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The Basin and Towel

with Indispensable Churches and Tending the Light

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God Bless Us, Everyone!

I’ve started a new book recently – Trauma Stewardship, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky at The Trauma Stewardship Institute.  She talks about “trauma exposure response” as the entire sum of feelings, thoughts, actions, and worldview that caregivers (and others) develop as they view and interact with trauma over time.  It promises to be an interesting read – I’ll let you know.

But for now – and since it’s the day before Christmas Eve as I write this – it seems to me that one of the ways in which we can see the Christmas story is as God’s own “trauma exposure response’:  His response of pure love to the deep trauma of sin in our world, the trauma that bent and broke everything in His precious creation.  If He were human, how do you think He might feel upon being faced with such a catastrophic event?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel as time and time again He might reach out in love to a people He had chosen as His own (as in the Old Testament), only to find them slap Him away as if they didn’t need Him?  If He were human, how do you think He would feel at such repeated abuse and neglect and hatred, even now, when He is only trying to make things better?

But God’s “trauma exposure response” begins with the truth that God is not human – God is God, and while that may sound trite, it means that God remains true to Himself.  Unlike human caregivers who become enmeshed in the lives and deaths and toils and tribulations of the people we care for, who suffer from too much empathy or lack of boundaries or codependency or hurt feelings (or you name it!), God remains God, and none of these things that affect us, affect Him.

AND YET He sent His Son to become one of us – to take on human flesh – to suffer exactly all those kinds of toils and tribulations, to learn empathy and boundaries and hurt feelings and trauma exposure and everything else that goes on in our messy, sinful, often awful world.  He sent His Son for a lot of reasons – to redeem us from sin, to break the chains of death and the grave.

And just maybe one more of those reasons might be this: since you and I sometimes (frequently?) become overwhelmed with the deep and unrelenting traumas in life, the presence of Jesus in the manger of Bethlehem, in the fields of Galilee, among the sick in Judea and the synagogues of Israel also means that somewhere, in your office or your clinic or your ambulance or your support group or church or hospital rounds that same Jesus, who is also God, is standing next to you.  He knows you and what your job is like.  He knows the pressures you face, and the challenges that rise up.  He knows that you go home exhausted at night sometimes, only to come back for more the next day.  He knows – and because He is not only human but God, then God knows, and loves you as much as the ones you are caring for.

So dear caregivers, trauma responders, whatever you call yourselves, take heart!  The Lord is with you!  And here’s a Christmas verse for you before we break (really?) for the new year –

“UNTO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!”  (Luke 2:11)

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Jesus was There; Jesus is Here, too

Over at Public Catholic a terrific sister in Christ, Rebecca Hamilton, posted this wonderful reflection about the Christmas Eve Mass she attended:  Jesus was There.

It’s a beautiful piece, one worth reading (if you haven’t done so yet).  And here’s what I noticed about that piece, and about the comments that followed it (mine included, I must say) –

The author tries to look through the fog and haze of criticism, legalism, pickiness, and the general pettiness of “good Christian people” to see the ones who came that Christmas Eve night to find the Savior, the Healer, the Companion, the Comforter, the Burden-Bearer, the Child in whom the hopes and fears of all the years are met on Christmas Eve.  And she succeeds wonderfully as she looks around in the sanctuary of her congregation, and her eyes and heart drink in a crowd of folks that would doubtless have warmed Jesus’ heart and caused Him to cry out with compassion for them.  But in that crowd, as in the crowds around Jesus, there were also the Pharisaic types, the ones who just can’t seem to see beyond their own insecurities and need for control.

And so what happens?  As in the Gospels, so in this piece and the comments that followed we have paid more attention to the Pharisees than to the man with HIV, the prostitute, the homeless family, the dirty ones, the children, the elderly.  Certainly it’s more tempting for those of us who work mostly with words to turn those words against the Pharisees, the “liturgical cops” and the “church Nazis” and engage them in long debates.  And indeed the history of the church is replete with such debates, and those have often been necessary to sort things out for the rest of the believers.

But as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees of His day, even in King David’s day the question of whether it was “right” for his soldiers to eat the showbread from the tabernacle took the backseat to whether it was compassionate for the priests to feed the people of God in their hunger.

So in this new year 2013 perhaps a good resolution is to try to engage less often in these kinds of “who is right” discussions and instead engage in “how can I be compassionate” actions.  Will this draw the ire of modern-day Pharisees?  Doubtless.  But let us not allow them to distract us from the life of love that Jesus has called us to live.

God bless us everyone!

 

 

An Indispensable Church

An Indispensable Churches Post

The white frame church sits on a low ridge above the little village.  It’s been on that ridge for over 100 years, looking over the comings and goings of the village and its people.  And there have been plenty of comings and goings here in this pleasant village in southeastern Ohio.  At one time this was a busy place, the home of miners and farmers that would come to this church every Sunday by the hundreds.  Weddings and funerals, baptisms and celebrations and farewells were held here time and again as the people came and went from the area.

These days the strip mines are closed and farming is harder than ever.  The population in the area is way less than it used to be.  Even for the 100th anniversary of this congregation, hundreds of people did not show up, though the celebration was wonderful and fun.  They haven’t been able to afford a full-time pastor for a lot of years, so other congregations in their district have shared their pastors with them.  On Sunday mornings twice a month the congregation meets in the morning to worship, using sermons provided by one of those pastors.  On Sunday afternoons the other Sundays of the month one of those “shared” pastors makes the two-hour trip to worship with them, bring the Good News of Jesus to them, and celebrate Holy Communion in their worship service.   Sometimes he stays to have dinner at somebody’s home. Less than two dozen people come to these services, some of them struggling with the infirmities of age.  Hospitalized members are usually cared for by the pastor of a Lutheran church in the next county.

But babies are born and baptized here.  Young people are confirmed, then married.  Twice a month the saints of God in this place celebrate Holy Communion.  In the summertimes the congregation has opened its building to servant-event groups coming into southeastern Ohio to do mission / service projects in the Appalachian foothills.  Sister congregations have sent Vacation Bible School teams there as well as other service project teams.  (For all the financial people:  this congregation has a higher annual per capital giving amount than the majority of its sister congregations in the district, though it is one of the smallest.)

This congregation is small, and getting smaller.  We don’t know how long it will last, or what it’s future will be.  The kids that grow up there, get married and move away, so it keeps getting smaller.  Is it dying?  Is it on the verge?  Shall we do something to encourage the few who are still “hanging on” there to follow others westward or southward 30-40 miles to the next nearest congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod?  Or shall we think again about whether this is one of those Indispensable Churches

It’s Indispensable because of its location – one of only two LCMS churches in an entire quadrant of the State of Ohio (almost 20 0f the 88).  It’s Indispensable because of the opportunities it offers others to be of service.  It’s Indispensable because it offers sister congregations opportunities to expand their ideas of ministry and fellowship beyond their own walls and embrace the saints of God in this little village.  It’s Indispensable because it offers those congregations opportunities to share their pastors with these saints, and it offers the pastors opportunities to see their own ministries as wider than the communities to which God has called them.  It’s Indispensable because the Word and the Sacrament are there, and so is Christ.  It’s Indispensable because the people of God gathered in this place are the temple of the Holy Spirit in this little village in the hills of southeastern Ohio.  If someone ever asks, “where might I go to find the Holy Spirit’s temple here in Pleasant City, Ohio?”  people could point to the white frame church up on the north ridge.  It’s Indispensable because it is named Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and together with St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church on the south ridge the saints of God in Pleasant City have these visible reminders that the Triune God who loves them, who redeemed them, who sanctifies them, and the angels that He assigns to protect them, are watching over them always.

Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus down from the cross and, after wrapping it for burial, placed it into Joseph’s own new tomb, rolling a stone in front of it.

Thank God for quiet disciples!  Joseph hasn’t been named in the Gospels until after Jesus has died, but he’s been there for some time.  A strong leader in some contexts, he’s just been too afraid to admit publicly his affinity for the Gospel and Jesus until now.  Perhaps he’s been at several of Jesus’ miracles and sermons, but always in the background, always at the edge of the crowd, never pushing forward.  He’s been a quiet disciple until now – but now he steps up and in this singular act of devotion he and Nicodemus boldly go to Pilate and ask for Jesus’ body so they can bury it.  Who would have thought?

There are such quiet disciples in your congregation and in mine, too.  I’m sure of it.  These are the folks that aren’t that vocal, they aren’t arguing with you or others or causing you to have ulcers and headaches.  They aren’t in leadership positions and maybe don’t even come to Bible Class all the time.  Sometimes you wonder about them – are they truly “committed” to Jesus and His Gospel, much less to your ministry with them.

And then they surprise you.  When you least expect it, they step up like Joseph and do something extraordinary, and you realize they’ve been there all along.  When my mother died in 2001, we were touched by the love that was shown us by many of the folks in our congregation, but in particular by one of the older fellows who stopped by our house one day with some vegetables from his garden and just chatted with us for a while.  After he left we realized that this had been his way of making a condolence visit, and we still cherish that memory.

You probably can’t tease these things out of these quiet disciples; they may keep quiet when you wish they’d shout out their support (Joseph and Nicodemus kept quiet when the council was condemning Jesus); but if you keep your eyes and ears and heart open their love for Jesus and for you will blossom and surprise you when you least expect it – and that’s worth cherishing.

In the meantime, on this Holy Saturday – God bless us everyone!

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