Blame the Methodists

Here is a bit of trivia for you–Methodist minister Thomas Bramwell Welch developed non-alcoholic grape juice in 1869. You can read all about it in this article from Christianity Today.

As a Lutheran, I do not understand providing grape juice for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. That’s not what our Lord used when He instituted the meal on the Thursday before His death. But Welch was trying to address a problem of his day and inadvertently created other issues at the same time.

In my congregations, those who have had issues with wine have usually found ways to deal with it without the wine not being used for communion. Most times, they were able to receive the wine because they understood that the wine had been brought together with the blood of Christ and the bread joined with the body of Christ to give us a powerful meal for the forgiveness of our sins. In other words, the wine and the bread weren’t seen as those simple elements. Rather, they were given to us joined with the body and blood of our Savior for a unique purpose–to cleanse us of our sins. That made a difference in the meal.

For those churches who see only bread and wine, I could understand where those receiving that meal might not see the wine as anything but an alcoholic beverage since it is nothing more than a remembrance of Christ and His suffering. When God’s Word is added to the physical elements, what we receive is far different.

I have known some Methodist ministers to use wine at communion so there is no consistency in how Communion is viewed within that denomination. When they see the meal as a gift from God for the forgiveness of our sins, then I will know that they are reading Scripture as our Lord intended.

“He couldn’t afford to pay attention”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Amos 6:1-7
1 Timothy 6:1-6
Luke 16:19-31

Are there any real, live people right around you that you do not see? Are there sounds, even cries, that you do not hear? Let’s all be very careful how we answer. I know that I have consciously, ubconsciously and unconsciously ignored persons and things that I did not want to see or hear. Parents occasionally ignore the pleas of a child, or respond with the world-famous parental phrase “Not now,” only to find that the child’s need WAS urgent.

This Sunday’s Gospel lesson contains another of Jesus’ parables. It is known as “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Lazarus’ name is the only proper name that we can be certain Jesus ever used for a character in His parables. Some translators have given the name “Dives” to the other character, but it is a transliteration of his description, “Rich,” rather than a proper name. Another ancient tradition calls him “Neves,” but the truth of the matter is that Lazarus the poor man is the only character in any of Jesus’ parables who is named. I think there are good reasons for this–not the least of which is the fact that his name means: “Helped by God” or “One whom God helps.”

Jesus begins the story by describing the rich man and He leaves no doubt that this fellow had it all– way more than enough. In contrast, Lazarus had nothing. He lay (perhaps even crippled) at the rich man’s gate, with sores on his body and nothing in his stomach. He longed to eat the scraps of bread that the folks inside used as napkins to wipe their hands. These “crumbs” probably went to the dogs. It appears that the closest Lazarus got to them was when those unclean animals came up to him and licked his sores. We might perceive that as animal compassion, something the rich man lacked, but in their day it was adding insult to injury.

Up to this point, the parable is similar to an ancient Egyptian story. That old tale concludes with the funerals of both men–one, a sumptuous affair, and the other, as it had been in life, a bare bones committal. The Egyptians, as you may know from the discoveries of great wealth buried with its original owners, thought that you could “take it with you.”

Jesus knew better. Life after life for these two men is the exact opposite of what had been before. Now, the rich man is aware of Lazarus, residing “in the bosom of Abraham,” but Lazarus doesn’t even know the other fellow exists. The rich man still thinks Lazarus is somehow beneath him. He asks Abraham to send him (“Hey, boy!”) with some water. As one author put it, “It’s too late; the toothpaste is already out of the tube.” Abraham said, “There is a great chasm … none may pass.”

The rich man still thinks that Lazarus can be sent around as an errand boy. He wants him to go back to the living and warn others. Abraham answers that the rich fellow’s brothers have the Law and the prophets. If they don’t listen to God’s Word, they won’t listen to a resurrected person either. At this point the proper name of the beggar comes to mind once again. Another Lazarus, himself reasonably wealthy and bearing no other resemblance to this beggar, was also “Helped by God.” As a matter of fact, Jesus raised him from the dead!

If we look back a few verses from this Sunday’s parable, we learn that Jesus told it to “the Pharisees, who loved money.” When Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees immediately plotted to kill him again! Paul reminds us in Sunday’s Epistle, “The love of money is the root of all evils” and so it is.

The rich man’s love for his money prevented him from loving, even noticing, the beggar at his gate. He thought wealth was his privilege, not his responsibility…his property, not his opportunity. It consumed his attention and it eventually consumed him. My dictionary says that attention is: “The act of attending or heeding; the application of the ear to sounds, or of the mind to objects presented to its contemplation.” One of its more interesting facets is that attention is “paid.” I guess…at least where Lazarus was concerned…the rich man couldn’t afford it.

Some needs and persons are deliberately ignored because they annoy and offend us. Some are ignored “accidentally” because we are busy and distracted, but people of God are called to pay attention. Many, perhaps most needs and persons catch at least a corner of our notice, but we delay responding. One pastor has noted that if all the great philanthropy that has been delayed had been performed immediately, the world would be dramatically changed.

His observation began when a member in a convenience store, buying $5.00 worth of lottery tickets, said to him, “When I win the lottery, I’m going to give half of it to the church!” The pastor had heard similar expressions from many others. When he returned to his office, he didn’t remember how he had responded to that member. Sitting at his desk, thinking about the whole exchange, he suddenly wrote across a piece of paper, “NO YOU WON’T!” No one else was in the room, so he continued speaking aloud to the member he had left behind at the quick shop, “If you don’t even give a tenth of what the Lord gives you now, there’s no way you’ll give half of anything later.”

He also wrote, “It is the nature of lotteries that, for all the millions you hear about people winning from them, more than twice that amount has been paid in. If all the money that has been donated to the lottery had been donated to churches instead, there would probably not be one church still in debt in the whole state of Illinois. People are always talking about what they will do “after”–their mortgage is paid, they get out of college, they get back on their feet, they get this next raise or promotion–
whatever. The trouble is that there was something before and there will just be something else after.”

In Sunday’s parable, Jesus reminds us that a time comes when “after” is too late–there is a great chasm fixed…after. Following the parable, Jesus teaches about forgiveness. He paid attention to our needs, ignoring His own, and that “paying” was as costly as it could be. For 30 lousy pieces of silver Jesus was betrayed and yet, the blood of Christ cleanses us even from our greed. Let us remember, however, that there is another great chasm between forgiveness and approval. At great cost, God forgives and forgets our sins. In no way does He ignore them or let them just slip from His attention.

God is concerned about our greed because it costs us so much. Desire for the good life destroys the life that is good. Fools look at offerings to church, charity and relief of the poor as though God wants to take their money. God wants us to have love, charity, peace and oy–none of these things are ever taken, only given. By the grace of God, forgiven in Christ and empowered by His Spirit, we can afford to pay attention.

The command to tithe appears in the law, but it is a sign of God’s grace. He invites us to return a tenth of what He grants us this year. If it were all law, He would simply grant us ten times what we returned last year.

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

God Made us to Give

“God made the sun—it gives. God made the moon—it gives. God made the stars—they give. God made the air—it gives. God made the clouds—they give. God made the earth—it gives. God made the sea—it gives. God made the trees—they give. God made the flowers—they give. God made the fish—they give. God made the fowls—they give. God made the beasts—they give. God made man and woman—they? God made me—I?” (Anonymous)

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, You are a giving and loving God. You are the giver of all good things. I especially thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus, Who has atoned for all my sins. Grant me a giving and loving heart. In Jesus’ precious and holy name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Lessons and Hymns for Pentecost 19 C (Proper 21)

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

Amos 6:1-7
1 Timothy 3:1-13
Luke 16:19-31

Our Help Is Not in Worldly Riches

“The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side,” and “the rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22). The poor man Lazarus, who knew many bad things on earth, began to be comforted forever, whereas the rich man, after a lifetime of good things, began to be “in anguish” (Luke 16:25). Therefore, “woe to those who are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1), for “the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away” (Amos 6:7). The wealthy are urged “not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches,” but “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:17–18). Covetous desire for what God has not given is idolatry and “a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Contentment belongs to faith, by which the Christian has “great gain” in godliness (1 Tim. 6:6).

These are the hymns we will sing:

All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name (LSB 549)
Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense (LSB 741:1-4)
God of the Prophets, Bless the Prophet’s Sons (LSB 682)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (LSB 686)
Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense (LSB 741:5-8)

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

Giving Is an Act of Worship

In his book Giving to God, Mark Powell writes, “The offering is an act of worship, an instance in which we are invited to give up something that we value—our money—as a sacrifice to God. In many ways, it is the high point of the liturgy. We come to church to worship God and at no other point in the service are we provided with so pure an opportunity for worship as this.”

Obviously, the high point of the liturgy is the reading of the Gospel and receiving Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, but in terms of our act of worship, our giving is an act of worship, and a very important one at that.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for all my blessings. Grant me the faith and wisdom that I need to acknowledge You as the creator and owner of all things. Help me to give to You by sharing with the needy and to extend Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

Mid-Week Stewardship Thought

A Quote from D. L. Moody:

“A great many people are wondering why they don’t grow in grace; why they don’t have more spiritual power. The question is very easily answered. You have got your treasure down here. It is not necessary for a man to have money to have his treasure down here. He may have his heart on pleasure; he may make an idol of his children; and that is the reason they don’t grow in grace. If we would only just be wise and do as God tells us, we would mount up, as it were, on wings, and would get nearer to heaven every day. We would get heavenly-minded in our conversation, and have less trouble than now. And so, my friends, let us ask ourselves today, ‘Where is our treasure? Is it on earth, or in heaven? What are we doing? What is the aim of our lives? Are we just living to accumulate money, or to get a position in the world for our children? Or, are we trying to secure those treasures, which we can safely lay up in heaven, becoming rich toward God?’ ”

Prayer: Dear good and gracious heavenly Father, thank you for the great Bible leaders such as D. L. Moody who you have equipped to preach Your Word. Grant me an open and receptive heart and mind to the reading and preaching of Your Word. Use me as an instrument of Your grace, love, and mercy. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Blessings on your journey as a steward!

“Let us to the end dare to do our duty, as we understand it.” (Abraham Lincoln)

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Proverbs 9:8-12
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

I started last week’s “Edit-O-Earl” with a prayer I had written last Tuesday. Many of you recently received a news release regarding the safety of our missionaries. I received on the same day a letter from some missionaries who, interestingly, are more concerned about our welfare–here in the United States–than their own.

In a beautiful example of what goes around comes around, they wrote to their many supporters and prayer warriors: “We have been in prayer for you all, just as you have prayed for us for so long. The world seems to be just erupting with evil right now…it’s hard not to wonder what the spiritual implications of all this are, as our world speeds toward the day of Jesus’ return. How much more important it is to share the Gospel with those who haven’t yet heard!”

That last line reminds me of these words from Abraham Lincoln that apply to all Americans right now: “Let us to the end dare to do our duty, as we understand it.”

My days at Concordia Seminary are long ago and far away in my memory banks. I do not remember any class on Paul’s letter to Philemon. It may interest you to know that the commonly accepted interpretation of the letter–that Onesimus was a fugitive slave and that Paul was seeking to aid him in his reconciliation with his master Philemon–was not suggested until the fourth century. Prior to that, the letter’s place in the canon of Scripture was deemed extremely questionable. Many early church leaders thought it too personal to be of any great use to the church at large.

St. John of Chrysostom first suggested the now classic interpretation. It is no small coincidence that Chrysostom used the letter to support his polemic against those who claimed their faith as an excuse to forcibly free Christian slaves from Christian masters. His interpretation was based on the single line in the letter that suggests the possibility: “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good–no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”

Some scholars wonder if that passage, coupled with four other uses of the word “brother,” might imply that there was, in fact, a direct familial tie between Philemon and Onesimus. He may have been a useless and sponging younger brother–disinherited by accident of birth-order, but lazy by choice. He may also have been the victim of misuse by Philemon–the reference to “slave” could be a judgment on Paul’s part that Philemon had not given his brother a fair shake. Onesimus may have rebelled and may even have taken money or some possession as his own parting “gift,” in retaliation against Philemon.

The latter possibility occurs whether we accept the common interpretation or the family tie idea. Paul suggested it when he wrote, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back.”

The heart of the letter remains intact, regardless of the interpretation we prefer. It is a letter filled with tact, a masterpiece of delicate diplomacy, but it is far more a wonderful example of Christian love in action. Whether Philemon is a runaway slave, a criminal in the society–guilty of a capital offense–or a runaway relative, in some ways more difficult to forgive, Paul openly and bluntly expects Philemon to forgive him. But Paul’s masterful literary skills pale in comparison to his faith.

The Apostle notes that his position in the church provides him the authority to command obedience from Philemon, but he does not do that. Instead, Paul appeals to him “on the basis of love.” Paul’s literary genius can be hidden from us unless we know that words used throughout the letter, “useless,” “useful,” “benefit,” or in some translations “profit,” all play on the translation of the name Onesimus. But there is nothing hidden about Paul’s love for Onesimus and Philemon and their entire household. Nor is there anything hidden about the Apostle’s clear and concise appeal.

He could order Philemon to do his duty, but instead he elevates that response from a drudgery of duty to an act of love–a loving obligation, a fulfilling of duty in the joyous spirit of the Gospel. Charles Kingsley spoke of two freedoms: the false where a person is free to do what he or she likes, and the true where a person is free to do what he or she ought.

Philemon and Onesimus share a role in life. Paul notes that they are both encouragers. He wrote to Philemon: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” He says of Onesimus, “I am sending him–who is my very heart–back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the Gospel.” Paul says that Onesimus has been encouraging him in prison, just as Philemon had done before. In fact, he says that Onesimus took the place of Philemon in doing that.

Leonard Sweet wrote: “Ultimately, what Paul desires of these two men–both of whom have shown the ability to uplift and encourage Paul in his ministry–is that they now join their gifts together, enabling Paul to ‘refresh my heart in Christ.'” If I were Paul, and I knew you personally, is there any obligation of love, any Christian duty that I might urge you to do, whereby you could refresh my heart in Christ? Do recent events press to your mind the urgency to tell the Good News about Jesus to every person in every language and corner of the world? Then, “Let us to the end dare to do our duty, as we understand it.”

Contemporary Christians prefer words that have less punch than obligation or duty. One of the things that make some TV and radio evangelists popular is that they make faith and religion seem amusing and easy.

If you read this Sunday’s Gospel lesson, you will see that Jesus would have blown His Nielsen ratings with that sermon. In a far-ranging study of American television called, Amusing Ourselves To Death, Neil Postman included religious broadcasting in his work, and noted: “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another religion altogether.”

I don’t know much about Postman, but I wonder if he understands what the serious demands of Christianity actually entail. Many people confuse those demands with the price of their ticket into Paradise. Those who do that are mistaken. The priceless ticket could never be bought by anything we say or do. It is given to us by the grace of God, but its price is the very costly life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The demands of faithfulness are the joyous obligations of love–to love as we have been loved, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to serve as we have been served. The Letter to Philemon might add that we are to encourage as we have been encouraged.

Do you know the marvelous story behind the lovely old ballad, “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”? Thomas Moore wrote the words and the music after his wife’s beautiful face had been disfigured by smallpox. It was then that he sang it to her:

Let thy loveliness fade as it will.
And around the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.

The poet’s love for his wife obliged him to show it in the way his poetic talent could. In that sense he had an obligation to fulfill, a duty to perform. And as Phillips Brooks said, “Duty makes us do things well, but Love makes us do them beautifully.”