Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why All Citizens Have a Stake in Their Local Public School

                Small schools are falling on hard times.  A while back Governor Quinn announced that he believed Illinois needed to cut back, dramatically, on the number of school districts.  Whether you agree with him or not, you have to admit, that is not going to be a good thing for small schools.  The smaller the school, the more likely it is to be consolidated.

                Whatever the governor’s, or the government’s, plans may be I believe that all citizens should take interest in their local public school.  Each one of us benefits from the public school system in the United States.  And I write this as the pastor of a Lutheran congregation that operates a parochial (non-public) grade school.

                I do not think that a public school education is appropriate for all students.  I send my children to our Lutheran school.  Yet I also believe that our local communities benefit from having small, locally governed public schools.

                Hoyleton Grade School is a great example of this benefit.  First, it benefits our Lutheran school to have a small public school right down the street.  The public school provides services to students who wish to have a Lutheran, Christ –centered education, but need a little extra help with speech or reading, extra help that the parochial school would be hard pressed to provide.

                Our two schools have a long history of cooperation.  We have a long standing sports cooperative agreement.  Our students ride their bus.  We advertise their fundraisers in our church bulletin.  Several members of our congregation serve as members of the HGS board.  It is easier for our school to get what limited state funds are available to us through the smaller, less bureaucratic, local public school than it would be if the district were much larger.  I believe both schools benefit from this close arrangement.

                Second, a small, local, public school benefits the local community too.  Just as public school is not for everyone, Lutheran school may not be suitable for all either.  While our school will accommodate any student that we can, not all will choose to attend.  For whatever reason, public school is the best option for some families.

                When a student can attend classes a few blocks from home in a school operated by their close neighbors and people who share their values, the whole community is strengthened.  When a parent is likely to run into the board chairman at the grain elevator it is likely that the chairman will want to keep families happy.  When the school board is small and the community is small, one voice (your voice) counts much more than in a larger area.   It is easier to influence the education system when it is small and local.

                   This, of course, is not to mention any of the benefits of having a well-educated society.  Education is good.  I think we can all agree on that.

                I am not suggesting that a public school always does everything right, or that those who run public schools (or any schools for that matter) need our uncritical praise.  I am suggesting that if you have a small, local public school, you will miss it when it is gone, whether you have children there or not. 

                So get involved.  Influence the board of your local school to have the best public education that there can be for your community.  If your children go to a parochial school, count the blessings of having a good relationship with the public school.  There are probably blessings that you don’t always see.  Support and encourage those who fight to keep these local schools open.  There is much work that goes on behind the scenes.  Be a friend to the teachers who work with the local students.  They are guiding and teaching your neighbors.

                I do not know what the future holds for the small, local, public school.  I am, however, thankful for their past work, and I am trying to do my small part to encourage them in the present. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One-Sided Honesty

          I read a blog post recently from a self-professed narcissist.  It was a confession of sorts written by a woman who has been cheating on her husband who happens to be a soldier deployed overseas.  He is a military hero and she is running around behind his back, apparently with several men, and is planning on divorcing him when he gets back.

          As bad, as horrifying, as that all sounds, that is not really what shocked me.  What got to me was the fact that the people commenting on her post were all very supportive.  They thanked her for being honest words.  They were glad that she gave it to them "raw".

          The problem is that giving words of support to a person who is engaged in such wantonly destructive behavior is not only unhelpful, but dishonest.  It is ultimately unloving and even hateful.

          Let's try an exercise.  Let's try to apply this attitude to other ethical situations.

"I murdered three people yesterday."
                                   "I love your honesty."

"I knocked over an ATM.  I felt guilty, but, oh well."
                                  "Thanks for being so raw with us."

"I drugged a girl and raped her."
                                  "Your truthfulness is admirable."

          See, this line of thinking just does not work.  You cannot simply commend someone for their honesty and leave it at that.  There is another action required: an honest response, and one that is helpful to the person.

          I know, I am a guy, and guys have this tendency to want to try and fix things.  But I cannot read a post like this and simply say that I am glad the author was honest.  I need to be honest with them.

          "You are ruining your life."

          "Get some professional help."

          "Turn yourself into the authorities."

          "Repent and believe the Gospel!"

          A conversation cannot be truly honest is only one person is speaking the truth.  Affirmations of their honesty might as well just be dead silence.  If we are going to be honest we must speak the truth for their sake.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Looking for It

In the final phrases of the Nicene Creed we confess that we are looking “for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”  My question for you this Easter is: “How hard are you looking?”

                Are your eyes constantly fixed upon the horizon, joyfully awaiting the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?  Are you eagerly anticipating the day when Jesus will reveal Himself to the world as its Lord and Savior?  Or, like most people, do you have bigger fish to fry?

                The Resurrection of our Lord is a foretaste of the feast to come.  He has conquered death itself and so He guarantees that we too will rise upon His return.  And so we should always be looking forward to that day.  We are to look for it with fervent hope.

                Taking our eyes off of Jesus, taking our eyes off the prize, has devastating consequences for our lives here and now.  It has a cost for the Church, and for the world in which we dwell.

                When we are not looking for Jesus to return, when we are not awaiting the resurrection, then we get lost.  We lose sight of our calling in this world, and we fall into blatant sin.  

                We fail to take seriously the commands of God.  We forget that we are called to purity and holiness, and so we end up looking like the rest of the world around us.  We absorb and adopt worldly attitudes toward life, marriage, wealth, and success.  We seek revenge.  We look for security and pleasure in places where we will never find it enough.

                But there are other ways in which this loss of direction manifests itself.  When we lose sight of the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come we begin to get bored, especially with Church and the Gospel.

                Why do I have to come to Church?  If we are asking that question, then we have lost sight of the resurrection.  When the forgiveness of our sins, the announcement of God’s grace, the singing of His Gospel bores us, then we have lost our bearings.

                And there is always fear, particularly the fear of death.  We lose our way and we start to think that the grave is final, it is “goodbye”.  We lose sight of the fact that we will rise as Jesus has risen, and so we worry about how “short” life is.  When we stop looking for the resurrection, the only thing we can see is death, and nothing beyond it.

                The death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the most significant event in the history of the world.  It has changed everything.  Jesus lives!  Christ is risen!  And His resurrection directs our attention to our own resurrection.  It entices our gaze away from the doldrums of this world onto the glory of the world to come.

                The cross and empty tomb have removed our sin.  Every instance of losing our way, each time that we have gotten off course because we have stopped looking to the future that Christ will surely give, has been forgiven.  

                The Holy Spirit moves our eyes to see Jesus returning in triumph, and that colors everything we do here and now.  Life is not simply a chemical accident that is here today and gone tomorrow.  It is the intentional creation of God, redeemed from death by Christ to endure forever.  Your neighbor is no longer just another person, but a person for whom Christ died and rose, a person who will live forever, wither with Jesus or without Him.  

                We can take our eyes off ourselves and truly learn to love and serve others because our future is set.  We can lay aside vengeance trusting that Jesus will return to judge all things.  We can rest secured that even though we die, yet shall we live.  Jesus gives us confidence to lay aside temporary and fleeting pleasures now because we will receive never ending joy in the resurrection.

                When the Spirit turns our eyes to the resurrection and the world to come Church becomes much less boring.  You don’t have to attend Church.  You get to.  Jesus invites you to receive His gifts at Church every single week to give you a blessed hope that will endure through death.

                The forgiveness of your sins, the proclamation of the good news, the singing of the hymns, these are not done for God’s good, but for yours.  Jesus is reassuring you that He is coming back and that when He does He will judge you to be righteous and blameless.  

                And because of that reality there is no need to fear death, at least not as the world does.  Jesus has conquered.  He has triumphed over every single inch of the grave.  You may die, but Jesus will raise you up on the last day.  You may go into the grave, but Jesus will call you out.  

When the Spirit helps us to look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come we know that life is not short, it is eternal.  Death is not “goodbye”.  Death is defeated. 

                Jesus gives us eyes to see what the world cannot see, to see Him still at work through His Word, to see Him revealed on the Last Day, to look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

                Like a ship navigating the waters of this earth by following the North Star, so we Christians are to gain our bearings from keeping our eyes fixed upon the coming of our Lord Jesus.  He is coming soon, and we are to be ready, letting the day of His return and the day of our resurrection be the guiding star of our lives.

                We will now allow Dr Luther to direct our gaze:
                “But for this we are baptized, for this we hear the Gospel and believe in Christ, that we may set aside all these vocations…and turn from this world to another existence and life where there is neither servant nor master, neither maid nor mistress, neither wife nor husband, but where we are altogether equal and one in Christ Jesus, which equality begins here in faith, but yonder is made perfect in sight, where there is no death, but only eternal and imperishable life, no sin, but only righteousness and innocence, no fear nor sorrow, but only security and joy, no dominion nor authority nor power, but God alone will be All in All; in short, where God and Christ Himself is with all His elect and saints.  Unto this eternal life we have been baptized, unto this life Christ has redeemed us by His blood and death, and to reach this life we have received the Gospel.” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol III, p86) 
                It is the work of the Holy Spirit to keep our eyes trained upon the dawning of the glory of God.  Through the work of the Gospel He will do it.  May your eyes always be fixed upon the dawn of that new day.  Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Unbind Them!

                  Jesus loved Lazarus enough to raise him from the dead.  Jesus knew what it would cost Him.  He knew there would be consequences.  But He did it anyway.  He freed Lazarus from the bonds of death, and submitted to them Himself.

                The resurrections that Jesus performs amplify as you move through the 4 Gospels.  In Matthew and Mark we are told of Jesus reviving a little girl, the daughter of Jairus, who’s death was so recent she was still lying in her bed.  In Luke Jesus interrupts a funeral procession that is on its way to the burial site and gives life back to the only son of a widow.

                In John’s Gospel we learn of Lazarus, who has been dead, not for several hours, but for several days, 4 days to be exact.  Lazarus has been lying in the strong bands of death for half of a week.  His body has already begun to decay.  

                There is no way that this is an accident, no way that this is a coincidence.  There is no way that Lazarus has been asleep or in a coma.  4 days sealed in a tomb would be the death of anyone, even if they were alive when they went in.  Lazarus was the prisoner of death.  There are no two ways about it.

                But that is nothing to Jesus.  He cares nothing for the power of death to bind us.  He cares only for the power of God to set men free from its grasp.  The stone is rolled away.  Jesus prays to His heavenly Father, so that all those present might know that God is at work.  And Jesus calls His dead friend by name, “Lazarus, come out.”

                And “the man who had died came out.”  The dead man walked out of his tomb.  Can you imagine?  The astonishment of the crowd.  The jubilation of Martha and Mary, his sisters.  

                As if to make things final, Jesus has one last bit of instruction: “Unbind him, and let him go.”  We assume, of course, that Jesus is talking about the burial clothes.  But those words apply just as well to death itself.  Jesus commands the grave: unbind him.  Let him go.  And death submits.

                This is a triumphant day for Jesus and for his friends.  Mary, Martha, and Lazarus rejoice at his newfound freedom from death.  He was a prisoner to death, but now he is free.

                As I said earlier, however, this was not without its cost.  This was simply too big of a miracle.  It was too public and too close to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish power.  Jesus first miracle was harmless, turning water into wine.  Most people were probably too drunk by then to notice anyway.  And it was far away, at Cana in Galilee.  

                This was close.  Many Jews had gathered for the funeral rites.  Everyone was very sober, very alert.  A Jew does not open a grave without everyone taking notice.  The chains of death were loosed.  The bonds of the grave were shattered.  And everyone saw it.

                The Jewish leadership could not let this go.  The Pharisees and the priests, two groups who did not normally trust one another, get together to discuss what they should do now.  “If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him!”

                Then Caiaphas, the chief priest, speaks under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Unknown to himself he delivers God’s own pronouncement of how this must all end.  “It is better for you that one man should die for the people.”  

                This is what it cost Jesus to raise Lazarus.  It cost Him His life.  This miracle, so blatant, so brazen, so amazing, attracted too much attention, and the chief priest had to squash it.  Jesus must die.

                Yet this is to be expected.  This is exactly what Jesus says that He will do.  He is the Good Shepherd.  What does the Good Shepherd do?  He lays down His life for the sheep.  Jesus loosed Lazarus from the grave knowing full well that it would put Him in His own.  Jesus died so that Lazarus might live.

                Jesus died so that others might live.  Jesus died for Lazarus.  But He also died for you.  For me.

                Death is a reality that looms large for us all.  It strikes at different times and in different circumstances.  For many of you death has had a very real impact here very recently.  Whether it is watching an elderly relative suffer through a prolonged illness, or having a loved one taken with nearly no warning at all, death is there.

                Death is a reality because of sin.  We die, not because we are being punished for anything we have specifically done, but because of the curse that lays on all the world.  All have sinned and therefore all die.  When we attend a funeral it slaps us in the face.  If there were no sin they would not have died.  If I were not a sinner, I would have no reason to fear death. 

                Just as Jesus called Lazarus from the grave knowing that it would cost Him His life, Jesus went to His death knowing that it would result in our resurrection.  When His blood filled the debt of sin that we owe, death lost the power to lay hold of us.  Jesus has set us free from death.  He has loosed us from the bonds of the grave.

                “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”       

                Jesus gives life to all who believe in Him, and that life begins now.  Jesus’ death and resurrection transforms the death of the Christian from a thing of punishment and finality into a doorway from one moment into the next.

                Don’t get me wrong, death remains a painful doorway.  It is still the enemy to be fought against.  But it is a defeated enemy, a tamed evil, that can no longer hold us captive as it once did.  

Those who die in Jesus do not cease to exist.  They do not receive punishment as their sins deserve.  They are not separated from the Lord Jesus Christ for a single moment.

                Because of what Jesus has done, because He has died for us, when we die our body does go into the ground and our spirits rests in the heavenly presence of Christ.  

                And on the Last Day, when He returns, Jesus will command death: “Unbind them, and let them go!”  And He will call you by name saying: “My friend, come out.”  So you too shall rise.

                The resurrection of Lazarus is just a glimpse of the greatness of that Last Day.  It is a sneak peak of the glory that will be accomplished when Jesus bursts the bonds of every grave on this planet.

                The price that Jesus paid to set Lazarus free is the same price He has paid for you and me.  Just as He called Lazarus out from the tomb, so He will call you.  And you shall rise.