Archive for May, 2020

Meditation – Ascension Sunday 2020

In the church calendar year, today is actually the seventh Sunday of Easter. Ascension was formally (or informally) celebrated last Thursday. By the power vested in me, and as the church calendar year is a human invention, the lessons and prayers for Ascension day are being observed today at St. Luke’s.

Some liturgical purists would object to this deviation from the church calendar year. For them, it is important to do everything “by the book,” as it were. In that same mind set, one should observe the proper liturgical colours, have all the right liturgical gestures and movements, and so forth. Protestants have often labeled such adherence or “being a slave” to detail as being “too Roman Catholic” or in days gone by “too popish.” In reaction, other denominations have gone the other way by dispensing with everything liturgical for something more “free” and “spirit led,” whatever that might be. Even these churches, however, often fall into a particular order or format for their services, even if not expressly liturgical. After all, we need to put some limits on these things. Otherwise, we will miss Sunday afternoon sports or going to the beach or playing golf or having a nap or …

Doing things “by the book” is important for some people. It makes life orderly, predictable, and therefore controllable. Other folks like to be a little (or a lot) more “free flowing,” “taking it as it comes,” and so forth. People organize or disorganize their lifestyles around such matters, and that goes for church too. For some, having a set liturgy choreographed as much as possible is important, often declared necessary or even proper. Others find such worship to be too constricting or even lifeless. Today, it seems that “church camp” style worship “come home” is what people “want.” So, in an effort to get people “through the door,” Sunday worship becomes “summer camp” worship indoors. The tricky bit is deciding where to build the campfire in the sanctuary, and after it is lit, how to convince people despite all the smoke that one is not Roman Catholic burning lots of incense!

So, should we do things “by the book” or not, and if so, by which book? Luke 24:52-53 reads, “And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.” At his ascension, the disciples worshiped Jesus then and there, outdoors, perhaps near the “Bethany Jewish Summer Bible Camp.” Who knows? It did not matter. What form of worship did they exercise? Scripture does not say. Did they sing, have readings, quickly build a campfire? Who knows. “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy …” (So, who was Joy, and what made her so great?)

Then, they “were continually in the temple blessing God.” So, how might “worshiping” Jesus differ from “blessing God.” Is “worshiping” done outdoors and “blessing God” done indoors? Where is the liturgical manual when such questions arise? Without a liturgical manual, how could the disciples ever become good Lutherans? Even if one wants to do things “by the book,” by the Book, i.e. the Bible, what might that mean. So, what are we to do?

As we know from our experience and from history, worship styles are not all the same and never have been. Some people are inclined to envisage a “golden age” of worship and seek to restore it or safeguard it today. Others view anything “golden age” as being outdated and outmoded, something that will not resonate with “younger people.” These approaches are both the same in a way. They seem to worry about who is doing the worshiping rather than who is being worshiped. Luke says that the disciples “worshiped Jesus” and “blessed God.” God is always the focus of our worship, which is a response to his gifts given to us in word and sacrament.

The next time that we are able to gather as a congregation, and furthermore the next time that we can do so on “hymnal Sunday,” take some time to notice in the hymnal that the liturgy which we use is annotated with the verses of the Bible. Quite simply and yet profoundly, scripture is the source of our liturgy. Scripture creates the liturgy and gives it life. In other words, when we use the liturgy we are actually doing things “by the Book,” i.e. the Bible. Through the liturgy God teaches us with his word, and then with his own words we worship and bless him for the gift of eternal life given to us in Jesus Christ.

Meditation – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Meditation – Sixth Sunday of Easter

The author of Acts writes:

16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” … 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ …

The Aeropagus often refers to an ancient council in Athens which met at a place called “Ares’ Hill” from the god Ares and Pagos meaning “a big piece of rock.” This council functioned as court dealing with homicide, religious matters, and other crimes. Its power was greatly diminished over time, but it still functioned to some extent under the Romans, who called it “Mars Hill.” According to the text in Acts, there was an altar to an “unknown god” or “agnosto theo” in Greek. Today, those who do not know if God exists are called “agnostics.”

The existence of God or the gods is a topic which has preoccupied humanity since prehistoric times. Simply wondering, “How did we get here?” indicates a desire to know about the origin of all things. Those who study ancient history, philosophy, anthropology, comparative religion, and the like seek answers to this same question. Even children do the same when wondering about their own birth and time before they existed. Just the idea of not having been raises the question of whence we have come, and of course, when might it all be over, and what happens then?

In the ancient world and into modern times, a god or gods were associated with peoples and cultures. These gods provided explanation for the origins of the natural and supernatural worlds, for good fortunes and misfortunes, success and failure, life and death. Since the earliest times, not much different from today actually, human beings would try to appease or pay someone or something to help insure their livelihood and well-being. In earlier days it was the gods; today it is the welfare state, insurance companies, and companies producing face masks and toilet paper.

With the rise of secularism and accompanying atheism, religions and religious scholars and leaders have tried in various ways to continue to find a place for “god” as a way to try to keep their organizations and themselves relevant. If religious leaders can just find a way to help people believe that they actually want or need a “god,” then maybe those people will come to “our church” and prevent it from dying. So, churches, particularly in western societies, do their best to make “god” relevant; that is, to make “god” attractive to non-believers. Then, “once we get them in the doors, we can give them the real Jesus!” So, which Jesus is that?

This very approach, however, is based on unbelief in the real Jesus or on belief in a pseudo-Jesus. Either way, it is the same. The question for each of us is the same as for “them.” Do we really have anything more than a “god” created in our own image? Do we have an “unknown god” or a “god only known to us,” or do we have the one true God who knows us, and if the latter, how do we know?

Martin Luther in his exceedingly insightful way, defined having a god this way in his Large Catechism, “If your faith and trust are right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust are false and wrong, then you do not have the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you ‘hang’ your heart and entrust it is actually your god.”

With that definition, most of us have a god known only to us, and even then we probably are not quite sure how many gods we might actually have, and who or what these gods are since we put our trust in so many things, never taking the time, most of the time, to think about it at all.

In stark contrast to our predilection to creating many gods per day, most of which are a reflection of ourselves even if unknown to ourselves, the one true God revealed to us in Jesus Christ revealed himself to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who among us would find it useful or advantageous to pick a wandering religious carpenter to be our god? Which one of us would happily align ourselves with the crucified carpenter? In our world filled with sin, evil, misfortune, disease, and death, how many people honestly believe in a resurrection from the dead, not to mention that Jesus was actually raised from the dead?

The God who knows sinners from the inside out sent his son in human form to bear our burdens and sins, to die our death, and to give us his promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. To this, the world replies, “Yet, but what does he know?” He knows that “knowing” him or “knowing of” him is not enough.

God sent Jesus to us not to appeal to our intellects or to our knowledge or to our reason which neither know or believe in God. The incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection are God’s way of bypassing ourselves to reach into ourselves to save us from ourselves. Through the proclamation of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God speaks to our hearts, and even our hearts cannot hear him without the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, what can we do to make Christians? The answer is, “Absolutely nothing!” except teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ purely and then trust God and God’s word to do it all.

Meditation – Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020

Meditation – Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020

John writes,

“1 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” and who do you think is cleaning those rooms? Just look at the universe. The fallout from creation is scattered about the universe. Everywhere one looks in space there is cosmic dust, dirt, and debris all over the place, light years in every direction as far as the eye and telescope can see.

So, if this is how God leaves the universe after a little creative activity, what would the rooms look like which Jesus is preparing for his disciples? Judging from most of the rooms of most males whom I know, of whatever age, they are not going to be the most tidy of places. In houses or apartments where males live, even places which the involve “getting clean,” like bathrooms, often become hot spots for biological experiments in bacteria, molds, and other critters. When my parents would go away on holiday, I would leave the remaining coffee from the day of their departure in the coffee pot just to see how much mold would grow before their return. Sometimes, I would forget to clean the coffee pot before they got home. Oops! They were not as enthusiastic or as amused as I was about such potential for growth.

So, who is instrumental in making sure that we are cajoled and coerced into keeping our rooms and parts of the house tidy? It is our mothers, usually.

Today is Mother’s Day in the USA. In the UK, Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday was the fourth Sunday in Lent. Thus, in our house my wife has two Mother’s Days. Some mothers are tidy, some not. Some mothers are good cooks, others not. Mothers, like everyone else, have all manner of different abilities, attributes, attitudes, and aptitudes. Some mothers are excellent, and others have their children removed from them. Most fall into the psychoanalytic category of “good enough” mothers

Whatever our mothers are or are not, none of us would be here without them. Although God the Father created the whole universe in a rather explosive, untidy fashion, God the Son was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4). Through the conception of Jesus in Mary, God set all women apart and made their bearing of children a divine activity. Each birth reflects not only the miracle of creation but also the death-defying gift embodied in Jesus’ resurrection. Although we all are born “little devils,” fallen from our birth into sin and death, God sustains us, all of us, in ways which we often find completely incomprehensible, despite the forces of sin and death in and around us.

In the church, women are involved in seemingly countless and often thankless activities and tasks which either directly or indirectly help to bring about the birth and nurture of faith in each new generation. A faith needs to be continually fed, like a child, to grow and to remain healthy. The “little devil” in all of us quickly and easily gets up to all manner of mischief, and the rooms of our lives become a mess, experimental laboratories for all manner of mayhem. The gift of faith given to each new generation in a “good enough” way, is the gift of eternal life from the “word made flesh,” from the one who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” himself (John 14:6).

So, today we thank all those “mothers” among us who give the gift of faith at St. Luke’s in so many ways. Please remember to pop around, or to send someone around, today between 10:45 – 11:15 am to collect a little gift from St. Luke’s on this Mother’s Day 2020 as an expression of our appreciation.

Meditation – Fourth Sunday in Easter 2020

Meditation – Fourth Sunday in Easter 2020

John 10 says,

“‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

This snippet of our gospel lesson today reflects the heart of the Christian life and of human life in general. Human beings are linguistic beings. Whereas other animals have the ability to communicate with each other, often in intricate ways, we are not aware of any other creatures which have the ability to speak and communicate with each other as humans do. Think about all the languages on the face of the earth, the variations in culture and patterns of thought which arise from different ways of conceiving and communicating the world which we experience.

In comparison to many other parts of the world, most of us Americans are locked into one language. That English today is the world’s lingua franca is a rather ironic. This fact makes us less likely to need or want to learn a different language. The closest most of us might get to learning a foreign language, in addition to ordering at the local taco shop, is taking enough foreign language in high school as a requirement for college admission. If we got suddenly dropped into that language’s country, however, might we have enough language skill to order a meal at a restaurant, or even read the meu?

Our linguistic limitations limit our thinking ability even within our use of our own language. Most of us consider ourselves “fluent” in English, but if the topic of conversation should turn to the intricacies of nuclear physics or micro-economics or macrame or …, we might find that we are literally at a loss for words. We quickly become lost in the conversation itself and are at a loss what to do about it. Furthermore, the language which one uses creates all manner of associations which take place at a less than conscious level. Impressions are created without us, ironically, giving them much thought. These impressions then guide our conscious thoughts, decisions, and activities.

In our world, we are flooded with words from non-godly and ungodly sources. Most of what we hear, read, and say has very little to do with the word of God. Of all the words which you hear or read on any given day, what percentage of them come from the Bible or are related to it? We probably do not want to think about it. (Pardon me, I just need to check my Facebook feed and wall and marketplace). Right, then, now where were we?

That’s right, God, how could I forget? “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.’ This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

Do we understand? For the past six weeks or so, the State of California and the County of San Diego have effectively said, repeatedly with the threat of legal enforcement, that your church is a dangerous place to be, a potential death chamber, not a sanctuary. Of course, those are not the exact words which are being used, but the effect is the same. By dividing society into “essential” and “non-essential” areas of life, the politicians and health officials have sought to create categories of “safety.” Unfortunately, however, the “safe” category also creates the converse category by insinuation. “Essential” areas are perceived to be “safer” while “non-essential” areas are more dangerous. Is that really true? What scientific evidence supports this notion?

On the topic of scientific evidence, if the County health officials consider themselves to be so omniscient and omnipotent in relation to the coronavirus and if wearing face masks is so helpful, then why has the County of San Diego waited until 01 May 2020 to make wearing masks mandatory? Please recall, six to eight weeks ago, wearing masks was not advocated because they were ineffective or perhaps even counterproductive. So, what will the all-knowing health officials say next?

So, if at some point, the State and the County “ease restrictions” and tell us that our church is again a safer place to be, will we believe them, or will the fears which they have instilled in us, both health and legal, hold sway? Will we continue to believe those who said six weeks ago that in eight weeks time 25.5 million Californians would have the coronavirus (instead of only 50,000 infected with 2,000 deaths), or will we place our trust more in the words of the one who has died, who was killed with all manner of misinformation, and who was raised from the dead so “that [we] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)? Regardless of present circumstances, that is essentially and always our daily question. Do we listen more to the mortal voices of fear and death or to the divine promises of forgiveness, life, and eternal life?

Mark Menacher PhD. Pastor

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