Back to It with the Lord!
This morning I made my way to church on 151st Street going west and needed to be thoughtful along the way. For a couple of months, my speed stayed a constant 35 mph, but as an early bird I now needed to fly a little slower: School Zone (Jerling) with children present – and vigilant OPPD, also! (Aren’t we blessed with a great police department?) The kids are back to it, in this case their “work” of school.
Adults are back to it, also. Vacations and weekends away are now memorialized in phone photo. We are back to it at work (home or away) or school or church or volunteer work.
As I write, I am preparing the sermon for Labor Day weekend. Specifically, Labor Day commemorates the American trade union and labor movements, but the holiday has broadened in its scope to include reflection on work as a whole. Let’s reflect along this broader line.
Work is intended to be a blessing from the Lord. We were created to work, so our physical bodies deteriorate without movement and work. Labor was given by God as an effort of stewardship in creation. That pre-Fall passage reminds us of God’s gift and purpose in work, Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” So the original “physical therapy” began.
Our daily work should be connected with the Lord. Virginia McCaskey (nee, Halas, age 96) reminded me of that recently. Perhaps you saw the article in the Daily Southtown detailing the upcoming ESPN program on prominent women in pro football. Columnist Phil Rosenthal reported:
It’s important that how tough, dedicated and shrewd these women have been doesn’t get lost in the flood of nostalgia. They have achievements in their own right. Still, it’s so rare to get a glimpse of McCaskey’s private life, we’ll take anything we can get. McCaskey says she wakes up daily at 5:30 a.m. so her driver can take her to 6:15 Mass. “It’s the best way to start my day,” she says. “Get God involved in what I hope to be doing that day and ask for his help.”
Some of our devout Catholic friends attend Daily Mass (Communion service). Work that is blessed seeks God’s blessing and follows the Lord’s will particularly in the Ten Commandments. Daily, morning devotions send us off right to work.
Finally, it is important to stop working to raise hands in praise or fold them in prayer. We can work only because God has blessed us with the reason and strength to do so. We are blessed to be a blessing. (Who often said that?) Ultimately, the greatest things in life are not things we can achieve, but are gifts from God and culminate in the gift of life in Christ. Ephesians 2: 8-10: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Let’s get to it with the Lord,
The Place of Prayer
As July drew to a close, the assigned Gospel in church was Luke 11: 1-4, St. Luke’s record of THE Prayer given to us by our Lord in its shorter, essential form.
In the Lord’s Prayer, our Lord puts everything in its right place. This past week I listened on the radio to the author of the book The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon talk about Dr. John C. Houbolt. JJC folk know that name. Dr. Houbolt was raised in Joliet with little in earthly terms, but God gave him a sharp mind for math and physics and practical stuff that enabled him to develop the important LOR or Lunar Orbit Rendezvous plan which enabled the moon landing of Apollo 11. Few people could see what Houbolt saw, but he persisted as “a voice in the wilderness,” and President Kennedy’s hope was fulfilled as the Eagle set down on the moon. Nurtured in the Dutch community, Houbolt worked with the wonder of God’s order in creation, Hebrews 3: 4. The orderly heavens declare the glory of God; the sky speaks of his work, Psalm 19. Scientists like Dr. Houbolt reflect and create formulae that are derived from this order and possible only by it. Even after the fall, Romans 8, things are mostly in their place by God’s design.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus puts all things in their place.
He puts prayer into the place of our lives by giving this simple, repeated prayer. When you pray, say…. The Savior then puts us into our right place at outset: Our Father. It is the place with him. Our Father. This introduction can trip too easily off the tongue. I picture Jesus pausing. “Our Father,” … says the Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is drawing us into a faithful connection with the Trinity. Our Father. Pater, Abba. Papa or Daddy, this is the Father who loves to give what is the best for his children. The Son of God is opening the way to being children of God. St. Paul writes of it this way in Romans 8:16,32:
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…. If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?… Christ Jesus who died-more than that, who was raised to life-is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”
The cross is yet to be borne, the risen Savior is yet to stand confirmed as mediator, but the promise is sure on his lips as he introduces this prayer. With Luther we proclaim: “With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children….” He calls us to begin rightly: before we ask anything for ourselves, the Father is acknowledged, more, given the glory and reverence due God. Reverence. Several weeks ago I was invited to join John, Brian and Zack for their Eagle Scout Honor Court. I listened to Scout Law:
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful,Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. That last one: reverent. We need more of that in the church. I agree with NWU Coach Fitz’s observation recently, we have become too casual in our relationships, often on the phone even when we are having dinner with our supposed beloved. So, I like coffee too, but not in church. No phone screens, unless Bible apps in church. Reverent. Our Father, our attention is drawn to God with a sense of reverence.
Called to the Father, God calls us to His place in our lives: Providing what we need in daily bread. We are precious, and God will provide for our present needs. He calls us to the place of grace for past sin, our own and others. And he calls us to his presence in future temptation/trials. Testing includes many challenges to faith in this broken world. Until heaven we are not fully delivered, but we can meet every time of testing with the presence of God, secure in the risen and ascended Savior.
We get it: The Lord’s Prayer for us and through us with everything in its place, put there by our Savior and Lord.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer with you,
Say “Thank You” — and “Please”
In catechism/Confirmation class the eighth graders are learning about prayer as we study Dr. Luther’s instruction on the Lord’s Prayer. Among our topics has been our motivation for prayer, the “why” of our prayers. To help the students evaluate their prayerful motivations, our workbook posed this question: “A student told his Sunday School teacher, ‘I didn’t pray yesterday because I didn’t want anything.’ What does that student need to learn about prayer?” That’s a good question for all of us. How do you respond?
Years ago I learned an acronym for prayer that offers the broader perspective: A-C-T-S: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Based upon the pattern of the Psalmists, the order is important. At this time of year, the last part of the acronym is timely. Thanksgiving, then Supplication/Need. With thanksgiving in the forefront, our needs and the needs of others are put into perspective. In thanksgiving we see the grace of God at work as our very prayers are lifted through Jesus who is the Way for our petitions to be heard and answered. St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter 8:31-32
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
God has given Jesus for our forgiveness and peace, so God provides all else that we need.
Pausing to count our blessings, we reflect upon the kindness, provision and power of God already at work in our lives. Then, we are ready to lift the needs of our neighbors and ourselves to the Lord. It has been observed that we usually teach children to say Please and Thank You, but with God the order should be Thank You and Please.
I hope to see you on Thanksgiving Eve for thankful worship at 11 am or 7 pm: Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good and his love endures forever! (Psalm 107: 1)
“Hair-on-Fire Christian Witness”
As the third of the great Church Festivals – Pentecost – approaches on June 9, our hearts turn in the direction of Christian witnessing as prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. On that first Pentecost, the disciples/apostles were topped with “flames” and enabled to speak the “wonders of God” in the various languages of the Jewish pilgrims. Prior to that day, the Lord instructed them to go to Jerusalem and wait “for power from on high,” (Acts 2 and Luke 24).
So, God calls us to first “wait on the Lord,” Psalm 27, for the opportunity and the power to witness.
I was asked to share a personal story of witnessing. Bear with me, for it goes way back as Jo Ann and I waited on the Lord:
College days. I was working 3-11 at Christ Hospital. Sister Ruth just finished pre-med. The call for VBS volunteers at Hope Lutheran was heard by her. “Ray, let’s do it together.” Ruth is persistent, so sleepily at first I answered the call. The young ones opened my eyes with their prayerful faith.
- New ministry and home (technically “used” home) on Sherwood Road in Williamston, Michigan. Great neighbors with two kids. Dad worked nights at GM, so the neighbor boys would come over and play with our kids and us. We helped out our neighbors like we try to. Sometimes the boys ate with us, so they prayed with us. VBS came around. We invited them. They came, and were baptized and, later, confirmed in the Christian faith. They are dear friends today.
My point is that God provided the connect as I/we waited on the Lord. Power came from on high in prayer and devotion and helping our neighbors day by day. Sounds kind of boring, but as I recall this, my hair may not be on fire, but my heart truly feels kind of warm – in God’s grace and presence and power and love.
Not long ago in worship we sang a “Gradual Hymn.” During Lent the Alleluias are omitted, so an added Lenten hymn is sometimes inserted. At our worship planning meeting it was noted that a little triangle (Stand) needed to precede the Gradual Hymn. Why? It is the song that precedes the “high” Scripture reading of the Gospel for which we always stand. Gradual means “to step up.”
Maybe this year you are joining our family in celebrating a graduation. For us, Maria will step up on the dais and receive her college diploma. Yeah! Then she will join your graduate in stepping forth into the next chapter of education, work, or service life.
On May 19, our confirmands will step up and kneel to confirm their faith and receive Holy Communion. We don’t like to use the word graduation for confirmation because that can mean a leaving, and far too many confirmands are tempted to go away from worship life for a time. Google “bats in belfry joke.” But understood correctly this is a “Gradual” moment, a standing up in confession and a stepping up in Sacramental and ministry life.
This May let us say a prayer for our graduates and our confirmands. Moments of “Gradual” are both a joy and a leap of faith for God’s own. The risen Savior promises to “be with us always,” Matthew 28: 20, so that we might go forth in the words of Colossians 3: 17, “… and whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Praying and stepping forth with you,