Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Benediction


The following is the Benediction I was supposed to deliver at the American Legion – Hasler Camp, Post 215 Memorial Day ceremony in the Village of Pawling, New York. Unfortunately, there was a misunderstanding and the ceremony concluded without a Benediction.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Gift of Your love poured out for us in the selfless sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. As we remember this day those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, we think of how they have followed in the footsteps of Your Son. We thank You for those men and women who have laid down their lives in loving, selfless, sacrifice for us, for our nation, for our freedom, for our families, and for our children. They are an image, a reflection, and an extension of Your love, grace, mercy, and compassion for all people.

A life given in love is never given in vain. Help us to honor their sacrifice by cherishing the freedoms they died to preserve. Help all citizens of this great nation to sacrifice themselves in humble service to their neighbors, recognizing that all we have comes from Your gracious hand and that we are but stewards and managers of Your boundless providence.

Grant our nation humble and faithful leaders who bear the sword You give them for the good of those under their charge and make this nation, under God, a beacon of light of charity, mercy, hope, and peace for the world that those dwelling in the darkness of sin and death may know true Peace in the Light of Your love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Hold our service men and women in Your strong arms. Cover them with your sheltering grace and presence as they stand in the gap for our protection. We also remember the families of our troops, and ask for Your unique blessings to fill their homes and Your peace, provision and strength to fill their lives. May the members of our armed forces be filled with courage to face each day and may they trust in the Lord's mighty power to accomplish each task. Let our military brothers and sisters feel our love and support.

May the Peace of God that passes all understanding, that peace which the world can neither give nor take away, abide with us to bless us, this day, and even forever more.

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Trinity

John 3:1-17; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 6:1-7


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Liturgical Church Year is a precious gift of God. No, I’m not suggesting that it’s divine and infallible, dropped down from heaven as it were, but, rather, that it is the pious creation of God’s faithful people, the Church, evolving over time in accord with the Church’s faith and confession, doctrine and practice, from Her infancy. The Liturgical Church Year serves as a loving nursemaid, gently reminding the faithful and teaching us about important points of doctrine that, without it, left to our own devices and imaginings, might likely recede into forgetfulness. And, so today, on this Festival of the Holy Trinity, we are reminded of, and are instructed in, the awesome holiness of the Lord God, His awesome glory, the depth of His riches, wisdom, and knowledge, His unsearchable judgments and His inscrutable ways that we might fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

And, this is a thankful reminder, for we often do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Especially, today, Christians desire to not fear God. In popular Christianity, God is perceived to be your “buddy” or your “friend”. Though you can’t see Him or touch Him, He is believed to be “out there somewhere” watching over you, like a ghostly “big brother” or something similar. But, God, as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and in the incarnation, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of His only begotten Son Jesus, and in the pouring out of His Holy Spirit upon His Church, is not so popular today, nor politically correct.

But, this was the God that Isaiah beheld in his vision – perfect, righteous, and thrice-holy. And, Isaiah was overcome with fear, crying out that he was lost, undone, because he, a man of unclean lips, a sinner, had beheld the glory of the Lord, and he knew that he must die, not just physically, but spiritually, eternally – for that is the force of the word that is translated “lost” or “undone”. Those tainted by the stain of sin cannot stand in the presence of the holy God anymore than darkness can exist in the presence of light. Thus, did Isaiah rightly fear the Lord before whom even the holy angels hide their faces. Such fear is the right and reverent worship of the Holy Lord God, and Jesus teaches us to fear, not those who can kill only the body but not the soul, but to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. And, that one is our thrice-holy Lord God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our cultural aversion to fearing God is reflected in our family relations as well. Today, fathers long to be buddies and friends to their children. They are loathe to discipline or even to say “no” to their sons and daughters. But, a child does not need parents who are buddies or friends, what they need are Fathers and Mothers that are to be feared and respected for their discipline and wrath against wrong doing, but even more for their selfless, sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Though Isaiah rightly feared the Lord, believing that he was lost, undone, he would come to fear the Lord also for His selfless, sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness. Isaiah could not make his own lips to be clean; he could not remove his sin, uncleanness, and impurity. So, the Holy Lord God acted in love and forgiveness, sending a seraphim with a coal from the altar to touch Isaiah’s lips and to purge away his sin and make him clean. Then Isaiah could stand in the presence of the Holy Lord God. What awesome holiness! What awesome love and mercy!

And, what the Holy Lord God did for Isaiah is what He has been doing for his children, His Church, ever since the fall of our First Parents into sin – providing a way for His fallen children to enter, once again, into His holy presence. For this reason, above all others, God is to be feared, because He loves His rebellious children, His creatures, so much that He will not let them perish, but, in selfless, sacrificial love, takes their sins, their impurities and uncleannesses upon Himself, that we might live with Him in everlasting holiness, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

But, where is the fear of the Lord today? Our culture, even our Christian culture, has effectively neutered God, making Him sterile and impotent. For many, He has been made to be, at best, a spiritual “buddy” looking out for you, and, at worst, a “watchmaker” god, detached from, and uncaring of, the world and the creatures he has made, content to watch from a distance, but not to get involved. This is not the Holy Lord God of the Scriptures. This is not the Holy Lord God revealed in the God-Man Jesus Christ. This is not the Holy Lord God who poured out His Spirit on Pentecost, giving birth to the Church, a holy people, who may enter His holy presence once again through the blood of the Lamb He provided, His only begotten Son Jesus Christ.

Only God is holy, and only the holy God can make you holy. And, this He has done: Holy God sent forth His only begotten Son in holy love to lay down His life unto death to atone for the sins of the entire world. Holy God poured out His Holy Spirit into and upon His Church that people might receive the free gift of Christ’s atonement through baptism and faith. It is all the work of the Holy Lord God. Only God is holy, and only the holy God can make you holy. And, this He has done: You are holy, set apart, sanctified in the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ. In Holy Baptism you received the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith. God’s Holy Spirit will sanctify and keep you in the faith unto life everlasting. For this reason, God is to be feared, loved, and trusted above all things.

And, today, people of God, your Holy Lord God continues to call you into His holy presence, making you holy by touching your lips, not with a live coal from the altar, but with the holy, innocent blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Blessed be the Holy trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.

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

Friday, May 28, 2010

They Once Were LOST…, but now they have found each other.

LOST Supper Six years ago, Oceanic 815, flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, broke apart in mid-air and tumbled to an unknown island in the South Pacific in three pieces. Incredibly, providentially (?), over forty passengers survived. The survivors soon discovered, however, that this was no ordinary tropical island. From polar bears to strange electromagnetic forces, to a malicious “smoke monster” and hostile unknown natives (“Others”), to a group of utopian hippie scientists from the 1970s called “The Dharma Initiative” and seemingly ageless, demigod personages Richard Alpert, Jacob, and “The Man in Black”, the survivors were soon asking, in the immortal words of Charlie Pace, “Guys, where are we?” Six years later, the television series has come to a closure, and fans are still asking that same question, along with countless others.

LOST was unique in television history: it was epic in narrative scope, cast, setting, even in time and space. The closest series comparable to it has to be David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” (early 1990s). Moreover, LOST was a product of our postmodern times and culture and, I believe, evolved over its six seasons into a critique of these. Chief amongst the postmodern themes in LOST include the island itself. An island has the appearance of being disconnected from other land masses, seemingly floating in the ocean. I believe that LOST utilized this idea as a critique of postmodernism, a primary tenet of which is that there are no absolutes (absolute truths), but that truth is subjective, being the product of a culture’s narrative or collective story. In the end, just as an island in reality is connected to a land mass hidden under water, it was never the island that was LOST, but it was the survivors who were lost in their lives even before being brought to the island.

In LOST, the island appeared to be disconnected, time and space appeared to be disconnected, good and evil, right and wrong, even life and death appeared to be disconnected – this is to say that LOST was thoroughly postmodern, leaving the viewer, and our survivors, awash in uncertainty of where they were, when they were, who they were, and why they were. Is that not a reflection of the world we live in today? The postmodern delusion of our time has seen us devolve into fragmented families, often separated by great geographical distances and by even greater relational distances. We have believed the lie that by eliminating absolute truth and connectedness we will truly be free. But, free to what end? Free to float alone with no meaning, no purpose, no relation to others, etc.? Many gladly court such disconnectedness, as did some of the survivors on the LOST island. In the end, however, LOST critiques this idea, I believe, by suggesting that the survivors, who were already disconnected and lost in their real-world lives, were brought to the island, not to revel in their postmodernity, but to have an opportunity to rediscover who they were, where and when they were, and even why they were in relational connectedness to each other. These strangers came to care about each other and even to love each other unto the point of sacrificing their lives, in some cases, for each other. In LOST’s end, it is relationships and connectedness that are truly important and that truly set the LOSTies free.

There were many religious themes in LOST coming from all sorts of faiths, philosophies, and traditions: good and evil, right and wrong, repentance, contrition, forgiveness, redemption, sacrifice, resurrection, and reincarnation are but a few. LOST was thoroughly pluralistic (equality of all religious views) and often Unitarian (all paths lead to God), but in the end, despite the many and varied religious symbols and motifs represented, I believe that a general western Judeo-Christian view won out. To put it simply, no one is brought into this world to live for himself alone. We are born into families, tribes, communities, and nations and are dependent upon each other. This gives us each an opportunity to die to ourselves and to live to God by loving service of our neighbor. I believe this idea was encapsulated in the oft repeated LOST mantra, “Live together, or die alone.”

Jesus teaches us that love is the fulfillment of the Law, for love does no harm to a neighbor. Further, Jesus teaches that the greatest act of love is to sacrifice one’s self for another. Postmodernists can do this as well as followers of Jesus “the way, the truth, and the life”, but ultimately their sacrifice has no meaning. Your selfless sacrifice of love, forgiveness, charity, mercy, peace, etc. is motivated by and flows from Christ’s own sacrifice of love for you. Jesus Christ is the Truth incarnate (in human flesh and form), and by knowing Him, you know the Truth, and the Truth truly sets you free.

Like passengers on an airliner, we all come into this world with the baggage of sin. Also, like travelers, we pick up a lot more baggage along the way. Jesus took that baggage upon Himself and died for our sins upon the cross. We don’t have to carry that baggage anymore. And, now that our load has been lightened, Jesus will work through us to help others believe that He has taken away their baggage to. We see that we are not alone, that we need each other, that we are not lost, and that is to be truly found.

There Is No Reason Why Lutherans Should Not Be Lutheran

“Because of the confessional position of the Lutheran Church, there is no reason why Lutherans should not still be Lutheran. Espousing the catholic and apostolic faith with Christ as center and Scripture as source, Lutherans are part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Therefore, they do not have to ask whether they should be part of a church body with a name other than Lutheran. They do, of course, need to be concerned about the barriers that divide Christians from each other and must listen to other Christians for what the Holy Spirit may have to say through them. But they do not need to be concerned, as some other Christians have insisted they should be concerned, that they are somehow not the true church of Christ.”

— A. C. Piepkorn, The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, pp. 195, 196. HT: Weedon McCain

Monday, May 24, 2010

Homily for The Day of Pentecost


Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:23-31

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?

Pentecost is the Festival of the Church commemorating the sending of the promised Holy Spirit upon the Church of Christ. Pentecost is a transition point in the Church’s Year of Grace bringing to a close the Festival Half of the Church Year, which focuses upon the life of Christ, and beginning the Time of the Church, which focuses upon the life of Christ in and through His Church. Sometimes Pentecost is referred to as the birthday of the Church, for, by the gifts and working of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and the young Christians in that early Church finally began to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and were equipped with powerful, holy words and signs to bring the gifts of Jesus by the proclamation of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

The work of the Holy Spirit is called Sanctification, which means, literally, “to make holy” or “to set apart”. To be holy means to be like God, righteous and without sin; God commands that you be holy as He is holy. To be set apart means that you are not to be conformed to this world and its prince, the devil; you are to be in the world, but not of the world; you are to be leavening agent in the world effecting it by the leavening Gospel of Jesus Christ and scattering the darkness of sin and death by His Light.

But, that is not all that the Holy Spirit has to do. The Holy Spirit creates faith in Jesus Christ where and when He pleases. Through faith, the Holy Spirit delivers all that Jesus won for you by His suffering, death, and resurrection, particularly the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. And, the work the Holy Spirit begins, He does not abandon, but He feeds, strengthens, sanctifies, and keeps believers in the faith until He brings it to completion in the resurrection of your body.

The Holy Spirit creates faith in Jesus, joins you into Jesus’ death and resurrection, teaches you about Jesus, and nourishes you with Jesus’ body and blood in the Holy Church that is the body of Jesus, through the proclamation of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments. That is to say that the Holy Spirit calls you and the whole Christian Church by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith, and, in the Christian Church He daily and richly forgives you all your sins and the sins of all believers.

That is the work of the Holy Spirit; that is what the Spirit does. And, where does He do it? The Holy Spirit does His work in and through the Holy Christian Church. Now, I suspect that some of you might be a bit uncomfortable with this doctrine. For, our post-modern culture insists that such absolute claims of truth are untenable and not politically correct. And, Pietism within the Church balks at this doctrine, maintaining that the Holy Spirit cannot be limited to such a narrow sphere of operation. And, Christians and unbelievers alike cry out “Which church? The one with the pedophile priests? Or, the one with the thieving evangelists? Or, the one filled with hypocrites?”

Yeah, that’s the One! For, there is only one holy Christian Church that will remain forever, and that Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. The Gospel Word and the Holy Sacraments are the Means of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ; that is, the Preaching of the Gospel, the administration of Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar are the means by which and through which the Holy Spirit creates faith and sanctifies and keeps in the true faith. The Gospel Word is the Means of Grace by which the Holy Spirit calls you to faith in Jesus and the Holy Sacraments are Means of Grace by which the Holy Spirit seals, nourishes, and keeps that Spirit-created faith in Jesus Christ. These gifts were poured out upon the Church on the Day of Pentecost. These gifts gave birth to the Church. And, it is by these gifts, and around these gifts, that the Church continues to gather today, and every day, until the Day of Resurrection when the Church Militant will be shown to be the Church Triumphant.

It is faith alone (sola fide) in Jesus Christ alone (sola Christus) that saves, and that saving faith is the creation and gift of the Holy Spirit – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Further, the Holy Spirit has been sent by the Father through the Son to work through the means of grace established by Jesus, the preaching of the Gospel Word and the administration of the Holy Sacraments, in the communion of saints, the Church, called by, and gathered around, these gifts. This is not a limiting of the Holy Spirit’s work by man, but it is a promise from God where His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation may be found. For, the gifts of God, won for us by Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, are found in the Holy Christian Church and nowhere else. Thus the Church of all times and in all places has always taught and confessed Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, “outside the Church there is no salvation”. And, Dr. Martin Luther concurs with this doctrine, writing in his Large Catechism “outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not found, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness.”

Just as there is no life without conception and birth, so the Church is the holy mother of those conceived by the Holy Spirit of God, born from the womb of the Church, the font, in Holy Baptism. In Holy Baptism, the Spirit of God creates faith in Jesus Christ, wholly apart from human reason or strength. And, that is why Jesus points to a little child, even a newborn infant, as an example of how faith is completely and totally the work of the Holy Spirit. A person chooses or decides to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord no more than he or she chooses or decides to be conceived and born. We are the passive recipients of God’s grace in Jesus Christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit.

However, faith that is born of the Spirit does not remain passive, but such faith is alive and active and bears the fruits of righteousness: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And so, the Church grows as Her children bear the fruits of the Spirit in their God-given, divine, and holy vocations, in loving service of the neighbor to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

This is exemplified today as Kristen Figliola is confirmed in the faith. A confirmation is not a beginning of faith, but it is, as the word implies, a confirming of faith that already exists. When Kristen was baptized thirteen years ago, she was given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ as a free gift by the working of the Holy Spirit. As an infant, she was the passive recipient of God’s free gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. But her infant faith did not remain passive, for faith is living and active.

Her faith has been built up and nourished by the Holy Spirit in Christ’s Church. She has studied the Holy Scriptures and the Catechism and now can confess with her mouth what she has believed in her heart. Her faith is not new, but it now uses voice, reason, and strength to confess and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And, just as confirmation is not a beginning, so neither is it an end. Confirmation is not graduation. The faith given by the Holy Spirit, born in Baptism, continues to grow and mature through the Means of Grace in Christ’s Church. His vehicle is the Word of God, Christ Jesus, spoken forth from the mouth of God. And the Word has gone forth from the mouth of God and does not return void, but it brings about what He has said. The Holy Spirit gives what Jesus died to give you, and the Holy Spirit brings to remembrance all that Jesus has said and done. It is finished, you are forgiven, go in peace. And the Spirit and the Church cry out, “Amen, come Lord Jesus; come quickly, come. Amen.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homily For Exaudi (Easter 7)

 1 Peter 4:7-11 (12-14)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Beloved in the Lord, “The end of all things is at hand” – Thus warned the Apostle Peter just shy of two thousand years ago. And, what with the Roman occupation and persecution of Christians by both Jews and pagan Gentiles alike, it must certainly have seemed as though the end of all things was very near.

So how are we to understand Peter’s warning today? Taxing wars against non-defined enemies have stretched our resources, patriotism, and patience to the breaking point. Horrific natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis seem to occur with ever-increasing frequency. And now there’s a hole in the ocean floor spewing 200,000 gallons of oil a day that seems beyond man’s ability to stop. Add to these car bombs in Times Square, unemployment, rising fuel prices and taxes, uncertainty about healthcare and social security, homosexual marriage, and abortion … for many it must seem as though the end of all things is very near. What can we do? What should we do?

“The end of all things is at hand,” warns the Apostle, “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Is this an exhortation to not panic? Yes, but it is more than that. It is an exhortation to fearless, selfless, sacrificial love and service; it is an exhortation to die to your self and to live to God. That is, keep on doing what you’ve been doing, what Christians always do, and, at the end of all things, do it all the more in sobriety and in self-control. And then Peter begins his stewardship sermon: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Are you surprised that Peter’s instruction for what to do as the end of the world draws near is essentially “Keep on doing what you’re doing”? You shouldn’t be, for this is why you are here in the first place. This is why the Church is here at all. This is why the end has not yet come. There’s still work to do: selfless, sacrificial, loving work for the good of others to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. And, when the world is running down, do we just make the best of what’s still around? No, on the contrary, the people of God work, serve, sacrifice, and love all the more in everything, that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

That is why Peter instructs you “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” The most important thing that you are to do at the end of all things is to keep on loving one another. And Peter adds to his exhortation that “love covers a multitude of sins.” Does that sound surprising? It shouldn’t. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Love always gives and forgives. Love lays down His life for friends and enemies alike. Jesus Christ is the love of God for you, poured out in sacrificial love on the cross, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. God has so loved you in His Son that He now sends you to love others with His love that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Loving one another isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s difficult even to like one another. Imagine what it must be like for our holy and righteous God to love us hate-filled, rebellious sinners, who too often put their fear, love, and trust in created things and not in the Creator of all things, and to love us so much as to sacrifice His only-begotten Son for us. If God has loved us in this way, how can we not love one another? People sometimes say that to love someone doesn’t mean that you have to like them. That may be true to a point – Peter exhorts you to love one another, not to like one another. However, I suspect our understanding of like is a human contrivance to pare down or to simplify God’s universal command to love. It’s like the lawyer who sought to justify himself by asking Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” It’s like tween-age girls asking each other “Do you like him, or do you like-like him?” We like to think that we can love our neighbor without liking them – do you hear how childish that sounds? What Peter is saying to you is that you must first love a person, and, if you truly love them with God’s love in Jesus Christ, then liking them simply is not an issue.

It is your enemy, Satan, who tempts you to make petty distinctions between love and like, and he afflicts the Church of Christ severely. In the realm of stewardship in the Church, which is supposed to be the loving management and distribution of God’s gracious gifts of time, talent, and treasure, Satan tempts you to be petty and territorial, to view your brothers and sisters in Christ as being critical of you and agenda-driven against you. He tempts you to view your service in Christian Education, as an Elder, Properties & Grounds, Finance, Missions, Music, Fellowship, even making the coffee as your own personal little fiefdoms that you must defend from all attackers. In such a way the devil would destroy your love in your service and he fills Christ’s Church with bitterness, resentment, conflict, and strife. But Peter exhorts you that you are to use your gifts to serve one another, in love, as good stewards, good managers, of God’s grace.

Again, this is why you are here. This is why the Church is here at the end of all things, to keep on loving earnestly and using the gifts that God has given to you, gifts of time, gifts of talents and skills, gifts of financial treasure, as good stewards and managers, in service to one another in love, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ is a beacon light shining in the darkness of sin and death, guiding those lost in the darkness to Jesus, the Light of the world. The Church of Christ is a city on a hill that is to be visible to all the world as a sanctuary for rest from labors and a hospital for souls sick unto death. The Church of Christ is the loving heart of Jesus displayed in humble, selfless and sacrificial service to the world. The Church of Christ is the spiritual womb that gives birth to children of God in Holy Baptism by the life-creating power of God’s Word. And the Church of Christ is the sheepfold in which the Good Shepherd gives unto you His sheep living water that refreshes and enlivens parched souls unto eternal life and feeds His sheep on the best of meats and the finest of wines, laying down His own life, in sacrificial and selfless love, for you.

This is why you are here. This is why the Church is here at the end of all things. And this is why, above all else, you must love one another. “Show hospitality (graciousness and kindness) to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards (good managers) of God’s varied (and multitudinous) grace […] in order that in everything (you do or say or think) God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and Dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

In Jesus’ + Name. Amen.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

There Are No Postmodernists In Electric Chairs

There Are No Postmodernists In Electric Chairs » First Thoughts A First Things Blog

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris on the epistemological equivalent of “There are no atheists in foxholes”:

It has become fashionable nowadays to speak of the subjectivity or the relativity of truth. I find such talk ridiculous at best. Let’s go back to Randall Dale Adams. He found himself within days of being executed in “Old Sparky,” the electric chair in Walls Unit, Huntsville Texas.

There is nothing post-modern about the electric chair. It takes a living human being and turns him into a piece of meat. Imagine you – you the young journalists of tomorrow – being strapped into an electric chair for a crime you didn’t commit. Would you take comfort from a witness telling you that it really doesn’t make any difference whether you are guilty or innocent? That there is no truth? “I think you’re guilty; you think you’re innocent. Can’t we work it all out?”

Well, the answer is: No. We can’t. There are facts. There is a world in which things happen and the journalist’s job is to figure out what those things are. Anything less, is giving up on the most important task around – separating truth from illusion, truth from fantasy, truth from wishful thinking.

And…., a great comment to the post:

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that postmodernism has been more influential outside of the discipline of philosophy than within it–where most academic philosophers in the United States think it sloppy thinking at best. Postmodernism has tended to be more influential in departments of English, history, and the social sciences–all places that placed a low premium on precise thinking or the truth of the matter and high premium on being original and even eccentric. This general observation is particularly true of Richard Rorty who has not been influential with academic philosophers but who has exercised influence outside of the philosophical rank and file. Meanwhile, one hardly thinks the French were wrong to make fun of Rorty. Consider Foucault’s attempt to carry out what might be called a Nietzchean program of analysis. Foucault was certainly aware that Nietzsche didn’t aim to make us think in a new way but rather to subvert the foundations of thought and to replace thought with will to power. What then can Foucault’s project be? It is at best Foucault having fun at the expense of those who take him seriously, when he does not meant to be so taken (he told a former teacher of mine that he was quite deliberately obtuse in all his writing). It is at worst Foucault’s own attempt to exercise will to power over his readers and over those who fall under the spell of his work. Being persuaded by him would then to become enslaved to his mastery rather than to arrive in those elysium fields of the truth of the matter. Postmodern philosophy shoots itself in the foot–and the prescient postmodern philosopher knows this and doesn’t care. Rather, he seeks to use it for his own advantage.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Homily for Rogate (Easter 6)


John 16:23-33

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today the Holy Spirit would have us learn about the true promise and power of true prayer to God the Father in the Name of Jesus. Thus, the name of this Sunday in the Church’s Year of Grace is Rogate, a name that comes from the Latin word for to petition or to request, to ask, that is, to pray. “Ask,” our Lord teaches you, “and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it, “Ask, and you will receive”? It sounds so simple, in fact, that we feel there must be a catch. After all, we often pray and do not receive what we ask for. So, just what is Jesus getting at here?

The key to all prayer, the key to all asking, is to ask in Jesus’ Name; but, now we have to consider what that means, and, more importantly, what that does not mean. To ask in Jesus’ Name is not to simply tack the name of Jesus on to the end of our prayer. Jesus’ Name is not some magical utterance that causes God the Father to answer our prayer. Neither is Jesus’ Name a golden ticket that gains you an audience with the Father. The Name of Jesus is, first and foremost, a gift of the Father: God the Father gave His son into death for the life of the world. To ask in Jesus’ Name is not to ask for simply anything we might want, but it is to ask for anything we want that is in Jesus’ Name, that is, that is in Jesus Himself.

Now, what kinds of things are in Jesus Himself, in Jesus’ Name? Well, things like the Father’s love, overflowing joy, peace of heart and soul, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, a family of faith that shares your joys and sorrows, the gift of the Holy Spirit and faith – oh, and not to mention, all that you need to support your pilgrimage through this world – and that’s just for starters! “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name,” says your Jesus, “He will give it to you. … Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”

And so, you see, true prayer is not “name it and claim it” prayer – pray for a new shiny Audi, believing God will give it to you, and you will have it; heck, you have it now, even as you’re driving down 22 in your 2002 Honda. True prayer is not believing that the cancer is gone simply because you asked for it, even in Jesus’ Name, while it still rages through your loved one’s body. In Jesus’ Name is not a promised release from temporal suffering and sorrow, but rather victory over these, even now, and especially in heaven. True prayer in the Name of Jesus is a conforming of your will to the will of God in Jesus Christ as the Catechism explains the Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thy will be done: The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

Ultimately, God doesn’t need your prayers, though He covets them; it is you, rather, who need so very much to pray. True prayer realigns you with your heavenly Father, the source of all blessings. For, He has sent every good and perfect gift to you from above in sending His Son Jesus, and so all that the Father would ever give you is in Jesus’ Name. The Father will only give you what you ask for in Jesus’ Name. And, whatever you ask in Jesus’ Name, the Father will give you.

Let’s face it: prayer is hard work. Often we don’t know what to pray for. We don’t know what words to use. We are filled with doubts that are prayers will be heard or that God will answer. And when we try to pray, we find ourselves plagued by distractions, both exterior and interior. Take heart, you are in good company, for Jesus’ disciples experienced this as well. They asked their Master, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer. Now, contrary to popular sentiment, the Lord’s Prayer is not simply a model prayer, offered with the intent that it be used merely as a style or format for prayer, but not actually or often prayed itself. Rather, the Lord’s Prayer is the most perfect prayer consisting only of God’s own Words spoken from the mouth, heart, mind, and soul of God Himself. The Lord’s Prayer is a description of God and who He is in and of Himself: God is a holy Father, reigning in His coming heavenly kingdom with a holy and perfect will that will be done even were there no soul on earth to ask that it be done. He gives daily bread, all that we need to sustain our bodies and lives, without our asking, and He forgives ours sins by the atoning sacrifice and merits of Jesus Christ alone. He defends us from the temptations of the Evil One because He loves us and is jealous for our love of Him. And so, it’s all about God: Who He is. What He is like. What He does. And, what we are praying for in the Lord’s Prayer is that we would love Him, who He is, what He is like, and what He does. All this is in Jesus’ Name, and the Father will give to you all that you ask in Jesus’ Name.

Prayer is only hard work, then, when we insist that it is our work! True prayer is God’s work: He is the loving Father who desires to give good and perfect gifts to you His children. He is the storehouse of all good gifts in His Son Jesus, in whose Name we pray. And by the workings of His Holy Spirit He is both the inspiration and the content of our prayer. We truly pray when we stop trying so hard to pray, stop worrying so much about what to pray, how to pray, and when to pray. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is both the object and the content of true prayer, so we begin with God, who He is, what He is like, what He has done and is still doing. Ask for whatever you want that is in the storehouse of God’s good and perfect gifts, in Jesus’ Name, and He will give it to you. And, you’ll find that you’re not asking for new Audis, winning lottery tickets, or passing grades on Regents Exams. You’ll still pray for healing and restoration, comfort from grief and sorrow, but you will pray for these things in accordance with God’s good and perfect will. If the healing doesn’t come, if the sorrow doesn’t pass, if the death tragically occurs, Thy will be done, not mine, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Jesus isn’t kidding when He teaches you to address God as your Father, for you are His son and His daughter by Holy Baptism. Jesus even says that He won’t ask the Father for you on your behalf, for as a true son or daughter you can ask your heavenly Father with all confidence and boldness whatever you want in Jesus’ Name. And, as today happens to be Mothers’ Day, a day when we thank God for all those who have that incredible vocation to serve as mothers, we have presented before us a great example of the kind of love God the Father has for you. When you’re a kid, moms are great to ask things of. Oh, they may get impatient with you and tell you to be quiet, but they love you. And kids know that. That’s why they are so persistent in asking mom for this, that, and the other thing. The love of a mother for her child is not unlike that of God the Father for his children. His love is unending and He delights in His children coming to Him and asking Him for good things, especially the good things He’s promised them –in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

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

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Homily for Cantate (Easter 5)


John 16:5-15

Cantate – The Fifth Sunday of Easter 2 May 2010

John 16:5-15

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

We like to think that we know what we want and what we need and what’s best for us. After all, we’re the ones who have wants and needs, and we spend a whole lot of time looking out for me, myself, and I. And, it shouldn’t be any surprise that what we think we want and need, and what we think is best for us, are a myriad of worldly, material things, things like food, clothing, and drink, house, money, cars, education, and such, and also less tangible things from the realm of emotions and relationships, things like a loving spouse, devout children, good friends, honest co-workers, etc.; after all, we are flesh and blood, we are born into this world and we live in this world until we die, these are the things that we know and experience, these are the things that, for us, are the most real.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that when Jesus tells His disciples that He will be going back to His Father who sent Him, they are filled with sorrow, not that He is going away, but that He had told them (in last week’s Gospel lesson) that they would experience weeping and sorrow while the world would rejoice. The disciples are sorrowful that they might lose the things that they think that they want and need. They don’t ask their Master where He is going, they’re far too consumed with counting their potential losses. And, of courses, one of their losses is the physical presence of their Master Himself.

How many times have you heard people say, “If only Jesus were here now, like He was with His disciples, then it would be so much easier to believe”? How many times have you uttered or thought such a statement yourself? But the truth is that most who had the privilege of seeing and hearing Jesus in the flesh did not believe. When Christ died on the cross, the whole world had abandoned Him. This is because, despite the wisdom of the world, seeing is not believing – hearing is believing, and hearing by the Word of God. Even Jesus’ closest disciples and friends did not believe all that Jesus taught, even after His death and resurrection, until the Day of Pentecost, when, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon Christ’s Church.

That is why Jesus said “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” The Helper is the Holy Spirit of God, sent forth from the Father and the Son, who, together with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit accompanies the Word of God and creates, sustains, and strengthens faith where and when He pleases. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin through the proclamation of God’s Holy Law. He convicts the world concerning righteousness through the proclamation of the Holy Gospel. And He convicts the world concerning judgment because the ruler of this world, Satan, has been judged. In His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ is the victor over sin, death, and Satan – and that is the truth. Ultimately, sin is unbelief and the refusal to trust in God, and without the work of the Holy Spirit, we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. And, that is why it is to our great advantage that Jesus go away, that He might send to us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to call us, to enlighten us with His gifts, and to sanctify and keep us in the true faith.

We too easily grieve the loss of material, relational, and emotional things while we barely give passing notice to the one thing needful – the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Jesus. How can this be, since we come into this world with nothing and we leave this world with nothing? Everything that we have, everything that we think that we want and need, is given us as a free and perfect gift, no strings attached. And “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And, the most important gift that the Father would give you is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the gift of faith, forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ. We would not have this gift were it not for the incarnation and perfect life, death, resurrection, and ascension of God’s Son, the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ. Thus, it is to our great advantage that Jesus returned to the Father in heaven; it is to our great advantage that the Father and the Son sent forth the Holy Spirit that we not remain in our sins, clinging to worldly, material, relational, and emotional things. It is to our great advantage that Jesus went away, that we might be the recipients of the Holy Spirit who creates in us faith, convicts us in our sin, calls us unto repentance, absolves us with the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross, and sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith until the day He raises us from the dead and gives to us eternal life. For, this is the work of the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth, for He guides us into all truth, speaking not on His own authority, but speaking whatever He hears from the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit only and always glorifies the Son Jesus Christ, for He takes all that belongs to Him and He declares it to us.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” It’s all gift; it’s all grace. Nothing is required of us, not even faith, for faith itself is the good and perfect gift and working of the Holy Spirit. What an advantage, indeed! Happily we find that, though God was angry with us, His anger has been turned away and He comforts us instead for the sake of Jesus Christ! Happily, by God the Father’s perfect gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we have the Holy Spirit and we find ourselves, not in a state of wrath and judgment, but in a state of grace! Happily we “sing praises to the Lord, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”

God’s gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active in Christ’s Church, calling, gathering, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping, forgiving, creating, strengthening, and sustaining faith when and where He pleases in those who do not refuse Him. Even this day He has created new faith and bestowed forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation in Jesus Christ in little Tyler and Christian Vitro in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. These little souls are the perfect illustration of how we are purely the recipients of God’s good and perfect gifts, even the good and perfect gift of faith itself.

It is to your advantage that Christ goes away to the Father. But, as the way of Christ to the Father was through the cross, so also is the way of Jesus’ disciples through the crosses He chooses for you. You will have sorrow and grief, says your Lord Jesus, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. Let us, then, have sorrow and grief for the proper things, the needful things. God the Father of lights has given you the perfect gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift of joy that no one will take from you. And, He has made you the firstfruits of His creatures, new creations. Let us, then, even in our little while of sorrow, sing to the lord a new song; let our souls praise the King of heaven, let us live boldly in the mystery of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Let us join with the Holy Spirit as he glorifies our risen Lord Jesus Christ, both now and unto eternity!

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.