Text: Psalm 23
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me . . .”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“We often let the big ideas, the majestic vistas of salvation, the grand visions of God’s work in the world, and the great opportunities for making an impact in the name of Jesus distract us from taking with gospel seriousness the unglamorous ordinary.” (Eugene Peterson)
Were I to give Gene Peterson a nickname, which I am wont to do for everyone I know anyway – I would call him “Pithy.” Kinda sorta like the theological equivalent of Paul Harvey.
The Unglamorous Ordinary. That covers 99% of humanity, as well as 99% of the Church. I am not about to get into that stupid 1% argument here, but the truth is most Christians do live lives that are “so ordinary.” Peterson may not have read Oswald Reiss’ classic – The Secret to Beautiful Living” – but that idea permeates the minds of all Christians who give a rip about their faith!
I am a “from the gut” sort of preacher. I know my theology, as several who thought not quickly discovered, but I don’t preach to ivory towers and special textbooks. I preach to souls down in the trenches – theology is useless unless it is used where needed most. Patrick calls my stuff so “Baxteristic” – but we rarely, if ever, disagree. He does the same thing. Incredible that the LCMS let him get away. Well . . . specific individuals did, I know who they are, and I detested them as well! Oooh, that’s unkind! Yeppers!
I don’t mean to be unkind at all. In fact, someone really has to stir me up to get me anywhere near that. I talk to folks where they are, and put Christ in His Humility before them. They have enough problems to keep me, and thousands like me, busy for our lifetimes. That’s what we were called to be doing and be about! Yes, we are also theologians – but we have taken all that theology and stood, not at the head of a class in a first-class University or Seminary, however fine they might be. Even they are about what I do – they are supposed to be preparing men to do what I do.
So when I encounter arrogance (that is most likely the form it takes) in anyone claiming one more degree than me, or “his position” on whatever teaching staff, I ask them to prove their arrogance. Prove you belong where you belong! That’s always where it gets humorous. They usually cannot – they have found themselves just a bit higher than their skills would indicate (the theological version of the “Peter Principle”), and that, and not what they know and do, becomes servant to that. Pardon me if I say – “Meh.”
If one has heard me preach, or read me on my site – even on a limited basis, they would know I have dealt with intensely suicidal folk, baby-saving, marriage saving and successful (in Lutheran terms) evangelistic outreach. I once faced down a flop-house of Crips to get my son the hell out of there – weird collars work, Sports Fans! My degree is poop-flecked, beer drenched; would test positive for who knows what drugs, has heard the best and the hellish worse of marriages and relationships, as well as exploding congregations! That’s why they give us the thing – to USE it!
Many of our folks, truth be told, have never properly been instructed in the Means of Grace. The biggest question I have always been asked is – “Does God hear me? Does He know what I deal with every day?”
Well – let’s consider what they’ve been taught . . .
They were baptized as infants, and SS studies are usually sketchy – only rarely catechetical. VBS – even less so. So when they show up for their first Confirmation Class, I have always figured – “Do over.” I give all newbies an extremely easy multiple choice 10 question quiz, without mentioning the Catechism, on the Catechism. Fail. Big time. So I know I am working with essentially blank slates. Okay, workable!
Getting SS teachers to go catechetical to bolster what I am doing is often like trying to invade a kingdom of its own. They have a “program” – and that’s that. Upsetting their apple-carts takes years. So I would have the kids in Confirmation Class sit in with the Adult Study on Sunday morning – which was hard-core catechetical study! Answers on quizzes suddenly got better on Wednesdays!
But getting Mom and Dad to bring them to Church regularly, or make them make the kiddies leave their ubiquitous I-Phones at home? Fat chance at that! I tried anyway. Mixed bag as to results. Long and short of it – it was on my shoulders alone. Deal with it. I did.
Had one batch of newbies – I made the parents stay, and take the same little quiz I gave the kiddies. I graded them, and gave them back to kids and their folks. Never said a word except – “I think we will have an exciting journey ahead.”
That group really came out well! And they were almost always in Worship!
The other problem – regular worship – getting the parents to Worship and in study. That – was always a crap-shoot!
After their “graduation” – they got Holy Communion and all the pictures and cake and visits from relatives and gee – “Lutherans treat Confirmation more like a Sacrament that do the Catholics!” So it was little surprise that 4 years after their “graduation” – few were still even in Church, or taking the Lord’s Supper. But they were Confirmed, doncha know?!!
I get some of them back, in my office, 10 years later, crying or all shook up, when life had beat them up sufficiently that they knew they needed help, and I was usually able to persuade them, after dealing with the immediate crisis that brought them back , to come to my Pastor’s Class.
So – it was “in the trenches,” when their lives had gone haywire or become so empty they turned to me for company, that I did what I guess I do best besides my preaching (every Pastor says that, you know!) 🙂
That’s were Jesus went, ya know. He didn’t come wining and dining it – opening bottles of Dom Perignon and slicing prime rib and “doing the Sanhedrin Circuit” as the Messiah and newest celebrity in Israel.
He was down with the smelly rabble where John – a connoisseur of wild honey and grasshoppers, was baptizing, saying something about His being baptized would fulfill all righteousness. Or mentally and verbally duking it out with satan after 40 days of prayer and fasting and starving like crazy! Or healing the paralytic on the “other/wrong” side of town, or the blind beggar at the Temple pool, or feeding thousands as He preached Law and Gospel on a hillside. Calming waters for a bunch of scaredy-cat so-called Apostles. Taking infants into His arms and calling them “The Kingdom.” Yanking Lazarus out of the stinky tomb and getting him some decent clothes and a good dinner! Trashing the “front-men” making the Pharisees a bundle selling sacrifices IN the Temple – crony capitalism has been around forever! Protecting an adulterous woman and trying His level best to get the Apostles to “get what He was saying!” Then Gethsemane and blood, Pilate and more blood, and the Cross and His blood was emptied out.
Can we now say honestly “For me?” Dear Lord, I hope so!
Those trenches. That’s where this weird collar and my ordination take me, and if I have something a bit better, I still know the trenches will find me, if I don’t go looking myself. Because the satan and the sin he breeds like mosquitos in scuzzy scum water, will bite hell into us at every turn! And there always comes that point when we cry out –
Ah – that class on Baptism, or especially, the Lord’s Supper. When Pastor held firm and we started having Communion every week. I just want to be able to unload everything and start new! Is that asking too much?
The Kingdom of Christ is the ONLY “home” anyone can truly “go home” to! Yeah, your Baptism “took” those many years ago – that’s why you have come home! Listen to the Pastor – ya know, most of them really aren’t boring if you are paying attention! And yeah!! Listen to the Divine Liturgy – it is packed chock full of the Gospel – of forgiveness – of everything you need to walk out of the trenches and into LIFE!
One more “take” from our text:
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
Is David talking about the Lord getting “Chinese take-out” for dinner?
NO! He was a Prophet of God, and able to SEE the very conclusion of his prophecy. And sheeeesh! Did David ever need to be rescued from his own “valley of the shadow of death” – just as do we do! He knew what was to be:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Well, then – what’s keeping ya? Come to altar and have it all – not only washed away, but tossed out of His way as Jesus takes over inside you! His Body and Blood is now your Body and Blood. He is the sinner, and you the sinless. See what freedom is REALLY like!
It really isn’t the “Unglamourous Ordinary.” Not at all! In Word, in the Blessed Sacraments – the very Means of Grace –
It is really quite EXTRAordinary.
Ya just gotta git to the right address!