A January Cardiac Day

There was nothing unusual about walking the mile from our house on Arlington to Immanuel on that 1988 January Sunday morning when the air was painful to breath.  I thought the ache in my chest was a bit different but there two services and a Bible Class to cover. Friday, I had skied along the Black River and needed to change my ski wax due to warming temperatures.  No problem.

Monday morning, I made the church walk again, and again the pain.  “I’m think I’m having a heart attack,” I announced.  But Cathy Embke and my partner Pastor Bob Reinhardt were busy, and no one paid attention, neither did I.  So, after a morning of teaching confirmation etc., I walked home for lunch a slight uphill grade.  Across from the Kibbel house I stopped, I thought, “Maybe I should stop at the Kibbel’s for a bit.”  But the pain subsided, and I slowly walked the rest of the way.  After lunch another walk, mostly on the downgrade, back to church.  Once again, the pain.  A Member of the congregation was in the office and I asked whether he could give me a ride to the clinic.

Once at our doctor’s office they said, “Sit right there and don’t move.”  Eventually I had to move and get to a phone to call home.  I told Adam and apparently sometime after Becky got home from teaching at Granton he remembered to come up from the basement and tell Becky, “Dad is in the hospital.”

A week or so later I was having surgery with multiple by-passes.  I was 47 years old.  Our family doctor came in and asked how I was doing, “Not bad for someone who has had his chest split open with an ax,” I said.

That was thirty-one years ago and two more ax wielding’s with a few stents between 2 & 3.

People tell me that God has things for me to do yet.  I wonder what it could be…  I read of classmates dying, I wonder, “What is wrong with you people anyway?”    To quote my 13-year-old granddaughter who told Becky today, “I’ve sure got a good life.”

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Heal Us

Our prayer this weekend is for healing.  “Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities and stretch forth the hand of your majesty to heal and defend.”  I want to expand “our infirmities” beyond our physical ailments.  One of our infirmities as a nation is that our unity is on infirm ground.  We have built up walls between each other which are costlier than any wall of concrete or steel.  These walls divide us one from another.

In the epistle lesson St. Paul writes repeatedly of one body in Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12-31) How will we hear his words?  We were all baptized in one Spirit into one body.  Filled with same Spirit Jesus went to his home town, Nazareth, to proclaim the good news to the poor and the year of the Lord’s favor.  In the presence of the folks with whom he grew up he spoke gracious words; yet his home town folks ended the day trying to throw him off a cliff.  We are in danger of throwing Jesus off the cliff again when, though we claim to be Christian, we let our political views overshadow and negate the mercy of the One who truly lives and rules.

We pray this weekend that the everlasting and all – powerful King of the universe reach out His royal hand and heal us and defend us against our own inclinations to denigrate others because we are certain we are right.  We pray this, “through Jesus Christ, Your Son OUR LORD, who lives and reigns with You, almighty and everlasting God, and Holy Spirit ONE GOD, now and forever.”

Figuring out God’s Plan in a Time of Pain

Figuring out God’s plans is a most frustrating and often fruitless effort.  Particularly in the light of Isaiah 55:7-8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”  God told Jeremiah to write to the Israelites taken into exile, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Yet, those people of God had suffered the destruction of their way of life and were forced to walk several hundred miles across barren ground to the Tigris – Euphrates Rivers.

Pain began in the garden of Eden when giving birth to new life would come through increased pain and work became a toil.  In his book “The Problem of Pain” C.S. Lewis quotes his friend George McDonald, “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.”  That’s the position that St. Paul also takes.

Pain and suffering come from living in a fallen world, and for a Christian it only makes sense in the light of Christ’s sufferings for our salvation.  And yet, it is troubling when we are in pain or those we love are suffering, especially when it might go on for a long time.  We think of Psalm 23 as comforting, that the Lord is with me as I walk through valley of the shadow of death.  Yet that valley may not be a peaceful dale, but a long narrow rocky gorge prone to flash flooding as is the case in the middle east.  In the end the psalm acknowledges that God prepares a banquet table in the face of my enemy, death.  Christ spoke of our new life in terms of a great wedding banquet.  The Gospel lesson from last Sunday foreshadowed that when Jesus turned 150 gallons of water into fine wine.  Holy Communion is a preview of that great feast.

Yet, Psalm 13 asks, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” In Ps 88 the writer cries out, “O lord, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry.”

In the end all these Psalms are spoken or cried in the context of the Lord’s continued presence and steadfast love in the time when pain and suffering engulf our life.

Awesome

“Awesome,” Dr Lele said.  I was at the eye clinic for my third follow up on my cataract surgery.  “Awesome,” he said. Now one hardly ever hears that during one’s lifetime and then to be told that when you’re closer to 78 than 77, when some people think that because you’re old you don’t have to take care of yourself.  I told Dr. Lele that I hadn’t seen this good since I was a teenager.

That took me back to the Old Testament lesson last Sunday, Isaiah 62.  There the Lord says, “I’m going to give you a new name” and “You shall be a crown of beauty in my hand and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.”  Wow, new name, beautiful crown, diadem fit for royalty.  Finally, “Your God shall rejoice over you.”  That’s heady stuff and good to hear.  And then in the Gospel from John 2, Jesus goes to a wedding and turns 150 gallons of water into fine wine.

This God stuff is almost more than I can take in.  But the psalmist in 128 says, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways.”  Well, if God is going to give you a new name, calls you beautiful and makes you royalty, you would have to be a fool not to go for that.

That’s awesome, count me in.     

Be an Unceasing Nag

The list of destroyed communities in 2018 include Paradise, Mexico Beach, Aleppo and so it has been through history.   In 587 BC Judah and Jerusalem fell to Babylon.  “How lonely sits the city that was full of people!  How like a widow has she become…she has none to comfort her…Mt Zion lies desolate. (Lam.)

But God had promised restoration, vindication, salvation, a reversal of all the desolation.  Yet, God seemed to sit silently watching according to the OT lesson for this Sunday (Is. 62:1-5).  But now enough is enough.  “I will not be silent…I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.”  Judah and Jerusalem will be renamed.  No longer known as “Forsaken” and “Desolate.” Rather known as “Delight” and “Married.”  Like a newly married rejoice, so God will rejoice over his bride and she (the land) shall be fruitful and productive.

God puts watchman on the walls of broken-down Jerusalem with one order, “to never stop nagging me 24/7 until I remember to fulfill my promises and make Judah and Jerusalem a place of praise in all the earth.” (Is 62:7).

Thus, we too wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises to us through Jesus Christ.  Christ gave his life that he might present us to his heavenly Father, without spot or wrinkle as his bride, made holy bearing His name.   Even now we await the new heaven and new earth, into which Christ carries us over the threshold of our new eternal home, where God is light.

Redbird in the Honeysuckle

Fierce winds blow from the north

Barging across the UCC athletic field

Buffeting the immoveable headstones

Before crashing into the church

Bowling down the hill

Bouncing and threading its way

Around the three houses above us

Banging into our domicile

Back of our backyard

Among bare branches of Honeysuckle

Birds hop about the invasive brush

Bluejay, chickadee and cardinal

Boisterous crows caw while

Brave hawks soar on the biting wind

Below, the foot of snow is no more

Blizzard, not quite, but still well remembered

I Know You

On January 16, 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote the Man from La Mancha, considered to be the first modern novel.  It’s been several years since I read the novel, but we usually sum up Quixote’s life as one of uselessly tilting at windmills to restore life as he thought it should be.  Quixote can have relevance today as we see society if not the whole world going awry and any attempts to turn things in a better direction as so much tilting at windmills.

However, the Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 43:1-7) for last Sunday pulls us back to reality.  “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you…he who formed you…do not be afraid, because I have reclaimed you.  I have called you by name; you are mine.”  We are more than a collection of DNAs born to live out our life in the chaos of an out of control world.  God created us in our mother’s womb.  God knows us.  We belong to him two ways.   As our creator and through Jesus he has reclaimed us for himself.  With that claim go numerous promises.

Are we awash on a stormed tossed sea?  Are we afraid? “I am with you. I am Immanuel.”  Are we lost in our life?  “I am the Lord your God…your Savior.”  Do we feel worthless and useless? “You are precious to me, you are honored, and I love you.”  Do we feel scattered and alone in a world which seems to be godless? “I will gather you” from the east, west, north and south.  Does our life lack a real purpose?  “You are my witnesses…I have chosen you as my servant in order that you know and believe in me and understand that I am the One.”

Jesus Baptism

With many other churches Resurrection cancelled all the services this weekend.  When Becky drove by, she noticed the parking lot wasn’t plowed out.  Someone messed up.  What does one do when church is cancelled?  You go to the grocery store or St. Louis Bread Company (Panera).

Jesus has grown up fast since December 25th.  He’s two years old on January 6 and on January 13 he’s thirty and goes to the Jordan to be baptized by his cousin John.  Luke 3:21, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was also baptized.  While He was praying, heaven opened, and the Holy Spirit came down on Him in bodily form as a dove.  And a voice from heaven said, ‘You are my Son, whom I love, I am delighted with You.’”   

The Prayer for the Day (Collect) is addressed to our “Father in heaven…You proclaimed Him (Jesus) Your beloved Son and anointed Him with the Holy Spirit.”  The prayer immediately moves on to our baptism.  “Make all who are baptized in His name faithful in their calling as Your children and inheritors with Him of everlasting life.”

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus “full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…to be tempted by the devil.”  We may be inheritors with Christ of everlasting life; however, we live in this world for decades before that inheritance of everlasting life is realized.  After our baptism we may have been taken home to a gathering of our family.  But we are also thrust into a world which challenges our trust in our heavenly Father and in Jesus’ death and resurrection guaranteeing our inheritance of everlasting life.  We are tempted to go astray, as Jesus was.  We need the Holy Spirit’s aid to remain faithful to our calling as children of the heavenly Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus, the master of our salvation.

The Day Morning Moved

January 11, this is the day I’ve waited for.  On the day of the winter solstice we are told that it is the shortest “day” of the year.  That’s only partly true.  Indeed, within a couple of days sunset starts going to bed later, so that by today it will stay up about fifteen minutes later.  The trouble is getting sunrise to rise and shine earlier. You see, after solstice day sunrise pulls the covers up over its head and stays put in bed for four minutes longer until 7:20.  Until today.  At last it’s started to get its lazy bones out of bed to make its breakfast appearance at 7:19. Now we can officially look forward to daffodil days.

All this on a day when we have our first real snowstorm in five years.  Even now, though the sun has gone to bed an hour and a half ago, outside the darkness is unable to overcome the light.  Even now, the snow has crept halfway up the rear tire of my Kia Forte.  The pine tree in the back yard is flocked in white.  Weeds, an old machinery wheel and the top of a wood wind mill my brother made me some years ago are wearing fanciful top hats in a variety of designs.  Its supposed to snow all night.  I wonder what new shapes will appear when the sun rises at 7:18.    

The Cappadocian Fathers

I’ve noticed over the years of studying history, that there are certain families, locations, and periods of time when particularly influential people emerge and still other times when there is a lack of talented leaders. 

 In the 4th century an area known as Cappadocia in what is now central Turkey produced a family and a friend who became the most influential teachers and theologians of their time. The church remembers today three brothers, Basil (330-379) and Gregory (335-395), their sister Macrina (324-379), and Peter (340-391) along with a friend Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389). If we confess our faith this Sunday using the words of the Nicene Creed, the Cappadocian Fathers became defenders of that faith.

 Basil, on Holy Communion: “For myself, I communicate four times a week…In Alexandria and Egypt it is the general rule for each member of the laity to keep communion at his own house. “He…is bound to believe that he rightly partakes of it and receives it from him who gave it.”

Gregory of Nyssa wrote concerning baptism: “Since the death of him who leads us to life involved burial under the earth.  So, everyone who is linked to him and fixes his eyes on the same victory has water poured on him, instead of earth, and thus represents the grace of resurrection attained after three days.”

 Macrina:  After her fiancée died, she devoted herself to leading a community dedicated to ascetic meditation and prayer.

 Gregory of Nazianzus became bishop of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire.  Regarding infant baptism: “Let him be sanctified from babyhood, and consecrated by the Spirit in his tender years.  You have no need of charms or spells.  Give your child the powerful and lovely amulet of the Trinity,”