Ascension Day 2017 One morning, on Ascension Day I had chapel for the Day Care children at Immanuel. But what does one do that stays within the attention span of about 45 preschoolers? Ah a balloon might do the trick. Schnucks supermarkets have balloons for parties etc. I didn’t expect to find one for Ascension. At last I noticed one which said, “Welcome home, we missed you.” The woman at the counter blew it up and I had her attach about 15 feet of ribbon. This morning I talked about Christmas and Jesus coming to us as a baby. Then I shifted to Easter and Jesus resurrection A large wood cross stood in the front of the sanctuary draped with a white cloth. Then I went to the balloon. Ascension Day is when Jesus went back to his heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. I slowly let out the ribbon as the balloon rose to the ceiling. I said, I could imagine them saying to Jesus, “Welcome home, we missed you.” In the epistle lesson, we do read, “Seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” One can imagine that Ascension Day must have been a time of great celebration among the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. Psalm 110 1 reads, “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the Trumpet. Almighty God, as your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, ascended into the heavens so may we also ascend in heart and mind and continually dwell there with Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Seeking God

 

When Paul preached in Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers regarded his message of the resurrection as the babbling of one who has picked up seeds of this idea and that and was passing them off as something worth hearing.  To both groups the gods had no interest in human beings.  The idea of a bodily resurrection was utter foolishness.

However, Paul tells them that the God who created the world and everything in it was not far off from anyone.  In fact, God created humans to be seekers of God hoping that they might feel their way toward him and find him.  Paul paraphrases Job, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”  He also refers to a Greek poet quoting, “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Paul continues that since we are God’s flesh and blood offspring it doesn’t make sense that God would be made of metal or stone in an image fashioned by his own offspring.  Rather God is very much involved in the life of the world.  He is calling people to turn away from their own ideas and turn toward him.  God has even sent a man to back up his claims on his offspring.  Though the man died, he also raised him from the dead and in the light of this resurrection God will judge the world in rightness.

The prayer for this week reflects some of Paul’s thinking:

O God, the giver of all that is good, by your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by your merciful guiding accomplish them; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

Babbling the Gospel

 

What first caught my ear in the first reading for yesterday from Acts 17:16 – 23 was the question, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  The Epicurean and Stoic philosophers characterize him as a chattering bird picking up seeds of ideas, slogans, scraps of learning and then espousing half-backed ideas.

The Epicureans believed that happiness was attained by living like the gods who had no concern for humans but lived in a state of blissful tranquility not shaken by poverty, pain, and fear.  At death the soul disintegrated, and that was the end.

The Stoics believed that virtue was the only good and vice the only evil.  Suppress the passions and live by reason, then law that pervades the universe.

Others, thought he was a preacher of two foreign divinities one named Jesus and the other Anastasis (Resurrection).  So, it is today that the preaching of the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection is often heard differently than the preacher intends.  People find reincarnation more appealing than Resurrection.

The entrance verses from Psalm 119 give us guidance and encouragement in the face of society’s doubt and misunderstanding, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

A Paradox

 

I’m going to be gone for about a week and I’m not adept enough to post blogs from just anywhere.  I want to leave you with something to think about.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus presents a paradox.  A paradox are two apparently contradictory statements which are not contradictory.

Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus is telling us to let your good works be seen.

Matthew 6:1 Beware of practicing your righteousness (Christian life of good works) before other people in order to be seen by them…

Jesus is telling us to keep our good works hidden from other people.

I will be back in a week.

 

The Harrow

 

It was during the planting of oats that the harrow came into play in the spring.  First the ground was turned over by the single bottom plow pulled by our new 1949 Allis Chalmers tractor.  Today, the tractor, which replaced our ancient Fordson, appears to be little more than a garden tractor. In the second, step we used a spring tooth “drag” to even out the furrows.  The third step was loading the “drill’ boxes with oats seed and fertilizer and planted.  Then came the last step, the harrowing.  The harrow had spikes which when drug over the field would smooth out the final clods of dirt.

However, the word “harrow,” was also used to describe Jesus’ descent into hell between his crucifixion and resurrection. In the Apostles Creed we confess, “He descended into hell…”  This is based on I Peter 3:18-19, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.”

One of the interpretations of this passage is that Jesus went into “hell” to plunder or pillage hell of the souls of the righteous Old Testament believers.

An Easter Carol from the fourteenth century tells us of Christ,

Who baffled death and harrowed hell

And led the souls that love him well

All in the light of lights to dwell.

Most scholars interpret Jesus’ descent into hell as an occasion when he proclaimed his victory to those who had rejected him as Messiah and Savior.

I suspect that our harrow on the farm hasn’t been used for several decades.  The “harrowing of hell” is also a concept fallen by the wayside.

 

Jesus Real Presence

David Lose in his weekly article, “In the Meantime,” on the Gospel lesson for Sunday (John 14:1-14) wrote the following.  Many of us will partake of Holy Communion tomorrow and its good to have a reminder of what God is really doing.

I’ve always been captivated by Martin Luther’s sense of the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Rather than side with those who said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so argued the bread was not really bread but had been transubstantiated into Jesus’ body, or with those who again said that mere finite bread could not hold Jesus’ infinite body, and so the bread was just bread, a reminder of Jesus’ love, Luther argued that, as with the Incarnation, there are times that, indeed, the finite can hold the infinite. What we experience in the Lord’s Supper, he believe, is just that kind of real presence. It’s a confession of faith that doesn’t boil down very easily to clean cut answers but instead offers a relationship: It is really God who is really present for us  in a way we can really receive.

As Pants the Hart/Heart for Cooling Streams

 

Based on Psalm 42, the hymn “As Pants the Hart for Cooing Streams” struck me as a bit strange when I was a young boy.  I didn’t know that the hart was a deer.  It seemed to me that with the addition of one vowel “e” one would have “heart.”  It turns out my childhood thinking was on the mark.  As a hart pants for a stream of cool running water, so does my heart pants for the refreshing ever flowing stream of God’s grace filled faithfulness toward me.

The 17th century hymn by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady provides the image of a hart (heart) who is being chased by relentless a pack of dogs or wolves or human hunters.

As pants the hart for cooling streams

When heated in the chase,

So longs my soul, O God, for you

And your refreshing grace.

One version of the hymn contains the striking image of a gathering storm of troubles which will pour down upon the individual, turning those quiet streams into a sea of water threatening to drown the one being chased.

One trouble calls another on

And gathers overhead,

Falls splashing down, till round my soul

A rising sea is spread.

However, though the person is near drowning, he/she will not despair of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Why restless, why cast down, my soul?

Hope still, and you shall sing

The praise of him who is your God,

Your health’s eternal spring.

 

Conversation at the Church Coffee Pot

 

I stood with another man after the confirmation service at St. john’s, Burn, TN.  I must have asked, “How’re you doing?”  He replied, “Still upright.”  I said, “One time when I was filling in at a church a man I knew fairly well asked me, ‘How you doing?’ and I said, ‘Still upright.’  Within in two weeks I received word that he had suddenly died of a heart attack.  So, I don’t tell people that I’m still upright anymore.”

The man at the coffee pot said, “I knew a guy who lived his life sort of helter –  skelter.  But then he got cancer and I asked him if he had ever been baptized, ‘No,’ he said, ‘But I’ve always wanted to be baptized.’  He lived near a catholic church and school, I asked if he wanted me to talk to a priest or one of the nuns about baptizing him.  ‘No, I don’t want that,’ the man said. Well would you like me to baptize you.  He said, ‘Yes, I would like that.’  So, I baptized him and told Pastor Nathan. Nine days later he died.  It made me feel real that I did that.  It was a real blessing to be able to do that”

“Yes, I said, “It was a blessing to you and think of what a blessing it was to your friend.”

 

 

I am the Door

 

One of Jesus “I Am” statements in the Gospel of John is from John 10:7, “I am the door of the sheep.”  To enter the protection of the sheepfold, Jesus is the door which is open to those who know his voice and by entering is saved.

In his sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday, Nathan, our son, took us back to the previous chapter where Jesus gives to a man born blind.  Jesus smeared mud on the man’s eyes, sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam and the man came back seeing.  If he thought everyone else would be overjoyed with the man’s new found sight and Jesus who had opened his eyes to the light, well he had another think coming.  Suddenly nobody seemed to know him.  Some of his neighbors weren’t sure he was the man who had been blind.  The Pharisees grill him with questions about who had done this on the sabbath, yet.  His parents didn’t step in to defend and support their son.  Finally, he was thrown out of the community in which he had always lived.

Yes, sometimes the church is not a welcoming community and is blind to Jesus working among them.   Yet Jesus is present in his community, in the Word, in Baptism, in Holy Communion.  He is present as the resurrected Savior.  He is the door who welcomes all who believe and through whom those who enter will find life and “have it abundantly.”

Opening the Scripture

 

In Luke 24 the two disciples encountered a stranger who “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”  Again, forty days later as he was about to ascend into heaven Jesus, with the disciples gathered around him, “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

Becky and I have two grandchildren being confirmed this month.   It remains a wonder that so many confirmands and their parents believe that the whole of scriptures has been opened to them by the time they reach 13 or 14 years of age.

Well here I am, nearly 50 years a pastor, in a couple of weeks it will also be 50 years of marriage with four children and I am still finding that the scriptures continues to be opened for me.  I wasn’t fully ready to be a pastor upon graduation from the seminary on May 26, 1967 nor for marriage when Becky and I were wed the next evening at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Desoto, Mo.

Just as I had to figure out and, am still doing so, how to be husband and father and now grandfather, so I am still figuring out how to live as a child of God and brother of Christ and a pastor even in retirement.  The scriptures have much more to say to me in these latter days than when as a 13-year-old I knelt before the altar at Christ Lutheran Church, Pipe Lake and promised I would rather die than give up my faith in Christ.

Thus, one of my favorite prayers speaks of reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting the Word.  And so, it is.