Midweek devotion 4/14/21

Luke 17: 11-15 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Do not weep.” Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone. Well, if that isn’t the truth. As for me, I am one of those extremely weird people who want to cry alone – yep! If and when I have to choose between sharing my sorrow and keeping it to myself, I will most often choose to keep it to myself. When I do share, I do so because I know it is the right thing to do, out of a sense of duty.

Wanting the world to cry with us, of course, makes us vulnerable. It forces us to say things that can be painful. The first time I realized this was at the time of my father’s death when my lack of public tears caused my supervisor to ask my best friend whether she thought I had a good relationship with my father – yes, I did and had deeply treasured it and was devastated by his death!

The second time I realized my ‘weirdness’, I sat at the funeral of my best friend and a woman he and I had jointly counseled, made a point to come to the funeral, find me and sit next to me. Half-way through the service I allowed myself to cry. The lady reached over and touched my hand in a clear sign of deep Christian care and concern. My response was confounding to say the least: “Don’t, please, don’t.” I saw her face flush with embarrassment and then she responded by saying: “I am so sorry; I didn’t mean to offend you; I just saw how much you are hurting.” She was right, of course, and, after the funeral I apologized for my uncourteous, rude response. I knew she remembered the many times my friend and I had sat with here and watched her be dissolved in painful tears – she was returning the favor at a time I truly needed it even if I could not admit it.

Do not weep – Jesus instructs a widow who is in the funeral possession of her only son. Excuse us! This was tragic beyond words. A young person, his mother’s only support system we shall assume, had died prematurely. Was Jesus annoyed? He was coming into town with his own entourage. Funeral possessions in Nain, by definition, had to have been loud with wailing and hollering. This does not sound like the compassionate Jesus we are used to! You would think Jesus would embrace the mother with a kind word. But then Jesus does the unthinkable and touches the stretcher with the dead man and bids him to get up. The rest is biblical history!

Now we understand a bit more. There is no reason for weeping any longer – other than tears of joy. Was that Jesus’ plan all along? Remember, the mother had not asked for this miracle; she did not beg, steal or borrow for her son’s life. She only cried.

Perhaps this story is about grace; clear un-adulterated grace. The raising of the son does not happen because he is worthy or because his mother is so faithful (we are not told) but because Jesus had compassion. This was a gift. The gift of life. Jesus turns weeping into laughter. Death into life. Because he can and because he so chooses. Following his own Resurrection, this is a gift of compassion that all of us will be granted as we place our faith in him and him alone. Do not weep – as impossible as that sounds – is as life-giving as it can be. Christ is Risen, He is Risen, indeed – and he will raise us to live with him. Amen

Midweek devotion 3/17/21

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” Romans 1:16

I remember being one of the randomly chosen people to help find a new name for the joint venture of Lutheran Brotherhood and Aid Association for Lutherans. Of course, it became officially “Thrivent Financial” in January of 2002. For the record: that had not been my choice! But, we sure got used to it and today many don’t know what to do with the names of the predecessor organizations. 

I had no absolutely no influence in choosing the name of our national church body, the NALC – the North American Lutheran Church. Now, ten years into our history, were I to have a say, I think I would have liked it if we somehow would have managed to add the word: Evangelical. After all, we have a theology and a ministry ‘ideology’ that is evangelical: as in being based in the transforming love of Jesus with the emphasis on sharing the Good News, the euangelion, with the world. That Good News points to the grace and mercy, the liberation and salvation we have in Jesus. 

But, even the church bodies that use ‘evangelical’ in their name are often misunderstood and/or challenged in their expression. A Pew Research reports that over one-fifth of the U.S. public—and a third under the age of 30—are religiously unaffiliated. These are the “nones.” They look at any organized religion and often deem it extremist, filled with hypocrites who have no problem declaring their judgmental opinion upon others; who are anti-science, anti-intellectual and constantly worry about morals (especially when it comes to human sexuality) and are anything but ‘woke’.

In the eyes of the ‘nones’, most church bodies get lumped together. Well, of course, it is not exactly a secret that some of the criticism is indeed valid and at times comes just a bit too close to the truth to be comfortable. We are not perfect. Have you noticed? Not the NALC at least, not any of the many Lutheran bodies floating through the universe and just as well not any of the countless other denominations we run across.

But, we shall not forget or diminish that we do have a theology that is based on the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ that is the euangelion. The ‘trick’ is to live what we are all about, what we believe and confess! Meaning, we can, must, should, will and do cling to the great gifts God sets in front of us – trusting that God indeed will take care of what he promises.

At our best, Lutherans are very much aware of our human brokenness. Read Luther and many of the reformers of the 16th century; read martyrs throughout the centuries and certainly, read Scripture. There can be no doubt about the reality of human sin and brokenness and the devastating consequences for individuals, groups of people and creation that result. There is God’s judgment. There is God’s Law. But there is always God’s love and the Good News of Christ.

As true “evangelical” Christians (not to be misunderstood in terms in which this expression is most often used in our North American context when and where it additionally is just as often connected to certain political views BUT in its very original meaning!!!) Lutherans are aware of our lot as simultaneously saint and sinner. Yes, our detractors are correct: there is hypocrisy in the church—welcome to humanity; come and join us; where have you been, you fit right in?!

Nevertheless, we still have the Good News! We have the Word of God alive in our midst and the Spirit of God working in our hearts and minds so that we are not overtaken by our stubbornness and arrogance. We love the freedom to serve one another and yet we are slaves to none for Christ has set us free. We are ‘evangelical’ – soaked in the Good News, the Gospel of the One who died for us. We are evangelical! Amen