Who do the Worms Eat?

jar1A jar of dirt. A pickle jar filled with dirt from your back yard, sitting on your desk or mantle, reminding you of your origin as animated dust, as organic matter which has received the breath of God. As it stands, a good reminder. A speaker at a conference I attended recently made this the climax of his speech. Keep this jar of dirt in your study, he told us pastors.

A jar of dirt. A reminder that we will end up there as well, once the chemicals dissipate and the water enters the vault. With time and time again, back to dirt and dust we will go. It’s the call to repentance of Lent, from dirt to dirt. It’s the order of things after the Fall, after the primordial days of old. It’s all we knew.

And if that it were it, then the cry of the hedonist sounds loud: eat and drink! It would be worth the stress and worry and concern of hanging onto this life, if it were only dust and ashes punctuated by these brief days of light and joy. It would be worth the lust of gold and pleasures of the flesh. It would be worth stabbing your friend in the back with steely knives if it were all darkness at the end. Pass the bottle and stoics be damned. The worms will win in the end and I’ll at least die with a smile.

But there is one whom the worms did not receive. There is the one who defeated decay and death and worms and corruption. He is my Lord. He defeated the worms and nitrifying processes of aerobic bacteria. He defeated the power of the grave. For me, the worms do not win. The water and bacteria and destruction and thermodynamic heat death of the universe does not win. My Lord broke that system and I belong to Him.

This jar of dirt or flies has no bearing on the Christian. Yes, we should memento mori and dust to dust, but not to dwell. There is more. There is forever.

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.

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.

There is Only Today

It’s an extra day. The world lengthened just a few hours, a 29th in a world of 28ths, an eighth day in a week.

What to spend this extra day doing? For most of us it’s just the same: work and the usual Wednesday commitments. The same old same old grind. And its February.

But it’s another thing. It’s “Today.” It is the day of salvation. Heaven and earth, angels and demons hang on this day and your soul is living or dying. It is a time of rebellion or a time of repentance, of dying or rising. The cross is here and the tomb is here and the ladder to heaven is hanging before our eyes. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow does not exist. For God and for salvation it is Today. Always today.

And it can be today for you as well, if you take your mind off the cemented past. It can be today for you if you take your mind off the psychic future in its occluded blackness. There is today, the day of salvation, the day of repentance, the day of faith, the day of resurrection.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,

for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb 4:7-10 ESV)

 

 

“Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, (Heb 3:7-8 NAS)”

Specific and Particular

I am called to particulars. I serve and minister to particulars. A pastor is called to such-and-such congregation and those actual, living, breathing people there in the pews and walking in the doors. There are no generic congregations, and there are no generic Christians, and there is no such thing as generic people. God’s Law is proclaimed and applied to that person, sitting right there, and the death of Christ is for this person’s salvation, sitting right there.

This is how God works–He gives His eternal Word, but not in a vacuum. He gives it to this or that person, each one. This is the way God works. He became man–but not men, or humanity: Jesus is a guy. A dude. With a Mom, holy and virgin, but Mom nonetheless. God is particular. Choosy, even, but not discriminating. He’s choosy and particular with each and every one of us. Christ, the man, Son of Mary, does not deal with us as people, but as a person. Me. You. And what I need from Him, whether Law or Gospel is different than what you need, when and where and how. At Seminary they called this”The Scandal of the Particular.” God is not a vague, effervescent God, but a particular, specific God.

So the pastor does not preach against “grumblers” but this grumbler and that  complaint. He does not forgive “sins” but your sins. That actual thing you did. This is what we need. Not sermons railing against “those problems out there” but calling you and me to repentance. Not vague “hey, God forgives sin,” but a specific, “God forgives you for that sin.” This is far better.

Little Legalists

In our hearts we are aspiring tyrants, everyone of us. Rules are to be applied, mostly to others, unless of course it’s inconvenient for us. Even when you get good Confessional Lutherans and Democrats who insist that legalism is wrong and freedom from rules and pieties is necessary, then, by God, it is Necessary, and you are wicked if you disagree.

Yes, even bohemians ascribe to their own rule-book. Hippies and hipsters follow their code of behavior and thought-laws.

There is no cure for this either. Only death gets rid of it. Some of us die earlier and get it over with. But even most of those still have their little legal code hiding away deep in their hearts, resisting the golden stake of wood planted once on the Hill of the Skull.

Let’s stab it with our wooden spears. Lets plant a stake in our codified hearts and pour that water in to mix with the blood. Or better, lets pour Godblood in.

Rinse and repeat.

Tough Work

It’s hard work, reading the Bible. And it gets harder the more you do it. Ever try reading it straight through? That may be the toughest of all.

It takes more than the dedication, say, of reading through War and Peace, or The New York Times. It’s tough because it requires discipline, but more than discipline, more than setting the goal.

It’s confrontational. The more you read, the more you are confronted with yourself. It’s not just about dudes living two, or four thousand years ago. Their stories are stories about you. Stories about how you fear for you life and deceived the powerful, about your past and future, about the death they carry on to you.

It’s confrontational. Scripture is not a history book or a “text book for living.” That’s beyond stupid. The book is divine, the Living God speaking living Word to your flailing life.

And it’s confrontational. There is an enemy to humanity and it seeks our doom. It’s desire is prevent, to block, to keep us from Life and Living and our Triune God. It does not want you to read, to experience, to confront yourself. Television is much better, it says. Look, there’s your to-do list right next to your Bible, take a look at that. For Hell’s sake, don’t look at your life too closely! That’s the enemy.

It’s hard work, reading the Bible. It’s hard work to read straight through, a laudable goal. Even better: simply open and read, and taste and see, and do it again tomorrow and the next day.

Jesus, Priceless Treasure

As I said on Sunday, I think this, coupled with the tune “Je­su, Meine Freude” is probably the antithesis of entertainment-driven, contemporary worship, “praise songs” so popular today.

Jesus, priceless Treasure,
Source of purest pleasure,
Truest Friend to me.
Ah, how long in anguish
Shall my spirit languish,
Yearning, Lord, for Thee?
Thou art mine, O Lamb divine!
I will suffer naught to hide Thee,
Naught I ask beside Thee.

In Thine arms I rest me;
Foes who would molest me
Cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
Every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash;
Yet, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

Satan, I defy thee;
Death, I now decry thee;
Fear, I bid thee cease.
World, thou shalt not harm me
Nor thy threats alarm me
While I sing of peace.
God’s great power guards every hour;
Earth and all its depths adore Him,
Silent bow before Him.

Evil world, I leave thee;
Thou canst not deceive me,
Thine appeal is vain.
Sin that once did bind me,
Get thee far behind me,
Come not forth again.
Past thy hour, O pride and power;
Sinful life, thy bonds I sever,
Leave thee now forever.

Hence, all thought of sadness!
For the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
Those who love the Father,
Though the storms may gather,
Still have peace within;
Yea, whatever we here must bear,
Still in Thee lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless Treasure!

What to Expect this Lenten Season

I hate to put it like this, but it is almost a rule that when we “make progress” in our Christian life, we will be tempted. Well, I mean we are tempted at every moment, but it gets stronger and less subtle when we are disciplining ourselves.

Ok, so what do I mean? Well, if you are fasting, be prepared for temptation. Not just for eating more food, or eating the food you are abstaining from. I mean you will be tempted with things you have long set aside. That itch for nicotine you hadn’t had for years? There it is again. That feeling of sowing your wild oats, like you did before you were married? Yep, that old “friend” may come back. Sometimes literally.

Even if you are not participating in a fast, but make some other progress, you ought to be prepared for temptation. When you start going to church after a hiatus, you will suddenly find all kinds of “reasons” not to go the next week. You make efforts to get out of debt, following the divine wisdom which states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Pro 22:7 ESV), then do not be surprised to find yourself tempted into “financial emergencies” which require more borrowing.

Any time we  take up the cross and follow Christ, it is good and pleasing…and we will meet temptation to abandon that path, to gratify ourselves, to give up. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (Jam 4:7-8 ESV)