The old pasta store

Image result for bronx new york pasta store

A few years ago I went back to New York and the neighborhood I grew up in for the first time in several years.  There were numerous changes to the community as one would expect; but one in particular caught my attention.

An old Italian pasta store had closed.  For years the store had sold homemade Italian pasta.  I mentioned it, and it was noted that it had been closed for over a year; and we lamented how this community landmark was no more.

But why?  After all, in the 24 years I called that community home, we never once set foot inside of it.  I doubt we had even eaten a single noodle that came out of that building when we visited friends or went to parties or other social gatherings.  We had heard the pasta was good, but who knows who told us that, or how long ago it was that we heard it.

Was our lack of business what doomed the landmark institution?  Well, it certainly did not help that we never went there; of course, the fact that it closed meant that a lot of other people never went there either.  In fact, the changing demographics of the community, both culturally and generationally, probably had a lot more to do with it closing than whether or not we ever darkened the door.

Younger generations saw no need to buy expensive homemade pasta as opposed to generic pasta sold in the local grocery store; and while a predominately Italian community would spend the extra time and money on their pasta, other ethnic groups would not.

In short, if it were economically viable to keep the place open, it would still be there today; but it wasn’t, so it closed.

Which brings us to PBS, which in a recent proposed budget saw deep cuts to its federal funding, followed by the very predictable outcry from people bemoaning what might be in a world without PBS.

But remember the pasta store: if it were economically viable, there would be no question.

How many of those bemoaning the cuts to PBS actually watch PBS?  And not just watch during pledge week when the specials are broadcast, but watch year round when the normal day-day programs are on?

If it were economically viable, there would be no questions asked.

PBS was created at a time when the arts and culture were limited by funding and by location.  If you were outside a certain area, you could not get to museums or concert halls, or any other culturally edifying institution.

But remember how younger generations buy their pasta today.  PBS was created at a time of only 3 channels on the standard television.  Today, there are over 100 on the average cable package; not to mention hundreds more for a few dollars more a month allowing for even more access.  Or, there is Netflix and Hulu offering even more options; and don’t forget the internet.  What was once out of reach, both literally and figuratively, is now available at the click of a button.

Everything PBS offers, is now readily available on other channels.  If PBS went away, Ken Burns and the other documentaries would go to The History Channel; Nature would go to National Geographic; Masterpiece Theater would go to Netflix; and the children’s programing would go to Nickelodeon or Disney, except for Sesame Street which is already on HBO.  The news division?  Easily transferred over to CNN.

If PBS were economically viable, there would be no questions asked about funding or its future.  But, PBS is operating on an antiquated ideal, which no longer exists.

Will we all miss it?  Absolutely.

But it’s not like any of us were watching anyway.

And like the building that held the old pasta store, eventually something new will come along and take its place.

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What makes a king?

Midweek Lent 4 – 2 Chronicles 33:1-9

What makes some presidents great, and others not so great?

Normally, we judge a president by how the economy does during his time in office.  If the economy is booming and jobs are plentiful, and everyone is happy, then we must have been a great president.  Or, if something happens, either locally or overseas, and the President is seen as strong in responding, then he must have been great.

By contrast, the bad presidents are normally those who oversee the country when the economy is down, and jobs are scarce and people are generally unhappy.  Or if something major happens, and the president is seen as weak, then he must be a truly bad president.

That is a pretty simplified view on how we judge our presidents, but is it not true?  President Jefferson doubled the size of the county; President Lincoln oversaw the country during a vicious war; President Teddy Roosevelt projected an image of power; and they are all considered great.  On the other hand, President Andrew Johnson was perceived as weak, and President Hoover was in office when the depression started, thereby, they are bad presidents.

We judge presidents by how we feel during their time in office.  If we feel good, if life is good, the President must also be good; but if we feel bad, if life is hard, then the President must be bad as well.

Which makes it curious when we turn to the books of Kings and Chronicles, as well as the prophets and read of the many and various kings who ruled over Israel and Judah during the time of the Divided Kingdom.

There is often surprisingly little detail on the reign of most of the kings.  Sometimes, their reign is summed up in as little as three verses.  We know practically nothing of their economic policies; or their views on education or on defense; we don’t even know how they felt about immigration.

And try as you might, you will not find a single opinion poll in the Old Testament telling how the people felt about one king or another.

That is by no means to say that these things did not exist.  The very reason for the Divided Kingdom is the labor policies that King Rehoboam enacted.  In Amos we read that under King Jeroboam in the North and King Uzziah in the South, their economic policies had caused a great gulf between the rich and the poor in the land.  And on can scarcely imagine that King Ahab was very popular when at the word of Elijah, the heavens were closed and there was no rain for three years and six months.  To say nothing of Solomon’s open door immigration policy that ushered in a great many people who did not confess the one true God.

These policies and practices of the various kings of Israel and Judah no doubt led the inhabitants to form their own list of which were the great kings and which were the awful kings.  There is no Mount Rushmore in Israel, but one can only imagine that if there were, after David, the debates would be long and furious about who else would be worthy of such an honor.

But it should be noted that God judges the kings of Israel and Judah far differently than the way you or I rate presidents, just as God judges His people far differently than how others would.

For notice our reading from Chronicles, Manasseh reigns 55 years, the longest reign of any king.  Today, there would be statues erected and schools named after him; his image would be on our currency and on postage stamps.  He would be our modern day George Washington or Franklin Roosevelt.

And yet, how is his reign described?  The first line says that he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord; and the verses that follow list off his wicked acts.  He built altars to false gods, including Asherah poles, he erected altars to Baals, and he even burned his sons as a sacrifice to Molech.

55 years in power, and he is described as nothing more than an idol worshiping pagan.  Nothing about his economics, or his defense policy, or any building projects he led, outside of the idols he built; nothing about whatever good he might have done; the focus is on his ushering in of idolatrous practices.

But did you notice the worst parts?  He rebuilt the same idols that his father Hezekiah had torn down.  And to make matters worse: he even built altars in the temple, God’s own holy house.

That is how God judges kings.  That is how God judges presidents.  And that is how God judges you.

God doesn’t care how much money you have, or how many buildings have your name on them.  God doesn’t worry about whether you are deemed great by those around you, or if you are judged to be awful by everyone in the community.

God judges you based on whether or not you were faithful.  Did you believe, teach and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Or did you reject Him?

One would think that both you and Manasseh are doomed, that both of you have no hope of surviving the judgment that will rightly come upon you.

And for most of the kings of Israel and Judah, and indeed most of the people who have followed since, this is indeed true.

But note what happens in the verses that follow:

 

2 Chronicles 33:10-16

 

Manasseh repents.  He personally turns from his wickedness; and because of his position of power, he can do so with far reaching effect, tearing down the same idols that he had built up.

Manasseh is remembered as a great king, not because of anything he did or did not do economically or domestically or internationally or anything else; Manasseh is great because he repented; he turned away from his sins, and he worshiped the one true God of heaven and earth.

Let that be your vow this Lententide.  Repent of your sins; tear down your idols; hear the words of the Lord spoken to you this day, and live.

For like Manasseh, you have been given a new lease on life; not after you were dragged away in hooks and chains by the Assyrians, but because your Savior, Jesus, was beaten and killed on your behalf.  You now can repent and live and be great in your heavenly Father’s kingdom because you repented of your wickedness and received forgiveness and life eternal.

What makes one great, whether they rule the nations, or if they rule over nothing more than the dust beneath their feet?  It is whether or not you are found to be faithful in the eyes of the Lord.  Nothing more, nothing less.

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All I ever did

Lent 3 – John 4:5-42

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David’s Desire

Midweek Lent 3 – 2 Samuel 7:1-17

One of the most endearing and puzzling questions of Scripture, is why does God refuse David’s desire to build a temple?

One theory is that David is a warrior king, and that he has a lot of blood on his hands from the numerous battles he has been in, nearly all victorious, yet bloody nonetheless.  Another theory is what we know is about to happen in 2 Samuel 11-12, where David breaks just about every Commandment in his scandal with Bathsheeba.

Or to come at it from a different angle, while David had indeed great riches, and could have built a splendid temple, Solomon would have even greater riches, and could build an even more magnificent temple.

But added to this mystery though, is the complication of Solomon.  David has his moment in 2 Samuel 11 with Bathsheeba, but he repents in 2 Samuel 12, and is faithful to the Lord throughout his reign; the same cannot be said of Solomon.  For while Solomon will build the Lord His temple and make sacrifices in it, Solomon will also build temples and offer sacrifices to the pagan gods of his many foreign wives.

How could Solomon possibly be a more worthy constructor of the temple, then David?

It is difficult to put this into perspective today; we do not really ask or receive direct revelations from the Lord regarding the construction of churches.  If we can raise the money, if we can secure the land and the necessary contractors, if languages are not confused halfway through the process, then it is generally assumed that the Lord approves of our project; but if something happens along the way, the money falls short, the land cannot be granted, than we just say that now is not the time, and that God will let us know when it is.

And yet, there is some insight into why David’s desire is rejected, and why we should be wary today in our own dreams and desires.

Whose idea is it to build the temple?  And perhaps more importantly, to whose glory would the temple be built?  When people from near and far came to see the temple, when people spoke of the temple, whose name would they attach to it?

Is David really concerned about building a temple for the Lord, or is this more about building up his own legacy?  Is David really interested in bringing glory to God’s name, or is he more interested in bringing glory to his own name?

For what greater glory is there, then to have your name attached to something that will be for all generations?  What greater pride can you get, then to know that future generations will bask in the glow of what you have done?

And how do you accomplish that?  Write a book?  It will only collect dust on the shelves of old libraries.  Hold an important office?  Perhaps, but there will be people before and after who hold the same office.  Do something significant?  Not even worth considering, as everyone will forget about it in a generation.

No, the true glory is to put your name on a building, and not just any building, but a building that will stand for the ages at the heart of the lives of all people.

Whose temple is this going to be?  Not God’s, but David’s.  Whose church is this?  Is it yours?  You pay the bills through your offerings.  You volunteer to do all the work.  You are the ones here making sure everything is ready for when others arrive.  Does that make this your church then?  Is there room in it for God?

Why does God decline David’s desire to build a temple?  After all, Nathan thought it was a great idea; and a lot of other people in Israel probably did too.  And in fact, based on what we know Solomon is going to do later, the thought of David building the temple sounds better and better.

But God does not need David to build Him a temple.  God does not share the glory or the credit or the accolades with anyone.  The Lord’s temple will be the Lord’s temple; not the Lord’s temple and a lasting monument to David.

God destroys David’s desire, there will be no monument to God built by David.  In the same way, God scatters the plans and the desires of our hearts.  Tear down your idols; remove that which brings glory to your name and not to God’s.  Confess your sins of pride and receive the absolution.

For there will in fact be a monument to David, but this one will be built by God.

David will not put his name on God’s house, instead, God will put His name on David’s house.  David’s line will continue on the throne forever.  David’s name will be remembered for all generations, but not because of what David did, but because of what God did for David.

And what God does for David, He does for you as well; for it is David’s heir, His very own descendant that will bring glory to God’s name, and lift up your own names.

Jesus is that heir of David who will rule eternally, just as was promised to David.  But Jesus rules not because of a great act performed, or because of some mystery unraveled; Jesus rules because He subjected Himself to the humiliation of putting Himself under the authority of others: Mary and Joseph; Herod, Pilate, even Caesar.  Jesus humbled Himself, so that He might be exalted above all others.

Jesus allows Himself to be destroyed, so that you might not be destroyed.  Jesus brings glory to God’s name first and foremost, but He also brings glory to the name of David and to your own name.

For as it so happens, that temple that Solomon will build, is no longer standing; it was destroyed; but the house that God built for David, the house that you still reap benefits from today, still stands strong in the person of Jesus.  For you are the beloved children of your Father in heaven, and He has come so that your own name might be remembered for eternity, along with David’s and along with all those who confess that Jesus is Lord.

For the Lord has built you a house, and He has a place for you for eternity, in His glory.

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Promises

Lent 2 – St. John 3:1-17

Historically, many Christians have taken the time of Lent as a time to give up something.  Have you taken up such a practice?

Perhaps you are avoiding chocolate for Lent, or even soda.  Or maybe you are limiting your social media access.  Less television, or not eating out are also popular things to give up for Lent as well.

Of course, I said that it was a historic practice because it is hard, and therefore not as popular today as it once was.

And so to make things easier, we have modified the practice ever so slightly, so that instead of giving something up for Lent, we instead add something for Lent.  Why give anything up, when you can add something new to your day?  It is not quite the same idea, but there are benefits nonetheless.

And so perhaps you have added praying the Litany daily to your devotions; or perhaps you are striving to attend every midweek Lenten service; or maybe your goal is to keep pace with the Lutheran Hour Ministries Lenten devotional.

No matter if you have given up or taken up, the concept is the same, for the time of Lent, from Ash Wednesday on March 1 to Easter Sunday on April 16, you have promised to do something that will yield positive benefits to your life, whether they be financial, or physical, or spiritual.

So how has it been going?

After all, we are only on the Second Sunday in Lent, surely you have been able to keep your promise for 2 weeks.  Surely you have managed to not eat chocolate or drink soda for this long.  Surely you have managed to find the 5-7 minutes each day to do those daily devotions.  Surely you have been faithful for what adds up to less than 2 full weeks.

Or perhaps not.  Time slips away, temptation sinks in, and pretty soon you notice that it has been a day or three since you prayed the Litany; or that it is still Lent and you are on your third can of soda.

And suddenly you realize why so many do not give up something for Lent or pick up a new practice for Lent: because it is hard.  Because just like the rest of life, promises are easy to make, but hard to keep.

You promise the doctor you are going to lose weight; but that never happens.  You promise your spouse that you are not going to fight, and that lasts until the next argument.  You promise that you are going to clean your room, until you realize how messy it really is.  You promise that this year, you are finally going to complete those projects; and then the year slips away with hardly any progress.

We make dozens of promises throughout the day; some of those promises actually last all day and into the next; others barely make it to the end of the conversation.  We make promises to family, promises to friends, promises to businesses, promises to the state, promises to ourselves, we even make promises to God.  And in the end, how many of those promises end up being nothing more than empty words?

The Second Commandment speaks to this; telling us not to make vain promises to others, not to take frivolous oaths, not to attach God’s name to our worthless words and promises.

And so what do you do?  You promise to do better; that there will be no more making of promises that you know you cannot keep, or that you have no intention of keeping.  And that is well and good, until the next promise comes along and you break that one too.

The breaking of promises is so frequent and so common, it hardly even surprises you when others break theirs, or when you break your own.

After all, doesn’t everyone break a promise at one point or another?

In fact, breaking promises is so common, and done with such ease, that it is actually more surprising when someone actually keeps their promise.

Take our reading from Genesis, God promises Abram a plethora of things: land, a righteous name, and even descendants.

Surely Abram could have easily shrugged this promise off; after all, he was 75 years old, how could he possibly have children?  And if that promise were going to be so easily and expectedly broken, who is to say the others would not be broken as well?

And yet, to the surprise of Abram and Sarai, God keeps His promise.  15 years later, at the age of 90, Abraham and Sarah have a son; and their descendants will receive the land that is promised and this new nation will be a blessing to all who encounter it.

Easy enough you say?  Perhaps, but God does keep His promise to Abraham, just as He kept His promise to preserve Noah and his family through the waters of the flood; just as He will promise to deliver His people from slavery in Egypt; just as He will promise David that his heir would always sit on the throne; just as He promised through Jeremiah that after 70 years in exile, the people would return.

God has a long history of keeping His promises.

Yet there is one promise that lingers longer than the others.  Last week, we heard in Genesis 3, how God promised to Adam and Eve a savior who would crush the head of the serpent and undo the curse that their disobedience had ushered in.

And God makes the same promise to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac and Jacob; to Moses, to David, to Isaiah, to Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel; and He makes the promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and to Mary and Joseph and to John.

Surely when a promise is made that often and over that long a period of time, there is the assumption that it will never happen.  That God is promising even more than He can deliver; that God has spoken more than He should have; and like the modern day doom-sayers, He is just repeating it over and over, but it will never actually happen.

And yet that is what sets your promises apart from God’s promises.  Your promises to do better are for your own benefit, or at most for the benefit of a few other people around you.  And if they benefit you or those around you, than perhaps there will be a reward for you; your change will make your spouse happier, or your children more obedient, or will gain you the envy of the community.  Your promises are rooted in selfish desire for your own purposes.

And yet, today, we read that God makes His promise to send His Son into the world to redeem the world, not out of a selfish nature for what you might do for Him, but He does it out of His great love for you.

God’s promise to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, to Isaac and Jacob, to David, to the kings and prophets, to the people wandering in darkness, to Mary and Joseph, to you who sit here today, God’s promise of a Savior, to redeem the world, is a promise made out of His great love for you.

For God so loved you that He promised to send His son into the world to redeem the world, so that you might not perish eternally, but might have eternal life.  God promised to do this, and He does.  Jesus is the long promised one, who has come to save you from your sins of making and breaking your promises.  Jesus is the long promised one who has come to open the gates of heaven for you.  Jesus is the long promised one who has come for the salvation of the world.

God keeps His promises to you.  God promises that salvation is found in Christ alone, and it is.  God promises that Baptism and Lord’s Supper are His gifts given for you, and they are.  God promises that when your sins are forgiven, they are truly forgiven; and they are.

In a world where so many so often make and break their promises for no other reason than purely selfish motives, God makes and keeps His promises out of His great love for you.

And so as we continue our march through Lent, do not neglect those devotions or those habits you strive to maintain; keep at them.  But do them with the faithfulness your heavenly Father craves from you; for that is the true goal of our Lenten disciplines: not so that you might have a few extra dollars in your pocket on Easter; not so that you might be admired by one and all; but so that you might glorify the name of your Father in heaven.

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The Ark of the Covenant

Lent 2 – 1 Samuel 5:1-12

Historically, the ancient Church, when conducting the worship service, would, after the Prayers of the Church, dismiss all those who would not be receiving Lord’s Supper that day.  Once they were all outside the doors of the Church, the service would continue with only those remaining who would be receiving Lord’s Supper that day.

This practice sounds foreign to our ears, and yet, it does in fact have a good and worthwhile lesson, the same lesson that we follow today by our practice of closed communion.  That purpose is to protect the unprepared, the uninitiated, and the uninstructed from something that can cause harm if taken carelessly.

In fact, we even go so far as to declare the Lord’s Supper to be poison to those who do not receive it properly.  And indeed, while it is good and beneficial to those who believe, for those who do not, it is in fact deadly.

Let us keep that image at the forefront of our minds as we consider our reading for this evening from 1 Samuel.  For the Ark of the Covenant is in fact a good thing, but when those who are not properly instructed and trained have it in their possession, it suddenly becomes poison, it becomes deadly, it becomes a horrible nightmare of death and destruction.

The Ark of the Covenant is the precursor to the temple.  To the outsider, the Ark is just a very ornate old box, but for the people of Israel, top of this box is the mercy seat, on which the Lord Himself sits.  The Ark travels with the people as they are making their way to the Promised Land, and even leads them into battle on occasion.

And today, we read that Israel loses the Ark of the Covenant in battle to the Philistines.

In a sense, Israel loses God.

Now in most cases, you would expect that Israel would be the one punished, that Israel would be the one who is reprimanded and cursed for their careless actions.  After all, Israel brought the Ark out, not at God’s command, but rather as a good luck charm after they lost a minor battle.  The Ark being captured turned the aftermath of a minor loss into a now catastrophic defeat, the news of which brings about the death of Eli the priest.

And yet, oddly enough, Israel is not reprimanded or scolded at all for losing the Ark of the Covenant.  On the contrary, it is the Philistines who are punished for taking the Ark.

Every city that holds the Ark of the Covenant is afflicted with a plague of tumors; and this continues with one terrified city passing the Ark along to the next until the Philistines finally just send the Ark back to Israel for fear of what more might happen to them.

It is a most bizarre account.

But one might add that it is only truly bizarre for the Philistines.

What sort of God has such power?  In our text, the statue of the false god Dagon falls face forward in front of the Ark; hardly the expected response.

As the Ark moves from city to city, it is not the conquering trophy one would expect, rather it is the curse that keeps on cursing its captors.

How can this be?

Our text ultimately serves as a warning both to the believer and to the unbeliever: take care of the holy things of God.

For the believer, for you and I, we come forward to touch and handle things that are unseen and unknown to us; we confess that the water, the bread and the wine are holy things, that when combined with the Word do incredible things, but how often are we like the people of Israel?  Understanding the power of God, but using it carelessly, and ultimately losing it because of our selfish actions.

For the believer, this text is the stuff that dreams are made of; the unbeliever takes the holy things of God and uses them for secular purposes and are punished severely.  But the Philistines of today do not just come in and take those holy things, they only come across them when the faithful are careless in their own responsibilities.

What is the Church’s responsibility when it comes to the Word and the sacraments and the forgiveness of sins?  First and foremost to distribute freely to all who believe; to pour out the mercy, grace and favor that God so desires to shower upon His people at all times and in all seasons.

But the Church also has the charge to use those gifts responsibly, for the benefit of those who believe and confess Christ, but also for the admonishment of those who reject Christ.

The Philistines of today see the gifts that God offers as trophies to be conquered and displayed for their amusement, the Church must not let this happen.  The Church guards and protects these gifts, for they are the true holy things of God.

When Jesus stands over the Jerusalem, and sees the temple, He sees a holy thing of God that the people have once more been careless with for their own purposes of gaining power and glory for themselves.  Israel will lose the holy things of God once more, for in their effort to hold onto them, they in turn reject the one who delivered them in the person of Christ Jesus.

Today, the Lord showers His gifts upon you, He desires that you hunger and thirst for the righteousness that He now offers in His Word and sacrament; but He also desires that you approach the holy things of God with awe and reverence, fear and respect.  For the holy things of God can bring life and salvation to those who believe, but they can also bring death and destruction on those who do not believe.

Here O Lord, we see thee face to face, here we would touch and handle things unseen; here we grasp with firmer hands the eternal grace.  Here we approach your throne of grace, confessing the holiness that you alone possess.

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Did God actually say?

Lent 1 – Genesis 3:1-21

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