Meditation – Third Sunday in Easter 2020

Luke writes,

“13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

“Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Why was that the case? Was Jesus perhaps wearing a face mask? We should surely hope so, but according to the Bible, Jesus did not appear to have a mask, and he obviously did not get the memo about social distancing, just popping out of nowhere while “two of them” were out for a stroll. Perhaps Jesus had missed the news. The “two of them” on their way to Emmaus seem to think that he is the only one not up-to-date on events in Jerusalem. One could, however, have a little sympathy for the poor chap. If you had been locked in a grave for a few days, you too might not have heard about the global threat of death in which the media is currently relishing or, perhaps better, rolling like pigs in mud.

To make matters worse, in the middle of this particular pericope (Luke 24:13-35) Jesus seems to turn the tables on his walking companions. After they had done their best to inform Jesus of his own arrest, trial, death, and unreliable reports of his resurrection, Jesus then calls them names. The ESV translation says, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The term “O foolish ones” in Greek can also mean unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid.

So, one can almost hear his “unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid” walking companions saying to themselves, if not to him, “Thank-you very much you ‘unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid’ nit-wit, but who do you think that you are?” That is the crux of the matter. Who did Jesus think that he was? Only some “unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid” person today would phrase that question instead in the present tense, “Who DOES Jesus think that he IS?”

In the midst of the current coronavirus crisis, the very notion of God has been relegated to the “unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid” members of society. If this has not been done by society as a whole, then it has been done by the State of California and the County of San Diego. The state, county, and media seem more than happy to portray Christians or other religious groups wanting to gather as “unthinking, unintelligent, senseless devoid of understanding, or just plain stupid.”

Unfortunately, it does not seem to register with the state, county, and media that if the coronavirus is still spreading and killing, then it must be the “essential workers” who are most likely responsible because they are practically the only ones out and about. The irrational criteria used by politicians to divide society into “essential” and “non-essential” persons and groups is a very reminiscent of George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm” characterized by the hallmark phrase, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Perhaps the most equal and most essential, at least in their own eyes, are the politicians themselves. By their self-designated, most “essential” status, they have declared God, scripture, faith, and religious practice and existence to be “non-essential.” Why do some states allow constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, and why are such freedoms denied in California and especially in San Diego County?

Divisions between the more and less equal in society stem from a fundamentally great divide. The great divide in the US, and in the western world in general, is between people of faith and those who either do not have any faith or have only a nominal faith. This division cannot just be understood as a split between “conservatives” and “liberals,” even if that is a factor. The divide is not between “the right” or “the left,” although that often seems the case. It also cannot be explained fully by the “enlightened” raising themselves above the “plebs,” but that often happens. Specifically in the coronavirus conundrum, the matter is not so simple as a difference of opinion between the “conscientiousness of reasoned faith” and the “recklessness of blind faith,” which is an interesting topic in itself.

The great divide is great not because of people but because of God. Those who believe in God believe in a reality greater than their own existence, and that greater reality guides and informs their lesser, individual and group realities. Those who do not believe in God or have only a nominal faith in something they call “god” consider themselves and their reality to be the greater reality. Because they have no greater “god,” they essentially make themselves into a or even the “god,” thus becoming one of a few select “essential gods” who create reality in their own images. This pseudo-divine reality is not the invention of modern humanity or the coronavirus elite. Offering the forbidden fruit to Eve and Adam, the serpent said, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5).

The general panic in society due to the conronavirus is the reaction of a world without God, without the promise of the forgiveness of sins, without the proclamation of the resurrection of the dead, and without the promise of eternal life. The seemingly complete disregard for God, scripture, and the constitutional freedoms to practice one’s religion, as “ordered” by many politicians in the US, is the reaction of self-deifying politicians, who in their compulsion to “play God” have declared themselves to be “right,” to be the greater good, to be the greater “god,” and thus the greatest determiner of our collective reality.

So, who is the God or god of your reality? If Jesus popped into your living room and asked what is happening in your home, town, state, or world, what would you say? Before you reply, remember and consider that he is already always there in whichever room you live, even if you do not recognize him.

Meditation – Second Sunday in Easter 2020

John’s Gospel states,

“19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'”

The metaphor continues. Last week, I mentioned that the County of San Diego outlawing gatherings in a surprise move on Maundy Thursday was metaphorical for the first “Maundy Thursday.” I also mentioned that the federal court siding with the County’s and State’s breech of the US constitution was metaphorical for the first “Good Friday.” Finally, in light of the Easter Sunday gospel text, I urged us to be living metaphors, carrying/bringing Easter tidings to our communities. With today’s gospel text, the metaphor continues.

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews,…” The disciples were afraid. They were in hiding. They were in self-quarantine, in lock down. We could spend time discussing the rationalizations which they might have made to and for themselves for their actions. It does not matter what rationalizations we make when we are afraid, because regardless of the day, age, or circumstances, those rationalizations are roughly the same. When we are afraid, we hide – or run – or deny – or make excuses – or … These events are true, but the names are always changed to protect the guilty.

San Diego County has banned gatherings. That unconstitutional decree did not apply just for Holy Week and Easter. It continues, which is why the metaphor continues. Like the disciples, we are hiding. Some are hiding from the coronavirus, which is good. Some are hiding from other people out of fear of the coronavirus, which is questionable. Some are hiding because they would be afraid to be seen at church this morning. Some are hiding because their churches have told them to stay home to protect themselves from legal harassment, and some just cannot hide the fact that they cannot help or hide themselves.

As Christians, we are generally rule followers. If we take a cross section of society, who are those who generally not only follow the rules, but also work hard to ensure that rules are followed for ourselves and for the well-being of all. In both biblical and Lutheran doctrine, we generally follow the rules because we believe that even secular laws have their origin in God’s rule, even if secular society does not act in accordance with God’s rules. (That was a play on words. Now chuckle.)

We currently find ourselves in a legal conundrum in the State of California and in the County of San Diego. The State of California allows a proliferating cannabis industry to thrive in flagrant violation of federal law, and furthermore, the State has declared this illegal industry to be “essential.” Similarly, the State of California not only accommodates and shields untold numbers of illegal aliens, but this week Governor Newsom pledged to reward this illegal behaviour with $500 bonuses of tax payer money. Willingly or not, California tax payers, who follow the rules by paying their taxes, will assist the State of California to be rule breakers and to support Federal rule breakers. It boggles the mind. The draconian declaration by the County of San Diego barring freedom of religion and assembly is par for the course on which the State of California has set sail.

People can and do argue about the legality of these and other matters. People make all manner of arguments about how coronavirus lock downs protect society, which by and large seem appropriate. However, when people are afraid to attend church for fear of legal harassment by local or state officials, a line has been crossed. The First Amendment to the constitution is clear, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In other words, the First Amendment is non-negotiable, but for the “Nation-State” of California (or should that be “rogue-state”), flouting federal law is par for the course.

So, when the secular rule makers prove themselves to be great law breakers, what is a Christian to do?

Apart from all the legal and ethical intricacies, people are afraid. They are afraid of transmitting or contracting a virus. They are afraid of gathering or not gathering. They are afraid to go to church and not to go to church. What should Christians, as people who to take pride in following the law, do? To whom should we listen?

Whenever and wherever we are hiding in whatever stage or circumstances in our lives, we cannot hide. Jesus knows where we are, even when we have locked ourselves away in unrepentant, rule breaking lives, i.e. in flagrantly sinful life styles. In the midst of sinful fear and self-centred quarantine, Jesus appears and says, “Peace be with you.” Most of the time, we think that we are hearing voices. Jesus for our society is dead, and we often have little more affinity to him than happy recollections from childhood Sunday school. Again, he says, “Peace be with you.” Why does he go on like that? Can’t he tell that we are in hiding and afraid?

Then, he says continues, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” He has commanded us to leave our fear and hiding behind and to be sent like he was sent. Where did that end? Where will that end for us, on a cross, facing legal harassment by non-law abiding statutory bodies whose very ethos entails injustice in the name of justice? Jesus seems to have a couple of nails loose.

Where are we really? Everyday in the County of San Diego in sunny, southern California, life is always another day in the Garden of Eden. Each day we are forced to decide whether to listen to God’s voice or all the other voices (and vices) within and without. Each and every day, we listen to the wrong voices. As a result, we live to die not just another day but that same day. We listen to … Well, you know those familiar voices and vices which flagrantly rule our lives in place of God.

When God the Father raised God the Son from the dead, he raised Christians to a life beyond the rules. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Likewise, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). Finally, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:21-25).

Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has placed us under a different rule, his rule. God has transformed us from rule followers into Christ followers. As Jesus was sent, so too are we sent to those who whose lives are ruled by fear and death, by the fear of death and death itself.

This is the essence of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That doctrine often seems so abstract and lifeless, even to us Lutherans, but when faced with the prospect of legal harassment by statutory bodies, which flout the highest rules of the land, it reminds us that following the rules cannot and will not save us. We are saved only because we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ and his word alone.

Listen to the words from Article VII of the Augsburg Confession, a chief Lutheran statement of faith states:

“It is also taught that all time there must be and remain one holy, Christian church. It is the assembly of all believers among whom the gospel is purely preached and the holy sacraments are administered according to the gospel.”

In Lutheran theology, the church gathers and scatters on a regular basis. In other words, if we are not gathered, then we are not the church, even if we still remain Christians. By its very nature, being church does not entail merely sending words out over the internet. Church happens where the saints gather to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ purely proclaimed and administered in word and in sacrament. Furthermore, we gather to have that gospel proclaimed to us because we all know how easily we listen only to what our sinful selves want to hear from our ourselves, because in reality each one of us is a self-contained, self-quarantined, locked down, individual Garden of Eden.

Without a doubt, California’s new, electronically mediated, state religion is diametrically opposed in theory and in practice to the heart and life of the Christian faith. We all know, however, that we do not need the State or the County to separate us from God and his word. We do that all by ourselves, every single day. In fact, we self-isolate from God’s word so often that we may be secretly grateful to the coronavirus for covering our backs, for giving us an excuse to avoid church.

But then, while safely tucked away in our hiding place, Jesus is there. He keeps saying, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you… Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

So, get off of your couch. Gather up your household. Put on your face mask. Get out of your house, and go. Go somewhere today where people can legally gather, like a supermarket. While keeping social distancing, tell the people there that Jesus is raised from the dead, as he said. Wish them a Happy Easter! Sing an Easter hymn to those gathered. Share the good news to all whom you see. It is time for us to bring the Easter service to them, to be living metaphors, bearing and carrying the gospel over to others and getting the message across to them.

Meditation – Easter Sunday 2020

(Please read this to the end.)

Easter Sunday 2020 has assumed ominous proportions. It is often difficult for us fickle, fallible, fleshly, finite human beings to grasp the gravity of life around us. To make sense of things, we often resort to figures of speech, word pictures, to help us understand and communicate complex matters to one another. Jesus is famous for using parables. The word parable literally means something thrown alongside something else, one thing to represent another.

Parables are more involved metaphors. Metaphor literally means something carried or borne across or over. The Oxford Diction defines a metaphor as “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable.” A famous metaphorical example from the Bible is, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). The devil is not a lion, and a lion is not the devil, but one image conveys the voracious nature of the other; no lyin’ about that.

This Holy Week and Easter are rich with metaphors provided by the coronavirus conundrum. In a nutshell or a capsid, no one really knows what to do. So, it is generally decided that as a society we will not do – just about anything. So, how does that relate to Holy Weeks and Easter 2020.

Along time ago in a far away corner of the world there lived a man who displayed rather curious characteristics. He seemed an average handyman, carpenter type, but he also possessed bold theological insights. He was smart, seemingly much smarter than the religious leaders of his day. More exciting, and yet more disturbing, he was not conforming to social and religious norms, traditions, practices, and laws.

This man, called Jesus, did not hold to conventional wisdom about people. He associated with shady extortionists collecting tax on behalf of the Romans, and he spent time with prostitutes. He dabbled in the demonic, or at least he stopped the devil from devouring some people. He came dangerously into close contact with those plagued and afflicted with contagions, those on “lock down” or locked out of society. Except for this Jesus, seemingly everyone else treated such people like lepers.

As this Jesus wandered about the place performing his many so-called miraculous deeds, captivating the crowds, doing neat tricks with bread and fish, time and again he went too far. People who break the rules, if not by nature then by definition, are a danger to society. Every human group has its conventions, rules, and protocols, some good and some bad. If one is involved in organized, or not so organized crime, then one should not collude with the police, and vice versa. Political dissidents in communist countries were regularly declared mentally ill and locked in “mental hospitals” to protect society from such “madness.” The list of such dysfunctional examples trying to make people conform to dysfunctional ends is endless. How does it work in your family?

Last week on Palm Sunday, we celebrated the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem as the “King of Israel” (John 12:13). As John 12 describes, Caiaphas knew that this “king” was a danger and that this man must die to save the nation. Metaphorically speaking, some weeks ago the coronavirus, the “crown” virus, and thus the “king” virus, came to town and began to rule the world. Those today “in charge” are charged to predict and to control and to destroy this king for the sake of the nation. Decisive action is needed to make the predictions of its death come true.

On what we now call Maundy Thursday, Jesus was gathered with his disciples, celebrating the Passover. Then, in the cover of darkness the soldiers and temple officials came to end the party and arrest the problem person. Ironically, this week on Maundy Thursday, Dr. Wilma Wooten, the Public Health Office for San Diego County, put an end to gatherings public or private and has threatened to arrest problem persons who congregate, especially for Holy Week and Easter observances. Dr. Wooten’s decree this Thursday metaphorically reflects the events of the first Maundy Thursday so long ago.

As an aside, at the moment, San Diego County has very few cases of coronavirus, a 0.0005% infection rate and a 0.00001% death rate, well below the forecast 2% or 3%. In fact, as reported to me by a clinical healthcare manager, one health system in the county is actually laying staff off because the coronavirus is apparently “killing” the hospital business, but back to the metaphors.

On “Good Friday” of Jesus’ last week, he was forced to appear for trial. The evidence was scant. All manner of false claims were made against him. The witnesses were speculative and contradictory. That did not matter. Those “in the know” knew that Jesus was guilty and deserved to die.

On Good Friday of this week, Abiding Place Ministries in Campo sought a temporary restraining order to lift Dr. Wooten’s decree. It was a matter of their constitutional rights. U.S. District Judge Cynthia A. Bashant, however, sided with the county. What was the rationale? Who knows exactly. I have spoken to two attorneys this week, both expert in U.S. Constitutional law. Both agree that the county’s order banning gatherings infringes on our fundamental legal rights.

Metaphorically, District Judge Bashant’s decision against Abiding Place Ministries reminds of Jesus’ trial. Regardless of what the US constitution may say, Christians cannot count on the courts to protect them. Scant, contradictory, and speculative evidence against Christians still carries the day, even today.

I view these phenomena from an unusual perspective. As some are aware, I worked for Britain’s National Heath Service for nearly a decade involved in the prevention, testing, and treatment of communicable infections. In my first post, I was directly accountable to the county’s director of public health medicine. Some of the implemented prevention measures were considered radical at the time. In a subsequent position I served as a clinical specialist health adviser in a district general hospital. I have given countless health education and disease prevention talks and lectures to all manner of professional groups. When I disagree with unfounded, unscientifically proven, blanket bans on church activities, I do so with good reason.

Two more metaphors are at play relating the first “holy week” to this Holy Week.

Guards had been placed outside Jesus tomb to prevent his disciples from gathering, stealing his body, and claiming him to be raised from the dead. This would only create a flare-up of the problem just laid to rest. Too scared or ashamed, his disciples kept “social distance” from the tomb. Instead, only a few women gathered to look at his grave.

They feel the earthquake and see the angel. The women at the grave were shaken by circumstances, literally. “Fear not!” he says. “Jesus is not here. He has been raised.” Then, offering them no pity, the angel commands them to go and tell his disciples.

Then, on their way Jesus is there! He meets them saying, “Fear not! Go forth!” “Proclaim” (apa-angello – be angels) to my disciples.

Supposedly, we cannot gather today, Easter Sunday, for services. This gives us pause for thought. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether gathering in church on Easter Sunday is really what we should be doing. What happened on that first Easter Sunday? The women were told, “Fear not! Go forth!” and they did just that.

Without a doubt, the County of San Diego has violated our First Amendment rights, and we should be grateful. The county’s decree should shake us out of the complacency and comfort of our congregating. Every year, we make grand Easter plans, and yet there are people all over this county who would never darken the door at St. Luke’s nor any other church door in the county. This year we have been blessed. Instead of trying to attract the Unlikelies and the Improbables to our door, this year we have been given an unprecedented opportunity. Today, we are called and commanded and sent, both metaphorically and literally, to be angels, sent to announce, sent to proclaim the Easter message to those whose lives are overwhelmed with the fear and uncertainty which repeated bad news instills in its victims.

Today is Easter Sunday! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. So, get off of your couch. Gather up your household. Put on your face mask. Get out of your house, and go. Go somewhere today where people can legally gather, like a supermarket. While keeping social distancing, tell the people there that Jesus is raised from the dead, as he said. Wish them a Happy Easter! Sing an Easter hymn to those gathered (two are attached in PDF with this email). Share the good news to all whom you see. It is time for us to bring the Easter service to them, to be living metaphors, bearing and carrying the gospel over to others and getting the message across to them.

Then, on Monday, start to make plans to do something similar every Sunday until we can meet again at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church.

The San Diego County Grinches Steal Easter

The County of San Diego is flagrantly violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

In an order effective today, (link below) one finds Paragraph 17b, which reads:

b. “Gathering” is any event or convening that brings together more than one person in a single room or single indoor or outdoor space at the same time, including people in multiple vehicles in one location. A gathering does not include:

i. A gathering consisting only of members of a single family or household.

ii. Operations at airports, public transportation or other spaces where persons in transit are able to practice social distancing.

iii. Operations at essential businesses as defined in section 17a above and where the other requirements set forth in this Order are followed.”

This Order is targeting churches. The only people talking about gathering “people in multiple vehicles in one location” are those planning Easter Sunday services in an attempt to hold services according to the previous Order. This draconian Order is wholly irrational and thus wholly unnecessary. These restrictions are more egregious than anything which churches experienced when I lived in communist East Germany.


1. You can go out and buy cannabis, but you cannot go to church on Easter Sunday.

2. You can go grocery shopping, but you cannot attend church on Good Friday.

3. You can park your car in any shopping facility car park in the county, but you cannot park your car in your church car park with anyone else gathered.

4. Technically, according to the County of San Diego’s directive, it would be “illegal” to have someone operate the sound equipment for me to record a sermon on Easter because TWO of us would be in the same sanctuary, despite having half a football field of “social distance” between us.

Again, this Order by the County of San Diego is not only a direct contravention of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in general, but it also specifically targets churches on the eve of Easter Sunday and extending into the following weeks of the Easter season.

Blessings to you.

A Meditation for Palm Sunday 2020

12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:12-15 – ESV)

Jesus rides to the rescue. Admittedly, riding on a donkey’s colt would not look very macho in an American western movie, but the crowds on hand, completely ignoring social distancing, wanted to see the savior, king, prophet, messiah, or whatever he was. Whatever he was, Jesus had made quite an impression on many people. They were hoping that he would change their fortunes, change their lives, save them. Earlier that day Jesus had left Bethany, the town where he had raised Lazarus from the dead. Now, he was here again, in Jerusalem! The crowds were giving him the “red carpet treatment” with palm branches paving his way. Could it get any better? The crowds obviously could not see the forest for the trees, or even the trees for the palm branches.

Judas, on the other hand, was keeping things in perspective. He could see that the situation was getting out of hand. The crowds, the mayhem, the real threat of the breakdown of social, religious, and political order. Something must be done. Someone must save Jesus (and his followers) from himself. The authorities were planning to kill Jesus, and now Lazarus too. Maybe there would be a reward for Judas if he helped quell the Jesus epidemic.

In the USA and around the world today, many people are overwhelmed with the ever present news about the coronavirus or COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 or … To beat the virus from causing the breakdown of social, religious, and political order, the politicians have mandated the lock down of social, religious, and economic order. After all, it is an election year, and the coronavirus would be great ammunition to use against the other guy or girl or … Which political candidate can dismantle things the fastest and still claim victory? The important thing is to keep things in their proper perspective, not to miss the forest for the trees, all done for the sake of public safety, of course.

The Worldometer website apparently offers “real time statistics” on many aspects of global life. As this website’s statistics are continually updated, information for the “snap shop” below was taken on Saturday, 04 April 2020 at 9:45 am PST. How does the total number coronavirus deaths stack up against other causes of death since the beginning of 2020?

Coronavirus Total Deaths = 61,714†

Other Deaths in 2020 to Date††

Mothers during birth = 79,901
Seasonal Flu = 125,693
Malaria = 253,562
Road Traffic Accidents = 348,953
HIV/AIDS = 434,561
Alcohol = 646,542
Smoking = 1,292,269
Cancer Deaths = 2,123,072
Abortions = 10,987,848

The number of mothers dying in childbirth narrowly exceeds deaths due to the coronavirus, but unfortunately, that type of news just does not sell well. (Perhaps, the nearly 11 million abortions [178 times the number of coronavirus deaths] were performed so far this year, in part, in the hope of lowering the maternal childbirth death rate.) The seasonal flu at twice the SARS-CoV-2 mortality rate is just too mundane to discuss. Moving on, nearly six times as many people died in road accidents to date in 2020 than have died of COVID-19. Yet, no one is pulling cars off the roads. In the first few months of 2020, ten times more people died globally from alcohol than the coronavirus, but locally San Diego County has only shut down the bars because of the coronavirus. Cancer has killed 34 times more often than the coronavirus, and …? Well, let us keep things in perspective. All these everyday deaths are apparently acceptable.

Keeping things in perspective, when Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem he was focused. He was more focused than Judas or the Jews. He was not on the forest or the trees or the branches. He was focused on just one tree. That tree, however, was not yet standing. That tree would have no leaves or fronds. That tree would have just two “branches,” hastily affixed in order to fix the problem of Jesus, the wandering savior, king, prophet, messiah; the disease infecting the people.

To keep things in perspective, no human effort, no matter how great or small, can solve the problem of our human sin and mortality. Focused on the salvation of the world (John 3:16), the one true God gave his one and only Son to die on that one tree. “It is finished” Jesus said when breathing his last breath. Jesus did not run and did not hide. He died for you and for me. He died for us, for all those whose lives are so easily disregarded and hastily discarded by our sinful world seeking to save itself by futile means.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, he broke the power of sin and death. Through his resurrection, Christ’s cross replaces and supersedes the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Those baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and thereby incorporated into his body, come to life anew eternally through this one tree. They are now the living fruit of this new tree of life. As fruit of this tree, each baptized believer is also a living witness to this good news. May God the Father, who raised God the Son from the dead, breathe new life into you this day to share the gift of life with someone cast aside by a world frantically and faithlessly fighting its own shadow of death. Amen.


Meditation – Fifth Sunday in Lent

John 11:1-6

“1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

One can almost hear the headlines: “Savior Leaves Friend to Die,” “Lazarus – Delayed to Death,” “Jesus Ignores Friend in Grave Condition,” “Lazarus of Bethany Botch Job.”

In the middle of the coronavirus chaos and hysteria, the press-driven panic-circus, it seems that people are wondering if perhaps all this all might signal the “end times.” Scripture talks about all manner of signs in nature which will herald the end of the world as we know it, and “plagues” is one of those “signs.” As these signs come and go, generation after generation is often tempted to think that “our time” may or perhaps must be the “end time.” If one reviews history, however, those convinced that their time was the end, ended up being wrong. St. Paul was convinced that Christ’s return was immanent. Luther too believed that humanity and society could not get much worse. Without fail, however, humanity succeeds time and again in its ability to go from bad to worse. Perhaps we think that ours is the “end time” because we cannot contemplate time without us.

After weeks of derogatory headlines and news reports about politicians’ various failings dealing with the coronavirus, this week the Washington politicians managed to pass a “stimulus package” worth $2 trillion ($2,000,000,000,000.00), and the media was quick to speculate how much YOU might be eligible to receive. If one translates the real value of the forthcoming checks into something really valuable, like rolls of toilet paper, then we have hit the jackpot, or was that crackpot. In the middle of a global crisis, the media wants us to focus on ourselves. Actually, the media wants us to focus on the media and their sponsors, which may be why they want to tell us how much money we are going to get.

Jesus should have been focusing on his friend, Lazarus, who was very ill. Jesus apparently misread the situation, did not listen to the voices “in the know,” and stuck with his own agenda. His dilly-dally response could endanger a life, and it did. Lazarus died, and Jesus thinks that this will be a great evangelism opportunity. How much worse could he get?

How many times has each one of us prayed to God for help in a moment of concern or crisis or panic or heartache or heartbreak, or greed or self-interest or personal gain or … When we are praying for help, how often do we qualify our prayers with “Thy will be done”? When our prayers are not answered the way in which we want them answered, how often do we react adversely, thinking perhaps that God does not care or that there is no God or …?

Well, this is all well and good for Lazarus. He got raised from the dead. That does not really help us much, does it? What about my situation, we ask? What about my friend, relative, illness, financial situation, sports team, and lottery ticket numbers? We sinners do not want just a miracle. We want continual miracles, to be saved from our lives of sin, to live forever, which in reality is what God has actually done for us in Christ.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus died again. In contrast, when God the Father raised God the Son from the grave, none of those who believe in Jesus Christ will ever die again. God does not delay or dilly dally. God has already acted. God has delivered on his word centuries before our time of greatest need. God accomplished our salvation in Jesus Chris before we were born. God has given most of us the promise and gift of eternal life in Christ in baptism long before we knew that we had been baptized. Why does that not make the headlines? Through his word of promise in Christ, however, God has made you a headline speaking his life giving love and faith. Share the word. Live the headline. Amen.

Car Crashes and the Coronavirus “Panic-demic”

To put the so-called coronavirus pandemic into perspective, compare current speculation in the media about its “devastating” effect with the statistics below from the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT). Obviously, we care about all with injuries, illness, and loss of life, but in light of the statistics in the excerpt below, why are international, federal, state, and local politicians not issuing “drive in place” directives to protect the global population from the more devastating effects of road crashes each year?

“Annual Global Road Crash Statistics

View the WHO’s infographics on road safety facts.

• Nearly 1.25 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287 deaths a day.
• An additional 20-50 million are injured or disabled.
• More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44.
• Road traffic crashes rank as the 9th leading cause of death and account for 2.2% of all deaths globally.
• Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people ages 15-29, and the second leading cause of death worldwide among young people ages 5-14.
• Each year nearly 400,000 people under 25 die on the world’s roads, on average over 1,000 a day.
• Over 90% of all road fatalities occur in low and middle-income countries, which have less than half of the world’s vehicles.
• Road crashes cost USD $518 billion globally, costing individual countries from 1-2% of their annual GDP.
• Road crashes cost low and middle-income countries USD $65 billion annually, exceeding the total amount received in developmental assistance.
• Unless action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.

Annual United States Road Crash Statistics

• Over 37,000 people die in road crashes each year
• An additional 2.35 million are injured or disabled
• Over 1,600 children under 15 years of age die each year
• Nearly 8,000 people are killed in crashes involving drivers ages 16-20
• Road crashes cost the U.S. $230.6 billion per year, or an average of $820 per person
• Road crashes are the single greatest annual cause of death of healthy U.S. citizens traveling abroad”

Road Safety Facts

So, in light of the above and in order to protect yourself from car crashes and the coronavirus, you should “logically” be advised to park your car in the garage and then to lock yourself and your family in your car until the politicians give you the “green light.”

Alternatively, you could carry on with life as normally as possible and use some of your extra time delving deeper into scripture. Remember that the coronavirus “panic-demic” is the global reaction of a world without faith, either in God or even in the existence of God; a faithless world suddenly and collectively confronted with its finitude, its mortality. People are rightly scared.

Christians, however, know that people turning away from Jesus Christ, even his followers, is nothing new. In relation to Jesus teaching about unbelief, St. John records that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:66-69 – ESV).

In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and thereafter in scripture, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and teaching and preaching, God in Christ has given all of us mortal sinners the words of eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 – ESV). As those ordained into the priesthood of all believes through baptism, let us share these eternal life giving words with others as Christ has given them to us.

The Coronavirus Apocalypse

The last book of the Bible is the Revelation of John. The first word in the book of Revelation transliterated from the Greek is apokalypsis. It means “revelation” or “revelatory unveiling.” The Revelation of John and other similar writings often portray end times events with all manner of symbolism and are often filled with great battles between forces of good and evil. Because of these characteristics, the word “apocalypse” in popular culture is often used to describe surreal stories of humanity’s self-destruction. In recent days, the coronavirus, a small bit of genetic material in a capsid (a protein shell), has given rise to a “great battle,” or more accurately, to a global, panic-filled, media, governmental, and corporate explosion. This unprecedented response to the “novel” corona virus dwarves humanity’s previous reactions to MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), and Ebola, which are much more dangerous. In the blink of an eye, the world has gone coronavirus crazy.

Contributing to or perhaps even driving the hysteria and panic surrounding this novel coronavirus are the media, as the following contrasts detail. As of 16 March 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA estimates “that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.” Meanwhile, the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, has only 3,487 total cases with 68 deaths. So, why were the media not going hysterical for most of the flu season? Where was the panic shopping and hoarding when the general population was faced with the flu? While the flu was spreading, why were schools, bars, and nearly all other social activities and gatherings not closed or curtailed? When thousands were dying of the flu, where were the politicians with their draconian declarations and partisan in-fighting? Plainly, a lethal flu cannot compete with the 2020 political primaries.

Speculation says that COVID-19 may have a three percent (3%) mortality rate. According to the CDC figures above, that rate is only 2.0% at the moment. So, the recovery rate for contracting COVID-19 is over 97%. If you were guaranteed to receive over 97% on every exam which you would ever take in life, would you panic and quite school? If you knew that 97% of all your lottery tickets were “winners,” would you go to work any longer? Despite having an estimated 97% recovery rate, it seems as if the coronavirus has caused 97% of the world to shut down.

Instead of remaining reasonable and rational, the media, ever in search of another sensational story to sell, has gone mad. Furthermore, politicians, needing to attend to their political aspirations, want to be seen to be “doing something.” So, the rest of the population is now discouraged from doing anything. Caught between the media’s madness and the politicians’ politicking, the defenseless, general populace has resorted to panic shopping. Furthermore, to restrict people from congregating, schools are closed. Colleges have moved classes online. Bars are barred from opening, and restaurants are running on zero occupancy. Nonetheless, thousands of fearful customers can still overrun retail outlets unrestricted in search of any- and everything available on the shelves whether such things are actually needed or not.

So, what are people hoarding? Think about this for a moment. Some stores are completely sold out of just about everything, including items like mustard. How often do you use mustard? Take a moment to check any or all the mustard containers in your refrigerator. Is your mustard even in date? Whatever the case, what is the likelihood that your mustard consumption will increase so dramatically over the next few weeks that you will need to hoard it? While people are hoarding mustard, are they also hoarding corresponding amounts of hotdogs and hamburgers? Think about it for a moment; somebody, please!

Seeking to rival the media’s madness, retailers have overwhelmed customers with email, especially online retailers, informing customers about their extra efforts at increased sanitation to assure their customers of their concern for their customers’ health and well-being. I am glad to hear that retailers are wiping their various surfaces more diligently, but why are online retailers telling me about such efforts when I only deal with them electronically? Meanwhile, not a single oil company nor a single petrol station has informed me that their employees are wiping clean any of the handles on their fuel pumps. Maybe, under the guise of reduced demand, the oil companies are sublimely fueling the spread of the coronavirus, although no one is quite sure if even they have a handle on the situation.

Perhaps the most baffling of all the hoarded commodities is toilet paper (TP). For completely unknown and irrational reasons, it seems that toilet paper was one of the first items to tantalize the eye of panic shoppers, like the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. People started queuing for hours, overcrowding themselves into shops, exposing themselves and their families to coronaviral infection to buy more TP than one family could use for a month of food poisoning; never mind that COVID-19 causes a respiratory condition. What has caused this compelling need to stock up on TP? Whatever the reason, it is nigh on impossible to square it with plain reason.

So, what is happening to humanity? What are we really witnessing? Through a confluence of epidemiological, social, commercial, and interpersonal dynamics, a single virus has brought humanity’s vulnerability, fragility, and mortality clearly and globally into focus. Although death could come for any of us at any moment, through the coronavirus we are witnessing the global reaction of a world without God, a world with no promise of eternal life, desperately clinging to things like hoarded toilet paper, in hope of being “saved.”

This reaction is compounded by the fact that almost all the societal distractions which we use to distract ourselves from our human fragility and mortality are now being closed or shut down by powerless politicians and corporate concerns about a potential pandemic of post-coronaviral litigation. As a result, we sit and wait in anxious apprehension for the coronavirus apocalypse to unfold. Wretched human beings that we are, who will save us from these bodies of death (see Romans 7:24).

St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3-11 – ESV).

Through baptism, Christians have already died and are already raised from the dead. Through the promises of God given to us in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. We are promised the gift of eternal life. Through baptism, we lead a diametrically opposed, new, dual existence. Whereas our mortal bodies are vulnerable and fragile, we live each day not only in newness of life but also boldly in defiance of death! In that spirit, we love in when faced with fear. We give when surrounded by hoarding. We open our hearts when all else is closing. We pray and give thanks to God when our world is overwhelmed with uncertainty and despair.

Most importantly, we love and pray for non-believers. To whom or to what does their heart cling to save them from the ever present reality of death, whenever and however it comes? We pray that one day and forever it will be Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Christ, the son of the living God.

When in Doubt, Lie!

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

The book of Judges in the Old Testament was written many centuries ago and closes with the verse above. That such words could be written so long ago in the history of the people of Israel would seem to indicate that our modern or post-modern experience with selfish relativism is not particularly new. If fact, this state of affairs has its roots in humanity’s first parents, Adam and Eve, who ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in order to be like God (Genesis 3:1-5). Instead of becoming like God, however, they became like the devil. Ever since, whatever sinful human beings consider to be right in their own eyes is only ever seen from the standpoint of their sin, which is anything but right. Tragically, every human being is born blinded by sin.

A member of the church recently gave me an article from the “Houses of Worship” column in The Wall Street Journal (06 December 2019) written by a Jewish psychoanalyst named Erica Komisar. Entitled, “Don’t Believe in God? Lie to Your Children,” Ms. Komisar cites a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which found, “Children or teens who reported attending a religious service at least once per week scored higher on psychological well-being measurements and had lower risks of mental illness. Weekly attendance was associated with higher rates of volunteering, a sense of mission, forgiveness, and lower probabilities of drug use and early sexual initiation.” She also reports that “nearly half of adults under 30 do not identify with any religion.” Her advice to parents with no formal belief system who want to help their children prepare for the brutality and barbarism (my words) of our modern/post-modern world is to lie to their children, if necessary, about the benefits of participating in religion so that their children will acquire the goodness which religion can instill. That is a remarkable strategy.

As well intended as this advice might be, it seems fundamentally flawed. First, as the title, “Psychoanalysis: A Servant of Truth,” of opening chapter in Neville Symington’s book, The Analytic Experience (London: Free Association Books, 1986), would seem to indicate, truth is foundational for psychoanalysis in the pursuit of mental health. Second, trying to raise children to be well-adjusted, upright, contributing, moral citizens through lies seems self-contradictory at best. Third, it can be traumatic enough for children as they mature to become cognizant of their parents’ own flaws and hypocrisies. To discover also that their good religious upbringing was merely a parental ploy could potentially destroy their world view and leave them abandoned to themselves. In her own eyes, however, Ms. Komisar believes that she is doing right.

Another Jewish religious leader remarkably adept at analyzing the human psyche and the sinful state of human affairs offered a more radical proposal when he asserted, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). This radical proposal sought not to make better parents or to achieve more well-adjusted children. Tinkering with human sin along moral or psychological or societal or religious lines always ends in failure, the death of every living man, woman, and child. Instead, this proposal sought to penetrate to the core of human sin and its fruits by assuming the sin of every man, woman, and child and in exchange granting every one of us moribund sinners true righteousness, new life, and the promise of eternal life, apart from the efforts of human religion.

The truth is that all human religions are sinful human constructs devised and designed to gain favour with the gods and to justify one’s own sin through one’s own efforts. In religion “everyone [does] what [is] right in his own eyes” collectively and then projects this collective self-righteousness onto some “god” or “gods.” Such was the case too in Jesus’ day. “It was Caiaphas [the high priest] who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people” (John 18:14). So, sinful humanity, Jew and Gentile together, brutally crucified the son of man who was not only perfectly one with his father but who gave himself not to adjust or to improve sinful humanity but to save it from itself.

Truth be told, the greatest gift that a parent can give a child is the gift that God the Father gives to all his lost children. That gift is his only begotten son who by virtue of his cross and resurrection justifies us sinners in the eyes of God and thereby frees us from the powers of sin and death. This liberation from sin and death is accomplished by faith alone in the word of Christ alone, because “if the Son should set you free (eleutheroo), you will truly be free (eleutheroi)” (John 8:36).

Protestants and Purgatory

On 31 October 1517, as many of us know, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses against indulgences. The reproduction and dissemination thereof started a firestorm of controversy which fractured the Roman Church into a myriad of splinter groups, most of them calling themselves Protestant. Many view this as a catastrophe for the church, at least those who think that manmade, legalistic, institutional, hierarchical understandings of the church actually have something to do with what the church is, and nowadays this includes many so-called Lutherans. Many of these so-called Lutherans are so ignorant of both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism that they think nothing church-dividing is left to prevent a quick jaunt “home to Rome,” life back under the papacy, one big happy family.

Luther’s theses against indulgences were an attempt to address not only an abuse of church practice but also of church teaching. Indulgences supposedly helped those “less than holy” have their time reduced in a place or state called Purgatory. Well, of course, any Protestant in his or her right mind would never believe that such a place or state even exists. Protestants know that believers are “justified by grace alone through faith alone created by the word alone in Christ alone.”

Since Protestants do not believe in such purgatorial falderal, they wrongly assume that Roman Catholics no longer do either. So, it comes as quite a surprise for many Protestants to find what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on the topic:


1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire (1 Cor 3:15; 1 Pet 1:7):

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come (cf. Mt 12:31). From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (2 Macc 12:46). From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God. The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”*

Furthermore, the Roman Church teaches that those who do not believe in a place or state like purgatory are anathema which is nothing more than a fancy theological word for “toast,” very burnt toast.

Such teachings not only blaspheme God the Holy Spirit, but also God the Father and God the Son. Maintaining a place or a state where sin is purged (removed) from dead sinners by the religious efforts of living sinners means that Christ died on the cross for no reason, completely in vain. If the prayers, almsgiving, indulgences and works of penance of the living effect the salvation of the dead, then nothing salvific happened in the life, death, or resurrection of Jesus Christ. In short, thereby the cross of Christ becomes laughing stocks.

To Protestants, especially Lutherans, the whole notion of purgatory seems wholly unbelievable, According to the Roman Church, however, if one does not believe in purgatory, then it is, “GO DIRECTLY TO HELL. DO NOT PASS GOD. DO NOT COLLECT $200.”

So, why are so many so-called Protestants, and especially so-called Lutherans, who would never believe in purgatory falling all over themselves in their ecumenical efforts to go “home to Rome,” to be back under the papacy? Who knows. Whatever the case, however, it seems pretty certain, at least to everyone of these but themselves, that they must wittingly or unwittingly believe much more in the papacy and in his purgatory than they believe in the God, who revealed his saving will to forgive us hell-bound sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Mark Menacher PhD. Pastor

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