30 August 2010

The Feast of the Beheading of St. John

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John the Baptist has risen from the dead — in Christ Jesus, in His Word and miraculous works. For the baptizer, as well as all the baptized, has both died and risen with Him who is our Head.

So do the Lord’s life, His Word and works testify to your resurrection. And your life testifies to His Cross and Resurrection: to His fulfillment of the Law in faith and love, and to His completion of Holy Baptism in repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

St. John’s preaching and his baptizing, his life and his death, all confess and point ahead to Christ, the Crucified. His death is neither an accident, nor a punishment or failure, but the culmination of his holy and righteous work. As the Forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ, his passion and death precede that of the Lamb to whom he points.

And if the baptizer is so maligned and put to death, so are the baptized who die with Christ Jesus. But such a death is repentance, unto resurrection, and as Christ Jesus lives, so do you.

St. John the Baptist, in the spirit and power of Elijah, still goes before the Lord to prepare His way by the preaching of repentance.

Therefore, whatever is not lawful in your life, put that to death in you, and die to that. Repent, and bear the fruits of repentance.

Where you are harboring grudges, whether against the Lord, His servants, or your neighbor, repent of your sinful hardness of heart, humble yourself under God, and forgive, as you are forgiven. Be reconciled to God and man in Christ Jesus, lest the sin that is crouching at the door of your heart devour your body and soul in death.

If you are sorry for what you have said or done, do not be afraid to make amends and do better. Submit to the Word of the Lord, and trust Him to preserve your life, to vindicate and raise you, even from death and the grave. Whether you suffer the consequences of your own sins, or suffer the sins of others against you, do not doubt the faithfulness of the Lord, who loves you and who saves you by His grace, by His own innocent suffering and death, by His holy and precious blood, by His catechesis and His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Do not simply listen to His Word as some kind of passing entertainment or amusement, but hear it and heed it as the truth, and live by it in faith and love, in life and death, patiently bearing the Cross.

Surely the Cross of Christ is perplexing, but do not be afraid.

Is it not amazing that Herod was afraid of John, locked up in Herod’s prison and subject to his whims? Whereas John, however fearful or discouraged his mortal flesh may have been, had the courage, peace and confidence to continue preaching, even in prison, even unto death.

That is a faithful example for you, even if it does end in beheading, in death (or precisely so!).

But, how long, O Lord? How long?

Are you not tempted and tested in your own place — whether in a prison or a palace?

Yet, the Lord has given you a white robe in your Baptism. He has clothed you in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. And He invites you to rest here, to be at peace, under the Altar of the same Lord Jesus Christ. Here is where your heart and soul recline in safety, even while your body labors in love, and suffers for the sake of love, for the sake of the truth, for the sake of the Gospel. For here your body also finds its Sabbath Rest, reclines, and eats and drinks in peace, in the forgiveness, life and salvation of Christ.

It is to and from this Altar that you live.

Your life in Christ is truly Sacramental. It is rooted in Holy Baptism. It reclines at the Lord’s Table in the Holy Communion. And such things are eminently practical.

You have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism.
So what could Herod or anyone else do to you?

And as your life is hidden with Christ in God, under His Altar, your life on earth is Eucharistic, that is, a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to the One who feeds you from His Altar by His grace.

That is your confidence and courage.

And know this, that your life, your death, and your resurrection are precious to Him. You are precious and pleasing to Him, because you are robed in Christ, and you are in Christ, and Christ Himself is in you, and with you, and for you.

He is your Head, truly, as He is the Head of His Body the Church. And as your Head has gone before you, through death and the grave, into life everlasting, you can even “lose your head” for Him and His Gospel (that is no pun, but the truth). And you shall rise in your body to live forever in glory with Him, immortal and imperishable, like unto Christ’s own glorious body.

By the same token, and for the same reason, love and care for your neighbor’s body (in life and in death), in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body! As the disciples of St. John lovingly buried his body.

When you love your neighbor in his or her body, you are loving and serving the body of Christ, the body that is risen and glorified in Him.

In such faith and love, the life that you live from your Baptism to and from the Altar is a proper sort of dance for the true King, and He is pleased with you, not by seduction, but by His grace, through faith in His Gospel.

Living your life as a long slow beautiful dance for your King, the Lord’s Anointed, Christ Jesus, hear His solemn oath and gracious promise to you, that He gives to you His Father’s Kingdom.

And as a gift, guarantee and pledge of that, He who is the Head of John the Baptist gives to you His Body on a silver platter and pours out for you His Blood from a silver chalice, that you might live and abide in Him, as He lives and abides in you.

Dear child of God, baptized into Christ, in Him, not only St. John, but you are risen from the dead in and with Christ the Crucified.

Now, then, find your rest and be at peace here under His Altar, until you are vindicated in the final judgment when the full number of the baptized is completed.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

28 August 2010

The Latest Score

Here are the twenty artists or bands that have most caught my attention, captured my interest, fired my imagination, impressed and intrigued me in recent years (not including those who already had my ears).

Opeth

Black Stone Cherry

Paul Gilbert

Zac Brown Band

Orianthi

Black Label Society

Dream Theater

Eli Young Band

Black Tide

Breaking Benjamin

Halfway to Hazard

Nightwish

Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

MoZella

Elis

Shinedown

Thriving Ivory

Ingrid Michaelson

Apocalyptica

We are the Fallen

First prize, but no cash or any other tangible goodies, to the person who can come up with the best definition and description of my musical tastes. Simply saying "eclectic," "weird," "awful," or "great" won't cut it.

18 August 2010

A Dozen Hard Rock / Heavy Metal Benchmarks

In some ways, it's a gimme, but fwiw, here are my hard rock / heavy metal benchmarks (in order of significance, so far as I am concerned):

Black Sabbath

Led Zeppelin

Judas Priest

Bon Jovi

AC/DC

Metallica

Ozzy Osbourne

Def Leppard

Guns N’ Roses

Van Halen

Scorpions

Iron Maiden

Yes, I basically live in the past. I like it that way.

16 August 2010

The Dormition of St. Mary, the Mother of God

Let us arise and go to a city of Judah, and enter a priestly house, and rejoice in God our Savior.

And let us do so on this day in the remembrance of His mercy, with thanksgiving for His maidservant, the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom He has become one with us, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood.

She is, with us, a member of His Church, and in a special way she is an icon of that Royal Bride of Christ, that Holy Mother of God’s sons and daughters. In giving thanks for His grace and mercy upon her, we give thanks for His great mercy upon generation after generation, and upon us.

Because He is conceived and born of the Woman, this new Eve, this dear St. Mary, He is conceived and born for us, the sons and daughters of the first Adam and the first Eve, that we might receive the new birth of water, Word and Spirit, and the adoption of sons of God our Father.

So has He accomplished for us, first of all by becoming like us in all ways, save without sin, and then also by His Cross and Resurrection in our flesh. Born under the Law, and submitting Himself to the Law on our behalf, He has kept and fulfilled the Law for us, in perfect faith and love. Precisely in that same faith and love, He has suffered the judgment and punishment of the Law, the shame and humiliation of our sin and death, and has thereby atoned for our sin, defeated our death, destroyed our enemy the devil, redeemed us for Himself, and reconciled us to God forever.

All of this He has done, once for all — for St. Mary and St. Elizabeth, for Father Abraham and all his children, for Adam and Eve and all their children, and therefore, also, no less for you. It is an accomplished fact in His own flesh and blood, in His own Body and life, in His own Person, in the Kingdom of His God and Father, even now on earth (in His Church) as it is in heaven.

It is already true — it has been accomplished, and it is finished, complete, perfected — solid as a rock, never to be undone. So tightly has He bound Himself to us, by His Incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so tightly are His Cross and Resurrection united in Him, in His Body of flesh and blood like ours, that, even though you are small and weak and poor, lowly and mortal, dying and wasting away a little more every day, yet are you resurrected and ascended in and with Christ Jesus, the Son of God and Mary’s Son. In Him your life is already hidden with God, seated on high in the heavenly places, exalted far above all angels and archangels, above the cherubim and seraphim and the whole heavenly host.

But surely you do not see or feel or experience that heavenly glory and reality now. It is by faith in the Word of God, which you hear, and not by human sight. What you see and feel and experience in your life on earth is hunger, want and need; sickness and death; hardship and pain; ridicule and persecution; disappointment and despair; suffering and sorrow. You bear the reproach of your neighbor and the world, the assaults and accusations of the devil, the humiliation and shame of your own sin and guilt and faults and errors.

You hear that your sins are forgiven, and yet, you still suffer many of their consequences; not all of them, but many.

You hear that the Lord is with you, that He loves you, that His gracious favor is upon you, yet you often feel lonely and unloved, out of favor and forgotten.

You hear of the great blessings of Christ, but, as they come by and with and through His Cross, they are blessings often hard to bear.

You hear that God feeds and clothes you and preserves your life, but you still have to manage and juggle your finances, and work for a living, and pay your bills, and day by day you find yourself slowing down, getting tired and sometimes getting sick, wearing out and wasting away.

Against all of this harsh experience, the Church in heaven and on earth sets the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, crucified, risen and ascended in our human flesh and blood. Here is the true Man, conceived and born of Mary, who is our sister and our mother; and He, the Lord Jesus, her Son, our Brother, has been tempted in all ways as you are tempted; He has suffered in all the ways that you suffer; He has borne all of your sins in His own body, and He has carried all the sins of those who trespass against you, so that by His stripes and holy wounds you are healed.

He has shed His blood for you, for your redemption and atonement, and He has suffered and died in your place, on your behalf. He has gone through hell on your account and for your benefit.

And God raised this same Jesus, the Son of Mary, from the dead. This One who humbled Himself, even unto death, God has highly exalted above all heavens and has bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name.

That is why we make the crucifix a beautiful work of art, finally crafted and often of polished metal. It is why we use the finest vessels we can for the Holy Communion, and adorn the Church in splendor, and reverence the crucified Lord with deliberate ceremonies. It is why we clothe the newly baptized in white garments, even though they may be crying or screaming or messing themselves as we do so. It is why we clothe the ministers of Christ with colorful and elaborate vestments, though they are mortal men, poor miserable sinners like anyone else. It is why we sing sturdy hymns of substance and great confidence, even in the face of sin and death.

And it is why we say of this young girl from Nazareth, that she is rightly called and truly is the Mother of God. For her dear Son, the blessed Fruit of her sanctified womb, even as a tiny Fetus hidden within her body, is the very Lord, our God.

With all these things, with our lips and with our lives, we confess before the world that the Lord has had regard for the humble state of His servants. We confess that in His great mercy He has done great things for us; that with His mighty arm, His hands outstretched upon the Cross, He has done truly mighty deeds for us.

With St. Mary, with St. Elizabeth and all the faithful (in heaven and on earth), we exalt the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. Which is to exalt and rejoice in the Son of Mary, for He is true God, and she is the Mother of our Lord.

In remembering her Dormition on this day — that is, her falling asleep in Jesus, in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection — the Church rejoices and confesses that Mary’s Son is not the God of the dead, but of the living. In giving thanks to God for St. Mary, we believe, teach and confess that her Son, Christ Jesus, has fulfilled all that God has spoken and promised.

In considering that she who was humble has been exalted, in counting her blessed among women, we confess the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, our Lord, and count ourselves also exalted in Him. Even in the midst of lowliness and grief, in the midst of darkness, burdened by sin, threatened by death and destruction.

Even here, we do not fear.

We trust that, just as the Son of God was conceived and born of Mary by His Word and Spirit, so have you been conceived and born of His Church, as sons of God by grace through faith — in the same Word and Spirit that came to the Blessed Virgin.

We trust that, just as the Son of God became flesh and blood of her flesh and blood, and dwelt within St. Mary’s body, so does the same Son of God with the same flesh and blood come to dwell in your body in the Holy Communion.

As you eat of His Body and drink of His Blood, and as you have been united with Him, in His Cross and Resurrection, by your Holy Baptism, so are His Resurrection and Ascension surely yours.

So surely are they also St. Mary’s.

For the Lord our God, Christ Jesus, her Son, our Brother in the flesh and the Savior of us all, feeds the hungry with good things, in the remembrance of His mercy, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

12 August 2010

Between Perfect and Worthless

There's a lot of ground between perfect and worthless. Do not suppose that you have yet attained to either end of that great expanse.

There is but One who is Perfect, yes, only One.

Yet, there is no one who is worthless, no, not even one.

For the Perfect One has given Himself for all, and that is worth quite a lot.

You, yes you, are precious and of great price to that Perfect One, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you, not with perishable gold and silver, nor with stocks and bonds, but with His holy and precious blood, with His innocent suffering and death.

07 August 2010

Don't Worry. Be Ready.

Do not be afraid, little lamb of Jesus. Though you are small and weak, beleaguered, and mortal, you are more valuable to Christ than birds and flowers, more precious to Him than the ravens and the grass. Has He not redeemed you for Himself, purchased and won you with His own lifeblood? Has He not made His God and Father your own God and Father? Yes, this is most certainly true. So then, your Father shall not only feed you and clothe you, as He does the rest of all His creatures, but He has gladly chosen to give you His Kingdom.

Yes, do the work that He has given you to do, faithfully, in love for God and for your neighbor. But do not work as though your life depended on it, nor to get treasures for yourself on earth, which will not last but perish.

What God places in your hands, extend to your neighbor in mercy, in the confidence that God will surely continue to feed and clothe you according to His gracious providence. He knows your needs and well provides them. Be content, therefore, with the food and clothing that He gives you by His charity (for you are worthy of none of these things, but He gives them all to you by grace), and you, in turn, feed and clothe Christ Jesus in your neighbor's need.

Do not seek and strive after food and drink and clothing for this body and life. Do not make that labor your righteousness, and do not make those temporal goods your treasure and your gods.

But do seek the Kingdom of the one true God in Christ. Not by work and worry, but by faith in the Gospel: in the clothing of Christ, with which He clothes you in Holy Baptism, and in the Food and Drink of Christ, as you rest and recline at His Table where He serves you.

Fix your heart and mind, your eyes and ears, your body, soul and spirit on Him. For Christ is your true Treasure, an unfailing Treasure in heaven, who has come down to earth for you and freely gives Himself to you here.

As He has done so, and He does, and as the Father has not withheld His only-begotten and well-pleasing Son from you, but has given Him for you, how much more will He not also freely give you all good things in and with the same Lord Jesus Christ!

Though you do not yet see Him with your eyes, see Him by faith in His Gospel, in His means of grace and forgiveness, and hope in His great mercy and salvation. You will not be disappointed.

Do not worry about what you will wear, but do be dressed in readiness for Christ, clothed in His righteousness by His grace. Keep your lamps lit, your loins girded; for His Passover is at hand, the Sacrifice is offered.

Do not worry about what you will eat or drink, but here recline at your Master's Table, where He comes and girds Himself to serve you. He washes your dirty feet and waits on you. He is your Host, and He is your Meal. He is your Food and Drink indeed.

Like a Thief in the night He comes, by the way and the means of His Cross, with the fruits and benefits of the Cross for you, the Body and Blood of the Lamb who was slain.

Pharaoh is undone. Egypt is plundered. Even Satan, strong though he be, is bound and cast out.

For here is the true Solomon, the Son of David, the King of Righteousness, the King of Peace. He is your great and merciful High Priest forever, who brings in bread and wine, and blesses God and blesses you, and feeds you such a great Feast as you could never have imagined. Nor could all your work and worry ever spread such a Table as this one, which Christ has prepared for you by His own Cross and Passion.

Here is the true and promised Seed of Abraham, in whom all the promises of God are fulfilled, by whom all the nations of the world are blessed, by whose righteousness you are counted righteous: justified by His grace through faith in His Gospel.

Do not be afraid.

Though you have been fearful, He has been steadfast. Though you may yet be terrified, He has already prevailed for you, and for you He remains evermore, and evermore.

Though you have been anxious and worried about many things, He has been faithful in all things — on your behalf. And He is still faithful; all that He has promised, He does, and He will do — for you.

Though you have not been watching, waiting and alert, He has been ready, willing and able at all hours of the day and night. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, and through all the watches of the night, He is and ever has been vigilant in His care for you, just as He has gone to the cross for you, and risen from the dead for you, and lives to make intercession for you, and reigns over you in love for all eternity.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has fasted and gone without food for His body; for His food is to do the will of His Father, and He has hungered for His Kingdom and His Righteousness, in order that you might be fed in His Peace.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has thirsted, even unto death, that He might pour out the living water of His Holy Spirit upon you, and cleanse you and quench your thirst with the life-giving river of holy water and royal blood from His open heart and wounded side. And, dear one, as He has openend His heart to you, know that you are His treasure, and He is with you where you are.

This greater Solomon — in all His Glory — has gone naked in open public shame, that He might clothe you with His garments of divine Sonship and eternal Salvation.

Listen, dear child of God, disciple of Jesus, He has come, and He has opened the door to you. Beloved, He has girded Himself to serve you. Recline here at His Table, and receive what you did not expect:

Food from His hand. Drink from His Cup. Life from His death. Perfect Peace, instead of endless worries and anxieties. Safety from all that has frightened you and hounded you. Rest from all your labor.

Here is your true fatherland, in the city of your God, in your Father's House, whose Architect and Builder is Christ, your Savior. To Him be all Glory, honor, worship and praise, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen, and Amen.

For Those Who Asked (and anyone else)

From the Rudisillian Retreat at Redeemer this past week:

Here is the presentation that LaRena and I gave on the Church as the Household and Family of God; and

Here is the sermon I preached for the Commemoration of the Holy Ghost (Acts 8:14-17; St. John 14:23-31) at the concluding Votive Mass.