Wednesday, March 31, 2010

It's okay to FEEL and EXPERIENCE . . .

emotional highs and lows during the Sacred Services of these next few days.  Liturgical Lutherans (are there any other kind?) are often accused by those who go out of their way to create a weekly "worship experience" as being anti-feeling and anti-emotional in worship.  That's never the case, by the way.  The Divine Liturgy is always a moving experience when one truly understands what is taking place, namely that our Lord is Present in our midst to hear our confession of sin, absolve us, feed us with Word and Sacrament, and bless us as we depart His Holy House.  It is anything but boring and rote, as opponents of the liturgy claim.  So, don't ever be afraid to feel and experience the Holy Encounter you have with your Lord during Divine Service.  But, the feelings and emotions we experience during the Sacred Services of this Most Holy Week are heightened, and rightly so.  In fact, the liturgy and hymnody in the immediate days ahead purposely invites and invokes certain emotional responses from us more than at any other time of the Church Year.

The conclusion of the Holy (Maundy) Thursday Mass, as the altar is stripped and the eerie music is played in the background while Psalm 22 is being reverently read (or chanted, in some places) cannot help but evoke emotion.  The symbolism is powerful and moving - it gets me every time!  And Good Friday, both the Chief Service (at Noon, here) and Tenebrae (in the evening, here), with the seven words of Christ, the procession of the Sacred Cross, the Reproaches, the reading of St. John's Passion account to the gradual darkening of the church, and the Strepitus (loud sound), at which the church goes completely dark, cannot help but evoke emotion.  Powerful symbolism - it, too, gets me every time!  And then comes the joy of the Easter Vigil and the Festival of our Lord's Resurrection, with the beautiful decor, the smell of the lilies, the organ and the choir belting out the beautiful and celebratory Easter hymns - the church lets her hair down and celebrates like at no other time during the year - yeah, that gets me every time, too!

There are times in the days ahead to feel and experience the almost unbelievable beauty and awesome depth of all that our Lord did to save us wretched sinners and open to us the way to everlasting life.  From somber and meditative to joyous and celebratory - embrace it all, my friends.  Oh yes, it's okay to feel and experience the emotional lows and highs of these Sacred Days.  I pray that you will!        

Holy Wednesday Homily

31 March Anno + Domini 2010
 “Where I Am Going, You Cannot Come”
John 13:16-38 (Isaiah 62:11-63:7; Romans 5:6-11)

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

“Where I am going you cannot come.”  Why not?  Where are you going, Lord?  Why can’t we come?  We want to go with you.  We want to be wherever you are.  We love you.  Please don’t tell us we can’t come.  Please don’t depart from us.  We want to follow You wherever you lead us. 
Um, no, fellas, you really don’t.  You do not want to go where Jesus is going.  He is going to the cross.  And, on His way to the cross, He must go through nothing short of torture.  You really don’t want to follow Him on the journey He is about to make.  The Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows, is not desirous for you.  You do not know what you’re saying. 
Furthermore, you simply can’t go this way.  It’s His way, and His way alone, to go.  Only He can make this journey, for only He is perfect and free from sin.  Only He can offer the perfect sacrifice pleasing to God.  He is the unblemished Lamb of God, and only His perfect and innocent Body and Blood can make atonement for the sin of the world.  You don’t want to go with Him and, even if you did, you can’t go with Him.  This burden is His alone to bear.  It’s why He came into the world, to die, at the appointed time, for the ungodly – to die, at the appointed time, for you! 
Soon, very soon, you’ll understand.  It will all be made clear to you and you’ll see why you couldn’t go with Jesus to the cross.  In fact, it will be made so clear to you that you’ll be empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach Christ crucified to the world.  And, even though you think your Lord is holding out on you now, you’ll understand later that His telling you that you could not go with Him was motivated by His deep love for you, for God shows His love for you (indeed, for the whole world) in that while you (and all people) were still sinners, Christ died for you (and all people). 
Oh no, dear brothers, you can’t go with Jesus now.  But, you will follow Him later.  You, too, will one day travel the Via Dolorosa.  Peter, you don’t know it, but you speak the truth.  You will lay down your life for Jesus.  So will your brothers with you.  The blood you shed, and the death you die, however, will not make atonement for the sin of the world, nor even for your own sins.  Only Jesus’ Blood does that.  Your blood, your death, will simply bear witness to the Blood of the One who died in your place, for your sins.  Your blood, your death, will serve to make the good confession of the faith and will stand as a testimony of your faith for all believers until the Last Day.  Jesus will use your blood and your death to build His holy church which He establishes by His Blood and Death.  So, you will get your wish, dear brothers, although not in the manner you suppose. 
Dear friends in Christ, what is true for the disciples is true for you.  You don’t want to go to Calvary with Jesus, nor can you.  More to the point, the Good News is that you don’t have to go that way.  Jesus goes to the cross in your place.  He goes so that you don’t have to go, so that you don’t have to pay the price necessary to atone for your sins and reconcile you to the Father, a price which would cost you an eternity in hell to pay.  He goes to pay that price in full with His Body and Blood. 
So it is that all who wish to supplement Jesus’ work on Calvary with their own works to bring about their salvation make a mockery of His perfect, once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.  Anyone who believes that Jesus did His part and now it’s up to us to do our part is stuck in that upper room with those confused disciples on the night when our Lord was betrayed.  They want to go with Jesus as He accomplishes our salvation.  They fail to realize that Jesus came to accomplish our salvation in full all by His lonesome.  And, what He came to do, He did.  Our salvation is complete.  It is finished!  He did all the work necessary.  It’s not our way to assist Him in this.  We can’t.  He must go this way alone.  And so, He does. 
Our way, then, is to follow in the footsteps of the disciples, making the good confession of the faith by clinging to Christ crucified for us with a steadfast willingness to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the faith.  Our way, dear friends, is to proclaim Christ crucified to all who will hear us that they, too, might receive the eternal blessings we have received through faith in Him.  Our way is to love one another, just as He loved us, so that people will know that we are His disciples.  Our way is to daily repent of our sinfulness, ever clinging in faith to the One who won forgiveness, life, and salvation for us with His sacrificial death on the cross in our place.  Our way is to devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).  Our way, dear friends, is not to assist Jesus in our salvation, which is quite impossible, but to receive the salvation He accomplished for us and to live out that salvation in steadfast faith. 
And, by the eternal blessings of grace upon grace, we are not left alone to live out our way in the Christian faith.  Neither were the disciples.  The same Lord Jesus who went the way of sorrows to the Cross in our place promises to be with us always.  And so, He is.  He is with us here in His holy house to forgive us, to feed us, to strengthen us, to preserve us, to empower us to maek the good confession, to fill us with His love, so that we might obey His command to love one another
Thus, we most certainly rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation; through whom we have access to the throne of grace; through whom we have become the people prophesied by Isaiah - the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord, privileged to receive the steadfast love of the Lord and to dwell in the great goodness of His holy house forever.  All glory, honor, and praise be to God our Father, and to His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, now and forever.  Amen.       
Now the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Like a Papal Visit?

In the category of, "Oops, I probably shouldn't have said that," a pastor from my neck of the woods, referring to LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick's visit and participation in the Community Good Friday Worship Service to be held in a couple of days, is quoted in The Saginaw News as follows:
“It’s a great honor and privilege for him to be here, and he takes his role very seriously to preach and pray the true word of God,” said the Rev. Edward A. Meyer, pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, 2565 N. Miller in Thomas Township. “It would be likened to having the pope come to Saginaw in the same manner.”
Since it is Holy Week, I'll refrain from offering commentary on this . . . although, I have to say, it is very tempting.  I mean, when even his avid supporters liken Pres. Kieschnick to a pope, well . . .

The Real Face of Jesus?

Anyone catch the documentary "The Real Face of Jesus?" on the History Channel last night?  I caught wind of this yesterday morning, as they talked about it on Good Morning America and I thought it would be interesting to watch.  Unfortunately, I missed the first hour of it, as I came home from Divine Service last night and turned on the Red Wings game.  After the game, it dawned on me, so I tuned in.  Fascinating stuff.  A group of scientists spent a year using sophisticated computer technology to create a 3-D image of the face (and body) of the man whose image is captured on the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud has always fascinated me, especially in its ability to give modern scientists fits.  They can't figure it out.  Is it a fake?  Is it authentic?  If it's authentic, could it be the actual burial cloth of Jesus?  If it's a fake, how did the person(s) who fabricated it pull it off?  How did that image get on that cloth?  No one has come up with a definitive answer to these questions yet.  Some think they have, of course, but they haven't.  The Shroud continues to defy modern science.  Just when they think they've figured it out, new evidence derived from better technology sends them back to the drawing board.  Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent studying and analyzing the Shroud and it remains a mystery.  Fascinating, indeed.

Anyway, this new documentary is very interesting.  Whether or not these scientists have actually produced the "real face" of Jesus, we'll never know, since, well, we can't say for sure whether or not the Shroud is Jesus' burial cloth.  But, their process and conclusions are intriguing, and they make a compelling argument for having created a 3-D image of the man on the cloth, whether Jesus or not.  Here's the video from Good Morning America advertising the documentary:

You can also read about this here:
What I find amusing about this story is the warning reporters feel compelled to issue to viewers, such as this one, also from Good Morning America (found within this post): 
Viewers should be prepared: The results achieved through the convergence of science and religion doesn't resemble the popularized images of Jesus. 
Now, think about this.  If the Shroud was proven authentic and the 3-D image created from the Shroud by these scientists proved to be the "real face of Jesus," it would be very odd to imagine that Christians would be bummed since it "doesn't resemble the popularized images of Jesus."  I would think that we Christians would be pretty darned excited to have such an artifact that substantiates our faith and gives us an accurate picture of our Savior.  Duh!  What these reporters don't understand (not surprisingly) is that we Christians do not put our faith in the "popularized images of Jesus" and recognize that we do not know exactly what He looked like.  Besides, which "popularized images of Jesus" are they talking about?  Jesus has been depicted in many and various ways throughout history.  If they're talking about the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus popular here in America, I hate to burst their bubble, but we're already well aware of the fact that our Savior did not look like that.  The fact that they think this new face of Jesus would shake the faith of Christians shows how very little they understand about Christianity (again, not surprising).  
The bottom line is that we don't need a Shroud or a 3-D image extracted from a Shroud to authenticate our faith.  So, whether you are a believer or a skeptic, it matters not.  We have God's Word, and that is authentic.  And that Word assures us that our Savior, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose again from the dead for us.  We need not know what He looked like.  Those of us who have been given the faith to believe in Him will find that out soon enough! (and so will everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, when He returns on the Last Day). 

Holy Wednesday Matins

P:  Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
C:  O come, let us worship Him.  

Office Hymn:  LSB 610 "Lord Jesus, Think on Me" (st. 2)
Lord Jesus, think on me,
By anxious thoughts oppressed;
Let me Your loving servant be
And taste Your promised rest.

Old Testament Reading:  Lamentations 3:1-33
From The Lutheran Study Bible:  Jeremiah describes the great suffering of God's people at the hand of the invading Babylonians.  He makes no excuse for their sin, but he encourages them (and us today) with God's great compassion and unfailing love.  The people have been crushed but not utterly destroyed - their hope must be in the Lord and His great love for them.  We are often our own worst enemies, responsible for our suffering through our own choices.  No matter how bad things get, our hope is always in the Lord because He loves us in Jesus Christ and never abandons us.  * Lord, do not treat us as our sins deserve, but forgive and restore us to Your unfailing love through Jesus Christ.  Amen.
New Testament Reading:  Hebrews 4:1-16
From The Lutheran Study Bible (3:7-4:13):  God's people missed rest in the Promised Land through their unbelief.  This is a warning to us.  God calls us to trust Him and to enter into the rest that He has enjoyed since the completion of creation.  In Christ Jesus, we have rest from the accusation of the Law.  The Holy Spirit leads us to trust in Christ, granting us everlasting peace.  * Lord Jesus, You are my rest.  May I always look to You when I am weary and afraid.  Amen.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is put away.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.

The Writing (in place of the homily) from Dr. Luther's Large Catechism I:37-40:
Such hard heads imagine that God overlooks and allows them to rest in security, or that He is entirely ignorant or cares nothing about such matters.  Therefore, God must deal a smashing blow and punish them, so that He cannot forget their sin unto their children’s children.  In that way, everyone may take note and see that this is no joke to Him.  These are the people He means when He says, “those who hate Me” [Exodus 20:5]; i.e., those who persist in their defiance and pride.  Whatever is preached or said to them, they will not listen.  When they are rebuked, in order that they may learn to know themselves and make amends before the punishment begins, they become mad and foolish.  They rightly deserve wrath, as we see daily in bishops and princes now.
But as terrible as these threatenings are, so much more powerful is the consolation in the promise.  For those who cling to God alone should be sure that he will show them pure goodness and blessing, not only for themselves, but also to their children and their children’s children, even to the thousandth generation and beyond that.  This ought certainly to move and impel us to risk our hearts in all confidence with God [Hebrews 4:16; 10:19-23], if we wish all temporal and eternal good.  For the supreme Majesty makes such outstanding offers and presents such heartfelt encouragements and such rich promises.

Collect of the Day:
Merciful and everlasting God, You did not spare Your only Son but delivered Him up for us all to bear our sins upon the cross.  Grant that our hearts may be so fixed with steadfast faith in Him that we fear not the power of sin, death, and the devil; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Tuesday Homily

30 March Anno + Domini 2010
 “Holy Submission”
John 12:23-50 (Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25)

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

“Father, glorify your name.”  These are the words of your Savior, dear friends, and they are words of the purest Gospel.  Jesus knows that His hour has arrived.  His soul is troubled, for He knows what lies ahead of Him.  He knows what this hour means for Him.  He knows what He must endure.  He knows about the mockery and ridicule; about the betrayal and abandonment; about the agony and pain, the intense suffering that awaits Him.  The cup of His Father’s wrath has been given Him to drink.  That’s what His hour entails and He knows it.  It is for this purpose that He has come – to take upon Himself the wrath and punishment of His Father, which He Himself doesn’t deserve, but which is deserved, instead, by all sinners. 
How can His soul not be troubled at the thought of this hour?  And yet, what does He say?  “Father, save me from this hour?”  No.  He says, “Father, glorify your name.”  Hours later, as He prays in anguish in Gethsemane, even to the point of sweating blood, we get a glimpse into the suffering our Savior endured in our place.  Even before the spitting and scourging and nailing and piercing, our Savior is in intense agony:  “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” 
What lies before Jesus is horrifying.  Do not think otherwise, dear friends.  We cannot even begin to fathom what He went through for us.  That He willingly and lovingly submitted to the will of His Father, knowing what that meant for Him, is the Gospel in its purest form:  “Father, glorify your name; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” 
This is Holy Submission, something that is often lost on us, especially we Americans, who love our independence and individualism.  Submission has become a bad word among us today.  Submission is seen as weakness.  It is thought of as a lack of creativity or a lazy crutch.  Those who buck the trend and willingly submit to someone or something, even when that submission conflicts with their own personal wants and desires, are rare indeed – and, not only rare, but viewed by our individualistic society as eccentric and crazy. 
St. Paul was right:  “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.”  That Jesus submits to His Father’s will and goes uncomplaining to the cross is foolishness to the world.  But, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” 
“Father, glorify your name; not as I will, but as you will.”  Jesus submits to His Father, for He and His Father are One.  Jesus knows that His submission is the only way to save sinners.  So He goes, silently and willingly, to endure the horrors which await Him.  He goes, for He knows that His submission is the only way to draw the sins of all people into Himself and make atonement for them with His precious Blood.  He goes, for there is no other way to accomplish our salvation.  His Father’s wrath must be spent; Hell must be endured; sin cannot go unpunished.  So, He bears it all, in Holy Submission, for you. 
And you need Jesus’ Holy Submission, for you know full well how often you have failed to submit to the Father’s will.  You know how often you have gone with the crowd; how often you have bought into the independence and individuality promoted by our society.  Repent.  Believe.  Submit.  That is the call.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” 
Take heart, beloved, for you have come to the right place.  Here is where your Savior comes among you to distribute the fruits of His life-giving and life-sustaining cross.  Eat His Body and drink His Blood – the very Body and Blood He gave and shed for you in the eternal glory of His Holy Cross – and be joined to His life, so that, washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, you might depart not only in the peace of being forgiven and free, but in the strength to live and serve in His kingdom; that you might walk in His light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.  Here is where you learn from your Savior how to live in holy submission to His Word and will.  And while you’ll never master this holy submission this side of heaven, the Gospel by which you are being saved is powerful, able to produce in you abundant fruit, even the fruit of submission.  That you are here proves as much, for submission to the Father’s will compels you to follow your Savior and come to where He promises to be.  Receive the Divine Gifts your Savior gives to you here, that you may strengthened and preserved in the faith, learning to say with Him, “Father, glorify your name; not as I will, but as you will.”  Lord, grant this unto us all.  In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name.  Amen.          

Now the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Holy Tuesday Matins

P:  Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
C:  O come, let us worship Him.  

Office Hymn:  LSB 864 "Shepherd of Tender Youth" (st. 3)
You are the great High Priest;
You have prepared the feast
     Of holy love;
And in our mortal pain
None calls on You in vain;
Our plea do not disdain;
     Help from above.

Old Testament Reading:  Lamentations 2:1-22
From The Lutheran Study Bible:  By the Lord's hand, Babylon has destroyed Jerusalem and razed its temple.  The consequences of sin have left people slaughtered and the remaining citizens exiled to Babylon.  God has turned His back on His people for turning their back on Him.  Their worship of false gods violated the covenant dating back to the exodus from Egypt.  Their sin has now born hideous fruit.  Despite the apostasy of God's people, He still loves them and will bring them back from their captivity to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.  From these people, God shall raise up a Savior for all nations.  * Lord, teach us to heed Your warnings and repent when we stray, that we might receive Your precious forgiveness.  Amen.
New Testament Reading:  Hebrews 3:1-19
From The Lutheran Study Bible (vv. 1-6):  Though Moses was a faithful servant in God's household, Jesus is the faithful Son.  Since Jesus calls you to your heavenly home, you can be confident that you will share God's glory.  However, beware not to boast of your own faithfulness.  Only God is holy and righteous.  In Christ, you freely share in God's holiness.  He is calling you to glory.  * Lord Jesus, Son of the Father, fill me with Your Spirit of faithfulness.  Amen.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is put away.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.

The Writing (in place of the homily) by Hugh of St. Victor (From Treasury of Daily Prayer):

There are certain rites or ceremonies in the Church and, although salvation does not depend on them principally, yet salvation is increased from them according as devotion is exercised.  Although these cannot be enumerated at present, nevertheless we should not omit certain ones as examples of all.  So of these rites or ceremonies, some consist of such things as the water of aspersion, the reception of ashes, the blessing of branches and of candles, and other such things.  Now others consist of deeds such as the sign of the cross, the blowing of exorcization, the spreading of the hands, the bending of the knees, and other acts of this kind.  Others consist of words, like the invocation of the Trinity and whatever else is done in this manner.  Now all these things are sanctified by the word of God, whether they are sanctified through the utterance of words by invoking divine power or receive the effect of sanctification through the same divine power by the exhibiting of faith alone.  For where there is true faith, the word of God cannot be lacking, since the word itself is conceived by faith and operates through faith . . .
Custom also has it that, on Palm Sunday . . . the branches of palms and the foliage of trees be blessed and distributed to the people, to carry as those did, who while singing and praising with branches of palms and flourishing foliage of trees met the Lord Jesus on the same days as He went to Jerusalem.  Thus not only is it proposed that this must be done by us corporeally as they did it corporeally, but rather this is signified, that either in that or in this corporeal deed there must be spiritual imitation.  For the palm is the sign of victory but the flourishing branches signify good works.  So then we meet Christ in an act of praise with branches of palms and foliage, when we praise Him with good works and with action worthy of graces as the triumpher over death.

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, grant us by Your grace so to pass through this holy time of our Lord's passion that we may obtain the forgiveness of our sins; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Monday Homily

29 March Anno + Domini 2010
 “How Much More?”
Hebrews 9:11-15 (Isaiah 50:5-10; John 12:1-23)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.
“For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the Blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:13-14). 
What a glorious passage to consider as we embark upon the Holiest Week of the Church Year, for Holy Week is about but one thing – the Blood of Christ shed on the altar of the cross to take away the sin of the world. 
That Blood, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, is a better Blood, a Blood that does more and cleanses better than the blood of the Old Covenant sacrifices.  If the blood of a mere animal could cleanse and sanctify, how much more must the Blood of the very Son of God cleanse and sanctify?
This, my friends, is the mystery of Holy Week upon which we meditate.  In the Old Covenant, it was the blood of goats and bulls, and other animals, which atoned for the sins of God’s people.  That blood was shed and sprinkled upon the altar and upon the people, and their sins were truly forgiven, not because there was something special in that blood, but solely because that blood looked forward to the better Blood to come – the Holy and Precious Blood of the very Son of God!    
That Blood has come.  It is the Holy and Divine Blood of the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb of God, shed on the cross of Calvary, once for all, to take away the sin of the world.  That is the mystery, dear friends, for the Blood shed there does not belong to a mere animal, but to God!  God’s Blood is shed on the cross!  Think about that:  God’s Blood.  It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  How can God bleed?  How can the Creator of all things suffer and die?  How can the Eternal Word of the Father, through Whom all things were made, shed blood?  How can the Author of Life cease to live? 
Of course, you know the answer, for we confess the answer in the Creed each week, that the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, God of God, Light of Light . . . came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  That’s the answer.  The Son of God left His place of glory in heaven to become incarnate in human flesh – to become man. 
But, knowing that answer does not take away the mystery of it all, for it’s well beyond our human comprehension to fully understand this.  God became man.  You figure that one out!  And, if you can figure that one out (and you can’t, so don’t strain yourself too much!), then figure this one out:  God became man, in order to die!  Good luck with that one!  You could ponder that every waking hour for the rest of your life and you would still be dumbfounded. 
But, thanks be to God, you need not figure that out – you need only believe.  And, believe you do, for the One who died on the cross has entered the Heavenly Temple as High Priest by means of His own Blood, and has called you to be His.  He placed His own Divine Name upon you in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, thus bringing you into His New and Everlasting Covenant, that you would receive the promised eternal inheritance secured for you by His Blood.  He can do this, for the Blood He offered is more than enough to purify and cleanse you from every sin. 
And, mystery of all mysteries, that same Blood He offers to you this day.  If the blood of animals, when sprinkled upon defiled persons, could purify their flesh, how much more can the Blood of Christ given you to drink into yourselves forgive your sins and strengthen and preserve your body and soul, unto life everlasting!  How much more?  Eternally more – and then some! 
Come, then, dear brothers and sisters.  Bring your sins, every one of them, to the altar, and have them washed away by the Perfect and Eternal Blood of the Lamb!  There is no better way to begin this Most Sacred Week.  In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name.  Amen. 

Now the peace of God that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Palm Sunday Procession at Bethany, Naperville

Okay, so I just included a link to Iggy's blog where this video, among many others, is posted, but this is too cool not to include here (I love the way the children reverence the altar as they process in and bow in unison, for the most part, during the refrain of "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" - pretty neat!):

Palm Sunday Procession, Bethany Lutheran Church, March 28, 2010 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Oh, and of course . . .

you should tune in daily to Issues, Etc. for the excellent Holy Week programming they will be offering.  Here is a message sent out by Pr. Wilken last week:

Dear Issues, Etc. listener,

Greetings in the name of Jesus, Who bore our sins in his body on the tree.

We have some great programming for you during Holy Week.

"The Palm Sunday Hymn 'Ride on Ride on in Majesty'" with Pastor Wil Weedon
"The Penitential Psalms: Psalms 130 & 143" with Pastor Todd Peperkorn
"The Hymn 'What is this Bread?'" with Dr. Arthur Just
"Martin Luther on the Passion of Christ" with Pastor Paul McCain
"The Words of Christ from the Cross" with Pastor Bill Cwirla
"The Passion of Christ According to Luke" with Dr. Arthur Just

You can listen to these shows live or on-demand at

Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter!

Wir sind alle Bettler,
Todd Wilken, host
Issues, Etc.

Some Blogs to Follow . . .

for your Holy Week edification:

Cyberbrethren (Rev. Paul McCain has some great posts up already, and will continue to have them daily, I'm sure - I really like his Google Earth post of yesterday, which contains a link to an interactive map to track the events of Holy Week).

All for Hymn (Iggy Antiochus has posted, and will post, some awesome videos to watch as the week unfolds).

Gottesdienst Online (Fr. Curtis and company will be posting Holy Week poetry each day for our meditation). 

Weedon's Blog (A daily must read, not just during Holy Week, but all year round). 

Gottesblog (Fr. Eckardt posts his daily homilies to which you can listen)

I'm sure there are a plethora of other blogs I should mention, but these are just a few that I know will be featuring specific Holy Week meditations worth your while to visit this week. 

Holy Monday Matins

There were eight of us who gathered together for Matins this morning.  What a glorious way to begin Holy Monday!  Frankincense burning on the altar to accompany our prayer and meditation upon God's Holy Word, and Martin Chemnitz preaching the homily into our ears.  Yep, great way to begin Holy Monday!  Some features of this morning's Matins:

P:  Christ became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
C:  O come, let us worship Him.

Office Hymn:  LSB 531 "Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus" (st. 4)
Worship, honor, pow'r, and blessing
     Thou art worthy to receive;
Highest praises, without ceasing,
     Right it is for us to give.
Help, ye bright angelic spirits,
     All your noblest anthems raise;
Help to sing our Savior's merits,
     Help to chant Immanuel's praise!

Old Testament Reading:  Lamentations 1:1-22
From The Lutheran Study Bible:  Jeremiah describes the terrible conditions in Jerusalem after it fell to the Babylonians and its leading citizens were taken captive.  Contrasted with the wealth and beauty of its former days, the ruins lie as a testimony to God's just response against persistent sin and rebellion.  The foundation of sin and rebellion is unbelief, a refusal to trust God and follow Him.  Even in the face of His people's faithlessness, God proves Himself faithful to His promise of a Savior by preserving a remnant that will return to Jerusalem.  * Teach us to live wisely, O Lord, according to Your will and in the joy of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  Amen.
New Testament Reading:  Hebrews 2:1-18
From The Lutheran Study Bible (vv. 5-18):  Jesus, as true man, willingly humbled Himself to taste death.  As resurrected Lord, and as our firstborn brother (v. 11), He serves as our High Priest to intercede for us before the Father.  Without a Savior, we would live in slavery to the fear of death.  But Jesus has taken the consequence of our sin and removes our fear.  Knowing our weaknesses, He will always help us when we are tempted.  * Lord Jesus, You know my weakness.  Help me always to turn away from sin and to put all my trust in You.  Amen.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is put away.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.
P:  We have an advocate with the Father; Jesus is the propitiation for our sins.
C:  He was delivered up to death; He was delivered for the sins of the people.

The Writing (in place of the homily) by Martin Chemnitz (From Treasury of Daily Prayer):
And it is the sweetest comfort that sin, which made its habitation in human flesh, was condemned in the same human flesh, in the person of Christ.  Our body is the body of death, but in that same body of ours which the Son of God assumed from us, death was again destroyed.  Although our sins have separated us very far from God (Is. 59:2), so that we have been alienated from the grace, righteousness, and life of God (Eph. 2:12), yet the Son of God has brought very close to us those heavenly blessings which had been removed far from us (Eph. 2:13-19), laying them before us through His incarnation in the flesh, which is of the same substance with our own, so that of His fullness we have received grace for grace (John 1:16).  This is the most comforting and salutary exchange, that the Son of God has received from us a human nature and sanctified and blessed and exalted and glorified it in His own person.
Moreover, in His Holy Supper He joins Himself to us in that flesh, so that we may be strengthened by this most certain pledge of the salvation and glorification of our nature; for He does not blush to call us brothers.  Therefore, because we are such, He also joins Himself to us in that flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14).  Flesh brought death into this world and, again, the flesh of the Son of Man was given for the life of the world in order that he who eats the flesh of Christ may have eternal life (John 6:54). 

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, grant that in the midst of our failures and weaknesses we may be restored through the passion and intercession of Your only-begotten Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rock On, Sparty!

Wow, what a game!  Not good for the blood pressure, that's for sure.  Sparty finds a way again, thanks, in large part, to Summers (pictured above), who has been red hot all tournament long.  Back to the Final Four, baby!  GO GREEN!  GO WHITE!
Tennessee #6412869
Michigan State #5393170

Palm/Passion Sunday

We entered Holy Week in a most blessed way this morning, processing into the Nave bearing palm branches and singing, "All Glory, Laud, and Honor" (LSB 442), reading responsively the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to St. Matthew, the Evangelist, hearing in the sermon about the Divine Irony which meets us at every turn during this holiest of weeks when God accomplishes His Divine Plan of our salvation, and receiving the Divine Gifts our Lord mercifully and graciously delivers to us as He rides into our midst humbly and hiddenly via His Holy Word and Sacraments.  Absolutely beautiful and overflowing with joy!

"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, the foal of a donkey."

"Hosanna to the Son of David!  
Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!"

Let us pray:  
Most merciful God, as the people of Jerusalem, with palms in their hands, gathered to greet Your dearly beloved Son when He came into His Holy City, grant that we may ever hail Him as our King and, when He comes again, may go forth to meet Him with trusting and steadfast hearts and follow Him in the way that leads to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, You sent Your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon Himself our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross.  Mercifully grant that we may follow the example of His great humility and patience and be made partakers of His resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin
O'er captive death and conquered sin. 
(LSB 441:2)

Some pics of our sanctuary, adorned for Palm/Passion Sunday, and of our Holy Week paraments and vestments (thanks to Meggers for taking these!):

A pic of our now complete set of chasubles:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Elite Eight, Baby!

And then there was one - Big Ten team left in the Dance, that is.  The Buckeyes fell to Tennessee, and the Boilermakers were handled by Duke, but Sparty moved on tonight, even without the services of their starting point guard.  And now my Spartans have a chance to punch their ticket to the Final Four without having had to play any team seeded higher than #4 (they beat #4 Maryland last week, #9 Northern Iowa tonight, and will play #6 Tennessee on Sunday).  If they play like they did tonight, they have a good shot to knock off the Volunteers.  Then, they'd face the winner of Butler vs. Kansas State for a place in the National Championship.  They got a real shot here!  But, first things first - let's focus on silencing the "Rocky Top" fans.  Come on, chant it with me: 


Friday, March 26, 2010

Peace Movie Night

Tonight, we had Movie Night at our church and watched "The Passion of the Christ."  I was a little disappointed that we didn't have more people show up.  Maybe it's time to put this movie away for a few years (we've watched it on the Friday before Holy Week for five years in a row now).  Still, Gibson's depiction of the Passion of our Lord never ceases to put things into perspective, no matter how "over the top" it may be.  What our Lord endured for us is unknowingly astonishing, and Gibson's film brings that out.

"But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5).  

A couple of pics of "The Passion" playing on our big screen:

Our Lutheran Confessions - A Good Friend?

I recently had an LCMS pastor tell me that he sees our Lutheran Confessions as a good friend.  He went on to explain that, for him, they are like the good friend you haven't talked with in a while, but get caught right back up with when you run into that friend.  I don't think the way this pastor views our Confessions is unique today.  In fact, I believe there are many pastors in our synod today who see our Confessions in the same light, as a good friend they run into from time to time and say, "Hi." 

If our Confessions are seen as a good friend by these pastors, who do they see as their "best buddies"?  Who do they "hang out with" on a regular basis?  Who is having an impact on them and influencing the way they think and act?  After all, those good friends we have in this life - the kind we don't talk to on a regular basis, but get caught up with from time to time - don't really have a significant impact on us.  They're the kind of friends who "overlook our broken gate and admire the flowers in our garden," as it says in the pic above.  They're the kind of friends who are there for us despite our faults.  They're the kind of friends we can turn to when we're down, because we know that they'll be there to pick us back up.

Is this the role our Confessions should play for Lutheran pastors - the role of a good friend?  Hardly.  I mean, we Lutheran pastors take vows promising to perform all our duties in accord with these Confessions.  We don't befriend them; we pledge obedience to them.  I don't know about you, but I have not pledged my obedience to any of the good friends I have in this life.  The good friends I have wouldn't demand that of me, anyway.  They're good friends, not authorities.  They may have completely different views on many things, but they remain good friends.

This idea of treating our Confessions as a good friend is akin to the mistake so many parents make today of treating their children like friends.  My children, and I have four of them, are not my friends.  I'm their father, not their buddy, Tom.  It is my responsibility to bring them up in the fear of the Lord, to teach them right from wrong, to make sure that they are well mannered as they interact with others, and to discipline them when they go astray.  It is their duty to honor me (and their mother) and to obey the rules I (we) set forth in our house.  Much more could be said about this, but you get the point. 

Our Confessions are not the writings of our good friends, but of our spiritual fathers.  We Lutheran pastors have promised to live in their "house" and to perform all our duties according to their "rules."  We don't get to do our own thing.  We are not permitted to pal around with others who have a different set of "rules."  We don't get to "live our life as we please."  But, that's exactly what happens when pastors see our Confessions as a good friend.  The Confessions are not an authority for them, but they are like a good friend who loves them no matter what.  They live in their own "house" and are free to play by their own "rules," believing that their good friend will always be there for them.  In reality, they are like rebellious teenagers who don't play by their father's rules, saying, "This is my life and I'll live it how I please."  Of course, they don't see it like that.  How can they?  When they don't see the Confessions as the writings of our spiritual fathers, whose authority they must obey, they will hardly be able to see themselves as rebellious.  I mean, can you really rebel against a good friend?  Think about it.

All of this begs the question, though:  How can pastors who see our Confessions as a good friend faithfully fulfill the vows they made to perform all their duties in accord with the Confessions?  Is that even possible?  I don't think so, and I think we see proof of this impossibility all around us today in our synod.       

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Holy Week & Easter Schedule at Peace

As hard as it is for me to believe, in just a few short days, we will enter the most important week of the Church Year.  I wish I could say that I was fully prepared, but that would be a lie.  Besides, what fun would it be to be fully prepared anyway?  I do have most of the bulletins done, but still have some tweaking to do to a few of them.  Some of the sermons only need slight revisions; others need to be drafted in whole.  Needless to say, I will be a busy beaver over the next several days.  Even so, I can't wait.  I look forward to this holiest of weeks every year, and cherish the opportunity to gather around Word and Sacrament with my brothers and sisters in Christ daily.  Here is the schedule we will follow this year:

Palm/Passion Sunday
9:30 a.m. - Divine Service (w/Procession of Palms and St. Matthew's Passion Account)

Holy Monday
7 am - Matins (spoken)*
12 pm - Divine Service (spoken)
7 pm - Divine Service (spoken - same Service as Noon)

Holy Tuesday
7 am - Matins (spoken)
12 pm - Divine Service (spoken)
7 pm - Divine Service (spoken - same Service as Noon)

Holy Wednesday
7 am - Matins (spoken)
12 pm - Divine Service (spoken)
7 pm - Divine Service (spoken - same Service as Noon)

Holy (Maundy) Thursday
7 am - Matins (spoken)
12 pm - Divine Service (spoken)
7 pm - Divine Service (sung- w/Corporate C&A, Christian Questions & Answers, Stripping of the Altar & Psalm 22)

Good Friday
7 am - Matins (spoken)
12 pm - Chief Divine Service (sung - w/Seven Words of Christ, Litany, Procession of rough-hewn Cross)
3 pm - Short Devotion at the Sacred Hour
7:30 pm - Tenebrae (sung - w/Reproaches, St. John's Passion Account, Bidding Prayer, Strepitus)

Holy Saturday
7 am - Matins (spoken)
10 am - Divine Service (spoken)
8 pm - Easter Vigil (w/champagne reception following the Vigil)

Easter Sunday
7 am - Divine Service:  Sunrise Service
8:30 am - Easter Breakfast
9:30 am - Divine Service:  Festival of the Resurrection

Easter Monday
12 pm - Divine Service

Easter Tuesday
12 pm - Divine Service

Easter Wednesday
12 pm - Divine Service
7 pm - Vespers

* For daily Matins throughout Holy Week, we use the propers from Treasury of Daily Prayer, substituting the OT Reading with the "additional reading" from Lamentations.  Thus, we end up reading through the whole book of Lamentations during the week.  We did this for the first time last year, and it served as a powerful way to begin each day during Holy Week.  Also, in place of the homily, I simply read the Writing for each day.

I am especially excited for this Holy Week, since we now have beautiful new scarlet vestments to match our scarlet paraments, thanks to DK Brunner & Son.

I am thankful to Pr. Petersen (Redeemer, Ft. Wayne), who turned me on to the idea of holding Daily (spoken) Mass (Divine Service) throughout Holy Week a few years back.  There is just something very special about speaking the liturgy during these Services - the contrast cannot help but strike you and serves as a helpful aide for meditation during this holiest of weeks.  Plus, when Holy Thursday evening rolls around and we sing the liturgy again, it is spine-tingling awesome, having spoken it in the previous days.  Cool stuff, indeed!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I really like the way . . .

this guy thinks!  Actually, I'll see his $4 million and bump him $4 million.  Let's set aside 10% of our annual synodical budget to fund our seminaries.  I know, I know, that's not feasible.  Things are just more complicated than any of us can imagine.  I've heard it all before.  The synod just doesn't receive enough money to keep itself running and support our seminaries at the same time.  There's an easy solution to that - just eliminate as much of the unneeded bureaucracy as it takes to put ourselves in the position to give 10% to our seminaries.  Hey, while we're at it, let's just go ahead and eliminate as much as we have to in order to allot 10% to funding missionaries as well.  Imagine that:  20% of what the synod takes in to train pastors for service here and abroad, and to fund missionaries in the endeavor to bring the Gospel to more regions around the globe.  I mean, 100% of the reason why our synod was established was to do these things, so it doesn't seem like to much to ask to dedicate 20% of our resources to them.  But, alas, it can't be done.  I'm just a silly parish pastor who doesn't understand the ins and outs of synodical economics.  Funny, that's the same line fed to us by our federal government all the time.  You silly citizens with all your crazy ideas on how to fix things - you just don't get it.  Oh well, maybe I don't get it.  Come to think of it, I never have gotten how our synod got to the point of giving less than 1% of its annual budget to our seminaries and missionaries.  And, to be honest, I doubt that I ever will get that. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

The perfect pre-Easter present . . .

for the busy pastor as the busiest time of the year quickly approaches:

Thanks, Trixie! 
I don't know if it's better than Jack, but it's darn tasty! :)

Issues, Etc. Blog of the Week

Just received an email from a friend congratulating me on being chosen for IE Blog of the Week this past Friday.  I often listen to the show live on Fridays, but wasn't able to this past week, so I had no clue.  Anyway, thanks to Pr. Wilken for choosing my blog.  You can listen to the segment here.

Oh So Sweet!

I couldn't believe Sparty let the Terps back into the game, but the finish was worth the anxiety which preceded it.  What an awesome buzzer-beater by Lucious!  Movin' on to the Sweet 16 baby!  The only bummer is that we'll be without our starting point guard, Lucas, at least for Friday's game against Northern Iowa.  Yeah, we get to play Northern Iowa, who demolished nearly everyone's brackets with their upset victory over Kansas, the top-seeded team in the dance.  I like our chances!  It's looking very good for an all Big Ten Regional Final, with the Spartans and Buckeyes (who play Tennessee on Friday) battling for a spot in the Final Four.  Of course, anything can happen.

By the way, for all my family and friends who root for that other Big 10 team from our state, how's the NIT going for ya?  Oh wait, that's right, you didn't even get invited to play in that tournament.  Oops, sorry about that. :)

Friday, March 19, 2010

"Fuller churches make for fuller churches"

I shared the following in another forum when an LCMS pastor, who is an advocate for doing contemporary worship, was arguing that one of the principles which should guide pastors is the desire to make our churches "fuller."  It should go without saying that every pastor would love to see the pews packed on Sunday mornings.  It would be wonderful to have "standing room only."  What pastor in his right mind actually enjoys looking out on empty pews?  But, when having "fuller" churches becomes a guiding principle for pastors, what is almost always sacrificed is the true guiding principle which should be driving pastors, namely to have "faithful" churches.  Anyway, here is the (slightly edited) response I wrote to this pastor:
In reference to the idea of "fuller" churches, my pastor from many years ago, who, after 20 years in the Ministry, went and got a degree in "church growth" from Fuller Theological Seminary and subsequently changed everything about our congregation, used to tell me, in the midst of our many debates on the changes he was making, "Fuller churches make for fuller churches!"  At least he was honest.  He readily admitted that he was employing principles and practices that were at odds with our Lutheran theology.  He still considered himself a Lutheran because he still believed that Lutherans had the "fundamental doctrines" right, but mainly because he believed that Lutherans were right about the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.  He was fond of arguing that he thought it prudent to retain the best of Lutheran theology, but to also supplement it with the theology of others.  In his estimation, Lutheranism wasn't enough.  And, as for his approach to our Lutheran Confessions, he would just flat out tell you that they were wrong in some places, particularly in what they confessed about worship.  He believed that our Lutheran forefathers had not done enough to break free from Rome and that the way they spoke about worship in the Confessions proved as much.  In fact, years later, after much study under my belt, I brought up the whole quia vs. quatenus issue with him (for those of you who may not understand what is meant by these terms, they're descriptors for how one subscribes to our Lutheran Confessions; a quia subscription means that one subscribes unconditionally to our Confessions because they are a correct exposition of the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture, while a quatenus subscription means that one subscribes conditionally to our Confessions in so far as they are in agreement with the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture - all pastors in the LCMS are required to hold a quia subscription), to which he responded with a derogatory comment about me living in an "ivory tower" environment and so forth.  When pressing him further, he said he couldn't care less about the "q-words," stating emphatically, "The Lutheran Confessions are NOT the Word of God!" 

"Fuller churches make for fuller churches!"  This pastor was on the front lines of the battle we still fight today when that battle was still in its incipient stages.  He was doing contemporary worship before it was en vogue.  He, and his friends, some of whom hold prominent leadership positions in our synod today, knew full well that they were abandoning confessional Lutheranism.  They would just come out and tell you so.  Lutheranism wasn't enough.  Our Confessions were just plain wrong about worship.  They were honest about it back then in a way that we don't witness today.  I've written about this before, here and elsewhere - about how these guys knew they were abandoning Lutheranism to the point of making sure that their "Fuller" ways were kept hush-hush, since our synod wasn't ready yet.  But, now their friends are in the highest positions within our synod and they're out in the open.  Only now they've stopped being honest.  Now they try to sell the idea that what they're doing is perfectly Lutheran.  And they've convinced a lot of unknowing, unsuspecting people, so they feel empowered to march on with their new brand of Lutheranism, which is no Lutheranism at all. 

The battle will continue, to be sure.  And the disciples of these guys who started the contemporary worship movement (based on principles of the "church growth movement" taught at places like Fuller) in our synod, or at least provided it the momentum it needed to become the given it is today, can argue till they're blue in the face that what they're doing is perfectly Lutheran, but they're following masters who definitely knew better.  I liked it much better back in the day when they were just plain honest about things, admitting that their principles and practices did not originate from our Confessions, but from the theology taught at places like Fuller; when they would just say that they were following the mantra, "Fuller churches make for fuller churches!"

Further thoughts:  A couple of years ago, I spent some time reviewing the past minutes from Church Council meetings and Voters' Assemblies which took place during the 1980s in the congregation I serve.  I was simply amazed as I read the pastors' reports during this time.  A great many of those reports contained information about various "church growth" seminars the pastors had attended.  And, the influence those seminars had on these pastors just comes screaming through, as they are constantly reporting about the changes the congregation must make to grow numerically.  Flirtation with the "church growth movement" was all the rage in our synod during the 80s.  I wonder if our inability to prevent that flirtation from leading to widespread acceptance in our synod had to do with being exhausted over the "Battle for the Bible" (Seminex) which was fought in the previous decade.  Perhaps our concern over making sure that our pastors (and congregations) confessed the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, worthy as that concern was, resulted in us taking our eye off the ball when pastors (and congregations) began flirting with, and adopting, the principles of the "church growth movement."  After all, Fuller and company hold a traditional, conservative ("fundamental") view of the Bible, believing it to be the Word of God, so maybe, just maybe, many in our synod didn't flinch, as they should have, when pastors started doing the whole "Fuller" thing, since, well, at lest they still believed in the Bible.  I don't know.  It's a theory worth exploring, I think.

At any rate, whether today's "contemporary worship" advocates in our synod want to admit it or not, they are following in the footsteps of those whose mantra was, and really still is, "Fuller churches make for fuller churches!"  

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A few thoughts on Avatar

This past Friday, Lisa and I had a "no-kids, date-night" and finally went and saw "Avatar."  Lisa's not a big fan of the Sci-Fi or Fantasy genres, but she was entertained by this film.  I was more than entertained.  I loved it!  I had heard a lot of criticism about the movie, that while it was a special effects masterpiece, it lacked substance and depth to maintain its lengthy running time (almost 3 hours).  I don't think so.  I mean, yeah, it wasn't the most heady of films, requiring intense and focused attention to follow the story, and surely there was some obvious predictability there, but I think it told the story it meant to tell in a substantive way.  I don't think it insulted my intelligence at all, as so many movies coming out of Hollywood do these days (like the other big special effects saga, "2012," that came out last year).  In fact, I would say that this movie had some pretty substantial underlying elements which invited much pondering.

For instance, one of the things I pondered as I watched the film was the history surrounding the way in which we Americans came to occupy the land in which we live.  There were people living here, as we all know, and in many and various ways, we gave them a choice to move out of our way or bite the dust.  It was our "manifest destiny" to occupy this land, and that was that.  And, while we don't like to think about that part of our history, and surely when the subject comes up, much heated debate usually ensues, the fact is that there was a lot of injustice done back then, even as there were those who fought against that injustice.  Whether we want to admit it or not, that same sense of "manifest destiny," which posits that we Americans have some sort of Divine right to do as we please and that the end will always justify our means, continues to guide us in many less than salutary ways.

Along the same lines, another theme that shone through the movie and invites further pondering was the clear allusion to the prejudice and discrimination which has plagued our human race throughout history.  It is a common element among fallen man to be so curved in upon himself that he often cannot see outside of his own perceived reality.  Sinful man is greedy and selfish.  The Old Adam wants what the Old Adam wants, and if getting what he wants comes at the expense of others, so be it.  This also leads to the tendency to look down upon those who are different from us even before any effort is expended to get to know and understand who they are.  How much evil has been done by man throughout history because of race, creed, or nationality?  Sinful man is inbred with a narcissistic superiority which often leads to the performance of the most evil and heinous deeds.

I also couldn't help but ponder the obvious message about the environment which came screaming through this "green-screened" masterpiece (pun intended).  As my friend, Scott Diekmann, wrote recently, the environment has become "America's New God."  I seriously doubt that the depiction of Eywa, the "goddess" worshiped by the Na'vi people on Pandora, akin to "mother nature," was a coincidence.  I think this was director James Cameron's way of doing his part to support the cause, if you get my drift.

I'm sure there are other points to ponder about the movie, and many sub-points to dwell on within those mentioned above, but these are just a few thoughts I had.  I don't think it has gotten a fair shake in the "substance" department.  Whatever the case, I thought it was a great flick.  I'd even go as far as to say it is one of the best movies I have seen in a while.  And I thought releasing it in 3-D was brilliant and added so much more to what was already a very entertaining experience.  I liken it to "Dances With Wolves" meets "Star Wars," and considering that those are two of my all-time favorites, I can't help but love "Avatar."