The Sabre of Boldness was awarded to Rev. Fr. Aaron Moldenhauer, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Beecher, Illinois, on Thursday night, January 17th, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the thirteenth annual Sabre ceremony, sponsored by the editors of Gottesdienst. Fr. Moldenhauer is a recent graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, who for reasons of conscience was compelled to leave the Wisconsin Synod during his vicarage year and colloquize into the Missouri Synod. For this he has endured considerable scorn by many who were close to him. Fr. Moldenhauer was unable to attend the ceremony, but his wife Tabitha was present to receive the award for him.
At the ceremony, Chaplain Jonathan Shaw made preliminary remarks to a banquet room-full of expectant guests, explaining the spirit of the Sabre award, and the courage and integrity it bespeaks. Chaplain Shaw, a Lieutenant Colonel at the Pentagon, is the Sabre of Boldness column editor for Gottesdienst. He introduced Fr. Burnell Eckardt, editor-in-chief, who also made some remarks (printed below) before introducing the eight nominees. He then announced Fr. Moldenhauer as the winner.
[the full list of the eight nominees may be found in the previous post at this blog]
The text of Fr. Eckardt’s speech follows:
Welcome, everyone, to the Sabre of Boldness Ceremony for 2008, the Academy Awards of Confessional Lutheranism. It’s rather daring, I suppose, to say such a thing. Or foolhardy, maybe, since we are not in Hollywood here, nor do we really want to be. You can wear a tux to this event if you want to, or a classy formal dress, but it really isn’t expected. Yet we do admit to having taken some small delight in arranging an annual list of nominees, and then, while everyone waits with bated breath, finally announcing the winner. It may interest you to know that many years ago, the Synodical president was once a nominee, and I dutifully sent off the correspondence apprising him of it, explaining how we choose one from among the nominees. I remember that his personal assistant asked me privately if he could get some advance indication of whether or not his boss was actually going to end up the winner; after all, this is the president of the Synod, and we would have to plan accordingly, and blah blah blah. “I’m very sorry,” I answered cheerily, “but the envelope must remain sealed until award night.” For one brief moment I felt I had power over the President of the Missouri Synod.
At any rate, any comparison to the Academy Awards really ends there, because in virtually every other way this is unlike that event. I would guess, for starters, that the Academy is a tad better known than this is, notwithstanding any illusions Colonel Shaw is probably harboring in his heart. We do occasionally rub shoulders with a guy named Cary Grant, but if his parents really meant to name him after the movie star, they may have been disappointed when he became a Lutheran minister.
That’s how it goes: There really isn’t any glamour involved in being a confessional Lutheran, after all. You don’t get a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and you’ll never drive a Ferrari, since, as we all know, you’d need the salary of a movie star, or a Synodical President, to get that kind of perk.
Moreover, the award you get here is not an Oscar; it’s just a little lapel pin, and your name on the Sabre which is permanently mounted at Peace Lutheran Church in Sussex, Wisconsin.
But actually, as you know, your true trophy isn’t made of gold; it’s made of scars. It’s made of men reviling you and persecuting, and saying all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ’s sake.
And since this is so, there is really no way we can recognize who all of you are. In fact the ones we recognize here tonight, and the one we select, is asked to bear the Sabre for all of you. You unsung warriors, who quietly suffer rejection and pain and sorrow, and the only reason we didn’t nominate you is that we didn’t know about you, and we realize that we have no choice but to be content with a little list that is really a thousand times smaller than it needs to be.
And we also know that if we’re really interested in honoring those who suffer bravely for the name of Jesus, we ought not forget the Christians who suffer real martyrdom and physical persecution all over the world; those who stand up as Christians in Kenya and their homes are burned; they confess the faith in Sudan and get raped; they ally themselves with the Church in North Korea and they get thrown in a vermin-infested prison. They risk everything and often shed their blood in places all around the world, for the sake of Him who was crucified for the world. And all the world owes them immeasurably, for the unspeakable testimony to the world that their martyrdom is.
But for now, we wish to do our small part and recognize those among us who suffer bravely. None of our nominees has faced martyrdom, but the faces of the devil can be just as terrifying when they appear in the form of loss of reputation, or livelihood. Blessed Martin Luther once quipped that the three worst losses a man could endure are his faith, his eye, and his reputation.
And inasmuch as it is our duty to give encouragement and aid where we can to those who suffer such losses, we are pleased and honored to have the opportunity to do so now. The world may despise you, but we salute you. And if even within the churches you find scorn, we should not be surprised; if, say, even your own familiar friend, in whom you trusted, which did eat of your bread, hath lifted up his heel against you. But dare we be ashamed of you? Dare we look askance, as others may do, and wonder what terrible thing you did to gain such grief? May it never be! If we would not think to chide our dear Christ Himself, whom dogs compassed about, how could we do so for those who have had the simple courage to confess Him before men, and so have taken up their crosses?
This, then, is for us a glimmering moment, even if it is too brief. It’s not about the award ceremony, really. It’s about the fact that here we get to see things set right, if only in just this little way, just for a moment, as the battered get some honor, the slandered get some approval, and the maligned get some acclaim. It isn’t much, we know; but we are comforted to know that it is a very small foretaste of the full vindication the little flock of Christ will experience at His Day of Reckoning. I could well imagine singing, on that day, that old hymn once known only to Norwegians:
Despised and scorned they sojourned here; but now how glorious they appear!
Those martyrs stand a priestly band, God’s throne forever near.