Saturday, September 4, 2010

What Difference Does It Make?

It is easy to grow cynical and bitter when all around  you the focus is on broken things that seem impossible to fix.  When we listen to the news, we hear stories of tragedy, ineptitude, evil, injustice, brutality, and the like.  When we open many of the periodicals that speak to matters of faith and life, we hear of loss, disaffected folks, decline, and failure (both of institutions and individuals).  All around us is the prospect of death and the marks of its reign and yet, instead of being driven into the arms of our Savior, we remain where we are only angrier, more frustrated, isolated, and indifferent.

I watched Today yesterday as they told the story of two parents and new born twins.  The doctors came with bad news.  One twin, a boy, had been born dead.  In a spirit of compassion and to help the parents grieve, the doctors placed the newborn on the mother's chest and instinctively she began rubbing his little body.  After more than an hour he opened his eyes.  He suckled her finger whetted with breast milk.  In the surprise of loss and sorrow came the gift of life.

In the face of expert medical judgment, a verdict from informed medical establishment, and one more tragedy, what difference would it make to hold the baby's fragile little body and stroke him with the tears of love and loss?  Could we not say the same thing about the things God has given us to do?  In the face of so much informed judgment and expertise, it seems what God has given us and what He has called us to do makes little difference.  But the key to it all is that God works among us, in us, and through us by these means of grace.  Contrary to the opinion of so many experts and the wisdom of so many who know better, we have a Word, a killing Word that speaks Law and the life-giving Word of the Gospel.  And it works.  God does what He says and accomplishes the very purpose for which this Word is sent.

Norman Nagel tells us that it is no accident that the Confessions speak less of the man or the office than the work of God through that office.  After confessing the Office of the Holy Ministry, instituted by the Lord for the delivery of the salvation gifts confessed in Article IV, our attention is no longer directed to the ministers but to the means of grace, which have been put there so the men who occupy the office can give them out.  Thus we are left in no doubt that it is the Lord Himself who is doing what the pastor has been put there to be His mouth and His hand for.  It is not the wisdom of man or the eloquence of man or the reason of man or the accomplishment of man, but the Lord Himself who does what the Pastor is there to be His mouth and hand for.

What difference does it make?  Coming together week after week in the Lord's House around His Word and Table?  What difference does it make?  Bringing one small infant to the waters of baptism in the hands of parents and sponsors?  What difference does it make?  Hearing one confession and speaking personally the words of absolution made possible by the cross of Christ?  What difference does it make teaching the catechism to one youth or one adult?  What difference does it make to stand with but a few on the lonely grass of a distant cemetery as a coffin is lowered into the ground?  What difference does it make to feed one person a bowl of soup or to send one person away with one bag of groceries?  What difference does it make to teach a couple of kids in Sunday school or to hold a Bible class for the small percentage that count membership in this congregation?  What difference does it make?

There are those who would insist that it does not make much difference... that other things must be tried and different things done to do more than just what the Church has done.  I am not opposed to the wisdom and help of experts -- except when they diminish our confidence and trust in the one thing that does make a difference -- the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace.  So do not be dismayed by those who would tell you in your little congregation or classroom or in the ordinary things of Church and Ministry, these things make all the difference in the world... because it is the Lord working among us, in us, and through us, just as He has promised.... and what He does bears fruit always... in His time... not ours...

PS... the artwork which I found on the internet without ascription is actually the work of Norma Boeckler and you can view her art at...  Good work, Norma!  HT to Gregory Jackson for the info...


Sue said...

Years ago, my mother taught the 3-year-old Sunday school class. She worked hard to provide visual aids and hold their interest, but often wondered what children so young got out of class. Many years later, she attended the funeral of the brother of one of her former students. He asked someone if she was there. When she was pointed out to him, he went over to her, put his arms around her and started to cry. He talked about what a difference she made in his life. Needless to say, she was overwhelmed. And very glad she taught that class for so many years. She knew that even if it only made a difference to one child, it was well worth it.

Ichabod the Glory Has Departed said...

Your illustration is by Norma Boeckler, a member of my church. You should give her credit for it and list her website: