A Welcoming Congregation

Becky and I went to church at Holy Cross in St. Genevieve before visiting Adam for at Riverview care and rehab. the church is down in the middle of the historic buildings. It has an unusual altar for a Lutheran Church. The figure of Jesus stands in the middle flanked by the four gospel writers.

The pulpit is sometimes described as the prow of a ship of the church. This one has a face protruding out a bit, like one sees on many ancient vessels.

Some of the hymns started in a low range for me, but the organist went up a half step on some verses. Fun singing. As I often due, I sang the tenor part on some of the stanzas. During one hymn Becky poked me and said I was singing the wrong verse. Picky picky. Holy Cross is an excellent example of a welcoming people.

Surprisingly, there were a number of small children, including infants who set to letting parents and the rest of us know they were not happy. As one man said on the way out, “The natives were restless today.” I said, “It makes me glad that our kids are raised.”

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What Next?

 

Armand Gamache retired from his position of Chief Inspector for the Quebec Provincial Police.  But now he has been asked to become the Chief Superintendent.  While still savoring the here and now, what next has appeared on the horizon.  (Louise Penny in “The Nature of the Beast”)

When I read that last night during the ball game I thought of a conversation I had with a plumber only hours earlier.  He had put in a new toilet.  He asked what I had done before retirement and I said I was a pastor, “still am, I guess.”  He then told me that he was a policeman until the winter of 1993, when he had his young partner were ambushed.  He as shot through the mouth and his partner four times.  The shooter was standing over his partner ready to finish him off when he managed to get his gun out and fatally shoot the man.  They both recovered, but he thought he needed to find another way to make a living.  But what next?

What next? Was a question I asked myself when I retired in 2003.  I thought I might get a job in a bookstore.  I like books.  But Becky said that I had never worked for anybody and the first day some 25- year- old assistant manager will ask you to do something you think is stupid.  You will tell him so and be fired the first day.  So, what next turned into doing what I had been hoping to do for some years, do ministry in small churches.  Fifteen years later, I still am.

At some point we all face the “Next.”  Life can change in a moment, then, “What next?”  We go on living trusting that the Lord is with us and will strengthen and direct us, until the Great Next.

Mary, Mother of our Lord

 

 

On August 15, the church remembers Mary, mother of Jesus.  St. Paul writes in the epistle for the day, Gal. 4:4-7, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman.”

“The fullness of time,” was the time in the history of the world and the history of God’s plan for redeeming the world from sin that He said to the Son, “Okay, now go!”

For Mary, “the fullness of time” came nine months after the angel Gabriel told her that she had found favor with God.   She would conceive in her womb and bear a son whom she would name Jesus.  In “the fullness of time” when her womb was filled with God, she sent forth from her womb her son and God’s Son.  God, born into human flesh was completely obedient to God’s demands in His commands.  He suffered death on the cross as the price for buying us back from captivity to our disobedience of the demands of His commands.

We remember Mary, the girl from Nazareth, who had the singular privilege of giving birth to God’s Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  No wonder Elizabeth loudly exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Because of that “blessed event” we too are among the blessed.

 

We sing of Mary, mother,

Fair maiden, full of grace.

She bore the Christ, our brother,

Who came to save our race.

May we, with her, surrender

Ourselves to Your command

And lay upon Your altar

Our gifts of heart and hand.

LSB855 st. 8  For all the Faithful Women

 

Picking Cherries in Door County

 

An article about cherry orchards in The Country Today weekly paper reminded me of two special memories.  I may have written of these previously.

While camping with our six-person family in our four persons pop up camper I walked along the shoreline skipping rocks.  I picked up a perfect skipping stone.   Before I flung bouncing off the water, I noticed that through millennia of ancient glaciers, yearly ice covers and sloshing waves a raised crucifix had developed on the surface.  I have used that stone countless times as an object lesson.  Right now, its lying on the desk in front of me.

Before we headed home to Marshfield, we looked for a cherry orchard to pick a supply of fruit. After climbing into the trees and picking our containers full, we met the propriety, a woman, perhaps about 50 years of age.  She asked, “Are you a Missouri Synod pastor?”  What?  Was it tattooed on my forehead like a mark from Revelation?  She said, “I saw your ring. I have a son studying at the seminary.”

My ring with the XP (Chr) inlaid was given to me by my home congregation when I was ordained in 1967.  I’m wearing it right now.  The XP together form not only a cross, but a manger and a Christ the King form.  People have noticed it often over the last 51 years, mostly by gas station attendants.  Now one leg of X is missing, but it still tells the story of Jesus, birth. Death and resurrection.   Scripture does say something like, “Be ready with an answer for the hope that is in you” and on your finger.

Sunday Christians

 

I’m reading T.C Boyle’s novel, “The Women,” about the four women in the life of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright.  Amid the turmoil in all their lives, the author uses the term Sunday Christians.

It’s hard enough being a Sunday Christian.  Over the years I’ve witnessed and overheard family squabbles between the church door and the car door.  Or someone calling on God to damn the rain or whatever while still standing on the church steps.  Or having shredded pastor, organist or fellow member of the body of Christ for lunch.

However, scripture and, therefore God, calls us to be seven- day Christians.  This morning I also read Psalm 41, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor and weak.”  Because “in the day of trouble the Lord delivers him, protects him and calls him blessed.” Therefore, “do not give him up to the will of his enemies.”

But how does the Lord keep his promise to consider the poor and weak, deliver and protect them and keep them alive?  You probably know where this is going.  The Lord works through you and me.  We are God’s agents.  That’s why, in some further reading this morning, John 15, Jesus says we need to stay attached to him who is the vine.  Abide in his love and love one another.

That certainly chimes in with the last verses of the epistle lesson this morning, Ephesians 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God as beloved children.  And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”

Sunday Christians are also called to be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Christians.

Look and See

 

For those of us who learned to read following the antics of Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot and Puff the cat, look and see were some of the first words we encountered.  Look and see Dick run.

This weekend we see Elijah running for his life in I Kings 19:1-8.   At the end of the day he prays “Take my life, because if you won’t, Lord, Jezebel will.” He lays down hoping that when he wakes up he will be dead.  But God sends an angel (or is it God, himself) who wakes up the dejected prophet.  “Get up and eat.”  When Elijah looked, he saw a cake of bread and a jar of water. After another slumber, another rude awakening, he looked and saw more stone – baked bread.  He traveled for 40 days on those two bread meals.

In Gospel lesson, John 6:35-51, Jesus speaks of a bread even better than Elijah’s cake.  And He is the bread, the bread of life who satisfies our hunger for our entire life’s journey.  He is the bread from heaven.  Whoever looks at him and believes has eternal life.  However, his opponents, when they looked they didn’t see the Bread from heaven, but a dangerous upstart from Galilee.  Their hunger was not satisfied until they could look and see him on the cross.

Psalm 34:8, invites us not only to look, but to taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  Look, taste and see the filling Bread who is Jesus.  And when the Jezebels of life threaten us, we can take refuge in Jesus, the Bread who will sustain us on our journey through life into LIFE.

Jesus Wrote in the Dirt

 

In John 8, Jesus, early one morning, was sitting in the temple teaching. He had already been teaching that he was the living water, the bread of life, doing the work of His Father and he was the key to eternal life.  The expert teachers and Pharisees, who were trying to live a good and God pleasing life, were looking for a way to kill Jesus.  Well, nobody’s perfect.

They brought Jesus a woman whom they had caught in adultery.  Did they know Jesus was teaching in the temple grounds? Did they know that this woman was having an affair?  Strange, they only brought the woman, where was the other half of this twosome? Deuteronomy 22:22 -24 clearly says both the man and woman are to be stoned. So, these godly men confronted Jesus with this sinner.  “What do you think Jesus?”  Jesus bent down and began writing in the dirt.  They continued badgering while he was writing.

Finally, he stood up and said, “Whoever has never done anything wrong gets to go first.”  He sat down and continued writing in the dirt.  Eventually, they all drifted away, beginning with the oldest.  The youngest were probably reluctant to lose their chance to sharpen their rock throwing skills.

After a while Jesus stood up and it was just him and woman. “Where did everyone go?  Doesn’t seem to be anyone to accuse you.”  “Seems that way,” the woman said.  Jesus, said, “Neither will I.  Just don’t do it anymore.”

My question is, what did Jesus write in the dirt?  I see I’ve gone on longer than I intended.  Let me know what you think.

God Works through our Work

 

One of Martin Luther’s contributions was giving our work a higher purpose.  Work is not simply labor and toil, but a calling, a vocation.  That’s important to remember when our work and life seems meaningless drudgery.

Luther wrote, “What is our work in field and garden, in town and house, in battling and in governing, but the work of children through which God bestows his gifts on the land, in the house, and everywhere? Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He is doing everything.  He could give you corn and fruit without you plowing and planting, but that is not His will; neither is it his will that your plowing and planting is solely why you produce corn and fruit.  But you must plow and plant and say a blessing on your work and pray: Now help, O God; give us now corn and fruit, dear Lord; for otherwise our plowing and planting will not yield us anything.  It is a gift.

God is the giver of all good gifts; but you must act and take the bull by the horns, which means you must work to give God an occasion and a mask to work His work.”

From Luther’s exposition of Psalm 147

Gospel Opportunity

Gospel Opportunity

I had been engaged in a conversation on Facebook which touched on the political, over which we seem to have totally lost our collective sense of humor.  One of the replies came back, “How Righteous of you.”

I think it was meant sarcastically, but I chose to take it as a compliment and then shared how I am righteous.  I thanked the person and then wrote something along these lines. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit my faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus brings me God’s righteousness replacing my unrighteousness.  Through Jesus, God removes my wrongness before himself and puts Jesus rightness in its place and gives me the credit.

The hymnist Johann Heermann wrote in the 17th century,

True righteousness by faith I gain;

Christ’s work is my salvation.

His death, that perfect sacrifice,

Has paid the all-sufficient price;

In Him my hope is anchored.

LSB 568:4

Thankfully the Holy Spirit was able to break through and for once I had some words with which to reply.

 

Lazarus is Raised

 

This morning I read the account of Jesus raising Lazarus. Stephen Mitchell wrote a reflection on Lazarus resurrection recorded in John 11:38-44.

From Parables and Portraits

He had almost reached the end of the tunnel when he heard his friend’s voice calling him back.  The voice was filled with love, but also with sorrow and pity, and not so much fear of death as resistance to it, as if it were an enemy to be expelled or overcome.  He had realized so much, during the four days’ journey, that these resonances struck him as odd, coming as they did from a man of such insight; struck him as laughable, as almost childish.  All the dramas of his short, intense life were an instant away from being resolved, dissolved, in the light at the end of the tunnel, which was not a physical light-after all, he no longer had physical eyes-but a radiant presence, a sense of completion a million times more blissful than what he had felt even in the company of his beloved friend.  And the sweet seductive drama of master and disciple, how childish that had been too, as if a candle flame needed to warm itself before a fire.  He thought of his sisters in the old house in Bethany, of Mary anointing their friend’s feet and wiping them with her hair: the tenderness, the absurdity of the gesture.

The voice was still calling.  He didn’t have the heart to refuse.  He knew that, for his friend’s sake, he would have to postpone his disappearance, to hurry back down the tunnel and return to his body, left behind so gratefully, which had already begun to stink.

Greater love has no man.