Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There is no good reason to declare that I count this day as a blessing.  None.  At least not by our world's standards.

The headache I have had for the past three weeks has flared into something unrecognizable.  Nine times I vomited from the pain.  I think I would still save for the fact that there is nothing to heave, nor has there been this whole day.

I have spent more time clutching my head and the back of my neck than anything else.

Kashi is, well, having an aging problem that frightens me.  I am planning for him to be around at least until his 15th birthday.  Yes, I am greedy.  Yet, in just five days, his sudden onset of symptoms have given even his vet pause.  Sometimes he is ever the puppy.  Sometimes he cannot walk or control his bodily functions.  It is all about quality of life.  Funny how I feel the same with me!

Such pain I have...

My plans...they are but good and salutary it is that I am not the potter, nor I the vine dresser.

Tonight I had confession/absolution again.  Too late for Pastor.  Too long as well.  Somehow that needs to get better.  However, even having barely managed to get through my work while trying to ignore my headache, I would have driven anywhere at anytime for teaching and, more importantly, forgiveness.  In some ways, even though it was hard to concentrate because of the pain, I believe I heard more this evening than I have in all the past four months.  Yes, the better word might be "understand," but perhaps not.

I confess I have not moved past Kleinig's preface of Grace Upon Grace.  This time, this new bit, I have embraced for I feel not the crazy one.  Not only am I not alone, but I am doing something right, not wrong!  All this reading aloud to myself is actually what I should be doing, is actually benefitial.

SIGH. I're probably laughing.

I am, even though my head aches so much that I am not sure I shall sleep a wink tonight.  I am because God is laughing with me.  I am because Pastor would be hard pressed to keep his gleeful grin from his face.  But before I share just why God is laughing, I would like to share this wonderful bit on the "external" Word.

When Luther speaks about "the external Word," he implicitly criticizes two other kinds of meditation that bypass the incarnation of our Lord and His physical interaction with us through the Word.  On the one hand, Luther is critical of the method of meditation that he learned as a monk.  This method used the Scriptures as a kind of spiritual springboard for the prayer of the heart and mental reflection on heavenly realities.  On the other hand, Luther is equally critical of the practice of meditation on the inner word of the Holy Spirit, spoke as a prophecy in the hearts of Spirit-filled people.  Luther instead advocates medication on "the external Word," which is the embodied Word of Christ, spoke from human lips, written with human hands, and heard with human ears.  Like the light of the sun, the Word is present, addressed to us by a pastor, written in a book, enacted in the Divine Service.  [Another joyous reason to embrace Liturgy!]  Because the focus of meditation is on the external Word, it basically involves spiritual extroversion rather than spiritual introversion. [Another blow toward works theology!]  Meditation is indeed a matter of the heart, but not only of the heart.  The way to the heart is from the outside to the inside, from the mouth through the ears into the heart.  In mediation we inwardly hear what is spoken to us outwardly.

This understanding of God's Word as the physical means by which He gives the Holy Spirit led to two profound changes in the practice of meditation for Luther.  First, whereas as a monk he was taught to regard mediation as a mental act, a state of being marked by inward, silent reflection, he realized that Christian meditation was primarily an oral, verbal activity.  [Are you praying the Psalms aloud yet?]  When we meditate, we speak God's words to ourselves, and we listen attentively to them with our whole heart, "so that  [we] may see what the Holy Spirit means by them."  In this Luther was influenced by his study of the Psalms in Hebrew.  He discovered that all the Hebrew words for the practice of meditation referred to various forms of vocalization and sub-vocalization, ranging from speaking to murmuring, chattering to musing, singing to humming, muttering to groaning.  So when we meditate, we hear God's Word as it is spoken personally to us.  We concentrate on the Word and attend to it; we speak it to ourselves again and again; we read and reread it; we compare it what it says in one place with what is said about it elsewhere in the Bible; we chew at it in order to digest it; we rub at it, like a herb that releases its fragrance and healing powers by being crushed; we take it in physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that it reaches our hearts, our core, the very center of our being.  We receive what God says and gives to us in His Word.

Second in his teaching on meditation, Luther connects our personal devotions with our involvement in public worship.  He says, "Thus you see in this same Psalm [119] how David constantly boasts that he will talk, meditate, speak, sing, hear, and read, by day and night and always, about nothing except God's Word and commandments.  For God will not give you his Spirit without the external Word; so take your cue from that.  His command to write, preach, read, hear, sing, speak, etc., outwardly was not given in vain." (19-20)   [Even Luther would want you to sing to me, Pastor.  And to Pizza Man!]

I would hope that you  might consider reading the bible aloud, if not embark on the journey of praying the Psalter.

So, Myrtle, why the laughter?

Well, the joy of hearing God's Word of forgiveness is enough, but our Lord fills our cups to overflowing...  The reason for my joy:  I was blessed with another Pizza Man lecture tonight!

He called me when I was in the ER struggling to breathe, so I could not really answer him.  Having been hiding of late, I did immediately try to call him back, not until last night.  No answer and no voice mail on my part. How could I chat with him feeling so bad?  This I thought before my head decided to explode!  Not wanting to be rude since he made the effort, I had tried again today.  He and his wife have been most kind.  Ignoring a call from anyone is rude, a poor exchange for such benignity.  Yet still I was most reluctant to hear just why it was that I should have been there at bible study on Monday instead of hiding once again.

When we were leaving the church, Pastor stopped me to ask if he could say one more thing, something I would not like to hear.  [Do you have a pastor who will always speak the truth to you even if it might hurt?  If not, find one!]  Fire away, I told him.  While I am not sure that I agree with his words, believing he missed the object of my expectations, it still gave me pause.  I am a wretched, wretched person.  Not for what he said, not for how I felt.  I just am.  I am and I am forgiven.

Still clutching my head, I climbed into my car for the drive home.  Yet before I traveled very far, I was blessed by the persistence of Pizza Man. Before I knew it, I found myself in a conversation that I still reflect upon in a bit of disbelief, but that I savor nonetheless.

This time, the pearl of our conversation was a two-fold lecture:  a) perhaps I have been so weak these past few months because I otherwise could not have see the great work Christ is doing nor deepened my understanding of my own sin and my need for forgiveness and b) perhaps the reason God gave me a better-than-average, "sponge brain" [I LOVE the new adjective!] is because I needed it so that I might more fully understand God's Word and the Book of Concord and Walther and Kleinig so that I might better endure the challenges of my life.

He didn't know how much I sorrow over losing my brain cells to MS when I have never really lived up to the potential of the intelligence God gave me, when I never really garnered true professional success, nor used His gift in such a way to further His kingdom.  He didn't know, but God did!  My did this fit beautifully with Pastor's iceberg teaching this evening.  He didn't know, but God did!

Not that I am saying that Pizza Man is exactly right or even in the ballpark [That metaphor is for you Bettina.  Gulp...ahem...Go Phillies!], for only God really knows the whys and wherefores of this life.  Nor am I claiming the right to even know.  What I marvel at, what I cherish, is the loving chastisement, the gentle chiding to consider the good of even clutching my head all day.  Our Lord and Saviour is greater than all, is in control of all, and is at work in all.

Much, much of what Pastor spoke to me tonight is precious to me, but perhaps what I hold dear the most this evening is his lesson on praise.  [Get ready for me to bungle this.]  Praising God is not just telling Him how great He is in prayer (beware of flattery).  Praising God is also telling others of  His nature, work, plan, mercy, grace, love, etc.  (see Luther's teaching on the Second Commandment)...or even blogging about His Truth.  Praying the Psalms, the 10th round through that feels more as if I have only just begun, I find the psalmists' words of praise at once consoling and convicting.

I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most...Let us begin in the name of God, to whom all all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid...receive the forgiveness Christ won for you...for I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me...By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you...

The greatest mercy God showed to me today aside from blessed, sweet forgiveness?  Pizza Man's solid declaration:  I am as filthy as you

The icing on the cake?  Pastor W answered a question about Cyprian and penance (Treasure of Daily Prayer reading for September 17th) for me that will probably keep me scratching my head for at least a week (something with which I can distract myself from my headache). Do you think it would be cheating if I asked Pastor to translate it for me?

[We will NOT discuss the fact that while talking to Pizza Man I left my keys in the car and ended up draining the battery.]

Monday, September 28, 2009

I spent the entire night in the ER. 

This time, I did not try to call anyone.  I think it made the loneliness easier to bear, not hoping and then being disappointed.

The hardest part was seeing the look on the nurses faces when they were pushing my hair back out of my face and it came away tangled in their fingers. 

Even though I would rather crawl into bed, I have changed out of my clothes soaked by my struggle to breath and have readied myself for work.

My clothing that is.  Right now, I am trying to ready my write here, to admit that this is my life, to accept it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pastor's sermon...

Jesu Juva

“How Large is Your Millstone?”
Text: Mark 9:38-50

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

Our Lord would have us be salt in this world. A preservative against the corruption of sin that is decaying and rotting the world all around us. To be truth in a world of lies. To be life in a world of death. To be light in a world of darkness. To be kindness in a world of cruelty. To be merciful in a world of selfishness. To be love in a world of indifference and hate. And so as Christians, we are not to be the same as the world, but different.

But are we? In how we think, in how we act, in how we speak, in what we desire? In all these things and in all these ways, are we preserving the world, or is the world corrupting us? Perhaps, like the people of Israel, our grumbling and complaining are signs that all is not right with us. Perhaps we are jealous for the wrong things and do not see the seriousness of our lack of contentment and the sins that brings with it. And so we look back to Egypt with longing eyes, thinking that God’s ways are not so good, are too hard, and that the world is offering something better.

But our Creator knows the devastation of sin. All sin. The sin we so often don’t think twice about, or consider not so bad, or even think harmless. We are wrong. It is
better, Jesus says, to remove the parts of our bodies that cause us to sin than to let those sins remain and continue. It would be better to have a great millstone hung around your neck and you be cast into the sea. We shudder at such thoughts, but Jesus says these things are better than the alternative. Better than being condemned for your sin and spending eternity apart from God, where those body parts you saved here only serve as food for the worm that does not die and the fire that is not quenched there.

And so these words of Jesus should open our eyes today - not to despair, but to our need, and to the One who came to meet our needs. For the One who speaks these words came not to condemn us
with them, but to save us from them. That what we deserve, we may not receive, but instead live in that life that is better. A life that is whole and complete and unburdened by sin. The life from above which Jesus has come down to give to you.

It is the life that you need, for you are greatly burdened by sin. For how great is your millstone? I know that it is very great indeed. For I know that mine is very great indeed. But the depths of the sea into which you were cast is not a sea of condemnation and death, but instead a sea of mercy; a sea of forgiveness; the sea of Holy Baptism. For there is the water that Jesus has come to provide to deal with your sin. There is the water in which Jesus Himself was baptized, that your millstone might be hung around His neck instead of yours. And with your millstone hung around His neck, that He be cast into the depths of sin, death, and grave on the cross, that what you deserve you may not receive, but instead live a new life.

And so like Jonah, who was cast overboard for the peace of others and then swallowed by the great fish, Jesus was cast into the depths for your peace and swallowed up by death. But then also like Jonah, Jesus came forth three days later - a resurrection to a new life. And in Holy Baptism, that is the resurrection and life that you too receive. That in those waters your death become His death, and His life become your life. That set free from the burden of your sin, you can live again. Not in despair, but in freedom and peace and joy.

And with that new life, to be salt in this world. Salt, for in your baptism, not only did you receive the life of Jesus, you were also given His Spirit. Just as in the reading from Numbers that we heard, when the Spirit was taken from Moses and placed upon the others - and yet was not diminished! - so now has the Spirit of Christ been given to you.
To be the salt of life in a dying world. For the life and Spirit of Christ now live in you.

What does such a life look like? There is no one answer, but it can look as simple - as Jesus said - as giving a cup of cold water to another. As simple as praying, speaking the truth, forgiving. But though these may look simple, they are not easy. For though our millstones have been removed in baptism, and though we were there given a new life, our old hands and feet and eyes and tongues and hearts remain, remnants of our old sinful flesh still clinging to us, and leading us into sin. Leading us where we do not want to go.

Better to cut them off, Jesus says, then to let them take you there. But better yet is to repent, and receiving the cleansing forgiveness of Jesus, now offer your body and its parts no longer to sin, but in service. That as we prayed in the collect,
our Father would mercifully direct and govern us by [His] Holy Spirit that we may complete the works [He has] prepared for us to do. To use our hands to help instead of to hurt. To use our feet to walk with those in need. To use our eyes to look upon others in mercy. To use our tongues not to gossip, but to forgive. And so be the salt of love in a world where love is often in short supply.

And these things you are now able to do for one very important reason: because your life
now and your life forever have already been taken care of. You have the promises of God in Christ that there is nothing more precious to Him than you; that He will provide for you now and in the hour of your death. And so in Jesus, you are now free - from your millstone of sin, and from death and hell, so that what remains for you now is life. To live as a child of God.

And so our prayer is fulfilled. Just as Moses’ prayer for the Spirit to be poured out was fulfilled, so too our prayer for the Spirit is fulfilled. For, as James told us today:
“the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” And you are righteous - not because of what you have done! - but because you have been joined to Christ, the righteous one. He takes your prayers into His, even as we make His prayer our own, and so we know our prayers are both heard and answered. For Christ’s sake. So be bold in your prayers! Even, even when you find yourself under the weight of the cross.

For as Jesus showed us, the cross is not for evil but for good. It is to give us life. And so from the cross flowed not only life-giving prayers from Jesus’ lips, but life-giving blood from His veins, that the cup He now gives to us is not a cup of cold water, but the cup of His blood,
shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That we feast no longer on the things of sin and death, but eating His body and drinking His blood, we feast on life, and so have life. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation. For you. That you may live. And living, be the salt of light in a very dark and evil world.

And that is who you are. Truly. For though you fail, your Saviour never fails. Though you fall, He is here is raise you. And though you may not think you are much of a Christian, and deserve to have that millstone back and all your body parts cut off, Jesus says no. You are mine. And He is using you as His salt in this world, in ways that you know, and in ways that you know not. And He is preserving you with His forgiveness and life, until forgiveness is needed no more - on that day when He takes you to Himself and to the life that never ends.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that day is coming. That great and awesome day. But until it does, do not fear, do not lose hope, do not give up. Your Saviour is faithful. And He will do it, for He has done it. Go in peace, you are free.

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, September 26, 2009

It has been a long few days for me. 

Thursday was our anniversary and grand opening celebration, which went well save for the sweltering heat that brought me dangerously weak until I hid out in an apartment where I set the air-conditioning to 65 degrees for a while.  I pulled the miracle from my back pocket and finished the program handed off to me the morning of the event.  Finished, printed, and delivered.  To my knowledge, we've gotten four press hits from my PR about our celebration and we've received many compliments on the coordinating designs for the collateral for the event, so I feel as if my work was a job well done.

The day after events are always difficult for me.  The strain of working a long day makes the day after arduous.  The fact that I have to spend time unpacking event boxes, putting everything back in its place, updating the website and press archive, and catching up on all the things that were set aside in favor of the event makes the day tedious.  Arduous and tedious are poor companions.

Then, today, I committed to helping out at the church site at a community tag sale.  There is so little that I have done for the church and the folks there that I wanted to do this.  The money goes to help others, so it is basically a labor of love.  It is just that the day started at 5 AM and when I arrived at the president's house just under an hour later with my friend DB whom I had strong-armed to help me, he was not expecting me.  A very awkward situation and precisely what makes me feel the interloper.  I know...I shouldn't.  But I do.

My, the weather turned from sweltering on Thursday to miserably cold for those without jackets today.  After shivering for a few hours, the president found a coat in the clothes for sale that I "modeled" until it sold.  Then I was given a second one to model.  The sales were brisk and the third round of help slated to come were rather late, so it was good that I had said I would stay the day.  I enjoy talking with those

I must confess that while unpacking things for the tables, a few items went right back into the box to come home to my house.  My friend DS is having to start her life over again for the second time in two years, so I found a few things that would help her.  And...well...I broke my basket diet.  However, I bought one for $2 that is bigger than the one by the couch that currently holds my bibles, the Treasury of Daily Prayer, the Book of Concord, and various and sundry Lutheran books.  The old basket was just too small; this one has room to grow by at least one more book...perhaps the Lutheran Study Bible!

Talking with the folks who stopped by gave me pause. 

When I was at our event, I ran into a woman I had not seen in over three months.  Needless to say, she was stunned at the change in me, at my weight loss.  She also noticed my trembling limbs and pulled me to the side.  A few adroit questions and I caught her up on the things she knows.  She spotted the bare patches growing at my temples before I mentioned my hair.  She saw the strain on my face and asked if I had a headache.  I have had them near constantly for the past couple of weeks or so.  Nausea.  Hair loss.  Fatigue.  Headaches.  Blurred vision.  Each and every day those things.  Those are constants.  Asthma, arthritis, MS, and the blood sugar issues are their companions.  Her response both bolstered and saddened me:  You have too much to deal with right now.  I cannot begin to understand how you are still standing.  She doesn't know it all.  If she did, if she knew what happened the night of the concert, I think she would weep for me...and then tell me to quit working and concentrate on getting better.

How do I do that?  I need the health insurance and have a mortgage. Yes, I haven't eaten since Wednesday because I didn't have the energy to do the event and the clean-up and today's labor while also battling the nausea necessary to keep down what I consume.  Eating is not always a good thing because my blood sugar drops after food.  Three days without food and it is fine.  I am trying to be persistent with the doctors, but even that seems an uphill battle. 

Yes, I have had several late nights because of things on my mind, but I cannot still my thoughts.  I have tried. I have been confused for the past few days.  I was hurt on Friday.  I was angry this morning.  Angry and hurt again.  I am tired.  I am worried.  And I am frightened.  I am not sure if the pain of the headaches bothers me more or the fact that I am having them every day.  A new symptom.  Another concern.  

Those late nights have also been because someone needs me.  She needs someone and believes that I am that person.  I do know that a measure of wisdom for her has been given me, so perhaps it is me who she needs, if only to speak the Truth to her. 

She finds me rather generous and caring.  I feel rather selfish. Selfish.  A label my family has draped upon my shoulders my entire life.  Perhaps I do not understand the meaning of that word.  Still, I field her calls, even if it is the 10th one that day because she needs to talk.  I repeat the same words to her again and again and again because she needs me to remember for her, to distinguish for her what is truth and what is lie when her emotions flare.  I am honest to the point of painfulness so that she can hear what is real about the matter and can shed the lessons of her past.  I let her know that I am thinking about her.  I remind her of the steps forward she has taken even when she has slipped backward once again.  I listen to her cry so that she does not cry alone.  I ask her how she is doing.  I ask her how she feels about the dark things in her life.  There is no social contract between us.  None at all.

She needs these things and so I do them.  I do them because she asked for forgiveness and then asked for help.  She needs these things and so I do them.  Yet I do them wishing for the same.  Is that not the epitome of being selfish?

There was this one lady who came by three times today, talking all the while, as socially awkward as I feel. Boy did she violate the social contract! She remembered the church folk from last year, talked all about the jeans she bought, spoke of her boyfriend, her work, her life, her morning, her plans for tomorrow, next week, next month.  She was lonely.  I know how she feels.  I prayed for her after she left the first time and while she was there the other times.

Some were in true need.  Some just wanted the bargain.  Most were shivering in the cold!  Watching them, talking with them, shivering myself, I wondered about their stories.  I wondered if they lived beneath the cross or if they had no hope, no forgiveness.

This will probably seem like a disconnect for the above, but below is the the beginning to the introduction to Walther's fifth evening lecture, for I have been thinking deeply about this:

It is a glorious and marvelous arrangement, passing comprehension, that God governs the kingdoms of this world, not by immediate action, but through the agency of men who--not to mention other things--are far too short-sighted and far too feeble for this task.  But it is marvelous beyond comparison with this arrangement that even in His Kingdom of Grace, God performs the planting, administering, extending, and preserving of His kingdom, not in an immediate manner, but through men who are altogether unfit for this task.  This is proof of a loving-kindness and condescension to men on the part of God and, besides, of a wisdom of His that no intellect of men can encompass or sound to its depth.  For who can measure the greatness of God's love which is revealed in the fact that God desires not only to save this world of apostate men, but also to employ men from this very world, fellow-sinners, who knows how to accomplish the work of saving  men by the agency of other men who are quite unfit and unqualified for this work, and that He had hitherto gloriously pursued, and still is pursing this work? (36)

Another way to say that God's power is made great in our weakness...

I will conclude by going backward once more.  From the third evening lecture:

Luther proceeds:  "The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves.  The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and  pronounces this sentence upon him:  Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of Law.  Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this.  Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear.  If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation.  Therefore St. Paul says:  By the law is only the knowledge of sin.  Again, 'The Law worketh nothing but wrath.'  The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son, for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to see us famish and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil." (26)

Can you figure out which bit from that passage that I needed to hear these past few days, a gentle, persistent reminder, an absolute to wield against the dark trials and travails?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This was one of those days that was so bad that you just had to laugh...

My boss wanted me to drive to another city with her to renew her car rental, to stop by Ikea, to go by Dixie Bones, and to stop by one more place.  I calculated that we would be gone approximately four hours.  This when we have a major event on Thursday!  I did not have time for errands, even if we could talk about work on the way.  And, to be honest, I wrestled with anger when I arrived at work and, again, when we started the trip.

I should have known that our departure time would be pushed back three hours.  However, I did use those three hours much to my advantage, working feverishly to complete a draft of all three of my projects for the day so that I had less work this evening.

Remember her command to be well?  Oh, my, did I fail at that today.

After driving down there (one hour), stopping by Ikea (43 minutes) and sitting in the car while she was inside at the car rental (33 minutes), I started to feel shaky.  That feeling shortly magnified, and I realized my blood sugar was crashing.  I had not yet replaced the juice box in my work bag; we were not in my car where I keep a spare juice box either.  I started to panic.  Fortunately, the restaurant was close to the car rental place.  After bounding inside, I ended up drinking the sweetest barbecue sauce on the table until I got a hold of some sugar packets. 

While the food that followed helped, I was not feeling all that when when I started to have an asthma attack.  Two rounds of my inhalers later, I realized that I couldn't escape needing to use my nebulizer in front of my boss.  I coughed my way out of the restaurant to her car and started nebulizing right away, despite her fears that I was poisoning her.

By the time we got back to the office nearly an hour and a half later, I was trembling so violently from the drugs that I honestly was not sure I could drive home.  So, I called my godmother to ride home with me (virtually) once again.

Hours later, I am still trembling and fell down the stairs the last time I tried to go to the bathroom.  I am too agitated for sleep, but hope that the drugs wear off soon...

For someone who is supposed to be well at work, I did a rather dismal job of that today.


I hope that I am better at  being "well" tomorrow.
I have left Walther alone for a whole day! I miss reading about Law and Gospel, learning about each. But I am troubled by Kleinig and cannot put the book down, even though I have yet to move past the introduction.

I think that I could type out this whole section and still not put enough of what I am thinking and feeling down here.  Perhaps it would suffice to merely put one small bit that is, in reality, very large...

Luther, therefore, does not envisage the spiritual life as a process of self-development, but as a process of reception from the triune God. This process of reception turns proud, self-sufficient individuals into humble beggars before God. (Grace Upon Grace, 16)

[Oh, how Pastor must be laughing at me right now! We have had many a conversation about begging! Me telling him I should not have to. Him asking why ever not. He must find me the strangest person at times, the strangest Christian!]

Sometimes I feel as if I am being unfair to the Protestant churches in which I spent the last 27 years. Sometimes I wonder if I am simply not remembering clearly enough. It couldn't be this different. It couldn't be such a dichotomy. After all, we all believe in the same Christ, the same cross.

I keep thinking that common belief should bind us together, but the more I learn of Lutheranism, the more I see this great chasm between us all, between that which I learned and that which I am learning.  Saying so may seem to reek of hubris and arrogance, but I firmly, whole-heartedly believe the former is wrong and the latter is right.

Not that Luther was perfect.  I would be remiss if I did not admit I am saddened at the thought of his diatribes against Jews.  In that regard, the man had issues.  But, then again, we are all sinners.  I should not expect him to be any different.

But his parsing of scripture is spot on!  Truly it is...pun intended.

The Christian life as a life of reception?  Whew...that is simply the polar opposite of what I have known.  To be beggars?  Never!  And yet we are beggars.  We are!  There is nothing that we can give, nothing that we can do that the Creator of the Universe needs.  On the flip side, He gave us everything He had.  He gave us the world.  He gave us His son.  He gave us life.  He gave us heaven.  He gave us the Holy Spirit.  He gave us faith.

Why was I never taught that the Christian life is a life of reception?  Why was I never taught Objective Grace?  Why was I never taught compassion and consolation for my daily struggle with sin?  Why was I never taught forgiveness for that struggle?

Of course you struggle; you're a wretched sinner, Myrtle!  Anyone who purports that he does not is a liar! But, Myrtle, you're forgiven for that sin.  Come, rest in His house.  Let Him minister to your wounds, caring for them with the Word.  Come, take the gifts of Christ.  Be renewed by His body and blood that you might have the peace and comfort you need to sustain you in this world.  Take His forgiveness into your body that you might walk in His freedom, knowing that you are loved, even in your sin, for He sees only the cross, not that which He has washed clean from you.  For you, Myrtle.  All this is for you.

Would that all Christians might know of these Truths...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reading Pastor's sermon made me wish it really were possible to have the truth of the cross implanted into our hearts.  My, I would be so much better off if there were a pace-maker that could zap me each time I looked away from Christ to the circumstances of my life or allowed the whispers of satan to drown out the precious words of scripture...

Jesu Juva

“The Greatness of Children”
Text: Mark 9:30-37

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

On the way through Galilee and to Capernaum, Jesus is catechizing, or teaching, His disciples. And so He was teaching them about the cross. That “
the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” And He is teaching them that not because that is part of what the Christian faith and life is all about, or even the most important part - that is the Christian faith and life. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is nothing.

And so all Christian teaching finds it beginning and its ending in the cross of Christ. And if there is any teaching that doesn’t, it isn’t Christian, and it’s not of God. For it is on the cross where the power of God, the greatness of God, the glory of God, and the love of God, are shown for you. For there is God for you. His power, greatness, glory, and love made perfect in weakness.

Now, that is not how we are used to seeing or thinking about power and greatness, and so we need to be taught. Even more than that - we need to have this truth
implanted into our hearts. Mere knowledge is not enough, for faith and life are not just of the mind, but of the heart. We often know what we should do, but don’t do it! We need a change of heart, that what we know in our minds might also be reflected in our lives.

And so Jesus is catechizing His disciples. And they show how much they need this teaching, for on the way, even as they are hearing one thing from Jesus, they are arguing about another amongst themselves:
Who is the greatest? They all wanted to be. But the measure of greatness they were using was how the world measures greatness. They didn’t understand true greatness. That is what Jesus was trying to teach them.

And so Jesus gives them a picture. He brings a child before them and says:
serving this child - that is greatness. Now this is certainly not the greatness of the world, where parenting is regarded as secondary to career, and teachers are among the lowest paid professionals. Serving children isn’t going to get you much in return. It is a labor of love, and therefore a picture of what Jesus has come to do for you.

For Jesus is the answer to the disciple’s argument. The greatest one was standing right in the midst of them, serving them as a labor of love. He is the Son of God who made Himself the least of all and the servant of all. Coming and serving the least, the lowest, the outcast, the sinner, and those twelve who were arguing that day about who was the greatest. Coming in humility and compassion toward us helpless children, and giving His life that we might have life.

And so Jesus teaches them about the cross, for that is how He has come to serve you. The cross is not
part of His service for you; it is His service for you. It is not just the unhappy ending of the story; it is the story. Of all His life. It is why He is born, it is why He lives. All His words and work and life lead to the cross. That in His death be our life.

And in His death is our life, for on the cross Jesus makes atonement for our life-stealing sins. On the cross He dies the death we deserve. One the cross He reconciles us to His Father. How do we know? Because
after three days He [did] rise from the dead. His resurrection is the proof. For where there is no more sin there is no more death. And where there is no more sin, then that which separated us from God is gone. And we are reconciled. And if sin and death and our separation from God are taken care of, then our life has been restored.

The disciples didn’t understand this, and they were afraid to ask. For they had their minds on greatness, not the cross. To them, the two were opposites. But to Jesus, the two are one. And so (I guess we could say), what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

And so we too need to be catechized, that we might learn to see this greatness, this oneness. We need to be catechized by the cross. We need the cross implanted in our hearts. We need the cross to put to death our old way of thinking, our old way of living, our old ways . . . period. That we might live a new life. A new life as a child again. A child of God.

Now, maybe your childhood was not a happy one, and maybe your childhood was stolen from you too soon. But your heavenly Father wants to give this life back to you. To restore what was either taken from you, or that you left behind, or never had at all. To be a child that isn’t worried about who is the greatest, but is just a kid. Who doesn’t worry about the bills, or the budget, or the strange noises at night, because we have a Father who is greater than all those things and has promised to provide. A child who enjoys the wonders of creation, not for what we can get out of them, but simply because they are the wonders of creation. It would be great to have such care-free days, wouldn’t it? To be . . . born again?

Well that is the life that your Heavenly Father wants for you; the life the Son of God came to provide for you; and the life that the Holy Spirit is here to give to you. Life as a child. A child of God. That through the cross of Christ the old you be put to death, and a new you be born again.

And so that’s what happens here, where Jesus and His cross are right in the midst of you, here for you. That in the waters of
Holy Baptism the old you be drowned and die, and a new you be raised and born again. That in Holy Absolution all the sins and doubts and fears that haunt you be chased away by His loving embrace and the tender words of His love: I forgive you all your sins. And that in Holy Communion, we come and eat and drink the fruits of the cross that give us life - Jesus’ own body and blood. The food of the new creation. The food of those born again to a new life. The food which nourishes and strengthens us to live as children of God.

That is the greatness that has been given to you. That cannot be earned, only given. And that Jesus now invites you to live. To be who you are. To live as His child. Not worrying about tomorrow, not worrying about greatness, but living in His love and giving His love.

It’s that easy, and it’s that hard. Yes hard, because the wisdom and ways of the world have been so ingrained in us and on us. The striving for greatness, for recognition, for power, for glory. The striving of ourselves and others that robs us of joy and life. That’s why we need to be catechized - all our lives. The catechism isn’t just
for children, but to make us children! That we learn of the cross and have it implanted into our hearts, that Christ may grow in us and we in Him. That we live always as children of God, in the safety of His house, and in the security of His forgiveness and love. And so be great. For there is nothing greater than to be a child - a child of God.

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, September 19, 2009

Mowed. Fainted. Frustrated again.

Still, it made me think about the last time I mowed and the following day. I never added here that Pastor let me know the reason he did not do the membership questions with me was because he had read my blog and was concerned that I wouldn't be able to walk forward. He has seen me struggle to walk for days or weeks and didn't realize that I faint nearly every time I try to mow because it is too much work pushing the mower around, even if it is not hot outside. He did not realize that fainting from mowing, while hard on me, does not have the lasting effects I battle when I have become too hot and the MS symptoms flare.

So, I struggled with my disappointment over not having my Augsburg moment and he felt bad that in trying to be thoughtful he ended up not doing so. He told me the questions don't matter so much as the belief and that I had earned my membership certificate. We could have the public confession any time.

So, there I was, lying on the ground after waking up, thinking about that certificate (with Pastor starting grad school, I am sure it will be coming my way sometime about 2012) and a round table discussion I read a while back on Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions blog. Basically, the contributors tossed around the question of whether the Book of Concord is for Lutherans or for all Christians. I thought of this because recently I read a comment on Pastor W's blog (I believe) from a man who had thought of becoming a Lutheran but for one part of the doctrine. Whenever he traveled with his family and could not find a solid church of his own domination, he would look for a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod church because he knew it would be filled with the Gospel. Only, he sorrowed because he knew he and his family would not be welcomed at the alter when he shared belief in Christ, baptism, and the key tenants of Christianity.

Then, this brought to mind all the brouhaha on the Lutheran blogosphere about the new Lutheran Study Bible, casting it (most likely rightly so) as the next best thing to sliced bread (pun intended). The Word of God, the Bread of Life, is presented with rich resources and clear teaching in the new bible, according to the reviews and praises popping up all over the place. Join the new bible with the Treasury of Daily Prayer, the readers' edition of the Book of Concord and the (new) Lutheran Service Book, and you have pastors and parishioners giddy in thankfulness for the recent spate of valuable tools to which they now have ready access. Again the question arose, though, that since the bible is based on the pure teaching of Scripture found in Lutheran Doctrine, ought not it to be a great tool for all Christians?

I lay there on the ground thinking about the comments I have received from those who have watched, listened, or read about this journey I have taken in walking away from the protestant teaching I had grown up with since being allowed to go to church 27 years ago and joining in the Lutheran confession of doctrine. I have been accused of "going over to the dark side," "being out beyond Pluto with those loony Lutherans," and "looking at God however I needed to help me."

I have found amongst Lutherans so much of that which I have thought should be in the Church the whole of my Christian life. I have found a reverence for scripture that made my own passion pale in comparison. I have found Truth that resonates so strongly, so deeply that even I, in my brokenness and weakness, can trust and believe and receive in faith. And I have found a pure Gospel, not one laced with works.

In my other churches, I had been repeatedly taught that the promises of the Old Testament, other than the "Jesus" verses, were for the Israelites, not for Christians. In short, effectively the comfort and consolation were not for me to claim. I was chiefly to use the Old Testament to learn the nature of God and the work of His plan for mankind and for lessons on faith, but I was to cling to and claim the New Testament.

Last night, I tried to talk to Bettina about that, but it was such a poor, poor attempt. What is so clear in my mind is so bungled on my tongue. Scripture is the Living Word. The Word was before the creation of the world and before the creation of scripture, before chisel being set to stone, stylus to wax, ink to papyrus. The Word was before He became incarnate for mankind. The Word is even now, after dying as our substitute. The Word was, is, and will be, so how can you set aside a whole chunk of the Living Word as being relegated to the past, as no longer having relevance?

When my lips spoke the words of Isaiah 43:1-3a that Pastor directed me to read during one of our lessonings, my heart immediately began to sing. But now, thus says the Lord your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and through the rivers they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Who would not be moved by the Creator of the Universe declaring that you are His, that He will remain with you even in flood, even in fire?

Oh, how my heart sang. Oh, how I found comfort given my circumstances of late. Yet...I did recall all those pastors who taught me that these words were not for me.

Yes, those words crop up again: For me. For you!

So very much of what I have found in Lutheranism, as I wrote before, can be summed in those words. Objective Grace is for me. Forgiveness is for me. Blessing is for me. Liturgy is for me. The gifts of water, bread, and wine are for me. Hymns are for me. All of scripture, every jot and tittle of the Living Word is the Word of Christ and is, therefore, for me.

The proper division of law and Gospel is for me. It is for me so that I can savor the sweetness of the Law even as I do the sweetness of the Gospel. It is for me so that I might know of the love in the Law even as I do the love in the Gospel. It is for me so that I might understand the salvation meant for the Law even as I do the salvation of the Gospel.

I lay on the ground, shaking and tired and frustrated, yet thankful for all that the Holy Spirit has revealed to me and praying that the new Lutheran Study Bible and the Treasury of Daily Prayer and even the Book of Concord might become resources for all Christians, not merely those who attend Lutheran churches...because the Word is for all....

Friday, September 18, 2009

Funny how ubiquitous things can!

Pastor W posted the following on Wednesday--one of his insightful comments that does such a wonderful job of offering a reminder of what God gives us. Here, he is talking about the prayers for the day in the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I have posted my favorite, Prayer on Wednesday, and often pray that one in addition to others on days that are not Wednesday. I also posted the Prayer on Friday, which at times I struggle to pray because I know I am more mindful of my own suffering than of His...especially of late. In fact, I have prayed through these prayers thinking most often of myself, my own walk in Christ, and all the stumbling that I do. I find in them gentle chastisement to keep my focus where it ought to be: on the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

However, Pastor W looks not at the self, but at the whole of the prayers and what we are given through them:

Fr. Fast has posted up on his facebook an insight from Loehe, that the Church is not liturgical because she possesses certain beautiful and ancient texts, but because she intercedes for the world. How utterly right on! One of my Treasury joys is the manner in which the daily prayers lead us weekly to pray for all sorts and conditions. Today, Wednesdays, we devote to praying for the dying. I'm so thankful when one of my parishioners dies that I've been asking these things for them together with countless others who are praying with me. Tuesday we remember prisoners of war and especially all who are persecuted for the faith. Thursday we remember the communicants and pray for a fruitful use of the Sacrament among us and in our own lives. On and on. Each day there is something we are particularly interceding about and by the time the week is done, we've done what Schmemann once described: taking the world in our hand as an apple and handing it to God. This is how we live the Christian life - we intercede - for our life is union with Him who lives to intercede for us, and as the Larger Catechism confesses: "All our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone."

I had not thought, even once, how we do indeed leave the whole world in God's hands from Sunday to Saturday.

[Who is Loehe? And for that matter, who is Stark?]

But Myrtle, how does his post make the ubiquitous? Well, it made me think about the Small Catechism on the forth petition of the Lord's Prayer.

"Give us this day our daily bread."

What does this mean?

God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all wicked men; but we pray in this petition that He would lead us to know it, and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving

What is meant by daily bread?" Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as meat, drink, clothing, shoes, house, homestead, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful magistrates, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

You know what strikes me here? That discipline is on the list. Part of our daily bread is self control? I know how much I need it, how much I have battled falling into despair this long summer of illness, uncertainty, and trials. I have needed the discipline to pray when I felt as if I had no more words to say, borrowing the words of the psalmists, letting them fall from my lips as I struggled with God's good in all of the circumstances and experiences that have troubled me so. He has certainly given me the discipline to keep one foot in front of the other when I found no reason.

That's two Myrtle, that does not make ubiquitous yet!

Well, Pastor's book arrived! He told me the other day he had ordered me a book, but I did not realize he directed its shipping to my door. I was surprised, actually, that he bought me one in the first place...after already giving me the Book of Concord (2 copies), the ESV bible, the Spirituality of the Cross, Bonhoeffer's treatise on Psalms, O Sacred Head Now Wounded devotional series, the Lutheran Service Book, the old Lutheran Hymnal, and the 24-part lesson book on Lutheran Catechesis during the past few months. For me he chose the book upon which he drew the inspiration for his series of meditations on prayer last year. At first he was planning on typing up some bits for me to read since I have been struggling with some of that which I have read on prayer since opening the Book of Concord and beginning this journey of becoming a Lutheran. [I cannot believe I am there now!] But then he decided that he should send me the whole book. [We all know how much I am still in need of instruction!]

Today, when I arrived home just after 9:00 after a very, very long day, I found his gift tucked behind the bushes in my front flowerbed!

[Mr. UPS man has decided that this is a safe place, so all my boxes appear there, wrapped in a plastic bag. I once found a box on Sunday because I am not yet accustomed to checking behind the dwarf Japanese holly for packages.]

Already I am a bit torn between Walther and Kleinig. I peeked. I promised myself that I would finish Walther, since I am not the sort of person who reads multiple books at a time. Given my still admittedly lack of appreciation for Preus, I was a bit hesitant about trying another book, but I should have known Pastor would not give me another "milk" book even though even my godmother chides me to give Preus another chance. [Her suggestion is to wait until I've been a Lutheran for a few years and then go back and re-read The Fire and the Staff. I am wondering if I just ought to forgive him for not being the book of doctrinal teaching I thought it would be.]

Now, this book, Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today, is not just about prayer. I actually wanted to jump ahead to that section just to see what inspired Pastor so and to see if I could find the words to untangle the knots I feel about the Lutheran perspective on prayer...or more accurately what I perceive to be the Lutheran perspective on prayer and the contradiction with/judgment of how I've approached prayer since I first learned of the Gospel.

When I saw the title and the word "spirituality," I thought that I didn't want to read about spirituality because I had already gobbled up The Spirituality of the Cross five times (it is about time for me to read it again) and didn't feel the need to go down that road when I am rather happily ensconced in The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel. After all, I've been sharing bits and pieces of the first three evening lectures with anyone who will listen and a few who just tuned me out as they worked!

But then I opened the book and started reading. The second paragraph of the preface was God's loving message to me:

If we have problems in living the life of faith, if we have challenges in the practice of prayer, the solution is not to be found in what we do, our self-appraisal, or our performance. The solution to our problems is found in what we receive from God Himself, in His appraisal of us, and in His gifts to use. Like our physical life and health, our spiritual life is something that is given to us, something that is to be received and enjoyed and celebrated. Our piety is all a matter of receiving grace upon grace from the fullness of God the father.

[Read John 1:14-17]

I had not yet mentioned here that I got an emergency appointment with a second endocrinologist for today, so that I did not have until my November 5th appointment with the first one. I did not hear what I was expecting. Yes, the symptoms I am having are classic thyroid symptoms, but my values are fine. She cannot tell me why have I have lost an alarming amount of hair, nor did she have any suggestions as to where to turn next. She did confirm that I had diabetes according to my previous blood work, but the substantial weight loss over the past 3 months has essentially mitigated that disease. Now, I am left with one of three things, all of which have to do with not being able to handle glucose properly. More tests. More waiting. Much pricking of my finger from now on. [I already have four bruised fingertips and am wondering if I am doing something wrong.]

Tonight's shower was bittersweet. More handfuls of hair are piled on the side of the tub. Yet, as I pulled the comb through my wet hair and grasped the chunks no longer attached to my head, I kept hearing Pastor's encouragement that the God of the Universe has numbered the hairs on my head and not one of them falls out without Him knowing it. As I weep, He captures my tears in a bottle. I am that precious to Him.

Despite the frustrating news. Despite the long day ending a long week. Despite the fact that nothing has changed. Despite everything...I am still walking in the peace showered upon me Wednesday evening. Oh, I am hesitant to even speak of peace for the attacks such boasting could draw from our enemy. But ought we not boast in the Lord? He has blessed me. He has blessed me. He has blessed me!

I shall close with a bit from Kleinig on how our faith is actually a faith of reception (translate: a no works-zone):

Our whole life as the children of God is a life of reception. We have been justified by the grace of God the Father, so we now live by faith in His grace. Because we believe in Him we now receive every spiritual gift from Him. We receive grace upon grace from the fullness of the incarnate Christ.

God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), the ever-flowing fountain of life and light (Psalm 36:9), and we receive everything from His hand. This affects us physically and spiritually. At creation, God the Creator gave our bodies all their powers and gave us the physical world that sustains us in our earthly journey from conception to death. We depend on Him f or everything at every moment of our journey through life. Whether we know it or not, "we live and move and have our being" in Him (Acts 17:28). If God, for one moment stop giving to His creatures, we, and our world, would cease to exist. As His creatures, we depend upon Him completely.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pastor heard my confession this evening--something that I have been wanting very much. I had waiting for him a sticky note of that which is troubling me. I had also taken a shower before he came, in part, so that I was not alone when trying to swallow the sight of the pile of hair from this day.

Usually, he has some great lesson during his teaching part of the liturgy, but his first response was: That was a lot! It is true; much has been troubling me. He did speak to me of the Gospel, but I cannot really remember a single word. At one point, he was counting off things that are true and not lie and I wished I had swept up a pen to write them down.

Afterward, he tried to talk with me about prayer again. At one point, I thought I heard something, I thought I understood where I was wrong, where I was right. It was a glimpse I fervently hope returns. What made me chuckle is that he told me he had ordered me a book to read! I had indulged in Luther's Reading the Psalms during Concordia Publishing House's 140th Anniversary sale because I am trying to learn about prayer and Luther oft wrote about praying the Psalter, so I figured his notes might be good to read. Pastor ordered me the book that inspired his meditations on prayer that he sent out via In Touch last year.

I had asked him to tell me what prayer is in 50 words or less. What he wrote is simply beautiful in construction, and absolutely moving in Truth...though part troubles me so.

What is prayer?

Prayer is the voice of faith.

Faith that is created and fed by the Word, cries out to its source - that same Word now made flesh. For faith speaks what it hears. Prayer comes not from ourselves, but from the faith given to us.

And so faith cries out for all that is needed, for all that is needed has been promised by God.
Faith cries out in thanksgiving, for all that is given is given by God.
Faith cries out in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, in good times and in bad, for ourselves and for others, for all things are in His hands.

If our faith falters, so too do our prayers falter.
Then the Word comes with forgiveness to raise our faltering faith and give us life and hope again.
And the voice of faith cries out again.
Never perfect,
until faith is needed no more, when our voices are joined to the choir of angels in the hymn of praise that has no end.

Until then, we live by faith.
And faith speaks in prayer.

Since June, it has been as if what I thought I knew about prayer has been transformed from crystal clear water all about me to a thick slab of opaque glass between me and understanding. In all honestly, I have shifted away from praying in my words to those of the psalmists.

Prayer, for me, has been a conversation, the perfect conversation, one where you can be completely honest, where you can stand before the Other completely void of pretense and yet be absolutely safe. It is the conversation that always leaves you richer for the exchange, that fills the darkness with light, the cold with warmth.

He knows all and yet desires to hear me speak even so! He longs for it. He never tires of my stories, my worries, my weaknesses. Into His keeping, I can pour out the moments of my life and place that of those around me. Indeed, into His hands I can place the whole world!

For me, there was a certitude in prayer that remained no matter how miserably I failed in enlarging my own faith--something I now understood Christ never expects of us. Not as a work of mine, for that would surely have failed! But as a gift. A mighty gift to which I could cling without doubt.

So, why the struggle now?

Before he left, Pastor sang this hymn to me. I am sure that you will understand why I like it. I tried to find the tune online so that I could learn it, but the only one I found has far, far too many notes in it for me to hear the melody. When he finished, I immediately wanted him to sing it again.

Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness

Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light;
Praise the One who frees the pris'ners turning blindness into sight.
Praise the One who preached the Gospel, Healing ev'ry dread disease,
Calming storms, and feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace.

Praise the One who blessed the children with a strong, yet gentle, word;
Praise the One who drove out demons with the piercing, two-edged sword.
Praise the One who brings cool water to the desert's burning sand;
From this well comes living water, quenching thirst in ev'ry land.

Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ, who suffered in our place.
Jesus died and rose victorious that we may know God by grace.
Let us sing for joy and gladness, seeing what our God has done;
Let us praise the true Redeemer, Praise the One who makes us one.

Before he walked out the door, Pastor gave me a blessing.

Thanks be to God that, in His infinite mercy, I have more peace, in this moment, than I have had in months. For the first time in my life, I understand, even for just a short while, John 14:27:

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

While I fervently wish I could tell you why, what truth permeated the turmoil I face, I cannot. Perhaps it was the sum of this evening: Confession. Absolution. Teaching. Hymn. Blessing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I fell nine times today at work. Frankly, it should have been at least twice that number.

This morning, I awoke so dizzy that I could barely walk. I have been getting up at 7:00 for the church's morning service, though I have not logged on to the website. After I was finished, I crawled back upstairs and climbed into bed. I tried to awake at 9:00, but could not steady myself on my feet enough to get ready for work for another hour. I prayed the whole way to the office.

Just an hour and a half later, I did not think I could make it through the day, so dizzy was I. We have a large event in just 9 days, and much of the work lies on my shoulders. Unless I was dead, my boss would have just killed me for going home. Hour by hour, one task at a time, I worked through my list for the day, trying very hard to keep my head still, move slowly, and walk as little as possible. I also had a crushing headache, so I took a pain reliever. One of the women at work insisted that I drink some juice and eat some protein, but I tried to tell her that that was not what I was feeling.

When my blood sugar plummets, I grow strangely hollow, shaky, and confused. It is as if the world begins to fade away or as if I am sitting on the bottom of a pool and trying to see through the water above me. Today, I spent much of the day feeling as if I were standing on the deck of a ship at sea during a violent storm. Or perhaps it is better to say that I felt as if I just stepped off a playground merry-go-round after spinning on it wildly. I do not know why. I have never felt this way before...not like the world-shifting-abruptly dizziness of MS at all.

I am home, huddled on the couch, trying to muster up the energy to draft a press release--my final task for the day. When I made my way up the front sidewalk, I had to close my eyes against the sight of the grass. It needs to be mowed. Can you imagine what would happen if I tried to do that right now?


I did read some when I arrived home:

First, back to the beginning:

While in my dogmatic lectures I aim to ground you in every doctrine and make you certain of it, I have designed these evening lectures on Fridays for making you really practical theologians. I wish to talk the Christian doctrine into your very hearts, enabling you in your future calling to come forward as living witnesses with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I do not want you to stand in your pulpits like lifeless statues, but to speak with confidence and with cheerful courage to offer help where help is needed. (5)

I am certainly enjoying the practicality! Can you tell? I know that this is digressing, but I'd like to continue with another bit from the beginning:

Rom. 2,14.15 we read: When the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another. Here we have the apostle's testimony that even the blind pagans bear the Moral Law with them in their heart and conscience. No supernatural revelation was needed to inform them concerning the Moral Law. The Ten Commandments were published only for the purpose of bringing out in bold outline the dulled script of the original Law written on men's hearts. (8) [emphasis mine]

Now, just a short while ago I was trying to talk with Pastor about this very subject, but he was not following me. I was delighted, therefore, to find this teaching here. Yes, the writer in me really, really enjoyed the craftsmanship of the last sentence, but I also appreciate the point behind it.

In part, I enjoyed this point because it explains how I feel about Luther's teaching about the Ten Commandments. He unravels the heart of them so very thoroughly until you have no other conclusion that you can never, ever uphold them, that Jesus Christ is the only One who can. Even as I am crushed by how very sinful I am, how much more so do I understand that wretched truth, I appreciate more fully Christ's willingness to fulfill them for me when the price He had to pay in order to do so was so terrible.

Yes, my heart's script has been dulled by the compromise of our world, by the means-justifies-the-end mentality that has so completely permeated every facet of our society, from work to church to hearth.

I am thankful, therefore, for the sharpening of Luther's keen insight and the earnest passion with which he taught us all. I am thankful that Pastor cared enough to give me the Book of Concord.

Remember that visit by Washington Gas? Well, last month's bill was -$4.81 and this month's is $4.75. While I appreciate the lower bills given all that I have spent with doctors of late, I am quite confident that one of these days I'm going to get hit with a whopper because Washington Gas finally figured out that their "fix" actually needs to be repaired.

Either that or the THOUSANDS of dollars that I spent over the past seven winters were the "error."



Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday dear Godmother!
Happy Birthday to you!

Monday, September 14, 2009

I moved on to the third evening lecture and literally burst out loud in laughter but a few moments into it:

There is a general tendency among young people to value the beautiful language and style of an author more than the contents of his writing. That is a dangerous tendency. you must always have a greater regard for the matter (quid?) than the manner (quomodo?) of a treatise. (21)

I laughed because my FIRST comment on this book was about the writing, about the words! No young person today cares a whit for words. They would rather use some acronym or partial spelling to hasten their writing task. They care not for the difference between "beach" and "shore." It's all sand to them!

Perhaps this 1884 admonition should be changed a bit:

There is a general tendency among young people to value the step-by-step processes that will garner them self-sufficiency and even self-pride in their faith. Give them a plan, packaged in the specious wrapping of isolated verses, that will make them "better" Christians and they will lap it up, swallowing hook, line, and sinker. That is...until the next pop culture spiritual meal comes along.

Was that too harsh?


One bit for you:

This point of doctrine, viz., the distinction between the Law and the Gospel, we must needs now because it contains the sum of all Christian teaching. Let every one who is zealous to be godly strive, then, with the greatest care to learn how to make this distinction, not only in his speech, but also in truth and in his experience, that is, in his heart and conscience. The distinction is made easily enough in words. But in affliction you will realize that the Gospel is a rare guest in men's consciences, while the Law is their daily and familiar companion. For human reason has by nature the knowledge of the Law. Therefore, when the conscience is terrified by sin, which the Law points out and magnifies, you are to speak thus: There is a time to die, and there is a time to live; there is a time for hearing the Law, and there is a time to be unconcerned about the Law; there is a time to hear the Gospel, and a time for acting as if you were ignorant of the Gospel. At this moment let the Law begone and let the Gospel come; for now is not the time to hear the Law, but the Gospel. (27) [emphasis mine]

Now is not the time. Oh, how I need to hear the Gospel...oh, how I long for forgiveness...oh, how I crave the true body and the true blood of Christ....

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Last Tuesday was a very, very difficult day at work. I am not sure if Friday was worse or not. It is hard being criticized privately and publicly for things I have not done and disparaged for not doing work that I have, indeed, accomplished. Protest or defense does not matter. All I can do is turn the other cheek and pray. I struggle mightily with feeling the utter professional failure....

I did manage to help two others this week: 1) I restored someone's laptop. It had become bogged down by things her children had downloaded and viruses and all to the point that it was really useless to her. She asked me to spec out a new one for her to purchase when I suggested she give it to me to wipe it and reload both the operating system and the software she needed. I figured that if I ruined the computer, she wouldn't have lost anything and if I succeeded then she would have gained much. I had to track down a few drivers that worried me a bit during the middle of the process, but I was able to hand her back a perfectly fine computer once I was finished. 2) I helped a woman write a notice of trespassing letter for someone who is being threatened and harassed so that she could file it with the police and a lawyer to help protect herself and her children and make it possible for the next visit to result in an arrest. It was a really, really solid letter because it dispassionately documented the harmful behavior and clearly outlined what she had done to protect her children. If the case goes to court, the letter will be a strong defense for her.

And I managed to meet my goal of catching up on laundry this weekend. Five loads are now washed, dried, folded, and put away (yes, I have avoided laundry as much as I did cleaning the bird cage). I am left with 12 shirts/jackets that need to be ironed and hope to get them done during football tonight!

I tried to address the problem I am having with the antique mirror hanging on my wall in my living room, but ended up hurting myself in the process. I originally hung it with hollow-wall toggle bolts, so I am not sure why one side gave way about two weeks ago. The mirror is very, very heavy and is hanging over an antique chest of drawers topped with marble. If it falls the rest of the way, it is sure to break the marble. However, the marble is too heavy for me to move. I tried to stand on a ladder to peer behind to mirror to see if I could determine what the problem was and to see if I could somehow put in another hollow-wall toggle bolt without removing the mirror. All I accomplished was falling off the ladder, banging many parts of my body, and winding up with a rather large lump on my head. I am not sure what to do next....

Below is Pastor's sermon from today:

Jesu Juva

“Many Variables, One Constant”
Text: Mark 9:14-29; Isaiah 50:4-10

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

My son is taking algebra in school this year as his math class. Do you remember algebra? The mere mention of the word sends groans out of mouths and shivers down the spines of many people. But what makes it so tough? It is that with algebra, math isn’t quite so concrete anymore. You begin working with variables. The equations no longer have just numbers, but x’s, y’s, and z’s. And the more variables, the harder the problem, and the harder it is to figure out what to do. But the problems can be figured out, because with the variables there are also constants - numbers or values that are definite. And it’s the constants that provide a place from which to work and enable the problems to be solved.

But even if you don’t remember much about algebra - or never took it - you know about these things, because variables and constants aren’t just the things of math, but the things of life. In your life there are variables - things that change, that aren’t certain, that are elusive and undependable; but there are also constants - things that don’t change and that you can rely on. And like with math, life gets harder when the variables increase - when there are too many uncertain and undependable and changing things in your life, and not enough certain ones. Then you don’t know what to do. Then come the groans, the shivers, the confusion, and the fears.

And that’s where the father in the Holy Gospel today was at - he didn’t know what to do. His son had a unclean spirit for a number of years, since his childhood. It had tormented him greatly, and put him in physical danger. The father had undoubtedly done all he could think of to help his son, but nothing worked. And then, with great hope, he had asked Jesus’ disciples to help him and cast out this spirit, but even this failed. And now there was a great argument going on, between the Jewish scribes, the disciples, and the crowd that had gathered. He was, this father, at the end of his rope and on very shaky ground.

For what could he count on? His faith? He tried, but his faith was one day up and one day down; one day strong and one day weak; one day full of hope and the next day filled with fear. Just like you and me. No, his faith was not a constant he could count on. Neither could he count on his friends - they were using the occasion to argue while his son continued to be tormented. He couldn’t count on his own strength or steadfastness - that was quickly slipping away. And his good works? What good were they? He couldn’t even do good for who mattered most to him, his own son. His life was filled with confusion, uncertainty, and failure. What would the unclean spirit do next? What would he do next? What would happen next? There were too many variables and . . . well, were there any constants?

As we remembered on Friday, September 11, 2001 was such a day for many people. The death of a loved one is such a time for many people. A difficult medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, moving to a new home in a strange place, friends turning on you and letting you down - all can be such times. Times when we feel the ground giving way beneath us and the variables piling up and we are so shaky we don’t feel as if we can take even one more step, and not knowing what to do we cry out with the father of this boy: Lord, “I believe; help my unbelief!

And there is your constant. When all the variables - and even the constants - in our lives that we thought we could count on have let us down, there is One who remains constant. Not that He wasn’t always there, it’s that we keep substituting other things we think we can stand on, but that always let us down. There is only One who is reliable. Only One who is the constant to solve the variables. Only One who, as we prayed, is our support and defense in every need. The One who, as Isaiah said, set His face like a flint to go to the cross. The cross where there is nothing variable. The cross where there is only the constant of the love of God laying down His life for you; the constant of the love of God taking your sin away from you and paying for it Himself; the constant of the love of God to provide for you what otherwise you would not have - life and hope.

And so you have a constant in this very variable life: Jesus.

And so in answer to this father’s need, Jesus drives out the unclean spirit with His Word. Good, right? Well, yes . . . though at first, it seems as if this too has been a colossal failure, that instead of saving the boy, He has killed him! For, we are told, he looked like a corpse and most of them said, “He is dead.” But no - our constant remains constant, and what looks like death is turned to life. Jesus takes him by the hand and raises him to a new life.

It is a small picture of the cross - another place where it seems as if this has all been a colossal failure! Where another Son, instead of being saved, was killed and was a corpse and was placed dead into the ground . . . and it seemed as if the unclean spirits had won. But again, no - our constant remains constant, and death is turned to life. Jesus rises from the dead to a new life.

And that is a small picture of what has happened to you as well. For Jesus has come to you and driven out your unclean spirit with His Word and water in Holy Baptism. Good, right? Well, yes . . . though at first, perhaps you look at your life and it seems as if this has been a colossal failure! For still you have sin and death instead of life. But no - your constant remains constant, as in the midst of sin and death Jesus here and now reaches out His hand and raises you in forgiveness; as Jesus reaches out His hand and feeds you with His own body and blood; as Jesus reaches out to you and gives you new life.

And these we can rely on. Our constants, our hope and life in a very uncertain world.

Now, satan wants you to think otherwise - that Jesus is just another variable in your life, that you cannot rely on. And we believe it sometimes, don’t we? Wondering about God, what He is doing, why He isn’t doing what we think He should, and thinking Him unreliable. Yet still He remains constant, and repentance is turning back to our constant and receiving from Him what will not fail - His forgiveness and life.

That is the meaning of that funny statement at the end of the Gospel today, when Jesus says that “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” That doesn’t mean that prayer is some sort of magic formula, or that this was some sort of “super demon” - but that there is only One power, One constant, that can give us life, and that is Jesus. For prayer is the voice of faith. Faith that turns to our Lord for all that is needed, repenting and despairing of ourselves and turning to Him where He has promised to be for us, to receive what He has promised to give to us. And He does not let us down!

Like the disciples, we have to learn that. Perhaps you too think you should be able to do it. Perhaps you too have turned to Jesus and said, “How come I can’t do it?” How come I keep failing and sinning and doubting and falling?

The truth is that you could never do it! The good news is that you don’t have to. You are not your constant, Jesus is your constant. The One who came and did it for you. His perfect life, His death in your place, His resurrection from the dead, His forgiveness and salvation, His life and hope - all is yours. From Him.

For that is the way of it with Jesus. He does what you can’t, to give you what you do not have. That from the first page of your life to the last, He be the constant. His forgiveness, His life, His love, giving you peace and hope and joy. Giving, until that day when His voice will call again and He reaches out His hand - one more time - to take hold of you and pull you from the grave. That day is the day when all variables will finally pass away, and Christ, our constant, will be all in all.

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, September 12, 2009

I realized that I never posted Pastor's sermon from Sunday...

Jesu Juva

“He Does All Things Well”
Text: Isaiah 35:4-7a; Mark 7:31-37; James 2:1-10, 14-18

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

We hear from the prophet Isaiah today: “Say to those who have an anxious heart . . .” That’s you, isn’t it? For like the people in Isaiah’s day, who among us does not have an anxious heart?
Anxious about what has happened in the past, or anxious about what is going to happen in the future.
Anxious about what we have done, or what we have not done.
Anxious for others, and anxious for ourselves.
Anxious about what we know, and anxious about what we don’t know.
Anxious as our minds are filled with “what ifs,” with “shouldas, wouldas, and couldas,” and with fears of all shapes and sizes.
Anxious as the sin and evil in our world - and in us! - seems so big and powerful and threatening, and the church and what is good - in the world and in us! - seems so small and so weak.

Yes, we are those with anxious hearts.
Anxious . . . like the people in California whose homes are threatened by the wildfires there. The firefighters are fighting the flames, but they are so big and powerful and threatening . . .
Anxious . . . like the people who watch hurricanes form and draw near. They sandbag and seal up and prepare, but they are so big and powerful and threatening . . .
So it is so often with you and me - we see the fires of evil, the storms of hell, and the attacks of doubt rising up against us in our world, in our lives, even in our own hearts, and we grow anxious, worried, and filled with fear. It is all so big and powerful and threatening . . . and we are so small and weak.

But to those who have an anxious heart, Isaiah has a Word of God for us. A Word of hope. “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” With those words, Isaiah would take our eyes off of the threats that cause us such anxiety, and off of ourselves who can’t do anything about them. For when we focus on the threats or on ourselves, we just wind up increasing our anxiety. But with his words, Isaiah focuses us on the One who is greater - greater than whatever is causing us anxiety, and greater than ourselves. And not only the One who is greater, but who has promised to come in vengeance and recompense, or pay-back, against the sin and evil that has afflicted His creation. Who has promised to come and save you. For as long as you live in this world and life, you will have many anxiety-causing afflictions; you will have no shortage of troubles; you will not be immune. But you do have this promise: that they will not win, and you will not be alone. He will come and save you.

Now, to be sure, there are times when it seems as if the sin and evil in this world are winning, and as if you are alone, and that God is very far away from coming and saving. At such times we are like the deaf and mute man in the Holy Gospel today. Our eyes work, and we see the fires and storms of sin and evil wreaking havoc in the world. And our hearts work, our consciences convicting us of the sin and evil in us and in our lives. And so attacked from without and attacked from within we are anxious and filled with fear and worry . . . because our ears aren’t working. Our ears, to hear the promises of God. To hear the forgiveness of God. To hear of our hope. And because we do not hear, we too have a speech impediment - something impeding, or blocking, our speech: namely, the anxiety of our hearts that hinders our prayers and praise and seeks to drive us to despair and unbelief.

But today Mark shows us that the One Isaiah pointed us to, the hope for anxious hearts, has come! For when He comes, Isaiah says, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

And taking him aside from the crowd privately, [Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

And not for this man only, but for you has Jesus done this. For you, it was not the spit of His tongue, but the water of the font. And the word that was spoken was not Ephphatha, but I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But the result was the same. When you were baptized, Jesus took you aside and made you His own. When you were baptized, Jesus opened your ears to His Word and gave you His Spirit and faith. When you were baptized, Jesus released your tongue to speak in prayer and praise. When you were baptized, the words of Isaiah the prophet became yours: He came and saved you.

And that is true because in, with, and under the water of Holy Baptism is the power and life of Jesus’ cross. His cross, where the vengeance and recompense of God was poured out upon the sin that has oppressed us. His cross, where the fires of evil were quenched by His blood and the storms of hell silenced with His forgiveness. His cross, where the Son of God hung as your substitute - that condemned in your place and dying your death, you may have His life. Eternal life. And that is now exactly what is given to you in Holy Baptism - the life of Christ and His victory. For He who rose from the dead and victoriously opened the grave, now opens deaf ears and looses mute tongues; forgives sins and gives peace; gives hope and raises you to life as a child of God. Life, even in the midst of many afflictions. For while the afflictions of this world seek to rob you of this life, they cannot rob you of His life.

And so the antidote to our anxiety is Christ.

When we focus on ourselves - or on the faith which we’re supposed to have! - anxiety is sure to come, because we are so weak and powerless; we succumb so often to temptation; we are so easily frightened and bewildered. But it is exactly to us, in such a helpless state, that Christ has come. And still comes. For as Isaiah saw and proclaimed, Christ is not the greater one far away in heaven, but the greater one here for you. Here, in your life. Here in your suffering. Here in your despair. Here in your aloneness. Here in your struggle. Here in your dying days. For He who has overcome all these things has not promised that you will not have them, but that He will be with you and overcome them for you too.

Perhaps you wish that victory would come a bit sooner - I’m sure the people in Isaiah’s day did too! But it is not your victory, but His. And He will do it. You have His promise.

And that promise is what enables us to live. To live securely in an insecure world. To live the life that James was talking about today - a life of faith and good works. Apart from Christ and His promise anxiety is our daily bread. But in Christ and His promise we are fed by His life, and so can live His life. Faith receiving His life and love and gifts, and then good works giving His life and love and gifts. Not because we have to, but because with His life and victory, we can. The bottom line is that all that we have is gift from Him. Gifts to help us in our anxiety, and gifts to help others in theirs. Gifts to live out the good vocations you have been given. Gifts which give us hope and peace.

For they are gifts from our Lord [who] does all things well. Who is working in you and through you according to His good will. Even if now, for a time, you are struggling; and even if your struggling - perhaps like the deaf man - has gone on all your life. The struggle is not pointless or meaningless or hopeless. From it your Lord will bring good. He will do well. He will have compassion. He will save.

And for this He has come and is here for you today - here in His body and blood for you to eat and to drink. To save you. To give you the forgiveness, faith, strength, and peace that you need. That you so desperately need. So repent of yourself and come. Come, receive Him, and find rest for your anxious heart. Come, dear child of God, for the giver of ears, the looser of tongues, the forgiver of sins, the opener of graves, and the giver of life is here for you. Come and rest in Him.

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.