Last week my dentist set me up for clear plastic braces that will straighten my somewhat crooked smile. I'm not going through this process from the standpoint of vanity, but so that I may better care for my teeth as I get older. Over the next six months (or more), I will need to wear the braces for 22 hours a day. Careful brushing three times a day (with braces removed) is a must, in addition to keeping the braces themselves clean.
Okay--maybe too much information for you about my dental hygiene. And furthermore, what does it have to do with the photo above of bread, cup and a Bible, all sitting on a rustic table?
It's all about habits that keep us healthy. Like brushing and flossing your teeth three times a day, and drinking eight glasses of water a day, and exercising three times a week. . . and taking Communion regularly. . .
Did you know that John Wesley believed in taking Communion as often as possible? Not quarterly, as some churches do, not monthly, as many churches do, but at least once a week, if not every day.
I recall several years ago having a conversation with some members of my congregation on the possible move to serving communion during Sunday worship on a weekly basis. I received looks of fear in the eyes of those who were responsible for setting up/taking down the Communion elements, trays, and cups. Others responded with perfectly logical thinking: "Having Communion every week will make it too common a ritual--will diminish its importance." Instead of insisting on having my way, I acquiesced to the wisdom of this faithful group.
I would love to serve Communion on a weekly basis. I would even love to serve Communion on a daily basis. Although the novelty of having Communion might wear off, it might instead become more of a regular ritual in the lives of those who partake in life-giving food from the Lord's Table.
Like praying daily. Like saying the Lord's Prayer by rote. Like wearing a cross necklace every day.
Just as such regular habits as brushing teeth, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly increase the health of one's body, so could weekly--even daily--the ritual of Communion increase the health of one's soul.
Let me know what you think of this possibility!
And may the Risen Christ, who nourishes our souls, be with you today and always,
This Sunday, October 25, countless churches and homes around the world of both Lutherans and non-Lutheran Protestants will be filled with these triumphal words of Martin Luther. Written sometime between 1527-28, and since then, translated into more than 200 languages, "A Mighty Fortress" symbolizes the hope of a man of faith whose world had been turned upside down through the death of his infant daughter, the plague, and controversies within the Church. Drawing from Psalm 46, Luther expressed several main themes of the Christian faith in the four short stanzas of this popular hymn: God is our protecter in a sinful world, we are helpless without the saving grace of Jesus Christ, sin and death do not have the final word, and God's kingdom is eternal.
Imagine the faith of this man, who wrote this timeless testament to God--our Refuge and Strength--in the midst of darkness, loss, and despair. Putting his words to melody (yes, he also wrote the music!) provided an easy way for those singing the hymn to put to memory several Christian doctrines. This is not surprising, for Luther fought for the inclusion of scripture that could be read by laity through his translation of the Bible from Latin into the vernacular of German.
I give thanks to God for Martin Luther, who has given us this beloved hymn, through his extensive knowledge and wisdom of the Christian faith, his gifts of writing both words and music, and courage born of his faith.
I used the sources below for this short article--check them out for more information on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
May God, our Refuge and Strength, be with you now and always!
Have you ever read the story of Cornelius and Peter in the book of Acts? If you are not familiar with Cornelius, he was a centurion in the Roman army. You may have seen a guy like him in an old movie: a tough, mean-looking dude clad in armor in such Cecil B. DeMille classics from the 40's and 50's as Samson and Delilah and The Ten Commandments. Cornelius' title meant that he commanded 100 men (cent=100). Imagine the guts Cornelius needed in keeping in line 100 Roman soldiers! Taking into account Cornelius' vocation and tough, warrior personality, it is amazing that he is considered the first gentile convert of the Christian faith.
Here are excerpts of the story of Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10) from "The Message":
There was a man named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, captain of the Italian Guard stationed there. He was a thoroughly good man. He had led everyone in his house to live worshipfully before God, was always helping people in need, and had the habit of prayer.
One day about three o’clock in the afternoon he had a vision. An angel of God, as real as his next-door neighbor, came in and said, “Cornelius.” Cornelius stared hard, wondering if he was seeing things. Then he said, “What do you want, sir?” The angel said, “Your prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. Here’s what you are to do. Send men to Joppa to get Simon, the one everyone calls Peter. He is staying with Simon the Tanner, whose house is down by the sea.”
As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two servants and one particularly devout soldier from the guard. He went over with them in great detail everything that had just happened, and then sent them off to Joppa.
The next day as the three travelers were approaching the town, Peter went out on the balcony to pray. It was about noon. Peter got hungry and started thinking about lunch. While lunch was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the skies open up. Something that looked like a huge blanket lowered by ropes at its four corners settled on the ground. Every kind of animal and reptile and bird you could think of was on it. Then a voice came: “Go to it, Peter—kill and eat.”
Peter said, “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher.”
The voice came a second time: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
This happened three times, and then the blanket was pulled back up into the skies.
As Peter, puzzled, sat there trying to figure out what it all meant, the men sent by Cornelius showed up at Simon’s front door. They called in, asking if there was a Simon, also called Peter, staying there. Peter, lost in thought, didn’t hear them, so the Spirit whispered to him, “Three men are knocking at the door looking for you. Get down there and go with them. Don’t ask any questions. I sent them to get you.”
Peter went down and said to the men, “I think I’m the man you’re looking for. What’s up?”
They said, “Captain Cornelius, a God-fearing man well-known for his fair play—ask any Jew in this part of the country—was commanded by a holy angel to get you and bring you to his house so he could hear what you had to say.” Peter invited them in and made them feel at home.
The next morning he got up and went with them. Some of his friends from Joppa went along. A day later they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had his relatives and close friends waiting with him. The minute Peter came through the door, Cornelius was up on his feet greeting him—and then down on his face worshiping him! Peter pulled him up and said, “None of that—I’m a man and only a man, no different from you.”
Talking things over, they went on into the house, where Cornelius introduced Peter to everyone who had come. Peter addressed them, “You know, I’m sure that this is highly irregular. Jews just don’t do this—visit and relax with people of another race. But God has just shown me that no race is better than any other. So the minute I was sent for, I came, no questions asked. But now I’d like to know why you sent for me.”
Cornelius said, “Four days ago at about this time, mid-afternoon, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light. He said, ‘Cornelius, your daily prayers and neighborly acts have brought you to God’s attention. I want you to send to Joppa to get Simon, the one they call Peter. He’s staying with Simon the Tanner down by the sea.’
“So I did it—I sent for you. And you’ve been good enough to come. And now we’re all here in God’s presence, ready to listen to whatever the Master put in your heart to tell us.”
Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel—that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again—well, he’s doing it everywhere, among everyone. . .
. . . No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.
Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.
Two items of note:
I love such stories about the Holy Spirit at work in people's lives. And I love such stories about unlikely converts to Christianity, for whenever I am feeling unworthy of God's grace it reminds me:
"It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. "
For God Plays No Favorites!
Since moving to Stewartville, Eric and I have had the joy of making two daytrips to visit our son Leif and his family in Kenosha. On the first trip, early in the summer, we were able to hold our newest grandchild, Clea, while watching her big sister Kysi play on the apartment facility’s playground. By the time of our second visit, little Clea had matured enough to focus on our faces as we cuddled, while big sis Kysi enthusiastically showed us her favorite books and stuffed toys.
How glorious it is to be a grandparent! One of the most delightful aspects of being a grandparent is in remembering what it was like to be a child while watching your grandchildren explore God’s wonderful creation. As Clea gazed up at my face as I cradled her in my arms I remembered sitting on Grandpa Paul’s lap as a little girl, staring at his jet-black eyes and enormous ears (yep-I inherited his ears!). And as I watched with amusement as Kysi discovered how to walk backwards (thank goodness she didn’t have far to fall!), I remembered as a young girl how to skip down the sidewalk. Ah, to live the wonderful, carefree life of a child!
For the month of October my sermons are focusing on the feelings of fear and scarcity humans experience—especially during these times of pandemic, racial strife, economic woes, and worsening climate change. I remember as a child being afraid and finding comfort in the arms of a loving adult. I remember as a child feeling the ‘scarcity’ of hunger or fatigue or loneliness and knowing that mommy or daddy would fill my tummy with food, read a story as I fell asleep in my warm bed, and hold me tenderly when I felt lonely. As an adult though, it is up to me to find succor when I am afraid or am feeling 'scarcity' in my life. As a person of faith, the easiest thing for me to do is to talk to God.
From his prison cell Paul wrote of this very gift of God’s grace to the congregation in Philippi:
Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6-7)
What a moving statement of faith and assurance; in bringing your prayers to God, the mystery of God’s peace in Christ will enfold you. Like the comfort and care given by a loving adult to a child, such peace through prayer will not necessarily defeat the source of fear and scarcity, but will offer instead the comfort and strength for you to move through the experience of fear and scarcity toward healing and wholeness.
May the peace of God in Christ enfold you this week and always!