Saturday, December 23, 2006

God Is Pleased with Men

The earliest version of this sermon was preached in 1979 at my vicarage church in Lincoln Park, Michigan. I have been adapting and reusing it ever since. It comes a day early, as a gift to any preacher who still needs to come up with a sermon for Christmas.

Let us consider again the message from the angels to the shepherds. If you were one of them you would surely never have forgotten. You would have heard a message that would have been seared onto your memory forever. Because the grand proclamation made to those Judean shepherds was made by a multitude of angels. What sort of message could require all those angels? If on this one occasion, God sends not one, not two or three, but a multitude of angels, He must have something of utmost importance to say. In fact, it must be the most important thing He ever said to men, because nothing else ever required the presence of so many angels. What was the message of the unanimous and glorious chorus of heavenly messengers? Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men; or, to put it another way: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased. The message from that multitude of the heavenly host of angels was clear and simple: There is peace on earth, dear shepherds, because God is pleased with men.

For thousands of years after this grand proclamation, men would go on supposing that peace on earth is something accomplished by the ending of all global conflict, when at last all weapons are laid down. If only they had heard and understood the message of the angels, they would have known that peace on earth has already been accomplished. It isn’t something to be hoped for, it is something that is. For the message of the angels was clear: God is pleased with men.

But at this point the objections of reason will sound forth at once. This can’t be right. Some men are wicked, heinous, tyrannical, cruel. Some are murderers, thieves, adulterers. How can anyone say that God is pleased with men, or that there is peace on earth? There must be some mistake.

But to the shepherds there was no hint of a mistake; it was angelic. In fact, even if one considers the absurd impossibility of an angel being mistaken, the message didn’t come from just one angel; it came from a multitude of angels. Could a whole countryside full of angels all bellowing out one unanimous message be mistaken? Listen to the angels, o shepherd in the field: God is pleased with men.

But Satan must also raise an objection to this: How can this be? I have done my work well, I have caused many to fall deeply into sin, I have made them all sons of hell; I have filled them with all manner of wickedness, so that their thoughts are only evil continually. I have trapped them in pride and self-worship; I have made them sell me their souls. This message can’t be right! It’s far off the mark! It’s foolishness! Don't listen to it! It must have come from the mouth of a lunatic!

But it didn’t. It came from the mouths of angels.

And thank God for those angels. For if there are some men with whom God is not please, then surely we are among them! And if you were one of those shepherds, you might easily find yourself wondering—in fact you might be wondering right now—whether these objections may have a point. What about me? I am not worthy of God’s good pleasure, am I? Conscience pricks, and I know I have sinned. I know I am guilty, foul, and unclean. A thousand years of tears would not suffice for once worthily lamenting my wretchedness. How much more am I poor wretched man, who daily sin, continue without amendment, and approach God in sin. And the truth is that if God is not pleased with all men, he could never be pleased with me!

O thank God for those angels! And thank God for all the lights and tinsel of Christmas, and all the carols and cheer, and all the bells which ring out the news which every sinner needs so badly to hear: Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled! Here we see the reason there is peace on earth, and why God is pleased with men. It isn’t because of what kind of men they are that God is pleased. In fact, it has nothing at all to do with the nature of man. The reason is this: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior which is Christ the Lord. And He didn’t come to be Savior of part of the world; he came to save it all. And if He is Savior of the world, then it makes all the sense in the world to say that God is pleased with men.

Those Bethlehem shepherds undoubtedly never forgot the angelic message on that first Christmas Eve. Would that you might remember it as they must have; that it might be seared into your memory, your heart, and your conscience, that you too might never forget the grandest angelic proclamation ever heard on earth: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men, with whom He is pleased!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Just Give the Poor Lady Her Chair Back

A ninety year old shut-in I visited was crying in her bed. This woman had had a number of strokes which made communication difficult for her, but if you listened carefully you could make out her words. So when I asked her what was wrong, it took a little while and then it came clear. She was upset because they had taken her wheelchair away and given her another one. And, she said in the best way she knew how to frame her words, she liked the old one because it had a tray, and a place to put her drink. Hmm, thought I, that's odd. Why would they do that? So I promised her that I'd check into it for her and let her know.

I went to the nurses' station and, yes, they knew about her complaints. Evidently she had lost some weight so that her old chair was a bit too large for her and now she needed a smaller one. OK, I can follow that, but what about the tray, I asked. Well, said the lady, I'm going to look around for one, and if we can't find one within a day or so, well then I guess we'll have to give her back her old chair. But, she said, the reason she wants this is because she wants to have her place to set her glass, and, well, that's not really safe. I said, oh, I see, and, trying be congeniel, said I understood, but, of course, to this poor lady who is very upset, that chair is her whole universe. Yes, they said, we don't want her to be upset, and we'll do our best. I thanked them and reported back to her, encouraging her to be patient, and that they really did care about her, and would do their best, etc. She thanked me, though was still visibly upset.

Not angry, really. Crying. Very sad.

As I drove home, I got to thinking that I could have done better by her today, and I'll certainly have to follow up. I doubt if she has anyone else as an advocate with the people there. What I should have said was: Oh, so she's been spilling her water lately? And then they'd probably say no, but she might. Or even if she had been spilling, I thought, and I could have said, so what? A safety issue? After all these years, a safety issue? Or is it really a convenience issue? I mean, how dangerous can a little water spill be? They're plastic cups, for heaven's sake.

The world will continue to turn, and presidents and world leaders will negotiate treaties. Wars will be fought, and momentous events will continue to take place on a grand, cosmic scale. But to this poor old woman, none of that mattered. Here was a lady I have been visiting for ten years. She never complains, and she usually has a pleasant disposition and a smile, even if she can't talk much. Maybe some of her mind is gone, too, though she still seems lucid enough to me. She is consigned to a nursing home for the rest of her life. Very little if any family remains in her life, as is sometimes the case with nursing home patients. And yet she has never complained about it, which I find amazing. Very little work goes into making this woman happy, it seems to me. I mean, I wonder how I'd do in such a case. She really is a sweetheart, as even the nurses agreed. But today, she was all broken up. Not because of life and death matters, or gut-wrenching, earth-shattering events. She just wanted her chair back. It was her house, in a way.

I don't mean to beat up on nursing home personnel. I think most of them probably deserve medals for the work they do, for which many others (myself included) don't have the stomach. I only mean to offer this little suggestion to anyone who might find himself in a situation where so very little would be needed to brighten up a person's whole day. A word of advice: just do it. Just do the Christmas thing. Ma'am, might I suggest you put your manual aside for a moment, and just give the poor lady her chair back. It may just make this her best Christmas.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Who Is Zacharias?

In the middle of some reseach on the matters pertaining to the nativity of our Lord, I ran across a fascinating bit of information. There can be found in the Protoevangelium of James, which may be the oldest of the apocryphal Gospels (which never gained any recognition as to their authority), quite a number of items which seem to be the source of much of the extra-Biblical tradition concerning Joseph and Mary.

For instance, it is this document which speaks of the ass for Mary’s journey, the cave for Christ's birth, Salome and the midwife verifying a virgin birth (utero clauso), and even the Marian colors of dark purple (blue?) and scarlet (Mary was given these colors of linen for spinning).

In addition, there is an account of the murder of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, between the porch and the altar in the temple, by Herod's men, when Zacharias would not (or could not) produce information concerning his son John's whereabouts (John and his mother Elizabeth had gone into hiding in the desert, where a mountain was miraculously cleft to receive her and her son).

The research provides an interesting take on Jesus’ reference to the murder of Zacharias in St. Matthew 23:35 (cf. St. Luke 11:51): "Upon you [shall] come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar."

If this is the Zacharias to whom Jesus refers, then the reference in the Protoevangelium of James is to an historical reality. Others who hold to this theory point to the fact that none of the other three Zacharias figures to whom it could refer is as likely. The priest Zacharias of 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 has the wrong father (Jehoiada), the prophet Zechariah seems to have been obeyed and not martyred (Zechariah 6:7), and Zechariah the son of Baruch, though slain by Zealots in the midst of the temple, was not slain until A.D. 67 (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 6, Section 4), which would require the admission of editorializing on the part of the Evangelist. None of the books of Esdras contain any evidence of any crime so heinous committed in the Temple court.

The account given in the Protoevangelium of James is actually quite believable, in view of the likelihood that Zacharias would have met trouble at the hands of Herod’s men searching for Bethlehem’s Holy Innocents, if indeed his wife and child had gone into hiding from them.

This would certainly help to contextualize Jesus' invective against the scribes and Pharisees: perhaps they were not only guilty of saying bad things, but of murder: it was after all the scribes in Herod's court who first brought Bethlehem into the madman's mind. And when Herod was troubled at the wise men's words, it says that "all Jerusalem" was troubled with him, a likely reference to the scribes and Pharisees in particular. So it is likely that when Herod sent his murderers to Bethlehem, it was with their blessing. Their last act of murder, literally, could well have been the murder of John's father. Jesus is saying that their murderous line began with Cain, as they fill up in their own time the cup that began with Abel's murder.

I'm still pondering all this, so I'm not quite sure, but it makes sense to me for the time being.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Gottesdienst rooms for the Symposium

The annual feel-good-about-being-a-confessional-Lutheran fest is nearly upon us, id est, the Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, from January 15-19. In case you haven't heard, the real excitement that happens there during the week is the annual Sabre of Boldness ceremony held right after the seminary's Thursday night banquet.

So please pay attention to this announcement, all you who so love that event (we've been getting over 200 packed into the room in recent years), all you who can't wait to see who will be the honored awardee, all you who get teary-eyed with excitement when we make known our Acadamy-Awards-like presentation. Yes, yoo-hoo, all you who like this so much: listen up:

This year (Hark!) the Gottesdienst Hotel has moved. We are at the Hilton, downtown. That's right at the Grand Wayne Center, where the banquet will be held. The price is the same as the Marriott would have been (a special rate of $89 per night), but for the best hotel in town. The Marriott is remodelling and could not accomodate us this year. OK, fine, so we got a better hotel!

And we need your patronage, because we need to secure a certain number of room-nights so that they'll let us have the ceremony room for our Sabre awarding. Sign up at the Hilton, folks. Call (260) 420-1100 and be sure to tell them you're with Gottesdienst.

While the Hilton is a few minutes farther from the seminary, the upside is that it's a splendid hotel for the same price and it's right at the place where the banquet will be on Thursday night. Cool, huh?

Join the Gottes-gang again for a great week of Symposia events and the great Sabre of Boldness Award.

Say, speaking of the Sabre Award, you may nominate anyone you like for that, even on this blog if you want. Give us the person's address, and the reason for nominating. It's an award which is given for steadfast intrepidity in the confession and defense of the Gospel and at the greatest personal risk. Know anyone who fits the bill? Let me know and we'll consider . . .

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Epiphany Choral Vespers and A Day of Reflection

Coming this January:

A Winter Retreat for a day and a half

at St. Paul’s in Kewanee

Sunday and Monday, January 7-8, 2007

Sunday: Choral Vespers: At 7 p.m. January 7 our annual Epiphany Choral Vespers will be held. Join us in song, and to hear our fine choir sing traditional Christmas and Epiphany carols. This year will also feature the repeat of our own cantata “Shepherd of Israel.” Following Vespers, join us in the cafeteria for a wine and cheese reception. Join us, to make glad your hearts during these holy days. (Snow date: Wednesday, January 10, 7 p.m.)

Monday: A Day of Theological Reflection (Eighth in the series), from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on January 8, led by our pastor, the Rev. Fr. Burnell Eckardt, Ph.D.:

“Assuredly Solomon shall reign”

The Christology of the Line of David

There is no charge, but a freewill offering will be taken.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

St. Andrew's Cross

St. Andrew was crucified on 30 November, a.d. 60.

Tradition has it that it was because of Andrew's preaching that the wife of a wicked Roman proconsul became a Christian, which so enraged that official that he ordered Andrew's crucifixion upon a cross made in the form of an X. To this day that type of cross is known as St. Andrew's Cross. St. Andrew himself is remembered as one who heard of the Christ, believed on Him, and then willingly followed His bidding. Now the bidding of Christ is often hard, leading to persecution and even death. But what is Christian martyrdom? Behold St. Andrew=s Cross: the X shape is also the shape of the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter in Christos, that is, Christ. St. Andrew was martyred on that blessed letter! To follow Christ is to be united with Him; so also, surely the most blessed expression of that union is the experience of His holy wounds. Recall the words of Christ in the vision of Saul who had been persecuting the Church: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me, Me? Therefore let all who suffer for His sake rejoice and be exceedingly glad. This is the highest of honors.

--Taken from Every Day Will I Bless Thee: Meditations for the Daily Office by Burnell F. Eckardt Jr. (Sussex, WI: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 1998), s.v. St. Andrew's Day. To order a copy of this book in time for Christmas, go to, click on CCA Store bar, and download the online catalog. The cost is $21.00.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fanatics are Always Dangerous

Regardless of what religion's in view, when people get the notion that they have a direct hotline to God, there's bound to be trouble.

The Mormon guy on trial--what's his name, Jeffs?, leader of a fundamentalist Mormon sect--is accused of forcing an underage girl to marry an older man over her objections. One tack of defense he is purportedly arguing is that God told this to him. Hopefully the Utah jury will follow its recent course of impatience with these wierdos.

But let's take on the argument for a moment. OK, so Jeffs heard directly from God that he's supposed to force this girl to marry. I guess his lawyers are going to spin this into a barely more palatable notion of religious freedom.

And what will the prosecution say? Of course, they will simply refer to the letter of the law, and thus no doubt win the case. You can't do things like that around here, fella, no matter who told you to do them.

You know, there's something refreshing about the rule of law. It's a curb to fanatics of all stripes. And it's a warning to everyone. In society we are governed by what is written. In the faith, too, we are, and must be, governed by what is written.

So don't come and tell me that God told you this or that. Don't even tell me He gave you a sign to help you decide this or that. Good grief, that's why you have a brain. Think! Make your decisions carefully, but don't rely on some ethereal "sign" from God. Trust only in His Word, which is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path. And if His Word doesn't tell you specifically what to do in a certain situation, beyond giving you the moral direction of His law, then don't go looking for some bedewed fleece. You can do that if you're a prophet, OK? Otherwise, how different are you than Mr. Jeffs? It's only a matter of degree, I say, which is a rather flimsy difference. So, you say that God gave you a sign to help you decide what job to take? Did He really? And how do you know? By what sense did you receive this revelation? And if the sense by which you received it is no different than the sense by which Mr. Jeffs received his, then how are you different? And what would stop you from doing something really crazy, even contrary to God's Word? After all, if God is speaking directly to you, well then, shouldn't it trump what you get out of a book, no matter how holy it is? So what happens when you are told directly that you ought to give in to some sort of immorality? The Bible says no, but God says yes! Ah! Go with God, then, right? And wind up in jail, I say, the sooner, the better. Because you can't do things like that around here, fella, no matter who told you to do them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

But Advent and Lent Are Not the Same Thing

Yes, there are certainly similarities between the two great penitential seasons of the year: the emphasis is on the need for contrtition, and there really should be no weddings scheduled. And, depending on your tradition, some other things are off limits too. Like certain foods. An Advent fast is urged just as a Lenten fast is urged. There are venerable traditions which would agree, and a particular Advent fast is a long-standing custom in some places.

It seems to me, though, that fasting ought at least to be enjoined a bit more seriously during Lent than during Advent; the former is, after all, is even called Die Fasten in German.

The seasons have significant differences, too, which, I would submit, can give us some direction as to how they are to be handled respectively. Lent is a season which tends to grow darker as it moves on, until the darkest time, the Triduum Sacram, is reached. Then, suddenly, at the Great Vigil, Easter arrives and all is instantly brightened. Advent, by contrast, tends to grow lighter from week to week, as is most prominently seen in the lighting of successive Advent candles each week. Advent is a season of penitential hope and expectation, while Lent is a season of penitential sorrow as the Day of Christ's passion approaches.

Inasmuch as Advent has this 'brightening' character to it, it seems prudent to me to allow that certain customs need not be quite as stringently applied as in the case of Lent. OK, so for example, neither season ought to celebrate a wedding, but I for one don't mind if people want to have a Christmas party during Advent. Our choir has one, for that matter.

If it makes you liturgically uncomfortable to sing Christmas carols at parties or in the marketplace before Christmas, I recommend remembering that this isn't church. The Advent hymns can and should still be the standard fare for Holy Mass and any other worship settings; but I'm fine with carolling outside of Mass. After all, it's the only time of year you can actually hear some great hymns about Jesus in the marketplace at all. They want to pipe in Hark, the Herald for shoppers during December? Hey, fine with me! I'll take it any time. That goes for creche scenes and holiday lights, too. I love 'em all! Holiday shopping season have too much tinsel, you say? Nay, I say, bring it on. Don't want to see too much of the Babe in swaddling clothes? Well, I do, and that image is as meaningful to me as the crucifix. Both are saying, Pure Gift from Heaven. Now what can be wrong with that message?

So, at our church, we, um, gradually decorate during December. This is a bit parochial, perhaps (well, come to think of it, maybe not), but we put up a little more each week. The tree goes up some time in the middle of the month. We hold off on the gazillion poinsettias until Christmas Eve, and also the white paraments, and, yes, the Chrsitmas carols. Nevertheless prior to Christmas Eve there's a hint of a difference in liturgical appearance from week to week, consistent with the lighting of another candle each week.

So just try to think of those Christmas parties as times to rehearse the carols meant for Christmas itself. OK? How's that? We're just practicing, see? It's all good!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

End Times

There is significant evidence from the first millenium of the life of the Church that there was originally a seven week season of Advent, at least in some locales. The evidence comes out of the period when the church year was in its development stages. Remants of this can still be seen in the current church year pericopal systems, both the Historic and the Three-Year. Themes for the last three Sundays of the church year are eschatological in nature, that is, they deal with the Day of Judgment and the End of all things. So too, this theme is -- or ought to be -- prominent in Advent, particularly for the Second Sunday in Advent.

Some current pericopal emphases tend to deemphasize this eschatological theme, which is understandable, given the refusal of many churches these days even to acknowledge the teaching of a return of Christ in glory, to say nothing of emphasizing it.

This trend is most notably apparent in places where churches cave in to the demands of some that Christmas preparations provide for the singing of Christmas carols during the Sundays in Advent. One could reason that these demands are better than societal demands for a wholesale removal of Christmas, in favor of nondescript celebrations for the winter solstice or kwanzaa or the latest fad. Better perhaps, but not good enough.

Let Advent be Advent. And let the churches remember the high importance of the eschatological theme for the season. Advent is a time of preparation, to be sure; but what better form of preparation is there for the coming of Christ than penitential hearts? The preparations of the season ought primarily to be penitential preparations for His return.

His coming in grace will be all the more welcomed when the need for it becomes evident to us by the preaching of repentance. Hence also the emphasis of John the Baptist for the latter weeks of Advent. And the liturgical color ought to be purple, the color of penitence, rather than blue, which of late has been called the color of hope or expectation. Actually, blue is supposed to be the Marian color, isn't it?

If we wish to celebrate Christmas aright, it must be as gift for the undeserving; and therefore let us be penitent during these days leading thereto.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Basketball Hero

OK, so your humble columnist was never very good at basketball. I used to be the guy they picked last, one of the scrawny kids they’d put in at the end when the game was out of hand. My basketball shorts were a little too big.

But now let me tell you ‘bout my youngest son. I haven’t even talked to him yet myself, but this is what I heard from his brother Joey.

Today, at an away game (I don’t even know who they were playing, because we don’t go to away games), the Kewanee Steamers pulled off a miraculous come-from-behind win, in the manner of the stuff that legends are made of, courtesy of one fabulous Michael Gabriel Eckardt.

As one of the shortest members of the junior high school team, Michael’s only claim to fame is that he is pretty good at making three-point baskets, which is just what the team needed in order to pull off a stunning victory.

Down by six points with 25 seconds left to play, they got the ball to Michael, and he put in a three, “nuthin’ but net.” Then his team stole the ball just a few seconds later, and managed to get it to Michael a second time, who obliged them with a second three point basket to tie the game. The other team still had a few seconds left on the clock, and drew a foul as they brought the ball down court. One free throw went in, and the heroic effort seemed to be for naught, because now, down by one, they had to inbound from the baseline with only 2.5 seconds left in the game. On a wing and a prayer, the inbound pass was heaved nearly full-court to this day’s best outside shooter in the world. Michael spun around at the free throw line and got off a shot at the buzzer.



Proud papa.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Our Dog is an Awesome Dog

It just came to me the other day, as I was scratching behind Reggie's ears and he was being his usual doggy self. A little goofy, to be sure, but then so is the original. I'm not sure how the music goes, but you can find it anywhere on the web, if you want to sing this one. If you do, I'm worried about you. If you know the music already, then I'm really worried about you. . . .

When he rolls up his bones
He ain't just putting on the schmooz
There's thunder in his footsteps
And cuteness in his schnoz

The Lord wasn't joking
When He made this mix retriever
It wasn't for no reason
That that we found this lab

His two ears are very soft
And so you better be believing that
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog
He runs on earth below
In summer, fall, and snow
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog (Our dog is an awesome dog)
He runs on earth below (he runs)
In summer, fall, and snow (in summer and fall)
Our dog is an awesome dog

Our dog is an awesome dog
Our dog is an awesome dog


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Too busy to blog this week, but see . . .

I read Fr. Petersen's blog about staying in the LCMS, which I find refreshing and well worth the read. I recommend it to you: click here and see in particular his "Why I abide in the LCMS (and you should too)"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Skype Me!

The world is getting smaller all the time. Wow, downloading Skpe was easy and free. To do it, just log in at or click here and follow the simple online directions. Now I can talk to anyone in the world who has Skype, for free, whenever I want. The other person has to have Skype too, and a little microphone or headset for his computer. And as I understand it, at least until the end of this year, you can even call people who don't have Skype for free too, in the U.S.

This is huge.

If I were really into investing, I'd put my money here. It's, as Howard Hawks would say, the way of the future. I predict that the telephone will soon become a thing of the past. People everywhere will have these little barely noticeable headsets, and be talking to friends in Calcutta or wherever, whenever. I suppose it's too much to hope that it will all be for free; but maybe for a very few dollars.

Meanwhile, the audio streaming idea of mine is getting closer to reality. Hopefully that will be in place very shortly. Then you can open a file that lets you listen in to our half-hour radio show whenever you want. Also, of course, for free. I think we may pass an offering plate, though. Isn't that a requirement among Lutherans?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Salutary Whisper

One of the rubrics we follow at mass at St. Paul's is found in the old Roman missals, but I wouldn't expect to find it in any Lutheran hymnal. Maybe that's because Luther used to express scorn about the monks endlessly muttering the words in a way that no one else could hear. This is a point well taken, of course, but it doesn't mean there's nothing ever salutary about a whispered prayer, especially at mass.

The rubric I have in mind instructs the celebrant and all the attendants at the altar at the moment of elevation of each kind not merely to adore, i.e., to gaze upon the Sacred Species being elevated, and to recognize it for what it is, but actually to whisper, while gazing, the words "My Lord and my God." This, I say, is a wonderful rubric, for it directs the attention of those attending to the truth here: this is the Incarnate One Himself, whom we are about to receive. These, of course, are the words which Thomas spoke to the risen Christ on the Sunday after Easter when he was confronted with the reality of His resurrection and presence.

The same is true at the altar, especially at the point when the words of institutition are spoken: "This is my body; this is my blood." So then, immediately after the consecration of each Kind, the elevation comes; and we whisper, "My Lord and my God." And then we receive Him by mouth, and so receive our Life and Salvation.

The other day I actually heard the server's whisper, and it was a pleasant sound indeed. Sometimes, I can hope, these young men really do seem to get it; they understand what's going on here. Would that such whispers might be heard the world around, and that such quiet, serene faith might abound among all of our churches.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A sermon on St. Matthew 3

Holy cow, I didn't even know they were recording it, but there it is, right on Father Petersen's blog, an audio file of my sermon there last month for the St. Michael conference. Some folks were asking for copies of it, and since I don't use a manuscript, I didn't have any. Well, there it is, right online, to listen to. Check it out here.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rachel Weeping for her Children

We received news yesterday that our daughter-in-law has miscarried her child, who would have been our firstborn grandchild. While this is not an uncommon thing, it is always especially hard for newlyweds who still await their first child. Nevertheless they, and we, rejoice in hope, in the confidence that our Lord Jesus Christ is especially fond of little ones, whom He blessed and held close to His breast. Behold what a wonderful life this little one has: a life for which Adam was meant, free from all pain and trials of life on a fallen earth. For the angels escorted this child of
God directly to the bosom of Abraham, without the infirmities which befell Lazarus or any of us poor lifelong miserable sinners. No toils or sorrows, no tears, only joy and abiding peace.

As for us who must remain in this vale of tears, we find comfort in the sorrows of our Lord, strength in His weakness, and the promise of life in His death. Ah, who would, then, not depart with gladness To inherit heaven for earthly sadness? Who here would languish Longer in bewailing and in anguish?

Many have sent heartfelt condolances, and among them came this from Fr. Petersen, which I find most worthy of passing along:

I am very sorry for you and yours.

It should not be so. Children should not die before they are born. They should not die at all. One day they won't. One day, the Day of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the groaning earth with stop its lament, the grave will give back the dead, and the revelation of the sons of God will be evident to all stars and planets, rocks and trees, animals and men. We will be free. We will dance and play with the Holy Innocents, and with the miscarried babes of Christian women from time immemorial. Rachel will find the comfort she refused.

Until then we live by faith. We wait on God more than they that watch for the morning. For what we endure is more awful than darkness and night filled with hostility and danger, and what comes with the rising Son is greater than mere safety, warmth, and rest. We are eager for the end, for the completion of what God has begun. And thus we pray: "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Put this sorrow to an end. Turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and put the children back into the arms of their mothers."

Monday, October 02, 2006

TONIGHT, October 2 at 6:05: St. Paul's On the Air

"This is St. Paul’s On the Air: A radio program brought to you by St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois, where you know you’ve been to church: no gimmicks, no compromises, the talk is straight, and we feast on sacred things. Join us."

Those words will be heard after the choir sings the first stanza of "Saints and Martyrs and All Angels." And that's how our local radio show will debut tonight on the local Kewanee station, WKEI am radio, 1450 on the dial.

The voice continues: "Our moderator and discussion leader is . . . me: the Rev. Fr. Burnell F. Eckardt Jr., Pastor of St. Paul’s here in Kewanee, Illinois.

"I’m sitting with a small panel of listeners around a couple of microphones carefully positioned to help you get into the room with us and listen along.

"Our format for the show is catechetical. That means talking, listening, and discovering together. It’s a theological forum of the Church catholic, including a topical discussion of Apostolic doctrine, historic liturgy and rubrics of The Mass, the early church Fathers, The Reformation, and what’s on your mind today. We invite questions from the panel or from you. If you should have a question about anything having to do with the Christian faith, and you’d like to hear it discussed on this show, you may email it to us, using the email address, or write us at

St. Paul’s On the Air

109 S. Elm Street

Kewanee, IL 61443

"If you want to learn more about me or our church, log on at"

The 25-minute show has two parts, first a Q & A entitled “Why?” which is named after our Sunday morning segment, called “Why,” a question beginning with the word “Why.” So, as I ask during Sunday morning class, “Does anyone have a Why?” The question on the air tonight will be "Why is worship so formal at St. Paul’s?"

The second segment is called "Searching the Scriptures" and will be dealing with Genesis chapter 1 tonight.

The show is already in the can, with a few minor glitches, but on the whole, it's an exciting new venture here. We'll see where it leads.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Have Gown, Will Travel -- in hopes of teaching rubrics

Actually, I'm only taking a small carryon and a briefcase, due to airline restrictions, but I'm off to a doubleheader this week. First, it's off to the St. Michael Conference, moved this year for the first time from Detroit to Fort Wayne (Redeemer), to do a workshop on the rubrics for the celebrant at mass; and then the next day I wing through Chicago to a second itinerary to Denver, to attend the second annual Augustana Ministerium conference, where I must present a paper/discussion topic on the Historic Liturgy.

Both of these will be opportunities to plug our new St. Paul's Liturgical Institute. We're finally planning to do some hands-on teaching to make up for what has long been a serious deficiency at the Lutheran seminaries. Sorry to make this claim, but it's true. For too long, the bulk of training in how to do the ceremonies has been relegated to 'field work' parishes in the seminary neighborhoods. So neighboring pastors show the students how to do it. How did they learn? In field work, in their seminary days, by neighboring pastors. It gets pretty close to the blind leading the blind, when the seminary doesn't take the lead in these things.

It's been awhile since I've been there, so undoubtedly things have changed a bit, but not nearly enough, from what I hear out of recent graduates. Much more work is needed. Till then, the St. Paul's Liturgical Institute hopes to fill in the blanks.

First seminar, by the way, is in Kewanee, Illinois, from October 20 till November 3. To learn more, log on at (I sure hope the website is running ok; there are bugs in it still), or email me:

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Letter to the Editor

To the editor [of the Wall Street Journal]

Brent Stephens’ “Pope Provacateur” (9/19/2006) is certainly a welcome and refreshing rebuttal to the fanatics whose very manner of response sort of proves this pope’s point. In particular I found myself nodding agreement with his highlight of the Pope’s recognition that for Islam, God is utterly transcendent, “not bound even by his own word.” This is also the case, Mr. Stephens notes, for Protestantism. Here, however, a distinction is needed, and the Lutherans’ perennial defense against being lumped with the Protestants might be a particularly helpful ingredient in the faith-and-reason debate. It was John Calvin, roughly the contemporary of Martin Luther, who insisted on the utter sovereignty of God, characterized by a boundless and transcendent will. Pristine Calvinism bears some striking resemblance to Islam in this respect. Luther’s complaints against reason are not to be understood in the same way. His complaint was always against the exaltation of reason above what is revealed. The Pope’s argument sounds similar to that of St. Anselm of Canterbury, with whose famous declaration, “I believe that I may understand” Luther had no quarrel. Indeed when the Pope affirms that God must be bound by His word, he and Luther begin to sound very much alike. When God is divorced from His word, whether by Christians or Muslims, the danger of fanaticism always looms nearby. Since Calvin never saw that utter divine sovereignty and divine mercy were incompatible with each other, his thought never reached the radical stage of which it might otherwise have been capable. With Islam—although it certainly has its moderates—there is no mitigating notion of divine mercy at all to offset a transcendent and untethered divine will. The result can easily be, understandably, a very unruly mob of people. They’re acting the way they believe their God is capable of acting.

Monday, September 18, 2006

They're Here

Well, I knew this was coming. I told you so. We now have women ministers in the Missouri Synod. We just don't know it.

Here's how they did it. For the past thirty years, we've had the notion drummed into our heads that you can't ordain women, it's against the Bible, etc. So the SOW* folks decided to change their tactics in order to get the women pastors they always wanted.

Step one: convince everyone that ordination is an adiaphoron, an indifferent thing. Never mind that the Lutheran Confessions permit you to call it a sacrament, it's nothing more than a nice apostolic custom which we are free to take or leave. By the way, to any idiot who wants to retort that the Confessions do not require us to call it a sacrament, I'd like to say that I dont require it either: but in permitting such a designation, the Confessions are at the least affirming that it is an act of God. I wouldn't want to call an act of God an indifferent thing, would you?

But the SOW* crowd accomplished the first step, and now synodical types everywhere are convinced that ordination is really an adiaphoron, in spite of the fact that the Church has never designated someone as a minister without it.

Step two: reintroduce the historic diaconate, something the Synod should never have abandoned in the first place. I remember the haughtiness of the committee at the last convention which, when asked to consider an ordained diaconate, declared, oh no, ordination is a term reserved for pastors. Sure it is: as of 1853 in our synod alone. Talk about parochial!
Anyhow, now deacons are popping up here and there without ordination, and in fact the duties of a deacon, given for example in the Mid-South District, are pretty good ones (for which click here). Only trouble is, they're not ordained!

Oh, and this: there are females among them! Want to see one? Just check out the Mid-South newsletter, click on July-August, and go to page five (thanks to Fr. Larry Beane for the heads up on this). So now you have what I knew you were going to get: women in the ministry, women preaching, women administering the Sacraments. But it's all OK, because they're not ordained! You synodical types will just never get it, will you? You've been duped into this, and you never knew what hit you; the SOW* crowd can just give a quiet aside to its members: don't worry, ordination is no big deal anyhow. After all, we can even arrange for you to get your holy tax break, like we did for our "commissioned ministers"!

Now instead of this nonsense, can we please get serious about having a proper diaconate, complete with proper ordination? Like I said, they have a very nice explanation of what a diaconate does (and, unintentionally, why it should be an ordained diaconate), which, once again, you can see if you click here.

*Synodical Organization of Women, which actually doesn't exist as such, but is definitely a crowd of people who think the Biblical mandate against women preachers doesn't apply to them. They, like the NOW crowd, seek to impose their brand of feminism on the rest of us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Octoberfest is Coming

Announcing . . .

The Eleventh Annual


At St. Paul’s Ev.-Lutheran Church

Kewanee, Illinois

Sunday afternoon and Monday, October 8-9, 2006

Conference theme: Arranging Everything around the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar

This year we hope to have presentations by as many of the Gottedienst editors, live and in person, as we can get. Our editors include Dr. Burnell Eckardt, the pastor of St. Paul’s, who is the editor-in-chief, Dr. Karl Fabrizius, Rev. Aaron Koch, Chaplain Jonathan Shaw, Rev. John Fenton, and our newest associate, Rev. David Petersen. We expect most if not all of these men to be on hand to speak to participate.

The two-day event begins on Sunday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. with Autumn Choral Vespers, followed by a bratwurst banquet and awards ceremony (actually a bit of horseplay . . .). Monday’s schedule begins at 9:00 a.m. and includes Holy Mass at 9:30, followed by a series of seminars on the Sacrament and its centrality in the life of the Church. The day’s events end with Vespers at 3:00 p.m.

The conference fee, which includes three meals, is $25 per person, $40 per couple, or $15 per student. Children with parents free.

For more information, call (309) 852-2461.

Lodging: AmericInn, 4823 US Hwy 34. 800-634-3444

Aunt Daisy's B & B, 223 W Central Blv.d. 888-422-4148

Kewanee Motor Lodge, 400 S Main St. 309-853-4000

Super 8 Motel, 901 S Tenney (Rt 78). 309-853-8800

Days Inn, I-80 & Rt 40, Sheffield. 815-454-2361

Holiday Inn Express, I-80 & Rt 78, Annawan. 309-935-6565

Directions: Take Illinois State hwy 78 to Central Blvd. (middle of downtown), and turn east. Go two blocks east on Central to the church. Red-brick Neo-Gothic building. No, it’s not incense you see rising from the vicinity; it’s bratwurst smoke…

To register, you may send us an email ( the following information:



Wife’s first name if applicable





Sunday and Monday or Sunday only or Monday only

You could also reply to this blog and let us know, if you want, if you don't mind everyone in the world knowing that you're coming. But why not? It might encourage them. Then again, if you're shy, just send us your data as I suggested in the first place, in a separate email.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Man's Best Friend

We finally did it. After a twelve-year hiatus without a dog, we have now increased our family size by one canine. We've had a fine cat in the intervening years, whose objections to this new brother are actually not as fierce as we might have expected, but I must say I disagree with Robert DeNiro's character in Meet the Parents. He said, as you may recall, that cats are better than dogs because they don't sell out, they make you earn their affection. Maybe so, but the thing about dogs is that they are loyal, as everyone knows. You can be the ugliest, craziest, or most neurotic, hated, or odd person in the world, and you dog will still love you. A dog's love is pure grace. I guess that's what I need.

So anyway, this little Labrador-retriever puppy is only four months old, and we're pondering a name for him. On top of the list right now is Reggie (the boys like this one, for Green Bay legend Reggie White). My favorite, Wyatt, was nixed. Also rans included Brett, Vince, and Lambeau. I would have liked Herb (my favorite Packer was Herb Adderley, back in the day). We also considered Luther, but that's a bit too common among Lutheran pastors. Also Bach, Mozart, and Johann. I sort of liked Laphroaig too, or Islay, or Malt (he is a brown dog), or simply Scotch. But I guess that would be better for a terrier.

Anyone with ideas may submit. We still haven't decided.

In other news, we have learned that we are to become grandparents sometime in late April or early May. Forgot to blog about that the other day. I guess that shows how much I am into instant gratification. Like, we have a dog right now, and the baby is still a ways off.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Double Life in the Blogosphere

I just spent a little while surfing through various blogs. Man, I am behind the curve. They're everywhere, and they are multiplying faster than rabbits on enzymes. Some of the blogs I saw are sharp and witty, and had me chuckling, thinking, gee, when I grow up I want to blog like that. The links are helpful ways to get you from blog to blog, but they can also blow you away, when you begin to see what looks like a vast blog-wing conspiracy seemingly seeking to take over the universe. There are blogs for everything. Naturally, I especially liked the one I ran into debating the virtues of Ann Coulter (she's my girlfriend, according to my dear wife, who seems to be all right with this).

What I find somehow stupifying is that there seems to be a lot of time and effort going into these blogs, some of which are updated daily. This is a veritable Phoenix which has arisen from the ashes of ruined newspaper empires. There must be millions who are writing and reading blogs. Reading too, because of the comments that get attached to the posts. Hey, is anyone reading this one? Ah well, I have been known to talk to myself on occasion.

So anyway, I'm wondering just how much time people are spending at this stuff, and I'm thinking maybe it's way too much. Or is it? The jury is out, I guess. On the one hand, it's so much fun to sit in front of the screen and type away, and not have to deal with life's real issues. It's a great escape, and in a certain respect one can easily live a double life in the blogosphere. I guess everyone knows there's cybersex too for those who want it, and nobody has to know. What a convenient place is the blogosphere for vices of all kinds, from the x-rated kinds to the garden variety, which, while tame by contrast, can be plenty harmful. Sloth is one the deadly sins, after all.

On the other hand, I suppose blogging can be a very good thing, as it's a means to reach people's minds and engage them in conversation. The blogosphere is very large. Anyone from Australia reading this? Or Siberia? Or the planet Pluto? As is usually the case with vices, the vice of overblogging is the abuse of a good thing.

And wouldn't you know it, here I go, spending too much time at this already. See how easily one can get carried away?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Something Missing?

Today I read an article about how the Pope went to see Veronica's veil, supposedly kept in a village about three hours from Rome. As I read the account, from a Roman Catholic source, I noticed the usual sense of wonder over miraculous things meant to verify the Christian faith. It is now thought by some that this 'veil' may not be the veil with which Veronica wiped Jesus' face as He was on the via dolorosa, but the headcloth, or "sweat cloth" found folded separately from the shroud in the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. There are some compelling data about the veil which contribute to the possibility that it is genuine, and yet, as is the case with most artifacts and relics the Church of Rome maintains, a thread of sensationalism running through the report. It's almost as if they're wanting these things to be true to bolster the Christian faith.

On the other hand, when I finished the article, I turned to some current events and doings among Lutherans, and I saw a completely different approach. Here, there was no concern at all about matters which have a direct connection to the life of Jesus, the matters reported in the Gospels, but rather, an abundance of emphasis on 'reaching people', evangelism, spreading the 'gospel', etc.

And I think that somehow, the attention given to relics and artifacts, while often bordering on superstition, is better, nevertheless, than attention given to 'sharing your faith'. The latter is too often subjective, personal, and devoid of any real Gospel content.

While certainly it is possible--and even laudable--to take the opportunity given to 'tell someone about Jesus', the emphasis on this telling has reached such a fevered pitch that, ironically, little about Jesus ends up being told at all. Rather, passing reference to who He is and what He has done might be made, while the heart of the telling is usually the invitation to receive Him, or to accept Him into your heart.

It's easy to criticize Rome for its superfluity of relics and superstitions. But I must say that there does seem to be at least a grain of goodness, if only a small one, in paying more attention to things which actually bear a better connection to Jesus than my own personal experience of His presence in my life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Shriven Woman

Tonight I'll be preaching on the Gospel from St. Luke 7, so I'll muse about it a bit in print. This woman kisses Jesus' feet and washes them with her hair, because she loves Him. She loves Him because she was forgiven much, as He says. So the false religion of this Pharisee is exposed. See, he had invited Jesus to dine with Him, no doubt because Jesus' high esteem among the people would likely help the Pharisee's own esteem with them. So it is with many who call themselves Christian yet know nothing of associating with sinners, to say nothing of repenting themselves. The Pharisee's indignance likely showed on His face, for when we are told that Jesus gave answer to what he was saying only within himself, we need not suppose that our Lord was drawing on His omniscience to know it; it was surely evident. There's a wonderful renaissance painting of this scene -- it might be a Rembrandt -- which shows the pomposity of the rich Pharisees decked out anachronistic nineteenth-century attire, while this poor ragged woman crawls up to Jesus' feet in their midst, making all the dinner guests uncomfortable. How little she has regard for appearances, thinking only of the overwhelming fact that she is in the presence of her Master; but how much they regard appearances, thinking so much of them that they miss the wonder of this occasion: their God is visiting them here, but they are too busy being indignant to notice.

Let all beware of false piety, and of keeping up appearances for their own sake. And let us follow the example of this public sinner, this harlot. She is unquestionably Mary of Bethany, as we are told in St. John 11 where this occasion is connected to Jesus' visit to her home. And when Jesus on another occasion visited Mary and Martha, it was Mary who sat attentively at Jesus' feet. This is not because she wanted to come off as pious, but just the opposite. She was utterly taken with Him, absorbed with Him, and her cup overflowed.

So must we all learn to be. Repent of false piety, and find your place on your knees before Jesus' feet. Wash them with your tears and wipe them with your hair; place yourself meekly beneath Him. For He forgives sins, another thing the Pharisees could not abide.

Become like Mary, then: close out the world and its Pharisaical masks. See only Jesus before you, and be overwhelmed: your God is He, claiming you, shriven sinner, for Himself, and forgiving all your sins.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Priestly Blessing

I trust Father Hollywood won't mind if I paste his belated reply to an earlier post here, as I find it most helpful, and something with which I heartily concur. Father H., I like the way you think:

"I realize this post is delinquent, I had meant to chime in earlier. A benefit of living in a heavily Roman Catholic area is that people seek out the blessins of the clergy. They "get" just what you're saying about the priestly blessing and the authority given to Christ's ministers.

"Strangers will come up to me and ask me to pray for them and bless them - even with my wife and son in tow (obviously, I'm not a Roman priest).

"This happens even more frequently when I'm in a cassock. To those who think the 'adiaphora' of clerical garb is useless, or even worse than that, negative - you need to put on a cassock and stroll around the neighborhood.

"Big guys with tattoos and little old ladies will come to you with pained looks on their faces and ask you to give them the blessing of the Lord Jesus - whom they know you represent and in Whose stead you stead.

"That's evangelism without a program, slogan, balloons, or even the letters 'TM' in fine print. "

Amen to that.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A Must Read

Say what you want about Ann Coulter, this latest book of hers is right on the mark, besides being an entertaining and fascinating read. No wonder the Left hates her so much: she is unafraid to call a thing what it is, and she does it with matchless wit and sauciness.

The reason I likewise am unafraid to recommend Godless: the Church of Liberalism is that it is not so much the reflection of a particular political stance as it is the exposing of scoundrels whose true aim seems to be the destruction of what is good (even of life itself, as in her arguments against the abortionists), and the rejection of the Creator (as in her case against evolution). This is not really a political book; it is true to its title, and it makes its case with remarkable skill.

And it does so with a flair which leaves no one wondering if Miss Coulter isn't just another fundamentalist bent on denouncing immorality for its own sake. She is too sarcastic and funny to be one of those; yet she argues with an aptitude which reminds me that she was once a lawyer by trade. She is a veritable Xena with words; even the New York Times has had to admit as much.

The first half of the book is methodical in its demonstrations of its claim that the Left is godless, so thorough that it left me feeling rather like St. Anselm's interlocutor blurting out that there is no possibility remaining of anyone issuing a rejoinder. Miss Coulter clearly subscribes to the doctrine of employing overwhelming force against the enemy, at least in literary terms.

About midway through the book she takes her case into the classroom, and proceeds to take on the myths promulgated by the behemoth teachers' unions in America. But this in itself provides a segue into the last, unexpected half, in which she dedicates several chapters to dismantling the myth of evolution.

She joins a host of recent writers who have begun to take on the scientific community's most basic Darwinian assumptions. In effect, the Scopes monkey trial is being revisited in our day. In fact, she exposes in particular that trial as the publicity stunt that it was.

But Miss Coulter is no slouch: she provides a tremendous amount of research and support for her claims, which is especially significant when she makes her case against Darwin and his heirs. And there is a difference between the way she battles the evolutionists and the way the fundamentalists have done so. She battles them on their terms, and exposes their tactics, while at the same time revisiting the case for Intelligent Design, unafraid to take on even a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

And she is not, contrary to popular belief, merely the conservative movement's answer to Michael Moore. Or if one insists on making the comparison, then only insofar as one can compare high class and savvy to juvenile follies.

But no mere reviewer can really make this point stick merely by saying it, which leads to the chief assertion of this review: Godless is a book that deserves to be read, by friend and foe alike. Anyone who chooses not to do so with a dismissive wave of the hand, as if to say, "Oh, that's just Ann Coulter, after all," has no business arguing against her case.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back from Idaho

We're back from a fine vacation in Idaho, and I expect to be posting soon. One thing I mused on while seeing gorgeous tree-blanketed Rocky Mountains was this: These mountains must have been created by the Flood, in one day. The continents shifted west and caused the backwash of oceans to make a mountain range all along the west coast right down to the tip of the Andes. So the jagged edges of rock so prevalent there are a reminder of God's power and wrath. But the fact that many of them are now covered with trees ought to be a reminder that the wrath of God has now subsided, even as the flood waters themselves did. Indeed, what better natural symbol of mercy could there be than a tree? As the hymnist Fortunatus said it, "Faithful Cross! above all other, One and only noble tree! None in foliage, none in blossom, None in fruit thy peer may be. Sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest weight is hung on thee." So the image portrayed to knowing eyes by tree laden mountains is this: God's wrath has been put aside by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and mercy abounds. No wonder the scene is so idyllic and calm.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

One Voice for the Our Father

When in the old tradition of the Mass the Celebrant chanted the Our Father alone, he was not only following a venerable tradition which dates to the Early Church--which ought to be reason enough to retain this noble practice--he was also serving as bishop, the symbol of the unity of the Church. It is the same as when he chants the Collect alone (which, by the way, he should also do alone, especially in the Mass). It is called the collect because it is the prayer of the collected faithful: the many become one, expressed by the one mouth of the bishop.

Similarly, the Our Father is a prayer in which the many become one. The celebrant speaks for all the people, he performs a priestly duty here. But more importantly it is a Christic duty; in performing this duty he is serving as Christ for the people, presenting their petitions to God out of his own mouth.

After all, what gives us the right to call God our Father? Is He not the Father of Jesus Christ? And is not Jesus the only-begotten Son of God? God has no other children than Christ: he is the only. Then how is it that Jesus bids us to call God our Father? Surely, this can only be properly understood as an invitation for us to pray in Christ. We pray this prayer to God as though we were Christ Himself, for we are in Him. Heathen cannot rightly pray this prayer. It may not be prayed by one not baptized. This is why the pastor lays his hands on a child presented for Baptism, during the Our Father: it is an indication that the Our Father is here, in Baptism, being given to this candidate as a gift: he is being incorporated into Christ. Now, having been baptized into Christ, he is privileged to call God Abba, Father.

When at the High Feast of Salvation this principle is most properly expressed by the celebrant's utterance of this prayer alone. All Christians say this prayer day by day; but at the Altar, where the many become one, so the prayer fittingly becomes uttered by one voice, the voice of Christ. Christ employs the mouth of His servant, the celebrant, but the voice is most certainly His own. And thus all the people pray this prayer as one.

And it is said in immediate proximity to the Verba, the words of Institution, spoken also by the celebrant alone, in the stead of Christ.

Adapted from a 1999 article. Father Eckardt will be on vacation until mid-August. Comments will not be answered until then.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What's so Golden about the Middle?

It has become fashionable for church bureaucrats to instruct pastors with whom they have to do that while whacky, out-of-touch, loony "liberals" with their antichristian agendas are certainly not to be tolerated, there are also those who are too far out on the other side. The implication is that the middle is golden.

This is certainly true of some things. But the fact that it is gives no license for the maxim to be applied to all things.

There are not always two fringes.

Are we to say that someone who is way out on the 'no-integrity' fringe is no worse than someone who is way out on the 'too-much-integrity' fringe? Or what of someone who lies all the time. The other fringe would be someone who is too truthful. The reductio ad absurdem is not too hard to find.

So too, while there is certainly a too-loose fringe in matters of worship, that is, a kind of worship in which anything goes, and in which therefore everything becomes objectionable for those who truly want Christian worship, must there necessarily be a corresponding too-rigid fringe? "Rigid" of course is a nasty term by which bureaucrats like to refer to liturgists who take matters of worship with all gravity and seriousness. But is there a too-tight fringe? Actually if it be a truly opposite fringe to one that is too "loose," we must define "loose." I rather think it means casual, or lacking formality. But what's formality in worship? Is it not synonymous with reverence? Can one be too reverent? Ah, that is the real matter. Too reverent?

As in, have we shown Christ (whom we believe to be present) too much deference? Too much adoration? Too much worship?

I'm not sure the reference to the lukewarm in the Apocalypse is meant to apply to this, but I'd say it sort of fits. Sometimes the middle is not so golden.

New blog

Pastor Jonathan Naumann has a new blog called Engelein. Check it out here.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


One of the more amusing clichés which has evolved in recent years is that now-ubiquitous sign-off now used by many a clergyman, whether in print or in person: “Blessings!” Most commonly the expression begins “Blessings on your . . .” To this is added a word fitting the occasion. So to a pastor one might say, “Blessings on your ministry,” or to a committee, “Blessings on your conference.” To a pastor about to preach, “Blessings on your message” is heard. Or often the word stands alone, as in correspondence, being a closing salutation.

Whence this came is anyone’s guess, but what this historian finds amusing is the fact that it’s so often used by the kinds of Lutheran clergy who at the same time hold tenaciously to an acute anti-Catholic bias. They won’t wear a chasuble or intone the Introit, because that’s Catholic, but they’ll dispense blessings more freely than the most Tridentine of priests!

Among traditional Roman Catholics, the blessing of the priest is eagerly to be sought, and taken quite seriously when obtained. People would approach a priest for no other reason than to ask a blessing on their children (though not, I might add, while kneeling beside their parents partaking in the Sacrament of the Altar). The Vatican magisterium has routinely taught that a solemn duty of the priest is to dispense blessings upon his people.

I am, to be sure, rather vaguely averse to the usage, but not because of this. If anything, the thought that if taken seriously this cliché might offend against the anti-Catholic bigotry in our midst (one of the last acceptable forms of bigotry left in current society) would lead me to find it more, rather than less, palatable! I think Lutheran ministers would do well to consider the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty they too ought to do. These can take the form of brief benedictions when meeting with the bereaved, the sick, the distressed, or anyone who comes to meet with them. It ought to be done with the laying on of hands and signing of the cross on the forehead (and perhaps even with chrismating oil, as St. James says). In fact, the thought sits comfortably with me that this is really what is going on at the confirmation ceremonies of our young. The young teens are simply receiving the blessings of their priest as they enter adulthood. We already treat Lutheran confirmations as a sacramental kind of thing, even though we insist that confirmation is not a sacrament. But we routinely have parties whose celebratory mood can rival that of any bar mizpah or quinceñera. These youngsters are simply debutantes of a kind. Fine. So we do it in church, give them the blessings of their pastors, and think those blessings sort of sacramental, in a way. Perhaps a fuller consideration of this would be a fit topic for another day.

Regarding blessings in general, let us take them more seriously than as the bland, vanilla blubbering which the term “blessings” has come to be. Taken as it currently is, I would submit that to those who hear it, at best it generally communicates absolutely nothing, and at worst it gives an indication the one saying it must be a very holy person, that he speaks such a holy word. The latter inference is of course particularly odious to faith, because it smacks of the worst kind of pharisaism.

Let Lutheran ministers take the dispensing of blessings to be a solemn duty, then: they were ordained to do this, certainly, as Jesus said, “He who hears you hears me.” But let them never think that this can as well be something they ought carelessly dispense, in effect attempting to raise the estimation of others as to the degree of their holiness.

Adapted from a 1999 article.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Subduing the earth

At our house we've been working on the biggest project in family history. We're remodelling the bathroom, and since I'm a poor preacher (or so they tell me), it is necesssary that I learn to do as much of it as I can by myself. So in my spare time I've been a carpenter: tearing walls and floors apart, removing old tiles, old shower, old sink, etc.; building new structures here and there, putting up insulation, drywall, and cement board. We have a contracter working with me, but I've been doing things alongside of him every step of the way to reduce his hours of labor. We're finally to the point where most of the new light fixtures are in, new electrical, some new plumbing, new shower, new tub, new sink, and now stone tiles for the countertop and floor are going in. Soon we'll be finished.

Every night I go to bed sore, and wake up stiff. What a way to get in shape.

As I was mixing mortar today, I got to musing on the fact that this is what man does: he fills the earth and subdues it. He makes things do what he wants them to do. He puts them in order, by the sweat of his brow, even as Christ did in our redemption.

Jesus was a carpenter. That isn't just an interesting point of trivia. It means he was raised by Joseph in the trade of subduing the earth. This was a token of the redemption he would work.

Some say that the most godly places on earth are serene natural settings: sunsets, glaciers, canyons, mountains, etc. I think not. Raw nature can be beautiful, to be sure, but it generally needs to be tamed. It needs man. The most godly place on earth, therefore, has to be a place which man has crafted from the raw materials of earth. The most godly place on earth is a temple.

Destroy this temple, said Jesus, and in three days I will raise it.

The resurrected Christ has subdued the earth. It's something to appreciate when you're in the midst of a remodelling project.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Preaching and His Word

O preachers, it is written that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

That is, do not think yourself wise if you think that the beginning of wisdom is within you. Do you hold the Sacred Scriptures in the highest regard? Do you really believe them to be God’s Word? That all matters of faith and confession are to be answered by the Scriptures? Is Sola Scriptura your motto? And your preaching Bible-based and Christ-centered?

Then do not say that the Word of God needs to be made relevant. Do not they think of yourself as the filter through which the Word of God becomes relevant, something that the people can relate to, something they can take home with them. Do not think the sermon becomes the making relevant of the Word of God, putting it into terms we already understand. Do not make the preparation of a sermon an exercise in taking something from Scripture and using it to launch into something else, something you find easy to hear. So, for instance, a sermon on the multiplication of loaves and fish for the four thousand, ought to be more than a discourse on how able Jesus is to provide for our needs. The details are not to be omitted or ignored, or deemed insignificant. Take notice of the fact that the loaves and fish were brought by a boy who seems to have more faith than the disciples do. Consider how Jesus says to make the men recline where there was much grass, a link to the Twenty-third psalm. In short, do not preach something you find in the shrine of your heart to preach. Rather, preach something you have found in the words of the Gospel themselves.

If men would become true preachers of the Gospel, whose preaching they expect others to hold sacred and gladly hear and learn, they must learn how it is that their preaching will be in truth the very Word of God. It will not be if it is only something they themselves have dreamed up and hoped would be relevant. Rather, it must be something to which their hearts are held captive, which they have learned upon a musing on the sacred words themselves. For in this musing the Holy Ghost is present, as Luther also said.

But this will never happen among those who presume to know better than the words upon with they preach. Who for instance might find it too dangerous a thing simply to say, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it from you,” for they worry that someone might take them literally. What? They don’t think Jesus thought of that? They know better than He about what might be an ill-advised thing to say? Or again, they might find it too immodest to preach those texts which happen to refer to the breasts of a mother. That might be too embarrassing. Or they might think it too violent to preach about the bloody texts of murder or its vindications. What would the children think? Or—here it gets really dangerous—they might think themselves too loving to preach the imprecatory psalms. So what do they do with them? They simply ignore them, ignore those words of the Holy Ghost. For they know better, they are wiser than that, they know their people, and they know what might be offensive to them. So they say. And thus, beginning in ever so innocent a way, they listen to the shrines of their hearts over the written revelation of God.

O preachers, rather, be captive to that Word, not only in a general sense, but in very specific ways. If Scripture rebukes, you must rebuke; where Scripture becomes graphic you must be graphic; when Scripture is frank you must be frank.

Yet on the other hand, do not be more so than Scripture. Do not speak openly about shameful things which are done in secret; do not attempt a shock treatment on their hearers with a load of terms and descriptions Scripture does not use, especially when dealing with matters pertaining to sexual conduct and thought. Here, Scripture uses circumlocution very consistently. Thus, so must you. Though Scripture may be graphic about the battlefield, it is never graphic about the bedroom. You must follow suit.

You must, in a word, follow Scripture. You must not employ Scripture—Scripture must employ you. You must muse on the Scripture you are preaching, search it, rather than simply musing on what you might be able to say about it from your own resources. You must hear the Scriptures preaching to you first, and only then will you be ready to preach the Scriptures. You must regard especially the words of Christ as His sermons to you, and then when you yourselves preach, you will be preaching His sermons, His Word.

Simply, submit to His Word and fear it with a holy respect and reverence; that is the beginning of wisdom for preachers.

Adapted from a 1999 article.

Monday, June 05, 2006

A Meditation on Pentecost

According to Moses, Pentecost was observed by the bringing of new offerings, on the fiftieth (pentecoste) day after the day after the Sabbath following the Passover. So Jesus (our Passover) instituted the Holy Sacrament at twilight before His crucifixion, rested in the tomb on the Sabbath (Saturday), and rose from the grave on the day after. Fifty days later comes Pentecost on which a new offering is given, that is, a new age of the Spirit inaugurated. Today Christ's promise to His disciples is fulfilled, as the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, is sent to them, and they begin to declare His peace to the nations assembled there, on the fiftieth day from Easter. Pentecost, for seven is creation=s number, and forty-nine is creation squared, creation fulfilled; fifty then begins the age of the new creation. Sunday, because this is the third and final great Sunday of history, Creation Sunday being the first and Easter Sunday the second. So on Pentecost Sunday all is fulfilled, when the Spirit begins to give life to the Church through apostolic preaching.

--Burnell F. Eckardt Jr., Every Day Will I Bless Thee (Sussex, Wis.: Concordia Catechetical Academy, 1998), s.v. The Feast of Pentecost. To Purchase this book for $21.00, go pages 2-3 of the online catalog for the Concordia Catechetical Academy for ordering information, then click here for their printable order form to mail in your order (their online bookstore is currently under construction).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why I Let My Yes Be Yes: a Soliloquy on the Sacrament for Memorial Day

The non-alcoholic wine debate still rears its ugly head from time to time, centering on the question whether non-alcoholic wine or any other substitutes could be permitted for use in the Sacrament. At times I have found myself engaged in a exchanges in which I found it necessary to defend things which ought to be beyond question among Lutherans.

One such exchange took place in a little tete-a-tete I once had with a proponent for the use of grape juice. It was at an open hearing of a floor committee for a district convention of the LCMS. The meeting room was far too small, as the floor committee saw a great multitude in attendance. The walls were not visible for the flesh that lined them, and the summer heat was no ally to that flesh. I arrived about ten minutes after the hearing began, so with a number of others had no place to sit. By this default I ended up standing in a highly visible place right behind the chairman's seat, and listened as the arguments for and against non-alcoholic wine were heard. On the one side of the debate were those of confessional acumen and concerns who pleaded for the maintenance of right administration of the Sacrament in accordance with Augustana VII, on the other side were those who contended for what they called the need for love and understanding in dealing with difficult situations with alcoholics and the like.

In the midst of all this there was a certain layman among the latter, who gave a long, passionate speech about his days in the service in the Korean War and World War II. He spoke with feeling about the 9,000 soldiers who lost their lives fighting beside him at Omaha Beach. Before they went to their final battle, these men all received "communion" from the chaplain, who, due to scarcity of resources, did not have enough wine. But he did have grape juice (why this is so, no one asked). So grape juice they all received, and went on into battle, and lost their lives. At this point the man asked for a pastoral reply to the question he posed: "Do you mean to say that those men did not receive the forgiveness of sins?"

It was then that I opened my mouth, and gave my reply which raised and rankled more than a few eyebrows and feathers respectively. I said but one word, which all in the room clearly heard, and which for its piercing simplicity shook the very foundations of that chamber: Yes.

That was my pastoral reply.

At once another man lunged at me, crying out angrily, "Lawyer! Pharisee!" The committee members, thankfully, were livid against this name-calling, insisting that it stop.

Debate continued in that crowded room until finally there remained time for one more speaker, and the chair yielded to me.

"I must tell you," I began my defense, "that it was I who got this whole mess started, for I am the author of the resolution in its original form. I wrote it against non-alcoholic wine; but I certainly never expected such a brouhaha to result, and I cannot even recount for you all the names I have been called since I brought it up.

"It has occurred to me, however, that the reason there is such passion over all this, is possibly a failure to remember a crucial distinction, which Martin Luther so clearly made in his Galatians commentary. I know it by heart, for it is very important to me. Luther carefully distinguishes there between faith and love, and warns against forgetting the distinction. Love, says Luther, always gives in, always lets others have their way, always gives place. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. But not faith. Faith will not stand for anything. When it comes to faith (says Luther) I want to be stubborn, and to be known as someone who is stubborn. Faith will not yield the least little bit. Here is where I side with Luther, then, and say the same, that I too wish to be known as someone who is stubborn about the faith.

"For this matter runs to the heart of the Gospel. Certainly those 9,000 servicemen who died were either saved or not, depending alone on their faith in the Gospel. But at that moment, when that chaplain gave them that grape juice, they were not receiving that forgiveness. This is why this matter is so critical. This is not lovelessness or legalism. It's the very opposite; for this has to do with Christ. Those servicemen needed one thing there on that battlefield, for their confidence and comfort in time of trouble, and no amount of good intentions (with which the road to hell is paved) could give them what they needed. They needed Christ whom they believed, but the chaplain did not give Christ to them.

"It's really very simple, and I plead with you to listen to me now: If you change the elements of the Sacrament, you don't have the Sacrament, and if you don't have the Sacrament, you don't have Christ."

So ran my reply.

On the same day there were some who expressed concerns with that original retort of mine, that “yes”; not, that is, with its substance (though indeed many were quite opposed to that as well), but with its fittingness in that time and place, the simplicity of it. No, I was told, that turned people off, made them unnecessarily angry, and could have been expressed otherwise. I was at that moment too harsh, some said, and that was wrong.

Now I admit to having thought about this long and hard myself. Was that “yes” too much? Should I have let the rhetoric pass unanswered? Could I perhaps have done more through a more winsome approach, something less barbed? Was that answer less than pastoral? Now clearly it would be easy for me simply to say that it was, and admit a lapse of self control there. Strangely, however, my conscience, which is so often a noisy gong in my ears, was quite silent and at peace.

The reason I could admit error there is that I came to the conclusion not only that I did not err, but also that very much more is at stake in this matter than any admission of my personal wretchedness, of which I am always well aware. Certainly (because of that wretchedness) I am one who can easily fall to the desire for vainglory, and certainly also from this to self-aggrandizement in the eyes of my peers. But here I must divide and distinguish sin from faith; for though I sin, yet do I believe, and further believe that in that assembly “yes” was absolutely required, notwithstanding any sin which may have attended it. It is when I consider the alternatives carefully that this becomes most clear.

To have said nothing would not have been the way of faith; this is not to say it was necessary that I be the one to answer, merely to say that faith must answer this question; somebody had to answer, lest through silent acquiescence on the part of all the gainsayers make disciples and, as it were, Goliath taunts the armies of God unanswered. What figures more importantly in the rejection of this option, however, is faith's simple necessity of making confession.

There are times when a clear confession is called for, times when men of faith must say, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." Such speech comes not from reasoned considerations of effectiveness, nor cautious regard for winsomeness. Indeed the word sprang from my lips before I gave a single thought to the effectiveness it might have. I simply knew it needed saying, at once, before the opportunity for saying it passed by.

But one might as well say this was not the time for such confession, that this was not the place for true theological discussion, for the room was too hot and crowded, and passions ran high, etc. To this I would reply that these kinds of circumstances are not in themselves prohibitive of confession. If they were, then not only would every man who spoke well that day have been out of place (and there were a great many who spoke well for the faith on that day and in that place), but even Luther's famous confession before the Diet of Worms would have been out of place. For Luther's confession was likewise in a small upper room which was so full of officials that crowd control became necessary; indeed emotions and tensions ran so high that pandemonium broke loose there following Luther's confession (see Schwiebert, The Life and Times of Martin Luther, 501-505). When tempers or passions are inflamed, certainly it is more difficult to make reasoned judgments, but the increase of difficulty in itself cannot justify the shutting of confessional mouths.

Moreover, and most importantly, if this was not the time for such confession, when is the time for it? The Church is not of the world, but she is in the world, and she is required to make her confession before men, as our Lord Himself declares. Reason, whom Luther was wont to call the devil's greatest whore, cannot be trusted to determine the circumstances most fit for such confession. This must be left to faith, and faith must be left to itself to make such judgments. Faith, molded and led by the Word, employs that Word in confession when and where it wills, and is alone fit to determine when to speak, especially in the heat of battle. Faith employs reason in this regard, to be sure, but reason cannot question faith, for faith knows more than reason can fathom.

Thus I conclude that it was fitting and meet for faith to speak there and then. But what would faith say?

The question itself wanted a simple yes or no answer. Did those 9,000 receive forgiveness at Omaha beach? Here we must consider the enemy's treachery. How perilous is the ground of this battle, where the enemy vies for the hearts of the careful hearers witness to that debate.

What if I had said “no”? What would it have meant? Here the enemy could have taunted the people of God. Aha, aha, he could then well have sneered, your insistence on right administration cannot stand here! See, you answer “no” to my question, so you must admit that I am right, for if those 9,000 received forgiveness there, then why have you made such an issue of this matter? How can you make such a big thing out of such a small thing as this? For they died with forgiveness, the one thing needful.

But did they? One could (with the sophists) determine that even though they did not receive forgiveness with the cup, yet they did with the host, which was bread, and hence also the body of Christ. But this skirts the true question, which in the first place was not asked concerning the host but the cup, and in the second place was in substance asking whether changing the elements affects the giving of forgiveness through them.

But what about the Word? Could we not say that they certainly did receive forgiveness with the words of the Gospel spoken then and there over the elements? Is it splitting hairs to say that forgiveness was not received in the cup as well as with the cup?

Here we have come to the very heart of the matter. For if forgiveness was thus received, the very Sacrament has been robbed of its essence. The words of the Gospel tied to the Sacrament are these: This is my blood . . . shed for you. It is true that Christ's blood was "shed for you", and that that is itself the Gospel; yet these words now come in a declaration that makes this, namely this cup, meaning by circumlocution the wine in this cup, His blood, "shed for you." Thus in the Sacrament we say that this cup is that blood, and recognize that the Gospel itself is placed nowhere else than in this cup. Therefore to alter what is in the cup is to remove the Gospel from it, and hence also forgiveness.

But surely, one might still protest, you do not mean to say those 9,000 servicemen died in their sins. To this I reply with Luther and Augustine that certainly faith's desire for the Sacrament is in itself sufficient: "only believe," they both declare, "and you have already received the Sacrament."

But what did they believe? That the blood of Christ was under the grape juice? Here I must sincerely hope not, for this is not the substance of faith! Faith has no word of Christ here upon which to rely for a conviction that the blood of Christ was under the grape juice, for Christ gave no promise regarding grape juice. Such faith is a sham and folly. My pastoral heart most sincerely desires with God that no one be condemned, least of all 9,000 servicemen who lost their lives in valiant service to their country, and I can share with Francis Pieper the fervent hope and expectation that through a felicitous inconsistency they retained a saving faith while at the same time holding externally to this demon's doctrine regarding grape juice.

Nonetheless in the answer to the question posed very much is now quite clearly at stake.
But how cleverly was the question posed. For one who answers “yes” opens himself to some very clear perceptions of lovelessness against those poor 9,000. So the devil taunts: See, I have shut your mouths! You cannot reply, your tongues are shackled!

(Yet I believe it was also divine providence that saw the question posed the way it was, in order that the truth may be affirmed with a “yes” rather than with a “no” which more than any other word would make one sound negative!)

Thus did almighty God in His mercy loose my tongue; thus did He open my lips, that my mouth might shew forth His praise. “Yes!” did I cry; and would again cry, nine thousand times, yes. Yes, for it is not lovelessness which insists here, as many may falsely suppose (many are my persecutors and mine enemies); rather, it is the knowledge that the enemy was at work here, stealing by treachery the Church's most precious and sacred Treasure. Yes, without the Sacrament you are without Christ. Yes, you may not have Him according to your whims and wishes, no matter how fiercely you desire Him on your own terms. Yes, He comes on His own terms and none other. Yes, though all the world should rail against His Word and Testament, yet will I affirm and insist that He alone is true and every man a liar. Yes, where His Testament is kept whole and intact, there and nowhere else, is His forgiveness and mercy distributed to poor and needy sinners. Yes, you must take Christ as He gives Himself and in no other way, for otherwise you shall not have Him at all, as the doctrines of demons quickly invade and snatch you away. With my yes and amen do I therefore affirm this truth.

But for this I did indeed open myself to false accusations, which quickly flew, and wounded me. But an angel of God woke me from restless sleep that night and ministered to me, as I recalled in faith words sweeter than honey to my taste, the words of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

So I rejoice in this faith and confidence, and in the knowledge that the greatness of reward shall be inversely proportionate to the worthiness of His servant.

Material taken from a column published in 1994.