The Church Blog

Here are updates from First Lutheran Church.

Absolution is not a terribly common word in our common speech in twenty-first century North America. We don't often ask for or offer absolution. We don't often ask to be absolved. It is too formal for every day life. We tend to set absolution aside for the priest, the minister, the pastor.
 
Absolution is simply the formal version of forgiveness, and we do speak plenty of forgiveness. Although, we do like to sidestep even forgiveness.
 
In The Lord of the Rings films, there are several moments where absolution and forgiveness are hinted at and hoped for, even outright asked for, but the delivery always comes up short.
 
When the Council of Elrond gathers at Rivendell and Gandalf begins speaking in the Black Speech of Mordor, Gandalf outright says, "I do not ask your pardon Master Elrond..." He believes there is no need for absolution.
 
When Boromir is dying, he confesses and then outright asks Aragorn for forgiveness, saying, "I tried to take the ring from [Frodo]....Forgive me. I did not see. I have failed you all."
 
Aragorn responds with, "No Boromir. You have fought bravely and kept your honor."
 
Aragorn points Boromir to his brave actions as good enough to cancel his failures rather than forgiving the poor, dying man.
 
In the second film, as Rohan is preparing to defend Helm's Deep, Legolas and Aragorn fight about the long odds and certain death that are marching in their direction. Legolas then seeks reconciliation saying, "Forgive me. I was wrong to despair." And again, Agagorn rebuffs him saying, "There is nothing to forgive." (Well, maybe something got lost in the translation of the Elvish there.)
 
There are numerous other examples, but these reveal an all too common movement of ours to refuse to ask for or give forgiveness. For some reason, the intimacy of saying: "I forgive you" is sidestepped.
 
This can even happen in the church. I've heard a few people bristle at the idea of the absolution when the pastor says the words, "I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (without commas). 
 
People are confused by this much like the scribes in Mark 2, asking, " Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 
 
But Jesus has given this absolution authority over to others. Jesus established an absolution office saying, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). 
 
So do not doubt when the priest, minister, or pastor says to you, "As a called and ordained servant of Christ and by His authority, I forgive you." Do not disbelieve when you hear, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you." Jesus did that on purpose. He wants to forgive your sins through such people who not only proclaim and declare forgiveness to you, but actually forgive you, absolve you.
 
Furthermore, this absolution business is not just for the sanctuary. In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples (including Andrew, Peter's actual brother) a story about an absolutely ridiculous king who forgives a debt that was larger than the gross domestic product of any nation in the world. It is a forgiveness so thorough and complete it can only be quantified in made up words like zillions and bazillions and kajillions. 
 
God's forgiveness comes to us by the kajillions and we have no reason to sidestep forgiving others. We can speak "I forgive you" clearly to them over and over and over again because we have been forgiven in Christ in a complete and thorough paradox as Christ dies once for all, yet His forgiveness, His absolution comes to us a zillion times.

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One week from today is Palm Sunday. Our shelter in place order will keep us from gathering next Sunday as we normally would. Sometimes it feels like everything is out of our hands, out of our control. We may begin to wish we had never seen such times.

This is how the character Frodo Baggins feels in The Lord of the Rings series. Frodo and his companions are on a quest that is just beginning. Thus far it has not gone well. They are stuck in a massive, ancient mine that is overrun with enemies when Frodo expresses his dismay saying, “I wish none of this had happened.”

The wizard, Gandalf, replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

In the Psalm for Palm Sunday, Psalm 31, David writes to the Lord, “My times are in your hand.” I’m sure none of us would have chosen a time when we could not meet together in person for worship, but our times are in the hands of God. We don’t get to decide what happens on a worldwide scale. All we have to decide is what we are going to do with this time, in this era that God has given to us.

Let’s trust in the Lord, and point others toward His mercies.

God’s blessings on your day. Keep the faith.

Pastor Andy

One week from today is Palm Sunday. Our shelter in place order will keep us from gathering next Sunday as we normally would. Sometimes it feels like everything is out of our hands, out of our control. We may begin to wish we had never seen such times.

This is how the character Frodo Baggins feels in The Lord of the Rings series. Frodo and his companions are on a quest that is just beginning. Thus far it has not gone well. They are stuck in a massive, ancient mine that is overrun with enemies when Frodo expresses his dismay saying, “I wish none of this had happened.”

The wizard, Gandalf, replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

In the Psalm for Palm Sunday, Psalm 31, David writes to the Lord, “My times are in your hand.” I’m sure none of us would have chosen a time when we could not meet together in person for worship, but our times are in the hands of God. We don’t get to decide what happens on a worldwide scale. All we have to decide is what we are going to do with this time, in this era that God has given to us.

Let’s trust in the Lord, and point others toward His mercies.

God’s blessings on your day. Keep the faith.

Pastor Andy

If you put together the various liturgies most used at First Lutheran, you will find a confession of sins that includes confessing to the following:

  • We are by nature sinful.
  • We are by nature unclean.
  • We have sinned against God in our thoughts.
  • We have sinned against God in our words.
  • We have sinned against God in our actions, what we've done.
  • We have sinned against God in what we have failed to do.
  • We have not loved God with our whole heart.
  • We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
  • We deserve God's punishment now and forever.
  • We are unworthy before God.
  • We cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition.
  • We are poor.
  • We are miserable.
  • We are sinners.

That's a lot. There's a totality to it. Thoughts, words, and actions are all sinful. What we do and what we fail to do are both sinful. Our sin is against God and against neighbor, the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. We deserve punishment now and forever. We are helpless. 

We are miserable.

Miserable. There is a word with some baggage. I immediately think of how a person might feel if they had the flu. Miserable, achy, wretched, a person to be pitied.

Miserable has become almost entirely negative in its usage. Nobody wants to be miserable. Confessing that we are miserable might not be terribly true if we only think of miserable as a wretched, unhappy person that none of us wants to be around.

At the root of miserable is the Latin word miser. It’s where we get our English word “miser,” as in a stingy person, as in Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. But it also appears in the Latin version of our historic liturgy in the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God).

It’s this phrase: miserere nobis, which means “have mercy upon us.”

To be miserable in that sense is not to be unhappy or stingy or wretched, but rather to be one who needs mercy. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser in both of these ways. He is a stingy man in need of mercy, and thankfully he receives it.

Looking at the laundry list of things listed above, we are confessing to our total depravity before God and neighbor, and I think we can all easily confess that we are miserable, for we are truly in need of God’s mercy. 

And He has given us mercy in His Son, Jesus Christ.

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Tomorrow the Gospel reading from John 11 contains the shortest verse in the Bible, just two words: “Jesus wept.” Confirmation students have joked for decades that they want this as their confirmation verse because, well, it’s short and easy to remember. Despite the brevity of the verse, its theological implications are deep enough to drown in.

Jesus wept. He had emotions. He is truly human. He identifies with us in everything that we are going through. When we weep we are participating in an activity also done by the divine Son of God.

Jesus wept. Since Jesus is sinless and Jesus wept, crying isn’t a sin. It’s not something to feel ashamed of.

Jesus wept. The occasion for Jesus weeping is that His friend Lazarus had died four days earlier. Jesus knows He is going to raise Lazarus from the dead in a minute, yet He still weeps. This tells us that it is abundantly appropriate to weep and grieve when our loved ones die. Even though we know Jesus will raise us from the dead and we will be forever with Jesus, weeping is still the proper response to death even with the hope of the resurrection seconds or years or millennia away.

Jesus wept. And yet, He will also wipe away every tear from our eyes for the time for mourning will not last forever. For Christ will raise us from the dead never to die again. And when death is gone, our tears will be no more. Jesus wept, but He won’t weep forever.

God’s blessings on your day. Keep the faith.

Pastor Andy

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
This is how worship services begin in our congregation: in the name of the Triune God without commas, with the sign of the cross.
 
This is also the way Christian life begins as we are baptized into the name of that same Triune God without commas, with water and the Word of God.
 
Some pastors, priests, or ministers add the words "We begin..." to this invocation. Personally, I choose not to do that. "We begin..." is not how you invoke a name. 
 
In the days when kings and queens, emperors and pharaohs ruled the world, their names were invoked to show the authority by which a task was done.
 
One place we see a true invocation in our contemporary culture is in George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Here are the words Ned Stark uses to execute the Night's Watch deserter, Will.
 
"In the name of Robert of the House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm, I, Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, sentence you to die."  
 
As we come before the Lord of the universe in worship, we do so by His own authority and in His own name, a Triune name without commas. It is an official act, a formal act, a solemn act. It does not require the words "we begin..." for the words themselves are a beginning, a notice. They move us into a new time, a new act. 
 
In this name many official acts occur. We are baptized in this name. We are forgiven in this name. We are blessed in this name. We are confirmed in this name. We are married in this name. We are sent on new adventures in this name. We are installed in various roles in our congregations in this name. We are commended to the Lord for death in this name. We are buried in this name.
 
From first to last, beginning to end, the name of the Triune God is placed upon us again and again without commas but with authority. 
 
 
 
 

Image may contain: text that says 'there is now no no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus Romans 8:1'

Have you ever felt guilty? Have you ever felt ashamed? Could you articulate the difference?

There are several different ways to get at the difference, but for me guilt centers around actions and behavior while shame centers around being. Guilt says, “I did a bad thing.” Shame says, “I am bad.”

What’s interesting is that the same actions can lead to guilt in one person but shame in another person. If two people fail an exam, one might feel guilty regarding a behavior, “I didn’t study enough.” The other person might feel the failure in their very being and say, “I am stupid.”

As a pastor, I am sensitive to the difference because the Gospel to guilt is different from the Gospel to shame. The Gospel to guilt is forgiveness for the behavior. The Gospel to shame is persistent proclamation of identity in Christ: You are a child of God and He loves you for who you are.

Romans 8:1 gets at both guilt and shame as succinctly as any verse can, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” You are not condemned for your actions. You are not condemned for who you are. Indeed, your condemnation has been taken away for you are forgiven in Christ and you will always be His beloved child no matter what.

You are in Christ. No one can condemn you. Not even yourself. Jesus loves you and He always will.

God’s blessings on your day. Keep the faith.

Pastor Andy

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