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George Washington & Men With Chests

If you’ve ever read a good biography of George Washington you can’t walk away from it without a higher, if that is possible, appreciation of the man. Unlike Jefferson, who the more you read comes out pale in comparison to his foundational words, Washington grows. Ron Chernow has written the most recent “massive tome”, but I appreciated Richard Brookhiser’s shorter Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington. That book’s purpose was not so much to recount the life but to understand what made it great. Washington, for the first 175 years of American History was the indispensable man. Even though Jefferson wrote the documents we quote, Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. And per Brookhiser, the reason is not anything inherent in the man – not a first class intellect, not a great natural general losing more than he won, given to pomposity at times with a volcanic temper – but the developed character of Washington. Washington strived to be a better person than he knew himself to be, and his country took heart at his example. He became a man for which other men would endure New York winters dreaming of Virginia summers, as Washington, childless, would dream of his “distant posterity”.

I couldn’t help but think of Washington when I read a much different understanding from New York Times editorial columnist Charles Blow. Quoting,

I would slowly learn to allow myself to follow attraction and curiosity wherever they might lead. I would grant myself latitude to explore the whole of me so that I could find the edges of me…I wasn’t moving; the same-gender attraction was. Sometimes it withdrew from me almost completely, and at others it lapped up to my knees. I wasn’t making a choice; I was subject to the tide….I would hold myself open to evolution on this point, but I would stop trying to force it. I would settle, over time, into the acceptance that my attractions, though fluid, were simply lopsided. Only with that acceptance would I truly feel free.

For Washington, character and freedom were in exercising will over oneself. For Blow, character and freedom are in being subject to the tide. For Washington, one struggled against our natural natures toward something better. For Blow, the greater good is accepting what our natures want to be.

Neither Washington nor Blow differ in their diagnosis of the human condition. Neither is actually that far from St. Paul’s lament, “I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (Rom 7:22-23)” All three had an ideal in their minds to which they were not living up to. The real question is one of will. Is the proper course Washington’s – willing his recalcitrant self in line with his ideal? Or is it Blow’s – willing his ideals in line with his nature?

St. Paul’s answer accords with Washington. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Rom 8:5-7 ESV)” This process is never complete until the resurrection when we will have the renewed flesh, but it is already starting now. It starts in our renewed minds and moves to a renewed will. Only in Christ can we actually be free, because only in Christ can we actually exercise our will. Collapsing our ideals to our nature is not a free choice, but a surrender of our freedom to the tides.

C.S. Lewis had an arresting image of modernity he called “men without chests”. Modernity produces lots of people with strong heads. Some who even know what is right. It also produces lots of people with strong guts. In the ancient world the guts were the seat of the emotions, so what is meant by that is lots of people with strong emotions. Some of them even right. What it fails to do is produce a Washington. It fails to produce men with chests, men who have hearts or wills that desire and put into action the best of the mind and gut while denying to bring into reality the worst.

This is what James meant when he would say “faith without works is dead (James 2:17)”. A sentiment Paul would agree with when he would say, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed (Rom 12:2)”. Likewise Peter, “do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, (1 Peter 1:14-15)”. Do some cardio, workout your chest, your heart. In Christ, will to do the right.

Pastor’s Corner – March 2014 & Sermon on the Mount pt4

[Note: Due to my inability to count, I messed up the continuity of the Sermon Series on the Sermon on the Mount.  The following is my newsletter article which attempts to put a small finish on that Sermon Series.  The other parts are here: pt1, pt2, pt3.]

We are at a confluence of sorts.  Through at least part of the season of Epiphany this year we have been reading the Sermon on the Mount.  I thought I had one more Sunday in Epiphany than I do, so that promised conclusion of sermon series will have to take place in a different way.  I said that after giving an authoritative view of the law (you have heard it said…but I say…), that Jesus would turn to issues of practice.  The law is foundational, but how do we practically put Jesus’ words into action?  By practically I don’t mean the typical liberal Christian answer of “God didn’t really mean that, we’ve grown so much since then” or the conservative Christian answer of cheap grace especially for those in the clan.  How do we practically live avoiding the ditches of denial and despair?

The rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 6 and 7 is a string of practices, observations and examples from Jesus.  Three of them are the historic practices of lent.  One of them is our congregational focus.  That is the confluence.  Our Epiphany and Sermon series is flowing into our lent.

The three historic practices of lent were: prayer, fasting and alms-giving or direct charity.  The first words of the Sermon after love your enemies are “when you give to the needy (Matt 6:2)”.  That “when” will establish a new pattern.  Jesus does not say “if” in this section.  He does not say here are good ideas.  What he will say is “when”.  If you are a practicing Christian, these are things that will sustain the life you have been given.  These are practices that will keep you on the narrow way between denial and despair.  They are not laws in the formal sense but they are the practice of love, against which there is no law.

And the first of them is charity.  When we turn things into a law, what we want is for the scales to balance here.  What Jesus has been concerned about is his followers not legally weighing the moral calculus but living love and trusting the Father.  The “philanthropists” of our day always come with a sponsored by tag-line; sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or for Masterpiece fans the Bill and Darlene Shiley Foundation or take a stroll around any institution and read the names engraved.  Leaving aside the question of if these are “the needy”, what they are is a balancing of the scales.  “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward (Matt 6:2).”  The practice that sustains the soul is the one done for the love of your needy neighbor trusting in the promise of the Father.

Such trust is not just a natural thing.  It grows out of a relationship.  And that relationship is developed and sustained in prayer.  Right after charity, Jesus teaches to the Lord’s Prayer.  Pray then like this “Our Father…”.  It is prayer that we are going to be focusing on this lent.  I’d invite you to take and read my little book called “Living Prayer” and come and be part of our conversation.  We are going to look at four types of prayer encouraged by the Apostle Paul and how each finds its place in our lives.  And prayerfully how this feeds the faith.

The last practice is one we don’t practice much and I’m an awful example.  But it is what Jesus brings up next right after the Lord’s Prayer, Matt 6:16-18, fasting.

It is tempting to put a specific meaning on each one of these foundational practices, but I don’t think there is any one meaning.  Different people might find a different motivation.  The one I would suggest, why I think these three, prayer, fasting and charity are core sustaining practice of Christian love, is because they intentionally move us outside of ourselves.  The problem of the law is that it focuses on ourselves.  Either we deny that God’s law applies to us, or we too easily excuse ourselves.  We walk past the cross without really observing it.  Giving stuff away, refusing to add to our bellies, talking with something that is more numinous than “real” gets us outside of ourselves.  We put the purely physical, what we are most likely to be enslaved to, in their proper place for a time.  In what I take to be a summary of these basic practices of Christian love, immediately following Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21).”  These are the practices of those who “long for a better country” (Heb 11:16) and trust in the Father to bring about that city.

Jesus has another chapter, Matthew 7, in which he continues what Christian practice looks like, but that is further down from the confluence we are at.  Right now, approaching lent, these three are enough.  And again, I’d invite you to be part of our congregational study on one of them – Prayer.

Pastor’s Corner – Epiphany Stars – January Newsletter Article

Christmas is a short season, just twelve days. Many years not even two Sundays. Epiphany is a longer season. It starts usually in the middle of the Week on Epiphany proper with the Star and the Magi. (This year locally we will hold an Epiphany Vespers service, so if you find yourself with some extra-time Monday early evening, come on over and sing vespers with us. We’ll have cake afterward.) Epiphany starts with a bang and ends with a bang as well. The last Sunday of Epiphany is the Transfiguration a bright shining and leading star of a different sort. In between are eight Sundays, two months, where the altar cloths return to green. The stars fade, the surprising miracles and celebrations recede, and everyday life re-emerges. What that doesn’t mean is that God is not present or stops revealing himself. That is the core meaning of Epiphany, a revealing or a sighting of God. What the season captures is that we limited humans can’t take it all in at once. We also can’t live on the mountaintop, at least not yet. But we are called to follow.

One of my favorite bible verses is Genesis 28:16 which has Jacob blurting out “surely God is in this place and I did not know it.” It is a favorite because I think it captures our living experience in our modern world. It also captures the Spirit of Epiphany. I could say that we are taught a naked universe, and it would be true, but that is not the true source of our ignorance. Our ignorance of God starts out in ourselves and our sinful nature. We start out lost and estranged from God. We start out desiring our own way. It takes an Epiphany, a revelation of God, for us to see the larger reality of our world and our existence. For most that Epiphany is Baptism, but there are more dramatic ones. But just because we have such an Epiphany doesn’t mean that we like it, or follow it, or even know fully what it means. Jacob’s stated desire after his Epiphany was “so that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” Yet he didn’t turn around and go patch things up with Esau and the Father he and his mother had just conned. Jacob spends 14 years with Laban getting conned with Leah and then receiving Rachel. Only when that family situation becomes untenable does Jacob return and still in stark terror of Esau. Following the Epiphany was not Jacob’s strong suit.

Having an Epiphany is great, but the real task of an Epiphany is following. The Magi rejoiced and they followed the star. The disciples left the mount and returned to the plain and continued to follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of receiving the Epiphany and following. God is surely here. The Father’s providence continues over the seasons and the years. Christ is present with us in Word and Sacrament. He is present when we gather and goes with us when we go through the indwelling of His Spirit. God is surely in this place – our churches and our lives. The challenge of the Christian life is to see and receive and follow. Herod heard the report of the Magi along with the scribes. None of them followed. The Galilean and Judean crowds saw the miracles, but would each refuse to follow in their own way. The light continues to shine in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5), yet many yawn at the Christmas message and still more receive it and quickly turn away. The task of Epiphany is to learn to follow.

The stars of Epiphany are leading stars. Are you willing to follow where Epiphany shines?

Cursive Writing, Biblical Transmission, Revelation and Hope – Pastor’s Corner (July 2013)

There is a small skirmish in the civilization wars going on in the elementary schools. Many schools have dropped cursive writing from the instruction list. You can probably see the divide immediately. Those with artistic and civilized dispositions are crying “the horror, the horror”. Those with cold utilitarian logic are saying “why waste the time”. While my cursive styling was never one to be captured for the ages, there is still something about it that encourages a wistful melancholy at the thought of my children never physically learning it themselves. Yes, it is probably never to be used, but neither are any of the better things in life. Some jars are made for common use while others you bring out at Easter.

Tied in with that wistfulness around handwriting is a story about the scriptures. For 1500 years, just counting the NT period, the scriptures where transmitted by laborious hand writing. Some copies, like Codex Sinaiticus are professional scribes’ straight lines and uniform lettering. At least 4 hands poured over that manuscript checking and correction any perceived spelling errors. Sometimes causing fights over spelling as corrector #1 would correct and corrector #2 would restore the original. Codex Sinaiticus is roughly the earliest fullest collection of the Bible that we have, but individual books and sub-collections earlier are plentiful. (Much more plentiful than any other ancient document. For example if you had to drink a milliliter of soda for each ancient manuscript of the Illiad, the closest in number to the NT, you would only have to drink two cans of Pepsi. For the New Testament you’d have to drink 12 two-liters.) Paul’s letters would circulate together. The Gospels would circulate together. But the most interesting history is probably Revelation. That book has an almost completely separate transmission history. The professional scribes are nowhere as numerous which can be told by the handwriting and spelling. Revelation was transmitted and kept in the cannon not by the skilled and the professional but by the lovers and the convinced. It is truly a letter to and from the church. The skilled and professional might scoff at the church being out of its mind, just like the utilitarians silently laugh at the mothers trying to preserve cursive.

I ran across what is a beautiful lay-woman’s continued use of Revelation in that tradition, and a beautiful if rough (like the copyist handwriting) expression of the Gospel. You can find the entire letter here from Hunter Baker and I’d encourage you to read it, as I can’t capture it all. The writer goes to the letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17). The letters to the churches follow a general pattern, a description of the risen Christ, a praise, a correction, a call to repent and a promise. Pergamum is praised for holding fast to the name of Christ, but corrected for tolerating false teachers who lead people astray. And this anonymous writer gives us a modern application. Quoting…

To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God’s word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John’s letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore!” You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation.

The Gospel is not about acceptance of sin or our natural condition. We are all born sinful. We are all inclined to things we ought not to do. And the law of God holds us accountable for those things, even when we can’t help it. But Father didn’t leave us in that pitiful natural state. First he sent his Son Jesus who paid for all that wrong on the cross. In Christ we are part of the family, and families love each other, even the black sheep – and in this case we are all black sheep. Second – proceeding from the Father and the Son – the Spirit has been placed within us. And that Spirit wars against our flesh.

The letter writer citing Revelation clings to that hope. Not acceptance of sin, but forgiveness and conquest. Not simply condemnation, although calling a spade a spade is necessary, but in the freedom to speak the truth, finding love and fellowship. We have all fallen short. Even the best church in the letters in Revelation has “fallen from its first love (Rev 2:4).” We are all in need of hope. That is what the church is about – a family trying to preserve the beautiful, the things that remind us of our hope in Christ, until this war ends.

Leaven & Lenten Practice (March 2013 Newsletter Pastor’s Corner)

leaven iconThis articles owes a debt to an article in Touchstone – Dylan Pahman’s The Yeast We Can Do. Unfortunately right now it is behind the paywall. You could always subscribe.

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”Matthew 13:33
Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”Matthew 16:6

Yeast or leaven must be one of the most powerful metaphors in the bible. It is used both as a parable for the Kingdom itself, and for the forces that oppose the kingdom. If I were the disciples I might have asked Jesus to stop and tell us which. You can’t have it both ways. Nevertheless, I think there is a common thread in both cases that Jesus was calling to the disciples’ attention. It only takes a small amount of something compared to yeast to make or ruin the entire creation.

Passover, the Jewish festival that Holy Week fulfilled, contains an interesting additional law and practice. The Jews were commanded to eat unleavened bread. We know this from Exodus with the comment that it is bread made in haste. But the standing law given for Passover for succeeding generations was that for seven days they should eat unleavened bread, and on the first remove all leaven from the house. Anyone caught eating leavened bread would not just be ceremonially unclean for the Passover, but would be “cut off from Israel”. (Exodus 12:15) The old housewives’ tale is that this is the origin of “spring cleaning”. The Rabbis, thinking like Eve in the garden and observing the severity of the penalty, have erected even higher walls. To avoid even the slightest possibility of owning leaven under their roof, some Jews will sell their household for a day to a trusted agent buying it back after the Passover. The law always encourages following the letter and not the spirit.

Coming into Christianity, the ritual laws were no longer binding. The Passover week became Holy Week. The Christian’s preparation became the 40 days of lent. And the historic practices of lent were: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One of the Desert Fathers, Evagrios, made the connection between good leaven and bad leaven. Reflecting on 1 John 2:16 – “For all that is in the world– the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life– is not from the Father but is from the world” – he called out gluttony, avarice and pride as the “frontline demons”. These were the bad yeast to watch for. When simple gluttony held sway, it would not be long before lust would follow. The person given to greed is easily swayed by wrath and envy. Whatever you might think of Evagrios’ progression of sin built around the seven deadly sins, the metaphor of leaven makes sense. It is certainly easier to laugh off a small indulgence. It is a lifetime of laughing off small indulgences that builds to greater sins and ruin of the entire life. A lifetime of disrespecting the Word is built upon that Sunday where sleeping in just felt better. A deathbed of terror and not knowing what to say is constructed from a lifetime of neglecting even our bedtime prayers.

Looking at the Sermon on the Mount and specifically Matthew 6, Evagrious countered that bad leaven with what he put forward as the good. Jesus there recommends direct almsgiving in private where the Father issues the reward. He follows that with the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer which in Matthew he precedes with “go into you private closet”. Like yeast, you don’t see this working publically. And following that prayer, Jesus issues the expectation to fast. Also in secret, adding “when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face”. The Lenten practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting are connected as the small things that counteract those frontline demons of avarice, pride and gluttony. The greedy are called to give it away, the prideful to bend the knee in prayer, the gluttonous to fast for a time.

The Church Fathers were much more comfortable than most Lutheran ministers with directing works. But truth be told, so was Jesus. And there is definitely a way that these things can be made into a new law. When almsgiving, prayer and fasting would become the outward magic that we never let touch our hearts, we are being as pharisaical as selling our possessions for a day. These things become the metaphor for the Kingdom when we allow them to work on us, when that Spirit kneads into our heart the message of the gospel. Because we have received mercy, we are able to be merciful. Because Christ is our mediator, we can call God our Father. Because we have the promise of the Kingdom and the New Jerusalem, this world and its kingdoms’ glory can be turned away. Our abundance and our food comes not from mere bread.

Our faith, our families, our congregations, and our society might seem very brittle because we have not kneaded that lump of dough. We’ve let the leaven of the Kingdom sit on the surface. We’ve foresworn the spiritual practices in our lives. As James says, “be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:22-24) Jesus might put it somewhat differently, “some seed fell on hard packed ground where it was quickly devoured”. (Luke 8:5) Working the leaven through the dough, preparing the soil, changing the hard heart is not magic. It is like leaven. It starts small, and then works throughout the dough.

February Pastor’s Corner – Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

pancakes and ashesThere is an old word that has fallen into disuse. That word is exhort. As I type this, it has fallen into such disuse that Microsoft is questioning my grammar. It would accept exhorted in the past tense, but questions the present tense use of that verb. Our grandfathers and grandmothers exhorted, but we no longer exhort; at least according the Microsoft Word.

Another Word does use exhort. I imagine that it has fallen into disuse because it carries the connotation that there is an objective moral standard. Coaches do not exhort, they coach, because while sports do have an objective standard (scoreboard!) that standard is not a moral one. Politicians, preachers, generals and teachers would be your standard exhorters. And while it might have a negative connotation in our lawless age, exhortation in the bible is used always as a positive.

Peter at Pentecost, with the sermon that brought in 3000 souls: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (Act 2:40 ESV)

Paul writing to the Thessalonians, “we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith.” (1Th 3:2 ESV)

That same Paul to Timothy giving him his charge, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2Ti 4:2 ESV) And giving the same charge to Titus, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.” (Tit 2:15 ESV)

The writer of the Hebrews to all Christians, “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb 3:13 ESV)

And Peter at a later date, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1Pe 5:1 ESV)

I have an exhortation for you today. I am a hoarder of numbers and statistics. I keep all kinds of things. Numbers don’t tell everything, but I do believe a couple of things about them. First, if you don’t have any numbers, you probably don’t really care about it. In the business world we use to say “if it isn’t measured it isn’t real”. That saying captures the ditch on the other side of the road. What happens there is that only the number is real and hence if you can fake it easier, “who cares, we made the number”. At a certain point of complexity it is easier to “game the system” or to “rob Peter to pay Paul”. The number wasn’t meant to drive either of those activities, but that is what the law encourages, a spiritless conformity. Instead what the numbers help you do is paint a picture. Blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen level paint a very simple picture of the health of a body for a doctor. I want to share some numbers from last year with you.

On Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of the penitential season of Lent, we served 12 pounds of bacon. We as a congregation ate our way through a 10 pound bag of pancake batter. We ate at least three quarts of Mrs. Butterworth’s. When you are making pancakes at the same time it is hard getting an exact count, but I think we had around 60 people come to our little pancake carnival. This is healthy, maybe not the food, but the gathering. The following morning for imposition of ashes we had roughly 12. We made the minyan, but the numbers paint a picture.
As a society, as a people, we love the carnival. We might even be at the point where we claim carnival as a right. We’ve got to fight for our right to party used to be ironic. But the somber registers of a penitential call are quickly put out of mind. Even suggesting the need for something as bloodless as personal reflection, as compared to the full throated call of Repent, the Kingdom is near, is beat back with cries of anti-fun bigot, puritan, Pharisee and the ever popular “look at the log in your own eye”. Yes, the devil can quote scripture to full effect.

What the Christian faith exhorts, what the watchman on the wall exhorts, is and always has been the same:

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1Ti 4:16 ESV)

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Gal 6:1 ESV)

Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. (2Jo 1:8 ESV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22 ESV)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phi 4:8 ESV)

So, this exhortation is one about priorities and necessary rhythms. It is not a call to skip the pancakes. But it is a call to remember the ashes the next morning (or evening as well this year). To truly feast requires a fast. To receive the gospel in its sweetness requires the sour scouring of the law. The way to Easter passes through Calvary.

Dec 2012 Pastors Corner – Hymns We Sing – Advent Meditation

The season of advent is my favorite. I don’t think there is a clunker in the hymnbook for the entire season, and it contains my very favorites. If you asked me why, I’d say look at the names down at the bottom. For example LSB 332 – Savior of the Nations, Come, which I hope to hear the kids sing on the 16th. Originally written in Latin by Ambrose, bishop of Milan, teacher of the faith to Augustine. Translated into German by Martin Luther. The English translator is not a name you’d recognize, but when you find out the other hymns he wrote or translated, he did his part. Just paging through the names: Paul Gerhardt, Charles Wesley, Catherine Winkworth as translator again and again, Charles Coffin, Latin (i.e. old enough to have been sung and cherished and translated for at least 1500 years). The rest of the world rushed on to Christmas. It still rushes on to Christmas. The decorations were in the stores before Halloween this year. I saw the Corona lighted palm tree on Oct 28th during a football game. The best that the church has nurtured through the ages have pondered and written about Advent. Ricky Bobby liked the little baby Jesus. An unknown Basque writer held off and pondered that pregnant time, when the great and glorious Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came and praised the lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.

Why has Advent called to the best or at least brought out their best work? Again, I am making a wild guess, but Advent is the time on the calendar that speaks most to our actual felt situation. Christmas and Easter and Ascension have happened, but we didn’t see them in the same way. As Jesus once said to his disciples, “For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Mat 13:17 ESV).” We are more like ancient Israel. Like Israel, by the rivers of Babylon, we ponder Zion. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel. The Christian is a sojourner, a stranger in a strange land, one whose citizenship is in a different kingdom. We long to sing the coronation hymn and proclaim to the City Lift Up Your Head, You Mighty Gates, the King of Glory waits. In the midst of the birth pains, the wars and rumors of war, we hear Isaiah, What Hope An Eden Prophesied, Where tame live with the wild. The lamb and lion side by side, led by a little child. When we look around and all seems lost, On Jordan’s Bank a Baptist’s Cry, announces that the Lord Is nigh. Hark the Glad Sound. A Thrilling voice sounding and filling hearts with hope. Make straight the way.

Advent is not unsure of the fulfillment, but it feels pulled by both the now and the not yet. It employs all the metaphors we have. Like Mary, it put the hopes and fears of all the years in its heart and ponders them. That is what I’d encourage you to do this December, this Advent. Don’t rush on to the child at the manger, the Christ child has surely come, but ponder the coming – the ways and byways and means Christ enters in and makes our sad divisions cease. Are you prepared? O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, and welcome you aright? Those are the questions of Advent.

August 2012 Newsletter

Churches or organizations have a generation gap. A Newsletter is one of those things. On one side of the divide you could say that the newsletter is probably the most faithfully read thing. They often get a circulation and reading far beyond what you would believe. Pastor’s articles in newsletters have a half-life of years as old newsletters get pulled out of odd places and glanced at. On the other side of that divide, a paper newsletter is as archaic as getting a morning paper. Probably best described in this scene from Phineas & Ferb starting at the 25 sec mark.

But this issue of the newsletter is important enough, if you are member of St. Mark’s you should be sure to read it. So I’ve put a PDF copy right here …newsletter August 2012

Pastor’s Corner – Newsletter from May 2012

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” – John 20:27 ESV

“Rich wounds, yet visible above, In beauty glorified” – LSB525, Crown Him with Many Crowns

Elsewhere in this newsletter my wife notes that I read a lot, so one of the most intriguing things to me has been the advent of the Kindle single or Kindle short. If you are a reader you’ve read those novels where the author had 40 great pages, but it doesn’t expand to a novel, but they had to make it 180 pages to justify printing and a $20 hardcover price tag. The Kindle short is electronic, so no printing costs. And it is usually selectively published – either by the author themselves or by experimental publishers. So, it can be priced around that magic $1 range. When the tag is $20, buying something you know little about just doesn’t happen. At a buck, sure, what the hell.

I stumbled across one the other day that is the deepest and most powerful meditation on sin, redemption, suffering and glory I’ve read in a long time and written in highly accessible language to boot. Poor Baby by Heather King is all of 28 pages. You will read it in one sitting, and not just because it is short.

I won’t steal Ms. King’s subject or reveal details, but I will quote a couple of lines. “Maturity means consenting to develop a conscience. Maturity means acknowledging that there are always consequences; there are always repercussions.” And, “Although perhaps no wound that deep ever exactly heals. A wound is accepted and incorporated, just as Christ’s wounds were incorporated – not removed, not erased, but incorporated – after the Resurrection.”

One other book dominating some mental cycles has been Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion. It is a sober examination of the decline of Christianity in America from roughly 1945. Its central thesis is American religion has been drowning in a sea of heresies. For some reason which Mr. Douthat does not really diagnose (he is a NYT columnist, and not a preacher), Americans have en masse chosen to chuck the orthodox faith and doctrine. His examination is spot on and can’t really be refuted. But he does not really venture in the project of why, or of what do we do, other than the logical conclusion of “turn back”.

It is the combination of the two books that gives the larger picture. Mr. Douthat is speaking to the head. He lays out that compelling case of the results of decades of heresy and attempting to soften the faith’s proclamation of both law and gospel. But Ms. King speaks to the heart. Doctrines and even heresies are cold things. Even looking at the results writ large in society is unmoving. Individual lives have scars and consequences and wounds. Ms. King shows us some of hers. And she shows us the warm and beating side of doctrines lived or failed, of wresting with easy heresies and soft lies, of finding comfort in hard truth.
At the end Poor Baby is itself an incarnation and an invitation. Come and see. Put your hands in these wounds. Stop disbelieving and believe. And contrary to orthodoxy’s cultured despisers, believing is the beginning of maturity. Believing is the beginning of actually seeing the wounds and not just wishing them away for the next sweet fix. In Christ, and in Christ alone, do we find wounds glorified.

The Inhuman Calendar

One of my recurring themes is how we experience time. And the way I like to talk about it is human and inhuman ways of marking time. Here is a perfect example of the inhuman calendar. Fuller articles here and here.

Note the reason we need a new calendar.

The Hanke-Henry calendar would streamline financial operations, they write in an article republished by the libertarian Cato Institute, because Gregorian calendar anomalies make a muddle of interest-calculating conventions. Sunday-only Christmas and New Year’s holidays would also eliminate their mid-week appearances and “get rid of this zoo we’re in right now, when the whole economy collapses for two weeks,” Henry said.

God forbid the human rhythms of life interfere with the market and economic activity.

In the same vein, here is this months newsletter article looking forward to the Season of Epiphany:Jan 2012 – Pastor’s Corner