Jun 25: Good Enough
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels. Prov. 31:10
This verse came up this morning in our family devotions from the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It reminded me of an elderly woman I once knew who never missed a Sunday of church, with one exception; she never showed up on Mothers’ Day. The congregation’s tradition was to read Proverbs 31:10-31 for the Old Testament reading every year on Mother’s Day, all about the amazing “woman of noble character” who does everything really well and makes everyone’s problems go away. This woman, who was an exemplary and talented Christian wife and mother and active in leadership in virtually every activity of the congregation, thought these verses of Proverbs were too hard to live up to. They made her feel bad about herself, and the last thing she wanted to do on Mothers’ Day was listen to what she took to be a laundry list of all her shortcomings.
We can all say these words didn’t mean to be putting her down and she shouldn’t have taken them that way, but she did take them that way. It is a basic Law/Gospel problem that confronts all of us. Yesterday’s verse from 1 Cor. 13 is almost not fair—it is talking about the New Man, the life of Christ, but we all fail to live up to it. The question then becomes, what do we make of the fact that we cannot live up to the Bible’s descriptions of what God calls us to be? Do we despair and stop trying? Do we try harder and check our progress later? Do we adjust the standard to be more attainable? Those would be Law-based responses. Those are the strategies of the Old Adam, the sinful nature, to be declared righteous by earning it. The Gospel response to reading such descriptions of righteous behavior and realizing that we don’t live up to them is to see how great is the love God has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God.
Our efforts aren’t acceptable because they’re so good. They’re acceptable like the crayon drawings of children that the parents lovingly put on the refrigerator. Hardly Rembrandt, but the merits aren’t the point. And the kids who know they are loved respond by trying to make an even better drawing next time. They don’t earn their parents’ love. They try to live up to their parents’ hopes for them because they already have their parents’ love.
Everyone who is honest suffers from the feelings of inadequacy like the women who felt she couldn’t live up to Proverbs 31. I could be a better pastor. You could be a better parishioner. St. Paul’s could be a better church. But we shine with the glory of the children of God because of the unearned, unmerited righteousness of Christ we have by faith. So I urge us never to be discouraged. Not by the pandemic and all the changes going on. Not by the political turmoil in the news. Not by aging and the changing times. Our goals remain what they always have been—to be more and more conformed to Christ according to Hid will. That’s what we’ll be about here no matter else is going on.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Jun 17: Your Dross to Consume
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the Lord tests hearts. Prov. 17:3
This proverb of Solomon was part of the devotion today for those who use the Treasury of Daily Prayer. It is an amazing thing, and a fearful thing, to ponder.
A crucible is a sort of pot in which you heat up metal or some other chemical compound. You may have used on a chemistry lab. You can use on to purify silver, but gold is a heavier metal. We think of a furnace as something that heats the house, but in this case it refines gold. To purify gold, you have to heat it up to such high temperatures that the impurities, the dross, everything that clings to it that isn’t gold, burns away in the smoke. What remains is purer gold.
The prophets talk about the Lord coming as a refiner’s fire. You put a little chunk of silver over a Bunsen burner, you put a gold ring in a blacksmith’s or a forger’s furnace. The presence of God does to your heart what that furnace does to the gold.
The thing to remember is that God tests hearts because they are precious to Him. He doesn’t do it to cause pain, though the process is painful. Precisely because your heart is precious to Him, He hates the sin that clings to closely. He wants it gone.
When we come into the presence of the Lord, we repent of our sins and submit to the painful process of turning away from them. The sins we love are the hardest to let burn away. Confession of sin that is painless probably isn’t very honest.
Christ redeems us sinners not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious blood. When the Lord tests hearts, He looks for the blood of Christ, more precious than silver, and finds it in the faithful. Therefore we stand in the judgment.
The Judge still hates the dross. The great blessing of ongoing confession/absolution, ongoing Holy Communion, daily remembrance of Baptism, is that is lets you participate, not in your salvation, but in your purifying. It will never happen completely in this life; it will remain a work in progress. But entering into the presence of God and staying there when the knowledge of sin starts to bubble up and the defense mechanisms kick in is a painful but glorious opportunity we all have as members of the Body of Christ.
April 23: In a Perfect World
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” I Cor. 13:4-5
This morning as I was making the daily catechism review video for the Confirmation class (you can access them from the website if you want to review the catechism, too, which you should) I emphasized the point from the close of the Commandments that God demands perfection. Keeping the Law pretty well doesn’t cut it in terms of justification. Salvation is an all or nothing deal, which is why salvation by works will never….work.
In my high school journalism class, we could not turn in any article that had even a single error in it. If anything was misspelled, if there were any grammatical errors, even punctuation in the wrong spot, the teacher would simply hand the paper back and say, “Turn it back in when it is fixed and I will grade it.” He didn’t even tell us what or where the error was. The goal of that persnickety approach, of course, was to make us good proofreaders. Remember, back in the days of print journalism you couldn’t fix an error once things literally went to press, at least not without incredible effort and expense.
Different world, different story today. Even major newspapers put out articles online that haven’t been proofread very thoroughly. If anyone points out an error, they fix it with a click. Typos matter less because they aren’t nearly so permanent, but speed of getting things out there matters more. You’ve probably noticed these daily updates have had plenty of typos in them day after day. I’ve become accustomed to the modern, online, speed-rather-than-precision way of writing. But I’ve always been glad I took that merciless journalism class. In one personal triumph of my high school years, I found an error in the teacher’s handout that even he didn’t know about. The article covered a tennis match, and the author had spelled it “tennis racket.” The preferred spelling is/was “tennis racquet.” If only salvation had been by works for just that one moment! Alas, for every triumph there were ten disasters.
Take it out of the realm of old school journalism and into life. God is Love. If you perfectly exemplified His Love in your life, you would NEVER be even a little bit impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, or insistent on getting things your way. Does that sound like you? Or do you need a Savior?
The shutdown can help us learn the importance of being patience and kind and not being irritable or rude. We find ourselves with strangers in annoying lines, or living for such an extended period at home with people whose habits we can’t escape. Suddenly we see the need. But we also see how far short of the glory of God we consistently fall.
As we look toward opening things back up and easing back into church attendance in the coming weeks and months, we’ll also have plenty of chances to exercise the need for patience. There will be irritations and disagreements, I’m sure, in terms of when and how we should be doing this or that. Rest assured we will be looking at it from every angle and trying our very best. Will it be perfect? No, it will probably not be perfect. It will be a new era, but with the same old story of Christ crucified and risen, proclaimed, taught, given and shed for those gathered in faith around the Word and Sacraments.
Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. Prov. 10:12
Sometime around the beginning of Advent late in 2017, when I was still on Facebook and learned the hard way that social media didn’t always bring out the best and wisest in people, I embarked on an ambitious plan to post a short reflection each day on a single verse of Proverbs, from chapters 10:1—22:16. Some of you may remember reading them (or least having to scroll past them). Each verse in that section of the book contains a single, self-contained proverb by King Solomon. I figured Wisdom Literature would be just the thing to counteract so much of the nastiness and nonsense that swirls around in cyberspace.
I thought of that project recently when I was trying to address some of the frustrations that can boil to the surface in stressful times. People can endure a lot, but time wears us down and uncertainty unsettles us. Nerves fray and tempers flare when frustration gets the best of us. Those are the very times when the Word of God can lead us to examine ourselves and drive us to the foot of the cross and the joyous new life of unconquerable love in Christ. One of the very shortest posts in that project happens to be about Prov. 10:12, so I’ve included it in italics below.
If you string together the synonyms used in the various translations, you get something like “Hatred stirs up strife/quarrels/dissension/contention/judgment/conflict, but love covers all offenses/transgressions/sins/wrongs/evil things.”
In both cases, something on the inside, an attitude of the heart and mind, transforms the outside in its own image. Hatred is simply enmity existing on the inside, which is made manifest in conflict on the outside. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes this point about hatred, anger, and lust—it isn’t just the outward action that the Law condemns, but the inner, sinful heart-source of that action.
Luther called original sin “self curved in on itself.” We’re supposed to be outwardly focused in love, like the God who made us in His image. But the essential self-centeredness of our sin makes the inner conflict between the self and others unavoidable. Lust, envy, hatred, revenge—they are simply the self-centered objectification of other people for the purposes of the self, which expresses itself in strife and conflict.
Love does the same thing in reverse, in a healing way. This is the lesson of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree or Beauty and the Beast—when an ugly, bad thing is loved anyway, which happens via forgiveness and charity—in time it can become beautiful and good. Love is inherently selfless and forgiving, which also makes it transformative. As the Psalm 32 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
As this shut down continues, if at any time frustration, impatience, irritation, or hopelessness seem to overwhelm you, remember that such things comes from inside people and are part of the human condition always. More importantly, remember that you are blessed because you are forgiven. And in light of the Proverb, realize that such forgiveness from Christ calls and empowers you to be a force for Love in your home, community, and world. Your mission is not to get your way, vent, or put people in their place, but to bring peace where there is strife, joy where there is gloom, and comfort where there is hurt. Your old sinful nature won’t be inclined to do that, but Christ in you certainly will! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana