Friday, October 29, 2010


There’s a lot of interest in the dead these days. TV shows like “Medium” and “The Ghost Whisperer” still have followings. Current movies like “Hereafter” and “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” raise questions about “the beyond”. They all question not only what happens but how we can know the truth about what happens after we die.
“What is truth?”, Pontius Pilate famously asked when he was trying Jesus before his torture and crucifixion. (John 18:38)It was a good question. It is a good question.
Pilate might have guessed the answer as it was staring him in the face.
Jesus, well before his “trial” had this exchange with the apostle (aka Doubting) Thomas about what happens after we die, and how we can know it: Jesus said, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:4-7
The truth is not a proposition, when it comes to the afterlife. It is a person.
Our eternity is not based on what we know about Jesus, it is Jesus known in our relationship with him, our savior. Jesus is the gospel, the good news.
As we approach the 453 anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, that is an important truth to know. “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” 2 Timothy 1:9b-10
That is THE truth about what happens after we die.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sin Stinks

One cold and dark Saturday night in the country, when I was growing up in Wisconsin, our extended family drove out to some event, probably a wedding. I was about 8 at the time, and whatever it was didn’t impress me.
What did impress me was what happened afterward.
I was happy to be driving home with my grandparents on my father’s side, Olaf and Myrtle Berkedal. Wind-driven snow flurries had started before we left, and we knew we needed to get right home. The weather whipped up in the darkness, and snow blocked what the darkness didn’t.
We slid off the road into a ditch.
We were all fine. As an accident, it wasn’t much and the car seemed fine, but we couldn’t get out. There was no traffic on the road the way we had gone.
So, having landed in a place where we could see the lights of a farmhouse, we got out and started to walk.
The people in that house welcomed us, let us get warm, let us use their phone to tell my parents we were OK, but that they should not come after us. We would spend the night.
My grandparents were given a room, I think, and I was assigned the couch with some blankets in the living room.
I woke up sometime around midnight. I heard the hiccupped song of a cuckoo clock, and I saw the lights from the adjacent kitchen. The farmer and his sons, or maybe his help, were up enjoying a late-night snack of whole sardines between soda crackers.
I shuffled in to see what was going on and they offered me one.
I took it back to the couch and I look at that thing looking back at me. There was no way I was going to bite the head or any other part of that thing so, being too polite to return the gift, I dropped it behind the couch and went back to sleep.
Secrets like that do not stay hidden for long.
The family in that farmhouse, or maybe one of the cats, would be let by their noses to the scene.
That is what sin is like.
The Bible says that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. We can try to hide our sins, but the word of God, “is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12-13
Nothing is hidden from God. Sin stinks. The separation from God that is the consequence of sin, the condition that is expressed in our sins, stink.
And yet God comes to us as a suffering servant and calls us to repentance and, by God’s grace, to take away our sin and our sinfulness. John 3:16
God did not come to deodorize them. He came to wipe them away.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I Want Jesus

One of the things that changed my mind about when young people can start receiving Holy Communion was what occurred one day when I was doing my Internship at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa.
The bishop of the Iowa district called a bunch of us interns together for a day of debriefing, retreat and learning. We met at a Lutheran home for severely developmentally disabled children and young adults.
The children and young people served there were, for the most part, infantile. There was some question of whether they were aware even of their own existence.
We asked the chaplain, over lunch, what he did there. He replied that a lot of his work was with the parents, dealing with issues of God’s plan and of personal guilt over institutionalization. But, he said, he also interacted with the residents and led them in daily worship.
What, we wondered, was worship like?
“We have holy communion every day,” he said. That really got our attention.
“How could he give communion,” one in our group wondered, “to children who may not understand that they themselves exist, much less what happens in holy communion?”
Some understanding of what takes place in holy communion has been a traditional requirement for receiving the sacrament through the centuries, sometimes involving up to three years of instruction.
“Well,” he said, “I don’t know if they understand anything I say, but I do believe they all understand eating and drinking. God speaks to us all in ways we can understand and, for these children, holy communion is probably the way God speaks to them. They come to know God in the forms of bread and wine.”
One Sunday, as I was serving the elements of bread and wine, the blessing I give to children too young to receive Holy Communion in our congregation was not enough for one child. As I moved down the line, I heard him say, “I want Jesus!”
How much more does one need to know? He was not far from the Kingdom of God, or from the path God walks with anyone who receives Him, or the knowledge that, in this sacrament we receive the certainty that in Jesus our sins are forgiven in this uncertain world.
He wanted what I want. I want Jesus.