The Pastor's Perch

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Advent has begun and the countdown to Bethlehem has started. School children, virtual or actual, are looking at how many more days to break, and the rest of the world turns at its own calendar. The Church has begun another year and no one knows what will happen in it, except God.

The COVID vaccine is supposed to begin making its way around the states sometime after December 15, so hopefully the nightmare will end. But no one knows what really will happen, except God.

As of this day, it looks as though the electoral process will go on as it began. But no one knows what really will happen, except God.

A pattern maintains and we will follow it because we have no alternative at the moment. Until we are given a variation in the day, we go forward, confident that the Lord will guide us through to the end of all things and the beginning of a new heaven and earth.

237 years ago, on November 25, 1783, the last of the British military left the newly freed American colonies. This was after more than two tense years of waiting for the diplomats to finalize that the colonies were free and sovereign states. The British capitulated at Yorktown October 19, 1781, but there were still thousands of British, German and Loyalist troops that occupied New York, Philadelphia, Charleston and Boston, waiting for the orders to ship out home. And they were able to attack at any time if the Crown and Parliament had decided to do so. Washington's army was at a breaking point, with no pay for months and no conscription to stop the British. But the Parliament had had enough and recalled their troops from the colonies/states.

Never mind all the indecencies done by either side. Never mind the huge prison ships that ended the life of many a patriot. Never mind the many, many insults borne by the Yankees. When the last lobster-back Johnnie stepped off colonial soil, the joy erupted. The hope and anticipation of the previous eight year's sacrifices in blood, treasure and time spent in warfare was replaced by the new states in a new world with new life and leadership. 

They had no idea what would happen, but God did. And despite all the hiccups and changes that came--very big ones indeed (the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.)--people began to think of themselves in terms as new persons in the new world. It would take even more changes down the road until more equity and equality would reach more new citizens. The November 25th date was originally known as Evacuation Day, and it was celebrated until late in the 19th century, when Thanksgiving took its place, during the Civil War. A new day indeed.

This reminds us of the New Church Year: new opportunities, new life from death, new hopes and plans, all with the same Lord who came once as a helpless baby in a feed trough, so that salvation would come to the world. And all this because God knew what to do and when to do it and with Whom it would be done:

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Heavenly Father, as we are drawn into this season of hope and anticipation, guide our hearts and minds where true treasures are found: in a manger, on a cross, into an empty tomb and looking forward to a Coming King who will bring about the end of the old, dead world. Help us to see Jesus in the midst of all the change and chaos. Remind us we have an eternal home that will be waiting for us when He returns. Thank You for adopting us in Jesus through Baptism. Amen.

Keep Watch!

Our Lord Jesus reminds us to keep watch as we live out our days and wait for His return. In Matthew 24=25; Mark 13; and Luke 21, Jesus warns to His followers to be alert and awake for they do not know the day or the hour of His return. He uses many examples of people, plants and signs from the heavens to be watchful. At the same time, He reminds them not to attempt to figure out the times or assume that others do. Too many failed groups who thought and believed they knew the day and hour have come and gone, and we still wait faithfully for His return. At the same time, we want to avail ourselves of Jesus's gifts to strengthen, nourish, enliven, prepare and keep us close to Him by way of His Word and Sacraments. Noah spent a long time to build the ark, thereby giving people time to repent of their evil. God was using this time to proclaim His judgement, and He still uses time for people to repent, receive mercy and trust in Him with all their heart. God would rather have the person repent and live than die in their sins.

Advent, this month before Christmas, reminds us that while we wait and mark the days before the annual celebration of the Lord Christ breaking into His world He created as one of us, we also look forward to His final return as the Conquering Judge, who will separate the sheep from the goats. He came to save us from judgment against sin by becoming as sin, so that through His sacrifice we might become the righteousness of God through Him (2 Corinthians 5:21),

This time also reminds us that the calendar of the Church is ahead of the calendar we use daily. December, the last month of the year, is the first month of the Church's new year. We are so blessed that the Lord has brought us through so much, yet we still have much to experience as we continue down this road. Please keep close to God's Word, and as we enter into Advent, keep the prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus," in your vocabulary.

Mark 13:32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”

Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Timber!!!!!

October was Pastor Appreciation Month, and our elders gave me a wonderful gift: they had a local tree cutting service remove our 65-foot tall oak from our backyard. They also had them trim our overgrown front yard oaks, which cut down (no pun) on the leaf tsunami we usually experience, along with our poor neighbors. It was odd watching them systematically chop it down and our dog, who stripped the bark from the tree, thus spelling its felling, could not fathom life without tree. He still goes to the stump we left for him and looks painfully for the rest of the tree, plus the squirrels which high-tailed it out of the doomed dendron when they felt the coming cutting. 

I am glad that it is done, and I am very appreciative of the elders for their loving care of our family. As Forest Gump would say, "One less thing."

It reminds me of the end of things: trees, animals and people. We have an end. We have a day of "Timber!" when we, too, will succumb to the ravages of sin which plague us all. There will be a day when the Lord says, "Enough!" and we will leave this side of misery and proceed to the place we have prepared for us by the One Who appreciates us the whole of our lives, Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

John 14:1 [Jesus said]“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 

2 Peter 3:11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Romans 8:22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Lord God, heavenly Father, we here remember the sufferings and death of Your dear Son, Jesus Christ, for our salvation. Praising His victorious resurrection from the dead, we draw strength from His ascension before You, where He ever stands for us as our own High Priest. Gather us together, we pray, from the ends of the earth to celebrate with all the faithful the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end. Graciously receive our prayers, deliver and preserve us, for to You alone we give all glory, honor and worship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hoarders and Declutterers

If you are the former above--hoarder--then you know that the pathway from your kitchen to the front door may be a deep ravine with towering cliffs of magazines, newspapers, nick-knacks, toys and other stuff rising up above your head on both sides. i remember visiting an elderly couple who had such a circumstance, and it was a long time before they allowed me into their house. When both eventually died, the children and grandchildren must have spent weeks just getting to the bottom of one stack, precariously perched, waiting for an avalanche of paper, plastic and products way over the freshness date. It is very easy to blame and lampoon hoarders who obviously have a disorder, but the total opposite one, de-cluttering, can be equally distressing. Why do I bring this up? COVID-19 and its many restrictions have disallowed much in the way of corporate activities, including yard sales, second-hand shops and other places where people pick up or drop off stuff they either do or do not need or want. People have spent their down time cleaning out closets, attics, basements, sheds, garages and storage places, only to dump everything on these bargain places. I know because that is where we go for good deals. Now I am seeing the yard sales going in full force, including ours.

Years ago, in another vocation, I ran smack dab into a hoarder while being tasked to deselect many items from an institution we both served. While I had the authority to cull out many useless and repetitive items, the hoarder was a long-time employee who did not want anything to leave the building, often sabotaging my efforts. I had to make a deal with a friend who worked with the sanitation department so that after hours, I could sneak out the deselected materials. It worked and I did it gradually, but over time, my friend the hoarder could tell there was more room in our building. We did not trip over everything just walking around.

Why do I tell this story? In life we tend to hang on to the things that give us comfort, things that remind us of a world that is passing away. We watch the life we knew slipping away from us, right through our very hands, and we are helpless to stop the losses. This does not mean that collecting stuff is necessarily bad; in fact, we should be reminded of the past so we may pass on to our youth some semblance of a legacy worthy to remember. The problem is, we have the wrong heirlooms saved most of the time, and the ones we want to put away are the ones we should use every day. I worked in our denomination's archive once, and I would let people know that dropping off the family Bible, often in a dilapidated state, was not a good idea, especially since you would find complete family records, money (yes, money) and other valuables in them. Keep those heirlooms in practical use. They will stand you in good stead. Open up the richest treasure and enjoy the lavished gift for you: Jesus.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Lord God, Your Word is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart; as Your law shows me my sin, also comfort me with Your Gospel so that I will know that my sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake and live in the peace and joy that knowledge brings; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Second Summer

Now that seasonal fall weather has returned, the second summer is gone. It was wonderful, except for the allergies reawakened by warm temperatures and wind. We hosted a yard giveaway, and the masses came and took a lot of our history away, including our 50-year-old homemade canoe. By the way, does anyone want an 125-year-old upright piano? It's free. Oh well...

Thanksgiving looms large and we are extremely thankful, despite COVID and all, because while it stalks us silently and attacks in the most underhanded way, it ultimately will not destroy us. We are the LORD's and in Him we live, have our being and will conquer death. 

Not with masks, even though this sort of helps us, not with horses and chariots, but with the LORD's guidance and care, we go forward. We go humbly and without fear, even though fear also stalks us. 

In the medieval times--beginning in the 1250's, following the Fourth Lateran Council which denied the cup to the laity--when the church had idolatrous affairs such as the Corpus Christi parades, where the host and elements of the Holy Communion were carried around and worshiped even though they were not consecrated for immediate use and therefore not a Sacrament, the people gathered and the plagues were freely moving among them, killing thousands--this is not judgment necessarily--but the officials in the church used this and other actions to promote indulgences. It was all about wealth and power, and not about humility and service in the Lord's name. Jesus was no where near this, and it hurt the individual believer.

Woe to us if we simply give thanks without an object or recipient of our thanks. To merely be thankful without Someone to which we are most grateful, is idolatry of the first rank. We march in our own parade, thankful to the dollar and the bullet which keeps some peace but is not a peace which lasts.

Psalm 107:1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.

And the future is very bright for all those from every nation who are in the Lamb's Book of Life, regardless of their country of origin, color of their skin or mother tongue: 

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Come, Lord Jesus, come! Amen.

Sanity and Sanitizing

Over the months, I have tried to sanitize the areas I have used or worked near to the point that I have actually washed water accidentally. Please do not ask me how if you ever see me, it is embarrassing. Now, in the eighth month of COVID shenanigans, I have become unconsciously immune to the mechanistic, almost automaton-like everyday masking, use of gloves and pharisee-like adherence to washing dishes, paper, computers, couches, automobiles, one Black Mouth Cur (our dog) and other miscellaneous items that come my way. Beware, I may accidentally wash you if you surprise me. I remember when as a child I had to be reminded to wash my hands after using the washroom. I also remember passing around a bottle of diet Vess, sharing a rare delicacy with my siblings.

That is all prologue to the present, when one finds oneself facing the evils of filth. Even as a janitor--one of my many jobs--I never cleaned like this. I forgot once to use some sanitizer when I touched something and found myself in the kitchen, at the stove before a boiling kettle of water, wondering if I would scald myself if I tried to pour steaming hot water over my hands. I did stop at the last minute. Oh day of woe.

I realize that when it comes to sin, we are to take very seriously the impact of sin and its effect on us, even getting us jaded into thinking that one little sin will not hurt us, and then soon enough, finding ourselves knee-deep in sinful behavior. Sin damns and if we were without the grace of God in Christ, we would be without hope. 

Thanks be to God in Christ, we have hope, we have grace and we have mercy, because we have Jesus. We have St. Paul's "but now" going for us. 

Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 

In that "but now" is a total shift from the absolute direction to divine eternal wrath and punishment without Christ and trusting in our own actions, words, thoughts and desires to be perfectly perfect before God, and instead trusting in the merits of Christ Jesus, who has acted on our behalf and was obedient unto death, facing our deserved judgment on the cross, as Paul continues, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus..

No matter how much we scrub, our sin sticks to us, but Jesus' blood washes our sin away and washes us clean as though we never sinned in our life. Total cleansing through total forgiveness, done by Him to and for us and not our doing it unto ourselves. Thanks be to God in His Son, Christ Jesus.

Lord God, let me never forget all that You have done and are doing for me on a daily basis. Sustain me with the hope of my salvation in Jesus alone, and the other countless blessings you provide with your continuous presence in my life. Assure me of the sins forgiven through Jesus' incredible gift of suffering, dying and rising for me. Lead me to live my life in gratitude and as a testimony to your incredible blessings, that your love may be known and experienced by all those I serve, in Jesus' name. Amen."

Mail ins, Absentee and Standing in line

Vote early and often I heard, but I think that only happens in countries where there is only one candidate, and there is also no opposition. Too bad there is no such singular easy way to obtain leadership, and there are so many candidates. Democratic Republics rise and fall on such decisions, and the electoral college--a remnant of our early republic--moves in its mysterious way to finalize what the popular vote sets into motion. Hmmmm...

I remember when at the 2004 election they allowed school children at the polls with their parents, and our son, 9 at the time, came to me while I was voting and wanted to know why there were so many names on the ballot for president. "What is a Libertarian?" "Are there really Communists in the USA?" (He had an advanced vocabulary and was already passing me on the IQ highway.) So I explained to him that in our country we have all sorts of fruits, nuts and eggheads we can vote for. His rejoinder question: why when we have two really good people to vote for should there be others? It is so confusing. And off he went, confused and depressed. We washed that down with a couple of drinks if I remember it right. (No, nothing heavy, just two mountain dews, if I remember.) Now he and his sister who turned 18 in May did the absentee route, while I was counseled to mail in my vote. 

So many candidates and so many ways to vote. Ain't elections great? 

Too bad that for all the rhetoric, all the negative attacks on character and track records, we all fall way short of our goals. Even the also-rans, the one-offs and third- and fourth- (and fifth-) party candidates, blow it, so no one really does it right all the time. Add to this that 2020 has been such a sad year for so many, and we see no end in sight. Far too many lives have ended with more than COVID to blame, and we find our instant world shockingly and slowly moving from one disappointment to another.

What to do?

Stop seeking instant gratification and reconnect to those around you. I do not really have to say this, but often we shelter in place with the thought that we can take with us all the stuff we want. And we leave out the One Who has sheltered us under His protection in the midst of death, destruction, disease and despair.

Psalm 91:1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

We do not trust in false gods, neither do we trust in false protection.

Psalm 20:6 Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.

The candidates cannot deliver indefinitely, but only finitely. And often they go back on their campaign promises.

Psalm 146:3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. 4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. 5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; 7 who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.

Blessed are you in the face of all things that tend to pull you away from the false safety of things. When the supports go away, who can you trust?

Psalm 146:8 The Lord sets the prisoners free; 8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. 10 The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will your paths straight. Praise the Lord! 

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