Sunday, December 16, 2012

Grieving over the loss of children

What do we do when the lives of 20 children are tragically taken from this world in one cruel, twisted action?  How do we answer this question:

Why did it happen?

It certainly didn’t happen because God doesn’t care about children.

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

No, God loves all of His children; He knows each of us and watches over us with care.  He is a Father who watches our every move and knows the count of the hairs on our head.  He cared no less than that, for the children of Sandy Hook School.  He cares for the children who lost their lives; He cares for the children who witnessed the shootings and struggle with those memories; He cares for the parents who grieve.

It certainly didn’t happen, as some have said, because we have taken Christian teaching out of the schools. The idea that God would punish these children because the government of their parents prohibits faith from being taught in their school is not only a horrible thought, but a wrong one.   In 2006 a man entered an Amish school, a school where the Christian faith was taught, and killed five young students.  Even in the town where our Savior was born, innocent babies were killed upon the orders of a wicked king. 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5: 1-5

The teaching of the Christian faith can be prohibited in our schools, but faith was not gone from Sandy Hook on that day.  Many of the children in that school had faith poured into their hearts through the Holy Spirit.  No man, no law, can take away that faith. 

It certainly didn’t happen because there are too many guns in our world or not enough guns at the school, or because we do not care for our mentally ill.  And it certainly didn’t happen because of the way the media treats these horrible events, or the way we seem to lust after every bit of information as if that means we are grieving with those who have suffered the loss.

No, it happened, plain and simple, because we are sinners living in a sinful world.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— Romans 5:12

Many more than 20 children die, in our world, every day.  They die of heart defects, from accidents, from gunshots in drive-by shootings.  They die from malaria, malnutrition, and cancer.  In every case, their deaths are senseless and painful to those who love them and miss them.  We see the pain this time, because we see ourselves in the faces of the parents.  We feel the terror because the news of these violent deaths repeatedly assaults us from the television, newspaper, and live feed on our mobile data devices.  We are touched and saddened by these deaths and that grief is real.

 Yet, children die every day because of our sin and because of the sinful, dirty, evil world in which we live; because of the sin we cling to; the sin that motivates our every thought and action.   

And God loves us anyway, perfectly, completely, and mercifully, even as He grieves over us and the children lost to death.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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: 15-21

God’s love knows the grief of the violent death of a child.  He knows what we felt when we heard of the death of these children.  He knows about the grief of the family members, teachers and classmates who mourn the loss of loved ones. 

God gathers them in His arms and carries them close to His heart. 

It falls on us to mourn with these parents, and with any parent suffering the loss of a child.  We mourn with them, pray for them, and offer them the comfort of God’s love in our words and actions.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. II Corinthians 1: 3-5

What about our own children?  How do we answer their questions, especially when those questions are so similar to the ones we lift up to our Heavenly Father?

When we have unanswerable questions we turn to the truth we know.  We turn to our Bibles and read and remember the faith put into our hearts at our Baptism.

God loves the children who were killed, and He loves us. 

God loves us, no matter what. 

There is nothing we can do, there is nothing that evil can do, that can separate us from that love.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-38

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Politics cannot save us

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18: 9-14 ESV

Years ago I received fundraising letters from two organizations on the opposite ends of the political spectrum.  I do not know how I managed to get on the mailing lists of both an extremely liberal and an extremely conservative organization, but I was intrigued by the content of the letters, none-the-less. 

If I had taken a marker and blacked out the names of the organizations it would have been extremely difficult to tell which letter supported liberal and which supported conservative causes.  They used the same phrases to assure me that the opposite side was bent on destroying the country we love and the freedoms we hold dear. They both accused politicians from the opposing group of despicable agendas and grassroots organizing.  They both insisted that the preservation of the Union was at stake unless I immediately sent whatever I could afford to their organization. The letters nearly matched each other buzz phrase by buzz phrase.  I strongly suspect they were written by the same fundraising organization and each letter approved by each group without the knowledge of the other letter. 

Now that’s a clever fundraising organization.

The similarity between the letters was quite eye-opening.  It was a reminder to me that a political organization, even if it adopts Christian values, is still an organization made up of men and women, who are as sinful, selfish and manipulative as I am. 

A political party cannot save us.

Let me say that again with a bit more emphasis:


Our trust is sadly misplaced if we count on the government to feed the poor, or if we count on politicians to promote Christian policies.  Our trust is sadly misplaced if we let any political candidate, office-holder, party, or pundit convince us that anyone other than God is our Strength and our Salvation.  

What I learned from those two letters was that any political side can, and will, manipulate my emotions to convinced me the world is ending and that sending the right people money, or voting the one right way is the only way to prevent certain doom.

But my trust is in a Higher Power than earthly politics.  I see that the world is a mess because of our sin rather than because of their faulty beliefs.  I do not blindly turn away, but I know that the accomplishment of peace and prosperity belongs to God, alone.  So I read the papers, and watch the news.  I read my Bible and worship with the family of God.  I vote at each election and put my ballot in the box with a prayer, knowing that my heavenly Father can bring good out of any election.

God is good; God is good, all the time. (Even in an election year when we are especially not good.)

Since receiving those letters I have tried to be more careful of my sources for political news.  I would not try to recommend a particular media outlet but I think there are a few things to consider when evaluating media and pundits.  I look for sources that tell me what is happening instead of those that predict what will happen if I don’t contribute or vote in a certain political direction.  I feel pretty confident that politicians and analysts, newspapers, blogs, polls, and T.V commentaries are not reliable prophets.  I value the useful information, especially if I feel I am getting the whole picture and not a carefully edited version, but I do not look to these people to guide my vote or predict future events.

The second thing I try to avoid is sources that paint a picture of one group or another in a narrow, negative and stereotypical way.  I see too many examples of what could only be described as horribly biased. These kinds of descriptions do not enlighten; instead they produce contempt.  Contempt is the destruction of relationships and is not what helps us to discern the best way to tackle a societal problem. 

If you find that the political opinions you are listening to, or reading, or posting on social media sites, can fit into the Pharisee's prayer, then take warning:

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, taking from the poor to feed my bank accounts. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, refusing to work and expecting the government to pay my way. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, ignoring the pain and suffering of others while enjoying the fruits of my hard labor. . .

God, I thank you that I am not like other men, encouraging women to have abortions. . .

These prayers are expressions of contempt and do nothing to encourage empathy for the positions, lives, or challenges, of others. The truth is that we are all like other men.  We are all selfish, lazy, and hardhearted – it’s called sin.  We should be able to find a commonality with any societal group, regardless of which side of the 47% boundary we are on, because the sin we see in others is reflected from our own hearts. 

The correct application of Law and Gospel never includes contempt. It is always accomplished in love.

Because I know my life history and that my every waking moment is steeped in sin, because I am sure I offended others this political season, and because I know my Savior loves me anyway, I know I can, and need, to pray. . .

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A home for Dorris

I rarely cry at weddings, occasionally at funerals, and nearly always at baptisms.  A few Sunday’s ago,  I wiped away a tear while watching my mother-in-law, Dorris, receive communion. 

She cared for her husband through eighteen years of Alzheimers.  The last few years, he spent in a memory care facility and at that time we realized that Dorris was slipping away from us, too.  As I watched her lean forward to receive the grace found in the body and blood, I was struck by the realization that she was home
Early this morning, as my husband contemplated the music he would be playing later for the Reformation service at our church, he took a phone call from the police; one of the top ten fears for parents.  This phone call did not involve our children, but was instead notification that Dorris had wandered out of her room and out of her building and showed up at a convenience store several blocks away from her assisted living residence.  The industry would say she “eloped.”  

Paul and I suspect she was out and about, trying to figure out where she was.  She frequently asks about going home, but lately the home she describes is the house in Blackburn, Missouri where her mother lived for many years.  Just last evening she told Paul that she was on an island and that she needed to find her husband as he was expected to speak for the conference being held there.  She has reached a point in her illness where she is perpetually looking for her home. 

Paul calls this elopement a “drive through a glass door” event; a watershed event that signals the need for a drastic change.  The term comes from when Dorris drove her little car into the front door of a local fast food place.  She calmly got out of the car, walked in, and ordered a sandwich.  We took that to mean she needed to be done driving.  We suspect eloping during early morning hours means she needs to move to a different level of care.  She has been moving to a new home for about nine months, now.  This will be her third move, already.  It is little wonder she is searching for home.

So now I understand why the beauty of sharing the body and blood at the Lord’s home table is so very moving.  God does not wait for us to find Him.  He does not pace the floor in worry over when we will show up.  He does not shake his head when we are late. He knows where we are and He comes to us.  Just as our Pastor moves from the altar to Dorris’ seat to bring her the forgiveness found in this sacrament, God sets up His table where we are.  He surrounds us with forgiveness, grace and mercy and brings us home to Him; to our perpetual home.

As I type this, Paul and his brother Karl, who thankfully came from Missouri for a visit, are discussing details regarding an earthly home for their mother.  Arrangements will be made to assure her comfort and safety even as little can be done to help her perception of where home is.  She will move again and her cat will find a new home as well. We will continue to visit her, to place tangible evidences of home around her room, and to talk with her about whatever is familiar to her at that moment.  We will try to create a home for her as she wanders through her memories.  And we will rejoice that we all have a permanent home with our heavenly Father, that His Son died to create that home for us, and that His Spirit surrounds us to create that home in the sweet song of faith. We are safe; we are home

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.  Psalm 121 (ESV

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hide and Seek

The children in this video clip are enjoying a boisterous game of hide and seek.  What is amusing to us is the fact that they are playing this game in a room that is completely empty; a room with no hiding place.  Somehow, this does not discourage them in the least. 

The game works for children this age because they are just at the beginning of an understanding of theory of mind.  We have theory of mind when we realize that each of us has our own thoughts, our own body of knowledge, and our own perspective.  These children realize that they each have their own thoughts because otherwise the game of hide and seek would make no sense.  How could I hide from you if we are thinking the same things?

But, they don’t yet understand the extent of theory of mind which is why the big sister can hide her eyes and assume her brother does not see her because she can’t see him.  Therefore, finding and being found, even in an empty room, are quite a delight. 

The development of theory of mind is the precursor to the development of empathy.  If we can think different things, then we can feel different things.  If we can feel different things then I can try to step into your world and find out what you are feeling.  Theory of mind is the beginning of fellowship. 

 I suspect it is also a part of faith.  Here is Job’s theory of the mind of God:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2-6

Faith allows us to realize what we cannot possibly understand.  God is separate from us and yet He knows us completely.  We cannot hide from Him.  He knows our thoughts, our wants, our needs and our sins.  We fear Him and we need Him; and this leads us to worship Him. 

Just as small children are delighted when they hide and are found.  We are delighted that our God knows us and loves us.  We are blessed to live where His grace abounds.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
 The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. Psalm 33:12-15

I have a situation in my class that requires a strong theory of mind.  I prefer to assume that my students all think like me and value the same things I do.  (What? They don’t all LOVE educational psychology?!)  

I have a suspicion that something happened, but I can’t prove it.  I am going to have to meet with a student and figure out the proper response to achieve a balance between Law and Gospel.  Only God knows for sure what happened.  Only God knows for sure if my response is correct. I am not all-knowing, but I do know this situation calls for prayer and guidance. 

From this I know that I am blessed to be His child.  I am a child with just an inkling of theory of mind; a child given faith in a God who knows all things.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 33:18