Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Who needs whom?

Often we presume that Jesus needs us or needs something from us.  It is, perhaps, because that is how things work in this world.  We presume that how this world works is how the Kingdom of God works.  But it is just the opposite.  Jesus does not need us but He wants us -- wants us so much that He is willing to be incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, born as a child when He is the creative Word, live in obedience to His own law, suffer for that which He did not do, and, though He is the Lord of life, to die in disgrace upon a cross.  On the other hand, we need Jesus but we do not want Him.  The Holy Spirit has to teach us to want what we need, who we need.  The Spirit has to teach us to give up all notions of sin as a minor problem, of making peace with death, of God being our enemy, of self-sufficiency, of independence, and of pride itself.  Only then, through the humility of confession, do we begin to desire Him whom we need.

Jesus does not call us to follow Him because He wants or needs followers.  In fact, He wants us to be saved and knows that only by hearing and heeding His saving voice can we be saved.  Jesus is not interested in numbers or statistics.  What He is going for is YOU and me.  He saves us one soul at a time, not by mass conversion but by the Holy Spirit working through the Word spoken into the ear and then into the heart so that faith may sprout and grow.  Jesus does not get anything out of this salvation business except YOU and me.  And that is exactly how He wants it to be.

When Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow Him, to deny ourselves and follow Him, to a cross-shaped life of suffering following Him, it is not because His cross is not enough or His suffering is not complete.  It is because in order to follow Him we walk in His path, in but not of the world, against the enemies of sin, death, and the devil He faced.  Indeed, by being close to Jesus we will not and cannot avoid the suffering, persecution, and threats He faced and He warned we, too, would face.  

Sin has so corrupted our thinking and our desires that we presume we have something God wants or needs and therefore salvation is a sort of bargain or barter in which we exchange with God the things He desires for the things we need.  We make God a beggar or at least a businessman who exchanges one thing of value for another.  It is reasonable and logical to us but that does not make it true or accurate.  We want God to be like us, to act like us, and to want the things we want, so that He is understandable and approachable.  But God lives on holy ground, with glory we dare not see unless He makes it possible, and He acts in ways that contradict all reason and human expectation.  Who would give up his only son to save strangers who were enemies and guilty, undeserving sinners?  No one, of course, except God.  He does not need us but we need Him.  Salvation is no transaction but surrender -- surrender of our self-imagined value for the reality of what sin has made of us for the value God in the great surprise of His mercy has placed upon us.  Not with silver or gold but with His holy and precious body in suffering and His blood shed.  He does not need us but He wants us and though we do not want Him, we need Him most of all.  Faith is the Holy Spirit teaching us to want what we need.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The power to end fear. . .

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, preached on Sunday, April 11, 2021.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!   He is risen, Indeed.  Alleluia.

    Frank Herbert’s great scifi thriller Dune includes this prescient phrase:  “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”  The phrase is set in the context of a test.  The hero puts his right hand into a device that creates pain in his mind.  It was a test of his humanity.  Intuitively we run from fear but it is possible to overcome our fear.

    Fear was the mind-killer for Jesus’ disciples.  It choked their memory and clouded their reason.  They should not have been surprised by His resurrection from the dead.  Jesus had told them as often as He prophesied His suffering and death that He would rise from the dead.  He had told them to head to Galilee where He would wait for them.  But in their ears and minds they did not hear.  They did not believe.  They were transfixed by their fear.  The women who went to the tomb on Easter ran back home in fear.  Peter and John who ran to the tomb to find out what happened were caught up in fear.  Now it found them behind locked doors waiting.  Jesus had already come once in the night and through the locked doors.  They had seen the risen Savior once but a week later they were still behind locked doors.  Fear is a killer of faith.

    It has been a year now since we lock up our doors, hid behind our masks, shut down our economy, and waited for a virus to go away.  Fear kept our nation captive and we are still afraid.  It will not take much to shut down our schools again, to furlough workers from their jobs, to empty the stores, bars, and restaurants, and close churches.  Fear is the mind-killer.  It is the little death that kills our hope and steals our confidence and holds us captive.  I am speaking here to Christians who should know better.  We confess a Gospel of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting but, if given a choice, too many of us will choose being safe today over any risk that may come to us in God’s house, gathered with other sinners around His means of grace.

    When Thomas missed out on Jesus’ coming and rejected the witness of the disciples who had seen the Lord, Jesus showed up to call him to repentance and to faith.  It is time for truth telling now.  We need to repent.  We need to repent of our faith held captive by our fears.  We need to repent of believing the Gospel but not enough to risk living life with this hope – especially in the face of a pandemic.  We need to repent as a church body for the way we closed doors and left the people of God to fend for them selves with videos instead of the body and blood on the tongue and the Word in the ear.
Pastors like me need to repent of trying to calm fears instead of preaching repentance. Fear is not a crises to be managed.  God does not manage the crises of our lives but confronts them with the power of the resurrection.  H calls His people to believe, to trust, and to live prudently, to be sure, but to live faithfully.  We all have enough to repent of and none of us is without blame or shame.  But look at how Jesus deals with the fearful.

    Jesus does not try to tell Thomas or the rest of the disciples that their fears were not real or legitimate.  Instead, He points them to the one thing more powerful than fear. He shows them the signs of the Kingdom in the scars of His suffering and the marks of His death.  He confronts Thomas with the death that killed death and the life that death cannot overcome.  The only way out of fear is the Gospel, spoken through the mouth of the preacher by the voice of the Savior, felt in the splash of baptismal water that has the power to give new life, and tasted in the bread that is His flesh and the wine that is His blood.  Jesus calls Thomas to repentance and to faith.  Jesus does not shame Thomas into believing but neither does He let Thomas off the hook.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.  Fear is the mind-killer and the little death that can only be answer by the Word and Sacraments which deliver Jesus to us behind the locked doors of fear in our hearts.  That is why the doors of the Church cannot close.

    What happens when we neglect the Word of God, the House of the Lord, the Table of our Savior, and a life of prayer?  Fear will gain the upper hand and it will not be long until fear turns into bitterness and anger.  Unless I see and touch the marks in His hand and side I will never believe.  What happens when we absent ourselves from the means of grace?  Well, look around you.  A year of pandemic and threat and our numbers are smaller, those who assemble in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s day has been reduced by the power of fear.  Some may return but others are lost.  The fear that held them captive has killed off their faith and without the voice of God preached into them and the baptismal water to remind them and the Holy Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood to feed them, they have surrendered their faith to their fears.

    When pastors harp on going to church it is not because they like big numbers or because it makes them feel better to see full pews over empty ones.  Of course these things are true and they appeal to the vanity of every preacher, me included!  But when pastor preach against skipping church, forgetting Bible study, putting off prayer. . . it is because this is the surest way to lose your faith.  The second largest church in the world is the church of those who used to be Christians.  Imagine that.  Larger than any real  Lutheran church body is one called Used to Be Lutheran.  It is true of every church.  The lapsed in every age outnumber those present on any given Sunday.  But the loss is not to the Church – it is the loss of faith to the people whom God loves and to whom God speaks peace and an end to the reign of fear.

    American Christianity has staked its claim to having an individual relationship with Jesus and we have bought into the lie that the Church is optional to this relationship.  We have a cowboy mentality – me and Jesus against the world!  We mock the Church and criticize pastors and ridicule doctrine and when threats come, we deem the Church non-essential.  We presume an online sermon or virtual sacrament is enough. Is it no wonder the pews are empty and the children do not take the faith seriously?  If we have not surrendered to our fears, we have surrendered to our pride – we don’t need God or at least we don’t need Him right now.  St. Thomas tempted God and we as a culture tempt Him all the time.  But we are so foolish that we do not realize that we are the losers, not the Lord.

    Jesus comes to the locked rooms of our hearts and lives over and over again.   He comes with the
wounds that bring healing, with the scars of His victory, with the fruits of His faithfulness, with the redemption paid for by His blood, and with hope that answers the power of fear.  The spirit is willing and the flesh is always weak but too often the spirit is also weak and that means the flesh is dead.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, dear people loved by God, do not surrender to your fears.  Fear will hold you captive, it will choke off your faith, and it will leave you alone in your sins and death.

    The Lord calls us forth from the prison of our fears, from the arrogance of our pride, from the destiny of death.  On our own we are weak and we are vulnerable but standing together in Christ we are strong enough to meet every enemy of Christ, every deception, and every fear.  On our own we will wither and die but connected to God’s Word and truth, hearing that Word preached into our ears and minds and hearts, and being fed and nourished upon the flesh and blood of Christ, we will be sustained in our baptismal hope and in the promise of everlasting life made to us in that water.  And the life that matters will own us and we will own it in Christ and it will never end.

    So come, sons and daughters of Adam, brothers and sisters of Thomas, come and hear, come and receive, come and believe.  For the Lord who has brought you out of this body of death and sin has come here to this Upper Room.  He has walked through the locked doors of your hearts and your fears.  He has spoken peace to you once more, preached that peace into you, and now feeds you at His table of peace, where the reconciliation grace of God becomes our food for everlasting life.  Come.  Do not be afraid.  Do not be ashamed.  Christ is here.  With forgiveness, with life, and with salvation.

    Alleluia!  Christ is risen!   He is risen, Indeed.  Alleluia.  Amen.

Extremism and Orthodoxy

The world has been turned upside down.  Perhaps it always was that heresy and apostasy were more popular than orthodoxy, I cannot say for sure.  But I do remember a time when Christians would unite across denominations to condemn unorthodox and heretical assertions.  It is a modern phenomenon that those who challenge the factual basis of the faith and the dogmatic assertions of the creed can count on the cover of support from the pews and silence from the chancel.  One need only look to the way things have changed since the 1800s and the question of difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of Scripture, between God's creative work in bringing all things into being as they are and evolution, and between the institutions of marriage and family and the changing tastes of people.  Now, it often seems, that orthodoxy is the exception and those positions once in the fringes now rule the day.

It seems shocking that we must say it but say it we must:  Orthodoxy is not extremism.  While abortion may have focused the debate, it is not the whole issue.  In every way, modernity has managed to coax from the shadows and fringes every form of strange thinking, every challenge to truth, and every skepticism over what the Scriptures say.  Of course, it is not simply about abortion.  The pro-life causes  extends the protection of life to those born as well as those not yet unborn, to men as well as women, to the poor as well as the rich, to the infirm as well as the healthy, to the without education as well as the highly educated.  While such orthodoxy could be simply humanitarian, it is only Christianity that has stood up to fight for those most vulnerable.  It is the exercise of power by the powerful that gives to the woman the right to kill the child in the womb, to the state to ease the aged and frail into death, and to the troubled in mind the right to decide to end the life they find at the moment to be not worth living.

The same could be said about every article of the creed.  We do not preserve some form of quaint antiquity when we assert that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God in flesh and that He was raised from the dead on the third day.  The very mention of Pontius Pilate plants this faith in historical fact and not in the opines of the intellectual or the superstitions of the ignorant.  We confess the faith, we confess the Gospel, we confess the Church.  We do so as a people who live in the long line of the faithful who before us stood where we stand -- on the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Such orthodoxy is not extreme or exceptional but ordinary.  Anything else is exceptional and hypocrisy.  Why would we say words we do not mean or change their ordinary meaning to fit the shibboleths of modernity?  The only honest thing for those who disagree, if they have such integrity, is to abandon the use of the creeds, of the confessions, of the catechisms, and of the liturgy they cannot pray as a people who believe those words.  It is this very hypocrisy that has become the major challenge to the orthodox Christian faith -- not from government or culture or academia but from within the Church by those who confess its words without believing what they say.

Finally, this same truth can and must be expressed to the liturgy.  It is not extreme to believe what we pray, to confess what we sing, and to live under the discipline of this piety.  This is what it means to be orthodox.  So when the pastor genuflects at the consecration or the bells are rung, this is not about a ceremony but about faith in and the confession of the Real Presence.  Christ is here as His own word and testament promise.  And when the the pastor genuflects or bows at the homo factus est in the creed it is not a quaint ritual but the belief in and the confession of Christ's incarnation.  If we would bow before the Lord standing before us in flesh and blood, why would it seem exceptional to bow or genuflect before Him as we confess that incarnation?  Or when the pastor bows his head at the name of Jesus or crosses himself at the appropriate moments in the Divine Service, is this simply a show or is it not an expression of the faith in and the witness of the meaning and power and efficacy of what has been said, sung, and prayed?  So also, when the faithful in pews mirror these ceremonies, they are not simply mimicking what the pastor does unknowingly but adding their own amen of action and piety to the same faith and making the same confession before their neighbors in the pews and the world watching.

No, my friends, orthodoxy is not extreme.  It is the norm against which every heresy, false doctrine, apostasy, impiety, and carnality challenges -- as an outsider to the inside, as a rogue to the solemn assembly, and as an alien to the homeland of the faithful.  In the Church we need to stop acting as if we are somehow the extremist, the exception, or the oddity.  One cannot be devout and flaunt what the Church believes, teaches, and confesses.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Those reprehensible Boomers. . .

Let it be known that I am a Boomer.  It is not something I have to advertise.  Most folks can judge it from my appearance.  That said, it is not something I say with a great deal of pride, either.  Now, it seems, the negative view of the Boomers has occasioned another book.  Helen Andrews, an Eastern Orthodox writer serving as senior editor at The American Conservative, is the author of a brand new book Boomers: The Men and Women Who Promised Freedom and Delivered Disaster (January 2021).  She has a worthy biography, including a B.A. in religious studies from Yale University, a stint as managing editor of the Washington Examiner magazine, one as an associate editor at National Review, and time as a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow in 2017-2018.  While she credits Boomers for the restoration of folk music, she condemns them for the loss of everything else, from high culture to folk culture.  Most of all, she characterizes Boomers as the destroyers of institutions.  Her book is not a tirade against ideas but the chronicle of six prominent and famous American Boomers -- names most of us would recognize.

Steve Jobs she sees as a capitalist of genius proportions but he is responsible for our worst vice -- our addition to those screens that have all but destroyed any other form of communication and made us slaves to this technology.  I cannot quite digest her view of Aaron Sorkin whose legacy is largely forgotten by most.  But she credits him for the modern version of The West Wing practiced by the Biden White House.  Honestly, I had to Google Jeffrey Sachs to figure out her charge against him.  Sachs is considered by many to be one of the world's leading experts on sustainable development, economic development, and the fight to eliminate poverty.  Like too many, he has great gifts but the ultimate hubris to presume to know better than Jesus who said the poor you will always have with you.  Not a few lines of ink and not a few billions have been spent in pursuit of his promised goal.

Camille Paglia, someone who described herself as a “Catholic pagan,” is one person I did not know that much about but Andrews holds her responsible for many wrongs including the rape culture and how it is understood in America.  Strangely enough, she views Al Sharpton positively.  She believes Al Sharpton is doing something that needs doing.  Though he is polarizing and a scoundrel, his voice is one that needs hearing.  If we don't like him, Andrews says, find somebody better to do the same thing.  Odd, and shocking for me, having lived in NY and seen how Sharpton has promoted himself by following everything he can turn into a scandal.  She considers U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Catholic who dissents from church teaching on life issues, a victim who does not know she is a victim.

She finds Millenials both living in the shadow of their Boomer parents and yet with the possibility to finally turn back the Boomer curse.  In the end, she hopes that Boomers will retire into obscurity and die and with them all that they learned from the 1960s and all their anger toward the institutions we need -- even with their flaws.  Andrews sees as the essence of Boomerness: they tried to liberate us but instead of freedom they left behind only chaos.

As one of those who regrets much of what Boomers are known for, I found her critique engaging and witty but not as helpful as it might be.  Boomers have taught the world to find fault with, protest against, and tear down what other generations bequeathed to us and, it is true, they have not repaired the institutions they love to hate.  But the bigger failing is that we produced a generation endowed with all of our failings.  We taught them to be skeptical and they are.  They trust technology more than history, their feelings more than truth, preferences more than morality, and religion almost not at all.  For this we Boomers ought to pray mea culpa.  Maybe I hoped for too much but she did not deliver what I had hoped.



 



Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dealing with demons. . .

Lutherans are not exactly the kind of folks who are accustomed to talking about the devil or the demonic.  Most Lutherans would insist that exorcisms are not even Lutheran.  But I have been thinking even more about the demonic influence in our cancel culture, diversity programs, redefinitions of marriage and family, gender confusion, and such.  I am not off my rocker but taking more seriously than I have before the words of St. Paul about warring against principalities and powers, demons and devils, and spiritual forces aligned together against the Lord and His kingdom.

There was a time when exorcisms were not so uncommon.  In fact, I perform a dozen or more a year.  Shocked are you?  Well then you are not paying attention to baptisms.  We add back in something from Luther.  While Luther’s original revision of the baptismal order (1523) might seem a little foreign to Lutherans of today, it is a part of our tradition and identity -- including the several exorcisms and references to the work of the devil.

In Luther's rite, the priest began by blowing three times under the child’s eyes (an act called the “exsufflation”) and saying, “Depart thou unclean spirit and give room to the Holy Spirit” (LW 53:96; or check the “Alternate Form of Holy Baptism” found in the Lutheran Service Book Agenda, p. 13). The opening prayer implores the Lord to “break all the snares of the devil with which he is bound.”   After Luther’s Flood Prayer, a more extended exorcism of the child, concludes with the words, “I adjure thee, thou unclean spirit, by the name of the + Father and of the + Son and of the + Holy Ghost that thou come out and depart from this servant of God, (Name), for he commands thee, thou miserable one, he who walked upon the sea and stretched forth his hand to sinking Peter.”  Luther emphasizes the seriousness of the exorcisms, writing in the preface: “Remember, therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from the little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy. Remember too that it is very necessary to aid the poor child with all your heart and strong faith, earnestly to intercede for him that God, in accordance with this prayer, would not only free him from the power of the devil, but also strengthen him, so that he may nobly resist the devil in life and death.”

Sadly, the Rite of Baptism printed in the pew editions of Lutheran Service Book fail to include Luther's exorcisms -- making it odd to use them as opposed to the customary rite in which the reference to the devil is limited to the three renunciations -- of the devil, his works, and his ways.  We should have been smarter than to overlook the wise and pastoral need to include these in the baptismal rite.  Luther revised the medieval rite he knew but that rite preserved aspects of these exorcisms in continuous use since the fourth century (in one form or another).  Most Lutherans retained the exorcism from the 1526 rite although Southern Germans tended to omit it.  Strangely, the Reformed, including Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin, all removed baptismal exorcism -- considering it a papal holdover.

In Luther’s world the devil was real and not simply a superstition retained from earlier days. Luther believed Christ and the Devil were equally real -- one the Redeemer who continues to plead His blood on behalf of sinners and the other who seeks to undo what Christ has done and wrest the sinner from the grasp of His grace.  Luther did not see his belief in the Devil as something to grow out of.  In fact, Luther saw this fight intensify and become personal as he fought for the renewal of the Church and the voice of the Gospel.  For Luther the monastery offered not refuge from the taunts of the devil and the only escape from the ever present threat of the devil was the Word of God.

At minimum every pastor ought to give serious consideration to the restoration of the baptismal exorcism.  If for no other reason that to remind the people of God that we all fall under the lordship of sin, evil, and demonic powers and  to warn us against being witting or unwitting partners in the devil's battle against Christ.  But merely restoring the exorcism is not enough.  Preaching that includes an honest awareness of evil and the forces of the devil reminds us that we are not waging war against flesh and blood, as St. Paul reminds. Restoring the exorcism and talking more openly about the battle waged against the devil reminds us that there are spiritual forces at work in our world.  All our education and erudition has not erased the devil from the world or turned aside his work to wrest the kingdom from us.  It is also helpful to include the baptismal exorcism so that the whole life of the catechumen might remember that they were under the devil and his power until Christ claimed them as His own and this awareness would help them in their work of growing in Christ through the means of grace.  This would not only remind them of the devil's power but drive them into the arms of Christ, into the armor of His Word, and into the need and benefit of being together with the faithful in the Lord's House.  It might even remind us of how beneficial and what a blessing private confession is!

We are not pretending here.  The devil is real.  He was banished from heaven and sent to the earth and Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross to overcome the devil's grasp on God's creation -- on you and me.   The Lord Jesus spoke openly and often about the “Prince of this world” (John 12:12; 14:30; 16:11).  To be faithful to Christ we need to consider His words and heed them.  We are not powerless and weak in the face of the devil or his taunts but the power is Christ's and we are only strong when we stand in Christ.  Perhaps it is about time for us to talk about this more openly and somberly as the world around us proves it is not God's domain but still under the thumb of the prince of darkness and lies.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The cult of personal safety

Will there ever be a time when masks and vaccines and social distancing will cease to be part of our conversation?  Will there ever be a time when we will not be offended by competing ideas and require them to be silenced from the public square?  Will there ever be a time when we will not be offended by history and rewrite our past to expunge what we dislike?  I am not sure that such a time will come, at least not soon.  

We as a people have become followers of a new and powerful idol.  Like the children of Israel, it is not a god imposed upon us but one of our own creation.  We have worshiped this god to the exclusion of reason, prudence, economic security, and real science.  We have pursued this idol with all the forces of power -- media, politics, and personality.  We have silenced every other religion in pursuit of this new deity and laid up restrictions on freedom that in any other time would have been resisted with all our efforts.  Instead of faith, this new religion is fueled by fear and by our relentless pursuit of our own personal safety and security.  Even family is not immune from the piety of a religion in which the protection of me is most important.

Now it appears that our movements and our whereabouts will be not only be tracked but limited by such things as vaccine passports.  We will be told where and when we may come and go.  From air travel to concerts to colleges to churches, it is not too far fetched to see the day when religious access will not only be monitored but controlled.  Yes, the right to worship privately will be maintained with some sort of accommodation but the churches will find themselves persona non grata unless they agree to bow down to the god of safety and acknowledge the legitimacy of those who will tell us what we are to do and when we are to do it, what we are to believe and how we shall practice that belief.

It is easy to write these words on this page.  It will be a far more difficult to combat the tenets of this religion and restore what has been lost to its slavish devotion.  Churches are still making their decisions more on the basis of what will make people safe rather than what should and ought to be done in accord with the faith.  Communities have used law enforcement to keep people away from those churches and to cast doubt and aspersions upon those who would violate rules of assembly.  Politicians have used the bully pulpit to exploit our fears so that we would turn against the very things that once gave us the most profound comfort, hope, and peace.  The media has become the voice of this religion, the prophets and sages who teach us what will keep us safe, what will give us hope, and what is a risk too great to take.  

What are left are churches who have refused to give in.  They have kept their doors open, found ways around the rules to make sure that God's people received the real hope of the Word preached and the body and blood of Jesus.  They have not been arrogant but humble, working outside of the limelight to do what God has given His Church to do in persecution and pandemic and in disaster and death.  And if you are blessed, you have been served by such a quiet and yet courageous congregation and pastor.  For the reality is that the most of our judicatories and the leaders of our various jurisdictions have not been leaders to find ways to bring people to God and bring the things of God to the people.  They have warned us against acting recklessly and have encouraged online versions of what was once thought to be possible only in person.

Preaching has become a media event and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood profaned by the idea that a digital voice can supply the means to commune at home, in the safety and security of your own abode without the threat of other people around you.  The chalice has given way to the hermetically sealed plastic cups containing juice or perhaps wine and a cracker crumb.  Piety under the pandemic has become solely internal, fed and nourished apart from the external means of grace.  People have been led not by the truth or the wisdom of the faithful but by fear to do what in every other time would be laughed at or ridiculed.  People work from home, eat at home (with food supplied by various services), shop at home, go to school at home, so why not worship at home?

The reality is we do not wear masks or distance or vaccinate to protect others -- we do it to protect ourselves.  There is also another reality at work here.  We have decided that we will do whatever is necessary to protect our lives and in so doing have decided that the treasure of this life is greater than the treasure of the life won by Jesus' death and resurrection.  What did St. Paul mean when he asked if it was better to die and be with Jesus or to live and do the Lord's work?  Are we ready to die, to give up this temporary life for eternal life, whenever it happens?  Do we believe the greater treasure is the life the grave cannot contain or the life that death looms over like a shadow until we die?  At some point we must realize that Jesus did not come into flesh, suffer, and die to provide a safety net of protection for this mortal life.  He did this to provide for us the life that death cannot overcome.  Yes, our Lord healed many but not all and raised some of those who died but not all.  Was it that He did not care about us and our lives or because He knew that the only life He could give us that would not be fragile is the life that His dying would win and His resurrection would bestow?

It has been more than a year.  Even those vaccinated are told to wear a mask or two and social distance and warned that they could still get the virus or spread it.  If we think that we will wake up one day and everything will be back to normal at home or in the marketplace or at church, we are delusional.  It will not happen suddenly nor will it happen at all as long as the god of personal safety and security is trusted more than the God who embraced death to give us life death cannot overcome.