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Saturday, April 4, 2020: Gloves, Masks and Faith

Looking at the World Health Org's chronicle of the COVID-19's progressive destruction, the reactions and the results, one concludes that we are not the apex of wisdom and intelligence. When the most (assumed) advanced civilization cannot cease, control or contain a disastrous viral outbreak, when people ignore warnings to cease activities that will lead to infection, illness and death, when people are confronted with death and the loss of all sorts of what they considered normal, where do they turn? What do they really trust? To what do they turn?

I had a rude shock about this when one of my alma maters cancelled a reunion that was later in June (which would have been the first time I actually ever attended a reunion). Because of that, I had to cancel the motel reservations, which were not refundable, since I had reserved them a certain way. It bugged me that I had to give up that money, to which my wife reminded me that the motel is probably losing business right and left, so let it go, it's just money, honey. Then I had to cancel something that had to do with one of my children, and that was nonrefundable also. And a host of things where I would lose money, skinflint that I am, and cheapskate to boot. It was not like I throw money around or am a money-grubbing capitalist. I just don't like spending money. 

Oh boo-hoo, my daughter would say, look around you. Look at those who are suffering. I do. I sure do, and it is real suffering, and everyone knows somebody suffering. So does our Lord. He sees it all. He hurts along with the suffering world, a world which He created and watched fall into sin. There are much, much bigger things than my stupid frugality. It's not about money anyway. Besides, it's His money He just lent me; God is uniquely gifted with all resources. 

St. Paul would say the same thing to me, but not to the mutual exclusion of the believing world. He would remind us Christians in the west, where we have relative wealth, freedom and peace that all of this can disappear overnight, and no path to wealth, freedom and peace that we once sought by merely wishing it or voting it in will do anymore. Paul is reminding us that on what we focus may become our god, and that we worship this god even while claiming to be followers of Christ Jesus. He reminded the Corinthians that the things of this life will pass, and that we all as Christians do not need to depend on things to get through. 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

While this momentary affliction is not really about suffering a viral outbreak, it reminds us that we will suffer many things in this life. Money loss, other things on which we hold are nothing compared to an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And that eternal weight of glory is found in the Lord Jesus, who left the beauty and glory of His heavenly throne to become one of us, to suffer with and for us, to empty Himself and be obedient to death, even death on a cross, to bring to us forgiveness and peace with His Father.

So, from and invisible killer to invisible treasures through Christ Jesus, such as God's grace, peace, mercy, forgiveness, love, eternal life, that far outweigh every single thing that weighs us down and will not last, we have the gifts of God through Jesus Christ. And we have them now and for eternity. It is worth giving up all the gold in the world to bring comfort and support to those with none, especially with no faith in the very God who wants them with Him forever. 

Everlasting Father, it is Your will that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of Your Son by faith. Give to Your Word success and deliver from error all those who live in darkness and fear, that they may walk in the light of the Lord Jesus and have confidence for the trials of this world and hope for the world to come; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2020: For Such a Time as This...

The last few weeks I have been to no less than seven meetings, either on the computer or on the phone. I have seen so much change in the last 2.5 weeks that I just get myself ready for another meeting. And this will continue.

No, I am not complaining about meetings. These ones are very necessary, fundamental and foundational, especially as we consider how we as God's people adjust to the new circumstances that not only shape our ministry now, but lead us into a trajectory we never thought we could go. 

In two weeks we were able to restructure how we do things. We now are closer to our church family than ever before. We check on each other. We help where we can. We bring essential items to those who are unable to get them. We move forward with our ministry, despite our inability to meet as a church. We are living the way of the Holy Church daily.The Holy Spirit guides us and we follow our Lord Jesus.

A thought I keep having is, how can we go back to what was, when this whole time we are moving very fluidly to accept the challenge of being a Church in a time of plague and pestilence. Right now we pray for each other, we comfort each other, we carry each other, we assure each other that nothing will keep us from living the life as brother or sister in Christ, and we know that nothing in all creation will keep us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. We need to daily hold each other up. St. Paul had a handle on this when he wrote to the Corinthian Christians: 

2 Corinthians 4:7-12. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Granted Paul's sufferings, afflictions and persecutions were directly related to his being a Christian in a decidedly anti-Christian world, a world we do not suffer right now for our faith, sheltered in the US. But we depend, not on ourselves and what we have for strength. We depend, rather, on the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to carry us, give us the strength to move forward in lives of service, and share that precious Gospel with all we have been allowed to confront. We want others to have this hope, the hope of everlasting life through the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.

I do not think we can or will go back to what was and maybe that is the best thing. I do not know. But I know this: We will keep this up as the Lord gives us strength, God willing.

Almighty God, by Your Spirit You have gathered us as Your Church and promised that wherever two or three are together in Your name, there You are in our midst. Do not allow stress or disaster to distract us from the particular vocations into which You have called us to serve in the Church, home and community. Grant to us every gift and blessing needful, that we may honor our calling and serve You to the best of our ability; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, April 2, 2020: The Tsunami Of Plague

In John Barry's The Great Influenza, the author recounts the three waves of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, from its initial phase when some of our infected troops were assembled in one of the many training camps in the US. This precipitated the spring 1918 wave, which was a far milder form of the flu than what was to come once they were sent overseas to France. 

Because most of the capable medical personnel went with them, the US was left with a huge dearth in medical staffing, so that when the second wave of a more virulent and deadly form of the now-mutated avian flu hit in the fall of 1918, it caused the most deaths in the US. Factories closed and many places became like ghost towns, as whole communities were infected. Philadelphia hosted a Liberty Loan Parade in September, which caused multiple exposures, infections and deaths. 

Then there was the third wave, the winter 1918 to spring 1919, which swept through the US again as troops came home. The pandemic subsided in the summer of 1919. There is even a thought that our President Wilson, weakened by the flu, suffered a stroke while arguing the finer of his 14 points, following the Versailles Treaty in France. 

More people died in this epidemic worldwide than the war itself, with the estimates as upwards of 50 million deaths. 20 million died in the war, including civilian casualties. The things of a century ago seem to return once again. Just as they have before. Whether plague-infested fleas that piggyback on rodents, avian- and or swine-originated plagues that mutate as they are passed from host to host, insect-transmitted sicknesses or blood or bodily fluid transmission that destroys the human immune system, we have seen it before and we will probably see it again. On this planet, in this life, as long as the Lord tarries, we will see this and more.

This "day in history" is not to get you thinking of another pandemic, because you know about that one. I do this to remind you that we can expect these things as the world goes on its downward trajectory to the end. Jesus reminded His disciples of this reality.

Matthew 24:3 As (Jesus) sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains...

As long as we wait for His return, know that these things will continue as time marches on. The last word on it is Jesus' to give.

Revelation 22:20 (Jesus) who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

Virtual Life and Times

This week we would have normally been preparing for the future Holy Week, including Palm Sunday (Complete with real palms, the traditional royal tree used in coronation and triumphal marches), Maundy Thursday (With the recounting of the Last Supper, which replaces the Passover Feast, as Jesus, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, is selected by His Father as the complete and perfect sacrifice from sin, death, hell and the wrath of His Father for our sin), and Good Friday (The Sacrifice given as substitute for all people of all time, from Adam to the time of Jesus' Return). 

The daily devotions on YouTube and Facebook reflect the readings for the coming Sunday, and we will have today's--Isaiah 50:4-9-- plus the last Midweek Wednesday worship tonight. All of this commemoration is found on YouTube and Facebook, with links from our website. 

But all of it is not in the usual communal way. Most of us would look silly waving our Palm branches and shouting, "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD! Hosanna!" to a computer/television/smartphone screen. While it looks silly, it is deadly serious, and the deadly part is the fact is that if the Son of God, Jesus, would not have done these things for the world, nothing we did, do or could do, would save us from the coming wrath, prepared for judgment. In the Isaiah reading for today, the Servant the prophet speaks of is Jesus Christ, and the prophet tells us what kind of a Servant He is:

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.

This is a direct prophetic saying of Jesus, 700+ years before it takes place, and it shows us what the Humble Servant King must do to save His people: He must be obedient, even unto death on the (cursed) cross, being humiliated by all the beatings, tongue-lashings, etc., all for the sake of humanity. Everything that was said in the Old Testament regarding our Lord must happen so that all scripture would be fulfilled. He did it all for you, so that you would not suffer what was reserved for the future judgment. 

As we continue down the road to Easter, we will revisit and consider what the Servant King does for us.

Heavenly Father, we give thanks that in Your Son, Jesus Christ, we have a King who comes to us to save us--Hosanna--and we give thanks that He has done all things and all hings well. As we recount and remember, help us live in the present time of grace, waiting for His great return. Even so, be with us, Lord Jesus and come quickly! Hosanna!

One word more: While we will recount the celebrations in the coming weeks on YouTube and Facebook, know that when the all clear is given, we will, once again, meet, and then celebrate together the great feast of Easter. Hosanna!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020: Transition

While the weather in our part of the world would lead one to think that we leave March like a lamb, the relentless march of a invisible pandemic would lead us all to an otherwise conclusion. 

As of this day, we are closing in on 40,000 deaths worldwide, while 173,000 have recovered, with over 800,000 still active cases of this dreaded virus. And if you check into the World Health Organization's site, they break down the death rates, infection rates, the gender influence, etc. 

If you are one of the ones more susceptible to this virus, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, COPD, hypertension, and cancer of about any kind, and you are infected, you stand a better chance of dying than the rest of you who are in relatively good health. 

There stands an odd division: those of us who are already in a compromised health condition versus those of you who are relatively healthy. And age is also a factor, so is there an end to this gloom and doom?

We are reminded by St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, in the his first letter to them: 

For the present form of this world is passing away. 

Well, that is not very encouraging. The present form? What form would that be? Look around and you will see: death, destruction, chaos and confusion. 

But simultaneously, beauty, brilliance, lovely and living--but not lasting. So God, who made the world (Genesis 1 and 2; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17), watched it fall into ruin because of sin (Genesis 3). So while we see the former and the latter, we also know that the present form of this world is passing away, giving way to a new world order (Isaiah 65 and 66; Revelation 21 and 22). 

Getting there, however, will be beyond interesting, as St. Peter tells us in his second letter, third chapter, that everything will be burned up and the old, sinful things along with sin and its effects will be consumed.

But he takes us back to that concept of a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

In the middle of this description, Peter reminds us that while we await, we are to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the day of God. So we should be in His service, even as we use sanctified wisdom, knowing this will all pass away. 

We pray:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen. (Matthew 6:10)

Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

 

Monday, March 30, 2020: Ten or Less

What we find now with all the restrictions are the now infamous "ten or less" people prohibitions for about any gathering. Strange, as I pick up my essential prescriptions, I see more than ten. When I must purchase essential items (minus toilet paper and face masks), there are more than ten people, usually crowded around the cashier, who is coughing. Reminds me of another ten prohibition, this time where ten or more are required. It goes like this:

Genesis 18:32 Then he (Abraham) said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He (the Lord) answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

This is from the story of God's righteous punishment of Sodom, and Abraham, having just been blessed by God to be the ancestor of many nations--including the heirs of Abraham, the Israel by faith in Jesus Christ--now exerts his patriarchal leverage, and intercedes for a city known for its evil. And the Lord patiently listens to Abraham as he works the mercy angle from fifty down to ten, all the while remembering that his nephew Lot, his wife and daughters are living in the midst of it but not participating in it (See 2 Peter 2:4-10 for how this is seen historically in the Bible). 

For the sake of ten, the Lord would relent His just judgment, and you may know the rest of the story, but if not, read Genesis 19 to see how God deals with sinners who do not repent who have been warned, and sinners who do repent, and heed God's call to leave the strike zone of judgment. Just Lot and his daughters escape--not even Mrs. Lot escapes, but that is another story. 

Back to the ten: thanks be to God that He does not put such a limit on His grace and mercy. We all may have been exposed (!) to this Gospel in and nutshell, John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

I have heard this, you have, it has been publicly displayed at games, meetings, etc., but we need to continue to hear our dear Savior Jesus' next pronouncement: 

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Hear it? No condemnation for those who repent and receive the forgiveness prepared for them at the cross of Christ. And please do read the rest of the chapter so you do not deprive yourself of needed nourishment. Repentance and faith move the person to, by the Holy Spirit, receive forgiveness and pardon for all sin. 

Remember, no limit of grace and mercy for those who repent. 

 

Remember the strike zone from above? Jesus entered the strike zone of judgment for all sinners by taking our sin upon Himself and allowing Himself to be punished as though He were right in the middle of Sodom, just going along with them. He did this so that even repentant Sodomites and all who are turned from sin and turned to the cross will find mercy and grace from God through the suffering of Jesus for each soul. 

Who needs to repent? Everyone. Daily. Live in your Baptism daily and receive the forgiveness prepared for you by the One who does not limit forgiveness. Be in prayer and in the Word. If the time was limited for grace to Sodom, don't you think we also live under a grace period that will come to a close one day? And who is to say if this is our last day in this life? Hmm. If for ten and above...

Sunday, March 29, 2020: Who is Essential?

"Lazarus, Come Out!" 

Imagine the people watching as a man who was dead for four days just starts walking out of cave grave, talking as though he just awoke from a coma. There he is, grave clothes and all, and he wants someone to unwrap him from them. Jesus commands the dead man, Lazarus, to rise up, walk out and go on living. With one command, Jesus brings life from death. All of a sudden there he is, risen from the dead.

What may be lost in all this is what happens right before this dramatic resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus cried. Some people remind others that this is the shortest verse in the Bible. What is missed is that Jesus, True God, was also true man, and He could show true emotion. And this crying was right before He knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. He also knew the man had to die and then all the mourning and grieving, including Jesus'. So with this thought, we remember that the Almighty One, who made this universe, created galaxies and put life into motion, regards each and every person He made as precious and essential. 

Have you heard about the word "essential" lately? It may not include you, but according to God, you are essential, and not because of what you can do, produce, etc. God wants you to be in His kingdom. He wants you to be at peace with Him in this world that has been destroyed by sin and its effects, especially COVID-19 right now. God will take you through this. And because of your need for a Savior, you have the best friend in the world watching over you now, and His Name is Jesus Christ. He cries with the rest of us about the loss of our loved ones, but He said another very short sentence just before He died on the cross:

"It is finished."

With that, Jesus gave up His life for you, so that you would not be punished for the sin and the sinner you are. He did that for you. He did that for me. And He did that for you because you are essential to Him. You are important to Him. Trust Him and believe He died for you and all your sin is covered by His blood. 

Some day, maybe long after you and I are long gone and just impressions on tombstones, the Lord Jesus will return and shout:

"Come Out!"

And we will come out to live life with Him forever.

We pray: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

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