And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “who will roll the stone away from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw the stone was rolled back; it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, sitting in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:1-8
E. Stanley Jones, who was a mid 20th Methodist missionary to India, once wrote of his experience when he visited Istanbul, Turkey.
“I stood in the Mosque of Saint Sophia, that amazing bit of architecture once a Christian church and now a Mohammedan mosque. All the Christian symbols had been wiped out, and Arabic lettering had been put in. As I stood there, I looked up over the altar place at the dome, and my heart stood still. I grabbed the arm of a friend. I said, “Look! He’s coming back!” I could see that the daubs of the centuries were wearing off, and there was the figure of the ascending Christ, coming back again through the daubs of the centuries. “O,” I said, “you can’t wipe him out. He’s coming back.” This man overthrew empires, and everything that doesn’t fit into his kingdom is doomed. Every tyranny that has come has broken itself upon the silent power of this strange, silent man. My God! What a man!
He’s Lord of death. A Christian preacher was preaching in the bazaars of India, and a Mohammedan said, “Padre Sahib, we have proof in our religion that you haven’t got in yours. We can go to Mecca and find the tomb of Mohammed, but when you go to Palestine you can’t be sure that you’ve got the tomb of Jesus.” “Yes,” said the Christian preacher, “you’re right. We have no tomb in Christianity because we have no corpse,”…
In India they repeat mantras. A priest will whisper a mantra into the ear of his disciple. The disciple doesn’t know what it means, but he repeats it. It’s his life charm….I’d like to whisper into your ear three words. Take it. It’s a life mantra. When in trouble, repeat it. When facing a dilemma, repeat it. When facing sin, repeat it. When facing disaster, repeat it. When facing temptations, repeat it: “Jesus is Lord.” Take those three words and go into tomorrow, and into the future. And there is no future. It’s all present. Jesus is Lord.”
Come ye faithful, raise the strain
Of triumphant gladness!
God has brought his Israel
Into joy from sadness:
Loosened from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke
Jacob’s sons and daughters,
Led them with unmoistened foot
Through the Red Sea waters.
‘Tis the spring of souls today:
Christ has burst his prison;
And from three days’ sleep in death
As a sun has risen.
All the winter of our sins,
long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
Now the queen of seasons bright
With the day of splendor,
With the royal feast of feast,
Comes its joy to render:
Come to glad Jerusalem,
Who with true affection
Welcomes in unwearied strains,
St. John of Damascus (676-760)
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+
O Lord, bent over as I am I can only look downwards; straighten me up so that I can look upwards. Having mounted above my head, my iniquities cover me over; and as a heavy burden they weigh me down. Deliver me from them, unburden me, so that the abyss of iniquities does not engulf me. Permit me, at least from afar or from the deep, to look up towards your light. Teach me to seek you and reveal yourself to me as I seek; for unless you instruct me I cannot seek you, and unless you reveal yourself I cannot find you. Let me seek you in desiring; let me desire you in seeking you. Let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you.
O Lord, I acknowledge and give thanks that you created me in your image so that I may remember, contemplate, and love you. But this image has been so effaced by the abrasion of transgression, so hidden by the dark bellows of sin, that unless you renew and refashion it, it cannot do what it was created to do. Lord, I do not attempt to comprehend your sublimity, because my intellect is not at all equal to the task. But I yearn to understand some measure of your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe but I believe in order to understand. For I believe even this: that I shall not understand unless I believe.
Amen. St. Anselm (1033-1109)
From nearly a thousand years ago, one of the greatest minds of the medieval period clearly speaks the truth to us in our current time of uncertainty. What he tells us is an imperative for authentic Christian life: that imperative is faith. Faith is the rudder for Life in Christ. Without faith we will succumb to all the whims and fancies, delusions and darkness of the world that surrounds us. In times like these, where fears and uncertainty abound, faith will help us to see through all the dense cultural smog and gloomy clouds that hold our world captive. Yes, Jesus already told us that as we have the scriptures and through them we know the Saviour and the loving mercy of God.
Yet through the great wisdom and intellect of this towering 11th Century Christian figure we come to understand two important principals:
1. Faith is the pre-condition for the right use of reason (credo ut intellegam). As creatures created in the wisdom and love of God we can have no right understanding of the world he created, of ourselves, or of the Divine unless we have faith, a belief in Him, the creator.
This is the first of two great failings in our current western world: many around us have no faith! The belief systems of many are ground in nothing other than themselves; my own understanding, my own life, my own pleasures, my own needs, my own desires. All of this is grounded in nothing other than in the dark night of my own selfishness. Is it any wonder then that, in the current turmoil of the world around us, so many have fallen into the option of self centeredness and full on selfishness? In the intellectual narrowness of despair, without a faith, there really is no other viable option. But it is a cold and deadly option that lacks intelligence and wisdom. It is self-destructive.
2. God – yes God! God is that than which nothing greater can be conceived (id quo nihl majus cogitari posit). God is very the heart of wisdom and reason.
Sadly, in the western world many people have drifted away from not only a faith in God but also no longer even accept His existence. In the postmodern view we all have sort of “evolved” from the floating flotsam and jetsam contained in the world around us. With such a notion we have all become our own gods but gods that are selfish and mortal. Many in the current culture fail to ask this important question “from where did the flotsam and jetsam come?
Years ago, when the Genome Project brought its findings to President Clinton and they had concluded that the design of the universe and even of the smallest of the atoms was so intricate that it could not simply have “just evolved” but that it had an intelligence behind it, the President exclaimed in news conferences that “we have seen the face of God!”
President Clinton was spot on and it is called ‘intelligent design’. Something stands behind, beneath, and all around us in this creation and that something is God. Our Judeo-Christian tradition has affirmed this loving, merciful, saving God as not only as beginning but also as ending…creator and redeemer…of all things. Thomas Aquinas said it best, “all things come from God and all things return to God.” Without that affirmation we have no wisdom, no real intellect and certainly no understanding. Yes, it is a faith statement but without it there is no hope and there is no future.
Faith is the beginning and underpinning of all intelligence and wisdom. And faith is our hope, our life, and our only true destiny in the ultimate reality…God.
Deliver us, O God, from following the fashions of the day in our thinking. Save us from the worship of power over nature or over mankind. Save us from the worship of science, and grant that, giving you thanks for the skill of science, we may be preserved from the abuse of its discoveries. Help us never to confuse any creature with the Creator, or man with God. May we acknowledge man’s reason as your gift, and, being freed from all false hopes and misplaced trust, finds our hope and salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff +
O God of earth and altar,
Bow down and hear our cry,
Our earthly rulers falter,
Our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us,
The swords of scorn divide,
Take not thy thunder from us,
But take away our pride
From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the evil speeches
That comfort cruel me,
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us Lord.
Tie in a living tether
The prince and priest and thrall,
Bind all our lives together,
Smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation
Aflame with faith and free,
Lift up a living nation,
A single sword to thee.
G. K. Chesterton 1906
Written in the first decade of the 20th Century, this poem by G. K. Chesterton was set to music and is contained in many church hymnals including our own Lutheran books for worship. Chesterton, who died in 1936, was a poet, an essayist, and a social critic. The clarity of his words (Chesterton was a devout Christian) speak powerfully to us in the midst of our current worldwide distress. Emphatically, he points to the only true source of our salvation – the redeeming God, our creator. In doing this he lists the various problems we face. Fickle, self-serving, and power grabbing politicians top the list! With the antics in Washington among our elected legislators this past week none of this is hard to imagine. Wrangling, power playing, seizing a crisis to advance political agendas has exposed many of our earthly rulers for who they truly are and it has been shameful. Many have been self-serving or are serving special interests rather than serving the people. Some have been lining their pockets with insider information (the walls of gold entomb us). But Chesterton put his finger on this sort of behavior more than 100 years ago. And in all of this our people drift and die.
“The swords of scorn divide us,” has been an ongoing project in our nation for the last four years with no real end in sight. And again, Chesterton nails it, “Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.” The haughty and the proud who inhabit the precincts of power have never really accepted the everyday, hard working men or women that make up this nation, the regular person, or their vote.
“From all that terror teaches, From all the lies of tongue and pen; From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men.” Ouch! Although Chesterton died 84 years ago he saw clearly (from his own experience) the future in which we live – it is probably not only the past, but the present and most likely even the future – because we as humans live in a fallen world where our pride cannot acknowledge stumbling, or failure or error…what we used to call sin. So as a result of this pride we must now learn to live with God’s thunder.
“From sale and profanation of honor and the sword, From sleep and from damnation deliver us good Lord.” Let’s face it, most of us are regular everyday people who go to work, save to purchase a home, raise our children, and are taken up in the daily round of things that need to be done . While we have all been busy with these things we have also been at sleep while some, in powerful places, have been selling and profaning “honor and the sword.” Again, Chesterton puts his finger directly on this very problem with some in our nation’s leadership while most of us assumed, in our slumber, that things were just “A-OK.” They weren’t! Perhaps, this time of plague and turmoil can also have an “upside” as we employ it as a time of reassessment, repentance, awareness, change, and renewal.
Finally, Chesterton brings this litany of sin, corruption, and scandal to a close with a call to a much needed change in course for the nation of his time and, indeed, for our own time as well. “Tie in a living tether, The prince, the priest, the thrall.” Yes, we are all in this boat together, we are called to put the bickering and self-serving aside. We are bound together and together we are smitten. In the parlance of the pioneer west; we are being called to circle the wagons to help and defend one another. We believe and affirm that we are a free people; however, if we have no moral compass, which our Judeo-Christian faith provides and sustains, we will stumble and fall. But for people who are aflame with faith we are assured that we will be lifted up as a “living nation, a single sword to thee.”
O God, who has graciously preserved our nation through the years and has led us in wondrous ways: Grant that we may be worthy of this high calling. Purge out from among us that dishonor you. Give us true religion; crown our faith with righteousness and justice; and lift us up as a holy people; to your praise and honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi. Mark Reiff+
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways
for his name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff they comfort me;
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
+ + +
From the ancient hymnal of the Hebrew faith, Psalm 23 powerfully speaks to us in this difficult time of global pandemic and uncertainty. It reveals to us the mercy of a loving God who shepherds us on our way through the turmoil that surrounds us to lead to a place of refreshment and safety – the still waters. Like a shepherd, with his staff, he will fend off the dangers surrounding us. But the Lord is more than a shepherd, He is also our host inviting us to a holy feast in his presence, “my cup is running over.” But in his wings he also brings healing to us “you have anointed my head with oil.” At the same time it points us, his flock, toward his divine home and a place of eternal safety where we will dwell with him - “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The 23rd Psalm is the path of hope that showers us with words of comfort in a time of uncertainty and fear.
Christians all of this world and our fellow travelers the Jewish community have trusted these words and been comforted by them for nearly three thousand years. Is it any wonder that this the most beloved and widely known of all 150 psalms; It’s comforting words and spirit of Divine hospitality console us in the most trying of times.
Psalm 23 is also the perfect follow-up to the Psalm that precedes it. Psalm 22 is filled with images of distress, terror and death. For this very reason it is the Psalm of the Church’s Good Friday Liturgy. The opening verse makes known the dark and brutal scene; “My God, My God why have you forsaken me? And are so far from the words of my distress.” When Jesus spoke those words from the cross any educated and observant Jew standing by would have instantly brought to mind the entire Psalm. In the words of the Psalm the whole passion and death is spelled out before the crowd around him. It is the story of the incarnate God, Jesus the Christ, humiliated and executed for the sins of the world and it’s redeeming, saving power given-freely to all who turn to him.
Despite the dark tone of the three –quarters of the Psalm it suddenly swerves into the light and makes a stunning conclusion with these words:
Praise the Lord, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor
the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them,
but when they cry to him he hears them.
My praise is of him in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the presence
of those who worship him:
The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall find him.
May your heart live forever!”
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD.
and all the families of nations shall
bow down before him.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
He rules over the nations,
To him alone all who sleep in the earth
bow down in worship;
all who go down to dust bow before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the LORD’S forever.
They shall come and make known
to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds he has done.
Father, when your Son was handed over to torture and felt abandoned by you, He cried out from the cross. Then death was destroyed, and life was restored. By his death and resurrection save the poor, lift up the downtrodden, break the chains of the oppressed, that the Church, your body, may sing your praises; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our nation, our states, our communities, and even our churches are shut down! We are all being asked to stay at home and settle in for the duration. In many ways we are paralyzed. Panic and fear have overtaken many of us in this unprecedented time of the Corona virus and its dangerous spread. This dread is most palpable in the most populous states and most every large city, and even here in Dade City. However, in the midst of all of this we should never forget that, as a people of faith and as Christians, that God is always close at hand and with us. His love and mercy are always near to us no matter what the future may hold.
The Lutheran Breviary, For All the Saints, proscribes for one of the earlier days in Lent the following reading from The Gospel according to Mark.
And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer any room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic,
“My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus.” It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins”- he said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took his pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying,
“We never saw anything like this!” Mark 2:1-12
We have never seen anything like this!? That truly is our current situation as most of us are paralyzed in place. We don’t know what to do? We don’t know where to go? Where do we find help?
Mark’s Gospel points us to where we will find that help, where we need to go, and what we need to do. Explicitly, we are told that we will find our help in Jesus Christ who not only tells us to get up and walk but also tells us that our sins are forgiven. That may seem off, really crazy, to you but the two (healing and forgiveness) are inextricably linked. What is easier to do; to heal or forgive? Neither one is really that easy. Yet most of us would more than likely say it is easier to forgive sins than to find healing. It is easier to forgive because the words so easily and (in many instances) so easily dripped meaninglessly from our lips.
I feel most of us are mistaken…forgiving is the hardest part and when we forgive then the healing can begin. However, most of us aren’t equipped to do either one. And yet in our current situation we are called to do both. Our world, our culture, and our communities, in the midst of this paralysis, are also wracked with sin. It is the normal state of the human condition. We are a fallen people living in a fallen world.
But here is the hope and the truth we all so desperately need: When we turn to Christ in faith and ask for forgiveness, we receive it. And when we turn to Christ in faith we are healed and returned to an un-encumbered life; either in the fallen world of our current existence or in the life of the world to come.
Yes, it is entirely possible that death may be just around the corner for some of us (we pray that this might not be so) and yet we go forward in faith trusting ourselves to the promises of God in Christ Jesus. Despite knowing of this possibility, we do not let fear consume us because we know the end of the story. Jesus is triumphant! He defeated death and despair. He rose from the dead! And so shall we! Easter is just around the corner. But then it always has been.
We are all in God’s hands. We know of his promises. We know of his grace. We know of his mercy. And so we live in hope and trust and peace.
Almighty and merciful Father, who altogether knows us, we confess that we have erred, and failed. We have come up short, and transgressed; we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed. We have forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewn for ourselves cisterns that hold no water. We are ashamed of these things, and repent of our wrong doing. We ask of you, O Lord, to grant us your forgiveness, and to assure us of it, as only you alone can; enable us in days to come to amend our lives according to your law. By your omnipresent Spirit, incline our wills for ever to that which is right. In your wisdom make us wise; grant us that with our whole heart we may serve you in the days to come,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+
Good Morning from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church: As you already know these are difficult times for people all over the world, here in our own nation, in our own state, our own community and in your home and family. The Wuhan Corona Virus (Covid-19) has impacted all of us in one way or another. It has changed things dramatically and many of us are fearful. But the future ahead of us, with the challenge of this disease and the economic havoc it is causing, is also opening up some unexpected vistas and opportunities to focus on the most important aspects of our individual lives, your families, and our communities.
First of all, you are receiving this message from your pastor because you are a baptized child of God and a person of faith who lives not in isolation but within a community of faith: the family of Christ Jesus. Due to this one simple fact you are grounded in Jesus Christ and grafted into the Tree of Life. As a part of the body of Christ you do not live in fear but in hope! You know the end of each and every story for the people of faith and it is not death but resurrected life. Jesus warned his disciples about various trials and tribulations that would afflict them, and you, in this life but He called them, as he calls you, to be steadfast in your faith because no matter what happens He will not desert you. In many ways the simple song of little children tells you all you need to know:
“Jesus loves me this I know
for the bible tells me so,
Little ones to Him belong,
I am weak but He is strong!
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so!
Richard John Neuhaus, in his book As I Lay Dying, wrote about his struggle with cancer that eventually took his life. He confessed that he always prayed each night that simple little prayer that most all of you were taught:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray thee Lord my soul to take.”
Neuhaus was one of the most respected and gifted Christian Theologians of the modern era in our nation and, yet, a child like faith in Jesus Christ that was at the core of his very being.
In this time of trial and tribulation for all of us we need to remember the inner child that is in all of you and see our hope and salvation in God the Father who loves you. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life! For God sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but that through Him the world might be saved.” As we pray this day for ourselves let us also pray for one another.
A Prayer for the Day
Almighty and most merciful Father, who has taught us not to think of ourselves only, but also for the needs of others; we remember before you all who are burdened or oppressed, those who are afflicted by poverty, or worn down by disease or illness, the weary and the heavy-laden, those who are in darkness or despair, or who are suffering for righteousness’ sake. Help them all to rest in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pax Christi, Mark Reiff+