Walking Through the Wilderness

 

I’ve been thinking about the phrase in last Sunday’s prayer of the day, “Guide the people of Your Church that following our Savior we may walk through the wilderness of this world…”

I briefly shared with the Bible Class this morning some aspects of the wilderness in which are currently walking.  The governor of Missouri is indicted for invasion of privacy when in the basement of his house he photographed the woman with whom he was having an affair tied up blindfolded and nearly nude.  He is also being investigated for receiving “dark money” into his campaign fund.  A former presidential advisor is indicted for multiple times when he used money in a less than upright way.  The latest school massacre has led to outrage and demonstrations by young people which may have a lasting effect on guns and connected violence.

One of the members of the class asked if we could talk about the issue of guns and violence.  This led to a lengthy discussion.  The discussion was an application of how we use the Word in the bible which we hear and study.  It was quite useful and appropriate.

Sunday’s prayer mentions God leading us through the wilderness “toward the glory of the world to come.”  At times that future glory seems a long way off from where we are as human beings, even as believing Christians trying live in the wilderness in which we find ourselves.  We know something is terribly wrong, but we seem lost and can’t see a way out.  But even in our confusion the prayer ends with hope, as we place our hope in “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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An Unsettling Story

 

I find the story in Genesis 22:1-18 unsettling. God told Abraham to take his only son Isaac, for whom he had waited nearly a century, and offer him as a burned (holocaust) offering.  Three days they traveled before Abraham looked up and saw the place.  Abraham put the wood for burning on Isaac’s back while he carried the fire and knife.  “Where’s the lamb?” Isaac asked.  “God will provide,” his father answered.

On the mountain Abraham tied up Isaac, put him on wood on the hastily erected altar, and raised the knife to slaughter his son, as if he were no more than a lamb led to the slaughter.  Only at the last instant the Lord intervened.  Once again, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught in a thicket. The Lord had provided.

I know all that.  I know the parallels drawn with God offering his own only Son on the cross for us and for our salvation.  I know Jesus is the lamb of God whose own head was caught in a thicket of thorns.  As a result, God has multiplied his blessings, grace upon grace.  Through Jesus all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because he obeyed his Father’s voice.

So, I will accept what God has done for me through his only begotten Son.  But I still find the story of Abraham and Isaac unsettling.  Maybe I should also be unsettled a bit about the story of our Heavenly Father and his own son, lest I take it for granted.

 

Spirit Driven

 

Spirit driven conjures images of flying high like the snowboarding and skiing aerialists in the Olympics.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is baptized and receives the Father’s affirmation, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased” However, the Spirit does not immediately lead Jesus to a ministry of greatness to the acclaim of thousands.  No, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to starve and be tempted the entire forty days by Satan.  The Evil One did not give up his efforts to derail Jesus right up to the cross and death.

Our own post baptism lives follow Jesus pattern.  For our life following baptism with the Holy Spirit resting upon us and the Father’s affirmation as His beloved children, is also fraught with that fallen angel’s traps and temptations.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, blowing where it will.  So, it is as we walk through the often-bewildering wilderness of what life brings us.  We too are Spirit driven into the challenges which we never imagined.  Like Jesus, our baptism leads to death.  But the Spirit brings us to faith in Christ so that even in the valley of death we know our Lord leads us through that shadowy valley into the light and life of Jesus’ resurrection.

 

Not Me, O Lord, Not Me

Not Me, O Lord, Not Me

Not me, O Lord, no, not me.

No, it’s not guns, its society

No, it’s not Ak 15’s,

No, it’s the FBI’s fault,

No, it’s the schools where God is forbidden,

No, it’s that God is not in the homes,

No, it’s the mentally ill,

No, let’s not jump to conclusions,

No, it’s not the time to talk about it,

No, I will lose votes

No, we need stricter guns laws,

No, we need to enforce the laws we have,

No, it’s the gun lobbies and NRA,

No, it’s those who want to take away all my guns,

No, it’s a misinterpretation of the 2nd amendment,

No, the government will do too much,

No, the government won’t do enough,

It’s Lent and lent tells me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord,

It’s me standing in the need of your grace,

It’s me standing in the need of your driving Spirit,

It’s me needing your strength to sacrifice,

As my Lord sacrificed his life, for me,

It’s me, O Lord, it’s me.

 

The Mark of Ashes

 

One of most stark photos of the massacre at the high school in Florida was of the mother who had a streak of ashes on her forehead.  She had received the ashes as she heard the words, “Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The Old Testament lesson for Ash Wednesday, Joel 2:12-19, is a call to repentance with fasting, weeping, mourning, tearing open our hearts in honest turning from out ways and turning to God.  This is not just for some other people who I think need it.  No one is exempt.  All the people must participate.  The community leaders must put aside their important wrangling and solving of the world’s problems. Nor can parents leave their kids home, mothers nursing infants, no matter how inconvenient are bid to answer the call.  Even newly weds are to cut short their honeymoon.  The clergy, with weeping must cry out to the Lord that the people be spared.

If we can’t call all the people to repentance, then we followers of Christ should surely answer the call ourselves, to turn from violence and the acceptance of violence and casting of stones (aspersions) at those with whom we disagree and accepting simple answers to complex questions. If we were not at an Ash Wednesday, what were we doing that was so important, that we could not receive the mark of our sinful humanity, in the hope of a gracious and merciful God in Jesus Christ?

Ash Wednesday Eve

 

Ecclesiastes 2:24 there is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink and find enjoyment, for these are from the hand of God.

Robert Farrar Capon writes:  O Lord, refresh our sensibilities.  Give us this day our daily taste.  Restore to us soups in which spoons will not sink…Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have blotting bread, and casseroles that put starch in our limp modernity.  Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard.  Give us pasta with a hundred fillings and rice in a thousand variations.  Above all give us grace to live as true folk-to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand.  Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us, deliver us from our fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve you as you have blessed us-with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.

Phyllis McGinley adds at the end of a poem:

Tonight-tomorrow-the leaf will fade,

The waters tarnish, the dark begin.

But this is the day the Lord has made:

Let us be glad and rejoice therein.

Jesus’ Transfiguration and the Nicene Creed

 

“In one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God…, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”  So, we confess in flowing poetic language.  But what does that mean?  How would you explain that to a 7th or 8th grader, or  Millenniums or anybody or even yourself?  Maybe Jesus Transfiguration gives us a way.

Jesus took three disciples up a mountain and “was transfigured before them and his clothes became radiant, intensely white.” A voice spoke, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”  That’s a picture of Jesus, very God of very God in all glory.

The creed continues, “Who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven.”  Jesus came down the mountain for us and our salvation.  He came down to where we live in our everyday life.  What did he find?  He found arguing and failure and frustration and little faith.  He found a boy and his parents in desperate need of help.  Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up.

That is where we can find Jesus, in our struggles, failures and frustrations and small faith.  Jesus is very God of very God with us, where we are.  The next mountain he would climb, was Mt. Calvary, where a cross awaited followed by death and burial and then the resurrection. So now, if we would see God’s glory, we look to the “face of Jesus Christ.”

Grief is Love with no Place to Go

 

I’m borrowing some of this from Jerry Kieschnick’s weekly blog.

Someone wrote:

Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

 

I’ve thought of death as leaving a hole in our lives.  The story of our life together stops, often ending without an ending. I walk through the cemetery and certain people are often present standing by or caring for a grave.  We run into a situation and that person isn’t present to lend an ear and offer some advice.  Though, as we confess in the Apostles Creed, we believe, “in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting,” we simply learn to live with our grief – our love which has no place to go.

 

However, St. Paul tells us grief does have hope in Christ.  I Thess. 4:14,17, for since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…so we will always (together) be with the Lord.

 

As LSB hymn 606 sings, “I lay my griefs on Jesus, My burden and my cares, He from them all releases; He all my sorrows shares.”

Much Ado About Wells

 

In an arid climate wells were a matter of life and death.  In the case of Abraham’s son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob a well was the place to meet prospective wives.

With the blessing of the Lord Isaac, “gained more and more until he became very wealthy (Genesis 26:12).”  Out of envy his neighbors, the Philistines. filled up the wells dug by Abraham’s servants.  So, Isaac moved on and dug out some other wells that the Philistines had filled in after Abraham died.  However, rival herdsman claimed these wells for themselves.  Ok, so Isaac dug another well elsewhere, but again the Philistines claimed it as well.  Finally, after another move he dug a well and no one gave him any trouble.

However, they seemed to move again to Beersheba where, much to Isaac’s surprise, his rival Abimelech came to see him wanting to call off their strife, because it was clear that the Lord was behind Isaac’s continued success.  They had a big feast and the next morning they both swore a binding oath of friendship.  Also, Isaac’s servants reported that they had dug a well and struck water again. Genesis 26:26-33.

Despite the arguing over water, the Lord continued to bless Isaac.  The theme of blessing continues even as Jacob cheats his brother Esau out of a blessing and the line of our salvation now comes through Jacob.

The workings of God are truly strange and yet the Lord’s blessings keep coming day after day, working their way through vicissitudes of our lives.

 

 

Perspective on Reality

 

Saturday the Pearls Before Swine cartoon opened with Goat saying to Rat, “This is my friend Bob.  He won an Emmy for a TV show.”

Rat: “So he entertained a tiny fraction of the population in one country on a small planet in an insignificant solar system on a non-descript arm of an unremarkable galaxy in a universe of over 100 billion galaxies.”

Goat: “Bob’s crying in the bathroom.”

Rat: “Perspective is cruel.”

The Old Testament reading for Sunday could leave us with the same perspective regarding our significance.  Isaiah 40:22, “It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…”

However, that’s not the whole picture.  Isaiah is writing of “The Lord who is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  We are not merely existing on this third rock from the sun in an arm of the Milky Way.  Isaiah continues, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles…”

The Gospel lesson enlarges our perspective on reality (Mark 1:29-39).  Yes, Jesus heals the diseased and casts out evil spirits, but Jesus has a larger perspective on his ministry.  He moves on to preach that in him God’s rule was taking hold on the earth, even in the lives of us grasshopper’s.  In Jesus we have a perspective on reality which stretches beyond the world of God’s creation but extends into eternity with life for all who trust Jesus’ good news.