Category Archives: Book of Concord

So Longed for…the Sacraments and the Return of Jesus!

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day

23  I will show how holy my great name is—the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign LORD, then the nations will know that I am the LORD. 24  For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. 25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27  And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:23-27 (NLT2)

23  For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24  and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25  In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it.” 26  For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NLT2)

16  Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. . James 5:16 (NLT2)

Sacraments are “powers that comes forth” from the Body of Christ,33 which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his Body, the Church.

18 A sacrament is a ceremony or act in which God offers us the content of the promise joined to the ceremony; thus Baptism is not an act which we offer to God but one in which God baptizes us through a minister functioning in his place. Here God offers and presents the forgiveness of sins according to the promise (Mark 16:16), “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” By way of contrast, a sacrifice is a ceremony or act which we render to God to honor him.

I saw a friend share part of the Ezekiel reading the other day, and my mind flashed back to a baptism 5 years ago this week,

A pastor I know and admire posted about baptizing someone yesterday in their front yard with family looking on from an appropriate distance.

I’ve talked to pastor and priest friends, who all agonize over not being able to provide the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper to those whose faith is so challenged in these days.

Sacraments are not some magical incantation, the words accompany the promise, and the means God promised real to those whom HE blesses in that moment.

That water, because God promised, because He is pour/sprinkling/immersing people with it, give what He promised – the cleansing of our sin, the change of heart  (and mind) that we need, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

That bread that we place in their hands, it is the Body of Christ – given and shed so those people can realize GOd’s love, His mercy, His presence in their lives.

The words of forgiveness, which ring out, not because the pastor likes you, but because God wants you to hear them – YOU ARE FORGIVEN!

This isn’t about us doing the work, about our obedience, about our religious acts.  It is about God coming into our lives,  about God doing His work.

Those who are ordained to make sure these gifts are delivered are crushed, because we hear the need across phone lines, through texts and messages, and in the posts on social media. We can and are responding to some of those cries in person, but it is another thing to celebrate it all in person.

We look forward to the days when services and masses are the gatherings they should be.  But this time helps a little I think. For we begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to cry out for Christ to return, for the great gathering that will happen, when He welcomes us home.

I think we take heaven for granted at times, as we might the Lord’s Supper or our baptism, or that moment when you hear your shepherd tell you that you are forgiven because Jesus said so.  One has seemed so far away – a lifetime.  The others, the sacraments have always been there, they always should be.  Their removal, and the threat of death, combine to help us think of the biggest reunion.

We learn to yearn for the future, because of the absence of the present.  We learn to look to eternal life, as we are reminded that this life is easily threatened.  We long to have Jesus return to us in the sacrament, even as we are learning to yearn for His second coming!

Let me say it again, for it is worth saying!  I long for the day when the people I pastor can re-gather, and celebrate Christ’s feast together.  But even more, I am understanding why I should long for the feast to come when all of God’s people are welcomed home…and the celebration begins.

May God’s peace, poured out on you in Christ, nourished through word and sacraments, sustain you until the re-gatherings.  This will happen, for He has promised, and He is faithful!  AMEN!

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 289.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 252.

Why “I Don’t Get it” is a good thing!

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

29  The LORD our God hasn’t explained the present or the future, but he has commanded us to obey the laws he gave to us and our descendants. Deuteronomy 29:29 (CEV)

29  Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours and our children’s for ever, so that we can put all the words of this Law into practice.’ Deuteronomy 29:29 (NJB)

29  “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29 (NLT2)

“For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere.” 

Although very few of those who express their uneasiness have a clear picture of these interrelated factors, there is an instinctive grasp of the fact that liturgy cannot be the result of Church regulations, let alone professional erudition, but, to be true to itself, must be the fruit of the Church’s life and vitality.

I read the verse in red in the first translation this morning.  It piqued my interest because I get frustrated when I cannot understand the things going on in life.  That has been happening a lot recently.

So i started looking the passage up in other translations.  Sometimes that helps, sometimes I have ot go a bit deeper than that. I use the NLT in our church, and the NJB is the first full Bible I ever owned. I like it just like people who grew up with the KJV are not comfortable with more modern translations.

Turns out I like all three, but the NJB resonates the most with me.

To paraphrase it, “what God has made a mystery, these things we cannot know.  That is good.  The things God has revealed to us, this is what is needed for us to live in the relationship He created with us…. (at the cross)  For the Law is not just the commandments, but the entire covenant, the entire description of our relationship. It is the explanation of, “I am your God, and you are my people!’

That’s the message – that is the mystery that we can’t conceive of, but we need to know is true.  We have to have that, far more than why we have to understand some of the evil things that happen in this world or even the odd and unexplainable things.

Even if we understood the present or the future, could we change it?

No. Not really. We might even be more frustrated than we are with things all in the dark.

But if we know of God’s presence, HIs promise, HIs love, that changes it all…. and we can His peace and comfort in that revelation.

And this is where the two quotes about liturgy come in, for the liturgy needs to communicate God’s presence, love, and mercy above all.  It cannot be the same, for it has to address the place where people are at, the struggles they face, the despair they know, and to reveal to them that they can depend on God, that He wants them to do so!

That means the liturgy may look a little different here from there. It gives expression to God coming into the presence of His people and healing them of their brokenness. And liturgy comes out of that feeling., as the people respond to the merciful, comforting loving presence of God.  That is why liturgy is fruit, proof of the vitality of a congregation, proof of the truth revealed to them. And it is why those who would use the liturgy to bind the church are not protecting the church, but severely damaging it. Damaging it far more than the changes they fear ever could.

Liturgy is the expression of the faith of those who enter into worship and must always remain so.  For then it gives voice to what God has revealed, and where He has not, where we don’t get it, the liturgy will bring comfort and peace.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Cinnfessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 173–174.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 86–87.

Almost Tempted to…but I can’t…

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn!  Deut 9:4-6 CEV

Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.

It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.

Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.

Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise

The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.

It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)

Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.

They are that significant, at least to me.

But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith.  So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.

The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.

We aren’t good enough.

We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.

And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.

Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay.  We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.

That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more.  We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle.  It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.

That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God.  Pope Benedict is right on in that quote.  Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.

That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.

In your soul and mine. (gulp)

Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.

You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…

That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.

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), 88–89.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.

Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for the Day:
27  Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)

6  Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7  Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8  And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9  It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)

For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.

Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.

I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.

Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.

Only one.

It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.

Does your liturgy,  your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?

The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.

Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way?  If not, reset them.  Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy?  If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them.  Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.

Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time.  So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.

Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all.  And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.  

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.

What Should Make Christianity…. different?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

I tell you that this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 44 Everyone else gave what they didn’t need. But she is very poor and gave everything she had. Now she doesn’t have a cent to live on.  Mark 12:43-44 CEV

By the words “to save” we understand the whole of the great work of salvation, from the first holy desire onward to complete sanctification. The words are multum in parro: indeed, here is all mercy in one word. Christ is not only “mighty to save” those who repent, but he is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is, moreover, mighty to give men new hearts and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after-work. The life of a believer is a series of miracles wrought by “the Mighty God.”

The pagan knew the fact that our hearts are restless, but he did not know the reason. Christianity supplies the reason, the key to the lock, the answer to the puzzle pondered by the great philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, even by Qoheleth in the book of Ecclesiastes. All these thinkers believed in a God, but they were not happy because they did not know God was love. Socrates worshipped the unknown God whom he would not name and knew he did not know. Plato’s God was impersonal truth and goodness. Aristotle’s God was a cosmic first mover who could be known and loved but who did not know or love us. Cicero’s God was only a vague object of “piety”. And the God of Ecclesiastes sat unmoving and unknown in Heaven while man’s life on earth remained “vanity of vanities, all is vanity”

172 Augustine says very clearly, “All the commandments of God are kept when what is not kept is forgiven.”1 Therefore even in good works he requires our faith that for Christ’s sake we please God and that the works in themselves do not have the value to please God.
173 Against the Pelagians, Jerome writes, “We are righteous, therefore, when we confess that we are sinners; and our righteousness does not consist in our own merit, but in God’s mercy.”

The novel Christian reality is this: Christ’s Resurrection enables man genuinely to rejoice. All history until Christ has been a fruitless search for this joy. That is why the Christian liturgy—Eucharist—is, of its essence, the Feast of the Resurrection, Mysterium Paschae. As such it bears within it the mystery of the Cross, which is the inner presupposition of the Resurrection.

This morning I came across some very powerful quotes in my reading.  I love them, whether it is from a soon to be pope (Ratzinger), an incredible philosopher (Kreeft), a group of rebels (the early Lutherans), or a British pastor who was perhaps, the first mega-church pastor.

They all point to one thing, the fact that Christianity is different. Philosophers tried to point to him, but they couldn’t understand God. That the Eucharist does, more clearly perhaps than anything else, for we encounter and experience Jesus there.  In the mercy of God which makes our broken lives perfect as God grants to us repentance and sanctification – as He completely saves us.

What an incredible concept, this salvation.

But do we really comprehend this blessing, this gift?

I do not think we do, at least not always.

How about this explanation.  We (the church) are like children at Christmas, more interested in playing with the box our present came in than actually enjoying the present.

Salvation, the complete work of God is so large a gift, we cannot understand it. But we can experience it, and it does more than change us. Jesus does more than give us life, He is that life. That is what makes Christianity different, it is the religion that is more than a relationship, for a relationship cannot begin to express what living in Christ is like.

The old lady with the two pennies experienced it. She wasn’t impressed with the box, she simply enjoyed walking with God, and gave what she had that others would as well.

We don’t even know her name, and she could care less.

She was with God, and among His people, as broken, as misdirected, as….unfocused on what she knew and responded to…

May we be more like her….. and enjoy living in Christ, as the children the Father loves.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 39–40.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 130–131.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 65.

What’s a Pastor to do….What Should HIs People Expect of Him?

Do your job pastor

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Each day you must sacrifice two lambs a year old, 39 one in the morning and one in the evening.
People of Israel, I will meet and speak with you there, and my shining glory will make the place holy. 44 Because of who I am, the tent will become sacred, and Aaron and his sons will become worthy to serve as my priests. 45 I will live among you as your God, 46 and you will know that I am the LORD your God, the one who rescued you from Egypt, so that I could live among you.  Ex 29:38-39, 42–46.  CEV

5 Our teachers assert that according to the Gospel the power of keys or the power of bishops is a power and command of God to preach the Gospel, to forgive and retain sins, and to administer and distribute the sacraments. 

Ultimately speaking, a pastor/priest/bishop/deacon is nothing more than a sinner, who has been forgiven, He’s been tasked by God and the church with some simple things.

But there is so much more to do, than the things listed in the Augsburg Confession.

Which makes me wonder, how do we prioritize our time?  Are the things listed in the Augsburg Confession still our priority?  And in an era where the church in the United States is shrinking, shouldn’t we be trying to stem the losses, plan for the future, train up more leaders.

Are these things spoken about, preaching the gospel, forgiving sins, administering the sacraments, as out of date as the morning and evening sacrifices at the Tabernacle?

If we aren’t just “going through the motions” and doing what we’ve always done, because we always do it, these things are called to do can and will change, not only our church and community, but it will change the world.  In order for that to happen, we have to see the real value in these tasks, we have to understand what God is empowering to happen as He leads us to do this.

That is where the Exodus readings come into play.  The morning and evening sacrifices are, obviously, no longer needed.  But they point to the lamb that would be slain for our sins and recalling that sacrifice every morning and evening is a good practice.  One that lies behind Luther’s concept of remembering our baptism every morning and evening, remembering that we are united to Christ in His death and resurrection.  Remembering that unity, so that we dwell in it, knowing our sins are forgiven, more importantly, depending on the Holy Spirit who guides, comforts and protects us and serves as the guarantee of God’s love, and His work in our lives.

Which gets to the second half of the reading, and this little phrase, “because of who I AM!”  God’s identity changes everything.  It makes sinners saints, It shatters the darkness with light, it makes buildings into sanctuaries (like it made the tent a tabernacle) and it makes pastors (priests, etc) worthy to serve in that role.

How can’t this all happen because of who God is?  Simple, because God is with us. Because He dwells among us, we know He is God, our God, and is there for us – and that He rescues us for this very purpose.

His presence changes lives, not our logic and reason and 40 days of this and 50 days of that. It is our preaching the gospel, not just in the worship service, but as we visit people in their homes, or at the hospital. or in jail, all these things happen.  As we help someone in our office, or who visits our home, these things happen.

This is what our people need to know we do, that this ministry is not Monday_thursay 8-5 and a half-day on Saturday and Sunday.  Our people need to know that the gospel is available to them all the time, as is absolution, as are the sacraments.

It’s what we do…

Remind them that God is with them!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 81.

Why I Bother… to preach

Devotional Thought of the Day:

6  For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 (NLT2)

16 as Paul says in Rom. 5:1, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
19 In former times this comfort was not heard in preaching, but poor consciences were driven to rely on their own efforts, and all sorts of works were undertaken. 20 Some were driven by their conscience into monasteries in the hope that there they might merit grace through monastic life. 21 Others devised other works for the purpose of earning grace and making satisfaction for sins.
22 Many of them discovered that they did not obtain peace by such means. It was therefore necessary to preach this doctrine about faith in Christ and diligently to apply it in order that men may know that the grace of God is appropriated without merits, through faith alone.

c. Through the Spirit of Christ, who is the Spirit of God, we can share in the human nature of Jesus Christ; and in sharing in his dialogue with God, we can share in the dialogue which God is. This is prayer, which becomes a real exchange between God and man.
d. The locus of this identification with Christ, facilitated by the Spirit, which necessarily implies that those involved are also identified with one another in Christ, is what we call “Church”. We could in fact define “Church” as the realm of man’s discovery of his identity through the identification with Christ which is its source.

On Mondays I sit in an office, with my monitors full of Greek and Hebrew and the work of scholars. It is easier of course these days to do the work than when I was a young pastor, but it is still tedious work. I mull over the results, as I do the research, and then plan our a service that works on the same message that I see coming from the text.

On Saturday, after considering the passages and the questions and answers the research and prayer bring, the manuscript is formed. Some weeks this takes 6 hours, others eight, and depending on how many stop by to chat, or to unload their burdens, or simply to hear that God is indeed, with them.

That’s a lot of work to invest in 12-18 minutes of life. And while it is not back breaking work, it is challenging, and the returns take a while to see, if they are seen.

So why do it? Why pour my mind and my heart and a lot of time into those few moments, where the “return on investment” is so… vague?

The Augsburg Confession, which started this thought process this morning gives me the one great motivator for my preaching. I treasure the moments when “my” people can drop their worries, their problems, their pain and for a moment experience the peace of God. Do they always see it? Do they always know that God is with them? No, but they grow in recognizing it,

It is that moment when what Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict calls the point where man discovers his identity in Christ. That is when the peace comes, when we can rest, when life is focused and we know He is with us.

When it happens, when I look at the growth in people, not in their being independent, but in their growth as they learn they can depend on God, as they learn that in that dependence on Him, n their interaction with Him, they find peace.

The peace the angels mentioned as Jesus took human form, to bring about that peace, and to defeat all that would steal it, including our sin.

That is why we bring the good news, much as the angels did…

AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 43–44.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 26.

Our Need for Contemplation…

1  O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. 2  I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. 3  Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! 4  I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 5  You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. Psalm 63:1-5 (NLT2)

In a nutshell one could say that the goal of Asiatic contemplation is the escape from personality, whereas biblical prayer is essentially a relation between persons and hence ultimately the affirmation of the person.

We know God aright when we grasp him not in his might or wisdom (for then he proves terrifying), but in his kindness and love. Then faith and confidence are able to exist, and then man is truly born anew in God.

Luther’s words in green above come from a pamphlet (the forerunner to the blog) on the contemplation of the suffering of Jesus. It is a pretty difficult read, as he takes us through contemplating the incredible power of sin, that breaks us down, the crushes us…

that we to often choose.

It is painful, and though I hate to say it, it should be. We need to be horrified by the actions we have done, the words we have said, both in anger, and simply to do damage to those we dislike or are jealous of, we need to take a moment, and examine our thoughts to realize how little we control them.

And then, find relief, not in our own resolve, or our ability to make things right, or even survive our brokenness, but in the presence of God, in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and gentle careful cleansing of our lives, our hearts, minds, souls… all of it.

This is the meditation that Pope Benedict XVI discusses, the relationship we have with God, and He with each and all of His people. It is what affirms us, this new birth in God that we have to really contemplate – that we really have to sit and discover.

And in that contemplation, as we gaze on the power of God, as we realize what He has done and is doing, we can cry out praise, much as the Psalmist does.

It is in those quiet moments, contemplating the riches of God, revealed in Christ so that they may be revealed in our lives, that the desire for God’s work becomes stronger and stronger.

So take some time, not just a moment. Consider the cross and the grave… let the Spirit help you know the entire picture, how you’ve been broken, and how you’ve been healed…

For the Lord is with you…

(no matter which side of the Tiber you are, or whether you are on the bridge)

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 24.

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), 13.

Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and… what we are afraid to talk about in the Church.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather from his kingdom everyone who does wrong or causes others to sin. 42 Then he will throw them into a flaming furnace, where people will cry and grit their teeth in pain. 43 But everyone who has done right will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. If you have ears, pay attention! Mt 13:41-43 CEV

Properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest.1
6 Amendment of life and the forsaking of sin would then follow, for these must be the fruits of repentance, as John says, “Bear fruit that befits repentance”
(Matt. 3:8).

We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion……..
No meditation or any other doctrine is granted to you that you might be boldly inspired by your own will to accomplish this. You must first seek God’s grace and ask that it be accomplished by his grace and not by your own power. That is why the people we referred to above fail to view Christ’s passion aright. They do not seek God’s help for this, but look to their own ability to devise their own means of accomplishing this. They deal with the matter in a completely human but also unfruitful way.

Star Wars would not be beloved the way it is, unless Luke and his family had to deal with their dark side. The Lord of the Rings would not be the same unless you experience the dark journey of two Hobbits, Smeagol and Frodo. We even see it in the old classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables, as the hero’s are survive their own darkness,

Every good epic tale had those dark times. Time s that some survive, some do not, and yet all bear the scars of throughout their lives. This is called a meta-narrative, a truth seen in God’s general revelation, that becomes clear in His specific revelation in scripture.

What these stories touch on is our own spiritual walk, what they illustrate is our own spiritual journey.

And just like Luke is afraid to face the darkness, like Frodo has to get used to his darkness calling him to wear the ring, of Val Jean dealing with his own brokenness, we have to face our own.

We have to face our sin. We have to own it, and the pain of the brokenness. As Luther writes about mediating on the cross, he goes ballistic on this point, ( I am hoping he is equally powerful about grace – but I have gotten there yet!)

Our sin does need to have an impact on us, crushing us, terrifying us at first, but as the Augsburg Confession discusses we have to believe in the gospel, that we’ve been forgiven, healed.

The weeds of Matthew 13 don’t want to admit they need that care. They go about doing wrong and encouraging others to do wrong. They refuse to see their brokenness, and therefore see no need for the cross, and the God to die upon it, bearing the weight of their sin.

They are Smeagol/Gollum, Vader and they Emperor, Javert, and those who betray the young sailor. They find their place in the darkness, and are afraid to deal with the evil they see within themselves.

But the main characters do not find their redemption in their heroics, they are almost surprised they survive, as they consider how close they came to embracing hell. There is a sense of joyous relief, even awe, as they look to their surviving the journey into darkness.

This is truly what happens to the sinner, drawn to the cross, where Jesus is lifted up. To get there, we need to see the brokenness sin has cause in our lives. We need to consider what would have happened if Jesus wasn’t sacrificed, and realize how incredible the love of God is that saves us from what we earned.

It isn’t all hell, fire and brimstone, for we know, we are fully confident in our deliverance. Yet… that confidence comes from realizing the painful emptiness that is the the effect being imprisoned by sin, and being rescued, the bonds shattered as the nails pierced Jesus’ wrists and ankles.

We have survived, in Christ overcoming our sin, we have endured. He has seen our darkness, more clearly that we ever have… and loved us more than despising the darkness.

May our lives reflect that love.. that would not let us go…

AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 34–35.

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), 10-11

Show Me the… Works?

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” James 2:18 (TEV)

Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.

Even more upsetting, the devil can take your best works and reduce them to such dishonorable and worthless things and render them so damnable before your conscience that your sins scare you less than your best good works. In fact, you wish you had committed grievous sins rather than done such good works. Thus, the devil causes you to deny these works, as if they were not done through God, so that you commit blasphemy.

That is why it is important to learn and practice all one’s life long, from childhood on, to think with God, to feel with God, to will with God, so that love will follow and will become the keynote of my life. When that occurs, love of neighbor will follow as a matter of course. For if the keynote of my life is love, then I, in my turn, will react to those whom God places on my path only with a Yes of acceptance, with trust, with approval, and with love.

In the movie Jerry MaGuire, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character lashes out Tom Cruise’s character with the phrase, “show me the money!” Except it is not about money. It is a plea for Tom’s character Jerry to show how important the relationship is, that it isn’t just about the money that can be made from negotiating a deal.

Inside the Christian faith, our actions often speak louder than our words. They testify as to whether the words we say are true, or whether we are those who call out “Lord! Lord!” and yet don’t have a solid relationship with the Lord, in fact,t hey don’t have a relationship at all.

It is not about our works, it is not about the obedience, it is about the relationship. Works simply testify that the relationship exists. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, we think with God, we feel with God, and love follows as a matter of course! That love causes action, it creates the work, but the work is never apart from the presence of God.

We know we aren’t saved by works (the Lutheran phrase based on Ephesian 2:8-10) and there is nothing we do that merits salvation, it all depend on the grace of God which precedes anything (which is the way the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent put it in Session Vi chapter V)) Yet the faith that depends on God for salvation will result in praise and worship – the latter being what we do with out lives.

Luther’s concern in the green text above must be heard, if we are to understand his version of “Faith Alone.” He isn’t denying the believer can do good works, or encouraging them to not even bother with the idea. Our good works, done in communion with Jesus Christ, are to be encouraged, extolled, and the glory given to God, whose light we are simply reflecting by those works. An attitude that denied this, that caused us to view the our good works with disdain Luther considered influenced by Satan!

As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession puts it, these works are the result of the impulses the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts. This doesn’t sound like we are denying that the Christian can do good works, does it?

And that is the point we need to clarify, that we need not be afraid of trying to do something the Holy Spirit is driving us towards. It my be simple, like holding the hand of someone struggling with old age and being feeble. It may be sitting and reading the catechism with a child, helping them to know God’s love. It could be something different, like heading to Africa or Asia on a mission trip. It could be… well, you fill in the blank. What is God calling you to do?

Then do it, and we can both rejoice in the faithfulness of God, who is close enough to you to put that idea on your heart, and give you the desire and ability to see it through! AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 124.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 212–213.

Joseph Ratzinger, 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), 276.

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