Sunday, August 23, 2009

Listening to Children

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

That’s the day-in and day-out litany of the children in my classroom. My students apologize for the least little infraction.

“Remember to dot your ‘i’s’”

“I’m sorry. I won’t forget.”

With as much sincerity as the apology is given, they expect to hear they’ve been forgiven. “That’s OK. I know
you’re still learning.” This is the gentle pattern of our life in the classroom. The students learn that all their failings are carried by Another, and that One carried them to the cross to die for them. Perfection is not attainable because sin has robbed us of that ability. Besides, no sin, no Jesus; Jesus only came for sinners. That doesn’t mean repentance is cheap. For, holding onto sins is the same as telling Jesus, “No, thank you. This sin’s on me. I’ll die for this one.” The children get it. They live from it freely and openly.

I cannot count the number of sermons I’ve listened to based on Eph 5:22-33. I can tell you this: The number of sermons based on this text encouraging husbands and wives to confess sins and absolve each other can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I watch my students submit to one another daily. They admit their sins openly and freely. They receive each other’s absolution, and the gates of heaven are opened to each other. Anger is released, grudges are stopped before they are even begun. Gossip is halted in its tracks.

When the sins against each other are serious, the students are asked if they would like to speak with the pastor to receive Absolution “as if Christ was speaking Himself” into their ears. Often they do. Sometimes it’s not an option. They are simply sent to pastor so he can help them untangle the mess they have made for themselves. They do not return without his Absolution, and an apology to all concerned.

These children live from the Absolution as Christ intended it (Mt 6:12). Luther caught the whole of it in the first of his Ninety-five Theses: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite (Repent), willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”

What of husbands and wives, though? Too often I’ve heard a sermon based Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives that seemed to want to only reminded me that “submit is not a dirty word.” Then it failed to tell me that the sort of confession of sin and forgiveness practiced by my students should also be practiced between husbands and wives. Of what higher service can any spouse be to the other than to speak Christ's words of forgiveness to the other? What better submission can any wife give to her husband than to ask that he forgive her, and he, in turn, die to her sins as Christ did for his, and hers?

This is not merely “looking over” the day-to-day trivia of human life encountered when two people live together. Did he miss the clothes basket again? Does she snore? Who forgot to close the refrigerator door or turn off the garage light? No, this is real confession of sin. Hurts and angers can submerge deep inside the heart and mind, not seeming to affect a relationship. Yet their edges poke and prickle, wearing away until finally they find a weak spot and emerge. Will it be confronted with more destruction? Or will there be an opportunity for forgiveness in Christ? Marriages can survive long and hard, even looking the healthy picture of Pauline dual submission, yet still be suffering without this joyous service between husband and wife.

Pastors, preach it as often as you are able! Husbands, wives, submit to each other with the confession of your sins. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church by forgiving her; wives, submit to your husbands forgiveness, for it is as Christ’s own to you--just as your wife's is Christ's to you. As Paul also says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God,” (1 Corinthians 11:4). But also as Paul's Teacher taught him, we are to forgive sins as we have been forgiven in and by Christ.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Emi and Maps from Here to There

Emi came to our house this summer. She spent her week again with us, all by herself. We picked her up in Little Rock and drove her down. She travels well, as she should. She’s made enough trans-Atlantic flights in her short life to take in a six-hour road trip like sand does water.

The first thing Emi did arriving at our place was pick a bowl full of blueberries–certainly a must if there was to be a tea party and muffins with Grammy in the morning. Emi helped make the muffins, of course. One of my students had given me a perfectly lovely tea set as a birthday gift. Little did they know what a treasure it would become.

Emi's daddy drove down with her little sister Lianna to pick her up. This gave Mommy some much needed rest during this last part of her pregnancy. Also, traveling is becoming hard on her right now. Lianna is two now, quite a handful, but so very precious. The three planned to go from here back to Arkansas to Cindy's parents' house. Her dad had a very mild stroke July 4, and the Army gave John time off to help him out around the house and with his recuperation. The night before they left here to go back to Little Rock Emi and her daddy studied maps to plan their route. Emi is fascinated with maps, an influence from the Dora show.

Emi is five-nearly-six. She has a late birth date, November. So she begins Kindergarten behind many other children born in her year. That’s often a blessing. She’ll benefit from that edge of maturity. Emi had already gone to VBS before coming to see us. One evening the television happened to land on a show in which a woman was knocked out or laid out or otherwise incapacitated. “Oh, Grammy,” Emi cried out, “she died!”

It wasn’t yet clear whether the show actually had taken that turn, but Emi perceived it to be that way. As I was trying to think of a response, she continued. “Don’t worry. She’ll come back alive again.” Now I didn’t know what to think. Was she already tainted by too much tv or video games, having seen too many characters ‘die’ only to been seen as ‘alive’ elsewhere? I decided to let Emi keep talking and let her tell me what she was meaning.

“Jesus died and He came back alive again. She died and she will come back alive again because Jesus forgives our sins.”

There it was, simple as can be. During Rev. John Rutowicz's lecture of The Augustana Ministerium's Challenge of Eastern Orthodoxy William Weedon can be heard to say, “Death is original sin made evident; and the converse is also true: original sin is death made visible.” Emi has already locked in the kernel of that maxim. For Emi, death is evidence of sin needing Christ’s forgiveness, and restoration to life is evidence of Life in Christ. Nice stuff even when a little child speaks that which flesh and blood has not revealed.

Emi with her pastor, Larry Peters of Grace Lutheran, Clarksville, TN, on the day she died and was resurrected in Christ.