Saturday, July 31, 2010

A woman dear to me is in agony of spirit.  She is struggling and battling to cling to life.  She does not have the support she needs from her husband and she does not have the support she needs from the body of Christ of which she is a part.

Of late, I have heard quoted several times the analogy Luther uses for the importance of all members of the body, though I have not found it myself.  He is described as teaching this by pointing out how when we injure even a little toe, the whole body bends over in agony.  Thus, all members of the body are important.  But the body of Christ to which she belongs does not value her, does not really see her anguish.

She has sought help from the medical community, but for some inexplicable reason the doctors have not seen her anguish either.  She has been dismissed and ignored even as she has spoken of her desperation and desire to depart this life.

Just before a day, an anniversary, that is most particularly difficult for her to bear, I asked three confessional Lutheran pastors if they would write to her.  I know not what they said, only that she received the letters.  She has not spoken of them except to say she is not sure how she feels about receiving them.  I asked because what she needs, more than anything else in the entire world, is the sweet, sweet Gospel.  Trust me, this I know intimately.

She also needs to be loved, to be cherished, championed, and forgiven (remember this is how I think love should be...but of late I have come to believe that I know nothing of love...absolutely nothing).  She needs to be nurtured and tended to with patience and great generosity as often as it takes for as long as it takes.  And she needs the support medical care can provide.

At times, all she seems to have in this life is me.  A pathetic resource, if you ask me. 

This weekend, she is coming to visit for a brief time.  Since she is coming with me to Divine Service, she will, I happen to think, have the Gospel poured over her for the first time.  I tried to explain about closed communion and that she could go forward for a blessing.  Oh, how I want that for her,  knowing how powerful it can be to have the cross traced upon your forehead in a time when you are feeling most wretched, utterly filthy in your sin.  But, when I mentioned this to her, she said that she was not in a good enough place in her relationship with God to be receiving anything from Him.

My heart broke at reading those words and I began weeping for her.  I know how she feels. I know those haunting thoughts, those assaults and accusations full well.  I want so badly to pour the sweet, sweet Gospel over her, to sing over her, to wash her wounds with the Living Word and the pure teaching Lutheran doctrine that brings absolute freedom from such thought.  She can never be worthy; her worthiness is precisely in understanding this.  His grace is objective.  Justification comes solely through the cross.

I tried to explain how God sees her only through Christ and that through Christ, even now, in this very moment, she is blameless and spotless and without sin.  But who am I to even type such words?  What do I know of the Gospel other than its siren call to me, its ability, as it falls upon my ears, to sooth me in a way nothing else does?

I tried reading a Catechism book to chase down answers to some of the questions I have filling my mind. In reading the lesson, there were/are still questions to which I do not understand the answer.  And then there is the condemnation of the Law.  The first commandment crushes me, leaves me gasping on the ground, hopeless in the knowledge of my unbelief and doubt, how very often I do not expect good things from least not now, not until heaven.

How do you handle being crushed by the Law when the Gospel seems to pale in comparison to that weight?

I have been trying to tackle Acts, but what others write/say about it is not what I am reading.  I think, how do they see that?  Why am I missing so much?  I have a blooming Ph.D., reading a book of the bible, piecing together the time line and travels ought not to be so hard.  SIGH.  But it is.  Oh how I hate what this disease is doing to my brain!

I have no business speaking the Gospel to this woman.  None.  But she doesn't have anyone else.  She doesn't have anyone else because there simply is no place for the wounded in this life.  We want to send them off someplace to be "fixed."  We decide what they need and then grow angry when they do not agree or do not follow the path we have laid out.  We do not want to sit beside them in their tears, in their anguish, and bear patiently that burden.  It is too heavy.  Too much of a sacrifice.  In the choices of life, holding the heart of a deeply wounded, troubled person is simply not a choice you make.  Even in Church.  Especially in Church.

Her mother was wounded in a different way.  her mother was judged, shunned, and then ignored right up until the point when she died...she died because no one saw her, no one believed her when she tried again and again to speak of the symptoms of her illness until it was too late, until the brain tumor was too large.  Her mother was the woman who didn't always make the acceptable choices.  She was the woman who was awkward.  She was the woman who was difficult.  She was the woman who was a bother.  She was the woman who was draining.  She was the woman whom you leave by the side of the road because you have others to tend to, others that you choose to care about, care for...others.

This woman's struggles are different from her mother's, but imprinted on her heart is the knowledge that the loving, Christian woman who raised her and cared for her the best she could was judged, shunned, and ignored until she died.  She has tried to prove the world different, tried to prove the body of Christ different.  She has shown more courage than I could ever fathom in trying to find help.  Thus far, however, for her, there is none.  Instead, there is only more heartache, more trials, more deprivation.  She places one foot in front of the other, walking such a terrible path without hope, without a future, because she is a mother and has no other choice.  And she is doing so attending a church where she is erroneously taught that her faith is in her own hands and that her struggles are only what she deserves for not being a better Christian, a better wife, a better mother.

Oh, how my heart aches for her and how I struggle to understand why the care of the Church is categorized so, skewed toward those burdens acceptable to carry, those people we want to help.

I have a day and a half in which to somehow manage to give her Gospel despite my own failings, my own struggles, my own confusion in trying to learn how to be acceptable.  May the Holy Spirit give me the Word to plant in her rocky, barren soil of a life that even there it may grow and blossom into a salve that will cover her wounds, heal her heart, and give her the strength she needs to sustain the life our Creator has given her.

Lord, we are Yours.  Save her!  Save me!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I awoke to the loveliest of e-mails this morning.  A reader of this blog offered to read the Living Word to me after reading my entry for yesterday!  I promptly emailed her my phone number.  I do not know if it shall really come to pass, but just the fact that she offered was a sweet, sweet surprise.  Her blog is Thoughts, listed on the left.

She asked a question in one of her blog entries that I have been pondering at length:  Is prayer a means of grace.   Her argument, if I follow, is that prayer contains Word and the Living Word is a means of grace, a means by which God comes to us, bestows upon us forgiveness...salvation.  I could accept that argument save for the fact that prayer does not always contain the Living Word and is often seen as a work, something that we have to do and need to do correctly for the full benefit.  Means of grace would never come in the form of works.

So, I would proffer that it is not...but perhaps in the same way holy absolution is not a sacrament.  While it does not have God's Word attached to a physical element, it functions as something God does for us.  When I am praying my beloved Psalter, certainly that would be a means of Grace because the Psalter is the Living Word.  When I am praying prayers from the Lutheran liturgy, I am doing so based on prayers that have been handed down and/or gathered in because of the doctrinal confession therein.  But even though they contain some Word, they are not completely the word.  And when I am praying spontaneously, the prayers may very well be of my heart, but you know  know has many twisted thoughts and oft sees Law where none was intended. I pray well; I fail the  prayer.  How then can a means of grace be something that is dependent, at least in part, on me?

SIGH.  I shall have to think on the matter until later....

Then tonight, as I began to type this, I received another lovely e-mail.  There was a new person in the Greek class last night who actually greeted me (shocking, I know).  I offered to help her catch up if she wanted and sent her my alphabet cheat sheet I created for Bettina because I think she should be learning Greek with me.  When I emailed her, I mentioned that I have MS and am not sure about being able to keep up.  It turns out she is in the early diagnosis stage for MS.  Small world.  She would like to be study buddies, so we have to figure out how to do so while living in two different cities.  Still, it was wonderful to know there is someone at my new parish I might not overwhelm if I talked about my disease.

In between the emails, I had a lousy day at work and Compline at church. While walking out, I did ask my new pastor why the colors of the paraments changed last week and received a crash course on the church year.  He even allowed me to ask a few more questions, such as what the colors stand for (the red was for a martyr; white is when the saint didn't die a violent death) and the differences between--Trinity Sunday and Sunday after Trinity (it has to do with the two different lectionaries).  He squeezed in a bit on Pentecost, so that is more clear to me.  He said they don't have green paraments, just vestments and banners.  I had to stop myself from promptly offering to buy some.  After all, shouldn't Myrtle be the one to supply green stuff?  I bit my tongue because I do not know how such things work, how a church goes about adding to their supply.  I did sign up for the altar's guild. I am not sure if shaky hands and legs would preclude me from this, but he put out a request for volunteers. I would like to be of assistance in the new parish in some fashion.

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  1Peter 1:3b


Any runner knows that finishing a race is mostly mental.  Without the knowledge that he can complete the distance before him, his mind starts to weaken, and his body soon follows.  Likewise, when our spiritual endurance is tested, the deciding factor is whether or not our hope will hold out.  If home dies, our spirits are crushed, and we lose the will to continue.
Thankfully, the hope we have in Jesus will never dies, because He lives forever.  We knowbeyond a shadow of doubtthat He will ultimately triumph in our lives and in the world.  Because He lives, we have hope.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My writing student came over last evening and wore herself out tending to the needs of my yard.  She rather graciously agreed to do some work for me and let me pay her later, once she is back at school.  The yard, other than mowing, has been grossly weeding or pruning this summer and no mulching even last summer.  In a shorter time than you would even guess, the weeding was completed, the vines ripped off of the fencing, and 36 bags of mulch were fetched from Lowe's and laid in my yard (we have 4 bags left for the bed that still needs pruning rather desperately).

I had pruned the rose bushes and the crepe myrtle (though not as much as it needed), just working a short while and puking from beginning to end.  So, pulling up to my house after work and Greek class this evening made me smile deep within my heart to cast my eyeball over my well tended yard.   It is a veritable oasis of joy for me to have that labor completed without me completing it and the cost I would have to pay for doing so myself.

I am tired, though.  Very, very tired.  This may very well be the reason why the ring finger on my left hand has suddenly started hurting as badly as if it was broken.  Do you know how often you use your non-dominant hand?  I was surprised to discover that I actually use my left hand far more than I would have guessed.  I cannot grip or hold things because the pain intensifies from distracting to unbearable.  If it does not pass in a while, I shall rather reluctantly go to the doctor.  But I think I would remember if I actually injured it....

Today, as I wrote to one of my new sisters, my new/old bible arrived in the mail.  I had bid on it on eBay because it is an unmarked copy of the 1977 version of the New American Standard Bible.  The cover is actually really, really ugly, but I plan on getting it rebound.  While it does have a reference column, it is not down the middle but the side.  That makes for a different sort of visual presentation of the text.  Once I realized this, I shall give you three guesses where I flipped first.  Yes!  Psalms!  I sat and prayed through a third of the psalter before finally putting the bible down.  Psalm 51 is a great stopping place for me, but I long to stay up all night and finish, to see my beloved psalter in such a fresh new way.

I do so long to have the Living Word read aloud to me.  It is different when it is presented to you, given for you in a reading, to have that glorious Living Word fill your ears and go into you.  Why is hearing such long passages on Sunday not enough for me?  Why do I crave more?  I wonder if I ran an ad in Craig's List or something for a reader if I could find someone.  I also wonder if it matters having the one serve you such riches be a Christian matter or if merely hearing it from anyone would be the salve it is to me.  I know I shall soon forget the joy, the relish with with Pastor F read to me from John.  It saddens me that I do not have that opportunity to hear him read still and that I shall lose the memory shortly.

The other night when I was talking with someone, I said that I do not remember my friendship with Bettina.  I know I have talked about it, written about it.  But in that moment I suddenly doubled over with overwhelming sorrow and could not contain my tears no matter how much I long not to cry on the phone with him anymore.  It was as if I began to grieve that loss for the first time.  Or maybe it was another loss...or both.     

To me, it is a vile, wretched, nearly unbearable thing that this disease strips my memory and leaves me with so little.  Fifteen years of Bettina loving me would surely be enough to arm me against most everything, Christ as my shade and shelter, Bettina serving as His hands and voice to me, showing me what love is, when I struggle to grasp that such a thing that is not bound by good behavior and acceptable body weight and respectable clothing.  But for me it is more like 15 days, days that I cling to as fiercely as I know how.  Remember when you climbed a tree with me even though you were seven months pregnant with your first cherub?

I hate that I cannot remember entire years with my best friend.  I hate that I am beginning to forget, to lose even the time I had with my new family a mere month ago.  I hate that I cannot remember from the conference room to my desk.  I hate that I cannot remember from a note on my desk to the telephone dial pad.

I hate this damn disease.  I hate it!  I am terrified by what I see on the inside looking out.  And I am so very lonely in being the only one to bear the fear and confusion of the inexorable devastation of my cognitive function.  I have been trying to control my temper when I try to speak of such and immediately hear back how intelligent I am, for I am trying to accept the fact that no one is really listening in regard to this.  Bettina proffered that they might see me if I did not work so hard to hide the problems, to mask over the MS symptoms.  But the jaded part of me wonders if anyone would even believe me were I to stand naked in my confusion.

For example, Papa Dore dearly loves the book of Acts, but I have eschewed it for many years because I do not understand it.  Since it is dear to him, I have started trying to study it.  I even went so far as to consult Wikipedia and other Internet sources for a general overview and such, but I have not gained any ground in understanding this book of the bible.  I have the Holy Spirit within me and a Ph.D., yet I cannot grasp the whole of this book, nor the important chunks of Living Word contained therein.   Learning Acts has been worse...worse...than learning Greek.  Why am I so stupid?  Why do I read the text, then an explanation, and then scratch my head for one seems not to go with the other?  This damn disease.  This horrible, vile, wretched disease.

I think I should not try to speak of the cognitive dysfunction anymore save for here, somehow stuff it in a place where I can ignore the desire to have someone share this path with me, walk along side me, both seeing the disease and not being scared of it.  The book on MS and cognitive function reassures me that I am not alone, but it also paints a picture that is hard for me to gaze upon, knowing what is happening inside my head, knowing what I cannot escape.

At least I have made one plan against the future of this wretched disease:  The new/used bible is a medium-sized font.  My beloved NASB is a thinline, the type of bible I have used for years, which, unfortunately, has micro text.  This fall, a new 1977 NASB large print edition will be coming out.  I plan to get one so that no matter how poor my eyes are, I will have a NASB 1977 bible to read!

I have also been needing to have my bible rebound, so when my savings have been repleted, I shall first get this awful ugly one rebound in leather to see how it turns out.  Then, once I am certain the process is safe, I shall send off my poor, battered, broken bible for some refreshment and strengthening that we might remain companions for many, many more years to come!

The best part is that I gained such a treasure for the bargain price of $4.01, shipping included!

I shall give you three guesses as to what color leather I shall choose for the binding.  Because I am a generous soul, I shall give you a hint:  God does not make green cows, so I have to go with second best color.

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you 
and that your joy may be full.  ~John 15:11


With a vaguely European accent, a man in a coffee shop was overheard to say to his friend, " So how are you?  Is there any dancing in your world today?"
As Jesus prepared His disciples for His crucifixion, their world was shrouded  in uncertainty.  So He comforted them, telling them of His love for them and saying, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you" (John 15:11a).  When fear and doubt cloud our world, we too can count on His love to renew our joy.

Because of the love of Jesus, there is dancing in our world every day.  No matter what circumstances we're facing, we always have a reason to celebrate and be glad.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Monday, July 26, 2010

I forgot to mention that my beloved Bettina sent me a package for my baptism anniversary.  In it were three art projects for my refrigerator:  a ladybug, a frog, and a butterfly.  Oh, how well my friend knows me!  She also gave me a crucifix and a small envelope of bits of shells and glass they picked up from the beach whilst on their vacation--a way of telling me that she was thinking of me even then.  How well my dear sister of my heart loves me!

I sat in the back pew again this morning, but watching the pastor walk all the way back up front after serving me the Lord's Supper, all I could think was that I need to not do so anymore.  Now, besides not being comfortable up front, I would also have the whole standing in the "reception" line for far too long.  However, if I were to sit up front, I could just exit out the "emergency" door at the front of the sanctuary.  But it is not like I have to greet the pastor upon leaving.  The door has a bit of a drop off, so I would have to remember that when I leave.  Maybe I could stick a note on the front of my hymnal...or ask if a discrete sign could be put up.  So, I would have more walking coming into the building, but less when I leave. And I would be less disruptive to the flow of the service, while not having to navigate the steps to the altar.

What I haven't figured out yet is how to make the pew less painful to sit in for the service.  

After church, I struggled to study Greek until I just gave up and crawled back into bed.  I am so very tired all the time.  This week at work was difficult and I have had so much on my mind, so much that I am trying to absorb and understand.  I slept nearly four hours before awaking once more.  When I did, I had a phone call with Vee.  The call had many twists and turns, with some bits about their being with me next Sunday as I publicly join the new parish and the next cardiac test I must endure and other bits about her life and her family and such.  And, of course, our mutual craving for a good sermon that properly divides Law and Gospel.  It is the Lord's Day, after all!

I finished the day with a bit of Luther.  In his commentary on Galatians, I found a wonderful teaching of the Word on chapter 2: 4-5....

Verses 4, 5. And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Paul here explains his motive for going up to Jerusalem. He did not go to Jerusalem to be instructed or confirmed in his Gospel by the other apostles. He went to Jerusalem in order to preserve the true Gospel for the Galatian churches and for all the churches of the Gentiles.

When Paul speaks of the truth of the Gospel he implies by contrast a false gospel. The false apostles also had a gospel, but it was an untrue gospel. "In holding out against them," says Paul, "I conserved the truth of the pure Gospel."

Now the true Gospel has it that we are justified by faith alone, without the deeds of the Law. The false gospel has it that we are justified by faith, but not without the deeds of the Law. The false apostles preached a conditional gospel.

So do the papists. They admit that faith is the foundation of salvation. But they add the conditional clause that faith can save only when it is furnished with good works. This is wrong. The true Gospel declares that good works are the embellishment of faith, but that faith itself is the gift and work of God in our hearts. Faith is able to justify, because it apprehends Christ, the Redeemer.

Human reason can think only in terms of the Law. It mumbles: "This I have done, this I have not done." But faith looks to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, given into death for the sins of the whole world. To turn one's eyes away from Jesus means to turn them to the Law.

True faith lays hold of Christ and leans on Him alone. Our opponents cannot understand this. In their blindness they cast away the precious pearl, Christ, and hang onto their stubborn works. They have no idea what faith is. How can they teach faith to others?

Not satisfied with teaching an untrue gospel, the false apostles tried to entangle Paul. "They went about," says Paul, "to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage."

When Paul saw through their scheme, he attacked the false apostles. He says, "We did not let go of the liberty which we have in Christ Jesus. We routed them by the judgment of the apostles, and we would not give in to them, no, not an inch."

We too were willing to make all kinds of concessions to the papists. Yes, we are willing to offer them more than we should. But we will not give up the liberty of conscience which we have in Christ Jesus. We refuse to have our conscience bound by any work or law, so that by doing this or that we should be righteous, or leaving this or that undone we should be damned.

Since our opponents will not let it stand that only faith in Christ justifies, we will not yield to them. On the question of justification we must remain adamant, or else we shall lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world. If we surrender faith in Christ, as the only thing that can justify us, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning; that Christ is the Savior of the world would be a myth. God would be a liar, because He would not have fulfilled His promises. Our stubbornness is right, because we want to preserve the liberty which we have in Christ. Only by preserving our liberty shall we be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.

Some will object that the Law is divine and holy. Let it be divine and holy. The Law has no right to tell me that I must be justified by it. The Law has the right to tell me that I should love God and my neighbor, that I should live in chastity, temperance, patience, etc. The Law has no right to tell me how I may be delivered from sin, death, and hell. It is the Gospel's business to tell me that. I must listen to the Gospel. It tells me, not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.

To conclude, Paul refused to circumcise Titus for the reason that the false apostles wanted to compel him to circumcise Titus. Paul refused to accede to their demands. If they had asked it on the plea of brotherly love, Paul would not have denied them. But because they demanded it on the ground that it was necessary for salvation, Paul defied them, and prevailed. Titus was not circumcised.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

So, today was my sixth appointment with Verizon that never happened.

My case is with an escalation team, and a supervisor personally set up the appointment.  He told me that it was for a window between 2 PM and 7 PM.  I slept until noon and awoke to three voice mail messages from Verizon telling my my appointment was from 8 AM until 12 PM and since I was not answering, no technician would be arriving.  I called the escalation team and the man who answered said he would resolve this.  Nothing happened for the rest of the day; no technician arrived; no follow-up call came.

So, I have spent this entire day, other than the hour and forty-five minutes I spent arguing with the Verizon supervisor (for the record, my first tech support call for the up-and-down service I am having was February 20th), listening to  sermons, taking notes, and studying my twelve Greek vocabulary words and six verb endings.  One of the words, the one that means "I proclaim," I cannot figure out how to pronounce so that I am having difficulty memorizing it.  Tomorrow, my plan is to write out the six verb tenses for each of the twelve new verbs as a way to learn both.

Have I mentioned that my formation of Greek letters is atrocious?  I no longer have very good fine motor skills in my hands; I almost always have a slight tremor.  If I were to hold my hands out before you, you would see it, especially if I hold my fingers out flat...if you were looking at me.  [For some reason, my hands curl ever so slightly and to have them flat on a table or to splay my fingers that way is painful.]  Sometimes the trembling is quite noticeable, such as at confession/absolution last week.  The paper with the liturgy flapped like an aspen leaf in the wind when I held it out for the new parish pastor.  Since the church was set up for the Divine Service that night, the microphones were on, magnifying the sound of the flapping paper.  I was a bit embarrassed.

There are some funky looking letters in the Greek alphabet and Pastor E is most particular that we form them correctly.  I am trying to do so; I really am.  I just am battling an utter lack of artistic skill and MS ravaged hands.  SIGH.

What are my verbs?  I see; I hear; I steal; I wash; I save; I heal; I write; I proclaim; I send; I lead; I loose; and I leave (abandon).  I cannot write the endings because I have not figured out how to type Greek letters, and even if I could do so I cannot on Blogger...unless I knew HTML, I guess. 

I cannot decide which of the sermons I have listened to I savor most.  Some have troubled me.  Some leave me a bit confused.  And some make me quiet deep within, restful with a peace that is truly not of this world.


When I had dinner and devotions with Pizza Man and his Lovely Bride a little over a week ago, Pizza Man asked me what it was like to have heard different confessional pastors.  I have read many, many sermons from a collection of confessional Lutheran pastors I have found online.  But I have heard (the way sermons are meant to be taken in) five pastors:  my first and second parishes, Pastor F, Pastor W, and Pastor P, who frequently posts audio files of his sermons on his blog, Lutheran Logomaniac.

I tried to explain how Pastor F tends to teach through the text, while another tend to preach inspired by the text.  Pastor E does both.  All three are skilled at properly dividing Law and Gospel and all three very rarely put themselves in the sermon/homily but instead always give you Christ crucified.  All three are also blunt, oft call a spade a spade.  Pastor F is the most bald; I believe he and Luther would have understood each other quite well...hung out in the pub together jawing and clapping each other on the shoulder.  Pastor E offers these nuggets that have deep, deep veins of Gospel.  You think, when you first hear them, oh, that was well said.  Then you keep thinking, keep reflecting, and you find truth that you can chew on all week.  All the pastors present the Law in all its harshness, not blunting its edge even the slightest bit; all three pour out the sweet, sweet Gospel with great generosity and with a bit of awe that it is what God has promised to us, done for us, given to us.  But, as you may have guessed from this rambling paragraph, I struggled to answer his question because I crave being taught the Living Word and savor each opportunity to have it fall upon my hears, either liver or via digital recording.  Translated:  I am too biased to answer because any confessional Lutheran pastor who rightly divides Law and Gospel is a gift to be cherished.


I thought I would leave you with Pastor W's discussion of gestures.  I found it a month ago, promptly forgot about it, and went back there today since I have been thinking so much about the things I saw sitting up front on Wednesday.  He wrote the post to say that all parts of the Divine Service ought to confess something.  I reflect upon all the "services" I attended as a Protestant and find my heart full of sorrow, for I cannot recall one where the whole of it was a confession of Christ crucified, where every gesture, every portion of Liturgy, every song, every Word, and every word were a confession.  I sorrow for what I missed; I sorrow for what all those Christians not in a Divine Service are missing still.  Grace and peace to them.  Grace and peace.

Gestures in Worship 

There's a rather disappointing discussion going on on a liturgy list I'm part of about the sign of the cross. But the discussion did get me thinking about gesture in worship. The most neglected part of thinking about gesture is recognizing that everything we DO confesses SOMETHING about what we BELIEVE. I know I may be a bit of kook on these matters, so take it for what it's worth...

Whenever I approach the altar or cross the midst of it, I will stop and bow to reverence the altar. Why? Because this is the table from which my Savior feeds me His own body and blood for my salvation. I never want to take that gift for granted.

At the invocation, benediction, and at several others spots in the Divine Service I cross myself. Why? Because I belong to the Crucified and need to remind myself of it constantly: every good in the world is wrapped up in the Crucified and Risen Lord and He has marked as His own with the cross.

At the reading of the Gospel - we almost always read this in the midst of the congregation confessing that Christ Himself is among us and speaking to us through these words. Before reading His holy words, I sign myself with the cross upon forehead, mouth and heart asking Christ to be in my mind, on my mouth, and in heart as I read to His people His holy words. When the Gospel reading is over, I lift the book above my head and announce "This is the Gospel of the Lord" - so that all can see it, and then I kiss the Gospel reading and close the book and it is returned to the lectern. Why kiss it? Because I love the Lord's words and am grateful for them - by them we live in hope and through them we can die in confidence. There are no words on earth so precious! I kiss what I love. It just seems natural.

At the intercessions, I raise empty hands to heaven, for we come before God always as beggars, as those seeking from Him His mercy for our needs and for the needs of the whole Church and indeed the whole world.

During the consecration, I elevate the host so that the people can see it. It is a visual proclamation as Dr. Luther described in German Mass. Then I genuflect before the One who has sacramentally united His crucified and risen body to that host, for "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Similarly with the chalice.

These gestures - every one of them - fall within the category of adiaphora. I am not suggesting that everyone should do as I do. I am suggesting that everything we DO do in the Divine Service confesses SOMETHING. And most of it isn't rocket science. If you just stop and ask yourself: what does kneeling down before the Sacrament confess, it becomes pretty clear, doesn't it? Lutherans should never get their knickers in knots over such things; they are free. Free to be used. Free not to be used. But Lutherans should always press deeper and ask themselves: what do my gestures confess, for they surely confess something

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, July 23, 2010

I have too many words in my head and not enough Word.  It is very difficult to set aside what I have read, what I have heard...and all my bloody failures of late....

God willing, I shall make my membership at the new parish public August 1st.  Pizza Man, his Lovely Bride, and their cherubs will be there to support this next step in setting my face toward the future and not the past.  I am humbled that they will be there; I am thankful that I will not be alone on such a day.  Brother Goose likes to remind me that around the altar we are never apart. I suppose that will have to be my comfort that day.

That day and some other things of late have me thinking about why it is I feel the interloper so much in Church.  It is more than my utter social ineptitude (is that better than saying failure?).  At least I think it is.

So much of confessional Lutheranism is in the heritage of our faith.  Pastor E's most interesting lecture on Traditional Lutheran Worship (in the links to the left and one I have watched many times over) highlights how Christ Himself traditioned, handed over, His death and resurrection to the Church. 

Part of what has been bothering me is how little I know, how little I understand 13 months later.

Wednesday was a Divine Service.  I know that feasts and festivals are opportunities for extra Divine Services during the week, but not really why celebrating them is important.  Pastor E once tried to explain it and his explanation made sense at the time, but I had not brought my lessoning notebook to holy absolution, so I did not remember what he said.  What I remember is thinking that there is this whole culture I do not understand.  That is, in itself, perfectly understandable, given that I did not grow up Lutheran.  But where am I supposed to gain that culture?  I mean, trying to absorb things through "experiencing" them truly can only take you so far.

Two nights ago, I sat in the back pew, by the door.  It is a pew that does not have a kneeler, so I do not have to worry about needing to bend over and help someone move it during the service.  But on Wednesday evening Divine Services, it does not make much sense to do so when there are only about 20 of us sitting in the pews.  By this I mean I do not believe it would be very thoughtful to make the new pastor come all the way to the back to bring me the Eucharist in the pew.

This Wednesday, I sat up front, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I saw many things that I did not understand.  Chief among them had to do with reading the Gospel.  Why stand for the Gospel reading but not that from the Old Testament and the New?  Why raise the Bible (if it was a bible) up before the congregation?  Why make the sign of the cross on his forehead, mouth, and heart before he started reading?  And why is it that the pastor processes into the congregation with the crucifix sometimes, but remain standing up by the altar at others?  SIGH.

I know from Brother Goose that, for deeply confessional Lutheran pastors, there is a reason for every gesture and word.  Pastor E is truly confessional, having great love for the Lutheran Symbols.  So, I am sure there is a purpose for all that I saw.  But I know it not.  However, still being confused over a year later truly serves to underscore that not-belonging-being-an-outsider feeling.

Anyhow, this whole really knowing nothing about the traditions of my faith got me searching for some information on such. I came across Pastor E's thoughts on annunciation from last year.  First, I had to Google annunciation.  But after I figured out what it was, I read his blog entry, trying to move beyond the fact that it is the day marking the announcement that Mary was to bear Jesus into the world to the why of celebrating such.  It is observed March 25th, nine months before the date His birth is celebrated.

I found his blog rather interesting, an intriguing look at how it is that the Gospel is sweet!  Beside the main theme that He makes our bitter waters sweet, I was struck by the following:  He was born for the purpose of coming to that tree, to bearing the awful load of the cross. By that wood, by that wonderful tree, the bitter waters are made sweet; human nature is in Him redeemed, restored. It was for this reason that He was born – that He might take man’s bitterness, lostness, sinfulness, anger, sorrow, and dismay, and by means of that tree, convert the bitterness to sweetness.

I am actually too exhausted from not sleeping all week, from lying in bed thinking about those words, to explain well.  But, reading this, is the first time I ever thought about human nature being on the cross or it being restored through the cross.  Human nature.  Wow.

Son of God and Son of Man.  Fully God and fully man.  What a puzzle!

I think of the promise that no temptation has overtaken us that is not common to man and that we are told Christ was tempted by the devil for forty days in the desert.  How is it that He can know and understand this life, having lived it, when the life He lived is nothing like mine?  I mean, we both eat; we both drink; we both sleep.  We both cry.  We both love.  But is that the beginning where our existence separates?  For His love is perfect, mine flawed.  His anger righteous, mine unjustified.  After all, Christ never struggles with Romans 7; I practically live there.

Yet, reading Paster E's blog, I caught this glimpse, this flash of what it means that God took human form, limited Himself within our frame that He might know us and we Him.  How good, meet, and salutary for Him so to do.  What mercy!  What grace in that!

I cannot explain why it is that the Gospel below moves me so, but it does.  Human nature restored...

At the Easter Vigil, we heard again how our spiritual fathers crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. The readings for the days immediately following Easter continue the narrative; freed from bondage, on the other side of the Red Sea they found themselves in a wilderness. They grew thirsty, but the waters they came to were bitter. They called the place Marah – Hebrew for “bitter.”

The people complained, blaming Moses and Aaron for their problems. But the Lord showed Moses a tree. When the tree was cast into the bitter waters of Marah, the waters were made sweet.

That event was a type, a biblical foreshadowing of what we celebrate today on this important, but often neglected, feast – the Annunciation. Marah—bitter waters—are made sweet by a tree. The blessed virgin to whom Gabriel comes is named Mary. Like every woman, her maternal waters are bitter, for every child born of woman is born under the law, born under the curse; we are sinful from the time we are conceived in our mother’s bitter womb.

But Mary – the woman of bitterness – is not like other women in her childbearing. Her Child is not born of blood, nor of the will of a husband, nor of the will of the flesh; her Child is born of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Her bitter waters are made sweet by grace, by the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit that overshadows her and brings about the conception, the incarnation of the Son of God.

He was born for the purpose of coming to that tree, to bearing the awful load of the cross. By that wood, by that wonderful tree, the bitter waters are made sweet; human nature is in Him redeemed, restored. It was for this reason that He was born – that He might take man’s bitterness, lostness, sinfulness, anger, sorrow, and dismay, and by means of that tree, convert the bitterness to sweetness. The sweet thing about Easter is not the chocolate and candy, but the resurrection. By the wood of the cross, human nature is brought to the resurrection, prepared for the Ascension, where our own High Priest goes with His blood into the Holy Place, and our human nature is brought into the presence of the Heavenly Father, the Living God.

So they all hang together – conception, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension. All actions by our loving God designed to turn the bitterness of our world, the bitterness of our lives, the bitterness of our hearts, into sweetness. That sweetness we taste in the blessed Sacrament. In that holy, wondrous food and drink, the wood of the cross is cast upon the bitter waters of our souls, and they are made sweet – cleansed, restored, forgiven. 

Happy annunciation day! Merry Christmas! Blessed Easter! Alleluia! He is conceived! He is born! He is crucified! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I still do not know who I am or where I am.  I have been asking questions that have provided answers that give me pause.  One of them is from my beloved Bettina, who called me late last night and talked with me until the wee hours of the morning.

Yesterday began with the sweet, sweet Gospel, then words that shocked and hurt me.  At the end of the day, more Word--my beloved Psalter.  77.  In it, there is this verse that I have struggled to read, to actually pronounce properly, looking for the emphasis and, thus, the meaning.

Before confession/absolution at the new parish, I like to arrive early and sit before the altar.  I sing hymns and read psalms and pray.  Sometimes I battle my sin so much that my whole being screams at me to turn around and just flee.  I think of what I am asking, even knowing it is already given, and I still stand ashamed in my doubt and fears and failures.  I remain because I long to hear the Word that washes those away.

The new parish pastor is very different in confession.  I admit that I do wish there were some things that are not so different, but sitting there he is so...somber, serious, studied.  Who he is, the man, sort of just disappears.  It is a strange thing to experience, yet one I savor.  I begin talking with God on my own and am able to do so even after he joins me at the altar.  Sometimes, during the Words of comfort portion, he is frank or rueful or warm, sort of like I imagine Luther would be in his great compassion.  But even afterward, in the times when it is just I who has come, I see the undershepherd, for he walks from behind the rail, kneels before the altar, and prays.

Sometimes in Divine Service, I start wide-eyed with all the children when all the adults have bowed their heads in prayer.  I like watching, trying to figure out what he is doing and wondering why.  I am not sure what the pastor thinks, but I watch him as he kneels and prays and wonder what he is saying, what he is thinking, not the man, but the undershepherd.  You know what I like to think, theologically sound or not?  I like to think that he kneels before the altar to lay down all the sins he has gathered in his arms during confession in order to leave them behind himself. 

Tomorrow I will have both holy absolution and the Lord's Supper, in that order!  That ought to strengthen and sustain me through the rest of the days until Sunday, eh?

So, what was the verse in Psalm 77?  Then I said, "It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed."

For the longest while, I read this that he was grieving over what seemed to be a change in God's stance toward him.  But really this is the psalmist recognizing that his grief, his struggle, is what is distorting his vision, fooling him into believing that Christ would change in His demeanor and care of us.

After the psalmist realizes this, he proceeds to focus on God, what He has done, including verses on baptism, rather than the struggles, doubts, and fears he has.  Because Christ is the only answer.  Christ is sufficient.

While talking with Bettina, our conversation wound its way around to MS and how I have changed.  She sees not what I do, at times, but she thinks it is because she has been walking beside me day by day, month by month, year by year.  She also proffered a theory:  maybe the reason people do not see what I wish they would see is because I spend so much time masking the effects of the disease, bearing them in silence, struggling to endure them without such a battle written across my face.  Intriguing...but I think if I sat as much as I wanted to, rested as much as I wanted to, napped as much as I wanted to, I would feel better but I would certainly be alone.  Who wants to be friends with a weak, confused, writhing wretch?  Yeh...not my first choice either.

I did have a moment of pure mercy today, despite the words that are chasing themselves about mind, battering me rather relentlessly about the head. I was talking to the practice administrator at my vet's clinic.  I called her to ask her forgiveness for I cannot bring myself to pay Kashi's last bill, the cost of ending his life.  I honestly did not see a way through his passing.  Pastor W, however, wrote such sweet words of God's love for all of His creation that I re-read whenever I find myself missing my beloved buttercup, my precious petunia.

She cut me off, silenced my words, telling me that she is not worried about the money, that she does not want me to pay the bill until doing so will be safe for me.  She told me there was nothing to forgive.  Absolutely nothing.

This magnificent woman is the one who took time out of her vacation to arrange for Kashi's final care late that Sunday evening.  She answered her cell, rustled up a vet and a tech, and made sure that my darling daffodil wouldn't suffer another night.

She also told me that there was a paw print of Kashi's waiting for me at the clinic.  Whether it takes me 2 days or 2 years to pick it up, she will keep it safe for me.  The tech, who cradled my puppydog in her arms as they left, made the cast before sending his body to be disposed.  She knew that eventually a day would come when I would want something by which to remember the love of my little companion.

The practice administer also told me that all of his babies have been a real blessing to the clinic.  Some have gone home with owners who did not have the funds to buy toys; some remain for those puppydogs that are being boarded away from those who love them.  She said that everyone there is quite thankful for the bag of babies they keep in the back room.

But what was most merciful was not about my dog.  She asked me what had happened to me.  She told me that in the 5 years she has known me, she has never heard in my voice what she heard today...hope...confidence...certitude.  She saw that something has shifted inside.  We talked about what I have gained, what I have lost, confessional Lutheranism, and, of course, the Psalter.  She saw this even though I cried in frustration over the words of yesterday that bothered me when she asked how I was doing, not that I spoke them to her or even mentioned them, and even though I wept tears of sorrow and joy with regard to my puppydog.

Her brother has MS.  She knows.  I spoke a few words and she filled in the rest.  The cardiologist I saw this morning has a best friend with MS.  She knows.  The scheduler at her office has a father with MS.  She knows.  It's that damn disease.  Being understood is...well, a great mercy right now.  Three people saw me today.  Saw things that people usually miss and spoke things that I feel, experience, battle without my having to say them first.

That email still hurts, still crushes me, but God wrapped me up in the Psalter, Bettina's words, and being seen today. That is a whole passel of I love you from my Creator.  No matter how I feel, no matter what I think, this I cannot deny.

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, 
and that your joy may be full.  ~John 15:11


With a vaguely European accent, a many in a coffee shop was overheard to say to his friend, "So how are you?  Is there any dancing in your world today?

As Jesus prepared His disciples for His crucifixion, their world was shrouded in uncertainty.  So He comforted them, telling them of His love for them and saying, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you" (John 15:11a).  When fear and doubt cloud our world, we too can count on His love to renew our joy.

Because of the love of Jesus, there is dancing in our world every day.  No matter what circumstances we're facing, we always have a reason to celebrate and be glad.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Today is my baptismal birthday.  Today is a day I wanted to be a new beginning.  But I received an email that is so confusing and paints such an ugly picture that I truly do not know what to do.

I have spent much of the day in a fog, using my lunch time to practice my Greek (Is it possible to get worse with more practice?) because I cannot see past the words I read.

Last night, I left the car unlocked, and someone took the very few things I had in the rental.  I guess I should be grateful whoever it was left the car behind.  But it greatly concerns me that such an automatic response is no longer under my control.  I also left the lights on this morning, so I had to have the rental jump-started.  This I blame not on my cheese-hole brain because my car has this auto-off feature.  But perhaps I should still have remembered to turn them off when I pulled into the parking lot.

But even as I waited for a car rescue, I could not muster up one iota of self-recrimination over my headlight stupidity.  I just counted the water spots on the window while I waited.  197.  I counted and tried to forget what I read this morning.

As I have written, I was counseled that satan cannot rob us of joy, cannot steal joy from us.  That if we have moments of joy, then they still existed; we still had them.  I went from a glorious baptismal gift of Gospel, riding along on its sweetness until I read those words.  After I got myself cleaned up (and my office trash can), all I could think was why.

That is not a question I have asked much...about anything.  Why is because God wills it.  Why is because these were the days ordained for me.  Why is because my life is His.  That's my Protestant teaching coming to the fore.  Maybe it is wrong.   Not that God is sovereign, for He most certainly is, but maybe if I had asked why more, I might not be were I am today.

Only I do not know where it is that I am.  Or even who I am.

I am Yours.  Save me!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Last night when I went to bed, I ended up on the floor again.  This time, I was putting on some socks.  One of them slipped through my fingers even though I was gripping it tightly.  I bent over to pick it up and the lights went out.  For a few years now, I have known I get dizzy or even faint if I bend over.  I forgot that last night.  When you drop something, the natural inclination is to pick it up.

Watching the sock slip through my fingers reminded me of the few years before I was finally diagnosed with MS.  The first symptom I had was weakness in my hands.  But it was more than weakness.  I would be holding my toothbrush or mascara or lipstick in my hand and it would just drop to the sink.  In my mind, I was still gripping it, but my hands were not following the instructions my brain was sending.  Getting ready was rather frustrating. 

The other real problem was that taking baths made me ill, only I never connected soaking in a hot tub with the debilitating fatigue and oft fainting episodes that would follow.  There was nothing I loved better than soaking in a tub with a good book, often filling the tub a second or even a third time if the book was good.  Only afterward, I would struggle to get out and did not always make it to my bed.  Once out of the hot water and into the cold room air, I would eventually regain my strength.  I never added two plus two to get four.

The other symptoms I had at the beginning were tingling in my hands and feet, a large patch of numbness on the back of a thigh, blurred and double vision, and a strange headache that lasted from May until October. 

By the time I was diagnosed, the cognitive dysfunction had begun.  When I think what I noticed then, compared to what I battle today, I could wish it were sixteen years ago once more.  If I had known then what was coming, I would have studied more, worked harder, tried to preserve and document more.  SIGH.

Today, the visitation pastor preached, so I do not have his sermon.  He did talk about something I had talked about with Pizza Man and his Lovely Bride when we had dinner and devotions last week.  Pastor M put it quite bluntly:  the disciples were agonizingly slow learning things.  He said he struggled with the same, which cheered me a bit since I have blogged quite a bit about my dense mind when it comes to understanding the whole of objective grace, its glorious breadth and depth.

I told Johnny-on-the-spot and Vee that I had been surprised to realize that the disciples didn't have the Holy Spirit until after Christ died.  In fact, I have been really surprised to see what sinners they were, how much they doubted even up until the very end of their time with Jesus.  [Their sinfulness, doubting and querulous natures were not really talked about in the sermons and studies I had had.]  They didn't understand because they couldn't completely understand without the Helper...although sometimes you have to wonder why they just kept focusing on the wrong things, all the while eating, drinking, and sleeping with the very Son of God.  While we were visiting, I posited that if the disciples truly understood they might have fought to keep Jesus from giving Himself over to be murdered.  For a god who would willingly die must certainly be off his rockers and would need a bit of protecting from himself.  Does not common sense tell us a live god would be better than a dead one?

During the sermon this morning, the pastor did something I find frustrating, but I don't think I could ever really say something about it.  Three times, that I remember, he referenced a passage of scripture by author, but not at least a chapter.  I think I am pretty much the only one who takes notes during sermons; I try to capture the lessoning so that I can reflect on it further, and I always like to go back and read references in their context.  But, for example, Isaiah has 66 chapters, 66 complex, dense chapters (save for chapter 12, which is just plain glorious), so I am fairly sure I could hunt for hours and never find his reference.  I tried looking for it using, but I do not know what version he was citing or even if he used all the exact words.  In my admittedly selfish opinion, I happen to think all pastors, preachers, ministers, priests, etc. who cite scripture during a sermon, homily, bible class, etc. should at least reference book and chapter.

It was a good sermon, one that gave me pause.  As did one of the hymns.  I did not sing it even after I finally caught the melody.  Instead, I sat there reading and re-reading the words.

Sing Praise to God, the Highest Good

Sing praise to God, the highest good,
The author of creation,
The God of love who understood
Our need for his salvation.
With healing balm our souls he fills
And every faithless murmur stills:
To God all praise and glory!

What God’s almighty power has made,
In mercy he is keeping;
By morning glow or evening shade
His eye is never sleeping;
Within the kingdom of his might
All things are just and good and right:
To God all praise and glory!

We sought the Lord in our distress;
O God, in mercy hear us.
Our Savior saw our helplessness
And came with peace to cheer us.
For this we thank and praise the Lord,
Who is by one and all adored:
To God all praise and glory!

He never shall forsake His flock,
His chosen generation;
He is their refuge and their rock,
Their peace and their salvation.
As with a mother's tender hand,
He leads His own, His chosen band:
To God all praise and glory!

All who confess Christ’s holy name,
Give God the praise and glory.
Let all who know his power proclaim
Aloud the wondrous story.
Cast every idol from its throne,
For God is God, and he alone:
To God all praise and glory!
                        (LSB 819)

I was thinking in part about Pastor E's homily from last Wednesday's Vespers.  In it, he talked about while we no longer live beneath the sacrificial system, we still offer sacrifices today.  For one, we offer our sacrifice of praise.  Now, I know a praise song that has nearly that title:  We Bring a Sacrifice of Praise.  The song is completely human centric.  We.  We.  We.  The subject is what we bring, what we offer.

When I was working with my writing student the other day, I actually found a copy of the one praise song I wrote as a Protestant.  For a writer and a singer, I ought to have penned more.  This one was enough.  Katie Bess was kind when she read it, claiming it sounded just like a psalm.  I guess you might sort of see that since my praise was about who God was, what He did (was I a closet Lutheran even then??), but there was still a bit too much of the pronoun "I."

Anyhow, there in the middle of the service, as my brothers and sisters surrounded me with the sweet, sweet Gospel in this hymn, I kept thinking about what an utter contrast this hymn of praise was to all those praise songs I sang for years and years and years.  I thought about Pastor E's homily and how different, how absolutely and completely different my instruction has been over the past year.

When I was with Pizza Man and his Lovely Bride, I shared with them the difference I had learned about ordinances and sacraments while studying the differences between the Baptist confession and the Lutheran confession.  As I have written before, ordinances are things man does for God; sacraments are what God does for us.  [Baptists erroneously confess that baptism and the Lord's Supper are ordinances, not sacraments.]  This hymn, though a song a praise, was still focused on what God does for us.  The sacrifice of praise we offer is still a sacrifice based on Jesus Christ...and thus acceptable!  What a difference!

Below is the whole of his homily for your good pleasure:

The opening verse of tonight’s psalm is used as the Introit for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, called Judica. That’s from the Latin translation, “Judica me, Deus,” “Judge me, O God.” How dare we say such words? We can only call upon God to judge us if we have confidence that we will be found righteous.
You probably noticed that this psalm is similar to last week’s, largely because it ends with a verse also found in Ps. 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

The psalmist is asking for vindication, for judgment against those who have caused his deep sorrow, his depression. While we too have known and experienced sorrow and depression, we also know its cause: we are poor, miserable sinners. The real miracle is that we are not more depressed, more sorrowful! But our LORD Jesus has no cause within Himself for such sorrow. His suffering comes at the hands of others who perform injustice against Him.

Thus He alone can say, Judica me, Deus! Judge Me, O God! Vindicate Me! Only the LORD JESUS Christ has the right to ask for vindication before God the Father. He alone has the right, for He alone is righteous. When we pray the psalm, when we ask for vindication and a judgment in our favor, we must make that request in Christ.

We New Testament Christians make that request the same place it is made in this Old Testament psalm: at the altar. And we make it in a spirit of penitence.

The Service of Corporate Confession in our hymnal begins wisely with a verse from tonight’s psalm: “I will go to the altar of God: To God my exceeding joy.” As we approach the altar, particularly for the blessed Sacrament, we approach in the same spirit, and those words would be good to have on our own lips, as a reminder of what is taking place: “I will go to the altar of God: To God my exceeding joy.”
“I will go” because God is there. God is everywhere, of course. Yet He is not everywhere for us. The psalmist says, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.” The Lord, who is everywhere, is found located in a particular location, a particular place to administer His grace. Thus we find the LORD, He is located, in the place where He has put His grace, that is, in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

The altar referenced in the psalm, of course, is the Old Testament altar of sacrifice. We cannot go to that altar. It no longer exists, for it has been done away with, along with the entire sacrificial system. Our Lord JESUS Christ is the final, all-availing sacrifice. By His blood the sin of the world is taken away.

But we go to a new and greater altar of God, God our exceeding joy. The altar of the New Testament church is not a place where we offer a sacrifice for propitiating God, but a place where we receive the sacrifice offered by Jesus.

We do offer sacrifices, though. The NT speaks about Christians offering the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Also the works of mercy we are to do for others are called sacrifices. This is what I remind you of each Sunday before the offering: “Through Christ let us offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” which is what? “The offering of lips confessing His name.” But there is more to our sacrificing: “But to do good and to distribute,” that is, distributing the possessions God has given us to those who need them, to do that “forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well-pleased.” Truly He is well-pleased with you, because He is well-pleased with His Son, who was vindicated in His glorious resurrection from the dead. In Him shall we too rise. Therefore hope and be utterly confident in God, for you shall praise Him in eternity, your salvation and your God.

I am so thankful, so very thankful whenever he posts a sermon so that I might reflect on it further, savor the right division of Law and Gospel further.  If he would only record his sermons so that I could have that Living Word fall upon my ears again and again to help arm me against the assaults and accusations of the devil that seem so frequent, so relentless.

We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  ~Ephesians 2:10


A hammer isn't quite a hammer unless it's hammering.  And we're not quite fulfilled unless we're doing something that has meaning and purpose higher than ourselves.

Jesus has invited us to be part of the coming Kingdom and He's given us each a personal mission to further that Kingdom.  He told His disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  Jesus has give us a job to doone that makes our lives full, exciting, and eternally significant.

Lutheran Doctrine note:  While the Kingdom is not yet, it is also now.  This is one of those things I cannot really explain yet, one of those things on my list I wish for someone to teach me.  It is something like that in receiving the Holy Spirit, in being made a new creation, we receive all that is Christ's now, His righteousness, His holiness, His purity.  So while we still live in a fallen world with our sinful nature, we are also a sanctified saint.  I just butchered that and said nothing of substance, but the point is that God's Kingdom is also now.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My beloved Bettina loved me enough today to listen to me butcher the first ten verses of the first chapter of the Gospel of John in Greek.  My reading was agonizingly slow and just plain atrocious.  Even with my best friend, it was completely embarrassing to stumble letter-by-letter.  But I want very much to learn classical Greek. I want very much to read the New Testament in its original language.

I really need someone to practice with who actually knows Greek, someone who can help correct my mispronunciation.  But the pastors I know are busy and are not really in the business of being a Greek study partner.  They are there to give the means of grace, serve as the hands and voice of Christ in binding up the wounds around them, and to watch over their flocks.  Helping me study doesn't really fit with those duties.

I asked Pastor E to check to see if there might be study partners in the class, but most seem to already have a built-in-partner in their spouse.  I have been dutifully reading aloud each and every day, but I am pretty sure I am making the same mistakes and my fluency, as judged by speed and automaticity, has not improved.  Oh, how it would be most helpful if I could actually hear how the words are supposed to sound rather than the garbled mush that comes out of my mouth.

Am I not just plain crazy for thinking I learn a language, much less learn classical Greek?


I am reminded me of my baptism, that Christ is always with me.  I am reminded that Christ is caring for me.  I admit that I have sort of responded, "Yes, but...."  Thinking...but I am still alone here in this life, in this town, and that life is pretty difficult.  "Yes, but..." has been on my tongue more than I actually care to admit when it comes to the sufficiency of Christ.

To be fair, this is because I still find myself falling back into thinking I must do something for my faith with so many years of errant doctrine under my belt.  I think of how weak I am and how miserably I fail at trusting, believing, looking forward in hope, expecting....  Oh, I have embraced with my whole heart, my whole being, the pure teaching of Lutheran doctrine; as I have said, it all fits.  I am a sinner; this I know.  I cannot do any thing to save me, make myself righteous; this I know.  Yet I keep finding myself falling back into looking at my life, my actions, everything, through the lens of what I am or am not doing, what I must or must not do, how strong or weak is my faith.

[Were I to actually re-read my blog, I am sure this lament is frequent over at least the past six months, this awareness of struggling to shed such a terrible burden God never meant for me to carry.]

I have come to think that, in the past few months and weeks, I have taken in more than I can really absorb.  More than even I realize.  Only... this evening I was skimming some Luther, just moving from sermon to sermon, commentary to commentary, and it sort of hit me that even in the study of the theology of the cross, even in the close study of doctrine I have been doing for 13 months now, I have not truly grasped the enormity of the sufficiency of the cross...what Christ crucified really means.

In this strange way, I feel as if I were punched in the stomach, left gasping for breath.  Everything I was reading was about Christ, not so much about me.  It was about what He does, not what I do.  And all over the place were those helpful things to say to the devil while under assault.  All of them reminders of Christ and His faith, not about mine...because mine is His. 

Then, I opened the 101 Things book and today's thing that Christ does for us, for me, is about sufficiency.  Yes, Lord, I hear You....

I have failed to shed the fear I feel when my heart rate is dropping and my vision blackens or when it skyrockets in the middle of the night.  But, no matter what may come of those things, He will be sufficient even to that.  Lord, help me remember this truth....

I tackled the first round of culling books and now have 126 stacked on my stairs, waiting for a new home.   Forty-six of them are evangelical Protestant books that I now believe are in error, for they fail to place the cross as our only theology, as sufficient for all.  Someday, it is my fervent hope, there shall come a time when those damn works-based glasses I find myself wearing again and again will fall away for good.

May it be so, Lord.  May it be!  Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!  Lord, have mercy!

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  ~Philippians 4:13


When we first set out to do something difficult and challenging, we wonder if we'll have enough strength to finish it.  Will our lungs hold out or will we collapse halfway up the mountain?  Will we be able to see our loved one through an illness or will we lose heart?

Paul's exultation in Philippians 4:12-13 is that no matter what task was set before him or what trials he endured, he had found the strength of Christ to be completely sufficient.  He could do all things through His perfect strength.  Christ is always, Paul's life declares, completely enough.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A while ago, I created this booklet for those who might be interested in reading the Book of Concord.  I wanted to give them a sense of what they would gain, a general overview of the contents, and some tips for starting.  Pastor Paul McCain graciously allowed me to use his words I found online for the heart of the booklet, mine serving as an introduction and the tips section.

Well, Cousin D so generously created a website for me where people can read the booklet online or download PDFs of either the plain version or a version set for printing.  I am so thrilled, truly, to be able to share this, to have it available as a tool, a resource for those who would like to discover the joy that is the Book of Concord!

So, if you are interested, check out:!

I got to see my sister's cherubs today, play a game with them, read some Frog and Toad, have Frog and Toad read to me.  SIGH.  Lovely time, to be sure.  My sister is really struggling right now with a hard thing of life.  I wish her lessening of pain, but it is a battle she has no choice in facing.

I spent some time this evening not studying Greek or Doctrine or anything else.  Instead, I took up the cleaning/organizing task I left off with my writing student.  The other day, she had graciously come over to help me start reducing the things I wish to recycle, donate, and/or trash.  I will not be moving as I thought would happen, but I still wish to downsize in the hopes some day I might find a home that will fit this weak and weary sinner.  Some of what we did was going through things of the past, both professional and personal.  We hauled many boxes down from the attic and cleared those out, started working on the closet in my office that is chock full, floor to ceiling, with book, articles, and stuff, and addressed one of the three baskets filled with more things resting on the study floor and one of the drawers of my antique secretary.  I have three more drawers to go, as well as three other closets. 

Something that I decided to discard were all the journals of my childhood and on into my mid-twenties.  I kept only the letters I wrote from Africa when I was a missionary.  The words in the journals are sad and are based on false catechesis.  There is nothing to be gained in reading them, for me or for anyone else.  Tossing those into the recycling bin was like shedding an elephant off my back. Sheer relief.  I look forward to learning more of the proper sort of catechesis, no matter how hard that might be for me.

Nothing, absolutely nothing aside from the sweet, sweet Gospel, brings peace and quiet like organizing and cleaning out.  I used to help people do this sort of thing all the time; primarily I served as the hard line they could not bring themselves to draw.  Katie Bess was mine.  Should I keep this?  Nope.  Into the box then.  While we worked, each box emptied became one more step into the future.  Heady stuff for such mundane work.  I really do miss helping others do this.

And I had forgotten, in the turmoil of this past year, that cleaning and organizing has long been the best way for me to calm my mind or, in the words of Joss Whedon, step aside from the moment and let it pass.  When emotions raged, I would empty out all the things from a closet, sort and reduce and replace.  If I had a bad day, I could always tackle the drawer beside the refrigerator that always turns a mess, despite my best efforts to keep it straight.  Or I could just do some organizing in my office or amongst my bookshelves.  I also gain peace by puttering in soil, mowing, and pruning, but doing so is not really an option to me with the heat.  Can you garden in winter?

Any way, we had left two more shelves in the study closet for another and then all the research articles.  I am considering seriously, just recycling them all.  They are tremendously out of date.  If I ever were to make it back to a professor slot, I could always use the college library.  I want to scan them all, which I could do binder by binder at work, but the very thought of tackling that makes me weary.  The only argument in keeping them is that they are tucked away at the top of the closet, out of sight.  Why do I want them?  Because were they easily accessible, I would open them from time to time to keep sharp on literacy studies.  I miss being a teacher, a professor.  I do.

Some of the things we recycled were all the collateral samples I have been keeping, collected over six years.  I really do not need them. We were very environmentally friendly in the process, pulling off all the top-loading sheet protectors and keeping all the usable binders.  Now, should you be in need of any top-loading sheet protectors, please shoot me an email and I will send off a hundred or so in the mail.  Even doing so for all my "readers," I should never again have to purchase a single sheet more.  The whole process would have been embarrassing had it been anyone other than Katie Bess.  She never once made a comment about my needing to attend a top-loading-sheet-protector anonymous meeting!

Tonight, as I was tossing books and papers and making more room, I thought about the patterns in my life that need to be toss out as well to make room for the good things Christ has for me, wondering if I will ever be able to accomplish as much in my heart and mind as I have already in my attic and study.  What I do know is that the one change I do need I already have.  Monday is the one-year anniversary of my baptism.  I am hoping it is a new beginning, of sorts, for me.  But I am also aware that the one thing that can help me happened 363 days ago.  I might not see the change I wish, but I know that Jesus Christ is the one writing the pages of my life and He makes no mistakes...even now.

Do you want to know my lesson on forgiveness today?  I am not un-forgiven because I only ended up, once more, hurting someone in trying to talk about my thoughts and feelings.  I am forgiven precisely because I failed so miserably.  I failed because I am a wretched sinner; even in my best intentions I am still only a wretched sinner.  I am forgiven because in my sinful state Christ loved me and offered Himself in my stead so that I might have eternal life.  Now, still, this day when I am awash in my wretchedness and inability to speak without causing more harm, I am forgiven.  Oh, Lord, help me remember this now in this period of time and space.

It is a very good thing the Lord's Supper is but two days away.

Strange to me, the coincidence of the thing Jesus has done for me slotted for yesterday but put off until today...

Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this; when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see  him as he is.  ~I John 3:2


Watching old TV shows or movies is more fun when they feature someone who went on to become famous. In their younger faces, when they smile or squint a certain way, we can see traces of who they will become.

In the same way, we bear traces of Jesus.  When we first began our journey with Him, He began working in us, making us more and more like Him.  And He has continued that work in our lives, slowly chiseling us after His image of longsuffering, kindness, and holiness.  As we walk with Christ, we grow into His image more and more every day.

Lutheran Doctrine note:  How is this done?  Word and Sacrament...the Holy Spirit working through the means of Grace.

Lord, I believe.  Help my belief!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I heard a noise outside this morning that concerned me. I got out of bed to check, but as I stood up, everything went dark and I crumpled to the floor unconscious.  I thought all this resting was helping, but it seems it has not.  So, I am rather frustrated and a bit frightened.  The next heart doctor visit is the 20th.  I wonder if she will be able to help.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I lay about in bed until mid afternoon, lost two games of Scrabble to the brilliant Bettina, went to church, came home and did a few chores, and then collapsed in exhaustion on the couch.  I am a wuss.

What I did accomplish was: completing the first bit of my Greek homework for this week; bringing the laundry to the basement and sorting it; brewing tea enough for the next few days; straightening out a kitchen cabinet; and cutting just enough hanging branches of the wisteria so I could put the edger back into the shed (it's been sitting in my kitchen for a week).  I am studiously ignoring the water upon the basement floor, hoping it just evaporates.  I simply do not have the energy for the labor required to clean it up.  I left my snow boots at the bottom of the stairs for wading through it to get to the washing machine.  I did, however, put the sodden rugs out to hang on the deck railing.

The service was Vespers, rather than Evening Prayer.  I think I prefer Evening Prayer, but I am not sure.  Vespers is rather beautiful, but it is over in a mere breath.  You know me, I long for service to last longer, to be bathed in the Living Word through Liturgy, hymnody, and homily far more than a mere half-hour.  Pastor E taught on Psalm 43, an even briefer homily than last week, but still a glorious bit of Word.  Three things stayed with my cheese hole brain:

  • Oh send out Thy light and Thy truth, let them lead me; Let them bring me to Thy holy hill, and to Thy dwelling place (verse 3).  Wow, how could I have missed this?  The light of the world, Christ, and the truth of the Living Word are to guide us to where He dwells, i.e., that is they are to drive us to the Church, to the Divine Service where He dwells with us and serves us.  [Papa Dore must be thinking I am rather dunce right now; this verse is exactly what he's been speaking to me like a broken record.]
  • Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy (verse 4a).  The altar is referencing the Old Testament altar where people went to offer sacrifices.  Pastor E pointed out that when we approach the altar now, we are going to receive a sacrifice, not offer one, because the only sacrifice that will ever be acceptable to God, pleasing in aroma and in purity, is Christ crucified.  In taking in His very body and blood, we are receiving that sacrifice...which is, as Forde, Kleinig, Walther, and Luther have noted, how we are made righteous, not by works, not by giving anything at all, but by receiving a gift.
  • The antiphon (I still do not understand what this means) Pastor E chose was Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why are you disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God (verse 5).  Is that the epitome of a Myrtle verse or what?  For I talk to myself all the time and this is the conversation, the answer, I ought to have with myself each and every time I ask that question!
I found myself forgoing both Forde and Walther this evening in favor of Luther.  The bit below is on verse 4 of the first chapter of Galatians (who gave Himself for our sins).  I find it rather humbling, that the Holy Spirit gives me such riches in just the right time for me.  Put together Forde's analogy of being an addict, helpless to fight or to cure, with Pastor E's reminder of what I receive at the alter, add in the 9th of the 101 things Christ does for us listed below, and sprinkle it all with the sufficiency of Christ Luther exhorts here in this excerpt:

The genius of Christianity takes the words of Paul "who gave himself for our sins" as true and efficacious. We are not to look upon our sins as insignificant trifles. On the other hand, we are not to regard them as so terrible that we must despair. Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for picayune and imaginary transgressions, but for mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained.

Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: "Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. The truth is, I am all sin. My sins are not imaginary transgressions, but sins against the first table, unbelief, doubt, despair, contempt, hatred, ignorance of God, ingratitude towards Him, misuse of His name, neglect of His Word, etc.; and sins against the second table, dishonor of parents, disobedience of government, coveting of another's possessions, etc. Granted that I have not committed murder, adultery, theft, and similar sins in deed, nevertheless I have committed them in the heart, and therefore I am a transgressor of all the commandments of God.

"Because my transgressions are multiplied and my own efforts at self-justification rather a hindrance than a furtherance, therefore Christ the Son of God gave Himself into death for my sins." To believe this is to have eternal life.

Let us equip ourselves against the accusations of Satan with this and similar passages of Holy Scripture. If he says, "Thou shalt be damned," you tell him: "No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God's fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure." With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil's craft and put from us the memory of sin. 

I revel in, each and every time I read Luther, his honesty and transparency.   He calls a spade a spade, but does not leave you either hopeless or helpless.  By the former, I mean that he always gives you Christ (obviously where Papa Dore learned that one; this morning he gave me Psalm 34 and Romans 8:18-34), always.  As I have mentioned, Pastor W says that Luther will wrap you up in Christ more ways than you thought possible.  That's the hope.  He is our hope.  But Luther also does not leave you helpless, as well.  Now, he does not give you five steps to become this or six ways to accomplish that, futile footle that gains you nothing.  But, rather, he does gives you Words to speak to the devil.  He charges you never to forget that wily enemy, but goes a step further by giving you the Words to speak that will strip that enemy bare, render him powerless even as you are helpless yourself.  In this, perhaps it is best to say that Luther teaches us how it is that we might fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.

For one who talks to herself quite often of late, trying to get through each day, Luther's help is most welcome and nothing less than priceless. 

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 
by his wounds you have been healed.  ~I Peter 2:24


Not everyone has experienced a long-term physical illnesswaiting for test results, living with questions about what the days ahead will bring, wondering if the physical discomfort will ever go away.  But we all have suffered from a spiritual illness.  We have all known the sickness of sin.

When Jesus steps into our lives, darkness gives ways to light, our hardened hearts becoming softer.  We're filled with the joy of knowing God and the desire to please Him.  And as the chocking grip of sin begins to slip away, we are empowered and enabled to live right with God.

Lutheran doctrine note:  Remember right with God is to be a receiver of the gift of Christ's atoning sacrifice for us, not doing something to build your "relationship" with Him.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!