Impracticality of God

More great writing and wisdom from Pr. Peters

Hardly anything you see or we do on Sunday morning is practical.  Not the vestments or the liturgy, not the organ or the choir, not the paraments and painting or the wooden pews and kneelers.  But that is the point.  It was practicality that got us in trouble in the first place.  We sought a short cut to achieving our dreams of glory and it came with a price tag of death, disorder, and disappointment.  We don’t need a better life now as much as we need a life that is stronger than death, mercy to forgive our sins, and hope to carry us through a life too filled with suffering, disappointment, and pain.  Christian faith does not guarantee a path void of mountains or valleys.  This is not some great interstate highway to heaven in which the deep places of life have been filled in and the hills cut down to make it all easier on us.  Oh, sure, somebody will throw Isaiah and John the Baptizer at me here and say but…  Well, I don’t think that is exactly what those words mean.

The Horror! The Horror!

At the Oklahoma District LCMS Convention last week I was privileged to be an assisting minister at the opening worship service. I read the Old Testament reading and assisted with communion distribution. We had three “stations” and used the “drive-by” style for the sake of time, numbers and logistics. Not my favorite way to give the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, but that’s the way it was done.

I held the cup containing the precious blood of Jesus. There were no individual glasses, no “holy shot glasses.” Just the One Cup. As communicants approached me it was quite apparent that a few of the lay delegates there had never received out of a common cup before. Some were visibily shaking, a few looked horrified and didn’t know how to do it. One person in particular stood out, her face reflecting almost revulsion.

Revulsion to drink the blood of Christ? On the face of a Christian? That’s the horror.

Now, I get it that a few people like the individual cups. It’s easier to control, it’s more comfortable. “I do it myself!” we say when we’re two and we never stop saying it. “It’s easier to just do it myself,” Dad says, and that’s true. It’s awkward for someone to give you a drink without you taking the cup and drinking yourself. And our antiseptic-obsessed world despises spreading germs. I get that too.  I’m not one to just ban the jiggers or remove the individual cup or anything.

But I do teach my confirmands to receive out of the common cup. I remind them that Christ is feeding us and giving us drink. I remind them of the one cup our Lord passed.  I teach them that faith believes we will receive only good from the cup of the Lord, never disease or anything bad. I remind them that alcohol and gold or silver is a lethal combination for germs and scientific study backs it up.

And I remind them that drinking privately out of their own cup is a luxury they may not always have, like at conventions. So I tell them, and now tell you, drink out of the common cup for a few Sundays, so that you know what it is like. So that you will not have a look of horror and revulsion on your face when you approach the common cup for the first time at a convention. Drink out of that common cup at least a few times and trust what God says. It will build your faith. Then I tell the kids if they want to use the individual cups thereafter, they may. We have freedom and no one is saying its a sin or bad or somehow not the blood of Christ.

Angry Faces

I hadn’t run for six years or more, and even back then it was short-lived. It really had been more than ten years since I’d logged any appreciable miles.  I’d moved to other exercise and enjoyed it and didn’t look back until two weeks ago. My cholesterol was high again, my weight was not budging and Marjorie wanted to shed some pounds too. We decided to run together, using the Couch-to-5K program. All was good the first two runs. On my third run my knees felt like fire. Surely it was just normal joint pain from new movement, so I ignored it, finished the run and showered.

But the next morning my knees were still killing me. And the next. And the next. Eventually I self-diagnose and MCL injury, based on where the pain was. Ibuprofen cut the pain quite well, and life went on. But when the ibuprofen cut out and I had to walk a lot, life became unpleasant.

That’s why I walked around the LCMS Oklahoma District Convention with an angry face. I didn’t realize I was scowling until three people in five minutes told me to smile or asked me what was wrong. I was happy–glad to be there, enjoying the folks and everything. But it hurt to walk. Pretty bad. And looking in the mirror during a break I did look pretty mean.

The lessons learned:

1. Don’t judge. Angry faces may well be hiding pain.

2. If you’re in pain, don’t try to hide it. Use a cane or tell others what’s wrong. For goodness sake, use your pain meds.

3. If you start running when you weigh 40 pounds more than the last time you ran, be very careful and don’t ignore fire in your joints.

4. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation

Kneeling as Christians (or Genuflecting)

“When menaced by the power of evil, as (Christians) kneel, they are upright before the world, while as sons and daughters, they kneel before the Father. Before God’s glory we Christians kneel and acknowledge his divinity; by that posture we also express our confidence that he will prevail… (Pope Benedict XVI)

The Church which Produced Bach is Where?

We began to build plain Jane buildings and to restrict the ceremonial of the liturgy to the minimum required.  We became more content in the black robe from Geneva than the historic vesture of the Church.  We treated hymns as if they were merely ornamental and not truly confessional, a matter of personal taste in which they were mostly equal in quality.  We became utilitarian and decided that pipe organs were too costly and so the Church that produced Bach found itself unable to utilize Bach’s music in the Divine Service.  We turned choirs from their primary role as leaders of the congregational song and gave them a ministry which was only slightly different from Methodism and its parade of the choir up front to perform for the enjoyment of the folks in the pew.  We became suspicious of the arts, suspicious of the passion that was always meant to accompany the transformation of the mind.  We became moderate not in the sense of balance but in justification of restraint and the reigning in of those who paid excessive attention to these other things. From Pastoral Meanderings, “The splendor of truth… truth and beauty…

Pastor Peters didn’t really diagnose why this happened, or I couldn’t quite understand his argument. Yet his observation is spot on. Suspicion, parsimony, ignorance, reacting to the culture or meta-culture, false humility, genuine humility–who knows how much of these and other factors play in. But this is what we tend to have, and correcting it means fighting against decades–centuries of inertia.

Easters Here, There and Everywhere

Easter Sunday was hard. Seeing all the faces of those I’ve known, the widows whose husbands I’ve buried, the hands held out that I had confirmed over the years, knowing why she doesn’t kneel but he does–seeing this and knowing it is my last Easter here. But at the same time already moving ahead, thinking of my new congregation kneeling, communing with them already together with the angels and the archangels, with Peter and John and Mary and all the company of heaven.

Haven’t had one like that in years–stressful and sad and expectant and disappointing. Yes, disappointed that I will not be here again for this Feast but disappointed I’m not yet there either. It was a limbo on Easter Sunday. But it’s also saying goodbye. It’s the reason I am dreading visiting the shut-ins for the last time. Saying goodbye.

This is the way of life in this fallen world. We say goodbye. Nothing lasts forever here. Sometimes you know when you are leaving, when they are leaving, and other times you don’t, but it is the way.

But we who have life in the kingdom have yet another promise: there is no true goodbye for us in Christ. We commune with all of them as we gather around the lamb who was slain. We receive the same body and blood, we gather together, separated by distance and dimension, but not death. Space, but not spirit. We move to the next room, the next town, the next place, but we never leave our Lord–or He never leaves us.

Good Friday Meditation

It is finished.

That’s the way the stomach rumbles
That’s the way the bee bumbles
That’s the way the needle pricks
That’s the way the glue sticks
That’s the way the potato mashes
That’s the way the pan flashes
That’s the way the market crashes
That’s the way the whip lashes
That’s the way the teeth gnashes
That’s the way the gravy stains
That’s the way the moon wanes
–William Burroughs

That’s the way it all goes, not with lightning and flashes, not with gasps and groans, with the simple. It is finished. God is a God of order. Jesus dies like a German with a stiff upper lip? It is finished.

And it was. And it is. Finished. Fertig. Genug. Alles in ordnung. Jesus wrapped up the whole diabolical drama and puts it away, buried in His body.

But it signified everything. The end of sin, the end of death, the end of the warfare, the moment of triumph. The death of Christ that the devil knew not what happened. He received Jesus, and received God crashing in and destroying the power of sin and death, breaking its bonds and gates and all and all and all.

It is finished. The battle over, the victory won. Not in battle triumph, in glorious array. Not in flashing weapons and battle tumult, but in blood and death and the call and sentence it is finished. It is finished. It is finished indeed. Glory be to Jesus. Amen.

Addendum on This Week of Weeks

Think about the blogosphere, the Facebooks and internets and such the past few days. People are complaining about the “new logo” of the Synod. There’s a story about a pedophile pastor in the LCMS and what or who knew about it before his most recent arrest. There’s more scandal and biting and bad news than normal. It’s all part of it. The demons use whatever they can to take our eyes off our Christ and Lord hanging from the Tree which brings life.

If you are caught up in these stories, just back off. Maybe next week. Maybe then engage. But for now pray, and if you have no strength for that, laugh and smile and work and eat. That is God pleasing too.

Holy Week is Every Week

Ah, Holy Week. When you’re in or around a church Holy Week works its magic on you. No, it’s not in peaceful divine rays of blessing on your shoulders. Its magic is not in beatific visions of heaven. The magic of Holy Week is that it makes us cranky and stressed and sinful. Yet it is still Holy.

Part of Holy Week for us in the church is simply stress. We have many extra worship services, more music, more sermons, more planning and no matter how well we thought we planned, it all unfurls this week. It’s enough to make anyone crazy. But during Holy Week our enemy works to sow discord. Pastors get chips on their shoulders because of “how busy” they are. Musicians likewise. Secretaries. Everyone else gets irritated at us because we are busy and don’t want to play their reindeer games right now. We feel self-important, and others are impious and it makes a vicious circle and the demons delight at this, if they can.

But when we stop and consider it all, God uses even this. While we are petty and squabbling, Christ is washing our feet, just as the disciples fought about how was greater. While we are tired and slothful, our Lord prays for our salvation, just as in the Garden. When we deny Him with our actions, if not our impious and hateful words, He is not condemning, just as in the courtyard.

This week is everything. It is all life, all salvation, all sin and all holiness. It is the week that really lasts forever, the Three Days which stand before all time

and outside of time, where the works of the demons only serve to draw us closer to the cross upon which the Universe rests. God takes it all and rests it upon His Son who bore the weight of all worlds and all time and all life and death upon His extended arms, the Apollo who was crushed for a time but raised again.

Holy Week is every week. Or, every week is Holy Week. Every Sunday is a celebration of the Eighth Day of Creation, the day when our Lord was raised. Every Friday is the day our Lord was killed. Every week is Holy Week and Holy Week is every Week, when our sins come forth but yet are gathered up and executed on the cross in the eternal arms of the Son of Man.