Bobbing Heads among the Headstones

It’s Good Friday and Becky and I will soon be heading off to Resurrection to hear of Jesus’ crucifixion, the soldiers gambling for his clothes as he hung naked on the cross between two other naked man and then about 3 p.m. he will say, “It is finished.”

But right now, I’m thinking of the children at the St. Lucas preschool who at 10:00 leave their classrooms and run up to their playground in the corner of the cemetery.  If I’m out walking in that quiet village, I marvel to watch those little heads bobbing up and down as they run along the road between the granite lifeless headstones marking the graves of the lifeless.

Death and life, that’s what these days are about.  One day Christ will return and wreak havoc on those lifeless headstones as graves open and the lifeless will be given new life.   Those bobbing heads among the lifeless headstones are a future look at what will happen in all the cemeteries across the world.  That playground in the corner of the cemetery looks ahead to when we all will play again in the heavenly realms.


Maundy Thursday is only for Broken People

This day commemorates the Passover when the blood of lambs on doorposts saved a bunch of slaves.  This is also the day on which Jesus Christ acts as our host and welcomes us to the meal he provided at his last Passover.  This is the day when only people who have missed the bullseye of the target God has set up for us (sinned) need receive his body and blood in the bread and wine.  This is the day when Jesus shared the meal with his betrayer, his denier, with those who would abandon him.

 If anyone believes they are just fine and has their act together they need to go back and read the confession, “We have sinned against You in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and left undone.  We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.”  This is the day God welcomes only broken people who hope that Jesus words, “This is my body given for you…this cup that is poured out for you,” includes them also.  As Martin Luther wrote, “That person is worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words; ‘given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’” even if that faith is smaller than a lettuce seed.

A Toad in the Hand

I was working around an old rotting oak stump in the backyard yesterday.  It’s completely hollowed out, so I refreshed the dirt and transplanted a hibiscus that blooms red pie plate sized blossoms plus a Hosta and another plant.  On the outside a hickory tree is just getting started.  I have another hibiscus and small Hostas surrounding the stump.  While picking up some leaves I felt something squishy in my hand like a puffball or mushroom, but it’s too early for either.  Took a look and behold a big fat toad.  It had been warming itself in the sun.  I plopped it back where it had been until some giant had grabbed hold of it.  And on the other side of the stump I disturbed a baby toad.  So, I guess the large toad was a momma.  

They do it every year.  The first toad of the spring surprises and startles me with some movement under the leaves.  But I’m always delighted when I see it.  I have a comforting sense that all will be right with the world.

Last week we had the owls roosting in the pine trees in our yard.  However, this week they seem to have abandoned us.  Fickle birds.  So, this week I’m looking to see what small wonders might be scurrying about in the soil or just sitting working on their tan.

Holy Week Threes

 Someone pointed out that the readings in Luke 22-23, contain a balance of threes.

Peter’s three denials in the chief Priest’s court yard are well known.  A female servant stared at Peter and said, “This man was with Jesus.”  Peter denied it, “I don’t know him, woman.”  Later someone else said, “You are one of THEM.”  Peter said, “Not me!”  An hour later another person insisted, “This man was with him.”  Peter denied it emphatically, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” Even as he spoke the rooster crowed, Jesus looked directly at Peter, Peter remembered, and he went outside and wept.

Peter had declared that he would go to prison, even die rather than deny Jesus.  Peter ought to give us pause when we declare with absolute certainty, “I’m a Christian.”

But what is surprising is that Pilate declared Jesus innocent three times.  Pilate asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Yes I am.”  Pilate sent him to Herod who asked several questions, but Jesus refused to answer him.  Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate, who asserted, “This man hasn’t done anything deserving of death.  So, I’m going to have him whipped and set free.”  When the people objected yelling “Crucify him! Crucify Him!”  “Why? What wrong has he done?  I haven’t found this man deserving of the death penalty.”  But Pilate ultimately caved to the pressure of the mob and handed him over.

 In Luke, Jesus speaks from the cross three times.  “Father forgive them.  They don’t know what they’re doing.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” and “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.”  No one knew they were killing God, but Jesus forgave us all.  No one deserved paradise, but Jesus gave it anyway.  No one trusted the caring hands of the heavenly father, so Jesus did it in our stead, because one day we will all have to give up our spirit.

O the Blessed Sun

Becky just remembered a line from a children’s book she used while teaching.  “O the Blessed Sun.”  A blessed sun is what we have today as we emerge from a night without heat and a day without electricity.  The frost lies heavy on the grass and on the wind shields. The sun is shining through the eastern windows.  We have opened all the blinds and throughout the day will make sure the sun finds a way into house.  There are likely other people in the area who also are welcoming the blessed sun as they may still be without power. No wonder Golden Corral was packed at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon.

It’s not quite to the level of Psalm 30:5, “Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning.”  But I feel like singing, “Morning has broken like the first morning…”  We usually don’t have this much excitement here on the bottom of the hill on Parklind Dr.

My wife exclaimed, “Look at that sun.  That beautiful, beautiful sun.  Gorgeous. Blessed sight.” As wrote last night, “Te Deum Laudamus!”

(Spell check doesn’t like Latin.  Well spell check, check out the Canticle  for the order of Matins) 

Creating God

I’m eating lunch while reading some past postings I hadn’t gotten to. One is on Garrison Keillor’s blog. It’s a quote from the author Anne Lamotte, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Stopped me in my tracks. Have some pondering to do. How about you?

How Good It Is

Under warm skies we ate supper on the back patio, Wayne and Bev, Sarah and Cobin, while Becky played with the grandkids in the front yard. Wayne and Bev were missing the late, hopefully last winter storm in the upper Midwest. The psalmist wrote, “See how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!”

 With excitement we spotted the owl winging for the pine.  From the noise I knew there would be two and there was. We listened with fascination as Cobin shared stories of growing up in Taiwan, his grandfather having an eel farm and riding the crowded trains standing between the car connections.

A turkey vulture floated on the current far above the trees, while squirrels scampered on the still bare oaks and a loud cardinal flew from branch to branch to branch.  Small black butterflies flitted around the back fence and two rabbits hopped through the edge of the flower garden.  A pair of rabbits, not a good sign, unless one is a rabbit.

Under the canopy of oaks, redbuds budded, magnolias and pear trees bloomed white and purple while daffodils added a yellow hue beneath.

The psalmist compares it to “scented oil on the head and running down the beard of Aaron.” In such a scene is “where the Lord promised the blessing of eternal life.”  Those moment of harmony between people and God’s creation is a preview of the completion of the new creation promised in Christ’s coming.

A New Thing Springs forth

Lent 5, 2019, Isaiah 43:16-21

            “How are you doing today?” Someone may ask us.  “Oh, all right, can’t complain, same ol, same ol.” Sometimes life is like that.  We get up in the morning, maybe eat breakfast, get ready for the day, go off to school or work or however we who are retired fill our days.  We turn on the news and well it’s the same ol same ol, houses burning down, people shot in the cities, arguing and deadlock among politicians.  Let’s not forget machinery breaking down.  This morning we made it to church, because, that’s what we do on Sunday morning.

So, it was for the people to whom Isaiah was writing.   Tragically for them it was same ol same ol with no way out.  Their world had collapsed around them. Jerusalem, the city of David, city of God’s peace was destroyed. “How lonely sits the city that was full of people,” writes Jeremiah.  The temple, God’s earthy home, where He was enthroned on the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of holies was destroyed.  Along with much of the population, the ark and the gold articles connected with worship were carried away.  For us it would be like the baptism fount, the communion ware gone and the rest, hymnals, pews, and church building vandalized and burned.  God promised there would always be a member from David’s family on the throne.  On Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, the last king, had seen his own children killed before his eyes and then he was blinded and carried off to Babylon.

In Babylon, their captors taunted them “sing one of the songs of Zion.”  Which led a Psalmist to write, “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and cried as we remembered Zion…How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”  Think of it, if we had been carried away to a pagan land and our captors said, “Sing ‘Joy to the world the Lord has come’ and then they would laugh at us.  Sing ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’  Or ‘Beautiful Savior,’ savior indeed.”  We might say, “My way is hidden from the Lord.”

Oh yes, at this time of the year they could celebrate the Passover when God under the leadership of Moses delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  But that was so long ago, 900 years.  Look at us now.  The Lord isn’t making any effort to provide a way out.  We’re trapped and see no way out ourselves.

Trapped with no way out.  Ever been trapped under a pile of bills? I teach a men’s Bible Class with about 15 retirees.  Every week someone is away seeing a doctor.  A former executive at Ralston Purina and past president of CPH who cares for his wife incapacitated with Parkinson’s, said Friday “It’s hard.  I ask for patience.”  Farmers feel the pressure.  My niece is editor of a weekly Ag. Newspaper in Wisconsin where dairy farmers are in dire straits.  One photo summed it up showing a farmer seated on a bucket behind his cows holding his head in his hands.  We may well ask, “When will God make me a way out?”  We wait for the day we can say, “God saw me through.”

Then we read, “Thus says the Lord.” “Thus, says the Lord” alerts us to perk up our ears.  God refers to his deliverance of Israel out from under the heel of the Egyptians. God made a way through the sea, led the chariots and army into his trap. Where they were snuffed out like a candle.

Then we read, “Forget all that.  I am going to do something new. It’s already happening. Do you recognize it?”  God had put into action a new deliverance, one which was in reverse of the Exodus.  God turned the seabed into dry land, now he will fill the arid deserts with rivers of water. The land of death will become a way to life.  The desert would bloom; jackals and ostriches will honor God.  A later psalmist will recall, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, It was like we were dreaming.  Our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues were filled with songs of joy.  The nations will see and hear and say, The Lord has done spectacular things for them.” (Ps. 126)

  When it comes to delivering his people from the burdens under which we live, it’s not the same ol, same ol with God.  God is not limited to acting in the same ol same ol ways.  His hand is not weakened by arthritis.  God’s acts of merciful deliverance from slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon as stunning as they were, looks ahead to an act of salvation greater and more stunning than any before.  Our gospel lesson hints at it. Hearing his parable of the tenants in a vineyard who would not give the owner his due and finally killed the owner’s son, the scribes and chief priests understood he was talking about them.  They were the ones enslaving people to rules and regulations.  They were the captors who carried people away from God rather than closer to him.  They wanted to arrest Jesus right there and then, but Jesus was too popular with the people, so they watched for their opportunity. We know they found the opportunity. But Jesus outstretched hands on the cross, crippled by puncturing nails, became God’s new way of cutting a path through the sin which enslaved us and the forces of evil, within us and without that would keep us from God.

He cut a path through the waters of baptism freeing us from all the ways we miss his target for our life and behavior.  Even when our life  seems a hum drum, same ol, same ol, God is present in those desert places with the water of our baptism, assuring us, “you are mine.”

So, we got up this morning not to just a same ol same ol day, but a day blessed with God’s mercies which are new every morning.  We came here this Sunday morning not just because it’s what we do on Sunday morning but as a people whom God formed for himself that we might praise him.  We came here with our burden of sins and troubling wrongdoings and off loaded them onto Christ, because he has carried our burdens, sorrows and griefs. 

And with those mercies in our possession, we will get up tomorrow morning and eat breakfast or not and go off to work or school, or whatever way we fill our day, we may hurriedly throw on our clothes and go out the door or we may have to struggle to get dressed because of arthritic hands and limbs, even though the news is the same ol same ol of one thing after another, we are none the less, God’s people who in Jesus Christ have been delivered and in whose presence we go forth “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Able to sing anytime and in any circumstance, “Joy oh joy beyond all gladness, Christ has done away with sadness.”  

Killing God

This morning I came across a favorite quote from Dorothy Sayers.

“It is curious that people who are filled with horrified indignation whenever a cat kills a sparrow can hear that story of the killing of God told Sunday after Sunday and not experience any shock at all.”

Sayers words are paired with some words from Matthew 27

“After flogging Jesus, he (Pilate) handed him over to be crucified…they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head.  They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked hi…they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head…they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him.  They led him away to crucify him.”

Could it be that people no longer want to hear that story of the killing of God?  Could it be that pastors are reluctant to tell us the truth about ourselves, our lostness and straying from God, and the story of the lengths to which Jesus, the one named “God Saves,” goes to fulfill his name.  Could it be that the story is just too unsavory, too much of a downer or even embarrassing?

Preparing to Preach

I’m preaching this weekend at Ruma and Evansville, Il. I haven’t led worship or written a sermon or preached since the first Sunday in November last year. So I may need to be retrained. Plus I’m figuring out how to wear my readers since having cataract surgery. Do I wear them close to my eyes which would mean I can read fine, but the people will be all fuzzy. Or do I wear them on the bridge of my nose which may make me look as wise as an owl or well, who knows as I look over the tops.

Now I wrote my sermon today on Isaiah 43:16-21 in which God tells the exiles in Babylon about how he made a dry path through water to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt, but now they are to forget that past event because he is putting into action a new plan to turn the dry desert into a land flowing with rivers of water. God is doing this not only to return his people to their homeland, but also that they might praise him.

All this looks forward in the Gospel lesson to the time the religious teachers of the law and senior priests will arrest Jesus and his subsequent death will be our deliverance from all our wrongdoing and subsequent death.
That I already have my sermon written by Thursday night is good, right? Well maybe, because based on past experience I am going to worry this sermon within an inch of its life by Sunday morning. I just can’t leave well enough alone.

When I’m done I’ll file it and if I go back to it in the future I will wonder what I was thinking preaching such a mish mash.
Life ain’t easy folks.