Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Relationships of Christmas Past

Advent Midweek ThemeThe Relationships of
Christmas Past
Genesis 44:30-44

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus convince you of the healing that is indeed happening in your life and in the lives of those you knew in Christmases past…

Haunted

I can’t imagine, as Judah stands before the brother he does not recognize, the heartache that he feels.  His heart and soul flashbacks to the look in his father’s eyes when they told him of Joseph’s death. Of watching his dad weep for months,

How it must have eaten him up, even though he knew his brother probably wasn’t dead, but simply a slave somewhere.

Still, he had to look down and see his father, wracked with tears, and live with his father’s overprotective nature toward Joseph’s younger brother, the only joy this broken man had…

Judah then considers having to break the news to his father, that his other son would be lost to him as well. His heart breaks, as guilt and shame have so weakened him, he realizes he can’t go back, he can’t watch his father die, because of the sin he has committed.

Surely he is haunted far more than Bob Marley or the most of the ghost of Christmas past ever could.

Our Relationships of Christmas Past

For many of us, the holidays are a challenge. We miss many dear friends and family.  Some are memories form our youth, like those we looked up to have past away, some of them decades ago.

Others are missing for a different reason.

Our sin.

Maybe we didn’t sell them into slavery, but the effect is much the same.  We never, ever, want to bump into each other, for the sin that divides us is too grievous.  Like Judah, thinking of the pain he caused his father (not even thinking of Joseph), we can’t live with it. I can’t imagine bearing up with that kind of pain for decades….

Or can I?

I think back to the relationships of Christmases past, and know the absence of lives that brought joy, people I had fun with, that won’t be there this year without a miracle.  If I think about it, I understand all to well the pain that Judah felt, as he considered going back to his father,

I could easily share in the words of Judah,

33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow.

As we regret the past, as we wish we, as we pray like Judah prayed, as we grieve over the damage of our sin, we hear God respond, “no…”

It is hard to hear God answer no…

So hard we don’t always hear, “my son, that is not necessary….”

But our Brother can…

It is actually impossible to take care of what we’ve broken and shattered. We can’t take the place of the joy, we can’t somehow sacrifice the life we have to restore that which is broken.

But that isn’t why God says, “no.”

He says no because He had already taken care of the sin that caused Judah’s grief and anxiety.  The brother he thinks dead, he is standing before. What his and his brother’s sin threw away, the love of their Father is now going to be restored.

This is the moment that is the perfect example of Advent.  We stand before the King, who is about to be revealed, trying to do with our guilt and shame, trying to figure out how to face the eternal consequences for our actions. How can we face God our father, when the relationships of our past mean our brother, our sister, isn’t going to be with us?  It is at this moment we understand the power of Advent and the greater moment of Christmas…

We really need to hear what God has already said, we need to listen to it with all our heart and all our mind, and all our soul.

“Let it be done for you as you believe. By Jesus’ command, I tell you, Your sins are forgiven, and what was done for evil, God will use for good. This is promised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN!”

Does God Still Surprise Us?

Ponte sisto

Devotional Thought of the day

22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.  Matt 22:22, 33 CEV

 This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”

Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.

Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.

So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.

The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI)  We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon.  We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.

We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face.  Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal.  (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)

That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.

These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.

And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow.  As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them.  Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us.  AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.

Please! Please! Don’t let this happen!

closed eyed man holding his face using both of his hands

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27 This time the LORD made the king so stubborn 28 that he said to Moses, “Get out and stay out! If you ever come back, you’re dead!” 29 “Have it your way,” Moses answered. “You won’t see me again.”  Ex 10:27-29 CEB

Indeed, no one should depend on his heart and presume to pray without uttering words unless he is well trained in the Spirit and has experience in warding off stray thoughts. Otherwise the devil will thoroughly trick him and soon smother the prayer in his heart. Therefore we should cling to the words and with their help soar upward, until our feathers grow and we can fly without the help of words. I do not condemn words or the spoken prayer, nor should anyone spurn them. On the contrary, they are to be accepted as an especially great gift of God. However, it is wrong when the words are not employed for their fruitful purpose, namely, to move the heart, but are only mumbled and muttered with the mouth, on the false assumption that this is all that is necessary. Not only is there no fruitful improvement, there is a corrupting of the heart.

I am pretty sure that none of us would intentionally become like the Pharoah. We would tell someone sent by God to never come back.

But how many of us, for a moment, would be willing to hear God say, “Have it your way!”

Most of us would say, with Peter, “Even if everyone deserts you, I will never desert you!” (Matt 26:33) Most of us would vehemently deny being like the Pharaoh, at least actively.

But what about passively?  Do we ignore the signs God sends us in life?  Do we ignore the calls to repentance, the urging to reconcile, both with God and with those who would offend us.? Do we ignore the times God would call us to come and spend time with Him, or worse, do we prevent others from doing it, as Pharoah did?

Yeah, we do.  More than we want to admit. God and his people often sink to our lowest priority.  Don’t worry about missing worship – you deserve a rest!  Why do you have to go tonight to Bible Study, didn’t you do enough last week?

Thirteen years ago, I bought a devotional book.  I was amazed when there was a simple set of daily liturgies, prayers that over the years have become memorized for me, and for my son now as well. I work diligently to not take the words for granted, and part of me is amazed at how these words have found a place in my heart and soul.

I think Luther’s discussion on prayer notes why, if I simply let my prayer be based on my heart, I ould have shorter prayers, filled with more distractions. When I engage my heart and soul with my mind and tongue which intones the words, the words of the psalms and prayers written from them become precious, leading into deeper moments of prayer, guiding and giving limits for prayers that keep it focused on Jesus.

Without them, I think of the challenges of the day, of those who are broken who I need to help. I go from entrusting these people in God’s care, to attempting (vainly) to figure out how I will fix their problems, to despairing of the situation. As Luther pointed out, such smothers the life of prayer. and rather than praying “Lord, have mercy”, I begin to struggle with despair and depression.  It is all too easy for the devil to do this, he just opens the door, and we begin to crash.

We begin to realize the silence of God letting us have it “our way.”

Not because of active defiance, but being so passive we become apathetic, and ignorant of God’s compassion, and His presence.

This is easily taken care of, simply start praying, ask the Holy Spirit to empower and sustain you, even when you don’t know what to pray.  After all, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write this, 26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. “Romans 8:26-28 (NLT2)

So pray, use guides, or just simply pray the psalms, or the Lord’s prayer. Ask the Spirit to guide you and protect your focus in the prayer, especially as you attempt to listen to His glorious message to you…

“I am here… I forgive you… I love you… let me begin your healing..”

Amen!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 25–26.

A Reason To Worship… The Parable of the Full Trash Can

 

grayscale photography of trash bins

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.    Ephesians 2:10 (NLT2)

20  But you have learned nothing like that from Christ, if you have really heard his voice and understood the truth that he has taught you. No, what you learned was to fling off the dirty clothes of the old way of living, which were rotted through and through with lust’s illusions, and, with yourselves mentally and spiritually re-made, to put on the clean fresh clothes of the new life which was made by God’s design for righteousness and the holiness which is no illusion. Ephesians 4:20 (Phillips NT)

592    Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?

It seems counter-intuitive, that God relies on us ot do the work that builds His Kingdom, but that we should not take pride in a “job well-done.” We struggle against sin, we try to serve our neighbor, we give of our time talent and treasure, shouldn’t we get a pat on the back? Can’t we take pride in an effort that took our all and more?

To that St. Josemaria’s words seem like a cold, harsh shower. A trash can?  Can’t we be considered a little nicer than that?  Yes, what God pours into us (and what He removes from us) makes all the difference in our lives.

We need to think this through, we need to meditate on what God is doing and has done to our life.  Not only how he cleans us up (justification – Eph. 2:8-9) but how he then plants in us something beautiful, and sweet-smelling.  Even the things we think we’ve buried so deep and hidden get cleaned out and replaced with things that alive, growing, beautiful.

You see, that is what is at the core of worship. The awe that comes in realizing what God has done, how He has cleansed us, how He has empowered us, how He sends us into the communities to reflect His beauty and glory into a world that has become content with brokenness.

What an amazing thing God has done, in the life of each the Holy Spirit has brought home!!!  What He has done is no illusion, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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