Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
         You have relieved me in my distress;
         Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.
    O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach?
         How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah.
    But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself;
         The LORD hears when I call to Him.
    Tremble, and do not sin;
         Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
    Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,
         And trust in the LORD.
    Many are saying, "Who will show us any good?"
         Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD!
    You have put gladness in my heart,
         More than when their grain and new wine abound.
    In peace I will both lie down and sleep,
         For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety. 
~Psalm 4

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At my new church, there is great reverence during the Divine Service.  There are many gestures and things that I still do not understand.  I know from Pastor W's most excellent post on such that these are important.  I think what I like the best, if liking one particular gesture over another is not disrespectful in and of itself, is when the body and blood are elevated above the pastor's head and he says, "The peace of the Lord be with you always."

Always this is, for me, such a stark reminder of the difference between the world's idea of peace, with feelings and happiness and getting along, and the peace Christ won for us in a very violent death, humiliated, scorned, and rejected even by His closest companions and separated from God the Father in His darkest hour.  No one on earth can ever know such loneliness, such anguish.  Not even I.  Not even in my darkest, weakest hour.  So, hearing these words, gazing upon His body and blood, is such a comfort for me, a reminder that that my Good Shepherd understands my heart for He has suffered even greater and did so because He loves me...loves even Myrtle.

Pastor W posted a thoughtful homily on the Day of Saint Paul and Peter that was just for me, truly it was.  He speaks about the error of living a faith of Jesus plus, as if the sufficiency of the cross was some how lacking.

In part, I savored the homily for this little bit about my beloved Agnus Dei:

How wise Mother Church to remind us of this as we come to the Supper.  O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us, grant us peace.  We come offering nothing.  We come receiving all.  We remain nothing but beggars and God keeps on wiping out our trust in other things as we come to rely more and more on Jesus and on Jesus alone.  The longer we live with Jesus alone, the more we see how it had to be that way, for the sin in our lives is very persistent and despite our Spirit-led efforts to kill and destroy it, it keeps on keeping on.  Old Augustine had it right:  “If we did not remain under God’s pardon until the end, we would be tempted to attribute too much to ourselves.” 

I never really thought, as I sing those words, that I am, in fact, standing before God as a beggar in that very moment.  I mean, Kleinig's receptive spirituality has resonated so strongly and I have worked hard to live the understanding of being a beggar before God and the freedom there is in that.  But I never connected the words of the Agnus Dei to the cry of that beggar.  I know it must seem strange...or rather have missed that, but people of all stations can ask for mercy.  My station before God is that of a beggar.  This I know.  This I believe, even as I try to set my pluses before Him as some meager offering, as if my worship, my witness could amount to a hill of beans beside the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Oh, Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Oh, Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Oh, Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, grant us Thy peace.

Oh, Lord, may I remember the Word Pastor W offered, the riches of objective grace and the true mercy of Christ, the blessed relief that I am saved by Jesus Christ alone...not be any mote of me, not by any work of my heart.

[Acts 15:1-12 / Galatians 2:1-10 / Matthew 16:13-19]
Peter had the right answer:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  That answer didn’t come from him – he didn’t give the right answer because he was bright and thunk it up all by his own alone self.  Jesus makes it clear that the only way anyone comes to that answer is when the Father reveals it to him.  So if you confess that Jesus is the Christ, that He is the Son of the living God – this is not your doing, but God’s giving.  And not only the confession but also the faith that it is so, is God’s gift to you. 

There have always been those who were a uncomfortable with all this gift talk going on.  Jesus and all that, yes, BUT they insist, the Law is the Law and it must be obeyed.  Jesus plus.  Whenever you meet a Jesus plus, you’ve met a falsification of the Gospel that was entrusted to the Apostles. 

So Paul and Barnabas, when they encounter the Jesus plus of the circumcision party (yes, Jesus is fine and the Gentiles can be saved through Him, PROVIDED they are circumcised and keep the law of Moses), they totally disagree.  And the dispute that arose called forth the first Church Council in history.  Barnabas and Paul head up to Jerusalem to present the matter to the Church there.

And there too voices were raised to insist that the Gentiles must be beholden to the Law of Moses.  Against this, Peter himself stands forth and speaks utter truth.  He was the first to speak to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and look at what God did in response to that.  He gave to those Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) the very same gift of the Holy Spirit that He had given to the Apostles themselves, cleansing their hearts by faith.  So don’t do it, Peter pleaded.  Don’t lay on them that yoke that neither we nor our fathers could keep.  All the law does is condemn us and show us our great sin and make us tremble.  It does not and cannot save a soul, for it promises eternal life only to those who keep it wholly and none of us have or even can.  Rather, we believe that we will be saved by the grace – the unmerited gift – of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as they will.

Peter’s voice, with James’ added to it, carried the day and the Jesus plus was rejected from the Church.  Not Jesus and obedience, but Jesus alone, His grace alone, saves.  Period.

Here Peter and Paul are at one in their proclamation.  And Exhibit A was Titus who went along to that Church Council as proof of a Spirit-filled, baptized Christian, who was NOT circumcised.  And so Paul’s preaching of the Gospel as Jesus and Jesus alone and his total renunciation of Jesus plus was upheld.  And they went forth preaching this Apostolic Gospel confirmed by the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem.

What’s the plus you want to add to Jesus?  I doubt it’s circumcision anymore.  But loving the neighbor, doing good for others, these remain popular.  As long as we are in the flesh, we will always be tempted to want to stand before God not only on the basis of Jesus but on the basis of Jesus plus something we do, something in us.  It’s so damaging to human pride – in fact, deadly to human pride – to stand before God and have no plea except a cry for mercy on the basis of Jesus alone.  To cling only to His cross and know that He alone is our forgiveness and our salvation and our hope of eternal life.  To know that we not only begin as but remain all our lives beggars before God – that He cleanses our hearts through faith so that we repose our trust in absolutely nothing in us, but solely in His grace, His undeserved kindness toward us in the gift of the Savior. 

How wise Mother Church to remind us of this as we come to the Supper.  O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us, grant us peace.  We come offering nothing.  We come receiving all.  We remain nothing but beggars and God keeps on wiping out our trust in other things as we come to rely more and more on Jesus and on Jesus alone.  The longer we live with Jesus alone, the more we see how it had to be that way, for the sin in our lives is very persistent and despite our Spirit-led efforts to kill and destroy it, it keeps on keeping on.  Old Augustine had it right:  “If we did not remain under God’s pardon until the end, we would be tempted to attribute too much to ourselves.” 

Sts. Peter and Paul not only witnessed to Jesus alone in their lives, but in their deaths.  They both yielded their bodies and poured out their earthly lives in the glad confession that in Jesus and in Him alone was a life that no death could rob them of, forgiveness bigger than all the world’s sin, love stronger any hatred.  They went into death without the least trust in their keeping of the Law, but with total trust in the Savior of sinners.  May God grant us like trust and like bold confession and total renunciation in our lives of anything that is added to Jesus.  May we be a people who say with Sts. Peter and Paul:  Jesus alone.  Amen.   

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, June 28, 2010


I managed to read a bit of Forde today:

We see in the death of Jesus our death, and we remember that we are dust.  We can begin to take the truth.  We learn dying.  Our story is not that of the exit from and return to glory of an undying soul.  The cross destroys all that.  It "destroys the wisdom of the wise."  "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." That marks the parameters of our story as afar as human possibility is concerned.  We see, as Luther puts it, the way things really are.  We look at all things through "suffering and the cross."  We live only on the strength of the fact that the Creator breathed his Spirit into the dust and gave us life.  We live on "borrowed time"time lent us by the Creator.  Yet we also see in the death of Jesus on the cross our rebellion against that life, and we note that there is absolutely no way out now except one.  God vindicated the crucified Jesus by raising him from the dead.  So the question and the hope comes to us.  "If we die with him shall we not also live with him?"  That is the end of the storyfor the time being.  But it is the beginning of faith. (9)

Pastor F did me a great honor by assigning me this book.  Studying the theology of the cross is a perfect companion to Walther's division of Law and Gospel.   And it is the perfect medicine for my troubled heart and mind, to rest in the challenge and the Truth of the cross.

The story of Myrtle is the story of the cross, how it saves me, shapes me, sustains me.  The story of Myrtle begins, continues, and ends with the cross, even when I do not understand such.   Wanting to understand is enough Myrtle.  It is enough because Christ is understands and He is the one who holds you even as you struggle.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Today was a strange day.  I struggled the whole day to do the tasks I had set for myself.  On one hand, you might say I was productive.  On the other, how much was lost in the battle to concentrate?

Braving the wrath and condemnation of my boss, I worked from home in my pajamas, stretched out on the couch with my laptop.  I was able to create a spreadsheet detailing all our YTD funding by categories, a document I need for two grant applications and to draft my boss' report for the next Board meeting.  Plus, I finished the drafts of two grant applications, updating one attachment file.  Yesterday, I spent a few hours pulling together and updating all the rest of the required attachments for all three grant applications I am working ahead on so that my boss can finish them off while I am gone.  This week I also prepared a mid-year report for a grant that is due also in my absence.  Have I ever mentioned that I am a communications manager and grants management and writing is my boss' duty not mine?

While I did have tangible, needful work products produced at the end of the day, I struggled with a belittling email I received from her and my growing inability to tolerate such from her.  But my setting boundaries and refusing to do the things that are demeaning and controlling has not been well-received.

Then there was this episode with my blood sugar.  There I was, mere minutes after having some orange juice, feeling shaky and faint and panicked.  I checked my blood sugar and it was 62.  I was sweating and scared.  I did not want to drink more juice because too much sugar just ends up being a problem for me later with a greater dip than that which caused the need for the juice in the first place.  And I had dutifully eaten some peanuts with the juice.  Shaking, sweating, anxious, and confused, I nattered at someone on the phone while he talked sensibly back to me.  While I nearly keeled over getting up off the couch, I did make it to the refrigerator to give the sad listing of its meager contents.  He chose for me: a cookie, then milk, then cheese.  After a long while, I was safely back at 110.

Words cannot express or explain the mixture of fear and elation that I felt, growing worry over what was happening laced with this odd sort of peace and joy that someone was with me, albeit miles and miles away, and willing to remain until I was safe.  A stranger really.  Christ's mercy to me in that moment, truly.

These acts of mercy have me thinking more on Forde:

It [the theology of the cross] constantly seeks to uncover and expose the ways in which sinners hide their perfidy behind pious facades.  The delicate thing about it is that it attacks the best we have to offer, not the worst.  This explains why the theology of the cross is generally spoken of in contrast to a theology of glory.  The two theologies are always locked in mortal combat.  Wherever there is mention of a theology of the cross without indication of this combat, it is not truly the theology of the cross that is being expressed.  The preacher-theologian must know this and learn how to use the word of the cross in that combat. (4)

Why is it, really, that we continually try to offer things, offer our works, in place of the cross?  Understanding original sin, knowing full well we cannot approach God, cannot even want to approach God without the gift of faith, we still try to pass off our poor substitutes as if they were anything other than putrid dross.  I do, at least.  I still keep looking to my faith rather than to the Author and Perfecter of my faith as if my faith is what saves me, sustains me, heals me.

The cross draws us into itself so that we become participant int he story.  As Paul could put it in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."  Just as Jesus was crucified so we also are crucified with him.  The cross makes us part of its story.  The cross becomes our story. That is what it means to say, as Luther did, "The cross alone is our theology." (7)

Again, a piece of Scripture has shifted for me.  This is a passage that, obviously, with which I am quite familiar.  But, again, I have realized that I read this as about me!  I have longer I...I now would seem that thinking this was about me.  But it is not.  It is about Christ crucified!  Again, that central point, the beginning, middle, and end.  The whole point Paul is making is that he can only do those things, be who he is, because of Jesus Christ and His work on the cross.

This is made quite radically explicit in Luther's little writing, "A Meditation on Christ's Passion," written about the same time as the Heidelberg Disputation (1519).  In that writing Luther is concerned about the proper way to meditate on the Passion of Christ.  One does not mediate properly by blaming the Jews, she says, for that only feeds one's antipathy to enemies.  Nor does one mediate properly by using Christ's Passion as a kind of exercise or talisman to stave off sufferingwearing crosses and so forth as protection from misfortune.  Nor does one meditate properly by pitying and showing sympathy for Jesus, like the daughters of Jerusalem who wept as he went to crucifixion.  Rather, "the real and true work of Christ's Passion is to make man conformable to Christ, sot that man's conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins...Now the whole world closes in upon you...."  Conscience can no longer defend us.  Luther thus projects for us an inescapable awareness of being drawn into the event:

"You must get this thought through your head and no doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this.... Therefore when you see the nails piercing Christ's hands, you can be certain that it is your work.  When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc." (7-8)

Ah, Luther, he never minces words, eh? In a sense, then, according to Luther, that passage of Paul's is about me, for the cross is about me. But not in the way I would like it to be. It is not about my faith, but my sin. It is not about my devotion, but my doubt. It is not about my worship, but my turning away from Christ even as He died for me, crying with the crowd, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The cross is about me, but it is the work of Christ, work born of love, not merit. I did not earn the cross; I cannot. But I can be joined to Christ, enduring with Him His wounds that my own might be healed. I can be joined to Christ and I will die with Him. I can be joined with Christ and die with Him, but then I will be raised.

In many ways, right now, I believe that He is raising me up now.

Thus, the cross story becomes our story.  It presses itself upon us so that it becomes inescapable.  It fights to displace the glory story.  The cross thereby becomes the key to the biblical story and opens up new possibilities for appropriatingor better, being appropriated bythe entire story....It is vital to realize that a proper theology of the cross does not isolate attention just on the cross event.  To speak of the "cross story" is a shorthand way of intending the entire story culminating in cross and resurrection.  The cross is the key to unlocking the entire story. (8)

The beginning, middle, and end of Lutheran doctrine.  The beginning, middle, and end of me.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Down the blasted steps I went again and ended up with the bookcase atop me. I have got to figure out how to get up and down the stairs safely when I am this weak.

It was a day of joy, truly, though many dark moments lingered. The greatest joy was Divine Service.  Yes, I had the Lord's Supper!

Of course, getting there was so difficult, shuffling step by step.  The pain has greatly been reduced, but it returns when I am on my feet long.  And when I stand, my legs tremble like two columns of jello. 

With the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ still lingering in my mouth and filling my heart, I thought I would offer a wee bit of Luther.  It is one of the quotes I chose for one of Pastor F's bulletins.  Ostensibly, I am choosing for his flock, but really I chose this one for me.  I chose the reminder and the comfort and the sweet, sweet Gospel.

We are tangible creatures.  We are sense creatures.  We taste and touch and smell and hear and see.  We live in and through and with our bodies.  Even when we wish we could escape them, they are a holy work of God, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.  But God knows us, understands us.  In the Book of Concord, Luther teaches that God, in His infinite wisdom and unending care, gives us water and bread and wine so that our bodies can have something to grasp in order that our souls might believe. He teaches us this gift in the Large Catechism, but he sings of it in this bit from a sermon of his below:

In our day, in the time of the New Testament, God has given us Baptism, the Sacrament of the Altar, and absolution to bring Christ very close to us, so that we can have Him not only in our heart but also on our tongue, so that we can feel Him, grasp Him, and touch Him. God did all this for the sake of those shameful spirits who seek God according to their own pleasure, with their reason and their own ideas and dreams. To make it possible for us to recognize Him, God presents Himself to us perceptively and clearly in signs....Thus we perceive God not only with our hearts but also with our eyes and our hands, for He gives us a tangible and visible sign of Himself. At all times God has so governed His people that He could also be recognized visibly by them, lest they say: “If it were possible to find God, we would roam to the ends of the earth in search of Him.” If you had ears to hear, it would be needless to wander far in search of God. For He wants to come to you, plant Himself before your very eyes, press Himself into your hands, and say: “Just listen to Me and take hold of Me, give Me eye and ear; there you have Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar. Open your mouth, let Me place My hand on your head. I give you this water which I sprinkle over your head.”

Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 22 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1957 (Luther's Works 22), S. 22:vii-421

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Long day.

Others think today went well, but it really doesn't feel that way to me.  I suppose having answers is "well."  But I had a horrible reaction to the drug given to distress my heart and ended up with agony...not my legs??  It is as if I did the exercise myself somehow.

Pastor C had agreed to be on standby, so he came and fetched me, along with someone from his church, and the two of them ended up lugging me inside since I couldn't quite make it past my stone lions.  After being dumped on the couch, here I have remained.  When I discovered it was his day off, I felt horrible, but he did say that he would not have agreed to help if he did not wish to do so.

I spent all day on the couch where I was dumped, snoozing and spending time on the Internet.  Yes, my connection is mostly up this day.  And, yes, Pastor F is right to think me a dunce for I FINALLY figured out what he was saying about using download helper in Firefox.  I sometimes wonder if I shall ever have that lovely little technical thingamagiggy that I so desire, but I am thankful to have a collection of sermons now to savor even when my Internet connection is less than advertised.

In between downloads I Googled pacemakers.  The good news is that I have no blockage, so the slow heartbeat is not due to low blood flow. The bad news is my heart is not beating properly.  The next step is a test with the kind of specialist who will put in a pacemaker, should I not pass sufficiently.  The cardiologist seemed to say it is now or later, not never.  I have no desire to have a mechanical device placed within my body, but I especially do not wish to have such a thing connected to my heart.  I fear I shall be quite incapable of facing such a challenge even when pacemakers are quite commonplace.

Before my nerves declared war on me during the testing, I spent time waiting on processes of the procedures by starting a new bookPastor F's homeworkOn Being a Theologian of the Cross:  Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518.
Already, I am savoring it!

The difficulty here is that the cross is the theo-logy, the logos of the God; the word of the cross is the attack.  It doesn't coin itself in ready theological propositions that we can appropriate and still go on pretty much as usual.  The word of the cross kills and makes alive.  It crucifies the old being in anticipation of the resurrection of the new.  "The cross alone is our theology," Luther could say.  And those oft-quoted words are to be take literally.  But we cannot fail to notice what an odd claim it is.  How can the cross be a theology?  The cross is an event.  Theology is reflection on and explanation of the event.  Theology is about the event, is it not?  However, that is what makes writing some definitive theology of the cross impossible. At best all such theology can did is clear the way for the proclamation of the cross, to drive us actually to preach the word of the cross as that folly that destroys the wisdom of the wise. (3-4)

I have said and will say again, the beginning, middle, and end of confessional Lutheranism is Christ crucified.  Sometimes I think I am beginning to understand what this means; other times I am certain that I have not even learned the letters of the alphabet yet.

In Pastor E's sermon yesterday, I noted how he so beautifully taught me what to see when I look at the crucifix.  But I would also like to point out the bit he wrote about the new pattern of our lives as Christians:

Baptism is repentance. And yet it is not a singular act of repentance, but a life-long pattern. That is the pattern to which William was joined this morning. That is the pattern to which we were all called in our baptism. When we witness the baptism of another person, be it a child or an adult, we are witnessing what our own life is to be: a drowning and emerging, the death of the old Adam (the sinful nature) and a rising to live a new life, all in Christ.

Baptism is about death as much as it is about new life.  You can say that we are dying from the moment we are born given that we are mortal beings.  Pastor F is wont to be rather blunt about the decay and putrid stench about us.  I find it fascinating that he has no desire to shield his cherubs one iota from that truth yet is incredibly loving and protective of them.  Even his wee ones understand this theology, to some degree, for it is their first language.

I also spent time thinking on the joy of the cross.  The joy of the cross!

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,


Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,  but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 
~I Corinthians 1:18-25

Gerherd Forde understands this joy and this folly.

Funny how sometimes reading the Living Word in a book can change that Word, help shift it from obscurity to light, drive you back to the context, the scope and sequence of the whole of what God has given us.  I was surprised, reading this passage, to realize I have not heard, ever, this idea of the theology of the cross before joining the Lutheran confession.  Is that not strange?

I mean, what real theology, what real doctrine have I learned?  Even though I have studied reformed theology myself, what I hold are bits and pieces, mostly mired in the specious emphasis of meritorious works on the part of man veiled in the language of worship and relationship.  I never had the whole.  And the whole, from the beginning of time until the end, is the cross.

If you know me at all, you have learned my favorite passage of the Book of Concord is the following bit from the Apology.

In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil and, in our weakness, declares His power.  [AP, Article V, 68]

Now, I am no theologian and I fear my scholarly days have long passed thanks to the ravages of MS, but I did have a thought about this bit.

I  have always read this in light of me.  [I know, surprise.]  On the surface, surely I should.  I mean...I am a saint, I am weak, and I do confess.  But...I am a saint because of Christ, it is my weakness that required His salvation, what I confess is Christ crucified, and I can only make that confession because God gave His Son who gave me the Holy Spirit so that, in turn, the Holy Spirit can take me to Christ and it is Christ's confession upon my tongue, falling from my lips before the Father.

I have read this as more folly, but in truth it is the most logical act of the universe:  

He is setting all creation against the devil.
He is setting all His plans and purposes against the devil.
He is setting all His promises against the devil.
He is setting Christ against the devil.

In this strange sort of way, to me at least, my weakness is actually Christ...because, in Him, I am strong.  I am strong because He took my weakness into His body, bore it upon the cross, and then put Himself back into my body in the Lord's Supper, turning that weakness into strength.

Pit God against any created being, even one as wily and persistent as the devil, and God will win every time.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pastor F had asked one of his brother pastors to come pray with me.  In the hour he was here, Pastor C poured much Gospel over me and gave me the good things of Christ so much so that my cup truly runneth over.  This mercy was doubly helpful this day, for my night was a battle from the middle until late morning.

Such night terrors I have at times.  Early this morning was the worst I have ever had.  Perhaps because there have been many stresses and heartaches and trials of late.  Being trapped on the basement floor being one of them.  Writhing in pain trying to sleep once I calmed down this morning because I've missed two days of medication being another.  My fear of tomorrow.  The trial of work.  The lingering confusion over leaving my first parish and struggling to find a home in the second one.  The terror of watching my brain and body fade away.  All of these things tearing at me, fracturing me, weighing upon me.

And yet.

And yet God provided for in such a mighty way, showing me such great mercy, as I can truly rest in Him.  I did rest in Him, sleeping peacefully this afternoon.

Pastor C stunned me by offering first to hear my confession, should I wish, before we continued with the prayers he had for me.  Should I wish!  Oh, how I have longed for that!

In his pastoral care companion book is a simple rite, but he rather willingly allowed me to use the liturgy from the Lutheran Worship hymnal I prefer, so laced with tidbits from the Psalter it is.  I admit that I did weep during my confession, but in part it was for joy in anticipation of hearing that Word of forgiveness and having the cross on my forehead.  I admit I was the slightest bit disappointed when he only placed his hand on my head and made the sign of the cross over me, but I knew that I would still have the cross traced on my forehead later.  I will say that for the first time, my heart did sing with joy as I read the final portion of the liturgy...the first time the joy of absolution came just after instead of that delayed reaction as I absorb what was said.

Sing to the Lord, you saints of his; praise His holy name.  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the  morning. O Lord my god, I will give You thanks forever.  ~Psalm 30:4-5,12b

What was truly wonderful is that part of his words of comfort were the prayer of the centurion that I have at the end of most of my posts:  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!  He also spoke about how the struggle to grasp the true reality of being daily and richly forgiven is common to many, even he.  That fighting my sin, being remorseful and longing for absolution is a beautiful work of Christ in my life.  That changed for me how I heard the final portion of the liturgy:

[Pastor] Go in the strength, the peace, and the joy of the Lord, and come soon to receive Christ's body and blood and, being joined to Him, live toward the word and the beauty He would fulfill in you for Himself and for others.  Go, you are free.

Afterward, I asked him if he would sing for me.  He did gulp a bit and murmur that I have not heard him sing, but I care not about that.  He sang for me the hymn I long to sing myself:

Lord Jesus, Think on Me (LSB 610)

Lord Jesus, think on me
And purge away my sin;
From worldly passions set me free
And make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me
By anxious thought oppressed;
Let me Your loving servant be
And taste Your promised rest.

Lord Jesus, think on me
Amid the battle's strife;
In all my pain and misery,
O be my health and life!

Lord Jesus, think on me
Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity
Point out Your chosen way.

Lord Jesus, think on me
That, when this life is past,
I may the eternal brightness see
And share Your joy at last.

Definitely a Myrtle hymn, eh?  .

He then sang the Agnus Dei from page 198 with me.

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

Pretty good stuff there, but he had more for me!  He spoke to me about the Gospel for this day and talked about Christ work in casting out the demons from the man, a poignant reminder that all, that everything, is within His dominion.  Both my boss and the doctor and technicians tomorrow.  These things Christ has under His dominion, all things are in His control.  Such is His peace that all things proceed from Him and are in His control.  Being marked with His name, I am His

I just love hearing the Gospel read to me. Oh, how I do.  But the best part, the absolute best part, was being anointed with oil as he traced the cross upon my forehead.  This is so because I can still feel it there now!  The weight of the oil lingers as does the fragrance.  So all this time, hours and hours later, it as if that moment is still happening.  I, Myrtle, miserable, wretched sinner that I am, have the holiest sign in the universe marked my forehead, for, in Him, I am pure and clean and holy!

Personally, I think this is most wondrous, a most merciful gift of God.  I did not know it would be like this, but I took a shower just before Pastor C came so that I wouldn't have to wash it off tonight.  I am glad I had such a thought!  I did not know having a cross anointed with oil would be such a palpable presence.  Such a gift.  Such a blessing!

Before he left, Pastor C also gave me a blessing.  Truly, the only thing I could have wish for would have been for him to bring the Lord's Supper to me.  Still, the prayers and hymns and Gospel and blessing and Absolution and anointing were so absolutely precious to me.

Even so, God was even more merciful to me, for the new pastor posted his sermon today!  He does not always, which is a sorrow to me.  Oh, my, does he divide Law and Gospel.  One bit leapt out at me:

And in your fear, look at the crucifix, and see what your Shepherd has done for you. He stepped before the lion, and felt his vicious teeth, like nails driving through skin and bone. But the lion’s teeth bit into a man and found God. He who would devour was himself torn apart; his belly burst from what he could not consume. The Shepherd, JESUS, is the God-Man, whom Satan could not defeat, whom sin could not capture, whom death could not hold.

But the lion's teeth bit into a man and found God.  What a thought!  Satan could not contain Christ in any fashion and it is His freedom that Christ gives us in our baptism, freedom He won for us despite the cost to Himself.

Below, however, is the whole sermon.  Oh, how I have savored it so, feeling the small weight of the oil still and smelling the fragrance of Christ upon me as I read of His love for me.  Such a blessed day!  Such mercy God has poured out on me this day..even in my fear...even in my struggle...this He has done!

Trinity Three

Texts: 1 Pt. 5 and Luke 15.1-10

Note: William Henry Theodore Naumann was baptized during the Trinity 3 Divine Service.

The discipline of the shepherd had gotten rather stifling. “Why did he put me with these sheep? They smell. They are noisy. They are most certainly not good traveling companions. If only I had some other sheep to be with; we could eat from a different pasture, go see different places, have a different life. I know, I know, it’s terrible to think it. It’s wrong. I’ll just go over here, just a little beyond the boundary the shepherd marked out for me. It can’t hurt to have a little look.”

When he returned, the shepherd asked him, “Did you know you went beyond my border?” “Oh, did I? It was an accident.” The shepherd looked at him for a long while, concerned.

And the next day, that brief trespass across the border became a little longer. The sheep lied to himself as he lingered beyond the border. “I’m drinking a little too much from the well the shepherd warned me about. But it tastes good, and I can handle it. I’ll make it back in time.”

Off in the distance, the sheep spied others. They were beautiful, more exotic; the wind masked their stench while exacerbating the odors of the familiar flock. He heard the voice of the shepherd calling, and for a moment he struggled, knowing he should turn back. “I’m a member of that flock. But I’m growing tired of it. And yet … can’t I do both? Besides, they really haven’t been all that nice to me lately. It’s their fault that I’m out here. I yearn to run, to be free! I’ve always made it back before. I can handle it.”

And he did make it back, just at dusk. The shepherd called to him, but the sheep avoided his gaze. All that night, he rolled over and over. Every bleat and grunt annoyed him, and the stench was growing intolerable. He couldn’t get the image of the other flock out of his mind.

The next afternoon, he went farther than he ever had before. So far that he couldn’t hear the shepherd anymore, or see the flock. As the sun began to set, a low menacing growl terrified him. “I need to get home,” he said in a panic. He ran this way and that, but the more he searched for the path home, the more disoriented he became. He was terrified and exhausted. He heard the sounds of another sheep, bleating in terror. Then there was a roar, and the sound of tearing flesh, and the bleating went silent. He heard the sheep being dragged away, and he knew it wouldn’t be long before the same thing happened to him. For the first time since he was little, he cried. He hid. And he hated himself.

Eventually, the lion saw him. Closing in, the lion licked his chops. The sheep knew he had mere seconds left.

With astounding ferocity, a man leapt into the space between the lion and the sheep. It was the shepherd! He had come for him! The lion roared with fury, and said to the shepherd, “Fool! Why do you care for this sheep? He didn’t listen to you. He doesn’t love you. He went beyond the border. You know the rules. The ones that go beyond the border are mine!”

“Yes, they are,” said the shepherd. “But I want this one back all the same.” “It will cost you,” said the lion. “I know,” said the shepherd, and quietly lay down.

Well, that’s not quite the way that the parable Jesus tells ends. But that is, in fact, the way it ends. Or at least, appears for awhile to end, on Good Friday. For Jesus is the shepherd. And the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.

But the problem with the audience is that they do not realize they are lost sheep. They imagine they are among the ninety-nine sheep who have not wandered away. In their delusion, they imagine they have no need of repentance. They have forgotten the words of their own prophet, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Have you been pretending that you are have no need of repentance? Or that the sham you have gone through suffices? I’ve been reading a book by the little-known German reformer Urbanus Rhegius, who wrote this admonition to true repentance: “Pay attention, therefore, pious Christian: Those who do not first acknowledge their own manifold sin and recognize and believe the pure grace of God in Christ our Lord, without any pretending at all, remain stuck in their sins.” Did you catch that? “Without any pretending at all.” Isn’t that what we do? We pretend to others, we pretend to the pastor, we pretend to God, we pretend to ourselves: that our problem is not all that serious, that our sin is not so bad, that our death is a long way off, that moral and spiritual disaster cannot come to us.

Jesus’ call to the Pharisees in today’s Gospel was, “Stop pretending and repent!” And that is His call to you today as well: “Stop pretending and repent!”

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles, the first Christians glorified God and said, “God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life” (Acts 11.18). This shows us that repentance is a gift, given by God, and not an an emotion or experience we create for ourselves. Take comfort in that, for God Himself gives even the repentance He requires.

For this reason God has been patient with you, and tolerant beyond measure with your sins. Do you not know, St. Paul writes, “that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2.4).

Baptism is repentance. And yet it is not a singular act of repentance, but a life-long pattern. That is the pattern to which William was joined this morning. That is the pattern to which we were all called in our baptism. When we witness the baptism of another person, be it a child or an adult, we are witnessing what our own life is to be: a drowning and emerging, the death of the old Adam (the sinful nature) and a rising to live a new life, all in Christ.

What still needs to die in you? Are you pretending to be a Christian? Have you been holding back on true repentance?

Be afraid, O child of Adam, for your sins are great, you have sought to deceive others about who you really are, and imagined that God Himself would be fooled as well. Be afraid, for God has decreed that man must die.

And in your fear, look at the crucifix, and see what your Shepherd has done for you. He stepped before the lion, and felt his vicious teeth, like nails driving through skin and bone. But the lion’s teeth bit into a man and found God. He who would devour was himself torn apart; his belly burst from what he could not consume. The Shepherd, JESUS, is the God-Man, whom Satan could not defeat, whom sin could not capture, whom death could not hold.

What Jesus is accused of is true: He receives sinners and eats with them. The accusation, whispered in a sneer against JESUS, is the very heart of the Gospel. Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. That is what today, and every Lord’s Day, is about. It’s why we gather here. Jesus receives us sinners and eats with us.

We have wandered. We have lied. We have pretended. We have resisted. Still He welcomes us.
Listen to Him. The things He says are designed for your good, that you might live and not die. The cross the shepherd has laid on you has been designed for you, and He who has borne the heaviest cross will sustain you as you follow Him.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I am many things right now, but mostly I am terrified.  Absolutely and utterly terrified.

It is interesting to me how often, in reading the Book of Concord, there is something relevant to me, to Myrtle, to my life this day.

Besides, God has commanded or assigned us nothing about the dead. [SA, Part II, Article II, 12]

Lately, when my feelings or experiences steer me off course, the admonishment I hear is:  there is no promise assigned to that thought.

Promise.  I have come to understand what a great and pervasive role the promises of God play in confessional Lutheranism.  Beginning with the Promise.

Everything is about Christ crucified.  From baptism to the Lord's Supper to Absolution, the good things God has for us are based on His work.  The Word itself begins and ends with Jesus Christ; the Word itself is the first and last word amongst Lutherans.  Not what you think about it or feel about it or how you apply it to your life.  But what the Word says about our triune God...the promises of God, the gifts of Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit.

Hence:  It will not do to frame articles of faith from the words or words of the holy Fathers...The true rule is this:  God's Word shall establish the articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so (Galatians 1:8). [SA, Part II, Article II, 15]

You will NEVER hear a sermon based on The Purpose Driven Life or Promise Keepers or The Prayer of Jabez or whatever pop Christian book holds current status as bandwagon in a confessional Lutheran church.  Amen and Amen...may it ALWAYS be so.

Likewise, I should not create articles of faith for myself based upon my feelings or my experiences.

Last night, I fell down the steps to the basement trying to tackle some laundry.  My legs cramped something fierce and were such wet noodles that I lay trapped on the cold floor all night.  I screamed for a while, wondering if my duplex neighbor would hear me and do something and I wept bitterly for a long while more...until my heart started feeling funny and I grew even more terrified.

I hate...HATE...that something is not quite right with that organ.  I can deal with the constant pain and weakness,  the battle with breathing, and the wonkiness, but I cannot bear this whole heart thing.  I want it to beat faster, for when it slows I feel so queer.  When I stand, if I do not faint, it feels as if my neck is going to explode on either side.  I hate that pressure, enduring it until it passes.  And I hate fainting, even though I do it often.

My heart began this thwonking, beating most irregularly, so I shoved my sadness aside and stifled my tears, forcing myself to calm my breathing and pretend lying on the floor with my legs screaming in pain is exactly what I wanted.

I am terrified about Monday. The very idea of giving me medicine to stress my heart terrifies me.  Absolutely and utterly.

I close my eyes and I remember lying on the gurney three years ago, being resuscitated because some medical staff did not believe me when I said I had asthma and needed help when I started coughing.  They ignored me until it was almost too late.  I remember suffocating as my lungs stopped. I remember fading in and out of consciousness as they worked over me.  I remember the terror and thinking it was asinine to be in that position in the first place.  And I remember being alone...absolutely and utterly.

As much as I am fearful about what might happen Monday and how difficult it will be for me to be unclothed/underclothed for such a long period of time, I know I need to do this.

God, in His infinite mercy, has provided an undershepherd to pray with me tomorrow before this fearful testing on Monday.  Pastor F called one of his brothers who lives near me and asked if he would tend to a scared sheep for him.  His "yes" was immediate, no questions asked; he will be here tomorrow afternoon.

On Monday, no matter what happens, in each and every moment, Christ will be with me, praying for me, holding me, loving me...even in my doubts and fears and anguish.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

For every step forward I take, it seems I fall back two or three.  What is the point of trying if that is truly the case?

I am Yours.  Save me!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My writing student is back!

Okay, she has been back for more than a week, but she came over tonight to spend sometime with me.  Her feet had barely crossed the threshold before I started speaking a mile a minute, telling her all the things that I have been carrying about in my heart in the six months she's been off having the most glorious of experiences as a student abroad.

So magnificent is she, Katie Bess allowed me to natter on and on the whole evening. Can you tell I have missed her greatly?

Nine years ago, she came into my life, and I would say one of the greatest privileges I have been given by our God in Heaven has been to watch her grow into the most beautiful young woman and a writer who puts me to shame.  Hers is a most enviable pen!

I am quite giddy when Bettina and Katie Bess come see me.  Quite giddy.  The little child bouncing up and down on her seat in anticipation and excitement. Her presence alone brings the same peace that Bettina's does:  I am safe; I am free to be me; I have someone to help me who will not count the cost.

Something that she blurted out was a bit of comfort for me:  Your hair!  Yes, my hair is still disinclined to remain attached to my head, albeit more reluctantly than during the whole puking episode.  Sadly, even the small wisps growing back fall out.  Brushing my hair in the morning is quite disheartening.  However, my writing student gave me a bit of encouragement because she noticed that my hair has been growing rather rapidly of late.  She guestimated 8 inches since she last laid eyes upon me, and I would probably concur.  It is wispy and a bit straw-like, but it is past half-way down my back and falling down toward my hips.  The length I've longed to gain has come in spades. 

I find it rather ironic that tonight, for the past few hours (it is mid-way toward morning, but I have back-dated this to remain on Wednesday), I have been so blooming cold that I turned the heat on despite it nearing official summer.  I have two blankets, three layers of clothing, and a heating pad on my stomach.  Nothing is working.  You would think I was in the wilds of Alaska in the dead of winter.  Siberia even!

In the interest of honesty, I shall admit that I have fainted twice this week.  Monday, it was because of my heart.  Today, it was because I started my day with a Twinkie.  A co-worker, so bothered by how I am treated, started keeping a stash in her desk to supply me on bad days.

I walked into work this morning and found an impossible To Do List email from my boss.  So discouraged was I that I went straight to the co-worker and told her, ten minutes after arriving at work, that today was most definitely going to be a Twinkie day!

When my boss asked me to fetch her lunch, I took the time to talk with Bettina.  During that quickie call, I bemoaned the fact that I thought my blood sugar was dropping.  It was.  I bought some lunch, too, since I was out and tried to hold on until eating regularly would make a difference, but crashing to the floor went this little lamb of Christ.

I have come to the conclusion that Twinkies, at least for me, are not breakfast food. 

I am growing too tired again, losing the gain I garnered this weekend, spending more time asleep than awake.  My right knee has moved out of socket twice this day.  Bloody thing!

I am finding that there is a certain kind of confidence that comes from being loved...comfort and peace as well....

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, June 14, 2010

When I had to leave my parish and had no further instruction, I purchased Luther's Works on CD in hopes of teaching myself at least a little.  However, the interface is a bit beyond my technological capabilities.  I am in deep need of someone giving me a tutorial on the thing.  However, from time to time, I do manage to ferret out good things.  Below is one of them:

For God does not deal, nor has he ever dealt, with man otherwise than through a word of promise, as I have said. We in turn cannot deal with God otherwise than through faith in the Word of his promise. He does not desire works, nor has he need of them; rather we deal with men and with ourselves on the basis of works. But God has need of this: that we consider him faithful in his promises [Heb. 10:23], and patiently persist in this belief, and thus worship him with faith, hope, and love.
[Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 36 : Word and Sacrament II. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1959 (Luther's Works 36), S. 36:III-42]

[You've just got to LOVE an automatic citation feature, eh?]

This is sort of along the lines of Walther's teaching about the means of grace, in that God desires to deal with us, to treat with us, to dialogue with us through the Word...spoken, written, visible, invisible, Lived.

More and more I marvel at the Bible, the Living Word, that God has given us.  Despite the many times I have been through the Book of Psalms in the near year that has passed since I took my first tentative steps down the path of praying the Psalter, the Word in this portion of Scripture remains ever new, ever fresh.  All over the place, in every Psalm, there is at least one bit that are the very words of my heart at the very moment I am praying them.

Sometimes, I need others to pray them for me.  So much to I long for them to be true.  So deeply ashamed am I at my own sin and unbelief. 

Call me and ask me what I would like to do...well, most likely I will want to play a game or watch a movie or both at the same time, but I will also want to add in singing a hymn or two and praying a few Psalms...oh, and reading aloud some scripture...perhaps a bit from the Book of Concord.  I would never dare ask if we could read Walther, too, but I would not be above reminding you of some portion I've savored.  Yes...I am VERY greedy about the Gospel and yet I still want to work in that game of Rumikub or that episode of Stargate SG1.  SIGH.

I would have thought the Psalter might become old hat to me, having prayed it so much, but it has not.  It has not for I know what I will find as I read:  God speaking to me; Christ speaking for me.

It is no secret that I stink at understanding and clinging to the promises of God.  Granted, it has only been a short while in which I have been instructed that there are very many promises of God.  I have come to understand the Lutheran approach to promise is:  God said...and it must be so.  But, to my great sorrow, I have not yet learned to see those promises, most of the time, unless they are pointed out to me.

Come to me all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)... I read those words and immediately start thinking about how I struggle to find rest in Christ, to be comforted beneath His wings.  But these words are not a command, not a work at which I am failing, but a promise.

Remember what Brother Goose wrote:  "You will be my witnesses."  That's not a command.  It's a promise.

It is easier for me to see those promises in the Psalter:  He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him, and honor him (Psalm 91:15).  Not I might answer him or I will consider answering him, but I will answer him.  SIGH.

While I need to learn of the promises of God, more still do I need to learn of the Promise of God, of Christ crucified and all that means for me.

Luther has a great big for me later on in this piece as he also expounds upon the signs God gives us, as surety of His promise, in the means of grace He bestows upon us.

I was right then in saying that the whole power of the mass [the Lord's Supper] consists in the words of Christ, in which he testifies that forgiveness of sins is bestowed on all those who believe that his body is given and his blood poured out for them. This is why nothing is more important for those who go to hear mass than to ponder these words diligently and in full faith. Unless they do this, all else that they do is in vain. This is surely true, that to every promise of his, God usually adds some sign as a memorial or remembrance of the promise, so that thereby we may serve him the more diligently and he may admonish us the more effectually. Thus, when he promised Noah that he would not again destroy the world by a flood, he added his bow in the clouds, to show that he would be mindful of his covenant [Gen. 9:8–17]. And after promising Abraham the inheritance in his seed, he gave him circumcision as a mark of his justification by faith [Gen. 17:3–11]. Thus he granted to Gideon the dry and the wet fleece to confirm his promise of victory over the Midianites [Judg. 6:36–40]. And through Isaiah he offered to Ahaz a sign that he would conquer the king of Syria and Samaria, to confirm in him his faith in the promise [Isa. 7:10–17]. And we read of many such signs of the promises of God in the Scriptures.
So in the mass also, the foremost promise of all, he adds as a memorial sign of such a great promise his own body and his own blood in the bread and wine, when he says: “Do this in remembrance of me” [Luke 22:19; I Cor. 11:24–25]. And so in baptism, to the words of promise he adds the sign of immersion in water. We may learn from this that in every promise of God two things are presented to us, the word and the sign, so that we are to understand the word to be the testament, but the sign to be the sacrament. Thus, in the mass, the word of Christ is the testament, and the bread and wine are the sacrament. And as there is greater power in the word than in the sign, so there is greater power in the testament than in the sacrament; for a man can have and use the word or testament apart from the sign or sacrament. “Believe,” says Augustine, “and you have eaten.”89 But what does one believe, other than the word of the one who promises? Therefore I can hold mass every day, indeed, every hour, for I can set the words of Christ before me and with them feed and strengthen my faith as often as I choose. This is a truly spiritual eating and drinking.

89 Cf. p. 19 n. 33.
[Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 36 : Word and Sacrament II. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1959 (Luther's Works 36), S. 36:III-44]

Never more has one of my all time favorite passages of scripture meant more to me as I ponder the depths of "every spiritual blessing":

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. ~ Ephesians 1:3-14

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I have been thinking a lot about the means of grace today (in the few hours I have been awake) and about Walther, most particularly why I cherish his book so very much.  It would be easy to say because it is His truth, but I believe the real answer is that, for me, it is hope.  I do not do that much...hope.

I am better at merely existing, getting through each day.  It used to be each year, then it was just months, now it is, really, each day.  I look to the past and I am frightened by how much I have changed physically, mentally.  I look to the future and I am frightened by what could possibly be with this disease.  And I am so tired, so bloody tired.

I think, however, that I should work harder to cast my eyes not upon my fears, but upon the good things of Christ that I am being given in the midst of them.

A while ago, I wrote Brother Goose a list of all that frightens me.  He asked me to write him a list of that which brings me joy.  On that list, which I promptly set aside instead of tucked nearby as a reminder for this foolish, weak brain of mine, was Walther and the good teaching the Holy Spirit is giving me amongst the pages of his book, his lectures for undershepherds-in-training.  I know that I cannot teach myself all the things I need to know when it comes to Lutheran Doctrine, or even most of them, but I can learn some of the things I need to know so that when a pastor comes along to instruct me once more, or when Papa Dore endeavors to fill in that gap for me, I might better understand, I might build a frame of reference that is not based upon the distorted Gospel retained in the Protestant church that is so very deeply ingrained on my heart.

For I dare to hope, whenever I pick up Walther's book, that the Word can be reshaped, rewritten in its True form, even on my heart.  Are not all things possible in Christ Jesus?

Now listen to a few testimonies from our own confessions.  In the Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article Vii, 10 (Mueller, P. 322; Trigl, Conc., p 497), we read:  "Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments.  It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments."  The Spirit comes to men by means of the Word.  A person may imagine that he is full of the Spirit to the bursting point, but it is his own spirit of fanaticism.  The true Spirit is obtained only through the Word of God.  In every passage of the Holy Scriptures which recounts the conversion of people we see that God wants to deal with men only through the Word and Sacraments.  (157)

You know what I find a bit silly here, in this most serious, most fundamental paragraph, is how could anyone believe God speaks to us apart from the Word?  I mean, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1)."  Is there anything more clear than that?  But just in case it wasn't read further:  "He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:2-5)

So...through the Word.

The Apology, Art. IV, 68 (Mueller, p. 92; Trigl, Conc., p. 179):  "But God cannot be treated with, God cannot be apprehended, except through the Word.  Accordingly, justification occurs through the Word, just as Paul says, Rom, 1,6:  'The Gospel is the power of God until salvation to every one that believeth.'  Likewise, 10.17: 'Faith cometh by hearing.'  And proof can be derived even from this that faith justifies, because, if justification occurs only through the Word and the Word is apprehended only by faith, it follows that faith justifies."  

This important statement declares that all who do not esteem the means of grace do not believe from the heart that man is saved solely by grace.  For what does their objection to the means of grace amount to?  They argue:  "Is a person really to obtain forgiveness of sins by the mere application of the letter, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, absolution?  That would be too easy."  

But if we are to be saved by pure grace, why should our salvation be such a difficult taskprovided it is to be really grace that is to save us?  Just because we are to be saved by grace, God must have arranged matters to that we need nothing but a means by which God offers us forgiveness of sins, grace, and salvation.  When God says to the sinner, "Only believe," He practically says:  "Accept what I give you; have confidence in Me.  What I tell you is the truth.  Only come, lay hold of the gift and take it."  When I hear the Gospel preached to me, I am to believe that it is God who brings me these glad tidings through the preacher who is proclaiming them to me.  God at the same time says to me:  "Why are you toiling to accumulate meritorious works?  Christ has acquired all that you need.  Only believe, and all is yours.  I am not telling you a lie."  That is what God says. (157-158) [Paragraphs breaks added.]

Too easy.  Yes, too easy...yet also too hard...for believing means not being a Doer of the Word.  We humans, we want to do, to act, to accomplish stuff.  Oh, how easy it is to forget that all the doing, all the acting, all the accomplishing has already been completed.  Yet, but, oh, my, what peace and rest there is in knowing that I need not store up any meritorious works.  I know my sin.  Meritoriousness on my part is not really possible.

Now, anything that is predicated of the Word of God is predicated, as a matter of course, also of the Sacraments; for they are also means of grace.  They are the visible Word.  The Word of God, the Gospel, is only audible, but the Sacraments are also visible, for they are acts attached to objects of sense.  Therefore it is a very horrible error, fostered in our time particularly by so-called modern, or up-to-date, believers, viz., that the Word has an efficacy peculiarly its own, that Baptism is a special remedy for other ills, and the Lord's Supper for still others.  But these are vain human speculations, of which there is not a word to be found in the Scriptures.  Let us hear our confessions on this matter.

In the Apology, Art. XIII, 5 (Mueller, p. 196' Trigl. Conc., p. 309), we read:  "But just as the Word enters the ear to strike our heart, so the rite [Sacrament] itself strikes the eye in order to move the heart.  The effect of the Word and of the rite is the same, as it has been well said by Augustine that a Sacrament is a visible Word, because the rite is received by the eyes, and is, at it were, a picture of the Word, signifying the same things as the Word.  Therefore the effect of both is the same."

This is an important point.  To a hearing person I can preach the Gospel by words.  In the cases of a deaf person, whom I cannot teach by that method, I may take a picture representing the birth of Christ with the angels coming out of heaven or one that represents the crucifixion.  By way of pantomime I can explain the picture and instruct the deaf without speaking a word to him.  That is what God does by means of the Sacraments, which show us in a picture, so to speak, what God proclaims audibly in the Word.  "The Sacraments are the Visible Word,"  that is an excellent axiomatic utterance of Augustine.  A person, therefore, who speaks of the Sacraments in terms of depreciation and contempt says the same things against the Word and does not consider the terrible guilt that he assumes.  He ridicules God, turning Him into a wretched master of ceremonies, who has prescribe all sorts of pantomimes for us merely for the purpose of exercising our faith.  No; God is not occupied with such paltry things, now that the era of types and figures is past.  The body itself and the essence of God's gifts have arrived, now that the time of the Old Testament is past. (158-159)

Pictionary for humans!  I just love that idea, the idea of looking at the baptismal font of the altar where His Body and Blood come to us and know that at that moment, in those places, just as when kneeling (or sitting in my case) at the rail speaking my sins to God, He is speaking back to me in the means of grace He has given His creatures, knowing them to be seeing, tasting, feeling, touching beings.

In his Brief Commentary on Isaiah, on chap. 20,2, Luther writes (St. L.Ed. VI, 285):  "In the same manner as the Holy Spirit operates by means of the Word He operates also through the signs, which are, so to speak, nothing else than the acted Word, inasmuch as the same things are expressed by an act as by the words sounding in men's ears.  And since the word never returns void, the signs cannot be without result either.  Thus, Baptism and the Lord's Supper are signs by which our faith is raised up and strengthened."  This citation shows that our Church does not teach that the mere hearing of the Word or immersing a person in water and drawing him out again leads to faith and the obtaining of grace.  If that were so, we would be saved by works, would we not?  No; the crucial point while we are engaged in pious meditation of the Word is that we say to ourselves:  "That is the voice of God speaking to me."  Being baptized without faith is useless, even if the act were repeated ten time a day.  Communing without faith would not profit us if we received the Sacrament daily.  Nay, these acts, thus performed, would rather increase our blindness and the darkness that enshrouds us, our hardness of heart and spiritual obduration, and, in the end, our damnation  The doctrine of our Church, then, is this:  The Word and the Sacraments operate in such a manner as to raise us up in faith and prompt us to lay hold of the blessings offered us.  (159)

Reading this, typing it all up, I am struck by the fact that I do not believe I ever heard the term "means of grace" before walking down this path of joining the Lutheran Confession.  God speaking to me was dependent upon my manufacturing some feeling, feeling as if God might be speaking to me, but never sure...trying to figure out, trying to believe...trying, trying, trying.  I believe because of my belief.

Means of grace is God coming to us.  Feeling is us going to God.  The former is sure and certain and objective.  The latter is uncertain and subjective.  I want objective.  I do not want anything, anything to depend upon me.  Upon my strength, my understanding, my confidence.  Besides, as a sinful creature, I can never, ever approach God on my own, anyway.  What hope, therefore, is there for me?

Crap.  At times, I hate my feelings.  They lead me astray.  They blind me.  They bowl me over.  I want means of grace.

What beautiful teaching Walther has in his Sixteenth Evening Lecture!  Papa Dore uses this phrase all the time with me, now I will understand more fully the sweet, sweet Gospel he is pouring over me.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I have slept more than anything else this day.  One phone call to Bettina.  Two emails to Papa Dore.  Naps.  Naps.  Naps.  Right now, I am contemplating another, except that I have been hungering for Walther for weeks on end, too exhausted to delve into the next evening lecture, the 16th one.

Yesterday morning, in response to my admission that I spent so much energy I should not have really done whilst they were here, Papa Dore wrote:

There are no contingencies on our love for you, nor any strings attached, nor conditions for you to meet.  You do not have to work to please us; you do not have to make us like you; you do not have to earn our love.  Love doesn't work that way, in any case, but we already love you, and we like you very much, too, and we are pleased for you to be our daughter in the Gospel.  The Gospel, little lamb.  It does not demand or take, but forgives and gives life by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  His righteousness for you, not your righteousness by works of the Law.  His grace, mercy and peace showered upon you from His wounded hands and sides.  His Holy Spirit poured out upon you generously.  That's all yours, free and clear.  And so is our love for you, our home and family.

The words that leapt out at me were not the ones about love, but that the Gospel does not demand or take.  Boy, does the Gospel I carry in my heart demand!  It demands that I enlarge my faith, deepen my relationship with God, and serve as a good witness.  All of these are impossible for meas I now understand whybut the failure of the latter still haunts me.  I mean, seriously, even Swordman told me last night that he only skims my blog because he finds it discouraging...that I struggle to believe that which I confess so clearly.

I know my witness stinks.  I know it!  I mean, I am not out there doing great things for the Kingdom of God. I am not boldly thanking Christ for my suffering.  I certainly am conformed to this world, wounded so deeply by the experiences I've had that I struggle to walk in the sweet, sweet Gospel the Holy Spirit is pouring out upon me so richly, so freely, in such great measure that I am truly humbled...even when I am weeping.


What I love about Walther is that no matter when I pick up The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, I receive instruction germane to the very moment I am reading, to the very struggles I face.

For the confounding of Law and Gospel that is common among the sects consists in nothing else than this, that they instruct alarmed sinners by prayer and inward wrestling to fight their way into a state of grace until they feel grace indwelling in them, instead of pointing them to the Word and the Sacraments. (153)

Oh, does that sound familiar!  Chasing that feeling is so very futile, yet I chase away.  Maybe not now toward building my faith, but as evidence of my faith, in that if I feel so wretchedly, how can I possibly be walking with Christ?  Or as Mama Dore put it so very eloquently, if I cannot earn my salvation, certainly I ought to be able to feel as if I deserve it.

Theirs looks like a very godly and Christian procedure, and an inexperienced person can easily be deceived by it.  But God be praised! we have God's Word, which does not deceive us; a Word on which we can rely and by which we can abide in the present darkness, which it lights up for us.  When Death summons us hence, we can, though void of any feeling, follow him confidently and say:  "I shall gladly go with you.  I praise God for my escape from this terrible prison.  I entertain do doubt that I shall stand before the throne of a gracious God.  Why?  Not because I feel that way; not because I have performed good works; not because I have amended my mode of living.  All these things would be sinking sand; for it is quite possible that in the house of death feelings of gladness will forsake me.  Being accustomed to rely on the Word, I have the trusty staff which I need for support at my passage through the dark valley of death." (153)

In the present darkness...not death, but certainly darkness I the true depths of my sin...experiencing the brutal sin of another.  If nothing else, Christ, in His infinite mercy, has given me an undershepherd who is willing to pour out His Gospel upon me over and over and over again with a patience that is clearly born of the Holy Spirit, not a finite man, who has made a concerted effort that I begin my days with the Gospel and lay my head upon my pillow with it ringing in my ears.  If that is not Light in my darkness, I do not know what is.

And here, spelled out so beautifully, is exactly why my feelings matter not.  True, they are still something that God, in His perfect wisdom, has given us as humans, something that He uses for His glory and His instruction, but they are not a part of faith; faith is not borne of feelings nor is it sustained by them.

The lectures is actually very much about the means of grace, upon which he expounds in the opening section:

According to the Holy Scriptures, Baptism is not merely washing with earthly water, but the Spirit of God, yea, Jesus with His blood, connects with it for the purpose of cleansing me of my sins.  Therefore Ananias says to Saul:  "Be baptized and wash away thy sins," Acts 22, 16; and Jesus says to Nicodemus:  "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God," John 3, 5.  He names the water first and then the Spirit, for it is by this very baptizing with water that the Spirit is to be given me.  In Gal. 3,27 the apostle says clearly and distinctly:  "As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ"; and in Titus 3, 5-7:  "Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."

According to the Holy Scriptures the Lord's Supper is not an earthly feast, but a heavenly feast on earth, in which not only bread and wine, or only the body and blood of Christ are given us, but together with these forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is given and sealed to us.  For, distributing the bread which He had blessed, Christ said:  "This is My body, which is given for you...this do in remembrance of Me,"  by the words "for you" He invited the disciples to ponder the fact hat they were no receiving and eating that body by the bitter death of which on the cross the entire world would be redeemed.  he means that to remind them that they out to break forth with joy and gladness because the ransom that was to be paid for the sins of the whole world was, so to speak, put in their mouths.  Offering the disciples the cup which He had blessed, Christ said:  "This is the cup, the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you."  Why did He add the words "shed for you"?  He meant to say:  "When receiving the blood of redemption in this Holy Supper, you receive at the same time what has been acquired on the cross by means of this sacrifice."

Finally, according to the Holy Scriptures the absolution pronounced by a poor, sinful preacher is not his absolution, but the absolution of Jesus Christ Himself; for the preacher absolves a person by the command of Christ, in the place of Christ, in the name of Christ.  Christ said to His disciples; "As My Father hath sent me, even so send I you."  John 20,21.  What is the import of these words?  None other than this:  "I am sent by My Father.  When I speak to you, My words are the words of My Father.  You must not consider the humble form in which you see Me.  I come in the name of the Father, in the place of the Father, and the word of promise that proceeds from My mouth is the word of My Father.  Now, in the same manner as My Father has sent Me I am sending you.  You, too, are to speak in My name, in My place."  Therefore He continues:  "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained. (151-152)

SIGH.  Such comfort, is it not, to see how Christ is giving us all of this rather than demanding we somehow earn it or give something in exchange for it?  Given my wretched, sinful state, I am quite thankful my salvation does not rest upon me.

The problem for me, I believe, besides the whole twenty-six years of inculcation of a Gospel that demands my works, is that even salvation is sort of distorted for me.


I've written about the Protestant view that salvation happens once, based upon an act (the crucifixion of Christ) set in the past. When were you saved? being the most common question (but also meaningerroneouslyWhen did you ask Jesus to living in your heart and thus do the necessary work for your salvation?). But I am need of being saved all the time, not just that day when I was eleven years old...saved from my sin...saved from the assaults and accusations of the devil...saved from my own nature's unbelief.  These things are happening now and they will happen again tomorrow, no matter how I strive against them.

I think that I need to work on equating salvation more with forgiveness (I am saved = I am forgiven), even as I strive to remember the present perfect tense of salvation, He is still saving me, and the present perfect tense of forgiveness, He is still forgiving me.  I know my terror at the knowledge of my sin and doubt is why I crave confession/absolution.

While acknowledging longing for absolution is a very good thinggood for me and good that I struggle against my sin in repentanceSwordman, last night, admonished me and encouraged me to see that Gospel is absolution.  So, actually, I receive absolution in the reading of the Living Word, in the singing of hymns speaking of the Living Word, in the sermon properly dividing the Living Word, and in the Body and Blood of Christ instituted by the Living Word.

SIGH.  He is right.

I just find such solace and strength and comfort in confession, in making that grand exchange, in laying down my sins before God and receiving back His forgiveness in Words to which I can cling and remember when satan throws that sin back in my face.

Walther goes on to consider in depth the means of grace in the Confessions, so I wish to stop now and ponder further this first portion for a while, lest I gloss over this very important Word given to me....

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Being at work was strange today, thinking and watching what was happening as if I was an observer. 

I was disappointed wearing the monitors, both heart rate and blood pressure, because I felt that the time during which I wore them was an extraordinary one.  If nothing else, I was not still and quite, either on the couch or behind the keyboard or commuting, for my heart rate to drop.  Since I turned in the blood pressure monitor this morning, I wore it longer than 24 hours and it went off three times driving down the highway.  The nurse said that when it repeats it is because a reading was too high or too low.  Perhaps some data was captured.

I am quite doubtful about that...good data being acquired.  I mean, I walk into a doctor's lobby and my heart rate leaps at least 20 or 30 beats per minute... if not more.  My blood pressure jumps as well.  How can the cardiologist ferret out what is wrong if I cannot relax around her?  SIGH.

What was strange is that while I did not have the sinking episodes and consequent blood pressure drops while off from work, I did most certainly have them all day long.  Is it my job?  Or is it merely because I was still once more?

In the Book of Concord, Luther speaks of the terrors of my heart and then gives the sweet, sweet Gospel to soothe them.  Sin is so ugly, so crippling, so pervasive.  But Christ crucified covers even that which I find horrifying.

A couple of weeks ago, when responding to my anguish over something that happened, Brother Goose wrote:  Was it something that revealed you to be an honest to God sinner?  But Goosie, we all know that.  It can't affect or change for a moment the love that is yours in Christ Jesus - from Him directly or from Him through us.

I am a silly goose in that, when confronted with the depths of my sin, I feel as if there is no place I should be, believe that no one possibly could wish to be around such a one like so weak in faith at times.  I cannot see at all that I could still be loved if such a thing as that which brought me low were to come to light.  One knowing the truth of me, one not, yet both had the same words of encouragement.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!