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Fifth Sunday after Trinity, 2013. “Terrifying Kindness”. St. Luke 5:1-11

Saint%20Peter's%20Fish5th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 5:1-11 (1 Cor. 1:18-25, 2 Kings 19:1-11)

June 30, 2013

“Terrifying Kindness”

Jesu juva!

INI

You’ve stood in a checkout line before, haven’t you, behind a mother with her kid who pesters her to buy him some candy or a toy? Mom says, “No.” The kid tries to reason with her, explaining why it is a good and sensible idea for him to get this Snickers bar, and how it would benefit her and him alike. And Mom still says no. And the kid continues and reminds his mother how often he is deprived of simple pleasures like this Snickers bar which nearly every other child in America is given every time they enter a store. If mom still says no, maybe her child begins to call into question her justice and her compassion. After all, you, Mom, quite frequently buy yourself a Snickers bar when you go to the store. So you are not being fair. You are not treating me equally. On top of this it is questionable whether you really love me as you ought to as my mother, because so often I ask you for things and you don’t give them to me. Yes, how could you love me when you never give me what I ask for, but you constantly yell at me and punish me, make me eat the terrible food you cook, make me do incredibly boring things that no one else has to do like go to church and do chores, and on top of it all you clearly love my brother more than me and give him whatever he asks for?

Sometimes Mom breaks down. Maybe she feels guilty about her failures as a parent, or maybe she thinks that love means doing what the person you love says will make them happy. Or maybe she’s just tired that day.

Of course, the child will always remember this act of kindness, right? He’ll never say that his mom doesn’t love him again. He’ll see this act of kindness and honor his mom from this point on and eat his Hamburger Helper without complaining and wishing he had a Happy Meal.

Hm. You seem skeptical about this. I’m surprised to see that you are so cynical about human nature.

But you may have a point. It does seem to be true that a lot of times when you show grace to kids they don’t respond to it by realizing how selfish they’ve been and becoming more thankful and obedient to their parents. The kids that do usually are kids who’ve learned through firm discipline that they really aren’t entitled to whatever they desire. Sorry, that’s just not the way the world is.

But adults in America have become this way too. Haven’t they? Particularly the generation born just after the war. But then again their children are even worse, for the most part. I’m talking about me here. I share the characteristics of my generation. We think the goal in life is our own personal happiness. Responsibilities and duties and laws and morals and people and traditions that get in the way of our personal fulfillment—those we feel free to ignore. And if you criticize or judge me it’s you that’s the bad person. Who are you to interfere with my happiness with your demands that I be polite and wear nice clothes to church and follow all these empty traditions?

So we have the Supreme Court’s decision that struck down the federal law restricting marriage to a man and a woman. This was a decision for fairness and equality, we’re told. If you’re above a certain age it’s likely you shake your head and change the channel whenever this kind of news comes on the tv.

If you’re younger, 60 or 50 maybe, definitely if you’re 40 or under, the likelihood increases that you feel like it was a fair ruling, or at least that it’s hard to say anything about it even if the Bible says it’s wrong. People can’t help how they feel, who they’re attracted to, right? And we no longer punish other types of sexual sin. Adulterers and people who have sex with people they’re not married to aren’t shunned or stoned.

But the same thing applies to us as to the whiny kid in the checkout line. Not everything we want is good. And treating people fairly is not the same, always, as treating them equally, because God made people different. He gave some people more gifts than others. He makes some people governors and the rest of the people the governed. He made some people male and some female.

It’s not good for kids if parents let them live on candy, fast food, and pop tarts just because that’s what they want. It’s not good if a kid is born a male but feels like a female, so his parents submit to the child’s feelings and pay for him to be mutilated and drugged to look like a woman (and this is happening now in America). And it’s not good for the government to give the name, privileges, and honor of marriage to gay unions and act as if they are the same as marriage between a man and a woman just because people want it to be that way.

After each day of creation, God saw that what He had made “was good.” And when He created man male and female, in the image of God, He blessed them this way: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1). Then after this final work of creation God saw “that it was very good,” everything He had made.

Read more…

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The Log in the Eye of American Christians About Marriage, Sex, and Babies

June 28, 2013 2 comments

be fruitfulBelow is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Jonathan Ned Katz, an “LGBT historian” who argues that “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” are categories invented in the 19th century.  Prior to that, the “traditional” view was to see sex as primarily for the purpose of procreation, rather than pleasure.  As a result, according Katz (or at least according to the Wikipedia article’s reading of Katz), the tendency was to see all sexual expression that was not aimed at procreation as deviant or immoral.  There was no need for terms like “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” because heterosexual sex apart from marriage and the possibility of creating human life was considered perverse or immoral.

However when sex came to be seen as a means primarily of receiving pleasure (towards the end of the 19th century), “normal” and “deviant” sexuality were redefined and the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” arose.

Also according to this reading of Katz it is inappropriate to try to read into forms of human sexuality in earlier eras of history our contemporary categories “hetero” and “homosexual”.

           The Invention of Heterosexuality

            “The Invention of Heterosexuality was first published as an essay in 1990 and then expanded into a larger book. In it, Katz traces the       development of heterosexual and homosexual and all the ideology, social and economic relations, gender expectations that were packed into it. He notes the radical change, in the late nineteenth century, from a sexual ethic of procreation to one based on erotic pleasure and sexual object choice. Noting the distinction that a procreation-based ethic condemns all non-procreative sex, categorizing sexual relations based primarily on this point. A gender-based sexual ethic is concerned with procreative sex on a secondary level, if at all.”

“Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, published in 1889, and then in English in 1892, marked the clear turning point from a procreation-based sexuality to a pleasure-based ethic which focused on gender to define the normal and the abnormal. Krafft-Ebing did not, however, make a clean break from the old procreative standards. In much of the discourse of the time, the heterosexual was still a deviant figure, since it signified a person unconcerned with the old sexual norms.”

“For a variety of economic and social reasons, Katz argues, during the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, this new norm became more firmly established and naturalized, marking out new gender and sexual norms, new social and family arrangements, and new deviants and perverts. One of the important consequences of this line of thought which Katz notes in “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”: Questioning the Terms, is that we can only generalize sexual identities onto the past with a limited degree of accuracy: “So profound is the historically specific character of sexual behavior that only with the loosest accuracy can we speak of sodomy in the early colonies and ‘sodomy’ in present-day New York as ‘the same thing.’ In another example, to speak of ‘heterosexual behavior’ as occurring universally is to apply one term to a great variety of activities produced within a great variety of sexual and gender systems.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ned_Katz    (emphases mine)

 

If this article is right in its reading of Katz, I think it puts its finger on the problem in the gay marriage debate.

Christianity’s problem with homosexual marriage is not that it’s wrong to have sexual pleasure with someone of the same sex but okay with someone of the opposite sex.  It’s that Christianity looks at sexual pleasure, the lifelong bond of marriage, and the procreation of children (when God wills) as all of a piece.  At least it did up until around 1930.

If Christians accept the premise that sex is primarily about personal satisfaction and pleasure (and most do), no wonder we have such difficulty sustaining our own marriages or being credible in the public square.  Of course sex is pleasurable, but if that’s it’s primary purpose it does seem a little ridiculous to say that two people of the same sex can’t engage in it.  Why not?  If they are able to have pleasure, and that’s the point of it, it’s unjust to refuse it to them.

Pleasure is a result of sex, but its “chief end” is children.  Reason teaches us this.  If sex only resulted in pleasure and not in children, both sex and sexual pleasure would cease to exist in short order.  Procreation of children has to be the chief purpose of sex; without that there would be no people of any “sexual orientation” to enjoy the pleasure of whatever sexual acts appeal to them.

But since Christians have essentially agreed that the overriding concern in sex and marriage is pleasure (i.e. falling in love, finding your soul mate, finding a person with physical characteristics as close as possible to your ideal)—we lose the argument.

Christians: marriage is not primarily about finding what you like and living happily ever after.  It’s a calling from God where you are united to another person as one flesh and are called to love them and serve them “for better or for worse”…a calling that God blesses with children (according to His will).  “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them…” (Psalm 127)

This applies to us with regards to abortion, too, probably.  It’s not that we shouldn’t have said abortion was wrong.  But being anti-abortion is not yet being pro-life.  If Christians had lots of kids in their marriages they could show by example that having a child when it doesn’t seem like an ideal time is possible and that God can sustain and bless us through these children we fear will be an unbearable burden.

But that’s for another day.

Hell-Bent: Why Gay Marriage Was Inevitable. by Aaron Wolf (part 2)

June 28, 2013 1 comment

GayMarriageEvolutionHell-Bent: Why Gay Marriage Was Inevitable

 

Aaron D. Wolf

 

Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.  July 2013 (pp. 16-19)

 

http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/  (the article is not published on the site, but other writing from the author can be found here)

 

[part 2]

Americans who are convinced that homosexuals are “born that way” are also confident that one day science will confirm it.  Every so often, we read the latest breaking news or see it on television—some peer-reviewed journal has announced that an incontrovertible discovery has been made that solves the mystery of why some people are born gay.

 

These breakthroughs tend to begin with a bang, but end with a whimper.

 

In 1993, scientific researcher and self-identified homosexual Dean Hamer claimed he had found the gay gene…There have been numerous other studies, of course, but today the unfruitful search for a gay gene has yielded to the burgeoning science of epigenetics, which studies not the genes themselves, but sex-specific “epi-marks” that regulate the transmission of genes…

 

You know who doesn’t like any of this?  Gay activists.

 

In a letter to the editor…in the New York Review of Books, homosexual historian and activist Jonathan Ned Katz took…gay-genetics-friendly researchers to task:

I honestly don’t understand how biology can play any role in determining all the different, discontinuous forms of human relationship revealed by historians: “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and “bisexual,” “lipstick lesbian” and “old butch,” “ancient Greek pederasty,” “Victorian true love,” “romantic friendship,” “early-colonial sodomy,” and the Native American “berdache” (so-called by the French colonizers.

I don’t see how biology can determine the social, historical, and political use of sexual preference to create two dominant and subordinate classes, “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals.”

 

What Katz and many other gay activists deny, then, is both the ability of science to identify a specifically gay gene or biological marker and the very existence of homosexuals and heterosexuals overall.  And their reasoning is clear: If science could locate the biologically determinative factor that “causes” homosexuality or “makes homosexuals,” that factor would be a mutation, a deviation from the biological norm, a scientific basis for classifying those who experience same-sex attraction as a “subordinate class”.

 

Thus, when gay activists such as Katz insist that they didn’t “choose to be gay,” they are not claiming that “sexual preference” is biologically determined.  Instead, they are declaring that they eschew all categories that would constrain their choice of sexual partners.  They are denouncing the very notion that sexual deviancy exists at all (apart from a purely conventional age of consent).  They are rejecting the notion that “heterosexuality” is the norm, because for them there categorically cannot be a sexual norm…

 

This perspective becomes even more interesting when we consider that, in the words of The Atlantic’s Garance Franke-Ruta, “probably less than 2 percent” of Americans identify themselves as homosexual.  The title attached to Franke-Ruta’s piece, “Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are,” elucidates the finding of a [sic] ongoing study by Gallup, which discloses that, based on 2011 data, “U. S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.”

 

Of course, The Atlantic’s goal is to mollify those homophobic holdouts who are ignorantly afraid that…there will soon be round-the-clock gay weddings on every street corner.  What’s more interesting, however, is the disparity itself, the gap between opinion and reality.  Why do most Americans…assume that one fifth to one quarter of Americans are homosexual?

 

And for that matter, if only two percent or less of Americans are self-identified homosexuals, and a fair number of them see same-sex marriage as a threat to their sexual freedom, why has same-sex marriage triumphed politically and culturally?

 

Perhaps we should as why it took so long.  Living as we are in the moribund late phase of what Harold O. J. Brown (and his mentor, Pitirim Sorokin) called a “sensate culture”, we should not be surprised by any of this.  Long gone is the ideational culture that built the West, in which Christianity’s foundation of divinely revealed biblical truth shaped society, restraining man’s darker impulses.  Since at least the Enlightenment, European civilization has been hell-bent on throwing off the shackles of the Christian Faith, consigning it to an ever-shrinking private sphere of life.  In its place, the sensate culture demands that truth be drawn only from the immediate experiences of our physical faculties.  One by one, the remnants of public morality grounded in revealed truth are questioned, jettisoned, then put on display for public ridicule.  And as the sensate culture reaches its late and dying phase, virtually unguided by any ideational truth, all that remains is pleasure.

 

….in his 1990 book The Invention of Heterosexuality…[Katz] notes that the very terms homosexual and heterosexual did not come into use in the United States until the tail-end of the 19th century, round about the time that the population began to shift from the country to the city, mechanization and technology began to boom, and the human body began to be seen as less an instrument fit for work and production and more of a vehicle of consumption and pleasure.  With Christianity and Victorian societal mores on the wane, physicians began to speak clinically about normative (“heterosexual”) versus deviant (“homosexual”) sexual behavior, appealing to science to save the appearances of a bygone social order.

 

Coincidentally, I would add, this transition marks the beginning of American society’s acceptance of contraception. But the decades-long public debate over its use (at first, of course, permissible only within the confines of marriage) and its first churchly blessing at Lambeth (1930) were not cause but symptom of the deterioration of society, the dimming of the light of a sensate culture in which pleasure is always the goal because pleasure is always the good.

 

In this materialist milieu, the marriage vow of love is not seen as a sacrificial commitment to the good of another.  Love then degrades into mere acceptance of the other, which amounts to little more than a refusal to deny the other whatever pleases him—coupled with a reciprocal demand for acceptance.  And that which pleases is not limited to sex or the fulfillment of sexual attraction.

 

In an episode of AMC’s often insightful series Mad Men, a show about the advertising culture of the 1960’s, creative director Don Draper is faced with the fact that government-sponsored studies have challenged his ads’ claim that Lucky Strike cigarettes are safe and healthy.  Rather than challenge those studies publicly (thus drawing attention to the cigarette’s association with cancer and death), he convinces the tobacco company that all they need to do is change the subject.  He thus sells the makers of Lucky Strikes on an ad campaign that says simply, “It’s toasted.”  His reasoning?

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.  And you know what happiness is?  Happiness is the smell of a new car.  It’s freedom from fear.  It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams, with reassurance, that whatever you are doing is OK.  You are OK.

 

This is why gay marriage was inevitable.  In a moribund sensate culture, pleasure may come in a variety of forms—overeating, shopping, even deviant sexual behavior; or it may come in the form of simple acceptance….

 

A tiny portion of the population has successfully overthrown an institution that has existed since the Creation of the world.  How?  In 1993, two same-sex couples in Hawaii simply wanted to be married, and we as a society have no publicly recognized basis for saying no.  But more to the point, like the very neat categories of hetero- and homosexual, gay marriage “screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is OK.”  Gay marriage screams acceptance to the vast majority of Americans who do not personally experience same-sex attraction, but who want public reassurance that whatever they want to do—whether to consume deviant pornography, or to trade in their wives over irreconcilable differences, or live in deliberately childless marriages and accumulate toys—is OK.  You are what you are because that’s how you were born.  And any challenge or restraint on what you want to do, on what pleases you, cannot be tolerated.  Fair is fair.

 

Conservative Christians have failed to stop the juggernaut of gay marriage because we have embraced the values of the sensate culture.  American society is not ruled and normed by Scripture, and so any appeal to it…in defense of “traditional marriage” appears as nothing more than special pleading, an appeal to what pleases us.  Christians who follow the “pleasure ethic,” to borrow from Katz, who divorce at a higher rate than the unbelieving world, who view marriage chiefly as a means of self-gratification and not an opportunity for service and sacrifice are in no position to speak a prophetic word to society.  Our God is no longer the Holy One Who loves creatures that are in open rebellion against Him and takes upon Himself our just punishment, but a god who “loves us and accepts us just as we are”, a judge who never judges.  Our sermons are therapeutic, and even “the best lack all conviction.”  Thus saith the Lord—although let us preface by saying that we love and accept everyone, regardless of his or her chosen lifestyle…

 

If “marriage equality” is the law of the land, then technically, metaphysically, the thing that the state offers by way of contract is not marriage in any real sense.  Government mandated “marriage equality” turns real marriage into a mere civil union.

Hell-Bent: Why Gay Marriage Was Inevitable. by Aaron Wolf (part 1)

June 28, 2013 1 comment

google gay marriage The author of this piece gave me permission to post excerpts from it.  It does two things excellently, in my opinion:

First, it explains why even some homosexual activists find the scientific rationale for gay marriage to be unconvincing.  First the genetic evidence is weak or nonexistent.  Second, biology can’t explain the many varieties of “homosexuality” that have existed in various cultures and places in history.  Is it the same “gay gene” that causes one man to have no attraction to women whatsoever and another man to be able to father children before realizing sometime later that he is “gay”?  Do men in the Castro district of San Francisco have the same “gay gene” as ancient Greeks, who tended to sodomize young men while still maintaining relations with their wives and mistresses, but considered it a shame for two men of equal age and social standing to have sexual relations?  Or is there a separate gene for every variety of homosexual (or heterosexual, for that matter)?

Second, it explains why gay marriage so quickly became the law of the land when so few people (apparently) actually are gay–less than 2 percent self identify that way.  Why are people so quick to approve it?  Answer: because we don’t call other people on it when they do wrong to ensure that the same will be done for us.  It’s kind of like why church people are so afraid to ever rebuke any sinful behavior in their brethren, no matter how heinous.  We don’t want to be called out on our sins, so we don’t call out anyone else’s.  By approving gay marriage we are really trying to assure ourselves that we ourselves are permitted to do whatever pleases us.  If I don’t condemn you, you won’t condemn me.  And the Church in America has been complicit in this.  We’ve ignored God’s law in sexual matters and created our own law, permitting divorce where God does not permit it, saying nothing while Christians said “no” to the blessing of children in order to have more material things (or because we did not trust God to provide for the lives He might create through our marriages if we did not prevent Him with contraception).  We were not in a position to speak to the conscience of our society about the meaning of marriage because we had allowed it to be redefined in the Church according to human wisdom.

Christians have to continue to bear witness that gay marriage cannot result in blessing for anyone.  It would be a betrayal for us not to continue to do this.  But this is also a time for us to search our own hearts and ask God to reveal and forgive where our unfaithfulness has contributed to our country choosing this tragic path.  It is one that will certainly result in judgment.  We must realize that future generations of Christians will suffer along with the rest of the nation.  They may perhaps suffer more, and it will be at least in part because of our own unfaithfulness within the Christian Church.

Hell-Bent: Why Gay Marriage Was Inevitable

Aaron D. Wolf

Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.  July 2013 (pp. 16-19)

http://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/  (the article is not up on the site, but you can find more articles by the author here.)

Like it or not, gay marriage is here to stay.  The Supreme Court ruling matters little.  That was the case well before oral arguments were heard, and not for legal reasons…the real reason gay marriage is now a permanent part of the American landscape is moral.

Most Americans never gave gay marriage a thought until the Supreme Court of Hawaii set the wheels in motion back in 1993, which led three years later to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  Bill Clinton confidently signed DOMA, remarking more than once that his administration had never, ever supported gay marriage…Clinton knew that publicly supporting such a notion would be political suicide.

Barack Obama knew that, too, when he sat on the stage at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church during his first presidential campaign.  Responding to the megachurch pastor’s question, Obama said, “I believe that marriage is the union between one man and one woman.  Now for me as a Christian, it’s also a sacred union.  You know, God’s in the mix…I am not someone who promotes same-sex marriage.”  Somehow, long ago in 2008, Obama was able to utter this hate speech and still manage to get elected…

Why did the tide turn so quickly?  The answer lies in the way Americans relate to homosexuality in particular, and sexuality in general….

The moral argument is simple: Homosexuals have no choice in the matter of their same-sex attraction—remember, they are homosexuals—and so they cannot be denied any civil right enjoyed by heterosexuals, who also did not choose to be what they are.  Heterosexuals have a right to enjoy erotic pleasures with whoever they choose (“love”), as well as the right to select a mate, stay committed to that mate for as long as they choose (“marriage”), and end that commitment whenever they choose (“divorce”).  And again, these are rights that heterosexuals possess by virtue of being heterosexuals.

To say that homosexuals do not by nature possess the same rights and heterosexuals is to discriminate, which is to hate, which we know to be wrong.  Unconditional acceptance is right.

Because what is is what’s right.  You are a heterosexual man who wants to love women and therefore does love women.  He is a homosexual who wants to love men and therefore does likewise.

There’s nothing you can know that isn’t known.

Nothing you can see that isn’t shown.

Nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.

It’s easy.

All you need is love…Love is all you need.

And so the argument plays itself out over and over again in the media, whenever some sort of gay news breaks…

[continued]

Scalia: Opponents of Homosexual Marriage Judged “Enemies of the Human Race”

June 26, 2013 1 comment
English: Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of ...

English: Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From Justice Scalia’s dissent from the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):

 

“But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to con- demn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “dis- parage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homo- sexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence — indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.”

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/scalias-blistering-dissent-on-doma/277245/

 

 

 

That about sums up not only how the Supreme Court handled the question of homosexual “marriage,” but how all public discussion about it has been handled by the media and other partisans.  Only “enemies of the human race” would question the wisdom of dismissing what nearly all societies for virtually all of human history have thought about the possibility of homosexuals marrying–that’s how the script has run over and over again.

 

If you’re an enemy of the human race it’s pretty much okay to discriminate against you, or defraud you, imprison you, or kill you.  I doubt Justice Scalia chose these words lightly; if I’m not mistaken this was the charge made against Christians when they were killed publicly for not burning incense to Caesar.

 

 

 

 

Trading a Burlap Sack for a Clean White Robe–Funeral Sermon

the-return-of-the-prodigalIn Memoriam+Mary Jane

D Funeral Chapel, Joliet

St. John 14:1-6

In the Name of Jesus

B, R, T, L, D,

Mary’s grandchildren,

Family and Friends,

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The words of Jesus for our comfort today are from St. John’s Gospel:

Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In Wheaton, Illinois, there is a park called Cantigny.  It used to be the estate of a man named Robert McCormick, who owned the Chicago Tribune.  Out in the back of the huge brick mansion on the property is the place where he and his wife are buried.  There is a marble monument there that stretches around the two graves with the words of St. John’s Gospel written in foot high letters: “In My Father’s House are many mansions.”  That’s an alternate way of translating the words we heard: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”

My grandparents took us there a lot as a kid, and as I got older I remember thinking, “What, this mansion wasn’t enough for you?”

Your mom and grandma didn’t grow up in a mansion.  She grew up poor in Mississippi, knew what it was like to wear clothes made out of burlap sacks, and what it was like to work all your life.  But now she is rich.  Her soul rests in one of the rooms in God the Father’s house.  One day, when Jesus comes back to call her and all the dead, her body will rise and live in the Father’s house forever.

It’s not that being poor made her worthy to be in God’s house.  Before God, being rich or poor, being strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, smart or dumb, educated or ignorant, or somewhere in between, doesn’t matter.  God judges us based on our deeds.  What we do shows what we are.  And God is concerned with what we are, with our hearts.  Are we righteous?  Do we love Him above all things?  Or do we love ourselves?

When I spoke to Mary, we talked a little about death.  No one wants to die.  And no one really wants to talk about it, either.

I asked her if she was ready to die.  She said no.  She didn’t want to leave her family.  Who can blame her for that?  She loved you.

I asked her if she was afraid to go stand before God’s judgment throne.  She said, “No; I have lived a clean life, even though I didn’t go to church like I should have.”

I told her something like: I have no doubt that you have lived a clean life.  But notice what Jesus says in the Gospel reading: I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Living a clean life as human beings measure it is not the way to the Father.  Jesus is the only way to the Father.

That is because the way to the Father is perfect obedience to the commandments of God.  The way to the Father is perfect righteousness, holiness.  The wages of sin is death, says the Bible.  And we not only do sins—sin lives in us.  We are born sinful and unclean.

But Jesus is the way to the Father.  He is God’s Son who became a human being in order to fulfill the law of God in our place.  He lived as a human being who obeyed the Father perfectly.  And then He was nailed to a cross outside of Jerusalem 2000 years ago.  When He died, He was judged by God the Father for all the sins human beings have ever committed, from the first man to the last man.  He was judged as a sinner, so that we who have sinned and are born in sin would be judged righteous and not guilty by God.

He is the way to the Father.  For after He died for sins, the Father raised Him from the dead.  He opened the way through death into resurrection and life.

He is the only way to the Father.  No one can come to God in any other way.  We cannot deal with death and sin on our own.  Attempting to explain our sins or ignore them won’t take them away.  We can’t take away death either.

But Jesus has taken away our guilt, and sin, and death.  And He did this not because we deserved it in any way.  He did it out of pure mercy and grace.

After talking about it awhile, Mary confessed her sins, including the sin of not going to church, and was forgiven by God.  So when she stands before God, she stands before Him not in the tattered clothes of her own attempts to be good and clean, but in the perfect, spotless robes of Jesus’ cleanness and righteousness.  She stands washed in the blood that He shed to take away sin, death, and hell on the cross.

When Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples, He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Today you are troubled.  You hurt today.  But maybe that hurt is a good hurt.  It’s a hurt that tells you things are not as they should be.  The world is not as it should be.  Separation from our loved ones, death—that’s not how God created the world to be.  The world is broken.  And we are broken too.

But Mary’s brokenness is almost completely healed.  It was healed through the death of Jesus, which was given to her when she heard the good news of His salvation and when she was baptized.  And when she died she was set free from this body of sin and death in which we live.  Now her soul rests with Jesus.

But the day is coming when she will be completely healed, when God will raise this body that we bury.  He will raise it from the dead, completely healed of sin and death.  And in this body, Mary will see Jesus and all her loved ones who have believed in Him, and will live forever.

Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you.”  He didn’t mean, “I am going to heaven to make the beds and vacuum.”  He meant, “I am going to prepare a place for you by shedding my blood to cover your sins.”  He did that not only for Mary, but also for each one of you.

And He says, “If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be with me where I am.”  Since Jesus paid such a great price to have us as His own, the price of suffering hell and God’s anger for us, He cannot forget about you or abandon you.  He promises to come back and take all who cling to His forgiveness to be with Him in the new heavens and the new earth.

In the meantime, He does not leave us alone either.  He is with us, speaking words of life to us in the Scriptures and the preaching of His Word.  He is with us, feeding us His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.  He is with us as His little flock gathers together to hear Him and receive Him.  And where He is, all of heaven is also—including all the saints, including Mary, who rests with the Lord.  He is with us, giving us life and comfort and healing, until we come to live in the Father’s house forever.

Mary is with the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who became poor that she might become rich and live in His heavenly mansions.  May the same Lord grant us always to cling to Him alone and dwell with Mary in the house of the Lord forever.

Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.

I am the stench of death

June 25, 2013 1 comment

stench of deathBut thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s Word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ…Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, bur our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit.  2 Cor. 2: 14-17, 3:5-6

I got a phone call today about doing a funeral for someone.  I recognized the last name, but I couldn’t remember it very well.  It wasn’t the name of a member.  Was this a person I had visited in the hospital once?  At any rate, I wasn’t all that thrilled about it.  Please forgive me if that seems un-pastoral to you.

It’s expected by most people that you will do funerals for whoever asks you.  On the other hand, my pastoral theology books say you should not bury someone who did not give evidence of being a Christian.

Of course that will win you no friends.  But it really makes sense.  If you preside at the funerals of people who never went to church, your presence at the funeral tells people, “It doesn’t matter if you despise the preaching of God’s Word.  You can never go to church and still go to heaven.”

Barring deathbed repentance, that is not true.  What is the third commandment?  Remember the Sabbath Day, by keeping it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

However, I’ve done many such funerals.  Usually they were for people who were still members of the church, although they may not have been to church in years.  Others were people I provided spiritual care for at the hospital or the nursing home.

I looked around and found that I knew the name of this person because I had buried his wife many years ago.  I remember this, because she could not talk or give any sign that she knew what was going on.  But one time in the hospital I sang “Amazing Grace” with her (and her kids were there), and all of a sudden tears filled her eyes and I knew that she was hearing me.   And more importantly I believed she was hearing Jesus.

Amazing Grace by no means makes my top ten list of favorite hymns.  In fact I really hate it that the one hymn everyone seems to know is a hymn that never once mentions Jesus or the cross.  It talks about what God did in somebody’s heart but not about what He did on the cross.

However, many blackshirted Lutheran pastors have probably never had the experience of singing “Amazing Grace” with a woman who could not talk and had not been to church in God knows how long and having tears come to her eyes a few days or weeks or months before her death.  Her kids got to see it too.  Mom was there for a moment responding to Jesus’ voice which perhaps she had not heard in a long while.

I could not find the sermon I preached at her funeral.  But I did see that in her obituary there was a woman’s name listed as a friend of the family whose own mother would die a few years later.

I preached at that funeral and buried her mother too.  And that was another happy and blessed story.

I had gotten a phone call asking me to come visit her mother.  She had cancer and was receiving hospice care.  She had been a member of the church a long time ago, but had been dropped from membership.

Note to churches: it isn’t loving to “drop” people instead of excommunicating them.  For one thing, they take it the same way.  For another thing, they usually don’t read your letter, or they don’t understand it.  You have to do the hard work of visiting them.  And if you can’t seem to get that done, then you have to do the hard work of praying for them.

I went out to visit this lady.  I don’t remember how the talk went, but I was fairly blunt in asking her whether she recognized that she had sinned by staying away from church and whether she was sorry for it.  She was and received absolution, and I was going to return soon and give her Holy Communion.

But then she died suddenly, and the family asked me to officiate at her funeral, which I did.

And the beautiful thing that came from this was that the son in law of the lady, whom I only met once, was baptized and confirmed about a year later (he was 50 or so), her daughter was reinstated into membership.  They had two kids, both around thirty.  One was autistic and I baptized him immediately.  Their daughter was baptized and confirmed this year.

This was a beautiful thing.

That is the kind of work the Lord has done through me in the office of the ministry.  They were beautiful things.  But theyunclean were at the fringes of things.  Maybe it would be appropriate to say they were done “outside of the camp”, out with the unclean and the castaways.  Outside of the precincts of the holy place.

The congregation largely didn’t see them happen.  Attendance on Sunday and morale continued to falter.  Money continued to be a problem.  Many people went from looking at me as a disappointment to treating me like a failure or a fraud or a leper or a piece of excrement stuck to the bottom of their shoe that they were trying to scrape off with a stick.

Even kind and supportive people really can’t do much more these days than look on with sadness and pity.

Yet I look at things like these and see that the Lord has done marvelous things.  The church still remained under the cross.  I couldn’t and can’t brag as though I did anything.  In all these cases I was just there, doing what I had been taught to do.  I just didn’t fail to show up that day.

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