Hans, a member of the Friday morning Bible Class said he and his wife would be going to the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League convention in Mobile, Alabama this week.  I said, “Their conventions are the only ones I really ever enjoyed.”  Hans replied, “If we let the women run the synodical convention, it would be done in two days.”

I first really got involved with LWML in about 1971 at Zion, Albert Lea. We did have an active women’s group and happy to be asked to be the counselor to the zone LWML.

They even paid my way to the district convention at Gustavus Adolphus college, in St. Peter’s MN.  The college is rooted in Swedish Lutheran heritage.

What took me by surprise was the realization that for the first time in my post high school education I was in a setting with several hundred women and only a few men.  I was only 4 years out of the seminary and except for 2 years at Concordia College, St. Paul, my next six years were in an almost total male environment.  At that time pastors’ conferences and conventions were overwhelmingly attended by men.

Things have changed since those days.   I have always appreciated the work of the LWML and the great support they give to the missions of the church.  And my experience at Gustavus Adolphus college in the summer of 1971, has made me sensitive when I see a minority amid overwhelming majority; whatever the make up of the minority and the majority in the group.


Stoning God

The Gospel lesson for Trinity Sunday ends (John 8:48-59), “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”  Strange way to treat the Son of God who with the Father and the Holy Spirit created the throwers to be, according to Psalm 8, “a little less than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.”  Moreover, they used stones which God had created to try to kill God. All this dishonorable and inglorious behavior took place in what was claimed to be God’s earthly residence.  Thus, they drove God out of his own home.

Jesus had already made himself unpopular in Chap. 2, when he used a whip to chase out of the temple courts those selling oxen, sheep, pigeons and those exchanging currency to the special temple money.  Imagine the narthex at church filled with bellowing oxen, bleating sheep, cooing pigeons and all the odors that go with having animals, including piles of manure and the merchants calling out offering the best deals on their sacrificial animals.  And we tend to take notice of a crying baby.

 Chapter 8, is the conclusion of a nasty exchange between God (Jesus) who was accused of having a demon. He protested that he was honoring his Father.  However, they were honoring their father, who was not Abraham as they claimed, but the devil who was a liar, murderer and wouldn’t know the truth if it bit him on the nose.  And neither would they.

One gets the idea that this isn’t going to end well.  Which it doesn’t because these folks created to be a little less than the heavenly beings, managed to not only chase God out of the temple, but even out of Jerusalem where they hang God on a cross and bury him, thinking “good riddance.” Of course, we know how that ended, with Mary Magdalene meeting Jesus in the garden cemetery and becoming the first apostle telling the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

I guess we can say on this Father’s Day, “Father knows Best.”   

Mr Rivard wants to Cross Apple River

Dad didn’t know why Mr. Rivard wanted to look at the 80 acres of wooded land which abutted the south line of our pasture below the barn and across the river.  He could have accessed the parcel from the town road that ran along the other side of the 80.  Dad was an accommodating person and not one to question the wisdom of someone like our visitor from town, attired in his everyday wear of a 3-piece suit, tie, hat and dress shoes.  In our neighborhood, in the late 40’s, suit, hat, tie and dress shoes were reserved for Sunday morning church. Dad guided the Sunday attired Mr. Rivard through the manure rich barnyard, down the hill, around the swampy area that stood between the barnyard and the river to the tree trunk bridge which spanned Apple River.   Sometimes these bridges were trunks of large trees that the river undercut and fell on their own and sometimes they were smaller trunks which had been deliberately felled.  A bridge might serve its purpose for a few years but eventually decay and the spring floods carried it away. The smaller tree-trunk bridges tested the balance and nerve of the pedestrian.  The one currently in use was one of the smaller narrower versions.  Mr. Rivard took the challenge in his 3-piece suit, tie, hat and dress shoes.  Unfortunately, he had hardly begun his acrobatic walk when he lost his balance and fell into the moderately deep water.  It may be that dad retrieved his hat before it got too far downstream toward New Orleans via the St. Croix and Mississippi.   The now drenched Mr. Rivard hauled himself up the bank and without a further word retraced his steps around the swampy area up the hill and through the manure rich barnyard to his car and drove back to Turtle Lake.  We never saw Mr. Rivard again and I don’t think he bought the 80.  Several years later dad purchased the 80 and my brother now uses it as sylvan pasture land for his cattle.

Excuse the Latin Please

When I was a young pastor, I would get peeved at those older pastors who would throw out a German phrase at a conference, but not translate it.  Well, now I’m an old pastor and am going throw out a favorite Latin phrase but will translate it.

Augustine coined the phrase, “Curvatus in se.”  Curved in on oneself.  What got me going on this train of thought was a translation of Solomon’s blessing on the people following his prayer at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.  I Kings 8:58, “May he bend our hearts toward him.”

Some translations have “incline”, but I like the image of bending better.  If you’ve ever tried to bend something into the shape you want or tried to straighten what was already bent, you know it takes some effort, maybe more than you have to complete the task.  Luther said that being curved in on oneself means that people, will seek to bend the best gifts of God for their own use and enjoyment alone. Even when we come to faith in Christ, we will have a propensity to bend God to our own use; instead of seeking to be useful to God.

It may be that a pastor in giving the blessing at the end of the service may do so hoping that God will bend our hearts toward himself during the coming week, that we might see our work, our role as spouse, parent, child of parents, brother, sister, and neighbor as ways in which we are serving and glorifying God in everything we say and do.  

A Limb Rests on the Roof

Last Thursday morning I noticed a blue tarp covering a hole over the kitchen and a limb resting on the roof of the garage at the ranch style domicile at the end of our extended one block long street.  Most of the houses on our street are circa 1950, “stick built,” that is, without usual rafters.   The large forked limb fell from well up on a mature oak tree which stands nearby. There is also a lot of debris scattered on the ground.

Sunday Becky and I were talking with a couple of neighbors.  One couple had first heard and seen the limb break the previous Sunday.  It came crashing down taking more limbs with it during a rain Wednesday evening. Jeff, who lives next door to the owner has been in communication with her in Connecticut. 

As I understand it, a couple of years a woman living in California bought the house sight unseen intending to live in her new purchase.  She also intended to rent out a small mother-in-law house in the back yard.  However, when she arrived in person, she discovered that she could not rent out the small house.  Furthermore, the larger house needed extensive refurbishing.  Her plans not working out, she decided to rent out the main house after getting some major rehabbing done.  After the latest folks moved out, she had it interior repainted.  Another neighbor, Marie, told me that it’s beautiful inside. In the meantime, the woman in question moved out east.  Jeff said he suggested having the tree taken down.  That must have been too much, and she cut off communication.

For now, a lease sign stands in the yard and a large oak limb rests on the garage roof beside the blue tarp covered hole above the kitchen.   All is quiet, though we do wonder.

Pentecost Wheat Harvest Festival

The wheat was ripening last weekend when Becky and I traveled in Illinois.  I imagine our former neighbors from when we lived east of Collinsville are thinking of getting their combines in working order once again.

Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost, originally a festival of joy and thanksgiving for the wheat harvest.  Pentecost came fifty days after Passover and was one of the three great pilgrimage festivals in Judaism. The reading from Acts 2, will include a listing of the nations represented in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit fell upon the disciples with the sound of wind and tongues like fire enabling them to be heard in a multiplicity of languages.

This was a fulfillment of OT promises that God would gather his scattered people from the four the winds back to Jerusalem.  Thus, on Pentecost there were people from all directions.  From east of the Roman Empire were Parthians, Medes and Elamites, closer in were others from Mesopotamia and Judea.  From the north in the regions of Asia Minor (Turkey) were people from Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, also Phrygia and Pamphylia.  From the south individuals from the large Jewish population centers of Alexandria, Egypt and from Cyrene in Libya.  Moving west individuals had arrived from the Rome.  Completing the picture, island dwellers from Crete and those from the desert regions of Arabia.

  Easterners and Westerners were gathered in Jerusalem, when the meaning of the wheat harvest day of joy and thanksgiving was changed to the beginning of the world-wide harvest of people still going on today as the seed of the Gospel is planted, sprouts, grows and ripens in the hearts of those who hear and respond in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Choosing the Twelve Disciples

Choosing the Twelve Disciples

We were studying Mark 3, in our Coffee and Conversation group this morning.  We should also add “Doughnuts” since who brings goodies the next week is usually the first order of business.  A young man who is going to the seminary this Fall came to class.  John, one of the retired lawyer members, said, “Just so you are aware, this is a rough and tumble group.”

Rough and tumble is what Jesus faced, becoming more and more of a celebrity.  People came from all directions.  Mark reports, “To keep the crowd from crushing him he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him.  He healed so many that all who had diseases rushed up to him.”  Even the unclean spirits were rushing to him, falling down before him.  They were the only ones who acknowledged that he was the Son of God.  But Jesus didn’t want their acclamation and he told them to keep their mouths shut.

To get away he went into the hills and summoned to himself those he wanted to be his group of Twelve.  Mark reports “He made the Twelve to be with Him and to be sent out to preach and have authority to drive out demons.”  “Made” in the preceding sentence has the sense of Genesis 1:1, “He made the heavens and the earth.”

But who did he choose?  There was Simon whom he nicknamed “Rocky.” Rocky shattered after Jesus was arrested but gave a rock-solid message on Pentecost Day. He also called two brothers, James and John, whom he nicknamed “Thunderbolts.”  Andrew, Peter’s brother and Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew the hated and mistrusted tax collector, Thomas who later had his doubts about the resurrection, James, Thaddaeus, Simon the radical revolutionary and Judas, from Kerioth who would betray Jesus. Hardly a utopian group.

Incidentally, by this time the Pharisees, a legalistic lay group who thought they could hasten the kingdom of God via rigorous adherence to rules and regulations.  In other words, legislate morality according to their own view.  They gathered with some backers of the ethics – challenged king Herod to destroy and ruin Jesus.  Of course, they were plotting to kill the very one they were expecting to come and save the day.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

The trees are quiet.  We are waiting for a line of storms to move up I-44 by about 7 p.m.  Then with the wind they will come alive shaking, weaving, and waving.  Once the storms pass the trees will return to quietude once again.

In John’s vision in Rev. 22 a grove of the Tree of Life, makes a park area between the river and the street in the restored Garden of Eden.  The grove is a sort of fruit of the month club continually producing twelve kinds of fruit. The curse placed on Adam and Eve for eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil has been removed.  Christ took that curse upon himself, replacing the curse with God’s grace and blessing. 

The leaves have healing powers, not only for medical purposes, but the ability to heal the relationships and the waring nature of the nations.

This Tree of Life is none other than Jesus Christ himself.   A sentence from the Orthodox vespers service for Easter sums it up, “By your cross, you did destroy the curse of the tree.  By your burial you did slay the dominion of death. By your rising, you did enlighten humanity. O One who brings blessings, Christ our God, to you be glory.”

A Hungarian hymn tells us:

There in God’s garden stands the Tree of Wisdom, whose leaves hold forth the healing of the nations.  See how its branches reach to us in welcome; hear what the voice says, “Come to me, you weary!  Give me your sickness; give me your sorrow; I will give blessing.”

A River Runs Through It

Decades ago, long before sunrise, I rode with my father -in-law Walt and my brother-in-law Mike Blank along endlessly winding Missouri roads to southwestern Missouri for some trout fishing.  I didn’t fish but watched the trout swimming about in the crystal – clear water of the Current River not being lured by the lures cast in front of them.  What was amazing, what I had never seen before, was that the water flowed as a full-fledged river from a spring fed pool out of a solid rock wall.

That is nothing compared to the river of the water of life the angel showed John in his vision in Revelation 22.  The water of life flowed crystal clear from the throne of God and of the Lamb, who is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  It was part of the new heaven and new earth.   The fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah, Peter and Revelation, “Look, I am making everything new.”

In baptism we were placed into the current of the river of God’s mercy, grace and life and salvation which flows through our life every day, enriching our life like the silt carried by flood waters enriches the land. The water of life in baptism and the water of life in the river is the same living water of which Jesus spoke in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well.  That water is the Holy Spirit- empowered message of Jesus Christ.  Jesus told the woman, “Anyone who drinks of this water that I will give him will never thirst again.  The water I give is like a flowing spring bubbling up to everlasting life.”  It emerges from the spring of the baptism font as a full-fledged river of God’s endless flood of grace.

In this case, it’s good to live in a flood plain, without levees, dams or dikes to hinder its life-giving flow.

Jesus Saw Their Faith

We are studying the Gospel of Mark on Friday mornings.  We are only as far as 3:6 when the Pharisees and Herodians left the synagogue where Jesus healed a man’s deformed hand on the Sabbath and held a meeting on how best to destroy this guy Jesus.  But what is clear already in Mark, like love and marriage in the song, faith and action go together Brazil and the Amazon.

When Jesus called the man with the withered hand to the front he responded.   There in front of everyone who could see his deformity Jesus said, “Stretch out your hand.”  Now the man had to risk that if he did and nothing happened, he would be humiliated, but if he did take the risk, trusting that Jesus could heal his useless hand he would be healed.  In trust, shaky as it may have been, he stretched out his hand and it was restored without a further word from Jesus.

We see it in the earlier scene of some men carrying a paralyzed friend up the narrow stairs on the outside of a house, because the crowd was blocking the door.  They tore a hole in the thatched roof, lowered the man in front of Jesus.  Mark reports, “Jesus saw their faith.”  Jesus forgave the man’s sins right in front of the theological scholars.  When they objected to this ungodly, Godly behavior on Jesus part, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”  The question that remained in the air for a minute was, “Dare I trust that I am no longer paralyzed and risk trying to get up?”  But he responded by putting his faith into action.

Faith in action is a faith that can be seen.