Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I am miserable with this cold or whatever.  Fever, chills, raging sore throat, painful neck, painful ears, stuffy nose save for the period the drugs are working.  I went to take my evening medicine, saw the weekly container was empty, went to refill it and discovered that I was out of my medication.  So, I dragged myself up to Target to get refills.  I fell while I was there.  Things went flying.  Lying on the floor, I just wanted to ask if I could stay the night...

Kashi has been ill, too.  His plumbing is working overtime.  Cleaning up the mess when I am feeling so poorly has been hard.  Getting up in the middle of the night with him has been near impossible.  I called the vet today and pleaded for help.  She sent a tech out to my home with medication for Kashi mid-afternoon.  I would have kissed her except for the fact that I am a germ factory.  Kashi seems to be doing better.  I am crossing my fingers that both of us will get some sleep tonight.

Bettina, bless her heart, entertained me much of the day.  We checked out video conferencing options to set up a way for Pastor F to instruct her (with me gladly sitting in), played Scrabble, read through a sermon, did a devotional from Pastor E's church, and basically listened to me whine about how poorly I feel.  What I savored most is that she took the Passion reading part of the devotional.

My writing student also Skyped me from England, catching me up on her school-abroad experiences and giving me her itinerary for her month of travel before the second part of her semester. Oh, to be back in Italy with her!  She also gave me a most precious gift:  Ezekiel 47:1-9:

Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east, for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of the altar.  He brought me out by way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate by way of the gate that faces east. And behold, water was trickling from the south side.  When the man went out toward the east with a line in his hand, he measured a thousand cubits, and he led me through the water, water reaching the ankles.  Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the knees. Again he measured a thousand and led me through the water, water reaching the loins.  Again he measured a thousand; and it was a river that I could not ford, for the water had risen, enough water to swim in, a river that could not be forded. 

He said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?" Then he brought me back to the bank of the river.

Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were very many trees on the one side and on the other.

Then he said to me, "These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. It will come about that every living creature which swarms in every place where the river goes, will live. And there will be very many fish, for these waters go there and the others become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes.

First, she read it to me!  SIGH.  I just love that, crave that, savor that....  Then she showed me the Gospel here.  Some, is obvious, I am sure you are thinking.  Who is the Living Water, after all, but Jesus!   What came to my mind was that slowly but surely the water became too much.  Ankles, knees, loins, until it could not be forded. So, it is with our understanding of the law.  We think, I do not murder.  But we do...just not with our hands.  We do with our mouths.  We do with our choices.  We do murder others.  We do not protect them.  We do not lay ourselves down to prevent harm.  We think we can keep the law until we experience the breadth and depth of it as it overflows us.

What also came to mind was Psalm 103, in that our sins are removed to from us as far as the east is from the west.  In this passage, we also see east and west.

Primarily though, there is only one Living Water, only One who saves, only One who can bring new life:  Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

My Writing Student's observation was precious to me.  She noted how the Law was all complicated, with rites and rubrics and instructions and obligations and such.  The details about the rebuilding of the temple in Ezekiel are quite numerous, quite complex.  But the Gospel is simple.  Jesus.  That is the breadth and depth of the Gospel.  a mystery to be sure, but simple nonetheless.  What a striking contrast we have between Law and Gospel here.  One is a burden beneath which we labor in vain, only to find ourselves in the agony of defeat again and again and again.  The other is freedom from such labor, a sure and certain outcome.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The CEO came to work last week really, really ill.  I had to interact with her on a project.  Saturday, I was in denial.  Sunday, I thought perhaps all was well.  Today, each hour that has progressed, I have grown more and more suspicious of the sore throat and coughing that can no longer be denied.

It looks like I will be spending my week off, Holy Week, ill.  This is not what I planned.  I was to be at Bettina's house, but the timing was just not right.  It is good, now, that I am not there, lest the household fall ill.  I fear that I am being dragged inexorably down the road to some fierce chest cold.  May I be utterly and completely wrong!

Bettina, magnificent woman that she is, after agreeing visiting just now is not, perhaps, the best course of action, came up with THE PLAN.  It is a great plan.  A wondrous plan.  Her plan is that we play at least one game of Scrabble each day that I would have otherwise been at her house.  Saturday, I knew not of the plan and so messed with her timing, but we managed to play both yesterday and today.  Given that I won a very close, very tight game today, I am looking forward to tomorrow.

However, today, we also plowed through Walther's 14th Evening Lecture.  My eyes are too blurry to type out whole passages, so I want to save this for later.  But I did find it a glorious read for it not only taught what Lutherans believe about salvation, but essentially labeled us Bible people.  I like that!

One of the scripture examples Walther uses in this lecture is Paul's conversion.  Before we read through this section, I told Bettina it gave me great pause when I first read how he framed Paul:  a torturer and a murderer.

Now, I would proffer that most any Christian today would leap at the chance to have Paul as his pastor, be in his parish.  But would we so readily walk in the door of a church lead by a former murderer, by one who not only tortured people but did so in order to get them to deny our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?  I would believe the answer would be a great big "NO!" were that the case.  However, that is exactly the case with Paul.

Think about that for a moment.

Then...think about the fact that he did so, rather zealously, because of his belief that he was doing the right thing to serve God.  This learned man, steeped in scripture, persecuted the very ones who believed in the Son of his God.

It is my opinion that God chose just such a sinner...a murderer and torturer...because His message, the Gospel, is not about what one man thinks.  It not about what man did, did not do, or ever will do.  It is about what Christ did, does even now.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Today, church was amazing.  152 verses of Living Word were poured out over me during the Service of the Word!  SIGH.

I admit  I was a tad worried about having M in church, but she was a real trooper, even though the service was just shy of two hours!

After I told M that she would need to whisper once we got inside the church.  So, Miss Z pulled M aside and practiced whispering for a moment before taking her hand and dragging her inside.  The girls read books, colored, and munched on Cheerios.  They also passed back and forth the three beanie babies that came with us.  M was quite angelic all but the last 10 minutes, but even then she was only wiggly.  Z, when she spotted M "wiggling" against the person next to her, switched places so she could be a buffer.  All on her own.  Z also hugged her, let M put her head in Z's lap, and held her hand.  What a sister!

The first time she came to church, Z asked me why I went since it was so early in the morning and she knows how tired I get. I told her that Church was one of the places God comes to us. She asked if she would see Him, too. I explained that we couldn't see Him, but we know He is there because of His promises. I told her that He comes to us in the bible readings and in the Lord's Supper.

This time, after the readings, she turned to me and asked me if I had a good visit with God.

She also asked if she was going to get a blessing again. When I nodded, she turned to her sister and said, "The man in the dress is going to put his hand on your head and say good things just to you. You will like it."

It was interesting for me to watch the two of them together, to see how sisters could be.  They clearly enjoy each other.  Z clearly takes her role as elder sibling very, very seriously.  And there is clearly much love between the two of them.

Last night, they cuddled in the green chair together, a bundle of little girls, blankets, stuffed animals, and books...just in case the movie was not a good one!  I found myself looking at the two of them together more than the television.

The hard part of their visit was realizing that I could barely pick up Z.  She wanted to sit in the child swing at the park.  I had huffed and puffed getting M into it, but did not really think about Z's request.  No matter how hard I tried, I could not lift her much higher than the swing heighth.  So it was a bit of fancy maneuvering to get her into the seat with her long, long legs.  Once it was time to get her down from the swing seat, I was not altogether confident she would be coming home with us! 

I had worried about picking up M at church if she was nervous about going to the rail, but I shouldn't have been.  She and Z are not really cuddlers apart from with family.  M's way of being in my lap is to be pressed right up against me and have her feet in my lap.  Had she wanted to be picked up, though, I could not have done it for more than a moment.  And I could not have done it at all for Z.

This visit, Z insisted on helping me clean this time, pointing out on several occasions that her mother thought she was good at cleaning and that she should help me.  While I vacuumed the main floor, she vacuumed the stairs and the second floor and dusted the main floor.  The sweetest part of her visit, though, was not the cleaning, but when Z announced, during the church service, that she would stand and kneel for me since I was not able to do so.

The hearts of children....

Speaking of hearts, Bettina is struggling to understand something so that she might then explain to her groom: the Lutheran view of baptism.  But, really, with baptism you are talking about salvation.  And original sin.  And the relationship between God and man.  And the proper disctinction between Law and Gospel.  And the role of the Holy Spirit.  And...

Tonight I prepared the bulletins for next Sunday so that I could get them off in the mail to Pastor F.  While I was waiting for them to print, I thought I would start the next evening lecture.  I had just tossed off a long, rather passionate email trying to answer Bettina's question and was feeling very frustrated.  I want so much to share what I know, but I am not a pastor.  A pastor could do this far, far better than I.  Mostly, I just stumble through, trying not to groan out loud over my feeble answers.  Plus, part of the questions are coming from trying to understand something without going to the source material (my Ph.D. background coming to the fore).  And then there is the whole MS scrambled brains thing.

So, imagine my surprise when the 14th Evening Lecture turned out to be on salvation!  After reading the first few pages, I promptly drove to work to scan the chapter so I could email it to Bettina.  Given that Walther was the first president of Concordia Theological Seminary and was lecturing pastors-in-training, I figure he'll know how to explain all this stuff to Bettina and her husband! 



Thus far, I have listened to four Palm Sunday sermons.  Below is Pastor D's:

Jesu Juva

“The Love of Power, or the Power of Love”
Text: Deuteronomy 32:36-39; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 22-23

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

The Word of God through the mouth of Moses said this to us today:

For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.  . . . 
When He sees that their power is gone.
Take a moment and consider that.

We don’t like to be powerless, to be not in control, to be unable to do something.
We rebel against such statements, and try to assert our power in any way we can.
How much has life become a power play?
At work, at school, at home, in groups of friends.
Children try to assert their power through shouting or throwing tantrums.
Adults, maybe in that way also (!), but for them, how often is power exerted through silence until the other gives in?
And in a whole host of ways, we manipulate others to get what we want.
To be in control. At least in some small way.
I may not be the top dog, but at least someone’s under me.
Someone I can control.
And tell what to do.
To have some power.
When He sees that their power is gone.
So that’s not true about you, is it?
But should it be?

But pastor, I don’t want to be at the bottom of the pecking order!
True enough; neither do I.
But why not?
Don’t think too hard about that; the answer is easy: sin.
Sin that does not want to serve, but to be served.
Sin that wants to exert power over others.
Sin that wants to be in control.

Besides, no matter how powerless you are, no matter how low, no matter how tired and weak and piled upon, you will
never be at the bottom of the pecking order.
That spot is reserved for one person: Jesus.

“[T]hough he was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

We heard that story again today; and we’ll hear it this Holy Week.
The Son of God become nothing, all the way to the bottom of the pecking order - for you.
To serve you. To save you.

For truly, we are powerless.
We cannot save ourselves.
Like Israel in slavery to Egypt, we are in bondage to sin.
We’ve fallen, and we can’t get up.

And so our Lord came.
As He rescue His powerless people from their bondage to the Egyptians, so He has rescued us from our bondage to sin and death.
And if you think His power against Egypt was great, in truth, His power on the cross was greater.
For the cross shows us not the power of man, but the power of God.
The power of His love.

And so for you, He is arrested and does not fight back.
For you He is punched and mocked and abused.
For you He is humiliated.
For you He is hung on a cross like a criminal.
For you He lays down His life.
To serve you. To save you.

So that we know, as Moses continues and says: See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me.

Truly, there is no other God like this.
Who comes to serve the sinner, the rebel.
Who comes to be shamed, to take our shame away.
Who comes to take our sin and death, and give us forgiveness and life.
There is no other God like this.
Who still today is coming and saving - washing, absolving, feeding.
Still coming to those who are powerless, to give us what we do not have and cannot achieve:
    forgiveness, life, and salvation.
To break the grip of death on you.
To end the reign of sin in your life.
To raise you up, no matter how far down you are.

All this He has done for you.
Not starting when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, but when He rode into this world in the womb of the Virgin.
And not ending when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven - no, not ending until you rise and ascend with Him.
For He did not come to return alone; He came for you.
Taking your place here, that you may have His place there.

Until then:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.
What mind is that?
That has now be given to you?
Which is yours in Christ Jesus?
The mind to know that true power is exercised not in control and manipulation, but in service and love.
Not because you have to, but because you can.
Because no matter how far down you go, you will never be at the bottom.
That spot is still reserved for one person: Jesus.
The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Take a moment and consider that.

Whatever you were, whatever you are, in Christ Jesus you are made new.
The same power of Christ that laid down His life for you, now working in you.
That not your sin but His love,
    not your sin, but His forgiveness,
    not your sin, but His life,
control you, and lead you, and guide you.
At work, at school, at home, in groups of friends.

For we call this Holy Week not just because of the holy things that happened,
    or because of the Holy One they happened to -
        but because this is the week
that makes you holy.
Holy, because your sins are forgiven.
Holy, because you have been raised to a new life.
Holy, because the Body and Blood of the Holy One is here given to you.

And so today we enter this Holy Week.
We begin it with Hosanna! Lord, save us!
We will end it with Alleluia! For He has.
It is finished, He said.
And truly, it is.

So today as we enter this Holy Week,
have this mind among yourselves.
And let us cease our love of power, and see and know once again this week the power of His love.

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.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Miss Z came again for a visit, this time bringing her little sister so that, in her words, that I could take a nap since she would have someone to play with.  Once we arrived home, she took M all about the house, pointing out everything to her, and admonished her not to pet Kashi when he has he ears back.  She finished her tour by showing M how to lay back in the green chair.  What a caring, brilliant young thing she is!

Many people comment how my house is not kid-friendly, even though I have removed my demi-tasse cup collection and greatly reduced the chotzkies.   True, each time Bettina and her cherubs arrive, something else is broken.  But Z and M are used to making do, to playing, not merely passing time with toys.  Z oriented M to the basket of beanie babies, the third-world musical instruments, all my canes, and the all important secret stash of chocolate in the silver teapot.  They also played with my back-scratcher, my mini-step, my bosu half-ball, and my guitar.  It is getting harder to hold the latter even when I am sitting, so last week I dug out the strap for it.  Z announced that I had made a good decision in adding the strap because it was easier for her to play now!  Of course, what makes my heart sing is that Z treats my books as if they are treasures, carefully holding them and gently turning the pages.  Just as Kashi likes to distribute his babies about the house, Z likes to distribute book so that she "can have one handy."

All three of us snuggled on the couch, watching movies.  Being squished was so wonderful!  We also took Kashi for a walk--Z insisted on holding the leash for me--and hung out at the park for an hour.  I was so very exhausted when we got back, but cracked up when Z insisted on teaching M how to ride the stone lions on my porch before we went back inside.

What cracks me up about her as a reader is that she does not wish for me to read to her in the "chapter" book this six-year-old is reading:  The Frog and Toad treasury, all four books together.  In the car, she asked me how far I had gotten in it.  I told her I had read it many times and started reciting one of my favorite stories.  She held up her hand and asked me to stop.  "I'm not there yet!" she admonished me rather severely.

M, at three, narrates her every activity.  Unless she is sleeping, she simply does not shut up.  I, too, find that humorous, but I can imagine it could be wearying with her mother.  Her speech is excellent, with a wide, wide vocabulary, so all that practice is clearly beneficial.

Once again, Z asked me if it was bedtime, her way of announcing she should probably go to sleep.  Her sister was excited about sleeping in the "hotel room," Z's name for the bedroom suite I created in the basement when I bought the house.  I followed them downstairs, tucked them beneath the covers, and kissed both their foreheads.  M then told me to turn out the light and Z told me she would see me in the morning.  I imagine many parents are jealous of me just now, so easy it is to put D's children to bed.

I would like to say that after giving up several times on the preface, I finally plowed through it and started reading Krauth's The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology.  Pastor W said it was "just soooooooooo good."  I think that was an understatement.

He opens with painting a portrait of that obscure, normal, unremarkable day when Luther pinned his 95 thesis to the door.  I was there, following his every word.  Such passion.

He then emphasized the importance of remembering, teaching, and understanding the magnitude of that day.

Our Church, as clearly, in one sense, the mother of the Reformation, as, in another, she is its offspring, the first and for a time, the exclusive possessor of the name Protestantism, it source and its mightiest bulwark, our Church has wisely set apart a day in each year to commemorate this great deliverance, and wisely kept her great Jubilees.  There are other ways of noting time, besides by its loss.  The Church Festivals note it by it gains, the Church Year marks the time which has been redeemed forever.  An old writer describer the Church of All-Saints at Wittenberg, as a manager, where in his lowly glory the Son of God was born again.  Blessed forever be the day!  On it, through all time, men shall gather, bringing their offerings of praise; remembering, treasuring, and keeping untarnished, the holy faith whose restoration was thus begun.  (3)

Yes, I noted the use of "restoration."  See, I am not the only one  who looks at Luther's work as a restoring work.

There are other ways of noting time, besides by its loss.  The Church Festivals note it by it gains, the Church Year marks the time which has been redeemed forever.   Noting time by gains.  Redeemed forever.  While I still am very unlearned regarding the Church Year, I am thankful we have this calendar to teach, to remind us of all that we have been given.

Let her [the Church] [Festival of the Reformation].  In the pulpit, and the school, and the circle of the home, let these great memories of men of God, of their self-sacrifice, of their overcoming faith, and of their glorious work, but the theme of thought, and of word, and of thanksgiving.  The Festival of the Reformaspeak to her children then, and tell them the meaning of the day tion is at once a day of Christmas and of Easter and of Pentecost, in our Church year; a day of birth, a day of resurrection, a day of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.  Let its return renew that life, and make our Church press on with fresh vigor in the steps of her risen Lord, as one begotten again, and born from the dead, but the quickening power of the Spirit of her God.  Let every day be a festival of the Reformation, and every year a Jubilee. (4)

At once Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost!  Every day a Festival of the Reformation, every year a Jubilee!  Good advice, don't you think?

I like his words speak to her children then, and tell them the meaning of the day.  Something that I have encountered amongst my new Lutheran brothers and sisters is that much of their heritage has not been taught to them.  They have been raised in Word and Sacrament, but not in the Symbols of their faith (no systematic study of the Book of Concord).  Too, I have found many who have never been taught about private confession/absolution.  They know not what it is; they do not understand the riches of the freedom, the mercy, the love of having the Word of forgiveness spoken over them, to lay their sins before an undershepherd, have them wiped clean, and given words of comfort in their struggle.

The meaning of that day is nothing less than Jesus Christ.  His work.  His glory.  His holiness.  But it is also the whole of what we believe, understanding the lynchpins of original sin and objective grace. Knowing the articles of the Augsburg confession and why they were spoken.  Why we are, in a sense, still making that confession to those standing around listening, why we are still drawing that line in the sand today, resolutely because there can be no compromise with the Gospel.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, March 26, 2010

I worked 10 hours today, plowing through a multitude of tasks that needed doing so because I am to have Holy Week off of work.  Yes, you read that right.  No work!  No work for an entire week and it is not costing me a single vacation day because I have so much comp time.

Having gained the time off, I have spent the past week reminding my boss in no uncertain terms that I shall not be checking email once I departed this evening until I walk through the doors again Monday week.  She kept telling me that was okay.  I am certain I shall not be able to achieve such a goal.

While I started trying to wind down, at 5:00 in the hopes of a decent departure, the 3 tasks I was given today turned into 11. 

For the past few weeks, I gone from one rush job to another, cranking out a prodigious amount of collateral and reports and charts and planning documents.  Much of what I am doing is not actually my work.  In fact, during a four-hour meeting one day this week, I found myself generating a volunteer management plan for our signature event.  While this is needed, we have a volunteer manager!  You would think that she would be the one tasked with such a behemoth.  But, no, just have Myrtle do it is my boss' MO.  This I struggle with the most, second to turning the other cheek.

I frankly resent how often I have to do the work that would naturally fall to another department because my boss thinks it would be better if we (meaning I) just took care of it.  When it comes to budget and financial document information, I am truly nervous about doing such.  With this project, I was just plain livid.  There was no reason under the sun why the volunteer manager could not join our meeting and guide us through the process.  It is not that she will get credit for my work.  It is that I have too much to do and am exhausted from working non-stop, accomplishing more than at least two of the other members of our department combined.  And, truth be told, I watch the volunteer manager spend copious amounts of time chatting it up with her friend from accounting and with her other department folk.  My boss grows truly angry when I go to the bathroom or dare actually take a lunch.

Normally, I can swallow this, but working as hard as I have been makes doing so seemingly impossible.

The sad part is, after Holy Week, I shall have two solid months of craziness as we head into this signature event.  You should start planning and working on your signature event 12 months out.  While some things were done, a decision to proceed came so late in the game that we are essentially doing all that needs doing for this in a mere 3 months.

I have told myself that no matter what may come, I am leaving at 7:00 each evening and I am going to Wednesday evening prayer service.  Strangely, my boss has started checking with me to see what time I have to go to church.  But I am fairly certain she believes this will stop with Lent.  I want that boundary to remain.  After all, the office is essentially closed at 5:00, officially at 6:00.  Is not 7:00 a reasonable line to draw in the sand?

Yesterday and today, I have pushed back at her more than I ever have, unable to keep my frustration in check.  In fact, I have been in a countdown to this evening since Wednesday morning.  Just three more days.  Two.  A few hours.  I wish to have this break.

While my plan was to spend it in the bosom of Bettina's family, I shall be remaining home.  So, I now plan to get out of my pajamas exactly four times:  Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Great Vigil, and the Resurrection of our Lord.  Okay five times.

I did have a moment of sheer joy today:

In my struggle to understand Lent, I read through the booklet on Advent I did for Pastor D, based on Pastor C's handout.  At the time, I had suggested Pastor D mail a copy of the booklet to Pastor C.  After all, they were friends and I did not know the man.  I knew he would forget.  But last week, after meditating on the Advent booklet for awhile, I decided I would ferret out Pastor C's church and drop a copy in the mail to him.  At the bottom of the card I sent him, I added my email as an afterthought.  I am glad I did!

Today, I received an email with effusive praise for the wondrous work I did on his poor handout and asking me if I might consider collaborating more.  Would I consider.  Yes!

So hungry I am to help, I tendered a suggestion for three more booklets than the two he mentioned to me.  Pretty brash, eh?  Besides, think of all the wonderful things I would surely learn from him!

All day long, as I was struggling through the turmoil at work, I kept thinking:  I am not a Christian because of my faith in Christ.  I am a Christian because of Christ.

Such joy, even though my struggles still remain.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I am the stupidest person on the planet.  Seriously, I am so dense I make Gomer Pyle seem the savant. 

You have to chalk one up to my new father confessor because, while I am quite sure he is of two minds about hearing my confession and he is not an overtly caring pastor, I believe he is truly still waters run deep...in all manner of translation.

I went again on Tuesday, having gathered my nerve to finally speak about something that has kept me up for two months.  I am literally between a rock and a hard place.  I am in anguish.  Hence, the fasting and taking in only scripture for days on end.

When I go to private confession/absolution, I need time to...well...actually arrive.  So, I ask the pastor to sing the Agnus Dei from page 198 in the LSB.

Oh, Christ the Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
Oh, Christ the Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.
Oh, Christ the Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us Thy peace.
I cannot ask for mercy, but I want to so very much.  Something about that tune, married with those words, speaks to me, calls to me, fills me.  So, as he sings this prayer, I join in the amen.  Then I pray the Psalter.  If there wasn't this rush about getting through the liturgy, I would definitely pray more than one Psalm.  But I choose them for the words I wish to speak.  Remember the old Prego logo?  It's in there!  That's how I feel about the Psalter.  ANYTHING you wish to pray is in that collection of prayers.  From mere snippets of verses to whole psalms.  Tuesday night,  I chose Psalm 139.

O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
    You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
         You understand my thought from afar.
    You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
         And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
    Even before there is a word on my tongue,
         Behold, O LORD, You know it all.
    You have enclosed me behind and before,
         And laid Your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
         It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
    Where can I go from Your Spirit?
         Or where can I flee from Your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
         If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
    If I take the wings of the dawn,
         If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
    Even there Your hand will lead me,
         And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
    If I say, "Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
         And the light around me will be night,"
    Even the darkness is not dark to You,
         And the night is as bright as the day
         Darkness and light are alike to You.
    For You formed my inward parts;
         You wove me in my mother's womb.
    I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
         Wonderful are Your works,
         And my soul knows it very well.
    My frame was not hidden from You,
         When I was made in secret,
         And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
    Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
         And in Your book were all written
         The days that were ordained for me,
         When as yet there was not one of them.
    How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
         How vast is the sum of them!
    If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand
         When I awake, I am still with You.
    O that You would slay the wicked, O God;
         Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.
    For they speak against You wickedly,
         And Your enemies take Your name in vain.
    Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD?
         And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
    I hate them with the utmost hatred;
         They have become my enemies.
    Search me, O God, and know my heart;
         Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
    And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
         And lead me in the everlasting way.

I chose this psalm for the final plea:

    Search me, O God, and know my heart;
         Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
    And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
         And lead me in the everlasting way.

But I chose this one, too, because it speaks of love I do not understand.

Anyhow, I have never talked with this new pastor about why I ask him to sing.  He just does.  I have never talked with him about why I pray the psalter.  I just do.  And he listens.

He uses a different liturgy, which is somewhat problematic for me.

Someone pointed out something to me that I should have seen myself.  The words of the first part are quite distressing and I never thought I could admit such until she struck me across the head with them:  I have not let His love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.  Having a way with me is something men have done against my will.  These words are words that make me tremble deep within, that set me on edge, leave me bracing for what is to come.

So, taking courage from his willingness to sing, I mentioned the problem and asked if he had other words.  He was surprised, as you may have surmised, but gave me new ones to speak:  I have not let His love guide and direct me in all things, and so my love for others has failed.

Then there was the whole kneeling thing.  I cannot kneel without great pain and great consequence to future walking.  Were I to get down, I would need help getting back up.  And the cost would linger.  So, being Myrtle, I just plopped on the floor beneath the rail.  I think I discombobulated him.

Although I still do not understand, something about his being vested and my being at his feet when giving the Word of Absolution is seemingly inappropriate, so we had the whole not-tracing-the-cross-on-my-forehead thing.

When I tried to talk about that, the next time he put his stole on my head.  I felt like a whore, to put it bluntly, so filthy to the touch that he had to put cloth between he and I?  I cried the whole way home.

Later, I learned the why of it: by using the stole, the pastor is emphasizing that he is merely in the stead of Christ, in the office of the undershepherd.  It is Christ, through his undershepherd, pronouncing forgiveness.

Well, needless to say, I felt stupid about that one.  But this is not what I am talking about.  I am far, far, far stupider.

Things went "better" the next time because I was not on the floor and I got my cross.

[To have the sign of the holy cross and all that it implies, represents, traced on the forehead of a sinner such as I takes my breath away, gives me a comfort beyond words.  It is a touch that lingers far past the moment.  It is both a balm to my soul and a guard against my ever relentless, merciless, wily foe.]

So, Tuesday, after much prayer, I gathered my courage and tried to speak.

There was much silence.
Time ran out again.
And there was the second set of words that are problematic for me.

In his liturgy, which is based on a careful study of Luther's practice, the penitent asks for forgiveness after finishing the confession.  I don't want to have to ask again.  Getting in my car is asking.  Driving over to the church is asking.  Walking through the door is asking.  And...I actually already ask in the first part of the liturgy that comes after some verses from Psalm 51.  Dear Pastor, I ask you to please hear my confession and to pronounce forgiveness in me in order to fulfill God's will.

I couldn't ask a second time.  Such silence there was to my words.  So miserable am I in the matter of which I spoke.  What if he said "no"?

I cried.
He had a meeting.
No absolution.

Aside from a few clarifying questions, he did say one thing:  You need to stop looking at your faith.  It was the second time he has said this to me.  I had not a blooming clue what he meant or why he would possibly say this. Faith is the most important thing to a Christian, right?

I wailed the whole way home.  I wailed my way through asking another pastor for help.  Below is a portion of his reply:

...you are in such sorrow, and you needn't be.  You have not failed at confession and absolution, nor at being a Lutheran, nor at being a Christian and a child of God.  You are a struggling sinner, who is nevertheless loved and cared for deeply by the Lord.  Your forgiveness is not contingent upon anything in you, nor anything you do.  It is already sure and certain and complete in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, who died bearing all of your sins in His Body, and yet was raised bodily from the dead, and lives and reigns eternally at the right hand of God.

Asking your pastor to sing the Agnus Dei with you is a fine thing to do.  I'm sure he doesn't mind.  Every pastor does things a little differently, but I suspect that he is quiet at various points, because he does not want to intrude upon your confession; he is being patient and gentle with you, because he cares for you and wants to be faithful in his office.  If you have not shared with him, perhaps in writing as you have written to me, how hard it is for you to ask for forgiveness, he may well find any number of ways of helping you.  I'm quite certain that his goal is to serve you, and certainly not to make things difficult or challenging for you.

Now, understand this: Holy Absolution is precisely for sinners, just like yourself, who know and tremble at their sins.  Sins are bound only for those who harden their hearts in unrepentance.  And even then, the binding is done for the sake of calling them to repentance and to the forgiveness of Christ.  Everything is always about the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of sinners.
When someone comes to confession, I assume, as Dr. Luther did, and as most any pastor would, that the person is a penitent sinner who desires absolution in faith.  Given that, and given that absolution (forgiveness) is already sure and certain in Christ Jesus, of course I will forgive his or her sins in the Name and stead of Christ.  There is no pending contingency.  There is no sin so shocking or horrendous that it will not be forgiven, freely and fully, by the Word of Christ, which He speaks from His very Cross.  This is what it's all about.  If you are ashamed of your sin, that is all the more indication that you are a repentant sinner, for whom the Holy Absolution is exactly intended.  Have no fear that you will be denied or turned away.  But, even if you are afraid and uncertain, know that the Holy Absolution is for you.  Your fear and uncertainty, your shame and weakness, do not undo that which Christ does.

Your sins haunt you because Satan hates you, and he is the wicked accuser of God's brethren, day and night.  But he is a liar and a murderer, as he has been from the beginning.  The truth is that God does not hold your sins against you, but lavishes His grace and mercy and peace upon you in love.  There is no condemnation for you, because He has hidden you safely in Christ; not because of any strength in you, but precisely in your weakness.  Do not despair or lose heart.  Christ has also known your weakness and borne it, as He has known your sin and carried it and put it to death in Himself.

Talk to your pastor about your fears and struggles.  Write them down for him, if that is easier for you than trying to articulate them out loud. Give him a chance to love and serve you, as I'm sure he desires to do. Then trust him as the man whom God has provided to speak His Word and work His works for you.  It is Christ your Savior who stands with your pastor in His Office, for the purpose of comforting your aching heart with His forgiveness of all your sins.

Seriously, if you have not yet had the joy that is private absolution, you should go.  Does he not speak so clearly why this is so?

Too chicken to write a letter, I printed out my email to the pastor, which spares me not in the least, and his reply and practically shoved them in the pastor's hand after Wednesday night's service, nervously muttering that I wanted him to read them, to understand why I couldn't finish the liturgy.

I will, to be truthful, admit that I do not understand why he couldn't just finish for me.  Is the liturgy, in this instance, that important?  These things I do not profess to understand, though I cherish, respect, and honor the heritage of the our faith that is handed down in liturgy, most particularly for the fact that the liturgy is teeming with the Living Word.

But, again, this is not the reason I am now convinced without a shadow of a doubt that I am the stupidest person in all of history.

My dearest friend Bettina posted yesterday (somehow I missed this) about baptism:

In learning about Baptism, I am realizing how much I have missed in the 26 years of my Baptism. What I thought I was doingshowing others that I had accepted Christ into my life, joining my church, and following Him through the waters of baptismI am learning I actually did nothing.

I went through the motions, but God did the work. He saved me, He washed away my sins, He covered me with the Holy Spirit. I didn't realize what He does through Baptism. But He didn't just do the work then, He has done it every day since and continues to save me, wash me clean of my sins, and cover me with the Holy Spirit. He does the work through Baptism, but also through His Word and The Lord's Supper.

God gives me my faith. And what a gift. To have salvation, the Spirit working in me, the name of Christ on me. I knew I had these things, in a sense, but not from my Baptism. Well, I hadn't really thought about the fact that Christ's name is on me. And what that means. If I believe that I have to do something first, before Baptism, than I am limiting God to my abilities. And let me tell you that that is limiting, since I can do nothing without Christ. I can't believe without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit comes with Baptism. I want my children to have the gift of faith. To have Christ's name on them. To have salvation. To have their sins washed away. I want them Baptized.

There's a lot I had not really thought about, known about, but now I know that I am missing so much. Take the 10 Commandments, the Apostle's Creed, and The Lord's Prayer. They seem simple, but there is so much teaching packed in these three that I have never heard.

I am hungry to learn more. 

My heart sang at this.  I took in her words, but in part they did not register. [Do you notice a trend in her thought process?]

Well, after reading this, I took my fill of Four and Twenty+ Blackbirds, Pastoral Meanderings, Lutheran Logomaniac, Theologia Crucius, and Weedon's Blog.  If I find nothing new, I usually delve into back posts.  Nearly sated, I dove over to Babylon Falling to see if Pastor F had anything new to savor.

Today, he posted something he wrote several years ago about a fantastic, but true encounter he had on a train.  In part, I found myself pouring over his words because on the way to Africa I had the same encounter.  We had a long layover in Amsterdam.  That city is known for...well...less than moral behavior.  There I was in the airport, a fresh faced, very naive missionary sitting at a table with Muslims and Animists and atheists talking about God, a crowd of people surrounding us.  Oh, being a [deluded] Protestant, I was ready to convert the world, win hundreds for Christ.  For six hours, I sat with those folks and argued.  It was heady stuff for a 21-year-old who believed unequivocally in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I only wish I had, at that time, been taught the proper division of Law and Gospel so that I could have spoken more truth than I did.

So, I rather eagerly read through his story.  The bit below made me chuckle:

While everyone was enjoying it, I have to confess that my seminary training was serving me very well – contrary, I must add, to the many brothers in my circuit who seemed to think I still had a lot to learn about the real world and real “ministry.”  I felt like a theological Chuck Norris, staving off a torrent of Wikipedia-informed combatants with practiced martial skill, careful never to take the green-belts to the mat with a bone-crushing, one-shot blow to the head, but nonetheless countering their every attack with just enough deftness to keep them coming back for more. Reject(er)s of mega-church society as they mostly were, the last thing they needed was the pat answers they’d already heard. What they needed was to spar, to have a chance to win, to test their streetwise moves and find the value (or lack thereof) of their own disciplines.

Oh how, in that airport, I, too, danced wickedly with the sword of Scripture, wielding it with deftness that I know now was the Holy Spirit. I could just see this rather intelligent, rather confessional pastor skillfully wend his way through the conversation for he truly knows that proper division.

And then.

And then.

And then.

Well, it was, at least, until this upstart young pastor walked into their philosophosizing and made the audacious claim that Christianity isn’t about believing in Jesus “so that” you can get into heaven. It’s about Jesus dying on a cross and rising from the grave because creation sucks and He refuses to leave it mired that way.

In my "training,"  I had learned Christianity is not about religion, it is about a relationship. To live as a Christian is to work at deepening that relationship through bible study, where you see what the verses mean to you and how you can apply them to your life.  You take steps to move closer to Jesus, expressing your faith through baptism, prayer, and witnessing.  And you get connected with God through worship, plugging yourself into a church were you serve Him, praise Him, and give the sacrifice of  your life to Him.  Part of that involves bringing people to Christ and helping them begin their relationship with Him.  That relationship is faith.  If you are good at it, you have great faith.  If you are not, you need to work at those things so as to garner more faith.  Being good at it meant that you did not struggle with sin. 

And then.

And then.

And then.

Christianity is not about “faith.” It’s about Jesus. It’s about what he said about himself. It’s about what he did by himself. And it’s about the reasons and effects of what he said and did: to give you no other choice but to believe that what he said and did is the cornerstone of human history, without which there is no real reason to be alive at all. Or, if you must, to self-admittedly live in a world of ignorance, chance, empty answers and eventual defeat.

On two different occasions, Pastor E, very carefully, very cautiously, told me that he thought I should stop looking at my faith.  The second time, I wanted to blurt out, "But what does that mean?"

The real meat of Pastor F's story about that surreal encounter on the train was about what he gave them, the heart of his every response was Jesus.

So how did it all end on that night train through Ohio, my wife asleep with my two kids in coach and me sitting up “partying” until three a.m.? We covered the gambit, from “why should I believe what the Bible says,” (Answer: because Jesus is risen from the dead, so what he says is probably right,) to “why is abortion wrong?” (Answer: because Jesus is risen from the dead, and he likes babies to stay alive,) to “how is the morality of Christianity any better than the moral teachings of Islam or Buddhism?” (Answer: it isn’t so much, but Jesus is risen from the dead, and that means something far more important than moralism!) And for all the times they’d been told to believe in Jesus so they could be saved, through all the Sunday school and VBS and youth group parties, with all the pressure tactics and emotional manipulation of charismatic worship, amidst the history-channel/Dan-Brown misinformation of the age, not one of them had ever been forced to reckon with the all important claim that the reason to be a Christian is because history is on the side of the empty tomb, and it is that fact alone which creates faith in the one True God.




Pastor D's email signature includes: Crux Sola Est Nostra Theologia.  Translated, this means the cross alone is our theology.  He told me this.  I didn't understand.  I thought I did.  But I didn't.  Oh, I did not.

I look at my faith and it is a miserable thing.  I look at my faith and see decades of failure.  I look at my faith and despair over how little I trust, how little I expect, how little I receive.  I look at my faith and at best I see a dim reflection, feeble and flickering, of the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus Christ.  I look at my faith and I do not sleep, I do not eat, I do not have peace.

I may be wrong about this, but I think this is precisely why we have the symbolism of a mustard seed when it comes to Christ teaching us about faith.

     When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him."
     And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me." 
     And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.
     Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not drive it out?"
     And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. (Matthew 17:14-20)

     He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
     "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."
      The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
     And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.  (Luke 17:1-6)

Faith is not about us, about what we can do.  The smallest speck of it can move mountains, command trees.  Trees!  We, of our strength, would not be moving that mountain, would not be commanding that tree. What man can move a mountain?  What man can command a tree?  Ah, one Man.  The God made flesh that we might be saved.  Remember the fig tree?  One word from Christ and it withered and died.

      Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry.  Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.
      Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?"
      And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:18-22)

All things...believing...will receive.

Not doing.  Not a relationship.  Not us.  Not me.  Jesus.

Bettina cracked me up today because she was telling me about E sticking out her tongue (she rolls her eyes, too) and I asked where she learned that.  Becky swiftly replied, "She's a sinner!  What do you expect?"

A while ago, Bettina wrote on her blog that she finally knew what her problem was:  she was a sinner.  Well, I have known that, about me, for decades.  Only, people of faith were not supposed to be sinners, too.  Confessional Lutheranism straightened this out for me, fairly well, even if I despair of the struggle.  It was good to struggle!  Strange.

But I still thought that the struggle represented my faith.  And that being a Christian was all about faith.

I think this is why the condition of the fifth petition of the Lord's Prayer was so bothersome to me.  What Pastor W was trying to teach me was not that I needed to forgive so as to see evidence of faith in my life, but that any forgiveness was the evidence of faith because forgiveness is a work of Christ, not man.   I was so focused on how well I know myself, how puzzling forgiveness is to me.  So, I was thinking, but I do not forgive as I should, so how can I be forgiven then, how can I have faith?  Pastor W was singing sweet, sweet Gospel to me and all I heard was Law.  Barely, barely I understood because I did manage to sit beside my boss in her time of need when my whole being did not wish to be there.  I knew that had to be of Christ, not I, so I had to have some faith because I did that.

Stupid, stupid, stupid me.

After everything I have written.  After everything I have read.  After hungering for the Lord's Supper and craving the Word of forgiveness, I still didn't get it.

It's not about faith.  It's about Jesus.  Jesus gives life.  Jesus gives redemption.  Jesus gives mercy.  Jesus gives faith.

I got the fallacy of works-righteousness.  I understand that I didn't accomplish anything because I couldn't accomplish anything.  After all, I failed for years even though I tried with my whole being.  I didn't see that I was making faith a work, too, in making my struggle with sin representative of whether or not my faith was good enough.  It is not a work, but a gift.  Being a Christian is not about faith in Jesus.  It is about Jesus.

Not faith.  Jesus.

Not faith.  Jesus.

Not faith.  Jesus.

He does everything.  He is everything.  All of that work.  All that He is.  All is mine in Him because I have died with Him, risen with Him, in the waters of Holy Baptism.  His name is placed upon me.  And in that Name I am holy, I am righteous.

Ifas has been suggesgt suggestedI stop looking at my faith and look at the cross, what will I find?  Constant, complete, unending forgiveness.  Sustenance, strength, and rest.  A cloak for my shame.  This I know.  This I do not understand.  But I do believe.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

God in His infinite mercy sent help to me today! Pastor F wrote me some words on Lent that made sense to me:

Myrtle:  Lent has been a misery for me. I do not understand it. Most of the sermons I have heard have seemed all Law and left me feeling utterly discouraged. I enjoyed yours for you sort of turned the world upside down with your Lent 4 sermon. And Pastor W actually created a beautiful message that truly wove all three readings together, not merely focused on one, for Lent 5. But for the most part, I do not understand why all I seem to hear is Law. Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, I hear and see what a horrible Christian I am. As much as I have read about Lent, the reason for the season remains unclear. Mostly, this all smacks of the works righteousness stuff I flung to the ground and trod beneath my feet when joining the Lutheran confession.  It saddens me that I am on a countdown out of this season, knowing I am probably missing something as richly wondrous as Advent was, feeling deaf and dumb and mute where Lent is concerned.

Pastor F:  The reason for Lent is not to act better, but to remember the depths of our sin so that we might look anew at Christ. I am certain that in our protestant influenced age that it is often used as a time to "get the congregation back to doing this or that." But that is not its purpose.

The difficulty you seem to have is that you already are imposing Lent on yourself 24/7. You don't really need a reminder. This is a blessing for you, though it does not feel like it.

I find Lent a beautiful season for meditating on the fulness of the cross, seeing how firmly Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, and pondering my own weaknesses. This is not about my works, but His. Thanks be to God!

But when you say, "It saddens me that I am on a countdown out of this season," you have actually found the real point. You are supposed to want Lent to end! Christians aren't Christians because we live in a dying world. We're Christians because Jesus is raised from the dead! Lent is there it heighten our frustration with the now so that when we remember the not-yet already come in Christ, we are that much more bolstered to face the present that does exist.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So, tonight I did the Feast of the Resurrection Sunday bulletin.  I am running into a wee bit of a hymn problem because where they go is so very clear to the pastor and music director, but not so much to me.  As much as I savor Liturgy, crave being awash in it as the Living Word is poured out over me, I do not follow it all that well.  I certainly do not know where the hymns fit in, especially since the two churches I have attended do hymns a wee bit differently, as does the PA church.

Since this pastor is open to ideas, I proffered adding the lectionary summaries the LCMS has been putting out for churches to use.  Pastor D does not use them, so I send them out each week to people from church.  I have received such positive feedback about them and revel in them myself, so I thought he could add them to the bulletin, which seemed to have some extra white space.

It was such a blessing to have work because I have been cold all evening...so cold I cranked up the heat to 78 degrees.  By the time I finally stopped shaking from the chills running up and down my body, it was too late.  When I got up to let my beloved buttercup outside to do his business, I promptly fainted.  It is too hot in here.  He practically licked my face off, probably cooling me down in the process.

Wet noodle status.

At least my fingers were mostly working.

While lying here, I have been saddened thinking how glad that I am that Lent is ending, that Passiontide is upon us.  For this season has distressed me greatly, not understanding it and finding primarily Law amongst the words in the pulpit.  I have too much Law already in my head, filling my heart.  I believe I am missing something important...that is why I am sad, even though this time is drawing to a close.

Surely the 50 days of Easter will be filled with Gospel.  I'm pretty sure that season is all about rejoicing.

I have to say, I learned Pastor W is having 10 Divine Services in 12 days, Pastor S 8 in 8 days.  I am sorely jealous of their parishioners.  Can you imagine?  Can you imagine such a feast?  Oh to take in the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ again and again and again.  To be bathed in the Liturgy day after day after day.  To have the Living Word fill you to bursting.  I hunger for such riches.  Oh, how I hunger.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, March 22, 2010

What joy!  Another good evening with my puppydog!  Perhaps it is too soon to say, but I do feel as if the medication twice a day and the acupuncture worked miracles.  I was so very, very worried it was time.  I know his day is coming.  Just not now.  Oh, not now.

Bettina's handsome groom G-Man helped me with dinner tonight.  When we are on the phone and she tells me she has to go and cook dinner, I ask her to make me jealous by telling me what sumptuous things they shall be consuming (Bettina is a good cook).  Tonight, I asked her to tell me what to make, for I was hungry.  Her response to what shall I eat:  "I don't know...some peanuts and cheese and Cheerios."  Yep, she nailed it.  Far too often that is my evening fare.

When I bemoaned that I wanted more, even though my cupboard and refrigerator are rather bare, she put G-Man on the phone to help me.  Kind man that he is, he promptly did so.  I had a bacon and cheese omelet (after I thawed out the bacon I discovered in the freezer--I had bought it to wrap around asparagus but didn't realize I had picked up a package of extra-thick bacon).  He had a tough job with no vegetables, no bread, and pretty much nothing else that readily came to mind.  Still, he willingly cast about for something more than peanuts, cheese, and Cheerios for me!

His idea, too, was to go ahead and cook the entire package of bacon and then just eat on it or freeze some and save it for later.  Ah, he does not know that I could willingly chow down on the entire package!  I did heed his advice, not that bacon is the most healthiest fare to have on hand.  My best eating, aside from feasting on the Word when I am fasting, has been Bootstrap's crock pot meal.  Oh, the memory!  SIGH.

I completed the Maundy Thursday bulletin, but I guessed wrong on the fold.  So, once the pastor is back in the office tomorrow, he's going to give me the exact measurement.  Since he is not having a Vigil Service, that only leaves the Resurrection of Our Lord bulletin to go.  The Maundy Thursday bulletin is the format he uses most, so once I get it down, doing them each week should be a breeze.  I very, very much savor actually being useful.

I also had to re-set some things on the Good Friday bulletin and thought I would share the explanation of The Tenebrae found near the end of the service after the conclusion of the seven readings from the Living Word and seven hymns of response:

According to ancient tradition, we now extinguish seven candles on the altar, one for each of our Lord’s last words spoken from the cross. We are covered by tenebrae, “darkness,” even as the midday sun was veiled at our Lord’s death.

After the darkness is descended, and we have sung the Agnus Dei, the words of Psalm 22 will be read as the Paschal candle, representing Christ, is removed from our midst and extinguished, symbolizing his death. For our Lord did not merely swoon, but died and gave up his spirit, enduring all the wrath of hell. Thus, a loud crash will break the darkness, even as the earth quaked, and a stone was rolled over his tomb, and the curtain of the holy Temple was torn asunder.

At last, while in the darkness, we pray the prayer our Lord taught us.

“If you think of sin but lightly, nor suppose your evil great, here now view your nature rightly. Here your guilt now estimate. See the sacrifice appointed; mark who bears the awful load. Hear the death of Christ anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I fear I am jinxing myself, but today was the best day with my beloved buttercup, my precious petunia, in the last two weeks.  My heart sang.

This is day 5 of giving him his medication twice each day (I've still missed my second dose twice), day 2 of upping his leg-weakness drug, 1 day after his accupuncture.  You know, that really does help him.

We have not been walking much of late, even though it is his favorite activity because I have just been too tired. We have, however, thrice played to exhaustion, with Kashi rather cheerfully leaping about the rug even though he would fall back each time he did so.  He just loves his babies and still finds trying to catch a bouncing ball in his mouth great sport.

My heart also sang with first a phone call and then a Skype call with my nephews.  Mostly, M was the one who talked.  He sang me songs and read me poetry.  Seriously, if you wish to make my day most blessed, sing and read to me.

This seven-year-old has taken to going to church quite seriously.  When his mother called, he was working on a card for a woman at church who was ill.  He had just added his 11th smiley face to the interior.  While he finished the card, he told me all about the clean water project the church has taken on in Guatemala.  In a short while, a team is traveling that country to dig and install a well for a community so that they can have clean water.  M was very serious when he told me that I could help, too, with the project by pouring myself a glass of water and then praying for the village and the workers who will be helping them as I drink it.


At one point, I aimed the web camera down on the ground and he played with his puppydog while I played with mine.  When Kashi was tuckered out, I lay back on the floor and talked with M for a while.  When D walked in, I waved at him with my foot.  My goodness, you would have thought I was Charlie Chapman or something.  I cracked them up for at least 10 minutes by continuing to wave with my foot whenever their giggles subsided.

They found it almost as humorous as when Madeleine sits on my head while we are visiting!

I just learned about a pastor who is having Divine Service each day of Holy Week.  Could you imagine 8 days in a row of taking in the body and blood of Christ?  Oh, how I long to be in his parish next week!  To spend each day having the Living Word poured over you in song and sermon and to be given the healing Eucharist would be sublime!  SIGH.

If you would like your world turned upside down in a most delightful way, listen to Pastor F's sermon on the parable of the prodigal son, Lent 4.  Note:  there is a bit of music at the start that appears on all his sermon audio files.  Be patient and you shall be greatly rewarded!

Pastor W had a great sermon today, which rather wove all three readings together (one-year lectionary), rather than merely focusing on one.  I really like that.  What I also savored was the rather large dose of Gospel even though the crux of his message was another promise from Christ:  in this world you will know trouble.

You know what I kept thinking about as I read this?  Isaac.  I mean, I've never heard someone preach from his perspective.  What did Isaac think about this moment?  If not at the time, surely as he grew older his father would have taught him how the Lord provided the ram.  How would you feel knowing your God asked your father to sacrifice you?

But I digress.

May you revel in the teaching below as did I:

When you trust in the God for whom nothing is impossible, people will always think at best you’re a bit off and at worst that you are totally deceived and a fool. Can you imagine what Abraham’s neighbors would have said if they knew, when they waved good-day that fateful morning, exactly what the old fellow was planning on doing to the child he’d waited a century for? Can’t you hear it? “You’re going to do WHAT to Isaac?! He’s out of his mind; the heat has addled his brains. Lock him up till he comes to his senses!”

How could Abraham even begin to make them understand? The God who had never lied to him or deceived him, had given him a promise - had given the world a promise, actually. Through Abraham’s son, Isaac, blessing would come to every family of the earth. This child’s very existence was a miracle that God had brought about. If God could create a child out of a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman, he’d have little difficulty in raising that child from the dead in order to keep his promise. Abraham knew that he owed everything to this God whom he had come to know and delight in and so if God demanded the child back, then back to God the child would go! No matter how crazy it appeared to the world.

And if Abraham appeared crazy, how much more the Lord Jesus! He just spoke truth. And the truth was like salt in the wound of our self-deception. “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” THAT’s the question. For if one could convict Jesus of sin, then it would really matter much what He had to say about anything else. But no one has ever yet been able to do so. In Christ there is no sin, and so the big question remains: “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?”

His answer is that we don’t believe Him because we’re not of God. Earlier he’d said that we were of our father, the devil, since he was a liar from the beginning. We’re just like him; for “all men are liars.” You too. But not Him. He’s the one man in whom you will find NO lie, no sin, and so to a world accustomed to lying and sin, He seems positively loony.

We should not be surprised then when the Jews answered: “Are we not right in saying you are a Samaritan and have a demon!” He again counters the lie - which it is - with truth. “I honor my Father and you dishonor me; yet I do not seek my own glory. There is one who seeks it; and he is the judge. Amen! Amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps my words he will never see death.”

Well, you can imagine how THAT set. “Who do you think you are?” they scream at Him. “Abraham died, and so did the prophets, and yet YOU say that whoever keeps MY words will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham??? And the prophets who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?”

But the Lord wasn’t making Himself out to be anyone. He simply spoke truth. And the truth sounded utterly insane in a world where everything is upside down and insane and nothing is as it should be.

“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, that he is your God. But you have not known Him. I know Him. If I said I didn’t, I’d be the same as you: a liar! I do know Him and I keep His words. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it and was glad.”

Now they go absolutely ballistic. “You are not even 50 years old! And you have seen Abraham?” He’d saved the best for last: “Amen, amen I say to you, before Abraham WAS, I AM!”

You can only imagine the shock that set in and the silence before they begin to grab the stones. He’d spoken blasphemy to their ears like they’d never heard before. He just claimed to be “I am” - the God who is the source of all being, the Eternal Word of His Eternal Father.

But before they can kill Him - it wasn’t His time then - He cloaks himself and disappears from among them. As in, He was there, and then He wasn’t. They couldn’t find Him. More proof that He was who He said He was.

Still the time was fast approaching when the absolute craziness of God would shine forth like never before. The writer to the Hebrews described it. The moment when Christ as the High Priest of the Good Things to come would take His own blood and enter into the Most Holy Place in heaven itself, thus securing an eternal redemption. Who could believe or ever guess the mercy and kindness of God in providing such a perfect, final sacrifice for sinners, that purifies consciences from dead works to serve the living God? Who would ever have dreamed that the Eternal Son would become flesh in order to be the mediator of a new testament so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance - an inheritance that is made their own and secure by a death that releases them from the transgressions committed against the first covenant - against the Law?

Who would be crazy enough to believe such a thing? Only those who by the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment discover the absolute trustworthiness of God and the correspondingly worthlessness of men’s promises. The Apostles go forth into the world proclaiming that while every man is a liar, God is true and truth itself. Crazy as it sounds, the One who commanded the Sacrifice of Isaac would Himself provide the Lamb for the offering, His only Son, so that not just Isaac, but all people, might live through Him.

As often as you come to the altar, you partake of the Lamb of God and God bequeathes to you His own eternal inheritance, the redemption Christ won for you. Yes, if you believe it, the world will think you’re crazy, silly, deceived, whatever. But the truth is, His truth will set you free. It always does. Amen. 

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We have a plan for Kashi.  One of his/my problems is that I just cannot remember two doses of medicine--both for myself and for my beloved buttercup--each day.  I do well to get one in per day.  So, I have moved the medicine to the table on which the television stands to try to mitigate that problem.

Second, we are upping his dose of hind quarter weakness medicine and adding a mental drug.  She believes that much of what I am seeing is more neurological rather than physical.

Third, after walking him around the block and examining him, she went ahead and gave him an acupuncture treatment.  He was getting them every three weeks and it has been 5.  It is my fervent hope that the combination of too long between treatments and essentially only half of his medications was what brought on his recent spate of decline.

Fourth, providing nothing untoward happens, we are going back for a reassessment in three weeks.  I have at least three weeks with my precious petunia left.

As hard as it was, we also created a plan for his departure.  She is coming to the house so that he will not be so very stressed.  When he is gone, she will take him away for me.  I cannot believe I am here.  Of course, God willing, he will be 15 in just two more months.  That is old for a dog.

The only question I could not answer was whether or not I wanted advance notice.  You see, last summer we had a long talk and I told her that the decision is hers.  I will never be able to ask her to put my puppydog down, but I do not wish for him to have one minute of life that is not worth living.  I am not that selfish.  So, she promised that if I keep her posted as to his condition, she will tell me when it is time, as if he were her own.  Last year she had to put her dog down, so she knows exactly how I am feeling.

Today, when she was telling me what she did with his ashes, tears welled in her eyes.  For some of us, puppydogs are more than pets.

Do I want her to tell me she is coming in two weeks?  Or do I want her to just show up at my door?

While we were waiting, I saw a father bring in a new puppy that he had bought on Tuesday because his daughter made the honor roll twice in a row.  The puppy has pneumonia.  The store will not take the puppy back and he does not have the money for hospitalization.  It was a heartbreaking moment, seeing the man's anguish and watching the puppy labor to breath.  The vet said the puppy had clearly been ill for a while, but was sold to this father anyway.  Criminal.

I finished Walther's Thirteenth Evening Lecture.  I should not have been afraid of his teaching, having been blessed so mightily by this book. I should not have been afraid of being crushed by Law in reading his wise words. 

What I found interesting is that essentially pastors face a terrible tension each time they deliver the Word to their parishioners:  to offer both Law and Gospel in such a way that secure sinners do not take comfort in the Gospel and contrite sinners are not crushed beneath the weight of the Law.  In other words, having one such as I in the pews and another who has come straight from a night of partying, embroiled in the pleasures of the world without remorse.

Something that I truly enjoy about this book, this series of spoken lectures, is that Walther is so skilled at blending the teaching of Luther with proof-texts from Scripture and adding in examples that the young pastors-in-training might face.  He is also very skilled at exposing the specious--that which appears to be true, but is actually not.

The proof texts for not preaching Law to secure sinners are all based on the teaching of Christ.  One comes from a passage that I have never truly considered before even though it is one oft preached at me.  I never understood much of it and now I have much to ponder:

Matthew 7,6 our Lord says to His disciples:  Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you.  A remarkable utterance!  What is meant by "that which is holy"?  Nothing else than the Word of Christ.  What is meant by "pearls"?  The consolation of the the Gospel, with the grace, righteousness and salvation which it proclaims.  Of these things we are not to speak to dogs, that is, to enemies of the Gospel; nor to swine, that is, to such as want to remain in their sins and are seeking their heaven and their bliss in the filth of their sings. (114)

Most certainly I believe the Living Word to be holy.  I believe that is one reason why I very much dislike having the three readings printed in the bulletin...the bulletin that is left behind in the pew, shoved in a pocket, ultimately to be thrown in the trash (though I would hope it would be recycled).  I do not see many bibles in the two confessional Lutheran churches I have attended.  This is curious to me.  I do not see many bibles in bible study or Sunday school either, other than the ever present stack on the table(s).

I never thought of the consolation of the Gospel to be pearls, but I savor that imagery.  This is silly, but when I am feeling most poorly, I tend to dress up as much as possible.  In fact, if you see me with my pearls on, you know that it is a very bad day for me.  Thinking about the consolation of the Gospel being pearls, I can envision myself wearing them all the time.  And the next time I am feeling poorly and string my pearls about my neck, I will envision myself stringing the grace, righteousness, and salvation of my Savior about my neck, my guard against the weakness that comes in days of pain and physical struggle.

A pattern after which we are to model our preaching we find, in the first place, in our dear Lord Jesus Christ.  Observing His conduce in the Gospel records, we find that, whenever He met with secure sinners,--and such the self-righteous Pharisees in those days certainly were, --He had not a drop of comfort for them, but called them serpents and a vipers' brood, denounced a tenfold woe against them, revealed their abominable hypocrisy, assigned them to perdition, and told them that they would not escape eternal damnation.  Although He knew that those very persons would nail Him to the cross, He fearlessly told them the truth. (115)

Although He knew that those very persons would nail Him to the cross, He fearlessly told them the truth.  Although...He spoke anyway.  What a thought!  Goes to show, I think, how important it is not to couch the truth, not to try and make it more comfortable..."more seeker friendly."  The Law is what is it.  And its purpose should to be diluted, softened, or lessened one iota.

We must preach them into hell before we can preach them into heaven.  By our preaching our hearers must be brought to the point of death before they can be restored to life by the Gospel.  They must be made to realize that they are sick unto death before they can be restored to health by the Gospel.  First their own righteousness must be laid bare to them, so that they may see of what filthy rags it consists, and then, but the preaching of the Gospel, they are to be robed in the garment of the righteousness of Christ.  (118)

Another point I found interesting is the emphasis on the need to preach repentance and remission of sins, not just remission of sins.

As regards doctrine, we find, among other things, this to be the chief fault that, while some preach the faith by which we are to be made righteous, they do not give a sufficient explanation how we are to attain faith.  Thus nearly all of them omit an integral part of the Christi doctrine, without which no one can understand what faith is or what deserves the name of faith.  For Christ says, Luke 24,47, that 'repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name.'  However, nowadays many speak only of forgiveness of sin and say little or nothing regarding repentance notwithstanding the fact that without repentance there is no remission of sins, nor can remission of sins be understood without repentance.  (123)

This brings to mind a passage from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession that I brought before Pastor months ago, but he never addressed with me:

We have attributed these two parts to repentance:  contrition and faith....  We say that contrition is the true terror of conscience, which feels that God is angry with sin and grieves that it has sinned.  This contrition takes place when sins are condemned by God's Word....
As the second part of repentance we add faith in Christ.  The Gospel, in which the forgiveness of sins is freely promised concerning Christ, should be presented to consciences in these terrors.  They should believe that, for Christ's sake, their sins are freely forgiven.  This faith cheers, sustains, and enlivens the contrite, according to Romans 5:1, "Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God."  This faith obtains the forgiveness of sins.  It justifies before God, as the same passage testifies, "since we have been justified by faith."  This faith shows the distinction between the contrition of Judas and Peter, of Saul and David.  The contrition of Judas or Saul (Matthew 27:3-5); I Samuel 31:4-6) is useless because faith is not added.  Faith grasps the forgiveness of sins, given as a gift for Christ's sake.  So the contrition of David or Peter (II Samuel 12:13; Matthew 26:74) helps because faith, which takes hold of the forgiveness of sins granted for Christ's sake, is added to it....  This faith grows gradually and through the entire life, struggles with sin, in order to overcome sin and death.  Love follows faith, as we have said above.  So childlike fear can be clearly defined as anxiety that has been connected with faith, that is, where faith comforts and sustains the anxious heart.  [Apology XIIA (V) 28-29, 35-38]

It is that last bit I struggle with because I oft feel the weight of the Law far, far more keenly than the comfort of the Gospel.  That is, my pitiful, weak faith does not often comfort and sustain my anxious heart.

Although, just I as write this, I wonder if I am looking upon repentance as Law, not as Gospel, if repentance, too is a gift.  In that case, I should not look upon repentance as a work of mine that I am subsequently failing at.  For I do believe.  I barely understand forgiveness, but I do believe that Christ died for me, for me, and His death is sufficient unto the remission of my sins.  Completely and without exception...even if I keep casting the possibility of exception before Him in my struggle with sin.

I wish I could talk with a pastor about this....

What surprised me is that I found consolation in this chapter on preaching law:

It is indeed a common observation that all those who have passed through great and profound sorrow at the beginning have become the best and most stalwart Christians.  Those who in their youth were deeply merged beneath floods of anguish and sorrow on account of their salvation turned out to be the best pastors and theologians.

This is illustrated by the instance of our beloved Luther.  The reformation of the Christ, the greatest task that any one could have accomplished in that age, had been entrusted to him. Without giving him any premonition, God prepared him for this task; not by making him very smart and enduing him with a keep knowledge of men or by giving him immediately a very clear understanding of the Word of God, --for he did not posses such understanding at the start and did not obtain it until the Holy Spirit kindled the true light in his soul, --but by forcing him upon his knees in anguish and terror, so that he was  in danger every moment of yielding to blasphemous thoughts.  That, however, was the proper school from which the future Reformer was to be graduated. (119)

Not that I am a great teacher...but that I am not alone in my struggle, in falling to my knees in anguish and terror!  Indeed, I am not along in being as hungry as I am.  In fact, I am supposed to be hungry!

For it [the Gospel] is a delicate food, which requires a hungry soul.  Accordingly, the blessed Virgin Mary sings in her Magnificat, Luke 1, 53, "He hath filled the hungry with good things."  ...A Christian is not reckless, wild, and vulgar, but his conscience is timid, low-spirited, and despondent.  He feels the gnawing of his sin and trembles at the wrath of God, the power of the devil, and the thought of death.  A heart bruised and crushed like this relishes the Lord Christ greatly.  Furthermore, redemption from sin, death, devil, and hell are much appreciated by those who are being swallowed up by death, who are feeling their distress and yearn for rest.  They obtain rest if they have believing hearts; but they feel at the same time what a frail thing their Old Adam is." (120)

Here, I thought that I was reading that it is okay that I talk to myself, coaching myself through a bad moment or talking around the lies in my head by speaking the Truth of God, i.e., when I am feeling the failure, telling myself that it is okay to feel that way because I am a failure...I am a sinner who can only but fail in this life...but, even so, I am forgiven.

But any one who has experienced the power of the Word and passed through the ordeal of genuine and serious penitence will not easily slip into the hidden spiritual sink-holes, for he has been made wary by experience.  When his reason begins to hold forth to him, he clings to the Word and bids his reason to be silent. (12)

Oh, how I need to get better at biding my reason to remain silent!

One small snippet I wish had been expounded upon further.  In it, is the underscoring of our Triune God, an admonition not to neglect the teaching of the Holy Spirit--one of the most egregious happenings of the Protestant Church these days, in my opinion....

For Christ has gained for us not only grace (gratiam), but also the gift (donum) of the Holy Ghost, so that we obtain from Him not only forgiveness of sin, but all the ceasing from sin.  (122)

Just recently I was reading in the Gospels about how often the disciples did not understand what Christ was saying.  Think about that for but a moment.  These men walked, ate, and slept with the Lord Jesus Christ year after year.  They had the Gospel from the beautiful lips of our Savior and still they did not understand.  Their understanding came, ultimately, when Christ breathed upon them, gifting them with the Holy Spirit.  And with that gift, gave faith and access to the sustenance that we to recover from the onslaught of our foe and the strength to resist our own nature and refrain from following in sin.  It is not by our power, but His.  The power of the Holy Spirit.

It puzzles me, truly puzzles me, how little I was ever taught about the Holy Spirit in 26 years of church and  bible study attendance.  But then, again, this would make sense, really, if faith is about what we do, rather than what God does for us.

While listening to Pastor P's segments on the penitential psalms on Issues, Etc., I was struck by a snippet in the show's opening:  Christ for me rather than Christ in me.  That the difference between confessional Lutheranism and Protestantism.  I hunger for the Christ-for-me teaching.  That is what I choose.

The only part of this evening lecture that caused me distress, was a part that brought true sorrow for the reminder it contained:

Furthermore, we read that John Gerhard, one of the very greatest dogmaticians, during his college days was for more than a year in deepest anguish and sorrow.  Nobody succeeded in raising him up, until John Arndt, his spiritual physician, healed him with the comfort of the Gospel.  (119-120)

His spiritual physician.  I miss my lessoning.  It's been two months, I believe, since I have been taught.  I know.  I know without a shadow of a doubt that the healing of the Gospel truly taught is what I have longed for and needed for over two decades.  Having lost access to that has been devastating.  I am trying to study on my own, I am reading and listening to dozens and dozens of sermons, but I know that I see to much Law.  I know I do not understand Gospel.  And I know I still hear the lies more clearly than I do the Truth.

I would pay a pastor, any confessional Lutheran pastor I know rightly divides Law and Gospel, to teach me.  I would willingly beggar myself to do so.  Unfortunately, that is not an option.  So, I struggle alone, now battling a gnawing hunger as much as I battle my sin.

 Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!