Friday, September 28, 2007

King John I

. . . of the 2007 Kewanee Boilers Homecoming Court, bearing a strong resemblance, I might add, to the 1974 Homecoming Queen of Appleton East High School. Royal blood, I guess . . .

Thursday, September 27, 2007

So a seagull walks into a store . . .

In case you missed it, there's a video caroming around cyberspace showing a seagull in Scotland which has developed the habit of stealing chips from a neighborhood shop.

The seagull seems to be slinking up when the shopkeeper isn’t looking, walking into the store, snatching a bag of cheese Doritos, and making a run for it.

Once outside, he rips the bag open and shares it with other birds.

The seagull’s shoplifting started early this month when he first swooped into the store in Aberdeen, Scotland, and helped himself to a bag of chips. Since then, he’s become a regular. He always takes the same type of chips.

Customers have begun paying for the seagull’s stolen bags of chips because they think it’s so funny. Watch the video here.

Hat tip: Kathryn Hill

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Grammarian, IX

Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted. - St. Matthew 23:12

We note, class, that there is no exception to the rule here: Whosoever means anyone, everyone, all who exalt themselves -- these shall be abased. Even those who thought they did pretty well at humbling themselves in response to this little logion. Hah! Condemned and guilty are we all.

But now look carefully at the second part, which does not say "whosoever shall humble himself . . ."

What does it say, boys and girls? "He that . . ." See? It's a simple singular pronoun. There is only One who has truly humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And by His stripes we are healed.

Hat tip: Pr. H. R. Curtis (Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, IL; Zion Lutheran Church, Carpenter, IL

Friday, September 21, 2007

Confession Makes a Comeback

Do I get some sort of credit for being the first among us Lutherans to notice that this article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled "Confession Makes a Comeback" makes reference to a marvelous resolution we passed at the LCMS national convention in Houston last July?

The article is written by Alexandra Alter, and includes this tidbit: "This summer, the second-largest North American branch of the Lutheran Church passed a resolution supporting the rite, which it had all but ignored for more than 100 years." That was in fact the last resolution passed by the convention, and although a number of delegates had already left, it passed by an overwhelming majority. It provided in fact a very fine conclusion to the convention.

Further on in the WSJ article, there's this piece about our very own Central Illinois District's Pastor Bruce Keseman (kudos, Bruce!):

"This past summer, the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod, a 2.5 million-member branch whose members are spread across North America, voted to revive private confession with a priest. Some theologians have pointed to the writings of Martin Luther and argued that the Protestant reformer, while criticizing the way the rite was administered, never advocated abolishing it. 'Some of us were saying, "Why in the world did we let that die out?"' says the Rev. Bruce Keseman, a Lutheran pastor in Freeburg, Ill.

"The Rev. Keseman has sought to revive confession in his congregation by bringing it into pastoral counseling, giving demonstrations to youth groups and preaching about its benefits. Leslie Sramek, 48, a lifelong Lutheran and financial manager who lives near St. Louis, says she never heard about private confession and absolution in church when she was growing up. But two years ago, when the Rev. Keseman announced he would be taking confession privately, she decided to give it a try. At these sessions, the pastor wears vestments and stands near the altar while she kneels and recounts her sins. 'I won't say that looking at my sins is pleasant, but they have to be dealt with,' says Mrs. Sramek."

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Grammarian, VIII

I've always wanted to ask this: Just what is a Concordia Self-Study Bible, anyway? Yeah, I know it's a Bible with study notes in it so that you can study the Bible on your own, by yourself. But wouldn't such a Bible be better called a Concordia Bible with Notes? or with Study Guide?

OK, class, let us look at the grammar here: self-study can mean, according to the dictionary, either the study of something by oneself or the study of oneself. Granted, the former is likely meant by the designation, but now, who can tell me what we know about phases which can have two meanings? . . .

That it's all right as long as there is no ambiguity presented by the context. What about the Concordia Self-Study Bible, then? No problem, you say? Well actually, the first person I asked to tell me what he thought it meant said something about using the Bible to study oneself! Aha! Ambiguity!

Therefore, I wonder: perhaps the the Concordia Self-Study Bible was so designated to indicate any of the following:

1) that with it you can study the Bible by yourself
2) (corollary) that without it you could not study the Bible by yourself
3) (another corollary) that it is the notes which are the big thing in this Bible
4) that with it you can learn to study yourself, and find out about yourself
5) that it is Bible meant especially for people engaged in the practice of "self-study"
5) that it is an amazing book which actually studies itself, and doesn't need to be opened
6) that it is a Bible which contains studies of the word "self"
Let's see, have we left any meanings out? . . .

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Mordecai the Liturgical Nazi

We've been going over the book of Esther in Sunday morning class, and there's something I find extremely refreshing about Mordecai. He simply (and all the Jews with him) refused to bow to Haman. Now ask yourself: why does he have to be so stubborn? He could have just bowed a nice little bow, made everyone happy, and said, Oh, it's just a cultural thing. It doesn't change the way we believe. We still have the Gospel. I can go ahead and bow on cue, and not say anything, knowing in my heart that all that matters is the Word.

But he didn't. He refused to do that simple silent thing, which of course made Haman mad, and got Mordecai and his people into one truckload of trouble.

In fact it was a cultural thing. Had he bowed to Haman, his bow would have acknowledged Haman as divine. Here we see that this little liturgical thing, this silent bowing, communicates something. And what it communicated was anathema to Mordecai, so he refused.

This book is written, among other reasons, to exemplify the behavior of Mordecai. We have in the book of Esther a clear and uncompromising exemplification of a simple truth:

When under the title and pretext of external adiaphora such things are proposed as are in principle contrary to God's Word (although painted another color), these are not to be regarded as adiaphora, in which one is free to act as he will, but must be avoided as things prohibited by God. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, X, 5)

See there? How you worship does matter. It did to Mordecai, certainly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

John Eckardt Kewanee Athlete of the Week

Eckardt’s confidence high, golf scores low

Excerpts from an Article in the Kewanee Star Courier Last Week by Mike Landis, editor of the Sports page. Way to to, John (son #4)!

Kewanee’s John Eckardt chips on the 10th hole Wednesday at Canton Country Club. His round of 32 on Baker Park’s front nine last week earned the KHS senior the Athlete of the Week nod from the Star Courier.

Baker Park brings out the best in John Eckardt.

The four-year varsity Kewanee golfer fired a career-low 32 last Thursday on the front nine at Baker Park to lead the Boilers to a triangular win over Geneseo and Hall. Eckardt’s 3-under effort on the flats earned the KHS No. 1 player the Star Courier’s Athlete of the Week honor.

“That’s my best,” said Eckardt, noting his previous low nine was 34 on Baker’s back side.

. . .

“The first time I thought about it was my second shot on No. 3 when I was 2-under,” said Eckardt of shooting a low number. “I came up short on that shot, but I wasn’t nervous for the chip. I just had to get it close and I did.”

He closed the round with a two-putt birdie on the par-five fourth for 32. The performance spurred conversation of the all-time low nine-hole round in KHS golf history. In talking with previous coach Chris Gustafson, Eckardt said the two decided it was likely the best round in 25 years by a KHS golfer.

Current coach Kirk Fristad says Eckardt’s dedication to the game in the summer pays huge dividends during the high school season.

“He’s on the golf course all the time. If he’s not at summer basketball, he and his brothers are out there all the time,” said Fristad. “One time I saw him this summer, he was out on the driving range in the rain. You don’t see many other kids doing that.”

The close of Eckardt’s junior season let him know that he could play with the top high school golfers in the area and across the state. After advancing at the regional tournament, Eckardt was part of a three-way tie for first at the Monmouth-Roseville Sectional with 76 at Gibson Woods. While he lost the playoff to Peoria Christian’s Jonathan Hauter, the round let Eckardt know he could play with the big boys.

“I think it gave him a lot of confidence, more than anything else, that he could play with those kids,” said Fristad.

At state, Eckardt fired matching rounds of 85 to finish in the middle of the Class A pack at Prairie Vista in Bloomington. He hit 12 greens in regulation the opening day at state, but a balky putter kept him from jumping into contention.

“At state, I felt like this is where I should be at because I thought I could play that well,” said Eckardt. “That helped with my confidence for this season.”

. . .

While he’s the No. 1 player for the Boilers, on some days he’s not the best player in his family. He’s joined on the KHS team by two brothers, Joey and Michael.

John credits his brother Andy for circulating the golf bug through the Eckardt family — five of the six boys played golf at Kewanee, with eldest Burnie opting to run cross country.

“Neither of my parents have played very much,” he said. “They’re not very good at all. My mom never plays and my dad has played his whole life, but not a lot and not very well.”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Grass of the Field

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

In my musing on St. Matthew 6 for this next sermon (Trinity XV), it occurred to me that this is a strange thing for Jesus to say, that the grass of the field is thrown into the oven. How many times of glossing over that little phrase does it take before we truly consider these lilies of the field? What lilies, what grass, is thrown in to the oven? Wheat! For wheat is toiled over, harvested, ground, sifted, watered, leavened, kneaded, and cast into the oven; all so that it might become bread. Today's grass is tomorrow's bread.

And Jesus says, "Tomorrow shall take thought for the things of itself." Therefore today let us consider the lilies which are harvested for baking, and learn the meaning of repentance. For all flesh is grass, but by the toil of Christ has redemption come to it. So also does He water, sift, and knead it, to become His loaf, His Church.

Moreover, He is Himself the leaven which leavens the whole lump: for by our reception of His Body we become His Body. And we are raised, as leaven.

That resurrection takes place tomorrow; today let us pay heed to His labors by which we shall be raised tomorrow. And therein lies the secret of contentment.

Out of the Barn

My email server is giving me fits, there's bad weather in the south, the money's running out, the political scene in the nation is getting really nasty, the churches continue to struggle with the ravages of a pagan culture, death and destruction leave their mark in all places; yea, the world, the devil, and the flesh have done their worst, but in spite of it all (Deo gracias), good things still happen in this world. The Church lives on, the lilies are clothed, the birds of the air are fed, and, once again,

Gottesdienst is out of the barn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Extemporaneous Preaching

I gave a seminar at Champaign, Illinois yesterday on preaching without a manuscript or notes (That is, I spoke, using notes, about how it is that I preach without notes). The notes I used to speak about preaching without notes are here following.

Preliminary matters deal with preaching theory and content, and then comes the section on technique and preaching without a manuscript.

I. Preaching theory

A. Preaching as authoritative speech.

1. Not only the hearers, but the preachers themselves should not despise preaching. The hearers should gladly hear and learn it, but the preachers should also gladly learn to do it.

2. “So We Preached, and So Ye Believed.” - I Co 15.11 Preaching is the proclamation of the Gospel (kerygma, from kerysso, preach). It is declarative. It is ultimately Gospel, not law. It is the announcement that Christ has come, and fulfilled the Scriptures, bringing eternal salvation.

3. Jesus taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes (St. Matthew 7.21). What does this mean? We know a little about how the scribes taught. The synagogues had as the equivalent of sermons what was called “midrash”; this term was also used for the marginal commentaries running alongside the texts. These midrash ‘sermons’ were likely explanations of the passages. A possible interpretation of Jesus’ teaching “not as the scribes” is that Jesus’ preaching was not like this. That is, He did not simply provide explanations of the Bible. This is a remarkable twist: The scribes taught as ones not having authority, because the authority to which they referred was the Scripture. For Jesus to teach unlike them may then have meant that He was himself the authority. He certainly referred to the authority of Scripture often, and refuted His opponents thereby, as for instance when He referred to Psalm 110 “The Lord said unto my Lord” in referring to Himself, etc.

4. The preacher should speak as the oracles of God. “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4.11). I.e., as though God Himself were speaking. The sermon is the Word of God not man. It must be preached as such.

5. Preaching is mostly a New Testament phenomenon. It is hard to find references to it at all in the Old Testament. One notable place is Jonah, who is told to “go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee” (Jonah 3:2). This is an interesting exception to the general rule that the Old Testament does not emphasize preaching, in that it is preaching to Gentiles, and that furthermore St. Peter is specifically called the “son of Jonah” when he is given the Keys (St. Matthew 16). Jonah’s preaching is a preview of the preaching of the New Testament, and the preaching of Peter.

6. Preaching is meant to reveal what has for ages been hidden: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints” (Col. 1:26). As such it serves the same purpose as the New Testament itself. Indeed the Mass is the New Testament, as the Words of Christ indicate (this is the new testament in my blood), so therefore it belongs with the Mass as a critical ingredient. So the sermon should never be free from what is transpiring in the Mass.

B. Preaching content

1. The Gospel; what it is: the New Testament. The Mass. The law must still be used, but not as an end in itself; this would not be proclamation.

2. The pulpit is not the place for sloganeering or making up ‘cute’ expressions designed to impress the hearers (at the expense of impressing upon them the Word itself). People say they like to have something to take home with them, which is mostly bogus. What they end up taking home is some trite slogan, in place of the Gospel.

3. The pulpit is also not the place for telling jokes. Preaching is not stand-up comedy, or something you learn to do in speech class to get and hold people’s attention.

4. Gags and gimmicks are out of place, because they belie the power of the Gospel; they presuppose that the preacher is giving nothing better than midrash, and probably something worse.

5. Indeed this also means the telling of endless vignettes and stories is most assuredly not preaching. Some preachers can be found who only do such things, from beginning to end of the sermon. This is not preaching. This is boredom incarnate.

6. It is not necessary to start the sermon with a personal story of vignette, or even with any kind of introduction at all. Neither the Fathers nor Luther did this. It is a modern thing. Do not waste precious preaching moments on a story (unless perhaps it’s a Biblical one)!

II. Preaching Technique

A. Preaching without a manuscript: Only in recent years has preaching from a manuscript come into vogue. The great preachers of history, from the early fathers to Luther, did not preach from manuscripts. The first step in learning how to preach without a manuscript is to believe that it would be a good thing to do, and to desire to do it.

B. Language of faith, that is, the language which employs Biblical turns of phrases, Biblical terms, and Biblical grammar. This was common among the Fathers of the Faith, and it is rare in our day. Preaching as the language of faith; The word of God in action, on the lips of the preacher . . . Preaching should not rely upon the tricks of the public-speaking trade to keep the hearers’ attention; although certain devices may be helpful, some can be detrimental. Preaching the language of faith presupposes a thorough familiarity with the Scriptures, and the language of the Psalter. Pray the Psalter, begin to commit the Psalm to memory, and you will soon find yourself thinking in that language.

C. Know the rules of grammar. This is an absolute prerequisite to good preaching style. Read good writers, examining their word patterns; perhaps even get a grammar book.

D. Seek to imitate the patterns of fine style. Reading from the KJV helps! Other English translations, while grammatically acceptable, have not taken the pains to maintain the style of the Biblical manuscripts, from the poetry of the Psalms to the unforgettable prose of St. Luke. The reason people want the Christmas story in the KJV is because of its unsurpassed beauty. But this beauty is seen first in the Hebrew and Greek.

E. Rhetorical devices.
do not mumble
do not stutter, or say “um,” “ah,” etc. Cf. Ronald Reagan
repetition of a salient point
use of pause, and of taking your time – this is necessary and helpful to the preacher who preaches without a manuscript, and to the hearers. You are thinking as you are preaching, framing your own thoughts and putting them into words as you speak. Thinking out loud, and others are listening in.

F. Biblical devices and phrases
1. Rhetorical thrust or “punch”: Repent!
2. Use of second-person: rather than exclusively saying “we” or “us” don’t be afraid to use “you.” This is a bit trickier when proclaiming the condemnations of the law. Never say “you and I.” The preacher should not place himself personally among the hearers here, but stand as the prophetic voice. If you wish to soften the browbeating effect of “you have sinned” etc., then perhaps follow up with “all mankind” in some way, e.g., to sum up a pricking of the conscience: “You have failed. All mankind has failed . . .”

3. Use of rhetorical questions:
Is God unrighteous for taking vengeance? (Rom 3:5)
Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. (Rom 6:1-2)
Is Christ divided? (I Co 1:13)

4. Use of Biblical phrases:
1. "It is written," or "As it is written" . . .
St. Matt. 3:4, 7 (by Jesus), Rom 3.10; I Cor 1:19
2. . . . or "That it might be fulfilled" . . . St. Matthew 2:15; 4:14
3. "Rejoice, and be exceeding glad" . . . St. Matthew 5:12; Phil. 4:4
4. . . . "who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

5. Sentences that run on: A common device of St. Paul, which is only effective if it is done slowly. Thoughts are attached to prior thoughts as they are expressed. A firm grasp of grammar is needed.

G. Things to avoid
Worn-out phrases:
“Our text for today”
“in our daily lives”
Greek words
“you know” “um” “ah”; stuttering
Excessive illustrations

H. Other considerations
The Gospel is not a “text,” and it is certainly not “our text.” Rather, call it “this Gospel”; or say, “Jesus says here,” “this event” etc.

No need to cite references. Just use them. Weave them in. Two ways to do this:
1. Quote from Scripture without indicating you are doing so. E.g., on the First Commandment: “Do not think that faith is simply a matter of believing that God exists. The demons also believe and they tremble. Faith, rather, is trust . . .”

2. Simply refer to Scriptural passages briefly. E.g. from a Luther sermon warning against pride, says this: “Behold, how Saul fell! How God permitted David to fall! How Peter had to fall! How some disciples of Paul fell!'” (AP 2, 110f; StL 11, 513).

Sometimes, if the Gospel contains activity, I will place the hearers into it. Activity is an easier thing to preach. So make it present tense. [I believe this may be why the Gospels often mingle the present tense into their reporting of events.] For example:
“As Jesus was merciful to the man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, so is he merciful to you. He has taken you aside from the multitude in Baptism. He has put His fingers, that is, His Spirit, into your ears. He has preached to you. He has spit and touched your tongue, that is, the holy waters of His Baptism have enabled you to confess the Christian faith. He has looked up to heaven and sighed over you, for His Spirit and Breath have made intercession for you before heaven’s throne. And he has opened your lips, that your mouth may show forth His praise.”
Sometimes you will want to place an argument into your sermon, as St. Paul does. Luther does this too. Argue with the gainsayers as if they were in the room.
“Who are you who deny that the Sacrament is truly Christ? See, he says, This is my body! Now what can you say? That He didn’t mean it? That He was speaking figuratively? Judge for yourselves: Is this the way to speak figuratively? To take bread, and to bless it, and break it, and say of it, This is my Body?” You may trust Jesus on this, beloved; He will not lie to you.” That last part is from Luther, who says on occasion, “You may trust the Scriptures: they will not lie to you.”
Preach as though to yourself. What do you need to hear? Preach this to the hearers.

II. Preaching preparation
The first ingredient of preparation must be a continual diet on the prayers of the Church, and particularly the Psalms. Daily praying matins and/or vespers will put Psalms and Canticles in mind so routinely that they become easy to access when preaching.
The practice of St. Augustine, as I recall, was typically to meditate on his appointed Gospel three or four times before preaching it. There’s one famous occasion on which he had prepared to preach on a certain psalm, but by a mixup, the reader read another. So he started his sermon by indicating that he hadn’t expected to preach on this psalm, but then proceeded to do so anyway.
The more one preaches without a manuscript, the easier it gets. My own practice is to look at a Gospel two or three times before I preach it, and decide what my major points will be. I often take the order I find in the Gospel itself and use it as my own.
Occasionally I will take some notes with me into the pulpit, if I have a list of some sort; but rarely. My outline is typically the Gospel itself.
There are pitfalls to this approach, but they are outweighed by the benefits, I believe. Sometimes I will forget to mention something I wanted to say; but other times I will see something I hadn’t prepared in advance. Sometimes I will preach a sermon which I’m not entirely pleased with; but this can happen whether or not one uses a manuscript; and when preaching is done without a manuscript, the preaching event becomes an opportunity to muse aloud on the Gospel. It is rather like going into a room of the mind and pulling off the shelves what you find worth saying at the moment. The greatest benefit of preaching this way is that you are actually communicating your thoughts with your hearers as you are thinking them. This is a powerful rhetorical tool, and most useful if done well. I am almost willing to say that this is in fact what preaching is: using the Word of God aloud in the present tense, rather than reading or reciting something you had previously written.
Things to use to comment on a particular Gospel:
Old Testament stories that relate to it, or are fulfilled in it.
Bible characters who experience the same thing.
Use of Genesis 1-2. N.B. The preaching task is easier if the Biblical interpretation task is rightly understood. The Scriptures testify of Christ (St. John 5); He is the substance and fulfillment of all the Scriptures (St. Luke 24).

Burnell F. Eckardt Jr.
Kewanee, Illinois
11 September 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Times that Try Men's Souls

This article was published in the 2001 Advent/Christmas issue of Gottesdienst less than two months after the attacks of 11 September.

The people of the United States were brought into a time of great crisis after the attacks of 11 September. Crises tend to bring out the very best or the very worst in people. We can more easily observe the true character of people when their character is put to the test. In times of crisis, therefore, we are more likely to find out what people are truly made of; the behavior they exhibit during such times is less likely to be marked by the putting on of airs, and hence more likely to indicate their strength of constitution. President Bush did not suddenly become a seasoned orator after the attack on New York; it’s just that he happens to have a strong constitution, which rose to the surface when it was needed. These, as Tom Paine wrote in 1776, are the times that try men’s souls. So if we pay close attention, we can learn quite a bit about people during these times, and even, at length, about ourselves.

Heroes always arise in times of great crisis. Crises tend to bring out the best in some people, maybe because they affect the conscience more readily than placid times. To speak of it in Pauline terms, the law, written on the heart, tends to surface during crises, and the result is better behavior. A rise in civil righteousness is thus noted: People more distant from the crisis that began on 11 September soon sought ways to donate toward rescue and recovery. Firemen and other heroes in New York and Washington rushed to the rescue at ground zero, where the need was acute. While civil righteousness has nothing to do with the righteousness of faith, it is always helpful for a society to have more of it in evidence. Hence the upside of this or any disaster is always the reappearance of champions.

Champions now abound. I count as heroes the many who had the courage to aid others in peril, heedless of the peril to themselves. I count as heroes those firemen and police who died while coming to the rescue. I count as heroes others who risked life and limb to search the rubble for their lost comrades. I count as heroes those countless citizens who came to the rescue in so many ways, even while others were fleeing for their lives. I count as heroes men who anointed the rescue workers and prayed with the wounded, at least one of whom even died with them. I count as heroes that group of passengers aboard doomed United Flight 93 who determined that they would not go down without a fight. With the battle cry, “Let’s roll,” they succeeded in saving untold numbers at the cost of their own lives. I count as heroes the troops of our nation, volunteers all, who have now gone off to war, or who have yet to go. I count as heroes even the pilots willing again to take to the air, swallowing newly found fears of flying. The Apostle tells us to give honor where honor is due. It is not hard these days to see where honor is due. It is due heroes. Crises will bring out the best in people.

Crises will also bring out the worst in people. The ravings of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson are informative. When interviewed on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s The 700 Club two days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Falwell declared that things could get a lot worse “if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve,” to which Robertson heartily agreed: “Jerry, that’s my feeling.” Falwell then went on to lay blame on the ACLU, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians, People For the American Way, all of whom “have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘You helped this happen,’” to which Robertson replied, “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.”

When news of this gaffe hit the fan, even the White House seemed shocked, at once calling the remarks “inappropriate.” Robertson, when questioned about this on FOX News, was quick to retreat into half-truths about not being responsible for what people on his show might say, without addressing his own initially enthusiastic support for Falwell’s words, perhaps in hope that no one would notice. In a press release the following Monday, he referred to Falwall’s words as “unexpected,” adding that the statement was, “frankly, not fully understood by the three hosts of The 700 Club who were watching Rev. Falwell on a monitor.” This makes Robertson’s own words (“Jerry, that’s my feeling,” “Well, I totally concur”) appear reckless and inappropriate. It also makes his closing remarks sound rather hollow: “Jerry, this is so encouraging, and I thank God for your stand. We just love you and praise God for you . . . my dear friend.” With friends like this, who needs enemies? No man who betrays his friends should ever be trusted.

Falwell himself released an apology the next day in which he admitted his remarks were “insensitive, uncalled for at the time, and unnecessary as part of the commentary on this destruction.” He went on to say, “I obviously did not state my theological convictions very well and I stated them at a bad time.” The observer in me is not so sure about that. It seems to me that he asserted his theological convictions quite well indeed.

Surely he believes, and rightly so, that the various groups he mentioned are godless. He clearly also believes, again rightly, that abortion has destroyed “40 million little innocent babies.” The question is whether he believes, as he suggested, that these and similar societal sins “make God mad,” with the result that jetliners are sent plunging into skyscrapers. It is doubtful that he believes that those who died in the tragedy were only abortionists, atheists, and the like, but we might legitimately wonder whether he must therefore see God’s vengeance as something which, when inflicted, results in great collateral damage. Either this, or, as he indicated, his remarks were “obviously” not reflective of his theological convictions.

In his apology, Falwell wrote, “I do not know if the horrific events of September 11 are the judgment of God, but if they are, that judgment is on all of America—including me and all fellow sinners—and not on any particular group,” adding that he blames “no one but the hijackers and terrorists.” If the former remarks were “obviously” not reflective of his convictions, it seems obvious that at least these remarks are. Yet they reflect the same convictions, to wit, still allowing the possibility that God might be visiting a judgment on all America (yes, “including me”) because of our sins.

This remark is actually more unsettling than the first, for now the truth of the matter becomes clear. Here is a god positively brimming with wrath not merely against abortionists and the like, but against all sinners. Here is a god in whose memory is no recollection of the blood of Christ. Such a god is in this respect more terrifying even than the one imagined in the minds of suicide bombers, for they must console themselves with the thought that at least he isn’t mad at them for their self-sacrifice against the “godless.” In the revealing light of his apology, Falwell’s faux pas now appears to be more than a mere blunder—it discloses a dreadful misunderstanding about the nature of God. Crises will bring out the worst in some

A generation ago conservative Lutherans tended to count conservative Calvinists as theological relatives of a type, because at least we were agreed about the infallibility of the Bible. Perhaps now it can be seen that all conservative alliance that glitters is not gold. For what good is agreement on the authorship of Scripture if we cannot agree on the nature of the Author?

Speaking of the worst, the downside of American freedom of religion is American melting of religion into a pot of mush. The military effort has been aptly renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom,” serving however unintentionally as a double entendre. Freedom is something which endures and something whose consequent backlashes must occasionally be endured. Exhibit one: the prayer service at Yankee stadium on 23 September, in which every imaginable major religion was represented, as Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, Sikhs, and Greek Orthodox stepped up to the plate to offer their prayers. How fitting that the service should be led by Oprah Winfrey, widely recognized as a leading guru of afternoon talk shows driven by the psychology of emotional release, which, of course, was what the afternoon was really all about, under the name of religion. Jesus is here seen standing, as it were, right alongside Muhammad and other false prophets. This amounts to an affirmation of Islam (which has always counted Jesus among its prophets), and a rejection of Christianity, according to the words of St. Peter, who insists that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NKJ).

I suppose that the active participation in the Yankee Stadium farce by the Reverend David Benke, president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s Atlantic District, was fitting in a perverse sort of way, given that the Missouri Synod has these days become a schizophrenic blend of desires on the one hand to give at least lip service to confessional integrity and eagerness on the other to fit in with the ecumenical movement. So there in the midst of representatives of all manner of false religions stood President Benke, making a valiant (and failed) effort to provide just that blend with the prayer he offered, particularly in the portions I have here emphasized:

"O Lord our God, we’re leaning on You today. You are our Tower of Strength, and we’re leaning on You. You are our Mighty Fortress, our God who is a Rock; in You do we stand. Those of us who bear the name of Christ know that You stood so tall when You stooped down to send a Son through death and life to bring us back together, and we lean on You today. O Tower of Strength, be with those who mourn the loss of loved ones; bring them closer to us day by day. O Heavenly Father, we pray at this time that You might extend Jacob’s ladder for those who ascended the stairways to save us, as others escaped the fire and flames. O Tower of Strength,open innocent and victimized hearts to the sacrifice of the Innocent One; pour Your consolation upon the traumatized, especially our children. O Heavenly Father, un-bind, un-fear, un-scorch, un-sear our souls; renew us in Your free Spirit. We’re leaning on You, our Tower of Strength. We find our refuge in the shadow of Your shelter. Lead us from this place—strong—to bring forth the power of Your love, wherever we are. In the precious name of Jesus. Amen."

How subtle is the craft of perversity! Here is a prayer filled with profoundly comforting images of God—Tower of Strength, Mighty Fortress, Rock—and containing clear references to the work and name of Jesus. The appeal to be evangelistic has become so strong among us that urgency has overtaken confessional integrity. How easy it is to reason that it is right to take this wonderful opportunity to bear witness of Jesus, even if the witness itself is peppered with blasphemy.

Yes, blasphemy. To refer to the supplicants as “we,” of whom only some (i.e., “those of us”) “bear the name of Christ” is clearly to imply that the prayers of all here are acceptable, no matter ultimately whether they pray in His name or not, or whether they are baptized in His name or not. Not only does Benke blaspheme the name of Jesus by the prayer, but by his very participation in a festival so shamelessly pagan and universalistic. If he truly regarded Jesus’ name as “precious,” then why would he plant it on equal footing with any and all religions?

Benke may wish to hide behind the idea that this was a once-in-a-lifetime, extraordinary situation requiring great sensitivity and love, but the truth is that nothing could ever be quite so extraordinary that it calls for the endorsement of false religion. Here was an event openly designed to address all the gods who might be present, and there was Benke, knowingly and actively taking part. There is no room here for Jesus’ declaration, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (St. John 14:6 NKJ). One might as well pray to Diana, or Apollo, or Zeus. Imagine the biting sarcasm with which Elijah might have reacted to such a festival, or the wrath of Moses on seeing it. Benke’s banalities about turning a field of dreams “into God’s house of prayer” now come into sharp focus: this may well be so, but the god who is being invoked here could not be the Father who delights only in Jesus. Benke can claim all he wants that he was given permission by other theologians or authorities; but we know that men of integrity do not hide behind the skirts of others.

Regarding those skirts, it would appear that a concerted effort to make political hay over this matter has already been mounted in the synod’s purple towers. A “pastoral” letter of commendation to “President Kieschnick and District President Benke for the strong leadership they have given at this time”—overtly a reference to “compassion and encouragement they have given to the caregivers” but subtly a consideration of Kieschnick’s public support for Benke’s participation in the Yankee Stadium fiasco—is crafted in such a way as to make anyone who might complain at all about Benke appear cold-hearted in these most sensitive of times. Notwithstanding the letter’s claim to have come from “35 District Presidents, 5 Vice Presidents, [and] the President of Synod,” I did not see any signatures, and I expect at least to see some sort of minority report generated in the coming weeks, inasmuch as there are men of integrity in that crowd who have already indicated that they are troubled over the matter, as have several district pastors’ conferences. Whether or not they do, however, false gods are still false gods, no matter who endorses them, and no matter how great an emergency is used to rationalize the worship of them.

What makes the matter worse is that it was three years ago, almost to the day, that Benke’s previous public exercise in unionism took place. On 9 September 1998 he partook in an interfaith ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, which aroused the ire of many within the Synod. On 22 October of that year he issued the following apology:

"My participation in this service was a direct violation of the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions . . . While well-intended, what I did was wrong. I therefore sincerely and publicly apologize to the Synod for my actions in this connection. I assure the Synod that I will not repeat this error in the future by participating as an officiant in ecumenical services."

Given the fact that his current error is even more egregious than the first (now he has gone beyond unionism to syncretism), we must conclude that this is not a man of his word, that he is prone to violate Scripture and the Confessions, that his assurances are meaningless, and that therefore, like Robertson, he is a man not to be trusted. Crises bring out the worst in some people.

America is an historical anomaly, being the first successful experiment in civic republican liberty, though the evolution of this system of government can be traced as far back as the days of the Magna Carta (1297), whose preamble declares certain liberties under law “to the advancement of holy Church, and amendment of our Realm . . . to be kept in our kingdom of England for ever,” the very first of which is “that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have her whole rights and liberties inviolable.” Out of the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries arose the dictum cuius regio, eius religio, allowing that whoever rules a region, his is its religion. But inasmuch as this was intolerable for many who found themselves living in the wrong region, what soon evolved out of this was migration to the New World. The colonies there had been established by Englishmen who brought with them charters patterned after the Magna Carta, charters which guaranteed that they and their heirs would “have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects.” A few generations later, when their heirs raised arms against their mother country, they were fighting not for new freedoms but to preserve liberties that dated to the thirteenth century, freedoms guaranteed by the very monarchy against whom they were now constrained to oppose, as it had by now turned tyrannical. As the Magna Carta had placed even the king beneath the law (with the king’s own consent), so now, the law—in particular, English common law as evolved from the Magna Carta—dictated that their revolution was in truth not a matter of rebellion but of loyalty.

There is a kinship in spirit between that kind of thinking and the thinking of Martin Luther and his followers against the pope and the king, although in their case the loyalty was not to common law, but to the Gospel of Christ. Martin Luther was not a disobedient radical, but ever a loyal son of the Church catholic. The tyranny of the pope had robbed the people of Christ. That tyranny was itself a long time in evolving, and can be traced over hundreds of years of the enlargement of papal power. When the time was ripe for the Reformation, that power had waxed fully perverse, and the children of the Reformation learned that it was necessary for them to disavow the tyranny if they would be faithful to Christ.

It is always dangerous to paint broad historical strokes. Yet what emerges from such strokes can be both compelling and worthy of acceptation. In this case, what emerges is the case for a certain link between the Reformation and the formation of the United States of America. The link is certainly not an identification of one with the other, as we are speaking here of two separate kingdoms, pertaining to the right hand and to the left hand of God. In both cases, however, what has emerged is opposition to tyranny. When the pope placed himself above the Gospel and oppressed the churches, the churches by recourse to the Gospel recognized new bishops; when the king placed himself above the law and oppressed the people, the people by recourse to the law established new government.

This is why America is beautiful. It is not the spacious skies and amber waves of grain that are germane to her beauty, but the fact that God shed His grace on her. Nor is the grace that God shed evident in the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. This grace is preached only in the Gospel, which the law of the land insists must have free course, that it might be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people. The republic’s liberty does not guarantee that the Gospel is preached; it only allows for its preaching. But since this republic does allow for it, we must thank God for the special character of this republic, just as I’m sure Luther and his Saxon friends thanked God for Elector Frederick the Wise. There is
something exceedingly good about America, in spite of all her flaws, and it is not simply her wealth or prosperity. It is the fact that she is free.

Most Americans, it is true, do not know what is most especially glorious about American freedom. Far above all other things, it is that the Gospel may sound forth here unhindered by tyranny. What the pope refused to permit, Lady Liberty insists on permitting. The Lutheran Confessors would gladly have submitted to the pope if only he would allow the Gospel. He did not, so they could not. How bitter was the struggle for their freedom only for this one thing, to have the Gospel. And here we stand, on America’s free soil, not only unhindered by tyranny, but living under a constitution which guarantees perpetual liberty from it.

Twisted results can arise from the failure rightly to understand this.

Falwell and Robertson worry that God is punishing America. I say God continues to bless her. America’s blemishes can be aggravating to us at times, but as much as she permits them to mar her face, so much does she still permit the Gospel. Even the oft-lamented “removal” of God from public school has not hindered our freedom to hear His voice at the church just down the street. Still today we are free in America to confess the blessed name of Jesus, even if it is true that so many Americans don’t.

It is a tragedy, on the other hand, to misinterpret freedom as license to assemble with pagans, as Benke has done. He, by misunderstanding the true nature of both civic and Christian liberty, has squandered the great opportunity America affords him to preach the Gospel.
He surely thought he was taking advantage of an opportunity granted by press coverage and the hype of the moment. He fails to see, then, that by grasping at that elusive opportunity, he misses out on a greater one. Hoping to confess Jesus’ name here, he denied Jesus’ name, for his witness was one of solidarity with people who expressly reject the saving power of that name. Aesop’s dog loses the meal he has in his mouth when he lunges hungrily for the one he sees reflected in the pool beneath him.

For my part, therefore, I will laud patriotism while rejecting all idolatry. I will count all patriots my compatriots, but I will not be partaker with men who deceive with vain words (Ephesians 5:6-7). I will kneel in my church as an American Christian, but I will stand up
in the public square as a Christian American. There will I gladly wave my flag with the rest of America, as I cheer her soldiers on to victory. From childhood I have pledged allegiance to that flag, and to the republic for which it stands; we must always take our vows seriously if we are to retain our integrity. But the flag does not coerce my veneration of it; most gladly do I stand with my hand on my heart when the flag marches by, for I perceive something very good, very blessed, about this nation which transcends the sum of its parts: here my government pledges to me that its purpose is to defend me in my free confession of Christ my Lord. I would, of course, have to confess Him even if the government forbad it, as tyrannical governments often have; how much better a government it is which supports my freedom to have my convictions.

But that goodness, that freedom, is not itself the freedom of the Gospel, and therefore I will not adore the flag or its republic, nor does the flag seek to exact adoration; this one nation is rightly said to be under God, since adoration, as we know, is due only to God Himself: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Therefore I must stand opposed to every infraction of His Second Commandment: You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. My country provides me the freedom thus to stand, confessing the name of Jesus against all who would do it dishonor. For in that name alone is the salvation of the world.

We have all been tested in regard to our loyalties, our character, and our integrity. To different sorts the test is administered in different ways. For some, it is a test of courage in the face of death; for others, a test of confessional integrity in the face of crisis. To whom much is given much is required; that requirement is called up for duty during the times that try men’s souls.

© Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Press 2001

Saturday, September 08, 2007

I'm with Fred

Well, folks, I can't help myself. This is supposed to be primarily a theological blog, etc., but it also gets personal sometimes, as you know. And political here and there, which drives some of you nuts. But that, I believe, is part of what blogs are about, saying what's on your mind. And I have to say, I'm really thrilled about this Fred Thompson guy.

I was toying with the idea of taking an hour drive up to Davenport today to meet him, and I should have, because my son Peter did, and was thoroughly impressed. It was a rather small gathering, as he was en route to New Hampshire. Count me jealous. I should have gone. Nuts.

Fred Thompson is the most exciting candidate for president I've seen since . . . well, since Ronald the Great himself. Finally, another guy who not only gets it, but knows how to communicate it.

You can check out his announcement here.

The planets are aligned perfectly. Nobody's too excited about the Republican lineup, and even less (than nobody?) is excited about the Demoncratic contenders. The field is wide open: people are all kind of jittery about Hillary (Democrats too, I think: they have to know that she's as Machiavellian as they get, and that's scary). People are also less than thrilled about the Republican hopefuls, none of which seems to be, both socially and politically, a true conservative.

Cue Fred on the white horse. Or is that a pickup truck, like the one he used to win in Tennessee? Yes, Tennessee, you know, the state where Al Gore's own energy-guzzling home is. He once won a senate seat there, and handily.

People complain that he upstaged the Republican debate. And I say, So? There are waaay too many debates these days. And as Fred himself said, who's going to say: I like him, but he entered the race too late . . .?

Now it's true that the Wall Street Journal is editorializing that he has to be more than a "populist" candidate, rather implying that that is all he might be. But I think he's the real deal. I've read many interviews, and I've heard him speak. I've studied this guy a bit.

He is, I think, another Great Communicator, which is exactly what we need (something our current President isn't). His acting career will help him, just as was the case with Reagan. He seems to have a knack for knowing how to say what needs to be said, when it needs to be said. I like that a lot.

People are going to like what they see in him, I think. I hope. I envision a campaign making steady gains and overtaking everyone. I envision a Newsweek headline that reads: President Thompson. That would make my day.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Of All the High School Pranks . . .

In Best of the Web, a daily online editorial section of The Wall Street Journal, I ran across a referenced Columbus Dispatch article about a five-star high school prank. There are two high schools in Hilliard, Ohio, and at a recent game between them, a senior from one managed to get squares of construction paper handed out to people sitting in the stands on the other side. They held them up on cue, expecting them to read "Go Darby." But, as the Dispatch reports:

"From across the field, Davidson fans read the actual message:

"We suck."

And it's all caught here on YouTube.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Schönes Deutschland! - V

We were going through photos of our trip to Germany last spring, and I was reminded of the gorgeous pilgrimage church of the "Scourged Savior," a.k.a. the Wies Kirche (the church of the wheatfield). It has a fascinating history and is a breathtaking look at some rococo architecture. For all its lavish decor, it is tasteful and very incarnational in overall impression. And if you want to see this eye-popping church on the inside, you can click here to go to its very own website, and then click on the sidebar where it says "Panoramic View." Some really awesome views.