Sunday, October 15, 2017

Salt, Light, and Germs

There is a new book out about Joseph Lister and his campaign in the 19th century to make surgery safer. Dr. Lister took Pasteur’s new science of microbiology and applied germ theory to surgery infections. In his day, surgeons thought that infections were caused by bad air and nothing could be done about it. Lister proved them wrong, but not until he weathered a fair amount of criticism.

His fellow surgeons, proud of their filthy, bloody, surgery aprons thought Lister’s theory of bringing dirt into the wound as the cause of infection to be medical heresy. Of course surgeons were not to blame for their patients’ deaths. It was simply the luck of the draw – or at least the luck of the air.

Lister was scorned, ridiculed, and even vilified in the medical journal Lancet as surgeons were warned not to adopt his methods. It wasn’t until he saved the life of two members of the royal family that his preaching against germs started to gain credibility.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a stand, and it give light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

As children of God, redeemed by our Savior, we serve the world as Christian versions of Dr. Lister. Instead of relying on papers written by a fellow scientist, we gain our wisdom from the study of scripture. Armed with this knowledge we work and live in our world, but strive to not be of the world. We see evidence of the germs of sin and try to live a different life as a testament to what can be rather than simply giving in to the natural consequences of sin.

We do not do this for salvation because salvation has already been won for us. We do not do this of our own accord, because without God’s help we can do no good work. We do this because God has saved us and taught us about sin and its consequences. We do this to be salt and light; to be an example to others by preserving what is good and shining a light on what is bad.

Like Lister we often talk to people who do not want to hear. We risk being condemned for our beliefs about the value of life and the value of living a good life. Others are warned to not believe us and we are often scorned and ridiculed.

And like Lister we are not without sin or error in the way we live our lives as salt and light. We have found better antiseptics since Lister’s time and he was convinced that it was a lost cause to try to sterilize the surgery room.  Furthermore, Dr. Lister, the surgeon had germs on him, too. Likewise our lives are filled with sin and grief. Yet, in that grief we know we are forgiven children of God and He uses us to further His ministry.

Lord, make my heart clean and help my words, actions and values be true salt and light in a stinky, dirty, germy world.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Hemmed In, Behind and Before

O LORD, You have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:1-6

I am not a stranger to my current situation. I have been here before. I have stood at the watershed moment that likely marks the beginning of the end for a parent. Like for so many other elderly parents, it's begun with a fall.

Some children lose their parents far too young. Others receive an unexpected phone call. Some of us have the opportunity to hold a hand and walk alongside our parent as God begins the preparation for the journey home. We do not know how long this journey will be, but we feel in our hearts the first step has been taken and the road will not likely turn in a different direction.

Each situation has its own unique grief and joy. Each situation offers its own blessings and opportunities.

While I certainly cannot predict this journey, having walked this path before I know some of the decisions ahead; decisions about levels of care; decisions about permanent moves or temporary; decisions balancing medications to offer palliative care rather than healing. Palliative care offers relief from physical, mental, and emotional stress in order to improve the quality of life. It is strange that this starts at the end of life. We could use this relief so much earlier.

I love the spiritual palliative care offered by the words of Psalm 139. My siblings and I feel hemmed in by the stresses and busyness of lives that do not stop when we need to care for our mother. We feel boxed in by the need to interpret doctors and nurses and share their information in a way our mother can understand. We feel a bit claustrophobic in terms of our ability to understand what the doctors are saying while reading between the lines of their communication.

We do not want to be here. But this is where God wants us to be. This is the work and ministry He sets before us. We are hemmed in, behind and before, but the weight we feel on our shoulder is not the weight of decision; it is the hand of God reminding us of His very presence in our lives, in our decisions, and in our mother’s care. Such knowledge is indeed too wonderful for us to comprehend. Instead we stand before Him, with one hand holding the hand of our mother. We stand blessed and loved and we take a deep breath before that first step. The path before us, while unknown to us is known to our Heavenly Father.

If this is your journey, too, know that God's comfort rests on your shoulder, also. 

Abba Father, hear our prayer.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Giving what is needed not what is deserved

When push comes to shove.

You reap what you sow.

You get what you pay for.

We have many colloquialisms that remind us to expect to be treated in the way we have treated others. It should be no surprise when our self-righteous anger generates self-righteous anger in response. We have been doing this since we were infants and first used our mirror neurons to understand and use emotions. When we do it as adults it is called complementary behavior – or complementarity.

When our spouse comes down the stairs in a nasty mood,  nasty mood neurons are stimulated and we just might respond in kind. When a coworker treats us with kindness we are predisposed to react similarly. Likewise, if our child’s behavior indicates hopelessness and helplessness we compliment that behavior by giving help. We don’t even have to think about it. We simply react.

Non-complementarity, on the other hand, is responding in the opposite way of what is expected. Whereas complementarity will continue a behavior – anger begets anger. An unexpected response is more likely to change behavior.

Sometimes we have to give people what they need, not what they deserve.

A child expressing helplessness might be best helped with encouragement that another try will accomplish the task. Without the encouragement to keep at it, the child will continue to feel helpless. It might be just what is needed.

Similarly, the nasty mood of the spouse might be best helped with a healthy dish of empathy, a kind word, and an offer to help with a chore. It is not what is deserved, or expected, but probably what is needed.

Matching emotions is what comes naturally to us. Responding with the opposite emotion takes patience and consideration and that is an example of grace.

Think how God responds to our sin with forgiveness. How He handles our anger with love. How He reacts to our weak faith by applying His faith-nurturing Word and Sacraments.  God gives us what we need, not what we deserve and this changes us. 

In fact, it changes everything.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that  while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:7-9

Because we are justified through the sacrifice of Christ, we are changed. We are no longer slaves to our mirror neurons or our natural sinful responses. We have been loved with an Agape love.

We could not survive long in a world that only mirrored our actions and emotions. We cannot grow and learn in a world that only gives us what we deserve. We should not expect the people around us to improve with only are complementary responses.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. I John 4:18-19

We are justified; our sins are covered; we experience the non-complementarity of grace every day.

With joy we are able to express this grace to others in our little worlds. We can meet anger with compassion, frustration with encouragement, meanness with forgiveness. We can do this because Jesus did it first. God’s blessings abound!

This link below is a fascinating, and hard to believe, story about a non-complementary response. The host of Invisibilia insists that no miracles occurred. As a fellow recipient of what we’ve needed instead of what we deserved– a fellow recipient of grace – I will let you decide.

Disarming a Robbery . . . With a Glass of Wine

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Ineffective Club

Anyone who has been in a confirmation class is familiar with the three uses of the law:

Curb – to maintain external discipline

Mirror – show us our sin and lead us to Salvation

Guide – after justification to show us how we should pattern our lives.

But lately I have seen a different use of the law; a use of the law that is most certainly in error. I have seen the law used as a club.

I notice it most often when good Christians, most of us who are well aware of the receiving of grace in the right-hand kingdom, seem to fail to apply grace in the left-hand kingdom. Instead we justify our beliefs or throw up our hands while hiding behind the law.

When we behave this way, I believe we are rightfully condemned by our non-believing peers.

I am not thinking that grace needs to be applied all of the time. That is not any more correct than applying law all of the time. However, there are some situations where we need to be reminded of the message of these verses:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. I John 4:18-19

Just like the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-34) we err when we feel so confident about our cancelled debt that we neglect to show mercy to others. We may begin to believe that somehow we deserved our forgiveness.

And people, that is very dangerous territory. It is a fallacy that implies that I earned my forgiveness so now this poor fellow must earn his.

Don't go down that road.

The law becomes a club when it is used to self-righteously beat someone down:

  • A justification for insulting comments. 
  • A refusal to practice empathy.
  • A denial of opportunities that might bring about change.  
  • An obsessive devotion to the punishment and reward system of behaviorism.
  • A false belief that we can solve the problems of our world with more law, with tougher law, with unrelenting law.
  • A simple, sinful, arbitrary refusal to apply grace to a contrite sinner who needs something the law cannot provide.

We dare not ignore the warning of the parable. The servant was forgiven a huge debt – a lifetime’s worth of sin, if you will. That same servant could not see clear to forgive even a small debt for another. It did not end well.

I know I am a sinner. The mirror effect of the law shows me this every day. Yet, every day God forgives me. I live as simultaneous saint and sinner as the blood shed at the cross covers my sin and brings me into the folds of righteousness. This is a powerful, precious gift. It is a gift that demands to be appropriately shared.

I cannot change opinions, I cannot change lives, and I cannot correct wrongs or improve relationships when I use the law as a club. Only God can bring about these changes and His preferred tool is grace.

I found both law and grace in this quote from Martin Luther posted by a wise friend. May this be my guide as I expound my opinion on social media.

“For you are powerful, not that you may make the weak weaker by oppression, but that you may make them powerful by raising them up and defending them.” Martin Luther: Two Kinds of Righteousness: Luther’s Works AE: 304

Lord, remind me daily of my sin and Your grace. Enable me to show that grace to those who may not deserve it, but like me, desperately need it.

 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5: 19-21

Amen, amen, amen.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Making Monuments out of our Sins

You might think these boots are what is left of a Robert E. Lee monument, but they are not. They are the boots of Stalin and are a replica of part of a statue of him once erected in a place of honor in Hungary. The boots now stand quietly in Memento Park along with other no-longer-sung heroes of the communist era. The boots honor those who fell in the 1956 uprising, without the need to honor the evils of the communist regime. 

Memento Park, like others across the world hold many statues that no longer honor leaders, but now simply serve as reminders of what  we should  not forget. Perhaps in the US we can learn this lesson. We can move these monuments, or perhaps repurpose them.

The problem with civil war monuments is that they are not simply statutes of sinners, but that they were erected to honor those who fought to maintain the sin of slavery. They are not monuments to bravery, loss, patriotism, or sacrifice. They are, simply and  truthfully, monuments to sin.

Last year my husband and I traveled with good friends to Europe.  We spent time in Berlin and within a two-day period we saw Checkpoint Charlie, remnants of the wall, and memorials to the millions who were killed in concentration camps. These are monuments that remind us of grief, but do not honor sin. They seemed to be a type of repentance. They do not atone for the horrors perpetrated. Instead, they honor the victims and remind us of the pain that sin caused.

One reason for the controversy with our civil war monuments is that we, as a country, have never repented of our sin. We have barely even acknowledged the evil of slavery, much less atone for it. We want to move on. We want to forget. 

But forgetting cannot come before repentance and forgiveness. When we change the order we end up creating monuments to our sins. Trying to forget an unadmitted sin only perpetuates the sin. I would think that surely segregation, lynching, and redlining show us that. To this day we merely treat the consequences of this sin without addressing the real problems. 

I know I find this true in my own life. When I do not admit to a sin the sin does not become less memorable. Instead I dig in my heels and erect a monument to it. I comfort myself that the sin wasn’t really so bad. When that doesn’t work I convince myself that the victim deserved my actions. Sometimes I even rewrite the story so that I am the victim. When sin is not addressed with repentance and forgiveness I might as well erect a monument to it. And then you can bet I will fight to keep that monument as it will become sacred to me. It has become the only way for me to accept the pain and  grief of my sin.

As David reminds us in Psalm 32, when we do not admit to our sins they are heavy upon us, sapping us of our strength. Our sins not only continue to impact our victims, they impact our own life and faith. It is as if the monument to our sin stands on top of us, crushing our spirit.

We are blessed to be forgiven. We are blessed to have our sins covered and no longer held against us. 

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! Psalm 32

In this Psalm God reminds us that finding refuge in Him is as much about finding refuge from our own sin as it is finding refuge from a storm.  Do you see in the last verse how sorrow is separated by steadfast love, trust, gladness, and rejoicing? When our sins are covered and we find our joyful hiding place in God we can then, through the power of the Spirit, move on to instruction. In this way the grief of repentance turns into the relief of forgiveness which then becomes the joy of a restored relationship, with God and with each other.

Thank you, Jesus.