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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Ornaments from Around the World

Collecting Christmas ornaments is something Cindy and I started since we began dating in 2009. Every place we lived or visited, we bought an ornament or two to remember being there. Cindy's memory is clearer than mine is, however.

The first ornament we collected was from a 10K we ran in San Ramon, the Bah Humbug 10K, and the first of many races we ran together in California, Oklahoma and Illinois.

When we started dating, Cindy worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and made annual trips to Albuquerque. She bought this handcrafted angel in the fall of 2009.

In subsequent years, we picked up other ornaments from Santa Fe and Taos, the famous havens for artists like Georgie O’Keefe and tourists looking for New Mexico’s magic. In Taos, we snowshoed - a wonderful experience.

Cindy and I married in August 2010. We honeymooned in Alaska. These two ornaments are from that trip.

In June 2011, Cindy met my extended family in Pennsylvania. As my cousin proudly proclaims, “We put the fun in dysfunctional!” A side trip to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake including visits to wineries where we tasted ice wines completed the trip.

In November 2011, we moved to Oklahoma, where we lived for three years. While there, we purchased a home, as well as some ornaments. The first one is the state of Oklahoma, which is the home of Cindy’s mother.

Cindy’s ancestry includes the Chickasaw Nation, one of five Indian Nations within Oklahoma. While living in Oklahoma, we visited the amazing Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, where we purchased this handmade ornament depicting their cultural heritage.

I worked at World Neighbors for two years. Each year, we held an international market fair featuring items from the countries where we had a presence. We bought this pear-shaped ornament.

During that time, we lost our beloved Golden Retriever, Lindsay. Before we moved, we took ownership of another Golden, Travis. This ornament expresses our love of Goldens.

In December 2012, we vacationed for a few days in Branson, where we picked up this ornament.

From Oklahoma, we moved to southern Illinois. While there, we visited St. Louis with family and friends. The two main attractions in St. Louis are the Arch and the Budweiser, depicted by these two ornaments.

Nashville, IL is a five-hour drive to Graceland in Memphis, TN, home of Elvis Presley. Elvis bought Graceland in 1957, the year I was born, for his family. Graceland is today as it was when Elvis lived there.

When we moved to Chicagoland, we celebrated our fifth anniversary. To commemorate this, Cindy found a splendid ornament of lovey doveys.

Poles heavily populate Chicagoland. There are Polish restaurants, delis, radio and TV broadcasts and a museum. We purchased two ornaments displaying my heritage.

In January, we celebrated five years of marriage with a cruise through the Hawaiian Islands. We picked up these to remember our trip.
Finally, we hang this ornament because we live in the Steeler Nation and are fans of the greatest football franchise in the world, The Pittsburgh Steelers.

What Christmas traditions have you incorporated into your marriage? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Blessings on Your Holidays

In our sixth year of marriage, we now live in our sixth home. We bought a home in Aurora, IL in April. In January, we celebrated our (August) wedding anniversary in Hawaii. In October, we reunited with family in Pennsylvania.

We welcomed into the world our third and fourth grandchildren. Henry John Paul Gardner was born on September 7, and Kinley Lynn Gregg was born on November 2.

Cindy works for Keypoint Government Solutions. Paul is in transition to his next position of success. He wrote his first book, Simple Sermons for Serious Christians, available on Amazon. He preaches throughout Chicago, and is a Realtor®. Check his site,, and business page, If you are going to buy, sell or rent, contact Paul. He can help you no matter where you live.

Cindy and Travis train weekly on an agility course. He and Pepper enjoy walks daily. They also look forward to visits by dogs or people. Our cat, Winnie, enjoys finding new spots to rest throughout the day.

Our new home has two guest rooms for family and friends when they visit. (Hint)

May God bless you during the Christmas holidays and throughout 2017.

Paul & Cindy Cwynar

Travis, Pepper & Winnie

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Eschatology, Excerpt, Expectation: Luke 21:5-38

Serious Christians remember a sermon if you simplify it. Hence, the title of my book, Simple Sermons for Serious Christians. Most often, I simplify sermons by hanging three points on one letter. Today, three Es – eschatology, excerpt and expectation.
Three points are easier to remember if they all begin with the same letter. Case in point: We summarize workspace safety with education, evaluation and enforcement. Customer service consists of ease, effectiveness and emotion. Leadership involves equipping, empowering and exposure. The National Audit Office assesses the value for money of government spending with economy, efficiency and effectiveness. While I do not expect you to remember all those Es, they illustrate that points are easier to remember if all the words begin with the same letter. That said, we move to eschatology, excerpt and expectation.
First, eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the last things, that is, death, judgment, heaven and hell. It is from the Greek word eskhatos, meaning last, furthest or most remote in time, space or degree.
We speak of eschatology today because as the church year closes, we hear Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, speak of the Day of the Lord. Paul offers encouragement as his readers await the return of Christ. Luke recounts Jesus’ last days. Hence, eschatology is suited for the end of our liturgical year. Yet, we cannot merely mention eschatology. We need to understand it.
Although we speak of the aforementioned last things, eschatology refers to a theology of history, with a specific reference to for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant promise.[1] In other words, eschatology is about hope based upon God’s promise, God’s word, and what our Trinitarian God has done for us as Father, Son and Spirit.
Eschatology involves the future based upon past promises, but it is also about the present. Eschatology is both individual and universal. It is about my personal choices and our universal fulfillment. In a sense, eschatology is bi-polar and all-encompassing.
Envision Abraham, an individual who trusted God’s promises, and envision his posterity, a great nation.[2] We know God fulfilled that promise under David’s rule, and although the monarchy collapsed, this gave rise to hope for a restored monarchy by a Savior figure from the royal line of David. Based upon God’s promise, the prophets envisioned life in a world under God’s reign marked by peace, justice and reconciliation, as well as the possibility of resurrection of the dead.
This, of course, set the stage for Jesus and the early Christian community. He took up the hopes of his people, and through their experience of his resurrection, his disciples understood his preaching in a new light, rooted in God’s promise and the prophets. In short, the destiny of Jesus with God anticipates the destiny of humanity and creation.[3]
Paul’s letters describe his eschatology in detail, and yet, his is not a fixed thought. Paul expected an imminent end. In Thessalonians, we read, “For you are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:2). His second letter reveals an indeterminate expectation. Ephesians and Colossians present a cosmic vision of all powers, including demonic ones, subject to Christ.
Eschatology – death, judgment, heaven and hell – may unnerve us; but through the prism of the cross, God’s promises calm our nerves. That leads me from eschatology to excerpt.
Most people today read excerpts of the Bible. The way to read the Bible is one book per sitting. Read Exodus or Jeremiah in one afternoon and you appreciate and understand it better than if you read a chapter a day. Pore over Luke, Acts or Revelation, and its message takes on new meaning. While I encourage you to read each book in one sitting, most read excerpts of the Bible.
The word excerpt means to select a passage from a book. We derive excerpt from the Latin word excerpere, which means to pluck out, pick out or extract. The Romans merged it from two smaller words, ex, meaning out and carpere, meaning pluck or gather. Our liturgical tradition is to read excerpts from the Gospels and New Testament along with Old Testament passages related to the Gospel. Reading the Bible this way allows us to observe certain seasons and feasts, such as Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter. On Ash Wednesday, we hear readings about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. On Pentecost, we proclaim the work of the Holy Spirit. On Thanksgiving, Luke’s story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Excerpts allow pastors to preach an expository sermon and explain why we observe Lent with solemnity or celebrate Easter with joy.
In our eschatological excerpt today, Jesus is teaching in the temple as he warns his disciples that the kingdom of God is near by teaching about the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem and the world. Jesus’ teaching begins and ends with the temple. This is no accident, as Jesus’ entire teaching, the infancy narrative and the entire gospel begin and end in the temple.[4]
When we hear temple and Jerusalem, we need to keep in mind not only a physical building of stones and a geographical locale of redemption, but more importantly, the location of the presence of the Lord. That requires us to think eschatologically for these beautiful stones will be pulled down.
Jesus spoke of stones in other sayings about Jerusalem. Stones would shout acclamations if people were kept silent during his entry into the city. Jerusalem’s enemies would not leave one stone upon another because it did not know its time of visitation. The rejected stone became the cornerstone.[5] The stones that matter in the temple are not the ones that form the building, but the Stone whose presence has resided among the physical stones and who now prophesies the end of those stones.[6] And if the temple, the place where God dwelt, is destroyed, where would people look for God? In Jesus, who came to dwell not in a stones building, but in the Church through Word and Sacrament.
Continuing on our excerpt, Jesus teaches his disciples not how to predict the future, but how to see that “end times” begin with his death and resurrection. Preparing his disciples for the end so that they are not misled, Jesus points not to a stone temple and signs, but how to recognize false prophets coming in his name with a different catechesis, a different teaching. This false teaching comes from panic that people feel when calamity strikes. Wars will come. Disaster will strike. When they occur, some will present false teaching. Jesus’ advises his disciples: Do not panic.
Along with the destruction of the temple, Jerusalem and the world, Jesus spoke of persecution, and for the first time, he explicitly suggested that his trials are bound to their trials.
When Jesus said, “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake,” he referred to his disciples and the entire Church. Jesus meant this statement for men and women in his company and those who would follow later. This persecution continued in Acts. When Saul fell to the ground, “he heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”[7]
One author described the persecution this way. “Christians will experience persecution for no other reason than their connection with Jesus. The name of Jesus defines their identity, for Christians bear in their bodies Jesus, the new temple. For that reason, Christians are living stones and their bodies are temples. The opponents will hate them because the presence of God has shifted from the temple of Jerusalem to where Christ promised to be present: in those baptized in his name, in the Gospel, in his Supper. How ironic that the temple of Jerusalem is destroyed by God because the people refused to believe that a shift in divine presence had taken place and that Christians will be killed because they proclaim that this presence now dwells among them.”[8] Folks, that persecution persists today.
That persecution continues today, and Christians willingly bear it because they believe his promise. They believe Jesus’ words at the end of this excerpt. “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. … When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”[9]
Destruction and persecution fill our excerpt, but for all Christians who believe, hope overshadows them. That is why we gather here today. We believe that Jesus is among us in Sacrament, Word and prayer. We gather here knowing that persecution awaits us as it did Jesus, but we trust in his word. Yes, we trust in his word, but … now what? Now, I turn to my third point, expectation.
What do we mean by expectation? Expectation means belief that something will happen or is likely to happen. When our daughter and daughter-in-law became pregnant, we expected babies. When our team goes to training camp, we expect a championship. When high school graduates leave for college, we expect they will earn a bachelor’s degree … in four years. When the doctor diagnoses a loved one with a terminal disease, we expect we should get our affairs in order. When the pastor appears at the hospital or funeral home, we expect comfort. When we pray, we expect God to answer.
So, what should we expect as we await the end of days? What should we expect on the Day of the Lord? What are we expected to do as we endure destruction and persecution?
We are expected to hope and pray as individuals and community, but what else? To help answer that question, we turn to Paul. He not only prayed for believers, but also exhorted them to imitate him. You “know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you.”[10]
When it comes to imitation, fathers and mothers set the standard for their children. Each section in Luther’s Small Catechism begins with “The head of the family …” Section Two on Daily Prayers states, “How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening. … In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[11] The Catechism then instructs us to kneel or stand and repeat the Creed and Lord’s Prayer before saying his little prayer.
My point is this. We imitate Paul by following Luther’s instruction on prayer because it recalls our baptism as sinners redeemed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you pray two or three times daily as a couple or a family, you increase your odds of holding on to hope while being persecuted. Remember, Satan is defeated, but not dead. He can tempt others to hate and harm you as he led men to hate and harm Jesus and his followers. So, pray daily.
Pray daily for the end is near. I do not know when it will come for you or me, but soon. Moreover, the end of this sermon is near too. However, one last thing.
I named this sermon Three Es of Christianity, and when I began researching it, I came across an article written by an Orthodox priest entitled “Ease of Life and Christianity Do Not Go Together.” There are three Es of Christianity, but there is no ease of Christianity.
Friends, following Jesus to the Cross and Tomb on Friday or any day of the week is difficult. Standing under the shadow of the Cross can be dark and daunting. Witnessing destruction and enduring persecution may seem pointless. But having experienced the Risen Christ and the Joy of the Holy Spirit in my heart makes all the difference in my life. I pray it does in yours.
Friends, as we await for the Son of Man to come in a cloud with great power and glory, remain faithful in prayer, and as you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Zachary Hayes, “Eschatology,” The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press (1993), 354.
[2] Gen 12:1ff.
[3] Hayes, 355.
[4] The temple teaching is framed by 19:47; 21:37-48. The infancy narrative by 1:5-25; 24:53, and the gospel by 1:5-25; 24:53.
[5] 19:40; 19:44; 20:17.
[6] Arthur A. Just, Jr., Luke 9:51-24:53. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House (1997), 789.
[7] Acts 9:4-5.
[8] Just, 794.
[9] Luke 21:28, 31.
[10] 2 Thes 3:7.
[11] Page 32.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Three Ps of Engaged Christians (Luke 18:1-8)

Serious Christians remember a sermon if you simplify it. Hence, the title of my book, Simple Sermons for Serious Christians. Most often, I simplify sermons by hanging three points on one letter. Today, three Ps – Parable, Passage and Prayer.
Three points are easier to remember if they all begin with the same letter. Case in point: An investor analyzes businesses through people, product and process. An entrepreneur states the key to success is passion, patience and perseverance. An anthropologist deems it imperative that males aspiring to be men must protect, procreate and provide. A professor teaches that we handle setbacks through personalization, pervasiveness and permanence. While I do not expect you to remember all those Ps, they illustrate that points are easier to remember if all the words begin with the same letter. That said, for Christians engaged in the world: parable, passage and prayer.
First, parable. What is a parable? Simply defined, a parable is a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson. It comes to us from the Latin, parabola, and the Greek, parabole, which literally meant ‘a throwing beside.’ Its origin is from the term para, meaning alongside, and bole, a throwing, casting, beam or ray.
The geometrically gifted understand that a parabolic curve refers to a comparison between fixed points and a straight line. The St. Louis Arch and your satellite dish are parabolic curves. Jesus, however, did not teach math or build arches. Rather, he compared real life situations to teach a lesson about God.
Parables were part of Jewish tradition. The Hebrew term for a parable was mashal. We find mashal in the allegories, proverbs, riddles and taunts of Judges, Samuel, Proverbs, Prophets and the intertestamental Book of Enoch. We are familiar with Nathan’s powerful story to David of the rich man who stole and slaughtered the poor man’s prized lamb. It transformed David to a humble, contrite sinner. So, we see that Jesus did not invent parables, but like his ancestors, used them to win people over to his views.
Jesus spoke parables to proclaim the gracious advent, disturbing presence and challenging implications of the Kingdom of God. At times, he opened with, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”[1] or, “To what shall I compare?”[2] Often, he concluded with a question. “Which of these three … proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”[3] Today’s parable asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”[4]
While Jesus’ questions did not pressure listeners to choose any one direction, they confronted them with the necessity to make a choice that determined their future. No doubt, his listeners who viewed matters one way now discovered a better way. Discovering a better way resulted in conversion, reconciliation and changed behavior. Once they experienced conversion and reconciliation, his followers transformed society and changed the world. As I conclude my first point on parables, I repeat that last sentence. Once they experienced conversion and reconciliation, his followers transformed society and changed the world.
From parable to passage, my second point. I repeated the last sentence because repetition is effective pedagogy. We learned our catechism by repeating answers to questions. As Luther employed repetition, so did Luke. He emphasized continued prayer in this passage, and humble prayer in the next. The conclusion of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector reads, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[5]
We also find a parallel between this passage and chapter 11, where Jesus said, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’”[6] In both, the main character is the petitioned, not the petitioner. The petitioned represents God, who listens and answers, but the attention goes to the petitioner, who asks, seeks and knocks. In other words, do not be afraid to bother God. Do not give up on prayer.
Jesus encouraged his disciples to pray earnestly to the end. Luke recorded that when Jesus was in the Mount of Olives, he was in agony but prayed more earnestly.[7] In Acts, when Peter was in prison, the church prayed earnestly to God for him.[8] Like the widow seeking justice, the disciples’ goal, even in the midst of difficulties, was never give up before the Son of Man returns.
Jesus then described the judge as unrighteous, unaccountable to God and inconsiderate towards people. The listeners understood that this man was not a religious figure, but a secular judge who ruled through the authority of the occupying power, a common practice in the Ancient Middle East. In many cases, people sought justice in these courts because the judicial process was quicker and smoother. We find an indication of this practice in chapter 12. Jesus said, “As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”[9]
The oppressed widow symbolized the helpless and defenseless. She knew she had right on her side, appealed for vindication and expected swift justice. As a favor to her oppressor, a rich and influential man, the judge delayed her hearing.
The judge did not decide according to the exhortations to give widows their rights according to the Law and Prophets. There, we read, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child.”[10] “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.”[11] “I will be a swift witness against … those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and fatherless, [and] those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord.”[12]
Yet, the unrighteous, exasperated judge yielded to the widow’s relentless pursuit of justice. He could do nothing to appease her short of giving her a swift hearing based on Roman law. He did so because he was tired of having his reputation sullied and his name ridiculed among his peers because this poor, defenseless widow never gave up seeking justice.
If the unjust judge does right by the widow for whom he does not care – a case in which the chances for a positive outcome are very slim – how much more will God respond to the unceasing cry of his elect, since, in contrast to the judge, he listens favorably to them.[13] The unjust judge did not care for the widow and hardly wanted to listen to her. Our righteous, loving God has a lively interest in his elect and is always prepared to listen to them.
God is always prepared to listen; however, as I mentioned earlier, Jesus often concluded parables with a question. Here, he asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”[14] Will he find disciples actively engaged in prayer?
Will he find disciples actively engaged in prayer? That, folks, leads me to my third point, prayer.
What is prayer? Prayer is the necessary foundation of our work as church and individuals. It is communal and personal. We pray in our sanctuaries and rooms. To paraphrase one holy person, prayer is God looking at me, and me looking at God. It is from the heart, but it is also vocal. We speak the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus taught it to his disciples.
Prayer involves reading Scripture. Daily, my wife and I read aloud the Psalms. We are also reading the New Testament in the Community Bible Experience. When I pray the Scriptures, I use the Five Ps of Prayer: Passage, Place, Posture, Presence and Passage. This method calls me to read, question and wonder.
Prayer involves thought and imagination, gifts Jesus employed as he formed parables. Praying over Nathan’s story to David may reduce me to a humble, contrite sinner. Pondering Jesus’ closing question in the Parable of the Good Samaritan may leave me wondering if I show mercy to diverse neighbors. Meditating on the Parable of the Prodigal may challenge the depth of my love for father and brother, mother and sister. So, friends, you see why my last point is prayer. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith in me? Will he find me praying earnestly to the end – like Peter in prison or Jesus in the Mount of Olives?
Jesus based this parable on trust and confidence in God’s help and assistance. He could be so straightforward in his assurance that God hears the cry of his people because he took seriously the action of God in his own life and ministry. He saw it in Israel’s history and the world around him.[15]
We do not live in that history and world. We live in a country with a different history and a different world. Therefore, we pray over this parable in order to relate it to our daily lives. When I pray over the passage, many questions rise to the surface, but let me focus only on a few.
First, who are today’s widows? Who are God’s elect who cry out to him day and night seeking justice? Whose voices are the exploited and oppressed?
Second, Jesus promises that God will give justice to his elect. If I – created in the image and likeness of God, baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, a redeemed sinner and child of God – If I am to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, how do I extend mercy to those who seek justice? If the unjust judge who neither feared God nor respected man knew how to extend justice to the poor, exploited and oppressed widow, to whom do I extend justice?
I asked myself, “Who are the exploited?” As a REALTOR®, I know predatory lenders exploited poor families who lost home and savings. Recalling my work at World Neighbors, an international organization solving hunger, I saw the immensity of poverty in rural Asia, Africa and Latin America. As a fundraiser for a homeless service provider in Berkeley, California, I met many homeless vets and people with mental health disorders. As a program manager for Incarceration to Independence, I interviewed dozens of women exploited by pushers and pimps. I could list scores of exploited and oppressed people who cry out to God seeking justice, but only the unborn do not have a voice.
Abortion killed 700,000 unborn babies last year. In the United States, for every 1,000 babies that were born, we aborted 200.[16] Lutherans for Life, Priests for Life, Operation Rescue, Guttmacher Institute, the CDC and others publish pages of statistics and stories on their websites. Read them. Think about the 80 babies aborted during the length of our worship service, or the 25 during the length of this sermon. Ask yourself if these exploited and oppressed elect of God cried out when aborted because they were inconvenient to the parents.[17]
I concluded my first point by saying that once people heard Jesus’ parables, they experienced conversion and reconciliation, transformed society and changed the world. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”[18] Will he find that Lutherans Engage the World is a reality or simply a magazine?
Friends, these exploited and oppressed people created in the image of God have no voice and yet cry out for justice. As men and women who experienced conversion and reconciliation, our prayers and actions can transform society and change the world. As we approach the election, seriously consider not only people, but also political parties and policies that ignore or respond to those who cry out to God. Let your vote express justice and mercy for those who cry out to God, yet have no voice.
Beyond the ballot box, pray and protest the inhumane slaughter of the innocents, and tax-payer funding of agencies that abort unborn persons. Do this, and know that when the Son of Man returns, he will find you engaged in prayer and in the practice of your faith. When He returns, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Matthew 13;31,33.
[2] Luke 7:31.
[3] Luke 10:36.
[4] Luke 18:8.
[5] Luke 18:14.
[6] Luke 11:5ff.
[7] Luke 22:44.
[8] Acts 12:5.
[9] Luke 12:58-59.
[10] Exodus 22:22. See also Deuteronomy 27:19.
[11] Isaiah 1:23.
[12] Malachi 3:5.
[13] Herman Hendrickx, The Parables of Jesus, San Francisco: Harper & Row (1986). 223.
[14] Luke 18:8.
[15] Hendrickx, 229.
[17] This is the primary reason parents seek abortion.
[18] Luke 18:8.