Lent begins this Wednesday as we receive a smear of ash on our foreheads and are reminded that we are dust, and to that dust we will return. This human reality is one that we all share, from the highest to the lowest, death is our final event in this life.
Greetings in Christ,
On this day, in the early morning hours, Martin Luther died not far from the house where he had been born. As he struggled with the pain and fear he was asked, “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther responded in a loud voice, “Ja!” dying a few moments later. His life long journey of faith had come to its end and Luther died trusting in Jesus.
There are times when we Lutherans might be accused of being obsessed with death. It may seem that way, especially in a culture that tries to minimize the reality of death, but we as Lutheran Christians are committed to the witness of our Lord Jesus risen from the dead. We don’t obsess about death, but we do not pretend it isn’t real.
To live as a Christian may mean many different things as we seek to follow our Lord. The vast majority of those are good and useful things, showing love and mercy to the neighbor. However good and useful those may be, the core of our faith is centered in the death and resurrection of our Lord and our being joined to that truth through Holy Baptism. We live out our lives saying, ‘yes’ to the Lordship of Jesus in every circumstance of life and, like Martin Luther, in the face of our own death.
It is this great confidence we have in our Lord that leads us to be bold in our witness to Him, out of deep gratitude for our salvation as we share the Good News with all.
Greetings in Christ,
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” Woody Allen
"Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
I don’t normally regard either Woody Allen or John Lennon as great Christian theologians, but these quotes attributed to them have a truth in them that we would do well to hear. The simple truth of every human life is that we only have the day in which we are living. Yesterday is gone and we cannot recall it. Tomorrow has not arrived and we may not be here to greet it. Today is all any of us is guaranteed.
This does not mean that the past is something we abandon once it is past. That is a huge mistake for we can learn a great deal from the past. Another quote reminds us, “Those cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” so the past can be a useful teacher for us. While we do not yet possess tomorrow, we can prepare for it. We are good stewards of time if we look to tomorrow needs and prepare for them.
We more we understand the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘give us this day our daily bread’ the more fully treasure the past and look hopefully to the future. As we learn that our lives are lived in God’s time and purpose we discover that in living each day is the way in which the past lives for us and the future is already ours.
Living in the present surrounded by the love and mercy of our Father we discover that all things are ours.
Greetings in Christ,
Why dost thou stand afar off, O Lord? Why dost thou hide thyself in times of trouble?
I have gotten in the habit of checking the rain gauge as one of the first things I do each morning. It read an inch and a half this morning. It also tells me that we have had 7.2 inches so far in October and just under 100 inches for the year. We have gotten to the point where jokes about the rain fall flat and there is a gnawing anxiety about the crops. We can resonate with the opening verse of Psalm 10, wondering if God has hidden Himself, turned a deaf ear to our prayers.
It is challenging to remain hopeful when everything seems to be going against you. Most of us will experience a time in our lives where God’s mercy and grace seem absent, that He may be hearing others when they pray, but not ours. It is a very hard place to be. The suffering becomes increasingly hard to bear and our faith is strained to the breaking point.
St. Paul experienced this as well: 2 Corinthians 12:7–10
And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Like St. Paul, we must learn the sufficient grace of God in Christ. We may never in this life know or understand the reason for the suffering and challenges we have faced. As we trust the Father in Christ, even in our weakness we can know that Jesus is with us.
Greetings in Christ,
There is the way I should very much like the world to be, and there is the way the world is. Like the verse from one of our hymns dreams; "Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found; brought here together by Christ's love, by love we thus are bound." the dream is a world filled with charity and love. What we have seems to be a world overwhelmed by self-centeredness, greed, lust, anger, and hate. Another senseless murder in the news last week, public leaders of every level spewing all manner of anger and hate toward those who disagree. Our society wanting the freedom of individual sexual expression and then stunned by what that 'freedom' brings into the lives of others. I could go on and on, but that is the path to despair.
Few are giving the opportunity of changing the whole world, but all of us have the opportunity of being the Light of Christ where we are. All of us who follow Jesus can ask the Holy Spirit to so guide our lives that each day becomes an opportunity to live more fully in Jesus. We have the opportunity to love those around us as we have been loved in Him. The is a selfless love that seeks only the blessing of others. This love does not seek personal gain or advantage over others who are made in God's image. We have the opportunity to live in Christian charity, that is to refuse to let the poison of hate, anger, and lust rule our lives. Rather in charity toward others, we see them as precious and priceless Children of our Father in Heaven.
We may not be able to transform the entire world, but we can become a Light of God's charity and love where we are.
I am sad beyond words at the death of Mollie Tibbetts. No one with normal human emotions could feel anything other than profound sorrow. I can also understand the anger at the man accused of her murder. His was a brutal and senseless act. I pray that justice is served and he never know freedom again.
I am also deeply grieved over the murder of Shanann Watt’s, a pregnant mother, and her two little girls, Celeste and Bella, by their husband and father in Colorado. His was an act of cruelty goes beyond the boundaries of human understanding. I pray for justice in this case as well.
Both situations are first and foremost human tragedies of unimaginable sorrow and pain. Yes, one was done at the hands of a man who came to this country illegally while the other was done by a man who is a natural citizen of our nation. Who the accused are and where they have come from should not be our focus at this time. Our focus should be on the death of five human beings whose lives were ended by the darkness that lies in human hearts.
We must take care to not to use Mollie’s murder as a political talking point that seeks to serve our particular view of our nation’s immigration policy. Now is not the time for that discussion nor should we use her death as a tool to drive our agendas while her family is still in very profound grief.
Greetings in Christ,
‘Out of the depths I cry to thee, O LORD!’ Psalm 130.1
I have been thinking about suffering of late. We all hope for and seek a life that is full and complete. I know of no one who looks for loss, pain and sorrow. Yet suffering comes to nearly everyone in some form or another.
Some experience the loss of health and face the prospect of a disease becoming the main focus of their days. Many must contend with chronic pain that is unrelenting which erases any joy that might come. An illness is for many the event that leads them to death itself and progresses toward that end without faltering.
Other experience emotional suffering which is far more common than folk would realise. For far too long emotional and mental suffering was something no one talked about. It was regarded as a moral failing, personal weakness and something of which one should be ashamed. Thankfully, we now regard emotional and mental struggles for what they are, an illness that is no different than any other physical ailment. Still, people often carry this burden in silence for fear no one will understand.
There is suffering that come when the rains won’t quit or the darken skies drop tornadoes on Iowa fields, towns and cities. The response to this suffering is often immediate and generous. However, as time passes the focus goes elsewhere and those impacted by these events are left to struggle through the long recovery.
We live in a time when we learn instantaneously of disasters, violence and other tragedies often as they are happening. We often need to turn away, not because we do not care, but because we can bear it no longer.
In all of these things and more the believer’s faith and confidence in God is tried and pushed to the limits. It is not unusual that our human strength fails us and we are overwhelmed by doubt. It is at this point we cry out to God from those depths that we all have know or may still know. We cry out, pleading with God to hears us.
At those moments may the spark of faith within us hold tight to the promise Jesus made on the Mount of the Ascension, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
‘Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.’ Romans 13.1
Scripture is a source of blessing and comfort as it points us to our loving Father who has given us our salvation through His Son. Scripture is at the very heart of our journey in faith. Christians strive to use Scripture in their daily lives carefully and faithfully.
Sadly, Scripture has been misused throughout the ages to justified all manner of abuses. The first verse from St. Paul's letter to the Romans has been used by nations to cover all manner of wrongs and evils. Yes, the Christian is to obey the ruling authorities as all authority in heaven and earth belongs to God, which He grants to human authorities. It is the responsibility of the Christian to be aware of what their government is doing, if the government is acting in a just and fair manner or if it is acting outside the will and purpose of God.
If the government is seen to be within the purposes of God, then the Christian ought to obey even if they do not completely agree with everything the government does. If the government goes against God, then the Christian is not bound to obey the government, indeed, the Christian is called to resist an unjust and immoral government.
As we celebrate the Fourth of July next week, let us give thanks that we live under one of the best and most just systems of governance the world has ever seen. It is not a perfect system, but it strives to improve itself as the needs arise. Pray for all those in elected office, that they govern justly and fairly and exercise your rights and responsibilities as a citizen.
You are angry with your neighbor, you despise him, do not like to speak peaceably and lovingly to him, because there is something harsh, abrupt, careless, unpleasant to you in his character, in his speech, in his manners—because he is more conscious of his dignity than perhaps is necessary; or because he may be somewhat proud and disrespectful; but you yourself, your neighbor’s physician and teacher, are more guilty than him. “Physician, heal thyself.” Teacher, teach yourself. Your own malice is the bitterest of all evils. Is it then possible to correct malice by means of evil? Having a beam in your own eye, can you pull out the mote from the eye of another? Evil and faults are corrected by good, by love, kindness, meekness, humility, and patience.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:44–45
How far would you go in keeping these words of Jesus? ‘Love your enemies?’. Can Jesus be serious? Doesn’t He know how evil some people are? How can I, how can anyone, love those who seek to do us harm?
I have pondered this part of the Sermon on the Mount ever since the first time I heard them. Then I read those words, several times, and I still cannot wrap my mind around what they are asking of me. Jesus' words are plain enough, love those who are your enemies and pray for those who would harm you. It runs counter to every instinct of self-preservation that is within me. Jesus is asking us to go to a depth of love and charity that is truly a foreign land to us.
I begin to discover how to explore that foreign land when I first read St. Paul's words in Romans: For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10 Jesus gives Himself for us, who by our rebellion have become God's enemies, to the point of His death on the cross. It is the mercy of the Father through His Son that transforms those who are His enemies into His dear children. It is that kind of love that has transformed the world.
Jesus calls us to love as we have been loved, even to the point of surrendering our lives in that love so that even our enemies might be transformed. It is not an easy path for there is a cross in it, a cross upon which self-love dies and the new self-arises. It is who we are in Christ, called to love even those who are our enemies.
Greetings in Christ,
At one time you could see printed under a help wanted sign: “Irish Need Not Apply”. This could have meant for my ancestor, Eve Shaddock, that she would not be allowed to work in the United States. My friend from seminary days, Glenn Nagashima, a fifth generation American, had in his family history the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. During World War I, German Americans were not allowed to worship in German as it was considered disloyal to the nation.
I am not sure how much you have heard about children who are illegally entering the country with their families are being treated. It appears that many are separated from their parents, who have been arrested for entering the country illegally, and are being housed separately.
I do not know all of the facts of the matter. I do not know if this is being applied to all families or if the separation is long or short. I do not know which administration of our government instituted this policy.
I do know that the firestorm that this has created online and in the media is intense. There are at times circumstances where removing children from a dangerous situation is warranted. I do not know anyone in law enforcement who likes the idea of separating children from their families, but they do so when the safety of the children is paramount.
Then there are times when those who make the laws overstep what is good and decent and create situations where more harm than good is done. Automatically separating children from their families as a practice mandated by law without due process is wrong.
If this is the policy of our government, then it does not follow Jesus. Far more troubling is the use of Scripture by some in the government to justify what appears to be an unfair practice. Scripture is to be used to lead people to our Lord and not to give legitimacy to an unjust law.
We are a nation of immigrants. Nearly every one of us has come from some other place to this country. We have always found a way to welcome the immigrant. We have not always accomplished this perfectly, but we have found a way.
I pray that we continue to find a way to welcome the stranger that is just and fair to everyone.
Greetings in Christ,
“Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O LORD, O LORD, hear my voice.” Psalm 130.1
Recent celebrity suicides have been in the news causing one to wonder why these folk who appeared to have it all going their way took their own lives. Reports also detail a disturbing rise in suicide rates across the nation as well as in several European countries. Again, questions are raised as to why people in some of the wealthiest nations find life too challenging to bear.
For far too long we have been unwilling to talk about suicide and the factors that lead up to a person ending their own life. Add to that the guilt and shame the survivors experience and it is not surprising that we still are uncomfortable talking about it.
Christians who believe that each person is created in the image of God it is an act of love and charity to openly discuss suicide and to address the factors that lead up to it. Like the psalmist, many people live their life in the depths of emotional and spiritual pain. Life for them is often so challenging that the thought of struggling through another day is so painful that they would rather not go on. Depression and other emotional illnesses are often at the root of suicide. It is important to begin regarding all emotional and psychological illnesses as illnesses. A person who is depressed can not just ‘get over it’ any more than a person with high blood pressure will that disease away. For far too long we have treated emotional illnesses as a moral failing and not a disease. Like all diseases, it has to be diagnosed and treated.
As Christians, we also need to try to comprehend that nearly everyone is carrying a burden that is a challenge for them to bear. They may on the surface appear to be doing well, but underneath things aren’t as good. We often cannot change the circumstances of another’s life but can be there for them. We can listen, really listen to what they are saying. It may not be easy for them to put into words what their struggle is like, but to have someone take the time to hear them is an important step toward helping them get their life back on track.
Of course, if someone actually threatens to harm themselves, that is the time to act. If the danger of self-harm seems immediate do not leave the person alone until medical help can be obtained. Call their doctor, the local law enforcement or EMS and get them to the ER.
The vast majority of suicides can be avoided by another person taking the time to truly care about the one who is struggling. It won’t solve all their problems, but it will provide them with someone who believes their life is valuable.
Greetings in Christ,
On my liturgical calendar in my study are several useful tools. The days are color coded to show the season of the year or the Feast that particular day celebrates. As Lutherans, we are familiar with a few of the Feasts of the Church year, Easter, Christmas, Pentecost and such. We may even know some of the less familiar Feast days such as St. Peter and St. Paul. All of the important witnesses to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are remembered on a Feast day, usually the day of their death.
All around these major and important Feast Days are lesser know witnesses to Jesus. In the month of June we could observe the Feasts of Blandina and her companions, June 2, who were martyred in 177 A.D.. We could celebrate the Council of Nicaea on June 12. We could give God thanks for the ministry and witness of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, A.D. 444, whose Feast day is June 27. Nearly every day of the week has a remembrance of persons on events that were important in the life of the Church.
Most Protestants don’t observe Feast days as we are concerned with making too much out of them at the expense of Jesus. It is true that we should keep our focus on the Lord, but it is important that we learn from the witness of those who have gone before us. Their examples of faith and service can inspire us to a deeper devotion to Jesus as well as a better outreach to the world around us.
Greetings in Christ,
They went into the maelstrom of war. Some went at the first call, others when they were called to go. They faced those who would harm the innocent at home and abroad and said, 'You will not pass, not on my watch' Some did not come home having given their lives in the defense of us all. They sleep now in foreign fields, at Arlington and thousands of tiny cemeteries around the land. Remember them, not just today, but always as we live our lives in freedom and peace.
Greetings in Christ,
This coming Sunday, May 27, is Holy Trinity Sunday. On this Sunday we are called upon to contemplate the mystery of the Holy Trinity, One God in Three Persons. Every effort to adequately explain the Trinity without falling into heresy breaks down at some point. Perhaps the best way we can begin to grasp the nature of the Trinity is through the Athanasian Creed, which we will use this coming Sunday.
Of course, as we will see as we confess the Athanasian Creed that it does not explain, it confesses the Trinity. In the worship and witness of the Church, a confession is a statement of faith and acknowledgment of the truth. We confess that we believe in God whose completeness and perfection we cannot begin to understand. We trust that God whom we worship in all His holiness and beauty is also the God who has made Himself known in the person of His Son, Jesus.
In Jesus we are shown the love and mercy of God so we can learn to love the God we cannot see or comprehend. In Jesus, we receive the unbounded grace that flows from the Trinity. In Jesus, we are drawn to the Trinity so the completeness of love that is the Trinity might become our dwelling place.
Greetings in Christ,
I believe in the Holy Spirit, one holy Christian church, the community of the saints, forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the flesh, and eternal life. Amen.
What is this?
I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my LORD or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Small Catechism - Third Article of the Creed
I remember the first time I read this part of the Small Catechism and began to memorize these words: 'I believe that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit calls me through the Gospel...'. As a teenager struggling to find a way to be sure that God loved me and that I would go to heaven when I died, this confession from the Catechism was like a drink of cold water.
'I believe that I can not...' summed up how I felt about my faith. I could not believe in Jesus enough to have any lasting peace. The faith that I could generate did not last nor could it rise to the level of trust I knew in my heart was needed. It just wasn't in me. Reading that someone like Martin Luther had the same struggle that I had with faith brought the peace to my heart and soul that all my efforts could not accomplish. The Good News that the Holy Spirit was the One who worked faith in me, apart from my efforts, open the gates of heaven for me.
This coming Sunday is Pentecost. Pentecost recalls the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and began the new life of the Church empowered by the Spirit. The same Spirit that fell upon the disciples is at work in us still today, creating faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. In this is our true freedom in Christ for we are liberated from the need to save ourselves or create the faith needed to believe in Jesus. All that is a gift and blessing we are given when we are baptized and the Holy Spirit is poured out on us.
"Honor your Father and your Mother.”
The highest human office is that of a parent. Luther was entirely correct when he observed that God place this commandment first among the commandments that speak to how we live with other people. It is through our parents that we receive the gift of life. It is the office of parent that we teach us what it is to be a human being. We are to honor our parents for the gift of our lives and the responsibility they took on to teach us how to be human.
Luther also acknowledges that parents are human beings and are not always going to achieve perfection as they do the work of parenting. Most parents do the best the can with the gifts they have. All fall short in one way or another and could have been better parents. Some are not up to the task at all and are not the parents they could have been. It saddens me that this is so, but human frailty too often gets in the way.
As Christians, we learn from Jesus that we have a Father who does not fail us in any way. Jesus was clear in Scripture that God is our Father. He taught that consistently throughout His ministry. Jesus wants us to know God as the Father whose love for us is unending. Jesus leads us to know the Father and His love for us each day.
As Mother's Day and Father's Day will soon arrive, us let us give thanks for the gift of life we have received from our parents, bless them for the good they have done for us and learn to forgive their failings as parents. Let us also give thank for the Father whose love for us is unending.
Greetings in Christ,
Athanasius Contra Mundum - Athanasius Against the World
May 2 is the Feast of St. Athanasius. While we in the West may not know much about him, he was a defender of true Christian Faith as was Martin Luther. This is a brief account of God’s Servant, Athanasius.
The Church has always faced challenges to its’ message of salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. While the Church in our age faces significant challenges, there was a time in the very earliest years of the Church’s life that it faced an even more significant threat. In the face of this threat, God raised up Athanasius as the champion of Orthodox Christianity.
In the early fourth century, the Church was faced with the double crisis of the Arian heresy and desire of the Roman Emperors to hold supreme authority over the Church. The Arian heresy holds that Jesus is not the eternal Son of the Father, of the same essence and being with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Arius and his supporters held that there was a time in which Jesus did not exist and that he was created when he was begotten by the Father. This denies that Jesus is God in the same manner that the Father and the Spirit are God.
This heresy gained popularity throughout the Church and was the source of much conflict among Christians. In a move to settle the dispute, Emperor Constantine called the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea. Though not a bishop at the time of the Council and not allowed to sit in on the Council, Athanasius worked in the background helping to shape the work of the Council. The Council produced the Nicene Creed that we affirm to this day, but it did not end the support for the Arian heresy.
At the same time, the Arian heresy was gaining support in the Church, the Emperors who followed Constantine wanted to use the Church as means to consolidate their power. They enlisted the support of Arian bishops and theologians who affirmed the Emperor’s authority over the Church in exchange for imperial protection.
Athanasius, who was now bishop of Alexandria in Egypt, refused to affirm the Emperor’s authority over the Church and was steadfast in his opposition to the growing Arian heresy in the Church. His refusal led to not one, but five separate exiles for Athanasius. Yet, even the threat of imperial might against him and the widespread acceptance of the Arian heresy, Athanasius refused to yield. it was indeed for a time Athanasius against the world as empire and heresy threatened to take over the Church
His confession that Jesus is true God, Son of the Father from eternity and that the Church is not the puppet of the state earned him the honor of being called the Father of Orthodoxy. His courageous and faithful stand when it appeared that none were standing with him helped to return the Church the faith confessed in the Nicene Creed, the faith we affirm to this day.
Greetings in Christ,
“Thy Will be done,”
I have been pondering that petition from the Lord’s Prayer. The Prayer is so much a part of our lives in Christ that like our heartbeats, we rarely think on it, but it is essential for life.
We know that God's Will is done at all times, but it becomes quite a challenge for us when that Will seems to conflict with what we see as the good in our lives. It is nearly impossible for someone who has just received a diagnosis of stage-four cancer to rejoice in God's Will. Those who are plunged into sorrow at the unexpected death of someone they love find little comfort in hearing, "It is part of God's Will.”
We all can witness to times and places where we are challenged by the trials of life and are left wondering about the "good and gracious Will of God." It simply does not always add up.
We pray, "Thy Will be done." Unless we are merely parroting the words of the Our Father, we are asking for God's Will to be done in our lives. As we pray this petition, we are asking the Father to teach us to trust Him in every circumstance of life. We are asking for the faith to believe that even when we cannot begin to understand what or why something is happening to us, that we trust that the Father's Will is accomplished.
We are asking that we learn that even in the darkest valleys of life, that we come to understand that the Father's Will is working to bring blessing out of the darkness. We may not be able to see or understand that blessing in this life. I pray that we might, but if it lies beyond us here, I am confident that we will understand it when we come into His Kingdom.
Until then, let us continue to pray, "Thy Will be done," in faith that the Father's Will is being done and that through His Will we are all brought into the Kingdom.
Greetings in Christ,
‘Render unto Caesar the things that Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
I wish that I could say that I like paying taxes, but that would not be honest. No one I know enjoys having others decide how much of their income will be taken even before the paycheck it cashed. Still, we live under a government that provides protection and services that we alone could not afford. Our taxes, when properly used, can perform many useful things on our behalf, for the good of the nation.
Fair-minded folk can debate what the good use of our taxes might be, and that is why we elect people to our local, state and national offices. Through them, the will of the people is done with the money they receive from us.
As Christians, we owe allegiance to the government that is over us as all human authority comes from God. We do not give mindless allegiance; instead it is an allegiance that regards good government as a gift from God. When we are asked by our government to pay our taxes, we do so with the understanding that it is pleasing to God that we support the government to whom God has given the authority to govern.
It is important to remember that our first love and loyalty is to God. If our government acts in a manner that is contrary to the will of God, then we must obey God instead of the whims of human beings. The believer can and should refuse to obey any law that is opposed to God's will or compromises the Christian faith.
A government is always a temporary thing, given to serve the people, control the lawless and provide for the well-being of the governed. The Rule of God is eternal and will continue throughout the ages.