Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord

At St. Paul's we have three Christ Masses, partly out of accommodation to the long held Christmas habits of people (hence the 7 pm Christmas Eve), partly out of an awareness that the best of all times to celebrate Christ Mass is at midnight, as the Introit has it, "When all was still and it was midnight, thine Almighty Word, O Lord, descended from the royal throne," and partly because Christmas morning is hardly Christmas morning without Mass (hence the third Christ Mass at 10 am on the 25th).

It's nice for me, actually, to get to approach the incarnation in three separate ways each year, and not think I have to get it all into one sermon. So at the first, I preached the meaning of the angel's message, "Fear not" (here's the audio for the Gospel and sermon). For the second--which always seems to me the most sublime, maybe because it's in the midst of night when all is still--I preached the idea of most important place being Bethlehem and the manger rather than Jerusalem or some other great place, the most significant people being shepherds rather than dignitaries or kings, and how also here and now, the most important place is the Christ Mass, this small and humble place the world likewise does not seem to notice (here's the audio for the Gospel and sermon at Midnight Mass). This morning's Third Christ Mass, whose Gospel is the one in St. John 1 (the Word became flesh), I preached essentially on the fact that "God is great" is not a confession of true faith, whether said by Muslims or by people who like to sing "How Great Thou Art." The real faith is a scandal to people who like to emphasize those things which ought to go without saying (of course God is great; that's not saying anything). It is the fact that God has sullied Himself with the filth of the human race and bound Himself to us for all eternity: "The Word became flesh." That audio is here.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Musing on the Nativity

Here's the radio broadcast for this weekend, for St. Paul's on the Air. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

John Confesses: "I am not the Christ"

The Evangelist's assertion, in St. John 1, that when John the Baptist said "I am not the Christ" it was a confession and not a denial seems odd at first glance, but the Evangelist is emphatic about it, saying it twice. How is it that this is a confession and not a denial? The fact that this is St. John's Gospel is significant, since it is in this fourth Gospel that we have all the "I am" assertions of Jesus. So we have two sides of the faith here: to confess that Jesus is the great I am, the incarnate God, is also be to confess that we cannot arrogate to ourselves merits or righteousness. To say that Jesus is the God who is, the true and only existent God, is also to deny yourself.

Here is the audio of today's sermon (Advent IV).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The poor have the Gospel preached unto them

Another helpful part of the St Matthew 11 Gaudete Gospel is the prophecy regarding the preaching of the Gospel to the poor, a fulfillment of Isaiah's words: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach . . ." Who knew that these words were prophetic? The fact that Jesus preaches in itself designates him as the Coming One. And it behooves us to become the poor, under him; blessed are the poor. Tuesday's sermon may be heard here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

John the Forerunner


The appearance of John the Baptist in every Gospel is a critical ingredient. It provides verification for Christ. John must point Him out, attest to Him, because the prophets had indicate the presence of a forerunner.

So John and Thomas provide important witnesses from two perspectives: John prior to the ministry of Christ, and Thomas afterward. Taken together with the fact that there is not one, but four Gospels; and not one, but twelve apostles, what we have in the Christian religion is a unique demonstration of the truthfulness of it.

Compare Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, or any other religion, and you will not find in any this kind of proof. No wonder: Jesus alone is the truth. All the others are false. Not only so, but the record of Jesus is alone in providing the kind of documentation needed for verification.

Thus we have cause for rejoicing indeed, and on Gaudete the Third Sunday in Advent we may repeat the Introit with gusto: "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice."

Here is yesterday's sermon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Signs of the Times?


I grow weary of the inevitable interpretations of earthquakes, hurricanes, and various weather phenomena as indications that now, really now, we are beginning to see the signs of the end of all things approaching. The reasoning runs like this: Jesus said there'd be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and the waves, and men's hearts failing them from fear, etc., and now we can see that beginning to happen, so in this early 21st century we can see his prediction coming true. The trouble is that such interpretations of the weather have never been in short supply. Pick your century: 20th? Plenty of apocalyptic warnings there, that there's an increase of hurricanes and whatnot, which means that the end is near. The 17th? I think there were even two major prophecies bandied about by fringe groups in Europe pertaining to the last day: one said, I think 1669, and when that didn't happen, it was revised to 1699. The 16th? Luther himself has an Advent sermon in which he points to an increase of meteorological events as evidence that the end was near. And let's not forget the 14th: the great Plague which wiped out a third of Europe was almost universally seen as a sign that the end was near (and in a way, for many it was). Speaking of plagues, there was another in, what, the sixth century? And on top of the plague came this great earthquake in Italy. It was so bad the pope called for a grand procession of mourners.

So I'd say it's only the historically uninformed who might be convinced that now, today, there are lots of eclipses, earthquakes, tidal waves, etc. which we've never seen before. Well frankly, we have too.

In fact we saw them in Jerusalem, in AD 70: there was a great upheaval of the established order of things (nation rising against nation), Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel wiped out--and if you take the "sun" and "moon" and "stars" in Jesus' Lukan discourse on this in an apocalyptic rather than literal fashion, you might see fit to interpret them in much the same way as Joseph interpreted his dream about the same heavenly bodies, and see the fulfillment of this discourse in the obliteration of Israel; in short, Jesus' warning can be seen as having been fulfilled by AD 70; in fact he referenced "this generation" as not passing away till all be fulfilled.

So the end is near, surely. It has been near for two thousand years.

And in addition, the reason for these signs can be taken as an added warning to the words of Jesus, "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighted down." And if dreadful phenomena served to highlight his words for those people, perhaps we can begin also to understand why dreadful things in our own lives serve to highlight his warnings to us. This is why troubling things happen to God's people: he is warning them, he is driving them back to himself, back to their knees, back to his altar, to his word, to his Supper, to faith.

Here's the audio of a sermon on this, from the Second Sunday in Advent.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Out of the Barn


The sleigh is loaded down, the reindeer are harnessed, and the bags of goodies are on their way: Gottesdienst is out of the barn, and coming to a mailbox near you. Ho, ho ho!

Unless, of course, you have not subscribed. To correct that error, click here, and Santa will be glad to drop by your house too.

Here's a recommendation: St. Nicholas' Day is December 6, so in honor of that, and as a treat to yourself (or a friend), as we suggested, click here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hosanna to the Son of David


The crowds lining the streets of Jerusalem hailed their king, as they spread their garments in the way, and on the First Sunday in Advent we remember that at every Feast of the Sacrament we join them, echoing their song with the words of the Sanctus. We spread our garments in his way, in which are wrapped all of our fears, sorrows, sins, troubles, and ailments. His beast treads on them all,as he goes the way of the cross to redeem us from them all.

Advent is surely a time of penitential sorrow as we prepare our hearts to receive Christ, but it is also a time of great expectation and joy. For between his first coming and his second advent, he comes right now into our midst in this blessed feast, and we receive him, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet, "I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts."

(as an aside, I wonder and grieve over the many churches who still cannot see fit to celebrate the Holy Supper every Lord's Day, particularly on this day when hear in the Holy Gospel of the first utterance of those words which so brilliantly appear in our Sanctus. How could they not?)

Christ's coming is threefold: in the past, to be born in Bethlehem, in the future, as a return in glory, and in the present, in the Holy Sacrament. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Here's the audio
of today's sermon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The ten virgins


The parable of the wise and foolish virgins is the Gospel for the Last Sunday after Trinity, which is highlighted well by the queen of chorales, "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying." We discussed it on our radio show, set for airing Sunday. For regular weekly downloads of that show, check out www.stpaulsontheair.blogspot.com. But for a sampling, here is Sunday program, and the sermon preached:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Testing again . . .

Here goes another try at uploading an audio file. This is this Sunday's and this morning's (Tuesday) sermons, both on St. Matthew 25.31-46.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

By the work worked


Of course I know what Luther was getting at when he assailed the Romanist ex opera operato error. His chagrin over the peasants who thought they could be saved from the wrath of God without faith, if only they gave indulgences, or if only the mass was performed for them, is pretty well known. Sort of reminds me of that old Star-Trek episode in which some extra-terrestrial is having Kirk and Spock over for dinner, and, in place of saying grace, he has some Hindu-ish guy come in and hit a gong. Sure, that counts, doesn't it? Well, I think that's the kind of mischief Luther had in mind when he decried ex opera operato -- by the work worked -- and insisted instead that the means of grace are to be understood instead as opera operantis -- works working and producing faith.

Right, agreed.

On the other hand it seems to me there's also a kind of mischief that obtains if we go into apoplexy any time a hint of ex opera operato is sniffed, because there is a way in which this phrase may be understood as having a proper and salutary meaning.

The power of the sacraments is not effected by faith; it is received by faith. And there's a huge difference. For if the former were true, then I would have to wonder about my faith, whether it was sufficient to do the trick, and I would be depending upon how reflexive my faith was, and, in the end, would be resting my salvation on something in me, namely my believing, rather than on something in Christ, namely His grace.

I was thinking about this as I visited a shut-in today, who was fretting over the fact that she couldn't remember anything, that her memory wasn't serving her well. And I assured her that what matters is that her Lord remembers her.

This got me thinking about the Sacrament, and about doing it "in remembrance" of Him. A recent issue of Gottesdienst has a great article by Chaplain Jonathan Shaw about the matter of who is chiefly to be thought of as doing the remembering there: Christ. Just as the angel of death saw the blood on the Israelites' doorposts, and it was the angel that did the remembering, and so passed over their houses, so also it is God who remembers the meaning of the blood of Christs which He sees, as it were, on our doorposts, and His judgment passes over.

And I got to musing, now there's a salutary way to think of ex opera operato: the Israelites were all spared by virtue of the blood on their doorposts. And this is a token of the effect of the Sacrament on us. While affirming that in the case of the Sacrament faith is requisite on our part, we must also declare that what we believe to be happening here is that it is God who is seeing the Blood, and it is He who is doing the remembering. We are saved by the work which Christ worked.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Abomination of Desolation


There are probably about as many interpretations of St. Matthew 24 as there are interpreters, but that shouldn't stop us from taking a stab at it, particularly when it is the assigned Gospel (for the second Sunday of All Saints Tide), and especially if one believes that the parenthetical "let the reader understand" is an exhortation from the Evangelist meant for the one who is publicly reading this Gospel to provide an understanding for the hearers.

So here goes:

The abomination of desolation has something to do with the approach of Titus and the Roman armies -- frankly I can't figure out exactly what it is, but perhaps that doesn't matter so much -- and the indication that the Christians of ad 70 would have known precisely what it was, enough so that they all saw fit to flee Jerusalem, before the siege was laid to it.

According to the old Lutheran agendas, I read from the historical account of the destruction of Jerusalem today, a gruesome and despicable history which chronicles the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction in the first part of this Gospel.

What's interesting is that the second part of it is clearly about the Day of Judgment; hence, there is a blending of Jerusalem in ad 70 with the End of all things.

This is because Jesus was a prophet (He was the Prophet, actually), and as such, He did what all prophets do, gave a microcosm of the ultimate fulfillment of His prophecy within the immediate context of His first hearers. So when the microcosm occurs, or, as it were, the 'down-payment' on the final fulfillment, that is, when the 'type' is fulfilled, then that which it typifies or foretells may be the more confidently believed.

So therefore, since Jerusalem was destroyed in ad 70, and since this is a matter of record, therefore it is clear that the End of all things shall indeed come to pass.

So what, then is our abomination of desolation? It's hard to make definitive conclusions, but one thing is certain: when Christian worship is being replaced by entertainment and dance floors, this comes pretty close to being abominable. And when those guilty of perversion and sexual immorality are now being consecrated to serve at the altar, this is an absolute abomination. It is indicative of the desert-land that so many churches have become.

And so let us in our day 'flee to the mountains'-- let us run to the cross -- and let us as eagles be gathered around the Body of Christ.

Here's the audio:

Friday, November 06, 2009

On Semper Virgo


Rev. Eric Brown brought up a helpful discussion over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds on the semper virgo--the question whether the Blessed Virgin Mary remained virgin all her life--when he asked for the theological reasons and ramifications of it for those who believe it. He was not interested in proof-texts or other arguments for or against; he merely wanted to know what sort of significance it held in the theological scheme. So I chimed in. I decided to cross post my response here. If you want to get the full discussion on the matter, check there. But here's what I said:

Semper virgo ultimately has to do with coming to terms with the fact of the Incarnation. Here's what I mean: generally--though not in every case--it seems to obtain that among people who reject semper virgo there is a corresponding view that the BVM was nothing really unique. She is given the nod as the mother of Jesus, even (grudgingly) the mother of God, but these are merely names, and anyone can live with names.

What I find particularly helpful among medieval and early meditations on the Virgin--although there are excesses--is evidence of an eagerness to grapple with the reality of the miracle of Christ's conception in her womb. This eagerness is something I sense has been lost on us.

Luther similarly opines somewhere that there is great gain to be had from meditation on the term "Mother of God."

The fact is that Mary is unique. The miracle that happened within her was a sharp and singular break from the ordinary manner of human reproduction. This miracle was enacted upon her flesh, resulting in the Incarnation of God within her. She became the vessel for Him who holds heaven and earth, and it was of her flesh that He partook. This is something that really cannot be parsed and analyzed as much as it can be wondered at. At such moments we must become more inclined simply to revere and adore than merely to understand.

And this reality means that she is no ordinary vessel any longer. Something has really and verifiably changed: the nativity of our Lord is an incontrovertible verification of the miracle.

Since this is so, it seems to me that the whole Church--including, incidentally, Joseph--must set this vessel apart from all others on earth.

She is the Holy Grail. One does not use the Holy Grail to drink milk or beer.

I would think that of all people struck by this reality, Joseph would have to be first. Remember also doubting Joseph, how it was necessary for the intervention of an angel to correct him on this matter. Would he not become reticent about taking this vessel into his chamber for common use? No law forbade it, but that's not the issue: she has become the theotokos. That changes things, really and physically.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Fear Not, Little Flock

I'll try another sermon post, to see if I can get this thing working. I don't even know when this one was preached, or remember what I said. But here it is, St. Luke 12, "Fear not, little flock":

Sunday, November 01, 2009

What about the Missing Tribes?


Here's a riddle:

I noticed something during the reading of the passage from the Apocalypse for All Saints' Day this morning (Revelation 7:1-17), in which twelve thousand are numbered from each of twelve tribes of Israel.

The tribes listed by name don't correspond actually to the twelve tribes of Israel. Recall first that the tribe of Levi didn't get a land assignment, being the priests, so the tribe of Joseph was divided into Ephraim and Manasseh, his two sons, thus bring the total to twelve. But in the naming of tribes in this reading, we have Levi listed, as well as Joseph, and Manasseh. Thus two tribes are left out: Dan and Ephraim.

So, how come?

SS Simon and Jude

This sermon is from a few days ago; just posting it to see if it works.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fox and Bias


The idea that any news network could be entirely fair and balanced is pure myth, as everyone should know; just as the idea that any person could be entirely fair and balanced is fantasy. We all have our opinions, and they always will part of the formation of how we behave, no matter who we are. So the emotionless, detached reporter or news anchor who implies by his demeanor that he is really just reporting, is hiding something about himself. Of course. The degree to which we think he succeeds in keeping his own opinion out of his reporting is rightly seen as one barometer by which we adjudge him. But we'd be foolhardy to suppose that degree is not always part of the judgment. Walter Cronkite convinced the President of the United States that the Vietnam War was a lost cause largely because of his success in this endeavor. People believed him just because he sounded objective and believable, even if in fact he wasn't.

Nobody is every purely objective.

So the claims of Fox News to be fair and balanced, or to be letting "you decide" what "we report" ought not be entirely believed. Prudence dictates that we be circumspect about all such claims.

And yet for all its faults, I do watch Fox, if for no other reason than that they are willing to report what the other networks won't. Of course they're out for profit, just like the other ones; and of course they have a particular perspective, just like the others; they're biased too. But then, so am I. So is everyone. And, like everyone, I prefer hearing someone who shares my bias to hearing someone who doesn't, though occasionally I'll flip to the others to hear another perspective.

But there's something else. I remain convinced that there is an important difference between the grudging reporting of unfavorable news with a spin than choosing not to report it at all. The other networks--the Mainstream Media--have in recent years become rather notorious for this, for not reporting at all the kind of thing they don't like. That's dangerous and foolish, and is the kind of thing Pravda became known for, for doing routinely.

Fox chooses to leave stuff out too, of course, especially foreign news (a pet peeve of mine, which applies to all the networks), but it seems to me that they're not guilty of making these decisions on the basis of worry about how it will influence people.

And now the Obama Administration has tried to ostracize Fox, charging that it is less than a news network, and even threatening to remove it from the reporter pool. To their credit, the other networks balked at this, and ABC's Jake Tapper questioned the Press Secretary about it. Perhaps it's beginning to look to them like the pure Chicago-style bullying that it is, and I for one am pleased that it has helped Fox's ratings.

My guess is that it was mostly meant to plant longer-term doubts in peoples' minds about Fox, but I doubt the strategy will work. What I'd love to see is that as an unintended result the other networks begin to be more forthcoming with news they don't like.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Did You Know? Cremation is Unchristian

(November 2009 St. Paul's Newsletter article)

From time to time it’s necessary to expose the unchristian elements of society which masquerade as Christian.

Among the more successful of such masqueraders is the practice of cremating the dead. A recent District Pastors’ Conference dealt with this topic in some detail, and I thought it might be good to recount here some of the discussion.

The origin of cremation is unques-tionably pagan. It is no secret to historians that the practice of crema-tion has been prevalent in many pagan societies dating back to 2000 BC, and remains a major practice associated with disposing of dead bodies among the Hindus and others to this day.

But contrast, the people of Israel never engaged in it, in spite of its use by nearby nations. The burials of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives are recorded in Genesis. Joseph’s burial is recorded in the last verse of Genesis. The burial of Moses by the LORD Himself is recorded in the final chapter of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 34).

So also in the New Testament, burial is assumed to be the proper means of treating the bodies of the dead. The body of John the Baptist was buried by his disciples (St. Mark 6:29), and the burial of Lazarus is well known, for Jesus called him out of the tomb (St. John 11). The graves of many saints are mentioned in St. Matthew 27. There is not a single instance of cremation of an Israelite or Christian throughout all of Scripture, in spite of the widespread prevalence of the practice elsewhere.

The incarnation of our Lord is at the heart of the Christian religion, and His sanctification of human flesh by His own union with it is at the heart of Christian respect for the body. The bodies of all saints have been honored by virtue of the fact that Jesus is God in the flesh.

Upon Jesus’ own death, the women bought spices to anoint Him, determined even in their grief to treat His holy body with dignity. His bodily resurrection from the dead is all the more reason to count the body as a sacred thing.
St. Paul consequently enjoins us, saying, your body is “the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” I Cor. 6:19), and therefore exhorts, “Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Cor. 6:20). This certainly applies to the respect for which our bodies should be treated even after our souls have left them, and is the reason the Christian Church has historically forbidden cremation.

Only in very recent years have any Christian churches permitted cremation. Until the twentieth century, in all of Christendom cremation was strictly forbidden.
Some people today think cremation is an acceptable way to deal with the bodies of the dead for several reasons. These reasons should be considered and answered.

First, cremation tends to be cheaper, and so, the reasoning goes, it’s less burdensome on loved ones who remain.

Second, people say life is spiritual, and what’s spiritual about a dead body? Who needs it?

Third, bodies decay over time, and eventually end up just like ashes anyway, so, they say, what’s the difference?

And finally, people reason that the earth will run out of room for burying the dead.
These objections might be well-intentioned, but they are ill-informed.

The reference to savings of money is nothing new, and we recall the scorn with which the woman was treated who anointed Jesus with expensive ointment which “might have been sold for more than three hundred pence, and have been given to the poor” (St. Mark 14:5). Just as our offerings are in part used to honor our place of worship, so we ought to be willing to provide funds for the proper treatment of the bodies of Christians.

Secondly, “spiritual” Christian life does not mean anti-material. After all, the Christian faith is centered in the union of heaven and earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is improper to think of material substance as inherently evil.

Third, the fact that bodies decay over time does not provide us with reason to dishonor them.

Finally, any funeral director can tell you that there is abundance of room for proper burials; the notion that we’ll run out of space is not informed by actual statistics.

So when you plan to consider your own funeral, be sure above all that you do not agree to cremation. Though many have agreed to it in the past, and may have done so in complete ignorance of these matters, it is better to be well-informed and to let your faith be guided by the best in Christian tradition. Always remember the dignity of the human body. Always say no to cremation.

In fact, the best of Christian burial traditions includes having the funeral at the church, the very place where the Christian received the body of Christ.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mmm mmm mmm



By now we've all heard the creepy song the New Jersey schoolchildren have been programmed to sing about our president. I paid closer attention to the words today, and found something even creepier in them:

"Red and yellow, black and white,
All are equal in his sight"

That, as most baby boomers know, is a song about Jesus, who

". . . loves the little children,
All the children of the world,
Red and yellow, black and white
they are precious in his sight"

A generation ago I would not have had to point this out, since virtually everyone knew the source of those words. But today? Certainly those children can hardly be expected to know.

So we have yet another blatant attempt to make Obama into Jesus in the minds of little children. The bare words of that chant now have the children thinking that all these different people are considered in Obama's sight.

And to boot this new savior does not count everyone as "precious" as the original lyrics would have it, but "equal," as in the equalizing mind of Karl Marx, "From each according to their ability to each according to their need."

I'm telling you, this is getting on beyond politics. This is not-so-subtle attack on the Christian faith. There is a new savior, and there is a new religion.

Or am I overreacting? Mmm, mmm, mmm . . .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

How to Cook Brats and Where to Eat Them



The how is explained below. The where is at Oktoberfest: St. Paul's, Kewanee, Illinois, tomorrow night.

Sheboygan-style bratwurst are to be cooked slowly over an open grill, which means the fire ought not be too hot, and they must be turned frequently, to minimize breakage of the skins. They are cooked enough so that they become firm and dark. Not too little, lest they be squishy; not too much, lest they burn.

They are soaked in beer and butter after they are grilled, not before. This enhances their presentation, and it adds a little to their flavor, of course. The beer should not be boiling, only warm.

The brats are best eaten on Sheboygan hard rolls, which are very difficult to obtain if you're not in Sheboygan, or you haven't had them shipped.

Well, we did. And we cooked the brats today per the instructions above.

They are ready.

We are ready.

Oktoberfest is next up. Sunday, October 11, at 5 pm is the choral vespers, and the bratwurst dinner follows. Et cetera. It's still not to late to register. For crying out loud, just register when you get here, we'll have enough. Just come. $25 per person, $40 per couple. Starting Sunday night, running till Tuesday. Details here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Oktoberfest! This Weekend!

As I was saying (and it's not too late to register) . . .

The Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest and Third Annual Liturgical Seminar will take place BEGINNING THIS SUNDAY at St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois.

October 11-13, 2009 (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

Conference theme: Not a Matter of Indifferent Things

Log on at www.liturgyseminar.blogspot.com to register.

This year we are pleased to welcome as our guests the two men who have most recently joined the staff of Gottesdienst as our online editors.

Reverend Frs. Heath Curtis and Rick Stuckwisch will be joining us for a discussion of the Divine Liturgy of the Church, to provide their insights on the questions which arise in connection with the ongoing debates concerning why certain styles and elements may or may not be counted as permissible in worship, and what is at stake in the worship wars of the 21st century. Fr. Curtis is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, Illinois, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Illinois, and Fr. Stuckwisch is pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church, South Bend, Indiana.

Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. is our Autumn Choral Vespers, followed by our annual bratwurst banquet (if you haven’t had our award-winning Sheboygan brats, it’s high time you did!).

On Monday morning, following Holy Mass at 9:30, the seminar runs until 3:15 p.m. the following questions are on the table for discussion by our guests:

“So what's negotiable and what isn't, in worship?"
“Nothing is an adiaphoron in a state of confession: meaning what, exactly?"
“Is Gottesdienst adiaphora? Of course not, but why not?"

Tuesday, October 13 (Liturgical Seminar)

On Tuesday, matters raised in the Monday discussions will be considered further in a roundtable liturgical seminar designed to seek uniformity in our worship practices. Informed Lutheran clergy are particularly invited to provide input and exchange of ideas, although all are invited to stay for the day.

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents. Register here.

Questions? Send an email.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More Bragging Rights


John graduates from Air Force boot camp at Lackland AFB in San Antonio. We're going down there for the ceremony, which everyone says is really awesome.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bragging Rights




Youngest Eckardt adds to family golf tradition at KHS


By Mike Landis
Sports front page article from the Kewanee Star Courier, September 18, 2009


Kewanee, Ill. -

Scan the Kewanee High School golf results over the last decade or so and chances are an Eckardt was playing a prominent role in the team’s success.

That family tradition continues in 2009 as junior Michael Eckardt has emerged as the Boilers’ No. 1 player.

Eckardt nearly won the program’s first-ever Kewanee Invitational tournament Saturday, firing 77 at Baker Park to finish a shot out of the top spot. He eventually placed fourth, losing a scorecard playoff for third, but still played well enough to earn the Star Courier’s Athlete of the Week nod.

Michael is youngest of five Eckardt brothers to play golf for the Boilers. The eldest, Burnie, ran cross country for Kewanee but the next five — Andy, Peter, John, Joey and now Michael — have all played golf at KHS.

“It didn’t come from my parents,” said Michael when asked how the family golf tradition began. He credits Andy with infecting the Eckardt boys with the golf bug.

For the full story, click here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Testing . . .


A mild request:

Is my blog feed ok?

If you're reading this, perhaps you'd be so kind as to reply with a brief "ok," or, as Sean Connery would say, "One ping only."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire


It's really rather remarkable: both sides in the health care debate are openly declaring each other to be lying. The President addresses the nation and charges that his opponents spout "bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost." Without mentioning Sarah Palin by name, he decries "prominent politicians" whose allegations are "a lie, plain and simple." (The full text of the President's speech may be read here.)

During the selfsame address, we heard an Rep. Joe Wilson blurt out his now famous "You lie!" for which he was obliged to apologize 787 billion times to date.

So the President calls his opponents liars, and they (immediately) call him a liar.

And of course, we know that all men are liars, as the Psalmist declares, but the real question before us is whether either of these sides is actually lying, as the other side claims.

Hard to say, but there is this: if the President isn't lying, then he's pretty lousy at math, with his claim that "if we are able to slow the growth of health care costs by just one-tenth of 1 percent each year -- one-tenth of 1 percent -- it will actually reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the long term," unless by long term he meant 16,000 years. (HT: George Copeland, www.examiner.com.)


And secondly, about those poor folks he highlighted who were in the midst of cancer therapy when the evil insurance companies pulled the plug on them causing their deaths? Well, it turns out that's not true either, as Scott Harrington scrupulously detailed in an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

And what of Sarah Palin's "lie"? Here's her pre-speech rebuttal, and it's pretty convincing: "Many Americans . . . made themselves heard, and as a result Congress will likely reject a wrong-headed proposal to authorize end-of-life counseling in this cost-cutting context. But the fact remains that the Democrats' proposals would still empower unelected bureaucrats to make decisions affecting life or death health-care matters. Such government overreaching is what we've come to expect from this administration." (her full op-ed is here).

It's time to check the facts, I'd say. Charges of prevarication are serious ones, often hard to prove (and therefore worthy of reticence in making), but truthfulness is sometimes not difficult to ascertain.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nothing Ever Really Matters Very Much

I was thinking of this sage advice of my mother tonight at mass. I don't remember when, exactly. Maybe one of the hymns got me thinking. It's so easy to think that your plans for the future will bear fruit, and because of that, you'll have a life on easy street at some point. But then--yeah, it must have been the hymn--trouble could come and ruin your plans and leave you in trouble. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

So I got to thinking, maybe it's best to think, "we're going to die." That's the truth, isn't it? We're going to die. So why not get used to the idea. And go to the altar, for that's the way to prepare for death, and that's really the only thing that matters. Nothing else really does.

That's life. Here I see that Petersen has some great advice for pastors starting out, along these lines, which reminded me of what I was thinking just an hour or so earlier.

Laying plans if fine, as far as it goes, but let's not get carried away.

Nothing matters, really, nothing at all . . . except being with Christ; and, as it happens, when you're at that altar, that's where you are.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Oktoberfest is just 32 days away

The Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest and Third Annual Liturgical Seminar will take place at St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois, October 11-13, 2009 (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

Conference theme: Not a Matter of Indifferent Things.

For more info, click here. Go ahead, click.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Here's Another One, on St. Mary Magdalene


Still a little behind (better than being a big behind), I'll put this sermon up, on St. Mary Magdalene's Day. A few weeks ago, I mused on who she was, but didn't post any audio file of the sermon. Here it is:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Your Value

Here's an attempt to return to putting occasional audio files of sermons up on my blog. This is a sermon preached sometime this summer, probably on a Tuesday morning, on St. Matthew 10: "Fear not . . . Ye are of more value than many sparrows."

The Prophetic Voice of David


We were looking at 2 Samuel 16 this morning, and the question came up--for the second time, actually--why there is no reference to any prophet during the time of David. Nathan came to him the one time, when he sinned with Bathsheba, but after that, nothing. Why is this?

There is a related matter, pertaining to the Psalter, and, for that matter, to the books of Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and the Proverbs. These books are written by kings, not prophets. They are royal. When David speaks, his voice is prophetic, though he was a king.

In this we see how David foretells Christ, in his very office. Where has Nathan gone? He has decreased, in token of the way John the Baptist decreases when Jesus' ministry begins. For Jesus is the King of the Jews, and yet he is greater than all the prophets, speaking the oracles of God.

The prophetic voice of David betokens the coming of Jesus the Son of David, who is himself the Word, and whose voice is the living voice of God.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The ELCA and Gays

In our weekly radio program, St. Paul's on the Air, we discuss the recent decision of the ELCA in convention to admit practicing gays onto their clergy roster. It's the last program on the list below, PCR 60, to air on our local radio station on Sunday, August 30, and to be podcast at Pirate Christian Radio the following Wednesday at 7:30 CDT.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Broken Houses and Broken Homes

As we were walking the dog through a part of town not too far from our house the other day, I was struck by the number of run-down dwellings I saw. Our own neighborhood is in pretty good shape, but you don't have to walk far to get to some residences in serious want of home improvement. Paint worn off, sagging roofs, rotting wood; people sitting on their front porches quite likely because, we surmised, the living conditions outside were preferable to those within.

I don't know the people who live in any of those homes, nor of the circumstances that drove them to these houses, so my opining here could not be, and should not be seen as, a diatribe against any of them in particular. Nor, for that matter, should the label I have chosen for this post be taken as a criticism of any of them in particular.

But I do know that there is a large percentage of residents in this town who are living out of wedlock, and raising children in broken homes. And it occurred to me (yet again) that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between immorality and trouble.

Trouble sometimes comes, to be sure, without that particular cause; sometimes trouble comes as a result of faithfulness, as so many faithful have come to know all to well. Persecution is, for instance, that kind of trouble. John the Baptist was beheaded because of the immorality of others; and Jesus Himself was crucified as a spotless Lamb. And sometimes trouble comes simply as a trial for life, as in the case of Job. Cause-and-effect does not allow us logically to work back from effect to cause; that would be the classic post hoc fallacy.

On the other hand, where there is a cause, one can expect an effect. The law of God was not meant to be flaunted and ignored, and where it is, one can expect trouble to ensue, sooner or later. In some cases "later" can even mean after death, as in the case of the rich man who ignored Lazarus.

All those important asterisks to the side, what occurred to me on that walk was the likelihood of cause and effect in this case: children have sex outside of marriage; unmarried girls get pregnant and have babies (or abortions, which of course is worse); new and unprepared mothers suddenly find themselves unable to get an education or a good job; broken families bear the strain of insufficient finances; squalor spreads.

Just today I read an article in the latest issue of National Review point to the very same thing. "Five Decades of Crisis," by Duncan Currie, documents "the persistent, alarming link between illegitimacy and poverty," with some pretty convincing statistics that point to what ought to be self-evident: unstable homes "poison family environments" leading to a perpetuation of poverty-stricken generations.

Currie's conclusion: "The nonmarital-birth crisis is, well, as crisis--one that has unfolded in slow motion over the past five decades, with tragic consequences."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Announcing the Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest and Third Annual Liturgical Seminar

The Fourteenth Annual Oktoberfest and Third Annual Liturgical Seminar will take place at St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Kewanee, Illinois, October 11-13, 2009 (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday)

Conference theme: Not a Matter of Indifferent Things

This year we are pleased to welcome as our guests the three men who have most recently joined the staff of Gottesdienst as our online editors.

Reverend Frs. Heath Curtis, Larry Beane, and Rick Stuckwisch will be joining us for a discussion of the Divine Liturgy of the Church, to provide their insights on the questions which arise in connection with the ongoing debates concerning why certain styles and elements may or may not be counted as permissible in worship, and what is at stake in the worship wars of the 21st century. Fr. Curtis is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, Illinois, and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Illinois; Fr. Beane is pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, Louisiana; and Fr. Stuckwisch is pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church, South Bend, Indiana.

Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. is our Autumn Choral Vespers, followed by our annual bratwurst banquet (if you haven’t had our award-winning Sheboygan brats, it’s high time you did!).

On Monday morning, following Holy Mass at 9:30, the seminar runs until 3:15 p.m. the following questions are on the table for discussion by our guests:

“So what's negotiable and what isn't, in worship?"
“Nothing is an adiaphoron in a state of confession: meaning what, exactly?"
“Is Gottesdienst adiaphora? Of course not, but why not?"

Tuesday, October 13 (Liturgical Seminar)

On Tuesday, matters raised in the Monday discussions will be considered further in a roundtable liturgical seminar designed to seek uniformity in our worship practices. Informed Lutheran clergy are particularly invited to provide input and exchange of ideas, although all are invited to stay for the day.

REGISTRATION: $25 per person (students $20) $40 per couple — includes Sunday banquet and Monday continental and luncheon; no charge for children with parents.

Log on at www.liturgyseminar.blogspot.com for details and to register.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town Hell Part III

Guess what? The little brush fires that were town hall meetings have been fanned into a national health care inferno. What's stunning to me is that it is the Democrats who did the fanning. They called the meetings "orchestrated" (they aren't), they called them unamerican (honestly, isn't this quintessentially American?), and they dug in their heels. Just made people madder.

And now, we're getting a delicious report of some real and documented orchestration on the part of the Obama people. Here's a woman claiming to be a doctor in support of Obamacare:

Well, she's no doctor at all; she's a bald-faced liar! And to boot, she's an Obama delegate, with an Obama campaign volunteer sitting right behind her in the room. Read all about it at Lone Star Times.com. Go ahead, follow the link; it's hilarious.

No wonder the President's approval ratings have sunk below 50% and continue in free-fall; and no wonder Pat Toomey has a double digit lead on Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania polls.

By the way, I heard Mr. Toomey speak last fall. He's brilliant, and he's on our side, in spite of the misrepresentation of his views the press is giving him. Keep an eye on him.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Woodstock's 40th


I was a lad when it happened, and the political and social implications of it went way over my head. I just liked the music that was wafting over the airwaves back in the day. Woodstock, held between August 15 and 19, 1969, was a watershed event, a pinnacle of the revolutionary fervor that was sweeping across the youth culture of this nation. The reverberations of that fervor are still being felt today.

Aside from the music, free love was at the heart of that event, and today, free love has been translated into the destruction of marriage. Like Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, marriage has been abandoned and left weeping, her face wet with tears. Marriage is in ruins, and the result of that is misery for millions.

Strangely, the music of Woodstock did not really portend or bespeak much of that at all. Take a look at the schedule: much of the music was rather tame by current standards. Frankly, it was just good music, but perhaps since it was so different from the pops and big bands of the parents in 1969, it became a token of the rebellion against all things traditional.

It's all rather odd, since forty years prior to that, music had already been shifting rather radically. Jazz and soul music was first seen as rebellious (certainly by the people who attended the southern Baptist churches whose style it borrowed); much of the music to which people danced new dances in the 1920s was seen as rebellious by the parents in the 1920s.

So in a sense we may mark the onset of another new generation this summer, but it doesn't seem to be so rebellious to me. Things have changed. Perhaps (hopefully) a more pensive culture is wondering if maybe their parents got it wrong.

As an aside, there is a bit of a rebellion going on right now, but in a way it's against the rebellious, and only time will tell its course. The rebellion, on parade in town halls across the country, is against the sweeping, wholesale kind of "reform" the government seems to be foisting upon the people. Elderly people, interestingly, are a centerpiece of it. Whether that's a true groundswell or not remains to be seen.

In terms of music, there are some fascinating differences between 2009 and 1969. The youth of today still listen to the music of their 60's parents, and often find it preferable to their own. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that rap is out, and rock is back in. Certainly there is a resurgence of the jazz band (I'm in one, in fact), playing the big band music of two generations ago. Not sure if this means anything significant, but I hope so. I hope it means the rebellion has run its course; I hope the gender-mocking, sex-celebrating, cross-dressing, marriage-mangling culture is beginning to be pushed to the fringe; I hope that millions of our children will not suffer from the lack of fathers and families from which so many of our day now suffer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Town Hell Part II


I had a scary thought about all this. The current bill has some pretty outlandish things in it, as I'm sure everyone--everyone--knows. Giving the Federal Government access to all bank accounts, forcing seniors to get counsel on dying with dignity, etc. These things are ridiculous, and, as anyone could easily expect, are just the kind of things that would get people up in arms. Looky here: people are up in arms! Surprise!

Well, those congressmen aren't stupid. They surely knew this was going to happen. So here's my worry. What if they put those utterly outrageous things in there for one reason only: so that after the outrage burst out, they could go back and remove them and then say, See, we compromised for you! And then, voila, Federal Health Care becomes law, just as they planned in the first place.

Oh, do I hope it fails.

And by the way, this notion that "you can keep your own health care plan if you want to" is so bogus that I wonder who can believe it. Listen, you can't keep it if it goes out of business, which it will.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Town Hell

I must admit to having a little schadenfreude over the Democrats' consternation arising from the turmoil developing at their little town hall events. These are a sight to behold. And when they and their allies in the press say they're 'orchestrated' it makes it all the more ironic, not to say hypocritical. Talk about orchestrated! Isn't that what ACORN was all about, orchestrating? Man, this is fun to watch.

But seriously, I am really, really hoping and praying this healthcare thing fails. We know what 'wonders' huge government bureaucracies produce. Every last one of them is a nightmare, with mountains of red tape. It's no surprise to me that there are long waiting lines for surgery and procedures in Canada and England.

And if the pharmaceutical companies lose their incentive to do research (which would happen), guess what? Research ebbs.

And when they cut funding for clinical trials (which would happen), that spells death to people who may find that their only hope would be clinical trials; and was it not clinical trials which have produced so many of the medical marvels we now enjoy?

Speaking of medical marvels, all my life I've been thinking that the 21st century would bring us medical marvels that would cure so many dreaded diseases, and now we find that the major obstacle in the way of this is the government.

On behalf of the weak, the elderly, the unborn, and the sick in our country, I am fervently hoping and praying that it fails.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

WWJD?



For no particular reason, or as my kids would say, randomly, I got to thinking about that slogan, and it occurred to me that if we were to ask that question honestly, we might come up with an answer rather unexpected by those who dreamt up that slogan years ago.

When it first came out--when was it, 1990's?--a bunch of Lutherans jumped on it and said woah, this is backwards, it's all law, and we need Gospel, so it should be WHJD: what has Jesus done? But of course to run around saying WHJD and making WHJD bracelets and whatnot would be to fall victim to the gimmickry which is just as much out of place as is a confusion of law and Gospel.

I much preferred the saucier kinds of retorts, viz., WWJD: We Want Jack Daniels, Willie Wonka Just Died, etc.

But actually if you take the question seriously: What Would Jesus Do? -- you could easily come to conclude that Jesus would not do the kind of things people wearing the bracelets might think he'd do. They suppose that when you think WWJD, you'll refrain from anger, or invective, or insentitivity, right?

But when you think about it in view of what the Gospels report, you could come to the opposite conclusion: Jesus would make a whip, turn over moneychangers' tables, and throw a fit. Or, Jesus would read his enemies the riot act: woe unto you, lawyers, etc. Or Jesus would say, "Leave the dead to bury their dead," not a particularly "sensitive" thing to say.

Jesus' demeanor was no-nonsense. WWJD? My guess is that he'd shrug and ask, "Why in the world are you wearing that silly bracelet? Follow me."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Apostolic?


It amazes me that the names of some churches virtually shout out the very thing they are missing. Baptists, for instance, refuse to baptize people they should be baptizing.

And the so-called Apostolic Christian Church similarly has a disdain for that which is explicitly apostolic, viz., the apostolic ministry.

They also emphasize a "life of repentance" which means a lot of externals designed to show that one is truly a Christian. In particular, "The believers live separated, sanctified lives and are not conformed to the world. Discipline of erring members is administered for their spiritual welfare and for the preservation of the church."

All very John Calvin. And ironic, because in spite of all appearances, and their insistence that the Bible is the infallible word of God, they also insist that in the Sacrament "The bread and the fruit of the vine (read: grape juice) in Holy Communion symbolize the body and the blood of Christ." I guess I missed the part where Jesus said that.

Of course you dear readers already know what I'm talking about.

One thing that struck me about the doctrinal statement of this church is that much of it sounded a bit too familiar. Especially this, from the "government" section:

"Direction is sought from the congregation for filling teaching and leadership offices either by vote or personal suggestion. The decision for appointment rests with the elder, a responsibility given to Timothy by Apostle Paul."

So there you are: voting is said to be what's truly "apostolic" about the selection of your "elder." Is it just me, or does that sound very Missourian?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Remember the Equalizer?


What a great show that was, some 25 years ago.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who Is Mary Magdalene?


I know I've done these permutations before, but I can't find where I mislaid them. No matter; it's worth doing them again.

The Gospel appointed for St. Mary Magdalene's Day (July 22) is St. Luke 7:36-50. She is not named there, but rather assumed to be the woman "who was a sinner" who crashed the party at Simon's house as Jesus was reclining there. She stood behind him, she was weeping, she wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with precious ointment. Simon the Pharisee grumbled about this, and Jesus, after rebuking him, blessed the woman.

This account corresponds with St. Matthew 26:6-13 and St. Mark 14:23-9, except that in those accounts the flask is broken and the ointment poured over Jesus' head, not his feet; and in Matthew it was "the disciples" who were indignant, while in Mark it is "some" who were indignant. Mark and Matthew identify Simon as "the leper" whereas he is only called a Pharisee in Luke. None of the three synoptic accounts mentions the woman's name.

Then there is the parallel in St. John 12:1-8, in which "Mary" is named, she anoints Jesus' feet, and wipes them with her hair. And it is specifically Judas who complains, not Simon.

In addition, there is the account in St. John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in adultery, who is unnamed.

In the East, this woman, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany are usually treated as three different women, but not as much in the West. St. Gregory the Great held that they were one and the same: Mary Magdalene is Mary sister of Martha, the woman caught in adultery. Yet St. Ambrose and others left the question unanswered, and the new Roman calendar has capitulated, adopting the Eastern tradition.

But I'm not so sure. I think we're talking about one woman here. Admittedly I am a bit of a Gregoriphile, but that's not why I think his view has merit. Here's my reasoning.

In the first place, the anointing accounts are pretty clearly a match. Enough of the details correspond to leave us with little doubt as to the unlikelihood that two separate such anointings took place, at two feasts held by two Simons where twice a weeping woman's hair wiped Jesus' feet and twice Jesus rebuked her scorners. Too many coincidences would obtain were these separate accounts. And in one of them, the woman is identified as Mary of Bethany.

Moreover, the Lucan account indicates that it was widely known just who this woman was, "a sinner." As in, someone who would also fit the characterization of one having had seven demons, namely Mary Magdalene. It all matches up rather nicely.

St. Mary Magdalene is a central figure in the Gospels. Mary is also an enigmatic figure, likely intentionally so. Shortly after the Lucan account of the unnamed woman with the alabaster box there comes a specific reference to Mary, in the next chapter, as one "out of whom went seven devils." This is part of what leads people to reject the notion that she is the same woman (why would not the evangelist tell us her name in the anointing account, if he did so in the next one?). But perhaps he had reason for not doing so, even as later on in the same chapter he refers to the truths of the Gospel as "mysteries of the kingdom of God."

In addition, the very same pattern can be traced in St. John's Gospel. In St. John 8 the woman caught in adultery is unnamed, but in the twelfth chapter Mary is named as one anointing Jesus' feet.

Perhaps by this kind of reporting the Gospels are relating this to us, that buried in their mysteries we may find Mary, the first witness of the resurrection, who announces it to the twelve, and is remembered as a pure and holy saint, in spite of her many sins. The altar is draped in white on her day. She is one who "became" a virgin. She was filthy, she is clean. She was sinful, she is holy. The great power and result of the forgiveness of sins is manifested nowhere more clearly than in this saint.

That's my view, at any rate.

Monday, July 27, 2009

In the midst of life


. . . we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased."

So run the words of the graveside liturgy, which have always struck me as a concise summation of life on earth: In the midst of life we are in death. We run from highlight to highlight, occasionally smiling and laughing when we can, when we see children and grandchildren grow, when we spend time with friends, when we enjoy a good meal or a good weekend, when we accomplish something good in our vocations, when we celebrate festive occasions, even when we enjoy life's little pleasures (hazelnut coffee, cut crystal glassware, etc.). But between those highlights and scattered about there are troubles, pains, heartaches, tragedies, and death. Always death, always lurking. In the midst of life we are in death.

We like to ignore this little fact, for obvious reasons, and most of us can usually do so without too much difficulty, most of the time.

But sometimes it corners us and we can't escape: a tragic accident, a dread disease, a family crisis.

And at those times, when the laughter ceases, and the heart aches, we find that the presence of loved ones often helps, but ultimately nothing provides succor but the presence of the Almighty, as he condescends to embrace us with his mercy in the blood and resurrection of Christ.

Now can someone tell me why, why in the world, why on God's green earth, would anyone prefer gimmicks and folderol in their church? I mean, how does that help?

Of course I know the answer, and it's a miserable one: those things are just more little diversions. The little funnies, the cute stories, the jokes and puns, all attempts to get us to chuckle and be at ease. They help in that they would have us continue to ignore rather than to overcome those darknesses with which life is beset. And for many people, much of the time, that can work, just as in life.

But that is not why Christ came. In the world you have tribulation. Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

And so, finally, that is why such diversions do not belong in church.

Listen, I did not come to your church to have my troubled heart diverted for an hour. Had I wanted that I could have gone to the movies or read a book; such devices do the trick quite well. I want my heart succored, really helped. I need comfort, and though I know I am not worthy to be comforted, I do know that this is the reason Christ came and redeemed me: to comfort me and promise me eternal victory and gladness. And this is the reason he has built his Church, too: to embrace me and fill me with his life and salvation, and really and truly to drive away death and darkness forever.

On the one hand I do appreciate life's little diversions, and the opportunities I have to chuckle and relax. It's just that I don't want them in church. There I want what Christ came to give me, his eternal promises and his blessed Sacraments.

Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On Vacation

I'll be out of the blogosphere for a couple weeks, at least as far as you know. In MacArthurian style, I shall return.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I Knew It


I guess the EPA is not quite as objective as some would have you believe, when it comes to global warming. Which, I might add, also goes for that panel of scientists who fatuously declared a few years back that global warming was reality and that it was caused by man.

Now we're hearing of an EPA guy named Alan Carlin, who was being told to shut up, because he dared to question the findings and the 'settled' view that these things are incontrovertibly so. Whatever may be said about whether or not they are so, the fact that muzzles are being placed on officials who provide alternative views or suggestions indicates that the greens' entire stance was jaded in the first place.

Kudos to Wisconsin Representative James Sensenbrenner for calling attention to this.

Of course, we knew it all along, didn't we.

And with every passing year, I'm becoming more convinced that much--most--of this environmentalism is really a false, Gaian religion.

Roof Project Nearing Completion





So I've been a bit dormant online lately, only because it's rather hard to blog when you're building a new roof for your porch. Whew, it's been tough work, especially in the heat, but now nearing completion, which makes me feel good.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Welcome summer


It is, I think, a very good thing that the age of parsonages/rectories is quickly passing. The notion that the people should 'provide' for their pastor need not include the idea that they let him live in 'their' home while he is their pastor. We all know the stories of pastors' widows destitute of homes in their old age.

The provision of a housing allowance with which the pastor goes out and takes care of it all himself is a good thing, also because, on the one hand, it forces the pastor to live in the 'real' world, and on the other, it enables the pastor to gain equity, as well as to take care of his home's needed repairs, maintenance, etc. in his own time, without waiting on the trustees. After all, those trustees have their own houses to look after.

Another reason this is good is that this pastor finds the occasional stint at home improvement a fine diversion.

So my blogs have been slower of late, because I've been up on the roof, fixing and improving. I am not trained in this. I have been learning on the job. It's rewarding, actually; especially when I consider how much I am able to save by doing it myself.

And now we arrive at summer's first day, always a welcome thing. Projects well underway, vacations planned, picnics attended, and roofs repaired.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Trinity Sunday


The Athanasian Creed was said prior to mass today. The Gospel for the Feast of the Holy Trinity is St. John 3:1-15. The sermon:

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Pentecost


Sermons for the Vigil of Pentecost and for Pentecost Day. On Pentecost the first verse of the Gospel was read in several languages.

Out of the Barn


Angels rejoice,
and earth repeats;

The Spirit proceeds,
since Pentecost morn,

And preachers proclaim
the tidings of peace

And Gottesdienst
is out of the barn.

Coming soon to a mailbox near you.

Unless, that is,
you have not subscribed;
which do, at once, and we'll send yours right away!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Grammarian, XVII


Since we Lutherans are not accustomed to conducting our rites in Latin, nor are we under any obligation to do so, our use of the language tends to veer a bit from its sources at times. We don't need to be liturgically all that familiar with it, so we generally aren't, although here and there one can find Lutherans providing for at least an occasional use of a Latin rite.

One such instance of our unfamiliarity is seen in the occasional reference among Lutherans to the words of absolution as they are (presumably) heard in Latin.

The English, stripped to its bare essentials, is "I forgive you," the confessor acting in the stead of Christ, according to Jesus' mandate to the Apostles in St. John 20, "whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted," etc.

Hence, one would think, the Latin would be, simply, "Absolvo te," since "absolvo" is "I forgive."

Now class, can anyone tell me what the formula really is?

It is not, actually, "Absolvo te," but, according to the Roman Rite, a more emphatic "Ego te absolvo," the pronoun "ego" being voiced, although by the rules of Latin, it would not need to be. When it is, the subject is emphasized.

"Ego te absolvo" states the subject implied in "absolvo," namely, "I."

The "ego" is reminiscent of the "ego" commonly referenced in the Gospel of John, in all the "ego sum" sayings of Jesus: I am the Good Shepherd, I am the way, etc. Jesus is Himself the great I AM, as the Greek letters in the three rays of the nimbus in any icon of Jesus normally spell out.

Hence, for the confessor to say, "Ego te absolvo" is for him truly and most definitively to be Christ's own representative, speaking for Him here. Indeed, the "ego" in the statement may rightly be said to be Christ Himself, speaking through His representative.

Though we don't say it in Latin, it would certainly be helpful to think of the Latin origin of the pronouncement when we say it in English.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Announcing:

A Day of Theological Reflection
11th in the series

“A Man after My Own Heart”
The Christology of David
(A Consideration of I Samuel)


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Hosted and led by Rev. Burnell Eckardt, Ph.D., at St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kewanee, Illinois.

For directions to the church click here.

If you'd let us know you're coming we'd appreciate it too (309-852-2461), but if you should decide at the last minute, just come anyhow.

Here's the
Schedule:

8:30 - 9:00 registration


9:00 Mass: Tuesday of Whitsun Week


9:30 Session 1:
David replaces Saul,
I Sam. 9 and 16


10:50 Break


11:00 Session 2:
David and Goliath,
I Sam. 17


11:50 Break


12:00 Noonday prayers (Office at Sext)


12:15 Lunch


1:30 Session 3:
David and Saul,
I Sam. 18-26


2:20 Break


2:30 Session 4:
Saul dies, David coronated,
I Sam. 31- II Sam. 2


3:15 Midafternoon prayers (Office at Vespers)


Preparation: To be best able to benefit from this day of reflection, it is recommended that you take the time to read the appointed material ahead of time, namely I Sam. 9 through II Sam. 2, particularly the following:

David replaces Saul, I Sam. 9 and 16
David and Goliath, I Sam. 17
David and Saul, I Sam. 18-26
Saul dies, David coronated, I Sam. 31- II Sam. 2

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Exaudi, the Sunday after the Ascension

Sermon for Exaudi Sunday, from St. John 15:26 -- 16:4

Ascension Day

Sermon for Ascension Day, 21 May, 2009:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

And the Winner is Cheney


That was amazing.

First the President speaks on national security, and then, within five minutes, comes the rebuttal, from the former Vice President. Already the spinmeisters on the left are in overdrive, feverishly working to discredit Mr. Cheney, all the usual suspects screeching that what he said was "outrageous." What's really outrageous and, if I'm not mistaken, unprecedented, is a sitting President sitting in moral judgment on his predecessor, making accusation after accusation against him that his values are out of whack. He did it again this morning, and it was refreshing to see a rebuttal come so quickly afterward.

It was the President himself, incidentally, that set things up this way; Mr. Cheney's speech at the American Enterprise Institute had been planned for weeks.

Such a rare and precious moment. If you haven't heard or read both speeches yet, you should take the time, one right after the other, to get the full effect (here, then here).

My favorite part of Mr. Cheney's speech was this:

"Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations. On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods.

"Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.

"I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about 'values'. Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans."

Wow. Does that ever need repeating.

And what is truly morally wrong is feigned indignation. I believe the theological term for it would be hypocrisy.

It is also reprehensible for people who have behaved bravely and admirably in the service of their country to be castigated for it. Mr. Cheney defended their honor well, honor that was in sore need of defense.