Good Intentions

 

The Prayer of the Day (Collect) for this Sunday begins, “O God of all that is just and good, nourish in us every virtue and bring to completion every good Intent…”  “Bring to completion every good intent.”  When I scan back over my life, I encounter too many times when I had a good intent to do something and then it all evaporated into the ethereal.

True, God is just and good.  But I don’t want his justice against my failed intentions.  I want his justice, In Christ, which comes out of his never-failing goodness.  In Christ and in His goodness, God feeds my intents with the virtue of follow through.  God leads me to “grow in grace and bring forth the fruit of good works.”  Intent maybe the start of a good work, but it is not the same as action.  All this happens “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You, God, and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.”

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Listening for the Crunch of Gravel

 

The man lay beaten, bloody, robbed and left for dead on the Jericho Rd.  Then he heard the crunch of sandal on gravel approaching.  “Would you be my neighbor?” he called to the priest.  Without breaking stride, the priest continued down the 17- mile road from Jerusalem at 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea level. The priest had duties which could not be fulfilled if he became unclean.

Later the man lying crumpled against the wall of rock rising above him, heard the crunch of gravel.  Ah, a Levite, who prepared worship matters for the priest, directed the choir and music.  “Could you be my neighbor?” the mess lying against the rock wall called.  The Levite stopped, but he didn’t have time.  A choir to direct, worship plans to complete.

Now a third crunch of gravel.  The man saw it was a hated and heretical Samaritan, sub human they were.  Any Samaritan felt the same way about a Jew.  But the horrible person stopped, helped, loaded him on his donkey, took him to an inn, stayed the night to care for him, and paid for a month’s stay.

Jesus asked, “Which was the neighbor to the man beaten and robbed?”

Jesus helps us understand who our neighbor is.  He became the hated Samaritan. Our unneighborliness hung him on a cross. He hung beaten and bloody at a crossroad outside Jerusalem where the sandals crunched in the gravel as passersby derided him or ignored him.

Who is our neighbor?  It is not only those who stand alongside and with whom we live, but those who live on the other side of the chasms which we have created.  It may be a political chasm across which we feel free to deride others.  It may be a cultural chasm.  Jesus became our neighbor and now he says, “Go and do likewise.  Love your neighbor as yourself as an expression of the love you profess to have for me.”

 

Doing Good in the Neighborhood

Luke 10:25-37

10:36-37 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

For years, Mr. Rogers, entered our living rooms via the TV set.  He put on a sweater and sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.” He invited each child and parent to be his neighbor. “Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood extended beyond all boundaries and barriers. The idea for Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, could have come from our gospel lesson.

A lawyer asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What must I do?  St. Paul writes to the Colossians, “Thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the saints.”

The Father made us fit inheritors when Jesus rescued us from the power of darkness and moved us into the neighborhood where He is our friend through the forgiveness of sin. What Jesus has done for us is not unlike an athlete who has grown up in a dangerous, poverty-stricken neighborhood. When he signs a professional contract he moves his parents to a safe neighborhood. Jesus has transferred us to the neighborhood where grace and peace light our lives and we live in safety from the perils of God’s judgment upon our sin. Psalm 136 tells us,  “He remembered us when our fortunes were low- for his love endures forever.”

When Jesus asked the expert in the scriptures. “What is written in the Law? How do you recite it?” he was seeking to move the Lawyer to that new neighborhood. The scripture expert knew the catechism by heart, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He had committed himself to total devotion to God, with every ounce of his being. His every inner drive would be devoted to God. With his intelligence he would be thinking of nothing else than loving God. Then, having devoted himself to God completely and totally he would do the same concerning his neighbor. He would do nothing but good in God’s neighborhood.

However, he needs Jesus to clarify something, “Who is my neighbor?” It is hard to do good in God’s neighborhood; if you don’t know the extent of the neighborhood. Then of course, we may know our neighbors, all too well. As a limerick says, “to dwell there above with those we love, oh that will be a glory. To dwell here below with those, we know, well, that’s another story.”

Now Jesus blows our ideas of neighbor and neighborhood all to smithereens. He tells a story of a man who was traveling the notoriously dangerous 17 mile Jericho Road that descended from Jerusalem 2,300 feet above sea level to Jericho, 1,300 feet below sea-level.  A wall of rock on one side and a drop of on the other side. Along the way, some robbers attacked him, beat him, left him bruised and bloodied, stripped naked and stole all he had. They left him for dead.

After a time, he heard the crunch of sandals on gravel. Half opening one swollen eye he saw dimly a priest approaching.  He called out, “Help me. Would you be my neighbor? Won’t you be my neighbor?” However, the priest hardly gave the mess lying by the side of the road a glance.   He went on his way without breaking stride. He didn’t want to risk becoming unclean. After all, he had priestly duties to take care of. The crunch of sandals on gravel receded into the distance.

After a time, the crunching of gravel told of the approach of another man.  Through the slit of what remained of his vision the man saw, a Levite who assisted with all the holy matters happening at the temple and directed the choir and musicians. Through parched lips, the beaten man weakly called, “Would you be mine? Please won’t you be my neighbor?” After stopping to look for a moment, the crunch of gravel receded in the distance.  He was just too busy.

In time, the sound of crunching gravel again caught the man‘s attention a third time. Through his increasingly swollen eye, he saw it was a hated, heretical Samaritan. For a Jew, to interact with a Samaritan was revolting. They were outside the neighborhood in which any God-fearing Jew would ever find himself. They would never live in God’s neighborhood. Still, the Samaritan stopped, came near, tore some of his own clothing into bandages, and poured on soothing oil and cleansing wine. He put him on his donkey. When they came to the inn, he did not just dump the man off and run. He stayed the night caring for him. The next day he paid the Innkeeper a full month’s rent promising that when he passed by again, if there was more expense, he would pay that too.

It’s a wonderful story, one of our favorite parables.  At the end of the story Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”  The problem is, we often don’t.  The lives of others are too messy! Our lives are too busy.  How can we trust those who ask for our help?  Who knows what’s behind their woeful stories?  They may live on the other side of the political chasm that divides us

St. Paul writes of us, “While we were still weak; while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies, God made us his friends through the death of Jesus.” He set no limits on his love.

Jesus, is the despised one who has come down the road and spotted us in the wounded nakedness of our need. He took on our wounds.  In the balm of his steadfast love he healed us.  He took on our iniquities.  He himself, received no mercy. He was left to die on the cross, naked, bruised and bloodied at a crossroads outside Jerusalem. “And those who passed by derided him.” Jesus’ crucifixion is in violation of both parts of the commandment. When Christ was hung on the cross we sinned both against God in our failure to love him with our heart, soul and mind, and against our neighbor, Jesus. Christ is the only one who was fully able to love God and neighbor as self. He fulfills the commandment on our behalf. In Christ we find God acting as the true neighbor. Through his love, which knew no bounds, He paid the whole cost of restoring us to life. Now there is nothing more for us re pay save giving thanks to the Lord, for his good and steadfast love that endures forever. There is no one to whom Jesus would not be neighbor. He doesn’t say, “Let’s see if you are the right kind of people.”  He says, “Come unto me all who are loaded down with cares and woes, and I will give you rest.”

But now, Jesus says to us, “Go and do likewise.”  We join in Christ’s mission, and serve in his name.  We serve in the messiness and busyness of life.  We serve because he first served. A man once observed Mother Teresa cleaning the wound of a leper.  He turned away in revulsion and said, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars.”  Teresa looked at him and replied, “Neither would I.  But I would do it for Christ.”  Jesus says, “What you do to the least of my brethren you do it to me.” When we answer the call, “Please, won’t you be my neighbor?” Then indeed, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”

 

My Neighbor

“My faith I must bring inwardly and upwards toward God, but my works I must do outwardly and downwards to my neighbor.”
Martin Luther, 1526
In Luke 10, a man seeking do know what he must do to inherit eternal life, asks, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus blows our usual idea of neighbor all to smithereens, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The priest and the Levite refuse to be neighbor to a fellow Jew lying beaten by the roadside. Only a despised Samaritan acts as his neighbor.

My neighbor is the person on the opposite side of the political chasm. My neighbor is the person who views the options of a pregnancy differently than I do. My neighbor is the person who speaks Spanish to his friends while mowing the church lawn at the end of our street.
My neighbor is one of the people whom Mr. Rogers invited to be his neighbor, without any qualifications and questions. “Won’t you be my neighbor?” asked the man lying beaten and bloody along the Jerusalem to Jericho road.
How would we answer Jesus question, “Which one proved to be a neighbor?”
Would it be me? Would it be you?

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.”

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.