Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes,
so is the sluggard to those who send him. Prov. 10:26
The colorful analogies employed by King Solomon in this Proverb make the point that sometimes the seemingly minor irritations manage to drive us to distraction. Everyone at some point has sat around a campfire trying to talk or sing or have a good time and had to give it up in frustration because the smoke wouldn’t stop blowing in their eyes. Most people have had to deal with sensitive teeth at some time or another; it takes all the joy out eating delicious food or a cool, refreshing drink. Solomon applies that irritation that can become downright maddening to the experience of waiting helplessly on someone who shows no sense of urgency or hustle but makes clear he’ll get around to it when he feels like it.
Whether we’re talking about itchy eyes, hurting teeth, or slow service, another point is that sometimes tangential issues and difficulties manage to suck the joy out of everything. That’s why so many of the other Proverbs of Solomon are about the importance of patience, of being slow to anger, and having control not only of your actions and words but of what you set the thoughts of your heart upon. Lots of things outside your control can annoy you to no end. Only you can decide whether or not to let them get the best of you.
If we had let them, several little things could have robbed us of joy this week as school began here at St. Paul’s with all kinds of new procedures. Things that we could have done on autopilot in years past we now have to carefully consider, often coming up with completely new ways of doing them that then have to be communicated to everyone. Sometimes we finally get everyone on the same page only to find that something has changed. Then we have to re-rethink (or re-re-rethink) some procedure, then communicate it again to people who think they already know it because they just went through it, even though what they just went through was the old new way of doing it, not the new new way of doing it. Just going about ours daily tasks sometimes feels like sitting on the smoky side of the campfire.
Thankfully, out staff has not allowed the mountain irritations get the best of them. Our first Wednesday chapel this morning featured many things that went smoothly that could have gone terribly, and some hiccups that will go more smoothly in the future. Still, sitting apart, singing in masks—it isn’t the same. But no matter. Nothing can rob us of the joy of God’s presence and Word, and the mission of teaching it and proclaiming regardless of the circumstances. It was a great experience to finally have chapel again and be reminded of how important that aspect St. Paul’s ministry really is.
Everyone shared the generally good, cooperative attitude. But it is a long year. I’m sure there will come times when the stack of little irritations get the best of us. Nobody is as patient and wise as Solomon reminds us we ought to be, not even our school staff, exemplary as it is. Today was a good day. What was good about it was the reminder that our gracious God will not abandon us even on our bad days, which are sure to come. Whatever the day, St. Paul’s can give thanks to God for the school staff He has provided for us.
Whether the issue is Sunday worship, the school procedures, or any aspect of the mission and ministry of St. Paul’s, don’t let the little irritations get the best of you. Focus on what is eternal, what is constant, what is certain and sure, and you’ll find yourself focusing not on irritations but on the overwhelming grace of God.
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
And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:10-11
“What did you expect?” That’s usually a semi-accusatory response you might get from someone when you express disappointment. The gist of the accusation is that things didn’t turn out wrong. Rather, your prior expectation that they would turn out differently was unrealistic. Disappointment is always a function of expectations. If you never expect much, you’re never disappointed. If you always expect a great deal, you’re very often disappointed.
For Christians, the better question is what do we expect? Our expectations define our whole lives. We expect everything to work out for the good of those who live in God. We expect the dead to be raised. We expect everlasting life. We expect to made perfect.
When we go by sight, we’re constantly disappointed. Things don’t always seem to be working out for the good of God’s people. In fact, in some times and places it seems like the exact opposite is true. Death seems to have the final word, and the grief of separation is what seems eternal. We look upon the paltriness of our own lives, our lack of true holiness, and inability to overcome sin, and if anything we just get more and more disappointed with ourselves. It would be a sign of dubious spiritual health if we started to more and more satisfied with ourselves rather than more and more discontent with our sinfulness. If we aren’t disappointed when going by sight, we have reason to double-check that our expectations align with God’s Word and our vision of what is happening is really clear.
The history of the Christian Church as we know it begins with Acts, Chapter 1. The promise given by the two mysterious white-robed men invites us to go by faith, not by sight. Faith is the only way to live by a promise. Jesus was taken from their sight precisely so that they must proceed by faith. So has the Church lived ever since. We expect perfection and have the only balm for everything that falls short of it, which is forgiveness. Christ Ascends to the throne of God, sends the Holy Spirit into this world, and the whole history begins of God’s people living by faith in His fulfilled death and resurrection.
This Thursday is Ascension. Pastor Gumz of Trinity, Hammond has spent a great deal of effort putting together a video service involving all the circuit churches and pastors. We will give you information on how to access that service this week, so that our tradition of having a circuit-wide celebration of Christ’s Ascension can continue uninterrupted.
The important thing is neither the tradition nor the technology that makes it possible to continue. The important thing is the Ascension itself, which teaches us that our expectations of God can never be too great, our disappointment with our own sin can never be too great, and our faith in Christ to bridge the gap can never be too great. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Alleluia!
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Eccl. 3:1
When? People have been asking that question about so many things lately. When will school open? When will we be able to go back to church? When will the stores open? When will sports return?
Naturally, people disagree about the specifics of when this or that should happen. Indiana and Illinois seem to disagree. People in stores seem to disagree as to what measure remain necessary. We all have our own preferred “experts” whom we trust, and those experts disagree. When the Bible says that there is a time for everything, it doesn’t say with specificity when those times begin and end. Some disagreement and give and take is just a normal part of life in the world.
What Ecclesiastes is really getting at, though, is not a timetable for everything but that everything comes to an end. There is nothing permanent under heaven. Normal is not permanent. Abnormal is not permanent. Neither health nor illness endure indefinitely. That’s why Ecclesiastes lists pairs of opposites—a time to be born, a time to die. A time to plant, a time to reap, a time to weep, a time to laugh, etc. No particular time just goes on and on.
A time of disruption, therefore, invites to consider what is permanent and eternal. Nothing “under heaven,” that is, in this life and world, really is permanent. Nothing, that is, except the Gospel. Christ, who is eternally God and Man and who lives forever, became incarnate in this world “under heaven” for us. Christ is the only thing about which we can say “always,” to any “when” question.
The day-to-day details of the shut down can frustrate people. We do not know how to plan anything. But the shut down can also make us look at the larger scheme of things, our phases and stages of life, and big picture aspects of how we have organized our lives. But the little picture and the big picture get their meaning from Christ, who is all in all.
If you find yourself getting frustrated by the little inconveniences or overwhelmed by larger changes going on, put it into context. The only eternal context. This day and your life are redeemed and therefore have eternal significance beyond the “under heaven” futility of Ecclesiastes. Christ who has conquered all and gone through the heavens remains with you in this life in the Word and Sacraments.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matt. 6:34
April showers bring May flowers. On the other hand, “Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day.” After yesterday was such a surprise nice day to be outside, I have to admit it was a bit depressing to wake up to gray skies and rain that looks to be settling in to stay all day. It is amazing how much the weather can affect moods, especially when there is really no place to go. If we had a choice about the weather, we’d have to weigh the benefits of May flowers tomorrow against having a nice day today.
Balancing the need to live for today while planning for tomorrow has always been a mysterious task. Just because we aren’t supposed to anxious about tomorrow doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to take tomorrow into account at all. Planning for tomorrow is part of today’s to-do list. The difference is that St. James tells us all our plans should contain the tacit caveat “God willing,” since we don’t know for sure what will happen. And Jesus says not to let tomorrow gnaw at you with worries and fears, but to plan for it, wait for it, and takes whatever it brings in full confidence that somehow it will be full of God’s grace. We who sow seeds do so in view of the harvest down the road. Today we focus on today’s work of plowing and planting.
Those of us in charge of planning the near future at St. Paul’s have been frustrated by our inability to know what the laws and health recommendations will be tomorrow. Indiana’s stay at home order expires tomorrow, but there has been no indication yet as to whether it will be extended, modified, eased, or cancelled. Obviously, such a situation makes it hard to answer any questions. Our Board of Deacons has been meeting weekly to consider the situation. We’re looking at how and when to being the process of opening things back up at St. Paul’s. When we do that, we will do it with all the proper safeguards in place to ensure that we’re being good neighbors to our members and our community while putting first things first in our earthly lives.
We’re all getting antsy to ease back into normal life. For now, though, answers to specific questions will have to wait for the May flowers. I do not know, for example, whether Confirmation will be able to happen on May 31, but I do know families need more than a moment’s notice to prepare for it the way they’d like. I’m not sure yet when we will be able to have a communion service in the sanctuary. Today we will continue receive God’ gifts with thanksgiving. Those gifts include the rain that waters the earth and makes it fruitful, the time we have to work, read, and pray, the church family we have at St. Paul’s, with whom we remain one in heart even as we inhabits different homes, and especially the Word, which bids us not to worry. Tomorrow will worry about itself.
“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