Thursday, December 24, 2009

What is mercy?  A pastor singing a hymn upon request, no questions asked.

I wanted the bible last night, longed for it, ached for it in a way I have not known before.  The asthma attack frightened me in that the smallest of moments that set it off, as has happened so frequently of late.  I suspect this is because I have been so tired that I am forgetting my night time medicine.  Still...

Struggling to breathe is frightening.  I feel as if I should be used to it.  But I am not.  And each time being alone makes it worse.  There is no comfort in the ER.  Once I get hooked up to the solumedrol IV and the nebulizer, I am left alone.  Old hat.  Routine.  Old hat is that I am alone, that I do not have anyone with whom to share the burden, to ask me how I am, to hold my hand, to murmur that it will soon be better, to ask me how I am doing later.  Even here when I blog that I am in the ER, no one ever asks how I am afterward.  Unless I am having an attack in front of someone, it is as if having asthma doesn't matter.

The last few months, I have taken my bible with me, but I rushed out of the house without it.  I wanted to read the Word, to hear it.  I even asked for a chaplin, sure he would laugh at a request to read, but none was available.

Sitting there, waiting for the treatments to end and enough time to pass so that I could leave, I kept thinking about this hymn that Pastor sent a few weeks ago.  Part of it is based on Romans 8:38, a favorite passage of mine.  But most of it is hard to sing, so much the fraud I feel doing so.  I long to have those words fall from my lips in truth, but I struggle far, far more than what is spoken in that hymn.

As with my other ER trips, I raced home and changed clothes and then headed to the office to pretend that I am perfectly fine.  Nothing less is acceptable.

But, on the way,  I called Pastor and asked if he would sing to me the hymn:

Through Jesus' Blood and Merit

Through Jesus' blood and merit
I am at peace with God.
What, then, can daunt my spirit,
However dark my road?
My courage shall not fail me,
For God is on my side;
Though hell itself assail me,
Its rage I may deride.

There's nothing that can sever
From this great love of God,
No want, no pain whatever,
No famine, peril, flood.
Though thousand foes surround me,
For slaughter mark His sheep,
They never shall confound me,
The vict'ry I shall reap.

For neither life's temptation
Nor death's most trying hour
Nor angels of high station
Nor any other pow'r
Nor things that now are present
Nor things that are to come
Nor height, however pleasant, 
Nor darkest depths of gloom

Nor any creature ever 
Shall from the love of God
This ransomed sinner sever;
For in my Savior's blood
This love has its foundation;
God hears my faithful prayer
And long before creation 
Named me His child and heir.
(LSB 746)

I went to the Lessons and Carols service tonight, but sat in the back stairwell.  I had no business singing, but I did, not caring that I was disturbing the group from another church that had gathered in the basement to have some sort of service that consisted primarily of long ululations in growing intensity.  Hearing so much Scripture read aloud, hearing the story of Christ from Old Testament to New, was so very comforting.  No matter the cold, no matter that I was in my sweats crouched behind a door with my ear pressed against it so that I did not miss any words...the Word of Christ in Isaiah...the Word of Christ in Luke...words of peace....

Suddenly, singing "peace on earth," its meaning shifted for me.  The peace I have with God is not a feeling.  Okay, so that sounds stupidly obvious.  To me, it has not been.  For I have not been feeling peaceful, therefore how could I have peace with God?  The peace I have with God is not a feeling.  The peace I have with God was bought with the blood of Christ, with Him serving as a propitiation for my inequity, taking my just reward of eternal death upon His shoulders.  Without that, I am an enemy of God.  For I am, as is all mankind, a sinner.  No, the peace I have with God is certainly not a feeling.  It is, strangely enough, the peace won on the battlefield.

Peace:  an agreement or treaty between warring or antagonistic nations, groups, etc., to end hostilities and abstain from further fighting or antagonism.

The peace I have with God is a reconciliation, one made as I was joined with Christ in His death and resurrection.  Because Christ won the peace, not I, it is an agreement that cannot be broken by any man, by any created thing under the heavens or on the earth.  The peace I have with God is not a feeling, is not based on my own abilities or acumen, and is eternal.

Lord, I believe!  Help my unbelief!

What is mercy?  A pastor unexpectedly sending me the audio file of the Christmas sermon from a year ago that God used to set me on the path to His pure Truth found in the Lutheran confessions.

Tarry not, Lord Jesus.  Oh, please, tarry not!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Spent my lunch hour at work hiding in my car with tears splashing down my face, wanting desperately something that isn't for me, wanting it to be offered even though I couldn't bring myself to ask.

Spending the evening in ER doing the same.  Tears and asthma don't mix well.

Wishing I had the Word with me.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I think I finally understand something last night and then this morning I find an email that not only did not answer my question about baptism per se, but also showed me that I know nothing.

I am truly discouraged.

Thank you, Bettina, for helping me forget how much pain I am in right now from three days of shoveling snow.  Thank you, Pizza Man and Vee, for singing and praying when I have not the heart.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I personally believe it ought to be illegal for a man to pull his car into a spot that a woman has spent the better part of a day clearing out!  Actually, the spot, directly across from the front of my car, is in a no-parking zone, so he is parked illegally, but I doubt the police would do anything with snow EVERYWHERE just now.

Because my house is at the top of an intersection T, I will have to turn my car around on the ice/snow mix in order to get onto the street leading out of my neighborhood.  Knowing that turning on ice/snow is much, much harder than driving straight, I was trying to clear enough of the street (yes, the snow plow is still ignoring my street and turning just in front of my house) so that the turn maneuver would be gentle and, therefore, have a greater opportunity for success.  Seriously, I have cleared out more snow than you would even believe possible.

Dig until I start shaking.  Come inside and nap.  Wake and read the bible some.  Go outside and dig some more.  All day I do this and then this man just pulled into that slot shortly after dark.  ARGH!  Fortunately, the office will be closed tomorrow, so I have another day to continue digging myself out.  [Is it cynical of me that I fully expect the snow plow to never get around to clearing the rest of my street?]

I honestly did not know it is possible to be in this much pain from shoveling snow....

You know what the best part of tomorrow will be?  I will be able to do the morning prayer service because I can go back to sleep afterward!

I read more of Kleinig late last night that has been spinning about my head today, especially since listening to the sermon from our Snow Matins service on the Web.  A service with a sermon I waited all day to receive by email and have listened to thrice since receiving it.

In Galatians, St. Paul uses a startling phrase that is obscured by most modern translations.  He asks his readers if they received the Spirit by "hearing with faith" (Galatians 3:2,5).  Obviously, he expects them to agree with him that this is so.  He implies that they have not just received the Spirit by believing the Gospel; they have also received the gift of hearing through their faith in the Gospel.  With faith comes a new way of hearing:  the ability to hear the voice of God.  Hearing comes through faith, just as faith comes through hearing (Romans 10:17). (128)

Over and over and over again.  The importance of hearing is utterly ubiquitous these days!  I cannot turn my eyes in any direction in the Scriptures without encountering how we should be speaking and listening to the Living Word.  I cannot read a blog or book without underscoring the same.  And, as a result, I have become exceedingly greedy about being read to, but I also read the bible aloud at the drop of a hat.  I read it to myself.  I read it to others.  If someone is struggling with something, I immediately offer to read it to him/her.  Here Paul seems to clarify for me why it is important to hear...that by hearing, we not only receive faith, as in become a Christian, but that our on-going spirituality of reception means that in hearing we continue to receive the gift of faith, the gift of the Truth of God, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of mercy.  

His Word opens our eyes to see what God the Father gives us in Jesus.  His Word opens our ears to hear the voice of God the Father.  Thus we have everything that the people of God in the Old Testament ever desired.  We have the journey through life on earth.  He--and all that He has--is ours through faith in Him and His Word.  He may be hidden as to receive and enjoy if we have eyes to see and ears to hear and if we exercise our faith by using our eyes and ears to welcome Him and His gifts. (129)

Oh, my...what an incredible statement.  We have everything that the people of the God in the Old Testament ever desired.  Oh, my....

Reading this, I was immediately struck by how very ungrateful I am at times, ignoring what God has given me because I am too busy grousing about what I think I need.  I already have everything...what more could I possibly want?

I wanted to understand mercy.  I blogged about it, prayed about it, bugged Pastor about it.  I wanted to see it, feel it, touch it, taste it...not knowing that I already have.

What is mercy?

Jesus Christ! Pastor answered.  He sang it, whispered it, danced it.

What is mercy?

Jesus Christ!  In Him, we live and move and have our very being.  In the Son of God, we live and move and have our very being.  In the perfect Son of Man, we live and move and have our very being.  We who are sinners.  We who were clothed in death, now bear eternal life because in Christ we live and move and have our very being.  We deserve nothing, yet He gives us everything.

What is mercy?

In Holy matter that I cannot remember that was mercy poured on my forehead.  I saw the water.  I felt the water.  In the Lord's Supper, it is mercy I consume.  I taste it each time, taking in myself the greatest act of mercy the universe will ever act given for me, shed for me.   I see mercy each time I caste my eyes upon the Living Word, even before meaning coalesces from the black marks blazoned across the pages.  I hold it in my hand, I see before me mercy in Truth that I can study and take in each day of my life, words written for me, given to me.

What is mercy?

I, the beggar, the poor miserable wretched sinner, brought before the throne of God and welcomed into His kingdom as His precious child.

What is mercy?

The same God patiently waiting for me to understand this all....  I believe, Lord!  Help my unbelief!

Jesu Juva

“God’s Mercy in the Flesh”
Text: Luke 1:39-56 (Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are many, many things associated with Christmas, and the Christmas story is filled with many dearly loved and well-known events: the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary; Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth; the journey of the family to Bethlehem; the birth of Jesus and the manger; the shepherds; the star and the wise men. But today, we hear of another thing that God wants associated with the Christmas story: His mercy. For in Mary’s song, called the Magnificat, we heard these words in response to the events that were happening:
“His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” His mercy. Not for some, but for all. From generation to generation, down through the ages. From the beginning of time to the end of time, our God is a merciful God.

For in the beginning, in mercy, God created the heavens and the earth.
In mercy, He carefully planned creation and gave it to our first parents.
In mercy, He then came to them after they fell into sin and death.
In mercy, He promised to rescue them and send a Saviour.
And then His mercy continued.

In mercy, He saved Noah and his family through the flood.
In mercy, He called Abraham and made him the father of many nations.
In mercy, He stayed Abraham’s hand as it held the knife above his son.
In mercy, He rescued His people from Egypt.
In mercy, He brought them through the Red Sea and kept them in the wilderness.
In mercy, He settled them into their Promised Land.
But His mercy was not done.

In mercy, He gave His people the Tabernacle and the Temple, that He might dwell with them.
In mercy, He sent prophets to call His people to repentance.
In mercy, He fought for them against their enemies.
In mercy, He let them be defeated by their enemies when they turned from Him, and in mercy, He restored them when they repented.
In His mercy He was always working, for them, in them, and through them.

And all this, and much more, because the apex of His mercy was coming. When, in mercy, He sent the angel Gabriel to a young virgin in Nazareth named Mary, and through His Word and Spirit, His Son, the Saviour of the world, was conceived in her. This was the apex of His mercy, because all God’s mercy finds in its heart, its center, its meaning, in Jesus. All God’s mercy flows to Jesus and from Jesus. God’s mercy is never an arbitrary, disconnected, free-floating thing - it is always His mercy for us in Jesus. For His mercy is not just to do for us a thing here or a thing there, a favor here or a favor there - but to do for us what we need the most:
save us from our sin. For that is our greatest need.
Because of sin we have a present but no future.
Because of sin, we have life that leads to death.
Because of sin, we deserve nothing good from God, only His wrath, displeasure, and condemnation.
And so though you may be something or someone in the eyes of the world, we are all beggars before God.

But dear Christian, that is a good thing, for then Christmas is for you; the Son of God is for you; His forgiveness is for you; His mercy is for you.
If you do not see yourself as a beggar, then you cry out not for mercy, but for what you deserve, what you have earned; you cry out for your rights and for respect.
But beggars do no such thing.
Beggars simply cry out from their nothingness:
Lord, have mercy.
And our Lord has mercy.
The mercy we see in the manger.
The mercy we see in the Jordan.
The mercy we see on the cross.
For in those places we see the Son of God for us, having mercy. The Son of God joining Himself to us, taking our sin, and providing for us the gift of forgiveness and life. For always our Lord is merciful. From generation to generation, down through the ages. From the beginning of time to the end of time.

The problem is that we don’t always believe that.
When problems and difficulties arise in our lives,
    when hurts and pains seem to overwhelm,
    when it seems as if help is so very far away and there is no hope,
    we think God is not saving us, but punishing us, hurting us,
        withholding from us, turning away from us.
That God is not for me at all.
But it is not so. It is true, as Mary spoke, that God
“scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones . . . and the rich he has sent away empty.” And maybe He has done these things to you - scattered you, brought you down, emptied you. But why?
Because He is merciful. So that of humble estate, He may exalt you - not with a worldly exaltation, but with a true and everlasting exaltation.
That hungry, He may fill you with good things - not with the things of this world that we think we want, but with His truly good things.
And that a poor beggar, you come to His table - a table set for beggars.
For all is done in mercy, to have mercy.
That He not just be
a God, but your God, your Saviour.

That is what Mary believed, and relied on, because God showing mercy in this way was going to mean much difficulty for her! But as Elizabeth said,
“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

And blessed are you too, who believe what is spoken to you from the Lord.
Who believe not what you know in your mind or feel in your heart, but who believe the Word of the Lord.
Who trust not in what is seen, but what is unseen.
Who rely not on yourself and what you can do, but on the mercy of the Lord.
The mercy of the Lord who chose too little Bethlehem for the birthplace of his Son,
    who chose too old Elizabeth to bear His forerunner,
    who chose a lowly virgin to provide the human nature of his Son,
    and who has now chosen you to be His son, His daughter.
To come to you and dwell in you, that you may dwell in Him.

And so for you, in mercy, the Son of God comes in the flesh.
For you, in mercy, He lives and does the will of His Father perfectly.
For you, in mercy, He offers up His flesh and blood on the cross as the sacrifice for your sin.
And now for you He comes, in mercy,
    to give His body and blood into your mouth for the forgiveness of your sin;
    to give you His Spirit to sanctify you;
    to give you faith to trust in Him.
That you too may magnify the Lord, and leap in the womb of your mother, the Church.
For as only beggars cry out to God for mercy, so too only beggars praise God for his mercy.
His mercy, which isn’t always easy, but always good.
His mercy, which is His never-dying commitment to you.
His mercy, which provides for all your needs and especially your greatest need.
His mercy, which gives freely, with no merit or worthiness in you.

And so again this Advent season, His greeting has reached your ears and brought you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people - that unto you God is merciful. For unto you is born a Saviour, Christ the Lord. Or as Mary went on to say,
“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” For God does not forget His promises or His people. He does not forget you. He remembers His baptismal promise to you, and helps you, His servant, in remembrance of His mercy.

That’s what Christmas is about, for that’s what Jesus is about.
The mercy of God in the flesh.
The mercy of God, for you.

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

Saturday, December 19, 2009

If you look really, really closely, those little nubs on the hood of my car are my windshield wipers that I left standing up last night so they would not freeze to the windshield.  If you look at the lower left hand corner, you will also get a good sense of how high the snow is in my front yard.  Yes, winter arrived at my home today!

I shoveled snow six times before finally calling a halt.  Right now, the snow is light and much more easy to handle for someone who is weak.  Once the sun comes out tomorrow, the snow will grow heavy as it starts to melt a bit and become crusty on top and be altogether far more difficult in removal.  So,  I thought I would start now in the hopes that I might possibly have my car dug out by Monday, when I am quite sure my office will be open.  I have a path on the back deck to the steps and down them and have all of my sidewalk (front and by the street) cleared.  I also cleared a path around the car of one shovel width and then about three feet fore and aft.

Now, clearing my car out will be tricky because the way the snow plows usually turn onto the street running in front of my house leaves a very fat triangle of piled high snow.  Also, any clearing out I do now might just provide an attractive spot for the plowman to put street snow.  Still, given that the snow I did manage to clear out is already piled high in the bit of grass between the sidewalk and street, I am not really sure where what I still need to clear out will go.

I confess that it was too taxing to do the path about the car.  As I was finishing, I realized I was in trouble.  I fell four times between the car and the front steps and then crashed on the floor in the house.  I did not even have the strength to drag myself onto the green chair or the couch.  After a couple of hours, I fell asleep for two more.  When I awoke, I could at least move.  So, not only am I not sure where all the snow will go, I am not sure exactly how I will be able to clear out the street enough to actually get the car out. 

When I was trapped on the floor, I pulled the computer off the TV tray (thankfully catching it) and set it to play all 61 hymn files I have from Pastor.  Such riches!  Truly!  For a while, I wept over having them, having them in that moment.  I couldn't hold the hymnal to follow along, but I did sing the bits here and there that I remembered.

In between the shoveling and before and after the wet noodle episode, I read and sang hymns and studied.  Before I get to Kleinig, I thought I would share what I read and sang.  On Pastor S's website, he posted what he would be doing for Lessons and Carols.  Now I know what a carol is, but I do not know to what he is referring as lessons.  But all the online confessional pastors I read are having such a service, as is my church.  I'd ask Pastor, but right now he has at least a half dozen question emails from my sitting in his inbox, so I am reluctant to add one more.  Several people refer to Kings College when mentioning a Lessons and Carol service, but that doesn't really illuminate things for me.  But in any case, Pastor S posted the following, so I spent some time reading all the "lessons" and trying to sing the carols.  Of course, I really do not know many of them, so I substituted some of Pastor's hymns for the ones I don't know.  I chose ones I have yet to learn as fillers.

The Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols

Office Hymn
Silent night, holy night (LSB 363)

First Lesson
Genesis 3:8–15 (The promised Seed shall bruise the serpent’s head)

First Carol
Savior of the nations, come (LSB 332)

Second Lesson
Genesis 22:15–18 (The Lord’s gracious promise to Abraham)

Second Carol
Creator of the stars of night (LSB 351)

Third Lesson
Isaiah 7:10–15 (The Virgin shall conceive and bear Emmanuel)

Third Carol
O Jesus so sweet, O Jesus so mild (LSB 546)

Fourth Lesson
St. Luke 1:26–38 (The Annunciation unto the Virgin St. Mary)

Fourth Carol
The angel Gabriel from heaven came (LSB 356)

Fifth Lesson
Isaiah 60:1–6 (The Glory of the Lord has risen upon you)

Fifth Carol
Come, your hearts and voices raising (LSB 375)

Sixth Lesson
Isaiah 62:10–12 (The Lord comes with salvation for you)

Sixth Carol
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (LSB 359)

Seventh Lesson
St. Matthew 1:18–25 (The Birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior)

Seventh Carol
Away in a manger (LSB 364/365)

Eighth Lesson
1 John 4:7–16 (Let us love one another, for love is from God)

Eighth Carol
Once in royal David’s city (LSB 376)

Ninth Lesson
St. John 1:1–14 (The Word became Flesh and dwells among us)

Ninth Carol
Hark! The herald angels sing (LSB 380)

Processional Out / Hymn of Departure
Joy to the world (LSB 387)

Can you imagine a service filled with so much of the Living Word being poured out over you?  Oh, my, would that I could be there!


The Lord God has give me
     the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word 
     him who is weary.
Morning by morning He awakes;
     He awakens my ear
     to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
     and I was not rebellious;
     I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
     and my cheeks to those who pull out the bear;
I hid not my face
     from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord God helps me;
     therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
     and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
     He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
     Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
     Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord God helps me;
     who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them wear out like a garment;
     the mouth will eat them up.
                            ~Isaiah 50:4-9

Our basic spiritual problem is that we have bad hearing.  It is as if our ears are blocked with wax.  God speaks to us constantly, but we can't hear Him.  At best, we hear Him faintly and in a distorted way.  But the man who speaks here in this prophecy was a good listener, a master of meditation, because God had "opened" his ears so that he could hear God's voice clearly.  Every morning, before he got up out of bed, God awakened his ear, his sense of hearing, so that he could hear the voice of God throughout the day, like a whispered conversation.  Since God taught him daily in the school of life, he was able to sustain other weary people with the Word of God.  His ears had been opened in a strange way.  The more the man was ridiculed and abused by his enemies, the more he relied on God for his survival and eventual vindication.  And the more he relied on God in the darkness of persecution and rejection, the more clearly he heard the voice of God who justified and upheld him.  His faith in God and the persecution that came from his faith in God opened his ears to the voice of God.

In this passage, which is the third of the Servant Songs found in Isaiah, we see much more than just the portrait of an ideal sage, a perfect prophet, or a good spiritual director; we have a sketch of Jesus Christ, the Servant of God.  He is the perfect listener to God the Father.  As our heavenly leader, Jesus is not only the master of meditation but also the best teacher of it.  So He teaches us what He has learned; He joins us with Himself so that He can lead us on the way that He has gone. Just as He opened the ears of the deaf people that were brought to Him in His earthly ministry, He also has opened our ears so that we, like Him, can hear the voice of His heavenly Father.  The Father's plan is to use Him to awaken each of us morning by morning, so that we receive His Word each day. (125-127)

I found this bit of Kleinig both encouraging and chastising.  We studied the Servant songs in Pastor's Isaiah bible study a few years ago, but I did not "hear" as I did today.  I did not see that God gave me this portion of His Word for me.

The more the man was ridiculed and abused by his enemies, the more he relied on God for his survival and eventual vindication.  And the more he relied on God in the darkness of persecution and rejection, the more clearly he heard the voice of God who justified and upheld him. 

The trials I face at work are opportunity...for faith...for learning...for ministry.  The pain and weakness I face in my body were born by Him on the cross, leaving me not alone as I walk that path.  The darkness I face in my life is not dark to Him...and therefore not dark to me....

So He teaches us what He has learned; He joins us with Himself so that He can lead us on the way that He has gone.

Lord Jesus, come quickly!  But until You come unstop my ears and help me quit Sinai. Bring me to the magnificent, sustaining gift of Your body and blood that I may be joined with You....

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tonight, Pastor's Lovely Bride played a few times the measures from Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring that were giving me trouble, so I can now sing the hymn through...authorized verses and the new ones!  I am still hoping Pizza Man, Vee, and Bettina write theirs.  Today, another woman from church said she would write one if Pastor would ensure it was spiritually sound.  I laughed at the very idea she would need such help.  And yet ten years a Lutheran she still respects the works danger of her Protestant past and was not joking in the least.

His bride also played and sang two verses of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel with me even though her youngest daughter was long over due to bed.  Little Cindy Lu Hoo has always turned away from me whenever I tried to greet her, but spending time with her sister after work to show her features of her new camera seemed to have convinced Cindy Lu I might not be such a bad person.  So, she let me read her three books before I left!

On the way home, I stopped by Pizza Man's house because he picked up two net bags of Babybel cheese for me at Costco.  His Lovely Bride Vee, upon hearing me bemoan the fact that I did not realize the arctic weather coming down upon us and so did not get some milk since I am running quite low, promptly offered one of the two gallons she bought.  Knowing that she was not able to find the organic milk she prefers for her two cherubs, I felt less qualms about accepting her generosity.  What an amazing woman she is!

I also stole a few moments to curl up on the couch with her cherubs long enough to read them each a book.  I miss being with children, having them about my life as I did when I was younger and always the one to call when babysitting was needed.  Most often, I did not charge because I struggled with knowing that Christ certainly never would have done so.  I had the time; why shouldn't I help out the parents of my church?  But it has been years and years since I have truly had a steady diet of reading and singing and playing with children save for Bettina's wee ones.  Getting to do so in two homes this evening was very special for me.

No Walther or Kleinig once I finally made it home, just the Book of Concord and the Psalter.  You see, I came across a post about Baptism that has thrown me for a loop, so I read that section of the Large Catechism in the Book of Concord, four times in a row.  I simply cannot see the point, a basis for the stance.  I read it over and over in search of something to support or disprove how I feel about baptism, my understanding.  However,  I confess the fourth read was primarily the call of Luther and Lutheran academics.

Praying the Psalter, reading aloud 14 psalms--one after another--creates such a wonderful sense of rightness, of mercy, of love.

You know, I've told Pastor 3 times now that Song of Solomon cannot be about Christ, for I have had countless Sunday school lessons on this part of of the bible--all were on putting sex where it belongs (marriage) and staying pure as singles.  I've told him this, but have not really given him an opportunity to answers.  Pastor did make two declarations that have given me pause:  1) the entire bible is about Jesus, not just certain parts and 2) the bible is not an instruction book.  Chew on the latter for a while...

You know what was the best part of my evening...even more so than getting such a brief moment of hymn joy?  Little Cindy Lu had this pocket nativity, made of felt, which she handed to me and asked me to "do it" as the next book.  I was perplexed and told her I needed her to do it for me.  She then told me the story of the birth of Christ using the small figures from the pouch.  At four, she knows that the story begins with the angel telling Mary not to be afraid.  At four, she knows they traveled to Bethlehem and stayed in a stable.  At four, she knows the angels proclaimed His birth to the wise men who searched far and wide for the Messiah.  At four!  It was an utter privilege, laced with pure joy, to listen to her tell me the story of my Savior's birth.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I learned today someone is hurt by what I wrote about her on my blog, quite angry, too.  I am sorry she is hurt.

Very few people know who I am or, for that matter, who are the people mentioned here.  Several years ago, I switched to initials and now nicknames because I cannot keep initials straight when my godparents are both J's, as is Pizza Man and my friend in Ohio and half a dozen other people I am forgetting at this moment.  The domain ownership information is not public.  None of that really matters.

This is my blog, my journal, my thoughts and feelings.  And, as Pastor is teaching me, there is nothing wrong with my feelings.  Today we talked a bit about the men from yesterday afternoon and he gave me more words...good words.  [Alas, I had not my notebook with me at the time.]  He told me that what welled up within me in that moment was not wrong, nor, he supposed, something that might change any time soon, if ever in certain circumstances.  There is nothing wrong with that.  What can change is how I handle such feelings...respond to actions that follow them.  Wanting to scoff at such an idea, I clung to his hope instead.  We can work on that, Myrtle.

Funny, the person who is hurt is not the one I have been avoiding in the hopes of how I feel around her will not hurt her.

One question that was asked was how I can say she is not a Christian.  True, no one can know if for sure with regard to another person, but being a Christian is not someone who lives a moral life or has even been baptized or goes to church now and again or every Sunday.  Being a Christian has to do with belief and faith in Jesus Christ.  Period.  Without that belief there is no salvation.  One is simply not a Christian.  For have I not written enough of late that we are not participants in our own salvation?  It is a gift that we receive from the Holy Spirit.  If we are clothed with Christ, however, there will be an outpouring of works.  Perhaps, though, not what the world would most likely ascribe as great and godly works.

"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' 

"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? 

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' 

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 

"Then they themselves also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 

 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." 
~Matthew 25: 31-46

In any case, I say that if someone does not live by faith, does not proclaim Christ as Savior, does not cherish the Word of God, does not acknowledge themselves as a sinner, does not seek forgiveness...well, what claim of Christian could there be?  What puzzles me is her anger and hurt over acknowledging this.

She also believes I am lying.  But, sadly, I am not.  For one, appearance does matter to her and my inability to measure up in this area has been a judgment against me for years.  I have watched her judge others.  I often wonder what she says about me to others when I hear her picking on others with me.  It is truly hurtful.   A few years ago, she had lunch with my boss.  Afterward, my boss shook her head in disbelief over the meal.  My boss told me it was evident, with regard to her grandsons, that she cared more for their convenience or lack there of in the stories she related to my boss.  My boss asked me if she even loved them.  I am not the only one who has experienced her criticism.  It is how she is, or rather how she has chosen to become.  She did, however, grow up with criticism in her ears by a mother who failed to pour love over her. 

I write for me.  I write to make sense of my life.  I write because that is what I do, who I am.  Were I a cave woman, I think you would find my scratchings all over the walls of my home.  What I write is my experience, my feelings.  They are what they are. 

This day, both were not what I was expecting.

Even though Advent is his busiest season, even though it is his birthday, even though he had met with me just yesterday, Pastor spent an hour talking with me about the angry phone call and the emails and the men.  I am not sure if he noticed, but it was the first time, when talking with him in...uhm...distress...I did not say I cannot do this; I cannot fail again.  Some of what he said made sense.  Some gave me a hope I could finally understand.  But mostly I thought about a question he did not answer (mostly likely because he missed it amongst my 1,001 other questions).  Is it wrong to be shoving Scripture  and hymnody into my head as fast and as much as possible?  Am I misusing the Living Word that way?

I was thinking about this as I finished reading Walther's Eighth Evening Lecture and a few bits leapt off the page at me:

Someone who is in anguish and distress will come to you.  In every instance the cause of such anguish of soul will be that the Law has taken effect in your parishioner, and it does not occur to him that he can be saved by the Gospel.  He does not think of that while he wails:  "Alas!  I am a poor sinner; I am worthy of damnation," etc.  To such a person you must say:  "You are indeed a lost and condemned creature.  But the passage of Scripture which has told you that is Law.  There is, however, another teaching in Scripture.  The Law has done its work in you; by the Law is to come the knowledge of sin.  You must now quit Sinai and go to Golgotha.  See yonder your Savior, bleeding and dying for you!" (63)

Gee, Pastor, you need to tell me to quit Sinai!

The Formula of Concord, in the Epitome (Mueller, p. 533; Triglot Concordia, p. 801), says:  "We believe, teach, and confess that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is to be maintained in the Church with great diligence as an especially brilliant light, by which, according to the admonition of St. Paul, the Word of God is rightly divided."  This is repeated in the Declaration of Article V (Mueller, p. 633; Trioglot Condordia, p. 951) as follows:  "As the distinction between Law and the Gospel is a special brilliant light, which serves to the end that God's Word may be rightly divided and the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles may be properly explained and understood, we must guard it with especial care in order that these two doctrines may not be mingled with one another or a Law be made out the Gospel, whereby the merit of Christ is obscured and troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort which they otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and in its purity, and by which they can support themselves in their most grievous trials against the terrors of the Law."  If these two doctrines are not kept separate, the merit of Christ is obscured; for when I am afraid of the threatening of the Law, I have forgotten Christ, who says to me:  "Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.  All ye that labor and are heavy laden, do but come, and you shall find rest unto your souls." (64)

Do but come.  Advent.  Jesus comes to us!  He calls us to come to Him!


Is it wrong that I relish, savor, each time Walther and Luther mention the terrors of the Law for how less lonely that makes me feel?  The merit of Christ is obscured...troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort.  Oh, how I understand this!

He later writes:  However, the preacher must also be careful not to say that the Law has been abolished; for that is not true.  The Law remains in force; it is not abrogated. (65)

I believe this is important to remember because while Christ did fulfill the Law, He did not abolish it.  I think that in being taught that He fulfilled it, I have mistakenly learned that it was abolished.  So in coming face to face with the most excellent instruction of Luther in the Large Catechism, I am overwhelmed by the Law, by how it shines a fierce light on the hidden darkness of my heart, exposing all my sin. I cannot bear it.

The devil may whisper all manner of insinuations to him, but he will say to him:  "Your charges against me are quite correct; but I have another doctrine, which tells me something altogether different.  I am glad the Law has put me in such a woeful plight; for now I can relish the Gospel all the more." (65)

Get behind me satan!  I do not have to bear it!

In reading and thinking and thinking and reading, I have begun to wonder if shoving Scripture in my head is exactly what I should be doing because it is the Word which will have its way in me, work in me, not I.  I just need to give it time.  I wonder if I hear enough of forgiveness, of the Gospel, if I am filled with its light and sweetness, eventually that is where my mind will go first...instead of the Law.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Oh, my goodness, can you imagine growing up with Lutheran hymnody?  Check out these wee little Lutherans singing such a beautiful paean to God!  I found the link on Pastor W's blog and then promptly watched the other videos these young ones made.

Pastor came for parking-lot-confession again today.  Again I talked too long for him to leave me with a hymn, so no returning to work with secret hymn joy.  And, well, there was really hardly any "admonition and comfort from the Holy Scriptures for the despairing and anguished soul."  In truth, I sat in the back seat instead of the front because I find it difficult to understand how it is okay to return to God again and again and again asking forgiveness for the same sin.  I didn't want to see a deep sigh on Pastor's face.  Again, she's bringing up that?  Not that he would, really, but....  To give him credit, Pastor said not a word about my choice of seat and only twisted around when it was time for absolution.  He did sing for me the Agnus Dei.  I read aloud Psalm 91 to prepare...a psalm of trust for one who struggles mightily to understand what trust is in her life....

As much as I cried in the car...and I did cry...I must say that I spent the afternoon basking in the wonder of God's forgiveness.  I left his car wishing he had more words for me.  But the words he spoke at the last soaked in, took hold, and were enough.

Truly I believe it was this parking-lot grace that carried me through a particularly rough moment this afternoon.

We held a winter clothing drive for children and ended up with 32 bags of coats and clothing for adults.  So, I called a local church that runs a thermal shelter and asked if they would like the clothing.  After three abortive appointments, today they came and fetch everything.  So glad was the coordinator that she abruptly hugged me.  Then, before I could do anything, she directed the two men with her to hug me too.  They did. One kissed me.  I know this should be just a moment in time, a moment of thankfulness and joy in knowing they would be able to help those who come to them in need. This I know.  However, the night of the concert is never far from my mind.  I was terrified.  The man who kissed me was rough-shaven.  I still feel his whiskers on my face and his hands gripping my arms as he pulled me close.  Again.  He meant no harm.  He couldn't know.  He couldn't know what he was doing to me.

Walther or Kleinig?  Never before have I read two books at a time, never before have I been so torn in study.  Lutheran doctrine or Lutheran spirituality?



The Eighth Evening lecture begins  Thesis IV:  The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and teh Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.

In the intro section, he quotes a bit of Luther's exposition of Psalm 37:

There is not a plainer book on earth than the Holy Scriptures.  It is, in comparison with all other books, what the sun is compared with all other luminaries.  The papists are giving us their twaddle about Scriptures for the sole purpose of leading us away from the Scriptures and raising up themselves as masters over us in order to force us to believe their preaching of dreams.  It is an abomination, a disgraceful defamation of Holy Write and the entire Christian Church, to say that the Holy Scriptures are obscure, that they are not clear enough to be understood by everybody and to enable everybody to teach and prove what he believes. (59)

We do not exactly have the papists setting themselves up as authority these days, but it struck me that so many people say that the bible is hard for them to read, all of it or some of it.  Someone I really respect finds the Psalter near unreadable and not for her.  The prayers of the Living Word are not for her!  Somehow she and others learn that the bible is not really theirs; it is the theologians' and pastors'.  Really, it is only theirs through Christian pop culture books that cloud the Gospel and purport to have the steps that will lead to a godly life and bible studies that are focuses more on works--things that you should be doing--than revealing all that God is doing, longs to do, for you and the bald, blunt, unvarnished truth that there is absolutely positively nothing that we can do nor God desires us to do with regard to salvation and holiness.  Both are His work alone.

Though I have written it a dozen times already, this is what truly amazes me about Lutheran doctrine.  The whole of it, the breadth and depth of it, is contained in a single book...a single, very accessible book.

Luther's use of "twaddle" reminded me of his preface to the Large Catechism.  Such passion had he for bringing the pure teaching of the Living Word into the hearts of every man.  He was not merely raging against the false teaching, the works based doctrine that had permeated the pulpits; he was raging against the fact that so many men, women, and children were being denied what they needed for eternal life.

In a sense, he wanted to make it possible for people to learn the truth, to be taught properly, no matter what "swine" or "glutton" is in the pulpit.  As pastor pointed out, Romans tells us that we need pastors to teach, to illuminate the bible for us.  But if the man standing before you on Sundays errs in his teaching, still you would have access to what you need to know, to understand.  Salvation will not come apart from the Holy Spirit--it will be that closed book--but for those clothed in Christ the bible is wide open...not something reserved for scholars.

Come to think of it...the bible is the only "for me" that I have never doubted!

There is good stuff in this lecture.  Good stuff.  Of course, I am biased for anything that extols the riches, the wonder of the Living Word.  However, I shall not dump the entire lecture in your laps this evening.  Two bits I shall share:

Turning the leaves of the Holy Scriptures while still ignorant of the distinction between the Law and Gospel, a person receives the impression that a great  number of contradictions are contained in the Scriptures; in fact, the entire Scriptures seem to be made up of contradictions, worse than the Koran of the Turks.  Now the Scriptures pronounce one blessed, now they condemn him.  When the rich youth asked the Lord:  "What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"  The Lord replied:  "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments."  When the jailer at Philippi addressed the identical question to Paul and Silas, he received this answer:  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house/"  ON the one hand, we read in Habakkuk 2, 4: The just shall live by his faith"; on the other hand, we note that John in his First Epistle, chapter 3,7, says:  "He that doeth righteousness is righteous."  Over and against this the Apostle Paul declares:  "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."  On the one hand, we note that Scripture declares that God had no pleasure in sinners; on the other hand, we find that it states:  "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."  In one place Paul cries:  "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,"  and Psalm 5, 4 we read: "Thou are not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; neither shall evil dwell with Thee"; in another place we hear Peter saying: "Hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you."  One the one hand, we are told that all the world is we are told that all the world is under the wrath of god; on the other hand, we read:  "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotton Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  Another remarkable passage is I Corinthians 6, 9-11, where the apostle first makes this statement:  "Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God," and then adds:  "And such were some of you.  But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God."  Must not a person who knows nothing of the distinction between the Law and Gospel be swallowed up in utter darkness when reading all this?  Must he not indignantly cry out:  "What?  That  is to be God's Word?  A book full of contradictions?"

For the situation is not this, that the Old Testament reveals a wrathful, the New Testament a gracious God, or that the Old Testament teaches salvation by a person's own works, the New Testament, by faith.  No; we find both teachings in the Old as well as in the New Testament.  But the moment we learn to know the distinction between Law and Gospel, it is as if the sun were rising upon the Scriptures, and we behold all the contents of the Scriptures in the most beautiful harmony.  We see that the Law was not revealed to us to put the notion into our heads that we can become righteous by it, but to teach us that we are utterly unable to fulfill the Law.  We we have learned this, we shall know what a sweet message, what a glorious doctrine, the Gospel is and shall receive it with exuberant joy. (61-62)

I really enjoyed the long, long passage showing seemingly one "contradiction" after another, drawing you in more and more. Yes, it does say that.  But then this, too!  Yet Walther points out that this is not so!  I love the harmony, the balance, the blending of Old and New Testament.  There is no Old for them and New for us.  God is revealed throughout.  Jesus permeates all the pages, not just the red-letter ones!  His words are the Word.  It is why it is Living, why when Pastor read Psalm 28 to me, my first thought was how wonderful it was, how perfect it was for me, how I had not heard that one before even though I have prayed the Psalter through over a dozen times since July.  It is why Psalm 91 had different meaning for me today in the back seat of Pastor's car.  His Word is fresh and new each moment, each day for every single person on earth...all those who have been, all those who are, and all those who will be--no one excepted!

What I also enjoyed (for the fellowship) and the wonder (how could this be so)...was the next bit:

Remember the agonies of our dear Luther!  Considering the darkness which reigned in his day, we must say that, compared with others he had acquired a great deal of knowledge at the beginning of his career, but he did not know how to distinguish the Law from the Gospel.  Oh,the toil and torments he had to undergo!  His self-castigation and fasting brought him to the point of death.  The most crushing, most appalling statement in his estimation at the time was this, that the righteousness which is valid in the sight of God is revealed in the Gospel.  "Alas!" he mused, "what a woeful state of affairs!  First we are approached by the Law, which demands of us that we fulfill it; and now, in addition, we are to be made righteous by obeying the Gospel!"  Luther confesses that there were times in his life when he was harassed with blasphemous thoughts.  Suddenly a new light shone upon him, showing him of what kind of righteousness the Gospel is speaking.  He relates from that moment he began to run through the whole Scriptures in an endeavor to obtain a clear understanding as to which portion of the Scriptures are Law and which Gospel.  He says that he pried into every book in the Bible, and now all its parts became clear to him.  The birth of the Reformer dates from the moment when Luther understood this distinction.  The tremendous success of his public activity, moreover, is due to the same cause.  By his new knowledge Luther liberated the poor people from the misery into which they had been driven by the Law-preaching of their priests.  (62-63)

Sometimes Pastor remarks that I have a lot in common with Luther.  I inwardly scoff at such a thought.  I do believe that Luther was intimately acquainted with despair and anguish, for such compassion he holds for the struggling Christian could only come from one who shared the experience.  But how in the world could Pastor equate one mote of my heart with such a learned, devout man as Luther?

In reading this, I did, perhaps, note a similarity or two.  Perhaps Pastor is not quite so far off as I imagine him to be!

Would that the Holy Spirit teach me more of this proper distinction between Law and Gospel  Would that the expansive schism between my Protestant mind and my Lutheran soul be crossed so that I, too, can  read all of the Living Word, not merely parts, with the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ as easily as does Pastor.  Would that I understand, without fear and trepidation, what it truly means to be forgiven, to fall beneath the grace of the Cross and the mercy of the Son of God who chose, without reservation and without hesitation, to endure its agony, to endure its shame, for me.  Would that I would know the joy of the fellowship of suffering, the marvel of the mystery of being clothed with Christ, and the wonder of the Creator of the Universe telling me, "I have chosen you and not rejected you.... I have called you by name; you are Mine."

Would that I could escape the fear and shame that lingers from this afternoon....

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I am so stinking tired.

Would that I had a button somewhere about my head that I could use to switch off my brain.

A day made longer by three separate problems with the newsletter design file and one dropped ball with a reporter.  SIGH.

I spent the evening with Kleinig again, racing ahead, wanting to get to page 151 and the mysteries of prayer, then turning back.  Again and again and again...reception.  What does that really mean?

I am a beggar.  This I can understand because I know my sin.  And I flee from works.  I embrace wholeheartedly the idea that my own works will gain me nothing because they have!  However, I keep putting myself in the mindset that I have done something or have not done something.  Alas, works permeates my very being!  I read scripture from works; Pastor from reception.  What he sees and that which I do often are separated by a schism wider than the grand canyon, engulfing my heart.  I want to see differently....

...when we meditate on God's Word, we are on the receiving end from God.  God is the actor, and he operates on us.  He speaks, and we listen.  We receive from Him as He gives of Himself to us.  As we receive His Word into our hearts by meditating on it, it does its work in us.  Scripture changes us inwardly and gradually permeates everything we think and feel and say and do.  It brings the Holy Spirit with it, the Spirit who makes us spiritually fruitful and productive.  (114-115)

As we hold to the enlightening Word, the light of Christ permeates us; it drives out the darkness in us and illuminates the whole of our being so that we who are children of the light begin to produce the fruit of light (cf. Ephesians 5:8-14).  The light of Christ bring life and sight, warmth and energy with it.  Just as the light of the sun produces physical life, sight, warmth, and energy in our world, so also God's Word brings life to our dying souls, vision to our dark minds, warmth to our cold hearts, and energy to our weak bodies.  Through His Word the triune God comes to us, makes His home with us and fills us with radiance of His presence (cf. John 14:23).

The illumination that we experience through meditation on God's Word does not affect our thinking; it permeates the whole of us and heals all parts of us.  Our souls are revived so that we share more and more in the life of Christ the Son in His fellowship with God the Father.  Our minds are transformed so that we think as Christ thinks and see ourselves and others as God the Father sees us.  Our hearts are softened so that we become attuned to the heart of God the Father and feel as He does about ourselves and about others.  Our bodies are energized so that we live by His grace and work together with Him in the world.  So, as we meditate on His Word, we stand in His light and borrow light for ourselves from Him.  (115-116)

Even as I race ahead, this snippet of Luther's calls me back:

You should meditate...not only in your heart, but also externally, by actually repeating and comparing oral speech and literal words of the book, reading and rereading them with diligent attention and reflection, so that you may see what the Holy Spirit means by them...For God will not give you His spirit without the external Word; so take your cue from that.  His command to write, preach, read, hear, sing, speak, etc. outwardly was not given in vain. (110)

Somewhere I read how he also traced his fingers upon the words.  I do that, not merely to hold my place in the book or track where I am on the page.  The letters are not raised, but sometimes it seems as if they are.  Words that leap out at me these days:  for Christ's sake, keep, holy, and forgiven...

Monday, December 14, 2009

I worked twelve and a half hours today, or rather yesterday since it is already tomorrow!

Now, at 4:30 AM, I just finished walking Kashi about the neighborhood, having not been able to do so since Thursday.  Really, he walked me.  Despite my stumbling along the way, he was so very happy to be out and about once more.

I was hoping the walk would help me sleep, but I only spent more time thinking about that which bothers me.  While I am not completely sure, I am fairly certain I lied to someone on Saturday.  Even if merely by omission, lies are wrong and only bring hurt.  But what do you do if telling the truth would most likely hurt the person worse than the omission?

I did try to sing all the verses, old and new, to Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring, but I still cannot get the notes of third and fourth least the majority of them.  Perhaps if I got more verses, I would have a greater opportunity of mastering this hymn (hint, hint)!  I am, however, also looking forward to the next batch of hymns from Pastor.

So, I thought I would spend some more time with Kleinig.  I am only fifty or so pages away from the section on prayer.  And, boy, do I want to leap ahead and start reading there.  The first section on the mystery of Christ was quite interesting, so each time I tried to leap ahead, I was pulled back to study, to savor, and, yes, to meditate on what he is presenting.

This next section is actually on meditation, and, frankly, I could skip it and not feel bad at all about doing so.  But each time I start flipping the pages, I find myself wondering if I might be missing something important because of my preconceived notions and conditioned responses to the small bit I have read thus far.

In fact, I just started flipping when I spotted the following.  I spotted the following and backed up to the beginning to read what was there again.  He started with some pretty standard stuff about abiding in Christ, but tied it to mediation on His Word.  Standard stuff, yet completely different.  Then:

In our homes, we have many different electrical appliances, from lights to a vacuum cleaner.  Each of these appliances is designed to perform a different task fro us.  yet, despite their different functions, they all have one thing in common:  they operate by the power of an electric current.  They do not produce or possess electricity; they receive it from another source and are empowered by it.

As Christians, we live and work by the power of God's Holy Spirit, a power that we never possess but always receive.  We can achieve nothing spiritually by ourselves.  Only as long as we are attached to Christ and receive the Spirit from Him can we live the life of Christ and do the work of God the Father.  Our spiritual life depends entirely on our ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit.  The practice of meditation is included in this.  Meditation depends on our ongoing reception of the Holy Spirit and the continual operation of the Holy Spirit in us. (107-108)

Hmmm...Christianity being a spirituality of reception.  Again and again and again I think I have grasped this notion and then find myself discovering that I have only scratched the surface, I have not yet tasted the riches of possessing nothing and yet receiving everything.

But...what also troubles my waters is how very different the Holy Spirit is in the doctrine which I am studying with that which has been presented in all those years of church going.  This is near impossible for me to describe other than to say cheaply that the Holy Spirit has been taught mostly as either an afterthought, part of the Trinity yes, but not really much else to delve into there...or as something to be know...speaking in tongues and such...holy roller folk.

Oh, how I am learning something so very different...

Jesus teaches us about the role of the Holy Spirit in meditation in John 16:12-15.  This is the last part of His teaching about the Spirit in His farewell speech to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.  All that the father has is mind; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Here Jesus is not just speaking to His apostles but to all His disciples, including us, about the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  The risen Lord Jesus gives us His Holy Spirit as our spiritual director and guide in our journey with Him.  He leads us quite practically into the truth of Jesus and our association with Him.  His purpose with us is to advocate Jesus by bearing witness to Him and disclosing His glory as God's Son.

The Holy Spirit does not, as some teach, merely take us back to what Christ said and did long ago.  he does much more than that.  He declares what the risen Lord Jesus is saying and doing now; He proclaims the things that have come to be after His death and resurrection.  He initiates us into the present mystery of Christ.  After all, we do not hear what Jesus is saying now, nor can we see what He is doing now.  But the Spirit does.  So He declares to us what He hears from Christ.  The Holy Spirit takes the words of Jesus, the words that He spoke long ago, and applies them to us, each in our won situation.  He tells us what Jesus now brings to each of us from His heavenly Father.  The Spirit takes what belongs to Jesus and offers it to us, telling us that it is ours.  Through the Spirit's preaching, the word of Jesus is enacted in us, just as Jesus enacted the word of His heavenly Father fro us in His earthly ministry.

The Holy Spirit plays an important role in our meditation on God' Word.  We meditate on God's Word in order to receive the Holy Spirit and all the gifts that the Spirit brings to us as a foretaste and pledge of our heavenly  inheritance.  As we meditate on God's Word and put our trust in it, the Holy Spirit takes over from us in our thinking and preaches it to us.  The Holy Spirit turns what we do into something that is done to us, something that happens to us; the Spirit turns our meditation into and exercise of reception.

Yet it is not just the Holy Spirit who helps us to meditate and inspires us as we meditate.  As Christ shows us in John 16:12-15, all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the operation of Christian meditation.  As we meditate, the Spirit leads us to Christ and through Christ to God the Father.  But He also takes what the Father gives to His Son and offers it to us for our use and enjoyment.  By meditating on the words and deeds of Jesus, we receive the Father's gift of His Spirit and all His other heavenly gifts. (108-110)

Does that not change how you look at reading the bible?  Does it not shift, radically, the here and now of our faith, a living, active Word for a living, active God in a living, active faith that is not merely situated in the past, not tied to a single, albeit magnificent, act on the Calvary's hill?

I have so much to learn, too much to un-learn.  It seems, each day, I discover more of exactly what I do not know.  I wonder, at times, if I know anything at all....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am very blessed by people willing to write more verses to Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring.  My godmother's verse is on the Lord's Supper:

Jesus comes to give forgiveness
In His Body giv'n for me;
Jesus comes to th' repentant,
In His Blood shed for me.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Giv'n so I may go in peace.

Pastor's is on undershepherds:

Jesus comes in undershepherds
Caring for His struggling sheep.
To the lonely and the dying
With His all surpassing peace.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Comes with blessing, feeding, love.

I found my godmother's verse Saturday when I awoke and checked my email just before Pastor arrived for my lessoning.  We did not really get to the lesson, but he did bring the Lord's Supper.  And at least we talked more than I cried. 

On his blog today, Pastor mentioned that in Sunday School he had a bit a "tirade" against the pageantry props and background cropping up around the church where we share services.  The other church, who owns the building, has been readying for Christmas.  He doesn't have a beef with plays or such, but he made quite an interesting observation:

...what I pointed out is that when you don't have the sacraments, this is what happens - something rushes in to fill the vacuum. Therefore, how do you celebrate Christmas or Easter? How do you remember? How do you put yourself in the story? You have to act it out. You have to try to put yourself there. But we don't have to do that! The sacraments are what unite us to Christ and make us participants in the story. We don't have to try to go to Bethlehem when Jesus comes to us in His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. So at Christmas, there is no better way to remember and celebrate than receiving the Lord's Supper. That is where heaven and earth meet. You cannot get closer to Him than that.

Oh, Pastor, so many people do not understand what the Lord's Supper is, the incredible gift of how He comes to us!  They do not have undershepherds to teach them this.  All they have is worldly works and hollow measures with which to comfort themselves.

Who knew that four letter word could have such joy!  Come!  I think that so much of the focus of Protestant churches is that Jesus came to us.  Past tense.  Lutherans celebrate, revel in how Christ comes to us.  Now.  Today.  Tomorrow.  Always!

Who knew how a church season can change a life?  Advent.  Waiting and preparing for Christ to come.  Celebrating that He came and will come again.  Humbled beneath all the ways He comes to us each day of our lives.

The sermon I chose for Pastor's food yesterday was actually from Pastor W on Trinity 2 in 2007.  It is a beautiful Word he brought to his flock on how Jesus calls us to come to Him.  I chose it because of Advent, the other side of the coin of Come.  We can come to Him because He came to us. He came to us because God longs to have a relationship with us, longs for us to come to Him.

But reading it was far, far harder than I thought it would be. In truth, at one point, I wanted to just pass the paper over and tell him that he should be the one speaking those words.

"Come, for all is now ready." "But" you object "I am not worthy to come. My clothes are not suitable. I wouldn't know how to act in the Master's palace." None of this makes any difference. The invitation goes out to all: to those who are on the back streets, to those who live in little, dirty places, as well as to those who live in fine houses. Come! The good news is that you don't have to be perfect to come. Come as you are -- with all of your sins and sorrows, weaknesses and failures, problems and anxieties. Come to the only one who can forgive you and heal you. Come to the one who on His cross opened His arms wide to you. "Come, for all is now ready."

Coming to Jesus isn't a one time thing. None can say: "Oh, I did that years ago." Coming to Jesus is a way of life. It begins with baptism. It involves living out our baptism in daily repentance and sorrow for sin and turning from sin to God. We come to Him and find Him where He has promised to be for us. We come to Him in worship for "where two or three gather in my name, there am I in the midst of them." We come to Him in Bible reading, for "if anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." We come to Him in regular communion, for "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I in Him." You see He who came down from heaven to meet us on our level, meets us on our level still.

No, He doesn't stand at the top of the ladder and call us home. He stands at the bottom and lifts us up on His strong shoulders and carries us up the ladder Himself. None of us will ever know the wonder of the brightly lit banquet hall, the goodness of the food, and the joy of being part of this amazing fellowship until we lay aside the excuses and dare to accept the invitation. Yes, dare to accept it daily! Come to Him now, come to Him today and tomorrow and the next day and the next and so live in the assurance that on the last day He will direct to you the greatest "Come" of all: "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Amen

Once again, I chose a sermon that was really food for me, not for Pastor. SIGH. I wish I could get it right.

He completely surprised me with the Lord's Supper. Once he poured the wine, its fragrance sang to me, bringing comfort during even the liturgy of communion we were reading. Liturgy that included the Agnus Dei!

What does it mean to ask for Christ have mercy upon us? A friend said she thought it was asking Christ to look not upon our sinful condition and give us what we deserve, but instead pour out His forgiveness upon us. I like that, but then I think of the lepers crying out to Jesus and I cannot picture them asking for forgiveness. It seems to me that they were begging for help, for healing really. So, is mercy a combination of forgiveness and healing or more or less or something else altogether?

The dictionary gives me words such as compassion, kindness, favor. Frankly, they do not shed much light for me.

After the lesson, I went over to the nursing home where the church was having a dinner with one of our members who lives there.  I was still very wobbly from the cold drama of Friday night, but although I had grave misgivings about inflicting myself on the rest of the church folk, I know if I were living in a nursing home, I would want people to visit me.  And I would care if they stunk at being human beings.

I forgot to bring a plastic fork in with me and walking back out to the car for one would really have just ended in my leaving.  So, I tried to eat with a plastic spoon, the only thing the wait staff could find for me.  I was shaking so much that the food kept falling off my spoon, but I did eat three whole chicken planks and a few pieces of butternut squash.  Then, much to my dismay, Pastor's eldest daughter, who was sitting across from me, came back with her dessert:  a triple layer chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and crushed peanut butter cups on top.  Now, I am actually not a fan of chocolate cake.  As much as I revel in desserts and am ape over cake, I have been known to skip chocolate cake.  But, seriously, there is NOTHING better in this world than peanut butter and chocolate!  In fact, as a teenager, I was know for spending an afternoon polishing off an entire bag of Reseece's Miniature Peanut Butter Cups as I read a novel or two.

Someone who has this diagnosis of diabetes over her head and who just spent five months puking all food and who still cannot handle sugar or carbohydrates alone has NO BUSINESS eating such a slice of cake.  But I stared at it until I think I was making his daughter a wee bit uncomfortable.  I plied her with all manner of questions about how it tasted, until I decided to fetch me a matter that I needed assistance in the fetching.

It was simply  marvelous.  SIGH.  Even now, knowing what came next, I would consume another piece were it placed before creamy and smooth and peanut-buttery was that icing!

However, not long after I started feeling queasy.  The cacophony of the room started to recede and I wondered where the nearest bathroom was.  Pastor noticed, for he changed seats to one across from me and then shortly was near running my over to the bathroom as I held onto his arm.  He even reached out and grabbed a bowl as we hustled past the buffet in case I did not make it out of the dining room.

I think if I had not made it to the bathroom, I would NEVER have been able to face him again.  After all, who pukes on a pastor?

I spent quite a bit of time on the bathroom floor, working very hard to refrain from thinking where I was lying as I tried to stop trembling after the heaving up of all things tasty and the protein I needed and wishing that someone would come in to rescue me.  It took three attempts at standing, falling back to the floor twice, before grabbing the bar strongly enough to haul me upward. I have found that when I am wobbly, if I stand straight over my feet, that I can stand with the appearance of being fairly normal, but if I list, I have to shove my fear that I am about to fall down where no one can see it and cast about for something to surreptitiously grab a hold of for a moment.

[Something that I noticed about my godfather and Pastor is that when I list, they pull me back to center, but do not mention it to me.  It is as if they are helping me keep up my facade.  I sort of like that.  No, I really like that.]

Afterward, Pastor dumped me in a chair in the lobby area since everyone had cleared out of the room.  My godmother offered to drive me to my new friend's house since it was on her way home and they had extra drivers in their cars between my godfather and their nanny.  With much hesitation, I accepted.  She helped me so very much Friday night and then last night...when I have been avoiding her because of something that happened that I cannot speak to her about.  Sitting beside her was like having coals of fire heaped upon my head.

Even more so...because I was going over to my new friend's house because Thursday I hurt her feelings which made me feel even more the human failure and I knew if I didn't have a visit sooner rather than later I would just avoid her too.  Oh, how I wish I could be a hermit, in a cave, never having to inflict my oafish nature upon another person.  I was going over there to help her wrap presents and find a way to tell her how sorry I was for hurting her feelings and then begging her to let me jump off the phone because it hurt too much knowing what I had done...I jumped off the phone even though she wanted to talk things out because all I could see was my failure...which, in not talking at the time, make the failure all the worse.

So, there I was, trapped in my own car, being driven by such a loving woman, not wanting to speak a word but finding myself having to answer questions I would rather have avoided.  Nothing really changed, for me that is, when we got to my friend's house and I was actually scared to go inside, but she was leaving to go pick up dinner so I went from one car to another.

Then, when we got back to the house, my blood sugar started dropping, which told me I probably didn't loose all the icing or maple sauce from the squash though I know all the chicken was gone, so when I started panicking at what was happening, my friend just darted to the pantry where she had some icing.  She remembered that gel icing is a great quick solution, which really touched me.  She then divided up her dinner so I could have some real food to keep my blood sugar from dropping again after a while from the icing.  Such a vicious cycle that is.  Need a timer?  Just give me sugar on an empty stomach and you'll know 90 minutes have passed when I start getting a bit irritable, 120 minutes when I start shaking and sweating.

[Something that is very, very hard to describe about my new friend is that if I need to lie on her floor, she does not bat an eyelash.  It doesn't matter to her.  If I say I need food, she just gets it.  When I whispered beneath my breath my regret that I didn't remember to bring my sweats over there, she fetched some pants and a sweatshirt from her husband's closet so that I could change and be comfortable.  There is absolutely no pretense of any way, shape, or form with her.  It is hard for me to believe that, to trust it really, but I do recognize it.  That is what she offers in friendship.  What a marvel!]

In a way, in a way I cannot really fathom, the whole day, from Pastor announcing he brought the Lord's Supper to him sitting beside me in the lobby while I gathered myself as if his family was not waiting on him to my godmother driving me around to my friend essentially telling me that even seventy time seven is not too many times for her to forgive my oafishness...well, I felt as if I were walking about in the pages of the Gospel.

I know this will not make sense, but it was disturbing and confusing even as it was warm and comforting....

It was something that filled my day and even distracted me as I piled the hair on the side of the tub during my shower tonight.  The pile is smaller these days, but it is still there after each shower.

In listening to Pastor's sermon audio clip this afternoon, Christ came to me again, the Word offered speaking directly to me, for me, no matter that there were dozens of other people in that building, no matter that it was actually for them and not for me given that I was not even there.

I have played the sermon clip on repeat, like it was one of his hymns.  I played the sermon each time I started thinking about yesterday.  I played the sermon each time I started thinking about how much failure I have been drowning in of late.  I played the sermon each time I started thinking that going caroling and going to the dinner were mistakes.

There is not one moment of this weekend that was as I had envisioned it would be.  With regard to the surprise gift of the body and blood of Christ, that is a very good thing.  With regard to the rest, I am not sure....

Jesu Juva

“Turning Darkness into Light”
Text: Luke 7:18-35 (Zephaniah 3:14-20; Philippians 4:4-7)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John the Baptist was in prison. Perhaps he had been rotting in there for some time now. His crime? Speaking the truth and pointing to Jesus as
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

Meanwhile, John’s disciples heard that up in Galilee, Jesus had healed the near-death son of a
Roman centurion, and just by speaking a word. Jesus had raised a widow’s son from the dead, again, just by speaking a word. And they wondered: what about John? How come He’s not rescuing John just by speaking a word? John is His promised, prophetic forerunner, come to prepare the way before Him. How come Jesus is letting him rot in prison?

So they go to John and report all these things - maybe even thinking that if Jesus only knew that John was in prison down here in Jerusalem, Jesus would speak a word for him, too. So they speak to John, and John says:
go ask Him. Ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 

That question is evidence not of John’s dejection and confusion, but that even in prison, he is still pointing the way to Jesus. Because John knew. He was not looking for a soft, easy life. He was no reed shaken by the wind. John was miraculously born to be a prophet and his father was priest, so you can be sure he knew his Old Testament. The Old Testament which testifies that rejection and prison and death was the fate of all the prophets. This is what John meant when he said:
Jesus must increase; but I must decrease. (John 3:30) Not that his decrease would mean a nice, easy life of retirement and enjoying the fruits of his labor when Jesus takes over, but that he would die. He would die a prophet’s death.

And so John was decreasing, but even as he did, the darkness of his prison was enlightened by the light of knowing that his decrease would soon mean the increase to the joy of heaven. For as Jesus said:
the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. And soon, John knew, he would join them in that greatness.

That (by the way) is why we always celebrate Christian saints and martyrs on the date of their death - not to commemorate their death, but to celebrate their birthday into the kingdom of heaven. And so rejoice with them.

But that is a hard thing for John’s disciples to understand. And so they do as John told them, go to Jesus, and ask:
Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? John knew what he was doing. For when we get too limited in our perspective, too stuck in our own problems, too self-absorbed and self-centered, and filled with doubts and questions, we need to be pointed away from ourselves to something greater. To someone greater. And so John sends them off from the darkness of his dungeon to see the Light of the world. That as we prayed earlier: the darkness of their hearts may be enlightened by His gracious visitation.

For that is the true darkness - the darkness of the heart. Of hearts filled with doubt and sin. Yes, there is much darkness in our world: crimes and hatred, disease and suffering, hunger, neglect, and persecution. But these are but the fruits of hearts filled with sin. Sin that wells up and bursts forth its darkness and death into the world. Bursting
upon you, but also bursting from you. Yes, from you too, good Christian. No one is immune. From you too come thoughts, words, and deeds that hurt, that imprison, that embitter, that humiliate, that neglect, that lash out, that kill.

And when that darkness descends upon us, or when we see it in our own hearts and lives, it is a hard thing to understand. Is Jesus the Saviour . . . my Saviour? If so, then . . . why? Why does He not speak a word?
Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another? Many are asking that question still today.

So how does Jesus answer that question? He preaches the good news to John’s disciples. For like the others who gathered around Him, they were the poor who needed it. And so through His works and His words, Jesus raises them from their prison house of sin and doubt, and enlightens their hearts. They see with their eyes and hear with their ears what John knows: that here is the healer of every ill, the destroyer of death, and the forgiver of sins. Those disciples walking in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) The light no darkness can overcome. (John 1:5) The Light of Christ.

And John, the forerunner, has prepared the way of the Lord yet again. Even in chains. And I cannot help but wonder if he was still there when his disciples returned, or if Herod had beheaded him while they were gone. Perhaps John entered glory even as his disciples were beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus. (2 Cor 4:6)

And now, dear Christian,
this is the glory that has been revealed to you. The glory not of kings or an easy life, but the glory of our God who has come to battle our enemies, our demons, our darkness and sins, and win. To give not just His head, but His whole life, as the sacrifice for your sin. That no matter how dark the darkness of the world around you, and no matter how dark your heart, that His light shatter the darkness and give you the light of life. The light no darkness can overcome. So that no matter the darkness you find yourself in - no matter the dungeon, the illness, the oppression, the sadness, doubt, or fear - you be not alone. But that like John, you know. You know there is a healer of every ill, a defeater of death, and a forgiver of every sin. And not just a Saviour from these things, but your Saviour.

For the Son of God came in your flesh, took your sin, died your death, and rose to life again, and then He baptized you, that His life and forgiveness be yours. That in those waters, Jesus work and speak the light of faith upon you, raise you to life, and give you peace. And so He has. That even in darkness you can have confidence and hope.
For He is the one who has come, and there is no other. And you need no other.

For He is the one who comes not once, but is still coming to you, feeding you with His body and blood, to give you His strength for your weakness, His righteousness for your sin, and His life for your death. That at this altar, Jesus work and speak the light of faith upon you, that you walk in the light of His life. And so He has. That even in darkness you spew forth not sin, but good works of love and forgiveness from the love and life of Christ that now lives in you.

And so, you see, Jesus did (and does!) speak a word for us, too - for John, for His disciples, for you and me. Not against the darkness of the world, but against the true darkness, of your heart. He speaks His word of forgiveness. To scatter the darkness not around you, but the darkness in you. That you have His light not just in a place or for a time, but in
every place and at all times.

And so as the prophet Zephaniah told us this morning, “
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel!” That’s you! Why? Because “the Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Did you hear that? He rejoices over you! Yes, you. He exults over you! Yes, you. And He will quiet you with His love. Whatever the tumult, the doubt, the despair - He will quiet you like a babe in His arms. For once He was a babe in the arms of His mother Mary, and He knew the tumult of the cross, so that you never would. And even in that very moment, that hour of darkness, there was joy in His heart. Joy for you. That through His work and His word, you would have life. Life now, and life forever.

And that is the joy that gives us joy, and gives
Joy to the World. That enables us to, as Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Not because things will always be merry and bright, because they won’t. But because your God rejoices over you. Yes, you. The joy that brought Him down at Christmas, the joy that led Him to ascend the cross, and the joy that brings Him down to you today. To speak a word to us poor, miserable, wretched sinners, and say: Fear not; your sins are forgiven. You are mine. And so you are.

And so in Advent, at Christmas, and all through our lives, His joy gives us joy. For if your Saviour rejoices over you, you are richer than the richest and higher than the highest. So let the darkness rage! It cannot win. The Light of the world has come, and He is shining upon you.

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

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.