Sunday, October 04, 2009

Meet my twin! 

At the tag sale last weekend, two women from the church got into a conversation about godchildren.  I was frankly eve's dropping, moved by the enthusiasm with which they were discussing them.  One of the women noted how blessed the church had been with baptisms and was ticking them off her fingers, one by one.  She finished with saying, "and then there was the best day when we had the twins!"

Now, I was confused.  While I do not know all that many folks from church (I keep hoping Pastor will let me do a photo directory so that then I can officially meet them all and learn their names), I was fairly certain that there are no twins amongst the children.  The other woman looked a bit puzzled until the first woman turned to grin at me and say that A and I were twins because we shared the same baptism!

My heart leapt at hearing her joy of my baptism and it was the first time I shared such over that day.  I do wish it had not been so difficult.  Even more so, I long to remember the moment.  However, standing before me were two women who remembered and took joy at the thought.  It is a marvelous, truly wondrous thing that God would allow me to carry His name, that He would wash me clean and give me new life given the sinner I am.  How it happened does not ultimately matter.  I am thankful to those women for reminding me that.

I'm a twin!

Is she not adorable?  I told my godmother that she looks like a turtle.  Magnificent woman that she is, JW took no offense.

Today was my Augsburg moment!  Wouldn't you know that my blood sugar was dropping throughout the service, so I was a bit shaky by the time Pastor called me to the front following the sermon.  I was trying to hold off drinking the juice because I wanted to wait until after the Lord's Supper.  Walking up was fine, but standing, teeming with all manner of emotions, was difficult.  Pastor was above me, so I couldn't take his arm or lean against him.  In fact, the only thing near me was the baptismal fount behind me. Even though I thought it might be inappropriate to lean on it, very shortly I reached back and hung on, grateful for the support so that I could concentrate on my confession.

After the service, well, I was simply overwhelmed by all the welcomes I received.  So many came up to greet me and express their joy that I had joined with them.  In the middle of it all, one of the men from the Wednesday night bible study kissed me on my forehead.  That moment and the ones following were difficult for I was frightened by him and yet know that he only was expressing his happiness for me.  I do not like that I struggled to pretend that all was well with those who welcomed me after he stepped away.  Holding A helped, as did a man who stopped by shortly thereafter.

He is from Concordia Seminary, here on a long-term fellowship.  P told me that he was going to be talking and writing about me, that he wanted others to share in how he was blessed today.  Needless to say, I was a bit puzzled until he explained.  He had noticed that I had some sort of balance problem and was moved to see me leaning upon the baptismal fount as I stood before the pastor and the church confessing my faith.

Remember the question that bothered me so?

Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?

The answer is:  I do, by the grace of God.

All I could think about was how often I do not do the things that I want to do, how weak my faith can be, the sin with which I struggle, the hurts that overwhelm me.  This is why I thought it would not be right for me to answer the question just so that I could gain the alter.  How could I say I intend to do something when I know how often I fall? 

By the grace of God.  That's how.  No Lutheran is ever expected to do one single thing on her own.  No works necessary for salvation or forgiveness or to increase your faith.  It is all the Work of God.

So, P, not knowing of my own turmoil, not knowing even a single part of my story, found it especially appropriate and quite a blessing to see me take strength from the baptismal fount in my time of need.  To Lutherans, the baptismal fount is not merely a piece of furniture; it is the precious gift of Christ.

His comments made me think about the bit from Pastor's sermon, another moment for me when I felt as if Christ were teaching me from the pulpit, not him:

And so from first to last, God’s Word is a word not of rules, but of life. And all Jesus does He does for our life. If that means blessings, then blessings; if it means crosses, then crosses. Whatever serves life, that is what your Lord and Saviour will do for you. You may not understand it always, and it may not be easy, but that’s okay. He knows what He’s doing, and what He’s doing is life.

The icing for today was that my godfather brought me a gift from Germany where he had been on a business trip.  I was simply stunned when he handed over the bag.  I knew he was there and had been praying for him, for safety, for his duties, for being separated from his family.  I knew he was there, but would never have guessed that he thought about me during that time or even bring me a gift.

When it was time to leave, I wanted some assistance because I was still shaky.  For reasons that are truly inexplicable, I trust Pizza Man and Pastor.  My godfather frightens me.  However, I rather purposely asked him if he would help me. He did so readily, fetching my things from the sanctuary so that I could leave out the back way since doing so meant just a handful of steps.  He then moved my car away from the edge of the flowerbed so that I could climb into the front seat more easily.  Before I did, he touched my arm, saying that he was glad to have had a chance to see me.  Such a strange choice from a man who has very kindly given me the distance I need.  Thanks be to God, I did not flinch at his touch.  Instead, I remembered his gift and concentrated on how special it made me feel.

I cannot begin to express how blessed I have been by the folks at St. Athanasius.  Yes, Pastor is a true undershepherd who has fought mightily against the lies of satan in my life.  But being a part of that church body is so much more than being one of his flock.  If nothing else, I have heard from all of those who have spoken to me, on at least one occasion in some part of the conversation, that I am forgiven.  It is a Lutheran given:  we are poor, miserable, wretch sinners, sinners who are in need of the mercy and grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, sinners who are forgiven.  Knowing our condition heightens the marvelous joy of that forgiveness.  They walk in it, breath in it, live in it.  Forgiveness permeates every facet of their lives, even as they struggle with their own sins, their own trials.  Knowing this, they are wont to remind others, to revel with others, every opportunity that arises.

Other than struggling with the kiss, I did find holding A bittersweet.  She has grown so much, gaining the weight babies inevitably do.  However, her development means that I will not be able to hold her much longer.  Perhaps today was a weaker one for me, but nevertheless the day is coming when it will not be responsible for me to ask my godmother to hand her over.  I shall miss my baby therapy!

Pastor's sermon:

Jesu Juva

“It’s Not About Rules - It’s About Life.”
Text: Mark 10:2-16; Hebrews 2:1-18

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

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  . . .  [H]ow shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

We just heard that from the author of the book of Hebrews. He says not just to pay attention, but to pay
much closer attention to God’s Word. Lest we drift away from it. Drift away - like a boat its owner forgot to tie to the dock, which slowly, silently, little by little, drifts away . . . until it is lost. For to neglect God’s Word is no little thing. It is, we are told, to neglect our very salvation.

So perhaps we should translate this verse like this: Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from Him. Because slipping away from the Word of God is slipping away from Christ. Christ, who is the Word made flesh. Every page of Scripture is about Him. And so to lose the Word is to lose Christ, and to lose Christ is to lose our salvation.

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard . . .

But what does that mean? Well, a number of things.

We could point our fingers at the ELCA this morning, and their recent decisions to,
really, approve of homosexuality. Those decisions were clearly not paying any attention at all to the Word of God.

But that’s too easy. Let us not just point the finger at others, what about you and me? Did you hear and pay close attention to the Word of God as it was read just a few moments ago? If I asked you what each of the readings was about, could you tell me? What about the Word of God during the week? And what about the application of the Word in your life? Or is the Word of God, for you, mostly stories about
other people and other times and other places, with no discernible impact on your thinking or in your life? The truth is: we all need to pay much closer attention . . .

But just saying that is not enough. Because I have not yet mentioned the biggest danger we face in paying attention to the Word of God. It is the biggest danger those who read the Word everyday face. It is the biggest danger those who love and memorize the Word face. It is to regard the Word of God as a rule book. That’s why folks want to post the Ten Commandments everywhere. They think that God’s Word is primarily instructions about how I am to live, what I am to do, and how I am to be if I want to be a Christian and go to heaven. That is the biggest danger because it sounds so good and right and holy . . . but it’s not. It is a great danger.

Now, are there rules in God’s Word? Of course. Are there instructions about how God wants us to live? Certainly. But that doesn’t make God’s Word primarily an instruction book or a rule book. For the Word of God is first and foremost about Christ, not you; about His life, not your life; and about what He has done, not about what you must do. And so to
pay much closer attention to the Word is to hear the Word of God not giving us rules, but giving us Christ, giving us life, giving us hope and forgiveness and salvation. For as we heard just a few verses later, Jesus came not to give us rules, but that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

And so the Word of God - the Word made flesh
and the Word proclaimed - is not about burdening us with rules, but about setting us free. Free from death, free from fear, free from slavery to sin. That we may live, both here on earth and forever in heaven.

And so, for example, the Holy Gospel that we heard today. How did you hear those words? Most people, when they hear those words, think immediately: rules! Y
ou’re not allowed to get divorced. And if you get divorced, you’re not allowed to remarry. And if you do get divorced and get remarried, you’re no Christian! Because Christian don’t do that kind of stuff.  . . .  Well, here’s a news flash: Christians do do that kind of stuff. The divorce rate in the Church is just as high as it is in the world. That doesn’t make it okay, it’s just to say that if the Word of God is a rule book, we’re not doing a very good job. Which is true. That’s why we confess - every week and every day - that we are sinful and unclean. Being poor, miserable, wretched sinners, we’re not very good at rules, whether in the Church or at home or at work or at school. And rules were what the Pharisees were about, which is why they were testing Jesus with their question about marriage.

But how did Jesus respond? Notice: He didn’t talk rules with them. They pointed to a word of Moses about rules, Jesus pointed to a word of Moses about life. He points them back to the beginning, to creation, when God gave life and made man and woman and joined them in marriage. Because truly, divorce isn’t just about keeping or breaking a rule - divorce is death. The death of a marriage. The death of something that God created good. A result of the death Adam and Eve brought into the world when they failed to pay close attention to the Word of God and decided instead to pay attention to the word of satan and eat the forbidden fruit. God had said to them that on the day you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen 2:17) - and we have been dying ever since. For we have been sinful and sinning ever since. And a good way to think of sin is not just breaking the rules, but dying. Every sin, a little death. The death not only of marriages, but of relationships, of families, of reputations, of trust, of love, of contentment . . .  Satan promised our first parents that sin wouldn’t kill them, but really give them more and better life! But he lied. And we’ve been believing that same lie ever since.

And so into this world of sin and death came the Lord of life - the One who is life to give life. To not simply show us or teach us about a better way, but to be that way for us - the way of life. For we know what we should do - that’s not the problem. The problem is that we don’t do it! And so Jesus came to be for us what we could not be, to do for us what we could not do, and to give to us what we could never achieve for ourselves - life. Because if you’re dead, you can’t make yourself alive - something or someone from outside of you must do that. And so the Lord of life came to give us life - life from the dead in the forgiveness of our sins. For if sin is death, then when sin is forgiven death can no longer reign, and if death no longer reigns then we are free to live! Free to live in Christ Jesus.

That’s why when Jesus came, He came for one reason: to ascend the cross. To bear the guilt of our sin, die our death, and give us life in the forgiveness of our sins. And His resurrection shows that is exactly what has happened. For Jesus rose from the dead not because He was simply more powerful than death, but because that which causes death - sin - has been done away with. And if no more sin then no more death, and if no more death then there is life.

And that’s why Jesus now comes to us here. He comes for one reason: to give us life in the forgiveness of our sins. That the life He accomplished in His death and resurrection be not just history, but a present reality for you. And not a life that you have to search for and hopefully find, but a life that He brings to you here in His Word, and in His Word connected to the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Supper. For His Word makes this water not just plain water, but living and life-giving water, Spirit-filled water, a water which washes away sins and therefore gives life. And His Word makes this bread and wine much more than plain morsels of food, but His very body and blood, the body and blood which passed through death to life, to give you that life by giving you His forgiveness.

For the Word of God does what it says. The Word proclaimed and given joins us to the Word made flesh, and we are united as one - Christ and His bride, the Church. And what belongs to Christ, the bridegroom, He gives to His bride, the Church. He withholds nothing from us. And so His victory is ours, His life is ours, His salvation is ours. That we may live, no longer dead
in sin but dead to sin and alive in Him.

And so for you there is forgiveness, in Christ. No matter how old you are, no matter how young, Jesus desires to bless all His children with life. And all need His life, for sin has inflicted death upon us all. Whether for you that death comes from divorce, anger, hatred, pornography, greed, pride, covetousness, laziness, gossip, lies, revenge, or any and every other sin under the sun - just as there is no sin that does not kill, so there is no sin that Jesus did not defeat and for which there is now forgiveness, and so resurrection to life again. Forgiveness, life, and salvation for you.

And so from first to last, God’s Word is a word not of rules, but of life. And all Jesus does He does for our life. If that means blessings, then blessings; if it means crosses, then crosses. Whatever serves life, that is what your Lord and Saviour will do for you. You may not understand it always, and it may not be easy, but that’s okay. He knows what He’s doing, and what He’s doing is life.

One of our Elders like to repeat a quotation about that in Bible class, which says:
Jesus did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live. That little quotation says what it took me about fifteen minutes to say (!), and what the Word of God is all about. That’s why it’s so important. That’s why we must not drift away from the “dock” of God’s Word and where it is “anchored” here for us in water, words, and bread and wine. Because it’s not about rules, it’s about life. The life of Christ. Come and receive Him. Come and receive His forgiveness. Come, and live.

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.

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