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The Paradoxical Mystery of Confession


St Francis Catholic Church

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

14 Since the children, as he calls them, are people of flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature. He did this so that through his death he might destroy the Devil, who has the power over death, 15and in this way set free those who were slaves all their lives because of their fear of death. 16For it is clear that it is not the angels that he helps. Instead, he helps the descendants of Abraham. 17This means that he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order to be their faithful and merciful High Priest in his service to God, so that the people’s sins would be forgiven. 18And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.  Heb 2:14-18 TEV

261      God is with you. The Blessed Trinity dwells in your soul in grace. That is why, in spite of your wretchedness, you can and should keep up a continuous conversation with the Lord.

Growing up Catholic, the thing you learned to fear was that once a week meeting with your priest.  For us at St. Francis Elementary School, the parish priest would come to the school, and though he never made eye contact with you, his presence intimidated you.

You were afraid to mention your sins, and logically, I do not know why.

He wasn’t a mean.
He wasn’t known for asking outrageous acts of Penance, (the usual was 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Mary’s and 2 acts of contrition – you could say that much on your way back to class)

But there was something intimidating about confessing to another person, even to a man God put in place to remind you that you were forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!

Now some forty years later, and being a Lutheran pastor who absolves people of sins, I realize there is no difference.  People are still intimidated, still anxious, people still struggle with guilt and shame.

Even though we know the solution is found in our merciful high Priest Jesus, we shy away from Him, we put up our defenses, we deny we have done wrong. We try to hide our wretchedness, the wretchedness that eats us alive, that causes our souls to wither, our hearts to break.

We need to learn to trust, to depend on this God who came to us, to be like us, to free us from that sin, that shame, that oppression.  We need to let Him help us, to speak through those He’s called and ordained to do this very work.

We need to hear, “you are forgiven”

There is the paradox, the One we fear the most, the One we want to hide from the most, is the Lord who can do something to cut away our sin,,,to cleanse and purify us.

This is what we need, this is what we’ve been promised, this is what we should run to in hope, this time where God dwells in our heart with all His grace and love.

So don’t hesitate.  There are pastors and priests waiting, desiring to do their job, to tell you that which is the best news you will here today, or any day….

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1092-1094). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The One Exception to Judge Not… there is someone needing judgment.


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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
27  It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (TEV)

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke, 6:37). “No,” says the holy apostle, “judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart” (2 Cor. 4:5). Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbour. 

As I read the words in blue this morning, I knew I had to write about them.  

I didn’t want to, because the moment I read them, I start judging all the people around me who are not just judging others but condemning them. The spirits of division, of bitterness, of hatred aren’t just seeping into their lives, we are drowning in the flood of them.

We aren’t foolish enough to claim we are more righteous than the world, but we are more than willing to bash people, Trump, Clinton, the Kardashians, people of other religions, heck some even bash the New England Patriots and their loyal fans.  And the bashing is always judgmental, always condemning, always done in a way that raises anxiety

It is a sickness, one which depresses and isolates.  Personally, I long for the days when I was an introvert and could shut out the world. Even as I write this, I see it for what it really is, a form of judgment, a temptation to isolate myself from the evil, without recognizing that I can’t escape from it, for in trying to do so…. I embody what I am trying to flee.

It was the last line from St. Francis de Sales that helped me this morning, the line about everyone having enough to do to judge themselves.

You might think it odd I found this to be good news, the purest of gospel.  For judging myself does bring the gospel into my life, erasing the need to judge others. For there, when I realize my frailty, when I recognize my sin, my instinct is to cry out for grace, to find sanctuary from the evil that not only threatens me externally but seems to well up internally.

In examining myself, I find the need to find a safe place, a place where judgment is cast aside, where burdens are lifted, where hope is revived and finds stimulation.  Where I find a love beyond measure, seen in a grace where God forgives my desire to judge others, and the times where I do so. Examining myself drives me to absolution, and to the altar where God reminds me of His love by giving me His body and blood to eat and drink, where I get to fellowship with Him!

There, I find not just the peace I need eternally, but I find others receiving it as well.  I find it offered to those I struggle with, those I want to judge, those I want to condemn.  And even if they aren’t there as my parish communes, they might be on their own, and they are to be welcomed at all places. 

Not only am I reminded of God’s grace forgiving me, drawing me to Him, into Christ, but I also am reminded that forgiveness is for all….

And for the moment, peace invades my darkness, shattering it, revealing a wholeness, completeness, that will be mine when we are found before Hi throne.

This is life in Christ, this is why I try to remain devout, depending on Him.  For there I find the answer to my cry,, not for judgment, but for mercy.  

For all of us.

Judge not… except yourself, so you may run to Him and find peace.

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

A Pastoral Confession: The Paradox of Holiness


DSCF1421Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

13  So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)

887    That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.

Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.

On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor.  If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.

I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little.  I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help.  I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.

The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart.  This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards.  Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test.  It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning.  And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.

The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite.  TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law)   As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior.  They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you.  Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.

So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.

So where am I to shepherd them too?  How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?

Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?

I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.

St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness.  At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.

The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.

God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”

This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us.  Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.

Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.

It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.

May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!

AMEN!


Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do We Take Sin’s Cure Seriously Enough?


chemnitz-on-us-dwelling-in-jesusDevotional Thought of the Day:

26  The LORD said, “Do not make idols or set up statues, stone pillars, or carved stones to worship. I am the LORD your God.   Leviticus 26:1 TEV

16  Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.
James 5:16 (MSG)

Marcion taught, on the basis of the opinions of his master Cerdo, that there is one god of the Old Testament, just, stern, and punitive toward sin, who rained down sulfur and fire on Sodom, Gen. 19:24; and there is another god of the New Testament, merciful, beneficent, long-suffering, who “causes His sun to rise and sends rain on the just and the unjust,

 

Our Saviour has left the holy sacrament of penance and confession to his Church, that in it we may cleanse ourselves from all our iniquities, as often as we should be defiled by them. Never suffer your heart, then, Philothea, to remain long affected with sin, since you have so easy a remedy at hand. A soul which has consented to sin ought to conceive a horror of herself, and cleanse herself as quickly as possible, out of the respect she ought to bear to the Divine Majesty, who incessantly beholds her. Alas! why should we die a spiritual death, when we have so sovereign a remedy at hand?

I have to wonder how much Marcion’s idea of two gods, one of the Old Testament and One of the New affects our viewpoint of sin.

The thought is prevalent today among many in the church, and it drastically colors our viewpoint of sin.  We tend to dismiss things in the Old Testament that were prohibited  (and not declared clean like bacon and Gentiles!) because we see the God of the Old being different, and having different standards than Jesus.

Perhaps that is why we don’t take the cure for sin seriously?

We all are sinners, whether it is gossip, or sexual sins, or hatred and name calling. We’ve developed our justifications, our defenses, such as – well that was in the Old Testament, and life is different in the New Testament.  We even have simply gotten to the point where we deny that sin is sin.  We ignore its gravity, its pain, its horror.

Worse than the horror, what we are really doing is robbing ourselves, and those we teach, of a wondrous gift, a gift that is more valuable than anything we could purchase.  We don’t cover up and hide the sin, we bury and hide God’s glorious love and mercy.

We rob ourselves of forgiveness, of the healing and restoration God has promised us.  We rob ourselves of being right with God, of knowing His love and presence.  As De Sales teaches, why should we embrace a spiritual death, when our remedy is so at hand?  When that remedy is the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you, that this covenant promise would be yours – that you would be righteous, innocent and holy, being freed from sin.

Paul’s words in Hebrew echo again here – run to Jesus, for if e neglect such a great salvation, what else is there?  And if we are neglecting it because we don’t want to deal with sin, what is there?

The challenge is presenting this, not as the choice between wrath and paradise, for that is not the primary purpose of forgiveness.  That purpose is so that we can know, that we can be assured that God is our God, that we are His people, that we are in fellowship, a deep intimate relationship that is based on the deepest of love.  His love which doesn’t ignore our sin, but heals us. That was His plan throughout the Old Testament (read the dedication of the Temple if you don’t believe me) and is fully revealed in Jesus in the new.

Which is why Chemnitz follows his comments about Marcion with the beautiful, intimate description of our dwelling in the Word of God  (that is, Jesus) as a baby dwells in the uterus.  Safe, secure, nourished, until we find the day where glory shines… and all that is God is revealed.

Til then, we dwell in His peace. Amen!

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.1885. Print.

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 

Is Your Church a Refuge Where You Can Really Pray????


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!”   Mark 11:16-17 TEV 

 I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.”
Isaiah 56:7-8 (NLT)

Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.

As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.

Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking.  It wasn’t that at all.  I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.

The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities.  But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.

Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)

As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….

Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives.  There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.

Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives.  Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.

We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.

What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.

This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family.  The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken.  As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”

By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.

That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….

May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

Recovering from, “Lord, I WILL NEVER….”


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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

33 Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” 34 Jesus said to Peter, “I tell you that before the cock crows tonight, you will say three times that you do not know me.” 35 Peter answered, “I will never say that, even if I have to die with you!” ……75  and Peter remembered what Jesus had told him: “Before the cock crows, you will say three times that you do not know me.” He went out and wept bitterly…  Matt 26:33-35 & 75d  TEV

Confound yourself: But, alas! my Creator, instead of uniting myself to Thee by love and service, I have become rebellious by my inordinate affections, wandering and straying from Thee, to unite myself to sin: valuing thy goodness no more than if Thou hadst not been my Creator.
4. Prostrate yourself before God: O my soul, know that the Lord is thy God: it is He that has made thee, and not thou thyself. O God, I am the work of thy hand.

I saw a meme this morning that said the best celebrations of Christmas are preceded by powerful tears of advent.

I think the thought is correct, if only needing to be unpacked a little, to help us explain, to help us grieve, to help us weep, to help us heal.

As we hear Peter’s strong words at the Last Supper, I hear them with my voice.  I hear me telling the Lord how I will not fail Him, how I will gladly even face death if that is what it takes.  Yet I find it harder to face life, to hear those crows as I fail, over and over again.

I won’t commit that sin again, I won’t fail to love, I won’t fail… and I do.

You do as well.

We do as de Sales indicates, we fail to see ourselves united to God, we fail to love Him with all we are, and we unite ourselves to sin.  We wander about, trying to satisfy our passionate desire, trying to convince ourselves that we are actually good enough, strong enough, holier than the next person, which should be enough.

We need to hear that rooster, we need to remember Jesus words, we need to remember we are the created, not the Creator.

For then, we prodigals can rush home, for we realize there is no other hope, and that all we desire, is found in the Lord who proved His faithfulness to us; even as we see the proof in the nail holes in His hands, and the gaping wide wound that reveals His heart.

So realize you will cry, you will fail, you will sin, and He will absolve, and forgive, and heal.

(and you might find such love will sustain you through the next temptation…)

Cry out, through those tears, and with confidence in His fidelity, “Lord, have mercy in me, a sinner…”  Then let Him draw you into His glory, where you will find healing and peace…

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

It’s Time to Stop Hiding Behind Our Sinful Nature


Discussion Thought of the Day:
22  I love God’s law with all my heart. 23  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.1  So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3  The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4  He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.  Romans 7:22-25, 8:1-4 (NLT)

4    Don’t say, “That’s the way I am—it’s my character.” It’s your lack of character. Esto vir!—Be a man!

125 Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.

“Pastor, I can’t help it, I am just a poor, poor sinner.”

That response is a conditioned response, it is what pastors and priests have taught people to say. It is the response to sin of a generation where the sacraments have been diminished.  Where absolution is not really heard and understood in the heart and the mind.

But what it does pick up on, is the law that convicts it, the passages that say, “no one is good”, “all have sinned”, and a focus that never is taken off of the doctrine of justification.  People have heard all about, they know what it is, well as far as we can’t save ourselves, we are dead in sin and God delivers us. But they don’t hear the so what – how this absolution, how this declaration that we are righteous changes our lives.

With on the “what”, people (and I include pastors and priests as people – we are really) will make the what the end of the story.  We still sin, God still forgives.  We aren’t perfect, we’re just forgiven, and people will turn that into permission to keep on sinning.

We believe that works can’t save us, we know that nothing we do merits salvation, and we stop (and encourage people to stop ) there.  That’s enough, trust in God and you will be saved people believe.

When we allow this, o what a great disserve we do!  It would be like telling a convict the charges against them are overturned, but not unlocking their cell door, not removing the handcuffs, nor giving them clothes that identified them as something other.  We have to share the complete gospel, all of the mercy, reveal to them the wonder of His love.

They’ve been not only declared righteous, but the Holy Spirit dwells in them, making them holy. sanctifying them, empowering them to live the baptized, repentant (transformed ) life.  Our people don’t need to live in secret, hiding behind their sin or their propensity to sin. They can be encouraged to live in the freedom that Christ has given them.

That is what the third quote, from the Lutheran Confessions, is telling us. That the Spirit creating life in our hearts, is creating the impulses to do that which isn’t sin, impulses to love God, impulses to love our neighbor, impulses to trust Him more and more, and because we trust Him we are driven to reach our and serve those around us, meeting needs from physical to emotional to spiritual.

This is how Paul, distraught over his sin, finally comes to the realization (and needed to remember it daily) that justified, we can set aside that sin, and follow the Spirit.  Does that mean we won’t sin on occasion?  No, but it changes what drives us, what impulses we want to follow -and as time goes by, as we explore the depth of God’s love revealed in Christ, those impulses bring us great joy.

This is what St. Josemaria talks about when he challenges us to be men, not those who hide behind the weakness of character, who justify sin by saying that is who they are.

It is a challenge to live life as God intended, walking with Him, focused on Him, but even when we fail, He has, He is the answer.  The Christian life is knowing this and living in light of it.

Heavenly Father, have mercy on us, your children!

AMEN!

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 177-178). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

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)

News That Will Knock Your Socks Off:


Sermon of the Day

News that Will Knock Your Socks Off

Isiah 52:7-10

I.H.S.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ knock your socks off, and may people exclaim the beauty of your feet as you share with the the Gospel!

One of “those”moments

In 2 Kings 6, there is a great story that illustrates the lesson found in Isaiah’s words today.

A King and His army are determined to capture Elisha and his servant, and his entire army, the infantry and chariots to a place called Dothan.  Elisha and the servant wake up, and the servant panics, as the place they are staying is completely surrounded by the bad king and all his minions.

The servant’s reaction, knowing the enemy is so large, so angry, so prepared is to cry out, “Master, we are doomed! What shall we do?”

Elisha’s response is simple, “don’t be afraid,” and then he prayed for the servant’s eyes to be opened and as God opened his eyes, he saw the Army of God surrounding the King and his forces, ready to pounce if need be. Interestingly enough, the prophet of God had mercy on the invasion force, and they would return home.

But can you imagine the servant, go from full-fledged panic to struggling with the change, knowing that God was with them?  Can you imagine the joy?  We don’t’ hear a response from him but maybe it was because he couldn’t speak….

For the beauty of the prophet’s words, this message that they weren’t alone, was overwhelming.

Such is the news Isaiah is describing when he says that those who bring the gospel have beautiful feet, In Hebrew it is not “hey – those are good looking feet….”  It is a jaw-dropping exclamation, beauty that leaves you nearly speechless, a joy of realizing that everything has changed.  It is that kind of message, so incredible, so beyond anything you could hope for,  it could knock your socks off!

It’s only good news if…

There is a problem with receiving good news, to seeing those beautiful feet that we need to realize.  We have to be ready for it.

In our reading from Isaiah, we see the watchmen, the city guards, standing on the wall.  They are at war, the enemy is threatening, they are about to be plundered, ransacked and robbed again.  The city itself is described in ruins in verse 9, as their Redeemer, their kinsman-redeemer arrives with all of His army.

The servant in Elisha’s story as well, he too was overwhelmed, thinking they were doomed, that there was no hope…

This is why good news is… well… good news. 

The gospel is the greatest news of all, those who bring it have beautiful feet because the level of hopeless that we have without it is beyond words.

Think about the damage that sin does to people, as it divides people from each other.  The damage that resentment and hatred does, as the unrighteousness of the world crushes is, as we become so defensive, so way of the pain that we isolate ourselves from those around us, fearing what they might do, or say or think.

But it is not only external sin and unrighteousness that affects us, our own sin eats us up from the inside, as it breeds guilt and shame.  This too isolates us, it turns our lives into the spiritual equivalent of Pompeii or Jericho,  Just a bunch of ruins and ash.

Heck, this can happen even to us, and we know how guilt and shame, resentment and hatred can affect us….we’ve seen it isolate us from others, convince us that everyone else in the world is against us.
Can you imagine how it would be if we didn’t have any hope?

The Lord Demonstrated His power…

Isaiah will then describe that hope we have, that hope which overcomes the loneliness, the hope that reminds us that we are not alone, that we can love again, that God will remove the guilt and shame and help us to know, we are loved, by Him.

Hear the words again.

The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem.

Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the Lord has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem.

10 The Lord has demonstrated his holy power before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God.

 This is what is amazing, no matter how bruised or battered by sin, no matter how isolated, God reaches into our lives. He comes to us, and even as we aren’t sure what will happen next, His very presence brings us comfort, it assures us we aren’t alone, that what we thought was a ruined life will be restored, made whole, made holy.

This is what the His holy power has done already, Isaiah looked forward to it, Mark and the apostles bore witness to it, they became the men with a message, because the power of God, the love and mercy of God was seen at the cross, and understood when Christ was revealed, and stood in their midst and comforted them with the words,

Be at peace!

That is what He is doing in our lives, in these moments, as we hear His promise of redeeming us, and the Holy Spirit brings us to the point where depending on the work of Christ is more important than justifying our sin, or defending ourselves from the sins of others.  It is realizing the incredible presence of the God who redeems us, who repairs our ruins, who gives us life.

That is why, despite an army massing against him, determined to capture and enslave him, Elisha was able to tell his servant, “don’t’ fear!”  and the apostles could live in a time of great persecution, knowing that the Lord who is with you is greater, far greater than anything we encounter in life.

This is the message that knocks our socks off as we hear it, which prepares us to go and bring the message to others, who will realize how beautiful our feet are, as we share God’s grace, His love and mercy, with them.  AMEN!

Revival and the Sacrament of Reconciliation


Devotional Thought fo the Day:
5  Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.    Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.   2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)

Since absolution or the power of the keys, which was instituted by Christ in the Gospel, is a consolation and help against sin and a bad conscience, confession and absolution should by no means be allowed to fall into disuse in the church, especially for the sake of timid consciences and for the sake of untrained young people who need to be examined and instructed in Christian doctrine

.126      You asked me to suggest a way for winning through in your daily struggles, and I replied: When you lay your soul open, say first of all what you wouldn’t like to be known. In this way the devil will always end up defeated. Lay your soul wide open, clearly and simply, so that the rays of God’s Love may reach and illuminate the last corner of it!

We used to refer to it as “Private Confession” in the Lutheran Church.  Theologically we refer to it as COnfessiona and Absolution, with the emphasis on the Absolution part.  The quote in green is from our confessions, where it is numbered among our sacraments, and in the minds of our forefathers, too great a treasure to forgo.

My brothers in the Roman Catholic church call this the Ministry of Reconciliation, and I have to admit I like that name as well.  It reminds us what forgiveness does, it makes things right, it applies the blood of Christ to our brokenness, it brings healing, much-needed healing to souls damaged by guilt, shame and resentment which comes along with our sin and rebellion,  It is the duty of the church, it is at the heart of its very mission, to  pronounce this news of God’s mercy, of His care.

It is what brings life back, this far too overlooked sacrament, this anxious moment where we trust God enough to lay our soul wide open.  It is then, as the Lord of Life, the Holy Spirit circumcises our heart with the power of God’s love, that all which hinders our life.

This is a ministry we all need, for we need the freedom that we find as Christ delivers us from sin and death, as He liberates us from the oppression that can so dominate our lives.

Luther makes it clear, that part of this ministry is too timid consciences, those that are unsure of God’s grace, those that are bruised and battered by their own lives, by their pasts, by the fear that they won’t be accepted by God, or by His people.  That is no different today, as people will  gradually talk to a pastor or priest, as if trying to see if the water is scalding or frigid, only to warm up and get to the heart of what troubles them.

They need our ministry, our time, out ears to hear their confessions, our mouths to say what they long to hear, our eyes and hearts to assure them that the forgiveness we speak, is not ours, but we speak it for Him.

Because this life-giving ministry was given to us.

To stand by their side, to encourage them to cry out to God, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!”

And to know that He has had mercy… and will walk by their side in life.

 

 

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 312). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 644-647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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