of regulations were a boon to the economy - even bringing manufacturing back to the United States.  We all remember how things turned around after Trump's election.  That said, other economic opinions and policies of President Trump were awful, in my opinion.  He was also terrible on Covid.  He is socially liberal.  He surrounded himself with warmongers, as well as some disturbing religious advisors like Paula White.  So he is a mixed bag, again, in my opinion.

All that said, the real world of politics is about choices.  Frankly, I think even a moderate and flawed conservative like Donald Trump is far preferable to the likes of Joe Biden.  That is simply my assessment, and it is hardly radical or outlying or controversial.  I'm not even a registered Republican.  I don't belong to any political party, and am a registered independent.  I suspect that most members of LCMS churches will also vote for Trump, and probably have a similar assessment of him.  I'm far from slavish in my support of any politician.  Moreover, I can't find very much at all that I had to say about Trump in my blogging and writing when he was president.  I found my critic's remarks odd and baffling.

2) Christian Nationalism

My critic writes:

The key to Christian Nationalism is that you see your politics as implement [sic] a divine blueprint for society, and you identify the mission of the Church at least partially with implementing said blueprint.  Beane thinks that devoting his blog entries to attacking the progressive left on racial issues is a cause of God.  In some cases, there is a theological issue at work - like Christian anthropology.  Nevertheless, most of the time it has nothing to do with theology, and has more to do with his own personal preferences and prudential judgments, many of which are in my opinion highly flawed.

Interestingly, two weeks ago, I wrote a piece at Gottesblog entitled "On Christian Nationalism."  The main takeaway of my actual opinion of Christian Nationalism is right there for anyone who wants to read it.  Basically, my contention is:

  • Christian Nationalism is not defined, but is used as a slur across the political spectrum.
  • It can run from one extreme of simply believing that rights come from God instead of from the government, all the way to theocracy.
  • I would love to live in a Christian country - and in fact, would like to see everyone on the planet be a Christian in a Christian nation (this is called "evangelism" and "love," for we Christians believe that means they have salvation, and we are to "make disciples of all nations"), not that it would be a Utopia, but it would be an improvement to our secular state's redefining of marriage, legal infanticide, euthanasia, sexualizing children in our public schools and libraries, and statues of Baphomet in the Iowa statehouse.  What Christian would prefer the alternative to a nation whose laws and mores reflect Christian ethics?  
  • All people seek laws in accordance with their own ethical viewpoints and religious scruples, even liberals who call themselves Christians (who want a nation that reflects their own definition of Christianity).
  • There have been both good and bad Christian Nationalisms in history.
Interestingly, my critic made no mention of this article.

3) Wearing Vestments at a Confederate Monument

My critic writes: 

He obviously also thinks that maintaining pro-Confederate statues as being a divine cause since he shows up to rallies wearing his vestments.  I have seen the pictures with my own eyes.  I don't mind saying that I think this is deeply inappropriate, and not in harmony with Christian values as I understand them from the NT.

Interestingly, this came up in conversation just a few days ago!  I did a house blessing for a married couple who are friends and frequent visitors to my congregation.  My wife came with me, and we had a lovely time.  Our friends treated us to dinner afterward.  In the conversation, it came out why they visited our church for the first time (they are not Lutherans).  

We had met them at a social event a few years back, and I had also seen them occasionally because of my fire service and motorcycling connections.  But they had never visited the church.  The lady had heard from a friend in Alabama who saw footage online of a Lutheran pastor from the New Orleans area who was at the Jefferson Davis monument in New Orleans in 2017, vested and praying for peace in the middle of a tense standoff.  She was moved by this.  Our friend had a hunch that it was me, and sent her friend a picture of me from Facebook.  Her friend confirmed that it was me.  I had no idea that I was being videotaped at the time.

That is when she and her husband decided to visit our parish.

But here is the backstory that my critic knows nothing about, but assumes only some kind of sinister motive on my part.  No, I did not "show up to rallies in [my] vestments."  I wore vestments one time, and one time only, because I was leading Vespers.  And there is a reason why I did that.  

I had friends and parishioners that had been gathering for peaceful vigils at the three Confederate monuments in New Orleans.  The mayor was playing politics, and told the police to stand down, even as mobs of Antifa, led by a Communist agitator, became menacing to those who had gathered at the monuments to show opposition to their removal.

This was in 2017.  These monuments in New Orleans were among the first to be removed.  Today, not only Confederate, but also Revolutionary-era monuments, and others, have been removed, and in some cases, violently toppled by mobs.  All over the country, statues of Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus, Father Junipero Serra, Stephen Foster, Theodore Roosevelt, and even Abraham Lincoln have been removed.  Around the world, we have also seen similar removals of statues of Queen Victoria, Sir Winston Churchill, and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the destruction of ancient Buddhas by the Taliban.  It is also common to see paintings in museums being defaced, and even ruined, by woke activists.  In addition to the statues of Lee, Beauregard, and Davis, thugs in New Orleans vandalized a monument to the Roman Catholic priest Father Abram Ryan with red paint and human feces - toppling it, and causing the city to remove it.  The beautiful gilded statue of St. Joan of Arc in the French Quarter, a gift from Orleans, France, was also vandalized.  The Archdiocese was strangely quiet.  

Names of streets (thirty-eight in New Orleans) have been changed.  Names of military bases have been changed.  School names have been changed (a school in New Orleans named after George Washington was changed a few years ago when this movement was in its infancy).  There was an attempt - so far unsuccessful - to remove the statue of Andrew Jackson (the hero of the battle of New Orleans and an iconic landmark in front of the city's cathedral) as well as the statue of Iberville - the city's founder.  A mob videoed itself removing the bust of a philanthropist from the courtyard in front of city hall in broad daylight, and threw it in the Mississippi River with impunity.  Only those who fished the statue out of the river and rescued it were threatened with prosecution.

Anyone who doesn't believe that there is an attempt to rewrite history isn't paying attention.  The Gemini AI debacle is the latest in the bizarre attempts to create an Orwellian alternate remembrance of our past.  A couple of quotes from 1984 come to mind:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.
One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books.  Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets - anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.

 

I am hardly alone in my desire that we keep the monuments we have, and build more to honor other people whose stories should also be told.  That is exactly what I was saying in a rare response to a reporter when this picture was taken.  I don't believe my reasonable remarks made it into any article.  It didn't fit their narrative - nor does it seem to fit my present critic's biases.



The 2017 monument defenders who gathered at the three monuments being targeted by the mayor of New Orleans were a motley crew.  Yes, there were bikers and "rednecks," - and also professors, lawyers, community leaders, a mayoral candidate, military veterans and active duty soldiers, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, young, old, descendants of the men honored by the monuments, and ordinary people who love American history - who stood together at the monuments.  I was present some of the time at all three monuments.  At no point did I ever hear a single racial slur from the monument supporters.  I cannot say the same of the anti-monument crowd, which included bussed-in Antifa demonstrators, Communist agitators flying the hammer and sickle, and the usual cadre of angry woke activists from the local well-heeled universities.  They hurled profanity and racial invective at the minorities who were pro-monument.  Their main leader was a pro-Bolshevik Communist.

As crowds gathered on both sides, the situation became tense.  We heard rumors that the police were ordered by the anti-monument mayor to stand down and would not intervene in the case of violence.  People on both sides were open-carrying.  But things still remained peaceful.  Then, as busses of Antifa activists showed up, the anti-monument side suddenly surged toward the monument defenders at the Jefferson Davis monument.  A woman was slashed by a razor.  An elderly veteran had a burning US flag thrown in his face.  A woman in a wheelchair had a bottle thrown at her head.  Monument defenders scurried up the pedestal, and the police finally intervened.  They separated the sides and erected barricades.  The mood was even more tense.


When I heard what happened, that is when I put on my vestments, grabbed my hymnal and my Bible, and came to the Davis monument to pray.  When I began Vespers, I was surrounded by monument supporters who knelt.  Along with the Vespers service, I prayed an ex corde prayer for peace, and called on both sides to remain non-violent.  The anti-monument crowds cursed and mocked.  They were vile and hateful.  

I also went around and implored the pro-monument folks not to respond with violence, to show restraint, and to pray.  I ministered to the veteran who was having a bout of PTSD.  

A lot of people thanked me for being there, and said that my presence had a calming effect and helped de-escalate matters.  I am happy to say that no shots were fired by any monument supporter - not then, and at no time afterwards.  I'm not taking credit, but I do believe in the power of the Word.  I believe prayer matters.  I was the only clergyman there.  I wish there had been more.  I wish there had been a lot of us.  I wish there had been lots of clergy on the other side of the barricades as well.  But there weren't.  Would my critic have preferred that the Word of God went unspoken there, and that prayers for peace would not have been offered?  Would he have rather just let the pressure build with no mention of Christ?  

Or is he just angry that I wasn't on the Antifa side of the barrier?  

Anyone who has ever been in a mob situation with armed people knows how tense and unpredictable it is.  It was a powder-keg, and we Christians are called upon to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), no matter which side we may take in such matters.  That is "living in harmony with Christian values... from the NT" and with our calling as pastors of Christ's church.

Another violent incident happened at the Beauregard monument that was quite scary.  A woman who was a descendant of General Beauregard brought her ten-year old daughter to see the monument before it was removed.  She was standing next to my 12-year old son.  In broad daylight, in heavy traffic, a man stopped his car right in front of us in the roundabout, pointed a gun out the window, and pulled the trigger.  He hit the little girl.  Fortunately, it was only a paint ball gun. She was hit in the chest and in the arm.  The projectiles broke her skin and caused bleeding.  It certainly could have been worse, but it was a scary moment.



At the Beauregard monument, the pro-monument folks were corralled behind a barricade as anti-monument activists pressed in on them from all sides.  I was being squished against the barricades and asked the police officer why he wasn't doing anything.  His answer confirmed our suspicions.  He replied, "Do you think I like just standing here?"

The Lee monument was also the site of surging Antifa mobs.  Although it was a tense situation, no firearms were discharged.  There were a few blasts of mace, however, in response to some pushing and shoving.  I shot video of what appeared to be a voodoo priestess contorting and twerking in the faces of the pro-monument folks.  I prayed the Psalter during that tableau.  The Lee Monument had been vandalized the year before in a riot following the 2016 presidential election.  It was spray-pained "Die, Whites, Die."


Of course, this is not to say that every person of a different race was at one another's throats.  

Regarding that one occasion where I vested and prayed at the site of the Davis monument, I am glad that I did it.  I would do it again.  I don't care who approves or disapproves.  I don't care who lies about my motivations.  My conscience is clear.  As I said, I wish we had more clergy praying - and that we had them on both sides of the barricades.  The Roman Catholic archbishop (who favored the monument removals) could have shown up.  He could have also brought calm to the situation, but was nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was holed up in his cathedral - which incidentally flies a Confederate flag in the nave.  

Had my critic simply asked about my opinions and my motivations, I would have been happy to relate all of this to him. But he didn't.  He didn't care enough for the truth to even find out.  Sadly, I'm no longer surprised at such behavior.  That's how things are done now - in both the world and the church.  Sometimes all we can do is pray for our Lord's speedy return.  

We don't have to defend ourselves from every attack.  But I do think it is important to tell the truth - especially in the face of untruths - not just for our sake, but for the sake of others who are being attacked as well.  Lies are destructive, and sometimes the lie of omission is more damaging than the lie of commission.  The devil is the father of lies, and the name "Satan" means "Accuser."  

Whether we agree with others' opinions or not, I think we should consider the wise words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (whose monument was also defaced by Communists two years before the events in New Orleans): "Live not by lies."  




Sermon: Wittenberg Academy – Tuesday of Lent 4, 2024



12 Mar 2024

Text: Mark 12:13-27

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Various factions hated Jesus and sought His destruction.  They tried to trap Him and get the people (and the authorities) to turn against Him by asking Him controversial questions: questions that were not really questions.  Our Lord knows their malice, hypocrisy, and ignorance of the Word of God.  He not only answers their “questions” in such a way as to outmaneuver them, He does so in a way that teaches those who will be actually taught.  Jesus tells the truth – even knowing that He would be lied about.  Jesus knew that He was going to be arrested, condemned, and crucified by the guile of these very plotters and enemies. 

And in the words of the sixteenth-century hymn: “A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, the guilt of sinners bearing.”  Jesus even dies to cover the sins of His enemies, though few of them will receive it in their malice, hypocrisy, and ignorance. 

The conservative Pharisees and the Herodians attempt to entrap Jesus on the thorny issue of taxes.  Nobody likes taxes, and the Romans went beyond paying for government services.  They used taxes to extort and control their captive populations, employing collaborators and thieves among the people to oppress them.  Of course, even the suggestion of a tax revolt would have brought the wrath of the Empire upon anyone suggesting such a thing.  “Knowing their hypocrisy,” our Lord replied with His famous dictum to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The liberal Sadducees try to trap Jesus into denying the resurrection with a hypothetical about remarriage after the death of a spouse, concocting a ridiculous thought-experiment.  But Jesus rebukes them: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God,” teaching us that marriage is an institution for this life, not the life to come.  And there will be a resurrection, led by Jesus Himself.  For God “is not the God of the dead,” says our Lord, “but of the living.  You are quite wrong,” Jesus tells them.

We see this very thing today, dear friends, as people with political agendas from all sides use false narratives and compete with each other in destroying one-another’s reputations.  It is a good thing to argue about theology and current events, and to do so vigorously, making one’s case based on Scripture and natural law, but it is an entirely different matter from seeking to destroy people through intimidation, to get them fired from their jobs, or even subjecting them to violence.  We are not to join in the world’s malice, hypocrisy, and ignorance.  And certainly not in their lies.

The solution to living with integrity in a culture such as this is to indeed give both Caesar and God their due, and to know the Scriptures and the power of God.  And in following Jesus, we know full well that we must bear crosses of our own.  As the heroic dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who bore the cross of the malice, hypocrisy, and ignorance of the Caesar of his own time eloquently summed it up: “Live not by lies.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  And we must be willing to confess the truth before both friend and foe – and do so without becoming like those who seek to trap us in our talk. 

Amen.

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