“Otherly love”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Proverbs 25:6-7
Hebrews 13:1-8
Luke 14:1, 7-14

(this devotion was written in 2001)

In his sermon for the Sept. 8 installation of President Kieschnick and those in other offices of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Dr. Arleigh Lutz spoke more than one prophetic word. Among other things, he spoke of “a world scarred by evil that grows more dark and dangerous with each passing day.”

Three days later, Americans and the free world were stunned into grief and silence at a second and even more heinous day of infamy in our nation’s history. The good and gracious God who came in peace in our Lord Jesus must surely be in tears over the pain of His children and the darkness and evil of His creation. But He remembers and so must we that this dark world has already been redeemed and is in process of being enlightened through our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us pray that Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Great Physician, will comfort, heal and renew all surviving victims and the families of all victims.

God of all comfort and grace, touch every person of every land who is injured, bereaved, depressed or confused by the evil of Tuesday, September 11. Thank you for the tens of thousands of emergency workers at the scenes and for the countless volunteers who gave blood or gifts to help others. Give wisdom and accuracy of judgment to the leaders of the United States. By Your Spirit’s unyielding power may their decisions be truly Godly decisions and their actions blessed by Your intention. It is a profoundly dark time, Father, and we sorely need, deeply desire and earnestly request Your light…in the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Never cease to love your fellow-Christians.” These words form the first sentence in one translation of Sunday’s Epistle lesson. It is one of those lines to which our present society has added some new wrinkles for the translator. The Greek says, “Let brotherly love continue (abide, remain).” In 2001, at least in America, the word “brotherly” is not held in highest esteem unless it is coupled equally with “sisterly” or something similar. I am not trying to belittle this effort or even, as I have been known to do, to poke fun at it. The problem for the translator is that neither “sisterly love” nor love for “fellow- Christians” has the rich heritage and tradition of the familiar Greek word philadelphia.

I have not been around the organization known as the Jaycees since I went “over the hill,” so to speak, and was too old to be an active member. I have wondered what has been done, if anything, to a marvelous line from the Jaycee Creed that once stated: “We believe…that the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations.” I checked their Web site and it remains.

Language is both a beautiful and a terrible thing. Phrases like the brotherhood of man and brotherly love have been loaded with so much weight and power and meaning over the years that I worry about them being replaced with something light and impotent and void of emotional impact. At the same time, if these very words are used to imply or to seize some kind of transcendence of one part of humanity over another, their brilliance and beauty are debased.

I remember watching a movie on television in which a member of the KKK repeatedly used the word “Christian.” From his lips, it sounded vulgar. “If I speak with the eloquence of both men and angels, but have no love, I am a noisy gong and a clashing cymbal.”

Feddersen’s Fables is indebted to Glendon Harris for reprinting this story and to Methodist Bishop Lloyd Wicke for first telling it. There were two brothers in a church that the Bishop once served. One was a physician, the other an Oldsmobile dealer. Whenever the new Oldsmobiles came out, the dealer gave his doctor brother a new model and sold the old one. Just after his new car had been delivered one year, the doctor took it on a house call. When he came out of the house, he noticed a boy, the son of one of his charity patients, standing by the new car and admiring it. The boy was about 12 years old, and not too well clothed. “Well, son, what do you think of it?” the doctor asked. The boy answered “Gee, Doc, it’s something. How much did it cost?”

The doctor said, “I really don’t know. You see, it’s a gift from my brother.” Then he added, “Would you like to take a ride?”

“Boy, would I,” the boy exclaimed. So the doctor took him for a short ride around the neighborhood. After the ride, the boy got out of the car and said, “Say, could you wait one more minute?” Then he bounded into the house, and returned carrying a little boy about half his age — his retarded brother. “Jimmy, look at it!” he said. “Ain’t it a beauty? And you know something — his brother gave it to him.” He paused and then added, “Jimmy, when I get to be a man, I’m going to be that kind of a brother.”

It’s OK with me if you want to call it “love for your fellow-Christians” rather than “brotherly love,” but the love of that little boy for his brother is what the Author to the Hebrews wants as a constant in His church. And the capital “A” in Author is not a typo. I don’t know if I could help the world to come up with a substitute for “brotherhood,” but it is clear to me that the New Testament idea of brotherly love is otherly love. Most little boys, admiring the doctor’s car would have said, “When I get to be a man, I’m going to own a car like that.” Sin has erected a wall between us and God and between us and the other.

Sometimes we think that the opposite of love is hate. Once, on the old “Amos and Andy” radio show, there was a big man who would slap Andy across the chest whenever they met. Andy got fed up with it and devised a plan to get even. He told Amos, “I am fixed for him! I put a stick of dynamite in my vest pocket and the next time he slaps me he is going to get his hand blown off.” The dynamite of hatred clearly has its drawbacks — it may injure others, but it will inevitably blow out our own hearts.

The opposite of otherly love is self-infatuation and it has a dynamite of its own. In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus draws on an Old Testament Proverb to teach a lesson about the Kingdom of God. With the common illustration of being invited to a wedding banquet, Jesus warns His listeners not to take the places of honor. The host may come and make you move so that some distinguished guest can have the seat. Jesus concludes: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Lord then turned to His own host and offered some directions on creating a guest list. He said not to invite friends, relatives and wealthy neighbors who can invite back and repay the favor. He added, “Rather, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”

It is both interesting and sad that we do so many things with great expectations of a return or reward. Even the very best of the service organizations can’t seem to resist putting their names on the objects they donate. Some people never give regular tithes to the church. The only offerings they ever make are those that will have a plaque on them, or will somehow show their names in print. In contrast to Jesus’ direction, they never let their left hands do anything unless their right hands are held out for recognition.

I have concluded that there is no real, or at least discernible, difference between humility and otherly love. Humble people are people who do what they believe God wants them to do. They work, they serve, they give to both the Great Other and to others. It is no wonder that they are shocked and embarrassed if someone gives them recognition — they cannot imagine why anyone should receive (let alone want) recognition for simply doing what they should be doing in the first place.

A famous chef was invited by his brother to a banquet. He was invited as a guest, but since his brother was the host, he arrived early in the morning and began practicing his culinary skills. By the time the festivity was beginning, he had prepared a feast fit for a king. As was his custom, he brought the first plate out himself to place it before the guest of honor. His brother showed him the spot at the head table and noted that the honored person would be there in a moment.

The chef quickly removed his apron, donned his tuxedo and sat down at a table near the kitchen, where he could supervise the serving. His brother called the guests to their seats. Then, in a loud voice, he invited the chef to step forward. Thinking that he would be introduced as the one who had prepared the meal, he simply stood at his chair, but the brother insisted he come up to the head table.

Then he announced, “My dear brother, this banquet is in honor of one who has been voted by his peers to be the finest chef in all the world. I knew that because of your great love for me you would come and work just as you have. I also knew that to truly honor you, we could not serve anything but the very best. This first and finest plate in all the world is for you.”

A preacher once shared the Good News about Jesus in a clear and meaningful way. Then, in an attempt to get his hearers to respond to the Gospel, he asked, “Do you not think that, because He died for you, the Lord expects you to praise Him? Don’t you think it’s time you started repaying Him for all He did for you? Can’t you see the debt you owe Him for dying on the cross for you?”

He went on, but I couldn’t hear because I was shouting, “No! No! No! Jesus died to cancel our debts — not in order to make us indebted!”Fortunately, I was in my truck, yelling at my radio, rather than in church some place. Suddenly, I realized the window was open. I slid way down in my seat as if I could be anonymous in my own truck.

We have been invited by our Brother to the heavenly banquet. The tickets are priceless, but He has purchased ours in advance. We are early, but many are still coming and there is much to do. I don’t know a thing about cooking, but I can help with technical stuff like taking out the garbage. I can help get the invitation to people who haven’t heard yet. How can you help?

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Stewards, not Owners

When the time was right, Jesus came to live perfectly under the law, and to be the perfect atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (Galatians 4:4). Through His death and resurrection, we are free to live abundantly and eternally with Him. Our faithful response to Christ’s love shown on the Cross is our stewardship. In Christ, we are new creations, people willing and eager to share His love wholeheartedly with others. By grace, His Spirit equips and strengthens us to use our lives and resources to serve Him by serving others. Through faith, we acknowledge our role as stewards, rather than owners, of what He has entrusted to us.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for give me the privilege of being Your steward. Help me to manage faithfully all that You entrust to me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

“…or are you just going to sit there?”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 66:18-23
Hebrews 12:18-24
Luke 13:22-30

“One cannot mount a camel that has not yet arrived, nor one that has already departed.” This old Arab proverb has a simple moral. The same idea is reflected in the Jewish Proverb, “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, time past and the neglected opportunity.” In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “When once the master of the house has risen to lock the door and you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Sir, open for us,’ he will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you come from.'”

The time to mount the camel is when it’s there, not before or after. The time to answer is when opportunity knocks. The time to enter is when the door is open. Proverbs and stories make the point in a more interesting manner than the preceding three very simple sentences, but neither eloquence nor simplicity seems to cause the needed effect on some people. Like couch potatoes vegetating in the glow of their televisions, they prefer to watch others make believe at life—a superficial excitement at best. Their idea of “grabbing the gusto” is to wrap a hand around another beer from the refrigerator.

Jesus told His story about the master closing the door in answer to the question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus chose not to enter any kind of lottery or numbers game. He also avoided any kind of barstool discussion. Cutting right through the irrelevancy, He told the questioner to concern himself with his own salvation. “Make every effort to come through the narrow door,” Jesus said, “because many, I tell you, will try to enter and be unable.”

Jesus’ frequent message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” is not unlike the old Arab prophet saying, “The camel is here–get on!” At an orchard and nursery in London, Ontario, Canada a huge sign reads, “THE BEST TIME TO PLANT A TREE WAS 25 YEARS AGO.” We are all aware that trees take a long time to mature. I have read that oaks are 60 years old before they bear any acorns. The Canadians did not stop their message with just one sentence. The sign continues: “THE SECOND BEST TIME IS TODAY.” Jesus’ message contains a similar second half–the door is still open and the time to enter is now!

In preparing for this devotion, I noticed that two interpreters inferred very different meanings from the original question posed to Jesus. One seemed to think that the question was sort of hypothetical–a theoretical or theological pastime. The other thought that the questioner was genuinely concerned about his own salvation and was looking for some reassurance. I found it interesting that both

authors felt that the questioner thought he was among the saved. Either he was cocky about it, asking how few of us will be saved, or he was having some doubts and wanted to be told that it wouldn’t be so few as to exclude him.

How about you? Are you among the few who will enter the narrow door before it is shut? Once upon a time, I attended a banquet. Names were posted before seats at the head table, but nowhere else. I had some preliminary responsibilities at the affair and was the first person to arrive other than the caterer and servers. I folded some place mats and scribbled the word “reserved” on each of them. The guests respected these less-than-professional looking notices. My wife, our friends and I had seats together. We had no particular claim to fame for reserved seating. They were not seats of honor, but those papers, scrawled with a few primitive letters, made them ours.

Christians believe that there are places at the heavenly banquet reserved just for them. We believe in Jesus and we trust His statement that whoever believes in Him will be saved. We cannot possibly afford the tickets and we have no claim on those seats. They certainly do not honor us, but they are places of honor nonetheless. They were bought with the very lifeblood of the Son of God. He has forgiven us and shared His own place with us. Salvation is God’s free gift–a present purchased in the past–we rejoice in it now and forever!

It is not, therefore, a reason for us to become cocky and conceited. It is not something about which we muse in abstract argument, nor is it something we doubt and question as if it were our own feeble doing. It is a source and force of action in our lives. James Russell Lowell reminds us: “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” Thomas Carlyle put it this way: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

An infamous poacher and legendary fisherman in Louisiana was approached at his cabin on the bayou by a stranger who wanted to go fishing. As they got into the boat, the stranger noticed that the famous fisherman had no rod or reel–only an old rusty tackle box and a net.

After a while, they entered an isolated cove, surrounded by massive oaks draped with Spanish moss. The stranger watched with interest as the fisherman reached down into the tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and threw it into the water. There was a muffled explosion followed by the surfacing of a number of stunned or dead fish, which the fisherman proceeded to scoop up with his net. Suddenly, the stranger reached into his coat, pulled out a large badge and announced, “I caught you! I’m the new game warden, and you are under arrest.”

The notorious poacher didn’t bat an eye. He calmly reached into his tackle box, pulled out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, tossed it to the game warden and asked, “Are you gonna fish or are you just gonna sit there?”

We are Jesus’ disciples. He has made us fishers of people, and He asks with similar urgency, “Are you gonna fish or are you just gonna sit there?”

The door is open. No philosophizing about how many or how few will enter, who should or should not, why some and why not others, no dithering about in the abstract, no postponing or procrastination will get us through. Soon it will be closed and the master from Jesus’ ancient parable will make the surprisingly contemporary comment, “I don’t know where you’re coming from.”

The people in the parable who are shut out and looking in complain to the master, “We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets.” Apparently they think that hobnobbing with the Holy One and rubbing elbows with Him is the same as faith. There is no such thing as salvation by association.

We have a full-grown Labrador Retriever. Once upon a time, he was a 50-pound puppy. Size notwithstanding, a puppy is a puppy. When the door was opened to him in the evening, he entered with the wide-eyed and open-mouthed exuberance of an insatiably curious child. Add to that the caged energy of an atom bomb and you can picture the black streak examining at break-neck speed every corner of the house and every person in it.

You could not close a door because he was pushing it open. Every drawer you opened suddenly had a black head looking into it. Anything lying loose on the floor was carried to the next similar object where it was dropped in favor of the newest discovery. If you picked something up, he was certain that it was the most valuable treasure of all time, or perhaps some snack or treat. He would pester you to death to let him see or smell it. Depending on your mood or attitude, the scene could be one of joy, delight and laughter, or a moment of insanity and aggravation.

I think that Jesus had in mind that His followers would have that kind of exuberant response to His open door of grace, love and salvation. Can you imagine this world with the Christians running around like that, trying to find some way to serve Him and telling the Good News about Jesus to everyone? How it must sadden God to see the great lengths to which His children will go in order to avoid serving and telling.

I believe that the church’s greatest and most time-consuming job ought to be trying to find opportunities for all the volunteers who are crying out for ways to serve. I believe that LCMS World Mission’s ongoing financial problem ought to be finding new mission opportunities on which to spend all the money. I believe that when a pastor in Christ’s church begins a sentence about the problem of attendance, the second half should be about how many services to have and when or where to have them.

Someone has said, “You never know when and where your opportunity will come.” That person is wrong! It is [August 21, 2016], at a church near you. Come and learn. Go and tell.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Spending Time with God

As God’s people, we must be careful not to draw our identity and security from our positions or possessions. Jesus directs us not to store up treasures on earth but rather store up treasures in heaven. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Our challenge is to stay detached from worldly things and surrender all that we are and have to the Lord and ask Him to guide us in using them for His glory. Only by spending time in God’s Word, in prayer, and participation in the Lord’s Table can we receive the faith and strength needed to follow God’s will and focus on Him.

Prayer: Dear Lord, grant me strength so I can resist the worldly temptations that I face daily. Use me in Your service. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 14 C (Proper 16)

These are the Scripture lessons you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 66:18-23
Hebrews 12:4-24
Luke 13:22-30

The Cross of Christ Is the Way into the Kingdom of God

With the cross of Christ, the time has come “to gather all nations and tongues” (Is. 66:18). The sign of the cross is set forth in the preaching of the Gospel, the declaration of the Lord’s glory “among the nations” (Is. 66:19). Many “will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29), but only by the narrow way of the cross. Those who refuse to follow Christ crucified will ultimately find only “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28), whereas Christ’s disciples, called from all the nations, will eat and drink with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God. They will come into “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

These are the hymns we will sing:

O Holy Spirit, Enter In (LSB 913)
Glorious Things of You Are Spoken (LSB 648)
Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face (LSB 631)
Sent Forth By God’s Blessing (LSB 643)
On Galilee’s High Mountain (LSB 835)

“Drooping hands and weak knees”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 12:1-13
Luke 12:49-53

I am in terrible shape. At this past-middle stage in my life, I am suffering from the “terrible too’s”– too much food and drink and too little exercise. My hat and shoe sizes remain the same, but everything in between is increasing.

For many years, I ran a “Summer League” for high school basketball players. I couldn’t help noticing how quickly the young athletes lost the physical conditioning they had achieved during the regular season. The summer heat added to their exhaustion, but they almost all had a terrible time getting up and down the court during the first few games. When the action stopped for a free throw or whatever, many players would bend over with their hands on their knees, huffing and puffing for air. Near the end of a game, shots and passes fell short of the mark due to sheer lack of energy.

Sunday’s Epistle lesson warns us against being out of shape spiritually: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet.” Earlier, the same lesson reminds me of my expanding waistline: “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

The image of a race is a good one–especially if we see it as a kind of endurance test where the object is not to compete with other runners, but to finish! The only “competition” suggested in the Letter to the Hebrews is our own weakness and the obstacles created by the enemies of Christ who do not want us to run successfully.

The image is that of athletes in training–putting aside anything that would weigh us down; putting on loose-fitting, non-restricting outfits; getting in shape so that we don’t wind up standing around with our hands on our knees halfway through the game. Then we are to run straight toward the goal rather than being distracted this way or that.

A player at one game wore a T-shirt that he had apparently received at a basketball camp. In big letters across his chest were imprinted the three dimensions–“3-D’s”–for victory: “Desire, Determination and Discipline.” In almost every area of life, in order to succeed, we must want to, we must be willing to keep going in spite of hardship or setback and we must pay the dues of hard work and training.

Sunday’s Gospel lesson contains one of Jesus’ most disturbing statements: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” By the time the Letter to the Hebrews was written, those words had probably come all-too-painfully true. They are still true today and the results are still very painful. In some countries the consequences of believing in Jesus include torture and death.

But when people even of one denomination join another, family members go into turmoil, if not hysteria. Time usually heals the wounds unless long-term bitterness sets in. I suppose that it is part of the very nature of religious zeal that a kind of fanatic bitterness can slip in the back door. Jesus could have continued His list beyond family members, almost without end, like: “pastor against member and member against pastor, elder against usher and usher against elder,” etc., etc.

Bitterness is a weight that stops runners dead in their tracks or at least causes them to follow a very crooked path. Whether in families, churches, schools, businesses or any other part of life where two or more people have to interact with each other, conflict is inevitable. Bitterness and grudges are not. In the verses that follow Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus observes that His listeners can look at the signs in nature, direction of prevailing winds etc., and reasonably predict what was coming. But they could not look at Him and see what He was all about.

We often see only what we want to see, whether in our personal lives, in the church or in the world. Even more often, we fail to notice what God is doing in our midst. We dwell on negatives and overlook signs of renewal and growth. We see problems, not possibilities for mission and ministry. We focus on what we cannot do–our limitations–and downplay our potentials.”

In the verses that follow Sunday’s Epistle lesson, the author to the Hebrews wrote more about the problem of bitterness keeping us from reaching the destination of our race. He called it the “root of bitterness” which, like a nasty weed, can spring up overnight and devastate the good fruits of discipleship.

Did you hear about the two writers who were bitter rivals? One of them had his newest book published just before the two bumped into each other at a party. The other quipped: “I have read your new book and like it. Who wrote it for you?” The fellow responded, “I’m glad you liked the book. Who read it to you?”

In the opening words of Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on the earth. How I wish the blaze were ignited!” Two thousand years later, it is too often still only a spark. Spiritual flabbiness is virtually everywhere and so is a blatant unwillingness to do anything about it. The old saw really applies: “The trouble with apathy is that nobody gives a rip about it.”

If you talk to a church member about poor attendance, every imaginable excuse and some well- cherished bitterness about something or someone will come out. Talk to them about offerings, and the same kind of thing happens only at a higher decibel level. Talk to them about witnessing to the world or at least to their neighbors and they say that is the job of missionaries and pastors.

Some people recognize a certain amount of spiritual flabbiness in themselves, but (as with me and my midriff) don’t care enough to do anything about it. Most see it as a problem to be dealt with some day, some how. They are like the dieter who “intends” to “lose weight.” That person is as likely to gain as lose. The person who is serious will set a goal to get rid of a set number of pounds within a set frame of time.

I noted earlier that the “race” in the Letter to the Hebrews is not a competition against other runners. God sets a goal for each of us at the end of the line. We are to run for it. The lesson says that we are to run the race, fixing our eyes on “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” That part of the message is essential. We cannot run on our own. Everyone who tries fails.

A science teacher held up a glass jar and asked, “Who can tell me the easiest way to empty a glass of air?” Someone suggested sealing the container and pumping the air out. “That would create a vacuum and could break the jar,” said the teacher. When no other answers were forthcoming, the instructor simply filled the container with water.

Bitterness, sin, persecution and hardship cause no real threat to the Christian faith–not if they are outside of us. They weigh us down and restrict us only when they take root within. Any effort to “pump them out” is futile. It is only when we are filled with Christ that they no longer take their toll.

In one of his Riverside Sermons, Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote, “Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it. Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it. Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it. Bitterness sickens life; love heals it. Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.”

Fixing our eyes on Jesus, we see the One who endured the cross for us without a thought about the shame for Himself. He is the love that anoints our eyes. When we are filled with His love and forgiveness, the race is a delightful walk in the park and we cannot help but tell others His Good News as we go.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Stewards of the Internet

The internet is a gift from God to be handled responsibly. Christian stewards should manage it properly along with all the other good gifts God has granted. Computers certainly are most advantageous, providing quick communication, breaking news, current events, and information on almost every subject. It is also an efficient tool for social networking. Many use it to chat, blog, post on face book and twitter. The internet, however, can be a bane or blessing. Like money, it can be used properly or misused. Moderation is the keyword for managing the internet.

Prayer: Dear good and gracious Heavenly Father, I live in a high technology age. Grant me wisdom and discernment to use these tools wisely. Show me ways in which I can use these tools to help others. In Jesus’ precious name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!