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Mercy and The Big Why.

In the Gospel lesson for tomorrow you will hear how the disciples see a man who was born blind and they ask the great “why” question.  Who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?  I guess I have to rephrase it – “why was this man born blind?  Was it his or his parents fault?”

We do the same in our life.  We have an issue and we ask “why is this happening to me” and the “this” is defined by us.  Tragedy is in the eye of the beholder.  Some of the young people that I know are reduced to quivering fountains of tears if they can’t go on spring break like they used to before they supposedly got a job and supposedly became responsible grown up folks. “Why is this happening to me “they say, “when I am supposedly doing the right thing getting a job?”  Lots of supposing there.  I am a veteran pastor who supposedly has a fixed reliance and understanding of the object of my preaching and teaching, the object of my faith, Jesus Christ.  The preached Christ is all mercy and compassionate care for the fallen children of men.  He did not come to condemn the world but to save it.  He is love.  Yet when trouble and tragedy and pain come to my life I want to get from the preached Jesus an answer that God as Creator does not choose to give.  He wants to, as Luther says, “be inscrutable and remain incomprehensible”.  It is a strange trait that folks try to find answers where God chooses not to speak rather than flee and hide in Christ who has been given to us as Savior and who reveals Himself in Word and Sacrament.

John Pless has written this – “Unexplainable tragedies bring pain and chaos. God leaves the wound open to use the words of Bayer.*  We cry out to God in lamentation in the face of events that defy our capacities for understanding. But the anguished lament ascends from the crucible of faith, not unbelief. It is a confession of trust in the God who works all things for the good of those who called (Rom. 8:28). Living in repentance and faith, we are freed from the inward turn of speculation that seeks to investigate the hidden God and instead we trust in the kindness and mercy of God revealed in Christ Jesus. With such a freedom we are liberated to rely on God’s promises and turn our attention to works of mercy to bring compassion and relief to those who suffer in this sinful world. What is the nature and shape of this mercy? Mercy is the Lord’s compassionate action toward sinful human beings in that He does not leave us alone with our sin, forsaking us to death and condemnation, but instead rescues us by His death and resurrection to live with Him.”+

*Oswald Bayer, “Poetological Doctrine of the Trinity” Lutheran Quarterly (Spring 2001), 19-20

+John Pless, Answering the “Why” Question;  Martin Luther on Human suffering and God’s Mercy”, Journal of Lutheran Mission February 2015, Vol.2 No.1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Case Against Mercy and Christlikeness

Over the past month or so I have been talking about the case against mercy because believe it or not I am hearing that from some folks who should know better.  Our churches need the money because their are declining memberships and declining offerings and we need to scratch around on our own dung hill.  Mercy work is treating chronic problems as if they are emergencies and that makes them “toxic”.  I learned that from books that I have been bombarded with and you can by them on a sponsored page on Amazon.  That page is sponsored by the American Cancer Society which as I have said certainly treats a chronic problem like an emergency.  I write about the attacks on mercy on February 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, and March 10, 11, 13.  We need to have a discussion about this because I even heard the case against mercy made because it has about it the whiff of “liberation theology” and a preferential care for the poor.  I am not sure what to do with that except to say that if you don’t God has care for the poor in the forefront of His approach to His people you haven’t read the Bible.  If you don’t think that God wants to liberate not only us as human beings but the whole created order we have no common ground to debate.  To equate our corporate responsibilities as church under the Lordship of Jesus with a political movement is nothing short of breathtaking.  Let us cut to the “chase” as they say and get to the point – many are making the case against mercy because of greed.  Many make the case against mercy because of sheer laziness.  We want to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments and nothing else.  Those gifts of God are to bring us to the point where “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4  In other words we want to be like Christ and even have His mind in us (Phil 2).

“Christ (……) dwelt among us that we might behold God’s glory. God is the God who reaches out to men’s needs whatever they are, and Christ is the Christ who entered into all the needs of men as an act of self-sacrifice, and we are the church that would remain aloof from the needs of men, unsoiled by their dirt, unbloodied by their blows as we seek to help them, honored and respected and not despised any more, because we do not consort with publicans and sinners, because we can play the part of the priest and the levite so well that we no longer cause others to blush as they follow us and pass by on the other side?

Christlikeness, we say, and we have a “place”, a pleasant place where to lay our heads while there still are many who do not have.

Christlikeness, we say, and the leper never knows our touch, the hungry never eats our little which is greatly multiplied under the blessing of God, the outcast never knows what it means for us to sit down at a well and talk with him for hours.

Christlikeness, we say, and we have never gone cold so that others might be warm, we have never gone thirsty that others might have to drink, we have never given so much away that we literally had to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

Christlikeness, we say, and the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many.”  William Buege, “Declaring God’s Glory Through Welfare Work”, CTM vol XXXI No.11

 

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One Guy, Two Knives and a Set of Car Keys

Stuart Varney used this phrase today in a voice that exhibited his stunned understanding that a guy with a set of car keys and two knives can bring a modern cosmopolitan city to a stand still and raise all kinds of havoc.  It seems impossible but the underlying politics that allow things like this are even more stunning.  Two young men 17 and 18 posing as freshman in high school can bring a city to turmoil and raise all kinds of hell with a school system, but even worse, rape a 14 year old and get what seems to be sympathy from a whole lot of people who should know better.  The underlying politics seems to be that they were illegals and therefore have the right to more protection and understanding than their victim.  Why that could be can only be explained by a sad reading of the environment that says that whatever frustrates the folks that pay the bills and obey the laws and actually make things work must be opposed by the folks on the left because they, the law abiding folks, are the problem.  The folks who get angry when illegals without drivers license run into their new cars are racist.  When moms and dads whose children are sodomized by illegals are angry they are called vengeful.  When the primary reason that a government exists is turned on its head and the people who foot the bill for that government get angry and go to the polls to change things we, the people, must be opposed at every point because we are not enlightened enough “get it”.  Please notice that all the yammering, angry, frustrated stars and songsters and TV personalities that preach to us get angry with us for what we SAY, but they will excuse and exonerate others for what they DO.

I have run two stories together here.  One is about a British born ISIS wannabe, if the reports hold up, and the other is about illegal aliens allowed to pretty much do what they want.   But there are three questions that haunt me when I think of them.

  1.  What would Winston Churchill, who called Islam the “most retrograde force in the world” do today.
  2.   Is that statement why his bust was taken out of the Oval Office 7 or 8 years ago and only recently put back?
  3.   The little girl who was raped in Maryland, if she is able emotionally to ever go to school again – will she be required to undergo another anti-bullying class?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I Awake I am Still With Thee

David writes in Psalm 139 “In Thy book were written everyone of the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Old Time Professor Alfred Rehwaldt wrote – “It is not a mere coincidence that I am here and you are there, and that tomorrow or the day after someone else has taken our place. Long, long ago before there was any angel or man, or blade of grass or drop of dew, God had brought us to this present moment to bestow a blessing upon us. If we are not self-willed, but trustingly lay our hand in His, every moment of life will be a moment of blessing, no matter how much the trends of the time may seem to push us around or hostile forces may seem to turn upon us. Even the dark and the somber things will turn out to be our friends.”

For all you who are sick or undergoing treatments or tests or just struggling with the fractiousities  of life Psalm 139 is something you need to immerse yourself in for awhile.  Tonight at our Lenten devotional services we will be talking about the importance of the Psalm and the message of Christ.

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The Supreme Court and the Church.

I was able to watch some of Judge Gorsuch’ confirmation hearings today and was fascinated to see that one of the first questions on an actual case was the  “Hosanna Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School” vs Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.  Hosanna Tabor is a Lutheran Church and school in our school system.  The Supreme court was unanimous in it’s decision that the Government did not have the power to tell a church who their “ministers” could or should be and the Government had no right to interfere in selecting their own.   The “Establishment Clause” forbids the first part and the “Free Exercise Clause” forbids the second.  This is an interesting exercise in watching a real life issue with a set of eyes that see how our religious institutions can be pinned down and litigated if they are not careful in how they exercise their calling and dismissing practices.

There is a large amount of opinion among Pastors and many lay people that a Christian individual let alone a Church should never go to court based on 1 Corinthians 6.

“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!  The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”

The Apology of the Augsburg Confession praises legal action, when necessary: “Public remedy, made through the office of the public official, is not condemned, but is commanded and is God’s work, according to Paul (Romans 13). Now the different kinds of public remedy are legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, and military service” (Ap XVI 59). Where the government impedes our freedom to believe and act according to our biblical confession, we will fight for our freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. And we also will fight shoulder-to-shoulder with citizens of good will — be they Lutheran, Christian or not — for the religious freedoms of all. For the conscience is bound only to God, not to men. Consider how St. Paul made use of his rights as a Roman citizen. “I appeal to Caesar,” he said in Acts 25:11. This is from Matthew Harrison as found in a March 5, 2015 letter introducing the Synod’s Office in Washington DC that will defend religious liberty.

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Rediscovery of a Rediscovery.

For strange reasons we try to steer away from ethics as Pastor’s because we get into the arguments about the uses of the Law especially the third one.  There is an ethic of Jesus that is there in the Sermon on the Mount that is unlike anything that the world would ever teach.

I just discovered Henry Link’s “Rediscovery of Man”, New York: Macmillan 1938. This is old stuff but very interesting

He writes: “The essence of Christianity is its insistence on the supreme value of the individual in the scheme of things where love, faith, and moral law transcend all man’s intellectual schemes and mechanical concepts. “In Christianity men are not the puppets of the state; they are the sons of God. They are not cogs in a machine, but creatures with souls. They are not helpless victims of an adverse environment, but rather beings born in sin, bound to suffer for their sins, but who can be born again to a new life of unlimited growth and freedom. “No matter how individuals, differing in background and point of view, read the New Testament, they will agree that the common denominator is the potentiality of personality. All men are held equal in the opportunity to develop a richer personality and a higher life, whether Jew or Gentile, Pharisee or Publican, rich or poor, whole or crippled. If anything, the possibilities of the underprivileged excel those of the privileged. For the rich, salvation is more difficult than to enter through the eye of a needle; for the arrogant intellectual it is harder than for the ignorant, but repentant sinner. But for all it is possible. “Thus the Christian concept of personality is the absolute opposite to that of the physical sciences. Whereas the natural sciences have progressively revealed man’s limitations, Christianity forever emphasizes his possibilities. Whereas the hygiene movement of medical science increasingly describes people as innocent victims of mental disorders, Christianity long ago described the same disorders as the natural consequence of sin, either the sins of omission or commission. (Pp.235-236.)

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Christ the Rock

There is a strange section from the apostle Paul where he talks about a rock that followed the people of Israel and the rock was Christ.  When Moses struck it the first time out gushed water for the people to drink and live.  That foreshadowed Christ, the stricken shepherd and rock, and His once and for all sacrifice.  Toward the end of the journey Moses is told to talk to the rock foreshowing our ability to come to Him in prayer and confession and receive mercy because of His once and for all sacrifice.  Instead he strikes it again and because of that act he is not allowed into the promises land.  Scholars submit that Moses was refused entry because he had destroyed the type, the image that the rock represented.  There is, also, in the story from Exodus 17 the image of baptism.  One of the ancient church Fathers –

Tertullian – De Baptismo (ANF 3:9) – “This is the water which flowed continuously
down for the people from the ‘accompanying rock;’ for if Christ is ‘the Rock,’
without doubt we see Baptism blest by the water in Christ.  How mighty is the grace
of water, in the sight of God and His Christ, for the confirmation of Baptism!
Never is Christ without water: if, that is, He is Himself baptized in water;
inaugurates in water the first rudimentary displays of His power, when invited to
the nuptials; invites the thirsty, when He makes a discourse, to His own sempiternal
water; approves, when teaching concerning love, among works of charity, the cup of
water offered to a poor (child); recruits His strength at a well; walks over the
water; willingly crosses the sea; ministers water to His disciples.  Onward even to
the Passion does the witness of Baptism last:  while He is being surrendered to the
cross, water intervenes; witness Pilate’s hands:  when He is wounded, forth from His
side bursts water; witness the soldier’s lance.”

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Mary Okeyo Scholarship- Prayer Buddies

Her name is Olivia Krebs now.  These are her memories of the scholarship trip she took 5 years ago.  Everyone that we talk to says this is a valuable experience and a recruiting tool for new missionaries.  After reading Olivia’s story you can contribute to this fund by sending a check to the ND District Office PO Box 9029
Fargo, ND 58106-9029

or the Minnesota North District Office at PO Box 604, Brainerd, MN  56401-0604

Here’s Olivia –

 I was a Mary Okeyo Scholar in 2012 and traveled with a group of college students from North Dakota and Minnesota. We traveled around the country, visiting different orphan rescue centers and spending time with the children at the centers.

 I met a “prayer buddy” at one orphan rescue center. We were visiting a school that was working in connection with one of the orphan rescue centers. The principal was busy speaking to the pastors and other college students about the building (and other boring things), so I snuck away from the group to sit down with the teachers.

 First of all, I was a grand total of 20 years old, and I was surprised that many of the women who were teaching were much younger than I was. They had accomplished so much in a short time, and were sharing their knowledge with the next generation of Kenyan students. Those women were so sassy and so proud that God had called them teach. It was inspiring just to sit and listen to them share stories about their lives and the children they teach.

 One young woman was named Rosalina. She was very humble, but one of the teachers pointed out that she was graduating high school with impressive marks (quite an accomplishment for a girl in Kenya) and she was going to a university on a scholarship to be a teacher. Rosalina was shy, but we talked for what seemed like forever about attending a university. She was so proud that she would have the opportunity to keep learning and later share those experiences with other girls when she became a teacher herself.

 At some point the rest of the group came to find me, and we had to leave. I was sad to leave my new friend. Rosalina asked me for my phone number so we could text, but Verizon does not offer “an unlimited calls to Kenya” plan. I asked Rosalina if she had a Facebook account. (Surprisingly Facebook is one way that people communicate in Kenya because internet is easily accessible. Books are nowhere to be found, but I remember seeing mud huts in each community where you could connect to the internet.) Rosalina did not have a Facebook account or even a physical address where I could send snail mail. I remember thinking, “God, why did you bring this new friend into my life if I was never going to get to talk to her again?!?”

 As I was being herded back into the van against my will, Rosalina called out, “I will pray for you.” Suddenly I felt silly. I started to cry and ran back to my new friend. “I will write your name in my university books, and every time I study I will pray for you and your studies and the important work God has for you in Kenya.” Rosalina smiled and said she would do the same.

 I have not spoken to Rosalina since that day, but I did write her name on a sticky note in my economics books and later in my law books. Every time studying would seem overwhelming, I remember that somewhere in Kenya there is a student (or by now probably a teacher) who has overcome incredible odds with God’s help. I pray for her, and remember that God has important work for me too. No matter how overwhelming it is, He is in charge and with God all things are possible.

The Mary Okeyo Scholarship gave me an opportunity to grow in my faith and gain a deeper understanding of the work that God is doing in Kenya. It was truly an incredible experience for which I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to participate.

 

 

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St. Patrick’s Breastplate

St. Patrick of Ireland is commemorated by Lutherans as the “missionary to Ireland”.  Kidnapped as a young man and taken to Ireland as a slave, he escaped and went back as a mission minded educator and preacher.  There is a marvelous hymn in our Lutheran Service Book called “I Bind Unto Myself Today” which is a hymn written by Patrick.  This is the original text and it is called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”.  It is a wonderful teaching tool as well.  It is basically a recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.  It is also an invocation of the Holy Trinity – three distinct persons in one Divine Being.  It is said that he used the “shamrock” as a teaching tool and illustration of the Holy Trinity.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation. Amen!

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Mercy Under Attack – Why? Smart Alecs.

When I hear the phrase that the church has to take care of itself before it can take care of others I think of how the ways of the world have corrupted our life together.  Because of Jesus sacrifice I am free to think of myself not at all and if I do think of myself I would think in terms of counting others better than myself.  I am here to extend myself for others and  use my gifts to the benefits of others because Christ gave himself for me.  The church as a corporate entity has the same function.  Luther picked up on this issue in a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13.

“We see today how the Gospel has given to men knowledge beyond anything known in the world before, and has bestowed upon them new capabilities. Various gifts have been showered upon and distributed among them which have redounded to their honor. But they go on unheeding. No one takes thought how he may in Christian love serve his fellow-men to their profit. Each seeks for himself glory and honor, advantage and wealth. Could one bring about for himself the distinction of being the sole individual learned and powerful in the Gospel, all others to be insignificant and useless, he would willingly do it; he would be glad could he alone be regarded as Mister Smart. At the same time he affects deep humility, great self-abasement, and preaches of love and faith. But he would take it hard had he, in practice, to touch with his little finger what he preaches. This explains why the world is so filled with fanatics and schismatics, and why every man would master and outrank all others. Such as these are haughtier than those that taught them. Paul here attacks these vainglorious spirits, and judges them to be wholly “insignificant, though their knowledge may be great and their gifts even greater, unless they should humble themselves and use their gifts in the service of others. To these coarse and mean people he addresses himself with a multitude of words and a lengthy discourse, a subject he elsewhere disposes of in a few words; for instance, where he says (Phil 2, 3-4), “In lowliness of mind each counting others better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” By way of illustration, he would pass sentence upon himself should he be thus blameworthy; this more forcibly to warn others who fall far short of his standing.[1]

[1] Luther Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13 taken from a Church Postil

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