Category Archives: Days of Awe

Respite

Solar_eclipse_1999_4_NRToday I experienced a total eclipse of the sun.  My family and I drove 36 miles southwest of St. Louis to Washington, where there was the greatest amount of “totality,” a little over two minutes.

We got there early staking our place out under a tree, down by the Missouri River.  As people gathered, a sense of excitement grew as footballs were thrown, a barbecue grill was started, and a policeman walked around handing out free solar glasses to anyone who needed a pair while she laughed and chatted amiably with the folks.  We built two pinhole cameras to see the eclipse along with our ISO rated glasses.  The glasses were great, but there was something really good about the “old-school” pinhole cameras too.  A couple of guys even older than me had some awesome telescope shaped pinhole cameras.  As the morning went on, I had several good conversations with people who had gathered with us, one family from Oklahoma.

The eclipse started around 11:48, and suddenly, folks were getting their glasses, looking into the sun, and the air of expectation built.  It began slowly, but soon the quality of the light was different … muted somehow.  As it got darker, the shadows through the trees became crescent shaped, and everything grew still as if a curtain had been opened at a theater.  The lights of the town came up as the streetlights reacted to the light change, and the “orchestra” started as crickets and other insects started to chirp.  Suddenly, it was dark and people dropped their glasses and just stood quietly looking at the moon, with the sun’s corona shining around it–colors of pink, purple and magenta flashing–and an amazing sunset/sunrise effect over the river on the clouds.  Then, the crowd started to cheer, as if somehow they instinctively knew that God had presented us with this wonderful drama.

This might have been my first total eclipse.  I know that I remember seeing at least partial eclipses through those, then remarkable pinhole cameras.  But as I stood there marveling at totality, it truly filled us with a sense of awe.  I know my granddaughter Johnna was thrilled and amazed at such a sight, and we were struck with the sense of order that our Creator designed the universe with.  It is just this order of His that gives us the ability to predict such things with such accuracy.

After the past week of lunacy and disorder in Spain, Finland, Charlottesville, Boston, and other places, today was a much-needed counterpoint as we experienced God’s great order in His creation.  Even the people were pleasant!  Surely this is how God meant for us to live.

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The Lamb’s Book of Life

bookoflifeLast month I had the opportunity to preach at Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  It is the home church for our branch in the Detroit area, and they have often invited me to preach in the autumn for the season of Rosh HaShanah/Yom Kippur.

Mary Lou Temple is our branch director there, and she and a group of volunteers put together small baskets with apples and honey in them, and the invitation to the congregation was to take those baskets to their Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, with a greeting for Rosh HaShanah.  It is a simple and easy way to connect, and some left the names of their friends for us to pray for.

The traditional greeting for Rosh HaShanah is “Shana Tova,” meaning for a good year, but that is just shorthand for the greeting of “May your name be inscribed for a good year.”  That greeting is appropriate because the tradition of this season is that on Rosh HaShanah God opens three books with everyone’s name in them.  By Yom Kippur (this year it is October 11), God chooses either life or death for you, so the hope of this greeting is that God will choose life for you.  For those with a little more chutzpah, I encourage them to greet their friends with the greeting “May your name be inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life.”  After all, that is the only way that God will choose life for us.

While the Jewish tradition of God opening these books is that, the books themselves are not just tradition.  The Torah tells us that God keeps these books, and Moses pleads for the Israelites as he cries out to God “please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exodus 32:32).  This reference to blotting out is carried throughout the Scriptures.  David cries out for his sins to be blotted out (Psalm 51) and for his enemies to be blotted out of the book of life (Psalm 69).  Paul refers to the book of life in Philippians 4:3, and of course John in the Revelation, talks much about the Lamb’s book of life.  Whatever it may be, from a human perpective, God is keeping a record, and “only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will enter “the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”  (Revelation 21).

Another theme that came up during this year’s sermon in Michigan was the theme of seasonality.  Just as there are seasons for planting and reaping the harvest, celebrated in the final days of these autumn festivals (Sukkoth), it seems that there are seasons for outreach too.  In the Spring, with the spring festivals of Passover and Sh’vuot (Pentectost), it is a great time for planting seeds of faith.  The long, hot and dry summer is a time to cultivate, water, and feed faith so that by the autumn the Holy Spirit can reap the faith that is grown.  48 names were given in Michigan.  Please pray that many of them will be added to the Lamb’s book of life.

For more on the High Holidays, www.archives.kfuo.org/mp3/FAF/FAF_Sep_29b_2016.mp3

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5776! Is this a time to celebrate dependence on God?

maxresdefaultI just got back from Detroit, where I was preaching at a large church in a strategic area for our mission.  Cross of Christ Lutheran Church is in Bloomfield Hills, and is surrounded by synagogues, a Yeshiva, and of course many Jewish neighbors.  I was there to preach a sermon about prayer and about the Jewish New Year.  (You can hear this sermon, if you’d like, by clicking here.)

In addition to my preaching, our branch there prepared fifty baskets of apples and honey to give out to the peoples’ Jewish friends and neighbors as an opportunity to share their love for their friend, and perhaps to talk about Jesus.  It is a great blessing that all 50 baskets were taken, and we have the names of those who took a basket, and the names of their friends who will receive them, so we can pray for them.

Following the service, there was a deli luncheon sponsored by Thrivent, and a good bunch stayed for two hours to ask questions and learn other ways that they might share their faith in this community.  All in all, a great way to begin 5776.

Yes, it is the year 5776 in the Jewish calendar, and Rosh HaShannah is the Feast of Trumpets, and most recognized in the Jewish community as the Jewish New Year.  This is the time of year when our Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives are most receptive to a discussion about forgiveness.

The rabbis teach that on the eve of Rosh HaShannah God opens three books, a book of life, a book of death and an intermediate book.  Those especially wicked will be written into the book of death, those especially good will be written into the book of life, and all of the rest of us into this intermediate book.  Then for the next ten days, called the Days of Awe, we, by prayer, fasting, repentance and good deeds will make our atonement before God.  On Yom Kippur, Sept. 23 this year, God will close the books and our names will be moved from the intermediate book, to one of the others.  Trumpets bookend all of this activity.

Most of us would never presume that we were good enough for the book of life, and if we’re wicked enough to be in the book of death, we don’t care.  So we figure we’re all somewhere in that intermediate book, and if we listen to the rabbis, then we’ve got 10 days to act.  But when the trumpet blows, how will we know?

That’s the rub.  We begin hearing about the Binding of Isaac, and we end beseeching God for more time.  Clearly, the 10 days is not enough!  The only way we can know God’s peace is to know God’s Son, Y’shua.  He is the lamb that God himself provides, and it is his blood that atones for our sins.  May it be to you a sweet year and may your name be written into the Lamb’s book of life.

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,  and its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.  They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:22-27).

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