27 February 2006

From Death Into Life

From Death Into Life

Jesus called the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."
Mark 8.34-35

I've seen a lot of death and dying in the past year. As a pastor, of course, I've taken part in my share of funerals. Accompanying a family through their grief is a great honor that all of us clergy folks do not take lightly. But I've brushed with death in many ways this year that have nothing to do with my vocation as a pastor – but they have everything to do with my life as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Late last April, my friend and mentor, Pastor Larry Meyer of the Lutheran Student Center at the University of Nebraska, died of esophageal cancer. In August, one of my most beloved seminary professors died of Parkinson's disease. In December, I mentioned to a friend how hard Christmas can be because my grandfather died December 20, 1996 – his wife, my grandmother Ruth Johnson, died on January 3, 2006 of heart failure. My wife's own 'Grandma Ruth,' who married my wife's grandfather late in life, passed away just a few weeks ago. These brushes with death aren't all, either; my mother has fought cancer in the past year, winning the battle for now but with no guarantees for the future. My father and I had a talk several months ago about Grandma's heart condition and his realization that when she died, there would be no parent between himself and his own death. It was a humbling, holy experience to sit with my father and speak so honestly about these things, but it was also a very hard experience, since none of us likes to consider the reality of our mortality.

Yet here we are, preparing for Ash Wednesday, when I'll stand in front of our congregation and mark the foreheads of each worshiper with the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday palm branches. I'll tell these people I dearly love to "remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I will ask them to consider their own death as they consider the life of Jesus our Savior and His journey toward His own death. These are not easy things to discuss.

But discuss them we must, for the alternative is worse by far. Jesus tells us that we cannot save our lives, no matter how hard we try. Denying death, as much of our culture seems determined to do, only creates a kind of false life, one focused on the denial of age, focused on the centrality of the self, focused on the 'purchase of happiness' regardless of the cost to self and neighbor. Newsweek has been running a series of articles on the baby boomer generation, and frankly I've never seen a more selfish, arrogant, delusional group of people than those who insist that they can have exactly the kind of life they want at no cost to themselves or those they love. This kind of life is false, it is dangerous, and it is precisely what Jesus is attacking when He says that 'those who want to save their life will lose it.'

As we begin our Lenten journey, consider what it means to admit that you are a dying creature, drawing nearer even at this moment to the end of this life. As you go forward to receive the mark of ashes on your forehead tomorrow, God will call you into repentance for your sins, and God will promise you the forgiveness that is real life. We who are dying are given new life here and now through our Savior's invitation to follow Him. As you remember that you are dust, remember also that God is breathing new life into that dust through our Lord Jesus Christ, that in Him and Him alone we move from death into life.

26 February 2006

just a thought...

Got one of those 'question' emails (you know, 1. what's your name; 2. what's your favorite food...) from my mother. Here's the question: "Have you ever loved someone so much it made you cry?" Her answer? "Yes."

Hmmm. Made her cry more than once many, many years ago. But I still feel bad. Do we ever really 'grow up'?


"The Thinnest of Veils - The Brightest of Lights" - A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Preaching Text: Mark 9.2-9
Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James & John

O Morning Star, how fair and bright, You shine with God’s own truth and light, aglow with grace and mercy!
Of Jacob’s race, King David’s son, Our Lord and master, You have won our hearts to serve You only!
Lowly, holy, Great and glorious, all victorious, rich in blessing! Rule and might o’er all possessing!

Come, heav’nly bridegroom, light divine, and deep within our hearts now shine; there light a flame undying!
In Your one body let us be as living branches of a tree; Your life our lives supplying.
Now, though daily Earth’s deep sadness may perplex us and distress us, yet with heav’nly joy You bless us.

The Thinnest of Veils

A speaker we heard last Monday night said that in Celtic mythology the space between heaven and earth is very thin, that the presence of God is often separated from us by a thin veil of our own misperceptions. This speaker also said that at times of great significance and importance the veil is stretched to its thinnest limit of all. Those times are when the divine draws closest of all to us: birth and death, those moments when a great goal is achieved or lost, and especially the most famous of all Celtic observances, Samhain – which we celebrate today as the Eve of All Saints, or Halloween.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is not a Celtic mythology written into the Christian story. The fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the Transfiguration tells us that something happened when Peter, James & John followed their master Jesus up into the Galilean hill country. What it was we’ll never know for sure – but we do know that for God, for Jesus and for the disciples who followed him, that something was a something of great importance.

I think it’s safe to assume that we’ve all known ‘mountaintop’ experiences. For some of us in this human race, the phrase is a literal truth: some people actually climb to the top of the highest mountains in order to gaze out at the world below and appreciate its splendor. The crisp, thin air helps our eyes to see distance and detail far greater than normal human experience. With all the obstacles of the valley removed, we see the world with a different point of view; the hills and trees that seemed insurmountable from below are now just bumps and twigs. You see things differently from the top of the mountain; the veil between heaven and earth has never seemed thinner.

Even if you haven’t ever climbed a mountain, the metaphor remains the same; some great experience has come and given you clarity and vision far beyond your normal ability to see and understand. Maybe it’s an experience you pursued, or maybe it’s a circumstance that was forced upon you. One of my fellow pastors this week, a woman, compared the mountaintop experience to the experience of giving birth, something to which only some of you women can relate. But her description made it real for the rest of us: the way your body takes over, the way you cannot control what’s happening to you, the way it is holy because you are giving birth to some part of yourself which will now become a person, a child, the way your life is changed forever by this powerful experience.

Whatever your experience has been, you know that Peter and James and John had something remarkably similar that day in the hill country of Galilee. Their master called them to follow Him into something incredible, something beyond themselves. Their master led them to a place where the veil between heaven and earth was torn apart, and they saw Jesus in all His glory and splendor. And they were terrified.

It’s one thing to have a beloved teacher, someone to whom you pledge your allegiance because you believe that He has truth to impart to you. It’s another thing entirely to see your beloved Rabbi become something angelic and magnificent and wondrous beyond description right before your eyes. It’s another thing entirely to see your beloved Rabbi in consultation with Moses and Elijah, the two great figures of Israel’s history. It’s another thing entirely to come into the presence of the God of heaven and earth.

In the Transfiguration the veil between heaven and earth is gone, and Peter, James & John see what God has intended life to be from the beginning. They see friends so filled with the light of God’s presence that they are radiant. They hear the voice of God descending from heaven and calling them into relationship with God’s Son. Any kind of delusion they might have built to protect themselves from their own failings, from their own mundane lives, from their bondage to sin was gone – burned away by the light of the presence of God in that place. Is it any wonder they were terrified? Sinners who come into the presence of the Holy are guaranteed that death will follow soon after – and even if their bodies didn’t die, their false sense of security in the reality they had known was destroyed by that wondrous light and by the thundering voice of God. Time and space stood still for a moment while Peter, James and John were given a glimpse into the eternity that is God almighty and God’s Son Jesus, the Christ.

Lord, when You look on us in love, at once there falls from God above a ray of purest pleasure.
Your Word and Spirit, flesh and blood refresh our souls with heav’nly food. You are our dearest treasure!
Let Your mercy warm and cheer us! Oh, draw near us! For You teach us God’s own love through You has reached us.

Almighty Father, in Your Son You loved us, when not yet begun was this old earth’s foundation!
Your Son has ransomed us in love to live in Him here and above; this is Your great salvation.
Aleluia! Christ the living to us giving life forever, keeps us Yours and fails us never!

The Brightest of Lights
Mark notes that Jesus was the brightest of all lights on that mountain that day. Jesus’ clothes were more dazzlingly bright than anything on earth had ever been. Was that light burned into their eyes? Did Peter say such remarkably silly things because the choice was either speak or die? We don’t know. We know that Jesus became on that day the brightest of all lights – He was transfigured from the poor homeless teacher and carpenter into the glorious Son of God, the mighty one who speaks with Moses and Elijah as an equal. The veil was torn and Jesus was shown for everything that He truly was.

But was He changed? Did Jesus become something different in that moment of transfiguration? NO. The voice from heaven did not say, “This was my beloved Son.” The voice from heaven did not say, “This is now my beloved Son.” The voice from heaven said, “This IS My beloved Son.” Jesus is the beloved Son of God. Jesus has always been the beloved Son of God. Jesus always will be the beloved Son of God. The mountaintop didn’t make Jesus anything different – the mountaintop changed Peter, James & John, but it did not change Jesus one iota.

The cloud of God’s presence comes to Peter, James & John to help them see. The voice of God, thundering out of that cloud, is a light to help them see Jesus clearly. And the brightest of lights on that mountain was not Jesus in full glory, splendor and magnificence: the brightest light came when the cloud was gone, when Moses and Elijah were gone, when the veil between heaven and earth snapped back into place and ‘they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.”

Mountaintop experiences are more than we can possibly contain within ourselves. Mountaintop experiences are times when our vulnerability is at its highest because the veil between our lives and the life of God is pulled away and our bondage to sin and death is burned away by the splendor of God’s presence. In this life we cannot withstand the holiness of God’s unrestrained power and presence – and so God sends a light into this world that we can embrace. God sends a light into this world that can call us into relationship and life. God sends a light into this world who can tell of God’s great and unchanging love for us. God sent Jesus into the world to give all the splendor and magnificence of God in a form and person we could see and love. That bright light in our darkness is Jesus: homeless, frail, human Jesus, who bears within Himself all the power and majesty of His Father’s great creative love.

Peter, James & John were given a great gift that day on the mountain, but that gift was not the light of Jesus’ magnificence; it was the walk down the mountain with their good friend Jesus. The gift was a messiah who stayed with them in their darkness, giving himself fully into the world so that the world might be brought out of darkness. The gift was only Jesus, as He was, God’s powerful Son and Peter, James & John’s loving, surprising, challenging teacher and friend. Jesus’ love for his friends was the light that sustained them through all darkness – and it is the light of that love that holds us in the valleys we walk when we aren’t on the mountain with Jesus in all his splendor.

What a gift we have this day – to see Jesus in all His splendor and to know that He is also our dearest friend and greatest treasure. What a gift we are given today – to know that when our time on the mountain is over, Jesus will walk with us into the valleys and plains of our lives and accompany us through all of our experiences, whether we rejoice on the mountain, despair in the valley, or simply slog our way through the flat, boring plains. In Him the veil between heaven and earth is pulled aside, because heaven is found where God loves – and only Jesus loves us in all our mountains, valleys and plains. Thanks be to Jesus, our fair and bright Morning Star. Amen.

What Joy to know, when life is past, the Lord we love is first and last, the end and the beginning!
He will on day, oh, glorious grace, transport us to that happy place beyond all tears and sinning!
Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Crown of gladness! We are yearning for the day of Your returning.

Oh, let the harps break forth in sound! Our joy be all with music crowned, our voices gaily blending!
For Christ goes with us all the way – today, tomorrow, ev’ry day! His love is never ending!
Sing out! Ring out! Jubilation! Exultation! Tell the story!
Great is He the King of glory!

22 February 2006

High Callings and Olympic training...

Real Live Preacher always has interesting things to say about the church - sometimes he says it in other places than his weblog. I read this to my confirmation kids Wednesday night as our opening prayer.

It's been interesting training for the marathon while the Olympics is on television. We have a treadmill set up facing a television in the basement, and I've been splitting my time between watching the Olympics and listening to The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper. I find that I run harder watching downhill skiers or the Nordic ski events - funny, huh? Maybe I should dig out the Nebraska games I have on tape & use them for motivation, too; nothing like watching Tommie Frazier & the 1995 Huskers obliterate the Florida Gators to get your blood running.

I'm a little frustrated because I'm not losing any weight so far while training. I'm going to start keeping a food journal to make sure I'm not sabotaging my own efforts by eating too many sweets. But while the miles are coming easier, the clothes are not growing any looser, and that was one of the fringe benefits I was most eagerly anticipating!


"Naked and Unashamed"

So many of us are hiding so much. We're like ducks on a pond - calm and unfuffled above water, paddling like the dickens underneath. (I forget who first used that illustration, but it's true). This article from Sojourners is perhaps worthy of thought.


21 February 2006

A Scrooge In Our Midst

Dear Scott & Kristin, B & D
I'm NOt quite sure if I can read through the subtle messages underlying your e-mails. I don't really kNOw if there's anything for me to add to this conversation. In fact, I'll probably only further entangle these kNOts of confusion.

Whether it's Lincoln or NOrfolk, I haven't been outside Omaha much myself. NObody ever comes to visit me, either, and it seems like NOthing much is happening.

With the recent sNOwstorm it's been a bit cold and feels as if that bitter NOrthern weather has blown down this way. I'm hoping it warms up, as does Cassie - she has a cold and a stuffy NOse.

Around here, it's just aNOther day, aNOther dollar, as they say, and I kNOw on my part that I am kNOcking on wood to make ends meet.

Take care, and I kNOw we'll see one aNOther again soon.


Rich Re$pon$e$

$cott & Kri$tin,
Thank you for your kind note. We value our friend$hip as well with you both.

However, if you are looking for any confirmation that we have been in Lincoln, NE in the la$t few day$, plea$e $end your $earch el$ewhere. We humble and poor folk from Platt$mouth, NE are $till in the $ame $tate as we were at thi$ time la$t week.

Our be$t wi$he$ to your que$t to find the friend that will reveal to you their venture to the U$top.

$o, my be$t wi$he$ to our friend (if you happen to be the person: either a woman in her 30$ or a man age$ 28 to 40 who $toped and purcha$ed the ticket at 3:09:28 p.m. on Friday 2/17/06 at the U-Stop convenience $tore at 110 We$t O $treet).

$incerely your$,
B, D, & Z

C and I al$o value your friend$hip, and the friend$hip of all of you
receiving thi$ email. Ye$$$$, we are the winner$$$ of the Powerball. Didn't you hear? I work at Cook'$, and C wa$ at Village Inn today and bought everyone lunch. We are already $haring our wealth. It'$ wonderful to be thi$ rich. We wi$h you could all feel how immen$ely happy we are.

We will continue to pray for you all, plea$e bear with the frigid northern wind and cold. You will all be receiving a check in the amount of $25,000 in the near future. Once we come forward, of cour$e.

We LOVE you all very much. Take care, we'll $ee you when we get back from our year long adventure through Europe, A$ia, Au$tralia, Mexico, and The Black Hill$.
C and L "Powerball" D



Are you hinting that you might be con$idering a call to the field of
fund rai$ing?

Nebra$ka Lutheran Outdoor Mini$trie$
27416 Ranch Road
A$hland, NE 68003

20 February 2006

To all our friend$ in Lincoln, Nebra$ka...

Deare$t friend$,
Thi$ is ju$t a $hort me$$age to all of you from the frozen north, where we are $truggling to $urvive the colde$t February we can remember. A$ we think of you back home in Nebra$ka, we can't help but $mile a$ we remember how much we love you. It $eem$ like ju$t ye$terday we were la$t together!

It'$ a hard life, the mini$try, filled with day$ of uncertainty and que$tioning - we have $o many concern$ about the operating fund$ for our churche$ and how they will pay our meager $alarie$. $tudent loan$ are al$o a heavy cro$$ to bear, but we are thankful that God ha$ been faithful to u$ by $urrounding u$ with friend$ like you.

There are $o many rea$on$ to be thankful for your friend$hip - I'm $ure I could come up with 356 million in the next 30 year$, or half that in one lump $um right away. It would be a taxing endeavor, for $ure, but being ble$$ed with $uch rich friend$ like you is an occa$ion for $elebration, don't you think? ($p!) By the by, I'm $ure you know that giving away the richne$$ of $uch friend$hip$ i$ not-$o-very taxing, either.

In $ummary, we $olicit your continued love and $upport, and wi$h you all the
riche$t of God'$ ble$$ing$.

$incerely your$,
$cott & Kri$tin


"Digging for the Word" - Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Epiphany

Preaching Text: Mark 2.1-12 - Jesus heals a paralyzed man.

In first century Capernaum, the rooftop of a house was an important thing to have. There's a good chance that the house which Jesus called 'home' in Capernaum was a simple, one-room building where sleeping areas & cooking areas were shared. In the middle of a hot Palestinian summer, you wouldn't want to sleep where you'd been baking bread all day – so most people moved their sleeping quarters upstairs when the days were hot. Rooftops were also hosting places, where you could host guests under a canopy; you'd get the breeze to cool you rather than the stifling air below.

These houses were made of stone and wood, but the rooftops were beams covered by thatch and clay. It was a hot, dirty job to build a roof that would support the weight of houseguests and be weatherproof. So you can imagine the chaos inside the house when the ceiling started coming down while Jesus was talking. The first little spill of dust might have gone unnoticed, but when the people inside heard the men upstairs breaking through the ceiling, they must have been astonished. As the clods of dirt started raining down, they must have been shocked, perhaps even frightened. But the gospel of Mark doesn't even mention the reaction of the crowd at this point – which has to make us wonder: "If digging through the roof wasn't a shocking thing, what was shocking to the people listening to Jesus?" Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we come to You for healing and You give us forgiveness. We come to You paralyzed by so many things, yet You know what it is we need the most. We humbly ask this day that You ignore the things for which we are asking and give us the healing we need – and give us the eyes and the wisdom to see the difference. In the name of Your Son Jesus we pray, Amen.

When the paralytic's friends started digging through the ceiling, we should notice that Jesus wasn't healing anybody. The crowds had gathered, but Mark doesn't tell us why they gathered. However, it's fairly safe to assume that they came because Jesus had developed a reputation as a healer in Capernaum. But look closely: for Jesus, the first priority was the Word He had for the people, and He was giving them that Word when He was interrupted.

You don't just pretend that nothing's happening when someone starts digging through the ceiling of your house. Bill Cosby once did a bit about how New Yorkers steadfastly refuse to be surprised by anything. He said, "I went out and I got a rhinocerous. Kept him in my apartment. I'd invite people over and they'd say, 'Oh, you have a rhinocerous. We used to have a rhinocerous.'" You can't do that, anymore than Jesus could have ignored the men digging through the roof to get to Him, and so Jesus allowed the crowd to change His teaching, so that He could blow their minds.

Here we have a man paralyzed in his body, whose friends were digging through the ceiling so that the man could be healed. We have no record of what Jesus was saying before the friends started digging, but I think we can be fairly certain that they were not digging through the ceiling to get to Jesus for teaching. They weren't digging for the Word that Jesus had to give; they were digging for healing. But Jesus had a surprise in store for these friends: instead of saying to the paralytic, ‘you’re healed,' Jesus said, ‘you’re forgiven.’ Now we have to wonder: what was the reaction of the friends when Jesus ignored what they were asking for and gave the paralytic something completely different.

But the paralytic wasn't the only person paralyzed in that crowd of listeners. There was a group of scribes who were paralyzed as well. Their paralysis wasn't physical: it was a paralysis of the heart. They saw a miracle of forgiveness take place and they questioned whether it could be real. For the paralytic, the obstacle between himself and Jesus was the roof of the house: for the scribes, the obstacle was their paralyzed hearts and their lack of faith in Jesus' authority. Just as the paralytic's friends dug through the ceiling to get him to Jesus, so Jesus started digging through their paralyzed hearts and paralyzed faith to give them the great surprise He had in store for them. The scribes were paralyzed by their thoughts of blasphemy and their questions about Jesus' authority, and Jesus didn't heal them by answering their questions but by raising more through forgiveness and a miracle of healing.

The central question in this whole reading is found in verses 6 and 7: "Who is this man who is saying and doing these things?" The scribes were RIGHT, by the way: only God can completely forgive sins. Notice carefully that Jesus didn't say "I" forgive your sins; he gave the paralytic a promise – 'your sins are forgiven.' It is only when the scribes began to question Jesus that He broke through their paralyzed hearts with a stronger Word – "I do have the authority to forgive sins, and just so you don't doubt it, I will heal to prove it. If I can heal the sick, then surely I can forgive sins as well."

It is here that we begin to see that Jesus was doing a new thing. Our reading from Isaiah this morning shows, however, that when God starts doing new things, people often have trouble seeing and believing it. The scribes, the paralytic's friends, and even the paralytic himself must have been astonished both by the fact that Jesus could heal AND by the fact that Jesus didn't consider his healing to be the first priority. Who is this man, really – and how is it that He considers forgiveness to be more important and perhaps more difficult than healing paralysis?

In Jesus the Word was breaking out into the world with God’s authority, a new thing that would change the world forever. In the Gospel of Mark we have surprises and astonishment from beginning to end – Jesus was pushing the boundaries all the way to Golgotha. Where there were obstacles to genuine faith in God, Jesus broke through them just like the paralytic's friends broke through the ceiling to get to Jesus. The difference, however, is that Jesus knew which obstacles to break through and what healing would be required on the other side.

By forgiving sins and healing paralysis, Jesus increased the stakes involved in His own ministry. For the scribes, at that moment, they had to begin considering that Jesus was either the Messiah or a lunatic – there was no middle ground left for them. C.S. Lewis perhaps described the stakes best in his book Mere Christianity:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon and you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."[1]

Jesus healed all kinds of paralysis that day in Capernaum – and none of it left anyone in easier or more certain circumstances.

The paralytic had to pick up his own mat and walk home – how in the world would he explain his healing to his family? What would he do now that he couldn't beg anymore? His life had been changed in ways he couldn't have predicted, but no one was able to show him how the future would turn out.

The paralytic's friends probably felt the same way – how do we treat this friend of ours now that he has been healed? For years we've given him our pity and our care; can we accept him in the wholeness of his healing? And if he needed forgiveness more than he needed healing, what does that say about us, who never needed to be healed of paralysis in the first place?

The scribes were saddled with a huge question: who is this man Jesus, who can heal paralysis and claims He can forgive sins?

And so here we are today, 2,000 years later. We've dug through the obstacles of sleep and cold and heaven knows what else to get here this morning, where Jesus is offering us His word and His healing. But the question remains: who is this man who forgives sins before He heals paralysis? If we are paralyzed in ways we don't know, what will happen to us if we, like the paralytic's friends, start digging for the word?

If we want to know who Jesus is, we have to look at what He’s doing. He is speaking the word – and what has Jesus’ word done so far in Mark? Jesus' word has been proclaimed as "Good News" for all people, news that proclaims the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus has gone out from Capernaum into the surrounding cities because this good news must be proclaimed for others; it is not news that can be limited to one place and one time. Jesus has shown us that the powers of darkness are not tolerated by the Word He brings; indeed, the ones who know this surprising, healing word the best are the ones who are threatened by its power. The demonic powers in Mark's early chapters show us that Jesus' word is a threat to their possession of human beings. We remember that Jesus' word is for us: Jesus calls people of all walks of life to follow His word, to "repent, believe in the good news." Finally, we hear that Jesus' word is a word of promise, too – “Your sins are forgiven”

This is what happens when we start digging for the Word: the Word starts digging for us, too. The word of Jesus is breaking through the obstacles of time & space to us, to we who are paralyzed people needing a word of forgiveness and healing. The word of Jesus is removing the paralysis of sin & death from us, from we who are paralyzed people held captive by the powers of darkness. The word of Jesus is challenging us, the strong and the weak in new and surprising ways – and we who are paralyzed people are astonished by its power to change, to transform, to heal wounds we never knew we had.

In Mark's gospel, people knew that Jesus had something spectacular to offer, even if they didn't understand it. People were digging through rooftops to get to Jesus – but the word Jesus brought to the people was often completely different than what they expected and what they thought they needed. Jesus was giving people what they needed, not what they wanted, and in so doing Jesus healed paralysis of body, mind and soul in ways that people didn't know was necessary.

In our world today, in our lives at this moment, what paralysis is Jesus breaking through? As we gather here this day, as we are digging for the Word we hope to hear, will we be astonished by the Word that Jesus brings? What happens when we start digging for the Word? God has planted in us a desire to be healed by Jesus, yet we become so paralyzed by our sin that we often ask Jesus for only what we want, which is far less than what we need.

Thanks be to God, though, because Jesus won't leave us paralyzed. The Word Jesus gives is a Word of surprise, a Word of astonishment, a Word of transformation. Jesus' Word goes past the symptoms we're trying to manage and begins to heal our deepest paralysis, in ways we cannot control and through means we cannot create by ourselves. When we start digging for the Word we want, Jesus starts digging to give us the Word we need – and He won't rest until we let Him heal us the way we need to be healed.

"Your sins are forgiven."

"I will bear your burdens with you."

"You are my beloved child and I will never let you go."

"I will die for you if that's what it takes to make you my own."

These are the kind of words that break through our paralyzed hearts and heal wounds we'd forgotten we had – and these are the words Jesus is digging through our paralysis to give us. Mind-blowing? Yes. Astonishing? Of course. Challenging? Absolutely. But Jesus won't have it any other way, not until we all stand before Him, amazed, glorifying God, and joining the heavenly chorus: "we've never seen anything like this!" Praise be to God for letting us dig for His Word. Amen.

[1] Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity

15 February 2006

Ooh, that smell...

This was just too funny not to post here. Consider it more evidence that I am as guilty of prejudice as any other person.

The quilters are meeting at our church today. They met here yesterday, too - a group of about eight women who laugh, cut, tie, stitch, and care for the world through their work. They make a bundle of quilts each year; at least 100, which are sent around the world for people who need warmth. I love the quilting ladies, probably because my grandmothers were both avid quilters and I have several of their blankets at home.

But let's face it - none of this year's quilters are spring chickens. I don't think any of them are younger than 60, most are approaching 70 and I know that at least one is approaching 80. I've been in enough houses, assisted living rooms and nursing homes to know that continence at that age isn't automatic. But remember - this is about my prejudices.

I was walking toward the kitchen to start making treats for tonight's Confirmation class while one of our older quilters was walking toward me. She smiled and kept walking. I smiled and went into the kitchen, when my nose was assaulted by the odor of...sulfur? Rotten eggs? Whatever it was, it was strong, and coming from the route the quilter had followed when walking toward me.

My head instantly went for the gutter, of course. My brother-in-law works in food service and taught me about 'crop-dusting:' farting in someone else's area. The thought of that little old lady cropdusting in the church just gave me the giggles. I actually thought about an article for the Wittenburg Door covering a church's plan to deal with an aging population and the 'issues' that might result from it.

Imagine my chagrin when I opened the door to our utility room and discovered that a floor drain was the culprit. Several pitchers of water later, I think we've 'capped the well,' so to speak. But the odor of my prejudice remains - and it won't wash off so easily. Thanks be to God I've been washed clean in my baptism - can you imagine the stink? :-)


12 February 2006

"Healing Naaman" - Sermon for 12 February 2006, the 6th Sunday after Epiphany

Preaching Text: II Kings 5.1-19

At the funeral for Coretta Scott King this past week, President Bill Clinton remarked, “I don’t want us to forget that there’s a woman in [that casket]…not a symbol – a real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments. And I don’t want us to forget that.” His point was that we should never make the mistake of seeing an image rather than a person; that all people, regardless of their position or their history are, in the end, just people. People with problems. People with success stories. People who struggle. People who can rest easy. People who need people… :-)

Naaman was a person – a man of great renown. But Naaman is not remembered for his splendid battle plans, his long list of military campaigns, or his prowess as a general of fighting men. Naaman is remembered for far different reasons – and you and I will someday be remembered for the same reasons. Let us pray.

Loving Father, you healed your servant Naaman in a way and for a reason completely different than he expected. You intruded on his life and chose to save him from himself and from his illness. We pray for the same intrusion in our own lives – for the same healing – for the same salvation. In Jesus’ name we come to you today – come and heal us. Amen.

In the Hebrew language there’s a bit of punctuation called an athnakh. You don’t need to remember that name – what you need to remember is what it does: it separates the phrases in a Hebrew sentence, and in often shows where the emphasis should lie. If you look at the insert in your bulletins this morning, you’ll see a visual aid I’ve cooked up for you. II Kings 5.1 is one sentence in Hebrew, the longest introduction in the Old Testament. At the top of the page, you’ll see that first verse diagrammed out for you; the athnakh is the pointed mark between the two phrases.

There are two main statements in II Kings 5.1: the first is that Naaman is a great general of the Aramean army. The second is that this mighty warrior has leprosy. One of these things is a huge problem for Naaman; which do you think is the problem?

We often assume that Naaman’s skin disease was the problem. But a careful, open reading of this story shows us that Naaman had far greater problems than leprosy, and the healing of his body was not the great miracle of the story.

The first of Naaman’s problems was his fame. If you look at your visual aid again, imagine that the athnakh is the balancing point of a teeter-totter and all of the phrases are ten-pound weights. Which side would be heavier? The fame & victory side, of course, and it is this fame that is the far greater problem for Naaman. Anyone with a subscription to Sports Illustrated or the Star Tribune can tell you what fame does to us – it skews our perspective until we begin to believe the hype and we begin to think that the world really DOES revolve around us. Naaman was no different than any of us – he was so successful that it had begun to mess with his head and with his heart.

The second of Naaman’s problems was the fact that God had started messing around in Naaman’s life. For reasons the writers of the Bible don’t tell us, God gave victory to Aram (Syria) through Naaman. Not only that, but Naaman had taken Israelite girls for slaves on one of his raids in Israel. I suppose the stories of what had happened to Egypt with their Israelite slaves hadn’t reached Aram yet. At any rate, God had been using Naaman to accomplish something, and God continued to mess in Naaman’s life even after Naaman had won great victories for Aram with God’s help.

Another problem for Naaman was the people to whom he looked for help. Notice that the first person to offer Naaman help is his wife’s servant girl, the one he had taken from Israel. The servant girl suggests that Naaman should go to the prophet in Israel. But the first person to whom Naaman looks for help is his king. The king of Aram sends Naaman to the king of Israel, and the merry-go-round of fame continues to twirl.

Here we have an interesting situation: two kings talking to each other about a man with leprosy that neither one can heal. The king of Aram has been defeating the armies of Israel with Naaman as his great general – now this general has come to the king of Israel to be cleansed of a disease that makes him ritually unclean and an outcast everywhere he goes. Oh, and this general has rolled through the countryside with 750 pounds of silver, 240 pounds of gold, and at least ten full sets of clothing. This is a treasure with an estimated value in 2005 of $700,000. Said treasure is rolling through the countryside on the chariots that have been rolling through the Israelite armies for the past few years. The message to the helpless king of Israel is simple: heal him and get a nice tidy little sum - don’t heal him and we’ll dump the treasure, wipe out your army, and then go home. The problem is that the king of Israel can’t heal Naaman – only the prophet Elisha can do that, as the servant girl clearly said all the way back in Damascus.

Thankfully, God continues to mess around in Naaman’s life. Elisha sends a message to the king: “Send Naaman to me, so that he may learn there’s a prophet in Israel.” It’s here that I always want to add, “By the way, Mr. King, you might want to try remembering this yourself next time.” It seems that everyone knows there's a king in Israel – but that knowledge isn't useful, helpful or even relevant at this point: Naaman was sent to a prophet, not a king. At any rate, Naaman goes to Elisha, and the healing of Naaman begins.

We might want to recall at this point that the function of a prophet isn’t telling the future – a prophet is the voice of God calling God’s people home. Prophets remind people that they have a God who has plans for us, as Jeremiah says, “plans for [our] welfare and not for harm, to give [us] a future with hope.”[1] Naaman didn’t know the God of Israel, but the God of Israel was determined to have Naaman, and so God sent Naaman to the prophet Elisha to be called home.

Naaman, however, was going to be a hard one to catch. Naaman, you see, still thought his problem was leprosy. Naaman thought that the prophet was primarily concerned with healing his body. Naaman thought that his great fame would bring the prophet running. And Naaman thought wrong.

Look at your bulletin insert again. Even though "Naaman's problem" is the only one of the three that appears in the actual Hebrew text, the principle remains the same. "Naaman's Miracle" asks us which was the greater miracle: Naaman's healed body, or Naaman's healed pride? See for yourself.

What Elisha did to Naaman is beautifully provocative. Elisha sent a messenger with a prescription: “Go wash in the Jordan seven times and you will be clean.” The Jordan really is a dirty, smelly trickle compared to the rivers of Damascus. And Naaman, the great and mighty general, had just travelled across Israel with all his horses and chariots to be met by a prophet’s errand boy. The first step to healing Naaman’s pride was been taken even before Naaman’s leprosy becomes an issue.

Naaman, of course, was furious. In Naaman’s experience, prophets and magicians were servants to the rich and mighty. They were order-takers, not order-givers. What Naaman didn't know is that the prophets of God in Israel had a tendency to work against the rich and mighty, or at least to be thorns in the sides of the rich and mighty. Elisha was following in the footsteps of Samuel, Nathan, and his own teacher Elijah by challenging the powerful to see that the limits of their power were more easily reached than they might have thought.

Once again, it was the servant that came to the rescue. The people of great power in Naaman’s life all deserted him: the king of Aram was miles away, the king of Israel couldn’t help him, and the prophet wouldn’t meet with him, but Naaman’s servants remained faithful. The powerful and mighty were helpless, but the servants were the movers and shakers of Naaman’s life. “Why not try it?” suggested the servant – and Naaman’s life was changed forever.

In the healing of his body, Naaman was also beginning to be healed in his soul. The pride that made Naaman offended by Elisha's indifferent prescription was washed away in the Jordan with his leprosy. The far greater burden of Naaman's hard heart was healed when Naaman listened to the advice of his servants and allowed himself to be healed by God's mercy and grace. Naaman wasn't the only leper in Israel on that day, but for reasons we still don't understand, God chose to heal Naaman, the great general of an enemy army. The only thing we can say with certainty is that God wanted to heal Naaman's body and capture Naaman's heart in faith – and God accomplished both.

We know that Naaman's heart was the greater prize because of the actions of the prophet. Elisha couldn't be bothered to attend to Naaman's leprosy, but when Naaman came to make a confession of his newfound faith in the God of Israel, Elisha received him and his entire army. When Naaman said that "there is no God in all the earth except in Israel," Elisha knew that Naaman's heart was God's prize all along, that God had freed Naaman from his leprosy in order to free him of the greater burden of misplaced faith in his own accomplishments. Thus Elisha receives the general's confession.

Naaman has one last problem to address: all that treasure. Remember, he had the 750 pounds of silver, 240 pounds of gold and ten sets of clothes to give away – wouldn't this prophet be ever so pleased with such a gift? Wouldn't Naaman's newfound God be honored if Naaman gave such a gift? In a word, NO! The payment of far greater worth for Naaman, Elisha and God would be the faith of Naaman, who must return to a pagan kingdom and support the rule of a pagan king! Elisha accepts no payment but faith, even if that faith must hide under the duties of political power – Naaman's heart and faith belong to God, even if his responsibilities as a general might suggest otherwise. Naaman is asking God's forgiveness in advance for being a good friend to a king that he loves; and God, who has chosen Naaman and will have no one else, permits this one request. Now that God has Naaman's faith, there is no other treasure that can compare.

Finally we see that underneath all the armor, "there's a man in there!" Naaman, like Coretta Scott King, was just a person – "a real [man] who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments." And so are we. Like Naaman, we are captured as much by our dreams and accomplishments as we are by our nightmares and disappointments. Like Naaman, we often think that if we can just rid ourselves of our weaknesses and burdens, we'll live a better life, when in actuality our strengths and our weaknesses are all burdens to be carried and dangers against which we must constantly be on guard. Like Naaman, you probably don't know why God chose you – but here's the great miracle: God has chosen you, and the greatest miracle God can give you is the healing of your hardened heart – the faith that tells you that there is no God on earth except for this God who heals you. A leper came to Jesus once and said, "If you choose, you can heal me," and Jesus did exactly that. But the greater miracle for that leper, for Naaman, for millions throughout our history and for us today, is that God chooses to capture our hearts in order that we might believe. Amen.

[1] Jeremiah 29.11

11 February 2006

Gobbling Books

I shared in an earlier post that I've been listening to Stephen King's Bag of Bones while I train for the marathon. Well, I was. Got to the point that I was doing twice as much 'cooldown' as I needed because I hated to stop listening to the thing. Finally I took Thursday night and finished it while I was home alone (Kris is visiting her sister this weekend). I just couldn't help myself this time.

This isn't the first time I've done this with a book; there seem to be some times and authors that just demand that I keep reading. Others I can enjoy just as much at a more savory pace. I wonder why that happens?

Anyway, here are a few books I've 'gobbled' in the past few years:
Stephen King - Cell; Bag of Bones; Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla; Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah; Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
Phillip Pullman - His Dark Materials I: The Golden Compass; His Dark Materials II: The Subtle Knife; His Dark Materials III: The Amber Spyglass
Bo Giertz - The Hammer of God

And here are some others I've enjoyed at a much slower pace:
Patrick O'Brien - Master and Commander and Post Captain ('Lucky' Jack Aubrey I & II)
Anne Proulx - The Shipping News (Proulx also wrote a little book that's receiving some attention lately - Brokeback Mountain)
Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Haven Kimmel - The Solace of Leaving Early

Comments as to what you've read lately that's worth reading would be much appreciated, as would any comments on the list I've presented here.


08 February 2006

Training - Five Mile Morning

So I made a slight 'oops' this morning - went above and beyond the call of duty and ran five miles on the treadmill when I should have run four. But it feels good to have tired legs today - I know I've been working hard and I'm laying the groundwork for a successful marathon debut.

Today is a busy day for me - text study in the morning, leading the WELCA Bible study just now, planning and leading confirmation, then our Council meeting at 8:00. I'll get home tired tonight, but with much accomplished.


06 February 2006

The Latest Idol To Go...

I forgot to mention that last week we finally cut off our cable television. We had made this one of our resolutions this year, that after the college football season we'd take the plunge. The cable guy came on Friday morning and did the deed.

We really don't miss it, to be perfectly frank. Two Sundays ago we wasted an entire afternoon watching "Mythbusters," and while I would worry more if it had been "I Love the 80s" or "Laguna Beach," there's still that feeling of fuzzy discontent when you spend a day vapidly staring at the idiot box.

I'm really concerned with the deep level of impact that television has on our lives - consider this our little joust at the windmill. No, we aren't cut off completely: we still watch the network shows that we like, and the remote can still cycle through the channels. But we're saving money, and honestly, we're both reading more even in the last week than we had in the months previous. We'll probably hook back up again come September, so we can get Nebraska & Oregon football games - I guess that's an idol that'll die a little harder.


05 February 2006

Fargo Marathon Training - Week Two

Week one is officially under my belt today. Ran 19 miles last week on the treadmill and even today I can tell a difference in myself. Today when I got home from worship I had a headache and hadn't eaten anything since 6:30am, but I hit three miles in 31 minutes without working terribly hard to do it. It feels SO good to get my running legs back underneath me again! And we love having the treadmill, as it's so easy to work out when the weather is bad (January) or cold (this weekend has been in the single digits). Yes, I do run in the cold, but not just right now - I need to get back into better shape before I go back outside into the cold.

I had a headache because we ran out of coffee yesterday and I only had time for one cup at the church before everyone started arriving. I think I had an easier time quitting cigarettes than I would have if I tried to quit drinking coffee - I am hooked through the frigging bag on the stuff. Bought a new bag of Fair Trade beans from our mission trip kids this morning and made a pot after I was done running. The really cool thing is that it appears I can temporarily disable caffeine withdrawal headaches with running endorphins; my headache disappeared after 10 minutes on the treadmill and came back just as I poured my first cup.

I've also lost three pounds this week, according to the cheapo scale we keep in the bathroom. Hopefully that's a trend that will continue as well - it's nice to feel your jeans getting looser again. Just gotta ease up on the chocolate!

Anyhoo, that's the training update - three miles and stretch today. Now for the comfy chair, the Sunday paper, my cuppa joe and three hours of Super Bowl pregame. Then it's off into the cold, cold offseason - when do the golf courses open up again? :-)


Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany - "Healing to Serve, Serving to Heal"

Preaching Text: Mark 1.29-39

Imagine a steamy summer morning at a church camp in Ashland, Nebraska. A pastor has faithfully gathered his confirmation class for an hour of Bible study and discussion before the counselor takes them on a hike though the fragrant green woods to the ropes course. The counselor has the privilege of sitting in with the group during Bible study, and counts this as one of the great benefits of his job, because so many of these pastors share so much of themselves with their classes.

On the day you're imagining, the pastor wants to talk about questioning faith. The pastor is convinced that his kids will need a questioning faith - the kind of faith that is not afraid to explore its world and ask God questions when things don't make sense. So the pastor invites the class and the counselor to take five minutes and write down some questions they've wanted to ask God.

Little does the pastor know that the counselor's got a question burning in his heart. The counselor asks: "Why is it that my grandfather, the most loving man I know, is suffering in his old age? He's done nothing to deserve the arthritis that cripples him. He's done nothing to deserve the blood clots that cause him to have mini-strokes." Then the counselor adds what isn't written on his sheet: "Why is it that this man I love so much has to suffer? Doesn't God care?"

The counselor looks as surprised as the kids in the confirmation class at that last bit of questioning. It seems almost like a sin to say that God doesn't care about those who suffer – of course God cares! But the counselor's problem remains: people are suffering. A loving God is not intervening – at least, not in any way they can see. Thus, there are two possibilities: either God doesn't have the power to intervene, or God doesn't care. No one knows which one they would choose, but everyone in the group knows that they don't like to think about either one.

Let us pray: Holy Father, we your children are looking for Your healing touch. But You tell us You are known through the healing power of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to see how His power to heal truly works. Help us to see how His loving mercy forgives our sins, casts out the demons that threaten us, and frees us to bring Your healing word to a broken and suffering world. In His precious name we pray, Amen.

That young counselor was me, of course. I meant what I said about being grateful for sitting in on those Confirmation classes – I learned a lot from those kids and from their pastors. The pastor in question was most gracious in two ways: he let me ask the question my heart needed to ask, and he answered my question in a gentle, incredibly loving way.

I wonder if the people of Capernaum might have wanted to ask a similar question of Jesus and His disciples. The gospel of Mark tells us that one day after healing many of the sick and possessed people of Capernaum, Jesus left Capernaum and went to the neighboring towns. The gospel tells us that all the possessed and sick were brought to Jesus, but Jesus healed many and cast out many demons. Not all. Many. Is this worth noting?

I don't know if we need to split these particular hairs too finely, because one thing is certain: even if Jesus had healed all those who were brought to Him, one day's healing ministry certainly would not have completely eliminated suffering in Capernaum. I'm sure that within days there were more people struggling with illness. I'm certain that within hours there were more people fighting with demons. I'm certain of this because I know the strength and tenacity of the demons that threaten us, and I know that illness can strike at any time and in any place. You know this, too.

Imagine, then, what it must have felt like in Capernaum in those days. Remember that these were the days before many of the medicines we take for granted today. Sickness and illness struck without warning and without explanation. If you didn't know why your neighbor was sick, wouldn't you worry that you might become ill yourself if you spent too much time in her company? If you didn't know why your neighbor was tormented by demons, wouldn't you worry that you might be their next target if you spent too much time with him? Knowing all of this, wouldn't you assume that those who suffered from disease or any other illness were lost causes, people to be avoided, people to be kept in their homes until they either died or recovered?

Now, imagine that you are suffering from a debilitating illness. Your family cares for you, of course, but you can tell in their faces that they don't know if they should hope for your recovery or your death. Your friends and neighbors don't come around much, and when they do, they don't know how to act because they are scared of what's happening to you. And this is just the people you love struggling with your illness – you yourself are wondering: "what has happened to this body I've always trusted? How is it that I can't walk anymore? Why won't my stomach keep down food any more? What is happening to me?"

Peter's mother-in-law knew the unpredictable nature of illness; she had just experienced it. A fever in Jesus' time was no minor inconvenience; in the days before penicillin or Tylenol, you either broke your fever or it broke you. There's a good chance that Peter's mother might have died of her fever if Jesus hadn't healed her. So when this man lifted her out of her fever, she did the only thing that made sense to her: she served him.

In Jesus' day, the oldest woman of the house was the one who extended hospitality to her guests. This service that Peter's mother-in-law gave to Jesus wasn't the service of a submissive woman to an overbearing man; her service was the privilege and honor of a gracious hostess. It was not what was due from her as a woman – it was the gift of the entire family given through the matriarch of the household. This isn't a minor thing, the service of Peter's mother-in-law to her guests. It shows why Jesus healed her, why Jesus heals some and not others, and what it is that happens in our healing and in our service.

After Jesus heals the many in Capernaum, Mark tells us that He went out to a place where He could be alone to pray. How incredible would it have been to hear this prayer between Jesus and His Father! Of course we cannot begin to predict what it is they said to each other, but I wonder if perhaps Jesus was praying for strength and courage. Not for the strength and courage to continue healing, though – I think Jesus was praying for the strength and courage to leave the city of Capernaum, and I think He genuinely needed it.

It would have been very easy for Jesus to remain in Capernaum. Illness and demons would always need healing, and Jesus could have provided a great healing ministry to that one city if he had remained. There were good people who were suffering in Capernaum that day, people who had done nothing to deserve the illness and demons that threatened them. Yet we find Jesus praying by Himself when an entire city is looking for His help. We find Jesus moving on when the people of Capernaum are just discovering His power and His healing touch. Wouldn't you need strength to leave behind a city in such great need?

Jesus knew that His healing service in Capernaum could easily become a trap to keep His greater mission from bearing fruit. As wonderful as His healing ministry was, it was never the focus of Jesus' mission on earth. Remember that the beginning of Jesus' ministry comes with these words in Mark's gospel: "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near: repent, and believe in the good news."

As wonderful as healing may be, healing the body does not bring the kingdom of God near – the kingdom of God comes through faith in Jesus, the anointed Son of God. When Jesus healed in Capernaum, He healed because He loved the people – but He also healed so that they would receive the greater gift of faith and come to see that in Him the kingdom of God has indeed come near. Healing one body serves one person – but setting that person free in faith to serve their neighbor provides a healing that goes far beyond the body, a healing that grows and expands and begins to heal the wounds of a broken and suffering world. Only the kingdom of God coming near can provide this kind of healing, and only the spreading service of those who believe in Jesus Christ can make it happen.

Here, I believe, is the real reason that Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law: He healed her so that she could serve. As Peter's mother-in-law began to tell others the good news about Jesus, they might come to believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. When we begin to believe in Jesus, we find an entirely different kind of healing taking place: a healing of the deeper wounds caused by sin and death. As those wounds are healed, we find that the love that replaces them compels us to serve our neighbors, just as Peter's mother-in-law was compelled to serve after her body had been healed.

I imagine it was terribly difficult for Jesus to leave Capernaum. I'm sure He loved the people there very deeply, especially those He had healed in their bodies. But He could not heal their greater illness if He remained a simple medicine man in their midst. Jesus greatest service to the people of Capernaum was the day He left them still in need of healing. As Jesus proclaimed the good news to the neighboring towns, the kingdom of God came near to thousands, beginning to heal a world desperately in need, and as people came to believe in Jesus, they learned that love expressed through serving others provided a great healing as well, to themselves and to the world around them. And so Jesus healed to serve, and others served to heal.

My grandfather never recovered from the many illnesses that surrounded him in his later years. He died nine years ago, in the nursing home in Wakefield, sick in his body and tired in his soul. But I don't remember that illness these days. Nine years later, what I remember is my grandfather's smile, his laugh, his gentle kindness and his sense of humor. I remember the joy I felt in his presence and I remember his steadfast faith. I read the accounts of his life and I know the great healing that Jesus Christ provided to him, a healing that allowed him to face the demons and the illness in his life with courage and strength. If Jesus hadn't left Capernaum that day, perhaps the message of the kingdom of God wouldn't have left, either – and the great healing of our broken world would have stopped before it had ever begun. But He did leave, the kingdom did come near, and now we who are being healed by Him are compelled to serve in the world and continue His healing work. You and I have been healed in order that we may serve – and we serve in order that others may be healed. To God alone be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

02 February 2006

Remembering the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, 4 February will be the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor & theologian who was martyred by the Gestapo on 9 April 1945 at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. As you can see from the quote at the top of this blog, Bonhoeffer is an inspiration to me. Here are some links you can follow to learn more about this extraordinary man and the witness of his life.

A short online biography with a few pictures.

Speaking of Faith, a show on National Public Radio, will do a Bonhoeffer show this weekend.

Augsburg Fortress has compiled a short links site.

Martin Doblmeier made a documentary on Bonhoeffer a few years ago: here is the website for the film, which will air again on PBS on 6 February 2006.

As for me, I've broken one New Year's resolution and bought two books. The first was Stephen King's latest publication, Cell,which I allowed myself because I'm a collector. The second was A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Beginning on Monday, I'm going to read this book for my daily meditation time. It should be an interesting companion in the year ahead. I find that I'm always challenged, provoked, strengthened and nourished by Bonhoeffer; the man struggled mightily in his time and yet wrote with such profound honest and clarity about the world in which he lived! It's interesting to consider how I might be changed and challenged in the days ahead.


01 February 2006

Exhausted doesn't begin to describe...

I just finished teaching Confirmation not so long ago - about 20 minutes, to be exact. I'm pooped. Spent. Drained. Running on fumes. Left it all on the field. Proud.

Yup - I meant that last one, too. I LOVE teaching Confirmation. Not because it's easy - it's not. Not because I'm good at it - I'm not. Not because I have a good curriculum - I do, but that's beside the point. I love teaching Confirmation because in the draining, exhausting, pouring out of teaching I really find fulfillment. I am fulfilled by the challenge of keeping 10 12-14 year-olds engaged in God's Word for 90 minutes. I am really excited about the moment when one of them makes a connection they have not made previously. It happens almost every week - and seeing that light go off in their minds is a truly wonderful thing.

It's been a good day. I started at 7:30 with a four-mile workout on the treadmill. Ate breakfast and showered. Drove to Alexandria. Led our weekly text study, then met Kris for lunch at our favorite lunch spot. Bought pizzas for our weekly pizza lunch & a few items for home. Got other goods for the church at Target, grabbed a coffee at Caribou, then drove home (between an hour in the car and my time on the treadmill I made a serious dent in Bag of Bones today, and now I remember why I think it's one of Stephen King's best). Preached & led worship at the nursing home. Read the daily paper. Prepped for Confirmation. Taught Confirmation. Now I'm blogging. Soon as I'm done I'll close up the church, go home, have a cold beer & watch Lost with my loving wife.

It's been a good day - a full day - a blessed day. The battle has not gone to the swift today, but to the faithful; and I'm glad God has kept me faithful today.


PS: I read King's new novel Cell last night. All of it. Tried to sleep but had to finish it. I haven't felt like this about a book in months. What a great feeling. Good read, too - starts off with a bang (serious gore & mayhem within the first 1,000 words) and just keeps you hooked. Not one of his most artistic, and I definitely wish the story had explained more, but sometimes it's awesome to be left hanging, too. Highly recommended.