24 June 2017

Saturdays

Have become just about my favorite day of the week...on quiet weekends, at any rate. We got up this morning a tad before six, made bed, drank coffee as we prayed Treasury, went for a walk, facetimed with grandchildren in NC, exercised some, made breakfast and ate it on the deck (Saturday is about the only day that we DO eat breakfast in the early morning anymore), cleaned up dishes, brushed Lucy (how can one dog shed so much?) and threw her bedding in the wash (she's wandering around like a poor lost soul at the moment), vacuumed (again, how can one dog...), sprayed the Bermuda grass (hopeless task!), and made some iced tea. Cindi's tending to a few more outside chores. Still on the docket: more walks, time in the pool soaking up some rays, trying to burn up my stump in the back yard, and reading a bit more in a novel. The way our calendar has been lately, this is the first weekend in a long time that we've not been booked solid and I plan on enjoying every bit of it. Time to put on some tunes, I think and go look at that stump.

23 June 2017

Happy birthday, Joseph!

Today my brother, Joseph Field Weedon, would have turned 68 years old. He and I had quite similar voices. We played a trick once with Cindi when I worked for him one summer. She called the office and happily chatted on for a bit before she realized that it was Joe she was talking to, not me. He was always a bit of a free spirit and if there was a rule, he felt somehow obligated to break it! Miss him more than words can ever tell.

22 June 2017

31 Years

Like so many things in life, the perspective ripples. It seems both much longer ago than that and yet also it surely cannot have been so long. 1986 on June 22nd found us gathered in the nave of the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Wheaton MD as this most unworthy man was placed publicly into the office of the ministry with prayer and the laying on of hands, having been called the previous month to serve as pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Burlington, North Carolina. What stretches betwixt there and here? Dizzying to think of all that has unfolded across those thirty one years. The loss of dear ones (grandpa and grandma DeVries, Nana, Mom, Joanne), the gift of children and their spouses and their children, the gift of wonderful friends in every place we have ever called home, more card games than I can begin to count, tears and laughter, four dogs and I can't even remember how many cats (with but one dog still left!), and my Synod has changed a bit too. Smaller than before and destined to decline further, but I think more united than it was back then and sturdier in a number of ways too. What will the next 31 bring? May the Parousia prevent us from finding out!

20 June 2017

Gottesdienst Video

It is one thing to read about some of the traditional ceremonies associated with the celebration of the Divine Service, but it is quite another thing to observe them in action. Last year at the Spring Gottesdienst conference, a video of the Divine Service was made (with help from a grant from LCMS Worship) and Dr. Burnell Eckardt provided a running commentary. Pastors and seminarians who desire to explore a fuller use of these reverent and historic ceremonies of the Divine Service will find the video to be a help indeed. Check it out: Divine Service. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28, 29.

19 June 2017

Today's Chapel

Morning Prayer, p. 235

Psalm 130

Office Hymn: 553 “O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart’s Desire”

Reading: John 7:53-8:11

They went each to his own house, 1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” 

O Lord, have mercy on us.
Silence
In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets.

Homily

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Did ever He speak a more devastating word of law? “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Let’s face it. You love your stones, your gotchas, and the way you feel so utterly “right” when you get to hurl them and they land with a satisfying thunk. 

The problem, of course, is that the Law of God isn’t a list of disjointed items. It is a whole. A seamless will of God that our lives be love from the inside out and everywhere in between. Picture a beautiful and rare vase. And you drop it. It shatters. You can hardly pick up one of the shards and say: Well, see, I didn’t break it here! And when so and so dropped it, that’s exactly where they broke it. What a sinner they are! Um no.

So James 2: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressors of the law.” Or Romans 2 for that matter, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judges. For in passing judgment you condemn yourself, because you the judge, practice the very same things.”

So they had her. Caught in the very act of adultery. And since it takes at least two to tango, where’s the fellow? Jesus doesn’t ask, but nor does he let them get away with it. They are trying to trap him, after all, because they’ve pieced together that he’s the mercy man. But they had her, dead to rights. And they had the law. “Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say?”

He then does the oddest thing. Ignores the question. Stoops and writes. The only indication in Scripture by the way that Jesus ever wrote anything. He’s writing in the dust. But what? Some of the fathers speculated that he looked at folks in the crowd and on the ground wrote down the sin THEY were hoping others never knew about. One after the other. St. Augustine in his ingenious way thought he was digging in the earth to form a new heart a heart of flesh and not of stone for these stony hearted folks who could see the splinter in her eye but not the log in their own. We could speculate till the cows come home but we’ll have to wait to find out! Instead, just note that whatever he wrote didn’t make them back down. “Well? Well? Can we stone her? What do you say?”

He stands among and said to them: “Go ahead. Stone her, only let whichever one of you is without sin toss that first stone.”

He bent down and went on writing whatever he was writing with his finger in the dust. What a fascinating tidbit then: “Beginning with the older ones” the stones begin to drop across the courtyard. Yes, years can make you a bit more conscious of your sin than the hot-head of youth with their fervent idealism. We old ones know how often we have sold out ourselves, at least the guilt isn’t too far away ever. But the word of law didn’t just cause the oldest ones stones to drop. “Let him who is without sin among you” caused all the stones to eventually drop and then silence. Jesus stooping and writing and a woman standing, awaiting her fate. There WAS after all one who COULD throw that first stone. 

But He didn’t. He didn’t come to throw stones. “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” 

And here we see the tragedy in the story; a horrible tragedy. They were willing to drop their stones and slink away. And so they were just left with a word of law. The sting of being a hypocrite. The shame of being exposed for a self-righteous ass. But remember, He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world. What they ought to have done, what each of us ought to do, is drop our stones and go stand WITH the woman as one who also has dropped the vase and shattered it, who has betrayed love and fractured it in countless ways in our lives. For then, then the final word would not be: “Let him who is without sin…” Then the final word would be: “Woman, Man, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” With her, we could whisper together: “No one, Lord.” Then hear from His sweet lips: “Neither do I condemn you;  go, and from now on sin no more.”

Two final thoughts: first, what right did He have to do this? After all, it wasn’t Moses but Yahweh Himself who had laid down the stern demand of the Law. How could Jesus set it aside? The truth is that He didn’t. He transferred her stoning, her deserved death, to Himself. This he did for her and for us all. His cross is His owning our sin and taking its desserts as His very own.  Second, note that He did not tell her: “if you go and sin no more neither will I condemn you.” Too often THAT is what the world hears us church folks saying, and being rather keen to sniff the hypocrisy of our lives, they believe the whole thing is a sham. But note that Jesus said quite the opposite: He does not condemn her and with that forgiveness, that love, that covering of her shame, He sends her forth a free woman and tells her to live in that freedom. You too. 

People loved by God, drop the damnable stones already, but don’t walk away. Go stand with “them” - whoever the “them” are that you feel oh so righteous to look down your nose at. Go stand with them that the final word in your ear may be: “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more!” 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 



Benedictus, p. 238ff.

Collect of the Day: O God, the strength of all who trust in You, mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing, grant us Your grace to kept Your commandments that we may please You in both will and deed; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 

Remember, O Lord, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Your whole Church, all who join with us in prayer, all our sisters and brothers wherever they maybe in Your vast kingdom who stand in need of Your help and comfort: commending into Your hands today especially Alex, Amy, Allen and Jan, and asking Your blessing upon Pastor Michael Paul and all who labor for you far from their native lands. Pour out on them and on us all the riches of Your mercy, so that we, redeemed in body and soul, and steadfast in faith, may ever praise Your wonderful and holy name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. 

O Lord, our Heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, You have safely brought us to the beginning of this day. Defend us in the same with Your mighty power and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger, but that all our doings, being ordered by Your governance, may be righteous in Your sight; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Taught by our Lord and trusting His promises, we are bold to pray…

Let us bless the Lord.

The almighty and merciful Lord, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit bless and preserve you. 

18 June 2017

Installation of Pastor Karl W. Gregory

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

People loved by God, saints of Messiah here in Lebanon, brother pastors, President Scharr, and especially Pastor Gregory and Nancy, today is a day of great joy! Another prayer answered. "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest fields" He had said. The saints here took Him up on that. And the Lord Jesus answered. And this afternoon they delight to receive the gift they asked for, a pastor, a minister of the Word, and we rejoice with them. A fellow laborer in the harvest of the Lord, called to serve out the gifts of God to the people of God: one Karl W. Gregory.

When the great Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard taught about the duties that belong to the office of the ministry, he came up with a rather tidy list. He wrote: "All told, therefore, there are seven duties of ministers of the church. We can relate all the rest to those seven: first, preaching the Word; second, dispensing the Sacraments; third, praying for the flock entrusted to them; fourth, controlling their own life and behavior; fifth, administering church discipline; sixth, preserving the rituals of the church; seventh, caring for and visiting the sick and distressed." Pastor Gregory, Jesus has put you here to attend to all this.

And as you can tell from the readings today, preaching the Word gets the top billing. Jeremiah warns the people not to put up with any preacher just jawing on about his own ideas and dreams and thoughts. And oddly enough, the preacher's own ideas and thoughts tend to work like this: telling people not to be afraid of despising God's Word and that all is going to be great with them no matter what they do or how they live. What St. Paul would later call scratching itching ears. "No disaster shall come upon you. Be at peace. Do what you will." That's to be a preacher of lies. The mark of the real-deal preacher is this: "if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way." They, not the preachers, the Words of God. Only the Words of God, the real words that come from God, have the power to turn people from their evil ways.

HIS Word alone the hammer that breaks the rock in pieces, the rocky hearts of unrepentant men and women.

But that means it is not YOUR words that have that power. Not your ingenuity that can figure out how to make God a bit more palatable. None of that for you, Pastor Gregory. No putting up with that, saints at Messiah or brothers in office, not that I think you have that to fear from this man, knowing him as I do. But still, it is never to be taken for granted. People of God, remember your catechism. Remember the important question it teaches you to ask: not just "what does this mean" but above all "where is this written?" I can tell you this man will never resent you coming to him with the request that he show you from the Scriptures the truth of what he is asserting. He will thank you for coming to him with that.

The words of God do the job, but the words are joined to the elements and so sacraments. That too is what Pastor Gregory is put here to attend to. The sacraments don't belong to him as a minister; they belong to you as the beloved Bride of Christ, but serving them to you is part of what Jesus puts him here to do. And he must do this faithfully: as one who must give account to Jesus for his handling of such awesome gifts. Here, it doesn't matter on whit whether you like or dislike what he's doing; what matters is how will he answer to the Lord for his administration of these life-giving sacraments. You help him most when you tell him: Pastor, we want you to do exactly what Jesus wants you to do, what He's said in His word. Do that and we will be ever so grateful to our good Lord for sending us a faithful shepherd.

But whether the saints here say that to you or not, it is still your duty to be on your knees interceding for them. That means you must open your heart to take their heartaches and sorrows, their joys and celebrations, into yourself and carry them before the throne of God. Not now and again. Daily. Daily praying for them. Without fail. Make Samuel's words your own: "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you."

And then the watching your own life and behavior to set an example. No, that doesn't mean making sure that they never learn to know you as a sinner. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Let them learn to know and love you for the man you are: a sinner whose every sin has been answered for by the blood of Jesus, even as all their own have been. Let them learn to know and love you in your struggles against your own sinful flesh that they might have the courage to struggle against their own and realize that they don't have to live a life of make-believe where they go from victory to victory. In the Church, we stumble along, fall flat our face and get back up again by the grace of God to stumble a few steps further. We do this, as the second reading taught us, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who also in their own day, stood and fell, crawled forward a bit and fell again, and then struggled on, and finally crossed that finish line. Now they cheer us on from the stands. Let the people here know you as a man of faith: a man who literally lives from the giving of God, His abyss of forgiveness and mercy. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, and you will help them to keep their eyes trained on him as well.

But that doesn't mean that you're free to ignore the sin either in your own life or in theirs. No, we are not ignorant of the devil's devices. We know that sin is never a neutral. It's like a cancer in the body. It will eat you up. God hates sin because of what sin does to us, the creatures that He loves. It must be fought and above all, we need to receive forgiveness and to turn from it. Forgiveness is never a get out of hell free card that allows a person to go on sinning with impunity. God loves to forgive. I love to sin. Such a deal! May it never be. That's what God was crying out against in Jeremiah. No, "repentance unto the forgiveness of sins" is how Christ quite literally put it in today's third reading. And so church discipline. Not from the posture of "I've got it all together and I want to help you become as put together as I am" but from the posture of a fellow sinner who has learned first hand the dangers of sin's allure and who loves his people enough to speak to them the truth. "Turn from this! It will destroy you. I love you. HE loves you. He doesn't want you destroyed. Repent!" You're put here for that task too and it is the most difficult and thankless.

Well, almost as thankless as the task of preserving church rites. What? Folks might think. What does that mean? You see, you have the task of helping this wonderful family of God realize that the rites and ceremonies of the church don't belong to this congregation or its individuals and certainly not to its pastor. They belong to the wider church and require care in their exercise. St. Paul said to do all things decently and in order (1 Cor. 14) and that presupposes there IS an order. We honor our fathers and mothers in the faith when we receive these rites as gifts from those who have walked this way before. We honor them when we let these rites and ceremonies shape how we receive the good gifts of God and live as His servants in this world. Here's good news: you don't need to create some nifty liturgy that will pack in the crowds and fill the offering plates to overflowing. You get to serve up the liturgy that the Church has handed to you and show your people the joy of the way that thing serves up the Word of God in all its richness and glory.

The last bit from Gerhard reminds you that you as the pastor of this flock have a special responsibility toward the disadvantaged here, those who are poor, who are sick, who are hurting and above all the dying. He puts you in His own spot where He saw the crowds and had compassion on them for they were harassed and troubled like sheep without a shepherd. That's the heart He would put inside you as His undershepherd in this place: a heart that yearns for those who are passing through difficult and trying times, and that goes to them, where they are, to accompany them through those times with the words of Him who will not fail them no matter what, with prayers and tears. If you are faithful in this, you'll know the nurses in the hospital by name in a few years time and you will realize that more ministry happens in waiting rooms and by the hospital beds than anywhere else.

That's a pile of responsibilities to lay on any man. Karl, I know that hearing all that, you will not hear it as crushing load because you know that the One who gives it to you gives Himself to you too without reservation. He will walk this road with you and through you will serve His beloved flock here. He delights to pour out His Spirit upon you that all this might be done. Then you with Paul can cry out that your sufficiency is from Him and that it is His strength that is perfected in your weakness. True, you bring great gifts He has given you. A good mind, wide-ranging experience in the military, a veteran already of the struggles in the church herself, one who has known suffering for speaking the truth and being willing to pay the price. Most of all, you bring the gift of song, you and Nancy together, hearts brimming with His joy and eager to sing His praise with the saints here. Lots of gifts. But to the people here, the greatest gift you will ever bring is simply to be that humble sinner among them who never ceases to point them to their Jesus, His cross, His triumph, His love for them, His forgiveness. It's the beating heart of all those seven duties. Take up your shepherd's staff with joy, my friend, you have a great Savior who loves you, and to Him be the glory with His Father and His all-holy Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages! Amen.

17 June 2017

Reflections on a Wedding

As we spoke of the wedding we'd just attended, I mentioned to Cindi that this is what happens when both the bride and groom and their respective families are staunch Lutherans. Quick rundown:

Beautiful preservice music utilizing the rich traditions of organ literature of the Lutheran Church, including for the procession of the bridal party and the bride.

The singing of Now Thank We All Our God.

Invocation and Introduction.

Readings: Genesis 2:15–25, Ephesians 5:1–2, 22–33, Mark 8:34–38.

The singing of The Church's One Foundation (three stanzas) to the tune for Jerusalem the Golden.

Wedding homily by the groom's father; quite excellent.

The singing of Lord, When You Came As Welcome Guest.

The marriage with consent and vows, exchange of rings, and declaration of marriage.

The singing of Abide, O Dearest Jesus.

Prayer for the wedding couple, and for the institution of marriage, and the Our Father, then the benediction.

The singing of Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer, followed by an assortment of joyous music from the organ literature of our Church as the nave emptied out.

From start to finish, a service in which the main thing remained the main thing, not the bride (beautiful as she is, both inside and out, and looking radiant), not the groom (tall and handsome and looking utterly smitten by his beloved), but Jesus and His love for His bride the Church. It was everywhere and shaped everything and held it all together in a joy that was palpable.

Folks, this is how you do weddings. Great and overwhelming joy indeed. May our Savior bless both Jess and Johanna and grant them many, many years together, making their union fruitful and always an image of Him and His Church!