26 June 2018
25 June 2018
A Reading from Ecclesiastes, chapter 4
9Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Okay, you two. Confession time. For me, not you. I always got in trouble for telling my congregation that I much preferred preaching funerals to weddings. They'd get so agitated: “Pastor, that's just wrong!”
But think about this for a minute from a pastor's perspective, will you? At a funeral the problem is obvious. There's a box with a body in it, but the person who used to inhabit that body has gone awol and everyone feels it. It hurts. Hurts like hell. And people are ready and aching to hear a word that can address the pain. And I had that word.
Now, take the wedding. The problem itself is hidden beneath all the joy and celebration of the day. And the folks out there, and sometimes the folks right here, are all thinking: Come on, preacher man, make it short and sweet. We want to get to the main event of the day: the party! Truth? Truth.
But you ready to get your minds blown? God thinks we've got it all backwards, as usual. He wants us to celebrate every funeral as a wedding feast and every wedding feast? They actually celebrate two funerals. Say what?
Oh, yeah. God tells you that for your marriage to be what He wants it to be there's something right here in front of me that needs to die. Let's call it your ego. He does this in the weirdest way: by tying two lives together. You ever seen one or been in one of those three-legged races? They're a hoot. You get to use both your legs, but one of your legs is tied to another person's and you have to use em both together. And try running like that! At first, you stumble a lot. But the longer you keep at it, the more you begin to figure out how two people can actually run as one and then the fun really begins
There's Jesus' idea of how marriage can be a funeral. Because the impulse inside you Curtis and inside you, Jess, to run off and do your own thing is what gets to die. The impulse to always have it your way. I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it and you get in my way, I'll make you sorry. THAT's the sucker that has to be killed in both of you. You're tied together from now on. For better and for worse. For richer and for poorer. In sickness and in health. Now, it is entirely possibly for you to just not get used to this being tied together. What happens then is one of two things: one of the other of you pulls out a knife and slices through that rope and says: “There. We're done with that. Let's just go each do our thing.” That's sad. Race over. Or, and this is just as sad, two people stay tied together, never learning how to run together, and just grump and grouse at each other and about each other all the way to the end of the race. Yikes. In that case, what Jesus wanted to die, never gets to die at all.
But the picture I've given you so far isn't the whole deal. You see, marriage is not like Jesus reaching down and tying a rope around both of your ankles so that you “get hitched.” It's way more fun than that! Jesus reaches down and ties your ankle, Curtis, to HIS and then He reaches over and ties Jessica's to HIS. Do marriage his way and it's not a three legged race, it's a three PERSON race. I used to totally miss this: You heard Jesus say it earlier: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” GOD is what joins together. He's between the two of you. He's the glue!
Jess, I'm gonna pick on you because you're my own flesh and blood. Curtis, let me ask you: You ever try winning an argument with this woman? Of course you have. You've tried. But you've found out it doesn't work. Wanna know why? Because even though you're gonna change her last name today, she's still a WEEDON and Weedons all have this weird genetic defect that they always believe they're right. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone married to a Weedon in the room and they'll set you straight. We're a messed up bunch. But here's where it gets interesting!
She's ready to argue you down on anything, and you might be tempted sometimes to grab that knife and just cut the rope and get free, or to argue right back at her, whatever. You pull out the knife and Jesus looks at you: “Throw that thing away. You won't be needing it.” “But,” you begin. “No buts,” he says. “Time for a funeral. Because this isn't about what Curtis wants. Don't argue with her. Go tell her who she is in me. Tell her whom I am making her to be. Go say: Jess, I love you. You are an amazing woman. I am so glad that God brought us together. Come on, let's get moving!” And she'll be looking at you like you look at someone come back from the dead, because in a way, someone has!
Jessica, you're going to do the same for him. When you're tempted to say: “You know, Curtis, the problem with you is...” Jesus gives you that look. And the words and the thought die on your lips. “Tell him who he is in me,” says Jesus, “tell him who he is becoming as his life becomes love. Curtis, you're my rock. I love you so much. God has changed me so much through you. Thank you. Say that instead.”
And when either of you is saying in your head: I can't do that, Jesus is saing: “I think they’re getting this!” Of course you can't. Don't you see THAT'S why Jesus ties you together by tying you to HIM. Because where you don't have the strength of will, HE does. It's absolutely true that neither of you have the ability to forgive as much as the other has the ability to hurt. Welcome to the fallen human race! But HE'S the one who has already bleed to forgive the sins of every last one of us and that's the forgiveness He puts at your disposal to share with each other and to begin speaking into each other.
So you do your marriage this way, you've got this mega-strange relationship going on, where marriage is your ongoing funeral to the ego's drive to have it your way, and where you speak the truth to each other of who they are becoming in Jesus. You know what happens? Jessica's grandma always used to say: “Little pictures have big ears” by which she meant that the kids are always listening in. Shaela and Anthony and Brooklyn and if God grants you even more. And they see and hear this weird way you're learning to live together. Know what? They say to Jesus: “Dear Jesus, please give me someone like that too. Someone you tie me to with you in the middle, so that I can run that race. Cause I want my life to be like theirs.” And how sweet is that?
Marriage is an ongoing funeral, but such a marriage means, when the funeral comes that it has all the joy of the marriage. Just like Jesus is there to pick you both up when either stumble and the three of you are on the ground, so when you fall to the ground that last time in this life, you'll close your eyes and open them again and Jesus will be right there. He'll be saying: “Get up!” And this time you'll never go down again. Now you can run together in true freedom. “I always told you that I had more forgiveness than you had sin and more life than you have death and now you see it. Come on into the great marriage feast that never ends! It's the ultimate homecoming and my whole goal in putting you guys together was so that you could all show up here.” And then, God willing, the two of you will run to the feast together arm in arm with your kids, laughing for joy all the way. You see, the path is funeral to wedding feast, and it's exactly the reverse of the way we tend to think.
One last thing: if it sounds like child's play, that's because it is. Jesus said if we ever hope to enter his kingdom we have to become like kids! And what do kids do? They play! People don't stop playing because they got old; they got old because they stopped playing. Jesus is inviting you into this great game, this three-personed race, where you get to die to ego, to self every single day, and where the ending of the whole shebang is wedding and more joy than you can imagine. Your married life can BE an adventure. Something a lot more fun than any serious grumps (grownups) can imagine. So you guys ready? On your mark, get set, go! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
15 June 2018
With Father's Day coming up, memories abound... The weekend daddy bought me the piano... The silent car rides... The light of his cigar in the darkened car, as I headed out of my piano lesson and he drove me home... The day he took me car shopping with him (something I fear I never acquired a taste for; an evil to be endured rather than a pleasure to be savoured)... The year we chopped down our Christmas Tree over on Yeagers' farm... Me bugging him to help me rewire the lamp (Lauren has now) and how he tried to beg off with his head hurting so badly, the first hint of the cancer that killed him... Those horrible last days... Sissy and I having to change him and neither one dealing very well with it... The hand stretched out that I never took the day he died... Playing Bach's two part inventions as his last moments ticked by... Joe calling me in and then all of us around his bed at the end... The massive sense of loss that has never gone away.
Ours wasn't an easy relationship. There was always more than a little bit of tension between us. I suspect we just fundamentally didn't understand each other, and I know that I was one heck of a strange (and non-stop-talking) kid. He struggled to read; reading was my whole world. There was never any of the usual dad stuff. The only thing we ever played together was a card game called Rook or some Rummy. Never threw a ball around or anything like that. Never went fishing together or hunting. He had served in WWII and he liked to watch movies about General Patton. We often watched them together. But he never talked about it. I was always more than a little scared of him losing his temper and of his criticism. Spilling something at the table was always an ordeal. He had little patience (I get it honestly!). I don’t think he ever attended a piano recital I played in or a concert I sang in. He did come to church when I was baptized, and maybe once at Christmas. I didn't walk at my graduation, I think, in large part because it would be a bit painful to not have my parents there. But it was okay: I sat with Cindi's mom and dad and watched Cindi graduate!
I remember asking mom once about why he seemed so distant and disinterested. She said that he had a tough time growing up and that children who aren't shown lots of love when they're little often don't know how to show love themselves when they get older. Her family always overflowed in love, and her daddy especially. I was a know-it-all teenager and I wasn't buying that as a legit excuse. I remember telling her: "I'm going to talk to him about it." I don't think she'd ever spoken so sharply to me: "I'll not have you hurting your father's feelings." That did it. I wasn't about to have mom mad at me. We never talked about it.
This will be my 38th father's day without him; I have thought so much about him this year. He loved in his own way, as best he could. We all muddle through and try to love through our own scars. And the gift of the piano and the lessons...that was huge. And I found out after he died that he had told one of his friends at work "You should hear that boy tickle the ivories!" I treasure that comment. It would have been nice to hear something like that from his own lips one time, but I am blessed to know he said it to someone and someone shared it. The gift of the piano was maybe the only way he could say "I love you" and it took me a long time to hear it, but I think I have. For that gift I am so utterly grateful; it changed the course of my life. And I love you too, Daddy.
12 June 2018
11 June 2018
This is grandson #2: Joshua Flynn, born on the Day of St. Barnabas. He's chronologically three today, but he works so hard to keep up with older brother and sister that he has a hard time remembering that. He's pretty sure he's five. He is feisty, fun, tough and tender.
09 June 2018
08 June 2018
Pr. Bomberger preached to us this morning on last Sunday's Gospel: Lazarus and the Rich Man (er, men, Abraham being a rich man too). He left us in the full discomfort of that Gospel, its radical challenge to us. As he was preaching two ahas:
First: A great gulf (chasm) has been fixed
Fixed by whom? BY THE RICH MAN. It's the same as his gate that kept Lazarus at bay. He wanted to be alone. He barricaded himself from others. Finally, they couldn't reach him no matter how much they wanted to.
Second: In this life you received your good things.
YOUR good things. The stuff that he thought was good: the fine chow and flashy duds and the nice house. But he didn't receive God's good things: the gift of His words (Moses and the Prophets) nor the gift of the brother to love. Lazarus was God's gift to the Rich Man, to coax him out of the isolation he was building around himself.
Pastor ended the chapel homily in the most stunning way. He cited our Lord's Word: "The poor you have with you always..." Left unsaid, "but you will not always have me." We heard it in our heads, but only there. And it was totally effective: I know it was for me.
The poor are here right now to love. The poor are just whoever in need God puts along our path to draw us out of our isolation and into love. Love, heaven, it is together: Lazarus and angels and Abraham and that is comfort and joy! Did you notice that the rich man didn't even ask to get out of the place he was in? He just wanted that place to be more comfortable. Send Lazarus to ease my thirst.
So much to think about. Jesus gives us good things: His Word in Moses and the Prophets AND the people he surrounds us with to pull us out of the hell of our internal obsessions. The One who is raised from the dead won't convince anyone who won't listen to the Word, but if we listen to the Word we hear the Risen One's voice bidding us stop the digging of our isolating trenches and inviting us into life. Together. The picture of what Church is meant to be: the family of faith where no one is alone. No one. Today you will be with me in paradise!
07 June 2018
Prayer and Preaching, p. 260
Reading: Hebrews 12:27—13:6
Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens. This phrase "yet once more" indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that are made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. 5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 6 So we can confidently say,
"The Lord is my helper;
I will not fear;
what can man do to me?"
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The bad news: things gonna get shaken up. The good news: there's something that doesn't shake and won't crumble and remains, stands, lasts. Thanks be to God that what you have received is what remains when all else is shaken to bits: a kingdom and you don't get one of those without a King. And your King lasts and so His kingdom lasts. You last. Your King and His kingdom lasts in the midst of all kinds of stuff that doesn't, that falls to pieces and crumbles to dust. And so in Him you get to offer to God worship that is acceptable, worship with fear and with awe, never forgetting for the least instant that your God is, after all, a consuming fire. A fire that lasts.
Images of the fire that fell from heaven to consume the cities of the plain; images of the fire that fell on the offering of Manoah and his wife; images of the fire that fell on the water-drenched offering of Elijah and evaporated all the H20 in sight! And images of Jesus on His cross: "I have a fire to cast upon the earth and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!"
That fire is everlasting love, and as awesome as such love it, it totally burns up everything that is not love in the end; what doesn't make it through love's fire is what is shaken and what finally fails. So the writer to the Hebrews is telling you not to be dumb: if it's all about love (and it always is), then doesn't it make sense to let everything you do be done in love. Keep loving each other as brothers, sons and daughters together of one Father. And that means there's no such thing as a stranger. As we sing in the great hymn by Luther, which I misunderstood for years: "That with hearts united we love each other, Every stranger, sister and brother." That's not a list of three categories of people so that you love the stranger, your sister and your brother. That's saying that every stranger IS your sister or brother! So hospitality. Kindness. Sharing what you have been blessed with with them. They are all "my peeps." Yours too. Especially the household of faith, but also everyone that God calls to belong to the household of faith. That doesn't leave anyone out. And when you do this hospitality to the stranger, there are times you end up getting a visit from an angel. And angels come to serve you. When you are living in hospitality, it is not you are serving your guests, but your guests who are serving yuou, letting you live in love. Images of Abram at the Oaks of Mamre lifting his eyes in the heat of the day and then running to greet the three strangers who showed up at his tent. The Son of God and two angels! And so the misfortunes of others are yours too: someone locked up; you're locked up with them. Remember them, pray for them, visit them, encourage them. Someone mistreated for the name of Christ? You feel the smart in your own body, because, after all, you are one body with them in Him. That person's pain is yours. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. That's what love does. That's the gift of what lasts in Jesus.
And love doesn't just do. Love also doesn't. It doesn't use another person to gratify some sexual or emotional itch in a casual and careless way. Love honors the marriage bed. Love knows that God judges those who stray sexually either outside or within marriage. Love doesn't traffic in other's bodies with zero concern for their person. Love honors marriage, and the persons who are part of it.
And love doesn't pretend that the money and stuff is all there for me, for me to keep piling up for myself in the fear that there's not going to be enough. Ha! Love knows better. Love knows a contentment with what one has, because what one has is the Lord! The King. Unshakeable. And so the kingdom, unshakeable. And He's never going to throw you over for something else. "Never will I leave you, never forsake you." Never. Not ever.
And in response to that love that is like a consuming fire and yet that only consumes everything in your lives that isn't love, you begin to learn what it is to live without fear. Like Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego you learn the dance moves in the fire. What is there to be afraid of in THAT fire? If you have HIM, that's the one thing needed, no? And isn't He the one who is dancing in the flames beside you? The flames then don't hurt you or set you ablaze. The flames free you. Love frees you. Jesus frees you.
Because isn't the name of this Love just Jesus? Isn't He the fire? Isn't He the one who loves you as His own brothers and sisters? And shows you the amazing hospitality of inviting you to His table to sit with Him and share in the most astounding feast of all? And isn't He the One who refused to ever deal with anyone as so much meat for sexual gratification, the One who never walked by a person in need out of fear of not having enough for Himself? Isn't He the one who in the perfect fire of divine love that He Himself is, dances in your flesh with joy to entice you to let loose the fear that is always going around trying to grab up all the shakable stuff; to let it go, and to hold instead a hand with a nail scar and let Him lead you on the dance of your life? Finish then, Thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be, let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee, changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise. Love divine. All Loves excelling. What lasts. Love. Jesus. You in Him and He in you.
Hymn of the Day: #700 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
For Michelle and all who mourn, for Amy, Craig, Paula, Roger, Ruth, Allen and Jan
Missionaries: Pr. Adam and Christine Lehman in Spain
01 June 2018
One of the great joys of my life is getting to read and ponder a chapter of God’s Word most every weekday on KFUO’s Thy Strong Word. Today’s chapter was Jeremiah 39 and I got to do it with long time internet friend, Pr. Rolf Preus, whom I’ve still never had the privilege of meeting in person. Was an honor to have him on the show today. He’s a man who is as in love with the hymns of our church as I am!