Why Ministry Is So Challenging…..

Mark Jenning's Madonna

A Painting of Jesus and Mary by my friend Mark Jennings. You can find all his art (and order copies) at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mark-jennings.html

A devotional thought for our seemingly broken days…

14  “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)

To serve the people of God is to accompany them day after day, announcing God’s salvation and not get lost in pursuing an unreachable dream.

“We tell people the same exact thing, week after week, using different words,” Words from Pastor Mark Jennings while discussing the art of preaching, and ministry. 

The older I get, the more I observe pastors and those training to be pastors, the more I am convinced of this. 

Being a pastor is an art, not a science.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about writing a sermon, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper and savoring every word of the liturgy, or holding the hand of a dear shut-in, who health has separated from her church family and friends.  It doesn’t matter whether it is shepherding the leadership of the church or dealing with a pre-school chapel (which I still think is the most challenging of ministerial roles!)

This is an art, an ever-changing masterpiece with the constant of diversity.  Every situation, every step alongside those we care for will be different. 

This is not a science, with simple rules and formulas and patterns to follow. This is art, requiring a sense of vision requiring a sense of seeing the final picture before the brush strokes are applied before the notes are heard before words are attached to the page. 

That makes it a challenge far greater than most of us who serve as pastors and priests, deacons and others in ministry.  A challenge that I believe is a necessity, a challenge that is our greatest blessing.

For then, we can’t depend just on our mind, for it will lock down on the Greek and Hebrew, or it will turn the experiences of those who have gone before us into rules and man-made traditions that are inviolate. Just because John Chrysostom, or Franz Pieper Robert Schuler or Rick Warren did something, that doesn’t mean it can or should be repeated in our place, in our situation. 

We have to consider who we are walking beside, whom it is God is putting into the masterpiece that is His kingdom, that is His church. As a mentor used to say, we need as much time studying and exegeting them as we do the text in preparing a sermon.   We need to know them, to know their stories, we need to see how God uses their hurts to give them halos, their scars to be the stars that guide them to the Jesus, and the Father. 

This is why ministering to people is an art, helping them realize the same thing, over and over, to reveal to them the presence of God in their lives.  helping them realize that HIs presence is drawing them closer so that they can experience His mercy, His love, His peace.  That’s why my friend and fellow pastor said, we give them the same message, the same sermons, the same lessons, the same counsel, just using different words.  He was an incredible artist and a pastor who realized his role was that of an artist.

We aren’t even the artists, we are just the ones who get to see Him at work, we are the servants whom He has shared His vision with, the vision of the redemption of mankind.

This is what we do,…walking beside them, focusing on God’s work in their lives. and realizing he is doing the same in ours.

My friends, when you cry, “Lord, have mercy,” do so, knowing that the Lord is with you!  

AMEN!

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Two or three gathered to pray: God Answers… but look at the context!

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our broken days:

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 7 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. 18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound h in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. 19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”  Matthew 18:15-20  HCSB

228      Be filled with faith and rest assured! The Lord tells us this through the prophet Jeremiah: orabitis me, et ego exaudiam vos—whenever you call upon me, whenever you pray!, I will listen to you.

Over many years, I’ve heard people claim the verses in italics as their own guarantee of what they pray for, what they thought they really needed. 

I’ve also known people who have been promised that God will do what they ask, whose faith has been crushed because they do not see their prayer answered,  The extreme case of that would be my friend Jean, whose daughter was told by her pastor that if she had enough faith, she would be healed of her cancer, without any medical care.

As I read it this morning, in my morning devotions, I realized something.  This well-known passage is connected to another well-known passage, the passage about reconciling those who have sinned against us.  It is followed by another passage, where Peter asks how many times he has to forgive Andrew, and is told not 7, but 7 times 70.

So this passage about prayer has a specific context, the impossible task of reconciliation and restoration, the return of the prodigal son, the erring brother, the one we’ve been tempted to give up on seeing in God’s presence. 

What a comfort this is, for no one is beyond God’s reach, and no one that lives is beyond being called back, even those who have hurt us deeply.  (For if we didn’t love them, how could their betrayal us?)

What peace this brings, knowing that God loves and cares for them, and wants to heal and restore them to us.  This is the amazing thing about finding ourselves bath in God’s grace, this glorious love, and peace, that He draws us into at the cross.

He is with us, He is listening,!  So let us give Him those who we struggle with, forgiving, counting on Him to draw them back and reconcile us into one body, His.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 980-983). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

A simple goal for today…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for our seemingly shattered days:
. 23  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:23-24 (NLT)

237      Never lose heart, for Our Lord is always ready to give you the necessary grace for the new conversion you need, for that ascent in the supernatural field.

We approach that time of year, that is either full of excitement (and perhaps greed and envy) or is full of despair and grief.

Either way, these holidays can break our hearts, as what should be a time of grace, where love and peace are so clearly shown, are instead a place where we lose heart. 

It is so easy to do, to allow what is going on to crush our hearts. As some of it should….for grief is a very valid, very painful emotion.

Even as we grieve, either for the loss of a good friend, or the state of the world, we need to have a goal that gives us hope, a goal that would be the light of the tunnel, that would leave us in the experience of peace.  

The apostle Paul describes it as the renewal, as the Holy Spirit transforms our thoughts and attitudes, to find the righteousness and holiness that comes only through God’s work, as He draws us into His presence.   

St Josemaria describes it as a conversion of the heart.  As someone with a genetic heart challenge, this concept has slightly different meaning.  Whether it is a seemingly simple problem like A-fib, or something more deadly like V-Tac,  conversion is a process where the heart rhythm is shocked from its irregularity, from its broken pattern, into a normal and healthy pattern. 

In the medical field, this is often done with a defibrillator, as the body is given a powerful electrical shock which overrides the heart rhythm, which will cause it to start again, normal and strong.

The word of God and the Sacraments do this spiritually, as our encounter with God overwhelms our broken rhythm of life. They overwhelm the rhythm, they stop us in the midst of our out of balance life and remind us of God’s presence, His love, His mercy,  That He is here, and if our life is in rhythm with Him, we become more and more aware of His presence.

Living life in rhythm with God won’t stop the tears, living life in rhythm with God won’t immediately fix all wrong in our lives and in the world, But it will awaken us to see the work God is doing, that we are set apart to Him, that we are forgiven, that He is healing our brokenness. Living out of rhythm with God blinds us to this grace. blinds us as well to His comforting presence, which so many of us need right now.  But as

So I pray for you, whatever it is that has you out of rhythm, whether it is you own sin, or the weight of the sin of the world, whatever the brokenness, whatever the grief, that God would”convert: you, giving you the gift of transforming the rhythm of your life, and simultaneously, draw you into the glorious peace that occurs when we know we are in His presence.  (and please pray the same for me)

AMEN!

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1006-1008). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Promise of God: I Will!

church at communion 2The Promise of God:  I Will!
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

 In the Name of Jesus, our King

 May the comfort that comes from receiving the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as we wait for the joyful return of our King, Jesus the Messiah!

At Least 18 times…the work of a shepherd

One part of the Feast of Christ the King Sunday is the purest celebration, as we look forward to seeing God in all His glory, as we hear Him welcome us home.

Another part to consider, I think, is the relief, for the battle is over.  Not the battle on the grand cosmic scale.  That battle ended when the ladies found the tombstone rolled away.  I was thinking the battles we face individually, the battles with life’s daily challenges, the people we interact with, who challenge us, and the inner battles we deal with, the anxiety, the pain, and yes, the sin.

Yet even as we celebrate Jesus as our King, as our Lord, we also celebrate His being the Shepherd King, the one who will guide us through every aspect of life, and frees us from the stuff that hinders us knowing God’s love and peace, the stuff that hinders us right now, right here.

We see that in the Old Testament reading today, as 18 times in English, and more in Hebrew we hear God making us a promise.  He makes you and me, and everyone that hears His voice a single promise.

That promise is described in detail but it boils down to this.  God promises, “I will!”

“I will be your shepherd”

So we are going to look at what that means, using the phrases said over and over…so that we would know His promise.

Search

The first part of the shepherd’s work, described multiple times – is that God will search us out.  Two words used here for searching.

The first describes the intensity and range of the search. To look for something with incredible diligence, without consideration of effort and range.  To look in every place, under every stone, and under the stone under that.  God searches for us far and wide, wherever we are, whatever trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The second is more along the lines of a very thorough examination of our situation, to understand our brokenness in order to care for us.  As we will hear about in our advent readings, the God who will care for us so tenderly that He will not break a damaged reed, but nourish it back to health, or a dying ember in a fire, that He will restore to a burning inferno.  It says He will bandage us, those who are broken and strengthen us.

He will do this, He is doing it right now, as we dwell in His presence.

Bring them safely home

The next “I will” our Shepherd promises is to bring us safely home.  For the Jewish people, the promise was to bring them back from where they were taken into exile, either by the Assyrians, or the Babylonians.  For us, the captivity is no less severe, but we are more likely to willingly enter it.  For sin not only tempts us, it drives and drags us away from God. It doesn’t matter the sin, whether murder, whether sexual sin, whether gossip or coveting what others have.

But Jesus will bring us home, as He searches us out, where ever we are, whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves, He will rescue and provide for us, and cares for us.

Feed/provide pasture land

And on this journey, He cares for us, He doesn’t leave us alone.

Numerous times he talks of feeding us, of providing us safe pastures, providing us the nourishment we need.  In verse 16, he defines that nourishment, what He feeds us is justice, righteousness,

And you could say because of Christ’s coming, we become what He feeds us, we are counted as righteous, that on judgment day, that is what the Father sees.

But that is what happens, as God nourishes us with His word, and with the word, the promise, that makes the Lord’s Supper more than just bread and wine.

He searches us out, rescues us, brings us home and nourishes us, with His word, His body and Blood!

I the Lord, will be their God!

Which brings us to the final I will, which is even more compelling, more incredible than Jesus being our shepherd, the one who searches and heals, rescues us and brings us home, nourishing us all the way.

verse 24 says it well, I, YHWH (the LORD will be their God, and Jesus will be the prince the ruler, the King of His People, for God HAS SPOKEN.

May we hear this clearly, for this Is the God who so dearly loves us. The God who made us His own.

May we rely and depend upon His work, to the day we are all found in His glory!  AMEN!

With God’s Grace….even this is possible.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days…

Then Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”  Matthew 4:1 HCSB

15 “But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” 
17 And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”  Matthew 16:15-19  HCSB

216      With God’s grace, you have to tackle and carry out the impossible… because anybody can do what is possible.

I sit here, just finishing my devotional time up, having done the reading, having prayed, and now I try to put what I’ve read into some kind of concrete summation. After that Iw ill try and write a sermon, but to be honest, it is going to be a struggle.

Even writing this is, as I try to think, what will people hear tomorrow, what might they read in this, that will help them know God’s love, know God’s mercy, know His comfort.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Church year, a day when we look at Christ’s second coming, not from the point of judgment, but from the point of the promises given to us in Baptism being fully seen, fully revealed, fully experienced.  it supposed to be a joyous celebration, yet my heart will struggle, caught up in what it should be, versus where we are, in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death.  

It seems impossible, and I understand how Moses felt, trying to find reasons to no go back to Egypt, to the place of suffering. How will they believe?

And yet, it is the very thing I need to preach, the lesson in my gospel reading this morning, the promise that this valley is not unending, the promise backed up in the very confession of Peter, “you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

There is a lot to unpack in that confession, from Jesus unique role as the Son of God, to what it means to be the Messiah, the One anointed by God to save God’s people.  All of God’s people, those the Spirit calls and gathers.

Because of His work, the gates of Hell have been shattered, that the bondage of sin has been cut, that we, in the midst of the shadow of death, can have hope.

God is with us, the promise is complete, even though we don’t see it fully…yet.

That is why we are reminded by Josemaria that we can tackle and carry out the impossible, a reminder I need today, and tomorrow.  For it is in knowing God’s grace in the middle of the impossibility, that we realize He is working through us, with us, and it is His word that will make a difference.

That’s what I have to count on tomorrow, and every day until we see the reality of Christ the King is clearly visible.  For He is coming, and His Spirit is here, comforting us, reminding us that He is with us, that we aren’t alone. 

And because of that, the impossible is not.  For we walk with Him.  And somehow, others will know this, because our words and lives will testify to His presence.  

Lord, have mercy on us.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 940-942). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

I Want to Run Away… (From God!)

concordia lutheran button only logo (1)devotional thought for these traumatic times

7  LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived. You are stronger than I am, and you have overpowered me. Everyone makes fun of me; they laugh at me all day long. 8  Whenever I speak, I have to cry out and shout, “Violence! Destruction!” LORD, I am ridiculed and scorned all the time because I proclaim your message. 9  But when I say, “I will forget the LORD and no longer speak in his name,” then your message is like a fire burning deep within me. I try my best to hold it in, but can no longer keep it back. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (TEV)

22  Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. Psalm 55:22 (NIV)

214      Trust fully in God and have a greater desire each day never to run away from him.

There are days I want to run away from God.  I have to be honest, there are days I just don’t get it, days that life hurts so much I wish I had the speed and the endurance to run from Him.  When what happens in life doesn’t make sense, and there is really no one to blame….

but Him.

I think Jeremiah had days like that, and probably King David (who wrote Psalm 139 in a deal of pain as well) did.  Not everyone is as strong as St. Paul seemed to be.

Today is one of those days, and I expect I will feel the same way Monday evening… and for many to come.  I know quite a few people are reacting the same way, which is why I dare write this, just as Jeremiah dared to write that God deceived him, tricked him, and it hurt because life just isn’t supposed to be like this.

Grief sucks, there is no doubt about it.

A man well acquainted with it, St. Josemaria, tells me not to run (convenient that was in my devotions this morning… )  He tells me not to desire to run,  Jeremiah even says that if I do, God’s word, His message, the gospel, will burn a hole in me, or at least that’s what Jeremiah thought. I suppose we could even bring Jonah and Job into this, for they would say the same thing.

God will sustain us, He will help us cope with the burdens, the pain, the hurt…

And we need Him too.

The Lord is with us!

Lord, Have mercy on us!

These aren’t empty words, they are worth more to me than all the other words I type….

You need to hear them, my friends so need to hear them… I need to hear them…

So I will stay, and let them burn themselves into my heart, and soul, rather than my stomach…repeated often…

and praying for the strength to trust Him for them.  Which He will provide as well.

God’s peace!

concordia lutheran button only logo (1)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 932-934). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

This Child Asks, “God, what can I do to please you?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Devotional Thought for our days:
4  But even though we were dead in our sins God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, gave us life together with Christ – it is, remember, by grace and not by achievement that you are saved – and has lifted us right out of the old life to take our place with him in Christ in the Heavens. Thus he shows for all time the tremendous generosity of the grace and kindness he has expressed towards us in Christ Jesus. It was nothing you could or did achieve – it was God’s gift to you. No one can pride himself upon earning the love of God. The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do. Ephesians 2:4 (Phillips NT)

195      Just now, Jesus, when I was considering my wretchedness, I said to you: Allow yourself to be taken in by this son of yours, just like those good fathers, full of kindness, who put into the hands of their little children the presents they want to receive from them… knowing perfectly well that little children have nothing of their own. And what merriment of father and son, even though they are both in on the secret!

St. Josemaria’s words give a definition to my greatest fear in life.  That because of my wretchedness, because of who I perceive myself to be, I will never, ever do anything for God that pleases Him.  

It just won’t happen, despite a desire to do it, despite an attempt to dedicate my life to serve Him, and led people to Him.  There are days when it seems to happen, but those days are far apart, and seem more like an accident than anything I really do. 

The challenge is in getting my mind off of my wretchedness, and see what God is doing around me.  It’s not easy to do at times, as my own failures and wretchedness dominate my landscape. The sins that seem so obvious, and even the things I strive to do like my sermons, seem to fall so short, so often failing to show people what they need to know, the presence of God in their lives.  

But it is that very presence I need to see, as God works through us, His hand masterfully, artfully guiding us, doing the work He planned for us to accomplish.

It is only by seeing His presence, by resting safely in His arms, that I can see this.  It is only by relenting, and meditating on His love, that this assurance, this peace, can comfort a soul that is not as wretched as it thinks. 

I know God does work through me, like the Father who helps the child create the gift to be given back to the Father.  Or the Father who makes the gift the son brings truly become something special.  What I need to do is let this amazing, wonderful truth sink deeply into my heart and soul, creating a joy that is described as unspeakable by the Apostle Peter.

I would imagine that I am not the only one….. so let us pray for each other!

Lord, Have mercy on us, and give us the ability to know this joy, to know that the Spirit works through us, doing what is pleasing to the Father!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 876-880). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

An amazing discovery, that changed the focus of my preaching….

20170124_103703Devotional thoughts for our seemingly broken days…

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sells everything he has and buys that field. g
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46 When he found one priceless h pearl, he went and sold everything he had, and bought it.  Matthew 13:44-46  HCSB

The sermon, moreover, should draw its content mainly from scriptural and liturgical sources, and its character should be that of a proclamation of God’s wonderful works in the history of salvation, the mystery of Christ, ever made present and active within us, especially in the celebration of the liturgy.

One of the most amazing discoveries I made, when I moved from being “non-denominational” to being Lutheran is seen in how I viewed the scripture above.

I always thought we were the ones seeking the Kingdom of God, which was the treasure buried in the field, that we were the merchants in search of the priceless pearl.  We had to search, to work to find that treasure. Perhaps there were commentators that disagreed with this, but most sermons I heard taught us to reach out, to give it all, for being in the Kingdom of God would be more than worth it!

But what do we have to sell that would allow us to purchase the field, what do we have that could acquire the pearl that is beyond price? My brokenness? My sin?  My pride and narcissistic nature?

Nothing I have, nothing I am is worth that much, there is nothing I can do.

But to reverse the understanding, to make us the treasure buried in the much, the pearl that required a high price doesn’t seem right.  It doesn’ seem right that the Kingdom of God was about our being sought and found, then buried till the price was paid. (for we were buried with Christ Jesus) That the Kingdom of God is seen by our being bought with something priceless

Yet that is the Kingdom of God that Jesus revealed to us, we are the people He found and bought for a great price.  Our fellowship, our communion with God, that is what the Kingdom of God is, the place where God makes Himself a people, and where they recognize He is their God.

This is what Vatican II stated when it clarified what the role of preaching is, to make God’s wonderful work of salvation known, as it reveals them through the history. This is the incredible mystery of Christ. This is what we preach, Christ, present and active with us.

For me, this is the what needs to be done in every sermon, whether on Sunday or Wednesday night, whether it is in a church service, or in a Bible Study, this is what we are called to do, not just to Christians, but to the entire world.

We need to know God loves us, that He is here, that He has searched out and found us, and purchased and treasures us, because He sees in us what we can’t see.  That we were made in His image.

May all our words and actions proclaim this.  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

 

The Truth about the Ministry.

IMAG0406

The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days…

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” 
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit o in him?” Genesis 41:16, 37  HCSB

33. Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer.
Moreover, the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present. And the visible signs used by the liturgy to signify invisible divine things have been chosen by Christ or the Church. Thus not only when things are read “which were written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4), but also when the Church prays or sings or acts, the faith of those taking part is nourished and their minds are raised to God, so that they may offer Him their rational service and more abundantly receive His grace.

It is taught among us that nobody should publicly teach or preach or administer the sacraments in the church without a regular call.

One of the most challenging things to teach on in the church is the concept of the ministry.  Specifically, who can and should preach and administrate/officiate the sacraments.  

Some would open up the doors to anyone to do so, and God can and does choose a group of diverse people to serve Him, that doesn’t mean all can/should preach, or administer the sacraments.  To follow this path leads to chaos, and everyone teaching what is right in their own eyes.  Even worse, when someone is speaking on God’s behalf, and by His order, there is doubt about it.  When we make the ministry about our “rights” to be the pastor, we aren’t listening to God.

Others would follow the opposite extreme, reducing every part of ministry to those who are called and ordained as pastors.  This would include things like evangelism and even to teach Bible studies.  This leaves the church weak, undernourished, and unable to meet the needs of a broken world.  The pastor surely is the primary messenger, when he is speaking God’s word” but that doesn’t make him the only servant of the church!

I wish it would be as simple for us as it was for Pharoah, that every person could see clearly whom God chose to shepherd them. That every shepherd could do their job perfectly, without fault or hesitation. Such a thing would be an incredible blessing.

Pastors and priests are human though, and we do screw up, sometimes royally.   We stand in God’s presence as we lead His people, and there are times we do act as Jesus, speaking for Him, feeding His people, drawing them to Him at the cross.  It is in those times where it is not our perfection that matters but His. We are at our best when we realize as Joseph did, that we aren’t able to, but God can.

You see the ministry is never about the man, it is about the Man whom he stands in for, the Man who works through our voices and our hands.  The ministry is about those who receive God’s word and promises, whom the sacraments, these sacred moments are there to bless.  And when we make it about the man standing there, preaching, standing there, putting Christ’s body into the hands of hungry souls, that we have sinned.  We then have taken our eyes off of the Lord, off of the promises, and orbit outside the relationship in order to critique and judge it.

This is contrary to the gift Jesus gives the church, as a simple gift of men He calls the church to recognize His call upon.  Men who are qualified to serve based on God’s teaching.  Men whom He will speak through, and limit their words to drawing people into God’s glory.  men who see the ministry as simply God and the church, and find great joy in seeing them together.

 Focus there, on people hearing God say, “you are my people” and the people saying “You are our God!”  

Catholic Church. “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

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

No Time For Complacency! A sermon on Zephaniah 1:7-8

No Time For Complacency

Zephaniah 1:7-18

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the Gifts of Serenity and Peace of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ not just sustain you in these days, but empower and drive you from being complacent about sin, to reconcile those divided by it.

Did you come here to hear that reading?

What were you thinking of, as you heard the Old Testament reading from Zephaniah this morning?  Was it what you expected to hear, what you thought about when you getting ready to come to church?

Anyone like the picture on the cover?  Although it is there, not sure many of you saw the word “hope” there!

This is a hard reading, for sure, and I wonder how many of us truly agreed with Bob as we said “Thanks be to God!”, to his “this is the word of the LORD!”

Even as we struggle with this, we have to realize that the day of the Lord is near, and that means there is, no time for complacency.

For while that day is one we hope for, for others it will be terrifying.

Being sucked into the dregs of Life (Complacency)

This idea of complacency in the Old Testament has an interesting word picture.  It is a word picture of someone so drunk that they do not notice they are drinking the bottom of the barrel of wine, what are called the dregs.

They are so drunk they do not notice they are drinking wine that is thicker than soup, and it causes them to be even more inebriated, even more, unaware of the situation around them.  They are simply numb to reality, unaware of what they are witnessing, unable to even care.

While we don’t realize it, that is the power of sin over us.

It makes us numb, unaware of those around us, unable to care for them, as long as we are able to continue in the sin.  Like the alcoholic who doesn’t realize the damage he is doing to himself and to others, sin slowly and surely claims those who are victim to it, slowly demanding that we give ourselves into it more and more.

You see, sin is the strongest addiction out there, and it doesn’t matter the sin!

That is what scripture is talking about when it talks about God searching through Jerusalem, searching through people that claim to be his, people that are so drunk in their sin that they don’t recognize His presence.

Please understand – God isn’t just searching out these sinners just in the world, but here, among His people.

And for those complacent in their sin, hear again what waits,

14  “That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes— a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. 15  It will be a day when the LORD’s anger is poured out— a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16  a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and the strongest battlements! 17  “Because you have sinned against the LORD, I will make you grope around like the blind. Your blood will be poured into the dust, and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground.” Zephaniah 1:14-17 (NLT)

This is the word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God?

For judging us this harshly for our sin?

The Gospel of Jealousy

O wait, darn it, I forgot the last verse, the place where we will find not just the terror, but the hope. It’s a bit hidden, the gospel in the passage, so look closely

18  Your silver and gold will not save you on that day of the LORD’s anger. For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth. Zephaniah 1:18 (NLT)

 Do you see the hope there?  Right in the middle of that verse….

It might not be obvious at first, see it there?

In the fire of His jealousy, we see hope, right when our silver and gold does no good, when we can’t purchase our salvation, there is hope.

You see, God is jealous enough to burn it all up, yet when we take prophecy as a whole, and not simply focus on one passage, we realize that this too must be considered,

9  I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)

Throughout scripture, we hear about God’s jealousy, that God desires to make for Himself a people.  But God’s way of doing that is incredible, for He purifies us, He cleanses us, even as He burns off the impurities.

Remember John the Baptist promised this when He said,

“But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11 (NLT)

The fire of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ at the cross, all of His anger, all of His rage, and those of us in Christ were raised with Him when God broke the power of both sin and death.

Even are we can’t be complacent about our sin, we can’t be complacent about the sin of others.  Not just about warning them about the sin, but we need to reconcile them to God!  We need to help them wake up from their complacency that sin causes. We need to give them the hope that will see them through the fire to the resurrection, assured by the promise of Jesus.
That is why we are here, and knowing God is near, let us not fall into complacency, but rather hear God say that we are His people, while we rejoice that He is our God…and that He brings us through the fire, cleansed, holy, pure, and His.  AMEN!

%d bloggers like this: