Friday, February 26, 2016

Taking the Detour

It was ironic that on Wednesday, because of the bad weather in the morning, with school cancelled and wondering about the evening service, I decided to make a change in the sermon from one that spoke of the body of Christ being together, traveling together on the Journey to the Tomb to one that themed at "Detour Ahead." We learned that on the Journey to the Tomb, there are many detours in our lives. I wrote the sermon, prepared the power point and got ready for leading worship. Ate supper, helped Penny clean things up, got ready to sit down to a piece of homemade cherry pie (with cherries we picked in the summer) and the phone rang.

Detour ahead! I should have known that answering that call would lead to a detour. But I didn't think of that at the moment. It was the cardiologist's nurse. We talked about the emails I sent about the pains returning. Hoping beyond hope, I thought that she would say that the doctor was changing the medication around to try a new combination. But no, detour ahead.

The doctor thinks that he should take a look to see why things changed in the heart, she says. Take a look? I asked. Yes, he thinks he should do a cath to check and see what is going on in the heart, she answers. Really? You are telling me this now, only an hour before service begins? I think. If we can get you scheduled for Friday, do you think you could do that? she asks.

Detour ahead! A major detour ahead. The road is closed. There is another road to take. You can't go the way that you were planning. Your Journey is taking a different direction.

Leading worship Wednesday evening was an experience. Detour ahead I tell the congregation. When there is a detour, God will recalculate your Journey. He will work good in all things according to His loving will. Trust in the Lord. Don't trust in yourself when those detours come, and they will. Looking at Penny as the sermon closes, Detour ahead, God will recalculate and will continue with you on the Journey. No truer words were spoken in a sermon.

Detour ahead  What is the detour you are facing? Know this - the Lord is with you. While you might not have planned the detour, God knows. He cares. He is with you on the detour. He is already recalculating your Journey. Enjoy the Journey. With the Lord, it is really an amazing trip!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Journey, a Detour, and Snow

Wednesday, February 24, 2016, a day that will live in infamy. All right, so that is a little extreme. Yesterday was an amazing day. When I got up at my usual time, the wind was blowing and there was some rain. Nothing extreme. Just another windy early spring day. No school cancelled. No problems at all. A short time later, when I was ready for the day (dressed for chapel and worship for the day), I looked out and it was snowing to beat the band. Really, really snowing. And blowing. Wind drove the snow sideways. The ground was quickly getting white. What is this? When did this start? They said it would but we all know the weathermen have no clue what they are talking about.

Look at the Triad website. School cancelled. Really? Cancelled? A check on KMOV and yes, there it is on the list. No school. This changes everything. It changes the day. It changes the Journey of the day. Snow. More snow. More wind. The conditions continued to go downhill quickly. Good decision to not have school. Prayers for those driving to work. Difficult, perhaps even dangerous as the wind continued at outrageous gusts.

What to do about the evening? Dinner? It could be cancelled. Service? Let's hold off cancelling it. Decision time - no dinner but yes to service. We will continue the Journey to the Tomb.

But we took a detour. The plans for the day were changed. A new sermon was written. A new direction was taken. Detour. Off route. Where are we going? The selfies were shelved for the evening. A sign was put up. DETOUR! Yes, we went another direction.

Isn't that the way life is? Plans are made. Life is put together. And then detour. A new direction. One you weren't planning. Perhaps the detour is your own fault. You choose to not stay on the Journey. You prefer to go after that forbidden fruit. Or you decide to deny your Lord by living a life that you shouldn't. Detour. Peter detours. Judas detours. Both struggling once they realize that the road they chose is the wrong one.

Or maybe the detour is not of your making. Just like driving down the road and having the IDOT post the sign, tear out the bridge and sending you on a wild goose chase in a direction you were not expecting. Where are you going? How will you find your way back? How will the Journey to the Tomb continue.

God comes to you. He knows where you are. He hasn't lost you. You might be lost in your detour but He isn't. He knows where you are and what is happening. The Holy Spirit comes to you through those wonderful Means. He recalculates what it will take to get you back on the Journey. He shows you a new way. He takes you through the Valley of the Shadow. He guides you through desperate neighborhoods. He leads you through the self-righteous actions. He guides you safely back to the way you should be going.

And then you realize - this is all part of the Journey. The detours are part of this Journey. The Spirit shows you that even in the snow, the cancellations, the danger, the challenges, all the things going on in your life - it is part of the Journey to the Tomb.

So, after a detour, we continue on our Journey to the Tomb. Yes, selfies and all.

Monday, February 22, 2016


The epistle reading for Lent 2 was from Paul's letter to the Philippians. He wrote, "Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us." (Phil. 3:17 ESV) The sermon spoke of imitation, speaking of imitating Paul and other faithful Christians who have lived their lives in faith each day. Paul had said in the 1st letter to the Corinthians, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1 ESV) Why does Paul think so highly of himself that we are to imitate him? He doesn't. He isn't saying to us that he thinks he is such a powerful and wonderful person that we should be like him. Instead, in the letter to the Philippians, Paul was showing that we are all struggling to live in Christ. We look at the people that the Lord places in our lives, see the struggles they have, see how they are living in faith, how they are focusing on Christ rather than upon themselves and their sinfulness, and we imitate that life. Paul is saying, "Imitate Christ as you live in faith."

Perhaps it is because it is fresh in my mind, but this morning, as I was studying through the Word, I kept running across this idea of "imitating" others. In Ephesians 5 we read, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children." (Eph. 5:1 ESV) The writer to the Hebrews says, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7 ESV) Imitating those who have shown us the faith - Paul, Peter, John, James, and those who have shown us Christ as we have grown in faith. Imitate their faith. Live in Christ. Love in Christ. Be like Christ.

We cannot do that by ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit, working through the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments), to empower us to live in that faith. We need the Spirit's guidance so that we can imitate those who lived in faith before us. None of us can  live this way without the Spirit's power. None of us can imitate anyone of faith without first being in the faith ourselves, being fed from the Word, standing in the waters of our Baptism, filled with the power of Christ in His body and blood.

Imitation. Who are you imitating today?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday ramblings.

Lent has begun. Today is Ash Wednesday. It is a day when there has become a movement in the Lutheran Church to return to our Catholic roots of practices our piety in front of people. Many of our pastors are teaching their congregations that on this day it is appropriate to wear the ashes on the forehead as a symbol that they have entered into Lent. "Ashes you are and unto ashes you shall return," is the words that I hear said again and again. I am asked if St. Paul's in Troy will have the imposition of ashes (not that those words are used but it is what is being asked). The answer I give is, "No we aren't." I know I am breaking with 21st century Lutheranism (that I feel is trying to be 16th century Lutheranism) and not doing this act.

Why don't I do the imposition of ashes? I have several reasons for this. I know that we are focuses back to the time of Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve have sinned and God is proclaiming the curses upon man and woman (and Satan for that matter). God tells Adam, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and unto dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19 ESV) This truly is heaven proclamation of Law. Death comes because of sin. Man faces death because man has sinned. We are to proclaim the fullness of the Law to our congregations. But at the same time, we are not to stop there. We are also to proclaim, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise (I prefer crush) your head and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15 ESV) I feel first of all that to wear the ashes is to proclaim that sin and death have won the victory over mankind. I would much prefer to have the Gospel win the day. Instead of telling me that I am ashes and dust, which I am, tell me what my Savior Jesus Christ has done in crushing the head of Satan and overcoming death and the grave. Yes, Lent is heavy in Law but it is overflowing in Gospel. If it is all Law, then "Woe is me!" It is both and the focus on ashes takes the focus off of Christ, even if I was to make the ashes in the sign of the cross.

Second, I never grew up with ashes. Never. Does that mean I had liberal pastors? Does that mean they were not Lutheran? Does that mean they were teaching me false doctrine? Not at all. The outward actions of piety, such as ashes, was seen as wrong. It was seen as focusing on the individual and those acts of piety took the eyes of the believer off their Savior Jesus Christ. That, and it was also seen as a return to Catholicism. That was forbidden, not the ashes, but the return to Catholicism. Now I can hear the argument that Luther followed this practice, that others through the years have followed it. But in the end, we must remember that Luther was just leaving Catholicism and much of his actions were still in accord with the practices. I have had those who have become Lutheran say to me, "I left those practices behind for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Why would I return to them?" Good question. The faithful pastors who raised, catechized and trained me would agree. They were decidedly Lutheran and would not practice of that which smacked of Catholicism.

Third, and this is the real reason I don't practice the imposition of ashes, I read the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday and I find it to be in contradiction of such practice. We read, "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father we see in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV) My actions in Lent are between the Father and me, not between me and others, both Christian and non-Christian. How can we read, do not do this in a way that says to others, "Here I am doing this," and then read the Gospel that says, "Don't do it it like that." It seems like such a contradiction.

So I do not practice the imposition of ashes. As such, neither does my congregation. As the one given charge of the spiritual care of the congregation, I will not teach them to trust in their outward actions but in that which is true and sure - the Lord's Supper. Instead of ashes, come and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Come in the presence of the Gospel, not in the Law, focus on what He has done, not what is going to happen to you. Yes, you will die, but in Christ, you will live! You will live! Ashes, forget it! I will rise again in Christ.

Is it wrong to use ashes? I don't think it is. I do think it is misleading. We are being something we shouldn't be. We are being a church of the Law, focused on our actions and upon the fullness of the Law. Instead we should be the church of the Gospel, focused on Christ and His actions.

I would say, if you get ashes, you should wipe them off before you leave your church. Why? To wear them says two things: 1) I am Catholic (not catholic but the Roman type) and 2) I am dying and so are you and there is nothing we can do to stop it. It doesn't say, "Christ saves me." You might get the chance to tell someone that, but I doubt it. They will see the ashes, make the call and move on. And the Gospel has been missed.

Lent is about what Christ has done. Let's keep it that way.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras. Here we come!

I was thinking this morning about Fat Tuesday. No, I am not being politically incorrect. It isn't "size challenged" Tuesday. It is Fat Tuesday. It was on this day that many would use up all their fat before they entered Lent. They would not use fat again until Easter. Rather than waste the fat, and they couldn't store it and have it not go bad, they would use it up. Pancakes, donuts, anything that would use up the fat. And then...Ash Wednesday.

I was thinking about the questions about Lent. What will you give up? Will you go to worship the extra times? What is going to be the way that you approach Lent this year? And I noticed one thing, the focus was upon the self. The answers might be couched in "religious words" and pious thoughts, it seems to always come back to me, what am I going to do?

That messes up Lent all together. It isn't "what am I going to do?" Lent is about what Christ has already done for me. He has given up His throne (He is still the Son of God, true God but has become human). The Son of God is incarnate, God in man made manifest. He does this for one reason, to bear our sins, to take our place under the Law, to fulfill the Law totally and completely for me and you, to suffer and to die for that salvation of all mankind.

Lent is not about me. It isn't about what I "give up." It isn't about how "sorry" I am for my sins. It isn't about me showing the world I am a penitent by wearing ashes on my forehead. It ins't about how intense I can be about my sins and how deep my repentance runs. All that is works. All that is focused upon me.

Lent is about Christ. He is the reason we go through Lent. He is the reason we worship. The suffering is His, not mine. The fulfillment of the Law is His, not mine. The actions are His, not mine. The death is His, not mine. The burial is His, not mine. He does it for me but I don't have a thing to do with what He does. He alone, forsaken by the Father as He hands on the cross, pays the full and complete price for my sins. He alone cries out, "It is finished!" He alone. Not me. Not you. Not our ashes. Not our prayers. Not our flogging, literal or figurative. We do not add to what Christ did at all.

And if we think we do, by our actions, by our piousness, by our way that we mope through the season of Lent, then we are destroying the work He has done. The moment we try to put our actions with His, we bring the Law back to ourselves. It is His actions, not ours!

So enter the season of Lent, with oil on your head, joy in your heart and a surety that cannot be shaken. When you pray, go to your room, your closet, your private place, and pray. Then come out with a smile on your face and joy in your heart. Do not disfigure you face in order to tell others what you are doing. To do so, returns you back to yourself. Come out of your prayer room and tell others what Christ has done. Celebrate life. That is what people need to hear - not what you do or don't do, what your actions are, how sorry or penitential you are but how powerful, glorious and wonderful what Christ has done for you and for them.

Lent is about Christ and His suffering. It is not about you and your suffering. Remember that as you eat the doughnut or pancake. Remember that as you go to worship tomorrow. Listen to the Gospel reading from Matthew and let that be your guide during the season of Lent.

Blessed Fat Tuesday. Happy Mardi Gras. Peaceful Shrove Tuesday. Celebrate today. And then, celebrate tomorrow as well. It may be Ash Wednesday but it really isn't a terribly sad day. Christ has taken your place, given His life for you and now, you, through faith given by the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace, are given His righteousness.

No ashes for me. The oil of celebration and the joy of salvation will be my celebration.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Setting Easter

I mentioned in the sermon yesterday that I would let you know how Easter is set every year. When they get ready to print up the new calendar, they put March and April on a dart board, then they toss darts at the months to see which date will be Easter the next year. It takes a minimum of 3 darts out of 5 to set the date for Easter.

OK, that isn't how it is done. But you have to admit, it would make life interesting. The way it actually works is that a group of old guys sit around a table and write dates on a piece of paper and then pass it to the secretary. Once they get a majority for a month, then they begin to work on the date. They whittle it down until they finally all agree on one certain date in that month. Then the when they finally all settle on a date, they burn the papers in a special stove that is just for that purpose. When the smoke is white, then Easter has been set.

What? You don't believe that one either? All right. Here is the real way it happens.

Think spring. (When it is winter, we all want to think spring.) Spring begins on the vernal equinox which is March 21, or March 20 if it is a Leap Year like 2016. Then, after the equinox, you wait for the next full moon. Once you have a full moon after the spring equinox, then the very next Sunday is Easter. Yep, that is really how it is done.

This is how 2016 falls. The spring equinox falls on March 20, Sunday. (Try to stand an egg on its end on that day. Fun times.) So then the next full moon happens on Wednesday, March 23. So once that takes place, BAM, you have the next Sunday as Easter, March 27.

Why is it set that way? Think Passover. Jesus was a good Jewish boy. He would have celebrated the Passover each year. Do you remember why He was riding the donkey into Jerusalem? He was heading into the city to celebrate Passover. The disciples asked Him on Thursday, "Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal?" It was Passover when Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. That Sunday, the 1st day of the week, was the beginning of the week after Passover.

And that, my friends, is the how Easter is set each year and why it fluctuates so much. If the full moon comes right before the equinox, you have to wait another 28 or fewer days for the next full moon. Then you have a late Easter.

So now you know.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February 1st

Hello February. It is good to see you. With your arrival, that means that January has slipped into the history books. January was very nice to us this year. There were a few moments we thought that she might get upset and treat us poorly. I know she did that to some people. Out East, they are still digging out of her fury. But here in Troy, we say good bye to January without having suffering much at all.

So February, what are you going to bring us? You are coming in like a lamb, does that mean...wait, that is March, not February. So what shall we say about you, February? You remind us of love.
There will be hearts, candy and flowers. There will proclamations of love. What a lovely sentiment. But wait, the love that is proclaimed needs a deeper love to make it truly last - it needs the love of Christ. Remind us of that when we get ready to buy the flowers or the candy. Put in our minds the reality that we need this love we are proclaiming to be based in a love that never fails, the love of God our Father. He loved us so much, that even while we were sinners, people who didn't love Him or want anything to do with Him, He still loved us.
He continues to love us even when we forget Him, don't talk to Him, avoid Him week after week, refuse to listen to His voice or follow Him in our lives. He loves us even when the only time we call on Him in when we are in need or when we stub our toe on the dresser. He loves us even we get angry with Him, yell at Him, curse Him and ignore Him when something terrible happens in our lives. He loves us!

February, remind us that His love is to be what guides our love, our proclamation of love and our gifting that shows our love. So when we say, "I love you" to that special person, it will be with a depth that really means something. February, help us to have that type of love.

As we wander through your days, February, what will you bring to us? Snow? Cold? Ice? Warmth? Rain? Sunshine?
Will you give us that which make us grumble? Or will you bring us that which makes us happy? Wait a moment, whatever you bring us, we should remember to give thank and celebrate the wonder of each day and each thing that happens. Each day is a gift given to us and what we do with that gift is up to us and our attitude.

So February, it isn't up to you to make us happy. It isn't your fault if we are sad. Those emotions lie within us. You might trigger those emotions but we sure don't have to follow them. When the sorrow over the weather of your days comes to us, remind us that we have never lived that day before and we should make the most of it, no matter what type of day it is.

Yes, welcome February. It is good to see you. And thank you, for a special gift. You give us an extra day this year. Thank you for that special 29th day. Help us to make the most of not only that day, but each day you bring us.