Monthly Archives: May 2015
Devotional and Discussion Quote of the Day:
23 For I received from the Lord the teaching that I passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a piece of bread, 24 gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” 25 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (TEV)
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
477 Why do you neglect those corners in your heart? As long as you don’t give yourself completely, you can’t expect to win others. What a poor instrument you are! (1)
On Thursday, I had some medical tests done. As I was laying there on the hard gurney, the nurse told me to stay still, as she was going to ram a large (it looked six inches long and an inch wide) needle into one of my veins. “Hold still,” she says.
Yeah. Be still. Uh huh,
Think about this, you are laid back in the comfortable dentist chair, and the dentist smiles and says, this will hurt just a little, as he takes tools that barely fit in the room, and comes at you with sinister glee glowing from behind his mask.
“Just be still,” he cautions. The only problem, in both those our nerves, betray us. We lie there, shaking, our bodies tense and on edge, not sure how painful this will be. Our minds are trying to find something to distract us, something else upon which to focus. Is it over yet?
So what do these two phobias of mine have to do with the Lord’s Supper?
The stillness we need to have is part of it.
But so is the trust that what is going to happen to us is going to be for our betterment.
I think many of us approach communion to casually. Do we realize that this is God, Jesus’ precious Body give for us, His blood shed for our sins, that we are going to take? Are we still enough to realize that we aren’t just symbolically in the presence of God, we really are?
Do we realize that God’s presence will cleanse, restore, and bring healing to our broken lives, our hurting souls?
Paul tells the church to examine themselves, to recognize His presence, that to fail to do so has resulted in some spiritually falling asleep, and in some cases, death.
We need to be still; We need to take the time to know He Is God, our God, the God, who loves and cares for us. It’s not for His ease, or because He is impatient, it is for our best, for our healing, for our comfort.
Imagine if you spent the time in a dentist’s chair paging through His resume, interviewing other patients, trying to critique his prior operations, and pontificating and debating about why He is better than the dentist three doors down. Imagine,as the arm is cleaned, and the needle approaches that vein, you spend time trying to determine whether it would be better to place it somewhere else, or arguing about the history of plastic versus metal needles, and occasionally wondering about the use of leeches?
Relax, breath deep, know the presence of God. Drop to your knees in awe (if you can get back up!) and savor the moment, the Body and Blood, given and shed for you……
He is God!
He is with you!
This is what you’ve been told to seek, this moment, this precious time…. breathe slowly, find that point where you revere and adore Him, and where that reverence is balance with a flood of joy. As you are still and know that He is God as His love and mercy wash away all that is not this moment, God and His family…
this moment we need!
Be still…. for just a moment longer…
Smile, and know you life is in His hands…..
Be still… be still and know He is God.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1168-1170). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
3 How excellent are the LORD’S faithful people! My greatest pleasure is to be with them. Psalm 16:3 (TEV)
9 Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10 Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11 Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12 Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13 Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14 Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16 Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. Romans 12:9-16 (TEV)
465 I think it is all right for you to feel concern for your brothers—there is no better proof of your mutual love. Take care, however, to keep your worries from degenerating into anxiety. (1)
For those of us who regularly gather with other believers, it is something we wouldn’t consider giving up for other things. Yet I don’t know if we can explain this well to others. The words from Solomon above tell me that those I gather aren’t the first to feel this way. Even Solomon looked forward to gather with others who also tried to walk with God.
But it takes time to get to this point. It takes effort to look past the fact that we are all sinners and to be comfortable knowing that we can gather with each other. Being honest with each other comes slowly, but it comes, and then we being to see people react like the second quote above. We become like that.
We will, I have seen it.
Even in the most broken of congregations, there are those who will take time to listen and to pray. Often there are people that sacrifice their time and talent, and yes sometimes help out financially. Let me give you an example. We had a visitor one year to our midweek services. She worked somewhere else, and couldn’t have communion regularly. So the congregation agreed that from that point on – Wednesday services will have communion. A simple decision, yet a decision which made our visitor feel quite at home. I don’t think it is a coincidence that those services, during Lent and Advent, have quadrupled in size over the last few years. I could tell other stories, of people underwriting tuition for children, of people bringing others meals, or caring for their lawn.
But to see all of these incredible acts of love one has to be involved. One has to hear the stories, to cry and weep with those around them. They have to let others cry and weep with them. One has to learn to love deeply, and allow yourself to be loved deeply.
The reason to go to church isn’t the love of your neighbor though that is one of the blessings that comes with it. The reason we come together is to see God’s love to you revealed! We are gathered together as He works in our lives, from bringing healing of your heart and soul, to bringing comfort, to sustaining us. We realize this as we find great joy when a baby, or a 90-year-old, is baptised, reminding you of the very promises given to you.
It is an amazing thing to see those promises poured out on the lives of others, to share in it, to be comforted by it. To realize that a church is more than listening to some music and a message. But that the message and the music, because of God’s love, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, impacts lives. It does this as we explore the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love for us, His family, together.
Come join us, spend some time together with us, and experience the love of God, poured out on a community.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1134-1135). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
† IHS †
May the Holy Spirit’s Work in Your Life Make You Even More Aware of the Grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Missing Piece
So today, children of the Father, we have a small pop quiz. It might be tricky, and anyone who fails may be subject to going through confirmation again.
I want you to think of the creed that you just confessed, before singing “my redeemer lives”. Without reciting it in your mind, or looking it up, here is your one question quiz.
Who is described as “the Lord” in the creed? ( pause for answers)
Specifically, who is described as “the Lord and giver of Life.”
We may talk of believing in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, but even the Creed talk more of the effect of the Holy Spirit than of the Holy Spirit himself. We talk of the communion of saints, knowing our sins are forgiven, the resurrection of the Body and life, the life given us by the Spirit, everlasting.
But we often so overlook the role of the Holy Spirit, who has given us life.
So curious how many people need to have a refresher in what they learned in confirmation?
In today’s Old Testament passage, we see a great picture of the work of the Holy Spirit, who is not just the giver of life, but the Lord of Life. Yeah, the Lord of Life.
We need to understand this, not just as a matter of semantics, but to understand the work that God does in us, to us…. And through us.
The Damage of Sin
If we are to understand this, we need to see the reason that the bones were there in the valley. The clearest explanation is given by the people who struggled with God,
“They are saying, We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished. ”
By finished, Ezekiel is making the comment that they are cut off from God. Using the Mosaic Law, they are exiled from the people of God. They are acknowledging that they all deserve the treatment that blasphemy earns described well in
13 Then the LORD said to Moses, 14 “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. 15 Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. 16 Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the LORD must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any native-born Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the Name of the LORD must be put to death. Leviticus 24:13-16 (NLT)
That is what they mean by their nation, their people, being finished.
That is why there is nothing left in the valley, but the dried, withered bones. We aren’t talking about bones like this… but ones so dried out, that they are brittle. There is nothing left, no marrow, no DNA, nothing…
That is what sin does to us, it hollows us, makes us empty, completely eradicates all trace of life, even from our perspective, any trace of God’s presence.
But that is why this son of Man was asked, “can these bones become living people again?” It is why Jesus came and wandered among those dead in sin, and why His cross and resurrection is that which puts back all that sin destroyed.
it is amazing to contemplate the bones coming back together, the cartilage and muscles crawling back over the skeletons, the flesh being restored.
Even then, forgiven, put back together, made whole, the army of bodies needs something to transform them from death to life. To use the word found in the creeds – to be made quick, to be brought alive.
They need to be resuscitated.
The Divine Resuscitation
We needed to be resuscitated, to be made to inhale the breath of life, the Holy Spirit. Even as God breathed into Adam, even as Jesus breathed on the Apostles and said, “receive the Holy Spirit,” We needed to have happened to us what happened on Pentecost. Hear Ezekiel’s words again… and know this is your promise:
9 Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again
The Spirit to be breathed into us, to bring us back to life, to be the Lord of life and the giver of our life. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms us, that kindles faith and a repentant and transformed life. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to proclaim Christ Jesus as our hope, reminding us of all He teaches us. That brings us together, as a unified body of Christ.
That makes us one, holy, united church that is sent in the world to transform others, even as we have been transformed as the Holy Spirit focuses our lives, our minds, our hearts on Jesus.
Doing this while as invisible, but as tangible and real, as a refreshing breeze that washes over us and gives us life on a day when we are parched and tired, and our faith may be dry.
The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, the Spirit who discerns who has which talents, which gifts, and forms the church, ensuring it has what it needs, to depend on Jesus, to minister to each other, to minister from Cerritos to Georgia to the Sudan and Papua New Guinea. To reach out to expectant moms in Africa and the people of Bellflower.
The Spirit, who would blow through your life, removing that which isn’t like Jesus, who would see the glory of God, reflect through us, bringing hope to the people around us.
Remember – this is the day when a church of 120 grew into a church of 3000!
May the Spirit so enkindle our hearts, so breathe life into us, that the same thing would happen again!
Didn’t He Already Do That?
You might ask what I mean by the Holy Spirit breathe life into us again. No, I don’t mean that we are spiritually dead like in the valley of dried bones. But there are times where we feel like it, where we wonder if our bones if the church (and I don’t mean just Concordia) can be brought back to life in this country.
If you look at the statistics, or just tour empty churches on Sunday morning, you would wonder if the church couldn’t say these same things. Areas where 50-70 percent of people were once in church on Sunday morning are now where the number is one-tenth the amount.
The church isn’t dead, it cannot be, we haven’t left God’s presence, the work of Christ isn’t in vain. For the Holy Spirit isn’t just the giver of our life, but the Lord of it. Paul describes the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work, this way,
17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NLT)
And that is a promise to us, in this day, as solid as the promise to bring us to life in Christ…for that is what the Lord of Life does… He makes more and more like Jesus… as we are changed into His image… as we see His glory. AMEN? Then realize this, the Lord of Life is with You! AMEN!
Devotional thought of the day:
26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:26 (TEV)
437 If one of my fellow men had died to save me from death … God died. And I remain indifferent.
On Friday, I “shared” a picture on FB. It was a picture of men, paratroopers in a World War II airplane. The right side was the original picture, the left was a picture of men who had served then, but today. It was an amazing morph, the men in their youth, young, excited, ready to jump out of a perfectly functioning airplane. That side of the picture was black and white. Contrasting that picture was the older men, pictured in color, their weary bodies not overloaded with combat uniforms and packs, but ties and blazers, their grey hair covered by berets.
More than other picture I have shared or posted, this picture has been liked and shared by more people than any other picture. Maybe it is because people are realizing that memorial day is about more than barbecues and beaches, that it is ore than the unofficial kick-off to summer.
We remember that some men have given their lives to free others who were mistreated, who were oppressed. Surely that wasn’t the aim of some of them. Some were more about revenge, or gaining fame. But many simply fought, bled and died, because that is what they were called to do.
And some lived, and suffer for years for what they’ve seen, or what they’ve had to do. Those who sufferi from Post Traumatic Stress, (those who’s sleep is at best is uneasy because of the memories, the pains, the guilts and shame.
We need to remember these men, for no matter their motivation, they have served, and all have been wounded in their souls…. war creates victims without any rationale. Maybe that is why the picture was shared so many times. Gratitude on our part, and a desire for those who served to find peace., to be able to face that which they’ve tried to bury, so that they can know peace.
This morning the blue verse above was in my readings. I was struck by it, because of the timing, because of the context of Memorial Day Weekend. St. Josemaria is correct We stand in awe of those who have died or embraced suffering for us. If we know some wh’ve served, we might worry about the demons they didn’t leave on the battlefield, the pains and hurts. We put flowers and flags at their grave sites. We have parades and concerts and flies flags in their honor.
Bow much more should we remember the death of God? The suffering, the sacrifice that was embraced with full knowledge and pure and holy intent A sacrifice that not only liberates those who are the victims, but liberates those who were the oppressors, A sacrifice that brings peace that that a war’s end cannot imagine.
A sacrifice that can even bring healing to those who were broken by war…Like my dad, who didn’t die, but one could say that a part of him. Who struggled to receive the Lord’s Supper, often crying as he faced the love of God, who would give His life, deliberately to assure my dad of God’s love for him, to assure dad of a place in heaven. I just know the mixture of pain and relief and joy of being loved all was there, as my dad knelt at the rail, and remember Christ’s sacrifice as he shared Christ’s Body and Blood For a second there was God’s peace, overwhelming everything else. A peace that now he knows.
We need to remember Christ’s love, first and foremost. We need to celebrate it, and the freedom and peace it brings. We need to see it as powerful, as overwhelming as awe-inspiring as those who understand the depths of pain that it relieves.
Pray for those who are serving, those who have served. That they would know the Prince of Peace, AMEN.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1074-1075). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion Thought of The day:
21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 (NLT)
Among experts the question is raised: “Yes, but who actually needs to be converted? Must the fathers yield to the young? Or the young to the fathers?” … It is not a case of one group’s yielding to the other, but of both groups’ yielding to the other by renewing their courage to believe in God. It is only thus that they will learn to accept and understand one another. It is only when hearts have been turned to God that there can arise the courage of togetherness, the confidence in other persons, and so the ability to love them and to endure their otherness.
There are two “s” words that may have come to mind, as you read the title of this blog.
This is about the one that would have been thought far less often, but actually is more controversial.
Yes, this isn’t about sex, it is about submission.
But now that you are here and are disappointed, you might as well stick around and read it. Because it isn’t just about one relationship you are in, it is about every relationship you are in, and in every one of them, what Paul directs us to do in Ephesians 5:21 is needed. It’s why the Holy Spirit led him to write those words.
Following verse 21, there are three relationships compared. The first is husbands and wives, and how they must set aside their best interest given the other. This is not submission to any barbaric thing, but to seek out what is best for each other. Then there are relationships between husbands and children, and employees and their employers (or back in the day, slaves and masters)
Every relationship, with those who follow God, who are in awe of His love, reaching out with that same love to the person with who they relate. Every relationship has some form of submission, of setting aside our desires, much as Jesus set aside His divinity, to come down and be with us.
Pope Benedict nails it, when he identifies the key to this being, not in focusing on yielding to the other (a synonym for submission) but instead having and renewing their courage to believe in God. For it is there, in seeing how Christ gave of Himself to save us, to enter into a deep relationship with us, so that He could present us to the Father, that we find the peace and strength to love others. To love them by having mercy on them, by forgiving them, by seeking their forgiveness. By reconciling to those for whom reconciliation doesn’t even enter their thoughts.
Allowing them to love you, to care for you, that is at the heart of submission…. whether it be to God or to someone else.
This does require you to see them as God sees them. Part of this submission is lowering our defenses, letting them in, loving them enough to trust God and let them see us, as we really are, and letting them love us. For then these relationships transform from being duty-driven and duty bound, to being focused on the love of God that brings us together and causes the relationship to flourish.
Which allows the relationship to endure…. because God is there.
So everyone, out of the reverence, considering the love and mercy of God, seek out and love your neighbor, helping them, caring for them, putting their best interests first. Have the mind of Christ, for He will never leave nor forsake you.
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 169). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Discussion/Devotion Thought of the Day:
2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” 3 What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5 The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6 The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7 Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8 Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 (NLT)
Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. (1)
425 To realize that you love me so much, my God, and yet I haven’t lost my mind!
I am not a natural born philosopher. Matter of fact, my “favorite” quote on Philosophy sums it up – I may be wise simply because I know I don’t know it all. ( Paraphrased of course)
I once did, well, at least I thought I did know it all. I knew a lot back then. No, let me rephrase that, I picked up an retained data, and found uses for it faster than some others. But knowing data is not the same things as having complete knowledge, much less being wise.
Solomon had this problem as well, at least in the early chapters. For his wisdom and knowledge, recognized by all, still led him into discontent, a sense of failure, a sense of meaninglessness.
In the same place are all philosophers who try and hold the position of judge, as Benedict XVI points out clearly. Philosophers must be observers of reality, to live in awe of it. To ponder its depth, not rule over it. Solomon would eventually get there, (tomorrow in my readings perhaps?) to the point where he will define himself by his relationship with God. But even that is a position of suppliance, of faith, of dependence.
The philosopher who approaches reality without the reverence and humility that Benedict recommends ends up in Solomon’s position, a place where we indeed lose our mind, our psyche, and perhaps, our soul.
I am not saying we are to give up on philosophy, on deep thought, on exploring, with great awe, the existence and meaning of life. To search out what is real, what is true. We need to do this, and St. Josemaria gives us the place to start, in realizing the love of God, for us. That is where philosophy and theology should, no must start. In the depth of a relationship with the God who not only defines reality, but creates it. As St. Paul encourages,
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 1053). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition
Devotional Thought of the Day:
7 LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived! You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. Jeremiah 20:7 (TEV)
It’s been one of those years when things that aren’t supposed to happen do happen. When I’ve had to help more people pick up the broken pieces of their life, and plead with God to put them back together.
When I’ve seen other friends, turn their back on God, and choose their way to go, encouraged by those around them. When those entrusted with responsibility become Machiavellian in the work, and then justify it. I am not just talking about the secular world, I see it in the church as well.
It is almost enough for me to change from being cynical to being a pessimist. It is enough for me to despair, and even go through something akin to depression.
But it is there, almost consumed by darkness, that I remember the brutal honesty of Jeremiah. His ability to speak honestly with God, even to admit he was ticked at God and felt betrayed by Him, even deceived by Him.
To many people I hear today, acting as if life is perfect as if there is no brokenness as if everyone can achieve everything they want to, simply by only speaking positively. If life was such, why would they need to be encouraged to adjust their attitude, to only speak positively as if the challenges of life were not there?
Jeremiah is speaking positively when he rails against God when the prophet admits he is tired when he admits that he doesn’t like the suffering, the pain, the life he has to live. He doesn’t hide this stuff, bury it deeply, ignore it and cover it with nice notes of encouragement.
He wrestles with God, like a true son of Jacob; the man renamed Israel
I was blessed to work with a pastor named Robert Schuller a few times. Let me rephrase, I didn’t work alongside him, but in a series of courses, he taught me a few things about preaching, along with his trusted associates. He’s known for a positive message, perhaps along with Norman Vincent Peale to be one of the father’s of positive thinking, at least in the Christian realm. One of the bits of confusion is the allegation that he was a name-it, claim-it type guy. Not so much. The stories he would tell of people’s encounters with God’s grace always included the challenge God would get them through, the scars that God would use to bless them and others, the pains that resulted in gains.
An attitude that didn’t dismiss the brokenness, but freely admitted it, but also entrusted one’s self to God. Something that can only be done when we are as honest as Jeremiah was, as we admit out frailty, our pain, our honest feelings, and let our Heavenly Father comfort us. It is when we are honest, we see how overwhelming His mercy is, how compassionate His love is, as it reaches out and begins to heal us.
I have to admit, I don’t like what God somehow allows. I tell Him that, sometimes as bluntly as Jeremiah.
but then, eventually, my tantrum subsiding, I realize what Jeremiah does, just a couple of verses later…
9 But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:9 (TEV)
His message of mercy, His message of love, is that deep.
I can’t shut it even… even when I feel bruised and broken, or when I am tired of trying to help those who are.
for I know His presence, I know His mercy, and I trust in the compassion of our Father, who sent Jesus to die, to make life just and right…. and a blessing.
Cry our, Lord, have mercy! You will see that He does… in more ways than we can count.
The Transformations of Easter
The Change of our Relationship with Each Other
† IHS †
May the grace of God so flood your soul with mercy and peace, that you easily realize how many others dwell with you in Christ!
My Struggle with Cynicism
I’ve got a confession to make.
Some of you, for example, Chris and Tom, know that I am somewhat of a cynic.
I wasn’t always, you can ask Kay, but as I’ve ministered in the church, I’ve become more cynical over the years.
Once upon a time I would look at a passage like today’s gospel with great expectation, great hope, great enthusiasm for the day where I would see this unity happen. Where simply because we preach Christ crucified, unity happens, and the Church throughout the world drops all of the squabbles, all of the politics, all of the guilt and resentment, all of the pride that announces we are right, and they are wrong, and we would gather around the altar and share in the biggest communion service ever seen.
Now I am somewhat of a cynic, because there are days I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, or if it does, it is because we have buried important parts of doctrine. Things like the death and resurrection of Jesus, or the presence of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promises of Jesus, promises made to us in our baptism.
Part of the cynicism comes from being a history geek. I know the times that unity was a driving force in the church, like in the 2nd great Awakening, or in the time of Gregory VII and even St. Francis of Assissi, and the results always seemed to be more division, or peace through the use of force. I see the other times, when hanging on to the correct teaching of the faith resulted in division, and death. Even now, I see political games being played in denominations and churches. I can see a lack of unity, and indeed, a desire for division.
So my cynical side says that such unity, throughout the church isn’t as possible. Which leads me to the question. If it is impossible, why did Jesus pray for it, and why didn’t God answer Jesus prayer?
The Standard of Unity
The idea of unity here in John’s gospel, in this incredible prayer, is a high level of unity. Hear again verse 11:
Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.
Unity in the church, among the people of God is described as being united, just as the Father and Jesus are united. That’s pretty close, so close that we can’t understand it. For God is three persons, yet completely One.
That is pretty united. Paul describes the unity of the church this way
10 Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit. 11 Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning, as we do our work for God. 12 Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come endure them patiently, steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. 13 Give freely to fellow-Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them. 14 … as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless. 15 Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16 Live in harmony with each other…. Romans 12:10-16 (Phillips NT)
So I hear these words, and I hear Jesus prayer for unity, and I feel like the police officer in Les Mis, hopeless in view of the injustice, the division, and the fighting that goes on in Christ’s church, throughout the world.
Were we ready for the Ascension? Did the Father answer the prayer
On my more cynical days, I wonder if either the Father didn’t hear Jesus prayer, or whether the church isn’t the church.
On my less cynical days, I wonder if the Ascension was a bit premature, that Jesus should have waited 2 or 3 thousand years before returning to the Father. I mean, if He was here…. We wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?
I mean – we are just God’s kids, and you know what would happen if you leave your kids home alone for a few days…
Because even church leaders can act like a bunch of spoiled kids at times.
Jesus gave Himself… The Memorial Acclimation’s promise
So where is the hope that confronts our sin of disunity, our pride, our inability to love each other?
Go back to Jesus prayer,
Holy Father, you have given me your name;* now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.
We find our unity as a result of God protecting us, giving us sanctuary. As He gives us His peace, as He assures us of His presence, of the Holy Spirit’s comfort. We find ourselves relaxing, restful, and trusting Him to maintain it. For as we know we are safe, we drop our defenses, we forget to be anxious about people betraying or sinning against us, and we reach our in the love of Christ to them.
The is why later He prayers,
17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.
We’ve talked about holiness before. Rather than being perfect or pure, the idea is to be set apart to something. Jesus asks the Father to make us holy, even as He is holy. Remember Jesus addressed God as Holy Father?
Here is the truth, God sets himself apart for a relationship. A relationship with us, and Christ makes that relationship possible, by setting Himself aside a sacrifice. His sacrifice on the cross which opens the door for the Father sanctifying us, by giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to abide with us.
And unity is the result of this holiness. For as we enter into a relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find that we are together in that relationship.
I said before I can be cynical, I neglected to say that in one of those cynical moods, I find hope. For I realize that what it takes to overcome my cycnicism is the same thing it takes to create unity. The miracle of the blood of Christ, sacrificed for us, to create the relationship, a relationship described in this new covenant. We can’t find the unity and the peace we need around a negotiation table, or in the vote of a congregation, or a synod.
It has to originate from the baptismal font, where Christ claims us as His own, and from the altar, the feast where we realize the depth of His love for us. That is what has made the difference here in our congregation. It is what can make the difference in the church at large.
And as I see that unity come to fruition here, I know it can envelop others. That is why we are sent by Jesus, even as the Father sent Jesus to be our sacrifice. To reach out to them, to invite them into our sanctuary, into our fortress, into the place where God protects us. Not this building, but this relationship, God and His people, together.
To share that peace which goes beyond all comprehension, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. 27 Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. James 1:26-27 (MSG)
12 In the third place, such traditions have turned out to be a grievous burden to consciences, for it was not possible to keep all the traditions, and yet the people were of the opinion that they were a necessary service of God.
13 Gerson writes that many fell into despair on this account, and some even committed suicide, because they had not heard anything of the consolation of the grace of Christ.
14 We can see in the writings of the summists6 and canonists7 how consciences have been confused, for they undertook to collate the traditions and sought mitigations to relieve consciences,
15 but they were so occupied with such efforts that they neglected all wholesome Christian teachings about more important things, such as faith, consolation in severe trials, and the like. (1)
384 Confusion. I knew you were unsure of the rightness of your judgment. And, so that you might understand me, I wrote you: “The devil has a very ugly face, and since he’s so smart he won’t risk our seeing his horns. He never makes a direct attack. That’s why he so often comes in the disguise of nobleness and even of spirituality!” (1)
When I see individuals or groups opposing each other, I often find that they make the same error. Like my favorite illustration of the pessimist and the optimist arguing about the 16 oz container with 8 oz of liquid in it. They lose their ability to fight when I reveal that the purpose for the glass is not the discussion, but so I may be refreshed through drinking its contents. (Usually they get upset at me until I remind them that it was my beer they were arguing about.. not their own)
I see this often in debates about religion, and about spirituality. Often it includes a debate about traditions, whether those traditions are understood or not. Or whether the traditions belong to the centuries or that traditions someone has created in more modern times… like over the last decade…. or year.
Either way, the debates come about in such a way that they are competitive and miss the meaning. They may not be debates even, but blogs and video blogs that try and prove their view right. Or that their preferred theologians kick but on less holy and knowledgable folk.
And all it does it leave the writers, and the readers, scrambling to find the next quote, the next arrow to be added to their quiver, the next weapon to back their position.
And int he meantime, we lose sight of Jesus, We turn away from the conduits of grace, His word, and His sacraments. We fail to be in awe, for we fail to recognize His presence. The very presence that our traditions (whether new or ancient) had a part in revealing to us.
My son last night, as we were reading about the destruction of the serpent Moses obediently fashioned, wondered why people would offer sacrifices to it. He’s noted that God saved them using the bronze serpent; the serpent didn’t save them. So it was silly to his eight-year-old mind that people would worship a tool rather than the one wielding it. But how many other things have been like that. The Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, Gideon’s breastplate, the liturgy, contemporary and traditional music. Even crosses and church buildings, theologians and philosophers and their writings…
All of that stuff can be good, it can also distract us from offering a glass of water in His name. It can edify us, or it can prevent us from edifying others. It can consume our time, and while seeming good, it can also become sin, separating us from spending time with God. It can blind us to what God has commissioned, a life walked with Him, going where He sends us, to reconcile the world back to Him (and therefore to each other).
This is real life, walking humbly with God…. living for others as Christ did.
May all our traditions, all our practices, point us toward Him, and may we see Him, and not the practices.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 65–66). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 970-972). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.