Monthly Archives: January 2017

Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness! A Sermon on Micah 6


church at communion 2Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness

Micah 6:1-8

 I.H.S. † 

 May you rejoice today, as you consider the promises of God, made to you and to all people, as He teaches us about His faithfulness!

All Rise… the court is in session:

In today’s sermon, we see an interesting civil court case, one that has some very interesting testimony and a wonderful surprise or two…

Like many civil trials, there is a complaint, and sort of a counter-complaint.

The adversaries are talking about who has kept their part of the deal, and what that means.

The trial is not what you would normally expect, for Man and God going to trial.  It is not one where man is on trial, to see whether a man is guilty or innocent.  Nor is it a trial as someone tries assert that the evidence given to mankind demands a verdict, that God exists.

It is more like a case for what they used to call an “alienation of affection,”

Man’s complaint

The trial opens with God inviting mankind to state their case against Him.  What promises did God make, where in the covenant did God fail? Our carefully planned out points of complaint are seen on the next slide. (Blank)

Yes, there they are….

Now you might be saying that there are plenty of things I can complain about.  The existence of heart diseases, cancer, poverty, hunger, and the lack of peace seem to come right to mind.

Remember, the case is about the alienation of affection.  Did God break his promises to Israel.  Did God break His promises to us.

And there is little evidence that He did, no, there is no evidence he did.

His surprising complaint

We then get to God’s complaint.

It’s then the case becomes clear, for He doesn’t shred us (or Israel) for our sin, for all the disrespect we show to authority, and pain we’ve caused to others lives.  He doesn’t go after us for adultery, or what we’ve taken from others, for our gossip or our jealousy and what it causes us to do.

Instead, hear God’s complaint….

“O my people, what have I done to you?  What have I done to make you tired of me!”

Really?  Of all the things that God could complain of, He complains that we’ve grown tired of Him?

Really?

That sounds… weak?  wimpy?  Like God is a lovestruck teenager, whose girlfriend was stolen by the class president/football team captain?

“What have I done to make you tired of me?”

Could God really be that in love with us?  Does He desire to call us “His” that much?
Epiphany reveals to us that he loves us that much.

Not just infatuation, but pure desire, pure love, and His work proves it.

And His case is.. What?

God will go on to make a case, that there is no reason for us to be alienated from Him, there is no reason to deny Him the affection he so longs for.

Remember the rescue from Egypt?

What about the time that prophet was paid to curse you and blessed you instead?  Do you remember that?

Do you remember me?…..

Do you do something to remember me?

God tells them what He’s done, as he says, in the midst of your rebellion, from the Acacia Grove to Gilgal’s caves, I did everything to teach you about my faithfulness.

God wanted to instill in Israel the idea that He’s not giving up on them.  He wanted them, just like He wants us, to count on Him, to count on Him in the way that a God is supposed to be counted on by His people, by His beloved children.

That’s a challenge for us, to know this love, which is why we have to remember, to see it again over and over.  TO think back daily on God proving that faithfulness as He cleansed us from all sin.   TO think about it as God calls us to remember the Body broken, the wine that was spilled so that we could be with Him, now and for eternity.

That’s why God doesn’t need all the sacrifices, that’s why we don’t have the blood of calves and rams and more oil than you can count.

That’s not what He’s after, He doesn’t want complete submission and surrender, and lives spent in trying to pay back the cost of all we’ve broken.

God wants our affection, our presence, our love.

And in Epiphany we celebrate Him revealed that to us, as Christ comes to love us.

Micah 6:8

Which brings us to that final verse, as God tells us what is good… and what He wants from us.

TO do what is right – or to put it another way, to live in this relationship where He is our God, and we are His people. To love His cHesed, to know that loving kindness/mercy/love, that loyalty, and faithfulness He has for us, and to walk with Him, realizing what it means to be His beloved.

Those things, we don’t tire of, those things will cause us to be in such awe, those things will draw us into His glory and love.

No, they have done those things – for we are in Epiphany, the season celebrating His presence among us, and our presence in Him.   AMEN!

 

 

How should we, the little folk, respond to evil?


54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Discussion thought of the Day:

7  “The LORD did not love you and choose you because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the smallest nation on earth. 8  But the LORD loved you and wanted to keep the promise that he made to your ancestors. That is why he saved you by his great might and set you free from slavery to the king of Egypt. 9  Remember that the LORD your God is the only God and that he is faithful. He will keep his covenant and show his constant love to a thousand generations of those who love him and obey his commands,
Deuteronomy 7:7-9 (TEV)

10  Finally, build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power. 11  Put on all the armor that God gives you, so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks. 12  For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age. Ephesians 6:10-12 (TEV)

830    Don’t be a fool! It’s true that at most you play the part of a small bolt in that great undertaking of Christ’s. But do you know what happens when a bolt is not tight enough or when it works itself out of place? Bigger parts also work loose or gears are damaged or broken. The whole work is slowed up. Perhaps the whole machine will be rendered useless. What a big thing it is to be a little bolt!

I am struggling with the paradox that was America yesterday.

We saw an action taken that will defend the life of an innocent, defenseless human being, found in the womb. Not long after we saw other defenseless innocent humans denied assistance, denied protection. Irony isn’t the right word, and paradox doesn’t express my grief, and indeed my fear.

Both pro-life issues are close to my heart. I’ve known refugees and immigrants as long as I’ve can remember.  From my adopted grandfather, to Bing, a family friend who escaped his country, to classmates in junior high and high school.  Even the city (and my church ) I live in now is one of the most diverse in California, full of immigrants, and yes refugees who are thriving here.  Make no mistake, this closing of our doors to those in need is as evil as the act of taking a child from the womb to die.  I’ve counseled too many who have had abortions, and dwelt is silent guilt and shame when they later had another child, and they realized the blessing they were convinced was simply an “inconvenience”. There are other reasons this burdens my heart as well, too deep for me to quickly comment upon.

But what can I, the pastor of a small church, without any political or influence, do in the face of such evil actions as the denial of life?  I feel powerless, that my grief and sorrow and even anger is meaningless.

St Josemaria reminds me that even the smallest washer and bolt is critical to a machine.  if it isn’t tight enough, if it has worked itself out of place, then the entire machine and process could be at risk.

I understand the illustration, I even like it,  but am not sure of its application here.  Can my 100 or so people actually make a difference?

I then look to the first quote from scripture, that Israel too was not a large and powerful country. Even at its biggest, under David and Solomon, it couldn’t compete against Egypt or Assyria, against Greece or Rome.  Yet its power, its very existence wasn’t to be the powerful kingdom dynasty.  The reason God sustained them, the reasoned God remained faithful to them, was in order to reveal HIs love in the incarnation.  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus] we find God.

Which is what St Paul is telling us as well.  Our ENEMY isn’t Donald Trump, just as it wasn’t Barack Obama, the Bushes, or the Clintons. Our weapons aren’t our marches for justice, our clever memes, our reasoned (if only half researched) articles that we share or chant.

It is not those things that brought us to Christ ourselves, It wasn’t our strength or our reason.  So what makes us think our strength and reason will make a bit of difference to those we oppose? (Assuming somehow they heard it?)  No, our place is as that bolt, holding fast, just as St Paul tells us,

Holding fast to Christ, to the hope the Israelites were to see bless the world. Our hope is our being united with Christ.  He is our weapon, He is our hope for victory.  He who defends the defenseless, whether they are too weak, or too guilty.

This is why Paul and Peter both urge us to prayer, to ask God to bless those who are enemies, our adversaries, to see God transform them as He is revealed, just as He did to us.  Even as we pray, our pain sacrificed becomes the love which will impact others, and bring about new life.

This is no little task, this gripping Christ as tightly as any bolt to any screw.  This praying and depending on Him, and learning to love those we could easily hate, just as Christ loves us.

Don’t ever underestimate the power of God that is at work in you, or HIs desire to bring us all to transformation.   That is where our hope is, and continues to be.

And pray and don’t be surprised if you become the next Ananias….

We pray through the tears, “Lord, have mercy”, and hear His comforting answer.

Lord, we pray this morning for our President, and all those that work with them.  That they would know your mercy, and as they begin to realize they are loved, that they would show your mercy and love to all who are defenseless, all who are looking for sanctuary and hope. 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1905-1909). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where is the Church?


Devotional Thought of the Day:

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

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. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christian experience begins in the everyday world of communal experience. Today, the interior space in which Church is experienced is, for many, a foreign world. Nevertheless, this world continues to be a possibility, and it will be the task of religious education to open doors on the experiential space Church and to encourage people to take an interest in this kind of experience. When people share the same faith, when they pray, celebrate, rejoice, suffer, and live together, Church becomes “community” and thus a real living space that enables humanity to experience faith as a life-bringing force in daily life and in the crises of existence.

As a young believer, I watched the church betray and hurt people I loved.  I’ve seen it again recently, to more than one person.

It puts the words from Pope Benedict above in a different context, as he speaks of those for whom the experience of being the church is a foreign world.  We aren’t talking about those who are completely blinded to the gospel, we are talking about those who have had to seek refuge from the Church.

Why would the place described as the place where we “experience faith as a life bringing force in daily life and the crises of existence” be the place where such faith is snuffed?

Have we forgotten that the church is a body, that we are to have the same concern for everyone, weeping and laughing with them, That we are to try and live in peace with everyone? This is why we talk of church as a community, a communion, a fellowship.  Everyone is important, no one is to be silenced because they are drowned out by the crowd.

But how do we create this environment in the church?  How do train leaders to develop such a spirit, especially in a culture which promotes narcissism?  How do we do this in a culture which says we have to take care of things at home?

Pope benedict talks of the mission of religious education being to help people experience this – but how can they, if the church is more often seen as a cold and heartless place?

My answer may seem to simply, but it is the only one I’ve seen work.  That answer is to work on developing hearts full of devotion. This kind of church is not something naively discussed, but it occurs as God’s presence is revealed, and people adore Him, because of what His presence brings about, the lives of joy that His presence creates, strengthens, and sustain.

We find what people what we need, in the communion of saints, the communion that is fashioned by Jesus, and gathers and laughs and cries, as He laughs and cries with us… all as one.

This is where the church is, where it is experienced, where it goes and finds refuge from the world, and then brings others to experience that refuge.  AMEN

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Simple Prayer: Monotonous or Savored?


20170124_103703Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

6  An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. 7  Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap. 8  In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. 9  They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. 10  Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.      1 Timothy 3:6-10 (NLT)

825    Persevere in the exact fulfillment of the obligations of the moment. That work—humble, monotonous, small—is prayer expressed in action, which prepares you to receive the grace of that other work—great and broad and deep—of which you dream. (1)

Not being a fan of monotony, I struggle with what St Josemaria calls the “obligations of the moment”.  Those tasks that are the adult equivalent of a third graders math homework, doing 50 or 60 problems to learn the present lesson.  Give me the process, let me try it, (as opposed to it trying me) and let me move on!

It’s taken a long time to learn the difference between vain and repetitious and beneficial and repetitious. I always thought repetition was vain.

Such an attitude made prayer a challenge.  Because it seems repetitious to offer the same prayers, to ask God to intercede with the same names, day after day week after week.  Can’t I just entrust the person once to God and then move on to the next person in crisis?

And the Lord’s prayer, let me turn it into an outline, let me use it as a guide, let me find something to do to make it more special, more pious, more holy.  What good is it if I simply pray it in a rote manner, time after time?  ( never mind that rosary!  Even if Luther used it, how monotonous is that!)

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that repetition and vanity are not synonyms.  That those names I gave to God yesterday, I became anxious about, that the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart are so broken that my words fail me.  That is when the words of the Lord’s prayer become my life preserver, tossed to me so that I can still use the Lord’s name in a way that is not vain.  So that I can use them to call out to Him and ask Him to revealed His comfort, His love, His mercy.

When all other words seem beyond my ability to form, His words, given to me for such times, becomes words I savor, that become more than beneficial, that become precious.  I realize that as they are answered, they express His plan, they reveal His desire.  This brings him delight, as I call out to Him, trusting him to fulfill what He’s promised.  They are what I need in that moment, not just because I am obligated to pray, but because they remind me of His obligation as my Lord, as My Savior,  as my God.

Then, at peace, I might find the strength for something else,  the ministry of which I have dreamed, the works that will be exciting, but no more glorious than simply knowing He is here, listening, comforting, sustaining, loving me!  This is the nature of our faith being tested, of becoming mature enough to realize that we start and end, and live conversing with God. 

Even if things are of what I’ve dreamed, those simple words, no longer monotonous, are precious, and savored.

Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is, in heaven!  Give us this day our daily bread!  And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And lead us not to temptations, but deliver us from evil.  For Thine is the Kingdom, and the power and glory, for ever and ever, Amen!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1893-1895). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Will the Church Really Hear Their Cries?


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Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My commandment is this: love one another, just as I love you. 13The greatest love a person can have for his friends is to give his life for them. 14And you are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17This, then, is what I command you: love one another.  John 15:11-17 NLT

811    Do you remember? Night was falling as you and I began our prayer. From close by came the murmur of water. And, through the stillness of the Castilian city, we also seemed to hear voices of people from many lands, crying to us in anguish that they do not yet know Christ. Unashamedly you kissed your crucifix and you asked him to make you an apostle of apostles.  (1)

“You shall not kill.”10 What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

It was just before noon, as I sat on a fountain, waiting for my ride.

The man in the picture showed up, folded out his sign, put in his ear buds and began to be a light in the darkness, a missionary sent to bring heathen musicians to.. hmm – that’s a good question.

I think he symbolized the church in so many ways…. standing there, his sign doing the proclaiming, but his heart and soul focused on what he was hearing. It wasn’t the people passing him by.

Maybe it was a podcast of the latest apologetic guru, telling him how to cause people to submit to his logic and reason.

Maybe it was someone telling him how to be an entrepreneurial apostle. 

Maybe it was someone teaching him how to defend his Bible translation or his style of worship, or trying to provide comfort in his failing outreach, because after all, he’s supposed to be in the world, but not of it.  He didn’t make eye contact with anyone, he didn’t try to pray with anyone.  I want to jump on his case, to make him see what he’s missing, buy am I any better?

This man isn’t a wacko, or a fanatic, he simply is the church today. 

We are so caught up in our own agendas, our own words, that we fail to hear the cries of those who have lost hope, of those who have been broken.  We might even get into a dialog about how they were broke, was it their sin, their parent’s sin, the sin of the world?  We might read books and listen to the greatest speakers, read the greatest blogs,  find the best consultants, and grieve over the fact that they don’t hear us.

But do we hear them?

Do we hear their cries?  Do we go beyond their polite statements to find their pain?  Do we let them know we won’t abandon them in their brokenness, because we are broken as well? Do we stand there, oblivious to the individuals, overwhelmed by the thousands, yet unable to see them?  Do we take our ear buds out of our damn ears long enough to hear them?  

To help them understand God hears them?

Do we try to help them know God wants to hold them in His hands, cherish them, bring about their restoration and healing so that all will understand He finds great delight in their presence, that all heaven parties with great joy when they “come home”

Luther wrote that we should do everything we can to help and befriend our neighbor.  Most hear him speaking physically in the commandment about not killing.  But is it not applicable to our neighbor’s spiritual life as well?  St Josemaria talks about us hearing the cries and praying to God to send us, will we do that, and if sent will we hear them?  Or simply lament their not hearing us?  ( Or worse, will we rejoice that it proves we are on the narrow path and they are not?)

These are hard thoughts to hear, and they may be convicting you, they certainly are convincing me.  But I know this as well.  As I left that day, a man walked up to me and started talking about his journey. ( he thought I was a Catholic Priest) He talked of how God was helping him stay sober after 27 years. He talked of how great it was that I was there, to remind him of God’s grace.  His name was Dave, and hearing him say my presence there was important as it reminded him of God’s love?   That made my day.  I wanted to go back, and see who else I could encounter, or maybe realize that I had, and was too blind to see it. But for once I was able to stop, and hear, and see what God was doing, by sending me to that part of the sidewalk, just for that man to encounter.

God is good, open your eyes and ears, see Him and know His love for you, and all whom you encounter.  ALL whom you encounter.  And rejoice, the Lord who is delighted in your presence, He is with you! Amen!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1867-1870). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

(2) Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Did Someone Change your Schedule? Rejoice!


Devotional Thought of the Day:
13  On the Sabbath we went out of the city to the riverside, where we thought there would be a place where Jews gathered for prayer. We sat down and talked to the women who gathered there.  Acts 16:13 (TEV)

14  And this Good News about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all people; and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (TEV)

799    What amazes you seems quite natural to me: God has sought you out right in the midst of your work. That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, John and James, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the customhouse. And—wonder of wonders—Paul, in his eagerness to destroy the seeds of Christianity!

St. Josemaria’s words this morning about Paul get me to thinking.

Paul encountered God on the road, as he was journeying to do damage to the church. Paul would then go where he knew to go to persecute, but with a different purpose.  Now he was there to bless, to share the mercy, the love, the very glory of God. The knowledge once used to persecute those who trusted in God was now transformed, and being used to bless them, and enlarge their numbers.

This is the work of God.

People don’t seek Him out as much as He seeks them out.

I’ve seen this in my own life, the very thing that torments me, that causes anxiety and  pain, that has required so many surgeries over the years (Nost to change batteries) and odd hospital trips had caused me to often me angry with God, to question “why me”, to doubt.

It has also led me to be able to minister to others, to be able to seek them out, even when withdrawn. It has enabled me to minister to the nurses and occasionally the doctors who are over worked, overwhelmed and dealing with their own anxieties, their own problems, their own challenges. They needed someone there, and God brought me there, and everything seemed to work right.

It is amazing to see God encounter us, and then lead us to encounter others. It sometimes seems far beyond coincidence, and it is, these are divine appointments.  SO don’t sweat the change of plans, He’s directing your day!

So look for God in your day, and look for those he’s sent you too…

Rejoice the Lord is with you!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1840-1843). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We had One Job….


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
49 One of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, “What fools you are! 50 Don’t you realize that it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.  John 11:49-52

9 Without boasting, it is manifest that the Mass is observed among us with greater devotion and more earnestness than among our opponents.
7 Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
2 Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)

Today Jesus might, at first glance, appear to be boring and not so exciting, but in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and charity, all the richness of love, faith and hope.

In the words of Caiaphas, I find some hope this morning.

He didn’t realize what he was doing, and yet, he pointed tho the cross of Christ, and our need for the death of Christ Jesus. He pointed to Jesus, who would die for all of us, to bring us together in one body, all of us scattered across the world, all of us scattered across time, all of us scattered across 42,000 denominations.

Sometimes we who preach and teach, are more like Caiaphas that we want to admit.  We intended something else, and the Holy Spirit made it work just like it did with Caiaphas. We speak of Christ, we teach people what they need to know about Christ.   They are drawn to the sacraments, they find in them the comfort and peace the world and their sin doesn’t offer.

We had one job, and our desire to astound people with knowledge, or convince them of our political position, our pragmatic superiority of mission,  or even to give them a “lutheran (insert your own denominational/non-denominational tag) identity” twists the message, and imparts something extra.  Something different that what should come out of our mouth did.

And we rejoice in God working, not at all realizing that we had one job, and only one, and we screwed it up.

We didn’t give them Jesus, that wasn’t our intent.

He came to them anyway!  While we were patting ourselves on the back, praising each other for the job we did, and celebrating as if our sermon or blog, our podcast or summit was all our work.

Like Caiaphas, the Holy Spirit worked through us, and we didn’t see it, and let’s be honest, we might not have heard it.

This is one lesson that is taught over and over as I teach people about ministry.  It is found in the section from the Augsburg Confession above.  I bastardize it a little, changing the word on occasion to ministry, or pastoral care, or even life. And I change the word teach to the word give, so it ends up as,

The chief purpose of all ministry, all life, is to give/teach people what they need to know about Jesus.

There is our job, whether we are a pastor, a priest, someone who facilitates the response of people to God’s love (what we call worship leaders) or someone having coffee with a friend. They need to know Jesus, heck we need to know Him, and giving/teaching others about Him answers that need.

This is orthodoxy at its best – worshipping and giving glory to God for what He’s really done.  What Pope Francis says, finding in him the treasures of charity and wisdom, the incredible love, faith, and hope.

That’s what we need…. that’s what we need to know about Jesus. More than anything.

We don’t have to be like Caiaphas, we can remind each other, encourage each other, pray for each other, and correct each other when we needed.  All to accomplish our one job….

To give all people what they need to know about Jesus.

That He answers our prayer, “Lord, have mercy on us sinners”, by coming to us, cleansing us, and the Lord is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Why Bother Sneaking in?


Canobie CannonballDevotional Thought of the Day:

Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth: the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who goes in through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him; the sheep hear his voice as he calls his own sheep by name, and he leads them out. 4When he has brought them out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. 5They will not follow someone else; instead, they will run away from such a person, because they do not know his voice.”  John 10:1-5 TEV

782    How can you dare use that spark of the divine intelligence—your mind—in any way other than in giving glory to your Lord?

The boys didn’t need to climb over the 10-foot fence or risk getting caught on the barbed wire that topped it.  The old delivery gate chain was so loose, you could just push the gate open and walk through.  The old dirt road, rumored once to have tracks on it was long abandoned, deliveries were taken a different way into the amusement park for decades.

But it was a right of passage in the neighborhood, and the guy that ran the park’s roller rink would wink at us, as he handed us skates and told us to make sure everyone had a good time.  Even he let the boys in for free, though he would ask them to sweep the rink occasionally.  He knew we snuck in, and he knew that many of us didn’t have the 2 bucks to get in, then pay for skating and skate rental.  So he turned a blind eye to our entrance, and made us “work” the rink, doing odd jobs around the place.

The first five or six times someone snuck in, you could see it in their hesitation, in their movement to the other side of the skating rink when the park’s security walked through. But eventually the excitement and fear would diminish, the guilt would fade, and the sin just became a normal part of life.

As adults, as believers in Christ, sin has a similar effect on us. It may seem exciting at even unsettling at first. But over time we realize we haven’t gotten caught, and others turn a blind eye to our actions.

Even as the friends hung out, even as they pretended they were the tough guys, we saw those who came into the park the right way, paying the price, and riding the cannonball rollercoaster, and went through the haunted house. They had a different joy, they belonged there.  Their fun was legitimate, they came with their families, or their girls, they had money and ride tickets.

We had some fun, and we had our gang.  We had the rink. But we knew we didn’t have it all.

In the gospel reading above, we were the guys who snuck in, who didn’t belong. We could have been brought in by the front, but we liked our way better. Many of us still do that, as we expect that our peace and comfort can be achieved through ways scripture calls sin. As we hide them, rather than letting the price be paid, the illusion holds up, and others might even encourage it. What is your choice to find your joy and peace?  Greed?  Desire for fame?  Lust and illicit sex?  Gossip?  All these sins do is try to create the illusion of pleasure, or peace, contentment and joy.  If we pause long enough to consider it… we know they do not.  We don’t belong and we are lieing to ourselves if we think we do.

Sin is still sin?  Of course.  And if you take a moment to think it over, you know it.

As I hear St Josemaria talk, I think about the things we could do with our time, our money, our intelligence and talents, the blessings God has given us, to bring God glory.  TO know the joy of seeing God  rejoice as we do what He had planned for us. As we hear Him saying “well done.”

Then I realize that we aren’t just robbing God of His glory.  For Jesus died to bring us into that glory, to share that love.  What we’ve done, is chosen not to live in it, and to live in the shadows, moving toward the darkness.

It’s not too late… it never is.

Cry out to Him, ask for forgiveness, ask to see His mercy, ask for Jesus to reconcile you to the Father, and find that He paid your way in, and you are counted as an honored guest.  Indeed, that has been His desire from the beginning. No more sneaking in.. not more justifying our existence, no more hiding from security.  It wasn’t necessary int he first place.

true peace, true comfort, true belonging.

with others, of every tribe and language and nation. All who belong, none who have to come over the fence…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1807-1808). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I Will Trust in My God! A sermon for the second week of Epiphany!


church at communion 2Epiphany!
I will Trust My God!

Isaiah 49:1-17

 In Jesus’ Name!

As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!

Is it him, or me?

When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider. 

How was it in originally fulfilled.

Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his

But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us.  For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.

But what about today’s selection?  Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?

Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God?  Or is it Jesus?

Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?

Who is this passage about?  Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?

Al – don’t say it!

Could He know the despair?

If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.

Think about those words for a moment.  Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus?  From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands?  From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life?  Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?

Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?

Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,

15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16  So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)

If so, then this passage could still be about Him.  If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges.  He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!

If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith.  It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap.  Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.

Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands.  Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him.  Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.

Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?

yes.

It is both, because we find life, in Christ!

So is this passage only about Jesus?  Or can we utter those words as well?  Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?

Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant?  Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth?  Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?

While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus.  It is true of us because it is true of Him.  For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus.  This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness.  As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!

We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…

This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks.  It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name.  The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones.  Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.

This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.

This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Blinded by Theology: The Case of Perfect Knowledge without the right purpose


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:

27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They cursed him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”   John 9:27-39 TEV

7  Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7 (Phillips NT)

These are great mysteries and far above all human comprehension. But we know that these holy mysteries have been revealed to the church, in order that we might pray to God properly and consider reasons for this marvelous kindness, that God, by an eternal association, joined a human nature to Himself. Therefore He truly cares for us and loves us and sent this Son that He might be the Redeemer and soften His wrath against sin, as needs to be said repeatedly later.  ( from the section by Melancthon) 

As I grow older, I am coming to realize that the biggest handicap for a pastor may be his intellect and reason, and how it is educated rather than formed.  How area minds are taught to seek the deep mysteries, not to be in awe of God, but to be able to teach purely, to be able to note and correct each other.

While there is a need for such correction and for proper teaching, those resources of intellect and reason, the time invested in education are wasted in the purpose is wrong.

We see this in Melancthon’s words, highlighted in blue above.  Talking about the mysteries of the Trinity, and of Christology, he concludes that the reason for the revelation of the existence of these mysteries, and the depth of our knowledge of them is to one end.

These things are revealed that we could pray, that we could communicate with Lord of love who binds us to Himself eternally as He cleanses us and restores us.  Our pursuit must not be the mysteries that are beyond our comprehension, but the love of God which is clearly seen, and which transformed all that it draws and connects to Him.

This is why the blind man could easily see that Jesus was special, that the miracle he did drew him to be Christ’s disciple as well.  And the Pharisees and leaders of the synagogue, the men the mysteries of scripture were entrusted too, could not get past their own doubts. They remained blinded by their theology and didn’t see that they were in the presence of God.

These weren’t men that pursued knowledge for malicious purposes.   They didn’t study the scriptures daily with the intent of enslaving others to a religious system to take advantage of them.  Even Paul, before encountering Jesus, talked of being righteous according to the Law.  But that righteousness he would set aside, that justification of his own actions, so meticulously laid out, was worthless.

He needed to know God.  He needed God to walk with Him, to comfort and shepherd Him.  He needed the Holy Spirit’s presence to lift him up, to draw him to the reconciliation and transformation, not only being justified completely, but being sanctified.  TO know, as he wrote in Hebrews, that he could boldly walk into the Father’s holy, almighty presence.

That is the purpose of theology, the place it starts and ends.  Prayer, that moment we go to God, in desperate need, humbly asking Him to be here, and hearing a response of a God who our mind can’t fathom.  Yet in whose presence our hearts rejoice, and in front of whom our souls dance, free of sin, and sure that we are home with Him.

So next time you pick up that tome, or search that dataset, know what you are looking for, what you are searching for, that your people need to be taught.  The height, the depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for you, and for them.

That will be made clear in His glorious presence, and make this known as well;  THE LORD IS WITH YOU!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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