Category Archives: Pope Francis
A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…
14 “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15 And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)
To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.
“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry.
The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this.
Being a pastor is an art, not a science.
It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends. It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)
This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity. Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different.
This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page.
That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry. A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.
For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation.
We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon. We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father.
This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives. helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace. That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words. He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.
We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.
This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.
My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is 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.
Devotional Thought for Our Day:
42 And whoever gives j just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple —I assure you: He will never lose his reward!” Matt 10:42 HCSB
Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand questions of a pilgrim.
Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Most of us will never baptize 30 people in a day, never mind 3000. Most of us will never write a book that will revive and change the church at large. We aren’t Calvin or Luther or Pope Ratzinger. We aren’t the great minds of the church, nor the servants whose love and sacrifice is honored by millions
Yet our ministry is just as powerful, if not more so, even when it is as simple as praying with someone who is struggling or offering a cup of water to someone who is tired and weary.
Pope Francis explains it well if a bit technically. Mission, the work God sends us to do, doesn’t come about because of our doctrinal knowledge. It doesn’t come about because we have all the questions answered, and know it all. We will still have thousands of questions, many of them which will go unanswered in this life. For doctrinal statements are not really statements of faith.
Nor does faith come about just because we have security in this life and for the next. It is not because we are assured of heaven that we spring up to serve others, to care for them, to reveal to them the God who loves them. We can’t even anticipate what heaven is, it is unfathomable.
But faith, the kind of faith that leads to being “mission-minded” comes from encountering Jesus. An encounter that is irreplaceable, an encounter that leaves us in awe, and in peace that is inexpressible. For in our encounter, Jesus takes away our burdens, our sins, our resentment, It’s all gone. Even the anxieties of today and eternity, and the academic explanations of religion, they slide into the background, for there is only Him.
And it is wonderful, it is beyond explanation.
And from there, we find something else happening. We see our hearts aware of those in need around us, the very people God has sent us to minister too, even when that ministry is a simple cup of water…given because the Lord is with you!
I pray that we all experience Jesus’ presence, revealed by His word, know in His sacraments, and therebt dwel and minister to others in His peace. AMEN!
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.
Devotional Thought for our days
15 Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Romans 12:15-16 (Phillips NT)
15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:15-17 (NLT)
When the news just makes us exclaim “What a disaster!” and, then, we turn the page immediately or change the channel, we have destroyed our “fellowship,” we have further widened the gap that separates us.
It seems so much of my email is filled with news of trauma, or shortly thereafter, with appeals for money to care for the victims.
Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Tennessee, now the victims of the California wildfires. And that is only the events in the USA. There were Typhoons hitting Macao and Hong Kong, earthquakes in Mexico, and other traumas caused by men in England and other places.
There there are the traumas that are even closer to home. A friend’s daughter passes away, another friend is dealing with a spouse whose illness is beyond their ability to cope with, other friends are struggling with cancer or even a pinched nerve.
And like I said, I am then deluged with the requests to help. Houston is a good example. Four friends are working with different church groups – all affiliated together. They each ask for money, as does the district of our denomination. I even received a request from another district to support their work in arranging for help for the district affected! This doesn’t include all the churches and para-church organizations that spammed my email, for surely a pastor would help them?
Part of me wants to react as Pope Francis described, just turn the page, just delete the email. Part of me wants to write letters to each group that seems less than above board, or those that insist their group is more in need or more deserving of money and tries to manipulate using guilt or shame, or hyper-emotional appeal.
And then I wonder if I am becoming too hard, too cynical, to suspicious, to callous. What is the reaction all this is causing in my heart? Am I allowing my fellowship with humanity to be destroyed? Will i end up on an island, with a huge gaping hole separating me from the rest of the world? Or us the only other option to burn out, emotionally, physically, financially? Will my faith become dead, because I can no longer bring myself to act? Will I try to justify that by simply saying the system is overloaded?
I think the answer comes from the passage in Romans, this idea of living in harmony with each other. The example being weeping with those who weep, laugh with those laughing. To take the focus from just giving a donation, to actually being with those who are in need. ( One might say that just dropping 50 or 1000 bucks into an envelope may not meet the help they really need) To be compassionate, to love, for there we find ourselves helping. Not just within the circle of friends we have, but with people we encounter, every day.
And mostly, the answer comes from trusting God, knowing His presence, hearing His voice, following His lead. For as we walk with Him, as we depend upon Him, we find the needs, and the resources he would have us meet. Often those far different than we would have thought of… and yet, the peace and joy, even amidst the tears, confirms the presence of God.
Here is the point. Too often we rely only on our own strength, our own wisdom, our won will, overlooking the obvious, the presence of God. As we cry out, “Lord have mercy,” we need ot rely on that mercy, even as we help others see it. That will eradicate the gap that separates us, as we fellowship together with Him.
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.
Devotional Thought for our days…and our future:
10 My brothers and sisters, try hard to be certain that you really are called and chosen by God. If you do all these things, you will never fall. 11 And you will be given a very great welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:10-11 NCV
“Life’s” destination lies beyond this life because it depends on “Someone” with a capital letter. All this is rooted in the hearts of our people, even if they are unable to express it conceptually.
There are times in my life, where surviving the evils of this day is my only goal. Where i just try to hang on to God, and His presence long enough to help this person or that one. Where I deal with these problems, those challenges, this person’s sin, or worse my own.
I drag myself home, climb the stairs, and hopefully remember to thank God that He carried and dragged me through the day…..only to have another day come all too soon.
I do not think I am alone, not by any means.
We need to learn to live for something more, something that is glorious, something that is perfect. Something that is beyond us, this destination that Pope Francis speaks of, the place where we will find Him, our “Someone”. A place that is truly home, a place of incredible, unbelievable peace, a place of joy, a place where tears, sorrow, weariness are unknown.
Francis is correct about our not knowing how to express it conceptually. We don’t know how to talk about heaven, we don’t know what it will be like, and to talk about it, sooner or later, we might have to talk about death and dying. We really don’t want to talk about that. NOT. AT. ALL.
But heaven is our reality, dwelling with God, in His glory, in His peace, in wonder and awe that He wants us there, that is what Christianity is about. An eternal, everlasting relationship that we can’t even begin to conceive of (see 1 Cor. 2;9)
But we know we shall be with Him.
At the end of the day, that is what matters,
At the beginning of tomorrow, we need to realize He is still here…revealing to us His love and mercy, comforting us, healing us, and preparing us for life with Him.
A life that began when we were baptized into His death, into His resurrection.. and given the promise of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us, keeping us til then.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven. Heb 1:2-3 NCV
I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)
I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.
Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”
To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.
With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)
I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution. Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian! I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others. That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right? Or at least make sure I get in the door?
THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor. I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer. I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.
When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,
I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”
This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.
And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress. We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,
For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”
And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!” Amen.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Devotional Thought for our Day:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:12-14
5 Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.
We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.
A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out. Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible. An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font. His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.
I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last? How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?
Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing?
It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us. It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.
It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace. Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us. The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed. We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy. Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile.
This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence.
it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day. But when do we take the time?
As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?
As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..
and by His grace, it will.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Does it make you a better king if you build houses of cedar, finer than those of others? Your father enjoyed a full life. He was always just and fair, and he prospered in everything he did. 16 He gave the poor a fair trial, and all went well with him. That is what it means to know the LORD. 17 But you can only see your selfish interests; you kill the innocent and violently oppress your people. The LORD has spoken. Jeremiah 22:15-17 TEV
Our educational work should have a purpose: to elicit a change in our students, to make them grow in wisdom, to help them undergo a transformation, to provide them with knowledge, with new feelings and, at the same time, achievable ideals. Many institutions promote the formation of wolves more than of brothers and sisters by educating their students to compete and succeed at the expense of others, with only a few weak ethical standards.
As I finally got to reading my devotions today (actually tonight) I was struck by the words of Pope Francis.
It doesn’t help that as we were cleaning our garage, I found one of my old report cards, in fact, the same grade my son is entering. I showed it to him, and was amazed at the pressure he felt to live up to my standards. (I should have shown him my sophomore year of High School) Then I read Pope Francis’s words, shortly after seeing a picture of my dad and son, one of the last taken of them together.
My dad had a unique challenge – my brother was the star athlete, I was somewhat of a brain, at least by small town standards. Getting us to work together was a challenge, and competitively, we were fierce. How he got us to play and work together was a remarkable challenge, especially as he was somewhat competitive as well! Our schools weren’t so good at the task, firing us up to compete, playing on our pride and baser instincts. (My one exception was St. Francis for junior high – they taught us to work together…and those 15 kids mean the world to me still!)
My wife is a teacher, our church has a preschool and once had an elementary school. We have a lot of friends who are teachers as well. (If you are reading this, please drop the red pens for a moment!) And in a sense, I teach others, a little (and a significant amount) older than my wife and friends, but none the less, teach.
Which gets me back to Pope Francis, and his words about educating people. Are we encouraging a competitive factor in them? Are we encouraging them to be successful by standards that leave others behind? Or are we teaching them to work together, to forgive each other, to lift up each other? Are we hearing the prophet Jeremiah speaking for God as he takes on our selfish natures, as we have no problem oppressing people, or allowing them to be oppressed so we can live in peace?
We need to learn to teach like Jesus did, who though He was God, knelt down with a basin and towel and washed the feet of some pretty stubborn, argumentative and rebellious students. We need to teach them to serve each other, and those around them, whether we teach them Math, English, Geography, Computer Information Systems, World Religions or 1, 2, 3 John.
It’s a challenge, whether in preschool, middle school, college or a simple Bible Study. For what we are teaching them is to love one another…which means we need to learn to love them. As Paul says in Romans 12, really love them. For God loves them, and wants to walk with them all.
Devotional thought for the day:
5 Then the LORD said to me, 6“Haven’t I the right to do with you people of Israel what the potter did with the clay? You are in my hands just like clay in the potter’s hands. 7If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, 8but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. 9On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, 10but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would. 11Now then, tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I am making plans against them and getting ready to punish them. Tell them to stop living sinful lives—to change their ways and the things they are doing. Jeremiah 18:5-11 TEV
9 I wrote you in my earlier letter not to associate with those who sin sexually. 10 But I did not mean you should not associate with those of this world who sin sexually, or with the greedy, or robbers, or those who worship idols. To get away from them you would have to leave this world. 11 I am writing to tell you that you must not associate with those who call themselves believers in Christ but who sin sexually, or are greedy, or worship idols, or abuse others with words, or get drunk, or cheat people. Do not even eat with people like that.
12–13 It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the church. God will judge them. But you must judge the people who are part of the church. The Scripture says, “You must get rid of the evil person among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NCV
Our goal is not to form islands of peace in the midst of a disintegrated society but to educate people with the ability to transform this society. Therefore, “fruits and results.”
I often hear people misquoting the Book of the Revelation (often mispronounced revelations) advising people to withdraw from society, to come out of Babylon as if somehow they could live a life separate from their neighbors, their family, and friends who do not know that they can depend on God.
Some Christian schools started with that purpose, and there are Christian groups to offer an option to joining secular fraternal organizations like the Boy Scouts, Lions, or Elks. There are now even coffee shops on church campuses, that some people use so they don’t have to go to that evil Starbucks and grab their venti triple cappuccino with fancy whipped cream and pumpkin froth.
It is as if we want to form special communities within communities, just for those who are good and pure and holy. It is as we need to create safe islands for believers so that they are not tempted to sin the rest of the evil world.
Will we recognize the gospel there in the midst of Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God will welcome anyone back? Not just any person, but any people group, any nation. What a blessed hope! What an incredible promise!
Will we recognize the wisdom that inspired Paul to make sure we understood that it was sin among the people of God that concerned him, not the sins of the world? That we aren’t to avoid interaction with normal sinners, but rather to deal with those in the church that struggle with sin first. Those others, yes they need to be saved, far more than they need us judging them.
Will we hear Pope Francis plea, not to segregate ourselves, withdraw to our own safe places? Rather, as the Holy Spirit works within us, to educate people to have the ability to transform society, to share the hope and peace found in Jesus which will do that very thing.
We have to have more trust in God than we fear the world’s sin. We have to have more confidence in His love and care than anxiety about somehow being separated from the love of God ( AN impossibility Dontcha know!)
With our eyes focused on Jesus, we need to go to the same places he did. To those broken by sin, to those blinded by greed, to those who do not understand that God loves them. To those who are broken, just like we’ve been broken. We’ve got to invite them into our homes, our churches, into the place of peace and healing we find as we dwell in GOd.
This is who we are in Christ. people’s who work and message is one of reconciling people to God, and therefore to another. We can’t do that from pristine protected islands where we pretend all is perfect.
So go out there, live and help someone know that God loves them. AMEN!
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Devotional 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
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!
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.
Devotional Thoughts for our days:
10 “Stop fighting,” he says, “and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the world.” 11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46:10-11 TEV
A mighty Fortress is our God, A Bulwark never failing; Our Helper He amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing: For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe; His craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing; Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth His Name, From age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love.
As we approach the 500th anniversary of the reformation, I have spent a lot of time reading and thinking through the history, and how it affects the Church today. Not just my congregation, or my denomination, but the entire family of God’s children. And what it means to reform.
For example, in my news feed, this morning was a great story of Pope Francis and liturgical reform. If I dare say, it is very Lutheran. At the same time, there are those who are trying, with intent or ignorance, to divide the church further. Not in the hope of reform, but in the desire to keep what they know pure. And in the process, lose what Luther found the greatest comfort in, the love and mercy of God.
Ninety percent of the time I hear Luther’s classic hymn quoted in green above, it is done with the power and energy of a military anthem. Full crescendo Organs, loud brass, even clashing cymbals, as if it is a call to battle, something to unite the forces of good behind as we go to war.
Given that it is derived in part from Psalm 46, I am not sure that interpretation is valid. It is not a mighty anthem, but a recognition that we are not that strong, that we need a refuge, that we cannot have confidence if we are dealing with Satan or the World. I see Luther, inspired by the Psalm, writing this to a soft broken melody of one who knows despair, who is confused and hurt, and who is beginning to realize his hope is found in the one who was nailed to the cross, the Lord Jesus who is portrayed on the crucifix he sol tightly grasps. I see this as the resolution of a man who has searched for hope, finding it with his last gasp… the music of reeds and deep strings.. as the words are whispered out…. from broken, contrite spirits that are finding refuge… and rest.
We have to have the confidence to hide in CChrist we must depend on Jesus’ mercy and his patience and to seek and find refuge in Christ, who we are united to in our baptism.
So stop fighting the world, stop striving against the powers of evil, (or those you just think are evil.) Have the courage, the confidence to trust in God. He is dependable, He is the one who has the victory, and in Him…
we are safe. we can rest.
TO do so takes a lot of courage, a lot of strength, to stay firmly planted in Jesus, despite every temptation to fight or flee. It, in fact, takes far more to endure, to wait on Him. Yet the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For the Spirit works through the church to remind us of this fact.
the Lord Almighty is with you, and God is your refuge. AMEN!
Martin Luther – A Mighty Fortress is our God
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