Saturday, October 31, 2009

I had another lessoning today!

Pastor remembered to buzz me to let me know he was on his way, which is a very good thing given that I was still sleeping.  Later he told me that he slept in too, something he has not done in a very long time.  He slept until 7:30!  I...well...he called at 1:02 PM.

We finished the first petition today, but to be fair, we probably would not have had I not started ignoring the clock after having done so well at watching it.  Hallowed be Thy name.  You know, this petition is so very much more than what you might think it is...

As I have written before, Luther unravels the Ten Commandments to such a degree as to show their depth and breath, to show that there is no possible way for us to keep the Law.  He also reveals their spirit.  The Second Commandment, Thy shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, is not merely about cursing or making  false vows by His name, as so often taught.  Yes, we are not to misuse His name.  To do so is to lie and deceive others and is a great sin.  But it is also about using His name properly.  It is about calling upon His name in every situation, about praise, prayer, and thanksgiving.  It is allowing His name to be glorified, to be proclaimed, bringing it into the service of Truth and using it in a blessed way (LC, Part I, 64).  So when Christ taught us to pray Hallowed be Thy name, He was teaching us to ask God to "help us in in every way so that Your name may be holy." (LC, Part III, 36).

As he is wont to do, Pastor dropped a mini-lesson into the reading on what it means to profane the name of God.  So often, we as readers gloss over words that we do not truly know the meaning of because we can glean sufficient meaning from the context.  He stopped and asked if I knew what that word meant.  I did not.  Profane means to make lowly, common.

Luther teaches we profane God's name in two ways:  1) when people preach, teach, and proclaim in God's name what is false and misleading (he has a great simile here:  God's name being used as an attractive ornament to capture people's attention and reel them in) and 2) an openly wicked and sinful life by those who are Christians.  I have no worries on the first part, but I struggle mightily about the second, things that happened to me in my childhood when I had God's name on me, things I wonder if I could have fought off harder, could have managed to escape somehow.  Then, in 44, Luther uses the imagery of fathers and their children and the issue of shame....

Luther concludes..."to hallow means the same as to praise, magnify, and honor both in word and deed." (46)  Does that sound different than what you thought?  Did you understand this is what you are asking God to help you with when you pray the Lord's Prayer?

Christ knows our sin; He knows our failings before the Law, before our fellow man, before Him.  He knows this and so wisely and lovingly instructed us to ask for help so that by His power, by His washing of water and the Word, we can hallow God's name.

What I need to learn is that shame is part of what is nailed to the cross.  Yes, I am still smiling over the magnificent gift of the Holy Spirit shifting verses 34-35 of Matthew 18 from my terror to my comfort.  I do not, absolutely do not, choose to live by the Law.  I know that even with my mightiest, purest effort, I keep not one speck for even a single moment.  When I am crushed by the law as I am wont to become, I finally, finally, finally understand what it means to stand beneath the shadow of the cross.

Today, Pastor called this the great exchange.  We give Christ all our sin and filth and wrath and terror and death and all the consequences thereof and He gives us mercy and grace and peace and life eternal and all the riches thereof.  The world will never, ever understand that.  Such is a bargain is not one the world would ever make.

I really liked Pastor's comment that the opposite of sin is not not to sin.  That is impossible.  We are sinful creatures.  Even if we were able to battle our actions, thoughts, and words, we are still marked by sin in our very being.  So, the opposite of sin is actually repentance, which leads to forgiveness.  And Word of God is forgiveness.  In forgiveness His name is made hallow.

When I mentioned the readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer for today, Pastor gave me another lesson:  the meaning of pity.

At the tale end of the reading from Matthew, we encounter the story of Jesus healing two blind men.  They cried out, Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David! and the crowd hushed them.  But they cried out again, Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!  Christ stopped them and asked what they wanted.  Of course, it was their sight, to see once more.  "And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:34)

Pastor told me that the word pity, often translated compassion, in the Greek means something like being punched in the stomach.  Christ looked at those men, felt as if he had been punched in the stomach at their condition, knowing the lives they had that were so different from what He desires for us, a life free from sin and its destruction, and reached out to heal them.  Punched in the stomach.  That is the depth of His compassion for us, His love for us.  That is what held Him to the cross while he was being tortured on our behalf.

Lord, have mercy upon me. I am the blind man begging for sight.  I long to know, to understand Truth, to have the scales of the lies of my past fall from my eyes beneath the tender, compassionate touch of Christ.

After Pastor left, I fell asleep again for about five hours.  I fell asleep listening to his hymns and the now two Psalms recordings.  When I awoke, the hymn that was playing was "To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray."  I awoke to the words, Lord, have mercy.

When Pastor comes, I have taken to reading aloud to him, to feed him in my own clumsy way, so that he has, in a very small measure, some of the gift he is sharing with me.  Today, I gave him a choice:  Luther or a homily from one of his brother pastors.  He chose Luther, which made me smile.  I knew he would.  The homily I gave to him in an envelope with a double-dog-dare:  before the week is out, ask someone to read it to him.  Will he?  Hmm...I do not know.  He should, though.  Surely by now you know how highly I prize being read to of the riches of the Living Word!

The Luther I gave to him today was from his commentary on Galatians, chapter 1.  I leave you with his teaching for I shall never gloss over the greeting grace and peace to you again.  Truly, truly, every word in the bible is so very precious:

Verse 3. Grace be to you, and peace, from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The terms of grace and peace are common terms with Paul and are now pretty well understood. But since we are explaining this epistle, you will not mind if we repeat what we have so often explained elsewhere. The article of justification must be sounded in our ears incessantly because the frailty of our flesh will not permit us to take hold of it perfectly and to believe it with all our heart.

The greeting of the Apostle is refreshing. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but Christ has overcome these fiends now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. Much less is sin taken away by man-invented endeavors. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for himself by his own efforts, the deeper he goes into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that by grace alone, in opposition to every other means, we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.

The world brands this a pernicious doctrine. The world advances free will, the rational and natural approach of good works, as the means of obtaining the forgiveness of sin. But it is impossible to gain peace of conscience by the methods and means of the world. Experience proves this. Various holy orders have been launched for the purpose of securing peace of conscience through religious exercises, but they proved failures because such devices only increase doubt and despair. We find no rest for our weary bones unless we cling to the word of grace.

The Apostle does not wish the Galatians grace and peace from the emperor, or from kings, or from governors, but from God the Father. He wishes them heavenly peace, the kind of which Jesus spoke when He said, "Peace I leave unto you: my peace I give unto you." Worldly peace provides quiet enjoyment of life and possessions. But in affliction, particularly in the hour of death, the grace and peace of the world will not deliver us. However, the grace and peace of God will. They make a person strong and courageous to bear and to overcome all difficulties, even death itself, because we have the victory of Christ's death and the assurance of the forgiveness of our sins.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A woman at work has been trying to thank me for a long while for restoring her computer.  She wanted to buy me lunch.  Today, I gave in and ate some pizza and drank a Coke.  The meal did not remain with me long and I was ill for hours afterward.

The funny thing was that my boss actually showed a bit of sympathy for me when she spotted me huddled over the color printer waiting for it to spit out the pages I needed.  She asked how the meal went and did not really seem to mind that tears pooled in my eyes as I rather bitterly told her it didn't last.  I then whispered that I am so very tired of not being able to eat.  For once, she seem to truly exude compassion as she told me she didn't know how I faced it day after day.

I can eat protein.  I eat plain chicken and turkey, eggs, and peanuts.  Seriously, Planter's ought to thank me for the rise in its profits.  [Or maybe I ought to be thanking the company for the amount of calories one can consume in peanuts.]  There is a very plain salad at Panera's that I have had several times now.  And, well, that's about it.

I cannot decide if the nausea is better or if I am just used to it, the way I am used to much of the pain I have.  Yes, the agony of yesterday was disturbing, but I did not even wail or weep.  Huddled in the green chair, I spent the evening listing to Pastor's recordings and waited for its passing.  It was with great relief that I did not awake with fire in my arm this morning.

I would surmise that the answer is that I am just growing used to the nausea, given the rather violent response I had to eating.  I am not sure if the Coke pushed it over the edge, but I was being a bit belligerent about the whole problem.  Of course, when I have dared pretty much anything other than protein, I do not fare well.  Although I do wonder if I had more mental fortitude I would be able to just gut it out and keep the food down and if doing so eventually would right the ship.

Still, this afternoon I would say that I had quite a bit of a mental breakdown in my office.  While my boss went off to sign some paperwork, I closed the door to my office and cried copious amounts of tears before I could manage to lay aside my frustration and weariness of this issue.  I wanted to call Pastor to ask him to pray with me, but Friday is his day off and I have disturbed him enough times on this day. So, I turned to the bible thinking to read through some Psalms, when I found myself in Lamentations.  A couple of years ago, I worked at memorizing chapter 3, in part because I feel like a woman who has seen affliction.  What I found interesting was that as I read through the familiar words, I began to wonder just what little tidbits Pastor would be teaching about this chapter were he there...surely he would be grinning about the Gospel shining through!

I began wondering for I immediately saw Hebrews 12 and Psalm 103 in here,with a bit of Job and Jonah sprinkled in..and, of course, Christ.  What do you see?

I am the man who has seen affliction
          Because of the rod of His wrath.
He has driven me and made me walk
          darkness and not in light.
Surely against me He has turned His hand
          Repeatedly all the day.
He has caused my flesh and my skin to waste away,
          He has broken my bones.
He has besieged and encompassed me with bitterness and hardship. 

In dark places He has made me dwell,
          Like those who have long been dead.
He has walled me in so that I cannot go out;
          He has made my chain heavy.
Even when I cry out and call for help,
          He shuts out my prayer.
He has blocked my ways with hewn stone;
          He has made my paths crooked.
He is to me like a bear lying in wait,
          Like a lion in secret places.
He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces;
          He has made me desolate.
He bent His bow
          And set me as a target for the arrow.
He made the arrows of His quiver
          To enter into my inward parts.
I have become a laughingstock to all my people,
          Their mocking song all the day.
He has filled me with bitterness,
          He has made me drunk with wormwood.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
          He has made me cower in the dust.
My soul has been rejected from peace;
          I have forgotten happiness.
So I say, "My strength has perished,
          And so has my hope from the LORD."
Remember my affliction and my wandering,
          the wormwood and bitterness.
Surely my soul remembers
          And is bowed down within me.
This I recall to my mind,
          Therefore I have hope.
The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
          For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
          Great is Your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
          "Therefore I have hope in Him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
          To the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently
          For the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he should bear
          The yoke in his youth.
Let him sit alone and be silent
          Since He has laid it on him.
Let him put his mouth in the dust,
          Perhaps there is hope.
Let him give his cheek to the smiter,
          Let him be filled with reproach.
For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
          Then He will have compassion
          According to His abundant  
For He does not afflict willingly
          Or grieve the sons of men.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I am so bloody tired that I cannot sleep.  Well, really I cannot sleep because I have had fiery pains shooting down my right arm since about noon.  I am pretty sure it is nerve pain, being very much like that which I get in my legs.  Funny that I have a day of pain after a night of joy.

I am very, very tired, but am still in awe of God's grace last night.  I want to read Walther, but even the thought is too much.  So, I have been listening to the hymns Pastor recorded for me all evening.  I set up a play list to start with Psalm 103, then the Agnus Dei from Divine Service 5 Pastor gave me last week, then four hymns, then repeat Psalm 103 and the Agnus Dei before more hymns, and so on and so forth.  A great cycle if you ask me!

If posting the audio file would not violate my promise to Pastor to only use the files for my own instruction and subsequently lose me any and all future recordings I would post the Agnus Dei for you.  It comes just before the distribution of the Lord's Supper, a testimony of who He is and what He has done for us, a cry for what we need.  Speaking these words is better than just reading them, so that they might rest on your tongue, fall from your lips, and fill your ears.  Singing them is far, far better.

Agnus Dei, Divine Service 5, LSB 198:

O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, 
that takest away the sin of the world, 
have mercy upon us. 
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, 
that takest away the sin of the world, 
have mercy upon us.
O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, 
that takest away the sin of the world, 
grant us Thy peace.  Amen.

Honestly, I do not understand why anyone would not cling rather fiercely to the Liturgy, would not pester his/her pastor with great perseverance until he agreed to follow at least one of the Divine Services.  To have the Word spoken, chanted, prayed, sung...all the while proclaiming who God is and what He has done, what He plans and purposes for us, His beloved such an absolute blessing that lingers far beyond the time spent beneath His roof.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It is four in the morning, but I want yesterday's date to mark this post, so I back dated it...

First, I would like to shout with joy the glad tidings that Pastor sent me all six hymns for Sunday this afternoon!  I listened to the first three hymns at work, choosing to replay At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing many, many times while doing some design work.  It's funny, but I tease Pastor about how Lutherans sing all the verses in hymns, no 1st, 3rd, and 5th only ones for them.  Yet though this hymn has 8 verses, it ends all too soon for me!  Too soon!

At the Lamb's high feast we sing
Praise to sacred blood for win
Gives His body for the feast--
Flowing from His pierced side.

Praise we Him, whose love diving
Gives His sacred blood for wine,
Gives His body for the feast--
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.

Where the paschal blood is poured,
Death's dread angel sheathes the sword;
Israel's host triumphant go
Through the wave that drowns the foe.

Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
Paschal victim, paschal bread;
With sincerity and love
Eat we manna from above.

Mighty Victim from the sky,
Hell's fierce pow'rs beneath You lie;
You have conquered in the fight,
You have brought us life and light.

No no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And Your saints in You shall rise.

Easter triumph, Easter joy!
This alone can sin destroy;
From sin's pow'r, Lord, set us free,
Newborn souls in You to be.

Father, who the crown shall give,
Savior, by whose death we live,
Spirit, guide through all our days;
Three in One, Your name we praise.

For me, this hymn mirrors that which I feel about the Lord's Supper and gives me a glimpse of the joy of Easter.  My Easters, as a child, were not joyous.  That both major Christian holidays were nothing to look forward to, nothing to celebrate, is hard for me to shed.  In this hymn, for a moment, I was able to set that aside and focus on what Christ did for me those three days.

The hymn is playing right now.

When he sang these hymns, it was with a bit more passion than the other ones.  You see, this Sunday is All Saints Day, is one of his favorite Sundays of the year.  Now, he explained this to me, but I fear that I am not so clear about it.  I shall, however, bumble my way through it.  Some saints are celebrated throughout the church year, but this day is sort of a catch all for the rest.  However, all the rest also includes me!  Okay, back up.  A saint is not someone who did good works, such as Mother Theresa, who admittedly poured out her life for others, but for those who are made holy.  The only way sinful humans are made holy is through Christ.  So, saints are all those who are in Christ.  All Saint's Day celebrates both those in Christ who have gone before us and those in Christ now.  It is a day to celebrate what He has done for us and to celebrate that we are all made one in Him.  We are one body, one church, one family of God. 

Such joy was painted on his face while telling me all this...

Tonight, at confession/absolution, Pastor said something important, that I didn't write down, but I would like to share nevertheless, for I have had a bit of delayed reaction to the Word. 

Last Wednesday at bible study, he had mentioned the parable of the unmerciful servant who, when his large debt was forgiven by his master, responded by throwing one of his own debtor's into prison over a much smaller amount.  At the time, he did not address the end of the parable specifically.  When I read it for myself, I was crushed.

Jesus Christ concluded the parable with verses 34-35:

"And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.  My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Oh, the Law!  I labored mightily beneath these verses for I know my sin.  I know it!  I struggle with forgiveness, knowing it, understanding it, walking in it.  Knowing how I have sinned against God, the depth of it, grieves me.  All I could think about was to worry what the "do" meant...that I would be handed over to torturers or that He wouldn't forgive me.  For I know my sin.  I know it!

That is, in part, why I am so very thankful for confession/absolution.  He came over tonight, after bible study, to make for a late night the day before he has graduate school class, because it is a gift he wants to give.  Sometimes I wonder which one of us understands my need for forgiveness more.

If I can say this correctly...Pastor's response to my confession of my terror at those verses, at my confession of my battle with trying to forgive my family who has wounded me so, was that if we choose to live by the Law, then that is what we get.  That is the wrath of the Law.  But...[pay attention Myrtle]...if we are in Christ, the wrath has already been poured out.  Christ was handed over to torturers until the debt was paid.  My debt was paid.  My debt for the forgiveness I struggle to give was paid.

He told me that it is good for the Law to pierce my heart for we should know our sin, confess our sin, and receive His blessed forgiveness.  Yes, I am pierced by the Law, but so was Christ.  He bore my wrath.

He read to me from Ephesians 5...twice...inserting my name in the passage:

"...Christ also loved [Myrtle] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [Myrtle] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless..." (v. 25-27)

I could have listened to it thrice more.  Had I asked, I believe Pastor would have complied.

I also asked him what it means, really means, to say, to pray, Lord, have mercy.  Oh, how I wish I could repeat what he said.  But, again, I did not take notes. The one bit I do remember, I think, is that it means we are standing with the lepers and tax collectors because we know our sin makes us inwardly as they appear outwardly...diseased...swindlers.  We stand with them as beggars and cry out for mercy because we have nothing.  That is who we are before Christ.  We cry out for mercy because we know that, just as He did with the lepers and the tax collectors, Christ will give it to us, cleansing us, healing us.

We finished the liturgy, and then Pastor prayed the Prayer on Wednesday from the Treasury of Daily Prayer with me and gave me a blessing before he left.  [Absolution and a blessing at the same time!  Such sweet consolation!]  He had read that he had forgotten on Saturday.  What he didn't hear, I think, is why I mentioned it.  I could have reminded him, could have asked him to come back.  I know he would have in a heartbeat.  It is hard for me to do so.

After he left, I sat on the couch for a while, just thinking on his words and re-reading the passages he read.

One of my laments is that I am quite greedy with his teaching.  I am.  I am not exaggerating or speaking lightly about this.  I am greedy for I am hard pressed for time.  The MS.  The cognitive decline.  I feel as if I have tried again and again and again to speak of this only to have my words fall on deaf ears.  Oh, how I long for someone to hold my hand for a while and tell me that it will be okay, if only because God knows and God understands my fears over this.

Perhaps this might convey the mental loss I battle to cope with and to hide:  Several times, not once but several times, I have found myself scrubbing my finger tips, trying to get the dirt off of them, not understanding how they got so dirty.  They are not dirty.  What I am trying to scrub off are the tiny pin pricks from the blood sugar testing I have to do, tiny blood-marked pin pricks.  I also regularly find myself trying to figure out why I have small bruises on my finger tips.  Again, I struggle and puzzle my way to remembering that I am sticking a needle in my fingers several times a day to make blood rise to the surface.  [Of course, if I could remember to change the needle more often, I think it would be easier on my fingertips.]  I scrub and try all sorts of cleansers only to finally figure out what those spots are.  And then, a while later, I am scrubbing again.  Given that this is a problem when I am putting in my contacts and think I am putting a contact on a dirty finger and given that I put in my contacts every I making myself clear?  I have lost so very much.

So, I want him to teach me NOW, to help me untangle all the lies satan has woven around me, before I cannot remember why doing so is important, before I forget the cross.  I want to shed all that works teaching, all those lessons on the bits and pieces of law I must keep so that I cling only to the pure teaching of the Gospel.

I have been reading the bible and studying doctrine for hours on end, not as a work, not as a plan to gain something, but because I am compelled to read, because I am satiated in a way I cannot really explain or describe.  Last night, I read through the book of Galatians, speaking the words to myself, to the bird on my head, the one on my shoulder, and Kashi at my feet.  On a dark, dark night, two months ago, when I cried out for help, Pastor, though he was not sure what to do, gave me a precious gift.  He came over and read through the Compline liturgy.  For the scripture reading, he read through the book of Philippians from beginning to end.  I recommend that you do the same.  My hurt was not lessened, nothing had really changed, but I was consoled in a way I would not have thought possible.  Last night, I remembered his gift and thought to try the same for the turmoil that wells within me and chose Galatians.

The Living Word is mighty and precious and a never-ending vault of riches.  But reading it does bring about so very many questions.  Sometimes I think it would be better to stop reading, to stop studying, for some of  the questions bother me greatly, wanting to understand or laboring beneath the burden of finding oh so much more Law than Gospel, even though I am learning that Gospel permeates the pages of the bible from beginning to end.  I ask Pastor about my questions and feel guilty for doing so and yet I ask nonetheless.  I feel guilty because I pile them high about him and want him to plow through them, if not immediately, then by the end of the day or perhaps by the time I awake the next morning.  I put my heart out there in the questions and tremble in vulnerability.  I dare to try, to trust, and am not very patient with a man who has worked so very hard to teach me and to help me.

This came up again tonight and Pastor read me a third passage from the tenth chapter of Romans, verses 14-15.  Basically, this question-filled passage is saying that we need pastors, that God gave us them so that we might understand.  The Holy Spirit reveals to us His Word, but God has called forth undershepherds to help guide us on our pilgrimage.  I found this comforting.

After a while, I turned on the computer so that I could listen to the other three hymns.  On the last one, Pastor started the recording with a helpful message for me to note the stanzas were on different pages.  I cannot figure out a way to describe it, but the hymn is split across two pages.  His verbal note made me smile.  After listening to all three twice, I turned back to At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing and set it to repeat.

And I turned back to Ephesians.

Pastor told me Saturday that when I find the Law and begin to crumble beneath its weight, I should remember the cross.  Ah, but Pastor, I am not so good at all that for me stuff, was my lament. How can I cling to that which confuses me, that which conflicts so markedly with that which experience has taught me?   

The Spirit will teach you, was his reply.  You will learn by His gifts, by the waters of your baptism, by the Living Word, by the body and blood of Christ, by the forgiveness of absolution. Just as Christ is saving me daily, hourly, He is forgiving me daily, hourly.  Give it time; the Holy Spirit will work these gifts into your heart.

When?  I cried.

When the Spirit reveals it to His perfect timing.

Tonight, the moment came and passed without can that be..but I find that I understand.  It was not a lightening bolt, but a slow sunrise that dawned within me.  In the words of Ephesians and the joy of that hymn, He used Pastor to speak to me in a way I could finally understand, in a way through which I could understand what it means to cling to the cross.  A certitude echoed back and forth between the two until it bloomed within me.  My certitude.  Here.  Now.  In this moment, I understand.  I still hurt.  I still struggle.  I am still confused.  But I understand and believe and I have tasted freedom.  Even as I was crying because it seemed as if, once again, what he was saying was not for me.  Even then, God was working allowing His Word to take root in me.  I am crying once more, but not from sorrow...not from sorrow.  Oh, I believe!

For me...

"...Christ also loved [Myrtle] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [Myrtle] in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless..." 

For you...

"...Christ also loved [you] and gave Himself up for  [you], so that He might sanctify [you], having cleansed [you] by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself [you] in all [your] glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that [you] would be holy and blameless..." 

Lord, have mercy upon this poor sinner. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, leave us not to bitter death. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, allow us not to lose hope in the face of death and hell. Lord, have mercy.

Holy Lord God, holy and mighty God, holy and most merciful Redeemer; God eternal, keep us steadfast in the true faith. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and break to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

~Isaiah 55: 10-11

Last week I sent someone a copy of Bonhoeffer's treatise on Psalms so that he, too, can learn to pray the Psalter.  Oh, my, am I thankful Luther suggests this as a beneficial thing to do!  I sent him an email letting him know the treatise was coming and to give him a bit of advice:  Read them aloud to yourself. Read them aloud to others. Let them be on your tongue. Let them fall from your lips. Let them fill your ears and your mind and your heart.

His copy arrived yesterday, and he emailed me his thanks.  I stopped then and prayed for him, for the courage to try something he has heard about but never thought to do in praying the Psalms.  I prayed that the Holy Spirit would reveal to him the riches of the Psalter, bringing the Word to his lips and ears and his mind and his heart.

I have been thinking about him this evening, wondering if he has opened the treatise yet.  I also bought one for each member of the nooner bible study and their spouses, but no one has really mentioned it.  That's okay, really. I purchased it for them because Bonhoeffer has schooled me in the riches of the prayer book of the bible, troubling my waters something fierce, yet painting such a portrait of grace as I can hardly stand.  I have read the book of Psalms more times than I can count now because of that tiny tomb.  I read them because of their clarion call.

You know, before Pastor plunked down the Book of Concord on the table next to the couch, I logged many an hour of television to keep me company, to pass the time when I was not feeling well, to spend time with friends.  I opened that book of doctrine and found the teaching I've craved for years, for decades.  I opened that book and found myself reading the bible for hours on end.  I do not pray a few verses of the Psalter or a even a whole Psalm.  Truly, I find myself praying many at a time for the riches in my mouth.  You'd laugh if you knew how many times I have played the audio file of Pastor reading Psalm 103 since Saturday.  I listen for forgiveness. I listen for mercy.  I listen for love.  Oh, I still watch the latest episode of the new Stargate, but I hunger not for that story as much as I do the story of Life.

I would like to quote another blogger because he speaks so clearly about what I have found in confessional Lutheranism:  There is freedom in Lutheranism that allows me to admit that I struggle with sin, to have a way to confess it openly, and to receive the forgiveness that I so desperately need. To receive Christ in the Supper while kneeling next to other sinners like me points us all outside of ourselves. He is not telling us to do more, try harder, or be better in that moment. Rather, it is pure Gospel being delivered to us, for us.

I do believe that is a simple, beautiful way to put it. 

When were you saved?  A question heard often in Protestant churches.  Oh, when I was eleven.  I accepted Jesus.  I. I. I. I. I.   Lutherans, as was explained in the Spirituality of the Cross, would say, Oh, about 2,000 years ago.  Always the cross.  Never I.  Always the cross.

Read the Psalter, and you will also see that the answer is also Today!  He saves me from my sin, from the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute onslaught of devil, from the only enemies that we truly have: sin and satan and death.  He saved me, is saving me, and will save me.  We read this in Psalm 25 yesterday.  It is all throughout the Psalter, all through the Living Word.

So, if the God of the entire universe is saving us, what then can we do, must we do?  Nothing.

Oh, how I cling to that.  Oh, how I struggle to understand it, to peel back the layers and layers and layers of works instruction that has covered me for decades.  Surely I must... Of course I should... 

Nothing.  Is there a more beautiful word in all of language?

Monday, October 26, 2009

I get to teach again on Wednesday!  Last Friday I taught the first and second graders at an elementary school downtown about hunger and homelessness.  Today, I was asked to do the same for the second graders at another elementary school this week!

I get to teach again!  SIGH.  I really and truly miss teaching. I even miss working with my ex-writing student-now-writing-prodigy-college-student. 

Pastor turned in his first paper, and I asked if I could read it. I asked because I really am hungry for all things doctrine and all things Living Word.  I asked because I miss being academic about things.  I asked because I know that he is a very talented writer with regard to sermons and (some) emails and devotionals and that lovely bit on prayer and such.  I wondered how he would be academically.  It is all I can do to refrain from sitting him down and telling him how he can make his next paper stronger, how he can leverage his talent in the craft and his fine mind into a truly great paper.  I sort of hinted today, beat around the bush about it, a half-hearted offer.  But I know he is not interested in my teaching him, not one who is schooled beyond my small studies through his calling and his vocation, not one who can wield a mightier pen.  DOUBLE SIGH.

Speaking of studies, I was greatly saddened to learn that the elders have decided to cease printing the devotional insert to the bulletin.  I want to rush in and say that I will print them myself.  For they have been a great help to me; I still have every one from each service I have attended and a few from some bulletins that were sent to me.

On one side is a review of the propers and sermon for the week.  In each bit, Pastor includes salient points upon which to reflect.  He also includes the hymns.   With this tool, we can re-read the passages from the Living Word and mediate on them.  Since both the written version and the audio file for the sermon are online, we can get fed throughout the week!

On the other side is a guide for daily meditation and prayer for the week ahead based on the lectionary and in preparation for the next divine service.  It is chock full of goodness:  memory verse, readings for the week, questions for reflection and preparation, a hymn, a bit from the catechism, the collect (prayer), and a prayer guide.  What more could you want?  Ah, but is that the key word:  want?

I believe the part that saddened me about this just might be the same that has always made me feel the outlier in churches:  studying the bible outside church, Sunday School, and bible study.  All too often, really almost all the time, I was the only one who actually read the book or bible and answered the questions before the bible study instead of just filling in the answers as people called out their thoughts and ideas.  All too often I was the only one who read ahead for Sunday School.  All to often I was the freak, the kook, the weird one.

Now Lutherans do have the lectionary, an amazing tool to know what scriptures will be taught each Sunday no matter where you long as you know if they are using a one-year or three-year lectionary!  And, as mentioned many a time here, there is now the great resource of the Treasury of Daily Prayer, with prayers, the small catechism, daily readings from the bible, the entire Psalter, and various liturgies. [Yes, I am a fan!]  But I do find it more passive than active.  Pastor's guides are active, with questions to consider and reflect upon as we read.  They challenge me to delve into the readings, to consider them, mediate on them, connect them to each other, to what I know, to the life which I live by His grace and mercy.

But you have to want the active rather than the passive.  In my experience, most people don't, which is something that puzzles me.

Apparently, very few of us at church bemoaned the decision.  Very few of us use this gift of teaching Pastor bestows each week.  For me, it is one worth far more than the paper and toner used to print it. 

But, then again, not only am I very hungry, I also happen to believe quite strongly that there is still a place for the printed word in this world.

Maybe, though, I should admit that perhaps some of my passion over this comes from that which I am losing.  Over and over again, Pastor asks me questions I should be able to answer.  He ask them in my lessonings.  He asks them in bible study.  Sometimes, I know the answer and do not speak because I am fearful of being wrong, yet again, on something so basic, so simple.  Other times I do not know that answer but know that I should know.  I hate confusion.  I hate it!  I hate what this disease is doing to my brain, what I see on the inside looking out, what no one seems to notice, what frightens me more than I can say.

His guides are an anchor for me, for his teaching from the Living Word and for what happened that day, that week.  They are fixed and solid, a certitude in a sea of confusion, forgotten memories, and foggy moments.  Oh, how I will miss them!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Have you ever noticed in football how many players, after making a great play, immediately give credit to God?  And have you ever noticed that after a really great play even an opponent will offer congratulations for the effort?

I was trapped in my car for a while today.  Frustrated. However, I did have a gift whilst there, so I suppose I should be thankful instead?

I was trapped because I grew so weak that I just could not leave the car. In truth, I should not have driven home.  And I am not sure how I feel about the choice I made in doing so.  For part of the way, I followed Pastor down the highway and did not have to thing much, but I could not hold my arms up on the steering wheel.  So I shoved my jacket beneath my hand and drove with my hands essentially in my lap, hanging on to the bottom of the wheel.

I am not sure why I started to go south.  I was sitting downstairs with the pot-luck folks after the service when I started growing dizzy.  And, as I have tried to describe before, it was as if I sprang a gas leak.  The energy I had leached away until I ended up taking a mini-nap on the table.  The rise of the general cocophany in the room from a meeting that ended roused me enough to get to my car, where I sat in the parking lot wondering about getting home.

When he spotted me still sitting in my car, Pastor asked me if I was going to be okay.  I responded affirmatively, but essentially that was not the truth.  Doing so made me feel badly, but at the same time I just didn't want ask for help.  What could he do?  Drive me home?  Then how would I get back to my car?  After he walked away, I called him back and asked if I could follow him down the highway.  He offered to lead me all the way home instead of just to his exit.  I wanted to accept, but then I didn't want to ask him to haul me out of the car.  For I very much feel that I should not go to church if I cannot get myself home.  The fatigue that has been pulling at my bones kept me from Sunday School, but I was not about to miss Reformation Sunday when I was all ready to join in the Liturgy as I have never been able to do so before.

Heat was not a problem.  I am not sure why wet noodle status arose.  If I were guess, I would wonder if emotion could actually be a factor.  Could it?

For it was with unalloyed joy that I sang all the hymns save those during communion which Pastor did not have a chance to record.  You cannot feel the interloper if you are actually singing bits of hymns from memory!

I found joy, too, in the fact that all three families I had asked to stand in for my family at our work picnic in two weeks agreed to come.  The picnic is actually a fundraiser, a mini-walk, for Help the Homeless.  Our board members are sponsoring the registration fees, so all we need are walkers.  I actually have 13 "family" members who will be joining me, the only two who are not coming are two husbands who are otherwise engaged.  Thirteen!  I was hoping one family would come.  I dared not hope for all three!  Not only will I not be alone at the picnic in the midst of people and their families, I get to hang out with folks from my church during the weekday!

And then there was the sermon.  Last week, I heard Christ say I love you, Myrtle.  Today, He chided me once more than He came to set me free.  Remember the sermon on prisons?  I heard so much Law in that sermon and saw so much of my sin.  Today, I heard more Gospel than Law...

And so you need not wonder: is this for me? Yes, it is for you. For it is for every nation and tribe and language and people. It is for all who are stuck in sin and death and cannot set themselves free. For the Son has come and set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Both now and forever. For though the day of judgment is coming, for you it has, in fact, already come. Your Saviour has spoken His “not guilty” upon you here, for He has taken your condemnation on the cross. What then remains for you now is forgiveness and life. Life in Him. Which is true life. The life of the Gospel. An eternal Gospel which gives eternal life.

I write of condemnation just last night and today Christ reminds me of the promise of His Word, reminds me that there is no condemnation for those whom He saved.  A few days ago, Pastor wrote in an email a qualifer of Christ's love:  But Jesus does love you. Yes, so much that He became who you are, that you might be who He is. Think about that a little.

I have been thinking about that.  Thinking about Pastor's sermons and lessoning and Pizza Man's exuberant chastisements and that which I am studying and the words of the hymns that have filled my home and my heart since Wednesday night.

Lord, have mercy.  Words. Song.  Prayer. On my lips.  On my heart.

So, I wonder if just feeling joy, in reveling in the haven of where I was, became too much for such a weak, wimpy, fragile child of God.

When I first pulled up to my home, I wanted to call Pastor and beg him to turn around and drive back over.  I wanted him to haul me inside so that I could collapse in my green chair and watch football and then NASCAR (I tend to record the races because I often fall asleep during them and do not want to miss any crashes!).  I wanted to be in my home with my birds and my puppy dog. I did not, did not want to be trapped in my car.  But after a few minutes of feeling rather sorry for myself, I remembered that, after the service, Pastor's wife gave me a CD of advent hymns.  I was very surprised at the gift.  She knows I am trying to learn the Lutheran hymns and thought I could get a jump start on the next part of the church year.

So, I pulled off the wrapping and popped the CD into the player in my car.  Although the seat does not go back low enough to really be comfortable (I suspect because a driver should never be sleeping whilst behind the wheel), I did recline somewhat and settled into listening to her gift.

Advent hymns, I proffer, are exactly the sorts of hymns you should be listening to when you are feeling a bit down and thinking overly much on many matters of faith and life.  Yes, I knew some of them.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel being a favorite of I wonder if Pastor would sing with me instead of to me.  Many I did not.  I did not try to learn them, but instead merely allowed their messages to wash over me until I fell asleep.  Nearly four hours later, I awoke and made my way inside.

Come, heav'nly bridgroom, light divine,
And deep within our hearts now shine;
There light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be
As living branches of a tree,
Your life our lives supplying,
Now, though daily Earth's deep sadness
May perplex us and distress us,
Yet with heavn'ly joy You bless us.

~O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright, 2 (LSB 395)

I am loved by a God who can turn our mourning into joy, who became me, who became all my sin and doubts and fears, walking through the same trials and travails, knowing suffering and sorrow and humiliation Himself, because He desires for me to join Him for all eternity.  Would that I remembered this more, walked in it more, breathed it more...

Pastor's sermon:

Jesu Juva

“An Eternal Gospel”
Text: Revelation 14:6-7; John 8:31-36 (Romans 3:19-28)

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

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.

Think about those words that St. John proclaimed to you this morning from the book of Revelation. For they are what the Reformation is all about. For this day is not about Luther, though it includes him; and it is not about the events that happened some 500 years ago, though we remember them. Today is about the
Gospel that is eternal. It is about this Gospel that has been proclaimed through the ages, from the very first person to the very last person. The Gospel that is for every nation and tribe and language and people. The Gospel that is happening here and now, for you. For this Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins that we have in Him. And so it is eternal for He is eternal. It is eternal for His love is eternal.

Think about that. In this Gospel, as we just sang in the chief hymn, you stand in a very long line of patriarchs, prophets, saints, fathers, and martyrs.
For to Adam this Gospel was proclaimed, to give him hope even as he was exiled from Paradise.
To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob this Gospel was proclaimed, to set their eyes on their true home as they wandered this earth with no home.
To Moses and Israel this Gospel was proclaimed, that they might see that their great deliverance from slavery in Egypt was just the beginning.
To Joshua this Gospel was proclaimed that he fear not the powers and kingdoms of this earth.
To David and Solomon this Gospel was proclaimed, that in their kingdoms they see a pale foreshadowing of the glorious kingdom that is to come.
To God’s people in exile this Gospel was proclaimed through the prophets, that they might know that they were not forgotten, and that God’s loving discipline lasts only a time.

And then this Gospel came to earth. All God’s promises were fulfilled as the Word was made flesh, and in Jesus, the hopes of all God’s people were fulfilled. For in Jesus, the Son of God came to set us free. And - as St. John also told us today, in His Gospel -
if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.
For Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that through His atonement for sin on the cross, we be burdened by it no more.
He is the Good Shepherd who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death - the One who is uniquely qualified to do so - being the only one to pass through that valley Himself in His death and resurrection.
He is the Strong Man who has come and bound satan, stripping him of his power and demolishing his stronghold, that we need fear him no more.
He is the Son of God who has come to make us sons of God.

But now risen and ascended His work has not ceased, but continues. His eternal Gospel continues to be proclaimed, and through it He is calling His people and building His Church. For though this Gospel is proclaimed by many, the Church is built only by One: by Christ Himself. In our Morning Prayer this week, we read a meditation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that expressed this. He wrote:

It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess - he builds. We must proclaim - he builds. We must pray to him - that he may build. (Treasury of Daily Prayer, p. 840-1)

And so the Church is built by Christ in the apostles, who proclaimed this Gospel before governors and kings and were not ashamed.
The Church is built by Christ through martyrs, who proclaimed this Gospel with their blood; that He who held the power of life and death was not the one bringing down the sword or releasing the lions.
The Church is built by Christ in early church fathers, who proclaimed this Gospel though exiled and persecuted.
The Church is built by Christ in the dark ages, when the light of the Gospel could not be snuffed out.
The Church is built by Christ in the Reformation, when an insignificant monk who had some questions proclaimed a Gospel he so desperately needed himself.
The Church is built by Christ in the midst of wars, under the oppression of communism, in the midst of secular humanism, and through the skepticism of modernism.
And now the Church is built by Christ also in you. And this last is not the least, but may, in fact, be the greatest.

For this eternal Gospel has come to you in your fears, your doubts, your sins; in your questions, your wanderings, your despair; in your rebellion, your persecutions, and in your little kingdoms that you think are so great.
But not only in times of trouble and distress, the eternal Gospel has come to you also in the times of your prosperity - when lack of troubles make us fat and lazy, when ease makes us presume on the favor of God, when good times make us think we’re good, and we turn not to God but to ourselves for what we need. Perhaps it is in our prosperity that the work of God is all the more amazing. Which is why we pray in the great litany: “
in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity . . . help us, good Lord.” (LSB p. 288)

And He does. For His Gospel is eternal. And the Lord “
who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philip 1:6) He is not like us. He does not start and then not finish. He does not start and then leave us on our own. He is the beginning and the ending, the Alpha and the Omega. (Rev 22:13) He is faithful.

And so His work begun in you in your baptism, making you a son of God in Christ, continues. He is a faithful Father who raises His children in perfect love - not sugary love, and not overbearing love, but perfect love.

And though your mind be filled with many words and many wisdoms, seeking to lead you astray; though your life be filled with riches seeking to capture your heart and love, or filled with troubles seeking to rob you of your hope, the work of Christ continues in you with His Word of life, to lead you in His way of truth. The way of repentance and reliance on Him.

And though satan wants to kill you and constantly holds the sword of your sin and guilt over you, the work of Christ continues in you by continually raising you to life in Absolution: proclaiming that your sins are not held against you - they were held against Christ on the cross. And if they are on Him then they are not on you, and so you are forgiven.

And though your sinful flesh wants to gorge you with the things of this world that do not satisfy, the work of Christ continues in you to fill you with what does truly satisfy the longings and desires of your heart as He fills you with Himself, feeding you with His own body and blood, given and shed for you.

Apart from Him and His work, we would lose, and lose big. Both the pleasures and persecutions of this world would quickly destroy us. But as this eternal Gospel has lasted through so many generations, so many challenges, so many temptations, so many assaults, so many persecutions, so it will last in you. Not because of you; because of Him. The One who is faithful, the One who is true, the One who is your Lord and Saviour.

And so you need not wonder: is this for me? Yes, it is for you. For it is
for every nation and tribe and language and people. It is for all who are stuck in sin and death and cannot set themselves free. For the Son has come and set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Both now and forever. For though the day of judgment is coming, for you it has, in fact, already come. Your Saviour has spoken His “not guilty” upon you here, for He has taken your condemnation on the cross. What then remains for you now is forgiveness and life. Life in Him. Which is true life. The life of the Gospel. An eternal Gospel which gives eternal life.

Now, it may not always look like the Gospel is winning, or that it’s even working at all. That’s okay. We do not know the plan of God, how He is building, and how He is pulling down so that He may build. But that He is working and building, have no doubt. On this you have His Word, and the witness of generations past. And most of all, you have the witness of the cross - the place where above all places it looked like satan had won; but which was, in fact, the place of his defeat. For there, death did not win - life won.

So come now and receive again that life. Receive Him who has done -
and continues to do - such great things for you. Come and join the “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven” - all those who have gone before us - at the feast of our Lord. Come and feast on Him who loved you then, who loves you now, and who will love you forever. Come, He is here for you.

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Today was another lessoning!  Always good.  Often hard.

We did not crack the Book of Concord, which again makes me despair of ever getting to that which distresses me.  Perhaps, though, I should blame myself for I asked two questions about prayer that cropped up in the Wednesday evening bible study lessons.  Those questions and the tangents thereof took all the time he had for me.  There was one bit, however, that was pretty important:

One of the scriptural references from the bible study was James 1:6-7.  I saw only the Law.  Oh, how I know well my sin.  I knew I was a sinner, I just didn't know the fullness of that state.  I still do not.  But I know more my doubts and my fears and the ways in which I have not trusted as I should.  So, I read these verses in condemnation, despite the promise (yes, Pastor, you read that one right) of Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  How do you reconcile James 1:6-7 with Romans 8:1?

I still do not have that answer, but Pastor made a comment that gave me pause, gives me pause:  Prayer is always based on who God is, not who we are.

In learning to pray the Psalter, I have learned of the magnificence of the Living Word in a way I could not have fathomed.

Within those prayers are all the conditions of the human experience, all our hopes and fears, all our triumphs and failures.  If not the specific act, we are given the outpouring of our hearts in such a time.  So, while there is not, to be rather blunt, a Psalm on rape, for example, there are many on anguish, despair, sorrow, and confusion.

Within those prayers are all the promises of God, all of what He has done, is doing, and will do.  His gifts to us--mercy, grace, and an everlasting, steadfast, unconditional love--are poured out upon us.  His power and might are displayed.  His wisdom is shared. 

One Psalm that has such riches not even a lifetime can contain is 51.  In it, we are given two of the greatest gifts in scripture:  1) that God can, and does, create a clean heart in us sinful, wretched children and 2) that He places the words of our prayers on our lips.  Couple the latter with the promise (yes, there is that word again, Pastor) of Romans 8:26, that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and our prayers are made righteous, are complete and whole and true.  Remember the graphic?  Here, too, there are no end-arounds.

Yesterday I read on one of the confessional Lutheran pastors' blog an entry on prayer that inspired rather harsh critique and, yes, condemnation of the prayers of "evangelicals."  I was offended.  I may have joined the Lutheran confession but I do not believe that all prayers of the Protestant churches from which I came were natter, nay footle.  I believe those commenters were wrong, not only in their judgment, but in their rather elitist separation from their brothers and sisters in Christ.  After all, those "evangelicals" have the same promises that God will arrange their prayers on their lips and the Spirit will intercede for them.

I do believe the heritage of prayer is sadly missing in those Protestant churches I attended.  I have found such riches in the prayers I hear Pastor speak in the Liturgy, in those I read as a part of the same.  In the prayers in the Treasury of Daily Prayer.  In the writings of the church fathers.  They are words grounded in the pure teaching of Scripture.  They are based upon a thorough understanding of a right relationship between man and God.  They speak of mercy and forgiveness, of Law and Gospel.  I find value in the prayers Pastor has written for me.  I learn from these prayers. I am covered by them.  To discard them in favor of only spontaneous prayer is to leave by the wayside a treasure that can sustain, enrich, and give life.

To discredit, disdain, and disregard spontaneous prayer is to do the same.  After all, are not the words of the Psalter the outpouring of the heart?  There is a fellowship that comes with setting aside the self, with standing bare before God, with holding hands and together crying out to Him for mercy and forgiveness, for peace and healing.  To lift up another is to take up his burden.  To cover another is to help carry her cross.  I miss that fellowship. I do.

Pastor did not bless me before he left.  I wanted to stop him and ask him to do so.  I did not.

This morning, I slept until Pastor called to tell me that he was on his way and I fell asleep not long after he left.  I am tired.  I wish I knew why, but taking two days off to make a long weekend last week in order to catch up on some sleep did not help the fatigue that has been dragging at my bones.  Madeleine slept with me because she was traumatized shortly after Pastor left.

The vet has yet to determine why but she regularly loses her blood feathers.  This can be very dangerous because a bird can bleed to death fairly quickly.  It is, however, always quite painful.  Quite.  She was preening herself when one feather came out part way.  For over ten minutes, she screeched in pain.  Usually, she flaps her wings enough to dislodge the feather or pulls it out herself, but this time she could not.  I finally managed to pull the feather out for her and pinch the wound shut until it could clot.  Poor baby.  I wish I knew what her problem is.

Afterward, she was a bit clingy, which is unusual for my skittish little girl.  So, she remained with me while I slept away the next five hours. 

When I awoke, I played the hymns again and have been listening to them ever since.  I had wanted to ask Pastor to sing and record the other three for tomorrow, but felt to ask would be a bit greedy.  I did do far better at the 90 minutes he would prefer to keep our lessonings to than before.  What he did record is the Psalm I asked him to read at the beginning of the lesson.  Psalm 103 is one I need to hear over and over, one I chose for today because I wanted the words of mercy and forgiveness poured over me.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
When the wind has passed over it, it is no more,
And its place acknowledges it no longer.
But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting 

on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children's children,
To those who keep His covenant
And remember His precepts to do them.
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the LORD, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Friday, October 23, 2009

A while ago, Pastor posted a photo of a truly horrifyingly HUGE spider on his blog that he found in his backyard:  A Marbled Orb Weaver.  UGH!  Were I him my house would be on the market.

Well, my winter buddy is back, or one of her descendants, so I thought I would post my own photo.

For the past several years, I have had this type of spider (no, Pastor, I have not a clue as to what it is) come hang out in the upper corner of my back door.  Of course, I keep forgetting about her and destroy her web as I walk through it.  At first, I would get angry at her because I do not care for spider silk draping my hair.  But, after a while, I found myself admiring her persistence and perseverance, for each time I destroyed her web she would simply rebuild it.  So, I once again find myself trying to remember to duck when I go out the back door.

At the risk of sounding childish, I am just plum beside myself in having so many hymns from which to learn.  I can now sing 10 of the 12 I have.  The final two have tunes that I cannot quite get right, but I have hope!  And having them has had an added bonus:  both Wednesday and Thursday night, I actually fell asleep listening to them and slept through to the morning...with no nightmares.

What I didn't know is that in playing them as I feel asleep, I was treating my new neighbor to a nightly concert as well.  He let me know, not to complain, but to let me know.  Of course, his comment meant that I had to explain just why it is that I am playing hymns, not about the nightmares, but about pastoral care and confessional Lutheranism and the Book of Concord and Bonhoeffer's treatise and learning to pray the Psalter and now trying to learn hymns.  Have not a clue as to where he stands or what he thought but he also told me that he hears me sing Psalms in the shower.  Neither the hymns nor the psalms bother him.  He just thought I might like to know.  He did not, however, complain about the loudness of my television.  I dared not ask.

Amongst the new set of nine hymns, there is one that has run through my mind at work both yesterday and today and was really why I thought to play them while I sleep.  I wish you could hear it, but I believe there is value in reading it as well.  I find the melody compelling, but it is the last three words of each stanza that echo through my mind, remind me of the Litany and the Prayer on Wednesday from the Treasury of Daily Prayer, remind me of the questions I have about prayer:

To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray

To God the Holy Spirit let us pray
For the true faith needed on our way
That he may defend us when life is ending
and from exile home we are wending.
Lord, have mercy.

O sweetest Love, Your grace on us bestow;
Set our heart with sacred fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Every stranger, sister, and brother.
Lord, have mercy.

Transcendent Comfort in our every need,
Help us neither scorn nor death to heed
That we may not falter nor courage fail us
When the foe shall taunt and assail us.
Lord, have mercy.

Shine in our hearts, O Spirit, precious light;
Teach us Jesus Christ to know aright
That we may abide in the Lord who bought us,
Till to our true home He has brought us.
Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

Tonight I tried the other Wednesday night bible study in lieu of missing it until next Spring.  After all, I was the one who suggested the topic.  Ought I not to attend the teaching? 

This one is held in the basement of the church, and as I suspected, heat was not a problem.  In fact, there was none!  I was so cold at time, I bent over my thighs to try and warm my core more.  Of course, I can always dress warmer or bring a blanket, whereas the heat at the congregation president's home makes me ill.  It is his home and he is older and is in need of warmth.  I cannot ask him to accomodate me.

Still, I wonder about tonight.

First the good:  I now have 8 more hymns and one piece of the Divine Service Liturgy 5!

I had the most wonderful idea of using Ask the Pastor, providing there were no other people who wanted to ask questions, to have Pastor use the time to sing me hymns into his recording gizmo.  He did!  Sunday, for Reformation, we are doing a hymn-filled liturgy.  Back in olden times, Luther wrote hymns in German so that his flock could learn the liturgy since few of them knew Latin.  So, we are singing 12 hymns.  I knew none of them.  Now, after listening to his recordings for the past few hours, I can confidently sing 5 of the ones I received tonight.  Would it be absolutely greedy of me to ask Pastor to record the other 3 hymns on Saturday so that I could sing the whole service?

One other person (Pizza Man's sister) had come early, so she sang along with Pastor, not caring that he was making me recordings.  So sweet is it to hear her in the background.  At one point, she noted that perhaps we should do this more.  I heartily agree!  Of course, I would still be mostly listening, but tonight I found the hymns being sung round me to be a blessed balm.

[Sam has been singing along with Pastor this whole evening.  It is true:  all creation praises the Creator!]

I would post one or two so that you might share in the blessing, but Pastor expressly forbid my public dissemination of his recordings.   I don't blame him and, truly, do you know of another Pastor who would sing a capella, into a digital recorder no less, at the drop of a hat to accommodate his parishioner's longing to learn Lutheran hymns?  Such riches God gives me.

Now the bad:  They only got through one question.


I feel I derailed the bible study and kept us exploring a topic Pastor has already tried rather valiantly to teach me.  In part, forgiveness.  In part, accountability.  Some of the discussion was rather helpful to more than just I.  In one of those humbling reminders of God's sovereignty, the question on anger caught one man by surprise.  Something happened just before time to leave that made him angry.  He said he had a choice:  come to bible study and pray or stay and resolve the problem.  When he read the question he saw that really he was to come to bible study and pray and resolve the problem.  I almost think that his sharing that was enough of a lesson for me to ponder for the rest of the week.  For someone who speaks Spanish far better than English, he could not have been more eloquent.

However, I did feel the interloper.  The Alexandria person sneaking into the Vienna study and then...all learning came to a crashing halt.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nothing has changed from when I was a child.  Nothing.

If you would care to open your eyes a bit you will see this, too. 

Today's damning headline:  Action Urged to Curb Child Abuse Deaths.  Yes, action is needed because in just 6 short years, there was a 35% rise in deaths from child abuse in this great land of freedom we have.  A land where many parents, adults, and even other children believe that freedom means they are free to abuse, neglect, and kill children.  Food is optional.  Fists are acceptable.  Sex is a right.

It is everywhere, every place, in every home.  No strata of our society, no race, no religion is excepted. 

Until we open our eyes to this bloody truth, nothing will change.  Until we openly admit this failing of ours, nothing will change.  Until we are willing to take this burden upon ourselves, nothing will change.

How long, O Lord?  How long!

Monday, October 19, 2009

During the Lord's Supper, for each person, to each person, Pastor speaks the words "given for you" when he places the bread in our mouths and "shed for you" when he raises the cup to our lips.  Given for you.  Shed for you.  For you, Myrtle.  No, he does not speak my name, but the emphasis he places on the word "you" does.  Emphasis he gives to each "you," to each person.  Moreover, he also places his hand on the head of each child, giving a blessing by name, speaking of the grace given in the washing of the holy water of baptism.

I do not know if this is common amongst all confessional Lutheran pastors or just a service this particular undershepherd gives to his flock.

What I do know is that, in our church, the words "for you" rise above the hymns being sung and fill the sanctuary from corner to corner, from door to door.  So, from the first bite to the last sip, whether we are at the alter or in the pew, we are awash in a precious, truly ineffable reminder of the greatest act of love in the universe, one done not for glory, not for power, not for gain.  Instead, the Son of the Creator of that universe, Jesus Christ, willingly suffered an ignoble, humiliating, agonizing death for poor, miserable, wretched sinners. 

For you.  For me.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have you ever noticed that in football if you do a great job you have a rather instant celebration of your effort and if you make a mistake you have instant encouragement to keep trying?  Solid support all around...success or failure matters not... 

What I know of love...

Pastor's sermon on what he knows of love...

And so in love He is born, and in love He lives. In love He ascends the cross, and in love He dies. In love He takes our sins, and in love He gives us forgiveness and life. For as it was said of the rich young man, so it is true for you: And Jesus, looking at you, loves you. Not because you deserve it, but because that is who your God and Saviour is and what He does: love.

Today you got to see that love in action yet again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God came through the waters of Holy Baptism, and again did something much greater than put a camel through the eye of a needle - He put YuRim through His death and resurrection and gave her the promise of eternal life. He washed away her sins and gave her a new birth and made her His child forever. Not because water can do such great things, but because He can.

And in just a few moments, you get to see this love in action again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God come to you in the bread and wine of His Supper, doing something much greater than putting a camel through the eye of a needle - putting His body into your mouth and pouring His blood over your sin-parched lips, thus giving life to the dead, forgiveness to the sinful, and salvation to the needy. Not because bread and wine can do such great things, but because He can.

Jesu Juva

“The God Who Loves Us”
Text: Mark 10:23-31 (Ecclesiastes 5:10-20; Hebrews 4:1-16)

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

In the Holy Gospel last week, we heard of a rich young man who had come to Jesus full of excitement and hope. He wanted to enter the kingdom of God and he was willing to do whatever it took to do so . . . except for one thing: he would not let go of his wealth. He could not. And so he went away, filled with sorrow.

Today, we hear Jesus’ response, and we hear that this rich young man was not the only one filled with sorrow:
Jesus was too. Can you hear the sorrow in His voice, as watching the eager young man turn around and walk away from Him, Jesus sighs, and with a heavy heart and perhaps with eyes still focused on the young man walking away, says to His disciples: “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. Perhaps because they thought that those God has so richly blessed would be those most thankful to Him! But it is often not that way, is it? Gifts become gods, and what has been given becomes more important than the One who gives it. So important that we will not let go of it . . . or maybe even cannot, because we cannot imagine life without it. And while that is a danger with all the things that God has given us in this world and life (or that we want Him to give us!), Jesus would have you know today that it is a particular danger with wealth, with money, with stuff.

And whether you live in first century Israel or 21st century America or any other time, it doesn’t take long to see how true that is. How, like the rich young man, our wealth makes us sorrowful, not joyful. Consider Solomon, who wrote the Old Testament reading today from Ecclesiastes. If anybody had it made, it was him! His riches, his kingdom, his wisdom - he had it all . . . and yet he was miserable, sorrowful. These things had become his gods, and while he loved them, they did not love him back. And the more he loved them, the emptier he became, the more loveless he became, and the more hopeless and vain it all seemed.

This is a pattern that repeats itself far too often. And it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. We think: “If I can just have
this, then I’ll be good.” But this always leads to that. It is why so many credit cards are maxed out. It is why so many homes are being foreclosed. It is why so many families are being destroyed. It is why so many who have so much have so little joy and contentment. We love what we have, but what we have doesn’t love us. And so we search and we cling and we work and we hope . . . and what gives us value and worth one day seems so empty and hollow the next. And we do not find what we were looking for. We find not love, but sorrow. We find gods who take but do not give back.

That’s why in the verses of the Holy Gospel we heard last week, there was a little comment in the middle of the reading that seemed just kind of thrown in at the time, but which turns out to be so important. We were told this:
“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

That’s the crux of it all right there. That right before the rich young man was someone giving him what he needed and wanted and craved. It is the difference between all false gods and the one true God: there is only One who loves you. All other gods take; the one true God gives. All other gods leave you empty; the one true God fills you. All other gods give sorrow; the one true God gives life.

And so in love, our God did something much more difficult than put
a camel through the eye of a needle. That sounds incredible to us, and so many commentators and teachers have tried to soften this teaching of Jesus by claiming that there was a gate into the city of Jerusalem that was named “the eye of the needle” and if your camel had too much stuff on it, you would have to take some off to get through. But it was possible! But let us move past such nonsense to the real point: Jesus meant what He said. Unless and until you can put your big, fat, sinful, camel-self through the eye of a needle, you will never get yourself into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples understood that, that’s why they immediately asked: “Then who can be saved?

And Jesus says: “
All things are possible with God.” Because what had God done? He didn’t put a camel through the eye of a needle, He did something much, much greater: in love, He put His almighty and infinite Son through a virgin’s womb. That His Son, clothed in our flesh and blood, love us to death. That we who are dead in our trespasses and sins and clinging to our false gods, be loved to life. And so Jesus comes to give us what no one and no thing else can: love. True love. Eternal love.

And so in love He is born, and in love He lives. In love He ascends the cross, and in love He dies. In love He takes our sins, and in love He gives us forgiveness and life. For as it was said of the rich young man, so it is true for you:
And Jesus, looking at you, loves you. Not because you deserve it, but because that is who your God and Saviour is and what He does: love.

Today you got to see that love in action yet again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God came through the waters of Holy Baptism, and again did something
much greater than put a camel through the eye of a needle - He put YuRim through His death and resurrection and gave her the promise of eternal life. He washed away her sins and gave her a new birth and made her His child forever. Not because water can do such great things, but because He can.

And in just a few moments, you get to see this love in action again, as the almighty and infinite Son of God come to you in the bread and wine of His Supper, doing something
much greater than putting a camel through the eye of a needle - putting His body into your mouth and pouring His blood over your sin-parched lips, thus giving life to the dead, forgiveness to the sinful, and salvation to the needy. Not because bread and wine can do such great things, but because He can.

He can, and in love, He does. That you not walk away from Him in sorrow. In fact, that you not walk away from Him at all, for from this place He goes with you. For here He gives you the greatest gift of all:
the gift of Himself, to be with you always. That we may cling not to the things of this world, but to Him. To Him who has been tempted as you are tempted, who can sympathize with you in your weakness, and who - unlike the things of this world - will never pass away. That at all times and each day we have the mercy and grace we need. For whatever struggle you have, for whatever problem you face, for whatever demon comes your way.

Those things of life are hard when they come upon us, and it’s hard to cling to your Saviour through them when the world seems to offer such easy alternatives and solutions. And so seduced, many walk away from Christ, clinging to false hope, false promises, and false gods. And so Jesus gives you this promise today, that “
there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” Three promises, actually, that Jesus gives you there: the promise of the church as your family; the promise of persecutions from your enemy, the devil; and the promise of eternal life.

And with those promises, do you see? You and I are very rich young men and women indeed. Not, perhaps, rich in the things of this world, but rich with the kingdom of God. And those are the riches satan wants! The riches of this world he knows are rubbish - he doesn’t care about them. That’s why he persecutes you. To try to take away from you what you have that he can never have: the kingdom of God. But to you, dear children of God - to you and not to him - has been given the kingdom of God. For you the Son of God has come. For you He lived and died and lives again. For you - that you who are last in the eyes of the world might be first in His sight. In His sight - the one who looks at you and loves you. And when you have that - when you have Him - you have all that you need. And though you lose everything in this world and life, you are rich - very rich indeed!

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.