Category Archives: Thomas Merton
4 He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. 5 Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. 6 If we suffer, it is for your help and salvation; if we are helped, then you too are helped and given the strength to endure with patience the same sufferings that we also endure. 2 Corinthians 1:4-6 (TEV)
Even darkness, even evil, even death, even sin: all of them, seen by the light of the sacramental fire, become capable of helping the work of God. They can contribute accidentally, but existentially, to the life, growth and liberty of our souls.
Christ upbraids the disciples with their unbelief and hardness of heart. He does not reject them, nor deal too severely with them, but reproves them. It is not an insignificant matter that the Lord rebuked his disciples; for unbelief is the greatest sin that can be named. Christ tells them the cause of their unbelief when he says that their hearts are hardened, still he deals mildly and gently with them. This is told us for our comfort, lest we despair, when, lacking in faith, we doubt, stumble and fall.
It will take a lot to write this post.
I don’t enjoy encountering the dark moments of life. Neither do I like dealing with evil.
Whether the moment is personal, and is my own journey through darkness, depression and even despair, or whether it is walking beside someone, I really struggle. And as these journeys overlap and pile up, I get weighted down.
As do most pastors, teachers, counselors, and others who continually walk with people through the darkness.
I believe it is the primary reason that there is such burnout in the ministry today. We’ve spent 40-50 years pretending that everything is perfect in the church, looking for process after program, going through consultants and coaches (how many of them burnt out in ministry?) and fail to deal with the darkness, evil and the grief that shadow our lives.
And so we are crushed…. our faith, that ability to depend on God, melts like a ice cream cone in the desert in August. It’s at that point, that sin and temptation become so powerful, as we look for someway to escape, someway to cope with the pressure building up inside us. And when those sins and temptations fail to, the darkness grows more pervasive, more stifling.
Except for the promise of Jesus.
In Him, we have the promise that His great help – we have the promise of His presence, and His love and mercy. We have been given the Holy Spirit – who has the title of the comforter, and there is so much comfort there that we instinctively comfort others.
That comfort is seen in Luther’s explanation of Jesus correcting his disciples. Luther makes it clear that Jesus doesn’t reject them outright, nor is the severity enough to crush them. But as he qon’t quench a candle’s wick that is barely flowing, Jesus, with great love and wisdom, ministers to us in our times of weakness. It is shared in the scriptures not to make them appear weak, but to help us in our time of despair, doubt, and stumbling.
This I count onmore than ever in life. I Know I have to walk through the shadows; i know the effect they might have on me, but I also know He is there… and he will get me through this… as promised. I may not be able to change my attitude, or even find the light in my darkness, but I know it will be there…I know He will be there.
Merton’s words are absolutely accurate–these times are ones that accidentally cause incredible growth in our souls. For they show us how complete the works of Jesus is in our lives. W learn this through the sacraments, and the promises scripture gives in them. How Christ’s death – which we are united to in them, means we live in Him, and He in us. It may be an accident from Satan’s perspective, but it is well within the promise of God revealed in Romans 8 – all things work for God… and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Now to learn to be patient through such trials!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 173.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 153.
75 We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks to you! We proclaim how great you are and tell of the wonderful things you have done! Psalm 75:1 GNT
They who do not feel their sin, and are not dismayed, nor see their infirmities, profit not a whit by it, nor do they delight in it. Though they hear the gospel, it has no effect upon them, except that they learn the words, and speak of what they have heard. They do not treasure them in their hearts, and receive neither comfort nor joy from them.
It were well, if the gospel could be preached only where faint-hearted and conscience-stricken ones are found. But this cannot be, and for this reason it bears so little fruit. The fault is not in the gospel, but in the hearers. They hear it, but they do not feel their own affliction and misery, nor have they ever tried to feel it.
The Last Supper must be understood and proclaimed also as such. Just as in baptism we meet our death and the promise of new life, so also here we encounter the death of the old and the hope of the new. “When you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). It is death-dealing to pretentious god-seekers to be reduced to eating a bit of bread and drinking a sip of wine for salvation. But just so it is also life-giving in the promise. It is the breakthrough of the new in the midst of our time.
THE sincerity of all prayer, whether liturgical or private, depends on the fundamental acknowledgment of our actual spiritual state. We have to have some realization of what we are supposed to be, of what we are not, and of what we are. The first step towards a liberty that is a free gift of God’s grace is the free acknowledgment of our own need for His grace.
As I was reading Psalm 75 this morning, I thought about why we praise God.
It is not because He is all powerful, or all knowledge. It cannot be based in fear anymore than it can be through some idea of manipulating God into saving us.
So where does worship come from? From realizing that God is at work in our lives.
And that is where the horrible, ugly, truth comes into play.
We need Him to work in our lives.
We need Him to do so because we are broken and crushed by the world and by our own sin.
Luther’s words drive this point home- noting how we have to feel our sin, we have to recognize our brokenness. Not so we can be belittled or terrorized by it – the sin does that on its own. But we need to face it, so we can say that we are forgiven it. This hurts most of the time – for the same reason pulling stitches and dressings off of wounds hurts. Merton agrees with this – explaining that we have to understand where we are, in order to understand grace. Forde nails the point home, when talking about the mystery of the Eucharist, and how such a simple piece of bread and sip of win is so transforming–because it is the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. The promises in it are amazing, if we only take the time to think through it.
It is there, at the altar, and at the baptismal font, that the great miracles in our lives happen. THey may also be the most overlooked, for they are sublime. As we come to understand them, the true glory of God, His love, is made known to us. ANd worship should well up inside of us,
Letting God deal with our darkness is needed for worship to really soar. So let Him in… and know the Lord is with you!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 142.
Gerhard O. Forde, “Proclaiming,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 178.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 162.
10 As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud 11shining with the dazzling light of the LORD’s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. 1 Kings 8:10-11 GNT
20I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. 21When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. 22That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. John 16:20-22 GNT
While they are thus in fear and terror, the Lord brings them peace, not by removing any danger, but by quieting their hearts.
Now the liturgy is meant to form the individual Christian. Hence we have to learn how to understand its symbols, in order to absorb the lessons which they convey. But at the same time the liturgy is more than symbolism and more than ritual. Through the medium of the Church, which He has entrusted with the task of guiding, sanctifying and instructing mankind, God exercises a sacramental action upon the spirits of men of faith.
I have been thinking about church a lot recently, trying to understand why in parts of the world, the church is growing faster than it ever had, and why in others, it is rapidly shrinking.
I would love to blame the shrink on the amped up political atmosphere, as extremists in every spectrum try and force their way into power. Whether it is legalism or lawlessness, whether it is tieing to the secular conservatism or secular progressivism, the tactics are much the same.
I could blame it on apathy, and a country not able to escape the consequences of isolation.
I could blame it on a season dominated by every sin and temptation known to mankind.
Placing blame will do nothing – except causes dissention, more division and accelerate the decline of the Church, as sanctuaries empty—as they no longer are sanctuaries, as people find no refuge or peace in the places dedicated to communion with God.
I need the church to be such a place–a refuge, a sanctuary, the holy ground were peace overwhelms the struggles I am embroiled in this life. Luther’s words resonate with this, as he pictured God not taking away the struggles, the chaos, the anxiety or the pain. Instead, He quiets my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I share God’s word, the peace given them as I share with them the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Merton identified this as the sacramental action of God, as He pours out the blessings, the mercy, peace and love which forms us, creating a faith, a dependency on God, wherein the awe we find in His presence, makes everything else an inconsequential shadow. That all sounds like heavy theology tainted with a bit of mysticism.
I wish I could explain it in a simpler way, but the peace of the moment is beyond explanation, Jesus illustrates it well, in the moment a new mom holds her baby, and all the travail and even the mess isn’t important… the baby is here..
or in our case, God is here.
and like the priests – we are so in awe, that all we can do is enjoy the presence of God.
(Merton was wrong – this isn’t individual. It is who we are…together – the family of God)
This is why I need the church, the people of God gathered around His word, the people who receive His sacraments… who experience His peace..
I get to see it, facilitate it and that is awesome… but what is better – I participate….
I am so looking forward to this tomorrow… will you join me… either at Concordia, or with the saints in another location, but sharing in the same presence of the same Lord.
Please… come and know His peace and healing!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 138.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 160.
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”
3 Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.
They answered, “You were born and brought up in sin—and you are trying to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue. John 9:1-3, 34 GNT
We begin to wonder whether we really have taken the words seriously, whether we are really sincere, or perhaps whether we really have accepted Jesus as our “personal Savior,” whatever that is supposed to mean. I may hear the words “Your sins are forgiven,” but then wonder whether it could be really me that is meant, or whether it is even relevant to my needs. We become a prey to adverbial theology. Do we really, sincerely, truly, personally, believe? Do we live abundantly, joyously, affirmatively? Do we think positively, praise gratefully, respond generously? What do I do if I just do not see all those marvelous things happening that the preacher is always on about?
While we walk in the faith of his righteousness, God has patience with the poor, frail righteousness of this earthly life. He honors our human holiness by supporting and protecting it during the time we live on earth; just as we honor our corrupt, filthy bodies, adorning them with beautiful, costly garments and golden ornaments.
The baptismal character conforms us to the priesthood of Christ by an indelible spiritual sign which makes us able to unite ourselves with the worship by which the Incarnate Word, as Mediator between God and man, drew a fallen creation back into union with His Father. The sacramental character is, therefore, an orientation of our souls towards our Source and our Last End, in worship.
The questions in blue above are not rare in my experience.
I’ve heard people ask them in jail, in hospital beds on hospice, in counseling appointments, and conversations over breakfast and lunch. People who know about Jesus and want to go to heaven, but somehow struggle with their role in it. People wonder if their own lack of faith is why their entire life feels like they’re caught in quicksand.
I’ve seen the same kind of evaluation occur as pastors meet with their elders or their board of directors. They look at attendance numbers; they look at finances, and they see the struggle that the future might bring.
If we slow down, if we take the time to see where we are at, we will have dark moments where we doubt–either personally or as part of the family of God. Which we need to do, we cannot continue to live in denial of dumpster fires in our lives and churches. We need to realize we are broken, and often, more broken that can be dealt with on our own.
That isn’t a bad thing.
You see, our brokenness, like the blind man’s, is not always our fault, or caused by the environment around us. Even if it were, it still has the same fix, the same hope of being restored, to the same end – that God is glorified.
So don’t listen to those who tell you that it’s all because you are a sinner, or you are too broken, or anything else.
God has patience with us when we are broken and weak–that is what Luther reminds us of from my devotions this morning. We are dressed with Christ’s life, His righteousness, just like I put on my compression socks to deal to make up for my varicose veins. He works wih our brokenness, our frailty, our weakness. David confesses that God treats him that way, as does Jeremiah and Paul. Many others in scripture show this rule to be in our lives.
That is why our hope filled reality doesn’t depend on whether someone says we aren’t good enough, or we are spiritually dead. God is carrying us, God is breathing life into our bodies, God is recreating us in our baptism, as He brings us into the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
It is His work, it is His love for us that guarantees it can be done… no matter how bleak the examination is. Examining our lives is to provide hope – to show us where God has taken us from… not to show the depth of our decline.
Look to Him – He started you on this journey, accompanies you on it, and guarantees it will end as you enter the Father’s rest.
Gerhard O. Forde, “Proclaiming,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 159.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 125.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 144.
Do not work for food that goes bad; instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life. This is the food which the Son of Man will give you, because God, the Father, has put his mark of approval on him John 6:27 GNT
We must at least know ourselves well enough to recognize our own illusions, our own limitations, our own weaknesses, enough to be able to tell when it is not the charity of Christ that speaks in our hearts, but only our own self-pity … or ambition, or cowardice, or thirst for domination.
Dry bones. We see sin and judgment on the sin. That is what it looks like. It looked that way to Ezekiel; it looks that way to anyone with eyes to see and brain to think; and it looks that way to us.
“But we believe something else. We believe in the coming together of these bones into connected, sinewed, muscled human beings who speak and sing and laugh and work and believe and bless their God. We believe it happened the way Ezekiel preached it, and we believe it still happens. We believe it happened in Israel and that it happens in church. We believe we are a part of the happening as we sing our praises, listen believingly to God’s Word, receive the new life of Christ in the sacraments. We believe the most significant thing that happens or can happen is that we are no longer dismembered but are remembered into the resurrection body of Christ.
I read the words of Merton in my devotions this morning, and they stung.
As they should!
Perhaps they should have even stung more!
We must regularly examine our thoughts, words and deeds, as Paul tells us to in 1 Corinthians. To walk thorugh the valley of Romans 7 and realize that Paul wasn’t talking about a battle prior to coming to Christ, but the battle within each of us this day. We need to recognize when it is Christ that lives, and when we are struggling not to die to self.
We need to see the dry bones, to see the ravaged wasteland caused by sin in our world, but even more in our lives.
We have to see them, there is no option. It is depressing, it can suck the life out of you. But we need to see the effect of our sin.
For only by doing so, can our knowledge become our plea, and the answer our reality. For just as we had to acknowledge our sin in order to see our need for the cross, so to do we need to see our sin so that the Holy Spirit can create new life in broken lives. We need to know that our cry, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” is, and always will, be answered!
Peterson’s words come in the midst of a dialogue about the necessity and focal point of pastoral ministry, that of word and sacrament–and the need of people to receive that – even if they don’t presently want it. That’s the message of Jesus’ words this morning as well–to go after what really matters, what really brings us to life– the work of the Holy Spirit as the words and Sacraments serve as the conduit of a grace beyond measure.
This is how life begins… this is how it is nurtured, as the old, sin-burdened man is put to death, and a life transformed in and conformed to Jesus begins anew.
Lord, once again, heal our brokenness by killing off that which is not of You, and bring us to life, in Christ. AMEN!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 138.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 144.
2 Let me see you in the sanctuary; let me see how mighty and glorious you are.
3 Your constant love is better than life itself, and so I will praise you.
4 I will give you thanks as long as I live; I will raise my hands to you in prayer.
5 My soul will feast and be satisfied, and I will sing glad songs of praise to you. Psalm 63:2-5 TEV
We are delivered from ourselves when we finally seek God for Himself alone!
Our union with Him depends on His love for us, which is simply the extension of the Father’s love, through Him, to ourselves. And the charity of Christ, which springs from the Father as from its hidden and infinite source, goes out through us to those who have not yet known Him, and unites them, through Christ in us, to the Father. By our love for other men, we enable them to discover Christ in themselves and to pass through Christ to the Source, the Beginning of all life, the Father, present and hidden in the depths of their own being. Finding Him, they who have long been torn and divided by the disintegrating force of their own illusions are able to discover and integrate themselves in one.
Too often these days, I find myself tired of life… and I know I am not alone.
I want to cry out, “Maranatha!” (which means ‘Come Lord Jesus!) with all I am. I so want Jesus to come back, to bring His people into the presence of perfection in the presence of God the Father.
I want God to return, I really, really want Jesus to return and put an end to all the suffering, all the evil, all the health issues, all that I see people going through…
And as I contemplate how wonderful it will be to be free of all of that, I realize I am praying for His return for the wrong reasons.
I need to grow in this area – perhaps more than any.
I need to want Jesus to return, simply so I can be with Jesus, to be welcomed into His presence, and God our Father. I need to have what Tozer speaks of, to be delivered of everything that is me, and simply seek to be with Him.
Merton is correct as well, that the only way this happens is Jesus. Our union with God depends completely on His work, on the Spirit’s cutting open and circumcising our hearts. It is that love, which spreads through us out into the world, that enables us to praise Him. As the Spirit draws us into Christ, everything the Psalmist says is now real, as God reveals Himself – and we know He is everything.
He is our life, our hope, our joy, our love, and He reveals Himself in us, much as He reveals Himself in and under the Bread and Wine.
Lord Jesus, as we go about our days, help us to recognize your presence. May we see you in the people we speak to, and may they see You as You love them through us! May the Spirit help us to empty ourselves, so that truly our lives are Yours, and may we long for Your return. AMEN!
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 135.
If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. John 8:36 (TEV)
Not that grace somehow adds to an otherwise imperfect creation, but that grace puts a stop to our misguided attempts to usurp God’s place and so allows creation to shine forth in all its glory
The “world” is the body of those who hate, because they are prisoners of their own narrow illusions and petty desires. They cannot recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit because they are not willing to conform their lives to His inspirations. They cannot become free with the freedom Jesus compared to the unpredictable blowing of the wind, for they are rooted in their own attachments and bound down by their own compulsions. They have a fixed way of acting (which may be wild and erratic and possess a spurious “freedom” of its own) and they cannot break away from it. They have rendered themselves incapable of doing anything but their “own will” in the sense of their enslaved will. Only the Spirit Himself can penetrate their hard carapace of resistance, and too often they will not let Him do so. They are unable to love freely because they are afraid of freedom.
The power and effect of faith are especially seen in temptations, when sin, death, devil, and hell are overcome. Nor are these weak enemies; they bring out perspiration, weaken our limbs, and make heaven and earth cramped. When the devil and death come, no one can help except only the person who has said, I am he who shall sustain thee. Under such conditions we learn what faith is.
Yesterday, my son’s high school was locked down, and for several hours I waited for him to be released. First, they were kept secure in a classroom. Then, they were escorted to some fenced in tennis courts where, eventually, they were released to parents. The parents waited in the sunlight for hours, because of miscommunication.
My thoughts upon getting into the car hours after I arrived was the old phrase, “Free at last, Free at Last!” A couple of hours of inconvenience, and yet I treated it like a lifelong trauma. ( A little projection here, as I was also wanting to deal with some other traumatic events)
So I was thinking about freedom as I came across these words this morning. And the illusion of freedom was shredded, again and again.
When we clamor and protest to have freedom, we must contemplate two things:
- What are we wanting freedom from?
- What do we want to do with this freedom?
Answering those questions will help us determine whether what we want is truly freedom, or simply the ability to serve our own preferred slavery –to our lusts and desires, our addictions and other sins that plague us. The problem is, enslaved to those things–we don’t even realize we are enslaved! Or, if we do, the lure of that which we are enslaved to overshadows the life we don’t know we can live.
Luther’s words about faith are clear here. It is not an easy fight to overcome sin. It requires a lot sweat and a lot of tears. It takes prayer, and mostly, it takes dying with Jesus on the cross to break those shackles, and the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us to that cross.
Forde’s words are so clear to that as well, as the Holy Spirit convinces us to set aside our self-idolatry, nailing that sin to the cross as well. That when the Son sets us free- we can begin to see glimpses of the glory of God.
There is freedom from everything we need to be free from – hatred, violence, anxiety, resentment, sin, guilt and shame…
And there is freedom to do one thing… to love.
Upon getting home, just before 6, homework and chores awaited both my son and I. As did dinner. We weren’t free to do whatever we wanted, but we were free to do that which was good, and beneficial. Mostly, my family was free to be together. And so it is with freedom we find in Christ Jesus-we are free to be in the presence of God, to know His love, to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ…
This is accomplished simply by having faith in God, depending on what He’s promised – that He will set you truly free..
Gerhard O. Forde, “Hearing,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 144.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 132.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 102.
1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NLT2)
We shall see that in order to enter fully into communion with the life brought to us by Christ we must in some sense—sacramentally, ascetically, mystically—die with Christ and rise with Him from the dead. The whole life of the Kingdom of God consists then in the gradual extension of the spiritual effects of the death and resurrection of Jesus to one soul after another until Christ lives perfectly in all whom He has called to Himself.
This gospel is to us a true example of firm and perfect faith. For this woman endures and overcomes in three great and hard fought battles, and teaches us in a beautiful manner the true way and virtue of faith, namely, that it is a hearty trust in the grace and goodness of God as experienced and revealed through his Word.
Is the church dying? Is it dead? Is it no longer relevant to a society that ignores its brokenness? Will we continue to consolidate and merge ministries, selling this off to try something different over here? Will we believe the post-covid reports abut what the decline in church attendance means?
There is no doubt attendance is less across all Christian denominations, but what does that mean?
I think it is time to listen to St. Paul, and focus on the cross of Jesus, to think through that which is our only hope, to realize we have died, and risen with Him. We have to get back to that message – for the sake of our people. Merton states this clearly – the whole life of the Church nad its believers consists of the death and life of Christ, and our unity with it. Luther adds the grace of God experienced and revealed through His word which proclaims Christ crucified.
We can’t afford to be in a defensive position any longer! In fact we should have never gone down that road to begin with, relying on our own intellect and ability to strategize the next moves for the church..
Paul, one of the greatest intellects in the history of the church, says he abandoned the things which communicated loftier ideals with larger words.
Just Christ. Just the cross.
This is where we die, and live…
This is the message that sparks revivals and reformations. That Jesus dwells with His people, His church. This is what is seeing churches in other places in the world grow so fast they are sending missionaries here.
God at work, in the lives of people, redeemed and reconciled by the body and blood of Christ shed on the cross, and found on the altar.
Let’s celebrate that love, that passion, that presence… and depend on Him. As we do, we will find the rumors of the death of the church to be greatly exagerated, and in fact, lies from hell.
Merton, Thomas. 1976. The New Man. London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. 1915. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern.
8 Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD. The bread is to be received from the people of Israel as a requirement of the eternal covenant. 9 The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the LORD.” Leviticus 24:8-9 (NLT2)
The rites and liturgy of man acquire the power to evoke the divine mystery that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard and that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Words, therefore, become seeds of prayer and of contemplation, instruments of man’s transfiguration into the likeness of the Holy God Whom no one can see without dying. Words and symbols lie in the depths of man’s inherited store of knowledge and memory and even in the souls of men who have completely forgotten God these archetypal seeds of divinity and mystery still lie hidden, waiting to germinate like the grains of wheat laid away thousands of years ago, with a Pharaoh under his pyramid
Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?
Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?
In order for the rites and liturgy of which Merton speaks do what he desires, we have to understand that the rites and liturgy of man means that he is an actor, a part of those rites and liturgies. He is not their controller, their guardian, their defender, or the one who manipulates them. They have to be Divine, the rites and liturgies that are soundly based in scripture and they must reveal Jesus to those who need healing.
Any other goal for worship, which deviates the attention of God and His people dwelling together as God heals hearts and souls, and bodies, that’s not liturgical worship. It doesn’t plant the word of God deeply in them, it doesn’t result in a spiritual connection. It blocks us from seeing what God is doing, replacing His actions with the actions man has done, or that the pastor/leaders want the congregation to do.
They may be highly motivated, they may be doctrinally astute, but that is not the purpose of worship. Worship is to give people what they need to know about Jesus, it is to comfort terrified and anxious souls (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV) The service provides the healing of souls, what has been called the cure of souls. It is what God is providing for His people, this miraculous work of His in our lives.
This is what Peterson is getting at – the difference between “running a church” and being a place where the “cure of souls” occurs. That cure results in a worship that is beyond just singing a couple of cool songs, it results in a transformation that is beyond words, and a peace that is beyond expression. Both a result of a love that is beyond logic.
And realizing that love, that mercy, that peace, is what we are to be doing…. and then responding with God’s people.
That’s what the scripture passage is really about – the fact that the offerings God’s people give are used to provide for …God’s priests. And since all believer’s now belong to the priesthood… God uses our offerings, our sacrifices – to care for us. (He certainly doesn’t need the $$) Again – a response to the cure of souls…
This is why God gathers us together, to care for us, to cure us, to make us whole, and wholly His.
Lord, help us to see Your work as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit, in Your Name! AMEN!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 60–61.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 70.
Thoughts which draw me to Jesus, and to His cross
Put this altar outside the curtain which hangs in front of the Covenant Box. That is the place where I will meet you. Exodus 30:6 GNT
Contemplation is that wisdom which makes man the friend of God, a thing which Aristotle thought to be impossible. For how, he said, can a man be God’s friend? Friendship implies equality. That is precisely the message of the Gospel:
But you may argue that the statement of Paul is too awful, when he says, whosoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, and is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Dear friend, you must not consider yourself so much from the standpoint of worthiness or unworthiness of your person as from that of your need, which makes the grace of Christ necessary. If you recognize and feel your need, you have the requisite worthiness and preparation.
It is not hard to see myself as a servant, a slave of God. And I resonate with Paul, as he refers to himself as a doulas – a fully owned slave. Not that I am a particularly good one, I am stubborn, and I don’t follow directions all that well. But God can use us, often despite our thoughts and actions.
That is amazing…
But Merton’s words this morning, I know they are based in scripture (John 15:15), they are still tough for me to work through. A “friend of God?”, even contemplating on that leaves me shaking my head for a while. My mind comes up with 1000 reasons Jesus wouldn’t befriend me. He has to love me, but “friends”? That seems too much, too overwhelming!
Yet that is what God wanted from the beginning, as He walked through the garden with Adam and Eve. That’s what the meetup with God was about at the Ark of the Covenant, and the wonder of the mercy-seat, where blood would cover the sins of Israel.
All done so we could know God is with us, as a friend. That is what Job sought as well,
I want someone to plead with God for me, as one pleads for a friend. Job 16:21 GNT
And as it would be seen at the Ark of the Covenant, it would really be seen at the cross. As Jesus would tell the Father to forgive us..
He pleaded for His friends would be forgiven, to be restored to Him.
It is not a bad thing we struggle with this idea, though. That is where Luther’s quote come into play. We need to know Jesus makes this friendship possible! Even as we realize our sins have damaged it, for the moment. We can’t assume we deserve it. We know better. But we can rejoice in His actions to make it real, to make it true.
But He does all this, so we can be friends.
Amazing! This is the greatest miracle in all of scripture.
But Merton was right, we need to contemplate; we need to think through and work through and struggle with this thought. But we need to – it is true.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 12.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 400–401.