life

Frost’s Two Paths

dog

Each day, your life wraps around you like a warm bed. It becomes cozy and secure like a soft mattress beneath your slumbering body. There are times when it might be a little uncomfortable. The mattress might be lumpy. But each day, the blanket of life lulls you back under its warmth. Occasionally, you open your eyes and look outside the window. It seems sunny. It seems like it would be warm. But can it really be more comfortable outside than in your bed? Is it really better than being under your blanket? Could that really be? So you stay.

And that is ok. Your body needs rest. Your life needs rest and contentment. These are truly blessings of God. However, occasionally, you just cannot shake that feeling that there is something more appealing out that window. You, now, have a decision. Does your contentment outweigh whatever might be drawing you out from the comfort of the blanket of life? Is there something bigger in store for you? Is it worth chancing your feet on the cold floor to find out?

Lord God, You have called you servants to ventures of which we cannot se the ending by paths yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

There are numerous times in our lives when we are faced with Frost’s proverbial two paths. One looks well-traveled and comfortable. The other looks cold and unknown. You know what one holds. The other is a crap-shoot. There are times when it is perfectly feasible to take the comfortable path. God’s good gifts of contentment and satisfaction await. The daring move is not always the right move.

However, when the same unknown path is set before you and you just cannot turn away, have the courage to take it knowing that God is right beside you. Sometimes the daring move is the right move. It will be painful. It will be scary. It will be uncertain. But during those times, your good Lord is supporting you with His love, and leading you with His hand. Sometimes the path that is least traveled does make all the difference in our lives. However, the love and care of our God traveled the path to the cross for you. So, if you are so inclined, throw off the blanket. Venture onto the cold floor. Do something. See what God has planned.

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Life, Death, and the Illusion of Autonomy

We are fast approaching the date of November 1st. While it is celebrated in the Christian Church as All Saints’ Day, the day will have a darker event this year for which the world wants to celebrate. It is the day that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life as opposed to suffer the effects of terminal cancer. While the news cycle has died and other stories have taken precedence in our minds, I would like to bring the story back to the forefront of our minds. If you need refreshing, here is the article.

Between when this story broke and now, I have read numerous articles that speak to the subject of suicide, physician-assisted suicide, Christian responses to suicide, etc. While many of the articles have good information, many of them miss the point. They miss the point because they start from the wrong point. Many of the articles debate whether or not her choice is the right choice. However, the distinct teaching of Christianity is that this decision does not belong to Brittany. At the risk of sounding like a raving jerk-face, let me state that again: Biblical Christianity does not give Brittany the choice to end her life in a God-pleasing way. Therefore, Christians should consider this topic with extreme care. As Christians, there are basically two responses to this story, and they both have to do with the subject of autonomy.

autonomy3

For those that are unclear:

Autonomy*

1.  the quality or state of being self-governing; especially the right of self-government

2. self-directing freedom and especially moral independence

3. a self-governing state

So, in response to this story, the Christian has two proper responses to this subject. The first response is to ask if Brittany Maynard is a Christian. If she is not a Christian and can appeal to no higher code of morality, her morality becomes subjective or, at the very most, collective. Subjective morality dictates that the idea of specific morals falls within the autonomous decision of each individual. In this case, one must tip their hat to Brittany and wish her “Bon voyage!” A collective morality would dictate that specific morals fall within the concept of “greater good” for humanity as a collective. In this case, once again, we must tip our hat to Brittany. What good is there to watching a loved-one suffer from a devastating disease? How does this benefit morality as a whole? One could very easily defend Mrs. Maynard’s position from collective morality.

However, what if Brittany Maynard is a Christian? It would follow that she believes in a deity that created her, loves her, and cares for her. She would also believe in a God who is always good. Always right. Always in control. The Bible (i.e. God’s revelation to us and the source and norm for the faith and doctrine of the historic Christian Church) is very clear that only One has the right to be in control of life and death. The One who made us. Even in the midst of this sinful world and the evils therein (i.e. cancer), God is still in control and working for His people. It may not seem fair. It may not seem right. But (here comes raving jerk-face again) that is inconsequential. What we think is fair or right does not matter. WE ARE NOT AUTONOMOUS!!!! God is. We are His creation. We do not get to pick and choose the parts of God that we like or understand. That is not how Christianity works!

And before you ask it, the question is NOT how could a good God allow this? The proper Biblical question, answer, and hope is: What is God doing through this? The answer is that God has not changed. God is working through the exact same means that He has always worked. He works through His Word to bring comfort, hope and direction to our lives. He comes to kill us with His Law and resurrect us with the Gospel. He comes in Holy Communion to cleanse of us of our sins, and strengthen us in our lives of faith. He uses His people of every time and place to provide the healing salve of comfort, the bright ray of perseverance, and the everlasting hope of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more cancer or illness or death. The comfort of faith does not come through the hope that God will heal someone who is terminally ill. The comfort of faith comes through the promise that God will endure with us through every challenge with the same Means of His Grace that have functioned our entire lives. Life and death are not ours to control. That is not the fruit we should eat, if you will. Autonomy is only an illusion on which we, as American Christians, have gorged ourselves. God is in control. He is good. He loves us so much that there is life that awaits us beyond cancer, hospital, and grave.

All Saints' DayAs you gather with the saints of God in worship this Sunday and as you celebrate All Saints’ Day, remember the life and reunion that awaits. Partake of the means by which God gives you the strength to endure. Put your trust in Him who has the whole world in His hands.

*Definition taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

O God, Forsake Me Not!

During my morning study the other day, I came across this gem. It is hymn # 730 in Lutheran Service Book.

O God, forsake me not! Your gracious presence lend me;
Lord, lead Your helpless child; Your Holy Spirit send me
That I my course may run. O be my light, my lot,
My staff, my rock, my shield – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Take not Your Spirit from me;
Do not permit the might Of sin to overcome me.
Increase my feeble faith, Which You alone have wrought.
O be my strength, my power – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, hear my supplication!
In every evil hour Help me resist temptation;
And when the prince of hell My good conscience seeks to blot,
Be then not far from me – O God, forsake me not!

O God, forsake me not! Lord, I am Yours forever.
O keep me strong in faith That I may leave You never.
Grant me a blessed end When my good fight is fought;
Help me in life and death – O God, forsake me not!

It occurred to me that we often pray this prayer corporately in worship and individually in private. It might come in different forms with different words, but our prayer remains the same. For the Christian, a life without God in your corner is a life that is full of fear and trepidation. So our prayer is often, “God, help me”, or “God, don’t forget about me”, or “God, be with me”, or simply, “GOD!!!!” Many times, our prayers are simply one-word exclamations because we do not know what to say.

I have, often, preached that God holds true to His promises to never leave or forsake His people. I have, often, pointed to the date of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as places where we see the presence of God in our lives. His washing us. His feeding us. However, it occurred to me that the Word is a vital weapon of the Christian that oft goes overlooked. We know about the Scriptures. We know the accounts of the Scriptures. But there are many times when we fail to see the Scriptures containing the wisdom and the power of God. For this is precisely what the Gospel message contains (Romans 1:16). It is the confidence that God has not forsaken us. He is here for us in time and eternity with His Holy Word. It is a Word that, at its center, conveys the salvation of God’s people through Jesus. It is a Word that saves. It is a Word that encourages. It is a Word that teaches. It is a Word that endures.

May the Word of God always be the power of God’s salvation in your life. May you read it. May you cherish it. Always.

Poured Out For Many

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Fast Food

Though many in America today often lament the breakdown of the American family unit, there is one area of business that still thrives. Fast food businesses make their money by promising you a fast meal so that you can get back to work or to a sporting event or a dance recital or a meeting. Dining out has become common-place in our society. Many meals are no longer consumed in the privacy of our homes with our family or closest of friends. Dining has become a public event. We eat in massive rooms with countless strangers. While we might enjoy the company of family or friends in the immediate vicinity, eating is still far less of an intimate experience than it was 30, 40 , or 50 years ago. Dining with someone was an even bigger deal in Jesus’ day. You did not recline at table with just anyone. This was saved for your family… your closest of friends. To share a meal with someone was to share a trust. I won’t poison or trick you. You won’t poison or trick me. This is lost in our society today, and I think it impacts what we do with tonight… Maundy Thursday… The Last Supper.

When Jesus sat at the Passover table on that Thursday of His Passion, He found Himself surrounded by His most devout disciples. These are the ones that He had specifically chosen. These are not the meddlesome masses that found him on the mountain as He tried to rest, or in the Garden as He tried to pray, or on the beach as He tried to get away for a few minutes. These are His guys… His entourage… His peeps, if you will. They had spent the previous 3 years following Jesus hither and yon from city to city. They had seen the miracles. They had heard the teachings. They had left their lives behind to sit at the feet of the Son of God for three years. They were predictable, even if you were not the Son of God. You knew that James and John were going to spend the night arguing about who was the best. You could count on Thomas being skeptical about everything. You knew Judas would seek to amend the budget about 5 times. And you could bet your last denarii that Peter would talk way too much. This makes Jesus’ words and actions emotionally compelling for us that are tuning in to the Passion drama this evening.

Passover

The words of Jesus are not pithy parables to people gathered on the shoreline. These words are intentionally intimate from the Savior’s lips to the precious ears of His closest of acquaintances. The supper they share is not the mere dinner that they would woof down as they get a few minutes reprieve from those that are tagging along. This is the Passover. This is THE celebration of Jewish families. The glasses of wine, the bitter herbs, the roasted lamb, the unleavened bread that all pointed to THE event of their shared history. The salvation of their God as He led their forefathers out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land… the land promised to their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Passover celebrated every year looking back at the salvation of their God, and looking forward to the salvation of their God in the coming Messiah – the one that would free them from oppression and lead them into the future. Just by being there in that room each person was making a statement because you only celebrated the Passover with your family. Just by being in that upper room, Jesus was binding Himself to His disciples, and His disciples were binding themselves to Him.

So the words of Jesus at that table resonated with those that heard. As they went through the liturgy of the Passover, they bound themselves together in, both, the tortured past and the hopeful future of the people of God. But that was not enough. Jesus, as the Son of God, took it one step further. He was done speaking in riddles. He was done cloaking His teaching in parables. Here in this place, Jesus lays it all on the line. Jesus breaks from the script with something new. He picks up the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and says, “Take eat; this is My body.” Then, He picks up the glass of wine, blesses it, and says, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is impossible for us to fully know what the disciples thought when they heard these words. But Jesus knew what He meant. With these words, Christ instituted and ushered in the very fulfillment of the Passover meal. Here, Jesus stands in the place of the lamb that was killed whose blood was spread on the doorposts on that very first Passover. With these words, Jesus puts in motion the series of events that we will follow the rest of this week. With these words, He sealed Himself to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus not only bound Himself to His disciples as a fellow Jew or family member, but He bound Himself to His disciples as their Savior.

If that wasn’t amazing enough, as the Son of God, Jesus knew things that were not public knowledge at this time. You see, He was binding Himself to suffer, die, and be poured out for the sins of His disciples, and He would go through with it. The disciples bound themselves to Jesus by eating the Passover with Him, but they would not go through it. You see Jesus knew these men. He knew everything about these men. He knew that the minute the swords and torches came, they would scatter. He knew that one that sat at this table had already betrayed Jesus to His death. He knew that Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times in the next 12 hours. He knew that the disciples were lazy and would fall asleep while He was in the Garden praying. Jesus knew they would all… every one of them would stand at a safe distance and observe His torture and death. He knew they would hide in fear afterward. These twelve wouldn’t even take care of His burial. Jesus knew everything. He knew that He was giving everything and would get nothing in return. He knew that the very people who would drink from that cup would need the forgiveness it offered before the wine had even gone through their system. And, yet, He still said those words. “Take eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant poured out for many… poured out for you… for the forgiveness of sins.” That was why Jesus came. He came for the purpose of dying for their forgiveness.

Mind blown

If you want to blow your mind even more with the magnitude of what happened in that room 2000 years ago, think about this. Jesus was not just sitting in that room with His 12 disciples. He was not just binding Himself to those twelve disciples. He was sitting in that room with us. He was binding Himself to us. And He knows us JUST as intimately as He knew those twelve. Jesus knows which of us tend to put their feet in their mouths. He knows which ones of us are always concerned about the budget. He knows which ones of us are always jockeying for positions of power or prestige even if it means stepping on a few others to grab it. But He also knows those things about us that no one else knows. He knows the images on the computer screen late at night. He knows what happened in that car that was parked in the shadows that one night. He knows words that you say out loud and in your head. He knows the grudges that you hold. He knows the guilt that you feel. He knows about the addictions, the lies, the fears, the struggles. He knows everything. He knows that you are in need of the forgiveness that flows from His side to you by way of the chalice. He bound Himself to you knowing that if you were in the same situation as those original 12, you would fail just as epically. But Jesus still uttered those words for you. You will here them again tonight. “Take eat; this is my body. Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.“ Here is your forgiveness and life. Here is Jesus fulfilling all righteousness for you. Here He comes to bring you life and peace.

When I was growing up, I never used the Lutheran Hymnal. I used a different blue hymnal. I used Lutheran Worship, and in my home congregation, at the end of what felt like just about every midweek Lent service, we would sing the hymn, “Abide with Me”. However, since we didn’t use the Lutheran Hymnal, I missed out on what has come to be one of my favorite verses of the hymn. Thankfully, they put it back into Lutheran Service Book. In this masterful hymn, we ask that Jesus, “Come not in terrors as the King of Kings, but kind and good with healing in Thy wings. Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea. Come, Friend of Sinners, thus, abide with me.”

Come, Friend of Sinners, thus, abide with me. That night in the upper room, this is precisely what Jesus did. He did not come in righteous indignation and terror to judge sin. He came to bear the judgment for our sins. He came to be poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins. Tonight, The Friend of Sinners is, once again, here. He binds Himself to us. He makes us whole with His broken body and shed blood. He comes tonight to free us from all of the things that try to separate us from Him. He comes tonight with forgiveness for the liar, the adulterer, the thief, the scoundrel, the gossip, and the naysayer. He comes to restore the fallen, the lonely, the spurned, and the shameful. He comes tonight for you… given, shed and poured out for you… His people… His treasured possession.

And as Christ comes tonight with forgiveness or each one of us… as He binds us to Himself and His death for our sins… He also binds us together as His people. We all come as beggars. We all leave as saints. Tonight, in front of us, we have the Great Exchange – All He is for all that we are not. As we proceed through this Holy Week, let us approach with reverence and awe of the magnitude of that which Christ did for us. Let us be somber as we walk from upper room to garden to trial to Golgotha. But let us not lose sight of what happened on mournful Calvary. Let us not forget what happened with every betrayal and denial… with every mocking sneer and wounding whiplash. Let us not forget the power… the healing… the balm for woe that is the cross of Christ… the body and blood of Jesus. May our heavenly Father unite us in the renewing power of forgiveness as we continue this weekend.

Host and Chalice

I AM the Light of the World

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Anyone that has children can probably attest to the fact that as your children get older, the house becomes more and more dangerous. You don’t just have to put gates up around stairways, door knob safety devices that even keep adults out, and electrical outlet covers on ALL of the unused outlets. You have to keep all of your unsafe chemicals in locked cabinets because your children will find them. You have to keep put locks on all of the drawers in the kitchen so that they cannot be opened and used as a ladder. We won’t even begin to talk about all of the things that go into keeping your children safe outside and out of the streets. The house can be dangerous. However, as your children get older the house gets more and more dangerous for parents as well. It doesn’t help that all of your relatives and friends decide to buy your children ever manner of weapon imaginable. Sure, they call them toys… but lets all be honest… they’re weapons to inflict bodily harm and damage… especially if the house or room is dark. Here are the toys in our house that have most often inflicted injury on me.

plastic sharks

 

They look like harmless plastic sharks. But noooooo. They are plastic knives of pain that are useful for maiming feet and getting blood on your carpet. Their small size and dark colorations make them especially dangerous at night… in the dark. Something that looks so innocent and harmless, can cause great pain when hidden in the cover of darkness.

Darkness has a way of doing that. It hides and covers. The darkness can cause shadows and uncertainty that allow your imagination to run wild. Even if it is not hiding or covering something dangerous, the darkness makes you uncertain because there could always be something there that you cannot see… lurking in the shadows. This is why we often do not fault children, in fact, we expect them to be afraid of the dark. Even some adults are still afraid of the dark. But menacing dark places can often become less threatening when the light is turned on. Obstacles can be seen. The corners that once held uncertainty now are shown to be harmless and empty. Even if there was a crazy two-headed boogey-man or a hungry lion, at least we would be able to see it. Stay away. We would know to run. So often in our lives darkness is haunting and frightening, but light is comforting and encouraging.

platoscaveunravelingtheriddleof

There is a quote that is often attributed to the philosopher Plato but, in reality, no one knows where it comes from. It goes like this: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” It might be easy to attribute this idea to Plato because one of his most well-known ideas in one of his most well-known works deals with this idea. In Plato’s work, The Republic, he uses the imagery of a man who is in a cave. The cave is dark. The man is seated in a chair facing a wall of the cave. Somewhere behind him, there must be a fire of some sort because He can see long and threatening shadows being cast upon the wall in front of him. The shadows terrify the man so much that he doesn’t want to turn around to see what monstrosity might await him. Imagine the man’s surprise when and if he does finally get up and off of the chair to see that there is a nice warm fire behind him and the shadows are not monsters from the underworld but fellow people dancing and having a good old time. While it takes time for the man’s eyes to grow accustom to the light of the fire, when they do he finds companionship, welcome, and warmth. As he sits at the fire, he sees a light off in the distance. More intense. Brighter. As he approaches the light he finds that it is the entrance to the cave. The light pouring through from the sunshine hurts the man’s eyes, and he wants to retreat back into the cave. But imagine the man’s surprise, if and when he decides to get used to the light and he ventures out of the cave. The world of greens and blues, purples and oranges flood his eyes with beauty and wonder. The songs of the birds play sweetly in his ears. The wisps of cool wind calmly pour upon his face that was used to the stale air of a cave. A world of beauty waits. Now imagine the type of man that would want to go back into that cave.

Jesus puts forward a similar situation in our reading for today (this evening). Jesus tells us that He is the light of the world. Anyone who follows Christ will never walk in darkness because He will have the light of life. In order for this to really settle in and for us to understand what Jesus is saying it might help us to bring in some context from other places in Scripture. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 5,

…for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you

In order to understand where Christ has brought us, it is imperative to understand where we began. We were far worse off than the man in the cave, for he was able to see shadows and a remnant of light. When we were dead in our trespasses, we were in absolute darkness. Think the blackest darkness you can imagine… in the grave kind of darkness. We were wandering around in darkness without any help or hope. Hope is gone when there is no sight, no knowledge of where to go, no cognoscente understanding of what is around us. When we are lost in our sin, all we see is the darkness of the world. The darkness of the world that leaves us cold, lonely, and feeling lost. Then when it seemed like all was lost… when it seemed like darkness was all we would know, Christ banished the darkness of our sinfulness bringing cascades of light pouring forth into the corners of our minds and hearts. He banished the cold loneliness brought about by a guilty conscience through the floods of the baptismal waters. He left in its wake the mercy, forgiveness and life that come from knowing the Light of the World. And as we encounter the Light of the World in His Word and at His Supper, the darkness and hopelessness are banished. For where the Light of Christ dwells, darkness cannot abide. This is why Paul tells us to think on things that are good, right, praiseworthy, excellent and true. We are to think on the things of God, namely His Word and Sacrament. These are bright lights that shine into our cave of darkness and beckon us to come out into the warmth of the forgiveness of Christ. These lights show us the cross and our Savior. These lights show us the life that Christ has given to us.

This side of eternity, though, we still live, move, and have our being in a world of darkness. At times, this darkness still creeps into our lives. Sometimes, we even willingly leave the light behind so that we can visit the nostalgia of our old friend, darkness. Just like the man who was afraid to get up from the chair and leave the cave, there are times when we allow the darkness to creep back into our life. At times, we gladly forsake the light of Christ in Word and Sacrament for the darkness of worldly pleasures. A few extra hours of sleep, ball games, personal grudges, guilt of long term sins, financial pressures, marital struggles, fear of future unknowns… these can all be catalysts that the devil uses to call us away from Christ and back into our cave of sin and darkness. The longer we remain in that cave, the more we forget the warmth of the light of grace. The longer we remain in that cave, the more our eyes adjust to the darkness… fooling us into thinking that we are ok. Gradually making us blind in darkness while convincing us that the light isn’t worth it. The light hurts our eyes. We sit in the chair… scared of what those shadows might be… convinced that forgiveness is not for us… convinced that God is coming to judge… convinced that the light is actually the problem.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Even though we retreat into the darkness… even though we might think that we find comfort in the darkness, the light continues to shine. The fire of faith illuminates the darkness continually beckoning us back to the font to drown our guilt, our fear, our shame, our bitterness in the promises of our Baptism. The light still shines calling us to find the comfort, community, and warmth in His Word. The Light of the World still eagerly invites us to dine at His altar feeding on the forgiveness that He offers. The light still shines through us out into the dark world as a beacon of truth and hope for those in our lives who have retreated into their own caves: a loved one who is dealing with a long-term illness, a friend who is disillusioned with the church, a family member struggling with addiction, a child whose parents are going through a divorce, a teen who lost a boyfriend or girlfriend – these are people who have the ability to see the light of Christ through our actions… through His Words that work through our words. Where Christ’s light dwells, darkness cannot abide.

May the Light of the World continue to shine for us and through us until the day that we see Him face to face. Amen.