Friday, March 27, 2020

Malcolm Guite Reflects on Lucy's Time in the Library... Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

I Am the Resurrection

This one is from 1988. It's based on Jesus' words to Martha in this coming Sunday's Gospel lesson from John. It's a great promise for all who trust in Christ as their God and Savior.

Herbstreit is Right: Normal Won't Likely Be Here for A While

Centerville, Ohio product Kirk Herbstreit is obviously listening to the medical experts. Herbstreit, one-time Ohio State quarterback and a long-time college football analyst for ESPN, says he doesn't think that either college or pro football will be played this year.

I agree.

Barring a miracle, it will be many months before we can resume anything like a "normal" life. A vaccine likely won't be perfected until June of next year and vaccinations won't probably be widespread until late 2021.

The experts say that different regions of the country may be able to come out from under shelter-in-place and social distancing orders and advisories as 2020 unfolds.

But national policy will have to stipulate that if new outbreaks arise in those opened-up areas, new shutdowns will happen.

Again, barring a miracle for which I daily (hourly) pray, the shutdown is likely our way of life for a while.

The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which infected 500-million people (about a quarter of the earth's population then) and killed millions, is instructive for us, I think. In the early part of the year, the illnesses and fatalities began. When the summer arrived, the numbers of new cases went down and people more confidently interacted with others. But in the fall, the illnesses and deaths came roaring back with terrible ferocity.

Absent a vaccine, this could be our experience as well. But, as we're already seeing here in Ohio, we can "flatten the curve," that is, diminish the rapidity with which the flu is being passed from person to person and save many lives, with shutdowns, hand-washing, and social distancing.

I salute all on the front-lines of battling our common enemy, the coronavirus: doctors, nurses, other health care workers, first responders, epidemiologists, public health officials, and elected leaders.

Thanks also go to those who work in hospitals, drug stores, and grocery stores, truckers and others in the transportation industry, and everyone else who keep the essential goods and services in our country going right now.

Pray for a miracle. Prepare for the worst.

[See 'This is How We Can Beat the Coronavirus Epidemic' from The Atlantic and here.]

Reminders of God's Faithfulness and Power

Two Christian musical expressions, one a classic hymn, the other a contemporary worship song, both reminding us of God's faithfulness and power! We need these reminders now. More than that, we need the God revealed to all in the crucified and risen Jesus. Jesus gives life with God now and for eternity to all who turn from sin and trust in Him.

Holy Baptism (Back to Basics: Revisiting the Catechism, Part 4)

[This week's online Midweek Lenten worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, focuses was on Holy Baptism, part of our series, Back to the Basics: Revisiting the Catechism. Below is the video and the text of the message.]

In Holy Baptism, God saves us from sin, death, and separation from God

This is what God’s Word teaches us in 1 Peter. Recalling the global flood of Noah’s day, Peter says, “only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water [the water of the flood] symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:20-21)

Some Christians, confronted by the words of Jesus’ apostle, shake their heads in disbelief. “Wait a minute,” they say. “Baptism saves us? Don’t I have to do something? Don’t I have to decide to follow Jesus? ” 

Listen: Scripture teaches that all human beings are born with sinful natures (Psalm 51:5). 

Ephesians 2:3 tells us that, “we were by nature deserving of wrath.” 

I would have an infinitely greater chance of deciding to look like Matthew McConnaughey than I have of deciding to be saved or deciding to follow Jesus

If you were suddenly dumped into the Pacific Ocean, your capacity to yell for help, swim, or even cling to a piece of sinking flotsam could only take you so far. You could not save yourself! 

In Baptism, it’s God Who does the deciding and God has decided through Christ to save the baptized. 

At least that’s what God’s Word teaches.

So, Baptism is life-saving, life-changing stuff! Jesus tells Nicodemus in John, chapter 3: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…[and] Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:3, 5)

In Holy Baptism, God remakes us as human beings. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “... if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 

When God’s Word and His Holy Spirit assault chaos, including those born into the chaos of sin, new life happens

This has always been so! 

In Genesis 1, the Spirit moved over the waters of chaos and brought the universe into being. 

At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptizer. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. [the Bible tells us] And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22) 

This is what happens when we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God opens His kingdom to us and He sends us the Holy Spirit, the One Whose word brings the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to us and we become children of God.

But how, Luther asks in the Catechism, can water do such great things? “It is not the water [the Catechism says] that does these things, but the Word connected with the water and our faith which relies on that Word. For without the Word of God it is simply water and not Baptism. But when connected with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit.” 

Luther then quotes Paul’s New Testament letter to Titus: “[God] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5-8a)

In Holy Baptism, God’s saving Word about Jesus comes to us and remains with us, tenaciously refusing to leave us or give up on us even when we turn away from Him, when we stop worshiping God with His people, even when we cease to believe in Him

God will not force the baptized to believe in Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life

But, through the indelible commitment that God makes to us when we are baptized, He will keep bringing His saving Word to us so that we might believe in Jesus and be saved. 

This is what happened to me. I spurned God and claimed atheism as my religion for ten years. But God kept pointing me back to Jesus. God refused to give up on the commitment to be my Father and Lord and Savior that He made when I was born from above at the Baptismal font!  

Holy Baptism is the saving Word of God, embodied in the element of water. Just as I had no control over when I was born, I really have no control over when I am born anew in Holy Baptism. If we are baptized as infants, we cannot be unborn even if I walk away from God. And if a person is baptized as an adult, it will still be God Who calls them out of the darkness of sin and death into the light of His loving grace and will cause them to crave Holy Baptism. (In The Large Caetchism, Luther says that if a person comes to faith without having been yet baptized, they will "not despise" the sacrament!)

In the New Testament book of Acts, we read accounts both of individual adults being baptized after coming to faith in Jesus and of whole households, including the children, being baptized. 

In the entire New Testament, nobody says, “Before you can be baptized, you have to understand things.” 

And it doesn't say, “Before you are baptized, you have to reach a certain age.” 

Instead, the apostle Paul compares Holy Baptism to circumcision, the Jewish rite by which boys eight days old, were initiated into the faith. This happened long before they could know Who God is, long before they could understand the faith.

The evidence suggests that because God wants to give us new life and unleash His saving Word in people as soon as possible that the early Church baptized infants and children. They took Jesus’ words seriously, as we do, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:24)

In Holy Baptism, God gives all the baptized a share in Jesus’ victory over sin and death. On this point, Luther quotes Romans 6:4: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

As good Lutherans, we know that we can only be saved by grace through faith in Christ. 

That leaves the question of whether, like the man thrown overboard in the Pacific Ocean, we will stop striving and struggling and trust in Christ. 

And how do we do that? 

We don’tWe don't do anything!

The God Who comes to us in Holy Baptism sends us His Spirit to empower us to believe. “ one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit,” 1 Corinthians 12:3 reminds us. 

And the God Who comes to us in Holy Baptism keeps sending the baptized His saving Word: “ comes from hearing the message [that is, the Good News of Jesus], and the message is heard through the word about Christ,” Romans 10:17 teaches.

The Small Catechism reminds us that Christ has commissioned His Church to baptize. “...go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus commands us, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19) 

It also reminds us that Jesus tells us why we need to baptize. In Mark 16:16, Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” 

However God creates faith in Christ within us, we are saved. If you've already been baptized, it is Holy Baptism that is the primary engine by which God moves us toward faith. And if you've come to faith without baptism, you will surely want to be baptized, a holy desire God will create within you. (As He did in the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts.)

Jesus commands us to baptize so that people who cannot decide to follow Him by the power of their own wills may be reborn and so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in our lives each day, we will come to saving belief in Jesus and we will be sustained in that belief. 

That’s why Holy Baptism is so important. 

Our series ends next week with a look at Holy Communion.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Whenever Corporate Worship Happens Again...It'll Be Easter!

When we Christians are able to return to worshiping together--September, October, December, whenever, that first Sunday back will be Easter Sunday for me.

And if I'm not around here because of this virus, I will be celebrating Easter Sunday in the best place possible, in the direct presence of the Risen One in Whom I place my full trust. It's a win-win situation!

All thanks and praise to You, Lord Jesus!

Coronavirus Krogering

On Monday, I ordered groceries for pick-up from the Kroger on Main Street in Centerville. I'd never done this before. But a pandemic seemed like a good time to try it.

This afternoon between 1 and 2 PM was the designated time, but I received a notification on the Kroger app that I could arrive as early as noon. I showed up at 12:20, pulled into the designated parking spot, and called a number posted on a pole there.

A young man verified my information and said, "Please open your trunk and stay in your car, Mr. Daniels." I popped my trunk and the young man and a young woman, both gloved, came out with a shopping cart containing my items. The young woman approached my door, six feet distant, to explain that some items couldn't be included in my order and asked if that was OK. Of course, it was.

Shortly thereafter, the young man said, "Mr. Daniels, we're not allowed to close your trunk door. But everything is loaded. Have a good day!"

It was slick and I was impressed!

Kudos to the Centerville Kroger.

Thanks International Readers

The number of people taking a look at the blog has gone down in recent weeks, a trend that corresponds with the Coronavirus. With more people at home under "shelter in place" orders, I guess that people are watching more movies or binge-watching TV shows.

That's happened here at our home too.

I'm trying to watch as many episodes of Father Brown before it leaves Netflix, presumably to migrate to BritBox, on March 31. I watch about one of those forty-six-minute episodes at night before I sanitize our kitchen, bathrooms, door handles, drawers, faucets, and other frequently handled items, then get ready for bed.

On a slower pace, I watch episodes of Cadfael starring Derek Jacobi and Walking Through History with Sir Anthony Robinson (Tony Robinson).

When not running to get groceries or other errands or tending to her ninety-year-old mother, my wife is currently bingeing on Call the Midwife.

Clearly, we're Anglophiles.

Our daughter isn't when it comes to movies or TV shows, but is in the realm of music. Her bingeing show of choice is Golden Girls.

But for all the likely sheltering-in-place happening around the world, the blog still sees readers log on from different parts (and some unknown parts) of the world. I love that!

This is where Google tells me the most recent 1000 visitors are from, as of 12:56 AM, Thursday morning, March 26.

So, hello, everyone!

Welcome to the blog and please come back often.

I'm from the United States and have been to Germany and Canada. I would love to visit the other countries listed here someday and perhaps, when Coronavirus is conquered, as it will be, probably sometime in 2021, meet some who come here often. (By the way, I've also been to England but not the rest of the United Kingdom, Denmark, and France. But people from those countries aren't known to be among the most recent one-thousand visitors.)

Wherever you live, God bless you and protect you and your families from this pandemic.

May you experience His love and support in these times.

And may all who have already suffered the loss of loved ones the world over take refuge in the compassionate, forgiving, life-giving God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.

Thanks for coming here, readers!

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Coronavirus PSA: Please Watch!

Resurrection Hope!

Barring a Miracle, No Packed Churches This Easter Sunday

Apolitical statement: The notion that churches will be packed on Easter Sunday, April 12,  could be seen as dangerous wishful thinking. While I surmise that Mr. Trump was simply trying to be encouraging when he raised that possibility at a press conference, it has given rise to such dangerous wishful thinking on social media.

If the infectious disease experts think it's safe for people to congregate in crowds, then, of course, I, like every other Christian and pastor in the world, want to worship with God's people.

But medical professionals tell us that the coronavirus will not likely have reached its peak until the summer, especially since we only have significant lockdowns in some US states. (While, on successive days, the United Kingdom and India have joined the ranks of nations taking this step.)

Governors, both Republican and Democratic, have taken important steps in various states to mitigate this virus. But we have a long way to go yet.

Jesus could not be tempted by the devil to jump off the temple in Jerusalem despite God's promise in Psalm 91 that He will send His angels on behalf of believers to "lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone..."

Jesus flatly refused the devil, recalling that God's Word also tells believers, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16)

You see, God's promise of help to His people doesn't apply to circumstances in which God's people engage in deliberately dangerous behaviors that reflect poor stewardship of their lives. That would be, as Billy Graham used to say, "sowing your wild oats [in this case, engaging in the fantasy that believers are immune from the bad things that happen in our world], then praying for crop failure."

Monday, March 23, 2020

'A Spell in the Library with Malcolm Guite'

Poet, Anglican priest, scholar, and musician Malcolm Guite has begun a special series of short videos while were all sheltering in place. He's calling it, A Spell in the Library. Here are the first two videos: one introducing what he's up to and the other some readings and thoughts from George MacDonald and George Herbert. These are going to be wonderful visits with Guite and some of the writing that has most impacted his life.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

While It's Still Day

[This was shared during online worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, for Sunday, March 22, 2020.]

John 9:1-12
In our gospel lesson for this Sunday, Jesus tells His disciples, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

As He speaks here, Jesus, the One described by John the apostle as “[t]he true light that gives light to everyone,” knows that one day, darkness and condemnation for our sins will envelop Him. He will go to a cross, die, rise, and then ascend into heaven only to return to this world when the Father says it’s time. 

But until all of that happens, Jesus is intent on doing the works that God gave Him to do.

We who by God’s grace through faith in Jesus, belong to God, are called to a similar intent for our lives

No matter how dark the world may become, we are called to be about the work of the God Who has saved us from sin, death, darkness, and eternal condemnation.

In the coronavirus, our country and our world face perhaps the gravest physical threat to the human race since the invention of the atomic bomb. Now, we all, from the moment we are born, “walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4, ESV).” But we are all likely more conscious of it now than we have been at most times in our lives

Yet, as Bishop Dan Selbo pointed out during a conference call with deans last week, for all the dangers and difficulties with which this moment confronts us, it also brings us opportunities to be about the works of our Lord, to bring His light into the darkness

In an essay written during a sixteenth-century plague, Martin Luther wrote about the Christian’s duty in such circumstances. Luther said that not all had the duty to do the same things: some would be called to stay where the plague was happening, others to where it hadn't reached. But he asserted that the call of every Christian was to find ways to love others as Christ has loved us.

In our lesson, Jesus and His disciples are walking along when they encounter a man that we’re told was “blind from birth.” The disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

Whenever a person is afflicted with disease, adversity, or hardship, you can bank on it that someone somewhere will likely say either that it’s all the victim’s fault or someone else’s fault. The disciples believe themselves to be good people to whom a bad thing like being born blind could possibly happen. 

People say things like the disciples say to make themselves feel superior or safe. 

They do this even when they become afflicted and need a scapegoat.

But Jesus shows no interest in assigning blame for people’s afflictions. 

Jesus has different priorities. 

We see this in His reply to the disciples, found in verses 3-5. Most English translations get Jesus’ words at least partly wrong. Our translation, the New International Version, for example, says that Jesus answers: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned...but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.” 

The way Jesus’ words are rendered here seems still to imply that God caused the man to be blind in order that Jesus could perform the miracle of opening the man’s eyes to sight. 

But the Greek in which John composed his gospel reads literally like this: 
Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that the works of God might be revealed in him, we must do the works of him who sent me while it is day.” 
“It doesn’t matter where this man’s blindness came from," Jesus is saying. "I’m here to bring the light of God’s love. Period!” 

The application for you and me is clear. 

Don’t worry about assigning blame, especially if it makes you feel superior (because you’re not and neither am I), just get about the business of doing God’s work in the world.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus shows us that our work as His people isn’t something we do in order to gain God’s favor. We know that we can only be saved by grace through faith in Jesus. (See here.)

Instead, Jesus says that there are two basic things that constitute the work you and I are to do while it’s still light, while we still live, before we pass from this life

First, we are called to believe in Jesus. “This is the work of God,” Jesus says in John 6:29, “that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

Of course, we can’t convince ourselves to believe. Belief in--or trust in--anyone but ourselves is foreign to our natures. 

That’s why the Holy Spirit gives us God’s Word about Jesus--the Gospel--so that as we hear it, receive it at the baptismal font, and taste and see it at the Communion table, God will create saving belief, faith, within us.

Second, we’re to bring the light and love of Jesus to others. Think for a moment of the light of Jesus has brought to our dark world through Living Water in just the past few months. 

We’ve fed homeless men at St. Vincent’s; helped the victims of the Dayton tornadoes to rebuild their lives; joined together in small groups to meet God around His Word, pray for one another, and be empowered to live out our faith with others; provided rice and beans for and helped spread the Gospel among people in Haiti, and done similar work among families in South Africa; joined in the work of the Miami Valley Women’s Center, Love Monkey, and the Life Enrichment Center. We’ve helped our children know and grow in the faith in Jesus. 

And now, we’ve extended our outreach for Christ and the Gospel onto YouTube, whole new works of light for a dark world to which God has called us in the face of the coronavirus crisis.

We do none of these things in our own power. Jesus says: “...apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We are helpless in the face of darkness to do anything useful or helpful for our neighbor, anything that honors God or points others to Jesus

But we have a promise from Jesus: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) 

Jesus, Who sits at this moment at the right hand of God the Father and has sent the Holy Spirit to His believing Church, empowers us to bring more light in more places than He ever was for thirty years in Galilee, and Samaria. As we trust in Him, Jesus empowers us to bring His light to others!

So, this week and for as long as you still have breath, do Your Father’s work. 

Believe that Jesus died and rose to bring you into the eternal light of His loving kingdom. 

And while, out of love for neighbor, you’ll need to keep your distance from others, because, without testing, you may be an unwitting carrier of a terrible disease, do those works of love that Jesus gives you to do as His child: 

  • steep yourself in God’s Word, 
  • pray for our world and for leaders that God will give them wisdom on which they act, 
  • telephone your neighbors within and outside the church to see how they’re doing, 
  • pick up groceries or prescriptions for someone who can’t get out, 
  • reach out to others through email and social media, 
  • share the Gospel whenever and by whatever means you can

Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.” This week, be about the work given you by the One Who has sent you: Trust in Jesus and, as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, do whatever loving, light-casting thing He calls you to do

This is how the God revealed in Jesus will call our world out of darkness into His light! Amen

[I am the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

While It's Still Day (Online Worship for March 22, 2020)

Here's today's online worship from Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Below that, you'll find this evening's live-streamed presentation of Holy Communion. Our church YouTube address is here. (There are a few skips in the second video because of limitations in the WiFi at my home. Apologies for that.)