Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Terrible Grief

Grief can be truly terrible, even terrifying.

The Newtown tragedy continues to be prevalent in the news and in the minds of all who hear it.

Yesterday as I was taking care of things that needed to be done, I realized that I am affected even more powerfully than I realized by this event, or rather, by the reminder of how vulnerable I am.

My own death is not very frightening to me contrasted to the devastation that I would face upon the loss of my wife.  If someone broke into the government school where she works and ripped her out of my life through a murderous and senseless act, I would have nothing left in this world.  I would be bereft of the only worldly possession of real value to me, save one.

There is one worldly possession that is even greater for me than my wife.  It is the one possession that would preserve my sanity and hope.  It is my knowledge of God’s love to me that is poured out freely through His means of grace.

My wife and I have talked many times about this.  We both share the great concern that if anything happened to the other, we would be left with no one locally with whom we could gather to receive the unadulterated Sacrament of forgiveness and life.  Whichever of us survived the other would have to move, or settle for periodic travel to our friends who likewise gather to the pure Word and Sacrament.

This very likely sounds foreign to most who read this.  We live in a city with nine LC-MS and one WELS congregations, and yet we have no place where we can safely worship.  This is because we believe that to join with congregations who pledge themselves to compromised worship and practice and definition of communion/fellowship is to have our souls raped and molested.  We believe that we need to receive only the absolutely pure means of grace.  Otherwise we will be filled with the world’s pollution that corrupts and kills.

Thus our marriage and union is absolutely vital to us.  We truly need each other and we do not know how to live without each other.

Again, I read yet another account of the Newtown tragedy: Investigators visit Conn. gun shops and ranges as townspeople seek comfort in faith.  This account made clear a fact that I suspected to be the case. Adam Lanza was the child of a broken marriage.  He was a young man bearing the scars of his parents’ divorce.

We have degenerated into a society where this is counted as the norm.  Great efforts have been exerted to reeducate and retrain the people to consider divorce as an acceptable and even a normal occurrence.  Today one is more likely to encounter children who have experienced the divorce of their parents, than children whose parents remained steadfastly together for as long as they both should live.

Both I and my wife have been blessed to know marriage as a lifetime contract.  Our parents remained together until our fathers died.  Both of us knew that our parents would be home for us.  They were our refuge in the Lord.  We knew that when Daddy left the house that he would gladly and lovingly return home again.  We knew that Mommy would be there for us, too.  No matter how badly an argument raged, we knew that forgiveness and reconciliation would prevail in the end.  This we knew.  This we believed.  This was factual.  The foundation stone of our security, the marriage of our parents that the Lord had instituted and blessed, would stand for us.  We knew the meaning of home.  This is an extension of knowing the everlasting home that God has for us.

But we both have friends who were not so blessed.  We even have family members who have abandoned this so that they divorced.  They broke their contract with each other.  They broke the confidence of their children. And we have seen the effects and affects upon all who have suffered this.

Our society tries to minimize this.  But we continue to see the effects.  We see the confusion of identity.  We see the increase of instability.  We hear the cries of loneliness.  We observe the suicides.  We mourn the many aborted children.  We tremble at the random acts of violence.

Is there any advantage to closing our eyes to what we see and our ears to what we hear?  Is there any real benefit to giving our blessing to the destruction caused by divorce?

How many churches and pastors today really count divorce for what it is?  How many actually still preach divorce as sin from which people need to be saved?  How many still count this as a cause for repentance?  How many still urge forgiveness as the only answer?

How many children of divorces are told that they need to accept this horrible molestation and rape as OK and to get over it?  How can such children be confident of anything when this is what they are told?  How can they know what to trust as true and reliable?  How are they to know love as more than a fickle emotion, as a fact that does not fail?

This is why we dare not allow the means of grace also to be compromised.  This is why we dare not call anything but the gathering to the pure means of grace as God’s Church on earth, His holy family.  For if we allow the worship, the communion, the means of our certainty to be compromised, we have nothing in which to trust.

For those whose parents turn to divorce for their answer to their failures and problems, God’s Church remains true.  Where those called together by the Holy Spirit continue in the purity of the Word and Sacraments, there they may rest securely without doubt or fear.  There God is truly present for them.  There the marriage of God with His bride is manifest for all to observe.  His children rejoice in their security.  This is the way when the Gospel is preached purely and the Sacraments are administered as they have been ordained.  This is the way when the worship reflects this in its entirety.

Is this not comforting news?  God does not believe in divorce, except with regard to our sin.  He says that He divorces us from our sin so that we may be united with Him in His Church.  He has given us Baptism as the means by which we are regenerated or reborn into His family.  He has given His Holy Supper to nourish us and keep us alive in His family through the one true faith. All of this is His gift, His gracious doing for us, as our loving Father.  Through this He causes us to know ourselves as He knows us, as His beloved children.  He never forsakes His children.  He never leaves them to find their own way.  For this reason He demands that His pastors never compromise the Word and the life of the holy family, which life we know as worship and communion.

All other families can be broken.  But God’s family is forever.  People do fall away and forget God’s everlasting promises and love, but God does not forget.  People do look elsewhere and become lost, but God continues to call each one through the continuing existence and life of His Church on earth.  Each and every living person is free to return, even more than free, but continually called by our Heavenly Father.  His bride, His family, stands ready to receive each one eagerly.  The Lord declares that the heavenly hosts rejoice when even one sinner is caused to repent and to return home.

This blessed Advent season beckons to us all to hear this and to believe it.  The Christmas season teaches us how far the Lord is willing to go to call us back again to His loving care.  The Epiphany season teaches us how far the call of His Gospel reaches.  Each season of the Church year serves us in these ways.

We are not left alone.  We have not been abandoned.  We are not orphans without hope of reconciliation and reunion with our everlasting family.  Our God comes for us.  He calls to us.  He gives Himself for us.  Like with the shepherds out in the fields with their flocks that very special night, God sends His message through angels, the pastors and the saints who abide in Him and His communion, to call us to respond, saying like the shepherds, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

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