Friday, June 29, 2007

St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Today we commemorate the martyrdoms of the apostles Peter and Paul. The Church has traditionally commemorated saints on the day of their "heavenly" birthday rather than the day of their birth on this earth. Thus commemorations of saints often fall on the day they died and entered into eternal glory in heaven. Paul was most likely martyred in Rome and tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down. Much of the work God did through these men is recorded in the book of Acts, which chronicles the beginning and spread of Christianity.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Irenaeus of Lyons, Pastor

Irenaeus (ca. A.D. 130-200), believed to be a native of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), studied in Rome and later became pastor in Lyons, France. Around 177, while Irenaeus was away from Lyons, a fierce persecution of Christians led to the martyrdom of his bishop. Upon Irenaeus' return, he became bishop of Lyons. Among his most famous writings is a work condemning heresies, especially Gnosticism, which denied the goodness of creation. In opposition, Irenaeus confessed that God has redeemed his creation through the incarnation of the Son. Irenaeus also affirmed the teachings of the Scriptures handed down to and through him as being normative for the Church.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor

Cyril (ca. A.D. 376-444) became archbishop of Alexandria, Egypt, in 412. Throughout his career he defended a number of orthodox doctrines, among them the teaching that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is "rightly called and truly is the Mother of God"--Theotokos, "the God-bearer" (Formula of Concord, VIII, Ep VIII, 12). In 431 the Council of Ephesus affirmed this teaching that the Son of Mary is also true God. The writings of Cyril on the doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ reveal him to be one of the most able theologians of his time. Cyril's Christology influenced subsequent church councils and was a primary source for Lutheran confessional writings.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jeremiah

The prophet Jeremiah was active as God's prophet to the southern kingdom of Judah ca. 627 to 582 B.C. As a prophet he predicted, witnessed, and lived through the Babylonian siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. In his preaching he often used symbols, such as an almond rod (Jeremiah 1:11-14), wine jars (13:12-14), and a potter at work (18:1-17). His entire prophetic ministry was a sermon, communicating through word and deed God's anger toward his rebellious people. He suffered repeated rejection and persecution by his countrymen. As far as can be known, he died in Egypt, having been taken there forcibly. He is remembered and honored for fearlessly calling God's people to repentance.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession, the principal doctrinal statement of the theology of Martin Luther and the Lutheran reformers, was written largely by Phillip Melanchthon. At its heart it confesses the justification of sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, for the sake of Christ alone. Signed by leaders of many German cities and regions, the confession was formally presented to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Augsburg, Germany, on June 25, 1530. A few weeks later Roman Catholic authorities rejected the Confession, which Melanchthon defended in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531). [Apology in this sense means "defense".] In 1580 the Unaltered Augsburg Confession was included in the Book of Concord.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

When Jesus Intrudes

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Luke 8:26-39

Everyone lost something. The ranchers lost their pigs. The people of the area lost their freak show. The demons, of course, lost their gig.

What did the man who was possessed by those demons lose? He lost that which had bound him. The one who was in a wretched state was now awash in light and peace. He was now free.

And yet, what did he do? He sat at Jesus’ feet. He wanted to stay with Jesus.

Now we see that everyone else was bound. It was everyone else now who was in fear. Asking for things to be restored to the way they had been. Imploring Jesus to leave. Crazy, huh? Wanting those demons to come back. But then, they weren’t the ones that had been bound by those chains.

But they sure wanted to remain bound with the ones with which they were bound. This is what happens when Jesus intrudes, we lose something.

We’re afraid of intruders, aren’t we? We’re afraid of what they might take. We’re afraid of what harm they might do to us. We’re afraid of how they will take us out of our comfort zone because life won’t be the same after they’ve intruded into our lives.

Jesus is the Great Intruder. We think of the devil as the One Who Intrudes into our life. And he is that. But so often we welcome him. No, I’m not saying we’re a bunch of devil worshipers. We’re more subtle than that.

We want our freak show. Sure, the man was an embarrassment to the community. But he sure gave people something to talk about, didn’t he? Yeah, they felt sorry for him. But he gave them something with which they could have in common in their feelings of being glad that it was that pour soul who was the wretch and not themselves.

The sad fact is that they were just fine having this demonically-possessed man in their lives. At least the demons hadn’t drown their pigs.

But Jesus did. He intruded into their comfortable existence. Jesus intruded and things were better now. But what they saw was that they lost something. They wanted it back.

We’re often more comfortable with what we have rather than what’s best for us. It’s scary to have Jesus intrude into our lives. It’s great that He makes things better but why do we have to lose those things we’ve grown to love along the way?

We become more comfortable with the things the devil places before us than we do with Jesus’ intrusion into our lives. Who was in the worse off situation, the demon-possessed man or the others?

He was in a pathetic situation, a wretched state, one none of us would like to experience. All the others weren’t demon-possessed but we see how truly pathetic they were when Jesus intruded into their pleasant little lives.

No longer could they look down on the madman and look favorably upon themselves that theirs was a pleasant little existence. Their livelihood was more important to themselves than the horrible demon possession of the man. They lost all their pigs, now what were they going to do?

Can we so blithely go through our lives as Christians and be grateful that ours is not a wretched existence, as we perceive others’ to be? Where is our compassion for them? Why is our comfortable existence more important to us than what is best for others who are in difficult situations?

Can you actually believe they told Jesus to leave? But in our subtle way we do the same thing.

When Jesus intrudes we do indeed lose something. And if that’s what we choose to focus on we will be no better off than those people in the community with the formerly demon-possessed man. They ended up being bound by their own sin.

Jesus does indeed intrude so that we will come away from the experience having lost something.

But we lose so that we may gain. One only has to look at the man who could not be bound by chains but was bound by the power of Satan. Jesus loosed his bonds. He freed him from his pain and wretchedness. He lost something, no doubt. But look how he gained!

Now his life was filled up with Life. With Jesus and His righteousness. No longer bound by forces beyond his control. Now free and basking in the peace that only Christ can come to bring.

Jesus comes to do the same for you. He will intrude into your life. Your sinful flesh will resist it. But hear the work of Christ to you—choosing to be bound by the chains of your sin and guilt; choosing the wretchedness of suffering in your place.

Look at what happens in your Baptism. Jesus intrudes into your life. You lose something when He does that—your life. Think about it. What happens in your Baptism? You drown. That’s a horrible thing to have happen, and isn’t it something we would rightfully recoil against?

But why does He do it? So that you may have new life! He drowns your sinful nature in that washing with water. You were born in sin. Bound in chains like the demoniac in our Gospel reading. But Jesus intruded into your life so that you may have life with Him.

What else is there for you now to do but what Christ gave to the man in the Gospel reading to do: declare how much God has done for you. Because it’s always about that—what Christ has done for you. Amen.

SDG

Friday, June 22, 2007

What Do You Deserve?

I guess I’m glad I misheard. At first I was disappointed. But now that I think about it, I’m glad I misheard it, because if I had heard it the right way the first time I might have thought nothing of it.

In the movie Cinderella 3 Anastasia ends up giving back the gift the prince’s father gave to her. Through a spell the prince thought he loved Anastasia, not Cinderella. Since he was going to marry Anastasia the king gave her a gift that had been special to him and his wife who was now deceased. He said it was a symbol of true love.

When everything got resolved at the end and the prince ended up marrying (again) his true love Cinderella, Anastasia gave the gift back to the king with the words “I don’t deserve this.” The king put it back in her hand with the words “Everyone deserves true love.”

When I first saw the movie I thought he had said “No one deserves true love.” (As is often the case when kids movies are on around here, I’m catching bits and pieces of the movie rather than giving my full attention to it.)

But when I heard what I thought I had heard I was struck at how profound that was. It was a great moment. A great truth. Who would have thought that in a double sequel such a profound truth could be uttered?

Well the other day the kids were watching it again and when it was coming to that scene I was excited because I could hear again that great line. I was disappointed when I heard what the actual words were: “Everyone deserves true love.” Man—it’s too bad they didn’t consult me in the script writing.

Anyway, I guess for Disney that’s a truth. But think how much more awesome of a moment, of a truth, it is if the king says to this girl who is broken and admits to the king she doesn’t deserve true love—“No one deserves true love.” Not even Cinderella. Not even my son, the prince. Not just you, no one. The reason I’m giving this to you is not because you deserve it, but because you don’t. It’s because I want to give it to you.

Wow. This is what should have happened in the movie. I guess I’ll have to write Cinderella 4.

The script of the way it should be has been written, however. It’s not about Cinderella, though. Or Anastasia. It’s about you. It’s about everyone, in fact. Because the simple fact is, no one deserves true love. But that’s exactly what we get. True love. The love of the Father giving His own Son for the sin of the world.

What do you deserve? Not what you get. What do you get? What you don’t deserve. We don’t deserve love but punishment for our sin. What God in His grace gives us instead is true love—the forgiveness of sins and an eternal place in heaven.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It’s Always About Jesus

Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Luke 7:36—8:3

Today we have a story about a Pharisee. He seems nice enough, inviting Jesus to a meal at his home. But we see his true colors, don’t we? We learn from this story about the ugliness of self-righteousness. We need to be aware that we too fall into this trap of thinking we’re better than others when really what we appear to be on the outside is just a facade. This is an important lesson and good that the Holy Spirit placed it in the Word of God.

But as the story progresses we find that it’s a story about this woman who crashes the party. What we really need to be seeing here in this story is that we are like that woman who is referred to as a “sinner”. We need to see in her repentance and act of contrition an example for us so that we too may repent. We can be grateful to God the Holy Spirit that we have been given this story about this woman.

But as we go further we see Jesus Himself telling a story. It’s about a lender who forgives the debt of two borrowers, one who owes a lot and one who owes a whole lot. Jesus’ story is obviously about God’s forgiveness of us who are in debt to Him. Is this, then, what the story is about?

Well, yes. But this still isn’t specific enough. Sometimes the main thing is there plainly to be seen but we still miss it. We tend to look for things that we think are what we are to be focusing on. Meanwhile, we miss the main point.

Take the Old Testament reading, for example. David is the main character in this story, that’s plain to see. He commits a grievous sin and then tries to cover up his sin. He ends up only making things worse. So is this what this story is about, that David’s actions should warn us to not act in the same way?

Or is it really about the prophet Nathan? Should we learn from his action that we are to be faithful to the Word of God and clearly make it known even though it can be nerve-wracking (such as telling the king that he has sinned in a big way)?

We come to find that there’s a story told here also. It’s about a wealthy man who commits a shameful sin against a poor man. It’s obvious that Nathan’s story is about David’s sin against Uriah and his wife Bathsheba. Is this, then, what the Old Testament reading is about?

Well, yes. But as was the case in the Gospel reading, this isn’t quite specific enough. What the story of David and Bathsheba and the prophet Nathan confronting David with the Word of God is about is Jesus. But how can that be since this is the Old Testament and Jesus is not even mentioned? Because the Old Testament—the entire Word of God, in fact—is about Jesus. The Old Testament points to Christ. It brings Christ to us. David was forgiven in the same way you and I are: on account of Christ.

Even though Jesus is the main character in the Gospel reading, it can be hard to see that it’s really about Him. It’s not about the Pharisee. It’s not about the woman. It’s not about the lender or the borrowers. It’s about Christ. Jesus is the reason we need to understand what’s going on here. Jesus confronts both people, the Pharisee and the woman, with their sin. One denies it, the other acknowledges it.

Walk into a bank and borrow $100,000 dollars and then inform them you can’t pay it back. They will inform you that you’re in a heap of trouble. And the police will show you your way to the prison to make this point clear. A bank will not forgive your debt. But the story Jesus tells is not about falling in love with a bank because it so generously wants to give out its money to people who can’t pay it back.

His story is about Himself. His story is about Him forgiving people who owe a debt to Him. He pays the debt. His lavish love upon us has nothing to do with money. It has to do with sin. This the woman realized, the Pharisee did not. The Pharisee refused to acknowledge his sin. He was righteous, the woman was a sinner. He didn’t owe Jesus anything, she didn’t deserve to be in His sight.

The woman on the other hand believed exactly that about herself. She didn’t deserve anything from Him and yet Jesus lavished His grace upon her, forgiving her sins. She came to see, in fact, that it wasn’t about her. It was about Him. It was all about Christ and what He did for her. He forgave a woman the whole town knew was a sinner. Everyone knew what she had done, and now everyone saw how Jesus forgives the undeserving. She didn’t do anything as a requirement for her debt to be paid. That’s because it’s not about her. It’s about Christ—He paid her debt.

He did it for her. He did it for the Pharisee. He did it for David. He paid for the sins of the world. He forgives you and me freely. If we were to learn from this story of the Pharisee and the woman how we are to live we would be as messed up as they were. Okay, we are as messed up as they were. And that’s why we have their story here. Because it’s a story about Jesus. It’s about what Christ has done for the world. About what He has done for you and me.

We tend to take ourselves too seriously. We want to know how we should live. We want to know how the Bible applies to us. How the Word of God is relevant to our lives.

Well, what could me more relevant than Christ loving you the way He loved that woman? With perfect grace and forgiveness. With unconditional love. Why would we want to focus on ourselves and what we need to do or should do when Christ is before our eyes and always at the center? What else can we do but a grateful response like the woman gave?

For example, what do we learn from this for Father’s Day? Just this: Fathers, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ. Of course, fathers, you are to love your children. Your godly care and raising of your children is what you do in which your focus is on Christ. Loving your children, teaching them the Word of God, is your grateful response like that of the woman to Jesus. She wasn’t focusing on herself but on Christ. The Pharisee, on the other hand, was focusing on himself.

The Pharisee gave Jesus some food. The woman gave Him an act of gratitude and worship. What do we give Him? None of this is in the same universe as what Christ has given. He has given the ultimate Gift—Himself. His suffering on the cross was the suffering of sin and guilt of every person. He suffered this, paying the debt, so that we may go in peace.

You are forgiven. Go in peace. Amen.

SDG

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Elisha

"So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha's house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, 'Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.'”

Not surprisingly, this made Naaman angry. He was a great warrior! He had a horrible skin disease, one fight he was powerless against but in the mercy of God had been told about one who could cure his disease. So when Naaman went to that one man, the prophet Elisha, he was none too pleased when Elisha didn't even bother to show up at the door. Who did he think he was?

Well, who he was was my kind of prophet. One who points people to Christ *and not to himself*. His message to Naaman was to go take a bath, which is what every prophet needs to tell people who are seeking to be cleansed. Because, Elisha knew, it wasn't about him, it was about Christ--just as Naaman's disease could be cleansed in the river so our sins are cleansed in the water of Baptism. Elisha didn't want Naaman to think that he would be performing a magic act on him. He wanted Naaman to know that there is one God and it is through His Word that people are cleansed. Every prophet and preacher is armed with this Word--it is not just words on the pages of the Holy Bible, the Word that is proclaimed is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In Baptism we are cleansed by this Word.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, A.D. 325

The first Council of Nicaea was convened in the early summer of 325 by the Roman Emperor Constantine at what is today Isnuk, Turkey. The emperor presided at the opening of the council. The council ruled against the Arians, who taught that Jesus was not the eternal Son of God but was created by the Father and was called Son of God because of his righteousness. The chief opponents of the Arians were Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, and his deacon, Athanasius. The council confessed the eternal divinity of Jesus and adopted the earliest version of the Nicene Creed, which in its entirety was adopted at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Monday, June 11, 2007

Barnabas, Apostle

Barnabas' name means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36-37). Wouldn't it be great to have a name with such a great meaning? And Barnabas lived up to his name. He was a profound encouragement to Paul on his many missionary travels and therefore to the Church. Paul is a stalwart in the Christian Church, but he was never one to act alone, and he himself knew that he was nothing in the sight of God of himself. He needed people like Barnabas to be there for him, with him, to encourage him. We thank God not only for the saints that transcend the ordinary, but also, and maybe even especially, all those "ordinary" saints that are there for us when we need some encouragement. Those who don't get the headlines but quietly and faithfully carry out the task of making the Gospel known in help to those who are at the forefront.

Boniface of Mainz

[From the Better Late Than Never Department]

June 5, 2007

Boniface was born in the late seventh century in England. Though he was educated, became a monk, and was ordained as a presbyter in England, he was inspired by the example of others to become a missionary. Upon receiving a papal commission in 719 to work in Germany, Boniface devoted himself to planting, organizing, and reforming churches and monasteries in Hesse, Thuringia, and Bavaria. After becoming an archbishop, Boniface was assigned to the See of Mainz in 743. Ten years later he resigned his position to engage in mission work in the Netherlands. On June 5, 754, while awaiting a group of converts for confirmation, Boniface and his companions were murdered by a band of pagans. Boniface is known as the apostle and missionary to the Germans.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Honor Your Father and Your Mother

Second Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Luke 7:11-17

“And Jesus gave him to his mother.”

God is your Father. Jesus is your Brother. And the Church is your Mother.

That we are to honor God our Father is as obvious as the fact that God is our Father. The Bible unquestionably and often states that He is our Father and that all honor is due Him.

That Jesus is our Brother may not be as obvious. Part of this may be because we in no way want to give the impression that Jesus is not God. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is true God and is due all honor. But here is where we see the amazing love and action of God—He became a man. Not only does He love us, He saves us. Not only does He provide salvation for us, He Himself saves us. He is God over all, yet humbled Himself to become part of the creation. He who is our Lord also now calls Himself our Brother. Hebrews says He is not ashamed to call us brothers. Romans says that He is the firstborn among many brothers.

That the Church is our Mother may not be obvious at all. With the exception of Jesus, everyone born is the result of the union of their father and their mother. Jesus was born of a virgin as a result of conception by the Holy Spirit. We are born of our mother as a result of conception by both our father and mother. But we are born a second time. We are born also of our spiritual Mother. The early Church Father Cyprian said: “No one can have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother.” The Large Catechism says that the Church is “the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God.”

In this little story of Jesus bringing the man back to life we see Jesus’ compassion on the woman, just as God had compassion on the woman in the Old Testament reading in restoring her son to life. Both were widows. They had already lost their husband, now their only son.

But there is so much more here than Jesus being compassionate to them in their grief. In fact, there’s much more here even than Jesus raising someone from death. After all, both the boy in the Old Testament reading and the man in the Gospel reading met their death again later on. We’re not just hearing about how wonderful it was that those women in their need were helped. We’re being shown by Jesus what He does for us.

Luke says that Jesus gave him to his mother. This man had been brought into life through birth from his mother. Now after dying and being restored to life he was given back to her. This is what happens to us in Baptism. Jesus gives us to our Mother. Our Mother is the Church. Jesus is the Great Physician. When you’re born the physician gives you to your mother. When you’re Baptized Jesus gives you to your mother—the Church.

He raises you up to new life. You’re dead. You’re living and breathing, but spiritually you’re dead. You may as well be in a coffin like the guy in the funeral procession. So Jesus gives you to your Mother, the Church. This is where we really see that the Scriptures come alive. They are not just stories to help us understand that God loves us and did some really amazing things a long time ago. They are the actual Word of God which impart to us His blessings. Namely, they bring us dead people back to life.

We might ask, if Jesus healed people back then and brought people to life why doesn’t He do it today? The point of what Jesus was doing back then was not to bring the person back to life or heal the person of their disease. The main thing was to show us that this is what God does for us. Today. Here. Now. Eternally. If all Jesus came to do was heal people and bring them to life, then why did they eventually die anyway? The family had to go through all the grief again. And why did Jesus restrict Himself to such a small area of the world? Why didn’t He get to as many people as possible throughout the world to heal and raise to life?

Because that’s not why He came. He came to die. He came to conquer death. And not just physical death. We grieve at the loss of our loved ones as the poor widows did who lost those closest to them. We know that we will one day die also. But if we don’t see that it’s eternal death we’re up against, then being healed or raised from the dead isn’t going to do us any good. Jesus came to conquer the eternal death we deserve by dying in our place. He buttressed this victory by Himself rising from the grave.

We look at that man who was being carried to his grave and see that we too are dead. Spiritually, we cannot live or move or breathe. We have no life within us. But in Baptism we are born anew. The Holy Church not only gives us new life but sustains us in this new life. God has given us our Mother so that we may be nourished in the faith. In the Church we receive Absolution. We are constantly fed on the forgiveness of sins. We continually go back to our Mother, the Church, so that we may be sustained in the life our Lord has given us through Her. In His Holy Church our Lord gives us His very Body and Blood for us to eat and drink.

Elijah gave the boy who was given new life to his mother. God gave Paul to his Mother, the Church, the very Mother he had been trying to destroy. Jesus gave the young man who was raised to life to his mother. Jesus gives us to our Mother.

Honor your Mother. Give honor to the one who has given you birth and sustains you in the faith. You honor Her by being faithful in those things She provides for you for your salvation. And in so doing you honor your Father who has graciously bestowed this gift on you. When you give honor to your Father you will constantly rejoice in your Brother, the one through whom all this is possible. The one in whom we receive new life through our Mother the Church because of His giving of Himself on the cross and in His Supper.

When you see that Jesus has given you to your Mother, you will find that He has given this new life to you so that you will not die again but live. Your Mother, the Church, is the source of your life eternally. All honor is due your eternal God who gives life to you and gives to you an eternal place in His Holy Church. Amen.

SDG

Friday, June 8, 2007

Trip to Rome -- Epilogue

Regrets. Mostly due to poor planning, but still a great trip even so. A member of our church recommended the German National Church. Didn’t go. I found out afterward that the lone Lutheran Church in Rome was only a few blocks from our hotel. Didn’t go.
A really nice restaurant. Didn’t go. Went to St. Paul’s “Outside the Walls” but not St. Paul’s “inside the Walls.” Oh well. You can’t do everything. And someday I hope to go back. So regrets, but they don’t compare to the truly great things we saw and the lasting memories we have.

What struck me was being in a city that has visible signs of history stretching so much farther back than the cities in our country. Europe is really great in that respect. And especially Rome, with things to see there spanning not simply centuries but millennia. Tough to beat that. What also struck me was the number of churches. Most of them were cold inside. And quiet. Even though they were all ornate, it was worth going into as many as we could because each one had something to catch your attention and ponder. The thing that caught me most by surprise was seeing how Roman Catholicism is actually practiced. It’s one thing to know doctrine, it’s another to see it played out. In a way I feel like in Rome I witnessed the very best of Christianity and the very worst of Christianity. Beholding the majesty of the cathedrals and artistry is inspiring. The music of the worship was heavenly. But it was disconcerting to see and hear the focus on the human beings of Roman Catholicism rather than on the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as big a fan of Paul as anyone and probably identify with Peter as much as anyone. But when you see him standing twenty feet above you with massive keys in his hand you can’t help but get the message that Christ is not at the center here. I in no way want to bash the Roman Catholic Church. I am grateful for the experience of seeing all the good there is to see in Rome. But even more grateful that the one holy catholic and apostolic Church is truly the Church of Jesus Christ and rests in Him alone.

On our flight home our layover was in London. It was great to see England on the way in. The nice countryside, the quaint churches and homes. There was also a Starbucks in the London airport. Not a chance of finding that in Rome. Flying home took us over Iceland, which was really cool. It would be great to go there sometime.

Rome was great. It’s a great place to see. It would have been even better if we had known Italian and Latin (because so many buildings around here have Latin on them). The highlight for me was seeing all the churches. There are 901 churches in Rome, I’m assuming that’s referring to Roman Catholic churches, but I haven’t checked that. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world and that’s kind of cool to be able to say you’ve been in the largest church in the world. It has also been neat to be in some of the oldest churches in the world. And of course Sara and I got to have the kind of vacation we really like, traveling and exploring, and as we talked about this evening, being together for an entire week! It was a great ten year anniversary. I enjoyed my first visit to Europe and even though I saw nothing of what most of it is like, Rome was a great introduction to it.

Trip to Rome -- Day 5

Our last day in Rome (Monday) was a little more laid back, as we were just doing a few things that we hadn’t yet done. As we headed out, we noticed the trash was being collected, the streets were being swept, windows being washed--so we are guessing that Monday morning is clean up time around Rome. Rome is quite a clean big city. Then as we were walking by Trevi fountain we saw them vacuuming/cleaning it; we were very impressed. But then they stopped vacuuming and started loading all the money that people threw into the fountain into bags--man, what a loot! In one of the shops we bought souvenirs for the kids. The elderly couple who owned the store were very nice. I bought a cap that says “Italia” on it and has three gold stars on it. The man explained that they are for the three World Cups Italy has won. “So,” he said to me, “when we win this year, you have to sew on another star.” I told him that if they win this year I’ll come back and by another cap on it with four stars. Well, wouldn’t you know it, later on in the year Italy went and won the World Cup. So… what that means is that I have to keep my promise to the man. One of these days I have to get back to Rome so I can buy another cap. In the meantime, I really like my cap with three stars on it which I now have standing for the Trinity rather than World Cups.

Then on to the Campo di Fiori, which is an open air market. A lot of flowers, vegetables, fruit, pasta, seasonings, and of course souvenirs. We bought some pasta, tomato sauce, and seasoning. Then we went on a walk that was suggested by one of our guide books. It really wasn’t all that exciting, but still a nice walk through certain neighborhoods in Rome. We first went across the bridge to the other side of the Tiber. We found a very cool church which had much more of a feel of a church than most of the churches here, which are so heavily ornamented by saints that you can forget that you can go into a church and just focus on Jesus. Then we went across another bridge to an island that is right in the middle of Rome (it’s in the middle of the Tiber). Interestingly enough, there is a hospital on this very small island. Then we went back to our original side of the Tiber and headed in the direction of San Giovanni so that I could complete my pilgrimage as Luther did so many centuries ago. ;-) We walked along the Circus Maximus and saw some cool ruins across the street from it. When we finally found a restaurant there was only one waitress and it was taking a long time and there was a very long line for the restroom so we decided to find something else. We found a small place selling sandwiches and thought that the guy understood that we wanted tomatoes on our sandwich, but when we finally got the communication straightened out we understood that the tomatoes were all gone. Oh well, on to San Giovanni.

We first had to find out where this Sancta Santorum Chapel was so we could find the steps. We found an information booth and found out that the chapel is a separate building across the street from San Giovanni. But it opened again at 3 p.m. (many of the churches here close during lunch time). It was only 2 o’clock so we went outside and sat on the steps of the church. Then at 3 we went over to the chapel. You go through the doors and then before you are the steps. Well, some people got in front of me and I guess I’m glad they did because I did not expect people to still be ascending these steps on their knees and kissing each one. But these people were taking it seriously so I quickly stepped aside and Sara and I went up the side steps to the top and looked at the altar areas they had up top. So we didn’t take pictures of these steps that are supposed to have been brought over by Constantine’s mom from Jerusalem and the very steps Jesus walked up when He was on trial before Pilate. It made me sick to see those people making their way slowly up that stairway putting their trust in their own efforts rather than the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Very sad.

We then went to San Clemente church. This is a church built on top of a church built on top of a mithraic temple. Somewhere around the third or fourth century a temple to Mithras was built and the altar is still there. This is two levels below the current San Clemente. Then one level below the current San Clemente, there are frescoes that are very cool depicting scenes such as the resurrection, the last judgment, Christ’s decent into limbo (to save those faithful that had died before Christ died for them), and Clement officiating Mass. There was also a very cool Christian altar. In tremendous shape, although we’re not sure if it’s from the original church or if it was put in later. It’s a simple altar but just quite a sight there in those ancient remains of a cultic temple that was converted into a sanctuary to “the one true God”, as the sign said. On the main level is the current church and a tremendous sight as so many, actually all of them, of the churches were.

We then went to a church that was by the train station that on the outside looks like ancient ruins but on the inside is spectacular like all the others. There is a huge freestanding organ. The pipes went almost to the ceiling and there were many different sizes of them, even some that went straight out horizontally. We had never seen a freestanding pipe organ like that before. Then we headed back, getting some gelato on the way. Eating gelato was pretty much an every day occurrence as the stuff is really good. We ate it on the way back to the room and then we packed, because we have to leave the hotel at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning to catch our flight. Then out for our final night out and our final meal in Rome. American of course. We looked at some Italian places that had these greenhouse type of structures on the sidewalk. We just weren’t in the mood so went back to the Hard Rock CafĂ© and had a great waitress from Manilla and a great meal.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Trip to Rome -- Day 4

The Vatican day. (Sunday) This is the first day we spent the whole day in one place. And you could spend days there, there’s no way you can see it all in a few days. But what we saw was as advertised--awesome. We took the Metro so that we could try to save time because the guide books all said to get there early as the lines for the Vatican museums would just keep getting worse. We saw a priest and asked him if he new English, because we weren’t sure which stop to get off. He didn’t know English, but between him and his buddies--they turned out to be seminary students from Brazil--they were able to guide us there because that’s what they were doing also. The line was two hours. But in a way we were glad we were standing in line out there on the sidewalk because today was the Rome Marathon and the marathon route was right alongside us. So since we got in line at 8:50 a.m. and the marathon started at 9 a.m. we thought we might be able to see the runners. And sure enough about 45 minutes later there came the lead pack. It was a great moment and the first of many today. We got to cheer for a lot of runners today and it brought back a lot of memories of the marathons I’ve run. My dad and I had talked in years past about doing a marathon like London someday and after today I’d like to do Rome one day. This morning eating breakfast in our hotel there were three guys that were going to run the marathon and so that was kind of neat. The start and finish are at the Colesseum. One crack up about the line is that it’s no different there than here with people jockeying for position--you can’t have room to breathe because you might end up two feet farther back then you otherwise would have--but the crack up were the nuns. There was this group of nuns that inched their way through the line and everyone just kind of let it happen, because, well, they were nuns.

Inside the Vatican Museums we decided to head for the Sistine Chapel since by now it was about 11 a.m. On the way we passed through the map corridor. Really cool old maps. It was actually very impressive how they were able to determine where things were. I didn’t think to look at the dates of them, but one map we saw of the world had a date of 1528 and it was pretty darn accurate. Although it was kind of funny to see how out of scale they made America. By the way, the guidebook said that the Vatican Library has some handwritten copies of some of Luther’s stuff, which I find very interesting. On our way through we came across two other guys in clerical collars and cassocks (long black robes). They knew English because they are from the U.S. They miss being able to keep up with things like March Madness which was going on at the time. The Sistine Chapel is very neat to see, although I really like the churches and Basilicas more. But the amazing thing about the Sistine Chapel is to just be in awe of what Michelangelo accomplished while lying flat on his back for four years. Something to behold.

Then we had to decide what to do. The internet said there was a mass every hour up through 1 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica and so it was now coming on toward noon. One thing I definitely wanted to do was witness a mass in St. Peter’s. We decided to eat lunch at the Vatican Museum cafeteria. Then we headed over to St. Peter’s. We had 20 minutes. Unfortunately, when we got to St. Peter’s Square, there was another huge line and it was for getting into the Basilica. So there goes the mass. There was another one scheduled for 4:30 or 4 or something so I didn’t give up hope. When we got inside we heard something going on so we headed in that direction. The one o’clock mass was in progress so we watched. When it was time for Communion we saw the two seminary students that we had met in the museums and had talked to on the way toward the Sistine Chapel. Great guys. From D.C. and Jersey. I asked them about the mass and they said one went on every hour at St. Peter’s. Anyway, I had lots of questions after seeing the mass so I asked them if they had a few minutes. Well, we ended up talking to them for almost an hour. And it would have been more but we did come here to see the sights.

So on to the dome. And another line. Hey, we’ve been to Disneyland, and other than a 25 minute wait at the Colesseum we haven’t had trouble with lines in Rome. So no big deal. One funny thing we saw on the way to the dome was a sign in about 8 different languages, and the English one went something like this, “Notice to all old, troubled and cardiopatic people, there are 320 steps up the dome.” I guess they didn’t get a scholar to do the translation work for that sign. The first thing you come to going up the dome is an inside walkway where you can look down on the altar and chancel. Then you go up into the dome and the stairway gets narrow. When you get to the top you get the best views in Rome of Rome. You also get some good views of the Vatican, since they don’t let ordinary people into most of the Vatican. It is a beautiful place. The trees, bushes, and lawn are all very well kept. I saw some beautiful crosses in the gift shop but kind of pricey, about 40 Euros.

On back down into the basilica and into our second mass already in progress. This one, however, was in the actual chancel. When it finished we got up and walked out with everyone else and I was a little disappointed, as I still had not been able to witness an entire mass and we still hadn’t gotten to hear a male choir. But you can’t do everything you want and so I said I was ready to go. As spectacular as St. Peter’s is, and it is (and also massive), I still liked the San Paolo the best. But as we were walking out I realized I hadn’t gotten a picture of the altar area of the chancel, so we went back. Well those two seminarians were right, they do something every hour at this place. So we sat down in the front thinking that we’d stay for the first half since we’d already seen two second halves. I wanted to go to the back so we could leave inconspicuously, but for some reason Sara wanted to stay up there, so we moved to the side. And are we ever glad we did!!!! From the side, right next to us, comes the organist. But he doesn’t start playing. We just sit there in silence. Then people turn around and here comes the cross, and the altar boys, and about 30 men, to which Sara whispers to me, “This must be a choir.” Then about 35 bishops, and one cardinal--we knew this was going to be big. The organist started playing and it was just spectacular. When all the clergy got situated and the choir got in place they began to sing. Incredible. They all had clerical collars on so we were thinking that they were a seminary choir. (It turns out, as we ran into two more American seminary students later at dinner and we asked them about the choir, that they were all either priests or laymen and the laymen just wore collared shirts that looked like clericals.) This service we were at was Vespers and with the bulletin we were able to follow along somewhat, singing the parts for the congregation. When they came to the part of the incense, the three presiding bishops went around the altar--two holding the ornate cope (I think it was a cope) of the middle guy and he then swinging the incense and then the altar boys and one of the other bishops went around the altar, altar boys holding the bishop’s cope and he swinging the incense, and then up to the officiants, swinging it, then bowing, then over to the bishops on the right side, same thing, then the one cardinal who was evidently higher up, since he got all this treatment just for himself, then over to the bishops on the left side, and same thing again, and finally to the congregation, same thing. Very cool to see the incense rising up. Well what can we say. That was the experience we had been waiting for and I am grateful we were able to be there for it.

Out of St. Peter’s we got more gelato, because, well, the stuff really is good. I also bought a cross at one of the stores going out of the Vatican. And then we decided to head home and stop for dinner on the way. It turns out a few blocks from the Vatican is a Chinese restaurant so we stopped in. Very good and also variety in vegetables--very important to this American couple. While we were eating dinner two young men, also seminary students from America, came in and sat at a table very close to us. I listened in because they were talking theology--so of course I had to also talk to them. These guys were really into the Rome thing. “This is so great to be here. This is where it all started. Where Paul and Peter proclaimed the Gospel. Where they are buried.” I couldn’t help but feel sad for them. Rome is spectacular and does indeed have a lot of great Biblical history--but to raise it to the level of where it all began is a bit much. I’ll take Calvary, thanks.

Well, it was a great day and sometimes the things that you don’t plan on turn out to be some of the most enjoyable. Although I wouldn’t want to stand in line again for two hours, we did get to talk to this nice guy from Brazil. As we were standing in line for St. Peter’s we talked to a nice couple from London. And then of course the two seminarians we met in the Vatican. It sure would have been great to get to know them.

A great day.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Trip to Rome -- Day 3

Today (Saturday) we took the metro out to Ostia Antica. It is about 20 miles west of Rome, towards the coast. It is an ancient port city at the mouth of the Tiber River with really neat ruins to explore--quite amazing. In one part what looked like a bench is actually what was the communal toilet--they sat cheek to cheek and did their business! So of course I had to go sit on it for a picture. I’d say any trip to Rome should include Ostia Antica as there are a ton of ruins there and gives a picture a little different from the monumental ruins of Rome. Ostia ruins are of a more ordinary nature than those of the Caesars. We ate lunch at the cafeteria there and had what was surprisingly a very good lunch; chicken and roasted red peppers with zucchini and carrots and pasta with veggies. Finally some veggies!

When we had first gotten on to the metro we weren’t sure if it was the right one and it was ready to go. Sara asked some people on it which way it was going and it was going our way. So she got on but as I was stepping in the doors started closing, so I thought, it will just open back up since I’m in the doorway, just like elevator doors. But they didn’t budge so I got squished. So while we were on the subway we got a picture of their warning symbol: a man getting stuck in the doors.

On our way back to Rome we stopped at the third of the four patriarchal basilicas: San Paolo (St. Paul’s). It is huge like the others, but much more open. This is the basilica with the pictures of all the popes around the walls up toward the ceiling. And only a few empty spots left! I think about eight if I recall. Evidently, once they all get filled in Christ is coming back. This was my favorite church. We both really liked the huge statues of the apostles at Giovanni, but there was just something about Paolo that I really liked (and not just that it’s St. Paul). This is the only patriarchal basilica outside of Rome/Vatican city.

Back in Rome we went to the Pantheon. What an amazing building. They have converted it to a basilica. They were having Mass at 5 p.m. and a German College Choir at 6 p.m. It was about 4 p.m. so we headed to Piazza Novana (a place to hang out and people watch) and then Campo de fiori (a large outdoor market place and lots of flower stands). The fresh food was already closed down for the day. We’ll go back Monday morning. Anyway, since it was now 4:45 p.m., we decided to grab a sandwich from a vendor (with extra tomatoes) and head back to our room to drop stuff off and go to the bathroom (the only ones around are in a few restaurants and a few major attractions). Then we would head back for the choir at the Pantheon at 6 p.m. Well, due to geographical map reading errors, we did not get back to our room until 5:48--just over one hour of fast, uphill walking. We were wiped out but we quickly ate our sandwich (very good) and headed back to the Pantheon and arrived in about 20 minutes. The choir was already over, but oh well.

In a way, I think the Pantheon is the neatest (maybe the most impressive) thing to see in Rome because it is so well preserved. And it’s just amazing to look up at that dome and think about how they built it. But the thing I am most amazed with with this city is the churches. There are so many. And there are so many that are so big! And there can be three or four huge churches within just a few blocks of each other. It’s just an amazing place.

We finished looking around the Pantheon and then to another church to observe a mass. We heard the organ and sat through the beginning with the priest walking around the table in front of the altar. When the liturgy started we couldn’t find the page to follow and Sara was really tired and tonight is Europe’s day light savings time so we lose an hour tonight… so we left and headed back home. Our legs are happy to be sitting down--we walked many miles today, but all worth it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Trip to Rome -- Day 2

We headed out this morning (Friday) for the “old” part of Rome. We explored the ruins of the Roman Forum, churches, and roads that Caesar rode in on. A lot of arches still standing. Amazing to walk through a place like that, imagining what it was like long ago when the famous events and people occurred there. Then on to the Colesseum. Today we went inside, yesterday we just drove by on the bus tour. It was neat to see all the tunnels where they would bring the animals and gladiators through. Lunch was at another sidewalk ristorante when it started to rain. We have found that all 9001 ristorantes here have the same menu: pizza, pasta, and antipasti (a few appetizers). So, today we just split a pizza. It was very good, we really like the tomato sauce and spices they use, we are just tired of bread and pasta since we already have bread every breakfast.

Then we went to San Giovanni of Laterano (St. John’s), the basilica that holds the papal seat. This is the church that Luther climbed the steps of, on his knees, kissing every step. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this was the place so we’ll come back for that later on in the week. This place is huge and since it holds the papal seat, it is the highest ranking of all basilicas.

We were now at the farthest point in Rome from our hotel so we started to head back about 3:20 p.m. for a rest before dinner. Well, we finally got back to our hotel about 5:45 p.m., we had to stop for gelato, of course, and a few interesting sights along the way. We did a lot of walking today. Rome is a great city for walking.

Keeping with our American dinner theme, we ate tonight at T-Bone American Steakhouse! It was so very good to have a chef salad, ribs, onion rings, with a Diet Pepsi and a full glass of ice for my wife and an Italian beer for me. Very good dinner! I really liked the glass they served my beer in so I asked my waiter if they sold them and he said, no, there’s just a limited number. So when another guy came by I asked him, and he said he would check. When he came back, he handed me the glass and said, “Present.” Very cute and obviously very gracious. They got a big tip. Another couple we met there (when we were trying to get in before 7 p.m. and realized they didn’t open until 7:30!) were also there because they were so sick of pasta. She said, “I need a steak!”

Monday, June 4, 2007

Trip to Rome -- Day 1

March 23, 2006 was our first full day of Rome (Thursday). You can do a lot in Rome because everything is so close, even when you’re walking. I’ll give you some of my impressions of Rome and Europe since I’ve never been abroad before. First, I can’t believe how many hotels and restaurants there are. Also, it’s a crack-up seeing all the mopeds. Every once in a while there will be a whole bunch of them together and they look like a biker gang, only a moped gang. And it’s also funny seeing those teeny cars. It’s amazing and I suppose somewhat impressive how close together they park to each other. The other amazing thing is all the statues around here. On buildings, in front of buildings, pretty much any where you go you’ll see a statue. The other funny thing is to see the police on the street corners. They’re always in pairs. And they’re always talking to each other. People are jaywalking. Cars are passing in the opposite lane. People—pedestrians and cars alike—are going against red lights. But hey, the police are there to make sure nobody does anything really serious.

Today we took a bus tour that let you get on and off as you pleased. It was a good way to get around the city and get a lay of the land. It’s simply astounding that some of the structures have been here for two thousand years. And some of the churches for over 1500. Every church has more artwork in it than all the other churches I’ve seen combined. Amazing. One of the churches, St. Maria Maggiore, held, from what we gather from the guard who works for the Vatican, some sort of Lenten service tonight. The choir was beautiful to listen to. That’s why we wanted to go tonight, because they were featuring “sacred music”. It was well worth it. The choir was very good. We couldn’t understand the words, of course, but the music was beautiful. I was excited when they began singing “O Savior of the World” by Palestrina. I recognized it almost immediately because it’s one of our favorites that we do in our own choir at Prince of Peace. It was also great to hear it done really well. It was also funny because the bishop had a sermon that was at least thirty minutes. The service started at 8:30 p.m. and we were very tired and falling asleep. But have you ever tried listening to a long sermon in Italian?

At this “Lenten” service there were three bishops and a cardinal. The guard told us that is a pretty big deal to have a cardinal come. He looked pretty old. Before the service, when we were talking to the guard about what was going on, we asked for a restroom and he said that the public ones were closed but he would open his for us. Well, this led us straight into a scene from the Sound of Music with the nun getting the keys out to open locked gates in secret places. He first took us to one of the side chapel areas, unlocked the gate and let us in, then we thought he was looking on the wall for a light switch when all of a sudden a secret door opened. Then into a hidden hallway area behind these Chapels and into a bathroom! Very cool. It was obvious that this was for men only. A sign was on the wall that we could not translate, but said something about the “no” and the toilet, so we didn’t flush any paper down--just in case.

We found out tonight when we were at St. Maria Maggiore that if you are inside one of the four patriarchal basilicas that you are really in Vatican City, not Italy or Rome. So even though St. Peter’s is the only one of the four actually inside the confines of Vatican City, the churches themselves still belong to the Vatican and are guarded by Vatican guards.

One thing that happened that you just come across was a great juxtaposition of the beautiful choir we heard in the church and then on our walk home some drummers on the street in front of a bar and these people doing some really funky dancing. The drummers were a lot of fun to listen to and the leader had a whistle going on and off with the beat.

We saw the Spanish steps, the Colesseum, Circus Maximus, and St. Peter’s Square. During midday thick dark clouds were forming so we went into this nice little restaurant and had really good pizza and penne with tomatoes and red peppers. We made it just in time because the rain started pouring down and then it was hailing. The thunder was loud. Fortunately, our waitress spoke English so we had a pleasant lunch. It was fun sitting inside comfortably while watching the storm through the window. Since they didn’t have mochas Sara decided to get a nice hot chocolate. Well, it was more like hot very rich chocolate syrup. Let me tell you, even if you have a sweet tooth it was too much! Anyway, it cost 5 Euros, which was no big deal, but then the waitress noticed Sara was not drinking it and offered some milk to add to it. But they must have funny tasting milk because it wasn’t really good that way either. So then Sara thought if she got a latte and mixed it with the hot chocolate then she’d have her mocha. So there were 4 more Euros. And, well, it wasn’t exactly Starbucks. But since we by now had paid 9 Euros for the thing I downed it. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Well, I think I’ll take Starbucks, thanks.

We took a walk that was listed in the AAA Rome guide and that took us from the top of the Spanish steps to the Piazza Popolo. There was guy there covered with gold holding a position as if he were a statue. He also had a can for money. The drinking fountain is just two pipes coming out of the wall with water always running. Not absolutely sure of this, it was only after we saw a Roman drink from it that I gave it a try.

Oh yeah, we Americans had to feel somewhat at home to we went to McDonald’s for dinner. But then we had gelato for dessert, so you can see how we branched out of our culture. And finally, one of the things you notice immediately when you go down to Mexico is all the people selling flowers or blankets. In Rome they’re all over the place also, but selling umbrellas. The good thing is that if you have an umbrella, they don’t bug you. Funny guys.

A good first day and introduction to Rome.

Trip to Rome -- Prologue

Last year my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by going to Rome. All I can say is that it is a spectacular city. I have been to Mexico, Canada, and the Bahamas. My first sight of Europe was flying into Brussels. Once we made our descent I looked upon the Belgium countryside and homes leading into Brussels. On the flight from Brussels to Rome I was astonished at the Alps. First because of their spectacular beauty and second because I kept expecting at any moment for them to give way once again to the plains. But we flew for what seemed like several minutes over those mountains; quite a sight. Flying into Rome actually wasn’t as appealing as flying into Brussels, but that’s okay, because once you actually get into Rome, well, there’s no place like it.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

The God Who Is

The Holy Trinity
First Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 3, 2007
John 8:48-59

Do you think you’d have no trouble believing in God if you could see Him? Well, if you think that would make things easier, think again. There was no shortage of people who did not believe in the one true God even though they saw Him in the flesh. That’s because God is who He is on His terms, not according to our terms.

We look around at a world that is mostly non-Christian. Why doesn’t God show Himself in such a way where most people will believe in Him? We look around and see a lot of suffering and pain. Tragedies, sickness, evil. Why doesn’t the one true God do something about all of that? We look around and see people who think we’re pathetic for believing in something that can’t be proven and at times seems not to be very powerful. Wouldn’t it be great if we could know definitively that He does exist; that He is the true God; that we can know for sure?

The problem with all of this is that it’s not addressing the problem. It’s part of the problem, in fact. We’re seeking answers on our own terms. We’re wanting solutions according to what we think would be best. But God doesn’t answer our questions. He doesn’t address them because we’re seeking the wrong thing.

What He does is tell us something simple yet profound. And He does it in a way that would get a check mark from a grammar teacher. “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Now being God Jesus of course knew better. See, the point He was making was not that before Abraham was He was. He was telling those people who refused to believe in Him that He is in fact God.

And notice I didn’t say that He was telling them that He was God. Jesus is God. That’s why He said “I am.” The God who is is the God who is. The one true God is the God who always has been and always will be. When Jesus says, I am, that means He is—always. The one true God is the God who never had a beginning and will never have an end.

Descartes was right when he came to the conclusion “I think, therefore I am.” But the thing about Descartes is that he’s dead. When he was alive he indeed was. But he wasn’t always. With all due respect to John Lennon we can imagine all we want that there’s no heaven and no hell and no religion. Our imagination will land us in the hell we don’t believe in. By the way, John Lennon is dead too. And so are all those guys in the Gospel reading who didn’t believe in Jesus.

But Jesus isn’t dead. He is. He always has been. He always will be. He in an incomprehensible way is the true God in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. No wonder so many people don’t believe in the true God. They want God on their own terms. Imagine there’s no heaven and hell, that we can all just get along on our own. Imagine a god who puts an end to suffering and unfairness and evil. Imagine if God would only do what we want Him to do!

Well, it’s not going to happen. God wouldn’t be God if He were to stoop to our terms so that we could be appeased. God sticks to His terms because that’s the only way we have any hope. When Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd” that means He always is the Good Shepherd, no matter what. When He says “I am the Door” that means He always is the way to eternal life. When He says “I am the Vine” that means He always is our only source for forgiveness, life, and salvation. When He says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” that means He at all times is the way, the truth, and the life.

The people of God in the Old Testament had been under the heavy hand of slavery for four hundred years. You think they wondered about their God? You think they had second thoughts about His sovereignty, His love for them? When God told Moses to go to them with the good news that He would rescue them Moses scoffed at the idea. Who will I tell them sent me? God’s answer was “Tell them I AM has sent you.” Because the God who saved the Israelites from their slavery to Egypt is the God who has saved His people from slavery to sin.

The God who is is the God who is always for His people. When Jesus said “before Abraham was I am,” the people He said it to knew that He was claiming to be God. And when you’re God you make that claim—even if people don’t accept you on your terms. So that’s what Jesus has done. He has claimed that He is the one true God. Most people don’t believe it. At times we have our doubts about Him. But He remains God. He will always be God because He is and always has been.

The one true God is the God who has made Himself known to the world preeminently in the Son, Jesus Christ. He is the great I AM and is in perfect unity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. He didn’t check with us first to see how He should make Himself known to us. Rather, He has told us who He is and that is that. He is who He is. And that just happens to be the only God. The true God. The one who though He doesn’t stoop down to our terms does stoop down to us to save us.

For the one true God is the one who though He is above man became man in order to save mankind from sin. The one true God is above all else the God of mercy and steadfast kindness. The triune God is the God who distinguishes Himself from all the false gods of all the other religions by humbling Himself to become as we are and suffer as we could never imagine.

All so that we may be with Him, the only true God, forever in heaven. Amen.

SDG

Friday, June 1, 2007

Justin, Martyr

Born at the beginning of the second century, Justin was raised in a pagan family. He was a student of philosophy who converted to the Christian faith and became a teacher in Ephesus and Rome. After refusing to make pagan sacrifices, he was arrested, tried and executed, along with six other believers. The official Roman court proceedings of his trial before Rusticius, a Roman prelate, document his confession of faith. The account of his martyrdom became a source of great encouragement to the early Christian community. Much of what we know of early liturgical practice comes from Justin.

[From The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod Commission on Worship]