Saturday, August 30, 2008

Elephant in the Living Room

One of the first persons I spoke with regarding the exciting selection of Sarah Palin, immediately attacked her because she is a creationist. Yet, those who would make a such an attack are actually the irrational ones.

Darwinian Evolution has a huge elephant in the living room. Sadly, neither the Darwinists nor the creationists have latched on to the implications of this, as yet.

What is this elephant? Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002 - pictured) Who was Gould? A Harvard professor of Paleontology - that's the study of fossils. In 1972, with another scientist, he published the punctuated equilibrium hypothesis. What's that? It's a replacement for Darwinism. You see Gould, himself a bitter anti creationist, rejected Darwinism. Why? Because as a paleontologist he knew the evidence demanded such a rejection. Darwinism requires transitional forms. It was assumed that it would take several steps for a fish to become a philosopher. Those steps would have left behind fossils. But no such fossils exist, as Gould frequently pointed out. (Gee, I think I've heard Ken Ham make the same point.) In Gould's version of evolution, nothing changes at all, except in very rare circumstances - then zap, Mr. Limpet in reverse, the fish instantly becomes a philosopher.

The fact that Gould rejected Darwinism teaches us that it is only a hypothesis. Gould understood that real science doesn't support Darwinism. But his alternative hypothesis is really equally unscientific, since it really cannot be tested by experiments. So we're stuck with a series of untestable hypotheses, none of which are testable. It's not just the creationists saying Darwinism is just a bad hypothesis without any real scientific support - so is Stephen Jay Gould.


The first charge brought against VP nominee Sarah Palin was that she lacked experience. Now just wait minute. What experience does Obama have? What experience does Biden have? Between them they've never run so much as a 7-11. (With an Indian accent or otherwise.) Sarah Palin has been a mayor and a governor. She has been commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard. The truth is that she has more executive experience than all three of guys put together.

I can't say whether experience will continue to be an issue in this race. What does it say when the youngest person in the race, a VP candidate, has the most experience? It makes us dream of the day when the ticket is Palin-Jindal.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Sermon for August 23-24

The Feast of St. Bartholomew, Martyr (August 24)
August 23-24, 2008
Text: John 1:43-51

Dear Friends in Christ,
Saint Bart. We used to play against them in the county baseball league. These teams were usually known by the location of their home field. They had only a small connection to the church. They did nevertheless have “St. Bart” on their uniforms. St. Bart, or St. Bartholomew is a Wisconsin Synod congregation about ten miles north of where I grew up. My Aunt Caroline and Uncle Harold were members there. The location known as the four churches corner. I don’t remember the all other churches, but in addition to St. Barts, there was a Catholic Church there.
Where does this name, St. Bartholomew, come from? Bartholomew was one of Jesus twelve disciples. The name is a curious however. In Aramaic the name is actually Bar Ptolemy or son of Ptolemy. That just deepens the mystery. Why do we only have a last name or more properly a patronymic? And it is a curious one as well. Ptolemy is a Greek name. We know that some Jews of this period did take Greek names. They are called Hellenic Jews. The ancient Church Fathers tell us that his full name was Jesus or Yeshua Bar Ptolomy. Since he shared the same first name as our Lord, the Scriptures may have chosen to simply list him as Bar Ptolomy or Bartholomew. Bartholomew is closely associated with Philip, and so may have been a brother or kinsmen. The Gospel of John, sometimes changes names to a more common Greek form. So one of the Judases is called Thaddeus by John. Likewise, Bartholomew is called Nathaniel in the John’s Gospel.

Scripture only gives us one brief glimpse of Bartholomew or Nathanael. We find this in out text. Christ describes Bartholomew as a man without deceit. From this we could conclude that he was a man who was bold in his speech, who spoke his mind without holding back. Perhaps we could say brash or even tactless. Knowing the customs of the time, Bartholomew was probably a young man in his twenties. Since Christ was in His early thirties, it likely that all the disciples are younger than this. This boldness and quick judgement is confirmed when Bartholomew confesses that Christ is indeed the Messiah. Christ seems to almost laugh. It’s like the old expression - you ain’t seen nothing yet. Christ promises that they will see His full heavenly glory.

Beyond this one incident, all our information about Bartholomew comes from the ancient fathers. He traveled to India and carried with him a copy of Matthew’s Gospel in the Hebrew language. This is confirmed by second century missionaries who discovered Jewish Christians in India who only had in their possession, from the New Testament, the Hebrew version of Matthew. He was martyred in Armenia by begin flayed alive, then crucified upside down. In artwork, St. Bartholomew is often depicted holding his own skin.

What are we do learn from St. Bartholomew? What is the value of remembering the saints in general? First, we must remember that no man does anything for God. God works through men. So when we do Godly things, it is not us, but God working through us. So we do not give St. Bartholomew glory, but we give Christ glory for working through this man. Secondly, we are reminded that these were ordinary men. Bartholomew was an ordinary young Jewish man when Christ called him. He was a sinner. He was no different than you or I.

In remembering the martyrs, those who bore witness to Christ by their blood, we are remembering the cost of discipleship. Ten of the faithful eleven disciples would die violently, as would St. Stephen, St. Paul, St. Mathias, and numerous other early Christians. Still today, many give their lives for the sake of Christ. Lutheran Bishop Andrew Elissa of the Sudan literally walks around each day with a price on his head offered by Islamic radicals. Like the martyrs of old, Bishop Elissa refuses to back down even for a moment.

Martyrdom is about the First Commandment - You shall have no other gods. These are deadly words. For it is this exclusive claim - that the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is God alone, that most often gets people killed. But this more than just being willing to die for the truth. It is because the truth sets us free, that men are willing to give their lives. Free from what? Sin and death. At the root of this is that we are sinners. We are lost to God. We don’t know, of our own power, who God is. God must be revealed to us. But seeing a Holy God is not really such a good thing. In fact it is death to us. How can sinners ever be in the presence of a Holy God? It would seem to not be possible. But God found a way to hide behind a mask and still be present. Christ, God the Son, came into our world under such a mask. He came as a human being - a baby. He came to be present in grace - to give us forgiveness and life. He did not come, on that occasion, to be present in wrath and judgement. That day will come. But it hasn’t come yet. Any place that Christ is present according His human flesh, He is present in grace to deal with us in grace. Why is this true? Because that flesh was given on the cross as payment for the sins of the world. So it is not only that we say that Yahweh, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is God alone. God the Son, Jesus Christ, God revealed, God present among us, is also our Savior alone. And so to deny Christ is to deny our very life. Our life in this sin filled world is but a brief portion of the life that God intends for us. So what of it if our earthly life is forfeit. Our earthly life, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, is only beginning.

We live in time when the Christian faith is under assault. Actually, it’s always been under assault from one thing or another. The enemies of Christ include our own sins, our own self centered piety, false doctrine, self glorifying human reason, as well as the heathen world. Some enemies seek our lives while leaving the shell of our flesh in tact. Others would seek to destroy our lives by destroying the shell of our flesh. St. Bartholomew and all the martyrs teach us that we must not waver. No matter what threat is made against us, Christ is greater. At the last judgement, while those who persecuted Christ are condemned, those who clung to Christ will be vindicated. They will be welcomed into glory - the glory won for us on the cross by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Late Great Henry Hamann

The False Antithesis: "Not Lutheran but Christian"

I veritably believe that no single factor has wrought so much damage in Christian theology, in the field of moral behavior, and in practical church life, as the false antithesis. The use of the antithesis in argument, in the exposition of an idea, in teaching and in sermons, can be very valuable. As striking antithesis cannot easily be forgotten. In recalling it one remembers also the whole argument or context in which it was spoken or in which it appeared. The value of any antithesis, however, is completely dependent upon the question whether it is really an antithesis. Too many popular antitheses are antithetical only in form. Too many antithetical statements that one hears and sees in print are too much like the sentence: That plate is not round, but white. Nothing but confusion, wrong thinking, and damage of various kinds can arise when the antithesis is forced or strained or false, when, in short, there is no antithesis, and when it is no longer a case of: Not this, but that, but of: Both this and that. Of such a kind is the antithesis that concerns us in this short essay. I have heard frequently from fellow pastors, especially from those engaged in home or inner missions, that their job, as they see it is not to make Lutherans of the unchurched or "outsiders" whom they contact, but to make Christians of them. Now, I believe that this sentence is almost wholly wrong, so wrong, in fact, that it amazes me that it could have gained the popularity it has actually achieved. The situation is an excellent example of the power of the antithetical statement, its power for evil as well as for good.

The most obvious criticism of the statement before us is that there is no antithesis between the two phrases. A person can surely be a Christian and a Lutheran at the same time. (I suppose all Christian communions would grant this, but the sentence is actually made from the standpoint of the Lutheran faith itself.) This is almost too obvious, and it is perhaps a trifle pedantic to push the sentence to its strictly logical limit. Those who employ it mean rather: We are concerned first and foremost in making Christians of people, not in making Lutherans of them; not Lutherans first of all, but Christians.

But is it really possible for a pastor, or any other church worker for that matter, to set up as his goal that he is going to make Christians of people? However laudable in intent, this goal or aim in fact goes beyond the power and ability of man. One might possibly defend it with the Lord's injunction matheteusate panta ta ethne, "make disciples of all nations." We will not quarrel with this text, but it its well to be aware that the goal there set is one which we can never be sure of having reached. In that section of the De Servo Arbitrio where the famous sentence occurs: abscondita est Ecclesia, latent sancti, Luther says that he will grant that the saints mentioned by Erasmus are such, but only by the law or standard of love, not by that of faith. "I do not deny that they are saints," he says, "but it cannot be proved that they are, if any one were to deny it." This uncertainty as to the result of our preaching of the Gospel and of our ministerial labors underlines for us again that our whole life and works as Christians, and as Christian ministers particularly, is a life of faith, only faith, nothing but faith. The words of John the Baptist mark out for all ministers of the Word the humility which should characterize their attitude as well as the limits of their competency: "I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Ministers of the Word can administer the means of grace, and they must learn to do this well and not poorly, but they cannot bring about the salvation of the sinner; that the Lord has kept for Himself. But the sentence with which we are concerned does suggest that to make Christians is as much within the capabilities of men as the making of Lutherans, and that we can know then we have done the one as we can when we can have done the other. But this is simply not true. Lutheranism we can teach and test by appropriate questions and examination procedures, but whether a person is truly a Christian or not, really one with the Lord by faith, this we can never know or test in this life.

The sentence implies further: we know that we must do to make Lutherans, and we know what we must do to make Christians, and the second is our real task, not the former. So there is an importance about the one aim not matched by anything so important in the other. There is a plus about making Christians as compared with making Lutherans. This thought leads us to the very heart of both Christianity and Lutheranism and the relation between them. A number of questions must be put the pastor who would defend the statement being examined here. What is there in Lutheranism that is not Christian, falls short of being Christian or goes beyond it? Something there must be, and the defender must know what it is, else he could not make the statement at all. And the question that follows is a very serious one: What is the pastor doing to eliminate the non-Christian element in Lutheranism? Or more seriously still: Why is he content to remain passively in what is partly at least a non-Christian situation without doing anything to right matters? If the pastor is capable in his ministry of eliminating the non-Christian, but Lutheran, elements, then, if he is at all earnest and sincere in his devotion to the Christian faith, he should be actively engaged in eliminating this element in the whole church to which he belongs, not merely in his personal ministry. He should not willingly, without protest, continue in a fellowship which is as such devoted to some Lutheran, but non-Christian activities. The more seriously any Lutheran pastor means the antithesis under attack, the more serious an attack it is on the church to which he belongs, and the more seriously the question arises whether he should continue to be a Lutheran minister at all.

A further modification of the antithesis seems to be indicated at this point of the argument, for hardly any of the pastors who use the phrase in point actually see in it a criticism of the Lutheran faith to which they are committed. Their point is rather something like this: only true faith joins to Christ and makes any person a Christian, not an accurate reciting or explanation of the Lutheran catechism. This is very true, but the concern cannot be met by the Lutheran-Christian antithetical sentence. And why not? Two further answers may be given besides those already contained implicitly in the observations made so far. First, it is doubtful whether any Lutheran pastor, brought up as a Lutheran from childhood, as most of us are, and trained in a Lutheran seminary, is likely to give any but a Lutheran witness, his presentation of the Gospel will fall almost inevitably into Lutheran grooves, follow the Lutheran pattern. Secondly, no convinced Lutheran would want to give anything but a Lutheran witness, for Lutheran witness is to him Christian witness. Lutheran witness, if it is really such, is Christian witness; Christian witness, if it is really such, will also be Lutheran witness. The whole point of the Lutheran Confessions is that they are the true response of faith to the Gospel and the Word of God. With this faith and confession we hope to stand in the judgment of the Last Day. There are of course various ways in which a Lutheran witness may be given and many ways in which it may be phrased, but we Lutherans know of no truly Christian witness which would not at the same time be truly a Lutheran witness.

A final bright beam of light is thrown on the whole problem which we are investigating by the scriptural teaching of the church and the means of grace. Faith is produced only by the Gospel in Word and Sacraments, the "pure" Word and the "unadulterated" Sacraments. Where false and erroneous and inadequate witness to the Gospel is found alongside the Word and the Sacraments, there the falseness and error and inadequacy are not productive of faith, but a hindrance to it. It is only the truth that is present in any witness given that can be a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. God's grace can save in spite of the error present at any time, but is not powerful and operative in the error as such. No Lutheran doubts that God can beget children through the crusade being conducted these days in various parts of Australia by Billy Graham and his team. But these conversions will not come by means of the false aspects of the witness given -- the neglect of or even contempt of baptism, the emphasis on immediate human decision -- but only through the witness that is undoubtedly given to the grace of God in Christ Jesus and his redemption. If Lutheran witness is Christian witness, then by the promise of God the seed thus sown will not be lost, the word spoken will not return void, but will accomplish what God wills. The Lutheran pastor can have and should have the conviction that his Lutheran and Christian witness has the blessing of God, for it is God's Word and not his own that he is proclaiming. His witness will not lead astray, he will not by a false and inadequate witness put a hindrance or stumbling block in the way of sinners

We may re-formulate the idea and the sentence with which we began. The Lutheran pastor should say: "I make Lutherans of the non-churched, the 'outsiders,' hoping that they will become Christian." Or: "I want the unbelievers to become Christians, and that is why I make Lutherans of them." And why not: "Christian, therefore, Lutheran"?

----- H.P. Hamann.

May, 1968



Thursday, August 21, 2008

Minnesota Not So Nice

The strong smell of hypocrisy has been drifting across the river from Minnesota in Wisconsin. It comes from Norm Colman and the back room Republican leadership in St. Paul.

State house member Mark Olson has been a very solid conservative for several years. So good in fact that he has ticked off the RINO's in St. Paul and their water boy Norm Colman. When he was convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse, a crime about a tenth as serious as a DWI, the Minnesota state Republican party set out to lynch him. There's only one problem. He reconciled with his wife and with her backing secured the endorsement of grass roots Republicans for the vacant senate district 16 seat.

Well, okay, the guy's making a political comeback. It's not like he left a pregnant girl friend dead in the drink off a bridge. Shuck's half the RINO's got DWI's and they keep running for re-election - sometimes it seems even after they've killed someone. But no, the state party couldn't abide an Olson resurrection. Norm Colman went out and blasted Olson on the airwaves. Now the Minnesota Republican Party has a most un-Republican rule. No Republican is allowed to publicly criticise an endorsed Republican candidate. So if this rule were enforced, Norm Colman would be tossed from the Minnesota Republican Party. I know that some local party officials are under attack for far less. But oh, I forgot, Colman's a good RINO, and these local party officials are conservatives. How dare we expect RINO's to actually follow the rules.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sermon for August 16-17

The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 16-17, 2008
Text: Matthew 15:21-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
It is important to recognize what is happening. If one is out in the woods deer hunting, and one sees movement in the brush, you have to determine what is happening. Is that the wind? Is that an animal of some sort? Is that another hunter? Or is it s a big buck moving in your direction? You have to be able to recognize this in order to do the right thing. It could be tragic if you think it’s a deer and it turns out to be a hunter. We make jokes about Dick Cheney peppering his friend with bird shot, but it very easily could have ended in disaster. When driving in bad weather, we must be able recognize the road conditions or we could end up in the ditch. Young drivers have problems with this. My brother Mark one time hit a patch of ice on an otherwise clear road. Thankfully the ditch was full of hard snow and there wasn’t much to it. About three or four winters ago, a couple teens did the same thing over by St. Croix Falls and were spun into oncoming traffic and killed. They didn’t recognize what was happening around them.

Our text is about recognition. It is about a women who recognized what was happening around her. It is also about all those who didn’t see what was plain in front of them.

Christ went up to the region of Tyre and Sidon in modern day Lebanon. Christ probably does this as a vacation. It is a beautiful area. Before the Islamic militias began their war, Lebanon was one of the great tourist destinations. It was called the Riviera of the middle east. It was also an area where there were some Jews, but most of the people would been of Canaanite ancestry. So there would not be as many preaching opportunities. He can rest and pray before returning to Galilee and the large crowds.

While Christ is there in Lebanon, He is approached by a woman. Why does this woman approach Christ? To have Him heal her daughter. Yes, but that doesn’t really answer the question. I’ve never asked human being to heal me. Most people have never asked a human being to heal them. In fact, why would you? At most one would go to a physician seeking medical treatment. But that is quite different from healing. The woman goes to Christ because she recognizes that Christ has the power to heal.

The woman describes her daughter’s condition in terms of demonic possession. Now in the ancient world, many illness were considered demonic in nature. Consider the name “Pneumonia”. It is derived from the Geek word for spirit. Literally, pneumonia is having spirits in the lungs. So we cannot say if this was simply a physical illness, perceived as demonic, or an actual case of demon possession. And for our purposes it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this women recognized that Christ has power over demons.

Let’s contrast this for a moment with the Jews. They saw all the miracles and demanded more, like patrons at the circus. But they didn’t grasp that Christ had this power intrinsically. This woman might have seen some of Christ’s miracles, but more likely, she just heard about Christ. Having only heard the reports, she believes.

She approaches Christ asking for His mercy. Why? Why does she presume that God’s mercy would be there for her? One has to believe that some of the Old Testament stories were circulating among the Canaanites. Those stories might well have included the healing of the Syrian general Naaman from II Kings 5. But there is more. The woman’s answer to Christ is instructive. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” There are several things in this statement. First, is that Christ can heal her daughter without taking from what He was sent to do. But more importantly, she recognizes that Christ is her master. He is not just some traveling freak show. He is not just a religious teacher. He is something fundamentally different. She is going to her master’s table begging for crumbs. The Jews did not recognize that Jesus was their Lord and Master come to earth. The disciples didn’t even get it. This Canaanite woman did.

This text is a great many things. There are many lessons here. Among them is a stern warning. Martin Luther described the Gospel as a summer shower that passes through and then is gone. The day came when the Christian Church no longer made a conscious effort evangelize the Jewish people. They were busy with other mission work among other people. Why did that happen? Because many Jews rejected the Gospel. In our day we risk becoming similarly victimized by our own unbelief. The Christian church as a whole in the United States is like a doddering old man grasping at straws. Even as Christianity seems to be collapsing in the United States, Africa is embracing the Gospel. All the real strong, courageous Church leaders of our age, in all denominations, are Africans. There is no one in the leadership of the LCMS that holds a candle to Bishop Walter Obare Omzuma. Nor is this just a leadership problem. It’s in the pews as well. Recent surveys show that many of our life long Lutherans still believe the lie that they are saved by their own good works. Certainly some of the blame falls on the pastors who have failed to feed their sheep, but each member also has the responsibility to know the Small Catechism and the like. So are we like the Jews who didn’t recognized Christ among them, and who were in the end replaced by the ones called “dogs” in our text?

Where then is Christ among us? Right where He has promised to be - in Word and Sacrament. Christ is present among us in the Church, where He has called and gathered His people together. Did we deserve this? No. We are sinners. We don’t even deserve the crumbs of our master’s table. We don’t love God or our neighbor as we should. We’re not even close. Nevertheless, Christ is here among us, in His Word, in His Body and Blood, offering to us forgiveness and life as a free gift. But it is important that we see what is happening around us. We must see that Christ is present here as He has promised. For the day may come when Christ moves on. But that day has not yet come. Christ is still present here through His preached Word. Christ is still here in Baptism, Holy Absolution and the Supper. That is Christ’s gift to us. Let us seek Lord where He has promised to be. For in this time, until the judgement, Christ has promised to be present in Word and Sacrament. Wherever His Word and Sacraments are present, there is also forgiveness. The presence in Word and Sacrament is a presence in grace. It is here in Word and Sacrament that Christ invites us not to have crumbs, but to feast upon forgiveness and life.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Theological Difference Between Republicans & Democrats

One of the things that people don't grasp is that there a different set of assumptions at work in the two political parties. At their root, these assumptions are really theological in character.

At issue is the nature of man. Is man good or is man evil? Many people will say man is good of course. Some will go further and say that man has a spark of the divine. If man is good and has a spark of the divine, he is then perfectible. All that has to be done is unleash that inner saint that is trapped inside of him. On the other hand, many, including myself, believe in the total depravity of man. Man is conceived with a sinful nature. This sinful nature needs to be redeemed and restrained. Even in the best of circumstances, the individual will fight this sinful nature their whole life.

Socialism, which is today embraced by the Democratic Party, is designed to bring out the inner saint. It assumes that man's higher nature is simply suppressed by economics and injustice. Yet, in practice, socialism only seems to bring out man's darkest impulses.

Conservatism assumes the dark nature of man. It assumes that the beast must be tamed. One of the ways to do this is punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. This is not just in law enforcement, but in all areas of policy. Consider this angle of economic policy. If you work hard in a peaceful and productive task we will promote you to a higher position and pay you more money. If you don't work hard and are not productive, you won't be paid as much. We do this to control man's sinful nature and keep man focused on good tasks that help their fellow man. Ultimately, any economically useful task will help others. Ironically, though, in this way we bring out the best in people. We make them cast aside their dark nature and become a little bit of the saint.

So Republicans and Democrats are not just political flavors with no real meaning. At their root, the two parties look at man in a radically different way. In short they each have a theology of man. And the differences are profound.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Time Writer Clueless - Like Brittany & Paris

In this week’s Time magazine, TV writer James Poniewozik wrote:
Why, after all, is celebrity an insult? Personal magnetism, the ability to galvanize attention and rally masses: this is a bad quality in a Chief Executive? J.F.K. and Ronald Reagan managed to soldier on with this handicap. Besides, celebrity is America's chief international export. There's something almost unpatriotic about denigrating it; it's like insulting Obama by comparing him to a GMC truck. (You know who complains about American celebrity culture? Al-Qaeda and the French, that's who!)

All this proves is that Poniewozik doesn't get it. He doesn't understand why Obama's celebrity is so offensive. Obama is a celebrity much like Paris Hilton. She's a rich heiress who has accomplished nothing in her life. When Obama has accomplished something noteworthy, then it would be different.

What about John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan? Didn't they have celebrity status too? Well, Kennedy was a big war hero, in spite of serious medical problems that should have disqualified him from military service. He also had served in the house and senate. So Kennedy had done some noteworthy things to attain his celebrity status. But Reagan was just an actor, right? What had he done? Well, actually he had run the Screen Actors Guild. Then He was a political activist giving speeches all over the country for several years. When those early Reagan speeches are analyzed, we see that they are heavy with content. Obama's speeches in contrast sound good, but say little. Then Reagan became governor of California. All this before using his "celebrity" to run for president.

What is offensive about Obama is that he is famous for being famous, and then he is using that empty fame to gain high office. Past political celebrities usually had something of substance in their portfolios that justified both their fame and their political aspirations.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why Does Anyone Give a Rip about Rick Warren?

Who is Rick Warren? He is a teacher of rank Pelagianism - that is works righteousness. He believes that the goal of preaching is to make obedient people. At most, he gives lip service to Christ paying for our sins. As such, this man is no Christian pastor. He is a heretic.

The Christian faith is always totally about Jesus Christ, God the Son, and His work on our behalf. Anyone who does not have have that at the center of their message is a distorter of the Christian faith. Any true obedience on our part must be driven by the message that Christ gives us forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift. Even Rome gets this this. Rome does teach salvation by grace alone. The only problem is that they define grace not as an attitude in God, but as the power for us to do good works which then earn God's favor. The kind of crass works righteousness that we hear from Rich Warren and the other "Purpose Driven" preachers would make a Roman bishop blush.

Nevertheless, both presidential candidates have made appearances at his church. Perhaps what this does is give us insight into the problems faced by the orthodox fathers dealing with Arius, Pelagious and the other heretics of their age. Warren's popularity really reminds us that heresy is always popular in every age.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Value of Insanity

Some have been quick to criticize John McCain for his strong anti Russian rhetoric. McCain is famous for his temper. Pat Buchanon said that John McCain's temper would make Dick Chaney look like Mother Teresa. But I tend to think of this as good. If foreign leaders are convinced that the U.S president isn't above making a couple glass parking lots if provoked, they will be much more cautious. No one wants a U.S. president who actually is crazy. But if the world thinks our president is crazy, that can be a good thing.

Naked Aggression

Like a lot of people, I was startled by Russia's invasion of Georgia. It is clear at this point that this was blatant aggression on the part of the Russians. But it also has revealed great weakness on the part of the Russian military. Their bombers can't hit their targets. Several aircraft were shot down by what is in essence a third rate Georgian military. Command control is weak or non-existent. This last point may be a deliberate excuse for legally sanctioned looting.

We are at a time when several new oil fields are coming on line in north-east Asia. One of the big problems is that there is little infrastructure in place to move that oil out to the rest of the world. Russia would like to leverage all that oil by forcing these countries to move it out through Russia. Georgia is one of the few good alternatives to shipping oil through Russia.

What could be done? The Russian military is still of poor quality. If we were to unleash our air power over Georgia we could eliminate all Russian air power and armor in the region. We would lose few if any aircraft. The cost would be largely the expenditure of munitions. It would probably work out to a million dollars per Russian aircraft shot down. So it would not be cheap. But if we were to stop Putin now, it would be cheaper than a larger war down the line.
Putin is an aggressor, little different than Hitler, Napoleon or other aggressors of the past. Aggressors are always bullies. If you stand up to them, they usually prove to be far weaker than they appear.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Bush Volleyball

For such a straight laced guy, President Bush shows up with the most interesting of company.

Sermon for August 9-10

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 9-10
Text: Job 38:4-18

Dear Friends in Christ,
In the United States we are proud of our egalitarianism. That can be good. For example, why should we show deference to an incompetent oaf who just happens to have been born king or duke of this or that or named Kennedy. Many nobles are among the most unaccomplished people on earth. We could look, example to Louis XVI of France or Nicholas I of Russia. Both were clueless as their countries were overrun by revolution. They didn’t even have the good sense to run away. Our egalitarianism can also be bad. At the fair this year, I had a guy try to say he knew more theology than I did because he had taught Sunday School and was on a church council somewhere. I asked him if he had studied Greek and Hebrew and spent four yeas studying under world class theologians? This doesn’t mean that pastors or other experts are never wrong. But if one is going to argue against them, you’d better have some bases for your complaint. I think of the heroic, faithful laymen at the time of the Seminex battle in our synod. They would say, “No I don’t have a degree from Harvard or Oxford of some such place. But here is what the Small Catechism says and we are both sworn to this as the true confession of our faith.” They treated the theologians respectfully, with deference, but they still held to the truth. They pointed to an authority to which both they and the theologians were bound. All too often today there are people who are determined to show their ignorance and treat all learning with contempt. This is the dark side of American egalitarianism.

Our text is best described as a rant. It is a rant given by Christ Himself. It is spoken to Job. Job had come to a point where he had not lost faith in God, but did begin to question God and challenge God’s justice. Then God appeared to Job in a whirlwind. We know that this is God the Son, that is Christ, because, as Christ Himself tells us, no one has seen the Father, except the Son. (John 6:46) Christ here should not be seen as angry with Job so much as peeved. He had come to get in Job’s face and tell him off.

Christ begins: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” While we think of creation as the work of God the Father, John 1 clearly teaches us that God the Son also participated in the creation of the world. Christ challenges Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Christ if flashing His credentials. I have the right to come and tell you off. Why? Because I made everything including you. Christ continues His rant. “Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” The answer of course is that Christ determined the measurements of the foundations of the earth. In fact, Christ created the geometry to measure it. He further reminds Job that while the angels were singing for joy at the creation of the world, Job was not there. Christ continues: “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?” Here Christ is claiming that He created the laws of physics and is Lord over the laws of physics. Finally Christ asks: “Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?”

We live in a time of great arrogance. Many presume to know more about the origins of the earth than those who were there. Many presume to know what happens after death, though they have no real means to know this. Those who seek to know and understand death apart from Scripture often turn to spirits, seances, and the like. They might make contact with something, but have no means to know if it is the spirit of the dead, the spirit if deception, or an evil spirit. They are playing with things they do not and cannot understand. Many presume to know the nature of God apart from what God has revealed. They reject the scriptures, but then spout mindless platitudes about the love of God. In the darkness of their minds they glorify the vile behavior men, worship the creation instead of the creator and invent a false god or more often goddess in the image of sinful mankind. To all this Christ simply says: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”

The reality is that we can only know what God Himself has revealed to us. We were not there when the Three Persons of the Trinity gathered in counsel and said: “Let us make man in our own image.” But God tell us this in Genesis 1:26. Christians have understood for two thousand years that there is no knowledge of God apart from Jesus Christ and there is no knowledge of Christ apart from Holy Scripture. We weren’t there. Someone has to tell us about these things. So God sent holy men to write Scripture, so that we would have a reliable record of these things. God sends pastors to teach God’s people. God’s sends faithful parents and grandparents to share these things with their children and grandchildren. It can be something as simple as reading from a Bible story book to them. Our knowledge of who God is, what God has done, and what God promises to do, comes to us totally from outside of ourselves. It is revealed knowledge. We must never forget this. For we were not there when Christ laid the foundations of earth.

Why does it matter if we know what God has revealed? Because God is not only our maker, but also our redeemer. We are sinners. That is why so many arrogantly reject what God has revealed. That is a symptom of the sinfulness of mankind. God as creator is also judge. It’s the old Bill Cosby line - l brought you into this world, I can take you out of this world and make another one just like you. In God’s case this is literally true. Since God made us and not we ourselves, we under His judgement. And indeed Christ will judge and Christ will condemn. But Christ is not only a righteous judge. He’s revealed something else to us as well. He is our redeemer. He has taken our sins upon Himself. He has died on the cross as payment for our sins and risen to life again for our salvation. This gift is intended for all mankind. It becomes reality for those who trust in Christ rather than themselves.

If we were to update Christ’s words to Job and apply them to the people of today, it might sound like this. “Hey, dummy, listen up! You think you’re so smart! Were you around when the world was made? What do you know about it? Nothing. Because you weren’t there. You weren’t there when I made the world. You weren’t there when I created Adam and Eve. You weren’t there when I was born in Bethlehem. You weren’t there when I cried from the cross ‘It is finished.’” All too often we presume to know things by our own power. But this is not possible. All these things must be revealed to us. All too many in our age reject what God has revealed. That truly is a dumb thing to do. Because knowledge of Christ is not just about creation. It is also about redemption. If we know Christ, as He has revealed Himself, we know that He is our maker, our judge, and most of all our redeemer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

August Parish Newletter

From the Disk of the Pastor
August 2008

Dear Friends in Christ,
So often we hear the passage: Judge not that ye be not judged. (Matthew 7:1) This is one of the most abused and misquoted passages in Scripture. The passage is taken from the Sermon on the Mount and is about the false judgement of the Pharisees. It is not a command against all judgement. In fact Christians are commanded to make judgements. St. Paul tells us: And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. (I Corinthians 5:2-3) Here St. Paul is making a judgement and commanding that the Corinthian congregation likewise judge and condemn an unrepentant sinner. (There is a veiled reference later in Paul’s writings suggesting that this man may indeed have come to repentance and been reconciled to the congregation.)

Nor is this only to be found in Paul. We find Christ Himself commanding Christians to make judgements in Matthew 18:15-20. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them." In these verses Christ explains about those who sin against us. First we must make a judgement as to whether they have sinned. Second we must judge if it was an accidental sin for which the person was repentant, though they may not even be aware that they sinned, or if it was a sin for which they were unrepentant, and thus endangering their salvation. Only in the later case would one confront their brother for a sin. Then one must judge their brother’s response. Did he come to see his sin, or were they defiant? Finally, the Church itself is called upon to render a judgement in the matter.

What are the implications of the false understanding of Matthew 7:1? If we take this as a command to render no judgements, a Christian could never serve on jury, as a judge, or as a prosecutor. Further, a Christian could not even vote, since to vote requires one to render a judgement. Often that judgement involves who one considers to be trustworthy. A Christian parent could not even discipline their children! Disciplining one’s children requires that one judge their behavior to be wrong. Simply put, one cannot even function in day to day life if one cannot render judgements, including judgements on the behavior of others. This is not to be seen as wrong or sinful, rather, it is to be seen as a commanded by Christ, St. Paul, and numerous other Biblical writers. We must be careful to render our judgements on the basis of known facts. In fact, Christ is warning us, in Matthew 7:1, against making false judgements when we don’t know the facts, or on the basis of assumed facts. But when the facts are known to us, it is Christ’s will that we make judgements based upon His Law.
Rev. Jody R. Walter
Psalm 119:104-105

Sermon for August 2-3

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 2-3, 2008
Text: Matthew 14:13-21

Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever noticed how many varies of fish there are? You can order delectable Talapia a restaurant. A few years ago, Orange Ruffy was in fashion. You could grill salmon steaks. Then there is the ever useful Cod and Halibut. Of course in Chronicles of Narnia Mr. Tumnus promised Lucy sardines with afternoon tea. Apparently that has gone out of fashion in England. The actress who played Lucy had never had sardines so someone arranged for her to sample them. She doesn’t like them. Then of course we have local varieties, Walleye, Perch and the various forms of pan fish. I suppose nearly every form of a fish is eaten somewhere by somebody. People will smoke suckers. Scandinavians will pack fish in lye. The Romans thought eel was a delicacy - especially after the eels had just eaten a couple prisoners. It was a truly shocking practice. Some people even eat carp. Well, I suppose if you’re hungry enough...
Bread and fish. It doesn’t sound like much to our modern ears. Especially since it probably wasn’t exactly really good fish. The bread was probably what we would call pita bread or flat bread. This was the meal that Christ would serve His guests. Oh, did I mention that it was probably 15-20,000 guests and that Jesus fed them all with five loaves and two fish. I don’t think even Martha Stewart could pull that one off.

Christ was seeking some time alone. He probably wanted to pray. We can surmise this because later that day, Jesus did manage to find some time alone and this is what He did. The crowds followed Him about in the wilderness. Christ did not shoo them away. He taught them and healed the sick. This was common enough for His ministry. But toward evening, came the crisis. The people needed to eat. There was no place really to send them for food. And to bring food to them would be an enormous task. This was feeding an army. It would literally take a wagon train miles long to bring food to them. Christ then provides yet another miracle. He multiplies the bread and fish and feeds them. In fact, there is so much food the each of the twelves disciples gathers up a basket of food to spare.

Christ Himself, in the John 6 likens this miracle to the giving of manna to the Israelites that the time of Moses. Many will object saying that God made the manna, but here Christ just increased the bread and fish. But this is not really the case. Moses knew what manna was. He had seen it before. It appears that the Israelites even had some knowledge of it, but had not seen it before. Manna is actually known today. It is a fungus, closely related mushrooms. It grows up in the night and wither as soon as the sun hits it. When ground into a powder it makes an excellent flour, but cannot be stored. Today, it is found is very tiny quantities growing in the deserts of the middle east. So here too, God took something that existed and multiplied it to provide food for His people.

One of the problems at the time of Christ was that people thought that Moses had given the manna. Christ would teach the people that Moses gave them nothing. God gave the manna. Christ, throughout His ministry would do miracles the echoed the works God did through Moses. Usually, Christ would do Moses one better, and He would make it clear that He did this Himself - by His own power and authority. This was to show that Christ indeed is the one Moses Himself prophesied: [Moses said] The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.' And the Lord said to me, 'They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) Here Moses is speaking of Christ. Christ is the prophet who would be the new Moses. He would have God’s words in His mouth. He would authenticate those words by signs not seen before or since.

There is a warning in this as well. God will demand payment from any who does not listen His chosen One. This doesn’t exactly sound all too nice. It isn’t. God isn’t nice. He is loving. But He also an avenger. One must never reduce God to single attribute. This is one of the great errors of our age.

So this then becomes the context of Christ’s miracle. The people were waiting for this special prophet. But they were hard hearted. They didn’t really believe God’s promises. In many cases they twisted the promises of God. They weren’t looking for a savior from sin. They were looking for someone to trash the Romans. Christ comes and begins to teach. His teaching is different. He teaches by His own authority. What does that mean. Well, what we see through the Gospels. It sounds something like this. “You have heard it said... but I tell you...” Or “Moses wrote... but I tell you...” He does not rely upon the authority of others. He is clearly claiming that His authority is greater. Okay prophet, if you’re such hot stuff, prove it, the people would say. Christ would proceed to heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the hungry, walk on water and the like. In many cases people still didn’t believe. It makes you want to scream, “What is it going to take.” Indeed, as Christ Himself said on another occasion, they will not believe, even if someone were to come back to them from the dead. Such is the nature of unbelief.

Christ came to be God with us. He came to be a blessing. Sadly, for some it became a curse. But we must not think that Christ has left us. Indeed, at the end of Matthew Christ tell us that He is with us always. He did not ascend into heaven to be an absent and distant Lord - like some nobleman who lives in another country. Rather Christ continues to feed us. He gives us His very Body and Blood, given and shed on the cross for our sins, as our food to drink. This is an even greater miracle than multiplying a few fish and pitas. Here we are fed with the very thing that was sacrificed for us. And so here at the rail we should see a continuation of Christ’s feast. It does not end, but continues for His people through all eternity. The Body and Blood become the ultimate sign for those who believe. Here is the greatest feast of all time. Here is the bread our Savior would give us to feast upon - the true bread of eternal life. For those fed in the wilderness of Galilee were soon hungry again. But not so for us. The true hunger for forgiveness and life is filled here, continuously. It is a bread that cannot be taken from us. It is a living bread that remains within us, forever.

Propaganda and Bush's Legacy

I just saw a report on a bus turned into a museum chronicling the failures of the Bush presidency. Why? Why go to this trouble. If Bush's presidency is indeed a failure, it needs no propaganda to demonstrate it. People will already know it. This is can only be seen as a desperate attempt to rewrite history and convince people that lies are truth.

What is Bush's legacy? It is that of a mid level president, who did some things very well and other's disastrously bad. He will be remembered for having the courage to defend the country, even though many didn't deserve to be defended, and some even committed treason to keep Bush from defending the country.

This contrasts sharply to the legacy of Bill Clinton who is remembered as a corrupt, incompetent, who did things with interns and cigars in the oval office.

The United States has had 43 presidents. There have only been two truly great presidents - Washington and Lincoln. They must be ranked #1 and #2. Many have been mediocre. Some, like Chester Arthur, proved to be surprisingly decent. Others, like Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and Millard Fillmore have been disastrously bad. Clinton will be ranked about 35th. In spite of his own incompetence, he will always be remembered as a president who presided over great prosperity, even if it was created by others. Bush 41 will fall in somewhere between 25th and 30th. Bush 43, slots in around 20th. Bush was not a great president, but in terms of U.S. history, he will be viewed as being on the top edge of average. When all is said and done, it will be clear that people of this age have misunderestimated President Bush.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What Does a Denial Mean?

Ron Suskind just released a new book which I don't intend to read. The book is titled: The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism. Suskind has long been a Bush basher and anti-war extremist. His first book on the Bush administration was a tell all with former treasury secretary Paul O'Neal. ONeal, in Suskind's earlier book, claimed that the Bush administration started planning to attack Iraq in their very first national security meeting.

In his latest book Suskind claims that the Bush administration forged evidence connecting Mohommed Atta to Iraq. The current Iraqi government found a document that appears to have been written by al-Tikriti, the head of Iraqi intelligence under Saddam Hussein. The document shows that Atta was in Iraq and received terrorist training in the camp of Abu Nidal. Nidal was a Palestinian terrorist who operated a training camp in Iraq. The date of the document is July 1, 2001. The dates that Atta was in Iraq are unclear. Suskind charges that this document is a forgery put out by the Bush administration. It does not appear that Suskind has any clear evidence for his charge. But by making the charge he admits the document exists.

Suskind further charges that the Bush administration made up evidence for the existence of WMDs in Iraq. That charge is now clearly absurd in light of the fact that we just moved 550 to of uranium from Iraq to Canada.

Slowly but surely, the debate on Iraq is shifting. More and more people are seeing that many of the claims of the Bush administration are in fact true or at least reasonable. More and more people are seeing that authors like Suskind are agenda driven ideologues who are have little interest in the truth.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Yellowcake and Treason

One aspect that I haven't yet developed here is the implications of the the revelation that Saddam had 550 tons of yellowcake uranium and the rhetoric the anti-war politicians, like John Murtha.

This cache of uranium was old. Saddam had it already before the first gulf war. We not only knew he had it, we knew exactly how much and exactly where it was. Which means that the members of congress likely knew this as well. This also means that congressmen like John Murtha lied to the American public, saying that there were no WMD's in Iraq. If you knowingly tell a lie that undermines the work of our soldiers while they are in the field, doesn't that constitute treason? I wonder what answer you would get from our soldiers who gave their lives because John Murtha and others lied? I would think that this is a jury many of our members of congress hope they never have to face. Boy could we use Rod Serling right now!