Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unconditional Faith

The Canaanite Woman (St. Matthew 14:22-28, the Gospel for Reminiscere, the Second Sunday in Lent) gave evidence of a faith which would not shrink in the wilderness of life, no matter how desolate, no matter how dark. She was constrained, as it were, to look only on the back side of God, as Moses had, rather than to see His glory. She saw no evidence that Jesus wanted to help her. He ignored her, He put her off, and He even insulted her. Yet she would not leave. This finally caused even Jesus to exult and call her faith "great."

This is the faith we need, a faith born of the Word of God and the Spirit, which likewise is unconditional.

The sermon is here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Sin of Hypocrisy II

In today's Gospel (St. Luke 12:1-10), Jesus continues His discourse on hypocrisy, likening it to leaven, when He sees the mass of people trampling each other, like a mass of bread dough into which the yeast is kneaded. As yeast is so very small, yet leavens a whole loaf, so a bit of hypocrisy seems a minor thing, yet it is deadly. The piety of Christian people ought never be used as a pretense or a cloak to cover wickedness. True piety is born of a desire to see and be with Christ, the Author of mercy. The sermon is here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Sin of Hypocrisy

Today's Gospel, St. Luke 11:37-54, shows that Jesus fiercest invective is reserved not for murderers, thieves, adulterers, or traitors, but for hypocrites. Hypocrisy if the worst of sins, for it masks a wicked and judging heart under the appearance of piety; yet what is required of the heart is love, the very opposite.

God be praised that His heart, on the other hand, is loving and merciful toward us wretched sinners. The sermon is here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Greater than Jonah

Jesus is greater than Jonah the prophet who meekly endured three days in the belly of the whale, and greater than Solomon the king who was greater than all other kings. So in these two types we have humiliation and majesty, even as Jesus was humbled but is the incarnate God. Today's sermon, on St. Luke 11:29-36, is here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Was Matthias a Mistake?

The selection of St. Matthias (Acts 1:15-26) by the Apostles was made out of their desire to fill up the number twelve, but it seems possible they jumped the gun. Had they been patient and waited just a while, they would have seen the conversion of St. Paul and that he would have been a perfect replacement for Judas, rounding out the number twelve. Paul, taken from the leadership of those opposing the Church, is a fit replacement for Judas, who fell from the heights of Jesus' own disciples. But it was not to be. Matthias was chosen. Was it a hasty mistake?

It's possible that the early Church may have been somewhat aware of this, for in the canon, Matthias is relegated to the second list of saints rather than the first where the other Apostles are. In fact it seems to have taken several centuries for the full apostleship of Matthias to be recognized.

On the other hand, it seems wrong to label this apostolic act, of choosing another, as a mistake. After all, Jesus had given them authority to act. Jesus doesn't make mistakes; how could they?

We have in the Apostles men who were in themselves fallible, and yet who because of the Spirit in them spoke divine truth infallibly. Their words of proclamation were God's own words. This we affirm without reservation. In the carrying out of their office they were flawless. On the other hand we recognize that in themselves they were still capable of error, as indeed we see in St. Peter's siding with the Judaizers, earning him the rebuke of St. Paul, according to Galatians.

So we have in the selection of Matthias something which might have been done better, had they waited just a bit; and yet, they did it, so it becomes part of the divine economy: like it or not, now Matthias is an apostle.

Like one assigned to take up the last open seat on a bus, Matthias sits, and then in comes Paul. Oops. Now we must squeeze him in to make room. Oh well; that's the way it is.

There is comfort in this, actually: for God assumes these things and moves forward just as He had ever done with Israel. To take much more drastic examples, Samson slept with a harlot, God used it for good; Moses struck the rock, God used it for good. Israel grumbled; God used it for good. Et cetera.

What's the good in thirteen primary apostles, then? Perhaps only this: that we too may learn to live without regret. If we might have made decisions that in retrospect could be called ill-advised, we may take confidence in this, that God assumes them into the course of our grace-laden lives, and moves forward with us in His unspeakable mercy.

Here's the sermon for St. Matthias' Day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent I Tuesday

Today's Gospel, St. Luke 10:1-20, finds Jesus sending out the seventy in pairs into every city to which He Himself would come, even as Joshua sent a pair of spies to Jericho in advance of his own coming with an army. Rahab received the spies and was spared; the king sought to kill them and was destroyed. So also, Jesus says that whoever receives His disciples receives Him, and whoever does not receive them rejects Him and His Father. So also He warns of the coming of judgment to those who reject His messengers.

So today, the preachers of the Gospel bring Christ Himself, and He will Himself come again in glory as Judge: who has received His Gospel and messengers?

The sermon.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rubrics and Their Reasons

A cross-post, also at Gottesdienst Online, to which site comments are directed:

Quiet around here. Hmmm.

It isn't quiet out there, on the other hand. In Lutheran cyber space there's plenty of banter, more than usual, it seems. The lastest is the flap over whether or not omitting alleluia during Lent is stupid. Here's where it began. Rev. Paul McCain called the omission of Lenten alleluias "stupid," with an evident awareness that it would generate a negative response among us. "Apoplexy" was the kind word he used. And then he went on to say that for the sake of unity he follows the rubric anyhow, a remarkable admission in itself.

At first I paid no more attention than to shrug. What else is new? But today I read a brilliant response to Rev. McCain by Dcn Latif Gaba, which is a very worthy read. It positively skewers Rev. McCain. Go ahead, see for yourself, here. I'll wait.

In addition, there is a thoughtful defense of omitting the Alleluias in Fr. William Weeden's blog, a quotation from the sainted O.P. Kretzman (here), which even McCain acknowledges to be a point well made, though he dismisses it without further comment.

He might have observed that the Western Church's emphasis on penitence during Lent is a salient attribute of it over against the East, though this observation is not made to denigrate the East (which has its own salient and laudable features). Yet particular Western penitential Lenten practices are worthy of defending, such as the omission of Alleluias, or, during Passiontide, the veiling of images and the omission of the Gloria Patri. It's actually amusing to hear McCain lambasting the Western omission of the alleluias. Next thing you know, he'll be sporting a beard.

But what really merits further scrutiny is the idea of doing certain liturgical things merely for the sake of unity. Rev. McCain's chief argument is that "since it is adiaphora, I am happy to give up a bit of my freedom and personal opinion for the sake of unity. We’d all be better off if we did that."

There is some merit to this, as anyone who is liturgically minded not only can but routinely does attest. That is a major reason for being liturgical: we do what the Christian Church has always done. But let's not commit dicto simpliciter and take a good thing too far. The point of rubrics, after all, is also to teach with respect to the very things they do. Not only, that is, do liturgical actions portray a uniformity with others who do them the same way; there happens to be a reason we do them which relates specifically to the matters concerning which they are done. We kneel at the altar not just to be doing the same thing together, but because Christ's Body is really there. We make the sign of the cross as Christians have done it for centuries, but the chief reason we do it is because it is the mark of the baptized. We certainly do not maintain practices we know to be stupid. As Dcn Gaba said it, "the worship of Christ our Immanuel deserves more than the merely stupid."

Moreover the rubrics, while expecting a general uniformity, have also acknowledged local circumstances, at least in a rather limited way. One of my favorite such historical circumstances is the origin, in Paris, of the elevation of the Host, in the mid-thirteenth century. The elevation arose out of the piety of the people, or of the bishops, or both, in response to the wild ruminations of one Peter the Stammerer, who (no doubt while rubbing his chin) confidently averred that the elements did not become the Body and Blood of Christ until all the words of institution were completed. In response to this the practice arose of elevating the Host immediately after the words pertaining specifically to it, as a confession against unsavory philosophical meanderings. Soon it took hold across the entire Western Church.

This brings us to certain other matters over which Rev. McCain is evidently still enduring some thrombosis of his own:

"For instance, some might think throwing themselves on the chancel floor is a great way to observe Good Friday, but we don’t do it, that is, if we care about unity. Some think putting the Lord’s Supper away in a Tabernacle on the altar and claiming it is perpetually the Lord’s body and blood and adoring it is a good thing, but we don’t do that. We know better."

Yes, it is true. Some do think putting the Sacramental reliquae in a Tabernacle on the altar is a good thing. I don't know exactly how the practice of reserving the reliquae in a tabernacle arose, but I do know it is ancient, and virtually universal in the older history of both the East and the West; so therefore there is, after all, an ingredient of unity in its retention (oddly, Rev. McCain might be obliged to agree with me on this, by his own reckoning!). But some think that in itself is still not really a good enough reason for having a tabernacle. Some think it its use is a laudable practice precisely because they claim--over against those who deny that it remains the Lord's Body and Blood--that the Sacrament is what Jesus said it was. Some think it foolhardy to say you "know better" than what Jesus said. And some find that having a tabernacle makes it easier to discover those who say they believe what Christ said about those elements, but who, when put to the test, seem more apt to believe that He only meant it temporarily at best.

See? Rubrics do have more meaning than 'unity' after all.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Invocabit, Lent I (Jesus in the Wilderness)

Jesus goes into the wilderness (St. Matthew 4:1-11) to do for Israel what Israel had failed to do. He is the perfect man, who obeys His Father's will from the heart, saying exactly what the Father had wanted to hear from Israel (see Deut. 8:3), and worshiping the Lord His God only. So He pleases the Father in Israel's stead.

And in yours: you who are baptized into Him receive this gift, that the favor of God has been bestowed upon you for His sake.

And now, following Him, you find yourself in the wilderness; but He is there, and has driven the devil away.

The sermon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Jesus' admonition to His disciples in today's Gospel, to take up their crosses and follow Him is a stark corrective to any notions they might have gained from the realization the His is the Christ, or the vision of the transfiguration. The glorification we are to experience comes later; the sorrows, tribulations, and cross must come first. The sermon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday after Ash Wednesday

Today's Gospel (St. Luke 8:26-39) finds a multitude of demons confronting Jesus. Demons were not evident in OT times, except very rarely. They know their adversary, so they appear in abundance when He does. The men are afraid their power, but more so of Jesus' power, so they beg Him to leave. But the man out of whom Jesus had driven the demons begs to stay with Him. So do we desire to stay with Him, knowing that He is gracious and kind, and fully able to drive away demons also from us. The sermon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Today's Gospel, St. Luke 7:36-50, presents two entirely different people: Simon the Pharisee, and the shriven woman. He follows the way of the first tablets of stone, which Moses broke in token that the people had committed idolatry. The way of the law ends in the wrath of God. But the shriven woman follows the way of the new tablets of stone, which Moses hewed out 'like unto the first', a new covenant, the way of mercy. She loved much because she was forgiven much. The sermon.

More Ash Wednesday

Wednesday evening, a second Ash Wednesday mass, had as its Gospel St. Matthew 6:16-21. How is Jesus' admonition to wash your face consistent with the imposition of ashes? The sermon explains.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

The Lenten fast brings us to a deeper realization that Christ endured bodily humiliation in order to gain our salvation. It also adds a weight of sincerity to our penitential cries for mercy. And it teaches us to embrace the evils that are laid upon us in the course of life, with a confidence that in all things we are victors, through the resurrection of our Lord. The sermon's audio is here.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quinquagesima Sunday - the Blind Beggar Healed

Jesus' disciples surely had a sense of dread and foreboding as they approached Jerusalem, for He had told them (in today's Quinquagesima Gospel) that in Jerusalem the son of man must be delivered unto the Gentiles, mocked, spitefully entreated, spitted on, scourged, and put him to death. And, we are told, they understood none of these things. So they undoubtedly didn't comprehend the last part He had said, that "the third day he shall rise again from the dead." They needed englightenment; they needed to see and understand. So He gave sight to this blind beggar, to give them encouragement and as they looked toward the dark future: there will be resurrection, victory, and life there; do not despair!

We do not fear Lent, which is about to begin, for we know what follows: Easter. We know that in all Jesus endures, He gains victory for us; so do not fear the future, or let dread trouble your heart; rather, sit with the blind man by the way side (for He who is the Way is near!) and beg Him for mercy, and be confident that you shall have it.

For the audio of today's Gospel and sermon click here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Miss Me Yet?

So there's this billboard popping up in various places which makes a pretty good point, after the endless cacophony of Bush-hating diatribes which bombarded us for eight years. I'm amused to hear that the first place it was seen is the People's Republic of Minnesota. Rumor has it there's another that popped up out East somewhere too.

But frankly, since you asked, here's who I miss:

HT: Shining City

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

My Favorite Super Bowl Ad

is this one about the Green Police. Audi was trying to sell their cars, but they also made a fit social commentary:

And incidentally, here's a great article by Mark Steyn about how "Health and Safety" are faring in England. I would guess maybe folks over there would find that Super Bowl ad 'situation normal'.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sexagesima Sunday: the Sower went out to Sow

When in today's Gospel Jesus said, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear, He indicated the importance of paying careful attention to the Word of God. The first reason for listening to His Word, therefore, is that He commanded it. The second reason, which could be called greater (if that is possible), is that the Word of God is full of God Himself. "To you it has been given," He told His disciples, "to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God." See, it is a gift, it comes by grace. It comes through the Word, because embedded in the Word is the Word Himself, the Second Person of the Trinity, God of God. The mercy of God is seen in this: that the sower goes out to sow his seed, and, in spite of all its impediments--the devil, temptations, and the cares and riches and pleasures of this life--finds root in some hearers who bring forth fruit to maturity. We are no match for all these impediments, but the Word contains the infinite power of God (for the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation), which provides all the defense we need.

The sower is actively sowing his seed at the very time the Gospel is being preached; and the grace of God is being bestowed upon the hearers. Take to heart the example set by the disciples who came to ask Jesus the meaning of the parable. So let us return to Him always, seeking to learn, to ponder, to meditate, and to gain ever more understanding of His holy mysteries; for in them is life and salvation.

The audio of the sermon is here.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


The legend of the groundhog’s fear of his shadow finds its origin in the idea of light, not coming from the sun, but from Christ. So also, the thought of six weeks of winter comes from the idea that Candlemas generally marks the last echo of Christmas and looks toward the Lenten season of six weeks.

February 2nd is forty days from Christmas, and so on it we commemorate the day on which the Blessed Virgin came for purification after she gave birth, and to present the Christ Child, according to the law of Moses. The priest Simeon then took Him up in his arms and declared Him “a Light to lighten the Gentiles.”

At the Feast of Candlemas, therefore, everyone holds a candle for a procession prior to Mass, and then for lighting again during the Mass, from the Preface through the Consecration, a visually moving way of signifying the high point of the service.

This year I preached Candlemas twice, once on the day, and once on the day after. For some reason the second sermon wouldn't upload. But here's the first.