Grafted In Love

During the next three weeks our lessons will touch on being a neighbor.  Paul declares that in Christ Jesus we are free of obeying laws and rules (Galatians 5:1,13-25).  But, he warns, don’t let your freedom as an excuse for allowing your corrupt nature to take over.  Rather, use our freedom to be expressed in love for each other.  “But if you bite and attack each other, be careful that you don’t destroy each other.”   The of giving into our desires is hatred, rivalry, jealousy, angry outbursts, conflict and factions, and things like that.”

In the Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem where he will prove to be everyone’s neighbor on the cross.  He and his disciples were traveling through Samaria where a village refused to welcome them.  No love was lost between Jews and Samaritans.

Letting their corrupt nature win the day, two of Jesus disciples, the brothers James and John, volunteer to pray that fire come down and burn up the village. They did not regard Samaritans as neighbors.  Thankfully, Jesus turned and corrected them.

Therefore, we prayed this weekend, “Lord of all power might.’  God could have granted the brothers venge-filled prayer.  But God is “the author and giver of all good things.”  The good thing we asked for was that God would “graft into our hearts the love of your name and nourish us with all your goodness so that we may be enabled to love and serve our neighbor.”  In Jesus view, our neighborly love is not only for one another in the church, but also for those we think deserve a bit of fire from heaven.

That love must be grafted into our hearts.  That is done “through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.”

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When Pastors Become Discouraged

My Old Testament reading for today from I Kings 19 recounts how the prophet Elijah became so discouraged that he wanted to die.  Queen Jezebel had declared him a dead man for wiping out her prophets to Baal.  Elijah runs down to Mt. Horeb and hides in a cave, complaining that he is the only one in all Israel who still is faithful to God.  “Poppycock,” says God, “I’ve still got 7,000 people who haven’t bowed to Baal.  Get out of the cave I’ve got stuff for you to do.”

Consider Moses, God “volunteered” him lead to his people out of Egyptian slavery.  In Numbers 11, Moses gets fed up. “God, you gave birth to these people, but you’ve made me their nursemaid to carry them like babies to their new home.  If this is the way you’re going to treat me, just kill me.”  Yahweh directed him to bring seventy of the leaders and God gave them some of Moses spirit to help oversee the people.  Not that things were all hunky dory after that.  The next thing we know, his brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron, started undercutting him.

The prophet Isaiah answered God’s call, “Here am I send me. Send me.” God told him that his ministry would involve preaching to people who would not listen to him. (Isaiah 6).  At some point Isaiah became discouraged and confessed his failure as a prophet to Israel.  God answered, “You know what? You need a bigger job.  I’m making you a prophet to the nations, (Is. 49).”

It was the same with Jeremiah, who accused God of deceiving him.  He determined not to speak the word of the Lord any longer.  The Lord told him that he should stop complaining and say something worthwhile and just do the job he was called to do.

I don’t mean by this that congregations should make their pastor’s life miserable and not care for their pastor, but pastors also must realize that success, as the world, and even the church measures success is not the way God measures things.  God measures by faithfulness, both on the part of his people and on the part of their God – called leaders.

Reflecting on the Prayer of the Day

The Prayer of the Day on Sunday was not printed in the bulletin.  Though the pastor said, “Let us pray,” my mind apparently was somewhere else.  I’m sure I added my “Amen,” my “Let it be so among us,” yet, I had no idea to what I was “Amening.”  I looked up the prayer and this is what we prayed; in case your mind went wandering.

We acknowledged, “O God, You have prepared for those who love You such good things as surpass our understanding.”  It might have been good if the pastor asked us, “Well,  what good things have you received this week that you never expected and were a surprise and beyond your understanding?”   What you answer?  Give it some thought.

Then we made a request, even if we don’t recall it, “Cast out all sins and evil desires from us”  Now that is going to take some heavy lifting on God’s part to get inside me and throw out all the junk the accumulates throughout the day, week, year, lifetime.

But having excavated our lives, we asked that God would “pour into our hearts Your Holy Spirit.” We need something to replace the junk.  So God would you dump a whole bucket full of the Holy Spirit us for a purpose.  “To guide us unto all blessedness.”  Part of our blessedness is to recognize that we receive so many good things in our life that it’s beyond our understanding as to why God is so good to us.

We know that it can only happen, “Through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

Now we can add our “Amen.” And know what we were praying about. 

Here Am I

In the OT reading (Isaiah 65:1-9) this weekend Yahweh states that he stands ready to help people who don’t want any help and don’t think they need God poking his nose into their business, thank you very much.  Nevertheless, Yahweh starts waving his arms shouting “Here Am I, here am I.”  He spreads out his hands 24/7 to people who not only ignore him while following their own devices, but have any interest in the One who is the great “I am, that I am.”  “Go away,” they say.  “Don’t come near me. I’m too holy for the likes of you Yahweh.”  Yahweh responds, “I will not shut up.  I will not go away.  I will repay you for your errant ways and insults.”

We see how God repays such behavior in the Epistle Lesson (Galatians 3:23-4:7).  When the time was right, God sent his Son, born of a woman, to free us from living under the Law, in order that God could adopt us into his family.  Thus, in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”

An example of God’s repaying sins with grace is in the Gospel Lesson, (Luke 8:26-39) where Jesus brings the good news of God’s reign into an area east of the Sea of Galilee.  He does so by freeing a man of his demons who was living in cave tombs, running around naked.  He could not control himself nor could anyone else, though they had tried.  Jesus ordered the demons out, and turned the man into not only a believer, but one who testified of the great things Jesus, God’s Savior, had done for him.  Thus, the good news of God’s kingdom took hold in the least likely of places in the least likely one to be adopted as God’s child.

Barefoot in the Summer

This morning we discussed Jesus sending out his disciples with instructions to take only a staff, one cloak and sandals.   In Luke it could be two pair of sandals or none.  Go barefoot.  Naturally, we got diverted into talking about going barefoot in the summer.  Larry and I grew up on farms in Missouri and Wisconsin and we both remembered going barefoot in the summer except for church and going to town.  I’m barefoot even as I write this.

Usually our bare footedness started with the close of the school year.  However, earlier in the Spring we had to clean up the manure pile which grew in the barnyard in the winter. However, our boots often got stuck in the muck.  Thus, we would to take off our boots and load the spreader standing in the still icy ground barefoot.  Feet are easily washed.  This is not necessarily a pleasant memory.

As the days progressed, tender feet began to toughen up and we could walk on the gravel road, and with a slide step tread through hay and oat stubble.  A person did have to lookout for thistles. One of the drawbacks was riding bicycle.  Often our old bikes only had the steel rod on which the pedal could be fastened.  Feet were never tough enough for pedaling with the steel rod.

In 1953 our Happy Pipers 4-H softball team played barefoot.  We reached the semifinals of the Polk County playoffs.  The next year we put on shoes and won the championship.

These days I’m careful going out barefoot, being a diabetic.  But its good to feel the soft grass beneath my feet occasionally.  Of course, sandals are almost as good, which is what I wore to church this morning to teach the class.  I felt like a disciple.

Abortion is not the Chief business of the Church

Sunday morning our pastor asked what we were known for.  And a member answered, “Abortion.”  It takes me a while to process stuff.  But my response is that if opposition to abortion is what we are chiefly known for, then we have really lost our way as people of Christ.  What is the chief business of the church?  Jesus laid it out clearly when he began his ministry, it’s all about him.

In Mark and Matthew Jesus begins his ministry. Proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  (Mark 1:14-15) The gospel of God is nothing other than Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.  The kingdom of God is at hand because Jesus is at hand and he is God’s kingdom.  When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your Kingdom come,” we are asking Christ and nothing but Christ to rule in our lives.  When Jesus says, “repent and believe in the gospel.” He means for everyone to turn away from all the other stuff we thought was so important and trust him and his message and the message about him.

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quotes Isaiah and the psalms to explain the nature of his ministry and ours.  The Spirit of the Lord has anointed, set him aside, to tell the Good News to the poor, to announce forgiveness to prisoners of sin, those who have missed the target of God’s expectations, restore sight to the blind and those who can’t see their way through the darkness, forgive those who are shattered by what has happened in their life and what they have done and to announce that this is the year, the time, when the Lord is acting favorably, with grace.”

Then he closed the book sat down and said, “This passage came true today when you heard me read it.”  Good news of grace in Jesus, forgiveness in Jesus, giving people a way through in Jesus, and that day and that year is still in effect.  That is the chief business of the Church.

LWML

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.