30 April 2017

Homily for Good Shepherd at St. Paul's

There's a lot of thinking out there that the Lord only has time for you when you, more or less, have your act together.  That God loves you when you are lovable.  Against such a notion comes this glorious Sunday with its readings.  Miscericordias Domini - the Loving-kindness of the Lord.  That's it's name in Latin, but we usually just call it "Good Shepherd Sunday."

The Lord Jesus lets us know that that's who He is.  "I am the Good Shepherd."  So in today's Gospel reading.  But in saying that He lays claim to be the one speaking in the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel:  "I myself" - that is Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel - "I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak." 

Bless Carl Steinmann's heart. Good thing he's not here to hear me say this. He shepherded those paintings through to make sure that the sheep turned out just right. They only thing I've never liked about that beautiful painting is how the little lamb and the others are all so clean and white and beautiful. In the reading from Ezekiel, they're a mess! The sheep that are dirty, wounded, torn up, damaged. They've wandered off, gotten lost, strayed into all the byways of sin and all its sorrows.  They've injured themselves, inflicted damaged on their own persons and those around them. Some are so weary, just plumb worn out, they don't know if they can go on.  The Lord is in the business of gathering them together and making them lie down while He tends them, heals them, loves them.

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" - that is the cry of your Lord's heart to you.  You see He knows you.  He knows you in your sin.  The lies you've told.  The gossip you've passed on with glee.  The hatred you've harbored.  The bitter words you've let flow from your heart through your lips to sting and hurt the people you were supposed to love.  The betrayal of the promises you made your spouse.  He knows every click of the mouse and every video you've watched. He knows the distrust that overwhelms your heart at times when you wonder if there really even is a God who can bring good out of this mess.  The misuse of your body, treating it as though it were yours to do with as you please, forgetting that you were bought with a price.  The stinginess of your heart that  judges your brother and hypocritically holds him to a standard that you know perfectly well you do not keep yourself.  Oh, yes.  He knows you inside and out.  Me too.  In all the things I've ever done, thought, or said - and the countless good I have failed to do.  

But that's the miracle of grace we celebrate this Sunday.  The One who knows us inside and out like that, didn't come among us to destroy us.  For some utterly unfathomable reason that we'll never understand and will marvel at for all eternity, He loves us.  He came to heal us.  He came to set right the things broken.  He came to bind up the wounds and heal them.  He came above all, to protect us from the wolf.  

You see, to Him the wolf is personal.  To the hired hand, his own life is more valuable than the sheep.  He runs at the first sign of the trouble on four legs with a bush tail. Why?  Jesus puts it so simply:  "he doesn't own the sheep."

To Him, you are valuable.  Don't go scrounging around inside yourself to discover what it is that He finds valuable.  You can't find it that way.  Your value comes from the outside in: you have value because He values you; He doesn't value you because you have intrinsic value.  You're His.  No matter how damaged you are, not matter how beaten up and bruised and wandering.  Now matter how worn out and tired.  You're His.  He made you His own in the font of living water, plopped His name on you and said:  "Mine.  Mine forever."

So the wolf coming after you is very personal business to Him.  And He has no intention of allowing you to end up as a canine snack.  So He interposes His own life.  "The Good Shepherd lays down His LIFE for the sheep."  

"Here, little wolfie!  Come over here and eat me!  Let them go free!"  Of course, the little wolfie has no intention of letting anyone go free, but he freely gobbles down the snack offered.  Bait.  Poison.  You know the story.  The wolf couldn't keep that Good Shepherd in his stinking gullet.  The Good Shepherd burst right through.  Raised from the dead on the third day.  Leaving a hole behind in the wolf's belly that will never ever heal or mend.  And so when the wolf comes after you, you can go cheerfully down its stinking throat without a thought of fear - for you know that your Good Shepherd has already travelled this way, has gone down into the valley of shadow of death, and come up again, and He will bring you with Him.  When all is darkness, and it closes around you - you needn't fear.  His voice rings out:  "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will live though he die and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."  Death had no right to Him because He had no sin; but it took Him; and so Death forfeited its right to hold you forever.  

Tending the wounds of your sins, giving you rich pasture in His word, refreshing you at His table with His own body and blood, forgiving you every sin - the table set in the very presence of your enemies as the sign and seal of your triumph over them - you begin to see how Good your Shepherd truly is.  Good beyond all deserving, good beyond anything we could even imagine. 

In all of this gift, St. Peter tells us, our Lord has left us also an example - so that we might follow in His steps.  The pattern He set is clear:  trust in the Father who loves you and who will vindicate you and then you have no need to extract vengeance and such on your own.  Rather, like the Lord, when He suffered, He did not threaten, when mocked and reviled He did not revile in return.  He bore our sins in His body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.  By His wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.  

No, He's not the God and Lord of those who have their act together.  Those who imagine they do are, in fact, not His proper clientele and the only ones He really ever chews out.  He's the God and Lord of the sick, injured, and weak, the straying and foolish ones.  He will not turn you away.  He died to release you from sin's power.  He rose to proclaim to you that death itself would never be the end of you.  He invites you to come to Him today at His table and be refreshed and then leave this place to follow His example - to die to your sin and to live in the righteousness that is His gift to you, forgiving and loving those who mistreat you and cause you suffering as you yourself have been forgiven and loved by Him, by Jesus, your Good Shepherd.  Amen.  

16 April 2017

Now All the Vault

The final hymn of the Divine Service for the Resurrection at St. Paul's, Hamel today:

Now All the Vault

Lumen Christi!

As the darkness grew, the light grew more. It was wondrous feast for ear, for eye, for mouth and for heart. We began outside fighting the wind to keep our candles lit, but this is Illinois and the prairie. We relit upon entrance into the narthex. "Rejoice!" and "This is the night!" Then the readings. Pastor is no trimmer. We read all of them. Canticles after the crossing of the Red Sea, Jonah, and the Fiery Furnace. Two confirmations and remembrance of our baptism. The Litany of the Resurrection. Full light in the Church and the Easter announcement with the return of the Gloria in Excelsis, just like an old friend you've missed. The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom, the triumphant Victimae Paschali with the "Christ Is Arisen" and a timpani played almost antiphonally. It was amazing. Then the joys of the Easter Eucharist and we went out with Wesley's "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." No, it was not an all-night Vigil, but it was a great joy indeed. Bekah and David both commented at the end on why on earth would anyone miss that service and Bekah said, "I'm afraid tomorrow is going to be a bit of a disappointment after that." I think not, but that's how it felt: you couldn't imagine greater joy. And yet with the Lord there is always more. Matins shortly and then the Divine Service for the Resurrection. Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

15 April 2017

"And on the seventh day He rested..."

The hours of Holy Saturday creep past. Our faithful hound got us up at 4:30 to get her out and then again at 6:30 begging for food. Ugh. So we enjoyed our coffee and Treasury with that splendid writing from St. Ephrem the Syrian, the closed tomb and the closed womb. The Formula would add the bread and wine of the Eucharist! 

Then to the kitchen to work. Tomorrow we plan to celebrate not just the Easter feast, but Cindi's birthday a few days late. So I undertook to set up the menu and prepare the food. First, made a chocolate cheesecake (thank you, Abel James), then made two kinds of deviled eggs (one regular; one with bacon, avocado and hot sauce), made a big batch of coleslaw, put the porkbutt in the fridge after coating it with a boatload of spices and I'll slip that in the slow cooker right before we head out to Vigil tonight. Put together the homemade sauce for the pulled pork. David's bringing his now famous home-made light rolls; Bekah is bringing a pecan pie (we'll see if we get to eat it before Lucy this time!). Cindi chopped up some fresh and parboiled veggies and made the oh-so-popular Greek dip for those. She rolled up cheese and deli meats, which we'll enjoy after Vigil tonight, along with some brie and salmon. She also set up a tray of chocolates, to which we will add tomorrow the home-made fudge Stephanie gave us at Christmas. Paleo or not, Easter demands chocolate!

While I was occupied in the kitchen, Cindi did the Saturday cleaning.  We planted a lovely Azalea that Dave gave her for her birthday, and did a quick stroll around the neighborhood in the sun and wind. I thought we were done, but when we got home she set to work on a coffee cake for Easter breakfast tomorrow. 

Now, I think all that's left is to extend the table (there will be nine of us tomorrow) and wait for the fast to wend to its joyous end after sunset tonight as the Light of Christ illumines the darkness with a love that death could not hold.

14 April 2017

Good Start to Good Friday

So, we have this cool alarm. It's a light. About half an hour before you want to get up, it starts to glow dimly and then gets brighter and brighter. At the time you're supposed to be up, the light is at its brightest and a sound begins. One of the options for the sound was birds chirping. We did that for a long a time. Houston, we have a problem...

Now, when I hear the birds OUTSIDE start in at 4 a.m. or so, the old bod wakes up! So, yes, we were up bright and early on this fine spring day. We enjoyed our bulletproof coffee and said our prayers from Treasury, and did some planning for the day. Threw some eggs on to boil for Sunday's feast. Then did our workouts. Pushups and pullups done (well, may add a few more pullups as the day wears on) and sprints run. Cindi has started tackling planting her kitchen garden and I'm finishing up one more cup offrench press, straight java before heading out to mow our yard. Not too much dew last night, so the grass is actually quite cuttable, and they're forecasting rain.

Still ahead, Cindi is singing at a funeral, then we have the Chief Service at noon and Tenebrae this evening. The pool folks are coming to open the pool (optimistic we are!) before we're due back from chief service. Have some writing to do, one more run through the Passion to make sure of my lines and part, and then more food to prepare for the upcoming feast. 

Birds. You can't be mad at them; they're just singing their Matins to the Lord. 

13 April 2017


And so the great three days begins. What a glorious Divine Service this evening at St. Paul's. Pretty much straight out of the Altar Book, except pastor used the traditional Lenten preface with the old wording (yeah!). Maundy Thursday is one of the days we can usually count on Divine Service, Setting Five, and I dearly love singing “Isaiah, Mighty Seer” and “Lamb of God.” The choir sang a lovely piece, another Agnus by Jeffrey Blersch as the offering was gathered. The solemn singing of Psalm 22 as the altar is stripped...it just does something to you. The bulletin always instructs us to leave in strict silence, but I don't think we really need the printed rubric. The Psalm and the stripping hushes you all the way down deep inside. The Chief Service continues our worship tomorrow at noon with the Passion of John, the Bidding Prayer, the Reproaches, the Adoration of the Crucified. Tomorrow evening's Tenebrae will use the lovely sung Passion of St. John by Hillert at 7 p.m. And then we wait for the Vigil to commence on Saturday at 8 p.m.

01 April 2017

Just have to love Saturdays

The dog actually slept in! Leisurely cups of bullet proof coffee, sipped as we prayed Treasury together. Then planning the day. Breakfast was sausage and eggs (with mushrooms, onions and spinach!). I did my exercise, while Cindi tackled some wash. Cindi dusted. I vacuumed. She headed outside to start on her dad's yard while I made some loaves of paleo french bread. When the bread came out, I did our yard. A break for a bite of lunch (left overs: buffalo chicken wings with some artichoke spinach dip for veggies). A lovely walk in the sunshine. Home to sit out on the deck and enjoy a green smoothie, and it felt so good out there we decided to eat dinner on the deck. April 1st and we ate outside! Simple fare: a bowl of asparagus soup and some of that bread with cheese. Then Cindi was off to bowl. I swept the driveways and road to get off the grass clippings and then a stroll around the neighborhood, did my day's writing at the dining room table watching the sunset, sipping oolong. Then tackled the rest of cleaning up the kitchen: dishwasher emptied, counters cleaned, table extended. All done, all set and ready for Sunday brunch. And I'm guessing Cindi will be home before too much longer.