Thursday, July 29, 2010

Quote from Pr. Matthew Harrison

"The Church endures because Christ endures, and he will never let his gospel go un-believed, until the end of time. That's worth rejoicing over, especially in the times in which we live. And there is also comfort in knowing that because the Church exists well beyond the genuine Lutheran Church, we will also find truth spoken by others. And when we do, we are free to heartily and gladly acknowledge it as such" - Matthew Harrison A Little Book on Joy p. 164

You can buy this great little book HERE.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward

Feast Day of St. James the Elder

(painting: St. James the Elder by Rembrandt)

"But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (Mark 10:35-45).

James and John, the Sons of Zebedee were quite bold to ask Jesus what they wanted.  “Jesus, Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory!”  They had heard before from their Lord that through him the poor would be exalted and the rich sent empty away.  They had been with Jesus for some time now and were ready to get their due reward.   

Jesus tells James and John they do not know what they are asking.  When we read the scriptures we are apt to laugh at or scoff at James and John for their foolishness.  We find them presumptuous and arrogant for their request.  Their competitive demand seems childish and greedy to us.  That they should sit at God’s right and left hand in his glory.  Oh, that silly James and John, we say to ourselves.  How could they be so stupid.
But what glory seekers we all are.  And we usually go about it without asking Jesus for anything, which is at least what James and John did.  We love the glory of self-service.  We love the glory of being right.  We love the glory of refusing to forgive others when they have wronged us.

We love the glory of a good reputation.  We love the glory of power at the work place and despise those who rightly have it.  We vie with a spirit of competitiveness even in our own families.  We fantasize about our own dominion and bringing people under our control.  We fantasize about building our own kingdom and exercising our power and dominion over our subjects.  Like James and John we tell our Lord, “We want you to do whatever we ask of you!”  What is the harm in a little glory and dominion for us?

The problem is that the world does not know what true glory is.  And neither do we by our own strength.
James and John were not wrong in asking to sit at the right and left hand in His glory.  They simply did not know what that glory meant.
Jesus is slow to correct his disciples James and John.  He loves them.  And God by his infinite mercy is moved by compassion to correct and teach us.
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles, lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave to all.
That is to say if you seek good things – if you want glory don’t look up to heaven, or follow your vain spiritual ambition.  Look below.  Look to the manger of Jesus where God was born in the form of a slave, next to pigs in a feed trough.  Look to the maker of the heavens and the earth who knelt down to wash the dusty feet of his disciples.
That means if we want to serve God and seek his glory, we don’t reach up, we must reach down, bend down, and lower ourselves.  The place of honor is not above but below.  The place of glory is not in self-service, but in self-sacrifice, in giving yourself away to others in the name of Christ.

If you want good things and glory.  Husbands love your wives as Christ knelt down to serve his church even onto death.  Wives submit to your husbands, as this is truly pleasing to the Lord.  Children, honor and love your parents no matter how eccentric or imperfect they may be.  Fathers and mothers, love your children, guide them to holy baptism and bring them up in the instruction and fear of the Lord.
You do not have to search far and wide for the glory of God.  Someone very close in your own family is suffering.  You may find the glory of God there.  If you have the missionary zeal of St. James visit your neighbor and tell them of the riches of Christ.  And bring them here that they may know the joy you have found here.  In the forgiveness of sins and the new life in Christ.
It is only by the mercy of God that we do not hang to his left and to his right as his glory shone on the cross.  Though we deserve the death of a criminal, it was He whom died the death of a criminal in our place.  It was He who drank the bitter wine that we would wet our tongue with the sweetest of all wine – the very blood of Christ.
For Christ descended into the sin and muck in His baptism that we would be cleansed in our baptism.  In the waters of holy baptism you are forgiven and you are justified.  The cup that he hands you is a cup of blessing.  He has drunk the cup of wrath to the very dregs.

Dear Christian.  You have a reason to rejoice and to be glad.  For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve you, and to give his life as a ransom for you.  And to you his gives with joy.  And he gives abundantly.  To buy you back from the slavery of sin.  The slavery of vain self serving glory.  The false glory of personal power and a competitive selfish spirit.
He gives you good things here.  You are baptized with His baptism.  He comes to you in marvelous ways here.  Right here at Bethlehem Lutheran.  At the corner of 24 and McKinley.  Such good things that you could never imagine them or even hope for them.  Here you are highly favored.  Here the Lord teaches us how to love our spouse and children.  In this place the Lord gives us eternal life and strength for the journey there.
James and John were not stupid or arrogant for asking to sit at Jesus’ left and right hand.  They loved Jesus and trusted him and they wanted a piece of what He had.  And that is the very desire of faith.  To receive from Christ what he freely gives.

The Lord soon enough showed them the glory of God.  As his hands were stretched out to his right and to his left – he blessed and forgave his own executioners.  As he gave up his last breath, in victory he cried out, “It is finished!”  The night of sin has ended.  I am the light that that covers the darkness of your sin.  I am seated in heaven to the right hand of the father.  And where I am there you shall be also.

And the Lord bids that you do not merely sit at his left or his right.  He invites you to come to him like a true child comes to a true father.  To crawl up into his lap like an infant child.  To simply hear those words of comfort that he has for you, no matter how sinful or naughty you may have been.

But you must know this.  Sharing in the glory of God and becoming his child does not give us our best life now.  We are not placed on a floating fluffy white cloud next to rainbows and unicorns.  We are called to a life of suffering.  To be made in the image of God is to be made in the image of the crucified son.  And your sufferings are not insignificant.  They are not just a medical condition or a chemical imbalance.  They actually mean something.  They are sent your way that you may know God for who he truly is.
Suffering in a marriage that is less than happy.  Suffering the loss of a child who has abandoned the faith.  Suffering the anxieties of loneliness and depression.  Suffering the worry of unemployment and the humility of trying to find work.  Suffering the betrayal of friends or family.  Suffering the onslaught of old age, and new pains and aches that come along with it.  These are good things.
Through all these things you are being conformed to the image of God’s Son – the suffering servant.  And there is no suffering on earth that he does not know.  It is not as though his sufferings were similar to yours or like yours.  He rather made each and every human suffering His.  He took every sin of humanity, each egregious sin of yours and bore it and made it his.
But through all these things, “the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…for the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now…and not only creation but we ourselves have been groaning as we await the redemption of our bodies.”

But for you here – gathered today – it is finished.  That is what Jesus said.  Christ has risen.  And your sins are scattered as far as the east is from the west.  You may hear the final judgment today – ahead of time.  You are innocent.  Forgiven.  Cleansed and made whiter than snow.

Not a single charge can be laid against you.  Satan and all his angels cannot accuse you of anything.  For you have been richly adorned with the righteousness of Christ – and his forgiveness, love, and mercy is more than sufficient to cover you.
For all you who love God – who woke up this morning to hear his voice – all things work together for your good.  Nothing in all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

(Pop, myself, kabobs)

The One Thing Needful

(painting by Diego Valasquez "Christ in the house of Martha and Mary" 1618)
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
We are busy people.  Running here and there.  Racing down and up highway 43 – speeding back and forth on interstate 94.  Certainly busy with work – important meetings – getting things done.  Also busy with leisure – campouts and cookouts – tailgating – brewers games.  Children need to be taken to basketball practice, baseball games, music and dance lessons.  Pick up – drop off – pick up – go to Walgreens – then the grocery store.  Race home and get some paperwork done.  There are bills to pay.  For us students, loans that need to be addressed.  Chores and responsibilities keep heaping up.  There is leaking from the ceiling, flooding in the basement.  Gutters need to be cleaned.  Lawns need to be mowed.  Getting together for a family meal begins to seem like an antiquated idea from times past – a funny little activity they did on “Leave it to beaver” or one of those other old black and white shows. 
Congregations are busy too.  There is always work to be done and meetings to be had.  Property to care for.  Programs that need to be organized and run.  Potlucks to be had – and Lutheran hot dish needs to be made.  There are bills to pay.  Organs to be fixed, and a maintenance list that goes on and on.  And these are all very important things to work on – even the preparation and work for coffee hour.
Throughout the week when we speak to others of our busyness, we naturally expect a small compliment or a nod of approval.  In our fast paced American society there are few badges of honor that are more praiseworthy than busyness.  Busy people are getting things done, important things.  (And in our Marxist worldview nothing is more admirable than production and output). 
In our obsession with work and doing for the sake of doing – nothing is more highly esteemed than those folks who are busy.  And no virtue is loftier than busyness.  But this morning let us rest together and reconsider our virtues.    
When Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha – Martha bolts into fast action.  She is making all those special arrangements.  Sweeping the floors, setting the table.  Meanwhile, she has a Lutheran casserole and hot dish baking in the oven.  She is sweeping the floors, setting the table, and arranging flowers in the prettiest vase.  Her hosting is so impeccable she would probably put Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray both to shame.  After all, Jesus is her guest.  Wouldn’t you also put your best effort forward to please him.  Don’t we all want our Lord to be pleased with us for our work? - Our preparations – and everything we do?

But hear this word, dearest Christian, at the Coming of our Lord he will not be impressed by our busyness.  He will not be impressed by how fast we are running around.  He will not delight over how much we have done nor will he be impressed by how much you have collected.  His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.

His pleasure is in finding you here – sitting here, in these pews – just listening.  And listening to the Word he loves to speak to you.  Come to me and I will give you rest.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  If you are troubled and anxious.  Be still and be silent.  Let me speak to you!  I have dealt with your sins and have made preparations for you.   I have taken your troubled, anxious unbelieving portion.  I have borne your sins and buried them in the deepest caverns of the earth.  I have carefully arranged for your salvation and I will calm your anxious heart.  And what more I have risen, that you may have all that is mine.
In faith, you have chosen  (biblical word, but can we handle it??) the good portion – the one thing needful.  And the one thing needful is to sit at the feet of the risen and present Lord Jesus and to hear the Words he loves to say to you.  I forgive you for all your sins.  I love you.

Please don’t get up yet.  Allow me to set the table.  Take, eat; this is my body, which I give to you.  And drink of this chalice all of you; this cup is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  I did not come to be served, but to serve you, and to give my life as a ransom for many.  I came to give rest to tired, overworked, and anxious sinners.  For you, dear Christian.
And return to me again and again.  As often as you like when the changes and chances of this life overwhelm you.  When your busyness keeps you from hearing me, let it not be so!  In the Small Catechism we pray, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, gladly hear and learn it.”  And gladly return to it.  And the Lord himself beckons to us ‘return to me.  Sit at my feet and I will speak this Word of forgiveness again.  As many times as you like to hear it.’    

And we can never tire from sitting at the feet of the living Lord – hearing this Word of forgiveness.  For in those Words he speaks, is the key that opens wide the gates of heaven – for those who repent of their sin and believe.  Let the Lord find you here – in this place – with your ears opened to him – and your eyes fixed on.  This is the most important work for one his disciples – to do no work whatsoever.  Just stop and listen.

For only after you rest from your work.  Only after you stop your busyness and receive His Divine Service may your work in His kingdom truly begin.  Before we go out into the busyness of this world we must first be served a heaping portion of life and salvation.  For, first we must be richly served before we can do any serving of our own.  Without Christ’s service to us – without His life giving Word, without his mercy – and without His love, we are dead in our sins.  All of our running around is in vain.

But with Christ as our possession – living from the Word of God – there is life and there we stand in the light of the resurrection.  Here, our busyness and work takes on new meaning.  For the Christian is not distracted by his or her work but rightly knows who they are serving - active in faith toward God and love toward the neighbor.  As we depart in peace today, the work set before us becomes a sublime joy rather than mere drudgery.  Running around doing errands, making preparations, and baking in the kitchen become acts of worship to your Lord who first served you.  Cleaning the cutters, mowing the lawn, and paying the bills become simple acts of faith because the one who was faithful paid the ultimate price for your life.   

If you are anxious about this life and troubled for all the preparations that need to be made.  Just sit at the feet of Jesus.  Hear His voice, eat and drink what He gives.  This is the good portion that will never be taken from you.  Pretty soon, you will have neither need nor want of anything.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.                 

Behold I am sending you out as lambs into the midst of wolves

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into this harvest.  Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:1-20). 

In our Holy Gospel today Jesus sends out the disciples as lambs into the midst of the wolves, to speak peace, and proclaim the Kingdom of God.  By our Lord’s admonition here it seems more than clear that the odds are stacked against him.  How can a lambs fare in the midst of wolves, other than being eaten and devoured? 

From our reading we are eager to attribute those wolves to enemies or those outside the church.  We like to think of the wolves as criminals of society.  The gangsters, the murderers, the rich CEO crooks – all those visible predators – the real dangerous ones.  We are quick to think of ourselves rather as the innocent lambs.  We are not gangsters, murderers, or corrupt CEO’s.  We are the innocent ones.  The good ones – the ‘moral majority.’  Yet as soon as we think this way, and howl to one another of our righteousness, our fangs grow greater still – and we look more and more likes wolves.  There is only one Lamb – only One who is innocent.  Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

If we truly are the sinners we say we are in our confession this morning we are more akin to ravenous wolves than that of innocent, bleating lambs.  How many times have we sunk our fangs into the juicy meat of that forbidden fruit.  How often have we stalked our prey, plotting the demise or misfortune of a friend or neighbor?  How many times have we violently tore up the reputation of our neighbor with our teeth – speaking false and evil things. 

How many times have we feasted on the tantalizing taste of sexual immorality?  How often have we justified it saying, well everybody does it! – the rest of the pack of wolves does it – so what is the harm?  How often have we hunted for comfort and peace in all the wrong places; alcohol, drugs, and overeating. 
The Lord in His inscrutable mercy comes to the most bloodthirsty wolves – the very worst sinners.  He comes to poor sinners.  He comes to us.  It is for the life of the world that we wolves can feast on the lamb.  It is for the sake of the Kingdom of God that the innocent Son comes into the midst of wolves, to be stalked, hunted, and crucified by those who gnash their teeth, and wag their tongues.  God in His wisdom that confounds the world offers himself as the Lamb.  And lambs sent into the midst of wolves are meant to be eaten. 

For unto our tongues does the Lord make himself known.  From the pierced side of the Lamb is the chalice that calms our burning thirst, and tames are predatory hearts.  In the hearing of His Word and this eating and drinking, we wolves are made into lambs.  Here the prophecy of Isaiah comes true, that “the wolf will dwell with the Lamb” (11:6) and that “the wolf and the Lamb shall graze together” (65:25).  The Lamb of God comes to us wolves giving Himself – sacrificing Himself and offering himself to us.  He places the meat of life into our mouth and pours the sweet drink unto our tongue.  

The Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – loves to feed wolves.  He loves to domestic us ravenous wolves and us carousing sinners.  He loves to give us what we need.  For we need what is His and He lives to feed it to us.  We need His blessedness, His innocence and His righteousness.  We need Him to calm our violent hearts and to make us lie down in peace…He restores our souls.   

In our Gospel today the Lord tells the disciples to preach that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.  And today the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  Closer than we realize.  For Jesus – the Lamb – is the Kingdom of Heaven.  And he has chosen to lie down and dwell in your ear and in your heart.  He has set a table in the presence of your enemies and has preached to you – and reclaimed your heart.  You are His to live under Him that you may be His own. 

We are called now to live not as wolves but as precious lambs in His Kingdom.  We are called to live in meakness, gentleness, and humility.  We are called to sacrifice ourselves for the well-being of our neighbor and to feed them also with the life-giving gift of the Gospel - the forgiveness of sins, a place with God, and the resurrection of the dead.

When God sees you this morning.  He does not see your old ways.  He does not see your sin and your old wolf ways.  He does not see your sins that terrify you from your youth.  Your sin that keeps you anxious and filled with worry.  He does not see it.  He sees you grazing and resting with his Son.  He sees you listening to His voice.  He sees you baptized and washed in the blood of Christ.  He sees that you are filled with faith.  Not because any merit or worthiness in you.  But because the risen Christ has come to you.  And His merit and worthiness is more than sufficient for you.  He sees you receiving all of his gifts.  And he loves you for it.  By the Gospel of Jesus Christ, He has wrapped you up like a newborn infant.  Wrapped up and bundled in all his innocence, all his blessedness, and all his righteousness.  No stain of sin can be found on you, dear Christian.

Take heart and comfort in these words.  Be comforted that the Lamb has come into your midst.  And rejoice.  Rejoice that wolves have become as innocent as lambs.  Rejoice that sinners have been declared saints.  Rejoice that your sins have been washed away.  And rejoice that your name has been written in Heaven.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.                 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Work and Worship - Mary and Martha

No question is more pointed and central to ask a young girl or boy, ‘where are you going to work when you grow up.’  Or ‘what are you going to be.’  It is good to be sure, to encourage young people to start planning and thinking about their skills and talents from a young age.    
However, the error underlining such a fascination with work, concerns where our identity and worship lies.  Capitalism and Marxism when they are both treated with religious devotion share a common fixation with work, and action.  The Marxist is consumed by the question of his self-production and self-creation.  The Capitalist devotion lies in an obsession with acquisition and wealth.  Both fundamentally determine self-identity and become religious systems.        

In a culture of philosophical Marxism, in which we live, the one thing needful is work.  The Father of German nationalism, Johann Friedrich writes to the German people defining their lives by their personal activity: “You are here for action,” lectures Fichte, “Your action, and your action alone determines your worth.”  In turn, the inaction of an unborn child or the non-production of an elderly citizen compromises “worth.”  

A friend of mine who visited Auschwitz has told me that there is a eery sign above the entrance to the death camp that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work makes you free.”  Certainly a demonic twist of the words of our Lord, “The truth sets you free.”  The death creed at the entrance of Auschwitz confesses that it is your work that saves you.  What you do – Where you work – your credentials – your mutual funds – your service – your production – your self-work – your reputation – your legacy - these are the portion that holds savific value.

It is true that all heresy and false teaching comes down to a thousand lies about works righteousness: and the inward gaze into the human heart to determine worth and value.  It is note-worthy that the highest suicide rates lie with men over the age of 75.  When I used to work in a nursing home (and even these days as  a vicar) I have encountered innumerable men who speak about feelings of worthlessness and depression.  It almost always has to do with not being able to work, craft, produce, and create.  Surely this is a natural human response to deteriorating health and rethinking identity and place in the world now that functions of earthly service and production are coming to a close.  In the philosophical marketplace where self-worth is wrapped up with work, it follows that those who identify their self-worth with work, will find no value in themselves when they are no longer functioning. 

That aim of pastoral care must be to direct those tired searching eyes away from their calloused arthritic hands and point them to the crucified and blessing hands of the risen Christ.  Self-worth does not consist of “merit or worthiness in me” (small catechism) but the worthiness and work of another; Christ alone. 

The importance of St Lukes catechesis on Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) ought to shape and inform our appreciation of that “one thing needful.” 

38Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  42But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Mary was listening to the preaching Christ, who spoke her into existence;  who created, justified, and sanctified her.  There is no worship higher than sitting at the feet of the Lord and being addressed,  “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.  And the advent of faith only brings us to receive.  It puts to death that self-justifying human activism and grants Sabbath rest.  For faith seeks only to receive and bask in the life of Christ and in that faith to claim that which is His to be one’s own possession. 

When it comes to identity we know ourselves not by self-definition or one’s work.  To truly “know thyself,” is to be spoken to.  Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).  While Martha is busy working - hosting and making preparations to host the Lord, she missed that one thing needful – the faith of hearing the Words of Jesus.  Or as our Lutheran confessions correctly state “Faith is the highest worship.”  Mary has chosen the “good portion” the meal that satisfies – “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4).  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Father Bender and wife Beth

African Chicken Peanut Soup

(Got this from Milwaukee newspaper - but heavily modified for my tastes.  This is a great soup and will make about 6 or 7 servings).  

1 T. oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves cut into small piece
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sweet potatoes (dark orange ones are the sweetest), peeled and chopped (I put in food processor)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
30 ounce (roughly) chicken stock (from can or bullion if fine)
1 can (12 ounce) tomato juice
1 T. crushed ginger (use garlic press)
1 t. ground red pepper (I prefer more like a Tablespoon)
¾ cup crunchy peanut butter

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat.  Add chicken, onion and garlic; cook and stir about 5 minutes till chicken is no longer pink.  Do not overcook that get people down. 

Add all remaining ingredients (except peanut butter).  Bring to a boil and mix well.  Reduce heat, and simmer for 12 minutes to tenderize vegetables. 

Add peanut butter, stir over low heat until peanut is blended.

Eat and serve with either biscuits or popovers. Garnish soup with cilantro or scallions. 
Like all soups, I believe it tastes even better the second or third day.