Category Archives: The Small Catechism

Will We Let The Holy Spirit Get Back to Work?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

19  Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; 20  do not despise inspired messages. 21  Put all things to the test: keep what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (TEV)

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.

The words spoken by Christian tongues today are unfortunately anything but fire. They taste all too much like water that has been left standing and is barely lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We have no desire to burn either ourselves or others, but in not doing so we place ourselves at a distance from the Holy Spirit and our Christian Faith degenerates into a self-made philosophy of life that wants to disturb as few as possible of our comfortable habits and relegates the sharpness of protest to a place where it can cause the least inconvenience to our customary way of life. If we elude the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, it is only at first glance that being Christian seems easy for us. What is comfortable for the individual is uncomfortable for the whole. Where we no longer expose ourselves to God’s fire, the frictions among us become insupportable and the Church, to quote Saint Basil, is torn by the cries of interior factionalism. Only when we are not afraid of the tongues of fire or of the strong wind that accompanies them does the Church become an icon of the Holy Spirit. And only then does she open the world to the light of God.

My youngest years were spent on the fringes of the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Roman Catholic Church. And like many, I witnessed abuses, the one lady who always had to have a prophecy, the crowd of people mumbling their prayers, each one trying to be louder than the next, the people that claimed spiritually giftedness, only to go hang out after the prayer meeting talking in ways that weren’t godly. I know too many people who bore scars and are afraid of churches because of those days.

(Note: I have seen similar folk in most of the churches and denominations I’ve been associated with over the years.)

And noting the extremes of such movements, if people stay in the church, they end up in churches that deny the Holy Spirit works in any miraculous way today. They come so close to embracing a form of deism, thinking that God left us the scriptures (and maybe the sacraments) and therefore we need nothing else, even His presence.

You really can’t claim that Pope Benedict or Martin Luther were charismatic or pentecostal extremists. In fact, most would assume they are contrary to the position of those movements.

Yet they both see an incredible need for the church to be ministered to by the Holy Spirit. Their words resonate with St. Paul’s about ot restraining the Holy Spirit, but heeding the Spirit’s call, and taking joy in the work of the Holy Spirit, as He calls, gathers, enlightens us and makes us Holy.

Such is a miracle, it is a supernatural work. It goes beyond on anything we can control, and therefore it makes us nervous. Theologians and people who need to understand get anxious, and as we realize God’s ways are not our ways, that who He sends us to serve, that those He brings us to love are not whom we would choose. Nor it the way we are to minister to them the way we would prefer.

As Pope Benedict notes, this isn’t the most comfortable of places to be, as we are directed by the Holy Spirit, given gifts and abilities, insights and a new heart (see Ex 36:25ff) that resonates with the will and desire of God.

So how do we listen and hear? How are we guided by the Holy Spirit? How do we know if what we are hearing is the Spirit’s guidance?

Luther would say prayer, meditation, and faith-building stress. For the more we look to Christ- the more we realize He is our hope, our life, the revelation of the Trinity’s love, the more we are hearing the call, the more we are gathered, made holy and used by the Holy Spirit to reflect the glorious love of God into the darkness of this world.

So don’t hold back the Spirit… don’t depend on your own reason or strength, but rather depend on God, as He reveals Himself in scripture.

And dwell in His peace!

Luther’s Small Catechism: Part 2 The Creed: Article Three

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. 159–160). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

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. 159–160). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Will Skepticism Rob Us of the Incredible Gift?

this Body, give for you. This blood of the New Covenant, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18 They deliberately put God to the test by demanding the food they wanted. 19 They spoke against God and said, “Can God supply food in the desert? 20  It is true that he struck the rock, and water flowed out in a torrent; but can he also provide us with bread and give his people meat?” 21 And so the LORD was angry when he heard them; he attacked his people with fire, and his anger against them grew, 22  because they had no faith in him and did not believe that he would save them. 23 But he spoke to the sky above and commanded its doors to open; 24 he gave them grain from heaven, by sending down manna for them to eat. 25 So they ate the food of angels, and God gave them all they wanted. 26 He also caused the east wind to blow, and by his power, he stirred up the south wind; 27 and to his people he sent down birds, as many as the grains of sand on the shore; 28 they fell in the middle of the camp all around the tents. 29 So the people ate and were satisfied; God gave them what they wanted.
Psalm 78:18-29 (TEV)

But the Eucharist is more than just a ceremony, more than a liturgy. It is a form of life.

HUME: What do you fault about my method?
SOCRATES: As I said, it seems highly rationalistic.
HUME: And as I said, I am the enemy of the Rationalists!
SOCRATES: As an epistemological theory, yes, but not as a method. Your method, like theirs, is to reduce the data to the explanation, the complex to the simple, the rich variety of experience to simple universal formulas.

Israel was given manna, and they could not get past the idea of food to truly appreciate it. They did what Socrates accused Hume of doing in the fictional account of their meeting before the judgment. They explained manna simply as food, and they neglected the greater nature of it being a fellowship meal, with the “bread” supplied by the hand of God.

They simply reduced it to what they could see, which is why they hungered for more.

I wonder if we do the same with the Eucharist, with the Lord’s Supper. We reduce it to being simply part of the liturgy, simply part of the process by which we receive the gospel. We reduce it to being the approved conduit of the grace we need.

And so we reduce it from a fellowship meal with God to just a “means of grace” Our skepticism quietly sneaks in, and while we still claim it is a sacrament, our focus on the substance causes us to lose focus on the intimacy of the life we have with and in Christ, and His life in and with us.

The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is truly something incredible, a moment of we, a miraculous moment if we can only be in that moment, to have revealed and to revel in the presence of God who in a very specific, very intimate way comes to be with us. WITH US! YOU AND ME!

(This is why Paul finds it so dangerous to not perceive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament in 1 Cor. 11:27 )

That’s why Pope Benedict XVI, writing when he was still a cardinal speaks of it so powerfully. For surely in those moments, when our skeptical, cynical nature is pushed aside by the presence of Jesus, w find the life as God means for us to live. In His presence, sharing in His glory, understanding that we are truly His.

This is why theologians can never perfectly define the sacraments. It is Paul describes knowing the love of God.

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT2)

It is not something we can minimize, reduce and completely explain,It has to be something we experience, it is something beyond measure, yet which completes us as we intimately experience it.

For what we are experiencing, this incredible communion is what Pope Benedict XVI calls it, it is life. Life with a God who loves us beyond measure, and desires that we dwell with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to not limit religion to the doctrines that correctly describe our relationship with You. Help us realize how they point us to You, and explain the promise of Your love and presence. We pray this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!


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. 141). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Kreeft, P. (2010). Socrates Meets Hume: The Father of Philosophy Meets the Father of Modern Skepticism (p. 38). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Great American Temptation…

Devotional Thought of the day:

26 Do any of you think you are religious? If you do not control your tongue, your religion is worthless and you deceive yourself. 27 What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.
James 1:26-27 (TEV)

907         They spread slander and then make sure themselves that someone comes along immediately to tell you: “It is said that…” No doubt that is villainous, but don’t lose your peace; the tongue can do you no harm, if you work honestly. Consider how silly they are, how tactless, humanly speaking, and what a lack of loyalty they show towards their brothers—and especially towards God!
And don’t go and fall into slander yourself, through an ill-conceived idea of the right to reply. If you have to say anything, make use of fraternal correction as the Gospel advises us.

Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his. But if you know it, do nothing else than turn your ears into a grave and cover it, until you are appointed to be judge and to punish by virtue of your office.

Often, sinning is like a Olympic Sport.

We train for it, we cheer on when someone excels in it, and rarely do we offer real critique… even when they are our adversary there our critigue is meant to hurt, rather than help improve.

And yet we call ourselves Christians, belivers, we claim to strive for holiness, to be imitators of Christ.

Check out a basketball court, or hear the comments made among friends during the NFL draft, or get a bunch or religous folk in the room, and bring up televanglists, theoligical liberals or legalists.

We greet the news of someone falling with cheers, and cries of”they got what they deserve” as if we were the judges that condemned them to their fate, as if we knew all that led to their brokenness.

Our slander may even be in response to their attacks on our charachter, our personality, even our ministry, and so we react in kind, not seeing why their attack is so brutal, so negative, so deriding.

We just defend ourselves, and want to show them as more frequent and worse… sinners.

God calls us to live in a life of grace, to live a life that is beyond such pettiness, such gossip, such slander. We don’t have to defame that politician, or that sports team, that actress.

We don’t have to do that because we don’t have to prove ourselves better than them, we don’t don’t have ot be better, we can simply relax knowing that God loves us.

You see, whether it is trash talking on the basketball court, talking about the president or congress, or talking about our obnoxious neighbor, the bottom line for doing it is that we think we somehow gain something, whether it is self-esteem or revenge,

Which is why the Biblical letter of James helps us properly define religion, It is why Luther tells us to avoid judging and condemning others. It is why St Josemaria warns us not to fall for the same temptation.

We fine our identity in Jesus, we find true justice there as well. As we do, that person we once trash talked and gossipped about becomes someone else God would save, someone else He would transform, someone else He loves. They are someone God would have us love, not from compulsion but from realizing what God is trying to do in their life.

So think before you speak, and if your thoughts aren’t nice… we need to pray before speaking, asking God to help us know His presence, and His love. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3689-3694). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

The Context of our Future and Hope!

Jesus foot washingthe devotional thought of the day:

For this is what the LORD says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”   Jeremiah 29:10-14  HCSB

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Titus 3:4-6  HCSB

In the first quote above, the one from Jeremiah, there is an amazing and well-known quote.  For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope! 

But is even more amazing, give the context of it.

I’ve heard a lot of people quote this passage when they get into hard times, or when they don’t know what is coming next. But that isn’t the context. Which is why it is even more amazing.

God’s not giving a future and a hope to those who are His spiritual superstars, not the heroes of the faith either.  The context is those whose sins are so shameful, so repugnant, so evil that God had to lead them into captivity.

The people in context were banished, they were broken, they were dominated by seeking after their own welfare, and indeed, their own pleasure. They were in the midst of being disciplined, discipline as hard as any faced in scripture.  They lost their home, their country, and all the things they counted on to tie them to God.  The temple – gone.  The sacrifices – gone. The land promised to Abraham, Issac and Jacob.. gone.

Because of their sin.

And yet they were given a promise, a future, and a hope.  The assurance that when they ceased being the prodigal, God would still be there.  The promise of reconciliation and restoration, when the time is complete.

Like them, there are sometimes that we become dominated by sin, when we are as broken when we deserve to be punished and disciplined, and worse, we deserve the wrath of God. We deserve the same kind of treatment that He poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues He poured out on Pharoah and Egypt, the justice He poured out on the people of Noah’s time.

Yet for us, even as for the exiles, there is a future and a hope.  There is a God who promises He can be found, and when He finds us. He pours our something incredible on us.

His Spirit, the Holy Spirit who washes us clean with the word and the water.  Who revives and regenerates our broken lives, who renews our strength, so that we don’t faith.

This is the promise you received as God baptized you, as He claimed you as His.  When He declares that we are healed, cleansed, His people.

This is the promise of a future and a hope that we’ve been given.

Rejoice in it! Remember it!  Celebrate it!  Hang on to it, when things are challenging, when you life is broken, when you find yourself yielding to temptation and sin, and despair…

He has promised you to cleanse you, guaranteed by the cross.  AMEN!

Do We Have To Talk about the “S” Word?

pexels-photo-279991.jpegDevotional 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.

The Limit of a Pastor’s (or Priest’s) Authority…

 

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29  for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. Matthew 7:28-29 (NLT)

14  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)

Confession has two parts:
First, a person admits his sin
Second, a person receives absolution or forgiveness from the confessor, as if from God Himself, without doubting it, but believing firmly that his sins are forgiven by God in Heaven through it.

The pastoral work of our parishes should involve reflection, logistics, planning, etc., but only in order to dedicate more quality time to the important task: works of charity.

Thus he discoursed gravely and paternally; in default of examples, he invented parables, going directly to the point, with few phrases and many images, which characteristic formed the real eloquence of Jesus Christ. And being convinced himself, he was persuasive.

The other day a lady from our community called me and asked if we helped people other than Christians. I replied that we do, and then she proceeded to describe needs that couldn’t be met by a church 50 times larger than the one I pastor.  But she demanded that I demand my people to meet the need she had. 

She said I had the authority to do so… and was disappointed and angry that I couldn’t. 

But it got me thinking about the church and the authority it invests in those that it calls pastors, or ministers, or priests. 

I think the perfect portrayal of a pastor is found, not in theology books, but in the priest/bishop described in blue above.  The quote is from Les Miserables, and the Bishop is the one who forgives the sins of Jean Valjean, giving him the silver he stole.  He talked directly, and with authority, the authority that is proper for one in ministry, the authority to be merciful, the authority to reconcile, the authority that is persuasive, because the pastor is convinced himself.

Not of his authority, for that is simply delegated.  

We are (or we should be) convinced of God’s mercy toward us.  We need to be convinced that though we can never fully understand His love, we can experience it, and lead people to experience His love. The authority is seen most clearly when we realize that we are the ones who have been forgiven, we are the ones who God has saved from the brokenness we chose. 

It is that conviction that leads us to wield the authority we are delegated, the authority to pour out the grace of God upon broken people, assuring them of the healing of God found as He cleanses them of their sin.   We can speak for God about this, in fact, we must speak for God in this way.  For He commands it.  

This is our vocation, this is our call.  Somewhere along the line, we picked up other hats, other roles, especially administrative ones, but our only God-given role is that we are overseers and caretakers of souls.  Mercy is what we’ve been authorized to distribute.  Love as well, for in reality, they are the same thing.  Or to use the word that combines them, charity.   The more we can delegate the other stuff, the more time we spend doing what we are called to do, the more the church will come alive, as is it freed from the sin which so ensnares us.

If you are a pastor/priest, find ways to preach and teach God’s word, revealing to people God’s love, and administer the sacraments as often and faithfully as you can.   If you are not, turn to your pastor/priest for such care often, and do what you can to free him up to use this special gift to bless others.

And at all times, praise God for providing this minsitry of reconciliaiton ot us all! 

 


Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

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.

Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (English language) (Kindle Locations 438-439). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Is Prayer What You Think it is?

Kids phoneDevotional 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.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional 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.

Setting Aside Sin Evil – Such An Easy Task? Why not?

Devotional Thought for our Days

 Your old sinful self has died, and your new life is kept with Christ in God. Christ is your n life, and when he comes again, you will share in his glory. 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. These things make God angry. n In your past, evil life you also did these things.

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. 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?
A
nswer: 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! 

AMEN!

[1]  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.

The Ministry Of Reconciliation: A Great Untapped Power…

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)

%d bloggers like this: