Bend the Knee and Own the Mystery

I was sent a visual treat late this evening by a friend – so many memories flooded my mind as I saw them.  Having been raised, and since lived, in a fully “catholic” experience and understanding of matters of the Faith, they just touched a chord so very deep inside. To have seen, worshiped in, and performed the full Divine Liturgy in all its splendor . . . how can I put this . . . to have to have witnessed the present partial, or full bastardization of the Liturgy – which is to be our best TO the Lord, not what entertains us, is a burden on my soul.  A very heavy burden.  Praise bands, back-beat rhythm, semi-mindless lyrics, and the discarding of over 2,000 years of the Church’s greatest efforts, in every way, do not put us in mind of Jesus the Christ, and the salvation of our souls in Worship, but in a travesty of the highest order.

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Cha-ching!  jb’s a traditionalist.  Can’t keep in step with the times.  It is true I am traditional in the proper sense of the word, and conservative, understood likewise.  And there is nary a reason to be otherwise on the subject of Divine Worship.  In this season especially, the illustration is most apt.  The Divine Liturgy – the “Mass” as even our Confessions call it, is the manger, the cradle – of the preaching of the Gospel and the Blessed Sacraments.  To substitute the Scriptural texts of the Liturgy with mindless ditties and even more mindless music and lyrics, is incomprehensible to me.

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Of course, come the critics.  In house, we have an 8th Sacrament – that of Adiaphora – things neither commanded nor forbidden.  The satan, working in his usual illusionary manner to hook souls his way, leads many to believe that the manner in which one worships matters not.  Go for what you want!  Do it your way!  Ah, yes, the universal appeal to self – which is a far, far cry from what is called “Divine Worship.”

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Lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi“as we worship, so we believe, and so we live.”  Today, that order has been reversed.  The satan uses the very words used by the Church, he just shuffles them in his hellish favor: Lex vivendi, lex orandi, lex credendi, – “As we live, so we worship, and so we believe.”  Uh, no.  That hasn’t worked from Eden onward.  It was our original failure.  To try to “holi-fy,” or sanctify it, is a crude, yet deadly enterprise.  I simply call it what it is . . .

Blasphemy.

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There, I have condemned myself in modern eyes and the shallow theological circles.  But I ask one question of the brethren who would so accuse me (and who led their flocks into such blasphemy) – “Did you take your vows with idea in mind of minimizing Christ, or teaching all which He commanded?”  I have heard the shallow nonsense about reaching out to all in a way they can understand  Oh, really?  Is that what Jesus did?  Or did he confuse, confound, and in general, cause the Apostles to have to be reformed in their entire mode of thinking?

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Jesus did not pussyfoot around matters – He quickly and quite bluntly called Peter “satan” for saying they would try to prevent His Death.  The modern image of Jesus has become one of a Caspar Milquetoast – a timid, apologetic, limp figure of a man.  That, too, is a blasphemy – an unmitigated lie and myth perpetrated through, well . . . the new non-liturgical liturgies – all about me, myself and I.

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It appears, for all intents and purposes, I will have no opportunities to do anything about this travesty, save for my own soul.  That causes me to grieve for many in the Church, including pastors, who are being deceived.   And it leads me to pray mightily for those men in a position to make a difference in this battle.  If how we worship, is how we believe, is how we live (lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi), how we worship can be the only starting point in the battle.

It is the very life of the Church – in Christ

Pax Domini

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Mακάριος

Matthew 5

And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him.  And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

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I didn’t intend to write tonight or tomorrow – especially not a sermon, especially not on the Sermon on the Mount, although this will be of sermonic length, I figure.  Didn’t think I could even write on the first anniversary of Sweet Mama Lou’s death.  Two and a half hours from now will mark her stroke; 20 hours later she departed for the Heavenlies, and the two verses above became blazingly real to me:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of  heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

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There is theological debate over these verses and others in the Sermon on the Mount – with some saying they are of the Law; others say they are of the Gospel.  Our Confessions cite them in seeming context of the Law, but condition that with the qualification that it is the satan who mucks up matters, turning both into something we must fulfill as law.  Bleah to the satan, and any system that turns the pure Gospel of Jesus into law.

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Mακάριος.  “Blessed (of the Lord).”  One cannot earn favor of the Lord through the Law, but it comes only through the consoling Word and works of Jesus.  This description of the term sets the context:

. . . properly, when God extends His benefits (the advantages He confers); blessed. makários (“blessed“) describes a believer in an enviable (“fortunate”) position from receiving God’s provisions (favor) – which (literally) extend (“make long, large”) His grace (benefits).

Add to that, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is quoting directly from Isaiah 61 – and the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem the faithful in Israel and to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.  That can hardly be considered “law.”

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But that was not my purpose for actually hitting the keyboard on this night, out of all nights.  Yet some things have to be made clear.  And there is more to it as well – what, in the face of actually living without my Bride, could be the possible “benefits to her death?  How do I reckon that with a loving God?  Fr. Patrick, my dear friend and mentor, summed that up so well last January when I was in the depths of woe:

The longing that is most real to us is what confronts us every day.  The desire for what makes us whole, what gives us a healthy sense of our belonging, our fit or sense of place in the world in the most positive sense.  You and Lou fit together, and completed one another in ways healthy for you both.  Her desire for you, and your desire for her both reflected God’s Own design for you.  This also flows out, as you well know, from her need and longing for God, for the awareness of His Presence, for the certainty of His fatherly love and care for her.  Lou was enriched by your role as an icon of Jesus to her.  Her need is now fulfilled, yet in a way which is both ever-growing, with a new rich, panoramic, ever-expanding experience of the life of the God Who is her very life, in Whose image she was known eternally in the mind of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and Whom she was created to know.  At the same time, her completeness is also waiting. The redemption of her body awaits.  And she prays for you, who have a special place also in her heart and soul. Her body, with whom you were made one flesh, and with whom also Jesus was made one flesh, both in His Incarnation and in that great nuptial sacrament of the Eucharist.  She waits for you there, and still trysts with you at that rail.  Your own longing for her presence, and for interaction with Lou – the shared experience which made known love to you in a special way – is, for the time, diminished.  What can man do but mourn such loss?  Loneliness, the empty space which she should fill, is a wound.  But this wound will be healed.  Not by “time,” but by the source of all healing, for Whom your heart, too, truly longs, and by Whom you will be satisfied.  Consider the daily office a trysting place also both with your God, Father, healer, creator, redeemer, Bridegroom, but also with Lou.  Talk to her.  Pray for her continued infinite progress in the glorious experience of God through the growth of her absolutely unique harmony with God’s attributes, and know that your prayers are pleasing to your Father and hers.  Ask for her prayers for you, knowing that no sins, no sorrow, no distractions impede her prayers anymore, and she is set free to pray for you in perfection with such prayers as are most powerful of all (James 5:16).  The love in which she is now made perfect, and goes on from perfection to perfection, cannot but love you more and better.

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I confess, I was not at all sure I could bear those words tonight, and yet, they remain words of the purest Gospel and consolation, of pure grace and the peace which passes all understanding.  How could they not be?  Patrick’s words speak directly to the very “gift” of God I had in Sweet Mama Lou.  How could I not mourn that loss, or not feel poor in spirit?

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A few weeks ago, when Pat, our Church secretary, asked me how I was doing, I said “It’s December, yes, Christmass, of course, but also, coming up on ‘that anniversary.’  I just miss Lou.”

She got a look of melancholy in her eyes.  “Jeff, it’s been 6 years, and it seems some days I my miss my sweetie more than ever!”

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Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of  heaven.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

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Yes, Patrick, there has been healing over the months, and no, not by time as the world would figure and you put it well, but by the grace of Our Lord, and His abiding presence.  I have had some exceedingly good days since this time last year, but always knowing Lou was not here to share them with me as she once was.  That part of it is what it is.  I have come to live with the idea she is not here in my presence.  She is in the presence of the One who has given us all things.

And, I have grown comfortable, in faith and hope, with knowing that.  It is myself I pity, for I am still in this vale of tears, which it has always been, and I know the Gospel leads us to remain faithful in its fulfillment of its promises for what will be.  And it is to that which my faith clings.  As your sermon puts it this coming Sunday – it is anchored in Jesus, because there is no safe anchor anywhere or in anyone else.  Poor in spirit as I am, and mourning as I still am, I see the faint light of the “new dawn” on the distant horizon.

I so long for it.

Pax Domini

Merry Christmass

“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546

1. “From heaven above to earth I come
To bear good news to every home;
Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
Whereof I now will say and sing:

2. “To you this night is born a child
Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;
This little child, of lowly birth,
Shall be the joy of all the earth.

3. “This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
Who in all need shall aid afford;
He will Himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.

4. “He will on you the gifts bestow
Prepared by God for all below,
That in His kingdom, bright and fair,
You may with us His glory share.

5. “These are the tokens ye shall mark:
The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;
There ye shall find the Infant laid
By whom the heavens and earth were made.”

6. Now let us all with gladsome cheer
Go with the shepherds and draw near
To see the precious gift of God,
Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.

7. Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
What is it in yon manger lies?
Who is this child, so young and fair?
The blessed Christ-child lieth there.

8. Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
Thou com’st to share my misery;
What thanks shall I return to Thee?

9. Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
How weak art Thou, how poor and small,
That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed
Where humble cattle lately fed!

10. Were earth a thousand times as fair,
Beset with gold and jewels rare,
It yet were far too poor to be
A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.

11. For velvets soft and silken stuff
Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,
Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,
As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.

12. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
To make this truth quite plain to me,
That all the world’s wealth, honor, might,
Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.

13. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

14. My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep;
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle-song:

15. Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto us His Son hath given!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.

Pax Domini

No

I am not an “anti-semitic” – however nebulous that term is, or has become.

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The distinction between Judaism and Christianity is stark.  It is a far wider gap than apples and oranges.  So often, we hear of the term “Judeo-Christian.”  Does that term have any genuine meaning?  It does to evangelical Christians, but I would motion it has far more to do with chiliasm and its apocalyptic view of matters in this life.  How stark a difference is there, truly, between Judaism and the Christian Faith?

“A comparison between the role of Torah learning in Judaism and that of the Eucharist in Christianity reveals a profound difference. Where Torah reading and study sanctify reality through God’s commandments for the daily activity of life, for Christians, the Eucharist’s bread and wine offer an encounter between physical man and physical God. Christians, to be sure, would insist that to reduce the Eucharist to a physical encounter would be a caricature, but many nevertheless insist that it is the “real presence” of God in the Eucharist that constitutes their communion with a God who is at once finite and infinite. For Christians, the gap between finite man and infinite God is thereby bridged; for Jews, Christians are succumbing to the temptation that Deuteronomy warns against: seeking to bridge the gap between man and God through finite means. 

The two distinct practices, then, manifest radically different ways to bridge the gap between man and God. In a way that might surprise Christians whose reading of Paul trains them to label Jews as “carnal” and Christians as “spiritual,” the reverse seems to be true. Those who partake of the Eucharist enter into communion with what they believe to be God’s physical body. Jews reject the notion that God might take bodily form and instead seek to commune with what they believe to be his infinite mind.”

(You can read the entire essay here.  I confess I am confused why First Things saw fit to print it, but it is their publication and not mine.)

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What I found most fascinating was the next paragraph:

“This sense of intimacy with God sustained the people of Israel through our long centuries of exile: Our oppressors bound our hands, but they could never enslave our intellects. In the millennia when we had neither power nor rights, we nonetheless walked with God in his kingdom through study.”

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Why then, the present, ongoing “exile?”  It is the persistent and ongoing rejection of what even their Chief Priests and rabbis knew in Jesus’ time:

Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”  (Luke 19:41-44 – NKJV)

“Your day.”  It was there to know that God was in their midst.  It was not that they didn’t know, but that they refused to acknowledge it, and bow down to the very God they claimed to worship.  Matters have truly changed little in the almost 2000 intervening years, as the entire article illustrates.  Jesus was telling them, contrary to the rabbi, that it was not man bridging the gap between the finite and infinite, but God Himself!

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One should note – the rabbi rejects any notion of Jesus as Messiah, and seeks to dispel any notion of the Incarnation in the Blessed Eucharist.  That is not surprising whatsoever.  And it is, at that point precisely, which I would say the term “Judeo-Christian” is a ridiculous notion.  There is no such reality.

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That First Things would put this article up on their site is a concern.  Not earth-shattering, mind you, but a concern nonetheless.  It is an article that speaks to the rejection of the entire Christian Faith.

Greater minds than mine can adjudge this further.

Pax

Joy

I have always reveled in this season.  This year, not so much.  I am 51 weeks to the day past the loss of my wife – my best friend.  I’ve spoken to it a good bit recently.  I know it is what it is – but that doesn’t change any of the emotions.  But those emotions have driven me deeper into Scripture.  That can never be a “bad thing.”

And yet, there is the joy.  Not mere “happiness” or its various synonyms, but joy.  Christ came to us – when we sought Him not.  He was the King and Redemption of all, yet deigned to be born of a woman of very tender age.  He came – offering forgiveness and peace and the hardest of all for anyone to accept – eternity.  As in His days on the earth, we still look and wonder inside – “Who is this man?”

St. Peter answered with the simple words – “The Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

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And there it is.  And it is either/or.  Lewis’ well-worn, and known, comment puts it best:

“That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice.”

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To delve into the full meaning of the Incarnation, which is what we celebrate at Christmass, is to dive into a pool of unimagined depth.  The moment I think “Aha! I get it!” is the moment sure to be followed by further uncertainty, because, well, we don’t get it.  We can only believe it.  I have preached the Scripture countless times, and yet – it continues to amaze me with ever-further revelation.  I have consecrated the elements of the Holy Eucharist countless times – knowing I held in my hands the Body and Blood of the Living God, and yet, it has remained completely beyond me.  All I have – from Christmass to preaching to the absolution of the Eucharist, is Christ’s Word.  “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”

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I consider my sins, and my old Adam rejects the notion they can be forgiven.  By nature I am so far from the ideal that it seems impossible those words could apply to me, and yet – there they are:

“Thy sins are forgiven thee.”

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Christmass is Good Friday is Easter is my own resurrection.  The coming of the Christ cannot be measured and then parceled out, piece by piece, as if some mere commodity purchased though Amazon.  He was and is “God in our midst” – or we are already dead men walking.  Luke 9:51 spoke of Jesus setting His face toward Jerusalem, but we need to understand, even as our bright lights and lit trees and holiday cheer celebrate . . .

Jesus’ face was set toward Jerusalem before time began; in the womb at His conception; in the manger we joyously gather round this time of year; and at every point in His life.  He was “Emmanuel” – “God with us” – both then and this very moment.  So I understand that Christmass is but the prelude to the misery of Calvary, and then . . .

The Joy of the empty tomb.  He came to fully redeem us.  I John 3:2 captured it perfectly:

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Merry Christmass!  Joy be to you and yours.

 

 

 

Pumpkin Hour

Just hit midnight as I began this.  It is a bit of a ritual with me.  Midnight means “That’s it.”  Cinderella knew that . . . except I am the worst at breaking that rule.  It is often that midnight signals “production” for me. It certainly did during my active years as a WCW – which by my standards meant I had three hours to finish my sermon, hit print,  and place the manuscript in my briefcase, so I could get 4 hours sleep before the Sunday morning crunch time.  Not complaining, mind you, I loved it.  But midnight was always a marker, but also, a time after which I seemed most productive.

Lou was always understanding – one, that was her nature, and two, she understood the need to “get it right.”  Never once in all our years together did she ever utter a negative about my crazy hours on a Saturday night/early Sunday morning.  I would get a big hug and a kiss at the pumpkin hour, and she was off to bed.  She never stirred when I finally hit the pillow at three.  I was very blessed in that regard, and every other, when it came to my life with her.  I’m 8 days out from “the first anniversary.”  I shall endeavor to move past that date as I have since the date of her passing this life.  Like – I have a choice?  No.

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I have grown weary with any and all comment boards at sites of every stripe.  Every great once in a while, I have posted a comment, but be it sports, theology, politics – any irenic response is ignored almost completely, save for the few times it gets excoriated.  Nuts to that.  I have enough to deal with beyond someone else’s frustrations over not being able to be the “king of the comments.”

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Advertisements.  They have become beyond intrusive.  I am about to write off several sites because they have bought into the “touch the mouse and you’re there” – even if you don’t want to be.  The side column adv’s about who died with anyone noticing, weird women and their proclivities to getting naked, boobs, little known facts about subjects few care about or the latest “fad” about to sweep the nation . . . geez – have we gone crazy?

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Da Pug snores in his usual “sleep of innocence” that I hope to mimic each night.  I am a weary soul in a weary world, and I have tired of it.  Yet I live on, as the Lord so wills.  I suppose I am a psychologist’s dream, except I would bore him with my lack of response.  I might hypnotize him or her.  Heh.  Reverse psychology.

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Welpers, half past the pumpkin hour, and I am calling it.  Here’s to hoping I can get more than 6 hours shut-eye uninterrupted.  Last night was not the night, perhaps tonight will be the night I do.  I never know.  I roll with the flow anymore on everything.  But I do need to do laundry tomorrow.  The mundane rules!

It is what it is.

Pax

 

Fellow Passengers

Gene Veith, a Lutheran laymen with a long list of well-earned credentials, wrote an interesting piece early today.  It is well-worth the read – especially this time of year.  In it, you will find some real nuggets of gold.  This, for instance – his critique of another writer’s critique of A Christmas Carol:

“Mr. Callahan does concede that Dickens refers to Jesus and to church quite a few times, in passages scattered throughout the novella.  Consider this quotation from Scrooge’s nephew:

‘I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.'”

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Two things stood out – the italicized words, and the conclusion of the long sentence.  Even though my own personal celebration this year is quite subdued (I deeply miss SML)  – I still love the season, and all that comes with it.  Scrooge’s nephew clearly understood the “reason for the season” – as some like to frame it.  The whole quote is really insightful.  Dickens had more than a clue.

We are “fellow passengers to the grave.”  Yet so often that is not even a thought in our heads as we confront our fellow-man in everyday life.  We hustle and bustle about our business, give a nod or smile on occasion, but mostly move on as if another has no impact.  I vowed to myself long ago, that I would try my best, despite my own shortcomings, to greet all every day as if it were “of the season.”    As I said a few sermon postings ago – I love the anticipation of the season of Advent approaching Christmass, and truth be known, we are in the “Second Advent” awaiting Christ’s second/final return, so in that way, Christmass IS every day.  Christ born anew in the heart of each in the Faith – each new day.

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In a way, it is as though God has forced a sinful, perpetually warring world to pause, if but for a few days, and acknowledge that He came into our midst physically.  He lived as we live.  He knows who we are.  And at this time of year, He not only causes us to consider those facts, but also, to consider one another.  For all those on the outside decrying the Faith and the supposed false celebration of some “sky-god” and the materialism – the God who created materialism – creating us into a materialistic world – impresses three things on our minds.  One, He is the “I AM” who created us all.  Two, Christ self-identified as the “I AM” on His entire journey to Calvary to redeem us.

Three – it is real . . . and must be . . . shared.

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“Love your neighbor (the one who is close), as you love your God.”  That is a bit of a twist on the words of Jesus, but it arrives at the same point regardless.  This time of year, most seem to get it.  But you see it throughout the year, if you are looking for it, and practicing it.  Learn and remember the names of those folks you deal with on a regular basis.  Call them by their name.  People will almost automatically warm to someone who calls them by name.  It means someone took the time to mentally remember them – that they “count.”  Some might say they don’t care, but none of them have sat and persuaded the gun out of the hand of one who was sick to the point of death because “no one notices me.”

The kind word, the compliment, striking up a conversation with a complete stranger – watch their faces brighten, see their bodies relax, listen to their words and respond to them, and watch their reactions to being heard.  Shake their hand, tell them your name and ask for theirs.  Watch the reaction.  I have always found it to be a bit of a revelation.  None of it is hard, but all of it is manifestly eternal in scope.  One can never know if the other soul to whom they speak is in severe distress.

Remember – it is not just “talking about Jesus” that matters.  If we are all “little Christs” as Luther put it . . . we can be the “Jesus Who is there” to anyone and everyone.

Pax