Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Go fish!

     I suppose, before I get to this week’s readings, I need to do a bit of backtracking. One can tell when the previous week’s sermons were full of spiritual wedgies by the sheer volume of people who want to argue. What surprised me most about last week, of course, was the number of those who complained that I did not write it out in last week’s message. Few of us were present because of the ice drizzle, but I guess those few talked a lot because I had people who were not here last Sunday talking about my sermon. One statement found its way into nearly all those conversations. That statement represents an attitude that must needs be addressed before we as a community can move forward. That statement always began with a form of “I can’t” or “I’m not.” I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many here today argued with me, either aloud or silently, last week that you were not qualified or able to reach into the lives of particular people and share the Gospel of Christ? Have you come so far in your faith journey really to believe that about yourself and your worth before God? I ask that, particularly, in light of last week’s Gospel reading. Last week, we read Mark’s account of Simon and Andrew’s call. It is a well known story. Jesus says to these two brothers, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of people.” Ever wonder why He chose fishermen to be Apostles? Ever wonder why He chose regular people, rather than Temple or political elites, to be disciples? Ever wonder why He chose you?

     Talk to a serious or professional fisherman, and you will learn lots of worldly wisdom. Fishing involves a continual acquisition of wisdom regarding the activity. I have yet to meet the fisherman who thinks he knows all there is to know about fishing or who is not excited to learn something new. I know we have a lot of “amateur” fisherfolk in our congregation, so let me give us some perspective about Jesus’ selections by asking the question “What is the best bait you have ever used?” Listen to the answers. Does anybody here present think that a lure is the best possible bait? No. And why is that? Everybody who fishes realizes that worms and minnows and bugs, what they call live bait, are effective far more frequently than the artificial lures. I am not the fisherman like my dad, but I have learned over the years that each lure is good in particular situations but, outside that for which it was created, marginal, at best. On clear sunny days, lures with flashing metal often capture the attention of fish. On a rainy day, though, they tend not to work as well. Similarly, those lures which are red like a bleeding or injured food, work well in murky water but not so much in clear water. I can’t go on and on, but I know some of you can. Live bait, though, will work in many different environments. If the fish are biting, they will always hit live bait, no matter the weather and no matter the water.

     Obviously, given Jesus selection of Apostles and of some of His later descriptions, evangelism is much like fishing. Some things work, while others fall flat on their face. Programs which purport to have solved all the evangelism issues often fail. Have you ever stopped to wonder why? Evangelism, like fishing, must be aware of the surrounding circumstances. A program which is very effective in NYC might well flop in Davenport because we are very different from NYC. Our concerns, our values, our fears, and our way of life are just different. Similarly, what might work in Davenport might well fail miserably in other places like rural IA or the Deep South. West coast plans probably will not work well Texas. I could go on and on. Programs for evangelism are like lures. They are artificial; they are made for a specific context, they can’t “tempt” everyone equally as well. That’s why He chose Andrew and Peter and you and me.

     You and I are, in a real sense, live bait. You and I are called to live our life in the struggles, in the messes. People we encounter, particularly those with whom we live and those with whom we work, get to see us mourning and joyful and hopeful and tired and whatever else we are as we live our lives. Like the bait that struggles and attracts the predators, you and I are called to live obedient, faithful lives in the midst whatever besets us. People see us, hear us, smell us, and even feel us as we struggle. And it is at those times when we see our Lord at work. He uses our weakness to reach into the lives of others. How do we know?

     An easy example would be Tony the Truck Driver. Does everybody remember him? Tony’s great sadness was the death of his toddler son. I forget the specific details, but Tony’s son died despite all the prayers of his family and his church. As a tribute to his son’s brave fight, Tony had a memorial painted on the side of his blue cab. As Tony wrestled with God while driving that cab (How could God let my son die? How can such a tragedy ever be redeemed?  Why would a good God let evil exist?) he began to notice people broken down along the side of the road.  Rather than passing them by, Tony decided that, when God gave him eyes to see the broken down on the highways, he would stop. Keep in mind the pressures involved.  As in so many businesses, time is money in the trucking industry.  When he is not moving, he is not getting paid.  And he decided, he committed to stopping when he saw others in need!  As he began this roadside ministry, it amazed him just how many people noticed his cab. At first, Tony thought he was just going to get to tell the story of his son. He hoped the telling would ease the pain. As Tony admitted, he had forgotten God’s promises and grace.

     Tony said that as he began to relate the story of his son’s suffering and death, he became aware of the sheer volume of people who had suffered the same loss. You wouldn't think that in this country, would you?  Amazingly, Tony would see a car, stop, be asked about the memorial on the cab and hear the reply “That sounds like my story.” Tony said time after time after time mothers and father would share stories of tragic loss. Sometimes it was their own doing through abortions, sometimes it was a random act like car wrecks or even a baby sitter’s murder; worse, sometimes, there was no explanation, like SIDS. Invariably, Tony would find himself consoling others whose pain was his own. During our last conversation, Tony understood that the pain would never go away. But Tony also was thanking God for his small role in salvation history. Tony said it was the most amazing thing to talk about his Father who had given His Son and who knew the exact pain he was suffering. On a couple occasions, Tony had the privilege of harvesting for the kingdom of God along the side of the road. On a few more, he had the privilege of leading a prodigal son or daughter back into our Father’s loving embrace. In all the rest, he has planted seeds. I don’t get to see Tony any more, since Angel Food ceased operations, but during our last conversation, he had spoken into the tragedy of some 29 families along the side the road. How many more have seen his memorial on the highways and byways of this country and begun anew their struggles with God?

     How many of us are like Tony? How many of us are normal, working stiffs?  How many of us have lived through, survived, or experienced particular tragedy or hardship and then found ourselves in relationship with others experiencing the very same pain? Live bait. He chose you and He chose me as live bait to help grow His kingdom one life, one soul at a time. There are no programs, there are no strategies; there is you and me and other disciples struggling to face life’s hardships and sins and to seek His grace in all those circumstances.

     That God uses us as live bait is, perhaps, an interesting notion, but it fails to do Him the honor and glory He deserves. Our lessons this week talk about the lives of the faithful. Part of the difference between lures and live bait is one of knowledge and one of love. Each one of us, no matter our circumstances, who has survived tragedy and sin only to see God’s gracious hand at work in our lives is singularly prepared to love others into the kingdom! We can speak of problems and sins outside our own experience, but how loving are we when we do? Aren’t we, rather, like encyclopedias reciting facts? But in our own experience, in our own joyful thanksgivings, are we not winsome and sincere and joyful in our proclamation of His saving hand? That, brothers and sisters, is why He chose you! That, my fellow pilgrims, is why you are the one He has chosen!

     Of course, just when we think His grace is magnificent, there is more. I know Deuteronomy speaks specifically of Jesus. Jesus will certainly be the prophet of whom Deuteronomy 18 speaks. But, in the season of Epiphany, when we pray to God that His light will shine in our hearts and our lives that the darkness in the lives of those around us will be driven away, perhaps we should look at that prophecy a bit differently. In so much as He is in us and we are in Him, you and I become Moses-like to those around us. Does the idea make you squirm a bit? Good, it probably should. But think for a second how Tony appears to those whom he has served. Think for a moment how you appear to those whom you have served and won for His glory. Moses led God’s people through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Moses intercessed on behalf of God’s people. Moses taught God’s people what it meant to live in right relationship with a loving, holy, righteous God. Is that not our job now? Sure, as a people who are being used to proclaim freedom to slaves in our midst, who better to understand the lesson in those terms? Each time we lead someone from the wilderness to His provision, each time we lead someone out of darkness into light, you and I have been raised up in their lives as a prophet like Moses. So, then, why in the world would you ever think you are not capable, not equipped, to do whatever He has placed upon your heart?  Quit fighting Him, and go fish!



Monday, January 23, 2012

Advent Encounters . . . free advertising from good food!

     I don’t know his name. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming. I was on another Wal-Mart run, this time in the early evening. The bell ringers were out. It was a very pleasant evening (warm by Iowa standards!). And, as I was going through my little list in my head, he started yelling at me. Fr. Brian! I didn’t know you shopped here. Why are you here? I need to pick up some things for the house. How’s it going? Now, I knew the bell ringer’s face, but I could not place it until he told me why. Why are you coming here? You should be at Hy-Vee or Fareway, not Wal-Mart. I laughed as he laughed and asked him why. You need better than Wal-Mart. By now I made it to him and asked him what he meant. You should be doing your shopping at a better store than here. Maybe you haven’t heard, but I have a lot of hungry mouths to feed. I can’t afford to shop at Hy-Vee or Fareway (except for meat, but THAT is another story). Wal-Mart enables us to stretch our budget. But, do you think you should be slamming Wal-Mart since they are letting you ring a bell out front? Bah! I don’t work for them, I work for the Salvation Army. Speaking of which, I need to thank you and your peeps. For what? Man, you guys made us turkey! Real turkey! And you carved the thing in front of us! And the mashed potatoes and gravy! Oh my God! It was amazing! And then, as if that weren’t enough, you guys followed the Thanksgiving meal with a Christmas meal that was just as good! You guys make me glad to be homeless and to eat at that site.

     Those who know my parish will have figured it out, but the bell ringer was one of those whom we serve at the Community Meal every month. For fifty years, the people of my church have been serving the hobos, the homeless, and the hungry in Davenport a sit down meal. What humbles me about this parish is the effort each and every cook puts into the preparation of their dish. Ask them about why they put so much effort or time into it, and invariably a parishioner will respond that they want it fit for them or others in the church and for our Lord, if He walked through the door and sat down to eat our food. And it is an infectious attitude. You don’t want to be the one who makes the dish that is below St. Alban’s standards. You don’t want to be the one who ruins a meal. Trust me, it changes your perspective when you’re the one in charge of making a gallon or so of Thanksgiving gravy!

     When I first arrived at St. Alban’s and was talking with local clergy, local business owners, and professionals about whether the church to which I was called would be missed were it to disappear, one of the clergy remarked that “everyone at your church worships food rather than God. They are all overweight, every single one of them.” I remembered the comment so clearly because so few people even knew the church was there. And, of those who remembered, one was calling the people fat. As I spent time among them and came to know them, I realized that the clergy who had made the remark did not know the parishioners. First of all, there were some skinny members and healthy members. To be sure, we have more overweight. But it is not like most people are inactive. They simply love food and don’t exercise enough. They exercise and work hard, just not enough to stay lean and mean.  Serving among them, I began to ask the lay leaders about the clergy person’s observations. What I learned was that this was a group which had had it planted in their DNA that, in order to earn the right to share the Gospel with people, they first had to serve them. Much of what we do, Father, revolves around food because that is an easy way to serve others and to earn that right to share the Gospel. They feed and then they minister. I seem to have read that pattern somewhere before . . .

     Anyway, I told the bellringer/man we had served at Community Meal that we did not serve them meals to encourage them to accept their circumstance. We served the meals and feasts to remind them that God still loved them. We wanted to give them hope and encourage them to seek a better life or way out, not stay contentedly in the shelters or sewers or under the bridges. I know all that! I just can’t get over how many churches don’t. And then he started yelling to people entering or leaving. It’s Christmas! You should find your way to a church and thank God! And if you don’t have a church, you should go to this man’s church at Fairmount and West Central Park! They are real Christians! They not only tell you that God loves you, but they show you! This went on for four or five minutes. He stopped people and described watching Patti carve the turkey and placing it upon his plate. He smacked his lips over the gravy and the pie. He told how we even brought veggies to given them important vitamins and minerals. He told how the bread smelled and felt. He even bragged about Pauline’s ambrosia because it wouldn’t be St. Alban’s night without her marshmallow salad. People as far away as the other entrance to the east and Gamestop to the west heard him and stopped for a second to listen when he was yelling. Others would stop and listen to him describe portions of the meals to those unfortunate enough to have been captured by his enthusiasm. I kept trying to get him to quiet down. I did not want him getting in trouble with Wal-Mart harassing the customers. He ignored me. Finally, after a couple minutes, he returned to our conversation. You think anyone heard me, Father? Only those with ears, I laughed. Think they’ll come? I don’t know. Most probably won’t. Well, it seems to me, the least I can do is advertise for you. I told him that he owed us nothing. Our meal, like our Lord’s grace, was freely given. I know that. But just like you guys can’t help but feed us the way that you do to show God how thankful you all are, I need to share with others how your peeps make us all feel, at least for a few minutes every single month. God bless you and yours Father.

     There is nothing one can say to such proclamations but thank you. I turned and headed into Wal-Mart to get whatever it was I was there to get. “Maralyn” stopped me again. Is it true? I begged her pardon as my head was elsewhere, trying to figure out what had just happened. Is it true that you make Thanksgiving meals and Christmas meals for the Salvation Army? I told her it was. Why? Well, to make a really long story short, it seems to be the best way for us to reach people. What do you mean? Ever had someone come up and just start telling you about God and how you needed him without really getting to know you? You bet! Christians are great at that. I asked her how it made her feel. I don’t know. I guess it depended on my mood. Usually it just made me angry. You said “Christians are great at that.” I take you are not since that is a different group? Yeah. I tried a few times to get into the church thing, but it just wasn’t for me, know what I mean? Yes and no. What do you mean? Well, it was for me. I need to be in church. But I also understand how churches can turn people off when they do things wrong, when they forget Whom they serve. If it means anything to you, I am sorry that other Christians have been a little too aggressive in their enthusiasm to share their love of God with you. Oh, them I get. What I don’t get is the threat. You know “if you don’t believe you are going to hell.” Why begin a conversation like that? Does it ever work? How can you be so sure. Stuff like that. Gotcha. Well, I am sorry that’s how you have been exposed to our Lord. Sometimes I am, too. Why do you say that? I can’t talk now, but maybe another time I’ll share with you why I am like that. . . She moved to place a sticker on a customer's return item.  I waited, and another approached her, and so I moved on . . . for now.

     We talk of ripples in our encounters for His glory. Our relationships and encounters with others go so far beyond what we see and hear, like the ripples from the splash of a rock in a still pond. What was going on this Advent was truly amazing. God was using our service of Him to reach so many individual lives. From “I think I accidentally sold my soul” to the atheist to the lady who wanted her family to understand her perspective on death to the bell ringer to those in the neighborhood so worried about 2012 being the end of the world to the couple that witnessed our singing at the Alzheimer’s home, God was using very simple acts, our efforts to be obedient, and total strangers to reach into the lives of people in our community. Apparently, those in my church have earned the right to be heard by many of those who now reject Himor are seeking Him. Put another way, they and I are now being asked to give a true accounting of our faith. Was all of that for “Maralyn” sake? Did God set up these encounters, cause me to forget so many things when shopping so that I had to make so many trips, and whatever else that went on simply for the sake of reaching into Maralyn’s life? Yes and no. Although He died for each one of us, He also died for all. As we look back thankfully upon and birth and look forward expectantly upon His return, it is important for us to remember the faces and stories of those whom He calls. They are the face whom you and I meet and see every day of our lives. Yes. He brought comfort to the lady who accidentally sold her soul. But her worry and her peace spoke volumes to Maralyn, just as much as a bell ringer shouting in a parking lot. In a few days time, as we approach the babe thankful for what He has done and will do for us, we would do well to fall upon our knees and give thanks to the God who humbled Himself so, and who raised us to heights unimaginable and undeservedly, that His name might be glorified eternally.

Christ’s Peace,

Advent encounters . . . Sold my soul?

     Fr Brian! Fr. Brian! Can you come here for a second? The yell was from the deli counter at my local Wal-Mart. I reluctantly headed over. Too many people were in the ICU, there was a lot of work not getting done at church, and we had done little shopping. Karen had asked me stop and pick up a couple things on my way back from the hospital.  Do you have a couple minutes? I admitted that I had a few. Hang on. She went back toward the cakes for a minute and then reappeared with an older lady (another employee) in tow. Tell him about your problem. He can help you.

     The older lady began with the typical “you are going to think I am crazy, but I have a problem” introduction. I told her I had good ears and was even good at listening to crazy people and to tell me her problem. I think I sold my soul to the devil by accident. Without even thinking, I asked her how much she got for it. What? How much are souls worth nowadays? I haven’t heard of one being sold for quite a while, and I wonder what the going price is. As near as my math could follow, she received somewhere around $1200 for it. I had to admit my disappointment. I figured the price of a soul would be a lot more. But then the other ladies in the deli began to talk about how messed up the world was. The devil is winning right now, so the cost is probably down.

     Now, I will admit, I was tempted to just walk away and wish her well. At this point, only one of the ladies knew who I was. But I was set off by their fatalistic attitude. So I asked, “What do you mean by ‘the devil is winning right now’?” You know, gambling is everywhere, people are having sex with tons of people, people drink like fish, the economy is in the crapper, heck people are pepper-spraying people over toys. Open your eyes. I replied that my eyes were open, far wider than theirs. I asked if they new what season we were in. They said Christmas. I asked if they knew the significance of Christmas. Eventually they got around to the religious reason. And Jesus was born. And why is that important? Because He came to save us? Exactly. So why do you worry so about the world? One of the skeptics popped of well, He eventually was killed, so a lot of good coming into the world did Him. And, in case you haven’t noticed, the world has forgotten Him. But He has not forgotten any of us. Jesus came into the world knowing that He would be walking that road to the cross. He died because of all this and because of who we are and what we do. And He did it all because He loved us like no one in the world ever will. He knew that if He failed, you and I and everyone else would stand condemned before God. What makes Christmas awe-inspiring is the simple fact that God became human to save us all. I guess that’s true. Do you believe that He rose from the dead? Three agreed, one doubted, and the other shook her head. Looking into the eyes of the three, I reminded them that they had nothing to fear. If He was raised from the dead, we would be as well.

     Of course, my job was not yet done. One of my three assenters believed she had accidentally sold her soul.  Looking at her I asked her again, do you believe He died and rose again? Of course I do. Then you have nothing to fear. You can’t “accidentally sell your soul” because it was never yours to sell. What? They all wanted to know. He bought your soul with His flesh and blood. All our souls belong to Him, to do with us as He wishes. That makes a kind of sense. You bet it does. Why do you think people remind us from time to time that no scheme of man, no plot of evil will ever take us from His hand. Omigosh, that sounds like that hymn. It’s my favorite. Really? I love it when we sing it at church or I hear it on the radio. Have you ignored the words? Nothing can take you from Him once you claim Him Lord. I guess I never really thought of it like that. I was just convinced I had been tricked into doing something I shouldn’t have. Well, that’s how the Deceiver works. He imparts guilt wherever possible so that we forget the grace our Lord offers. And, truthfully, he has done a remarkable job on the five of you. Three claimed to believe, one wonders, and one does not believe. Here we are, 2000 years later still celebrating His birth. You ladies see it all, and still you forgot its importance. What did you say you do for a living? I didn’t. Like you, I am just a sojourner in this land. The first voice rang out again, pushaw! He’s not like us, he’s a priest. Nah, he can’t be, he has a wedding ring. Nah, he can’t be, he used simply words. Nah, he can’t be or he would have condemned me for doubting. Ladies, I have a couple errands to finish, so I’ll leave you to your conversations. I do hope this year, when you set around and see loved ones opening gifts, you remember His love for you and the gift He gave you.

     “Maralyn” the greeter stopped me as I started to walk on. That was amazing! How so? In less than 10 minutes, you convinced her that she had not sold her soul, and you even gave the doubter and that other girl something to think on. Why would you stop and have that conversation? Did you not hear the fear in her voice? Oh, I heard it. She’s been really upset for a couple days. Then I am doubly glad I stopped. No one at this time of year should ever doubt whether He loves us. She nodded and said she see me later. . . lol


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Glorifying God in our bodies . . .

     Tough week, eh? This has been one of those weeks, in preaching terms, that I hate. I thought I had a sermon by last Tuesday. But as the week went on, it was clear that I did not. What I had for a sermon was not where we were as a congregation. Oh, it was an ok sermon. It would have worked in a pinch or before Tuesday. But it would by no means have comforted or afflicted given the events this week. Thankfully, God is merciful, even when His pastors are watching their sons play with robots far away from commentaries and from home.

     As most of you know, Robbie’s Lego robot team qualified for the state championships. What many of you may not know was that it was Homecoming at school. This was one of those weeks where Karen and I had to divide and conquer. For reasons known only to them, which probably involve bad memories, bad hairdo’s at their father’s hands, and maybe a curling iron burn or three, the girls no longer allow me near their hair. That meant Karen needed to do their hair before the big dance. That means dad was heading to Ames with about 1000 other screaming and excited 5-8th graders for a day on the ISU campus by himself, and Karen was going to be stylist, mannacurist, therapist, and driver by herself (the drama at schools can be far worse than a soap opera). Needing a sermon was not a convenience. I had left my computer at home as I did not want to be lugging it around all day nor leaving it in the car with all the cold. I was literally stuck as I had to figure out what to preach.

     At least I was not alone. One of the other dads in the group is also a minister. Susan asked me early on Saturday if I was ready for church for today. I told her I was done with everything but the sermon. She laughed and said that Tim was in the same boat. After some gallows humor (sinking in the same boat and all that), she said she would tell Tim. Maybe he wouldn’t worry as much if he knew others were in the same boat. When Tim and I ended up near each other during one of the table phases, we ruefully laughed that we were sharing the same problem. Life at his church had been too hectic for solid sermon preparation. My problem, I shared, was that I had gotten one, but then I needed to cast it aside as it was not what my people needed to hear. Tim asked why and I explained. We shared that commiserating understanding. And then he asked about my old sermon, the one you are not getting. I told him about it briefly. He saw where I was going and joked that he was going to use it. I laughed that I was glad someone would as he walked away.

     I had intended to grab Robbie, just as Tim was grabbing his son, when the conversation began. Uh, excuse me. I am sorry to bother you. But are you two guys pastors? I admitted that we were. Did I hear you both right because it sounded like neither of you have a sermon for tomorrow? Well, I had one, but events conspired against me to force me to consider a new sermon. Why not go with the one that you have? You really want to know? Please. It would not afflicted those comfortable in my congregation, nor would it comfort those afflicted. What do you mean comfort and afflict? A sermon ought to give some measure of peace or comfort to those that are struggling in life, but it ought to give a bit of a wedgie to those who think that because everything is good in life, they are done growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Aren’t all Christians supposed to be happy about everything? No. Who in the world told you that? I thought that you believed that God controlled everything so you were supposed to be happy with whatever He sends you. I believe God redeems all things, but He does not send me evil. I think He weeps with us when loved ones die. I think He understands our fears and worries. We sure are not called to be happy about those things, but we are reminded to be hopeful. We are called to remember that He can take what is meant for evil and redeem it, even something as horrific as death. Everything? Everything.

     Then I asked him to share what was on his mind. He apologized. You are here to root someone on and I’m pestering you with questions. You’d think you were a doctor or something. Only of souls, I joked, and then he began to share. I won’t bore you with all the details. His mother was, for reasons unknown to him, clearly being punished by God yet still willing to worship Him. God had given her rheumatoid arthritis which made her hands gnarled and painful. She used to sew and nit when she was younger, but now it was far too painful. It hurt him to watch her eat, to flip pages while reading, even to put lotion on in the winter. And yet she still thinks God loves her. God had also given her a bad heart. When things in her body get out of whack, she swells up to the point that she looks like she is going to pop if someone sticks here with a pin. And she still thinks God loves her. She has the other normal aches and pains of a woman in her 80’s. Plus, she is kind of alone. All her real friends have died. Dad has been dead some number of years. Still she thinks that God loves her.

     What a testimony! What? You have just told me about a faithful woman who suffers in pain, who has outlived most whom she knew in her youth, and still she knows herself to be a beloved daughter of our Father in heaven. That is the peace which passes all understanding. It is beautiful to hear. Beautiful? Are you nuts?! It’s my mom and she is suffering terribly. And you’re no better. Your people have lost loved ones, people have been sick and in the ICU, there have been tragedies, and you are looking to comfort some and afflict others. What kind of nonsense is that? Gospel nonsense. Gospel nonsense? What do you mean?

I asked him if he went to church. He didn’t. I asked if he knew the Bible well. He claimed he did. I explained that the Gospel was a two-edged sword. For those who accepted Him as Lord and Savior, it was an amazing comfort. For those who rejected Him, it should cause many sleepless nights and ultimately, terror. Terror? How do you figure? I asked he knew the story of Samuel and Eli that we read this week. He didn’t. I explained how Samuel had been consecrated to God by his parents, how he was in training to be a priest, how Eli had been a bad father and bad priest, and then Samuel’s call. Once Samuel and Eli figured out what was going on, Samuel was given a word from the Lord. It was a word that would make the ears of all who heard it tingle. You see, God didn’t speak much or grant visions in those days. It wasn’t quite like the time between Micah and John the Baptist, but it was close.

Anyway, God tells Samuel He will be working powerfully. One of the first things He is going to is to punish Eli’s house. The old priest? Why? Because Eli’s sons have blasphemed God by taking the meat apportioned to God and using it for themselves. Whoa? That seems harsh. Really? What is the job of priests? To teach people about God? What are Eli’s sons teaching the people of Israel? Ah, I see your point. They should not have done that. But still, to kill the sons of a priest? When Samuel gets this word from God, God says that He has told Eli this will be the outcome. Why didn’t Eli do anything about it? Because he is, apparently a bad father and a bad priest. Why do you say that? What would you have done if you were Eli? I would have told my sons to stop. What if they did not cease? I would remove them as priests. He was their boss, right? It would be no different than my kids dealing poorly with my own customers at work. What if they still insisted on taking the meat and ignoring your discipline? That’s a toughie. I guess I would have to get the cops involved to save my business. But pretend you are dealing with God who has just told you that He is going to kill your sons. You know, the Bible claims God is merciful. Maybe I would ask to punish me. After all, I’m the dad. If they are not acting right, it’s kinda my fault, right? I’d have to agree with you. In fact, that is sort of how God works with and for us.  But understand, we are in the minority. What do you mean? Eli just says to let God do as seems good to Him. Most commentators proclaim that Eli has great faith by allowing God to make that judgment. What kind of a sick story is that? It is a Gospel story. Well, there’s nothing worth me knowing about it. I would disagree. How do you figure? You don’t know the story, but Samuel is faithful when questioned by Eli. Eventually, Samuel will be confirmed a prophet of God, meaning that God will not be silent for some time. Samuel will anoint both Saul and David as King. He will speak God’s wisdom and judgments to Israel. He hears what God is saying, responds to God’s word, and shares it as instructed. For him, that word of judgment is the beginning of his elevation. Eli rejected that same word. And looks what happens to him. Hmmmm.

     I still don’t see how this applies to my mom and her situation. It doesn’t. Then why did you tell me the damn story? Because I think you stand at a crossroads in life. You have a chance to be like Eli or to be like Samuel. How do you figure? I’m no prophet. I don’t even go to church. Well, it is true you are not a prophet right now, but who is to say what the future will bring. All of it, though, depends upon whether you are listening to His voice calling you through your mother. You are crazy. Am I? Look around. What? Look around. What do you see? A lot of people. How many? I dunno, three levels worth of parents and grandparents plus the kids down there. What do you think the odds were you would run into two ministers in this crowd? I don’t know, I never thought about it, really. Would you say it’s loud or quiet in here? Are you deaf, too? There’s a thousand screaming kids in here and it echoes. That being said, let’s qualify my first question. What are the odds you would find yourself next to two ministers and hear them talking about tomorrow’s sermon? I see what you mean? Do you? Because we were talking about something that interested you, the health of your mom and her faith. No you weren’t. You were talking about your deaths and ICU’s and about pornography. You sure? It’s a big crowd. I heard it clear as day. Did you?

     Those of you who know me probably can have the conversation in your heads. Too many of you and I have had this conversation over the past five or six weeks. We have been remarkably unhealthy. Five of us have been in the ICU. Each of those in the ICU have had to make a decision whether to continue the fight or to surrender to death. That the opportunity was before so many of you has been terrifying to many of your families, if not to you. Plus, we’ve had to deal with normal diseases. We’ve had to deal with the unique families and the pressures that come with them during the holidays. Now, as we begin to enter into the heart of winter, we are stricken with a couple deaths. True, one was not active in our church, but much of his extended family is. And in the case of the other, he and his wife have been active for more than a decade. Their hurt is our hurt. We try to be there in their grief. We try to support them. Some of us make meals, some of us lend a shoulder, some of are simply waiting to be asked.

     Many of us, though, no doubt share the same questions as my new anonymous friend from the Lego championships. With all this happening, how can we ever think we are loved by God? What kind of a sick joke are we being told? Yet into the midst of this hurt, into the midst of this pain, into the midst of this whirlwind of questions, God speaks. God speaks and we are comforted. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God . . . you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.

     Think on that statement for just a second. When you were baptized into the faith, the Holy Spirit entered into you and began that work of sanctification within you. Better still, now, as our bodies begin to age and break down, the Holy Spirit stays and claims our bodies still as His temple. He does not abandon us for “younger, more vibrant” abodes. He’s not looking for a better neighborhood. He stays. And He continues to keep His promise to redeem all things for His glory. You see, brothers and sisters, unless He comes again before our deaths, you and I will travel a road similar to Rick’s or to Tim’s. All of us will likely either be taken after a long battle or rather quickly, and our loved ones will have only the way we lived our lives to answer their questions about God and His love for us. How we bear the suffering and pain of this world will teach them the greatest lessons in life. If we face life certain of His redeeming power, what an amazing gift for our loved ones! Each one of us knows that this is not our home and that this is not our body that He has promised. Parts can fall off like an old Looney Toons cartoon character, but we can know with certainty that His love for us never changes. His journey to the cross and His death on a cross for our sake serve as incontrovertible proof of that love with which He held each one of us.

     Not only does He love us, though; He has been given the power and authority to do His Father’s will and redeem all things. you and I, as much as we love many of the people in our lives, cannot accomplish God's will for them in this life.  Yet, not even the chains of death could hold Him! Just as His willingness to hang on the cross and die testifies to us about His love for each one of us, His resurrection reminds us that He can, indeed, use whatever evil intended for His honor and glory.

     If you are like my new friend and, hopefully, my brother from this weekend, you may be wondering how can this broken body of mine be redeemed for His glory. As clear as day, hers was, right? This is a lady who suffers every moment of every day. Her husband and friends are dead. She can no longer do her hobbies. The pain ruins life as we know it. Yet, faithfully she has endeavored to do those things He has given her to do and always with a word of praise. Why does she suffer so? One thing is for sure, He is using her suffering to reach her son. But isn’t that often the way He works? How often in Scripture does God use suffering to accomplish great things for His name. Sometimes, that plays out before a larger audience, as when Pope John Paul was suffering from Parkinson’s and dying gracefully as the family of the lady in FL was fighting to get her permission to die. One seemed to see death as just the next part of a journey with God, another opportunity to trust in His covenanted mercies. Another seemed more concerned with exerting control.

     Similarly, this mother’s suffering has been a powerful testimony to her son. Though none of us might blame her were she to curse God and His seeming focus away from her, she knows that He loves her. She knows because He died for her. She believes Him because He was raised from the dead. Thus, she faces the pain and hurts of life with a calmness, a peace, which has caused her unchurched son to take noticed. Then, at a loud conference, he chances upon two clergy complaining about the need for a sermon. In the middle of that cacophony he hears their discussion clearly and is provoked to ask. And for nearly 30 minutes, he sits and hears this week’s lessons and finds himself placed in the salvation story of God with a decision to make.  Better still, this anonymous saint has given us a blessing (especially your priest).  Will He follow Christ and trust Him to accomplish all things in him, or will He reject Christ and forge his own way?

     Brothers and sisters, that is how our Lord works. He takes our sufferings and turns them into opportunities to reach others for His glory. My ministry this past month or so has not only been to sick and ailing parishioners. No, indeed. I have been asked to anoint strangers, to give the Eucharist to those who do not know us, and to share our faith by people who have watched you suffer, people who have watched you suffer and still cling fast to your hope in Christ. They want what they see in you. Whether you realized it or not, you have preached sermons to others, to doctors, to nurses, to other patients, to family members. Brothers and sisters, you were bought at a terrible cost to Christ, his flesh and blood. No matter how broken down, no matter how ratty looking, no matter how unhappy you are with it, He knows it is His temple. He chooses to remain in it, just as He chose to remain on that cross. And He has promised that whatever we suffer, He will redeem, even the very failure of these clay vessels. So what are you waiting for? Glorify God in your body.

Christ Peace,


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2012

     What will you be doing to mark the occasion of ‘National Human Trafficking Awareness Day’? My answers were pretty simple. I was pretty sure that Sue would be going out to the Truck Stop to minister with Jane watching over her. We would be feeding the hungry in Davenport at the Churches United Community Meal (a ministry founded by three ladies (two of whom were from St. Alban’s) nearly five decades ago). The choir would be practicing. There would be no Eucharist, as the Community Meal just makes that a little too hard on the schedule. I would be working on my notes for Bible Study during the day and teaching a class at night. In between, my daughter has a game at Davenport West, my sons have their last basketball practice, and Robbie has his last Lego Robot practice before we head to the state competition on Friday. As my wife and friends said, “it’ll be a normal Wednesday.”

     The phone calls have reminded me that it is anything but normal. Both Christian and secular press from around the country have called to ask questions and to ask if I would cooperate for their stories. All have deadlines, but some of us have to deal with life and death. I asked one gentleman to call back after receiving a call about a 45 year old father of two who passed away suddenly this morning of a massive heart attack. I am sensitive to the needs of the press, particularly in the fight against slavery, but I try to be first and foremost a pastor to those whom the Lord has given into my care. An extended family is dealing with the shock of suddenness of death; a parish family is, once again, rallying at the grave to sing their alleluias and to mourn with their brothers and sisters who have lost a loved one; and Wednesday is still going on around here.

     The calls and questions have forced me to reflect a bit, however. There have been lots of lessons learned. There have been new friends made. No doubt we have made some enemies, particularly among those members of Congress who are either too lazy, too worried about the next election cycle, or simply uninterested since abolitionists cannot line their pockets with campaign dollars. And we have encountered brothers and sisters engaged in this fight all around the world. How will I mark the day?

     I am not sure. I think this day will be better remembered at some point in the future. For me personally, this day is like nearly every day for the last year. People other than me will be going out. Conversations will occur, people will be seen, perhaps a meal will be shared, and maybe a life story or three will be told. But the sun will come up tomorrow (unless we get our first snow of the season like they are now predicting, or our Lord returns), and there will be a need for more conversation, more sharing, and, hopefully, more freeing. Awareness is nice. It gets people noticed. It makes people pay attention to a problem that for so many years has been hidden in plain sight. But there is still so much work to be done. Until those 27—41 million people enslaved have been freed, our work as Christians to proclaim release to the captives is not over. I think it likely, human nature being as sinful as it is, that just as there will always be hungry among us there will always be slaves and slavers around us until He returns and finishes what we have started. But something has clearly begun. From Atlanta to the Northwest, from LA to the NE metropolis, people are being drawn into this fight. Five years ago, I would have doubted the existence of slavery in our midst. Today, I am painfully aware of its presence and its cost. As my bishop and I commiserated yesterday, it is hard not to see now and to wonder: is it here, too?

     There are faces and images that will likely invade my thoughts until I die. Haunting is not the right word because I am at peace that I did everything I could. But I will go to my grave wondering what happened to Karen the prostitute, to the “I’m just a piece of meat to them “truck driver,” to the Bondslaves of Christ, to the runaways (to be fair, I owe them a beer when we get to the feast!), and to any number of people with whom I spoke the previous three years. There are others who have met Sue and Robin whose faces I do not know, but whose stories we all do at St. Alban's. Until the past few months, we have wondered whether we were crazy or obedient to try and do this. Now, we’re pretty certain we are both. But reporters’ questions and other laborers’ promptings have forced me to reflect, to give thanks, and to take heart.

     I say that we might look back upon this day in the future because, it seems to me, the wider world is taking more notice. Until recently, a $300 Billion industry has been built right under our very noses. We chose to be blind to its presence, choosing the benefits of their enslavement (cheaper goods) to our obligation and promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Even secular Americans supposedly believe in liberty for all.  Though slavery ranks up there in organized criminal activities with illegal guns and drugs, we never really heard about it – until now. Though there are likely more slaves around the world today than have existed cumulatively in world history, we are only now becoming aware of the scope of the problem, and of God’s amazing hand raised against it. When I first approached my Vestry more than four years ago and asked for permission to start a new ministry with their backing (yes, we try to discern calls in community here at St. Alban's), neither they nor I had any idea what we were getting into. It seemed silly to us that there might be slaves being traded or used in Iowa. Now, after several successful and failed prosecutions, after listening to the slavery uncovered in Postville, and after encountering for ourselves we know better. The scales have been torn from our eyes, and we see.

     We see the need. We see the lack. And we see His provision in the midst. Had I not, in a moment of frustration and pique, insisted upon this ministry or had the Vestry said no, who knows what would have been in store for us? Looking back, though, we can all see clearly the fruits of obedience. The Episcopal Church Foundation has made it possible for us to continue our ministry together at St. Alban’s. Looking back, we can all see clearly that we quit focusing upon our lacks and started paying closer to His mercy and His gifts. And now our wider church upholds those to whom I minister as among those who really try to be faithful to their baptismal vows and who are willing to grasp their inheritance in this world for the sake of others and His honor and glory.

     Better still, I am now aware of many activities around the country. I am thinking, as I listen to voices in the Church and even to reporters questioning me, that I should probably begin to do a better job of highlighting and praising them for their labors. God is doing amazing things in Atlanta, in New York, in Newark, in Las Vegas, and everywhere else these activities are coming to light. Individual men and women, and brave and determined law enforcement officials, have exposed incredibly complex and profitable rings. We give thanks to God for their bravery and determination and their willingness to share stories of success and stories of failure.

     But He has been no less active in Davenport. What I call “Great Commission Christians” have been raised up out of many different denominations in our fight. Some are local, such as the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics, some are from more distant lands, such as New Hope Anglican Church in this faraway land called Connecticut, some are individuals (we salute you Captain ; ) and give thanks to your provision those in the Chicagoland area). Some have the ears of the powerful, and some are so weak they are beneath the notice of those who rail against God. Some have been and are important in the church; the influence of others has been in areas outside the Church. Some, particularly those who contacted their senators and representatives last year when we were fighting to get the TVPRA passed, are as yet anonymous to me, known only to our Lord; some, I celebrate life’s joys with and mourn life’s sadness with week in and week out. Only God can take such a disperate group of people from around the country and bring them togther to fight evil in His name so effectively.  Each person invloved, whether known by name or church or organization, has enriched our ministry through whatever means given them by God, and each, I hope, will one earn that “Well done, good and faithful servant” blessing that so many of us long to hear, for their work and effort to proclaim release to the captives.

     How will I remember this day? I think, one day in the future, I will look back and say “that was the day when it became obvious to me that the sleeper had awakened.” People who had never before called me began asking all kinds of questions. I have no doubt that there will be great successes and horrible failures in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead as this fight continues. But now, the fight has reached the consciousness of so many Americans. I think a tipping point has been reached because so few are willing to stand by and do nothing once they learn of the problem. With political staffers, I have compared this fight to our country’s effort to eliminate child abuse and spouse abuse. None of us knew the scope of the problem when those pioneers in the fight against those societal blights began to educate us. To be sure, way more funds went to education and awareness than to rescuing those beaten kids or mostly women only a couple decades ago. And if we thought it possible that such heinous activities existed, we were equally certain and adamant that such goings on happened elsewhere, not in our own communities. Now, however, there is very little need to educate or make aware. Everyone is on the lookout. Perhaps, in the months and years ahead, this day will signify the day that the American and worldwide consciousness awoke to the presence of slaves in our midst and determined to eliminate it once and for all. Who knows? Maybe the publicity will even cause a slaver to reflect upon what he or she is doing and to repent, causing the rejoicing in heaven that only the heartfelt repentance of a sinner can bring.

     What can you do to help? That is up to you and your heart. For those financially able, we can always use funds. Meals cost money, and they remain the way for us to begin conversations. Shelters and therapists also have some cost.  If you are of a mind to educate and make aware those in your circle of friends, you can even buy a shirt or two, to help raise the awareness of the problem. Nothing makes a workout go faster than a conversation in a gym or on a bike trail. We always covet prayers. And, if you are more of a doer, you are welcome to look for slaves in your midst and join us shoulder to shoulder in the fight against this evil. Such work may involve educating those in your community, teaching a John’s class, developing protocols for health care or law enforcement professions, running a shelter, employing the recently freed, counseling those who have been rescued, distributing cards with information to prostitutes, and the list goes on and on. And everyone can continue to lobby Congress . . .

     The William Wilberforce Trafficked Victims’ Protection Reauthorization Act lapsed in September. Activities which had been declared crimes are no longer, much to this nation’s shame; and what little federal funding that helped is gone. For four months, the bill has been like that bill from ABC’s School House Rock, waiting patiently to become a law. Neither Senator Harry Reid (D- NV) in the Senate nor Speaker John Boehner (R- OH) in the House have seen fit to bring this legislation to a vote. Such is not surprising given the level of apathy in both houses of Congress when it comes to the question of slavery. You can help the legislative process by encouraging your senators and your representatives to quit sitting idly and grandstanding in public about other issues and to pass the TVPRA! And if you happen to live in NV or OH, your voice carries that much more weight in this fight. You hold the power of the ballot box, and your elected officials always remember that, more so in election years.

     How will I mark this day? Ask me in a few years’ time. For now, it’s Wednesday. Death is stalking, and we have an empty tomb to proclaim and a glorious inheritance to share!
Christ’s Peace,

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Youth on the babe . . .

     Our reading this Epiphany comes from Matthew’s account of the three wise men and their journey to see the babe lying in a manger. Instead of a GPS system, they depended upon a star to guide them to where the babe was to be found. It is a curious way to travel, is it not? Any way, I guess the star quit moving for a time. Maybe God wanted Herod and the Temple elite to know He was moving in the world again (he had been silent in the time between Micah and John the Baptizer). Maybe the wise men were just confused, expecting to see the child portended in the skies living in a nice palace. No matter the reason, they recognize that they have come to the place that should recognize the baby Jesus best. So they ask a simple question, “Where is the child born king of the Jews?”

     Predictably, everyone is upset. Herod thinks there is somebody trying to steal his throne. Probably the Temple leaders were worried that a civil war was looming which would cause Rome to crack down, once again. Roman crackdowns were never a good thing.  So they go looking for the prophesy of Jesus’ birth in what you and I call the Old Testament. It is there that they discover the significance of the town of Bethlehem in God’s plan. Amazingly, when the magi hear this and set out for Bethlehem, the star continued ahead of them, stopping once it was over the place where the child was.

     Now, when they entered the place where Jesus and Mary were, they were overcome with joy, knealt down, worshipped Him, and gave Him gifts. That’s part of the reason we give and receive gifts a Christmas. Does anybody remember what the magi gave Jesus and Mary? Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Anybody know what those gifts represent? Well, only kings and the very rich ever saw gold in those days. So by giving Jesus gold, they acknowledge that He is a king. Why do we sometimes use incense when we worship? Yes, it makes the church smell better, but the smoke also reminds us that our prayers should be rising continually to God. Who swings the incense? That’s right, the acolyte and the priest. In a way, the frankincense teaches us that the magi understood Jesus to be a priest. Here’s the toughest question: what is myrrh? That’s right, it is a perfume. When is it used? Well, when people die, their bodies start to decay. Does everyone understand the word decay? Well, with that decay come some bad smells. Has anyone ever heard of the phrase “the stink of death”? Myrrh gets rid of that stink and replaces it with a pleasant aroma. Can we think of why death might be important in Jesus’ ministry here on earth? That’s right. He will die for us on Good Friday. So the magi understood Jesus to be a Savior. King, Priest, and Savior – these magi must be pretty smart to have all that figured out, huh?

     Well, if we were bringing gifts to Jesus today, what do you think they might look like? I brought some presents to see if they might work and get your opinion. Here, you open the first one. What is it? A heart. Why is a heart important? Yes, it pumps blood. Why does it signify? Love. Do you think love is important to Jesus? How do we know? That’s true, He loved us enough to die for us, even when we did not know or love Him. Can we wrap up love and keep it in a present or box? No? Then how do we best show love? That’s right, by loving God and loving people we meet, and worshipping Him and serving them in His name.

      You open the second box. What is in there? Praying hands. I wonder what they are most like? The frankincense? Why do you say that? True, praying hands are praying. Yes, we do that in church or in home. And what do we call our work? Anybody remember the word liturgy? What does it mean? How about the work of the people? So maybe the praying hands are to remind us that we are supposed to be worshipping and praying all the time--that's your and my work.

     You open the last gift. What is it? A cloth. Yes, that’s true. But what kind of cloth? It’s called a handkerchief. Anyone here know what a handkerchief is for? Yes, blowing your nose. When are they used? Right, when someone is sick or someone is upset. That’s true, to stop the spread of germs, we should not share handkerchiefs. But we should give them to people when they are sad and crying, right? Well, of course, only if we are carrying them. If I said the word compassionate, would anyone know what it means? That’s right, we feel sorry for people who are hurting and we try to help them, either by doing things for them or by reminding them that God loves them if we can’t do things for them. What’s another word for that helping? That’s right, ministry. So what do you think? Would Jesus like these gifts? Do you think He likes them only on this day, but on every day? Do you think maybe we can all try to remember to give these gifts to Him every day? That’s right, it can be our resolution. We adults might say it’s part of our Covenant with Him. Thank you all for your help today.



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What's in a name . . . ?

     By virtue of the way calendars work and by vice of how hard we like to party on New Year’s Eve, The Feast of The Holy Name of our Lord Jesus Christ is often overlooked. How many of us wake up around noon on New Year’s Day with a throbbing headache thinking “Darn it! I overslept going to church today?” It probably does not help us that our liturgical calendar seemingly conspires to diminish its significance by sandwiching the day between Christmas and Epiphany, with the Feast day of Stephen and John and the Holy Innocents tossed in for good measure. Fortunately, this year, the day coincides with a Sunday, so more people will tend to be in church reminding themselves of the story and its importance to us.

     Our Gospel lesson from Luke is very short. There is no talk of Simeon’s or Anna’s joy at beholding the babe. We are told simply that the shepherds responded to the angel’s declaration by going to see the baby, that Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day, in keeping the torah (Lev. 12:3; Gen 17:11-12), and that he was officially named. No fancy speeches, no amazing sights, if one remembers that the angels have departed by the beginning of our reading.

     As the father of seven children and the pastor of those who sometimes have children of their own, I can tell you that the naming of a child is an interesting experience. Sure, for Karen and me, the first few were easy. I liked Elizabeth, she liked Sarah. I liked Nathan, she liked James. They mashed together right nicely. Unfortunately, that left us with five more sets of names to come up with! You all know the pressure. What names do we choose? If we choose one family name, do we offend others in the family? Is the name easy to make fun of? We have to worry about teasing, right? Is the alliteration hokey? Do we someone with the same name that makes it impossible to use that name (Timothy is out in my family for a couple generations, I figure)?  And who among us does not shake their heads when a “celebrity” names their child uniquely or, as I saw in the papers a couple weeks ago, someone chooses a horrible name like Hitler? Then there is the question of meaning. Does the meaning sound like something we want a child to become? It is a tough decision.

     We may think that Mary and Joseph had it easier. After all, God had already declared that His Son’s name would be Jesus. But, should they not have named Him after a favorite uncle or father in the family? But, inexplicably to the extended family, they choose the name Jesus, God saves. Can you imagine the shock and horror? You’re going to call my grandson, my nephew, my whatever, God saves? Are you out of your mind? What kind of a name is that? What kind of pressure are you placing on him, poor thing? But Mary and Joseph are obedient to God’s instruction, just as they try to be obedient to God in all things in their lives. The woman who said “Let it be done with me as according to your word” and the man who “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him,” unsurprisingly, obey God once more, well twice really. They take Jesus to the synagogue to be circumcised in accordance with the torah and they name the babe Jesus.

     With one fell swoop, think of how the distance between God and humanity was closed. Prior to John the Baptizer’s appearance, God had been silent since the days of Micah. His revealed names, Yahweh, Elohim, and even Jehovah were more descriptive titles than actual names. But in one fell swoop, God bridges the gulf. Prior to this point in history, much of the attention has been, rightly so, on God’s otherness, His holiness, and His transcendence. It is, perhaps, no wonder that the Temple leadership focused on appearances rather than hearts because it was hard for them to conceive of His heart, His caring. But in a simple name, much of God’s plan is revealed. God saves. He does. All of Scripture reminds us of that simple truth. Now, the name of the Incarnation will remind us as well. Every time we read a story about Jesus, we should be reminding ourselves that God saves.

     But names also close distances. Names connote a bit of familiarity. Titles remind us of jobs and hierarchies. Names remind us that the other is a person as well. Titles focus us on responsibilities and offices. Names relate us. “Brian” implies a different relationship between you and me than does “Father,” just as “bishop” and “Alan” imply a different relationship between us and him as well. To be sure, there are times when we need to remind ourselves of titles and positions, but there are also times when you and I must be reminded that the "other" is simply human like ourselves.  And in this one instance we read about today, none other than the maker of heaven and earth is taking a name for Himself, God saves. No more are we to think of Him as some force or power or officeholder sitting out there impersonally, sight unseen; rather, we are called to remember His glorious name, God saves, and His desire to meet each and every one of us, His desire to be known by us intimately, to the glory of the Father. In a simple name, God saves, we are reminded of the purposes of God and His intention. No more will we be left to flounder in silence. Instead, we will be encouraged to call upon Him by name, and know that He hears us, as a God and as a human, who this day has shed blood for the first time in His efforts to walk in the love that leads to Calvary for all our sakes.

Christ Peace,