Glimpses of Good

When we listen to the news or watch our Facebook feeds lately, it’s all bad news. Unborn babies harvested for their body parts, shootings, disasters, terrorism, persecution of Christians around the world, etc. Some of the abominable things going on in our country we need to know about, so we can change it, or know how to vote next year. Some of it, maybe we don’t need to know about so much, if there’s nothing we can do about it. Unfortunately, evil will always be with us here on earth. And constantly hearing about bad things all the time is very wearying.

It’s so wearying that sometimes I feel practically collapsed from the weight of it, and I find myself yearning for goodness. No more evil. Pure goodness.

For peace from above and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.

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I find some relief in being at home, in hanging out with friends, my husband, my kids, and in listening to music instead of the news. But there is only one person who is Good, who brings me rest down to my soul. In Mark 10, when the Rich Young man calls Jesus “good teacher” and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus says, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”

Jesus is Good, because He is God. Unlike us, He’s not a “mostly good” person who sometimes makes mistakes. He’s only good, so good He righted the corruption of sin all around Him constantly, healing people, raising them from the dead. They only had to touch the smallest part of Him, the hem of His robe even, to be made right with His goodness. His Word is as powerful now to heal people’s souls and to give them rest.And that because He, who knew no sin, no evil, took it all upon Himself, suffering a physical and spiritual separation from God, from Good, on the Cross.

For those who work to bring peace, justice, health, and protection in this and every place, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy.

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He heals my brokenness. I find refuge in His forgiveness, in tasting His body and blood, in remembering my baptism when He claimed me-even me!–as His. And I try to recognize the glimpses of good that He gives me here on a fallen earth. I see the picture of the love between Christ and His bride, the Church, in my marriage and in the marriages of my friends. I see Godly kindness: someone handing out water bottles to people standing in the sun protesting at Planned Parenthood, the people at my church praying for each other and for the lost. I see glimpses of good in the beauty of God’s creation when I hike. I see glimpses of good in people who cannot watch evil. I admire those pro-lifers who have not been able to watch the Center for Medical Progress’ videos because they would get sick.  It means there is something in their very bodies that fights against that evil, and that goodness is of God.  It gives me hope.  Hope in Him.

For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.  Lord, have mercy. 

I watch my children growing up in the love of the Lord, and I pray that as they grow up and see the uglier sides of life, that they do not become cynical.  I want them to seek goodness, truth, and beauty. I want them to yearn to take refuge under God’s wings, and to keep going back to church for more and more of that loving goodness. There is enough ugly in the world.  We must not forget to take our rest in His goodness as often as possible. For that Goodness is true, and it will triumph over evil in the end.

Rejoicing in the fellowship of all the saints, let us commend ourselves, one another, and our whole life to Christ, our Lord.  To You, O Lord.

Secure in Him

We were gone on our recent vacation for two weeks, but for three Sundays.  Each Sunday brought us to a different LCMS church: the first was to visit Pastor Matt in RI, the second was to meet my mom’s former interim pastor in Oshkosh, WI, and the third was the church where I grew up in Union Grove, WI, which has had a new pastor since February.  Although none of them were my home church and my own pastor, I felt very comfortable in each church that we visited, and I still felt very connected to my home church.

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Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

I wondered why this was so.  Was it the friendly people we met?  The nice, welcoming pastors?  The hymns?  Then I realized, really it was all through the liturgy.  Each church that we went to was using a different setting of our excellent LCMS hymnal Lutheran Service Book (settings 4, 1, and 3 respectively), but all settings have the same elements, with variations in music or wording sometimes. We have used almost all the settings of the Divine Service in our church. It is a refreshing comfort to go to a church that is doing the historic liturgy that you know and love, even though you’re far from home, even though it’s not your pastor.  It feels like being home away from home.

One thing I’ve noticed while traveling is because of the liturgy, you don’t even have to KNOW personally the pastor you’re visiting.  What he is telling me when he uses the liturgy is that he agrees with the teachings of the LCMS church so much that he will use the synod hymnal, and he will preach on the day’s assigned readings.  After that, it doesn’t really matter who he is–he’s just someone who’s delivering the real goodness to me: Jesus.

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

It’s when we go to a church that doesn’t use the historic liturgy that we have to contend with the personality and beliefs of the pastor.  If he’s using a blended service, I usually end up being a bit suspicious. If he’s willing to compromise on the liturgy, where else is he willing to compromise in his theology?  That brings me doubt and uncertainty.  If he has a praise service (and we usually go many lengths to avoid those), that just brings me discomfort and sadness…because I don’t know how he’s Lutheran or how these praise songs are Lutheran at all. And I probably am so uncomfortable with this kind of service (and a sermon that accompanies a praise service, more often than not, is very law-driven) that I won’t commune.  Doubt and uncertainty…this is not Lutheran.

St. Paul's Lutheran Church
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church

Not that many people know that it was the liturgy that really brought me back into confessional Lutheranism. While attending our previous church, which used a blended service, I began yearning for the liturgy that I had grown up with.  “Oh Christ, thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me.” (Agnus Dei) “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with me. Cast me not away from Thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” (The Offertory) “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou has prepared before the face of all people…” (Nunc Dimittis)

I wanted to ask God to have mercy upon me.  Then I wanted God to restore to me the joy of my salvation. I wanted Him to feed me forgiveness and grace in His Supper, and then I wanted Him to tell me to depart in peace. I suppose God could have done all that without restoring to me the joy of the liturgy, but He didn’t. Because ultimately, the liturgy is His Word, and there is no joy apart from His Word. There is no joy and peace for me on Sunday if I have to contend with a pastor’s personality and question his theology, if I have to wonder if this is an LCMS church at which I should commune.  The joy comes when the pastor is willing to put himself, his glory, his accolades, his wit, his honor aside and let Jesus give His gifts to us through him.

So I am grateful to Pastor Matt, Pastor Mark, Pastor David, Pastor Jeff and to all the other pastors who set aside themselves and give us Jesus through the liturgy.  You are giving us the most precious gift of all. Thank you. “I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh always dwells secure.” Psalm 15