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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Another Chapter



Hey, friends.

Cindy and I start a new chapter in our lives beginning this week. I accepted the position of Vacancy Pastor at Trinity Church in Nashville, Illinois. At least through January 31, 2015, we will be living at the parsonage. Our personal address is:

614 W. Walnut Street
Nashville IL 62263.

At the church office, you can reach me by phone, e-mail, or regular mail.

Trinity Lutheran Church
680 W. Walnut St.
Nashville, IL  62263 

Phone: 618-327-3311
Fax: 618-327-8561
E-mail: trinitystjohn@gmail.com
Office hours: 8 am - 4 pm (Monday to Friday)
The church’s website is http://trinity-nashville.org/.

You can also keep in touch via email or social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Yelp, Foursquare, Tumblr, Pinterest or my blog, http://cwynar.blogspot.com/.

If you are driving through Illinois, we live 5 miles south of I-64, and 55 miles east of St. Louis. Let us know if you need a place to sleep overnight. We have plenty of room.

Please continue to pray for us. God bless your week.

Paul and Cindy Cwynar

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Grace Trumps Efficiency



God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My focus is Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship,” and Matthew 13:3, “Then Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed.”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”[1] Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
“I to I” stood for “Incarceration to Independence.” “I to I” was a program I started in 2004 for young mothers incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh. The goal of “I to I” was to offer a seamless transition from a woman’s incarceration into society where as an independent woman, she could resume her duties of motherhood.
In the year that I initiated and oversaw “I to I,” more than 50 women sought assistance. Our most successful client was Eva. In fact, Eva was our only successful client. Despite all I did for my clients – counseling, suitable clothing for court, personal transportation to their parole officer, to Bethlehem Haven or POWER (organizations that work with homeless women), and connecting them to a myriad of social services, my ministry was a failure. Of 50 women, one succeeded.
I failed because I was working with incarcerated women, including those with babies, who were addicted to some drug that stemmed from abuse or neglect as children. They were arrested for crimes related to their addiction – possession, theft, solicitation or some other non-violent crime.
In 1970, there were 5,600 women incarcerated in all US prisons. By 2001, there were 160,000 incarcerated women. Presently, the prison population has over 2 million women.[2] Is there a need for programs such as “I to I” today? Definitely. Will such programs produce successful women such as Eva? Undoubtedly. Will the majority of incarcerated women transition to independence? No. Then, why support such programs? In a word, grace.
I relate my experience of “I to I” to Romans and Matthew for two reasons. First, our understanding of addiction helps us grasp Paul’s theology of sin and grace, or fear and sonship. Second, failure offers us understanding of the Sower and the Seed, and the parable offers us hope.
First, Paul’s theology of sin and grace. Paul used “slave” in Romans to teach Christians how sin, the flesh or the ways of the world enslaved us. He also used the word to describe our relationship with God. As heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, we are slaves of righteousness.
We do not have a personal experience of being slaves, and few of us have ever met a slave, although there are more than 15,000 slaves trafficked in our nation annually.[3] So, when Paul writes of slaves of sin or fear and slaves of righteousness, we do not grasp the meaning.
A slave has a master. Society teaches me that I do not have a master. I am master of my own destiny. No one tells me how to live, how to think, how to behave. I am my own man. That makes it difficult to grasp the meaning of Paul’s theology of sin.
We might understand Paul better if we consider ourselves not as slaves but as addicts. Our experience of addiction is real. We know addicts. Whether our experience of an addict is an incarcerated mother, someone in our school or in our family, or even personal, we know addicts.
Today, we know addicts as people dependent on drugs or alcohol to cope with life, but in the Roman Empire, addicts were bankrupt people given as slaves to their creditors. Addict comes from the Latin addictus, meaning, “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor.” In the 1600s, it meant giving yourself to someone or some practice. By the 1900s, addict became associated with dependency on drugs.
So, when Paul says we are slaves of fear or slaves to sin, he means that we are addicted to sin. This addiction to sin extends beyond acts of murder, theft, adultery or gossip, and goes to the heart of sin – idolatry. … The heart of sin is not having God rule my life. I am addicted to thinking that I control my destiny. God is not my master. I have no master. I am my own master.
From his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul knew better. As sinners whose debt was paid through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we, the baptized, should live as addicts of the Holy Trinity. We are addicted to God. As a drug controls the life of an addict, the Trinity controls the life of a Christian. Addiction to God leads me to my next point, failure.
Failure offers us understanding of the Sower and the Seed, and it offers us hope. … To develop this point, we examine the parable in its fuller context. Matthew opens the chapter with the words, “on that day.” What happened on that day? Before the parable, that is, in chapter 12, we read that the Pharisees claimed the source of Jesus’ power was Beelzebul; teachers of the law demanded a sign; and his family did not grasp his identity.
At the end of chapter 13, His scandalized homefolk questioned the source of Jesus’ wisdom and power. The closing verse reads, “He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”[4]
Reading the wider passage helps us understand why Jesus spoke these parables. Despite his teaching and his healing, despite opening people’s minds and hearts, so many failed to respond in faith and discipleship.
True, Satan, sin and the world devoured His message as birds feed on seed so that before Jesus proclaimed the reign of God His hearers never had a chance to understand or believe it.[5] Some new believers and followers of Jesus, like seed on rocky ground, who did not put down deep roots, experienced personal difficulties or opposition because of their belief, and turned away. Others, like seed among thorns, were seduced by wealth or let worry asphyxiate the Good News of God’s power. In short, most seed produced no fruit.
Most seed produced no fruit because God came in mysteriously lowly, weak and resistible ways. … God comes in mysteriously lowly, weak and resistible ways, but those who have ears hear Him. During Jesus’ life, some heard the Good News of how God the King was coming to reclaim creation and forgive His people. They heard and understood, and in their understanding, they were fruitful for God. Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary, tax collectors Matthew and Zaccheus, fishermen James and John, and others heard and understood Jesus.
What did they hear and understand? … Scrape away the top layer of our text to examine the Sower’s methods, and notice that He, God, throws His seed on the path where birds eat it, on rocky soil where roots wither, among thorns and on good soil. In other words, God sows seed everywhere. God does not restrict His seed, His message, to a particular plot of land or a specific group of people. God’s indiscriminate broadcast of seed or grace is not efficient and goes against the human tendency to conserve one’s resources and efforts. God’s method is not efficient or productive, but in the Reign of God, grace trumps efficiency. God’s message, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love is for all people.
Now, compare the fruit that fell on good soil to the seed that produced none. Ask yourself how that seed produced faith that has lasted for 2,000 years and blossomed in every nation and culture. This occurred not by reason or sheer human willpower. As Martin Luther’s Small Catechism explained the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”[6]
The Holy Spirit called me by the Gospel. We believe in the Holy Spirit because by our own reason or strength we cannot believe in Jesus Christ our Lord. Those who heard and understood Jesus allowed the Holy Spirit to enter their hearts.
The Holy Spirit also empowered Jesus, when faced with failure, not to abandon His Father’s will. Even though the Pharisees, His family and friends thought He was possessed or crazy, Jesus did not abandon His mission. He continued to spread His Good News. He continued to spread His Gospel like a farmer sowing seed. Jesus sowed seeds of faith, hope and love. Among the hopeless, Jesus sowed seeds of hope. Among the unloved, Jesus sowed seeds of love. Among those struggling with faith, Jesus prayed that the Holy Spirit enlighten their minds and move their hearts.
So, how does the parable offer us hope today?
I should have given up on Eva. I worked with 50 women, and 49 failed. However, by grace, Eva succeeded. I spent countless hours on the phone and in person counseling Eva. I visited her in jail. When released, I got her into Bethlehem Haven, an organization that assists homeless women in recovery. I listened to her complaints and disappointments. I met her children. I secured furniture for her first apartment. And then, I moved to California.
Two years later, my former boss, Liguori Rossner, told me that Eva greeted her as her host at a local restaurant. Eva was thrilled to see Liguori and expressed joyful gratitude for all that I did for her. People may say that “I to I” failed, but Eva did not.
Our work with her – all for the glory of God – produced more fruit than imaginable. Honestly, I thought the birds of prey would snatch away the Good News or the worries of life would choke her, but the Spirit worked in her and I am grateful to God for that.
God may not be calling you to minister to incarcerated women, but God is calling you to demonstrate the fruits of His seed, His grace and love. God calls you to show how His loving-kindness has changed your life. He calls you to read, study and pray His Word. He calls you to receive His grace poured into your heart through the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father and Son call you to demonstrate His presence in your life.
If God called you to parent, raise your children as baptized Christians. If God called you to marriage, love your spouse as Christ loves His spouse, the Church. If God called you to teach, inspire students. If God called you to the military or public service, serve under the banner of Christ. If God called you to business or industry, do business with Christian ethics.
Fear not those who steal the Gospel like birds of prey. Let not the world or its worries stifle God’s Spirit in you. In Paul’s words, “You who have received the Spirit of sonship will never again be a slave to fear.”[7]
Offer hope to the hopeless, love the unloved, evangelize without words. Offer this world’s Eva’s another chance.
Be not a Christian comfortable living the ways of the world, the ways of flesh. If you melded your faith into the world’s ways ... If you are satisfied with your relationship with God … If you are living a “respectable” Christian life, consider these words of the recently passed Chuck Noll, the only NFL coach to win four Super Bowls. Asked at his first news conference if his goal was to make the Steelers respectable, Noll said, “Respectability? Who wants to be respectable? That's spoken like a true loser.”[8]
Be a champion for Christ. Witness for Christ, and not Satan, sin and self. … Witness for Christ like an addict, like an heir of the Kingdom. Spread seeds of faith, hope and love everywhere and without discrimination. And when you do, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[2] Inside and Out: Women, Prison, and Therapy  edited by Elaine J. Leeder. Taylor and Francis, 2007.
[4] Matthew 13:58
[5] Jeffrey A. Gibbs, Matthew 11:2-20:34. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010, p. 681.
[6] Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, p. 15.
[7] Paraphrasing Romans 8:15

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Values, Addicts and Chuck Noll



God’s grace, peace and mercy be with you. … My theme is God gives us personal value. My focus is Matthew 10:24-25 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, the psalmist wrote, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”[i] Now that our feet are within your gates, we rejoice to hear your Word. As we listen, may your Spirit enlighten our minds and move our hearts to love deeply as Jesus loved. This we pray to you, Most Holy Trinity. Amen.
You got a happy dance? Pharrell has a song for your happy dance. His “Happy” video features people dancing the 4-minute song for 24 hours. A 24-hour video!
Of course, Happy is not the first song to promote happiness. The list includes Don’t Worry, Be Happy; Happy Together; You’ve Made Me So Very Happy; The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA; Happy Days; and Oh Happy Day.
I begin a sermon entitled God gives us personal value with happy thoughts because many view happiness as a personal value. So, let us look at Value, Pauline Values, Matthean Values, and because we are planning summer vacations, my Prescription for Spiritual Laziness, which may be your key to happiness.
First, value. Although our founding fathers penned “pursuit of happiness” into the Declaration of Independence, they did not define it as we do. Definitions evolve. For example, the word nice comes from the Latin word nescius meaning “ignorant.” In the 14th century, it meant “foolish,” then evolved to mean cowardice, and then shyness. Today, when someone says you are nice, you take it as a compliment.[ii]
In the context of the Declaration of Independence, happiness was about one’s contribution to society rather than pursuit of self-gratification.[iii] I contribute to society the personal values I learned and modeled as a child. These personal values provide an internal reference for what is good. In a society where people come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds, our cultural values emphasize those that people broadly share.
We derive our Christian values from the teachings of Jesus and from Christian teachers throughout the history of our religion. What we believe and practice as Lutherans is not exactly what Baptists, Methodists or other Christians believe and practice, but we share some basic Christian values.
To sort out Christian values, we return to our roots, and turn to my second point – Pauline values.
Paul came to believe, practice and hand on to Jesus’ early followers what the Holy Spirit revealed to him as essential. He was sophisticated enough to understand that the teachings of Jesus, like definitions, may not mean the same thing to all people.
Learned, practicing 1st century Jews in Jerusalem understood the deeper meaning of Jesus’ Last Supper differently than Gentile converts reared to worship other gods. Hence, Paul taught a new theology of baptism and communion that Jews and Gentiles alike understood and appropriated.
Paul did the same with sin and grace, redemption and sanctification. He conveyed to cultures that lacked Scripture the concept that humans are sinful by nature and by choice. Once he presented this, Paul could teach that because our loving God values us, He redeemed us through His Son.
Today, we take for granted Paul’s teaching on sin, redemption, baptism and Christian values. We even take for granted a brand new term that Paul coined – sanctification.
Do we fully understand what Paul meant when he wrote present yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification? … Recall the story I told last fall of Minh Dang, enslaved by her parents until she broke free as an adult.[iv] Minh understands the concept of slavery quite differently than we do. We have no personal experience of what it means to be a slave.
I see myself as master of my own destiny. No one tells me how to live, how to think, how to behave. I am my own man. That makes it difficult to grasp the meaning of Paul’s words. We might understand the concept of presenting ourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification if we considered ourselves not as slaves but as addicts.
In the Roman Empire, addicts were bankrupt people given as slaves to their creditors. Addict comes from the Latin addictus, meaning “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor.” In the 1600s, it meant giving yourself to someone or some practice. By the 1900s, addict became associated with dependency on drugs.
So, when Paul says we are slaves to sin, he means addicted to sin. This addiction extends beyond acts of murder, theft, adultery or gossip, and goes to the heart of sin – idolatry. … We are addicted to thinking that we control our own destiny. God is not my master. I have no master. I am my own master.
From his encounter with the Risen Christ, Paul knew better. As sinners whose debt was paid through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, we, the baptized, should live as addicts of the Holy Trinity. That is what “present yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” means. You are addicted to God. As a drug controls the life of an addict, the Trinity controls the life of a Christian. Addiction to God leads me to my third point, Matthean values.
The kernel of today’s Gospel is that Christians resemble their Teacher and Master, Jesus Christ. When baptized, we put on Christ, but often fail to resemble Him. By grace, Christians become more like Christ by prayerfully reading God’s Word and receiving Holy Communion.
Paul pointed out that God favored the Jews over Gentiles because He chose them and remained faithfully present to them. We are favored because God remains faithfully present to us through Word and Sacrament. Word and Sacrament are essential to our worship and life. They are essential to other Christians as they too attempt to become more like Christ. However, other denominations interpret Word and Sacrament differently.
We should understand that although we agree with denominations whose personal and communal values are formed by the teachings of Christ, when it comes to the interpretation of Word and Sacrament, we view these quite differently. Some denominations, such as Methodists and Presbyterians, teach that Christ is only symbolically present in Holy Communion.[v] They practice open Communion even for the unbaptized.
We have more than a symbolic presence. We have the true Body and Blood of Christ in, with and under the forms of bread and wine. Because that true Body and Blood of Christ is available to us and because God calls us to be like our Teacher and Master, think how deep can our relationship with God could be if we made ourselves present to Him in Word and Sacrament?
Imagine how deep your relationships would be if you made yourself present to each member of your family. Now, imagine yourself as the hot water heater. Everyone takes for granted the hot water heater. No one notices it until something is wrong. We all have relationships like that. Family members take us for granted or never notice something is wrong until we break down.
How do we respond when faithful friends and family members treat us like the hot water heater? How does God respond when we treat Him like a hot water heater?
My friends, summer vacation means taking time away. Unfortunately, for some that includes time away from Word and Sacrament. Like our relationship with the hot water heater, we become spiritual lazy. Hence, my final point, my Summer Prescription for Spiritual Laziness.
Oswald Chambers once wrote, “We are all capable of being spiritually lazy saints.” We are all capable of being spiritually lazy saints. Now, before I give you this prescription, let me tell you the story of a man who never became spiritually lazy.
Maximillian Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894. As a young man, he saw religious indifference as the deadliest poison of his day. A missionary in Japan in the early 30’s, he returned to Poland to found a newspaper and radio station, tools to spread the Gospel and to speak out against Nazi atrocities.[vi]
In 1941, the Nazis arrested Kolbe and incarcerated him at Auschwitz. That July, a prisoner escaped. As punishment, the commandant announced 10 men would die. As the 10 were being marched away to the starvation bunkers, Kolbe, Prisoner Number 16670, stepped from the line, and requested, “I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.” The dumbfounded commandant kicked the doomed sergeant out of line and ordered Kolbe to go with the nine. They were stripped naked as their slow starvation began in darkness. … There was no screaming from the prisoners. Instead, they raised their spirits by singing. By August 14, the jailer came to finish off Kolbe as he sat in a corner praying. Kolbe lifted his fleshless arm to receive the bite of the hypodermic needle filled with carbolic acid. The Nazis burned his body with all the others.
Kolbe could not have witnessed for Christ in Auschwitz if he had not formed a deep, full, rich intimate relationship with Him throughout his life. We may never find ourselves condemned to death by starvation or as slaves to cruel masters, but daily we have the opportunity to witness for Christ.
When faced with adversity – religious harassment, ethnic persecution, war, death, divorce, faithless family and friends, unemployment, poverty, sickness, incurable disease and impending death – we have the opportunity to witness for Christ, our Master and Teacher. In order to do so, experience tells me to prescribe something to counter spiritual laziness – the five P’s of Prayer: Passage, Place, Posture, Presence and Passage.
Passage. Depending on the circumstances, choose a Scripture passage. Slowly read it several times until a word or phrase rises to the surface.
Place. Choose a place where you will not be disturbed. It may be in your home or a quiet church.
Posture. Find a sturdy comfortable chair that will allow you to sit upright. Posture is important. Do not slouch or lie down.
Presence. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Start there and gradually increase your prayer time to 25 minutes. Close your eyes so you are not distracted. Be present to God as He is present to you. Thoughts, feelings, physical discomforts and audible distractions will occur. Stand firm in the stream and let these distractions flow by as flotsam and jetsam go downstream.
Passage. When you get distracted, return to the passage and refocus. When your minutes have passed, close your meditation by reciting aloud The Lord’s Prayer.
Because Jesus personally values you, try this for 25 minutes a day for the next 30-some years – the lifespan of Jesus. I guarantee you a deeper, richer, fuller, more intimate relationship with our Triune God. If it does not work, you can return it for your old relationship with God.
If you are satisfied with your present relationship with God and are living a respectable Christian life, consider these words of the recently passed Chuck Noll, the only NFL coach to win four Super Bowls. Asked at his first news conference if his goal was to make the Steelers respectable, Noll said, “Respectability? Who wants to be respectable? That's spoken like a true loser.”[vii]
Be a champion for Christ. Step out of line and witness for Christ in the manner Maximillian Kolbe did. Like a true champion, witness for our Teacher and Master, Jesus Christ, and not Satan, sin and self. … We are more likely to witness for Christ if we are addicted to Him and not ourselves. When we step out of line in faith and love, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[iii] See page 36. http://www.civicenterprises.net/MediaLibrary/Docs/national_conference_on_citizenship_2005.pdf