Monday, August 31, 2009

Back in the old days, when I was Dr. Myrtle, I would teach my students about the three aspects of conversation.

#1: Collaboration: In order to have a conversation, there must be at least two people who agree to share the talking and listening between them.

#2: Negotiation: Within the conversation, there is a sometimes tacit, sometimes direct negotiation that happens between the participants. Both cannot be talking at once. Both cannot be listening at once. Someone talks, the other(s) listen. In the case of a multi-person conversation, that negotiation can happen lightening fast, but there is always give and take between the participants.

#3: Intersubjectivity: Now this is a fancy term for I know that you know that I know what you mean. It is shared knowledge between the participants. You could sit next to two lawyers or two sports writers and their conversation might sound as if they are speaking gibberish for all the cant shared between them, words and acronyms that are germane to their background. But intersubjectivity is also more subtle. It is the place where people can finish each other's sentences or where one can just start a thought and have it completed in the other's mind if not mouth. The shared knowledge can be subject matter, experience, race, religion, etc. If the participants do not have intersubjectivity, then the conversation is doomed.

I have come to the distressing conclusion that many of my conversations with Pastor D, despite his nothing-less-than-valiant efforts to teach and to help, end up less than ideal because we do not always have intersubjectivity. Now, I would like to blame this on just my past. While he has listened to a lot, much of what I have experienced is just plain foreign to him. So, I would like to blame the intersubjectivity problem on that, but I am cannot escape the belief that it is more, disturbingly more.

We are both Christians. We both stand beneath the Augsburg Confession. We both cite the Creed. We both believe in the same God, the same Son, and the same Holy Spirit. We both pray the Lord's Prayer. We both agree that the Book of Concord is true and pure teaching of scripture. We should, therefore, be talking apples to apples, oranges to oranges.

Ah, but we do not.

It is not that anything is truly different, but one is veneer and the other is substance. Take the word sinner. In the Protestant churches of my past, I have always heard that I am a sinner. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen creatures. This is taught. This we share. But there is a whole world of difference between assuming the label and fully understanding what that means.

There is death in being a sinner. There is freedom as well, for those sinners who are also children of Christ.

I really like the harsh words Pastor S used in his message on baptism I posted the other day:

It exposes, accuses, and punishes your sin: your lust, your greed, your selfishness, your pride, your fear and doubt; the hardness of your heart; the grudges that you bear and harbor; the grasping of your hands, and the dark confusion of your head.

What a wonderful portrait of our sin. Not something that was inflicted upon us by Adam and Eve, but the very core of who we are. I like, too, the reminder that sin is more than just actions; it is also our thoughts and feelings and intentions and motivations and longings and that which we idolize and so, so much more. Try as we might, we cannot escape our depravity.

Now...I know...I know I am going to fumble this...but the point I am trying to make is that I have always heard that I am a sinner, but I did not really understand what that meant before I started studying Lutheran doctrine. Yes, I knew that meant that I deserved eternal death, that I deserved hell after this life. Yes, I knew that because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, because of His sinless passion and death, taking on the sin of the world, taking on my sin, I will have eternal life.

But the distinction Luther makes, eschewing the works doctrine that had crept into the church, was that since we are sinners, we cannot fear and love and trust God without the help of the Holy Spirit. If we could, then we would not need Christ's sacrifice. We could just work mightily on our own and achieve holiness that way.

So, what do I mean about the difference between hearing I am a sinner and understanding I am a sinner, where is that freedom? Well, if I am a sinner, I can do nothing good apart from Christ, I cannot even want to do so without the help of the Holy Spirit. This is a given with Lutherans. Just as the sky is blue and the grass is green, they understand that apart from God they can do nothing. Hence, the freedom.

Freedom from the crushing weight of futile labor to make yourself better, to achieve godliness, to find the right path toward salvation. There is only one path: the cross. That question that bothers me so much. It is a given with Lutherans. The answer is always only by the grace of God will I. Only by the grace of God will I love others, keep His commandments, and do good. Only by the grace of God, for apart from that lovely, amazing Objective Grace, grace that depends not one bit on my wretched depraved soul, I can do nothing. It is not expected of me to even try, for Luther so eloquently and yet simply wrote of the anguish of such futility.

It was because of this very anguish that he encouraged pastors to offer and parishioners to seek the gifts of Christ given in baptism, communion, and confession/absolution: salvation, His very body and blood, forgiveness...grace and mercy bestowed upon us to renew and refresh and sustain us in this evil world.

So, what I am saying is that there are givens in Lutheranism that ought to be throughout all Christianity, but sadly are not. Given: we are all sinners and therefore can do nothing on our own. Given: In Christ, we are forgiven. Given: That forgiveness removes our sins from us as far as the East is from the West, the two that can never meet. Given: Because of that forgiveness, God sees us not in our sin, but through the Cross. Given: He does not desire for poor sinners to struggle with that which He has already had victory over. Given: He offers us grace and mercy and peace, the likes of which the world will never understand, but which can cover all, endure all, sustain all.

In my godparents, Pastor, Pizza man (JM), others from the church, and the pastors I have been reading online, there are these givens. Givens I believe Pastor assumes I know, ones I walk in because I am a child of Christ. But what has been inculcated in me is that I must enlarge my faith, that I must limit my failures in faith, that I must work hard so as to be better. See all those I's? They belie the truth: only by the grace of God will I. Because it is only by His grace, I am free from the futility, from the failure. Not that I will not fail, because I will. I am a sinner, after all. But I am not expected to do anything on my own and when I do fail, I will be forgiven. Because I am forgiven.

At Pastor's suggestion, I contacted one of those other Lutheran Pastors and asked him about the question, asked him about saying I intend. He charged me to not neglect the "by the grace of God." No one is asking a poor sinner to reform themselves; we ask poor sinners to rely on the grace and mercy of God, who strengthens us to do what we could not do without Him.

Get that? Poor sinner? Another given I have found with Lutherans: compassion for those in sin, for the battle we face being sinners, for the despair we become mired in without the mercy of Christ. They have compassion, I believe, because they are so acutely aware of their own condition. They do not flee from talk of sin...or from sharing of burdens.

So great is his compassion for me, a veritable stranger, this pastor prayed for me and entreated me to contact him again any time I was in need. I did ask a few more questions, which he thoughtfully answered.

In one of his emails, he suggested that I consider the following quote from Luther:

“I wish to know the condition of your heart, whether you have at last come to loathe your own righteousness and desire to rejoice in the righteousness of Christ and to be of good cheer because of it. For in these days the temptation to presumptuousness is very strong, particularly in those who strive with might and main to be righteous and godly and do not know of the altogether immaculate righteousness of God which is freely given in Christ. As a result of this they are searching for something good in themselves until they feel they can pass muster before God as people who are properly adorned with virtuous and meritorious deeds – all of which is impossible. While you were with us, you held this opinion, or rather this error, just as I did. For my part, I am still wrestling with this error and am not quite rid of it yet. Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ – Christ Crucified. Learn to sing praises to Him and to despair utterly of your own works. Say to Him: Thou, my Lord Jesus, art my righteousness; I am Thy sin. Thou hast taken from me what is mine and hast given me what is Thine. Thou didst become what Thou were not and madest me to be what I was not. Beware of your ceaseless striving after a righteousness so great that you no longer appear a sinner in our own eyes and do not want to be a sinner. For Christ dwells only in sinners. He came down from heaven where He dwelt in the righteous, for the very purpose of dwelling in sinners also. Ponder this love of His and you will realize the sweetest consolation.”

I admit that I have struggled with understanding the reason behind giving me this quote to consider, wondering if he was telling me that my struggle with that question was actually me being self-righteous. Could that be? I felt like it is more an acute knowledge of just how miserably I fail at faithfulness. I felt like it would be a lie to say I intend to do something when I know full well that I spend far more time living Romans 7:15 than Philippians 4:6-8.

But, ah, remember those givens!

Well, he emailed a clarification for this poor sinner:

The reason I sent you the Luther quote was because of the excellent way he warns against scrounging up inside of ourselves a feeling that we can at last pass muster before God. When we're really being confronted by the Law we can NEVER do that. It's just impossible. And the question of "intent" was framed by those who knew that. Our intentions are no purer than any other part of us; intentions too must often be forgiven.

Pass muster! I could accuse him of talking with Pastor about me for all the mustering I have tried to do with finishing catechism, in demonstrating that I knew enough for the alter, but while I know they are brothers in Office and, at least, know of each other, this pastor does not know who I am or who Pastor is. All he knew and cared was that I was in need of help and he could do so with God's Truth.

So, my anguish about that blasted question, my despair over seemingly never reaching the alter, was essentially needless. When Pastor is ready to ask me again, I know I can say, yes! For it is not I who will be doing that which I say I intend, but the Holy Spirit working in me.

Oh, how I wish I better understood those givens!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Have you ever noticed, while watching a football game, that no matter how many enemies pile upon a player, there is almost always someone holding out a hand to haul him to his feet when he finds himself thrown to the ground or crushed beneath great weight?

~~~~
Pastor D's sermon:

Jesu Juva

“Not Scrapped, but Redeemed”
Text: Mark 7:14-23 Ephesians 6:10-20

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

Earlier this week, the government’s wildly popular stimulus program called “Cash for Clunkers” came to an end. People were so eager to take advantage of this program to trade-in their gas guzzling car for a new, more fuel efficient one that the program ran out of money - twice. The first time they added more money and extended the program; but now it has come to an end.

But you know, calling this program “Cash for Clunkers” was never really quite right. Because your car didn’t really have to be a clunker to qualify - just a gas guzzler. Some cars that were truly clunkers didn’t qualify because their mileage rating was too high, and some cars that looked great on the outside did qualify, because what was on the inside - what made it run, the engine - didn’t match what was on the outside and wasn’t so good.

I bring this up because in the Holy Gospel we heard today, Jesus’ words that say without any doubt: you are a clunker. Though you may look good on the outside, though you may not consider yourself one, though others may look like greater clunkers than you - there is no mistaking Jesus’ words today which show what you look like on the inside, in your heart, the engine that makes your life go. It is a dirty, polluted, love-guzzling, sin-belching engine indeed. Just listen again to what He said: “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Or in other words, when you lift the hood on your life, or to your mind and heart, there is no mistaking it - you qualify. You, my friends, are clunkers.

Now, the thoughts and opinions of the world strongly disagree with this assessment, instead saying that all men are, deep down inside, basically good. That if you dig down deep enough, you will find good, not evil. For look, the world is filled with people who work hard, take care of their families, contribute to society, donate their organs when they die, and lots of other good things. And yes, they do look good on the outside, don’t they? Just like you often do. But then there is the sin that keeps being vomited up from our hearts, the engine gunk that clogs our minds - in bizarre and shameful dreams; in vile and hateful thoughts; in angry and biting words; in resentment and jealously; in judgment and gossip. And it doesn’t take much - just a little poke at us can cause all this to rise up, even if we never belch this pollution out into the world in our deeds. But too often we do that too.

Remember: you don’t have to look like a clunker to be a clunker. Some do, some don’t, but we all qualify. We all deserve to be scrapped.

That is why we prayed in the Introit today: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Or in other words: don’t scrap this old, sin-polluting clunker; don’t trade me in! But create - create from nothing good in me - something good and clean. Give me a right spirit again. Wash me not only on the outside, but on the inside. Restore me to life as you originally created it - also from nothing - in the beginning.

Now, we have no right to pray such a prayer and no reason to believe that God should hear such a prayer from us sinful, polluting clunkers . . . except that this is the very thing He has - in His mercy and grace - promised to do. For He has promised not to trade us in for better models, but instead to send a Saviour. A Saviour to make clunkers into Christians; to take what is worthless and give you value again. Not just a second chance, but a transformation. For second chances don’t really change anything, they just delay the inevitable - just as today’s shiny new car is tomorrow’s clunker.

But Jesus has come to do much more than that. That what now pumps from your hearts be not sin and filth, but love and life. His love and life. Given to you. That instead of trading you in, He trade His life for yours. Redeeming you not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood of infinite worth. And so to do that, He becomes even worse than a clunker on the cross, there bearing all your sin and shame and dying your death on a garbage heap called Calvary, that that be not your fate. But that you instead, through His death and resurrection, become new. And not just new for a time, but new forever.

And it is in Holy Baptism that that happens for you - that Jesus’ cross becomes your cross; that you are redeemed; that you are made new. In Holy Baptism, the clunker in you receives its death, and you are raised and made new, with a new heart and a new life. In Holy Baptism, Jesus creates in you a clean heart and gives you a right spirit - His Holy Spirit - to live in you. That you no longer be who you once were - a clunker - but now live a new life; a holy life; a Christ life. And so for baptized children of God, your sin no longer defines who you are, and the opinions of the world no longer define who you are - your baptism does. For your baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection is your new birth to a new life. A new life defined now by the Word of God, which declares that you are no longer a clunker, but a Christian.

Now, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to have your clunker moments - you will! Maybe a lot of them. Certainly more than you want. For your new heart and life is still tethered to your old, sinful flesh . . . until it too dies and is raised anew with Christ on the last day. But it is that old, sinful flesh that caused Paul to cry out of the conflict in him - that he doesn’t do what he wants to do, and does do what he doesn’t want to do! His old, sinful flesh still often got the better of him, as it does often for us.

That’s why Paul in the Epistle today exhorts us to “put on the whole armor of God” - the armor to guard and defend our hearts against the schemes and attacks of the devil. It is the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, prayer, and the Word of God - for these are the things that protect us from the evil one. For it is not other people in this world who are our enemies, that we need protecting from - not really, no matter what they do to us. It is satan, who attacks Christians in public and in private, in good times and in bad times, in strength and in weakness, even, as Paul says, in the heavenly places, in the church. We are no where immune.

But although not immune, we are safe, in Christ. For to put on this armor is to put on Christ. And to put on Christ is to put on the One who is victorious over satan. And victorious over satan, we are safe. And so in repentance and faith and robed in His forgiveness, we are safe. His work for us not a thing of the past, but an ongoing work. Changing the mortal into the immortal, the perishable into the imperishable (1 Cor 15), clunkers into Christians. Not a program for a limited time only, but for a life that will never end.

And so we come and gather here again after another week of clunking; of the sin in our hearts vomiting out in ways we wish it would not. But though that is what you have done, that is not who you are. And so we repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness, and we come to His Altar and receive His body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That in this eating and drinking we be robed again with His faith and love and life. That what is given into us be also what comes out of us. That we live not as clunkers, but as children, strong in the Lord and the strength of his might.

And receiving such gifts, we then depart for another week in joy and peace. We are new again. His Word has done what it says. His promise is good, His life is sure, His forgiveness is certain. So go in joy, go in peace, go and clunk no more. Be, rather, who you are. For you are redeemed. You are new. You are Christ’s.

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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I spent 30 minutes trying to get to the vet when it should have taken 5. On the way there, I realized that I couldn't remember where her office is and drove around in circles, growing more and more frightened. I couldn't think to call her. She or her staff would have led me there. I just kept driving, running two red lights in the process because I was so confused.

By the time I arrived, I was very, very upset. No tears, surprisingly so. Just fear and anguish. One of the techs took one look at me and knelt down before me to ask what she could do. I couldn't speak. After remaining with me for a few moments, she left and came back with Barley, the practice's bird. Her gesture made my heart sing for a moment.

The tech stayed with me while I waited the hour required for Kashi's acupuncture treatment. After his treatment was finished, Dr. M sat with me for a while to talk and to listen. She, at least, was quite startled to see how much more weight I have lost and was puzzled, as am I, that it does not seem to matter to my fill-in primary care doctor. She then suggested that I just rest with them for a while, to not worry about going home quite yet. Over the next hour, one by one, the rest of the staff came into the room and sat with me for a time, telling me stories about their day or their own pets or their lives. Such kindness they bestowed upon me.

God truly held me in His hands through them.

When I came home, I read Pastor S's post for today. I find his message comforting and troubling. It was a powerful reminder of all that we receive in baptism, the enormity of that gift and what it means in this life and beyond. His message was also a chastisement in that I need to be more mindful of the suffering of others and of the fact that even in this time God is working, no matter how much I insist that I do not see as to how good might be possible. I am so hungry for the Sacrament, however, that even reading about the grace we receive there was hard....


Crucified and Risen with Christ Jesus

Even in death (especially in death!), St. John is still preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He is still proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and always pointing to Him. He is still preaching the Resurrection.
 
To preach this Baptism of Christ is dangerous and deadly; and to receive this Baptism and submit to it is likewise dangerous and deadly. First of all because it crucifies you, and cuts off your head, and buries you in the dust of the earth whence you were taken.
 
It exposes, accuses, and punishes your sin: your lust, your greed, your selfishness, your pride, your fear and doubt; the hardness of your heart; the grudges that you bear and harbor; the grasping of your hands, and the dark confusion of your head.
 
When St. John calls you to repentance, he isn’t playing games or offering "advice." There is no hidden strategy or secret agenda. Wherever in your life there is sin, whether in your heart or hands or mouth — wherever you are sinning in thought, word or deed — Repent. Fear God. Turn away from evil. Do good.
 
Is it hard? Will it hurt?
 
That isn’t yet the half of it!
 
It is impossible, and it will kill you.
 
When St. John calls you to repent and points you to Christ Jesus, he bids you come and die.
 
The waters of your Holy Baptism are your grave, wherein you are buried with Christ the Crucified.
 
To share His Baptism is to share His Cross. So in this way, also, your Baptism is dangerous and deadly. The world will not love you, but hates you, because of it. The powers of this world will not protect you, but will persecute you and put you in prison; they will put you to death, if and when they can, for the Name of Christ.
 
If your Baptism crucifies you and puts you to death by way of repentance, it also lays the Cross of Christ upon your neck for the sake of faith and love.
 
What you suffer under His Cross is not pointless or meaningless, even if it all seems hopeless. St. John could have supposed that his work was done, and that all had been for nothing, when he was locked up in prison; when his beautiful feet were shackled and chained in a dungeon. But by the grace of God, through faith in Christ — did you hear it? — he kept on preaching.
 
Herod heard but did not heed the preaching of St. John. But, even though Herod finally cut off his head and shut up his beautiful lips, St. John’s innocent suffering and death still preach Christ and Him Crucified, also here and now to you.
 
Do not shut your ears to St. John’s witness, and do not despair of your own vocation under the Cross.
 
Suffer patiently, as you are called to suffer (and die), and serve faithfully, wherever you are called to serve, even if it be in a deep dark dungeon.
 
Do not despair, but believe the words and promises of God. For he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.
 
Love and trust in Him who has lived and died and risen again for you; who died, and yet, behold, He lives; who was baptized for you, and crucified, dead and buried for you, and who has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity for you.
 
But, O Lord, how long? How long?
 
How long must you suffer and die, before you shall be vindicated and live?
 
In truth, It is finished. All has been accomplished and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, in His Baptism by St. John in the Jordan, in His Cross and Resurrection. Those who live and die by faith in Him, shall never die, but live with Him in His Kingdom in His everlasting righteousness and holiness, in His innocence and blessedness.
 
Your suffering and your death find their place, their meaning, their purpose, and their fulfillment in the Cup of Christ, the Cup of Blessing which we bless.
 
And you find your rest here under His Altar, under the shelter of His wings, in the Body of your Savior, in the Bosom of your dear God and Father.
 
Rest here, and be at peace, whether you live or die. You are the Lord’s. Your real life is hidden in and with Him, safe and secure forever and always.
 
Even now, His miraculous powers are at work in you: to cast out all your demons, to heal all your iniquities, to forgive all your trespasses, to raise you from the dead.
 
It is all by the way of His Cross; and therefore, no less, it is in the sure and certain hope of His Resurrection and the power of His indestructible life.
 
For He has so identified Himself with you, and bound Himself to you in Holy Baptism, and here at His Altar with His own holy Body and precious Blood, that as He lives, so shall you live forever.
 
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How long?

How long!

Apparently, driving while distressed is not received well in the county in which I live.

Last night, despite my better judgment, I met Pastor to finish the catechism. We have not managed to finish before, so I fully expected to not finish again. I did not want to go because it hurts so much to fail in this pursuit, when failing means I cannot have the Lord's Supper. But I admit that somewhere deep inside, I dared to hold out a mustard seed of hope.

Whole clumps of my hair are falling out. As I wash my hair, I have to keep catching it in my fingers so as not to clog up the drain. Several times in the past week and a half since my hair started coming out in droves, I have had to spend a couple of hours trying to clean out the drain pipe enough to then pour caustic gunk down it so the tub will drain, because despite my efforts to do so, I cannot catch all my hair. If I do not, the soapy water that takes hours to drain leaves a residue that makes the tub slippery. And I fall. Usually, I fall and hit my head on something. I let that happen three times before I could find the mental fortitude to do the work of cleaning out the drain, while trying to set aside the reason for the problem.

Whole clumps of my hair are falling out. I am nauseous all the time. I've lost 51 pounds. I am so cold at times that I cannot warm up for hours. And, yet, the doctor believes it is just stress. Oh, and by the way, I somehow have another disease, hypoglycemia. She blithely told me to eat every two hours, protein, and left the rest of the instruction for understanding about living with that disease--despite knowing I fainted from dangerously low blood sugar on Tuesday several hours after the test and was fortunate enough to be near someone who recognized what was happening, managed to rouse me, and force me to drink orange juice--for me to find out on my own. She tells me to eat every two hours, when I am telling her I eat about the equivalent of perhaps one meal a week.

I went last night because I allowed myself to believe Pastor when he said that it would just take two hours and we would be done and I would join the rest of the church at the alter. To be fair, he honestly believed so.

Yes, the instruction took about that, I think. And I actually learned something about both the Office of the Keys and the Holy Spirit. There was joy for me in learning more about the Living Word and a certain fellowship of faith when Pastor talked about how the doctrine of the New Testament cannot be understood without the doctrine of the Old Testament. So often, in the churches of my past, the Old Testament has been the step-child, relegated to the simple role of housing the stories of Jonah, David and Goliath, and Joseph that permeate Sunday School for children. That the Lutheran Liturgy includes whole passages from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Gospel is one of the parts I cherish most. I truly savor being bathed in the Living Word during worship.

But then there was the test. He would say it is not a test, never intended to be a test, but it seems like one. And I did not pass.

I stupidly and foolishly thought that the instruction was it. But, no, Myrtle, you have to answer a set of questions, preferably in front of the congregation.

The questions are not just a profession of belief. They are also a declaration of intent. Why, oh, why can belief not be enough?

I believe. I am baptized. And I believe.

But I know my heart. I know how very often I do not do what I want to do. To me, to make that declaration of intent would be a lie. I wanted to just say, yes. I wanted to lie. Oh, how I wanted to lie. But how could I receive the gift of Christ's body and blood based on a lie?

While the two hours turned to five and yet again I kept this man from his family and his bed, nothing changed. I am still barred from the alter, and I do not see as to how I can get there. I cannot answer those questions. I cannot lie just because I long for, crave, the comfort of communion.

I did cry before him. But I also managed to hold myself together until he left and I went to put my books in the car. After doing so, I dropped to my knees and starting wailing behind the open passenger door, not caring that I was still outside of JM's restaurant. Not caring that people were walking around. At one point, some woman asked if I was okay after being coached by a man to not get to close to me. I almost laughed at his warning, for as much as the loss of the alter after daring to hold the tiniest bit of hope overwhelmed me, the guilt of wasting Pastor's time was just as great. I showed up because he was hurt when I told him that I planned to quit trying, to quit banging my head against a brick wall when it came to catechism. I came more because I didn't want to hurt him any more than I already had than I believed him when he said it would be just two hours and we would be done. I have repeatedly angered and hurt and frustrated the very person who is trying to pour out the love of Christ in my life. It was silly for the man to think a woman sobbing in grief would be a danger, but I couldn't help but think how once again I had failed and should have known better than to try, should have left Pastor to his family and his bed.

I struggled to drive home because I could not stop crying. And, I suppose, my less than stellar driving might have looked as if I had been imbibing. The officer had no patience for my tears. Standing on the side of the road, trying to pass another test, I tried to tell him what I had lost. I tried to tell him what that meant. He didn't really care. He told me I was being foolish for letting an empty piece of religion matter so much. I did manage to pass his test and leave with just a written warning.

So, here I sit, exhausted from staring at the bible all night and crying. Just a few hours to go before work. Just a few hours to once more find the strength to pretend that I am fine, that everything is great, so that I keep that social contract whole at work at least, so that I do not jeopardize my job.

I do not understand my doctor. I cannot get a consult from an endocrinologist until November 2nd. I know that the medical hoops through which I have been jumping are, indeed, stressful, but I also know that I have lived with greater stress than this...though, perhaps, not greater grief. Something is not right. I do not lose my hair over stress. I do not lose my appetite. I am a great trencher woman. I am a true Dr. Pepper addict. If I have eschewed food and my drug of choice so easily and so completely...well...certainly that ought to be evidence aplenty that something is amiss. Hypoglycemia cannot be the sole blame for all of this.

I do not understand God. I believe Him. I trust that He is at work and at work for His good, for His perfect purposes. I just do not understand why He would lead me down a path that ended in a test that I couldn't pass. He knows me better than I do myself. He watches me do that which I do not want to do when I long with my whole being to be doing otherwise. He sees how much I struggle to walk in faith. He knows how weak I am, how easy it is for me to believe the lies of my past, how hard it is to rest on the truth that I am a cherished sheep of the Good Shepherd when I learned so thoroughly as a child that I am not worth rescuing from danger. He knows me.

Oh, why...why did I have to choose between lying and finally having communion and telling the truth and losing the freedom of the alter?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I am not one for double posts, but I wanted to note a couple of things I learned today:

  • Orange juice is a good way to recover from a drop in blood sugar severe enough to make you pass out. Too bad it didn't happen in the lab so that it could have been documented by another blood draw.
  • If you have a nurse sticking you over and over to no avail, suggest she put the tourniquet just a hand's span up your arm. By having it closer to the wrist than the elbow, many a previously hidden vein will magically appear on the back of your hand. So successful a practice was this that I had all four sticks on the same hand and survived the experience with minimum discomfort!

~~~~
Tonight, I met with Pastor's wife to talk through a chart I had created concerning the reconstructive surgery toward which I have been working. Before they left on vacation, I had asked her if she would consider talking with me about the surgery. She is a pediatric oncology nurse--an amazingly tough job--and I thought she could a) help me figure out some things about the hospital and b) talk in a clinical, dispassionate manner about that which is rather upsetting to me. I was of two minds about whether or not I should have asked her in the first place and was half-hoping she would have forgotten so that I could escape another social gaffe. However, she emailed me Sunday afternoon since she did not get to a chance to speak with me while we were at church.

Many a time Pastor has commented that she gets the short end of the stick being his wife. He was called, not she. Her vocation is not to minister to his flock, but often pastor's wives are expected to do just that. I hesitated in asking, even though I thought her personality and experience were the perfect combination for the help I desired, because of his comments. I told myself that I would not be taking advantage of her if I asked her, if I gave her the choice. I wonder, though, if the mere act of asking was burden aplenty.

Given my struggle and wavering resolve to somehow stick to the social contract, I spent much of the day thinking that I should just cancel, that it wasn't right to ask for her help. I chickened out and went anyway.

When Pastor talks about his wife, he does so with great love, but also with frank and open admiration. While I would still say that I do not really know her, she appears to be deserving of the latter.

I had created a chart (pros, cons, fears, and options to mitigate that which I am worried about) as a discussion guide. While she kept saying she didn't have any answers (she and Pastor are certainly two peas in a pod), she had wonderful questions and pointed me in the right direction to think about the next step.

A while ago, I had called and bawled over the phone to her, another selfish move on my part, because of what I had learned about the surgery. I want the repair, but what I have to do to get there seemed (and sort of still does) truly insurmountable. She very bluntly, yet kindly, told me that I had to stop looking at the big picture or I was going to drive myself crazy (she might have murmured that I was already half way there). She said that I merely needed to focus on the next step. I have been trying very, very hard to heed that rather sage piece of advice. Tonight, as selfish as I felt in having the meeting, was a next step.

Because I thought it is truly relevant to the decision-making process, I talked with her about some uncomfortable truths about me and about my experience last week. I still question whether or not it was just another violation of the social contract, but she said it was okay and that knowing helped her better understand the information on the chart.

I will say this about JM's staff (yes, we were at the same pizza place where Pastor and I had our heated disagreement): they are very discrete. Much of the time, I am ashamed to admit, was spent with tears running down my face. I had ducked into a booth tucked away in a corner, but we were still given plenty of space and quiet. To me, that in itself was a gift. I suppose I should tell him so, but how do I without explaining the tears?

Thanks to her fine mind and extremely generous gift of time, I am in possession of a list of some very cogent questions, the answers to which will help determine the next step. My only regret, beside the horror I felt when I got into my car and saw the very late hour appearing on my dashboard clock, was that I wished that I had a chance to get to know her without being who I am now. She has this macabre sense of humor that just reeks of intelligent wit!

We prayed the blessing and thanksgiving from the Small Catechism together. I had thought I might ask her to pray a psalm or the Wednesday prayer from the Treasury of Daily Prayer (I have a copy of that and the Litany in my bible now), but felt as if I shouldn't ask. Speaking the words of the Psalter and the Lord's Prayer found in the meal liturgy with another, letting her voice carry the words that are hard for me to say right now, was a great comfort.

I wish someone would take the pieces of my turmoil and lay them out before me, pointing out what is wrong and what is right, what is Truth and what is not. It is very, very difficult not to believe that my experience, my reality, is that upon which I should hang my hat...in a temporal sense.

I think that is why I kept returning to the entry on Grace that I posted below this morning as I was waiting in the lab for the next stick.

What was the sweetest moment of the evening? A very quiet, yet joyous reminder that I am baptized. She was there!

~~~~

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away;
Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed.
And my soul is greatly dismayed;
But You, O Lord--how long?
Return, O Lord, rescue my soul.
Save me because of Your lovingkindness.
For there is no mention of You in death;
In Sheol who will give You thanks?
I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.
My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries.
Depart from me, all you who do iniquity.
For the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication,
The Lord receives my prayer.
All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed;
They shall turn back, they will suddenly be ashamed.
~Psalm 6
There is an open Internet connection here in the lab, so I have availed myself of the service.

If you look over to the left, you will see that I have added one more link to my blog, Concordia: Lutheran Confessions, which is a round-table discussion on the Book of Concord.

I had found this earlier and then, as I am sadly wont to do, forgot that I had discovered it. So, this morning, I have been happily filling my hours here reading through several of the discussions. Doing so has helped to keep my mind off how poorly I feel, more likely from the distinct lack of air-conditioning than the test. I suspect I shall have no answer from this, despite the fact that my right hand has been a pin-cushion three times thus far. Once more and I am done.

The entry that I have been drawn to repeatedly this morning is below:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roundtable 41: The Means of Grace (Smalcald Articles III.iv-viii)

Sometimes we hear people ask, “Why do we need the Sacraments if we have the Word?” It’s an understandable question. We tend to think, “If God said He forgives us, and Christ died, why do we need Sacraments?” I’ve heard the question answered this way, “How often do you need to tell your wife you love her? Once?” No, of course not. We tell those whom we love how much we love them, often. And God is the same way. He gives His grace and mercy, lavishly.

Luther has a delightful way of putting it in the Smalcald Articles, “God is superabundantly generous in His grace.” The German word here for “superabundantly” is “├╝berschwenglich” and means “effusive” and can mean “gushing.” A paraphrase might be, “God gushes grace!” The Latin translation of the Smalcald Articles says that God is “rich” (dives) and “liberal” (liberalis) in His grace and goodness” (dives et liberalis est gratia and bonitate sua.)

How so? Luther lists four ways: First, through the spoken word (Ger: m├╝ndliche Wort; Lat: verbum vocale), “through which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world.” Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Luther here presents the specific means of grace, which are often referred to as the Word and Sacraments. The “particular office” of the Gospel (Ger: eigentliche Amt des Evngelii) is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, and the Sacramental means of that proclamation are located, by Luther, in Baptism, Lord’s Supper and the Power of the Keys, which Luther explains most specifically in Article VIII: Confession.

But Luther does not end his “laundry list” of the ways in which God is so lavish and generous with His grace. He explains that there is also a communication of God’s grace through the “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren” which Luther, in his German text, here uses Latin words to explain: “per mutuum colloquium et consolationem fratrum” and then cites Matthew 18:20, “where two or three are gathered, etc.”

Luther’s point in these articles is twofold: to affirm the variety of ways our good and gracious God provides His lavish treasures of forgiveness, life and salvation to us, and to affirm what God’s Word teaches about Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Keys. The key to understanding these gifts is the recognition that it is not in the act of doing them that grace is given, but that God has given us His word of promise connected to these simple, external means of communicating His grace to use: word, water, bread and wine. Thus Luther says of Baptism, that it is “nothing other than God’s Word in the water, commanded by His institution.” (Art. V.1).

In the article on the Sacrament of the Altar we have the most strikingly realistic assertions of what the Lord’s Supper is: “the bread and wine in the Supper are Christ’s true body and blood.” (Art. VI.1). Luther, with a verbal wave of the hand, dismisses the “high reasoning” and “sophistic cunning” that had developed in the Medieval Church to try to explain how it is that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine His blood, and then a way of justifying not distributing the blood of Christ to the laity. These theories, transubstantiation and concomitance, are speculative human theories which have nothing to do with Christ’s institution.

Here we should caution that often we hear Reformed Christians (heirs of Zwingli and Calvin) claim that they do not deny the Real Presence, but they just don’t try to explain how it happens. This is not the same thing as the Roman Church adopting a philosophical explanation for how the bread is the body of Christ. Reformed Christianity rejects the assertion that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, choosing instead to affirm, in various ways, that the actual body and blood of Christ as as far away from the elements of the Supper as heaven is from earth (this is what Calvin asserts in his writing the Consensus Tigurinus).

The binding and loosing of sins in the Church is not a power and authority that is given to the Pope to distribute as he sees fit, but rather it is “given by Christ to the Church” (Art. VII.1). This article is followed immediately by Luther’s comments about Confession. “Absolution, or the Power of the Keys, is an aid against sin and consolation for a bad conscience. It is ordained by Christ in the Gospel. Therefore, Confession and Absolution should by no means be abolished in the Church.” (Art. VIII.1). This article really is more about Luther’s desire to assert the strength and power of the means of grace, which is located in the “spoken, outward Word” through which God grace His Spirit or grace “to no one except through or with the preceding outward Word.” (Art. VIII.3).

Luther is very concerned to make these points clear because there were those in his days, as in ours, who were pointing people not toward the external, objective Word and promises of God given to us in Scripture and delivered through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, but rather pointing people to their feelings, emotions and their perception of the Spirit’s promptings and stirrings. Luther rejects any such interior speculations, be they from radical reformers like Muntzer and others, or from the Papacy itself which Luther says is “sheer enthusiasm” since the Pope finally claims the right to decide and command based on the “shrine in his heart” as evidenced by the Papacy’s directing and teaching things that are “above and contrary to Scripture and the spoken Word.” (Art. VIII.4).

Monday, August 24, 2009

What are you supposed to do when you are hurt because of your own fault? Because you trusted people when you knew better not to do so? Why, why do people respond in judgment so easily? Oh, how stupid I am! I know the difference between how things should be and how they actually are. So blasted stupid! I broke the social contract. I spoke and expected it to be a good thing for me, expected compassion and a willingness, rather than a reluctance, to help carry a burden. Oh, how stupid I was...

~~~~
For the second time in just a month, when I am struggling mightily, God brings someone who is struggling as much or more than I. He brings someone in need of comfort and compassion and support. This He brings when I am crying out for the same. What am I supposed to learn from that? I would rather curl in a ball in a corner and stay there for weeks on end so great is my hurt right now, but I can do no other than to embrace that person in her brokenness, to tell her that she is not alone, to speak the words I crave precisely because I do crave them. How intimately I know the longing to be bathed in compassion so fully and so completely that you can forgive yourself, that you can shed your own failure.

~~~~
As if this day could not be harder, I found myself sitting next to a too inquisitive person while waiting for blood work. I had brought Bonhoeffer's treatise with me. Praying since Thursday night has been difficult. Praying the Psalms equally so. I figured it was time to wade through his teaching again.

Oh, this woman wanted to know just about everything I know!

ARGH! WHY DO I KEEP FINDING MYSELF SPEAKING FOR THAT WHICH I AM THE ABSOLUTE WORST REPRESENTATIVE?

I admit, I probably brought some of her questions upon myself for I was reading the Psalms and the treatise aloud.

Despite the churning within me as I explained Confessional Lutheran doctrine, walked her through the Book of Concord, talked about Luther's teaching about the commandments in the Large Catechism as an example, and told her about praying the Psalms, two bits stood out:

It is an abbreviation and an endangering of Christian prayer if it revolves exclusively around the forgiveness of sins. There is such a thing as the confident leaving behind of sin for the sake of Christ. (50)

[I wish Pastor were there explaining that one. I wish I still had the freedom to ask.] All that fills my eyes right now is my own wretchedness. I know my sin. I know the sin of another that has been thrust upon me. My thoughts have been filled with such, as would my prayers if I could find the words. And yet I think that this means not to look away from my sin to the Cross, but to look away from my sin to all the promises of God that I have because of the Cross.

Christ brought in himself the sacrifice of God for us and our Sacrifice for God. For us there remains only the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in prayers, hymns, and in a life lived according to God's commands (Psalms 15 and 50).

I am sure to be wrong, but it seems to me that what this actually says is that not only was Christ an offering to God on our behalf, but that He is, His passion and death are, our offering to God. Were this the case, what a magnificent offering I have!

But when I think upon that which I have left...that sacrifice of prayers and thanksgiving and a life lived according to His commands...oh, what a poor offering have I right now...a true paucity for the One who saved me.

~~~~
Tomorrow I have a test that could make me very ill. Of course, I will be alone, four hours of waiting and wondering. Now, if it makes me ill, then I have an answer. If it does not, then the constant nausea remains a mystery. For which should I hope? I am approaching the 50 lb mark. While I have at least another 30 to go before someone could be concerned about me drying up and blowing away, this really shouldn't be happening.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pastor D is back. His sermon is below:

Jesu Juva

“Real Washing”
Text: Mark 7:1-13; Ephesians 5:22-33; Isaiah 29:11-19

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

Jesus does not want you to wash - He wants to do the washing. And it isn’t your hands He is primarily concerned about, but your heart. For it is not those who are neat and clean and respectable on the outside that are of the kingdom of God, but those who are clean on the inside.

And so it was not the good, neat, clean, respectable rich man who died and was taken to heaven, but the poor, dirty, outcast beggar Lazarus. It is not those who act righteous who make the angels in heaven rejoice, but the dirty, rotten sinner who repents. It is not the Pharisees who do all the right things that Jesus praises, but the poor, the lame, the blind, the cripple, the prostitutes, the lepers, the unclean, and the outcasts - those who have no hope in this world; those who all they know to do is fall at Jesus’ feet and say, “Lord, have mercy.” And He does. For Jesus has not come to be served, but to serve you. (Matt 20:28) He has not come to tell you to wash and clean yourself up and make yourself respectable - He has come to wash you and create in you a clean heart. For He is the only one who can.

The Pharisees that Jesus met in the Holy Gospel today, they didn’t get that. Their focus was on what they were doing - on their own washing and work and the promises they made to God, instead of God’s washing and work and His promises to them. And to the people, they looked holy. If anyone was pleasing God, they thought, it was the Pharisees!

But what does Jesus say? “This people honors me with their lips” - with their outward words and deeds - “but their hearts are far from me.” For Jesus knew, and would later confront the Pharisees with the fact that they rejected God’s washing for them. For God sent a washer to them - John the Baptist - who preached repentance and baptized for the forgiveness of sins. And many people listened and were washed, coming to John and acknowledging their sin and receiving the washing of their hearts and the forgiveness of their sins. But not the Pharisees.

They would not join the rabble. They would not humble themselves. (Mark 11:30-31) If anyone was going to do the washing around here (they thought), it was them! But they could not. And neither can we. For the washing we need is not on the outside, but on the inside.

But how often we think like the Pharisees. It is what comes naturally to us in our fallen human nature. We focus on what we do instead of what God does for us. We think that it is my promise to God that matters, not His promises to me. We think that if I can just do the right things, then I will be better and more righteous. Thinking that if I can just pick myself up and clean myself off then I will be clean. But it doesn’t work. You may wind up looking good on the outside and may even be admired by many and may even be pleased with yourself - but God, who sees the heart, is not impressed. And later, Jesus will even call the Pharisees “whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23:27) - meaning nice and clean and white and nice-looking on the outside, but dead and rotting on the inside.

Whitewashed tombs. Yes, it is who we are, isn’t it? And no amount of outward washing, outward dressing, outward good deeds, can change that.

But that’s why Jesus has come. To do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. To enter the tombs of hearts and lives filled with sin and death and wash them on the inside. To wash them with the only thing that can wash away that sin and death, and that is His blood. That is what St. Paul told us today. Listen again to his words - slightly modified: “Christ loved [you] and gave himself up for [you], that he might sanctify [you], having cleansed [you] by the washing of water and the word, so that he might present [you] to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [you] might be holy and without blemish.”

Paul wrote those words about the Church, which means they are about you. For he wants you to know that
Jesus loves you - you who are not very lovable; you whose heart is dead and rotting and filled with the stench of sin. That
Jesus loves you - and so gave himself up to the death of the cross for your benefit; to sanctify you, to make you holy - which is an inner washing, not an outer one. That
Jesus loves you - and so shed His blood to cleanse your hearts; the cleansing we now receive through water and the word; through Holy Baptism. And that
Jesus loves you - and so died and rose from death, that you too rise from death and from the death of sin; that he might present you to himself not in shame, but in splendor. Not because you have done it, or done anything, in fact! But because He has. Because on the cross He became what you are - a dead and rotting corpse of sin under the sentence of death, that in His resurrection - His victory over our death - you may be who He is, a clean and holy child of God.

And you are! You are so raised! For you are baptized. Washed with His blood. A dead sinner given a new life.

And you are so raised! For you are absolved - for this morning you did not stand afar off like a Pharisee, but fell at the feet of your Saviour as one who has not lived the new life you have been given, and as a hopeless, helpless sinner said: “Almighty God, have mercy upon [me], forgive [me my] sin, and lead [me] to everlasting life.” And He did. His forgiveness was given to you. A gift that has no end. The tomb of your heart was washed in His blood. You were cleansed and raised again to new life.

And you are so raised! For you are the disciples who eat a meal which is for cleansing, and which gives not just life, but eternal life. For this meal is the body and blood of the clean one, given and poured into you to cleanse you and feed you and strengthen the new man and the new life given to you.

And so you are clean, not defiled. You are forgiven, not sinful. You are a child of God, not a slave to sin. And you are, for He who is faithful has done it. He whose Word and promise cannot fail has done it. He who has conquered sin and death, has done it. He has done it for you. That you may live. That you may live, even now. For God isn’t just washing you for heaven, but that the eternal life He gives you begin now. That the life you live now not just be like waiting in an elevator until the door opens at the top floor that had the big “H” next to the button, but that you begin to live your new life even now. For His gift of eternal life does not have a “wait until death to open” label on it, but is yours to live now. That in all your callings in life - as a husband or wife, as a boss or worker, as a parent or child, as a student or teacher, as a friend or neighbor - you now live as a new person. A new and cleansed life from new and cleansed hearts. A life of love and faith and forgiveness. The life that Christ lived for you. And this not simply because you are following His example, but because Christ is now living in you. Compelling you, washing you, raising you, and giving you His love and forgiveness, that you may give the same to others.

And in the end, as Isaiah said, we will see the wonderful work God has done. For us, in us, and through us. The work of the cross. The work of the cross which though it look bloody and gory and anything but wonderful on the outside, is the wonderful cleansing work of God our Saviour. The cross, which though agonizing is the wonder of wonders that shows the love of God for you. The cross, from which the wonder of His forgiveness continues to flow. The forgiveness of red blood that washes black hearts as white and clean as snow.

So come, you who are defiled by sin. Come, and be washed. Come and be clean.

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.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Last night, I experienced a devastatingly brutal reminder that I cannot escape my past. Oh, how I am weary of the evil of this world, of men who live and act if only their desires matter and it is their given right to make themselves known to women. Since finally making my way home, I have been struggling to reconcile this with my faith. I wonder if that is even needful. I am trying to read, but it is as if the words are hiding from me. I try to speak them and find my tongue silent. Or is it my heart?

The prayer for the day is...well...it...

Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, we thank You...that You have redeemed us poor and condemned creatures not by any of our words, merit, or unworthiness, but by Your holy suffering, death, and shedding of blood. O Lord, Your suffering was great, Your torment was heavy; we cannot comprehend how many Your stripes, how deep Your wounds, or the bitterness and painfulness of Your death! How inexpressible is Your love that reconciled us to Your heavenly Father. In great fear of death, You sweat blood on the Mount of Olives, drops of blood that fell upon the earth, and there, abandoned by all Your disciples, You willingly gave Yourself into the hands of those who led You mercilessly, bound hard and cruel, from one unjust judge to another. You were falsely accused and condemned, spit upon, scoffed at, and struck in the face with fists. For the sake of our misdeeds, You were hit, whipped, crowned with thorns, and treated wretchedly--like a worm and not a man. You were despised and rejected by men, a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief, so that even a heathen heart took pity and said, "Behold the man!" For the sake of our sin You were counted a sinner and hung up between two evildoers as a curse. You were pierced in hands and feet with nails, and in Your highest thirst You were given vinegar and gall to drink. Finally, in great pain, You gave up Your spirit so that You could pay our debt and we could be healed by Your wounds.

O Lord Jesus Christ, for this and all Your other suffering and pain, we give You thanks and praise. We pray You, let Your holy, bitter suffering and death not be lost on us, but grant that at all times this may be our comfort, and that we may boast in it; and that as we ponder it, all evil desire in us may be snuffed out and subdued, and all virtue may be implanted and increased, so that we, having died to sin, may live in righteousness, following the example You have left us, walking in Your footsteps, enduring evil with patience, and suffering injustice with good conscience. Amen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I was talking with this woman late this afternoon when she suddenly grabbed my arm and flipped my wrist over. After crying out in dismay, she started berating me for allowing myself to be assaulted again. The bruise from the second abortive IV try has now spread from the top of my wrist to the underside and moved about three inches up my arm. Even I am surprised, despite the amount of pain I felt at the time, at how bruised I am...especially since the bruise on the underside of my wrist is not near where the needle was inserted and has been slow in appearing.

I must admit that her words hurt because I have felt accused since I was hit and wish greatly that I had found comfort rather than condemnation and judgment and chastisement. That is part of why I still feel ashamed and have a hard time looking in the mirror, part of the turmoil I battle. When I managed to get a word in edgewise to tell her why my right hand and wrist are bruised, she abruptly changed topics and asked how I was doing.

I broke the social contract and answered her.

The funny thing was is that I learned something while talking. I learned how much I have gained by having Pastor D listen to me. There I was, explaining about the conversation sermon and Monday and having JM be my "responsible party" instead of his wife and how all that I had talked about with him, all that I had not kept hidden, was really just sinking in and about being chastised about vocation and about what vocation was and about the doctrine I have been studying and about this blog I just read about the Liturgy and even how having my godparents giving me the Treasury of Daily Prayer has changed how I start my days...that I still start them in pain, but I start them also in the Word.

In the back of my mind, I kept thinking that it really is remarkable that I had a man from church there with me while going through something that is so difficult because of my past. More so, it is near miraculous that we talked.

Of course, another part of my mind was wishing she were Lutheran so I could ask her the list of questions that have been piling up over the past two weeks.

She was curious about the Liturgy, why someone such as I could speak so excitedly about staid structure. I do not believe she understood my answer about it being bathed in Gospel and actually being another example of God's mercy and grace to us in that He desires us to be fed on Sundays, not have us fawn over Him. She did listen to the whole explanation, even when I stumbled over the parts of the Liturgy.

In any case, on the way home, I tried to call my godmother to see if she had successfully dodged the social worker today. You see, a short while ago, she couldn't find her two-year-old and out of fear for him called the police. He ended up safely sound asleep beneath a futon, but the police report triggered a social worker who has taken a distinct dislike to her family. Oh, my, her boys were actually running around outside without shoes! [They live on a small farm.] Perish the thought! My godmother's desire for her children to have a Huck Finn life has caused her great problems with this woman. The social worker even managed to rile up my very sanguine, quite affable godfather with her aggression towards his wife and their care of the children.

JW was not home, but I took the opportunity to talk a while with my godfather. We have only really spoken once, the evening I was at their house and I mentioned that I wanted to try and become more comfortable around him because he said yes to being my godfather.

Since my godmother is fond of reminding me of her godmother duties, I asked what were those of a godfather. When he finished listing them, I dared ask if they might also include reading scripture. I think he was surprised, so to fill in the awkward moment, I quickly told him how Pastor had read to me in the past (even sung hymns) and how I actually was put to sleep on Monday listening to JM reading the Psalms. Then, because that would raise topics I cared not to discuss, reeling at this point by realizing earlier just how much I had revealed to my "responsible party," I told my godfather about how I told JM about Pastor's mini-lesson on how God creates things. Of course, that mini-lesson was followed by the one on why East-West is better than North-South when describing how far away from us God removes our sins in our forgiveness. My godfather really liked that lesson, but it made me think again about confession/absolution, so I changed the topic again by telling him that should he wish to add scripture reading to his list of duties, I would have no objections.

After pausing a bit, he said he could do something like that for me. While we were talking, he had prepared dinner and had paused our conversation so that I could say the blessing with them. Hearing his small sons reciting words I have yet to learn thrilled me. They had inhaled their ramen noodles so quickly that my godfather, after hearing my rather wistful tone, decided I could do the Close of the Day liturgy with them! Listening to him read the scripture part made me chuckle because he was "translating" the story of David and Bathsheba for his little boys. Oh how I enjoyed saying the Lord's Prayer and bits of the evening prayer with my godfamily! Cell phones are a beautiful invention.

You know, I have been reading aloud all my studies...the bible, the Treasury of Daily Prayer, the Psalms, the Book of Concord, Bonhoeffer's treatise, prayers, sermons, etc. I read aloud because I do believe there is power in reading God's Word aloud. The rest I read aloud so that I might hear the words, as well as see them. While I find value in the act and believe it is good for me to do so, I stumble over simple words, something that worsens the longer I read. Hearing myself falter saddens me greatly. In my old life, I used to read aloud at schools and libraries and such. I rather enjoyed vocally animating stories in my quest to share the marvel of books with children. I would be hard pressed to do so these days. Even when I was assessing my godparent's child for his home school letter, I stumbled over reading aloud Frannie and Pickles. I covered my fumbled words by asking silly questions about the silly illustrations, all the while working to hide my failing even as I was gathering the information I needed for the assessment.

So, when I read the bible aloud, a part of me can become distracted by the struggles I have, at times, decoding the words or forming the sounds. I enjoy hearing the words and being bathed in the power of the Living Word. I just prefer someone else do the reading so that I am not reminded of what I am losing. Would that there were a 1-800 Read-Scripture-Aloud service!

SIGH.

Writing of speaking aloud the Word of God, I am reminded of that very topic in the Book of Concord, Smalcald Articles, Confession:

Therefore, we must constantly maintain this point: God does not want to deal with us in any other way than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. Whatever is praised as from the Spirit--without the Word and Sacraments--is the devil himself. God wanted to appear even to Moses through the burning bush and spoken Word (Exodus 3:2-15). No prophet, neither Elijah or Elisha, received the Spirit without the Ten Commandments or the spoken Word. John the Baptist was not conceived without the word of Gabriel coming first, nor did he leap in his mother's womb without Mary's voice (Luke 1:11-20, 41). Peter says, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:21). Without the outward Word, however, they were not holy. Much less would the Holy Spirit have moved them to speak when they were still unholy. They were holy, says he, since the Holy Spirit spoke through them. (SA, Article VII, 10-13)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I have found a new place to delve into confessional Lutheranism from a bird eye view (pun intended)!

I've mentioned Pastor D's blog (The Sober Peasant) many a time and have recently mentioned the two other pastor blogs I have added to my list (Thinking Out Loud and Lutheran Logomanic). The latest one I have added is this completely amazing, intimate collaborative blog by a cadre of brother pastors: Four and Twenty+ Blackbirds

Now, you do have to approach this blog a bit differently, knowing that some of the content will be very deep in scholarship and understanding that the bulk of the blog is actually not in the entries (more on that later). At first glance, especially with the current entry on Lohen, Numbers, Majority, and Mission Clarity, this appears to be a one-hit-and-leave stop. But, oh dear reader, I would encourage you to ignore the impulse and dive right into the riches of Gospel, Grace, and Fellowship in which this blog is steeped.

A perfect example is Pastor W's entry on his Struggle of Vocations. He was invited to post by Pastor S, the one who wrote the sermon I posted on Sunday and yesterday's essay I used (rightly or wrongly) to further my own point. Pastor W's post is below:

At the encouragement of brother Stuckwisch, I would like to ask a question to the esteemed brothers of this blog. But first, I would like to say it is an honor to be asked and included in/on this blog. I have very much enjoyed reading the past and current posts. I also have to confess after reading some of them I am a little intimidated at the caliber of Pastors, thinkers, and debaters.

With that out of the way here is my question. My wife, Keri, and I have been blessed with triplet girls. Keri has been relocated to
Fort Wayne out of concern for her health and the triplet’s health. She is doing well thus far and so are the triplets. The congregation I serve is about an hour and half away from Fort Wayne. I am struggling with my God given vocations as Husband, Father, and Pastor.

The members of St. Matthew have been more than supportive and understanding though all of this so far. The issue(s) I am having is simply that I am struggling to feel I am living up to my vocation as Husband, Father, and Pastor. When I am home I am watching my almost two year old daughter, and living like a single parent. Again St. Matthew has been nothing but wonderful. When I am
Fort Wayne I feel guilty for not being in Hamlet fulfilling the duties of the office, when I am in Hamlet, I feel guilty for not being with my wife who is on bed rest and can do little to nothing for herself.

I know there is God’s holy absolution for my consciences, and I am free in Christ to serve my wife, my daughter, and congregation. I also know that I am only human and fall short of all that is given to me to do in any and all vocations.


How do we as Pastors sort out our vocations in service to God and neighbor through all of life’s situations?


[emphasis mine]

Now, personally, I thought it was brave of him to post so openly about his struggles, especially since so many of the pastors of my past seemed keen on maintaining the mystique of the office. Peace and Joy at all times. Unshakable Faith. Unending Patience. Freedom from Struggles.

Instead, here, Pastor W's plea to his fellow brothers illustrates just why those who serve as our undershepherds need to be encouraged and uplifted. We need to see them as men even as we look to them as pastors. My goodness, how hard it must have been to choose between a pregnant wife and an entire flock! How incredible is God's mercy that He has provided a venue in which Pastor W could receive such love and grace and support.

What? Where is that, Myrtle? Why, it is in the real meat of this blog: the comments!

Now I am not much of a comment reader, although I have added two or perhaps three, I believe, more so for encouragement than anything else. I would say that I am more interested in the author than the readers. However, in this blog, the authors are the readers!

Now there are some lay people who post comments as well, but much of the comments are conversations, gentle arguments, exhortations, and questions flung out among those blackbirds.

What I found interesting in this particular entry was the range of comments that arose around the topic of vocation and the depth of teaching and breadth of blessings that were bestowed upon Pastor W in the process. Dare I add...upon me in reading this exchange.

You could say that I was drawn to this particular topic because of the chastisement I received from my "responsible party" yesterday. This afternoon, I called his wife to a) thank her because I wanted her to know that I fully and completely understood it was both of them helping me on the two days he carted me to Surgeon No. 5's clinic--she being both his business partner and the mother of his children, she being the one who afforded him the hours and hours first the appointment and then the procedure took and b) to ask if she or he would be willing to help one more time--to perhaps be on the list of those who would be willing to visit me while in the hospital so that I will not be alone there come major-reconstructive-surgery time.

She was, I believe, touched at how thankful I was that she, too, helped me. Her husband had apparently regaled her with nearly every bit of the two trips, because when I mentioned that while I had not thought he was the best choice for my "responsible party," he was certainly God's choice because I obviously was in need of his chastisement on vocation at least.

She chuckled heartily at my comment, knowing just what I meant. I told her that this entire day at work I could not escape his words, God's Word to me, and was humbled that He would drive the conversation of my life so, even in such a time as that.

At the risk of digressing, she also let me know that his wearing of pants was on purpose, that he was very thankful I had (rather bravely I would proffer) mentioned to him when he showed up the first time that it would be easier for me if he were not in shorts. At the time, I was horrified to hear the words pop out of my mouth, even as I wished I were sitting in the back seat instead of so close to him. Instead of insulting him, he was honored to know of a way he could help me, to learn of a way to avoid harming me no matter what the reason. I could barely speak at that moment.

But the best part of the conversation was that she told me, after a fashion, that the two half-days of seeing to my needs was actually good for him, a way to give to another, a lesson of his own. I wanted to laugh in disbelief when she first spoke such a thing, but her comment was followed by a fuller explanation that gave me pause. I actually helped him? How in the world could that be?

If you asked me before I talked with his wife, I would have stated rather adamantly that I would prefer for that which he and I talked about, when I was crying and otherwise, to have remained left behind. Keeping the bulk of my past a secret helps maintain that social contract. Instead, he took our conversations home and shared what he learned, what he observed, with his wife. Such is a normal and natural thing. But he did so in a way that was not passing on the news, but rather reflecting upon what God was doing in his life, in their lives, in mine... Her response to knowing some of that which is supposed to remain hidden was not normal to my experience. She was not revolted. She was not critical to have to bear that burden of knowledge. She was, instead, grateful that her husband had the opportunity to help me and to learn something himself. She was glad that she now knew me better. And she asked me to promise to keep asking them for help.

Yes...you guessed it. I did not make that promise. I did, however, manage to not start bawling on the spot, to thank her for their many kindnesses, and promised to both think upon her words and to let her know the next steps in the whole medical hoops process.

So back to vocations. His chastisement primarily took one of two message threads that followed every "but" he offered back to my own comments: 1) I have a salary and health insurance and ought to be darned thankful for them and 2) I have work that was given to me to do, even if it is not the work I would choose; it was given to me.

SIGH. I have been so very ungrateful for the vocation God has given me, for the means through which He is seeing to my bodily needs at present. I probably need JM to chastise me regularly so good is he at it!

[I would be remiss if I did not add that he also encouraged me greatly by declaring quite fervently that while I might bewail what I have lost cognitively, he believes my mind to be still far, far greater than "average," much, much more than anyone's "regular brain." I know...you are floored by such magnificent compliments. Trust me, the awe on his face was far more eloquent than that the words that popped out of his mouth when trying to explain to me that he admires how much and how deeply I have grasped this Lutheran stuff and how he rather enjoys when I participate in bible study. Since I more often than not feel the interloper, not only was his compliment on my brain a balm to the sorrow of that which I know I have already lost to this blasted disease, but it was also a warm embrace of welcome to one who feels the stranger.]

[On a separate note, I would also like to add that he taught me something of forgiveness that he learned from Pastor D. But, before I do, I should add that the...uhm..."heated disagreement" that I had with Pastor before he left on vacation actually took place in JM's restaurant. That...uhm..."heated disagreement"...was NOT missed by JM and his wife and has provided many a moment of awkwardness in conversation while my "responsible party" was helping me. He distinctly remembers much raised voices and my tears. He remembers hearing Pastor yell at me, "You are wrong!" and thinking that Pastor D doesn't yell like that. What have I done? SIGH. But back to forgiveness: In the context of confession/absolution, he had asked Pastor what about someone who died without confessing his sin recently, without asking for forgiveness. Was that person still forgiven? Pastor shared a simple analogy that had something to do with a child spilling something on his mother's dress and not asking her to forgive him for ruining it. The confessing of the child and the absolving of the mother would be good for the child, but should he not do so she was not going to withhold forgiveness. She loved him. He was her child. He already had her forgiveness. Simple, I know. Probably a bit theologically problematic with the retelling of the retelling, but I am sure that, however Pastor D explained it, all parts would have fit beautifully. My first thought was that I wonder, in all the times I have asked him about forgiveness, why in the world he did not he did not give me the simple analogy. My second thought was a fleeting glimpse of the magnitude of Objective Grace.]

That's great and all, Myrtle, but what about Pastor W? Well, to be honest, I would much, much rather you read through all the comments, that you take this one dive into this wonderful fellowship of pastors, from blog entry to the very last comment (appropriately enough from Pastor W himself) to see the richness of such exchanges--from convivial chiding, to teaching bathed in the Gospel of Christ, to honest and deep questioning. So, to wet your whistle, so to speak, I am putting two of the comments that taught me most of what I needed to hear about a struggle in vocation: comments of Gospel and Grace. Perhaps you can glean for yourself what I learned after considering what I have written here about my work. But, more importantly, may you be encouraged in your own struggle with vocation.

Pastor B wrote:

Dear Brother Wright,

My first contribution to the blog since its inception is a response to your struggle on vocation. You can judge whether or not it is a curse or a blessing. You have touched on an area that concerns me greatly.

Let me say this, first, to you: You are a free man in Christ! There is no condemnation for you, for you are in Christ Jesus and His righteousness covers all your sin and inadequacies. Furthermore, you were called to be a husband and a father by the grace of God and not because of any merit or worthiness on your part. Therefore, it is going to be God's free grace in Christ alone that sustains you.

You have also been called and ordained to the Office of the Holy Ministry by grace alone and not because of your talents, abilities, or merits and it is the grace of God in Christ that shall sustain you in that calling or you won't be sustained at all. When we speak of our vocation as Christians we almost always look at our calling in terms of the Law--What I am supposed to do, my responsibilities and obligations. This is NOT the foundation of our vocation.

Vocation is first and foremost a reference to the call of the Gospel and how each of us is called to live by faith in the grace of God in Christ wherever He has placed us in this world. This means that the strength of our vocation is in the call to live by faith in the Gospel, rather than a call to live by faith in the Law or in how well I am living up to the "obligations and responsibilities" of my office.

The truth is, we all fall short daily. Our joy, comfort, strength to persevere, and freedom come from the Gospel alone and never from the Law or our own accomplishments. What this means, practically, for you is that if your congregation supports you in love during this difficult time (because of their faith in the Gospel I might add), God be praised! Serve, therefore, as you are able with no pangs of conscience. And, if your wife, also, supports how you are able to tend the flock, watch over the children, and see to her needs while she lays pregnant in Fort Wayne (something that she, too, is able to do because she believes the Gospel), then God be praised! Serve your wife and family as you are able.

The bottom line is this: the Gospel sets us free to do what we can within our vocation and to commend the rest to God. Indeed, we commend it all to God in Christ since He is the one who has placed us into our respective offices in the first place. Vocation is chiefly about where God has called us to live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave Himself to us. For your comfort and encouragement I urge you to reread Luther's, "The Freedom of a Christian." I don't think we can reread that little tract enough.

Finally, give thanks to God that He gives you the opportunity to live by faith in His grace in the midst of seemingly unbearable circumstances. When you get home at the end of a day, or return in the evening after visiting your wife who is pregnant with three little babies that you don't deserve, drink a beer and give thanks to God for His mercy and grace by which you stand righteous and by which you lack nothing.


Pastor C added:

I would like to add my hearty "Amen" to what Peter has written. Vocation is a gift of grace, not some onerous burden. Peter has rightly and eloquently reminded us that we are free men in Christ.

I would add the following thought. Vocation is the offering of our bodies in the form of our work, worship, and play as a spiritual sacrifice to God, holy and acceptable through His mercies which are in Christ Jesus (Rom 12:1-2). We are called to serve our neighbor in a variety of capacities, whether husband, father, pastor, son, citizen, etc. What we are given to do at any particular moment, and whom we are given to serve at that moment, is our calling. And it will be most fulfilled as we give that task, that person, our undivided attention and energy. Everything else can wait, trusting that the Lord will provide.

So when you are with your family, at that moment, forget about your congregation. They are in the Lord's hands, and you are not their Savior. When you are working to provide for your family, you are doing your vocation as husband and father; put everything else out of your mind. The Lord will take care of the rest. When you are visiting a shut-in or preparing a sermon, put everything else out of your mind and enjoy the moment for the blessing that it is.

One of the tricks the devil plays with us is guilting us into thinking we should be doing something else. I should be doing this, I should be reading that, I should be visiting so and so. Fie on that! Don't let the devil rob you of the joy of the task at hand.