Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“One Moment in Time”
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
Sermon Delivered
September 11th, 2001
Grace Lutheran Church
Hamilton, Montana

There are no words which can adequately describe or define the tragic and treacherous events of today. This date will live on in the history of our nation as a day when apathy and complacency toward God were crushed by acts of terrorism too terrible to comprehend. No civilized people in the world can condone the awful attacks of hatred on the innocent and indefensible victims of today’s heinous crimes against humanity. It is not only for the victims whose lives were viciously and deliberately taken that we mourn but we mourn also for those who have survived and for those who have surveyed the carnage.

This is one moment in time that will stand forever as a monument in time to the overt evil that pervades both our world and our lives. No heighten security measures, no strengthen defense measures can effectively stop the forces of evil because we are not fighting against flesh and blood but rather against the powers, against the authorities, against the rulers of this dark world, against the evil spirits that are in the heavens. Here in the throne room of God the battle against the agents of evil will be won or lost. Here at the altar of prayer the outcome of the earthly battle will be determined.

At the same time, I urge you not to forget that the outcome of the eternal battle of good verses evil was determined at Calvary’s bloody cross almost 2000 years ago. There the forces of evil were defeated to insure our eternity. However, we who live in such trouble times must continue through the power of prayer to fight the fight against the forces of evil. In this time of national tragedy we cry out with the voice of the Psalmist,

To you I call, O Lord my Rock; Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help,
As I life my hands toward your Most Holy Place.
Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil,
Who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts.

Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work;
Repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back upon them what they deserve.

Since they show no regard for the works of the Lord
and what His hands have done,
He will tear them down and never build them up again.

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
The Lord is the strength of his people,
A fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance;
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
(Psalm 28, NIV)

Here we are reminded that the battle is not ours but God’s. He himself is our strength and our shield and he will do the battle for us.

One news commentator today said, “In times like these people simply do not know where to turn.” I beg to differ. In times like these God’s people know exactly where to turn. We turn the God who listens to our cry and hears our prayer. This is hardly the time for the faithful to be faint of heart.

Again it is the Psalmist who reminds us,

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
(Psalm 46, NIV)

The World Trade Centers may have collapsed today, the Pentagon may be in ruins tonight, but God is always in control. He is our ever-present help in trouble, our refuge and our strength during these tragic and trying times.

Tonight, we turn to the Lord for comfort and counsel. This very moment, we are joined by countless other Christians across the nation in seeking refuge and strength in God. It is tragic that it takes the terror of terrorism to drive godly people to our knees in prayer but God too can use this for our good.

Perhaps, the images of untold horror burned into our hearts and minds today will lead us to constantly seek God’s counsel and aid in prayer as we walk into an uncertain future.

All is not lost, all is never lost, when God is in control and He is in control even when our world seems out of control. The prophet Joel reminds us,

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

The nation of Israel had grown apathetic and complacent toward God. He allowed calamity to come upon them so that his prophets could call the nation to repentance and faith. Could God be doing the same for our nation tonight? Will we return to the Lord and rend our hearts in repentance as Joel suggests?

Certainly and without any doubt, we are deeply troubled and sorrowfully saddened by the terrible events of today. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. We mourn with them, we empathize with them, we pray for them. We grasp this tragedy from afar but hold them close in our hearts. We regret their lost and reach out to touch their lives with the love of God and of His people.

At the same time, we would be remiss if we failed to recognize that we too have grown apathetic and complacent toward our God. We’ve not prayed enough for His guidance, we’ve not asked enough for His assistance. We’ve gone our own way until today. Now, everything can change as quickly as the World Trade Centers were turned to rubble if we’ll spend just one hour in committed connected prayer.

This one moment in time can only stand as a monument to overt evil if we allow it to. This one moment in time can stand as a monument to God if we will rend our hearts and return to him. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Tonight, we trust not in our own wisdom and strength but in that of God as we pray for peace within our nation and our world. Tonight, this watershed event allows us to re-focus on the love of God which is found in Christ. It is Christ’s precious gospel that will change the hearts of men forever and for now. As we focus, not on the horror of death and destruction, but on the joy of the gospel, we find peace and comfort and consolation. We find the answers we are seeking in Christ. May such be ours tonight, peace and comfort and consolation and answers to ease our broken hearts.
God bless you all and God bless America! Amen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Magnificent Mercy

August 28, 2009
Magnificent Mercy Shown in the Face of Misery
By Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

Four years ago today the landscape of America was changed by Hurricane Katrina. Her name and her power are written in the hearts and minds of the entire nation. The scarred landscape and cities of the gulf coast (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida) are still being rebuilt while thousands of people struggle to rebuild the landscape of their lives.
On this fourth anniversary of that terrible storm, the recovery is far from over. The face of misery painted by Katrina has cut deeply into the fabric of our lives. Katrina’s name and power are etched into in the hearts and minds of an entire nation. The image of thousands of people suffering in the aftermath of the storm jumps into our minds and we are moved to mercy for the many who continue to struggle. The face of their misery is changed as we continue to show mercy.
Over the past four years, the magnificent mercy of Christ has been shown by thousands of LCMS volunteers and donors. The members of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod have joined hearts and hands to repair the fabric of life torn apart by Katrina. Working together with the Synod, LCMS districts and congregations, agencies and organizations, individuals and groups have touched the lives of those affected by Katrina with magnificent mercy.
Donors have donated nearly $14 million plus untold millions of dollars worth of supplies and building materials. Volunteers have selflessly provided physical labor plus emotional and spiritual care across the Gulf Coast. LCMS Recognized Services Organizations and independent ministries have helped coordinate a massive response of personnel, goods, and equipment throughout the recovery. Our districts, churches, and schools have helped facilitate the renewal process by partnering together with congregations, schools, and professional church workers who were affected by Katrina. Working together, these and others have risen to the occasion once again to reach out to the helpless and hurting.
The magnificent mercy of Christ shown by so many has helped to diminish the face of misery seen by so many in the past four years, but the work is not complete. Not all needs have been met, many are still suffering the after effects of Katrina.
The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod must stay engaged at every level, working with partners as we continue to provide care and support to the needy. The work is not done. Opportunities still abound for volunteers and donors to offer mercy until the face of misery is completely replaced by Christ’s magnificent mercy.
Contact LCMS World Relief and Human Care for more information about opportunities to volunteer and give to help make recovery a continuing reality along the Gulf Coast.
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt serves as director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care’s disaster response ministry.

Katrina Recovery: Progress and Continued Needs
LCMS World Relief and Human Care partner, Recovery Assistance, Inc. (RAI), has been a leader in the LCMS’ Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. RAI works to restore faith, home, and community to the survivors of Hurricane Katrina in the Name of Jesus Christ. In four years, RAI volunteers completed major repairs on over 2,700 homes and minor repairs on over 3,900 homes.
Your continued support of RAI’s work is needed to help repair the 2,500 homes currently on its waiting list. In recognition of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, RAI is offering “K4” resources to share news of the progress and need. Find bulletin inserts, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, and more on its website: www.raiministries.org.
Shades of Darkness, Bursts of Light!
Matthew 25:31-40
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt
LCMS World Relief & Human Care

Dear Christian friends,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I know what darkness is. Do you?

I know what Darkness is (the first shade)—

After getting out of the Air Force in 1966, I went to work on the 5600 level of a phosphate mine in western Montana. One day the miners in the main tunnel, called a drift, hit an underground lake plunging me (and others) into ice cold water and total darkness. While I struggled to keep my chin above the rising water, I wondered if I would ever see the light of day again.

Slowly, I felt my way up dark mining shafts, called stopes, trying to find a way out, only to be disappointed time and again. Hours passed, alone in the cold and dark, my only hope was rescue. That darkness was a shade of darkness I had never known before and I never want to know again.

So, I know what darkness is. It’s being alone and lost, cold and fearful, without hope and helpless! But, there is another shade of darkness that is even more dreadful and I know that one too. It’s the darkness of sin!

The Darkness of Sin (the second shade)—

Sin brings darkness into our lives! Our eyes may see the light of day but on the inside it’s dark, oh so dark. Perhaps you’ve been there; maybe you’re there this morning! Sin plunges us into the darkness that chills us to the bone, leaving us lost and alone, fearful of God and separated from our family and friends. It’s a mind shaft filled with cold and dark and there’s no way out unless someone rescues us. We’re up to our chins in sin and we’ve all been there!

“For, there is no difference for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (St. Paul, Romans 3:23)

Sin is a shade of darkness like no other darkness known to man! I’ve known it and I never want to know it again. Unrepentant sin leads to such a great darkness inside. Jesus puts it this way—
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matthew 6:22-24)
Sin fill us with a great darkness but there’s yet another shade of darkness in our world!

It’s the Darkness of Despair (the third shade)—

The darkness of despair is another shade of darkness that closes in on the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick or the imprisoned. It’s a darkness sets in when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster darkens your doorway. I’ve seen that darkness too many times first as a police officer, then as a missionary and a parish pastor, and also as a father. When our 21 year son died suddenly of an asthma attack three years ago I experienced shades of darkness I’d never known before and I never want to know again.

When the darkness of despair sets in it’s so easy to feel like nobody cares, like there’s no hope of rescue. Disaster, crisis, and personal tragedy, are cold, dark places with fear lurking at every turn. Today, the helpless and hurting are scattered across our nation and around our world hoping and praying for rescue but who will help them?

Everybody needs a burst of light to break the darkness in their lives—

By now you’ve probably figured out that I survived the darkness of that mine disaster 40 years ago. Some men didn’t but I was rescued when a burst of light broke through from the main tunnel above me and guided me to safety and life. Life is a good thing when you’ve been a prisoner of death.

God promise to his people in is always hope, a way out, a burst of light when darkness closes in. When your world seems cold and dark, when you feel lost and alone, when your tunnel life fills with waters death, there is hope; there is hope in Christ.

God promise was revealed in one huge Burst of Light—

The King of the Kingdom of Light shattered the darkness of sin & death and gave all mankind the light of life declaring—

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Jesus said, "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (John 12:46)

Are you staying in darkness? Is something preventing you from delivering that touch of mercy, from living in the light of Christ, from sharing the gospel and engaging in merciful ministry? In and through the gospel of hope and forgiveness, Christ gives us the privilege of being light in this sin darkness world.

What a privilege it is for you and I to be the of Light of the World—

It’s true, Jesus said, “You are the light of the World. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) Christ’s vision for his Church is one of selfless service to others rather than the selfish service for our own benefit. Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many, so we come to the poor and needy to serve, not be served, and to give our lives in the service of Christ’s gospel.

A touch of mercy, the gospel of hope and forgiveness, only takes a minute to deliver but its effect lasts an eternity. The motivator for mercy is mercy! Christ’s mercy toward us motivates us to be merciful to others. Our nature as Christians is to be merciful, sharing the gospel in word and deed, not with ulterior motives, but purely because of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. If you’ve received mercy, it’s the most natural thing in the world to share mercy!

Mother Teresa, known for her great compassion, was asked after winning the Nobel prize, “What is the gospel?” She replied, “The gospel is written on your fingers?” With that she held up her hand and demonstrated, “You-Did-It-For-Me.” Mother Teresa added, “At the end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it to the least of these. You-Did-It-For-Me!”

What a great philosophy of life, what a great example of faith, but more importantly what a great testimony of Christ’s words in Matthew 25 which are about bringing light into darkness, bring a touch of mercy to the hunger, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick, or the imprisoned. We are the light of the world as we shatter the darkness of tragedy, crisis, and disaster with Christian care for the helpless and hurting.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

You did it for me! Through Christ and because of his gospel we can turn chaos into compassion, darkness into light when a personal tragedy, a crisis, or a disaster strikes.

LCMS World Relief and Human Care is committed to being the Church by upholding Christ and by doing what needs to be done around the world; the feeding of the hungry, quenching of the thirsty, sheltering of the strangers, clothing of the naked, treating of the sick, and visiting of the prisoners all on your behalf.


A Ministry of Presence


A Ministry of Presence: The Power, Privilege, and Practice

By Rev. Glenn Merritt

The Power of Presence— Story reprinted with permission
from the Summer 2009 issue
of Caring Connections.

In the midst of terrible devastation, hope dawns new at Peace Lutheran Church in Greensburg, Kansas. As the pastor recovers church records from a bent and battered file cabinet, one of the elders sifts through shattered stain glass and splintered pews for anything salvageable. Nearby the elder’s wife finds photo albums and sits down to remember yesterdays at Peace. Another elder joins her and together they reflect on memories of days gone by.

The power of presence was evident on May 7, 2007, as I stood in the massive debris field that was once the small town of Greensburg, Kansas. The presence of God was evident in the character and courage of the residents as they returned to survey the incredible destruction of their homes and hometown. At the same time, the presence of emergency services personnel, the National Guard, and of state and local officials brought a sense of order and calm to chaotic circumstances. Later on, the presence of the President of the United States was unmistakable as he held hands, prayed, and lifted the spirits of those affected by this terrible tragedy.

Being there, holding hands, and lifting up spirits are important, to be sure, but a ‘ministry of presence’ must bring more than a mere pat on the back or a well-meaning prayer. A ministry of presence embraces the presence of Christ by meeting the emotional, spiritual, and physical needs of the helpless and hurting.

The power of our presence at disaster scenes finds its source in Christ’s enduring presence in our own lives. It is an awesome responsibility to stand in the stead of Christ offering whole-person, Christian care.

Christ’s presence after his resurrection demonstrates the power that his presence has to console and comfort the needy. Christ’s powerful presence is the preeminent paradigm for our ministry of mercy which can dispel the darkness of fear and uncertainty about the future.

Jesus’ disciples were lost in the tragedy of his death when he came to them with calming words, comforting them his presence. According to John, when they saw him they were glad.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20 ESV)

It was the power of Christ’s presence that moved his disciples from the tragedy of death to the triumph of life. That same power is realized today in the ministry of the church through those who stand in his stead to transcend the critical events that affect the lives of people.

The Privilege of Presence—

It is a privilege to be present in the name of Christ. A ministry of presence is a ministry with the gospel as its matrix. A ministry of presence helps transform victims into survivors, a necessary step on the road to recovery and renewal.

I stood in the ash of a home consumed by wildfire in Southern California. The pastor and his wife spoke through tear-stained eyes as they shared their incredible story of survival and surprise. In a flash of fire, they were left with no place to live, no furniture, no clothing, and personal effects. It was all gone. There was nothing left to salvage or save.

While it is a privilege to be with people and listen to their story, empathy without action is not ministry. A ministry of presence does more than listen.

We are reminded—

17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

The desolation and despondency often felt by victims of disaster or tragedy is not easily broken. There is more to the ministry of presence than just being present with the brokenhearted.

A ministry of presence replaces moments of misery with moments of mercy. Moments of mercy are delivered by those privileged to stand in the stead of Christ at the crossroads of tragedy and triumph. The privilege of presence includes service in tangible ways.

Not everyone agrees as seen in the following statement—

"The purpose of a ‘ministry of presence’ or the ‘art of hanging out’ is to provide a ‘non-anxious presence,’ to potentially be an ‘active listener’ while holding an outreached hand, offering a cup of coffee, or mucking out a home. To engage a person impacted by disaster is to ask them to tell their story."1

But, there is always a story behind the story. Often the burden is too heavy for families to carry alone. Active listening may not be enough if it is followed by inaction. Many people are already living beyond the edge personally and financially before a disaster strikes. While the destructive nature of disasters emphasizes the crucial importance of faith, family, and friends, the "art of hanging out" may not be enough. It is true that few victims want to be alone emotionally, spiritually, or physically in the aftermath of a disaster or tragedy. A holistic approach to ministry acts to address every aspect of need during critical events.

It is worth mentioning here that professional church workers are often overlooked and overwhelmed and when a disaster affects their community. They too can fall between the cracks with catastrophic career results, a topic worth exploring in future articles.

To summarize, the privilege of presence is an awesome responsibility as well as a call to action. In his insightful book, Christ Have Mercy, Rev. Matthew Harrison writes,

"Disasters are not a time for "bait and switch" or "hidden agendas." They are a time to be charitable, considerate, and a time to realize the people affected are very vulnerable and must be treated with the utmost love and respect. This does not mean refusing to give "a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

And St. Peter continues, "yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (I Peter 3:16).

And there is nothing hidden! Lutherans are about faith in Christ and deeds to show Christ’s love and mercy. We openly confess that word and deed go together, as they did for Jesus Christ (Luke 5:17-26) and his apostles (Luke 9:2ff.) when they assisted those in need."2

This is where the power, privilege, and practice of presence converge to meet needs.

The Practice of Presence—

The privilege of presence naturally leads to the practice of presence. This occurs precisely at this intersection of greatest need when emotional, spiritual, or physical needs must be addressed not with word only but also with deed.

"In disaster, first and foremost, Christian care sees to the basic needs of those affected: food, water, clothing, and shelter. This first line of care reflects the First Article of the creed, where God is the giver of "clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home," family, property, and "all that I have." Because every person, regardless of race, color, creed, or confession, is a precious creation of God, for whom He cares, Christian care provides disaster victims with what they need "to support this body and life."3

To practice presence means to provide food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to the needy, healing to the sick, and comfort to the lonely. (Matthew 25) It is a comprehensive approach to ministry that meets people at the point of their greatest need with caring, comfort, and concern.

The practice of presence assures the needy that they are not alone as they walk through what could otherwise be a lonesome valley. It is one thing to care about the needs of others; it is quite another thing to actually meet the needs of others.

"15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do." (James 2:15-18)

In both of the personal examples shared above, the needs of these families were addressed without delay with assistance for transitional housing, gift cards for food and clothing, dollars for urgent personal and medical needs as well as pastoral care and counsel.

The call of the Church is a call to action. The Church does not refer the needy to others for assistance. Faith in action attaches momentous words to courageous deeds. God supplies the need when the Church practices the presence of Christ in the midst of disaster and tragedy.

Finally, as a closing thought, Luther comments on the importance of the sacrament in our ministry of presence—

"There your heart must go out in love and devotion and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love, and that love and service are given you and you again must render love and service to Christ and His needy ones. You must feel with sorrow all the dishonor done to Christ in His holy Word, all the misery of Christendom, all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing: You must fight, work, pray and, if you cannot do more, have heartfelt sympathy. That is bearing in your turn the misfortune and adversity of Christ and His saints.4

Fight, work, pray is a good way to summarize what a ministry of presence is all about. Then, when you can’t do anymore, have heartfelt sympathy for those in need. The power, privilege, and practice of presence always bring hope and help to the hurting.

1 Long-Term Recovery Manual, (Arlington, VA: National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, Rev. 2004) 60.

2 Matthew Harrison, Christ Have Mercy, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008) 142.

3 "Christian Care in Times of Disaster," A Training Manual for District Disaster Response Coordinators and Teams, (St. Louis, MO: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2008) 23.

4 Martin Luther, "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, against the Brotherhoods," Luther’s Works, Vol. 35, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1960) 54.

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Printed on: 9/21/2009 9:46:09 AM CDT


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