Category Archives: Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI

The Millenials Aren the First to Seek Something Deeper and More Meaningful…

Devotional Thought for our days:

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)

Younger evangelical Craig Gilbert writes, “If we are to make disciples, then we are called to long-term care, feeding and education of the soul that we evangelize. To not integrate them into the body of Christ, the church, is to not fulfill the great commission. To fail to faithfully live the example in fellowship and study, prayer and worship, and thereby give the convert a tangible model to emulate, is to fail in our calling.” (Webber notes that this was from a private email conversation)

During the lifetime of Saint Francis of Assisi people experienced a deep yearning for a Church of the Spirit; they longed for a better, purer, more meaningful Christianity and anticipated that this new Church would bring about a change in the course of history as well. To many of those who suffered from the inadequacies of institutional Christianity, Saint Francis seemed to be a God-sent answer to their expectations, and, in fact, Christianity of the Spirit has seldom been so genuinely exemplified as it was in him.

Back in the day, the Irish Band U2 gave us a song that told us, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for”.  According to many who forgot the angst they went through in the 80’s and 90’s, this could be the anthem for the millennial generation.  (We all too soon forget the problems we had with the generation that went before us!)

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

The quote from Pope Benedict shows us another generation that went through this – some 800 years ago, during the time of St Francis of Assisi.  One could say the same for Luther, or Wesley or Escriva, where they wanted a church that was more than a machine, more than a system, more than a programmed system. 

They needed a church that would be there, that would provide a care that would last a lifetime, that would nourish them spiritually, that would continually remind them of the presence of God, just as Webber’s young friend notes we need today ( that was 15 years ago) 

Those who complain about this generation being “snowflakes” forget their own tears, their own fragility, their own brokenness. They forget the need for Christ’s cleansing and healing of their lives, of the hope given by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, of the true fellowship where we cried with those who cried and rejoiced with those who rejoice.  

What St Paul tells the church is still true, we need to explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ. It is a love beyond comprehension, of love that we experience, a love that is without bounds.

A love that embraces millennials and baby-boomer, and even those lost folk in the middle, the GenX’ers like me.  As it did the generations before us.

It is a reformation, like Luther’s, like that of St Francis, like even the Charismatic renewal of the 60’s, that will well up from desperate need.

The church has the option – to shepherd it, or to mock it.  To provide the nurture and care we all truly need, or to ridicule those as weak, who simply are honest about it. 

I pray we hear God’s voice and call on those who follow to imitate us, as we imitate Christ!

May we all learn, in our brokenness, to cry out,“Lord, have mercy!” As we cry it out, together, I pray we all here His answer… “I am with you always, even until the end of time.”  Amen!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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.

It’s Time for the Church to Get Out of Control

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Days
34  But Jesus said: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. 35  Do you not have a saying: Four months and then the harvest? Well, I tell you, look around you, look at the fields; already they are white, ready for harvest! John 4:34-35 (NJB)

31      O Jesus…, strengthen our souls, open out the way for us, and, above all, intoxicate us with your Love! Make us into blazing fires to kindle the earth with the heavenly fire you brought us.

The Church is not a machine, a collection of bureaucrats, of administrators, of events. This is the Church: that we are called into the family of Jesus Christ and so into a community of love with him.

The problem for this pastor and for many others of us is that we turn things around and instead of seeing church and worship as the means of nourishing our mystical union with God, we see our life in the church and in worship as our work. We subvert God’s way of nourishing our union with him by looking to self as if we sustain the union, only to grow weary in our own self-righteousness.

Knowing my undergraduate degree is in Organizational Management, and that I spent more than a decade in management before becoming a pastor, someone asked me what my favorite business model was to adapt for the church.

I think my answer surprised them, it was n off-hand joke, but fairly true. 

Thriving on Chaos. 

There is such a book, and an excellent one if I remember, necessary for a business that is in the midst of changes in its market and world. 

But what I am talking about is that the church, at its best – is out of control.  Completely out of control.  Absolutely, 102.829 percent out of control.

Before all my church consultants, coaches and CEO/Herr pastor friends meltdown, let me clarify.

The church must be completely controlled by God, it must be completely wrested from our control.  It is a community we are called into by God, a community that He is healing, that He is cleansing. He is doing the work, and we are but servants in this endeavor, doing what He calls us to do. 

Pope Benedict noted above that the church is never a bureaucracy, it is not a machine to be managed!  (Did I mention this is a quote from a future Pope)  It is a community, one with broken people, one where ministering to each other can often upset our nicely manicured schedules and structures.

Dr. Webbber points out that this church is not our work. When we treat it as ours, he continues we subvert it from its norm, we change it from being the place where God embraces people, a place where they hear and recognize his voice into a highly disciplined  collection of round pegs stuck in round holes and square pegs stuck into square holes and well – those octagonal folk?  Well, there might be a church down the street for them.  

We believe we can sustain the union, so we keep everyone busy, hoping they don’t look to clearly at the New Empire line of stoles and chausables, (or for my low church bothers – polos and denim)   We end up leaving very little time for quiet intimacy with God, so that we don’t have to worry about being stir crazy when all we hear is the sound of silence.

We need a church where God so overwhelms us, we have no option but to sit and pray, catching our breath, so drained of energy that being still and knowing He is God is required, that a sabbath rest is something we begin to desire. 

We need a church where the Spirit is moving, not us, (and not us pretending to hear the Spirit either!)   Where God being “with us” is what we rely on, where our cries of “Lord have mercy! are not just loud and desperate, they are full of expectation and hope. 

A hope we share with the world. A world that is coming, and is coming because someone else planted a seed, and not it is time to harvest…. 

I love St Josemaria’s prayer, and the fact that it comes from a voice many consider too conservative, to traditional, to rigid and disciplined.  It is a great demonstration of a church that is thriving in a chaos, as the fire rages within us,  completely out of our control.  

But firmly and completely in His.

May we rejoice in our God’s presence, and may His Kingdom come and Will be done, even in our lives today.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 348-350). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

The Words That You Need to Hear Me Say, but “I” dont say them.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21  (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23 (NAB)

So rejoice my friends, based on your confession and your faith in Christ hear these words. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  adapted from the Lutheran Liturgy, Confession, and Absolution 

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional.

It does seem scandalous, every Sunday as I stand in from of my parishioners and guests, and dare to forgive their sins.  Who am I to have just a great task.  Or worse, in those times where people aren’t repentant, to hand them over to Satan for a season.   ( 1 Cor. 5:5,  1 Thes. 1:20)  

But who am I to dare tell Joe that his sins are forgiven?  What if he is a man who cheats on his wife, or is verbally abusive toward his co-workers?  What if he’s been stealing and breaking into houses, or cheating on his taxes?  What if he constantly gossips about political figures?

How dare I stand there, look at him, and say, “I forgive your sins…”

Luther has it correct, the focus is not on me, but on you hearing what God desires you to hear.  You are freed from the bondage you put yourself into by sinning.  The eternal consequences have been transferred to Jesus on the Cross, they are not yours.  You need to cherish these words,  value them as life-giving, life-restoring.  It is a spiritual form of CPR and first aid. 

Pope Benedict seems to resonate with these words as well, as he discusses the delegation of Christ’s authority (see Matthew 28:18) to forgive sins is given to the pastor to use, for the benefit of God’s people.  THe “I” there is no longer dustin the sinner, but it is Jesus speaking to you.  

His authority, His message, His decision.

You are forgiven.

It is finished.

For by the stripes Jesus bore, you have been healed!

Rejoice!

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

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.

How Closely Should We Cling to God? You Will Not Believe What Scripture says!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days:
11 Just as shorts fit tightly round the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honour to my name, but they would not obey me.”  Jeremiah 13:11  TEV

Loneliness is indubitably one of the basic roots from which man’s encounter with God grew up. Where man experiences his solitariness, he experiences at the same time how much his whole existence is a cry for the thou and how ill-adapted he is to be only an I in himself. This loneliness can become apparent to man on various levels. To start with it can be comforted by the discovery of a human thou. But then there is the paradox that, as Claudel says, every thou found by man finally turns out to be an unfulfilled and unfulfillable promise; that every thou is at bottom another disappointment and that there comes a point when no encounter can surmount the final loneliness: the very process of finding and of having found thus becomes a pointer back to the loneliness, a call to the absolute thou that really descends into the depths of one’s own I. But even here it remains true that it is not only the need born of loneliness, the experience that no sense of community fills up all our longing, which leads to the experience of God; it can just as well proceed from the joy of security. The very fulfillment of love, of finding one another, can cause man to experience the gift of what he could neither call up nor create and make him recognize that in it he receives more than either of the two could contribute. The brightness and joy of finding one another can point to the proximity of absolute joy and of the simple fact of being found which stands behind every human encounter.

“I weep when the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs analysis replaces the almost erotic intimacy with Christ described by John the Cross in his “Dark night of the soul,” or the stunning challenge to discipleship and companionship presented in some of the great Ignatian meditations on the mystery of Christ. The psychological tools are fun and even helpful, but they create a fascination with oneself and in the end, leave us alone with that fascination. I grow very sad when the paradoxical wisdom of our heroines and heroes is replaced by the strategies and stages of the psychological paradigm. A language that was once very large and awesomely beautiful has been transformed into a language that is very self-centered and very small.)

How closely does God want us to cling to Him? 

According to Jeremiah – as tightly as shrunken old underwear clings!  (Gulp!  How is that for a picture! No object lessons about this in a sermon – please!)

Gosh, that is close, very close!

That is what he always intended, a relationship that is that intimate, that close. That deep, that powerfully intimate and life changing. Nothing is going to get closer!

That is why Webber’s quote in green needs to be understood.  There are a lot of great tools for helping people, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing Jesus.  That is what sustained saints recognized and unrecognized by the church throughout the ages.  This level of intimacy with God that simply leaves us adoring Him with all that we are.  The level of intimacy we find in the sacraments, the intimacy that does fill the emptiness that no community can quench on its own.

Look at the way people have chased that kind of commitment, that kind of bond.  Of course is our madness with sex and the sensual.  But also the many fraternal organizations ( Kiwanis, Lions, KofC, even the Masons) and each tries to create those kinds of bonds and falls short.  The same thing for religious groups and orders, they come close and show this intimacy we need can exist, but they ultimately can’t replace a relationship with God.

Oddly, the Jesus movement started by promising this kind of intimacy, then as it morphed over the decades, it dropped that aside in favor of behavior modification and political power and influence.  This is why mountaintop experiences like prayer retreats and groups like Cursillo are so effective – they introduce that level of relationship, in a corporate environment.  They force us into it, but often fail to demonstrate that relationship is in our everyday life, and in our home church’s worship.  It’s there, but we have to learn to see it!

Ultimately, we are talking about a relationship sustained as we interact with God.  In the sacraments, in our time of prayer, (remember the ACTS outline – do we take enough time to ADORE Him?  We are talking about a relationship where He is allowed and welcomed into our lives, and we understand we are welcome to share in His glory.  

The more we experience it, the more we realize our need for it and hunger for it.  The more that happens, the more we cling to Him!

Even cling to Him like a pair of old torn shrunken underwear…. 

He is our God, we are His people.  We need Him in our lives, and He wants to be there.  This is how it was meant to be….

So go, spend some time with God… think about His love. 

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.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.  ( Dr. Webber was quoting Fr. Peter Fink in this passage)

No Other Words Can Express this…

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our days….
Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you.
As a groom is delighted with his bride, So your God will delight in you.  Isaiah 62:4 TEV

8 But you are our Father, LORD. We are like clay, and you are like the potter. You created us, 9so do not be too angry with us or hold our sins against us for ever. We are your people; be merciful to us.  Isaiah 64:8-9  TEV

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. 13I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.  Isaiah 66:12-13

 

For God, we are not numbers! We are important; indeed, the most important of all his creatures, the closest to his heart whether we are saints or sinners.

Yet sisters continued to leave and new ones failed to come. Perhaps, without being fully aware of the reasons, women religious felt a deep unrest at living in a Church in which Christianity is reduced to an ideology of doing, a Church in which there is no longer any place for mystical experience, for that zenith of religious life that has been—and not by chance—the most precious treasure of the Church through centuries of uninterrupted constancy and fullness in the lives of religious, usually women rather than men; in the lives of those extraordinary women whom the Church has honored with the title “saint”, and sometimes even “doctor”, not hesitating to offer them as models for all Christians.

As I study the scriptures with a group of guys, all who are servants of the church, there is a debate that is somewhat constant.  It is over the use of a phrase that I use to help us study and communicate the good news of God’s love and care.

The phrase is simple, two words that I feel capture the essence of what we need to make sure people understand about God and them.  The words are 

Intimate Relationship

They would plead that we can’t use those two words together, they will scare off men, they will be heard and people will think about sex or sensual or even perverse relationships.   For years I have asked them to come up with another phrase, another way to express what Hebrew and Greek words like Agape and cHesed and Eleos do. 

They cannot.  And they admit that this is at the heart of the gospel, this relationship with God that is so deep, so powerful, so captivating. So intimate.

The Old Testament prophets saw this and expressed it simply and clearly.  Isaiah even is inspired to compare it to the delight of a groom as he takes his bride to himself.   He will also compare it to a woman nourishing her newborn.  or an artist crafting His creation ( relative to Eph. 2:10) and the relationship the artist has with his work.

It is scary, as anyone who has been a bride or groom knows, the anxiety of letting a person get that close to you, not just physically, but spiritually, psychologically.  Letting every barrier down, turning every defensive mechanism off, simply loving and being loved.  Whether it is the groom, the newborn’s mom, or the artist, each opens themselves up to the “Other”, or as some philosophers have said, the “Thou” is important to the I and they reach a point where you can’t define one without the other!

That is what “intimate relationship” describes,

What Isaiah also notes is that God is the one who initiates this, who keeps it going, who is responsible.  The groom in those days, the mom feeding the infant, the artist creating the “Work”.  Each has the responsibility in the relationship for making it happen, for making the connection.

As Pope Francis notes, we aren’t just numbers, we are just parts of the Body of Christ, Each one of us has that relationship with God!  As Benedict grieves, it is this zenith, this mystical experience, this constant fullness of the presence of God has gone missing from the church, and why it is weaker without the women (and some men) who could experience such joy, such delight, such wonder as living in the presence of God brings.

Luther would call this living the baptized life, living in the truth that in our baptism, we are united with Christ, and become one with Him. We live in Christ, for there is love, and joy and peace, far deeper than we could have ever imagined.

Far more intimate that we could normally be comfortable with…

Yet a place of peace.  deep abiding peace that is beyond the peace of the world,  A peace so unexplainable, save with these words….

The Lord be with you!

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.

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.

A Problem: How We Talk About Sin Has Changed.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

61 Knowing that his followers were complaining about this, Jesus said, “Does this teaching bother you? 62 Then will it also bother you to see the Son of Man going back to the place where he came from? 63 It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life.  John 6:61-63 NCV

Luther, too, employed this “core” as unquestioningly in his catechism as the Council of Trent did in the Roman catechism. That is to say: every statement about the Faith is ordered to the four basic elements: the Creed, the Our Father, the Decalogue, and the sacraments. The whole foundation of Christian life is thereby included—the synthesis of the Church’s teaching as it is based on Scripture and Tradition. Christians find here what they are to believe (the Symbolum or Creed), what they are to hope (the Our Father), what they are to do (the Decalogue or Ten Commandments), and the ambience in which all this is to be accomplished (the sacraments). Today, this fundamental structure has been abandoned in many areas of catechesis with results that are plainly evident in the loss of the sensus fidei among the younger generations, which are often unable to take a comprehensive view of their religion.

Although all nations see the horrible confusion, vices, and grievous calamities of the human race and feel the burden of sin, yet only the church of God teaches both where sin comes from and what it is and hears the Word of God concerning divine wrath and present and eternal punishments. And though human wisdom teaches us how to guide morals [and] disapproves and punishes actions against common reason, yet it does not recognize what is inherent in the consideration of sin, namely guilt before God or the wrath of God. Alexander saw that he had acted shamefully when he killed Clitus and he mourned as a result, because he made a judgment contrary to nature, but he did not mourn because he had offended God or because he was guilty before God. But the church points out the wrath of God and teaches that sin is a far greater evil than human reason thinks. Nor does the church reprove only external actions which are in conflict with the law of God or reason, as philosophy does; but it reproves the root and the fruit, the inner darkness of the mind, the doubts concerning the will of God, the turning away of the human will from God and the stubbornness of the heart against the law of God. It also reproves ignoring and despising the Son of God. These are grievous and atrocious evils, the enormity of which cannot be told. Therefore Christ says, “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me, and of righteousness because I go to the Father, and of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged” [John 16:8–11].

It is now the third generation since the decline of the church in America began.

I have heard many theories about each of the generations as those in the church grieve over their absence.  We mourned the boomers who came and went, sometimes coming back.  Their kids, my generation, some either came and stayed, but others fell aside and rarely come back, even for Christmas and Easter.  It is any wonder why we think the millennials won’t come?

Our situation could be described in the words in blue above, the desperate times, the confusion, the carelessness towards vice and greed.  Those words are nearly 500 years old, but so reflective of our days today.

Except the church has forgotten about how to teach and preach about sin. Part of the church would ignore sinful acts, thoughts, deeds.  The same part would love to condemn and even crucify some specific sins that abhor them. But our focus (and I do mean our) is on “sins” rather than sin.  It is the symptoms that concern us, rather than the cause.  It is act, the thought, the deed that we either want to justify or condemn.

And because we are so two faced in the church, those outside the church only hear our rants about sins and sinners, and never about the issue, sin.

One of the reasons for teaching the basics of the faith with the outline of Commandments, Creed, Prayer, Sacraments was that it causes us to deal with sin, not just sins.  It causes us to face the evil that we live with, that we are held hostage by, that we love and we hate.  To deal not just with sins, the individual thoughts, words and actions that are contrary to scripture, but we must deal with the root cause.

Sin. That which divides us from God. divides us from each other, and shatters us personally.

That’s what needs to be dealt with, that’s the evil that has to be overcome in this world.

Our evil.  Your’s and mine.

That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we all need to hear – no matter the generation, no matter the age.  That’s what we’ve taught for generations… what we need to teach again.

To give them the hope we all need.

Church – get that straight.. give them hope to deal with their brokenness – help them realize God still loves them, will cleanse them, heal them, declare them to be His own.

They will come for that.. they always have.

 

 

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.

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

Take the Time and Pray… the Difference is Noticable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

2  The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3  How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:2-3 (TEV)

The first “work” of the priest is to be a believer and to be so always anew and always more deeply. Faith is never present as a matter of course; it must be lived. It leads us into a conversation with God that includes both speaking and hearing. Faith and prayer belong inseparably together. The time a priest spends in prayer and in hearing the word of God is never at the expense of his pastoral duties to the souls confided to his care. People can tell if the words and actions of their pastor have their origin in his prayer or only at his writing table.

As a young pastor, working p/t as a hospice chaplain, and part-time at a community college teaching computer science, I often got caught in a trap, as time was limited.  The demands of caring for my people, studying the scriptures and prayer often became what was cut out, sacrificed to the tyranny of the urgent.

I could justify this, and often hear others do this today.  The challenge is communicating that my need for time in prayer is not because I am holier, or more pious. For I know some will dismiss my advice to make time with God a priority because of such concern.  My denomination has its periods where being pious turned into extreme pietism, so those who advocate prayer and other spiritual disciplines are often treated with suspicion. 

That doesn’t change the fact we need to be communicating with God, we need to set up a regular time to give to God numerous burdens, our pains, our sins, and to listen to Him, as He shares His love, and the promises that flow from that love.  We can’t continue to carry those burdens on our own, they will crush   We need to hear Him say, I am here, don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious.  We need His comfort, for His words and sacraments to nourish and strengthen us, even as they cleanse us from sin.   If we don’t pray, if we don’t spend time listening to God, then our faith, stimulated at the “writing table” shows that we’ve neglected that which we’ve been saved and delivered into, the presence of God.

This isn’t a “pray because you have to, that’s what good Christians do”, this is a pray because you need it, you need to know God is present, listening, guiding, and comforting as we live in this challenge messed up world.

But when we come from such times, of seeing God repair our brokenness, when we hear Him whisper gently as He did to Elijah; then our ministry is not just dry and academic. After such times of intimacy with God, our words become deeply spiritual as well as wise, as our faith is tenable, real, and easily passed on to those we are called to care for, those we are called to serve.

My dear friends, whether you are pastors or priests, Sunday School teachers, elders, those who assist in facilitating the church’s praise and worship, it doesn’t matter your role as part of God’s family.

You need to pray….

And let others know how it helps you, as we struggle through this world so that they will do so, and be able to rest in the love of God.

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.

What Are We Giving to People? Some Thoughts about the Purpose of Preaching and Leading Worship

DiscussionAltar with communion Thought of the Day:
14  My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15  this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16  I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG) 

I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.

But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.

Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.

All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus?  What do they need to know?  How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?

Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.

When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching.  That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.

So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture.  Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.

With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach.  They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.

In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected.  We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe.  And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.

It is all good stuff and beneficial.  However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.

It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.

I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth.  First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us.  He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.”  It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God.  To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,

This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know.  That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.

This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes.  With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.

Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it.  Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.

We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man.  That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.

This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together!  AMEN!

Mondays, the Wife of Job, and an Uncomfortable Faith…

cropped-will-new-camera-12-2008-167.jpgDevotional Thought of the Day:

9His wife said to him, “You are still as faithful as ever, aren’t you? Why don’t you curse God and die?”
10 Job answered, “You are talking nonsense! When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?” In spite of everything he suffered, Job said nothing against God.  Job 2:9-10

75         Miles—soldier—so the Apostle calls a Christian. So it is that in this holy and Christian war of love and peace for the happiness of all souls, there are, in God’s ranks, tired, hungry soldiers, covered in wounds… but happy. For they bear in their hearts the sure light of victory.

It is foolish of us to regard the demands of faith—which makes unwanted demands on us and contradicts our own will—as “legalistic” and “institutional” and whatever similar terms may suggest themselves in order to shake ourselves free of it and so to sink into the leaden emptiness of a lusterless and selfish existence that receives nothing because it gives nothing. This thought should strike us anew: admittedly faith is uncomfortable, but only because it challenges us, compels us, to let ourselves be led where we do not wish to go. In this way, it enriches us and opens for us the door of true life.

There are Mondays, and there are Monday’s in which people around us act like Job’s dearly beloved, wife.  Actually out of the 142 days that have passed so far in 2017, too many have been Mondays, and it seems as many have had people like Job’s wife in the background.

Or maybe I’ve met Job’s wife as I look in the mirror, as I see the trauma of this world, the suffering of people, and I utter those words, directed to myself.  Maybe not curse God and die, but perhaps curse God and find a cave to hide in, give up, find something else.    

I know the tired hungry soldiers, covered in wounds who try to minister to the people of God.  Who struggle to work with people, trying to reveal to people the love of God who will cleanse and heal their hearts, their souls, their minds.  It doesn’t seem reasonable the pain endured by missionaries and pastors, teachers and other church leaders.  

I know the weariness of Job, slammed time after time with disaster and trauma, and I would pray for the faith to praise God when He provides times of discomfort and growth as well as the times where everything clicks right. For there are times we are led where we don’t want to go, there are times trusting in God makes us suppress our own desires and want, and sometimes, even our needs. We also suppress our own despair, recognizing it for what it is, and how Satan would use it to isolate us from the comfort and peace found in Jesus.  There are times we are called to be like Jesus and need to rely on His Holy Spirit to sustain us, even as He was sustained.

We can either curse God and run/die, or we can trust in God’s faithfulness in His promise of comfort and peace.

It’s hard, and often we waver, but He is faithful.  And when we stumble, we can let Him pick us up, cleanse us again, and lean on Him in this journey of life.

The victory is sure, the hope of glory is ours, and He is here, and will never abandon us.

Amen.

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 535-538). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day
21  For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22  Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25  For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]

The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]

Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms.  As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.

The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt.   Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.

Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question.  Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan.  The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.”   As if man could do this!  Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.

We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.

And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.

What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master.  In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.

So what is the solution?  How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?

I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”.  It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat.  It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.

In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people.  When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.

This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life.  It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.

We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness.  AMEN!
[i] 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.

2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).

[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

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