Saturday, October 01, 2016

Another senseless tragedy

A six year old, Jacob Hall, died today. He had been shot this past week as he was heading for the playground at the elementary school he attended. The shooter was a teen who had earlier killed his father and who, after shooting Jacob, drove to the high school he attended and opened fire on people there.

According to The Washington Post:
Jacob Hall had been in critical condition on life support since Wednesday, when he, another student and a teacher were wounded at Townville Elementary School, about 40 miles west of Greenville, S.C.

A bullet struck the boy’s leg as he burst through the school door for recess, striking his femoral artery. He was resuscitated twice and underwent surgery, but he bled so much from the wound that it caused brain damage.
I offer no political opinions here.

But, while homicides are generally down in the United States, we do have a disturbing problem with these kinds of shootings and killings.

They happen at schools, universities, shopping malls, and movie theaters with sickening frequency.

Other first world countries, I'm sure, have as many disturbed people per capita as the United States. But this kind of thing happens with far less regularity in other advanced nations than it does here. The carnage thus appears unnecessary.

I pray that God will give us the wisdom to find the combination of solutions needed to end this horrible scourge. It's almost unbearable to think that more parents and loved ones, like the parents and family of Jacob Hall, should face what they're now going through if we can find ways to prevent such tragedies.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]


Friday, September 30, 2016

A Humble Legislator?

Once upon a brief time (one year before I went to seminary), I worked for the Ohio House of Representatives. And once upon a time, I wrote several extremely brief articles for Columbus Monthly magazine. So, this article rating the best and worst members of Ohio's General Assembly (that's what we call our state legislature) particularly intrigued me.

Over the years, I've known several members of the current crop of legislators, Republican and Democratic. I can only report that of the legislators I know who are mentioned on the list, I'd say the list is both spot-on and fair.

The most intriguing legislator picked for special mention is Rep. Sarah LaTourette, who I've never met. But the Columbus Monthly assessment, based on interviews done with legislators, staffers, lobbyists, and political insiders, is glowing. Choosing her as "rookie of the year," the magazine says:
The daughter of the late Congressman Steve LaTourette impressed Statehouse insiders with her humility, work ethic and curiosity. The 33-year-old freshman representative “understands the legislative process, understands what you have to do to get things done, understands that it’s not glamorous,” says one respondent.

“She knows what she doesn’t know, and she knows what she wants to learn, and she will ask anybody about it,” says a lobbyist. “That’s a great trait in a young legislator.”

Other insiders describe her as “thoughtful,” “easy to talk to,” and “savvy beyond her years.” “She’s got a chance to be a star,” says a lobbyist.
Humility? How often do you see that term used of anyone in the public eye? I know nothing about LaTourette's politics, other than her being a Republican. But I can go for humility in a politician.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]


Here to Stay by Sophie Lockhart

Here's the lyric video for the title track of Sophie's new EP. I heard her perform this live some months back and it was great. But this version produced in a studio is particularly fetching. The EP will be available on iTunes and Amazon tomorrow.

Can I Lose Jesus? No!

My quiet time with God these days has revolved around the New Testament book of 1 John. Thought to be written between 85-90 AD from Ephesus to groups of Gentile Christians by the apostle John, it embodies timeless, authoritative words for today. Two verses struck me this morning:
No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him...No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. [1 John 3:6, 9]
Clearly, John doesn't mean to say that those who "abide" in the God we know in Jesus are incapable of sinning. In the previous chapter, for example, he writes: "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." [1 John 2:1]

I think instead, that John is saying, first of all, that when we abide in Jesus, our desire for sin is changed. We recognize that the life God has in mind for us--and modeled for us perfectly in Jesus--is so much better than the sins we might choose, developing a passion, a thirst for seeking to live according to God's will as revealed in the Bible.

Secondly, when we abide in Jesus, we're tuned into His voice, His Word, His will. When He calls us back from sin, we hear it. Habitual sin drowns out His voice.

A big key to understanding this verse, I think, is that word, abide. In the Greek in which John composed his letter, the word is meno. It has the idea of remaining, sticking with it, always coming back to. We might say, faithfulness.

The bottom line is that Christ is ushered into our lives at our Baptism or when we come to trust in Him as Lord. So long as we continue to trust in Him, keep inviting Him in, He will abide with us. In fact, the only way Christ will fail to be present with us is we willfully evict Him from our lives. Otherwise, He will abide.

The risen Jesus gives us an idea of His intention to stick with us--to literally live with and in us--no matter what in Revelation 3:20: "
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

If we make a habit of a particular sin though, we turn Jesus out. If that habitual sin is done willfully, Jesus is turned away. Jesus will not coexist with willful rejection of Him and His Word.

John is saying that no one grateful for what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross--taking the punishment for sin that we deserve--is going to keep willfully sinning.

They will (I will), of course, sin a thousand times a day. Until our old selves are finally crucified at our deaths, the new self that Jesus has already brought to life in those who believe in Him will not live in perfect fellowship with Christ.

But no one grateful for what Christ accomplished for us on the cross will fail to hear God speaking to them through His Word, through the Sacraments, through prayer, through the fellowship of the Church. Even in this life. The call to repentance, renewal, reform, and restoration will be clear.

I find this immensely comforting. Christ doesn't give up on us.

In my life as a Christian, I have engaged in habitual sin. These sins became so ingrained in me that I nearly forgot Christ. Thank God for all the things I mentioned above--God's Word, the Sacraments, prayer in Jesus' name, and the fellowship of other Christians who give me a kick in the pants and the kiss of grace--for waking me up. Like Jesus calling His dead friend Lazarus back to life from his tomb, Jesus never ties of calling us back from the dead ends of sin, back to life with Him.

So, can I lose Jesus? No. But I can get lost.

What I know is this: I want to abide in Jesus and Him to abide in me for eternity. And as long as I want Jesus, He will stick it out with me.

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Way to Go, Sophie!

Sophie Lockhart's new EP, Here to Stay, arrived yesterday.

I haven't had the chance to listen to it yet. But this young woman from Dayton is a phenomenal talent.

I'm really looking forward to listening.

Way to go, Sophie!


Heartbreaking

"For Small-Town Cops, Opioid Scourge Hits Close to Home"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Let Me Roll It by Paul McCartney

And since I posted one from Band on the Run, here's another.



I want to tell you
And now's the time
I want to tell you that
You're going to be mine
An emphatic declarative statement to go with a rocker.

Mrs. Vandebilt by Paul McCartney

Speaking of Ho Hey, here's a 1974 tune in which Paul McCartney uses the phrase, "Ho hey ho, ho hey ho," Mrs. Vandebilt. It comes from one of Macca's best solo LPs, Band on the Run.

Ho Hey by the Lumineers

A New York City love folk song.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Now is the Moment

Luke 16:19-31
The basic story that Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 16:19-31, had, scholars say, been around for centuries before Jesus told it. But as was true of everything Jesus said and did, He turned the old tale on its head in His telling of it. The twist Jesus gives it is designed to get our attention and to remind us of the urgent need each of us has to turn from sin and claim God’s grace now.


Jesus says: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.” Purple was, in the ancient world, the color of royalty and of the wealthy. The “fine linen” referred to here is an expensive underwear imported from Egypt. Ordinary folks couldn’t afford it. This first character mentioned in the parable really is a rich guy then.

Read on, please. “At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” The verb translated here as laid literally means thrown. This beggar has been tossed aside by a world that has no use for the poor, the powerless, the incapacitated, the racially different. For all of the indignities to which this man is subjected though, the beggar is the only fictional character in any of Jesus’ parables given a name: Lazarus, meaning God is my help. (He’s not to be confused with the real man Jesus raised from the dead in Bethany.) The fact that Jesus gives this character a name indicates that God has a high regard for every human being made in His image, no matter what their status among other people may be. The name is ironic though, because no one seems to help Lazarus.

In those days, there were no napkins. (Or silverware.) So the wealthy used scraps of bread to wipe the residue of food off of the fingers they’d just used to eat, then tossed the bread scraps to the floor. And since this was in an age before Hoovers or Dysons, often, dogs, which no one kept as pets and lived as scavengers, would come along and eat the scraps from the floor. In Jesus' parable, Lazarus, desperately hungry, wishes that, like a dog, he could get to the bread scraps the rich man and his guests tossed on the floor. He can’t even do that! He occupies a place lower than dogs.

No two people could be more different than Lazarus and the unnamed rich man in Jesus’ parable. But the difference between them is greater than what can be observed by the naked eye.

See what happens next. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”

Don’t be misled here. Lazarus isn’t saved from hellish torment by his poverty and the rich man isn’t denied entrance into the heavenly banquet because of his wealth.

Abraham, the ancestor of all of God’s people, to whose side Lazarus is carried by the angels in Jesus' parable, was himself a wealthy man, wealthy enough to duke it out with kings and kingdoms. But his wealth didn’t keep him out of God’s kingdom.

There are poor people in God’s Kingdom. There are rich people in God’s Kingdom.

Entrance into God's Kingdom happens by a different route.

Genesis 15:6 says that Abraham (then Abram) “believed the Lord, and [God] credited it to [Abraham] as righteousness.” Abraham trusted the promises of God. He trusted God to cover his sins and give him a future. That’s what faith does. Its gifts are available today to all people who turn from sin and trust in the God we now know definitively in Jesus.

The rich man clearly had no faith in God. He lived in unrepentant disrespect for the God he knew about as a Jew, a descendant of Abraham, and as a consequence, with callous disregard for the poor man at his gate.

The rich man seems to feel no sense of irony about asking Abraham to send Lazarus to serve him by cooling his tongue, even though he had, in this life, passed on the opportunity to serve Lazarus in his need.

And it’s here that Jesus’ parable differs from the usual popular tale. Go to verse 25, please: “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’”

In the common folk tale, Abraham granted the rich man’s wish and sent Lazarus to Hades to give the man relief. But not in Jesus’ parable! Abraham refuses the request.

Why?

Because the rich man had countless opportunities in this life to repent for sin and trust in God as Lord of his life, Lord of his pocketbook, Lord of his attitudes and actions. He had chosen instead to be his own lord, to live for the moment, for his own convenience and comfort.

But time was up. He was past the point of God’s consolation.

Listen: God never tires of forgiving, renewing, and helping those who repent and trust in Him. Even the woeful Old Testament book of Lamentations declares: “...Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” [Lamentations 3:22-23].

God loves to forgive us and give us new life! As long as we are on this earth, we human beings, like the thief of the cross, can turn to Him.

But because this life is so fragile, so unpredictable, and because life with God here and now is indescribably better than it is without Him, the best time to turn to the God we know in Christ is now, this moment, every moment.

As the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “...now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

The rich man had wasted the gift of now--the gift of this life. Now it was over and he was inconsolable. Beyond the gates of death, there is and will always be a great chasm between those who trust in the Lord and those who trust in other things.

But, for all his lack of faith or compassion, the rich man in Jesus’ parable does seem to have what we would call “family values.” He thinks of his brothers, all evidently as unrepentant and disbelieving as he had been.

Verse 27: “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’”

For centuries, God had spoken to His people through “Moses [or the Law] and the Prophets,” what we call the Old Testament. That book, the record of God’s encounters with His people over centuries, had called God’s people--and even Gentiles who heard it--to repent and trust in God.

This Word, Abraham is telling the rich man, is sufficient to communicate God’s call to repent and believe...if people will only pay attention to it. This same Word should have been sufficient for Jesus’ fellow Jews to know that He was God in the flesh when they saw Him.

But people always seem to want one more thing for God to prove Himself and His authority to them.

Years ago, I got to know a Pentecostal pastor named Howard, a wonderful man. He and I had traveled to an event in downtown Cincinnati and, stuck in traffic, we talked about things that mattered to us. At one point, Howard said, "One of the things that bothers me about Pentecostals is that they're always looking for some new revelation from God, some fresh word of prophecy or direction. But the thing is, God has already told us everything we need to know on the pages of the Bible." I chuckled and said, "Howard, you sound like a Lutheran!"

What Howard was saying is exactly what Abraham tells the rich man in Jesus' parable: "God's Word is sufficient. You don't need to ask God to do something special to prove His Lordship or people's need to repent and believe. It's all there in black and white."

The rich man isn’t done, though. “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

‘No,’ Abraham says to the rich man in the parable, ‘if your brothers refuse to trust in God when they have the testimony of God’s faithfulness found in the Old Testament, they won’t believe a man risen from the dead.’

In our home church was a woman named Rosie. Rosie was older. She lived by herself and didn't say much. We were in an adult Sunday School class being taught by a seminarian, who asked us, "If you could add a commemoration or holiday to the church calendar, what would it be?" The question was met with silence until, of all people, Rosie spoke up. "Well, I always thought that we should have a day to thank God that we live now because if I'd been alive when Jesus walked the earth, I might not have believed in Him. Now, I know that He died and He rose and it makes it easier for me to believe."

You and I are especially blessed. We live on the other side of Easter: Jesus has died and He has risen from the dead. The Old Testament pointed forward to Jesus, God on earth. And we have the testimony of the New Testament about Jesus, how He died and rose to set free all people--Jews and Gentiles--from sin and death and to live in God’s kingdom now and for all eternity, if they will do what the rich man never saw the need to do until it was too late: To daily turn from sin and daily trust in Christ above all. Rosie was right!

“In the past,” Hebrews 1:1-2 in the New Testament tells us, “God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

Jesus has spoken to us, not just or even primarily with His words, but with one eternity-changing action, the sacrifice of His earthly life on the cross, where He took our punishment for sin and gained life for all who trust in Him.

Today and every today is a good day to repent and follow Jesus.

But watch out! When we do that, God will enlarge our hearts and help us see the poor men at our gates and even learn from them more deeply what it means to be a disciple. Amen

[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was presented during both worship services this morning.]