Lazarus and the Rich Man

The sermon for our midweek service yesterday was about the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  One interesting fact about this is that it is the only parable where Jesus gives a name to a person in the story.

After Jesus had stated that it was not possible for a man to serve God and mammon, the Pharisees ridiculed him.  They tended to be rather wealthy themselves and saw their prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing.  Suggesting otherwise made them angry.

Jesus responded with this story.  The way we know the rich man was rich was because it said he ate lavishly.  In the era before gourmet groceries, that meant that he had enough land to grow his food, pasture his animals, and had the workers to work the land.

Lots can be said about the story but what is interesting is that the rich man had no compunction about suggesting that Lazarus should serve his bidding even in Hell.  He wanted Lazarus to go tell his brothers that they needed to change their ways.  Abraham responded that the brothers had the Law and the Prophets, and even should a man rise from the dead, they would not believe.

This ended up being true.  Jesus had a real friend named Lazarus.  Lazarus died, and Jesus raised him from the dead.  The Pharisees, rather than seeing this as a sign that Jesus was the Messiah and they should worship Him, instead began to plot to kill him.  Jesus knew what would happen.  He chose to name the suffering man Lazarus to point ahead to what was coming.  And Jesus was right.  The rich Pharisees did not believe even when a man who had clearly been dead was standing, walking, talking, and dining with them.  He couldn’t have spelled things out more clearly.

And when they did succeed in killing Jesus, and He rose again on the third day, they also refused to put their trust in Him and confess Him as the Messiah.  They also saw many come back to life after Jesus was crucified.  So they were surrounded with the very sign that Jesus pointed to in the parable, and as He said, they still refused to believe.

Going Through the Motions

A common criticism of the liturgy is that it is so easy to brainlessly go through the service without even thinking about what is coming out of one’s mouth. To that, I have to say — Yes.  Absolutely.  I completely agree.

And I don’t have to go through a tirade to say that it is entirely possible to go through a relatively well-done contemporary service without thinking about what is being said or done as well.  But that’s not what I want to debate.  I don’t really want to debate at all.  I simply believe the liturgy is a better way to “do” church.  Here’s why.

The key principle behind the liturgy is the concept of “The Divine Service.”  That simply means “church,” right?  No.  The Divine Service is a description of what really goes on in church.  We tend to think of worship as what we do for God.  We haul our butts to church because it is our obligation to give Him praise.

The Divine Service means something completely different.  When we come to church, God comes to us and He feeds us.  He feeds us with His Word.  He feeds us with Holy Communion.  He gives us what we need to nourish our soul and to help us get through another week of encountering the sinful world in which we are pilgrimaging (pilgriming?  Spellcheck disagrees with both).  Liturgy does this best because it isn’t my words…my stupid attempts to sound impressive; it isn’t some other schmo’s words, with or without a theological degree.  If you’ve ever looked at the liturgy, just about every word said is from the Bible.  The few that aren’t are generally from traditions established very soon after.  And also, the words being used, the progression being followed are how the Church (capital C) has been worshiping God since ancient times and still does around the world in many different languages, every day.

And yes.  I can totally space off while doing it, and so can you.  But there are ways to improve that, because one reason we grow bored is that we are doing it wrong.  There are things that can make it so much better.

1.  Memorize it.  Seriously, if you’ve been doing it most of your life, it shouldn’t be all that hard.  There may be little spots that you need to really work on, but you probably know a lot of it.  The printing press is relatively young.  That means that it was at least 1500 years before the liturgy was put into hymn books for everyone in the pew, and probably a few hundred more, but I am completely guessing.  If you consider that elements of the Christian liturgy came from the Jewish liturgy, then considerably longer.  Before whatever time it showed up in hymnals, the illiterate and literate alike knew it by heart.

Notice that phrase — “by heart.”  Memorizing something that you use frequently makes it your own.  It frees up your eyes to gather in all that is around you and your brain no longer has to concentrate on taking those words on the page and sending them to your mouth.  Your brain is actually more free to think about the beautiful words being said to the Lord.

I stumbled upon this experience when I was pregnant with my first.  I realized that, as a pastor’s wife, I would probably get more than my fair share of trying to hold a wriggly baby AND a hymnal, so I decided to memorize it.  It made a HUGE difference in my ability to focus on what I was saying and what was being said.  Because my eyes weren’t in a book, I could see that I was there in communion with the whole congregation as well as the whole Church (capital C) on earth and in heaven.  Whoa.

Most Christians who gripe about the liturgy are still big on Bible verse memorization.  I had a friend who estimated that because she had about 3 or 4 liturgies memorized (i.e. Divine Service, Matins, Vespers), she probably knew over 750 Bible verses that she turned to quite frequently to bring her comfort.  The Lutheran church in Russia credits their survival through the Communist era with the fact that they had the liturgy memorized.  When the government took their Bibles and their hymnals, they still had the liturgy and could teach their children and grandchildren.

2.  Study it.  Almost every part of the liturgy has a specific purpose, it follows a pattern.  The Lutheran Service Book, an exemplary hymnal, actually puts the Bible verses along side so you can look them up.

We start with an invocation, because the only reason we can be there in God’s presence is because of our baptism, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We claim our rights as sons to be in the court of the King, right there, with those words.  Then, we confess our sins and receive absolution.  Our sinfulness proclaimed, and our sins forgiven by God’s undershepherd.  Only after our sins are removed from us can we rejoice with the Hymn of Praise (or Greater Gloria).  Then, we hear God’s Word, we confess our faith in the Creed, and it all culminates in the Lord’s Supper. After that, we are dismissed to go into the World.

Study the liturgy– the deeper you go, the richer it gets, and the more you know what is happening and why.  God giving us the very words we use to encounter Him and praise Him.  How can we do better?

3.  Participate.  What people dislike about the liturgy is that they don’t feel like they are participating in it.  In a contemporary service, the songs are easier to sing.  Because they are repetitive, we can start singing them without reading them, so that leaves that part of our brain free to feel and contemplate what is going on…wait a minute, this is sounding familiar.  See #1.

Particularly if you are not your average Lutheran trying to do a contemporary service, you are probably standing, maybe moving side to side, and you might even have one or two hands raised, either sending up your prayers to heaven, or in a posture to receive God’s gifts.  You are more fully involved in the service.  Liturgical people often refer to this type of worship as “entertainment driven.”  I don’t think it is so much entertainment driven as much as participation driven.  We want to be a part of it.

If you are your average Lutheran going through a contemporary service, you are probably still sitting, still reading it from a page, and still not particularly absorbing what you are singing or saying.

Most of the time, in liturgical worship, the pastor is gesturing to heaven, gesturing to you, praying, holding up his hands, etc.  He knows the liturgy and he gets to do stuff.  We are sitting there, holding our hymnals reading aloud words that aren’t ours that we aren’t thinking about.  I admit — that’s a challenge for someone in our ADHD culture (which most definitely includes me).  Since, as I said before, reading the liturgy aloud is relatively new, I would suggest it is difficult for most people.

A few years ago, I started attending Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne.  For those of you that don’t know, Redeemer has the well-earned reputation of being  one of the highest of the High Church congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  Liturgical churches can be divided into High Church and Low Church.  Things that fall under the category of High Church are as follows:  chanting, chasubles, using a chalice instead of (only) individual cups, processional crosses, incense, observing High Feasts, genuflecting, kneeling, ornate paraments and vestments, etc.  The more of these things a service has, the Higher it is.  A Low Church service might have a couple of these things.  Redeemer has all of it and then some, because they love it.  They find richness in these observances.  Both High Church and Low Church are good (for the sake of self-disclosure, I myself like somewhere in the middle)

But I learned a lot from the High Church service.  What is  truly different about a really High Church service — the congregation has stuff to do, besides stuff that they read.   As someone who used to attend a contemporary church long ago, what really hit me was that there are actions that the congregations does.  I realized that I had missed my body being involved, and here, in the most surprising of places, I found a similarity.

In Redeemer’s services, many choose to hold their hands in the “praying hands” position — this is so much harder than the fingers entwined posture or standing there with my hands in my pockets or holding my hymnal.  The concentration on maintaining that position makes it so much more devotional.  It also can’t be maintained with a hymnal in hand, so I had to listen and concentrate on the liturgy.  I already knew it, thankfully, but anyone there would’ve been able to listen and learn.  598c99c9052e365ed8237a66397756ff

When the body assumes a position, it sets a mood and mindset.  C.S. Lewis writes, in the voice of his demon Screwtape,  “At the very least, they [Christians] can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls.”

Whatever their bodies do affects their souls.

Other places where congregants participate in the service: When the pastor says “The Lord be with you” and extends his hands toward us, we also gesture toward him when we say “And with thy Spirit.” Also, we bow whenever we encounter mystery:  any time the Gloria Patri is said (“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), when the incarnation is referred to in the Nicene Creed, and when the Words of Institution are proclaimed, (the Real Presence — Christ there — in, with, and under the bread and wine).  There are many times that we cross ourselves (I like this article on that).

All of a sudden, when I had stuff to do, I was so much more aware of what was going on in the liturgy at every single moment.

These traditions are old.  Most of the congregations that observe these practices do so  based on a deep knowledge of liturgical practice history (and not everyone does all of this in the service, only some people choose to, because it is an issue of Christian freedom).

The liturgy is such a rich part of our Christian heritage.  It ties us to our past, to the present, and to eternity.  It reaches out and permeates Western culture.  The Kyrie (“Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy”) shows up in more songs than any other phrase (I learned this fascinating fact from Kasey Kasem, back in high school when Mister Mister’s “Kyrie” was in the Top 40.  You remember:

Kyrie Eleison down the road that I must travel, Kyrie Eleison through the darkness in the night….  

If the liturgy has lasted so long, if the Christian Church has seen fit to use it for thousands of years and only now, in the last 50 or so years are we saying that it is completely inadequate, then I think we need to look at ourselves rather than the liturgy.  Sure we are sinners and not being able to pay attention shows that we are sinful.  But we are doing it wrong, too.  We are more passive than Christians have ever been since the days that it was proclaimed in Latin so the people couldn’t understand it.  We are generally doing less than even going through the motions.  Going through the motions actually helps.

Become a true participant in the liturgy and see.  Make it your own, not just words on a book.  The liturgy has been handed down and added to throughout the generations and continues to be a living thing.  That is so much better than any service that any one man, one worship committee, one praise band, or even one publishing house can put together.  And then only one congregation is participating in that one service.  Once.  Ever.

Whoa.

The Purpose of Marriage

wedding_4_content

In the debates raging about how marriage should be defined, the argument tends to break into two camps — Procreation vs. Revisionist.  Christians and those arguing for Natural Law often argue that marriage is a legal entity that exists for the procreation and protection of children.  Revisionists put the emphasis on affection, the sexual relationship, and the choice to join lives together –whether children can be created from that relationship or not.

While Natural Law has many valid arguments to contribute to this issue — such as the fact that every society has established and recognizes marriage between a man and a woman and in every culture, –I really don’t want to focus on that angle.  There are others who can address that better than me.  I’m a woman and a wife.

This article by Dr. Abigail Rine, “What is Marriage to Evangelical Millenials?” describes a professor’s experience in teaching college students on the subject of the different perspectives of marriage.  She describes how strongly they struggle with a reading assignment she uses in her class that puts forward the procreationist view.  This is the reading assignment:  “What is Marriage?”

I have to admit, I reacted in much the same way.  At first, I thought it was because I am a Gen X’er, and I was raised with romance, sex, education, and career in an age where birth control had already separated marriage from procreation.  But I don’t think that is why.

First let me say this — When God made all creatures, He made them male and female.  When God made a perfect mate for Adam, before the world had fallen, He created a woman.  For Christians, that resolves the homosexuality issue right there.  God made woman for man and man for woman.  If a person is attracted to the same sex, it is a desire that has gone wrong as so many things in this world have.  A person dealing with this deserves the truth. They deserve compassion.  And should they recognize this, they deserve our love and support in this struggle against these desires.

But I don’t think that marriage is solely about procreation.  I don’t even think that is the primary reason for it.  Yes, I know that God said “Be fruitful and multiply.”  But before He said that, He said “It is not good for man to be alone.”  And Adam said “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”  Eve was made as a helpmeet for Adam.

Reading through the article assigned for Dr. Rine’s class,  “What is Marriage?” I cringe at the language, because it is not the language of Scripture.  When I look through the Bible, when God addresses marriage, He doesn’t use the children as reasons for the marriage — they are a result and a blessing of it.  God focuses on the relationship between husband and wife.

We see this in the beautiful, passionate poetry of the Song of Solomon.  We also see it in the encouragement to “rejoice in the wife of your youth..be exhilarated always with her love.” (Proverbs 5:19)  There are so many examples of in the Old Testament and New of God using marriage to describe His relationship with His chosen people.  Of course it is there in the teachings of Paul and Peter — who charge husbands and wives to submit to each other, wives to look to their husbands as to Christ (and yes, obey would fall into that), and husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for her.

There are also examples where it goes wrong — whether or not a letter of divorce should be permitted and when (abandonment — physical and sexual, and adultery).  There is not a polygamous relationship in the Bible that is happy — Rachel and Leah, Sarah and Hagar, Hannah and Penninah all show how miserable it is for a woman to be insecure in her status in her husband’s heart.  And what about Hosea, whose marriage was a living illustration of the pain that God feels when His bride, the Children of Israel, seek after other gods?

Marriage is a relationship that God has created to show His love to both husband and wife — and through them, to the children.  If husband and wife take their vows seriously, and realize that they are charged to love, honor, and cherish each other (or any variation on that) with everything they have, even when they don’t feel it — the children will be blessed.  When they don’t, the children will be hurt.

I have read a lot of classical literature from ancient to modern and I have lived in cultures that come to marriage differently than we do, and value children much more highly than we do —  the true universal fear is an affectionless marriage (or worse, one full of hate).  Even in marriages where the couple has never met before the wedding, the perspective tends to be that if both behave well toward each other, love will come, or at least affection and respect.  Examples of rich marriages and painful marriages are present in the literature of the Ancient Greeks as well as the writings of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, or Tolstoy.  Ignoring the need human beings have for intimate affection turns the procreation argument into just as much of a cold argument as an argument for marriage as a means of economic or diplomatic alliance.  No one wants to be a commodity.

I think we lost the final battle for marriage when I was a child, when society finally decided that it was NOT better to stay together for the sake of the children (which research actually contradicts).  But this was an anemic battle, the last sputterings of a war already lost when people stopped honoring their vows and stopped trusting God to sustain their marriages.  To say that it is wrong for children to stay in a loveless marriage ignores the fact that it is the chief responsibility of any married couple to make sure that it does not become a loveless marriage.  If it is loveless, it is not something that just happened.  Trust was violated and husbands and wives did not treat each other with the love and respect that they promised in their vows.  That can and should be repaired, not abandoned. That’s the “for better or worse” we vowed to endure for each other.

At the beginning of a marriage, we stand before an authority and witnesses and we pledge to love, honor, cherish each other.  If it was a Christian wedding, we also heard proclaimed that God made the couple one, and that no one, not even the couple, should break it apart.  He promises to give us the strength to sustain it and forgiveness when we constantly and daily fail.  We lost the marriage battle when promises no longer meant anything because we were hurt, angry, tired, numb, bored, or stupid.

Because God created marriage to meet so many human needs, the strict procreation argument seems cold and dehumanizing. It takes one aspect of a very complex relationship between two very complex human beings and makes it everything.  God created man and woman for each other and to meet each other’s needs in many different ways.  The way that a man and a woman interact with each other in the raising of children is one of those ways, a very blessed and important way, but one way.

The core of this argument probably only applies to Christians because it focuses on why were were made by God.  The only thing that applies to the world in general is the purpose of marriage, and the fact that two people made a promise that they promise not to break.  Marriage between a man and a woman, in which children are raised, is the fabric of any society and always has been, and the government does have a vested interest in protecting this; but in an age where truths are not self-evident, others have to address that issue outside of Christianity.  I am woefully inadequate to imagine sustaining a marriage without Christ.

Third Culture Kids — Why TCKs Often Have Unresolved Grief

“The reality is that with every transition, there is loss even when there is ultimate gain. No matter how much we anticipate the future as good, we almost always leave something of value behind as well. In loss, there is grief. An important thing to remember is that grief during transition is not a negation of the past. It is actually an affirmation of where we have been, geographically or relationally, because we do not grieve for things or people we don’t love. The more we have loved, the deeper the sense of loss. Grief doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t move ahead to the new or that the next stage won’t be great. It simply means that leaving things we have enjoyed—the people and places we have loved, the stages of life that have been good—is hard.”   -David C. Pollack   Third Culture Kids

Why I Don’t Iron

For the first time in 18 years, I ironed a shirt for my son, partly to start teacironhing him how to do it, and mostly because he has a college interview tomorrow.

So then, for the first time in eighteen years as well (maybe one or two other times…maybe),  I looked at my husband’s shirt that he is wearing tomorrow, and I thought, “Wow, that really needs ironed.”

Careers and Men

2d33ed3ffb42ebb2df954cbb14b6353aWow, at face value, this sounds so true, right?  A guy can turn his back on you.  He can die.  He can cheat on you.  He can just be a jerk.  Why put your trust in a guy.   A career — a career you can cater toward you.  A career allows you to support yourself.  A career can be shaped toward your interests.

But a career…it won’t tell you it loves you. The right one won’t spend the rest of it’s life with you, raise children with you.  Won’t be there when you get fired, when the economy no longer supports your choices, (and in the case of a celebrity) a man you love will be there when other people are no longer interested in giving you attention or appreciate your work.

Honestly, if you pick a man with strong faith in Christ, with a good heart, with a sense of commitment and honor — your chances are a lot better that he won’t wake up tell you that he doesn’t love you anymore.  There are no guarantees, even the best men are challenged by sin and coveting.

And if the guys that you surround yourselves with are losers, then yeah — I’d go with the career, too.

There will be hard times.  There will be richness and stability that can never be provided by a career.

There doesn’t have to be a choice between one and the other.  It shouldn’t even be choosing a man vs. choosing a career.

The matter is which is your priority, and this is not an issue of male vs. female.  The one you are married to, the one who has pledged their life to yours, the one whom God has given you, is the priority by which everything else slips into place.

The Hard Times

Anna Ilona Mussman wrote this post about fear, hard times, and the flighty nature of happiness.  Reading it, I could feel what it was like again, being a twenty-something, young marriage, babies coming, career starting–everything possible.  Everything ahead.

Oh boy, do I remember that.

Hard times came.  Three miscarriages – four if you count the adoption that fell through.  A huge crisis of faith.  Delayed studies. No career.   Marital problems.  Family problems.  Health problems.  Losing a call – losing our home, our friends — instantaneously. Waiting for another call.

That’s twenty years worth of problems — interspersed with twenty years of joys.

But those hard times add a dimension to my life that I wouldn’t want to be without.  Maybe in a sinless world, I wouldn’t need them.  But I need those hard times to see what is truly good in this life.

They remind me that my husband loves me with a love that is deep enough to matter.  He loves me when I am not worthy of being loved, and I love him.  He doesn’t walk away when things get hard.  Neither do I.  We cling to each other.

When times are hard, I see how strong and good my children are, and I am completely astounded that God trusted me to take care of these two amazing people.  I am even more astounded that I didn’t completely mess it up.  They have strong faith in Christ, they are moral.  They are clever.  They are caring.  More often than I like, this is despite me, not because of me.  God is good.

When times are hard, I see that I have friends that are not just fair-weather friends, but that truly care.  Most of my friends are long-distance friends.  So it can be easy to forget.

During hard times, I learn to be incredibly thankful that God is looking out for me.  As of yet, I still have never been without a roof over my head and food in my stomach.  I have a coat to keep me warm, even if I no longer have any sweaters, long underwear, or snow boots.

Knowing that many of these hard times come about because I am the greatest of sinners — I am thankful that God is sustaining my faith through His Word and His Sacraments, and that He loves me, and I am in no way worthy of that love.

I also am reminded that since I am so very flawed and in need of Jesus, that even the people who may be causing these problems also are people that Jesus loves, and are forgiven by Him, and He wants me to do that, too.

When times are good– and there are so many good times, I forget these things, and I need to remember them.  It may seem strange, but during these painful times, I can still say that I am happy.  How could I not be when I am so aware of the good that permeates my life?

God promises Christians there will be hard times.  He also promises that He will be with us through these hard times.  He promises that all things work out for good for those who love Christ Jesus.  He promises that He uses hard times to shape us into what He wants us to be.

He promises.  We cling to those promises.  I cling to those promises the most when things are the hardest.  I tend to forget when things are good.  So I am thankful for the hard times.