Tuesday, November 30, 2010

stumbling about...

I have been trying to write about something, but I cannot quite find the words.  The other day, I started and ended up merely talking about Bettina, Sunshine, and Manna.  I shall try again.

For well past two and a half years, day in and day out, I have lived with great criticism.  It is a devastating thing to always have the worst assumed about you, to be judged and found wanting on every level, to have a mirror held up to you that is so distorted nothing you see is real.  What you knew as real is lost as the sight you thought you recognized ripples into the lie, words that fill your mind drown out the Word you knew.  When boundaries are crossed and the work environment fills nights and weekends, you can find yourself spinning around in all directions.  I did.

In the midst of that, I found the pure doctrine.  That should have been the perfect anchor.  It was. I just couldn't see it.

What called to me in the Book of Concord, its siren song, is Christ crucified.  There is no sweeter thing on earth than objective grace.  Someone once called the Gospel elusive to me.  I liked that, for it had the promise of a day when it wouldn't be.  That day finally came, has been sweet on my tongue for a while now, that I have been savoring, storing up the memory for the times—I know will surely come again—when I lose sight of that which the Holy Spirit has shown me.

A perfect example, I think, is the freedom I found in the answer to a recent desperate email to Brother Goose about feeling like a fraud in writing out the Snippets intro:

When you make confession of your sins, you say:

"O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner..."

You are only fraudulent if that's a lie. If it's not, then you are indeed a poor, miserable sinner who has found a source of comfort in the Book of Concord. A lifeline, of sorts, thrown out to a person who is drowning and who clings to its message for dear life.

So the Snippets are tossed out in the hopes that some other poor, miserable sinner might find in their Gospel message the same lifeline you've found.

You don't toss them out as a person who is anything other than a sinner involved in divine worship - in the exercises of faith as it struggles with despair (Tractatus 51).

Now, the key is to STOP LOOKING AT YOURSELF! You ARE a sinner and will remain one so long as you live in this flesh; the key is to let the Lutheran Confessions guide your attention away from yourself and to rest your eyes solely on Christ. In many ways this is the struggle that constitutes the Christian faith: looking to self vs. looking to the Savior. The one way leads only to despair (when we're honest) or to pride (when we're blinded); the other leads to tears of joy and songs of praise. For all us sinners, God has set forth His Son as the Propitiation, the wiping out of our sin, and of the whole world's! In Christ, your sins are forgiven, hidden beneath the saving blood. So the struggle goes on about where to focus attention. And you write the Snippets as a bit of an exercise for yourself and for others in allowing the attention to stay focused on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Goose, you have no other righteousness than Him. And He is enough. And more than enough. It is not your hold on Him that saves; it is His hold on you. And in Baptism He has said to you that He's got you and will not let you go until He finishes the good work He has begun.

[He sometimes has to get a little loud with me!]

Anyway, Christ eased the overwhelming burden I felt over the Snippets between Brother Goose's words and another's advice to think of myself as merely a placeholder until God brings someone else along who is trained in the doctrine of our confessions.  But for all his admonition about looking to the cross—and all my own gazing upon my beloved crucifixes—these words still eluded me.  How ever do I do that?

Tonight, while praying the Psalter with Brother Goose (he used the Coverdale Psalter) and singing hymns (he showed me a new Gerhardt one), I told him about a confession of the Gospel I made last night.  In telling him, it hit me.  I really have begun to learn (I am sure the process will take the rest of the my life) to crawl into the wounds of Christ and hide there. The words I wrote last night were not mere words, were not the confession I wanted it to be, but the confession I made by the faith that Christ gave me.

The problem I have battled is that I let my eyes slip from the home I found in that first pass through the Book of Concord because I wanted something as much as I wanted the Gospel.  Maybe you could say I wanted what I thought would be the greatest mercy Christ could show me.  Surely I would find it hanging out with a bunch of Lutherans, eh?  Ah, but Myrtle, you say, you really are stupid!  Hanging out with a bunch of Lutherans also means hanging out with a bunch of sinners.  Looking to them for mercy will always disappoint you even as Christ will serve you through them.

If you spend your time looking at the people in the churches, you will never really see the Church.  Maybe I am not quite saying that right.  But our Confession is our Church.  It is what binds us together and to Him.  We believe, teach, and confess that there is hope, healing, and forgiveness in the gifts of Christ, in the Sacraments, the Living Word, and the Word of Absolution.  And our true home is in Him.  In Him and nowhere else.  In Him is salvation and nowhere else.  In Him is life and nowhere else.

The greatest mercy, then, that Christ could show me is the cross.  It is how He is saving me.  Now, this day. And how He will tomorrow.  I don't even understand the half of it, but I know that it is true.

There is a sister out there who was not helped through troubling "life events" and has walked away from the Lutheran Church in her hurt. Part of what I wrote is:

It may seem that Protestant churches are more...welcoming...of wounded people, struggling people...but what they offer is cruel, for it is a confession that puts all the burden of your faith on yourself; it is specious teaching that is truly egregious. I weep so often for my brothers and sisters in Christ in all those churches where Christ is made the new Moses, where the Gospel is distorted beyond recognition, and where forgiveness is not offered in Word and Sacrament. I know not what life event fell her. I do not really need to. I shall be praying for her that she might find the peace of Christ, taste His forgiveness, and remember her baptism.

Pray for her this day, that she might remember her baptism. Pray for me, that I might remember mine. I pray you remember yours.

Typing out the Psalter and our Confessions day after day has helped me to think about all the things Pastor F, Brother Goose, my pastors, my Internet pastors, Walther, Krauth, and Forde have taught me, all the things the Holy Spirit has been revealing to me in bits and pieces despite the maelstrom swirling through the past year and a half. You could say that I have taken in my first promise: the Living Word will never return void and will always accomplish its purpose, as as Luther put it: [the Living Word] has, and is able to do, all that God is and can do. [LC, IV, 17-18]

A while back, in great anguish, I cried out that everything had changed and yet nothing had. Tonight, I cry out the same in great joy. Nothing has changed and yet everything has.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

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