Category Archives: The Small Catechism
Devotional THought of the Day:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17 so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (TEV)
18 Lay the greatest weight on those commandments or other parts which seem to require special attention among the people where you are. For example, the Seventh Commandment, which treats of stealing, must be emphasized when instructing laborers and shopkeepers, and even farmers and servants, for many of these are guilty of dishonesty and thievery.8 So, too, the Fourth Commandment must be stressed when instructing children and the common people in order that they may be encouraged to be orderly, faithful, obedient, and peaceful. Always adduce ma.ny examples from the Scriptures to show how God punished and blessed.
531 “Treat him well for me, treat him well,” said a certain elderly bishop with tears in his eyes to the priests he had just ordained. Lord, I wish I had the voice and the authority to cry out in the same way to the ears and the hearts of many, many Christians!
The “S” word, sorry to tell you, isn’t “sex”
It’s the other “s” word that is difficult to talk about and for the same reason. It is just as awkward, embarrassing, and produces as much anxiety as talking about sex with your 11-13-year-old child.
And the consequences of not having conversations about sin are worse than letting the world teach your kids about sex. For lacking understanding about either sex or sin can lead to incredible pain, sorrow, and even death.
Not just physical death, the death of the spirit, death one’s soul.
So it is one we need to have. Not just pastor and parishioner, but parents and kids, those who teach and govern with those whose lives they are entrusted with, those whom God has put in their lives to love and care for beyond the point of sacrificing convenience, to the point of complete sacrifice.
We have to get by the discomfort and have these talked with each other. talking about the sins which entrap us, the sins which drive us into despair, the sins that isolate us.
but we have to do it with the skill and wisdom that only comes because of the love we have, because of the love we know God has for them. To talk about sin with the deliberate intent of freeing each other from its burdens of guilt and shame, from its curse and the death it causes.
We can’t talk about just to prohibit it, as if we could, by proper persuasion, convince them to never sin again. That will last an hour or two, and then they will hide the sin that entraps them, denying it, or justifying it in some form of logic we twisted them to use. I say “we” because talking about sin improperly leads people to fear talking about it with us. They have to realize that our goal is not to condemn the sinner, but free them.
This has to be made clear in our teaching, not just to proactively work with them to rely on God to overcome temptation, but also to help them run to the comfort and peace that comes with repentance, with absolution, that comes via the Holy Spirit washing and renewing our hearts.
This is our ministry, as pastors, as leaders, as parents, as those entrusted with the lives of others. Yet in order to dohese things, we have to be confident that God is working in our life as well, cleansing and strengthening us, causing us to run to the Father, through Jesus.
This is who we are… and Lord help us talk about sin… in the way you did! AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 340). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1285-1287). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
42 They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (TEV)
89 “Mary has chosen the better part,” we read in the holy Gospel. There she is, drinking in the words of the Master. Apparently idle, she is praying and loving. Afterward, she accompanies Jesus in his preaching through towns and villages. Without prayer, how difficult it is to accompany him!
Truly, God gives daily bread to evil people, even without our prayer. But we pray in this request that He will help us realize this and receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.
We don’t need to pray as much as to see our situations change, as we need to pray to see ourselves changed. (Note the past tense here )
I don’t think we understand the nature of prayer all that well.
We can analyze it, we can teach people the elements, we lead retreats on it, and if we are daring, we might actually ask people how their prayer life is. ( I am not sure that is the right question btw) That doesn’t mean we understand it, it just means that we know about it. We can even say it’s having a chat with God, but even then, we fall short.
But what prayer is? It is living life in Christ, in dialogue with the Father, dependent on the Holy Spirit. We come up with words like fellowship, communion/community, or my preference we live in the most intimate of relationships with him.
That’s why Luther will consistently teach that prayer isn’t about making God do something but realizing He is actively doing that which is for our best, whether it is protecting us from evil, or helping us forgive, or seeing His will be done.
This dynamic of prayer is what St. Josemaria is talking about when he says that without prayer, we cannot follow Jesus, that we don’t recognize that He is guiding our paths, and helping us journey, in peace.
THat’s why the early church made prayer, daily prayer, together, such a critical part of their life. Not out of duty, but it is the natural life when you are in a relationship, an intimate relationship with God. It is simply what we do, like Mary abandoning the housework to just be still and adore the God who came to her, who comes to us.
This time of prayer, this time of hearing from God, and learning to simply entrust everything to Him, not because we have to, but because that is what you do when you are sure you are loved. It is far more than a quick check-in chat, a 5 or 30 or 60-minute briefing on our day. It is lifelong dance, a
This is God at work, this is the God whose love we need to experience, to explore, to have revealed to us. This is the God who we need to be with, listen to, depend upon, And all that happens when we pray…
please, consider sharing a moment or two when you were praying and knew the presence of God was there, comforting you, guiding you, even correcting you…
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 361-363). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.
Devotional thought for our seemingly broken days:
3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-5 HCSB
20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.
In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.
In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.
For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest. It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets. In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!
It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night )
And we know it all right? We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )
So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families?
I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning. When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face. The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care.
He needed Christmas. he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.
Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us. Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace. Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas.
We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here. That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin. Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.
Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful! Counselor! Almighty God! Everlasting Father! The One who Reigns with Peace…
the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.
So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day. AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.
Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.
Devotional Thought for our Days
Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. 4 Christ is your n life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. 5 So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. 6 These things make God angry. n 7 In your past, evil life you also did these things.
8 But now also put these things out of your life: anger, bad temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and using evil words when you talk. 9 Do not lie to each other. You have left your old sinful life and the things you did before. 10 You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. Colossians 3:3-10 NCV
3 My Father—talk to him like that, confidently—who art in heaven, look upon me with compassionate Love, and make me respond to thy love. Melt and enkindle my heart of bronze, burn and purify my unmortified flesh, fill my mind with supernatural light, make my tongue proclaim the Love and Glory of Christ.
“Hallowed be thy name.”
What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, God’s name is holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may also be holy for us.
5 How is this done?
Answer: When the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as children of God, lead holy lives in accordance with it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But whoever teaches and lives otherwise than as the Word of God teaches, profanes the name of God among us. From this preserve us, heavenly Father!
Paul’s words are difficult in verse 5, these words we hear as commands, as Law.
Put all evil things out of your life…
This sounds easy – that is until Paul defines it, then defines it more.
How are you doing with that? I pray you are doing better at it than I am.
It is a battle. A battle not between Good and Evil with Evil being those opposed to us, it is a battle inside each of us, to turn away from the evil we, to embrace good. But even this battle is a paradox, for we cannot do this by our own strength or will-power.
When we believe we are the masters of our spiritual development, when we believe we can put all these things out of our life by ourselves, we’ve fallen back into the trap of the evil one. Yet that is what we hear often when we read this passage, it is what our pride focuses upon.
What does it miss… the embrace of Christ as He died, that embrace that continues through His death to the resurrection. The beginning of life in Christ, and the being MADE NEW AND ARE BECOMING LIKE THE ONE WHO MADE YOU.
This is what St. Josemaria is talking about, as he points out a part of the Lord’s Prayer. It is God who makes us new, it is God who changes us, it is God who separated us from evil and our sin, and is our hope for staying disconnected from it. (that is not to say He is responsible if we return to it!) Therefore it is our prayer, our begging God to do what we cannot, even as we realize that He has not only promised this, it is His desire.
It is our need.
And it is how we let go of the evil that has bound us, as we adore our Lord for what He has done and is doing. We don’t actually create the separation, we don’t broaden it even, we just leave it behind as the light of the glory of God. His love revealed and realized draws us away from the life we had before.
We can pray for this, that God would do His work. Not that He wouldn’t do it if we don’t pray, but that as we pray we would realize God is at work, already doing this to us. This is what Luther was getting at in the small catechism. We pray this to know what God promised to do, and so we can realize it is being done.
It is being done, let us continue to pray we see Him doing it!
 From the Small Catechism: edition from Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 242-246). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
35 They will say, “This once-desolate land has become like the garden of Eden. The cities once ruined, laid waste and destroyed, are now resettled and fortified.”s 36 Then the surrounding nations that remain shall know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt what was destroyed and replanted what was desolate. I, the LORD, have spoken: I will do it! (NABRE Ezekiel 36:35-36)
24 Suppose, now, that the invitation (to confess our sins and receive absolution) were changed into a command that all beggars should run to the place, no reason being given and no mention of what they were to look for or receive. How else would the beggar go but with repugnance, not expecting to receive anything but just letting everyone see how poor and miserable he is? Not much joy or comfort would come from this, but only a greater hostility to the command.
25 In the same way the pope’s* preachers have in the past kept silence about this wonderful, rich alms and this indescribable treasure; they have simply driven men together in hordes just to show what impure and filthy people they were. Who could thus go to confession willingly?
26 We, on the contrary, do not say that men should look to see how full of filthiness you are, making of you a mirror for contemplating themselves. Rather we advise: If you are poor and miserable, then go and make use of the healing medicine. (1)
That is the way you are, too, he says; that is the way you are interiorly, if we look attentively at ourselves we shall know that this is true. We are interiorly stunted and crippled. We lack interior strength because we live only exteriorly. “Everyman”, who abounded in health and life, was interiorly completely crippled, but he did not know it. In his efforts to draw all life to himself, he had failed to learn what life truly is. There appears now on stage a second female figure, who teaches the dying Everyman how to pray again. Thus faith helps to give strength to his works. Supported by faith, his works can move, and he, too, can move—to move along the right, the true road to salvation. Faith gives him from Christ’s strength what Everyman does not have of himself. (2)
A pastor or priest sits, and hears people unburden their lives, and we see a miracle happen. Those crushed by guilt and shame are healed, they are made whole. They are restored.
We can often see it with our eyes, yet the perception goes far deeper, as the grace of God bursts from their hearts and souls through their eyes. It is such a thing that Ezekiel describes as he calls watching a once desolate land become the garden of Eden. Or a city laid waste, that has been restored.
Pope Benedict wrote of it as Everyman learning to pray again – the line of communication between God and man cleared of all that blocks it from our inattention, as guilt and shame are flushed away, and we can live again. Luther talks about it as a great treasure, this healing medicine of hearing God speak.
But we would rather look in the mirror and see the filth; we would rather look at works, poor and feeble, no better than filthy rags. Because we’ve let confession (and I mean the entire church) and the precious words of absolution be neglected, we struggle to believe them, to perceive the grace we should look for, the guarantee of mercy we should desire!
This is why pastors and priests must return to teaching about this precious sacrament. So that its power to heal and restore people no longer sits unused, misunderstood, untapped. Our people need to have this – they need to be able to share the joy of their salvation, to celebrate that God isn’t far off, but in Him we still live and move and have our very being! This is amazing grace; this is proof of His unfailing love… these words of absolution, these glorious words that we are free…
God is merciful, the world needs to know this, you and I need to know this.
As we are absolved, let our awe turn into praises and celebration, as God throws us a feast, and as we know we are welcomed in His presence. AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 460). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 233–234). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
* ( DIsclaimer: While it may be true that some in the RCC in Luther’s day are accurately described in his comment, the priests of the Roman Catholic Church I know and admire urge people to go, not just out of obedience, but because of the joy that awaits them as Christ assures them of His forgiveness – there are such pastors in every church body, even as there are those who would deny people of the joy of reconciliation)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
6 In our union with Christ Jesus he raised us up with him to rule with him in the heavenly world. 7 He did this to demonstrate for all time to come the extraordinary greatness of his grace in the love he showed us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it. 10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10 (TEV)
For where God’s Word is preached, accepted or believed, and bears fruit, there the blessed holy cross will not be far away. Let nobody think that he will have peace; he must sacrifice all he has on earth—possessions, honor, house and home, wife and children, body and life.
66 Now, this grieves our flesh and the old Adam, for it means that we must remain steadfast, suffer patiently whatever befalls us, and let go whatever is taken from us.
67 Therefore, there is just as much need in this case as in every other case to pray without ceasing: “Thy will be done, dear Father, and not the will of the devil or of our enemies, nor of those who would persecute and suppress thy holy Word or prevent thy kingdom from coming; and grant that whatever we must suffer on its account, we may patiently bear and overcome, so that our poor flesh may not yield or fall away through weakness or indolence.” (1)
The sacraments, however, especially the most holy Eucharist, communicate and nourish that charity which is the soul of the entire apostolate.
One engages in the apostolate through the faith, hope, and charity which the Holy Spirit diffuses in the hearts of all members of the Church. Indeed, by the precept of charity, which is the Lord’s greatest commandment, all the faithful are impelled to promote the glory of God through the coming of His kingdom and to obtain eternal life for all men-that they may know the only true God and Him whom He sent, Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:3). On all Christians therefore is laid the preeminent responsibility of working to make the divine message of salvation known and accepted by all men throughout the world. (2)
I was recently reading a document which described the mission field as one where suffering may be more likely than not. It wanted to prepare (and or scare off) potential missionaries, warning them that life would be hard.
But it is not just missionaries in exotic foreign places who are to live life in that manner. It is as well those who are missionaries here. All people who pray that God’s kingdom would come. All who understand the grace of God, having received it in awe, and in awe spent time in adoration and thanksgiving. This is the glorious work that God has given all the church, both its shepherds and sheep to do.
Luther is deadly with his recognition that there is a part of us that we balk at living lives full of suffering. We don’t want to be self-controlled, living simply to put first in our lives God’s priority – that of bringing the message of salvation to the world, making it know and helping all to accept it. Being brutally honest, I think sometimes we are glad when they are repulsed by it, or when we offend them enough to drive them away. It is easier to say “we tried and failed” than “we tried, and because we love them, we will keep praying and trying.” Vatican II says it well – it is our preeminent responsibility, this work of the gospel.
Being missional, being part of the apostolate (same term) requires us to suffer, to be patient, to be driven by the Holy Spirit, enduring to the end that people know Jesus.
Throughout this article, I haven’t used the other word, Sacrifice. I have not used it, because honestly, giving up money or fame, separating ourselves from our idols and false gods is not sacrifice. At least we learn it is not, as we find ourselves at the cross. That was sacrifice. Our giving up things, our endurance is simply the process of sanctification, as God himself separates us from that which distracts us from His love, from His presence, from the sacrifice of Christ’s love.
It is for that reason the passage from Vatican II calls the sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the soul of the apostolate, or as some would know it, the soul of being missional. It is there, in that intimate moment as God gives you and your family Christ’s Body and Blood, as the covenant is renewed and celebrated, that we find again what is so precious. Time with God, the refuge of peace that overwhelms us that assures us that He loves us, that He will heal us, that He cares for us. God is our refuge, our strength, our very help in time of suffering.
This celebration of Christ’s sacrifice which unites us to God is the soul of our mission; it is what is so amazing that we know others must know it as well. That life is simply not the same without it. We have to reveal it to others, we are compelled, not by force, but by love to do this.
It doesn’t matter whether we are in the mountains of Papua New Guinea or the coastal towns of Sicily. It doesn’t matter whether we are in the suburbs of Boston, or in the urban city of Bellflower, California. It doesn’t matter whether we are risking our lives preaching the gospel in the Sudan, or in Istanbul, or having breakfast with friends in Cerritos.
The need for us to reveal God’s desire to meet their deepest needs, to bring healing to their brokenness exists.
This is our mission; this is why we are part of the apostolate, those who walk with Christ bringing light and salvation to the world.
We are Christ’s masterpiece. We are united to Him, and doing the good words God has created in our lives.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 429). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: Apostolicam Actuositatem. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 From the very beginning the Word was with God. 3 Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. 4 The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. 6 God sent his messenger, a man named John, 7 who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. 9 This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people. 10 The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. 12 Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. 13 They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father. 14 The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.
John 1:1-14 (TEV)
“Our desire to advance in theological knowledge, in sound, firm Christian doctrine is sparked , above all, by the will to know and love God. It likewise stems from the concern of a faithful soul to attain the deepest meaning fo the world, seen as coming from the hands of God. “( St Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing By)
I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism)
Theology has the hardest job of any science.
Yeah, you read that right, I called theology a science. It is a logos; it seeks to exist in the world of logic and reason, of in-depth study and observation. It is full of hypotheticals, and that which is proven, though we argue about which things fall into which categories.It has to balance general revelation with documents which claim to be specific revelation from a divine, omniscient source. It is up to us to discern which books are divine, which are simply good, and which are absolutely false. Just for clarification sake, “us” is inclusive of people of every time, and of nearly every culture, from every continent, with no special wisdom given to those of any particular heritage.
The problem is that Theology has failed miserably, because theologians on every part of every spectrum have forgotten the basic reason for the existence of theology. Some still get it, but they are marginalized, more about them later! Unlike other sciences, theology has long ceased to benefit humanity; it seeks simply for a truth divorced from meaning.
The reason for this is that theologians distance themselves from the objective, expressed by St. Josemaria Escriva as to know and love God. This should be the Theologian’s greatest joy, to do what Paul prayed for, for all the people of God.
14 For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)
This is where a theologian lives, it is where a theologian would thrive, and it is as the theologians share the wonder and joy of knowing this love, that a theologian learns to know and love God, and where the theologian begins to understand the deepest meaning for this world. It is where John 1:1-14 goes from being nice philosophy to something that is mind-blowing and life-altering.
It is where theology becomes the science which benefits people, those who hear and listen and end up becoming the children of God.
That is what theology is for, that is why we preach, that is why the church sacrifices all it has to make known the love of God.
May theologians from every culture, every language remember why they are called to this task. Our existence is predicated on knowing and loving God, and as we return to that, knowing His love for us, may we see the Breath of Life empower and guide our efforts.
Discussion Thought of the Day:
23 All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings. 24 Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25 Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26 That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27 I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest.
1 Corinthians 9:23-27 (TEV)
22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 7:22-25 (NLT)
209 In your personal prayer, whenever you experience the weakness of the flesh you should repeat: Lord, give the Cross to this poor body of mine, which gets tired and rebellious! (1)
I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true. (2)
As I look at my social media feeds, it seems there many Christians are calling others to join in the battle against evil. Some are targeting the recent bathrooms issues; others are targeting abortion, or homosexuality. Others are waging other battles against divorce, or perceived injustices. Some want to take on the entire community of Islam, or at least the terrorists who are creating martyrs of our brothers and sisters.
There are cries in the church, as some want Equal rights for everyone in the church, or at least equal access to roles. Others want to purify the faith, returning to eras when they think everyone was pure and without sin. They base this on a form of worship, or the use of a translation, or some other thing, overlooking the sin and division of those days.
There are many, many pleas, people begging us to join the battle, and each battle promises some form of heaven on earth, should we be faithful and win. They promise utopia, if only our side can win, and the other be crushed in defeat.
But the war which is more critical, a true war for our souls. One which we so easily overlook, one which is simple in theory to win, yet so difficult to execute and realize the victory.
The war for my soul. The war for your soul.
This is a battle for holiness, one which has faded into the background, because these other battles are easier to gather people around, they are less insidious, and we can be the heroes that are lauded and praised. We can even find theological precepts, or create them, warning people about this horror called pietism, without extolling piety. We will call people to focus on God declaring people to be righteous while ignoring the sanctification that makes the declaration true.
The personal war in our own souls, the souls which the apostle Paul describes at war, that St Josemaria describes as tired and rebellious, the soul Luther describes as requiring the Holy Spirit to cleanse and make holy. For we don’t have the ability to do it, save in our surrendering to the Spirit’s work.
What generations of the church called mortification comes from letting the Spirit purge us of sin, of bringing healing to that which is broken, to cleanse those parts of our lives that are rotting spiritually.
Or do we imagine Paul was speaking hypothetically when he talks of being disqualified?
Mortification is not about whipping your body physically; it is by no means that easy. It is not about fasting to purify yourself, but it can help you to focus and prioritize. In advocating the mortification that the Spirit controls, I am not talking about some kind of self-abuse. Then again, we have to do something about the abuse that does crush us, our tendency to sin, even though we are Christ’s. The sin that leads us to dare confess our wretchedness, and be guided to healing and strength by the Spirit.
Mortification is allowing the Spirit to guide you to take up your cross and walk with Christ. The quote from Romans 7 is preceded by that very discussion in chapter 6. We are nailed to the cross with Christ, and it is back to that cross we must go to deal with sin and temptation. If we are to find the strength to withstand the temptation this time, and the grace for those times in the past and the future when we will fail and fall.
Mortification is confessing our sins, and receiving absolution, it is found in remembering the promises that were made sure in our baptism, that we are called to know, as we feast on the Body and Blood of Christ. As we kneel in prayer, as we adore the God, who calls us His. These spiritual blessings, these things we call disciplines, are the place where we are reminded that spiritual warfare is the victory that comes in walking with Christ.
It prepares us for the other battles, giving us the reminder about what those battles are. They aren’t the decisive battle between good and evil, but a rescue mission for the souls of the people we engage with, knowing that God desires that they too are declared righteous, and made holy by the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead. Because we need to remember that, for it is our hope when we begin to stray.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 914-916). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press
devotional Thought fo the Day:
9 How can the young keep his way without fault? Only by observing your words. 10 With all my heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. 11 In my heart I treasure your promise, that I may not sin against you. 12 Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. 13 With my lips I recite all the judgments you have spoken. 14 I find joy in the way of your testimonies more than in all riches. 15 I will ponder your precepts and consider your paths. 16 In your statutes I take delight; I will never forget your word! Psalm 119:9-16 NAB-RE
The last sentence of his Gospel tells us, for instance, that when the disciples had seen Jesus ascend into heaven, they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk 24:52). The Acts of the Apostles repeats the theme: “… they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46). They went their way after they had seen the Lord ascend into heaven—and their hearts were filled with joy. From a purely human point of view, we would expect their hearts to be “filled with confusion”. But no! One who has seen the Lord not just from the outside; whose heart has been moved by him; who has accepted the Crucified One and, precisely because he has done so, knows the grace of the Resurrection—his heart must be full of joy.
There’s no man living on earth who knows how to distinguish between the law and the gospel. We may think we understand it when we are listening to a sermon, but we’re far from it. Only the Holy Spirit knows this. Even the man Christ was so wanting in understanding when he was in the vineyard that an angel had to console him [John 12:27–29]; though he was a doctor from heaven he was strengthened by the angel. Because I’ve been writing so much and so long about it, you’d think I’d know the distinction, but when a crisis comes I recognize very well that I am far, far from understanding. So God alone should and must be our holy master.”
Part of the duty of those who preach is to determine what Lutheran theologians call the “distinction between law and gospel”. This is what others may call the terms of the covenant and the blessings of the covenant. It is that which convicts us, and causes us to turn to Christ for the only relief that is possible, and the very promise, the guarantee of that relief.
As Luther noted, it isn’t that easy, and towards the end of his life and ministry, he became even more aware of the difficulty doing so created, especially in our times of crisis, as we face trauma, like anxiety, and even the fear of death burdens us more.
Part of the challenge is that in the Old Testament scriptures, there are multiple uses of the words for law, the words that describe God speaking, and forming. For in one place the Law is the entire covenant – the parties, terms (law) and promises (Gospel). But the same words and phrases on another describe the law as in the terms – the way God has planned for us to live, as we live as His beloved.
This confusion is often seen in the Psalms, especially in Psalm 119, which lauds and praises God’s law, commands, precepts, judgments, testimonies, and path. Is this the law that convicts, and gives us the choice of confession o living in guilt and shame? Or is this the incredible law and gospel covenant?
The simpleton in me finds that answer in the joy, both anticipated and known, in this section of the Psalm. That would indicate to me that the psalmist knows the entire schematic, that God’s law convicts us, and drives us in despair to cry out “Lord, Have mercy!”, But it also knows the answer. That God desires, wills and has promised to show us that mercy. That is why the praises and blessings ensue, the glorious revelation of the Love of God, the love that we just want to bask in, explore and know, and yet we know we can’t fully.
It is what ungirds our praises; it drives us to celebrate this and to share it with those around us. As Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict noted, it brings a calmness and joy to the place where there should logically be confusion. It is when we know Christ Jesus, and the power of His resurrection and assured of it, and our place sharing in His glory (Col. 1:27ff)
This is why our church services are celebrations of the Eucharist, why the post communion hymn (for us often the nunc dimitis) should be an incredible song of praise! It is why going up to the house of God should become more and more desired, more and more a place of comfort and release of burdens. And if a church leaves without celebrating the magnificent mystery of the love of God, then Law and Gospel were not kept in tension, and the pastor failed. Celebrating it doesn’t mean necessarily dancing in the streets, it can be a jaw dropping sense of awe, or simply unspeakable joy….
But it is there, the knowledge of God’s love, and the peace that passes all understanding, for that how Christ protects our hearts and minds. This is why making sure that we realise that baptism is not just about the forgiveness of sins and repentance, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is why absolution includes a prayer for strength and comfort to walk in our calling, and why the Lord’Supper is the feast celebrating a new covenant, a new life with God. it is the fullness and fulfillment of the Law – that which Christ commanded we teach all people to guard, to keep, to treasure.
This is our feast, this is our joy, this is God and man, together. This is what God established and made to be His complete law… AMEN!
(1) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 153). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(2) Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 54: Table Talk. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 54, p. 127). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.