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Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

No Man is an Island. Neither is the Church.

f68f6ad20bfbc6d47f4c6aab419b44e6e2044849510c043d7b02e848674b9064_1Devotional thought for the day:

5 Then the LORD said to me, 6“Haven’t I the right to do with you people of Israel what the potter did with the clay? You are in my hands just like clay in the potter’s hands. 7If at any time I say that I am going to uproot, break down, or destroy any nation or kingdom, 8but then that nation turns from its evil, I will not do what I said I would. 9On the other hand, if I say that I am going to plant or build up any nation or kingdom, 10but then that nation disobeys me and does evil, I will not do what I said I would. 11Now then, tell the people of Judah and of Jerusalem that I am making plans against them and getting ready to punish them. Tell them to stop living sinful lives—to change their ways and the things they are doing.  Jeremiah 18:5-11 TEV

9 I wrote you in my earlier letter not to associate with those who sin sexually. 10 But I did not mean you should not associate with those of this world who sin sexually, or with the greedy, or robbers, or those who worship idols. To get away from them you would have to leave this world. 11 I am writing to tell you that you must not associate with those who call themselves believers in Christ but who sin sexually, or are greedy, or worship idols, or abuse others with words, or get drunk, or cheat people. Do not even eat with people like that.
12–13 It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the church. God will judge them. But you must judge the people who are part of the church. The Scripture says, “You must get rid of the evil person among you.”  1 Corinthians 5:9-13  NCV

Our goal is not to form islands of peace in the midst of a disintegrated society but to educate people with the ability to transform this society. Therefore, “fruits and results.”

I often hear people misquoting the Book of the Revelation (often mispronounced revelations) advising people to withdraw from society, to come out of Babylon as if somehow they could live a life separate from their neighbors, their family, and friends who do not know that they can depend on God.

Some Christian schools started with that purpose, and there are Christian groups to offer an option to joining secular fraternal organizations like the Boy Scouts, Lions, or Elks.  There are now even coffee shops on church campuses, that some people use so they don’t have to go to that evil Starbucks and grab their venti triple cappuccino with fancy whipped cream and pumpkin froth.

It is as if we want to form special communities within communities, just for those who are good and pure and holy.  It is as we need to create safe islands for believers so that they are not tempted to sin the rest of the evil world.

Will we recognize the gospel there in the midst of Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God will welcome anyone back?  Not just any person, but any people group, any nation.  What a blessed hope!  What an incredible promise!

Will we recognize the wisdom that inspired Paul to make sure we understood that it was sin among the people of God that concerned him, not the sins of the world?  That we aren’t to avoid interaction with normal sinners, but rather to deal with those in the church that struggle with sin first.  Those others, yes they need to be saved, far more than they need us judging them.

Will we hear Pope Francis plea, not to segregate ourselves, withdraw to our own safe places? Rather, as the Holy Spirit works within us, to educate people to have the ability to transform society, to share the hope and peace found in Jesus which will do that very thing.

We have to have more trust in God than we fear the world’s sin.  We have to have more confidence in His love and care than anxiety about somehow being separated from the love of God ( AN impossibility Dontcha know!)

With our eyes focused on Jesus, we need to go to the same places he did.  To those broken by sin, to those blinded by greed, to those who do not understand that God loves them.  To those who are broken, just like we’ve been broken.  We’ve got to invite them into our homes, our churches, into the place of peace and healing we find as we dwell in GOd.

This is who we are in Christ. people’s who work and message is one of reconciling people to God, and therefore to another.   We can’t do that from pristine protected islands where we pretend all is perfect.

So go out there, live and help someone know that God loves them. AMEN!

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

The Priceless Blessing We Cannot Afford to Neglect…

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional thought of the Day:

23  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23 (NLT)

26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1) 

The intercessor is a worshipper who has understood the deepest feelings of God and clings to them, despite contrary appearances.

In prayer, our flesh, identified with the Word made flesh and moved by the Spirit, longs for the Father. This is the mystery that unfolds in prayer and that promises us a unique communion with the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son.
He takes our flesh and we receive his Spirit.

I am sitting in my office, as I do most Saturdays.  My primary task is finalizing my sermon, the two Bible studies I teach tomorrow.  As I do, there is another task I do… on that can be heartbreaking at times.

It is receiving the prayers that people drop into mention, that text or message me or email me about.  They want to make sure they are included in the bulletin for our people to pray about, or if more confidential, that I will include them in my private prayers. 

This morning has been no different, in fact, one could say “business” has been a bit brisker than normal.  A military person going to Korea, another beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend dealing with diabetes and other health concerns, people with family problems, people looking for a new home, people with family struggles.  There are a lot of people we pray for, an act often called intercession, or petitioning God on their behalf.  Or more simply – we ask God to bless them and care for them in their situation.  That includes praying for healing, for strengthening their trust and dependence on Him, which will give them hope.  Mostly that they would see God acting in their lives. 

This is prayer, this is, in a very real way, communing with God.  Or as the Lutheran confessions (in green) call it, a sacramental time.  Pope Franci echoes this sentiment when he calls it the mystery that is unfolded and revealed, a time of intimate communion, a time where we understand the deepest feelings of God and cling to them.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s sermon, this hits home strong.  Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, he sends the crowds away, and he heads in to the hills to be alone, to pray.  Specifically, the word for prayer is the word for petition.  He has to talk wiht the Father about the people he encountered, He has to bring them into the relaitonship He has with the Father because they matter to both of them!

Add to this the action of the Holy Spirit, seen in the passage from Romans. This incredible thought that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well, praying when we are too overwhelmed when we cannot find the words when we can’t find the words or thoughts to pray.  It is then that the Spirit is definitely interceding with and for us, with words that are inaudible, because the Spirit’s groans,, the Spirit’s pleading is beyond expression. 

That is how much the Spirit cares, how much the Spirit is in touch with our needs, with the needs of those we love, and those they love.

Prayer isn’t some empty time of waiting for an appeal to be heard and decided.  It isn’t a time to do out of a sense of obligation, either to God or to those who ask.

It is the time we have been given to walk with God, to see His heart, to realize His love for them is even deeper than ours.  THat He cares more for those we intercede for than He does for flowers and birds, and if he cares for them and makes them beautiful bow much more for us is He active, then we can relax, we can be at peace.

Such is this priceless gift of prayer, our time with God. And like the other sacramental times, we need to slow it down hear his voice. To let Him comfort our tears, to let Him still our anxious hearts, to help us realize He is with us….even when we don’t know what to pray.

He is with us…

If that is all prayer did,, was make us aware of that, it would be worth it.

Yet to realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us, pleading for us, praying with us….. how that helps us… how incredible, how much more does it help us understand the heart of our incredible God who loves us!

Be at peace, the Lord is with you!

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

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.

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.

Take the Time and Pray… the Difference is Noticable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

2  The message given to our ancestors by the angels was shown to be true, and those who did not follow it or obey it received the punishment they deserved. 3  How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation? The Lord himself first announced this salvation, and those who heard him proved to us that it is true. Hebrews 2:2-3 (TEV)

The first “work” of the priest is to be a believer and to be so always anew and always more deeply. Faith is never present as a matter of course; it must be lived. It leads us into a conversation with God that includes both speaking and hearing. Faith and prayer belong inseparably together. The time a priest spends in prayer and in hearing the word of God is never at the expense of his pastoral duties to the souls confided to his care. People can tell if the words and actions of their pastor have their origin in his prayer or only at his writing table.

As a young pastor, working p/t as a hospice chaplain, and part-time at a community college teaching computer science, I often got caught in a trap, as time was limited.  The demands of caring for my people, studying the scriptures and prayer often became what was cut out, sacrificed to the tyranny of the urgent.

I could justify this, and often hear others do this today.  The challenge is communicating that my need for time in prayer is not because I am holier, or more pious. For I know some will dismiss my advice to make time with God a priority because of such concern.  My denomination has its periods where being pious turned into extreme pietism, so those who advocate prayer and other spiritual disciplines are often treated with suspicion. 

That doesn’t change the fact we need to be communicating with God, we need to set up a regular time to give to God numerous burdens, our pains, our sins, and to listen to Him, as He shares His love, and the promises that flow from that love.  We can’t continue to carry those burdens on our own, they will crush   We need to hear Him say, I am here, don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious.  We need His comfort, for His words and sacraments to nourish and strengthen us, even as they cleanse us from sin.   If we don’t pray, if we don’t spend time listening to God, then our faith, stimulated at the “writing table” shows that we’ve neglected that which we’ve been saved and delivered into, the presence of God.

This isn’t a “pray because you have to, that’s what good Christians do”, this is a pray because you need it, you need to know God is present, listening, guiding, and comforting as we live in this challenge messed up world.

But when we come from such times, of seeing God repair our brokenness, when we hear Him whisper gently as He did to Elijah; then our ministry is not just dry and academic. After such times of intimacy with God, our words become deeply spiritual as well as wise, as our faith is tenable, real, and easily passed on to those we are called to care for, those we are called to serve.

My dear friends, whether you are pastors or priests, Sunday School teachers, elders, those who assist in facilitating the church’s praise and worship, it doesn’t matter your role as part of God’s family.

You need to pray….

And let others know how it helps you, as we struggle through this world so that they will do so, and be able to rest in the love of God.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

An Invitation to Restful Peace… on Monday will you come?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29 Accept my teachings and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit, and you will find rest for your lives. 30 The burden that I ask you to accept is easy; the load I give you to carry is light.”   Matthew 11:28-30 CEV

853      Use this prescription for your life: “I don’t remember that I exist. I don’t think of my own affairs, because there is no time left.” Work and service!

Don’t stop reading this post after the next paragraph. Keep going, it will be worth it.

The word submission has taken on a very negative tone in the last few decades.  Especially the idea of submitting to God, to allowing Jesus to be the Lord of your life.  I could give twenty or thirty examples of why, including the fact that some people abuse the idea of submitting to God, in order to get people to submit to them.    Men have done this to get women to submit, parents have done this to get children to submit, some in government, and even in church leadership want their people to submit.

But they don’t understand what submission is, they don’t get the paradox.  And they don’t understand that submission isn’t about wielding authority and controlling others, it is about freeing them from things that shouldn’t bind them, that shouldn’t oppress them, that shouldn’t such life and joy from them.

Instead, this paradox of submission is about freeing them to live life, to know God’s love, to experience peace.

You see this in Jesus words above in red, quoted from Matthew’s gospel.  Submitting to God means giving Him all the things that wear you down, that stress you out, that cause anxiety.  The things that burden us, that tire us out.  The stuff that leaves us exhausted, because they are out of our control.  Jesus would have us submit our lives, where we get so fixated on our life that we don’t ever really live it.

Worry’s about family, friends finances, health or eve facing death.

Guilt and shame from past sins we struggle with daily.

Resentment and anger from those sins that have been committed against us,

All this stuff Jesus asks us to give to Him, to submit to His care.  He would free us from these concerns of life.  Which is why St Josemaria talks the way he does, saying I don’t remember that I exist, I am not concerned with my own affairs, I am free to just live, to do and to serve others.

Biblical submission is not about recognizing someone’s authority over you, it is not about becoming their robot.  It is about realizing God’s care for you, HIs love, and allowing Him to do what He has promised.  It is about trusting Him, depending upon Him, knowing that He cares.

And living in the freedom of not worrying about, not hyper-focusing upon those things we cannot change.

But instead to live in peace… unexplainable, glorious, restful peace.

Even on Monday!



Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3021-3023). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Key to Prayer…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought fo the Day:

19 This, then, is how we will know that we belong to the truth; this is how we will be confident in God’s presence. 20If our conscience condemns us, we know that God is greater than our conscience and that he knows everything. 21And so, my dear friends, if our conscience does not condemn us, we have courage in God’s presence. 22We receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23What he commands is that we believe in his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as Christ commanded us. 24Those who obey God’s commands live in union with God and God lives in union with them. And because of the Spirit that God has given us we know that God lives in union with us.  1 John 3:19-24

386      You lack faith… and you lack love. Were it not so you would go immediately and much more often to Jesus, asking for this thing and that. Don’t delay any further; call out to him and you will hear Christ speaking to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just as when he stopped for that poor blind man by the roadside who continued to insist, without giving up. 

To write on prayer is challenging.

In the first place, it is too personal, especially when considering St Josemaria’s words about pleading for this thing or that.  Personal becomes I have, and sometimes been disappointed.  It is also too personal, because some of the things I would ask, are well personal.  Lord, help me with this temptation, Lord, help me with this that causes anxiety and fear to rise up within me.  Not a lot of personal examples would I want to give,

The second reason is that there are two extremes when it comes to prayer.  The first is those who express what is often mocked as “name it – claim it” theology.  These are those who say you should pray like Jabez, and God will bless you with all forms of materialism, perfect families, perfect jobs, perfect health and absolute heaven on earth.  The other extreme confronts this so callously that you would almost think they believe God doesn’t listen to any prayer, that God doesn’t care for His people here.

But there are passages, the blind man that St Josemaria points out, the unjust judge, the father who doesn’t give his son a stone or a viper, but gives him what is asked.  The passages where Jesus invites us to cast all our cares on Him, all our burdens, where He tells us to ask and it will be given.  God wants us to pray, including asking Him to care for us, but I think there is something more that we need to understand.  If we don’t, then God is reduced to being a Genie in a bottle.  ( I think sometimes we think we have to save up for those really big things, so we don’t give him the everyday stuff)

Here is the key, faith and love, the very things that unite us to God, the very things that bind us to Him.  That is where prayer comes from, this close connection, this committed relationship.  It is knowing we are loved and loving back, it is in knowing that God is faithful, trustworthy, completely dependable because He desires what it good for us. Prayer is realizing that in Him we live and breathe and have our very being, so this communication is only natural.

This allows the prayer to come out of the depths, the places in our hearts, soul, and mind where we fear to go. Prayer comes from the place that so needs His peace, to know He is our sanctuary, our deliverance. This is the astonishing depth of prayer, and it shows our trust in the love of God who has come to us and given us life.

It is there that “Lord, have mercy” is simple and yet comprehensive prayer to the one who has brought us into union with Himself, for we are His children.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1511-1515). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Brother to Brother…..one glorious hope!

church at communion 2Discussion Thought of the Day:
3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.    Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Where man is no longer believed to be under God’s protection, to have God’s breath in him, then people begin to assess him from a utilitarian point of view. Then there appears the barbarity that tramples on human dignity.  (1)

Twenty-one years ago, an album containing the music of two masters was put together, one singing the lead of the other’s composition, both playing the instruments and blending their voices together.  They went on tour together, and while I would love to see many people in concert, to see Michael Card and John Michael Talbot together, would be one of my dreams.  

The album was called Brother to Brother, and it was playing in the background when I came across the words of Pope Ratzinger in my devotional reading this morning.  The lead song, One Faith,  comes from another favorite album, JMT’s The Regathering, which finds its inspiration in the words above from Ephesians 4.  It pictures the regathering of all the saints, into the perfect communion that is Christ Jesus.  As I look out on a broken world and the one holy, catholic (small c means all of us) apostolic and sadly fractured church, that day seems so precious, so wonderful and so far away.

It is the prayer and desire of Jesus fulfilled, that we truly be one, even as the Father and He are one.

And we see the glimpse of it in Pope Benedict’s (Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) above in blue.  When we realize that every man is under God’s protection, every man has God’s breath in them, we can no longer view them as anything utilitarian.  We cannot hang generalizations, we cannot define them by affiliation or hang demographic labels on them.  Even the labels adversary and enemy fade away, along with fears and anxieties, as we see Christ in them, and therefore find someone who is loved, even as we are loved.  Someone Jesus is calling to, even as he calls to us.

Pope Benedict went on to say, We must always look upon other men as persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy. We must see them as persons with whom we are called to be members of the body of Christ, with whom we shall one day sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the table of Jesus Christ, as persons called to be our brothers or sisters, and to be, with us, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God.”

This isn’t easy.  It means we must trust and depend on God more than our fears, our anxieties, our resentments.  it requires seeing the individual as more than important than those things.  The only way to do that is to see the heart of God, the Lord who gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed for all on the cross, and then unify all He calls in a meal where He shares His body and blood again.

Including those that don’t understand yet, for we are called to love them, and invite them to this feast…..We won’t conquer our fears, we won’t willingly become martyrs if necessary if we don’t see them loved by God, even as He loves us.

Lord have mercy on us sinners, and help us to see that You died for each and every individual.  AMEN!

(1)  Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness! A Sermon on Micah 6

church at communion 2Epiphany! I Have Revealed My Faithfulness

Micah 6:1-8

 I.H.S. † 

 May you rejoice today, as you consider the promises of God, made to you and to all people, as He teaches us about His faithfulness!

All Rise… the court is in session:

In today’s sermon, we see an interesting civil court case, one that has some very interesting testimony and a wonderful surprise or two…

Like many civil trials, there is a complaint, and sort of a counter-complaint.

The adversaries are talking about who has kept their part of the deal, and what that means.

The trial is not what you would normally expect, for Man and God going to trial.  It is not one where man is on trial, to see whether a man is guilty or innocent.  Nor is it a trial as someone tries assert that the evidence given to mankind demands a verdict, that God exists.

It is more like a case for what they used to call an “alienation of affection,”

Man’s complaint

The trial opens with God inviting mankind to state their case against Him.  What promises did God make, where in the covenant did God fail? Our carefully planned out points of complaint are seen on the next slide. (Blank)

Yes, there they are….

Now you might be saying that there are plenty of things I can complain about.  The existence of heart diseases, cancer, poverty, hunger, and the lack of peace seem to come right to mind.

Remember, the case is about the alienation of affection.  Did God break his promises to Israel.  Did God break His promises to us.

And there is little evidence that He did, no, there is no evidence he did.

His surprising complaint

We then get to God’s complaint.

It’s then the case becomes clear, for He doesn’t shred us (or Israel) for our sin, for all the disrespect we show to authority, and pain we’ve caused to others lives.  He doesn’t go after us for adultery, or what we’ve taken from others, for our gossip or our jealousy and what it causes us to do.

Instead, hear God’s complaint….

“O my people, what have I done to you?  What have I done to make you tired of me!”

Really?  Of all the things that God could complain of, He complains that we’ve grown tired of Him?

Really?

That sounds… weak?  wimpy?  Like God is a lovestruck teenager, whose girlfriend was stolen by the class president/football team captain?

“What have I done to make you tired of me?”

Could God really be that in love with us?  Does He desire to call us “His” that much?
Epiphany reveals to us that he loves us that much.

Not just infatuation, but pure desire, pure love, and His work proves it.

And His case is.. What?

God will go on to make a case, that there is no reason for us to be alienated from Him, there is no reason to deny Him the affection he so longs for.

Remember the rescue from Egypt?

What about the time that prophet was paid to curse you and blessed you instead?  Do you remember that?

Do you remember me?…..

Do you do something to remember me?

God tells them what He’s done, as he says, in the midst of your rebellion, from the Acacia Grove to Gilgal’s caves, I did everything to teach you about my faithfulness.

God wanted to instill in Israel the idea that He’s not giving up on them.  He wanted them, just like He wants us, to count on Him, to count on Him in the way that a God is supposed to be counted on by His people, by His beloved children.

That’s a challenge for us, to know this love, which is why we have to remember, to see it again over and over.  TO think back daily on God proving that faithfulness as He cleansed us from all sin.   TO think about it as God calls us to remember the Body broken, the wine that was spilled so that we could be with Him, now and for eternity.

That’s why God doesn’t need all the sacrifices, that’s why we don’t have the blood of calves and rams and more oil than you can count.

That’s not what He’s after, He doesn’t want complete submission and surrender, and lives spent in trying to pay back the cost of all we’ve broken.

God wants our affection, our presence, our love.

And in Epiphany we celebrate Him revealed that to us, as Christ comes to love us.

Micah 6:8

Which brings us to that final verse, as God tells us what is good… and what He wants from us.

TO do what is right – or to put it another way, to live in this relationship where He is our God, and we are His people. To love His cHesed, to know that loving kindness/mercy/love, that loyalty, and faithfulness He has for us, and to walk with Him, realizing what it means to be His beloved.

Those things, we don’t tire of, those things will cause us to be in such awe, those things will draw us into His glory and love.

No, they have done those things – for we are in Epiphany, the season celebrating His presence among us, and our presence in Him.   AMEN!

 

 

May the Lord Lead Your Hearts

church at communion 2May the Lord Lead Your Hearts
2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

†  I.H.S.

 May the grace, that incredible gift of God’s love, mercy and peace, lead you to share His message in a way that it spreads, and where it is heard and rejoiced in by all you share it with!

Rescue From Wicked People?

This week has been, to be honest, very trying.  My patience hasn’t been all that strong, neither has been my endurance.

It has been challenging, mostly because I wonder if we truly understand the love of God, and how He works in our lives.

I would love to say the election was the cause of it, but I think it only revealed what was hidden, as many of us identified those we thought we needed to be freed, or delivered from; the people Paul asked the Thessalonian people to pray he would be delivered from,

Those wicked, evil people who are not believers.

We think we know what that means; we probably have various people in mind.  Until I remind you that the word belief here is as often translated faith. So, the people we are talking about are those who do not have faith, who do not trust in God.  People who do not depend on Him.

Uhm – is this too close to home for you?  It is for me.

Because while I will easily say I believe in God, it is another thing to ask me whether I trust Him, or whether I truly depend on him.

Especially this week, as I have watched some of my closest friends call each other, and the people we are supposed to love and pray for, well, we haven’t done that this well in America.

Rather, we identified them as the enemy, because we don’t understand how they are different from us… until we realize they are “us.”

When it came to us

Paul is making a similar plea here in verse 1.

He wrote, “Pray that the Lord’s message will be spread and honored wherever it goes, just as when it came to you!”

Which leads to a question – is the Lord’s message being spread and by us?

Or has that taken a back seat as our anxieties, and our fears about what other anxious people will do dominate us?

Is God’s message spread and glorified among us still?

Surely it can, yet there are moments where we gossip about our neighbors or fail to put things, as Luther explained, in the best construction. That’s not easy to do, it sometimes takes time, to sit with them and find out their fears, their concerns, their pains, and positions.

It takes communication, and we often damage the opportunity for it.

Can we return to the joy that we had when God’s message of grace we understood with our hearts, souls, minds and strength for the first time?

Can we see the message of God honored again, as it did when we first heard it?  And then can we dare spread it to those, who like us, find themselves broken in this world?

Can we do as Paul was confident the Saints then would, doing and continuing to do that which he taught us to do?

How we do and continue to do what God commissioned

The answer is, yes.

Yes, even though we sin, we can still be restored, the awe at the love of God can be found again.  It was why we remember our baptisms, where sin, all our sin, was washed away by God’s command, because of our connection to Jesus and His death and resurrection. To restore that joy of our salvation is why we gather here, to remember and reveal again the love of God through the words of scripture, and through sermons like this.

It is why we come to the rail, and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ as we take and eat, as we remember the words of Jesus that established the covenant, as we are renewed by the gifts He gives us here.

We need this, all of us, from every demographic you can think of, from every political persuasion, we need to be refocused, revived, delivered and saved from the evil.  That happens one way,

Hear again the blessing of Paul,

May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.

There it Is, there is what we need, this incredible love of God, revealed to us.  Then trusting in Him, depending upon Him to save us, to strengthen us and guard us against evil becomes our nature.  Doing and continuing to do what we’ve been taught through scripture becomes not only our action; but our desire. This all happens because God leads us, leads our hearts into understanding and expressing His love for us.  That love, as it is revealed, causes us to trust in Him, to depend on Him, no matter what else happens.

For knowing how much he loves us, that is beyond anything.  What that loves is everything, it is glorious, and wonderful, joyful and enables us to endure anything.

We’ll even realize how many people that word “us” contains, and knowing that will cause this love, this message of God to spread rapidly, and be honored and glorified.

For it contains us all, for God so loved us all, and we all need to for Him to lead our hearts into a full understanding and expression of His love.

Here, he is doing that exact thing… may we realize it.  AMEN!

 

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