Celebrating the Mystery

I wanted to share that I just had a phone conversation with ******, one that really made me smile. The reason it made me smile is because a few Sundays ago, he and his wife, **** caught me before the Divine Service and shared with me that they would be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary, and with that, I was so happy for them. In fact, I suggested that they consider celebrating the wonderful event for all that it is as a gracious gift of God by renewing their vows in the Rite of Affirmation of Holy Matrimony, which can happen as a separate event on a different day, but is certainly most appropriate during a Sunday morning Divine Service. In fact, the Lutheran Service Book Agenda, which is the book we pastors rely on for the various rites and ceremonies in the church, suggests the Sunday morning Divine Service as perhaps the best option.

Well, they talked about the idea and have decided to do it! And the date they’ve selected is Sunday, June 10 (which is also Graduation Sunday, so it will be a rather full day of celebration)!

This means that the Divine Service will begin that day as usual with the tolling of the bells during the procession of the cross and assistants. But then right after the Invocation, in place of Confession and Absolution, I’ll call ***** and ***** forward to the altar where they’ll be flanked by those who stood as their best man and maid of honor, and they will participate in the brief rite. As it is when we have a baptism, the rite of Confession and Absolution will be set aside, but not because it is negotiable, but rather because the Baptismal Rite is already chock full of Law and Gospel, all of which acknowledges our sin while at the same time preaches to our hearts the forgiveness of Christ. It’s the same with the reaffirmation rite for marriage. The rite itself communicates Man’s truest nature in sin and God’s merciful love expressed through the gifts He gives. In an age of confusion, one in which the sanctity of marriage is so often lost and the institution is more and more despised, this is an opportunity for the whole congregation to acknowledge and celebrate marriage as the gift of God that our Lord intends it to be—one that serves as a direct reflection of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church (Ephesians 5).

As you can see, I’m excited to have this happen. My hope is that it will serve all of us well, and that perhaps it will spark an interest among other couples to do the same when the time and milestone opportunity arises.

I Pray For You – December 12, 2017

As always, I pray all is well with you and your family, namely that you know the peace of Christ and His great love for you.

Literally. I pray this. I go into the nave, kneel at the altar rail (or sit in the first pew on the pulpit side), and I pray for you—by name.

I do a lot with social media these days. It’s one of the main forms of communication that I use for the various groups that I interact with on a regular basis—synodical, legislative, and the like. I posted on Facebook a few weeks back, not long after a foreign tragedy, that I think it’s rather telling in our society when the commonplace shaping of our condolences in the face of calamity is to say that “our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragedy.” Thoughts maybe, but unless you actually take action and share your thoughts of condolence with those who would be served well by hearing them (through a greeting card, an email, or some form of personal communication), even that commonplace sentiment sounds empty, and maybe even a little weird, as though our thoughts are going to somehow rise into some ethereal space and descend in a graspable way to those who need to know we’re thinking about them or that we’re concerned for their well being.

But there’s something else we should consider in this regard.

We don’t send our prayers out to people. They go to God. And again, when someone in the midst of struggle tells another person his or her story, and that listener responds by saying, “I’ll keep you in prayer,” personally, I hope the person means it. I hope it hasn’t devolved into a substance-less response that we give to folks when we just don’t know what to say. I really hope that at the next opportunity available, he or she will actually petition our faithful God for the care of the person in need.

Yes, God already knows all things. And yet, He commands for us to pray.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the course of my life, asking myself, “If God knows all things—that is, He knows all things before I even ask—why does He want me to pray?”

By the Word of God, I’ve come to two conclusions. The first I’ll explain this way.

When my son Joshua was little, unprompted, he would tell me all the time how much he loved me. He’s seventeen now. As he’s gotten older, he still tells me that he loves me, but it’s not as often as before. Do I know that he loves me? Yes. But oh how I love to hear it. What father wouldn’t? In a sense, God loves to hear his children speak their love to Him. It isn’t a narcissistic thing, but rather it is something spoken in the midst of a relationship built on love—real, genuine, long-lasting familial love.

The second is that God knows our sinful hearts, and with that, He knows we won’t pray unless he tells us to. But again, this isn’t a hard command, but rather it is an encouraging opportunity He establishes for our good. He wants us to know the joy and importance of having complete and total access to Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, through prayer. And why? Well, it comes back around to where the thought started. Because He loves us, plain and simple.

Having said all of this, I want you to know that when I tell you that I’ll keep you in prayer, I really do. I appreciate talking with God. And again, even though He already knows everything I’m going to say, that doesn’t stop me from telling Him your name and explaining to Him what’s happening and why I really want Him to act on your behalf. Most importantly, just as Jacob wrestled with God in Genesis 32, being unwilling to let his divine opponent go until He blessed him, I hold God to His promise to bless you—to accomplish His holy will in your lives by virtue of the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord. In all of this, I know He hears me. I know He responds. I know He will act—and is, even now, already acting—to bring to completion the good work He intends, which in its core is your eternal salvation!