Friday, July 31, 2009

This day started off on a good note, a pure note, with a second special dispensation communion. From what I understand, this was probably my last one. Given the rest of the day, I am still glad that Pastor came by.

What I find most interesting is how very much I learned in the process, between confession/absolution and the Lord's Supper. I am a glutton for teaching and Pastor is gifted at doing so. Much of what he said gave me pause. The best imagery he shared was that of the alter. Part of the liturgy is the Sanctus, from Isaiah 6 when he glimpsed heaven. Many alters have communion bars that are slightly curved back toward the table (not that they have this at church where St. Athanasius currently meets, but the bar is not the important part). Communion is where Christ comes and meet us this day. So, picture the heavenly host curved around the alter on the other side, so that all of us are there together, surrounded around the One who joins us together.

Holy, holy, holy Lord god of Sabaoth adored;
Heav'n and earth with full acclaim shout the glory of Your name.
Sing hosanna in the highest, sing hosanna to the Lord;
Truly blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
(Isaiah 6:3; Matthew 21:9)

I finally got up the courage to ask Pastor one of my "stupid" questions: Why do you take communion when you bring it to your flock? His answer was simple: no one communes alone.

The rest of the day swiftly rolled downhill, save perhaps for a very strange non-lunch with my new scripture memory partner. She is a very, very interesting person who is not afraid to share her mind. That which she shared was something I had been talking with Pastor about, so I literally burst into laughter. I couldn't really explain why, but I tried. Then she started in on this vision of my future she is certain will come. When it started to include my family, I struggled mightily to keep a smile on my face. This time, I really didn't try much to explain. That she was thinking of me was kindness enough. The rest shouldn't matter.

Then work piled up with more impossible tasks.
Much yelling was flung my way.
The small tear in my incision grew significantly larger when I forgot and bent over to retrieve the keys I had dropped.
I fielded 5 angry calls from family members because I chose not to visit with my brother this week.
I learned I had not been invited to my half-brother's graduation, which happens to be tomorrow.
And I received a call from the specialist surgeon who has decided that she wants me to see another specialist surgeon.

Another new doctor. Another exam. I am having great difficulty swallowing this news. Great difficulty.

Like something else in my life, I dared to take a chance, I gathered my courage and tried, and find myself no closer, despite being more brave than I thought it possible to be.

In the Bonhoeffer treatise, there is a quote from Luther that I like: The Sela indicates that one must be still and quickly think through the words of the Psalm; for they demand a quiet and restful soul, which can grasp and hold to that which the Holy Spirit there presents and offers (24).

I like the "definition" of Sela. I like the charge to be quiet and restful. I like the reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us through the Word.

Following Luther's quote is the conclusion of Bonhoeffer's bit on "Names, Music , Verse Form": The Psalms were probably most often sung antiphonally. They were particularly well suited for that through the verse form, according to which the two parts of a verse are so connected that they express in different words essentially the same thought. This is called parallelism. This form is not simply accidental. It encourages us not to allow the prayer to be cut off prematurely, and it invites us to pray together with one another. That which seems to be unnecessary repetition to us, who are inclined to pray too hurriedly, is actually proper immersion and concentration in prayer. It is at the same time the sign that many, indeed all believers, pray with different words yet with one and the same word. Therefore the very in form in particular summons us to pray the Psalms together (24-25).

This reminds me of how I felt when Pastor read aloud Psalm 136...awe and wonder at what God has done...comforted by hearing him read even as I took my turn.

I am rather greedy about being read to, savoring being surrounded by the Word. And I relish the opportunity to read aloud with another present so that I can ask questions or share my thoughts.

You know, I have come to revel in Bonhoeffer's treatise as much as I do Gene Veith's The Spirituality of the Cross. The latter opened up the universe to me, with the great big world of Objective Grace. The former holds a glimpse of the depth and breath of the prayer book of the bible and the peace and grace we can have by praying it.

I admit that I have struggled with Bonhoeffer as I have not with Veith. Vieth's book is like coming home to a place I never knew existed but yet recognize with absolute certainty. Bonhoeffer's treatise is this frustratingly wondrous meal that is just beyond my fingertips as I reach through prison bars, stomach growling, grubby hands reaching out in vain. Sometimes I snag a piece and greedily gulp down that bite. But the entire meal is not accessible, dire though my hunger is. For example, I have read page 28 more times than I can count. It should be easy, this beginning of the examination of God as Creator in the psalms. Yet, be it the cadence, the sentence construction, or the failings of my own mind (surely the latter is the culprit), the obstacle thus remains.

However, in some spots, I marvel at the sweetness of the truth behind his words.

How is it possible for a man [David] and Jesus Christ to pray the Psalter together? It is the incarnate Son of God, who has borne every human weakness in his own flesh, who here pours out the heart of all humanity before God and who stands in our place and prays for us. He has known torment and pain, guilt and death more deeply than we. Therefore it is the prayer of the human nature assumed by him which comes here before God. It is really our prayer, but since he knows us better than we know ourselves and since he himself was true man for our sakes, it is also really his prayer, and it can become our prayer only because it was his prayer (20-21).


How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O LORD of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
My King and my God.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You. Selah.
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways to Zion!
Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring;
The early rain also covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
Every one of them appears before God in Zion.
O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah.
Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the LORD God is a sun and shield;
The LORD gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O LORD of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You!

~Psalm 84

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Did you see the stars align tonight? I have actually had more food in the past few hours than the past few weeks!

Late this afternoon, my boss made her basil/lemon/garlic/mozzarella salad at work, and I recklessly ate a small bowl of it, figuring it would be worth a visit to the bathroom. Strangely enough, while waves of nausea rolled over me, I did not throw up the salad. When I arrived home, I was actually hungry--something that is very, very rare these days--so I ended up eating an entire chicken breast and guzzled two glasses of Gatorade. It stayed down as well. So, I threw caution to the wind and at a half cup of Trader Joe's corn and then topped off my "meal" with a coffee cup of Fiber One cereal with milk! [As much as I miss Dr. Pepper, I miss milk.] Again, it was a mighty battle to keep the food down, but I did. Shocking!

My meeting with Pastor today was filled with more shouting over each other than with calm, cool reflection. Alas, he believes I am wrong about something. I believe that I am right, and instead he is not hearing me, that I am not finding the right words. For all the talking sideways at each other, Pastor gave me much food for thought. I only wish that I had stopped to write some things down.

One bit was about forgiveness. As he put it, the world teaches that you must forget with forgiveness. Forgive and forget. But the bible teaches that as sinners, we are not always able to do that which we should. So, the forgiveness that we can offer each other in Christ is more of a pardon for the wrong and a promise not to fling that wrong back in the face of another, not to bring it up even if it is brought to mind. I keep thinking that I do not know many, if any, who fulfill the latter part of that definition.

Of course, Pastor used the moment to plug the forgiveness of Christ, where our sins are set away from us, as far as the east is from the west. This, I do not doubt. This I have clung to for years. But again as eternal, not temporal. Being washed clean seems only for heaven, not for this world...because people really, really tend to always to see the dirt that covers us as sinners rather than who we are in Christ.

We met to talk about the visit with the specialist surgeon and the concerns that arose during Tuesday's consultation. She would like to talk with him to try to know my heart. Surely he can share that with her. I am not sure how I feel about her concern with the whole person, for I just want her to do the surgery. However, aside from whether or not the surgery would be good for me emotionally, there are large questions needing answering.

The shouting was not bad for it was actually some communicating. What really and truly disturbed me is that I could not finish the Lord's Prayer. Twice.

I had brought my pocket version of the Book of Concord for the blessing and the thanksgiving. I did not plan on eating, but Pastor was to have lunch. I read them aloud before and after the meal; in each one you are to say the Lord's Prayer. Both times, I could not remember the last line. I know that text. I know it! Yet that did not matter.

This morning, I fainted as I was reading aloud from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I had prayed some psalms and read aloud from the "Apology of the Augsburg Confession" (I am a glutton for punishment in how often I return to this dense defense I cannot seem to fathom). When I started the daily scripture readings, down on the floor I fell.

While at lunch, I had to keep battling waves of dizziness and had trouble standing up when it was time to leave. I used my inhaler, secretly worried how much effort it was to have enough breath to support talking (ahem...shouting).

I have to say, that I feel as if the more I try to read scripture aloud, the more I pray the psalms aloud, the more difficult it gets. If breathing is not the issue, then it is the fact that my reading aloud skills have greatly deteriorated. I stumble and bumble through the words, reading more like a second grader than one with a Ph.D. under her belt.

It just killed me, hurt my heart mightily, to not remember the Lord's Prayer. Although I did not admit to Pastor that I have been struggling with my daily recitation of the Creed as well. This diminishing of capacity frightens me so.

Something Pastor asked me was what I thought I would gain from the Lord's Supper. The answer I gave him was not what I really and truly wanted to say. It is not that it was not true, but it was not the whole of my answer. Had I been able, I would have picked up the Book of Concord and start reading to him:

[For those who rightly believe they are receiving the true body and true blood of Christ through the Lord's Supper] faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger. For the new life must be so regulated that it continually increase and progress; but it must suffer much opposition. For the devil is such a furious enemy that when he sees that we oppose him and attack the old man, and that he cannot topple us over by force, he prowls and moves about on all sides, tries all devices, and does not desist, until he finally wearies us, so that we either renounce our faith or yield hands and feet and become listless or impatient. Now to this end the consolation is here given when the heart feels that the burden is becoming too heavy, that it may here obtain new power and refreshment. (LC, Part V, 24-27)

For here He offers to us the entire treasure which He has brought for us from heaven, and to which He invites us also in other places with the greatest kindness, as when He says in St. Matthew 11:28: Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Now it is surely a sin and a shame that He so cordially and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, and we act so distantly with regard to it, and permit so long a time to pass [without partaking of the Sacrament] that we grow quite cold and hardened, so that we have no inclination or love for it. We must never regard the Sacrament as something injurious from which we had better flee, but as a pure, wholesome, comforting remedy imparting salvation and comfort, which will cure you and give you life both in soul and body. For where the soul has recovered, the body also is relieved. Why, then, is it that we act as if it were a poison, the eating of which would bring death? To be sure, it is true that those who despise it and live in an unchristian manner receive it to their hurt and damnation; for nothing shall be good or wholesome to them, just as with a sick person who from caprice eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician. But those who are sensible of their weakness, desire to be rid of it and long for help, should regard and use it only as a precious antidote against the poison which they have in them. For here in the Sacrament you are to receive from the lips of Christ forgiveness of sin, which contains and brings with it the grace of God and the Spirit with all His gifts, protection, shelter, and power against death and the devil and all misfortune. (LC, Part V, 66-70)

[Emphasis mine.]

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I have spent the evening studying Article XII (V) Repentance of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. I wish I could say that I was greatly enlightened, but I still admit that I am not the most learned when it comes to reading this document. The stupidity still reigns.

However, I would like to note a few things that I have been noodling. I had started reading about confession/absolution, primarily because of the video blog I mentioned last night and because of wanting that myself. But soon I settled into trying to wend my way through Melanchthon's words on repentance in which he tried to separate out grain from the chaff as he sifted through the teaching of the time.

To deliver godly consciences from these mazes of the learned persons, we have attributed these two parts to repentance: contrition and faith. [AAC, XII (V), 28]

Ah, but this sounds so simple, eh? SIGH.

Something I find interesting to think about is that we cannot have contrition without faith and we cannot have repentance without faith. This mean that we cannot have confession/absolution without faith. Without faith, we have no awareness of our sins--no fear and love and trust of God. The Ten Commandments are just words. They might spark a response from a person's mores, but they do not convict, chasten, and ultimately crush us beneath the weight of our sin before God. They hold no truth for us.

You might think I digress, but I would like to add a bit from Bonhoeffer's treatise on Psalms Pastor D gave me from the first part:

But it is a dangerous error, surely very widespread among Christians, to think that the heart can pray by itself. For then we confuse wishes, hopes, sighs, laments, rejoicings--all of which the heart can do by itself--with prayer. And we confuse earth and heaven, man and God. Prayer does not mean simply to pour out one's heart. It means rather to find the way to God and to speak with him, whether the heart is full or empty. No man can do that by himself. For that he needs Jesus Christ (pp 9-10).

Now, I know that prayer apart from God is just meaningless babble, but I have been thinking a lot about the fact that so much, oh so much of my prior teaching has been utterly laced with works. Even in prayer. Even in repentance.

I keep thinking that I can do this, I will do that. After all, the whole of our lives is really about the "I." I was born. I grew up. I work. I play. I love. I. I. I.

I tell my godfather that I wanted to work on getting better about being comfortable around him and he gently reminds me that it is Christ who will be doing that work. Christ who teaches. Christ who defeats sins. Christ who heals its repercussions in our lives, be they from our own sin or collateral damage from that of others.

I. I. I.

We say that contrition is the true terror of conscience, which feels that God is angry with sin and grieves that it has sinned. This contrition takes place when sins are condemned by God's Word. The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ's sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works. So Christ includes the sum of the Gospel when He says, "Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations" (Luke 24:47). [AAC, XII (V), 29-30]

[Read Psalm 38:4,8; Psalm 6:2-3; and Isaiah 38:10,13]

In these terrors, conscience feels God's wrath against sin. This is unknown to secure people living according to the flesh. The conscience sees the corruption of sin and seriously grieves that it has sinned. [AAC, XII (V), 32]

The Gospel, in which the forgiveness of sins is freely promised concerning Christ, should be presented to consciences in these terrors. They should believe that, for Christ's sake, their sins are freely forgiven. This faith cheers, sustains, and enliven the contrite, according to Romans 5:1, "Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God." This faith obtains the forgiveness of sins. It justifies before God, as the same passage testifies, "since we have been justified by faith." This faith shows the distinction between the contrition of Judas and Peter, of Saul and David. The contrition of Judas or Saul (Matthew 27:3-5; I Samuel 31:4-6) is useless because faith is not added. Faith grasps the forgiveness of sins, given as a gift for Christ's sake. So the contrition of David or Peter (2 Samuel 12:13; Matthew 26:75) helps because faith, which takes hold of the forgiveness of sins granted for Christ's sake, is added to it.
[AAC, XII (V), 35-36] [Emphasis mine.]

Notice that it does not say we grasp. No, it is faith which grasps forgiveness. By faith we become aware of our sins and our need for Christ. By faith we recognize and understand what He did for us on the cross. By faith we see our sins. By faith we receive forgiveness. By faith. There is no I in that. If there is no I, then there is no place for our works in the process.

Were I at the nooner bible study (I missed it this day), Pastor would be grinning ridiculously and say, "See, the answer always is Christ!" Yes, it is.

I personally think that much of my previous teaching has been de-Christ-ed. His work is relegated to the past. Its power and fruition linger to the present, but most everything else becomes about the I of our lives. I accept Christ. I live by faith. I do good works. I work at being godly, being holy. I have loved Christ for 31 years. I am a great prayer warrior. Every I we claim refutes the cross. Every I declares that Christ's death was not completely necessary, that He is just a man, rather than God-man, as Pastor Y so aptly described. Do you think that a harsh judgment? Perhaps. However, I have been bathed in more Gospel in three months worth of sermons than I have in three decades. Truly.

My good and gracious Savior is giving me such rich teaching, such valuable resources. Yet all I keep thinking about is how much more I can stand, I can handle.

I hate the Is of my life. I hate that it is easier for me to believe the things that are not of God than those that are. I hate that my faith is absolute in eternal matters, yet absolutely weak in the temporal ones.

I will say that the last time I talked with Pastor, he gave a rather impassioned diatribe on the dangers of confusing emotion with faith, with feeling and faith. [It would make for a very good sermon.] Faith is based on the Word. Nothing else.

What has made things so much more difficult for me is how much I think MS has destroyed my emotional filters, how much more so in the past year or so.... I can be mildly perturbed inside and yet have tears streaming down my face. It is as if I am trapped within myself, watching something that is happening of which I am not a part. It has also made pretending the things that bother me do not increasingly more difficult. I cannot hide behind impassivity. And I tend to blurt out things I am thinking, things I would normally never say. I voice some of the distractions I have when conversing because I cannot stop following the train of thought. Consider all the crazy things we think about simultaneously in our minds and think how you'd feel if even a part of your stream of consciousness spilled out into your conversation.

Then there is the cognitive dysfunction about which I have blogged repeatedly, primarily because it frightens me so and because I do not believe anyone has truly heard me when I try to speak of it. I am greet most often with like examples that are a pale, pale reflection of what I experience. I want to scream at them. How often do you forget your name? How often do you forget how to form a letter, how to spell your own name? How often do you spend an hour at a gas station because you cannot figure out if you have just arrived or need to leave?

So, I am trying to unravel the previous lessons of my faith to separate out the grain and chaff, while battling a disease that compromises my mind and my emotions. A mighty task I would proffer. One I feel/believe, at times, is frankly impossible. However, shift from I to Christ and then perhaps it is actually doable.

For God is able, right?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I did not sleep much last night. This day was worse than I had imagined. I did not get the answer that I wanted. I got a different one. And I have a terrible, terrible choice before me.

There were, however, a few moments of grace.

My godmother took me, so there was much holding of A.
The surgeon is Lutheran...of what Synod or by birth or faith I know not...but she is Lutheran.
I got a call today from the animal shelter.

I thought that I have Smokey back, but now I am not sure. This bird, found outside, started singing the moment I walked into the room. He launched at me and has clung to me ever since. He is so thin, so very, very thin. He sang briefly, but has only buried himself in my hair since I came home from dinner with my godmother. [She ate. I tried to eat. She enjoyed the Indian food treat I was trying to give her. I threw up in the bathroom. Twice. When I checked tonight, I saw that I have crossed the 40 lb mark today.]

The woman who had him said that three others came by to see if he was their bird. He wanted nothing to do with them. She wondered if two of them were just looking for a free bird. The third was so disappointed that surly she had lost a bird. She said he obviously belonged to me. But is he Smokey?

She wanted me to take him. She spotted him outside on Sunday and spent an hour or so luring him to her hand. She said he has spent his time drinking water, eating, and sleeping ever since. She and her husband (more him, I think) didn't know how to care for a bird and were glad I came.

I keep trying to remember what Smokey looks like. A grey, male cockatiel is as far as I get. I knew every inch of Fancy; I still remember the smell of her. Smokey I have had just since Christmas. I do not even have a photo of him. The one I posted on the flyer turned out to be Madison.

I couldn't believe I got my back bible back. It seemed miraculous to me. This would have been a real miracle. But after the past few hours of savoring him, I think he is really more like Fancy than Smokey. I think I should call the shelter to see what to do....

I asked two people to keep watch for me. One of them asked me about the date on the calendar last night. It was enough. In that moment, I felt as if an oft cried prayer had been answered. I do not know if the watch can/will continue, but my idea worked. Just hearing the question posed was enough to help me see outside a moment bound by biology.

However, the person asked me if I had therefore changed my mind about my decision to quit. Even in the clear light of day (minus spiking hormones), I still believe banging one's head against a brick wall is a futile thing to do. And I am on a committed path of shedding the futile, no matter how painful that might be.

My godmother thought "benignity" was a bit over the top on Sunday's blog. "Is not diction important?," I asked. She rolled her eyes even as she agreed on that point. I admit it. I was flinging words about because I absolutely reveled in the chance to be Dr. D again for but a fleeting moment.

I found a personal victory in the fact that her son, who had declared loudly and boldly that he was not going to talk to me, ended up draped across my leg as we sat on the floor together reading a book. Now, I brought Frannie and Pickles because a) it is about a dog; b) the illustrations speak as loud, if not louder than, the text; c) there are many things to talk about in the book that will tell me about his concepts of geography and science and environment (neighborhood); and d) it is a silly story. Still, I did manage to draw him into my assessment and heard what I needed to hear so that I might ethically recommend passing him to the next grade.

My godmother told me that he informed first his father and then his brother that I had come to read with him and test him so that I could write the letter that would allow him to stay home and learn from his mother. When JW queried him about the time with me, he mentioned that the book was silly. I told her that she should read him my letter so he could see all I saw in him.

By the way, Frannie and Pickles is a great story!

Then we are righteous when we confess that we are sinners, and that our own righteousness stands not in our own merit, but in God's mercy.

Philip Melanchthon quotes this in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. It is one of Pastor D's favorite quotes. And is the topic of his latest post on his video blog. I admit that I have watched it more times than I can count now. After wending his way through the Truth behind this quote, he concludes that the path to holiness, the path to God, is not through our deeds, but through confession and the Cross.

I suppose you get, by now, that I like this micro-sermon because it talks about confession, something I am only just learning about. It also talks about the futility of pursuing sanctification through our own works. And it illuminates the wonder of Objective Grace. All three are key points of the doctrine I have been studying. All are key to understanding the magnitude of the cross. All are key to life.

Once again, the message shows that the work of the cross was not merely done 2,000 years ago. It is being done now, in this world, in my life.

Namely, that through faith, as St. Peter says, we have a new and clean heart (Acts 15:9-11), and God will and does account us entirely righteous and holy for the sake of Christ, our Mediator (I Timothy 2:5). Although sin in the flesh has not yet been completely removed or become dead (Romans 7:18), yet He will not punish or remember it. (SC, Part III, article XIII, 1)

Yet He will not punish or remember...oh, how this is still so very foreign to me. Not remember the wrong I have done? I have had my wrongs flung in my face my whole life. How can He not remember? What a glorious thought!

The entire individual, both his person and his works, is declared to be righteous and holy from pure grace and mercy, shed upon us and spread over us in Christ. (SC, Part III, article XIII, 2)

The entire individual...entire. That word is so big, so complete. I think that it is more often that we treat others as if entire is not quite accurate. We prefer mostly. That way, we can point out the flaws, the egregious foibles, because it is easier for us to stand in judgment of than live in forgiveness of each other. It also perpetuates the false belief that we need to work to make ourselves holy. Sort of like God takes us part way and we take ourselves the rest. Sounds foolish when put that way, eh?

While I cannot wrap my heart around it as much as I could wish, I prefer not remember and entire.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I will admit that I am more frightened tonight of tomorrow's doctor's visit than I was the evening before the surgery in June. That is saying a lot.

Do you believe silence can speak louder than words? I do.

I do and I believe that this evening's silence told me that I need to stop chasing after something that is simply not for me.

I finally heard. And so I've decided to quit.

I am hoping that in doing so, in no longer banging my head against a brick wall, that the reason for my futile chase will get easier to bear. Ought that not to be the case?

Just as the pastor said in his sermon yesterday, sometimes we humans are far dumber than sheep. Boy, don't I know it!

While I am not sure that Pastor D will be able to track down that sermon, he did forward to me one that the newly ordained Pastor Y preached a few weeks ago at St. Athanasius.

Even though English is his second language and he struggles with grammar, I believe Pastor Y speaks far more eloquently about Objective Grace than I have done here in my attempts to share what I have been learning.

As I emailed Pastor D in response to sharing this sermon, I really liked two bits best: 1) I am not saying against preaching of faith. What I am saying is that this kind of preaching only intensifies the struggle of faith, a painful struggle without any comfort. 2) Our faith is the humble reception of grace.

May you savor this sweet offering of the Word as did I!

“How Do People Get Saved?”
Text: Mark 5:21-43


In the Name of Jesus, Amen!

How do people get saved? This is a question that many people ask. Our classic Lutheran answer, which is also a biblical one comes from Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, — not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This is certainly a correct answer. But how do we understand it? Many people and denominations take this out of the context of the whole Bible, especially the narrative of the Gospel, the story of God-man Jesus, who is the Bible all about; what He says and what He has done for our salvation.

Today’s Gospel text is not just about Jesus’ miracles and healings, but also it’s about how people are saved. The reason that I say this is that the word “saved” in Greek “sozo” is used in our text, when Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and implored him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be SAVED and live." Jesus also said to the woman with issue of blood, “Daughter, your faith has SAVED you.” The issue of blood is a discharge from the body, therefore, is considered as the consequence of uncleanness and sin in the Old Testament. So, the woman represents all people whose sins are forgiven and who are cleansed from all unrighteousness. The little girl who was raised up by Jesus from the dead is a picture of our resurrection. The number 12 is also significant. The woman had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. And the little girl was twelve years old when Jesus raised her. The number 12 in the Bible is a symbol of people of God because of the twelve tribes of Israel. So, we can see here, there are two kinds of people who are saved; one represented by the woman with issue of blood, who had chronic disease and was healed by Jesus, the other is represented by the little girl; who had a sudden death and was raised up by Jesus.

[I. Struggle of Faith]

Faith is a chronic struggle. Christians of all times struggle with faith all the time, especially Protestant Christians. Justification by faith is greatly misunderstood by many. Many people concentrate on the action of their faith, how serious I believed, how hard I tried, and how faithful I was doing the good works, especially in the church. When they come to today’s text, they preach about faith and about how the faith of that woman has saved her.” And they also point to verse 36, where Jesus said to Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe." I am not saying against preaching of faith. What I am saying is that this kind of preaching only intensifies the struggle of faith, a painful struggle with out any comfort.

The woman with issue of blood did have strong faith. However, before Jesus came, she put her strong faith to the wrong places. She trusted in money and trusted in doctors. But the story tells us that she had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. For many years, her body had been an arena of suffering. Everyday, unceasing pain she could endure no more. She was desperate and she was in anguish. Similarly, we all have a chronic disease called sin. We suffer pains of this disease spiritually as well as physically. Some people addict to drugs, alcohol, or food. Some addict to pornography. Some struggle with tempers. Some complain or bad mouth others a lot. Like the woman we don’t have peace. We constantly struggle to find a cure. We trust in money as if money is the security of our life. Like the woman who sought after doctors, we seek after different ways to salvation, different religions and different faith. Book stores and libraries are full of self-improvement books. Result? Everyday, we may be not all like the woman who endured pain physically. But we endure pains in our heart, and shame emotionally. Sins are slowly killing us. Life like a fountain of blood is flowing away within us. Especially, when we do not confess our sins, they inflict us like a chronic disease. King David says in Psalm 32, “For by day and by night [God’s] hand was heavy on me; my strength or my sap was turned into the droughts of summer.” Do you think that by hiding your sins and by struggling with them by yourself you can be better off? Do you think by chasing after false gods and the vanity of this world, you can have peace?

That woman did not, until Jesus came and saved her. Jesus came to the world through the virgin birth. Our text says, Jesus came to the other side of Sea of Galilee, to where she lived. She had heard the reports about Jesus, the good and wonderful news about Jesus. She touched His garments and was healed. This touch was a touch of faith. This touch was a touch of real presence of Jesus. This touch was a reception of all the benefits of Jesus. His power flew from Him to her. Her flow of blood dried up. She was cleansed and she was saved. Her sins were forgiven and she had peace with God because Jesus’ blood would flow from the cross to cleanse her sins and your sins, and to give her eternal life and your eternal life. Like the woman you may want to be able to do the same thing “If only I could touch his garments, I will be saved.” The good news is that yes, you can. We can touch Jesus through means of grace. Vibration of the air, water, bread and wine are ordinary things just like clothes. But by His Word Jesus ordains His real presence in and around these ordinary elements. You will enjoy His real presence through receiving these elements by touch of faith. By touching his Word, his water, and his bread and wine, you are forgiven. You are cleansed. And you are saved. This is happening right now and this happens Sunday after Sunday. Jesus comes in His Word and Sacraments and He saves you and makes you whole.

[II. in the House of Death]

The story of healing of the woman with issue of blood is sandwiched by the story of raising a little girl. The separation of these two accounts is not just because there was an interruption to the journey so that the little girl would be dead and Jesus would show His power to raise even the dead, but because there is a theological connection between the two stories. One is a chronic disease; the other is a sudden death. Sickness anticipates death. Death is the final outcome of a slowing process of sickness. Ultimately they are all the consequence of sin.
This little girl was the little daughter of Jairus, who was one of the leaders of the synagogue. Though she lived in a believing family, we don’t see any expression of faith from this little girl. Most probably when Jesus was around that area, she was already sick and unconscious. Her father prayed to Jesus and asked Him on behalf of her. We can see, this little girl represents someone who is in the state of grace, who for one reason of anther cannot express his/her faith, and who is sick all of sudden and dies unexpectedly, like infants and little children, mentally retarded, or some elderly and sick persons who cannot speak for themselves. However, they are in the state of grace through baptism. Their family and their church earnestly pray for them.

When Jesus came to the house, they already started to prepare for the funeral. The professional mourners were performing their duties. We say they were professional mourners because of the fact that wailing and tears turned so quickly into laughters when they were absolutely certain that the girl was dead, Jesus said to them, "Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping." Jesus came to a house of death to save a dead person, but got ridiculed. In the same way, Jesus comes into our culture of death with His Gospel to save people, but gets rejected and ridiculed. Unborn babies are killed everyday. Unwanted lives are euthanatized. Yet, we don’t want to talk about death. We reject the Gospel and ridicule the idea that in Christ we will resurrect again. Despite the fact that we are living in a culture of death, despite of the fact that we are ignorant and sometimes don’t have any faith Jesus at all, He comes to us and saves us. Jesus came to this little girl. He took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." And immediately the girl got up and began walking. Jesus came into this world is exactly because we are dead in transgressions, is exactly because we are ignorant and live in darkness. To save and raise people in the house of death is why He came. That’s His Mission for God so loves the world that He gives us His Son. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus not only died to forgive our sins, but also went to Hell, the true house of death. He defeated Satan and swallowed up death. He proclaimed victory in Hell. Jesus raised this little girl from the dead. Jesus will surely raise you up on the last day.

The woman with issue of blood and the little daughter of Jairus represent two kinds of Christians, maybe I should say, two stages in the life of a Christian. One is the Christian who is chronically struggling with sins and diseases; the other is someone who is suddenly facing spiritual crisis or imminent death. In all cases, Jesus is the one who comes to save. He does all the saving work. He heals you and raises you up. He works through the Word and Sacraments. Our faith is the humble reception of His grace. However, no matter how strong your faith is, there are times when you cannot touch Jesus. There are times when you simply lie in the bed unconscious. There are times when accidents happen, instead of crying to Jesus for help, you simply cry out, “Oh, crap.” We cannot be faithful all the time. But Jesus is faithful. And He cares for you. When you are really in trouble when you are truly in the house of death, Jesus will touch you, He will reach out to you and take your hand, and He will raise you up.

May the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, Amen!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Another day that has provided much food for thought...

This morning had not the best start for I awoke screaming from the worst nightmare I have ever had. I am used to dreaming about my past, but this time my overwhelming hunger for the alter was a part of the dream in a rather sick fashion. I couldn't stop sobbing when I awoke. I know it was not real, but it certainly felt so.

Because of this, I was late arriving at church and trying to discern where we were in the service was difficult for me. Mostly because I was still thinking about the dream and wishing that I had arrived in time for the confession/absolution opening. My godmother did dump A into my arms pretty quickly, so I at least had the absolute pleasure of holding a baby. You know, considering how dependent we are on God, holding a helpless infant is a pretty fantastic basis for listening to teaching about the Gospel.

Pastor D's sermon was on how God is able, able in a way that we are not. We strive to be able, but all we do is fail. Why do we do so when He is able?

Able to create all things with only His Word.
Able to send great floods to cover the earth, and then able to make those same waters recede.
Able to create great nations from an old man and a barren woman.
Able to use men bent on sin to nevertheless accomplish great things.
Able to defeat giants and mighty armies and walled cities.
Able to raise up shepherds to be prophets and kings.
Able to feed a multitude of people in the desert with manna, and later with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
Able to cleanse lepers.
Able to give eyes to the blind and ears to the deaf.
Able to give legs to the crippled and life to the dead.
He is the God who is able.
Who is able for you.
Paul wants you to know that, and believe it. So do you? Do you believe that? That God is able?

The full sermon is below, a read that ought to trouble your waters as it has mine. Perhaps if we praised God more then we might remember how great He is more. Perhaps if we cease trying to reduce Him to the constraints of our lives we might remember that He is the one who created them in the first place. Surely a Creator is greater than anything crafted by His hands.

It is with some frustration with myself that I admit I left again as communion was beginning. Frankly, just seeing the cloth covering the bread and the wine the entire service is difficult. Juggling A, who was fussy from a dirty diaper (I changed it) and then from trying to nurse (I cannot help her there), provided a distraction from the fact that this day marks exactly 7 months since I became overwhelmed with a longing to stand at the alter. This ungrateful wretch finds no comfort in my one-time special dispensation Lord's Supper. It was not enough. I do believe the wait is worth the strain of longing, but I wish that I were better at waiting. I am growing worse at it. Much, much worse.

When I arrived home, I actually sat down and tried to figure out how to navigate the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I'd give myself a D+, mostly for effort. I was feeling quite confident after reading steps 1-6. Step 7 begins with "find a quiet place to pray." Well, given that all my doctrine study books and bibles are next to the couch, I was staying put. Then the complex color instructions (there are five ribbons, each of a different color) started and boy, was I lost!

My rather prosaic godmother had suggested that I stick with the red and the yellow ribbons. Heeding her advice, I quickly abandoned the futile effort of trying to follow those "steps" and just read. Then I started in on praying the Psalms again:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

~Psalm 1

Now, can you not hear Christ praying those words, teaching us through them? Oh, my, is this time through the Psalms going to be enlightening! I know that I should try to explain viewing them as being Christ's words more fully, but I have to admit that although I have read the treatise a second time, I am not that much closer to being able to teach that which I am reading. You could say that I am just going on faith here (double entendre intended).

This afternoon was the ordination and installation of one of the seminary students St. Athanasius has been sponsoring. His call happened to be to a Lutheran Church not far from ours (Can I really call it mine yet if I am still not allowed at the alter?), so I went to the service because I wanted to see what happens during an ordination and I wanted to support ANYONE who is stepping into the Office of a Confessional Lutheran pastor.

The Good first:

The sermon was really, really interesting to me. I would like to get a copy of it, should Pastor be able to work his contacts, because I would like to ponder it more. I did take notes, but I also had trouble following his message. You might think this is because he gave in chunks, first in Chinese, then in English. But the real reason is that I kept thinking about Pastor's sermon, about all that undershepherd stuff, and the fact that this pastor was really, really hammering home just exactly like a sheep I am, but worse. As he put it, sheep are not stupid enough to go around trying to be what they are not: the shepherd. We have a perfect Shepherd, who is able, and yet we still try to herd our own lives. SIGH.

There were fourteen other pastors there, by my count, aside from the one leading the service! Oh, my, have I been enlightened as to why Pastor calls them his brothers and absolutely cherishes his time with them and just what "family" means to Confessional Lutherans. All those comments of "Welcome to the family!" I heard at my baptism blossomed in my mind and heart in a way I had not fathomed before.

Every one of the brother pastors gave a blessing to the new pastor. Watching them I started weeping for the beauty of the moment. The most common theme was a charge to never be ashamed of the Gospel, something that we all need to hear daily, given the state of our society and the rather distressingly negative view towards Christianity in America. The one that struck me the most was a charge to remember that the Grace he would be preaching about, giving to his flock, was also meant for him. I wonder if Pastor manages to remember that.

Listening to the new pastor agree to the tenants of the faith and his vow to teach pure doctrine, to shepherd his flock, and to offer them pastoral care (I'm lumping lots of stuff together was, after all, a two-hour service) was heady for me, especially the mention of the Augsburg Confession. It was as if we were all transported back 400 years or so to stand with all the Evangelicals (Lutherans) then and say, "We believe! I believe!"

My fellow Athansians all came to greet me at the end of the service. One of the men from the evening bible study bent over, looked closely at my face, knew something was wrong, and asked me what he could do. Given that he is well into the gloaming of his life, I would have knocked him down had I asked for help. Instead I asked him if he would mind fetching Pastor. Before heading off, leaving his lovely bride at my side wondering what the hurry was, he briefly, ever so lightly touched my forehead. Strange. I am not sure we have ever so much as shaken hands coming or going from bible study. Somehow he knew I was in distress. It was a sweet moment. Before setting off to find her husband, his wife mentioned that she had never been to an ordination. She actually shared my awe of the experience. She a Lutheran of many decades!

My new scripture memory partner plopped down in the pew in front of me and listened to my recitation before reciting for me. For me, she spoke those words, emphasizing them as God would have had He been there. I was so touched and moved and thankful for this woman who is willing to help me with my desire to try to memorize scripture despite my cheese-hole brain. This is no rote task for her. She made it special. I savor that moment, the unexpected benignity of hearing those words spoken for me, even now as I type this.

Now The Bad:

About an hour into the service, I knew that I was not well. ARGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At first I thought it was because the church was a bit tepid in temperature despite running the air-conditioning. But I have become firmly convinced that the fatal decision on my part was to drive there in a stinking hot car. I did not give doing so a second thought. While the car never cooled down despite the half-hour drive, I had the air-conditioning on the entire time. Walking from the handicapped spot--which was not even close to being in proximity of the door--in the hot sun did feel a bit too much for me. But I did not give that a second thought either. I should have turned my car on and let it cool down before I left. Or, perhaps, I should not have gone.... Why is it that trying to get fed by the Word has to be so very disastrous?

Once again, I had to ask Pastor to drag me to the car, taking up his time and spoiling his opportunity to fellowship with his brothers and to congratulate the new one. And then there was the fact that he seemed to be a bit impatient with playing crutch once again. Time to go. Let's get up! To be fair, I do not believe he was aware of just how ill I felt. Being in another church, I was working hard to put on a brave front. I did, perhaps, roll my eyes or at least look incredulously at him when he suggested I make my way to the front of the church while he went to change his clothes (divest himself of his robes). Are you crazy? Can you not see I am working very hard just to remain upright? I wanted to ask. But I did not. Why should I expect him to be his usually cheerful self when he is having to haul me to the car, to the house, up or down the stairs? If I am heartily sick of being weak and getting battered by this disease while I am out, how much more so he must be because he does not live with it and I am, at least currently, most assuredly the most trying member of his flock. DOUBLE SIGH.

[While shuffling along, Pastor pointed out that I had an error in my post yesterday (the correction has been made). It was his mother who passed away, not his wife's. He then went on to say that the bible L uses during the nooner is actually their family bible. While on their honeymoon, he gave her a gift each day. That bible was the first gift. Always during school and when they can manage their schedules during summer, Pastor and his wife get their children up and then everyone feeds on the Word together before having breakfast and continuing on with their days. I think that is so incredibly wonderful.]

[For the record, he also believes in the post two days ago I should not have merely written that Christians need to be bathed in the Gospel during worship. Not just worship was his comment; they actually need to be bathed daily. While I agree (as you probably would guess given how much I crave being read aloud to from the bible), I was specifically noting the absence of Gospel in so very many churches. Even if you study the Gospel on your own at home, I believe it is paramount that you be fed on Sundays...having walked away from church services rather hungry the majority of the past 31 years.]

Driving home was utterly frightening. I had napped in the car with the air set to Arctic for nearly an hour before leaving. While I felt stronger as we set out (I was following Pastor because I had never previously entered the beltway--my nemesis--from the direction we were at), I realized too late that the wet noodle status I felt was greatly affecting my arms. Holding the steering wheel in the correct position was more work than I could actually manage the longer I drove down the highway. So, despite my non-speeding status, I hung out in the left lane where veering out of my lane repeatedly was made somewhat moot by the fact that I kept swerving onto the shoulder. I lowered the steering wheel to rest on my knees to help hold it steady, and then I called my godmother so that she could pray and talk me home.

[Had even one of my blasted brain cells been working at the time, I could have asked my new scripture memory partner TM to drive me home since she was there with her husband. They practically have to drive past my home to get to theirs. It would not have been too much of a burden for them to help. I am so very stupid at times. I do not even qualify for sheep status!]

I made it home, got inside, and let Kashi out to do his business. When I went to close the door after he returned inside, I fell. One moment I had two working legs. The next I had but one. I fell and hit my head rather hard against the tile floor of the kitchen. JW was still talking away, having not heard the less-than-polite words that spouted from my mouth. I lay on the floor during the rest of our call. I know she felt badly that she had to go shortly thereafter since all four children were hollering their needs by that point, but I am used to being alone when I am ill. I hate it, but I am used to it. I stayed on the floor for another three hours before the dizziness abated enough so that I could crawl to the couch, where I remain now and probably will be still be come morning. I really, really, really need to not hit my head again anytime soon.

The veritable nugget of her call was to tell me that while my godfather was rather impressed with my truly erudite Dr. D assessment letter that I had crafted, he had not really wanted me to come over to last night because he thought it was more important that I rest from the asthma attacks and that he thought I should not have been at church since I was up so late crafting that rather spectacular letter filled with a plethora of truly adroit points illuminating their son's academic progress. [The pleonastic words in there are mine.] Apparently, he is taking to this "fathering" role rather heartily! Would it be altogether too old-fashioned for me to admit that hearing his concern warmed the cockles of my heart?

So, I come full circle to Pastor's sermon. When telling us exactly how able God is, he reminded us that God is able:

To keep us going when we are tired and it all seems to much for us.
To lift us up when we are frustrated and there seems to be no hope.
To speak His Word of forgiveness when our sins seem too much.
To comfort us when we are downtrodden and show us different feet - not the ones walking all over us, but the feet nailed to the cross for us.

For it is when we take our eyes and our faith off of the God who is able, and place them on ourselves that the storms seem too much for us, too great for us, too powerful for us. Because it’s true: they are. Way too much for us. But not for the God who is able!

God is able to hold me even when stuck on the kitchen floor. His Gospel is able to break through even the maelstrom that has sprung up out of tearing apart the specious lessons of my past. His Word can speak to me, thousands of years after it was penned, because He is still writing that Word on my heart, on our hearts, this day. Pastor never once said that God was able to do things. Always he said God is able. For there is no past tense with God, the Great I AM.

Help me remember, Lord, when I cannot, that You are able.

Pastor's Sermon:

Jesu Juva

“The God Who is Able”
Text: Mark 6:45-56; Ephesians 3:14-21; Genesis 9:8-17

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

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.

St. Paul wrote those words to the Ephesians. He proclaimed them today to you. That they then, and you today, might know: our God is the God who is able.

Able to create all things with only His Word.
Able to send great floods to cover the earth, and then able to make those same waters recede.
Able to create great nations from an old man and a barren woman.
Able to use men bent on sin to nevertheless accomplish great things.
Able to defeat giants and mighty armies and walled cities.
Able to raise up shepherds to be prophets and kings.
Able to feed a multitude of people in the desert with manna, and later with only five loaves of bread and two fish.
Able to cleanse lepers.
Able to give eyes to the blind and ears to the deaf.
Able to give legs to the crippled and life to the dead.
He is the God who is able.
Who is able for you.
Paul wants you to know that, and believe it. So do you? Do you believe that? That God is able?

Then why don’t you live like it? Why don’t you act like it when storms come your way? Big storms, powerful storms, mighty storms, havoc-wreaking storms, life-turning-upside-down storms. Why do we think at those times that God is not able? That these things are too big for us . . . for Him.

For that is what we are saying when we give up. That God is not able.
Not able to fix my marriage.
Not able to help my friend.
Not able to give me hope.
Not able to provide what I need.
Not able to rescue.
God is not able.

That is also what we are saying when we think we have to do it. That God is not able. Or that He is not willing. If it’s going to be its up to me. Have you heard that little ditty? It doesn’t take long for that attitude to crush you. It is a most heavy weight to bear. Like the disciples, trying to make headway against a most powerful wind. Ever feel that way? That all your efforts are getting you nowhere . . . and the storm’s just gonna win anyway?

Repent. Repent of your unbelief. Repent and consider what happened to the disciples. The disciples who were Joes and Schmoes just like you and me. Not understanding, hardened of heart, often frightened and confused. Consider not what they did, but rather what happened to them. For Jesus happened to them. Jesus, who they did not think was with them, but they thought was ghost - unreal. Jesus, who meant to pass them by, but who in compassion could not, but came to them who without Him had no hope. Not because they asked, because they didn’t. But because He knew. And to give life is why He came.

And so he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Now, I have to get a little technical on you here, to help you understand exactly what this means. For when Mark says: “he spoke to them and said” he is not being repetitious, but actually uses two different verbs for speaking there - the first (“he spoke”) is used for the proclamation of God’s Word, the second (“and said”) for human speech. And so from a human mouth and human lips comes a divine and living Word; a divine and living Word which does what it says. The same divine and living Word that spoke in creation, that gave these same seas their boundaries, now speaks into the ears and hearts of frightened disciples. To work in them. To create in them what was not there before.

And what is created by this Word? Faith. They can “take heart” and “no longer be afraid” because, Jesus says: “it is I.” Now, here’s where I have to get technical again, because that’s a lousy translation. What Jesus actually says is: I AM. That is the Divine Name of the Old Testament. The name so holy it could not be uttered by human lips. The name told to Moses when he asked what God’s name was. The name which tells us that God is unchangeable - He is never an I WAS or an I WILL BE, He is always I AM. Dependable, unchangeable, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb 13:8)

Or in other words, putting that all together, Jesus comes to them in the midst of life and says: Take heart, or be of good courage. The God who created the world and these seas and you and all things, is with you, here, in my flesh. You no longer have to be afraid. And then, just to prove that point, when He gets into the boat with them, the wind, the storm, ceases. Utterly.

For He is the God who is able.
Our Saviour who is able and does not give up on us - even if, at times and mired in sin, we give up on Him.
Our Saviour who is the eternal, unchangeable God and does not change His mind. Who said to you in Holy Baptism “You are mine” (Is 43:1) - and so you are.
Our Saviour who speaks to us and says; who speaks, and it is done. Who still today speaks divine words through human mouths. Words that give faith. Words that forgive. Words that give what we need.
For He is the God who is able for you. Not absent in the storms; not passing you by; not a ghost - an unreal figment of a disturbed mind. But in the boat with you. In human flesh, for you.

To keep us going when we are tired and it all seems to much for us.
To lift us up when we are frustrated and there seems to be no hope.
To speak His Word of forgiveness when our sins seem too much.
To comfort us when we are downtrodden and show us different feet - not the ones walking all over us, but the feet nailed to the cross for us.

For it is when we take our eyes and our faith off of the God who is able, and place them on ourselves that the storms seem too much for us, too great for us, too powerful for us. Because it’s true: they are. Way too much for us. But not for the God who is able!

And so He comes to us that our eyes and our faith be focused on Him.
On Him for whom nothing is too great, too powerful, too overwhelming.
On Him who was born of a virgin’s womb.
On Him who battled the temptations of the devil in the wilderness.
On Him who was hated and scorned yet returned only love and compassion.
On Him who took the sin of the world on Himself, that it be on Him and not on you.
On Him who died your death on the cross that He might burst the bonds of death and the grave.
On Him who descended into hell, storming its gates and declaring His victory.
On Him who rose on the third day and ascended into heaven, to pave the way for you.
On Him who often looked defeated but was never defeated.
Can He not overcome what is bearing upon you who are heavy laden and give you rest? (Matt 11:28)
Is He not with you - He who said I am with you always? (Matt 28:20)Is He not able?

Take heart! He is with you as He promised. With His Word, with His mighty forgiveness, with His victory, with His flesh and blood. Perhaps there are times when it seems as if He is not, or that He is passing you by. Perhaps He is not working for us as we want. But faith clings not to what seems to be and not to what we want, but to the Word and promise of Him who is able - and not only able, but who keeps every Word and promise. That’s kind of faith is not easy. But He is able to do what we are unable to do.

For take note of what happens next in the story - people, Mark says, come flocking to Jesus to touch even the hem of His garment. But is that what happened? Or has Jesus come to them, that they might touch the hem of His garment? For has not the God who is able, come into our flesh and blood, to do this very thing? Come to us that we may be saved?

And so He has come here this day, to you and me, for you and me. Clothed not in garments of cloth, but clothed in bread and wine, that our hungry souls and sin-parched mouths may feed on Him and touch Him and be healed. Healed of our sins. Healed of our doubts and fears. Healed of our death . . . that we may live.

When you take a look around in this congregation, it doesn’t take much imagination to see a crowd like those on the shore of Lake Gennesaret - people tired and sick and hurting and struggling and much in need of help. People who look defeated by the troubles of life and our struggles with them.

But we are not defeated! Because we are not alone. Because the God who is able is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. With His life-giving cross and powerful resurrection, and with His forgiveness, life, and salvation that flow from it. And so however that cross manifests itself in your life, it is not defeat, but the path to victory and life. Not your path, to be sure! Not the path you would have chosen for yourself. But your Saviour’s path. His path for you. The path He trod, and the path He now takes you on, with Him.

And so however the cross manifests itself in your life, you are not alone. Not alone facing the stormy seas. Not alone facing the trials and struggles. Never alone. The One who IS is with you. The great I AM. The One who never changes. The One who is able. Able to create, able to keep, able to save. He will not pass you by. For you are His. And though the way be rough and the storms be huge now, know this: He is the God who is able . . . able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [therefore] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What a day!

After this third stab at praying the psalms, I started thinking about how little I truly know about praising God. I am quite good at giving thanks, but I fear that I have let praise slip by the wayside. So, after considering the matter for a while, I got out my guitar that has been sitting neglected for at least three years. I have not a lute or harp or lyre, but I do have a guitar.

Something I should have remembered is that I have no business singing soprano pieces anymore. I do not have the lung capacity to sing as it is, much less carry high notes. About an hour into singing hymns and praise songs from Scripture, I found myself lying on the floor, having fainted again (that's the sixth time this week). Back to the nebulizer and a much lower key (at church, because there is so much reading aloud and singing, I have taken to singing with the men to save breath). So, I was strung out on asthma drugs when Pastor D arrived for my catechism lessoning.

I tried. Truly I tried.

I tried to give him all sorts of permission to glare, interrupt, admonish or even threaten me in order to progress in his agenda necessary to allow me to have communion at church. I even went so far as to provide cue cards for his use that instructed me to shut up and let him teach in a series of ten messages that progressed from gentle reminders to rather blunt commands. Given that we did not really progress past the introduction text to the Lord's Prayer (meaning we STILL have yet to tackle the Creed and the Lord's Prayer after 3 sessions), I believe the next lesson needs stronger measures. In short, I believe he should use duct tape on my mouth!

Still, I did learn much today that I needed to begin to grasp. I heard what I needed to hear. And he listened to me.

We did plow through some questions that have arisen in praying the Psalms (more on that later). He sang another hymn to me. He did confession/absolution. And he read with me, going through Psalm 136 with him starting each verse and my finishing with "For His lovingkindess is everlasting." I highly recommend reading aloud this Psalm with another person on a regular basis. The best part was that when we were done, Pastor commented that the only thing wrong with the psalm was that it was too short! Imagine that, a Pastor who actually enjoys reading scripture aloud!

Aside from the cue cards, another "gift" I had for him was a laminated miniature replica of my baptism certificate. I had made ones (note the plural) for me and one for each of my baptismal sponsors and for Pastor. At the nooner bible study a couple of weeks ago, I saw that Pastor's wife had a small laminated card that was from his mother's funeral which she used as a bookmark. Staring at the certificate that Pastor propped up on the side table next to the couch where all my "Lutheran" books are piled along with my many bibles, I kept thinking about her bookmark. I thought if I made one out of my certificate, it would be a way of thanking JW and her husband for agreeing to be my sponsors and a reminder to Pastor of the fruit of his labor for times when he is discouraged as to whether or not he is doing any good in his office. I think he liked it.

In turn, Pastor came bearing gifts. He had a replacement Lutheran Service Book/hymnal since I had given Bettina mine to take home with her. The new one came with four ribbons, not one. And Pastor purposely placed one at the Litany (my "talking" prevented us from being able to pray that today). His other "gift" was another study book! Such a surfeit of riches I have had from his hands: Book of Concord, ESV bible, two Lutheran Service Books (the old one and the new one), The Spirituality of the Cross, a Lenten devotional, the Catechism lesson book, and now a small treatise on Psalms by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I admit that I have already read through the small book! It is more difficult to grasp than I had hoped. Or I am more dense than I would wish. Pastor did read me a snippit to show me that I sort of missed something in my post yesterday and in doing so showed me what the next approach I need to take as I begin praying the Psalms again: praying attempt #4 shall be to read them aloud contemplating that they are the words of Christ, the prayers of Christ.

If the Word was (is) before He was incarnate, then the Word in Psalms is actually Christ. They are His words, His prayers, given to us through David. So, when I wrote that I had no words, so I began reading aloud, using David's, I was actually using the words of Christ.

I almost laughed when Pastor pointed that out to me, for one of the ways I tease him is noting whether or not something from the Old Testament is a "Jesus" verse. To Lutherans, they are all "Jesus" verses, or rather they believe Christ permeates the Old Testament as much as He does the New Testament.

After my lessoning, I went to my godparents home. [Boy, do I revel in typing that word, godparents! Isn't it crazy to acquire a pair at my age?] I had agreed to assess JW's oldest for her homeschool requirements before the whole baptismal sponsor thing arose and time has run out for me to do so. She had a friend and her family staying with her, but they allowed me some rather special time with my godmother that included much singing! Yes, JW sang to me and with me while I was there.

She also gave me back my baptismal napkin (still wrinkled from being wet) that she had finished stitching and their gift to me: her copy of the Treasury of Daily Prayer, inscribed by her husband to me. SIGH. Now, I am sure I will need another degree to ferret out how to follow all the bits and pieces in this veritable trove of prayer and scripture and lessons (it is way more complicated than the service book), but I am most grateful to have another tool for my spiritual growth. And the fact that it is my godfather's handwriting on the first page is special to me.

It was not just JW who agreed to serve as godparent. Her husband (JW as well) also said, "Yes."

I had mailed my godmother a thank you card with the small replica of my baptism certificate, but I kept my godfather's with me until I could talk with him in person.

I do not know him. And it is uncomfortable for me to be around him because I do not know him, but I do not want that to remain the case. I did not really wish to talk with him about my past, but I wanted to let him know that it meant a lot to me that he agreed to be my godparent as well as JW. She had told me that he would understand, that he was not offended that I have given him a wide berth in the times I had seen him before. I guess I did not really believe her. This evening, when I thanked him in person, gave him my gift, and told him that I was working on being better, he very quietly reminded me that Christ would be the one to do that for me, in His timing, not mine. He is willing to give me all the space I needed in the meantime. I was rather humbled in that moment, for I realized that I have been truly blessed with a pair of godparents who are genuinely committed to helping me live in faith.

Godparents! Oh, how I have longed for "parents" with whom I could share my faith, talk about the bible, seek counsel. People who actually want to teach, who want to guide. My own would never fit that bill and I am fairly well convinced now that I will never have in-laws who might serve in that role. Now, out of the blue, in addition to a strange Pastor who teaches oh so freely, I have godparents charged with that very task!

How incredibly, unbelievably marvelous is that?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Well, Myrtle, how's your head?

Fine, if I don't move it too much!

Getting up, moving about, turning too quickly, bending over, straightening up, laying down...all of these increase my dizziness and ensuing nausea. Really, going down the stairs any other way than by your feet is not highly recommended.

Last night, I tried to eat dinner, roused my nausea, promptly threw it up, and started coughing. The nebulizer helped for a few hours, and I managed to actually sleep. But this morning I had another attack. So, out came the nebulizer and my heart started pounding once more.

I loathe those drugs. Even when I am not in the hospital, I feel so lonely when struggling to breathe and battling the fear I feel each time my heart starts racing and the drug-induced tremors start wracking my body. I tremble from the inside out; it feels so utterly frightening. As much as I dislike the ER, I want to be there so that I am at least near others.

This morning, it was really strange because I walked into our building coughing and was gasping for breath by the time I got to my own office. I was coughing and gasping so hard that I couldn't get my medication into the nebulizer. Needless to say, I was making quite a racket, but I remained all alone in my office. Because it was so bad, I went ahead and jabbed the Epipen in my leg so that I could have enough relief to start the nebulizer. Still, no one came. About an hour later, the office manager passed by, saw my paraphernalia still spread about my desk and said she thought she heard me coughing. So much for hoping help is nearby at work should I need it!

While I had arrived at work early to make up for some lost time this week, I actually sat in the parking lot talking to JW. I know, that doesn't sound like avoiding her, but we had had a long text session last night and I was worried she was offended by some of what I said. It is still much easier not talking to her than talking to her. She is still thrilled about the great lesson of my baptism. But I will admit that my godmother has this uncanny ability to make me laugh even when tears are streaming down my face. Personally, I believe she is much, much too wicked to be a godparent (not to mention that I am much, much too old to be gaining godparents), but she believes the opposite...on both counts!

This morning, she said something else that troubled my waters. The following is as near as I can remember: You are experiencing birthing pains. I do not understand why they are so strong, but that is what they are. You are being born in the Gospel, having grown up with more law than you should have found in any church. It's probably a good thing that we do not remember our births. It has to hurt the baby at least some. But we all have to be born. You need to be born.

I think, perhaps, it would be right for her to interchange Objective Grace and the Gospel.

Certainly, I learned the Gospel in church. Had I not, I would not be found! Had I not, I would not have learned that Christ came to save the world and to save me. But forgiveness and grace seemed relegated to the cross, to the past. Not meant for today. Not meant for practice amongst Christians.

Certainly I learned about Grace, but only as an obligatory lesson about what God bestows upon us in our salvation...when we do the work of accepting Christ as our Saviour. Certainly not that it is Objective Grace. The (erroneous) teaching I received is that our work is necessary, a sense...that Christ's work on the cross was not sufficient. How can that be?

I learned all the things I needed to be doing to be a better Christian. I learned all the ways that I could make myself more holy. I learned about how I could live a more godly life so that I might become more faithful. Oh, the futile labor of trying to create and enlarge your own faith.

I did not learn that I am washed anew daily. Washed by the blood. Washed by the Spirit. Washed by the Living Word. I did not learn that while the Law crushes us in our absolute inability to keep it, the Gospel sets us free. It sets us free, not just because Christ fulfilled the law for us, but by allowing us to walk in forgiveness even though we are still sinful beings, still destined to fail.

At one point, I was telling JW of how wretched I feel about how I feel about someone, and her response was be that as it may, you are forgiven for feeling that way. Forgiveness is her litany to me. I cannot hear it enough.

Being forgiven does not mean that we are then free to sin, free to inflict our debase natures upon each other. Despite our greatest effort, we will do that anyway. But forgiveness does allows us to move beyond the sin and begin again. It is a crushing existence without forgiveness, a constant accounting of our failures being heaped upon us with no relief, no release in sight.

Not everyone is fettered by the law. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot even fathom fear and love and trust of God. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot even fathom the weight of our sin. But for Christians the weight of their sin can be an impossibly heavy burden if they are not also bathed in the Gospel each time they enter God's house to worship, if they are not fed the sweet honey of the Living Word and sated with the refreshing water of forgiveness.

Being bathed in the Gospel leads me back to the journey which I have been taking ever since Pastor D dropped the Book of Concord into my lap, into my life.

I have written of all parts of the Large Catechism save for the Lord's Prayer. Really and truly there is nothing that I can write that has not been written better by Luther and countless pastors since. And I will admit that some of what I have been reading and what I thought I heard from Pastor has bothered me when it comes to prayer. I would have thought, having spent 31 years clinging to Christ, that prayer was something I had down pat. Now, I am not so sure.

Nevertheless, I would highly recommend you read Luther's instruction for doing so will most certainly illuminate this perfect prayer, this gift that Christ gave us. It is a prayer that you could study for a lifetime and never learn its true riches, each petition worthy of its own lifetime of study. I believe this to be because I have come to understand that the words of this prayer, the words I memorized years ago without much thought, the words I have repeated countless times because it was time to do so in the church service or in the bible study, are actually all that we need to know about God and what He has done for us, what He does for us. To understand the Lord's Prayer is to understand God. Such knowledge cannot be contained in this fallen world. But chasing that understanding is a most worthy pursuit.

Below, I will share a few bits of the introductory text in the hopes that you might glimpse of the magnitude of this gift and be inspired to study the whole of Luther's instruction on the Lord's Prayer in the Book of Concord, Large Catechism. And then I will conclude with my thoughts on his admonition to pray the Psalms.

And the first thing to know is that it is our duty to pray because of God's commandment. For that's what we heard in the Second Commandment, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7). We are required to praise that holy name and call upon it in every need, or to pray. To call upon God's name is nothing other than to pray (e.g., I Kings 18:24). (LC, Part III, 5)

[Note: It is important to remember that any prayer without the Word, without the triune God is footle natter. Those prayers are hollow words cast about into the air that have no audience, no weight, no hope. As harsh as that sounds, apart from God they are nothing.]

For by calling upon God's name and praying, His name is honored and used well. (LC, Part III, 8)

Indeed, the human heart is by nature so hopeless that it always flees from God and imagines that He does not wish or desire our prayer, because we are sinners and have earned nothing but wrath (Romans 4:15). (LC, Part III, 10)

For by this commandment God lets us plainly understand that He will not cast us away from Him or chase us away (Romans 11:1). This is true even though we are sinners. But instead He draws us to Himself (John 6:44), so that we might humble ourselves before Him (I Peter 5:6), bewail this misery and plight of ours, and pray for grace and help (Psalm 69:13). (LC, Part III, 11)

This work [prayer] is a work of obedience. What I do for no other reason that I may walk in the obedience and commandment of God. On this obedience I can settle and stand firm, and I can value it as a great thing, not because of my worthiness, but because of the commandment. (LC, Part III, 13)

God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word and obedience to it. (LC, Part III, 16)

In the second place, we should be more encouraged and moved to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it shall surely be done for us as we pray. He says in Psalm 50:15, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you." And Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, "Ask, and it will be given to you...for everyone who asks receives" (7:7-8). (LC, Part III, 19)

For in addition to this commandment and this promise, God expects us [to pray] and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray (Psalm 51:15), so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress (Psalm 4:1), and we may never doubt such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. (LC, Part III, 22-23)

We need to know this: all our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone. For we are far too weak to deal with the devil and all his power and followers who set themselves against us. They might easily crush us under their feet. Therefore, we must consider and take up those weapons with which Christians must be armed in order to stand against the devil (II Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:11). (LC, Part III, 30-31)

Something that I have found equally strange and equally compelling is Luther's admonition to pray the Psalms. What this means exactly, I cannot tell you. I can tell you that this book of the bible is a book of prayers given to us. I have long heard that they are poems, that poetry is not always easy to understand. I have heard that David wrote them. I have heard that some we know when and others we know not. I have not, however, really heard that they are prayers.

So, how do you pray the Psalms? Again, I honestly do not know. What I do know is that in my attempts to pray the Psalms, I have taken to reading them aloud. I have just finished my third time through them. The first time, I read them in one sitting, all night long, focusing on Luther's observation that they embody the First Commandment or better yet the First Commandment embodies them. The second time I started to read them because I was so distraught, hurting so deeply, that I could not speak. I had no words. I spoke aloud David's. The third time, I set about reading them more purposely, highlighting my way through the book as I read aloud...repeating some bits over and over again before moving on...backing up when I next opened the book to read the highlights again before continuing on once more.

Everything I have tried to say about the power of the Living Word does not come close to how I feel about Scripture now, to what I have learned in my attempts to pray the Psalms. There were words the third time through I could swear were not there the first two times. There are words that I swear I could have written myself, that speak so intimately of my heart that I gasp as my mouth forms them. The words of the Psalms comfort. The words of the Psalms inspire. The words of the Psalms chasten. The words of the Psalms instruct. They are words for me. They may be for the rest of the world, for all time, but they are actually for me. They are the Word. The Word who came for me.

The Word who came for you.