The Other Reason to Go to Church

Why do Pastors want you to go to Church every Sunday? We usually talk about our great need for forgiveness, about the edible nature of worship and sacrament–that is, liturgy and the Eucharist are like a meal: we may not remember every lunch, but we still need it an eat it every day. We talk about the command of the Lord to remember the Sabbath day, the Apostolic command to not neglect meeting together, and all of that.

You do not often hear another reason. Truth is, your Pastor misses you. You are friends, and when you only come every so often, we miss seeing you. And not just your Pastor. The people who share your pew or row, the ones who sit in front or behind you, they miss you too. Even if they never talk to you, they know who you are and that you are not here. The Church is Body of Christ, and if the little finger goes AWOL, we miss it.

If you have no sins to confess or be forgiven, if you are spiritually mature and strong, if you know all things, if you have no need for this meal–even if all these things are true, come to Divine Service for the rest of us. We miss you.

Victim and Victor

Christians, to the Paschal victim
offer your thankful praises!

A lamb the sheep redeemeth:
Christ, who only is sinless,
reconcileth sinners to the Father.

Death and life have contended
in that combat stupendous:
the Prince of life, who died,
reigns immortal.

Speak, Mary, declaring
what thou sawest, wayfaring:

“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
the glory of Jesus’ resurrection;

“Bright angels attesting,
the shroud and napkin resting.

“Yea, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he will go before you.”

Christ indeed from death is risen,
our new life obtaining;
have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen.

Living as a Pastor

So much change and work a pastor does is “behind the scenes.” It’s the way he talks to you in the hospital, the things he emphasizes or doesn’t; it’s the hints he drops, sometimes unbeknownst to even himself; it’s the observations he makes in conversation, sometimes when talking about something else. These occasions do as much to work change and influence as anything else. Maybe even more than the content of sermons and the topics of Bible study.

Working such influence of presence means having a presence. It means being an integrated person, having an ethos or “vision” whether you want to call it that or not. Call it a “identity of self-confidence”. Call it an identity in Christ-confidence. A pastor must know who he is in Christ and find confidence in Him and in Christ’s work in him. He must know who he is and what he is doing. He must be fed, and not just by reading one author, from one time period, but reading widely and deeply. He should gather wisdom and pray the prayers of the church and saints.

Then what he breathes in will come out in all kinds of times and places, and in those dark hours or casual conversations, in those quick answers or sudden thoughts, the wisdom of God and of His Saints will pour forth.

 

Give Thanks Today

We have it so good. I wonder how much tougher people used to be, who faced so much and worse.

St. Denys, Bishop of Alexandria wrote this, “At first they drove us out and…we keppt our festival even then, pursued and put to death by all, and every single spot where we were afflicted became to us a place of assembly for the feast–field, desert, ship, inn, prison.” As Dom Dix describes, the Saint wrote this of Easter 250, when, above the persecution, there was also a civil war, famine and plague happening at the same time (Dix, Shape of the Liturgy, 153).

Seriously? As if hounded by the mob who hates you, tortured by the authorities weren’t enough, God added war, famine and deadly disease to the mix? How could they bear such things? We who rank marriage as one of the most stressful times in life, who think that being yelled at by your boss ruins your day, or week could not bear even one of those disasters. But if we examine history, we’ll find that we are the exception by far. You don’t have to go far in time or space to see those who deal with war, death, disease, persecution. Across the globe, back 60 years and it becomes more and more common.

So give thanks this day and pray for your children and grandchildren, and remember it all ends in victory for those who have died with Christ already.

 

 

What You’re Waiting For

We all go through those time periods when life is on hold. We are waiting for the end of the semester, for the baby to be born, the building to be finished, the month to end, the move to happen, the wedding. The worst hold times are those when there is not a cotton-picking thing we can do to prepare–those times when we wait to find out what’s coming next. You put in the job application and wait. You put in the college app and wait for the letter. The work is done and now you sit and twiddle your thumbs and think of all you might have done differently or what will happen and when.

We went through all this last summer, as Marjorie was waiting on this University and that University to decide what she had to do to finish her degree. She made the calls, submitted the applications, did everything she could and meanwhile, we had decisions to make for our family, but everything hinged upon what this and that University would tell her.

If you’re neurotic, these times will kill you. They will eat you from the inside out. And while you wait you miss out on everything else. On life. On the moments of joy that happen every day. You miss out on all these things while you stare at the clock or the calendar.

The trick to surviving these times of waiting and fidgeting and gross neurosis is to remember that all of life is this way. We are all waiting.  “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Rom 8:22-23 ESV) All creation is waiting and longing and groaning with transitional labor for Christ to come and renew all things. This is life. This is creation. Waiting for the results, for the job offer, for the house to sell, these are simply flies of frustration compared to the contractions we and all this world, visible and invisible is suffering. They are hunger pains while we suffer the true labor of delivery, of the consummation of all things.

It’s almost like a bad joke: You’re impatient in waiting? Hah! If you only knew what you were really waiting for! But it’s no  joke. We wait for Christ and for the new heaven and earth, for resurrection of all flesh. We wait. And when we look for this, for this divine re-ordering of all things, we can begin to see the good that is now, the good that will only be better, the bad that will be redeemed, the frustration that will be filled, the beauty that will be beautified.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Every Knee Shall Bow

I am a genuflecter now. I’ve seen it done, heard the gossip when Professor Feuerhahn disappeared behind the freestanding altar at Concordia Seminary, and now do it myself. The Words were spoken, and I dropped to my knees. It’s very Evangelical. It’s very biblical. It’s very Bible-based as our neighbors might say.

The words of Christ, the Presence of Christ, and I dropped to my knee and paused.

In the LCMS there is not much of a tradition of kneeling at the Words of Institution. Not the congregation, not the pastors. We do kneel to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in most places. We kneel for prayer at other places. Sometimes the wedding couple kneels. But not for the Verba, not for the Words of Christ.

But now I do. I’m a genuflecter.

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church has the tradition, and I’ve embraced it. I’m a genuflecter. I was the Presiding Minister on this Sixth Sunday of Easter and after the words, “Do this in remembrance of me,” I elevated the host and then fell on my knees. I did the same after the cup was blessed with the words of Christ.

I didn’t genuflect before coming to this place. I only knelt when receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. A pastor doesn’t have to genuflect. But it made a difference. It felt different. Respectful. Fearful. Like the earth in its course was pausing and there I was before Christ, hidden in bread and wine and I didn’t want to get up. But I had to work to do. Christ wants His gifts spread out and spread around, so I rose to do it.It’s very Evangelical and Biblical. Bible-based, as our Bible church neighbors would say. Well, they may not recognize it as such, but it is. “So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phi 2:10-11 ESV)” In fact it’s even more than that. Not only do I kneel at the name and presence of Jesus, but the congregation may fulfill the second part of that passage. There’s a custom when the Pastor elevates the host and the cup for the faithful to quietly say, “My Lord and My God.” There’s that confession with the tongue. Yes, it’s all right out of scripture if you have eyes to see it.

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

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)”

Repenting and Not Repenting and Still Repenting

Photo by antibarbarie

On this coming Sunday of the Pharisee and the Publican (in the One Year lectionary), I ran across the following and had to share:

But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican ( cf. Luke 18:13): that is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must out of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well.”

– St. Peter of Damaskos in The Philokalia – The Complete Text, Volume Three, pg. 160

In conversation with someone the other day, we talked about repentance. We talked about how to do it, as this person said she was having a hard time. “It is the easiest thing to do…and the hardest thing to do,” I said, in an uninspired moment. It is turning your back on the former ways–easy, but even St. Sisoe of the Desert (renown in his day for his ascetic life–think Mother Teresa), said, “I have not yet begun to repent.” And St. Paul said that he was “chief of sinners.”

It is too much for us. We cannot do it. Even the simple command, the first word of our Lord in the Gospel of Mark is too much for us to bear, to do. And I’m not talking about some kind of perfect repentance, either. Not perfect, but just the start, the basics. And as St. Peter notes (ironically), even acknowledging you cannot is, well, a sign of repentance.

As Rush once sang, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”