Monday, November 30, 2009

Missing Walther, tonight I delved into the Seventh Evening Lecture, expecting one thing and receiving another.

This lecture, more so than the first six, is aimed squarely at the incipient pastor.  Leaning heavily upon the sixth one, Walther encourages and warns them on rightly dividing Law and Gospel in their sermons, repeating over and over and over again that such can only be done by the Holy Spirit.

At one point, as he is writing about the worry and troubles of Christians, though they have joy, he states:  While Christians are weeping, the angels are rejoicing over them.  While Christians are in anguish of soul and terror, God is cherishing the most cordial thoughts of love for them and calls them His beloved. (55)

SIGH.  Would that I remember this more!

But to the sermonizing, his first bit made me think of Pastor:

Preach so that every hearer feels:  "He means me.  He has painted the hypocrite exactly as I am."  Again, the pastor may have described a person afflicted with temptation so plainly that the actual victim of a temptation has to admit:  "That is my condition."  The penitent person must soon feel while listening to the pastor:  "That comfort is meant for me; I am to appropriate it."  The alarmed soul must be led to think:  "Oh, that is a sweet message; that is for me!"  Yea, the impenitent, too, must be made to acknowledge:  "The preacher has painted my exact portrait."  (53)

Oh, the work a pastor has before him!

In describing Luther's sermons, Walther writes:  At all times, Luther preaches the Law and the Gospel alongside of each other in such a manner that the Law is given an illumination by the Gospel which makes the former much more terrible, while the sweetness and the rich comfort of the Gospel is greatly increased by the Law, i.e., by contrast.  (54)

Sprinkled throughout the lecture are key points of advice for his students, each backed with several examples, both positive and negative results.

  • Preach so that every hearer feels:  He means me.  He has painted the hypocrite exactly as I am."
  • Accordingly, the preacher must understand how to depict accurately the inward condition of every one of his hearers.
  • But a preacher must take great care lest he say something wrong.
  • Another point that you will have to bear in mind while wiring your sermons is not to say anything that may be misunderstood.
  • It is faulty, likewise, not to explain some points at greater length.
  • Finally, the greatest difficulty is encountered  in dealing with true Christians according to their spiritual condition.
  • A word in conclusion.  In order that a pastor may correctly judge and treat people, it is of the utmost importance for him to understand temperaments.

Certainly these are salient points from which any author could take notes.  For the pastor, one who preaches, they are a reminder that it is not he who can successfully craft a message so, but the Holy Spirit.

He concludes:  An ordinary preacher may be an excellent theologian, and another, though he has studied all the languages, and God knows what other things besides, may not even be worthy of the name of theologian.  Not man, but God, makes theologians.  If you think that this statement goes too far, you are still blind.  If you had had any experience, you would admit that this [the proper distinction between Law and Gospel] is a very difficult art.  (58)

I have a simple measuring stick, impossible as though it may sound:  If, while listening to your pastor, you forget that he is preaching, and instead hear the Lord Jesus Christ filling your heart and mind, then he, too, has learned the art of the proper distinction of Law and Gospel. 

As to the parts in between, Walther's sage advice, I could type most all of it as examples of how I learned Law and Gospel as he painted such clear portraits for his students.  One of which speaks of a young seminary student who heard Law and was devastated; in his anguish, he was ready to bring an end to his life, so sure he was of his condemnation.  Then he happened upon a note from a theologian who clarified the Law burning his soul with the quenching waters of the Gospel.  The student when on to be a great theologian, skilled in the proper distinction of Law and Gospel.

Saul brings me anguish.  When I read of how the Spirit left him, I tremble and fear that the Spirit will leave me in the face of my weakness.  Pastor keeps telling me, sometimes patiently and sometimes not so patiently, that Saul left first.  That he walked away from his faith before God removed the Spirit.  Still, when Pastor tells me that I am a sheep of the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the 1, that He will never leave, nor forsake me, my mind returns to Saul.  I know my sin.  I know how weak I am.  I know how I long, at times, for the world to be flat.  I fear I am destined to be Saul because I do ever so much more that which I do not want to do than that which I long to do.

The comfort that young seminarian found was comfort I needed, this day, nearly one hundred and twenty-five years later to the date.

Aegidius Hunnius, during his college years, on a certain occasion heard this statement during a service at church:  "However, there is a sin that cannot be forgiven.  That is the sin against the Holy Ghost."  Like a dagger that statement entered the young student's heart.  He promptly imagined that he had committed that sin.  The result was that he planned suicide.  He remembered that the Holy Spirit has indeed many a time knocked at the door of his heart for admission while he had been listening tot he sermon, but in his youthful light-heartedness he had allowed these invitations to pass out of his mind.  In a miraculous manner, however, God rescued him from his great anguish of conscience.  Approaching his seat in the classroom one day, he found a leaf torn from a precious book of devotion written by Magister Spangenberg.  It contained remarks about this very sin against the Holy Spirit, this statement in particular, that a person, after committing this sin, is unwilling to repent until his death.  That saved Hunnius.  And it is due to the fact that even in his youth he had to pass through such great tribulations that he became the great theologian he was. (56)

You cannot give the terror of the Law, without also offering the sweet consolation of the Gospel.  In that short note, Hunnius was reminded of the great gift of the Cross.  He was forgiven of his sin against the Holy Spirit, for if he had no repentance, then he would not have labored beneath so great a burden of anguish and terror at the thought of committing an "unforgivable" sin, a burden which drove him to such despair that he was ready to end his life.  And Hunnius knew that where there is repentance, there is forgiveness.  Always.

Saul had no terror or anguish or despair of the condition of his soul when the Spirit left him.  I do.  I am not Saul.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A few months ago, I started the habit of spending the final Sunday in the month re-reading all the readings from the Treasury of Daily Prayer.  It was an interesting journey in the Word for me today.

One thought that stood out to me was that the agony of the Cross was not merely the physical hardships Christ endured, but also the separation from God as He took upon our sin, my sin.  Death is not our true agony.  It is eternal separation from God.  That is what Christ took upon Himself.  That is what Christ endured for us.  It may seem cold hearted of me, but today is the first time I wept my way through reading of the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

I followed those hours in the Word with reading aloud the Augsburg Confession for the audio clips I am making for some people who find them helpful in reading the Book of Concord.  I have been sending clips of the Large Catechism, but after talking with Pizza Man and his lovely bride, I thought I would go ahead and record the Augsburg Confession.

I have my own opinion as to in what order one should try to tackle the Book of Concord, and I know that the whole of it can seem daunting.  I could never read all why try?  To combat such a thought, I encouraged Vee, Pizza Man, and Bettina to start in the Large Catechism, but I think that there are things in the Augsburg Confession that are worth hearing first--they can be studied later.  So I read through it in one sitting, just about a hour and a half.

I also read the introduction to the Augsburg Confession and the preface.  The introduction I had to record four times before I could read through it without crying.

It is difficult for me to explain why.  Just the thought of all those Christians who came together and declared boldly that this is what they believed brings joy and a longing to leap back in time and join them.  As I have written, so much of what they believe I believe.  The rest I came to understand as it was taught to me, first by Luther through his writings, then by Pastor through his lessonings. 

At times, I still cannot believe that I have access to the whole of Lutheran doctrine, for the Book of Concord has enlarged and deepened my understand of the Living Word, helped to winnow out the lies and human traditions that had crept in the teaching I had received, and brought me to the freedom of the Object Grace of Jesus Christ...even if I struggle to walk in that freedom.

The greatest gift I have ever received was when Pastor plunked that rather heavy, rather thick book on the end table and mentioned that he thought I might be interested in reading it.  It is a gift I cherish.  It is a gift I wish that I could give to all Christians. 

Over and over I say...and write...that I could not fathom I would care for the bible more than I did, cling to it more.  Yet what I felt, what I understood was such a pale reflection of what I know now.  And I know that what I know now will pale in comparison to which God will be teaching this next year of grace and beyond to the time He brings me home.

Pastor's sermon gave me pause, his perspective on Advent, when I listened to the audio clip this afternoon.   

...It’s the church’s square peg in the world’s round holiday hole.

And that, my friends, is a good thing!

It’s a good thing, for such an Advent reminds us that there’s something more; that this world and life are not our final destination; that as children of God, we shouldn’t feel comfortable in a world of sin and satisfied with what we have now; and that the only true and lasting joy possible in this age is repentant joy. The joy that comes with the forgiveness of our sins; the joy that comes in not having to pretend that we are something we are not; the joy that comes as our Lord comes to us with His life and salvation.

Given my diatribe against Christmas of the last few days, well, of course his words would resonate.  But, funny, when I thought of waiting for Christ during Advent, waiting for joy did not come readily to mind...

This is the longest sermon I've heard, in person or via audio clip, since first coming to St. Athanasius.  Given that Pastor is not wont to speak longer than necessary, write more than necessary, I wonder at the necessity of this message.  Were I able to order me up a sermon, I do not believe that I could have chosen a better offering.  Christ knows what His sheep need....

Jesu Juva

“Advent Joy”
Text: Luke 19:28-40 (Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13)

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

The church is never quite so counter-cultural as she is at this time of the year, the season of Advent. While the world is jumping into Christmas with both feet, the church says wait. While the world cries “joy!” the church cries “repent!” And while the world feasts, the church fasts. And so the church seems a bit backwards and out of step. Even we in the church often really don’t get it. I remember when I was little, asking my pastor why we didn’t sing Christmas carols in December. He told me:
because it’s not Christmas yet; it’s Advent. I didn’t understand, and many today don’t understand either. The season of Advent just doesn’t seem to fit. It’s the church’s square peg in the world’s round holiday hole.

And that, my friends, is a good thing!

It’s a good thing, for such an Advent reminds us that there’s something more; that this world and life are not our final destination; that as children of God, we
shouldn’t feel comfortable in a world of sin and satisfied with what we have now; and that the only true and lasting joy possible in this age is repentant joy. The joy that comes with the forgiveness of our sins; the joy that comes in not having to pretend that we are something we are not; the joy that comes as our Lord comes to us with His life and salvation.

And so Advent joy is a different kind of joy. It is the joy not of wishes granted, but of the promise of God fulfilled. And we heard of such joy this morning as we heard of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But we must consider carefully this story, and where this true joy is to be found.

The first place we might look is to the crowd, for they were crying out to Jesus in joy as He entered Jerusalem: “
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Did you ever wonder whose joyous voices filled the crowd that day? Luke tells us it was “the whole multitude of his disciples.” But who is that? Certainly the twelve, but many more than that. Maybe Lazarus was there, fresh from the tomb. Or formerly-blind Bartimaeus, whose now-opened-eyes were beholding Jerusalem for the very first time. Maybe there were former lepers, reveling at being jostled by a crowd they weren’t allowed to be in before. Or perhaps the paralyzed man who had never walked was now dancing before his King. And who else? How many had Jesus healed? How many lives had Jesus touched?

Why were they so joyous? Because they knew from whence they came. They knew the reality of sin. They lived it. The deformity. The helplessness. Being an outcast. Not the same as everyone else. Abnormal. Too much trouble. They daily experienced the wretchedness of sin . . . and Jesus had raised them, healed them, given them life again. And truly, that is a reason to rejoice.

But we cannot stop there. For while we
have found joy, we have not yet found the Advent joy. There is another joy to behold in this story. A hidden joy. For while each person in that rejoicing crowd that day knew, and in their own small way, had tasted the poison of sin, there was only One that day who really and fully knew the true depth and horror of sin - and that was the One riding on the back of the donkey. For He was riding into Jerusalem to bear the sin of the whole world on the cross. All the brokenness, all the wretchedness, all the depravity, all the separation. All of it. What the crowd each knew in part, Jesus knew in full. Which is why His joy this day exceeded theirs! Yes, for Jesus did not ride into Jerusalem that day with a sour face and a look of dread, but with great joy! (Hebrews 12:2) For He was coming to set His creation free! Free from the bondage of sin and death. All those other mighty works of healing and life had been but small pointers to the work He was now to accomplish. That the joy of the crowd that day be extended to all creation.

And so Jesus’ joy is Advent joy.

Did the crowds that day understand that? Certainly not. They did not understand the kind of King Jesus had come to be.
Which doesn’t lessen their joy - or the joy of the world at receiving great gifts at Christmas today - but it does teach us that there is an even greater joy, a different joy, an Advent joy. For what the crowd didn’t understand that day has been revealed to us. That Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. That Jesus has come to give us much more than our best life now. He has come to give us the joy of a life that will never end. The joy of a life free from sin and death. A joy and life we cannot fully understand now, but that we see in Him. That seeing it in Him, we hunger and thirst after it.

The prophet Jeremiah had that kind of Advent joy. His words to us today direct our eyes beyond the here and now to what is coming; to who is coming. To the joy that will not be for a day, but for eternity.

And St. Paul had that kind of Advent joy. His words to us today direct our eyes not to what is, but to what will be; to the joy of all that God the Father is working in us through Jesus.

And Jesus wants you to have that kind of Advent joy. A joy that transcends mere happiness, and goes much deeper. A joy that comes not from when our wishes are fulfilled, but when He fulfills needs we didn’t even know we had. A joy that is present in good times and in bad; in times of plenty and times of want; when we get what we want and when others let us down; when surrounded by adoring crowds, or when hanging on a cross.

you understand such joy? Certainly not. Our joy is more often like the joy of the crowds that day. But Jesus is giving you His joy; working it in you. For His Spirit is working in you, to direct your eyes beyond the here and now, beyond what is to what will be. And we get glimpses of that joy. The joy in sorrow at the death of a saint. The joy in serving, even when the serving is hard. The joy of repentance, when our sins bring tears to our eyes, and we hear that our sin is forgiven.

This is Advent joy. The joy of our Lord’s coming to us in weakness and in death, in trouble and in sorrow, into the depth of our sin, with His life and forgiveness.

This is Advent joy, for He comes not yet on the clouds of heaven with all His angels in glory, but riding on a donkey, or today, in water, words, and bread and wine. Coming lowly to the lowly, to give us what we need.

This is Advent joy, for though we receive our Lord and all His goodness, we are left hungry and thirsty for more. Not more stuff, more Lord, more forgiveness. Our eyes are fixed on Jesus in repentant joy, knowing that there is more. Much more. In Him.

This is Advent joy, for it is the joy of the cross. The cross of Jesus, and the joy He had in ascending it; and the cross He lays upon you, and the joy you have in bearing it.

And so the church is not a Christmas Scrooge with the season of Advent. We do not begrudge the world their Christmas joy. But Christmas joy is not all the joy there is. There is a joy the world knows not, and this is what we seek. And so we do not yet join our voices with the world in their carols. We will, but first we will lift up a new song, to mirror the song of the angels, and return their hymn of praise.

For when Jesus was born, the heavenly choir of angels called out to the inhabitants of earth: “
Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth.” (Luke 2:14)

Today in the Holy Gospel, that song was returned, as when Jesus enters Jerusalem to go to the cross, the inhabitants of earth call out in return: “
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.

And truly there is peace in heaven
and on earth, for in Jesus, heaven and earth are reconciled. The barrier of sin is overcome. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) has come, and so heaven and earth are united in praise. Peace! we cry to each other. Glory! we call out to one another. Our voices united as one.

That is why we sing these same words now - the words of the crowd - joining our song
with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, singing to Jesus our “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Sanctus) For truly He is here, in glory and in peace. As truly as in the manger, and as truly as on the donkey that day. And as His same body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, is placed onto your tongue and poured over your lips, your Jesus comes to you in joy, and gives you Advent joy. Advent joy, for though filled, yet still you are hungry. Though satisfied, yet still you are thirsty for more. And that, my friends, is good. For there is still more to come. For your King has come, but is coming again.

And until He does, we wait in Advent joy.
His joy. Repentant joy. Humble joy. Baptized joy. True joy.
So let us wait, repent, and fast for now.
Our joy is coming.
He is coming soon.
Come, Lord Jesus.

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, November 28, 2009

I was talking with someone (a non-Christian) today about the Church year, because that is what I do.  When I learn about something, I tell others.  To rehearse the knowledge.  To share it.  To understand it.  I cannot stop thinking about the idea that I am starting another year of grace.  What a perspective that is!

When I said those words, she leaned forward and touched the bruises on my face and asked, "What grace is there in these?"

Without thought, I replied, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Romans 8:28 popped into my head, even as tears slipped down my cheeks at her touch.

I was as surprised at my words as she.  I believe them, even if my emotions do not seem to follow.  I do believe them.

If I could have, I would have quoted the end of the Pastor P's comments on the Church year I posted yesterday:   

We need to be careful about connecting one Sunday to the Sunday to come and to its Sunday past as links in the chain of a people who wait upon the Lord, who are busy during the wait with His purpose and mission, and who live each day trusting in Him whose promise is fulfilled in Christ, whose grace is sufficient for the day, and whose mercy is glimpsed even in sorrow and struggle, trial and tragedy. We wait upon the Lord... 

I will admit that I have viewed my own pastor's comments on the Church year with a measure of ambivalence.  I find it confusing and complex...and foreign.  I think, in the back of my mind, I classified it as something that was not all that important to faith, to even the Lutheran confession.  I was wrong.

We do not direct the pulse of history toward its destiny, God does. 

This, too, has stuck with me.   My comments, my feelings, about Christmas sort of align with this, although Pastor P was talking about the Church year as a whole, not merely one season of it.  We have changed Christmas at a fundamental level and yet the Church as a whole, at least the Church I have experienced, has not really blinked an eyelash.  Yes, there are Christmas sermons and Christmas services and Christmas performances (parades/pageants/plays/concerts).  But I have never known Christians who do not essentially have as their focus feasting and presents and parties.  The Christ part of it is just that.  Part. A fair amount of greed and gluttony take center stage.  After all, the world absconded Christmas and twisted it to conform to its own likeness.  In my opinion, we Christians uttered nary a protest, following along like the sheep we are.

When I read through the Advent booklet as I was setting it into my design, I kept thinking about how I never knew anyone who spent the four Sundays of Advent and their following weeks in remembrance of the coming of the Lord, in waiting on Him.  Nor, for that matter, did I know anyone who celebrated Christmas for 12 days.  Or even the Epiphany, the revelation of Christ as God.  Why celebrate that?

When Pastor first explained how the Church year was a way for early Christians, who did not have the bible, to learn about Christ, about how the Church year takes us through the life of Christ to show us God's plan and His Work, I thought, Oh, that's a good idea.  Before the Gutenberg press, most people did not have a copy of the bible.  Even then, they didn't have one in their own language.  Many people today do not.

But I do.  And I know God's work.  I was certain that I didn't really need to know about the Church year, to follow it. Other than learning something about the Church year so that I can follow the lectionary without having to ask someone all the time what week it was, I just didn't think it was...for me.

Today, I read a homily that referred to Christ Mass.  Boy, did I like that!  Again...a different perspective.  To me, I think the Church year is just that, a that really is counter culture to this world.  Are we not aliens?  Are we not to live in the world but be not of it?  Did Jesus not say the world would not understand His message, that it would appear foolish?  Did He not say the world would hate us?

To me, following the Church year, having it form my schedule, frame my days, would be the perspective that I crave, rather than that which I abhor.

But what does it really mean to follow the Church year?

I just found a mistake in the Advent booklet.  SIGH.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Advent booklets and the Meditations on Prayer booklets are printed, folded, stapled, and passed off to Pastor for dissemination.  Pizza Man's lovely bride actually did the stapling for me, much to my surprise and genuine gratitude.  Just folding the things made my hands hurt, my left hand specifically.  It still hurts, as if it ran a marathon or something.

I had brought them to Thanksgiving dinner because I thought it would give me something to do during the awkward moments, a task behind which I could hide.  I brought them because I was running out of time to get them finished, having not had the feedback I needed earlier.  I brought them because I wanted to be able to deliver on a request for help from Pastor.

Today, I spent the day helping a woman move.  I offered because she needed help and she is all alone with three small children.  I offered even though I have no business schlepping boxes about, nor should I really be driving long distances just to do so (she lives in another city).  But I also offered because I wanted to be far away from someone's reach.

I enjoyed the task of throwing myself into helping her, although that first entailed reading to her youngest daughter to keep her occupied.  For the first truck load, I primarily just unloaded things and carted them into the new place, but the second truck load I put them on and took them off.  My greatest help was to venture inside her scary unfinished basement beneath the back of her old home to fetch some things for her.  Funny, I would normally never do such, begging just about anyone to take my place.  But her fear made me want to be brave for her. 

At one point while we were working, she asked, "Just what is it with you religious people?"  Her new landlord is Catholic and when he heard about her struggles and the recent turn around he asked her if she thought about how God could work in her life...rather aggressively questioned her from what I gathered.

Knowing what she meant, how she felt, I asked her if she ever felt that way with me.  Her answer was a quick negative.  While I share my faith--in fact, have given her a huge dose of Lutheran doctrine--I never expect her to be anything other than she is, nor do I push her to believe as I do.

As  Protestant, I would be failing in my proselytizing.  For I should be out there winning souls for Jesus!  But as a Lutheran, as one who believes faith is a gift from God and that only the Holy Spirit can help her understand, my job is merely to speak it, not pressure her. 

I only lasted about seven hours in helping her before all I could do was to keep myself from lying down on her floor.  I stayed a bit longer to help her get all the beds set up and then took my leave, barely keeping my eyes open for the drive home.

After stumbling with Kashi around the neighborhood for his walk, I fell asleep on the couch with the birds on my shoulder.

This evening, I have been thinking about her comment, for she sees me as strange as do I other confessional Lutherans.  She's commented several times about the fact that I seem to care about her, but want nothing from her (except deviled eggs, perhaps!), that she didn't understand me at times.  Sound familiar?

I also kept thinking about the Advent booklet.  Thirty-one years as a Christian and I have never understood what Advent means, what it is about.  I have had a growing distaste for Christmas, a distaste that has nothing to do with my feelings about the holidays from my childhood. No, instead, I have had a growing distaste for Christmas because it seems to be just about presents, about a consumerism that drives true meaning from the holiday and leaves people greedy and broke.  People will go into debt over the holiday, spending months, if not years struggling to recover.  That our nation's economy is at least partially dependent upon strong sales at Christmas turns my stomach.  Don't get me wrong, I like gifts.  And I very much like giving gifts.  I just wish the time for giving and receiving had not been twisted so horribly and tied to the birth of my Savior.

I am sure that I heard about the Church year at some point or another.  A friend would give up chocolate for Lent every year, even though she did nothing else.  I always wondered what the point was, but never bothered to delve into the matter.  It wasn't that the Church calendar was important; just the work of giving up something...purportedly a way of enlarging your faith, making yourself more holy.

Reading through the booklet to edit it, led me to reading more about the Church year online, beginning with Pastor's overview on the church website.  I then went perusing about the Internet reading many things and trying to absorb some of them.  Much was about colors and meanings, what each section was and what it should mean to me.  Yet what has taken hold within my heart was not the details about the Church year, but its heart:  that to begin the Church year anew was to begin another year of Grace.

Pastor commented that Christmas is my anniversary, that it will mark a year to the day since I first stepped foot in his church.  Yet that first step actually started at the end of the Church year, not once it had begun.  It was a year ago yesterday that I endured such ugliness by my stepmother that I could barely get myself home.  It was the day I realized that she had never liked me and there was nothing I could ever do to change that.  It was a year ago that I also realized that I live a life of shame, that it colors all that I do.  I wondered desperately if I could ever do the right work in my faith to change that.  I wondered how I could even think I had faith, given how I felt.

That first step in his church was really my first step in Objective Grace.  For I asked Pastor that day, out of the blue, prompted by something I heard in the sermon...actually blurted out...Is is possible to live a life of shame and still have faith?  Without hesitation he answered in the affirmative.  I thought he was crazy.  I do not know what he thought of me.

A first step that was not followed by a second until Easter.  Kind of fitting if you think about it.  I have...thought about it, that is....

Around the table at Thanksgiving, we were asked to share what we were thankful for this past year.  Everyone named people, their families really.  I spoke of Scripture and doctrine, tears welling in my eyes.   I did speak of Pizza Man and his lovely bride and all the hymn singing and bible reading and praying they have done with me.  However, at that moment, I felt even more out of place.  I wished that I had family to speak of, to be thankful for, instead of what I have.  This year, more so than any other, I have learned in many ways, some cruel, exactly who and what I am to my family...or rather...what I am not.

Sitting there, listening to everyone, I also thought about what I gained in July only to have already lost...what I am losing now...and what I will surely eventually lose.

But reading Pastor P's observation on the Church year made me turn from those thoughts to instead reflect upon what I have received this Church year that remains, upon the Grace God has poured out upon me in His Word and in Lutheran doctrine and in Pastor's lessoning.  Doing so makes me marvel that I am about to begin another year of Grace, in God's hands, at His direction.  I wonder what He will teach me, what riches He will reveal to me in the Living Word.

And I wonder how often, how much more, I will get in His way of doing so....

The Church Year comes to its close almost with a whimper. The last Sunday after Pentecost (or Christ the King or whatever it is called) is a small bump on the highway of our lives. Advent begins, unfortunately, at the end of a week and on the week end more marked by turkey, shopping, and football than thoughts of another year of grace.

The older I get, the more I notice this awkwardness. It is as if the great transition from one Church Year to another lost in the busy-ness of days filled with overeating, overindulging, and overspending. I worry about this loss and about the way we have forgotten this significant step in the passing of God's timing.

The end of one Church Year is out of synch with our secular calendar and with our own seasonal pulse as the world around us shifts into high gear toward Christmas. The start of a new Church Year is too often lost in the push toward Christmas music, Christmas decorations, Christmas presents, and Christmas parties. Advent is not simply time of preparation but time of waiting. And waiting is the discipline of Christian faith and life. We wait upon the Lord, we wait upon His wisdom and purpose, and we wait upon His time and timing.

That is what the end of one Church Year and the start of a new one should be teaching us. We do not direct the pulse of history toward its destiny, God does. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the regretful who lament what we cannot know or control but as the faithful who trust in His providence because we have seen the revelation of His grace and favor in Christ our Lord. We wait upon the Lord -- not as the frustrated who bide their time because someone was late for an appointment but as those place our time in His hands and wait the fulfillment of that which the clock can never measure. We wait for the Lord -- not as the idle who grow weary with nothing to do but as those who have been given a mission and purpose to proclaim the Savior with words that speak of His suffering and death and resurrection and actions that extend the care of His love to those around us.

Those who direct the liturgical calendar have tried to prop up the end of the Church Year by called it various names from Christ the King Sunday to the Sunday of the Fulfillment. It is not the name we need to prop up but the sense of time that the Church Year bestows upon those who follow it. Its rhythm and pulse, understandably foreign to our consumer culture and secular world, is the different drummer that Christian people march to. What we need is not some artificial elevation of one day or another but a sense of who we are and where we are headed -- which is exactly what the Church Year gives to us.

As we are poised to begin another Year of Grace, we need to be careful lest the intrusion of the secular calendar and its celebrations steal away the spotlight from the liturgical calendar. We need to be careful about the endless string of emphases and theme Sundays that come from the head offices of all the Lutheran jurisdictions. We need to be careful about connecting one Sunday to the Sunday to come and to its Sunday past as links in the chain of a people who wait upon the Lord, who are busy during the wait with His purpose and mission, and who live each day trusting in Him whose promise is fulfilled in Christ, whose grace is sufficient for the day, and whose mercy is glimpsed even in sorrow and struggle, trial and tragedy. We wait upon the Lord...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I was a punching bag again today....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I find it truly strange that God's Truth can come out of the mouth of someone who does not know Him, and yet I know that God's work is not limited only to Christians, in that He accomplishes much through the lives of all of His creation.

Someone today, when I couldn't really respond to his question about dinner last night, carefully framed a thought for me to consider.  He said that the little he understood about Jesus Christ was that He was a giver.  That He wanted nothing from people, only to give to them.

Funny, just Monday night I was explaining Kleinig's writing on how Lutheran spirituality is a spirituality of reception.  That thought reveals much...and contradicts much with what I have learned in the rest of Protestantism.  Pizza Man's sister had not heard it put that way before, so we talked about it for a while.

Here, a non-Christian, was reminding me that the very heart of my faith was one of reception.

He gently asked me if such was the case, would not giving to others be joyful to me, rather than my...well...mixed emotions about the dinner.  How could I argue with that?  He does not even know Jesus, but he spoke Truth to me.

I spent much of the day working on finishing the Advent booklet and reading the Lutheran Service Book.  The reason for the latter is that Bettina, who rather graciously agreed to serve as an editor, thought the reference for a hymn was actually a reference for the blessing.  So, I spent all this time looking for the blessing because I did not even look at the reference she mentioned first.  I do not mind, however, for I read through all the prayers, many of which gave me pause.

Prior to stepping foot in Pastor's church nearly a year ago, I never would have considered Liturgy anything I would support, much less cherish.  Nor did I think I would cradle a hymnal against my body as I cried to God in praise and thankfulness for the riches He has given His Church for thousands of years, a sufficiency unto all circumstances, a wealth beyond measure.

This afternoon, I made the next audio file of  the Book of Concord; it was on Luther's teaching of the Third Commandment.  This is one of my favorite bits because he teaches about the Living Word.  In fact, one of the best lines in the whole of Lutheran doctrine is in this section of the Large Catechism:  God's Word is the Sanctuary above all sanctuaries. (LC, Part I, 91)

When I read this, I kept thinking about the Liturgy, how it is the Word of God from beginning to end, in either straight quotations of scripture or songs based wholly on the Word.  So, in a sense, the sanctuary is not the bricks and mortar on Kingsley Avenue, but it is the Liturgy spoken, chanted, sung, and prayed there.

Luther teaches the Word sanctifies.  Whenever God's Word is taught, preached, heard, read, or meditated upon, then the person, day and work are sanctified.  This is not because of the outward work, but because of the Word, which makes saints of us all.  (LC, Part I, 92)

In short, skipping far too much of some rather good teaching, then to keep the Lord's Day holy is to keep the Word of God (cherish it, speak it, study it, teach it, pray it, hide it in our hearts, etc.).  Luther stresses the Sabbath was for the Children of Israel, an outward manner bound beneath the Law to help and instruct ordinance Christ fulfilled for us.  But God does desire for us to rest, to rest from our labors and in His Word.

Once again, there were many references to having God's Word in our mouths, on our tongues, falling from our lips, and filling our ears.  Over and over again, in the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, I find references to this, instruction and encouragement on speaking, singing, and listening to His Word.  Reading such makes me feel a bit less greedy about having people read the bible to me, being able to read aloud with others, and asking Pastor for recordings.

I have long cherished the bible.  In fact, when I first read the Spirituality of the Cross, it was Veith's section on the power of the Living Word that first made me feel as if I might be wrong about just how strange Lutherans were.  It is the reverence the Word of God that first spoke to me in the Book of Concord.  It is the surfeit of Scripture in the Liturgy that comforted me.  It is the intimacy and relevancy of His Word I found in learning to pray the Psalter that called me.  But it was Pastor's reading of Philippians in one sitting, his pouring out of the Living Word upon me, that opened my eyes to how it truly is the Sanctuary of all sanctuaries.

What I experience then, felt then, glimpsed then, is why I put a repeat performance as one of my prize suggestions.  It is why I asked Bettina to be the "leader" in the Liturgy during our devotions yesterday and split the scripture readings with me.  To hear it, live, is powerful and humbling, fulfilling something deep within.

The second part of Luther's observation is that it is God's Word which sanctifies the Lord's Day, which makes it holy...sanctifies us, makes us holy.  Again...a life of reception...again works carry no weight.  Not working on the Lord's Day gains you nothing other than a break, physical rest.  It does not make you holy.  But the Word of God can and does make us holy.  It is our life, our strength, and our shield against the one who would destroy us.

Keeping the Living Word is keeping the Lord's Day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

[This is back-dated...or back-timed so it will show up under Tuesday...]

We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O Lord is a most wonderful hymn.  I found a blog that has it being played in a service that you can use to hear the tune if you wish.  I was able to sing it last night with Pizza Man, his lovely bride, and his sister, today with Bettina, and this evening again with Pizza Man and his bride.

Dinner last night was truly amazing, laced with raucous laughter, falling out of chairs, and much Gospel.  While we did not end until 2:00 in the morning, which is a horrible time for parents of young children and owners of businesses, we talked and read scripture and sang hymns...after stuffing our faces.

Did you know that I somehow managed to live 42 years without bread pudding?  Oh, my, is Pizza Man's bride talented with a spatula!  Vee's concoction was most sublime, as was her dessert for my dinner tonight, but that comes later.

Last night, we never did get back to Rumikub, and we talked far too much about my struggles, but we also talked at length about what I have been learning about Lutheran doctrine and the Truth of God.  And we sang.  I had wanted so very much to sing that hymn on Sunday with brothers and sisters in Christ.  Doing so was better than I had imagined it to be.  Vee's immediate response was to ask if we could sing it again.  We did!

Given that we all enjoy gathering so much, not just for the tasty food and for the convivial company, but for the fellowship in the Word, we have to figure out a way to not stay up so set boundaries.  I thought of a way and proffered to it Pizza Man, that we set an alarm for one-hour hour before our target departure time so we would have some closure time, but still get out the door.

Oh, how that did not work tonight!

This afternoon, Bettina visited with me via the Internet and Sprint.  She beat me handily at Scrabble and then we did the Responsive Reading 2 and the Litany, only this time we added readings from the Psalter (32), the Old Testament (Isaiah 41:10; 43:1-2), the New Testament (Romans 9), and the Gospel (Mark 1).  [Happy as a pig in a mud sty am I when I have lots of Scripture being read aloud!]  And we sang the hymn.

Tonight, I had dinner elsewhere, but struggled with the fact that it was more service than a visit, even with a game squeezed in.  It was not the short time, not at all.  It was that ...well...I supposed I should just leave it alone.  It is what it is.  I cannot change that not matter how much I might wish it otherwise.

Because I wanted the evening not to be an intrusion, I wanted to wash the dishes before I left and insisted that I do so.  Doing so, however, was excruciating.  I had already been standing up for the majority of the past four hours, so I moved a stool over to the sink and stuck one of my feet up on it to try to straighten out my lower back somewhat as I worked.  To concentrate on finishing and not crying, I spent the time praying for each member of the family.  However, my mind kept flitting back to that email I received last week--how hard it is for me to even think about it--how upset I was on Sunday, and how they both seemed to fit with how the dinner turned out.  So, while I was trying to keep from straying back to that which troubles me while I prayed, I worked to keep a bible verse in mind for each person.

I found praying that way interesting.  And I wondered if I would ever understand how Luther prayed the Lord's Prayer, working his way through each petition, or if I would always remain stuck at LC, Part III, 74.

On the way home, I stopped by Pizza Man's home because he wanted a piece of the sumptous carrot cake his lovely bride had baked from scratched--she even grated the carrots!  When I arrived, he took one look at my face and asked me inside.  We did talk a bit, and I received a giant dollop of encouragement and a wee bit of chastisement.  Then, much to my surprise, Vee declared that we needed to have devotions again.

Oh, my goodness!  I have been blessed to overflowing with devotions between Friday and Sunday night on the phone, last night after dinner, this afternoon, and this evening again.  I am giddy at the very thought!  I had been talking with them about the Book of Concord, giving them some history and a bit of background on some of the pieces.  Vee decided that we should read the Second Commandment right and then do the devotions like we did on the phone, with the Responsive Prayer 2 and the Litany.

Let me tell you, it was quite strange for me to sit with them and listen to my voice streaming through the computer speakers as I read aloud from the Large Catechism audio clip I had sent them.  Then, stranger still, we listened to the clip of my commentary on the commandment.  And yet I actually learned from hearing my own teaching.  How can that be?  Such is the power of the Living Word.

Given that it was so very late, we simply prayed the "Prayer on Wednesday" from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. And then went to sing just one hymn.  Vee already had the page turned to 941  We Praise You and Acknowledge You O God.  And we did sing that hymn...and sang it through several times working on two pesky intervals.  Then we sang another and another, under the guise of choosing hymns for our hymn-sing on Thursday, but we sang all the verses!  And hummed them and whistled them and sang them again.  Another whole hour passed by in a flash.  So late and yet such a blessing.

Yesterday, I received news that frightened me and reminded me how very alone I am, news that came when I was just home from that lonely trip to the ER struggling to breathe.  That situation has not changed, yet....  Well, last night Pizza Man's sister asked me just how it is that we fix our eyes upon Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).  I answered by backing up and telling her what I had come to think about the whole passage as I blogged earlier, about that it was Gospel, not Law.  But I did not really answer her question until after we sang We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God.  I turned to her and touched my fingertips to the hymnal.  "For me," I said, "this is how I fix my eyes on Jesus."    

I practically floated the entire way home tonight.  Last night, Pizza Man's response to the hymn was that he was just so joyful after singing it.  He is decidedly not alone in that.  Such is the power of our Living God.

As I struggle through my hurt and confusion about the church, may the words of that hymn ring in my ears.  As I wrestle with my health and my job, may the words of that hymn fall from my lips.  As I battle my fears and the precariously unsafe situation before me this week, may the words of that hymn fill my heart.

Monday, November 23, 2009

So, I am sitting here nebulizing in the middle of the night, lonely in a cold ER, typing this out on a tiny screen to pass the time, and it is all Pizza Man's FAULT!

His lovely bride Vee called me this afternoon, despite juggling children, to see if I was all right.  Mostly, I just cried.  So, her groom called on the way to work because she asked him to tag team me, I think  Mostly, I just cried.

After a while, I gathered the pieces of myself so that I could finish some work I had to do so that I could truly have the week off.  When I finished, I took my beloved Buttercup around the neighborhood for a walk, not caring that it was after midnight.  I did call Pizza Man for I figured he was still at work.  I was right, but he, too, was done for the day and was heading home.

I asked him if he would pray with me when we both got back home.  He and his lovely bride did.

We read through the Responsive Prayer 2 (p. 285 of the Lutheran Service Book) and the Litany (p. 288).  Pizza Man agreed to pray with me, but said I had to read the scriptures, so I chose an anguish psalm (77) and a praise passage (Isaiah 12)...mirroring how I felt and what I wish I were doing instead.  Neither one commented on the selections, but I am sure they understood what I was doing.  I savored the prayers.  I am honored they were willing to pray with me.

But then Mr. Pizza Man started quipping how he was going to see me at bible study tomorrow, repeatedly, making me laugh out loud, so silly was he.  At one point, he told me about Pastor's good news during the announcements that I had missed.  He told me that Pastor announced that the weekly review of the service and devotions for the coming service were back in the bulletin in a new and improved form.  [And I didn't even have to start my petition!]  Then Pizza Man said that Pastor said he would only keep doing them if I came to the nooner.  I laughed so hard it hurt.  Then Vee must have said something because Pizza Man said that I owed them because last week we did not get to Psalm 26 because of my misstep with Law and Gospel so I had to be there to make up for them missing out on a perfectly good Psalm that day.  I howled with laughter.  It was stupid, Pizza Man teasing me like that...So, I'll see you tomorrow?  Oh, it starts at 12:00.  Yeah, it starts at noon and ends about 1:00.  We'll get you out by then.  Oh, I lied.  We're singing happy birthday to my son, so it will be about 1:15.  He had already lied saying that since Pastor and I sounded so good together on the psalm we recorded on Saturday that he was looking forward to the two of us singing together.  Only I knew he had not yet listened to the psalm.  He was not really lying, just casting about for anything and everything to guilt me into coming.  Silly.  So silly my guffaws tipped over into an asthma attack.  Still, it was sweet.

I knew I was laughing too much and should just hang up on him, but after this week, after this day, I wanted to laugh more.  I guess I got what I deserved.

Of course, the last thing he said was that he and Vee were going to go listen to the psalm right away and if it sounded good then that meant I had to come to bible study and sing happy birthday with Pastor instead of just singing when I came over for dinner.  He said he was going to hang up and listen and then send an email right away letting me know if I had to come or not.

No email is in my inbox....

Responsive Prayer 2


O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth will declare Your praise                                       Ps. 51:15

Make haste, O God, to deliver me;
make haste to help me, O Lord
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, i now, and will be forever.  Amen.                                                                 Ps. 70:1

[A psalm may be sung or spoken.]


[After each reading:]
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

[A hymn or canticle may be sung.]


Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heave;
give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.


I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, or Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mar, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  he descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.


Hear my prayer, O Lord;

let me cry out to You.                                                            Ps. 102:1
In the day of my trouble I call upon You,
for  you answer me.                                                               Ps. 86:7

Hide Your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.                                      Ps. 51:9-12

Because Your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise You.
For You have been my help,
and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy.            Ps. 63:3,7

Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth'
unite my heat to fear Your name.
I give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with my howl heart,
and I will glorify Your name forever.                                   Ps. 86:11-12

The Litany

O Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, have mercy.
O Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, hear us.
God the Father in heaven, have mercy.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy.
Be gracious to us. Spare us, good Lord.
Be gracious to us. Help us, good Lord.

From all sin, from all error, from all evil;
From the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death;
From pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion;
From lightening and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death: Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity;
By Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and passion; by Your precious death and burial;
By Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter: Help us, good Lord.

In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity; in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment: Help us, good Lord.

We poor sinners implore You to hear us, O Lord.

To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church; to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living;
To put an end to all schism and causes of offense; to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived;
To hear down Satan under our feet; to send faithful laborers into Your harvest; and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit:
We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

To raise those who fall and to strengthen those who stand; and to comfort and help the weakhearted and the distressed: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

To give to all peoples concord and peace; to preserve our land from discord and strife; to give our country Your protection in every time of need;
To direct and defend (president/queen/king) and in all authority; to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people;
To watch over and help all who are in danger, necessity, and tribulation; to protect and guide all who travel;
To grant all women with child, and all mothers with infant children, increasing happiness in their blessings; to defend all orphans and widows and provide for them;
To strengthen and keep all sick persons and young children; to free those in bondage; and to have mercy on us all: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, we implore you to hear us.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy.
Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us your peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, have mercy.
O Lord, have mercy. Amen.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I find it most ironic that I write about faith and being a part of a church yesterday and today find myself writing at 11 AM instead of PM because I am not at church.  I was.  I am not now.

After not sleeping all week because of what I was thinking about, I was very much looking forward to being fed.  But at the beginning of Sunday school, Pastor came to warn me the lesson had topics I cannot bear to hear.  I think he meant sex was coming up again.  He offered to send Pizza Man to come fetch me after the discussion moved past those verses, so instead of leaving all together, I ducked into a youth Sunday school class because I knew the teacher and my godmother would not allow me to hold her daughter upstairs in the sanctuary.  I didn't want to be alone.

But I was alone in that class.  Alone and very, very much the interloper.

I admit that my mind was only half there, waiting for Pizza Man, who actually never came.  I do not know if he forgot or if the discussion never progressed passed the verses.  But I was also so uncomfortable as to why I was there and that I clearly didn't belong.

Then, as I watched and listened to the youth fuss over having to read the bible aloud, trying to avoid doing so, my heart just broke.  Here I am, so hungry for teaching I practically badger Pastor...and the youth clearly were not interested in being in their class, in reading the bible, in working through the questions, or in having a discussion of any type with the teacher.  They tossed aside what I would have paid good money to have...the Living Word and proper teaching.  I wanted to snatch away their bibles...ones from the church, not even their own...and declare that I would be honored to read everything.  I wanted to cry out loud for what I was missing, for how magnificent God's Word is, and for what an ineffable privilege it is to both have the freedom to come and worship together and to have the Living Word fill your ears.  All I did is sit there, juggling a baby on my lap, waiting for a welcome back into my own Sunday school class that never came.

Then, afterward, I was sitting at the table downstairs, struggling with the fact that I had missed teaching because I am so weak in facing certain things of this life God has given me and,  well, how sorrowful I was over what I had just witnessed, when Pastor approached me again.  He had another warning...about the sermon.

Please do not get me wrong, I felt quite cared for in his two warnings.  I would much, much rather him warn me than  leave me to struggle of being staggered by a topic.  However, all I could think, at that moment...and now, is that I have no business trying to be part of a church.  I didn't belong there; I will never belong there.  Not that I don't belong at St. Athanasius, but that I do not belong in any church.  How could I?  I am a freak, it seems, when it comes to reading the bible, in preparing for or doing homework for bible studies.  And I cannot even sit through lessons when the topics are difficult for me.

Oh, how I wanted the Lord's Supper today.  In a sense, I have held on this week just thinking about making it to Sunday, where I would have the Body and Blood of Christ to feed me, to sustain me, to teach me.  How will I ever understand His forgiveness here and now, instead of just on the Cross, unless I receive it?  How will I learn if I do not?  Yet how can I inflict who I am upon a church, any church...and how can I survive the hurt and disappointment of having to leave in the manner in which I did today?

I sat on the bottom of the stairs so I could hear the service.  Oh, how I wanted to sing We Praise and Acknowledge You, O God with brothers and sisters in Christ.  But it hurt, sitting there listening to the processional, feeling like such a failure in my faith and such the interloper in the church.  Pizza Man came down for something and spotted me sitting there.  He assumed I was unwell physically.  When I tried to tell him how I was feeling, he told me then I certainly couldn't leave before absolution and I truly needed the Lord's Supper.  His last words to me were Please don't bail on us tomorrow.  He knew I was already questioning how could I go to bible study if I don't even belong in church.

He left to join his family.  A while later, when I could hear the scripture readings begin, the congregation president came down.  He also assumed I was unwell physically and told me there was a bench in one of the classrooms.  Still crying, I jumped up and fled the church.

I wept the whole drive home, as I am weeping now, because although I ached for the Lord's Supper and His forgiveness, I still fled.  I cannot have what I need to grow stronger because I am too weak.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

So, well, I have journeyed nearly a week with little more sleep than you would get in, perhaps, just two or three nights.  I have worked to trust my new friend and Pastor in their assurance that what happened was for His glory and His good work.  A part of me can see this for I understand the Law and know that it is good and right.  A part of me basically trusts that Pastor would not lie to me, nor would he ever knowingly allow me to hurt one of his flock.  Never.

I think the reason I have not been sleeping is because what I feared would come to pass seems to have started.  I thought I had more time.

Today's lessoning was more time than teaching.  Pastor tried to be a Southerner and come right in, but the door was locked.  He has a key, but I am sure it is stuck in a drawer somewhere.  I wanted to talk about the fourth petition, but I never do seem to get past 74.  Mostly, we talked about what I was struggling with, not really an examination with observations and answers, but just a confession on my part...though no absolution.  For, in truth, I know what I fear will come to pass.  It is the way my world works.

The one bit of teaching that gave me pause was when he spun out "in all things" for me.  Pastor was talking about how when we "count up our blessings" we do not usually include the struggles, even though those are often the times when God is blessing us with His grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  His gifts are poured out for us and we thank Him not.  Instead, we tick off the happy times, the joyful ones.  It is not that joyful moment ought to to be left off the list, but we are to pray in all times, give thanks in all circumstances.

It made me think about how often I am the opposite of the norm.  For I most certainly see how God has carried me through the darkness.  However, I cry out to Him in the joyful times and in the in between times, not the dark ones.  For when  I am faced with trials, I think that they are only what I truly deserve and thus should not bother to ask for help or escape for they are what I have reaped from that which I have sown in my sin.

I know...I know...that is all backwards...especially with regard to Objective Grace, but the Law weighs heavily upon me for it has been the measuring stick held out before me my entire Christian life.

You know, what I wanted to do was to ask Pastor to teach me about what he meant when he asked if I saw faith as an individual act, something apart from the Church.  I wanted to ask, but I did not.  I need to get through prayer...

There is a blog Pastor found for me that I have referenced here before but do not read that much because the writer is attending a confessional Lutheran church that has let go of some of the confessions.  Still, from time to time, I skim because he and his wife are two more Protestants who were hungry all the time in their own churches and whom have discovered the amazing gift of Objective Grace and the richness of Liturgy.

Recently he made two observations that align with much that I have shared with Pastor:
  • Evangelical sermons tend to be task oriented. You usually wind up with a list of things to do in order to be a better person.
  • Countless churches have abandoned this critical doctrine [justification through Christ alone], and most lay people don’t even know it. They are being led by people who actually believe in the merits of good works, and the ability of man to cooperate in his own salvation. Sad, but true. Go read Luther, and get your head screwed on straight. That’s my tip for today. 
Maybe what he should have written was Go read Luther and have the scales fall away from your eyes.  Scales put there by satan, who is quite wily in how he works to twist the things of God against His children.

Sometimes I wonder what Pastor truly thinks about all the Protestant teaching I have shared with him.  Bettina rightly pointed out that Lutherans are Protestants, too.  I think most Lutherans would cast the distinction as Evangelicals, but if you read that most wondrous book The Spirituality of the Cross, you will see that Lutherans were first called Evangelicals, that although the word has been changed here in America, in Europe Evangeliche most often means a Lutheran church, not a bible or Pentecostal one.   It easiest to just say Protestant.

But back to Pastor's question.  The topic of individual faith has cropped up all over the place lately.  The one post I found most interesting was from Pastor P.  It is about the differences between I believe and We believe, focused in part on how the Creed is confessed:

Protestants among us always define faith individually and I know whereof they come... but as much as each one of us believes for himself or herself, our faith is learned from the Church, our Mother, who imparts to her children the constitutive knowledge of the faith... the Trinitarian Confession. We believe for ourselves as individuals but we confess this faith as children of the Church, our Mother, who was established by Christ and who endures to the end without being overcome by the assaults and arrows of the enemy. Hell's gates cannot overcome her. She belongs to Christ. The Church is not some utilitarian arrangement for those who need help from others. Christ established His Church to be His holy Bride, equipped her with all the treasures that she may radiate His grace to the world, and He protects and defends her to eternal life.

Remember when Jesus speaks of how oft He had wanted to gather the children of Israel under His wing as a mother hen gathers her chicks? Well, just how does Jesus do this today? How does He gather us lost and wounded, marked by death? How does He do this? Through His Church! Where He has placed His Word and His Sacraments, where His ministers stand and speak in His place the life-giving Word of the Gospel, and where His people find their voice under the prompting of the Spirit to say and sing their AMEN to all that He has done. His Church mothers us with His grace with the treasures of His riches that He has entrusted to her care -- the sacred mysterion (word, water, bread, and wine).

When we stand together and speak together "We believe" is it a subtle yet real acknowledgment of our place within this blessed fellowship as children of God. When we pray, we pray "Our Father" even when we pray alone. When we confess, it is our own voice that speak but the words we speak are given to us to say -- the wonderful confession whose first forms predated much of the New Testament and whose words were renewed in Council to answer the heretic and silence the doubting. Whoever would be saved must confess... not what is formed in their feelings or the thoughts are given birth in their minds... no, whoever would be saved must confess the catholic faith and the catholic faith is this... We believe...

What I am saying is not an argument from history or practice but from the essence of the relationship we have to the Church in which the Holy Spirit works to continue to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify each of us and all of us together. Luther had this high sense of the Church == reflected in the conservative nature of his Reformation. Calvin, Zwingli, and the other radical reformers were much bolder when it came to dismantling the sense of Church or transforming it from that Mother who give us life to an organization of rules and laws and minimum requirements.

When the Lutheran Confessions speak of Church and Ministry, of unity and fellowship, of liturgy and preaching -- it is within this sense of the one, the holy, catholic, and the apostolic Church. This Church exists not for her own glory but to glorify her Lord, soon to be her husband in the marriage supper of the Lamb for all eternity. This Church has the authority of Him who has chosen her -- His Word and His Sacraments, the means of grace. This Church instructs us in the faith and calls us to rightful submission when we would speak of what the faith is -- exchanging the freedom to speak as we might to speak the words that were first others before they were ours... This we believe....

I have written before that saying the Creed is my Augsburg moment each Sunday.  I relish speaking it with Lutherans because I know what it is that they believe.  And, if I have any questions, I can always pick up a single book and learn about what it is for which I am looking.  I relish speaking it with Lutherans because I know that they, too, find comfort and purpose in joint confession based on pure teaching.

When I was a missionary in Africa, one of my students invited me to spend Christmas with her family.  They were living up country and had asked the village elders permission for another missionary to visit.  Permission was granted and the invitation was accepted.

Are you ready for this?  They were Lutherans!  I wish I could remember something doctrinal about that visit, but I do not.  I barely remember being there.  What I do remember is that the Scripture passages read and the hymns sung were in Danish, for they were from Denmark.  Though I could not understand a word of what was filling my ears, I knew it was Truth.  What I remember is that, funny enough, they were thankful in all circumstances.  There they were with no modern conveniences.  The stove, while modern, was heated by coals on top and in the bin at the bottom.  Water came from huge barrels strategically placed about the property.  Scripture was read by candle light.  Yet they were thankful for all they had been given, for the opportunity to share God's Word before them, and the blessings they received in the battles they faced each day.

I know that I was quite a scandalous teacher at the mission, which was probably why the student asked me to join her.  While I was there, I climbed a waterfall, much to the amusement of the Liberians, and I screeched my way across a monkey bridge, a most rickety trespass made from three ropes that were in clear need of replacement.  I also ate country rice (it had not been filtered and thus had creepy crawly things in it) and had to seek forgiveness for the offensive display of the skin above my socks when I sat down without careful attention the placement of my skirt.

I found my time there most strange.  Where he here right now, Pastor would be grinning.  Yes, Lutherans are strange.  I found my time there most strange for the freedom I now recognize as Objective Grace.  The sermon I heard that trip was based not one word on what I should be doing, what I could do to be holy.

That was the only time in my life that I was around Christians at Christmas, the one time the holiday was not filled with anger, hatred, judgment, and/or vile acts.  Sure there were smiles and happy moments around all the gifts and the food, but the commercialism was the extent of that happiness.  There was sure to be fighting and accusations and blame and ugliness that dampens even the most hearty of appetites.  It is the same with Thanksgiving.  Try as I might, I do not see the holidays as anything other than a time during which I will be hurt, judged, and found wanting.  I get that Christmas is a time for family and not for interlopers...outsiders.  I get that.  But I wish, still, that a day twenty years ago was not all I had that was true and right and salutary.

Yes, I have seen faith as an individual act.  But I have begun to wonder if that is not another wile of the devil, wanting to keep me adrift when the safety of a boat is at my disposal.

The latest Lutheran given I have discovered, but have yet to mention, is that of  heritage.  Faith may be more corporate than I understand, but it is also a heritage to be received, cherished, and passed down.  It is a heritage not merely from Luther, not from Paul, not even from the incarnate Son of Man Jesus Christ.  Nay, it is a heritage passed from God Himself to Adam to Moses to David to Paul to Luther to me, a heritage based on the Word and the Promise that have have been before time, from all time, not just 2,000 years ago.  The traditions, Liturgy, hymnody, and prayers are riches beyond words.  The Holy Spirit uses them to draw us together into the body of Christ, to sustain us, to teach us, to renew us through Word and Sacrament.  So often, in the Lutheran blogosphere, I have read of the piety of mothers and fathers of grandparents that shaped and inform that of the child or grandchild.  The heritage passed down, the heritage received, almost makes the intangible tangible.

Piety is not a word I've heard in Protestant churches, just as with blessings, confession/absolution, and pastoral care.   The simple definition of piety is a reverence for God; synonyms include veneration, respect, awe.  For a while now, I have wanted to ask Pastor about piety.  Kleinig's book begins with it, with him reflecting upon the piety of his father and what he learned from it.  He was writing of his personal heritage, but he moves to the heritage of the Church.

As with family, heritage is not something I recognize or understand from my least nothing that is not twisted beyond measure.  My heritage is violence, drugs, alcohol, lies, sexual abuse, hatred, and silence to preserve public opinion.  

However, if I am understanding what I have been reading, my heritage is also a fierce clinging to Promise of God, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite all the world has to offer for the whole of human history.  My heritage is a confession of faith that has remained while kings and kingdoms have fallen away.  My heritage is pure and holy.

I would like to know more....

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nine days without my boss!

Is that uncharitable?  Unloving?  SIGH.  Probably so....

The other day she walked into my house.  Her refrigerator broke and she does not want to buy another one right now, so she brings her leftovers to my house and I am to bring them into work the next day.  So, I see my boss all the time and she calls me all the time and texts me all the time and now...she walks into my house, without knocking, without asking, as if this is her home, not mine.

This from a woman who is very hateful and abusive and just plain cruel to me.  She regularly threatens me with my job; she refused to let me paint my walls for past 20 months because she tells me all the time I may not be here long and she needs to consider the next person.  This far into my job, I still am not allowed access to the files from the woman who worked before me; I had to recreate the wheel on everything.  I am still not allowed to talk to anyone else in the company and when  I do I am punished.  She believes me to be very poor with the pen, unable to write anything worthy of reading...except for the work she had me do for her that she passes off as her own.  She blows up at me, often coming in from home angry and flinging her ire my way.  SIGH.

I did not like her walking in without notice.  This was not the first time, but now it is a freedom she seems to believe she has.  I do not want her to do so.

Now, I am from the South.  Well, Texas.  [I know many believe Texas is not the South; others believe it is a country unto itself.]  Back there, you stop by a friend's house, open the door, and holler a great big "Hello!" as you step inside.  If your friend is working, you roll up your sleeves and dive in to help.  Painting, laundry, dishes.  No matter. You don't have to make "appointments" to visit; you don't have the clean up the house beforehand; you don't have to trade visits.  You just enjoy each other's company.

Now, I heartily wish Pastor would just come on in on Saturdays.  Open the door, stick his head in, and holler as he steps inside.  Sometimes, I am so tired I would rather not get up off the couch, but I do want to learn..  I would wish Bettina would step on in when she comes.  Where my godparents or Pizza Man and his bride  or Pastor's bride ever to ever visit, the freedom of my home would extend to them as well.  But it does not extend to my boss.

What kind of Christian does that make me?

I finished the first section of Kleing--only one more to go before I get to the one on prayer!

While I found it interesting that the last bit of his message on the mystery of Christ was the recommendation to have recordings of hymns so that you can listen to them outside the Divine Service and be reminded that we are part of the heavenly choir, singing with saints and angels, it was actually a mention of the weight of glory that caught my heart.

In II Corinthians 4:16-18, St. Paul uses a striking image to describe our spiritual state in this present life.  He contrasts the temporary weight of our troubles with the heavy eternal with of God's presence with us. He compares God's glory, His hidden presence in us and our mortal bodies, to a solid weight, a sense of heaviness or fullness that is far too big for us to contain.  God's glory presses in on us and pervades us, to the point of breaking us apart, so that it can burst out in us and from us, like a blaze of light.  Paul says,

So we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

God's glory is like something that is so large and full and heavy that we cannot yet contain it.  So God enlarges us and remakes us, from the inside out, so that we will eventually be able to receive Him and all that He has to give to us in Jesus.  (81)

In the Large Catechism, while teaching about the Fourth Commandment (honor your parents), Luther writes, For it is a far higher thing to honor someone than to love someone, because honor includes not only love, but also modesty, humility, and submission to a majesty hidden in them.  (LC, Part I, 106)

I wrestle with this commandment, with what it means and how God would have me honor Him through honoring and loving my parents.  Parents who do not honor or love me, parents who did not care to keep me safe as a child, for appearance mattered more to them than my well-being.  I see no majesty hidden within them.

In reading this bit of Kleinig, I wondered if the hidden majesty Luther spoke of was Christ, and therefore he was speaking of Christian parents.  I am sure that it could not be as easy as easy as saying the duty of love and honor falls not upon non-Christian parents.

But more so than my burden of honor, I found this passage instructive for the reference to that slight, momentary affliction.  I am in sore need of perspective, eh?

Last night, while in the shower, I sank to my knees and huddled there sobbing until the water ran cold.  Yes, the hair loss has slowed, but it is still happening.  Each shower, each brushing ends with more strands piled up one the side of the tub or the sink.  Yes, the nausea is better, but I still battle it every day.  Yes, the incision is better, but it still burns and stings and bleeds.Yes, but is all I have for God, for my Savior.  For six months of nausea and chills and fatigue and sorrow.  For fourteen years, I have battled pain and blurred vision and muscles weakness and confusion.  For a lifetime, I have endured the vileness of men.

And yet...these, too, are slight, momentary afflictions when your perspective includes the entire universe, not just your corner of the world.   I long for God to remake me on the inside.  For I know my sin and it grieves me so.

I have been struggling to find Pastor's "food" for tomorrow.  In fact, I have read through 32 homilies or sermons since I arrived home from work.  Don't get me wrong, doing so has been an amazing blessing.  [How wonderful is the Internet!]  However, while I have learned quite a bit, I cannot find a sermon that fits him.  I only find ones for which his response would be...You should take heed, Myrtle.  That's a good one for you!  SIGH.  He has no need for messages on baptism, love, mercy or grace.  He knows those things!  Even the Luther bits I find are more for me than him.  It's sort of like handing him a Dr. Pepper when he really would enjoy Cool Whip.

In the photo, there are two "collections" of ladybugs.  Not counting them, Pastor got it right!  Tit for tat!  We traded victories!  He doesn't want his prize, though.  SIGH.  I still want mine!

Bettina did as well.  She's getting a reading of Philippians!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bettina got the answer right!  She is getting a scripture reading!  [Hint, if you click on the photo, it will open as just a photo; if you click on it again, it will enlarge so that you can better add up the ladybugs!]

Today was most particularly rough, whereby I wilted beneath the sharp side of my boss' tongue and ended up spewing my lunch.  Later, I also had a most trying time with my blood sugar, sweating, becoming addled and yet angry, and trembling like a leaf before it dawned upon me that I should consume some juice.  I was not able to leave until 7:30 for we were working under a deadline and my boss chose to disappear from 2:30 to 5:30 this afternoon.  There I was, shaking like a leaf, and she just ignored me.  What if I had just left the juice box in my bag and keeled over on her?  For shame, Myrtle!

I did, I believe, finish the redesign of the church newsletter.  Now, I will fret and stew and worry that folks will not find my changes as helpful as I intended them to be...many sections and shading so as to group information bit by bit.  And there is sure to be at least one glaring error, if not two.  Pastor was so exhausted when I called him to see if I might change the color of the cross on the front rather than print the cover on blue paper that I fear I twisted his arm into acquiescing.  Mostly, I needed him to double-check the last change.  Still, I really, really, really did not want to print it on color paper because it is not designed for color.  All the grayscale shading would actually not look very well.  Still, I must admit that I am so very happy that Pastor asked me to do this project, that I could actually do something for him and for my church. church!

I have a few miles to go on the Advent booklet and the Meditations on Prayer booklet is in sore need of a good edit.  All this work made me think of the Seven Words booklet that has been woefully neglected, so I went ahead and set it properly (I did it wrong the first time) and discovered it needed two more pages (booklets need to be increments of 4).  So, I added the passage of the crucifixion and the Lord's Prayer at the end.  Pastor has not cast his eyeballs across it yet, so I truly have no clue if that was a good idea or not.  Finally, Pizza Man had a most brilliant idea about turning Pastor's What is Prayer for the students at GMU, so I took a stab at designing something around what he was thinking.  All that work is good for one who feels the useless interloper.  All that work is good for one who has too many things on her mind.  However, all that work is a good excuse for staying up until the wee hours to avoid the quiet of the night and the thoughts that arise at that time.

Of course, all that work means that I have neglected Walther and Kleinig.  Given the thoughts concerning the sixth evening lecture that are still troubling my waters, I chose Kleinig.

I must say, Pastor gave me a great gift in this book.  Funny, I know he gave it to me for prayer, for that chapter it seems like I might get to in 2012.  But already I have read in wonder about receptive spirituality, such an apt summary of Objective Grace.  In the way that Luther spins out the spirit of the Law from it letter, Kleinig explores just what it means to be beggars before God.  Then, as you may have noticed, I thoroughly enjoyed reflecting upon the Shema and the fact that I do have God's Word written upon my forehead and what a mighty blessing that is to me...even in the times when I cannot remember it as such.  And...DEEP SIGH...Kleinig delves into the mystery of God.

Remember the last time I waxed poetically about being a steward of the mysteries of God? Well, he writes a beautifully succinct observation on just what makes a mystery most marvelously a mystery:  ...a mystery remains a mystery even when it is revealed.  In fact, the more you know about it, the more mysterious it becomes." (57) 

My beloved Bettina spoke with me this evening as she was beating me in Scrabble (this even with her brain addled by cold #2 of the season--she basically is sick from fall to spring with rather pesky colds) a wee bit about Lutheranism.  One of her comments was that she did not see, as a Protestant, that her faith was based on works.  At that moment, I wondered if I am too harsh here.  But at the same time I wanted to say that I hear works in your words all the time, so deeply do they run beneath the surface you do not even see them.  I barely do in my own.  But would that be a judgment?  She will read this, so I am not really avoiding the issue, but I know she does not condemn me for working out my thoughts here.  In fact, I do believe we have both, at times, spoken to each other through our blogs, though each writes for herself, when speech was not possible.

Apart from God's Word, they have no access to the risen Lord Jesus; they have no knowledge or experience of Him.  That Word initiates the believer into the mystery of Christ, something that no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has ever conceived (I Corinthians 2:6-10). (58)

Is that not the most amazing thought!  What a precious gift faith is, a gift that, thank goodness, does not depend wholly on me.  Were that so, I would not be here, would not have had the courage to persevere, to dare believe in something the world finds so very foolish and that is so very contradictory.  Science cannot measure, cannot assess, cannot fathom faith.  Oh, how we like to put God in a box, arrange His truths into rules and boundaries that make sense to us and that we can claim as done so as to ascribe some measure of holiness, godliness to our our labors, our sacrifices, our offerings.

Hebrews has been on my mind of late, both because the reading from last week was in this book and because I do believe I have been reading this one bit wrong all these years:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus Christ the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.   ~Hebrews 4:14-16

Is that not a mystery in and of itself::  How can God be man?  And, being God, why would He ever endure being man?  How can He know every temptation and yet know not sin?

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,


He then says,


Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:11-25

Did you see the two Sacraments in there? How about Objective Grace?  I cannot seem to cast my eyeballs anywhere these days without seeing baptism, the Lord's Supper and Objective Grace....

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. ~Hebrews 12:1-3

I wrote to Pastor about this the other day. There I was, minding my own business, when it hit me that this passage is not (I think) about Law, as I have been taught, but is, instead, about Gospel!  For, you see, the whole cloud of witnesses thing is sort of like shining your light.  You were to go out and give the GREAT WITNESS for Christ.   I was taught because we are to be an example to others we have to run with which...of course...I fail I have been condemning myself for YEARS about that whole passage and how miserable I fail at God's instruction. of Pastor's hymns just popped into my head and I started thinking that cloud of witnesses does not mean those around me but the saints who've gone on before us, those at the alter with us, who are comrades in arms and maybe even the angels offering support and encouragment for all those fighting against satan with the Holy Spirit's help.

So, I believe that makes GOSPEL!  Because you are forgiven and brought into the Church and have the gifts of God poured out upon you in Word and Sacrament, then you are actually able to run with endurance...through the Holy Spirit...not of yourself, not by yourself.

Oh, my, has my world has shifted once again if I am right.  I mean, I have a t-shirt and everything about the whole Law interpretation (maybe I should wear it on Saturday!).  I spent a summer in boot camp learning how to be a better runner so that I could have a better witness and then enlarge my own faith.  I spent a summer as a camp counselor telling children that...argh!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

It is difficult for me to respond to Bettina's remark that God wants us to do good works.  Yes, we should do good works, but nothing we do is good.  That is what Pastor keeps slipping into his emails when I bewail my misery over not sending Gospel when I sent Law to my new friend.  I will never do good. I cannot.  But I am forgiven.  And what I do God will always use for good, for His plans and purposes.  My friend would be the first one to tell you that being utterly broken Sunday night was good for her.

Even so...even so, I struggle, for deep within me is this conditioning that I must do better, I must live in such a way as to become more godly.  Such is based on a false premise.  For if we are sinful creatures, then we cannot do good works apart from the cleansing waters of Holy Baptism, apart from the love and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  If we are not sinful creatures, then Christ is only a fool who died a long time ago and good works do not really account from anything.

Only when I become the beggar, only when I learn to cry for mercy, will the mysteries of God be realized, not revealed, but realized in my life.  Yet even now, even with a sinful nature, I still serve as steward of the mysteries of God.  I still guard them and watch over them and give them great reverence in my life.

There is one line I most particularly like that Pastor has quoted before:  Just as Jesus brings the Father to us, so He also bring us to the Father (61).  Noodle on that a while...

I had another email question I thought I would answer:  Why does your Pastor make recordings of hymns if he does not like how his voice sounds?

I am most confident, were he here, he would answer thus:  Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. ~Colossians 3:16

Find a brother or sister in Christ and pour out His love for them in their lives.  Read aloud from the Living Word.  Raise your voice in song!  I would highly recommend you sing the following hymn:

We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God

We praise You and acknowledge You, O God, to be the Lord,
The Father everlasting, by all the earth adored.
To You all angel powers cry aloud, the heavens sing,
The cherubim and seraphim their praises to You bring:
O holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth;
Your majesty and glory fill the heavens and the earth!

The band of the apostles in glory sing Your praise;
The fellowship of prophets their deathless voices raise.
The martyrs of Your kingdom, a great and noble throng,
Sing with the holy Church through-out all the world this song:
O all majestic Father, Your true and only Son,
And Holy Spirit, Comforter for ever Three in One!

You, Christ, are King of glory, the everlasting Son,
Yet You, with boundless love, sought to rescue ev'ry one;
You laid aside Your glory, were born of virgin's womb,
Were crucified for us and were placed into a tomb;
Then by Your resurrection You won for us reprieve--
You opened heaven's kingdom to all who would believe.

You sit in splendid glory, enthroned at God's right hand,
Upholding earth and heaven by fores You command.
We know that You will come as our Judge that final day,
So help Your servants You have redeemed by blood, we pray;
May we with saints be numbered where praises never end,
In glory everlasting, amen, O Lord, amen!

~Lutheran Service Book, 941