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Offended! Renewal or Revenge: I beg you…choose wisely

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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day

9 I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, 10 appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains. 11 Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him back to you as a part of myself. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place. 14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, 16 no longer as a •slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother. He is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 
17 So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self. Philemon 9-19 HCSB

187         Listen to me carefully and echo my words: Christianity is Love; getting to know God is a most positive experience; concern for others—the apostolate—is not an extra luxury, the task of a few. Now that you know this, fill yourself with joy, because your life has acquired a completely different meaning, and act in consequence.

Christianity is Love, or better said Jesus Christ is love.

In recent weeks, there have been some issues where people have been gravely hurt, situations in which they feel they have been offended, gravely offended.  Some of these things are sinful, even including some that are considered abominations,

Yet Christianity is love, St Josemaria reminds us.

Our mission, the mission of the church and everyone who is a part of her is found in loving others, to have the positive experience of being concerned for them.  This isn’t easy, this mission of ours.  It calls us to love the unlovable, to be concerned for the very people who hurt us, whom we pin the blame for our brokenness on, looking for someone to take the fall

Yet Christ is love.

This morning, my reading plan hit the book of Philemon, one of the greatest encouragements to love a neighbor found in scripture. Paul is encouraging Philemon to love more than the betrayal, to love more than he was sinned against, to love more than justice, in fact, this love flies in the face of civil justice.

Christ is love.  Imitate Him!

Paul so desires Philemon to love the escaped slave, he is willing to risk having Philemon disobey him, willing to risk a betrayal.  He so desires to teach Philemon about love, he is willing to sacrifice the one he wants Philemon to love.

The one who betrayed Philemon, the one who hurt him, stole his property, made him the object of ridicule.

Paul wants Philemon to love the most unlovable person in Philemon’s life.

And he is willing to risk everything to teach this important lesson, even as he encourages Philemon with just as much energy, reminding Philemon how much he is loved.  Even reminding Philemon how much mercy has blessed him.

Christ is Love!

This is our calling, this is our way of life, this is a level of joy when we find that in Christ we can love the unlovable when we can love the one who has betrayed us when we can show mercy even as we show mercy.

What a joy to do that which we cannot do on our own. To so depend on the power of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, who gives us the ability to do what we cannot.

Christ in us!  LOVE!

Take a moment, think of those who you would struggle to love, whether a famous person, or a family member or a neighbor.  Hear those who have loved you when you were unlovable, pointing you to Jesus, and pray that someone would do the same for those whose actions and words hurt you, bring them to the Lord who will renew their lives.
Lord have mercy on us…..all!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 997-1000). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where is the Church?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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

9  Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. 10  Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another. 11  Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion. 12  Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. 13  Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers. 14  Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse. 15  Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep. 16  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise. 17  If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. 18  Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Romans 12:9-18 (TEV)

Christian experience begins in the everyday world of communal experience. Today, the interior space in which Church is experienced is, for many, a foreign world. Nevertheless, this world continues to be a possibility, and it will be the task of religious education to open doors on the experiential space Church and to encourage people to take an interest in this kind of experience. When people share the same faith, when they pray, celebrate, rejoice, suffer, and live together, Church becomes “community” and thus a real living space that enables humanity to experience faith as a life-bringing force in daily life and in the crises of existence.

As a young believer, I watched the church betray and hurt people I loved.  I’ve seen it again recently, to more than one person.

It puts the words from Pope Benedict above in a different context, as he speaks of those for whom the experience of being the church is a foreign world.  We aren’t talking about those who are completely blinded to the gospel, we are talking about those who have had to seek refuge from the Church.

Why would the place described as the place where we “experience faith as a life bringing force in daily life and the crises of existence” be the place where such faith is snuffed?

Have we forgotten that the church is a body, that we are to have the same concern for everyone, weeping and laughing with them, That we are to try and live in peace with everyone? This is why we talk of church as a community, a communion, a fellowship.  Everyone is important, no one is to be silenced because they are drowned out by the crowd.

But how do we create this environment in the church?  How do train leaders to develop such a spirit, especially in a culture which promotes narcissism?  How do we do this in a culture which says we have to take care of things at home?

Pope benedict talks of the mission of religious education being to help people experience this – but how can they, if the church is more often seen as a cold and heartless place?

My answer may seem to simply, but it is the only one I’ve seen work.  That answer is to work on developing hearts full of devotion. This kind of church is not something naively discussed, but it occurs as God’s presence is revealed, and people adore Him, because of what His presence brings about, the lives of joy that His presence creates, strengthens, and sustain.

We find what people what we need, in the communion of saints, the communion that is fashioned by Jesus, and gathers and laughs and cries, as He laughs and cries with us… all as one.

This is where the church is, where it is experienced, where it goes and finds refuge from the world, and then brings others to experience that refuge.  AMEN

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.

Dealing with the Pain of Betrayal….

church at communion 2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

Now please forgive us the wrong that we, the servants of your father’s God, have done.” Joseph cried when he received this message.
18 Then his brothers themselves came and bowed down before him. “Here we are before you as your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid; I can’t put myself in the place of God. 20You plotted evil against me, but God turned it into good, in order to preserve the lives of many people who are alive today because of what happened. 21You have nothing to fear. I will take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them with kind words that touched their hearts.   Gen. 50:17-21

Consider, in particular, the sin of ingratitude towards God, which is a general sin, and extends itself over all the rest, making them infinitely more enormous. Consider, then, how many benefits God has bestowed on you, and how you have abused them, turning them against Him, to dishonour Him. And, in particular, how many inspirations you have made unprofitable. But above all, how many times you have received the sacraments, and where are the fruits of them? What is become of all those precious jewels, with which your dear Spouse adorned you? They have all been buried under your iniquities. With what preparation have you received them? Think on your ingratitude; that God having run so far after you, you have fled from Him to lose yourself.

Joseph forgiving his brothers is a great story of grace.  It is also, for one such as I am, very convicting. 

I have to admit that I am a hold a very advanced certification in resentment, and am accomplished at being merciless.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate grace, or struggle to depend on the grace of God that is demonstrated in my being counted righteous and forgiven.  I depend on that daily, and it provides hope for this sinner that I am.

I find myself likewise confronted by the parable of the debtor is forgiven millions and has a very definite style of collecting the $150 bucks owed him the very same day.

Do we have to grow into people that imitate Joseph? Can’t we just count on God’s mercy, even for our mercilessness? Does it not extend out that far?  Surely Jesus understands the pain of being betrayed, the agony of being hurt, the horrible hurt that comes as someone sinning against us.

After all, I am just a broken sinner, one He is healing gradually, how can I be expected to be the Messiah or one of the great faithful people in scripture?  How would I find the strength, the inner power to desire to be, and to become that merciful?

I think St Francis de Sales comes up with a reasonable explanation for our inability.  It is because we don’t take the time to consider God’s actions in our lives that deserve gratitude, from our Creation, Redemption and Sanctification to His daily present that waits for our prayers, to His revealing His presence through His word and sacraments and those we encounter, as we think somehow we are ministering to them.  When in reality, we are simply exploring the incredible dimensions of His love.

As we begin to appreciate the amazing love of God who comes to us, who picks us up and begins to heal our brokenness, as He invites us to dine with Him, and are welcome into His peace, that is when our resentment breaks, when the tears flow, when we look to Him and ask if these relationships, as dry as dry bones can live.

It is only in understanding that He has brought us back to life, that He is healing us, that He is making us whole, that we find ourselves allowing the resentment to slip away, our grip on the anger and pain to painful to keep up. Looking to Jesus – seeing His love, how His plan has blessed you, even the sin committed against you, leads resentment a burden to cold, too hard to bear into the light of His glory.

Devotion to God who loves you more than you can imagine, or hanging on to the pain?

As we come to Advent, as we find the need we have fro Christ’s presence, as we begin to desire more and more the peace and love He he has to share with us, may we desire to set aside those things that would drags us down, and with joy, may we hold out our hands for those who once betrayed us, to join us in the journey.

 

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

Wasting Time…

Devotional Thought of the Day.. err Night… well.. you know…
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. 4  For in your struggle against sin you have not yet had to resist to the point of being killed. 5  Have you forgotten the encouraging words which God speaks to you as his children? “My child, pay attention when the Lord corrects you, and do not be discouraged when he rebukes you. 6  Because the Lord corrects everyone he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a child.”
Hebrews 12:1-6 (TEV)

522      Even on those days when you seem to be wasting time, in the prose of the thousand details of the day there is more than enough poetry for you to feel that you are on the Cross: on a Cross, which no one notices.  (1)

In more than one way, I feel like I have been wasting time over the last few days.  Nothing has been accomplished, tasks at home and church are going on without completion, and to be honest, the place I am is one of pain, betrayal, incredible frustration and where I am witnessing the brokenness of humanity in ways I’ve never seen before.

It seems like I am wasting time, just waiting to get off a plane and hug my wife and son, and celebrate the Lord’s sacrifice for me, for those I love, including my birth family, my adopted family, my church family, and for all the world.  Sunday can’t come along fast enough, as we celebrate Christ’s sacrifice for us as we take and eat, and take and drink, the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the meantime there is this brokenness, both that I observe (tears, frustrations,) and the feeling like I am wasting time.

Even here, this is not death I am facing, it is not the shedding of blood, it is an incredible lesson in depending on God. It’s about fixing my eyes on Christ, about remembering His sacrifice, about realizing I have been united to that death, so that I can survive this life, even trying times such as these.  I am driven to the cross to avoid the despair, to avoid the discouragement, for there, standing before my Lord, contemplating His love, in awe adoring Him because of His mercy – there I find the poetry, the craftsmanship that leads me in peace. That poetry Josemaria notes is seen in lives that are broken and healing, in lives that likewise only can find peace there.

The poetry, the poiema of God (the word in Eph. 2:10 which guarantees this isn’t wasting time), healing brokenness.  That I can appreciate, in that I can find hope and peace,  comfort and even joy.   At the cross where He Bled – at the cross where we join Him, at the cross where all is made righteous.

Realizing that, many this LCMS convention is not as much wasting time as I think it is….

Still hurtful, still feel like I have been betrayed… yet God… is working – and that is enough for me to find rest in Him.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1980-1982). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faithfulness, Sex and our Relationship with God

 Treasuring God’s GiftsSAMSUNG

Means We Value Deep

Relationships, especially Marriage

Ex. 20:14, Eph 2:10. 5:27, Luke 10:25-28

In Jesus Name!

May you know well God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who brings mercy, love nad peace into your life!

Really – This Commandment is a Topic WE need to cover? 

When I started to write out the topics of this series of sermons, when I came to the 6th commandment, my first reaction is that this would be a fine sermon to hear Chris preach on, or perhaps Vicar Mark, or Vicar Albert.

Simply because talking about Adultery means touching on the subject of the three letter word that begins with S and ends with X.

For me, it is one of those topics I would rather not talk about, it is too personal, too intimate, and like many guys, I’d rather talk about anything else, especially in a group with both men and women in it.

Heck, it is a topic I don’t want to talk about with a group of women or a group of men.

But I think my reticence about discussing the topic gives me a hint towards why this commandment, about reserving that level of intimacy, both physical and psychological/spiritual aspects of the relationship, is worth a commandment.

It is because it is so intimate to a relationship, that God treasures it.

And therefore to diminish it, diminishes something God gave us to treasure…..

Because it teaches something about our life, about our relationship with God…..

Let me explain that some..

Why is this so important to God?
While no one will doubt the physical aspects the relationship between a man and a woman, those acts are by no means just physical.

There is a spiritual/psychological aspect to them, something that uses that word that sends shivers down most men’s spines….there is something ….

“Intimate”

Something that takes all of our walls down, that leaves us and our spouse as one, relating to each other, caring for each other.

It is that level of emotional and spiritual intimacy that God desires us to have with Him.  That’s why we heard Ephesians 5 tonight as well as chapter 2. That is why the Old Testament Books of Song of Solomon and Hosea talk of marital faithfulness and love as an example of God’s relationship with His people, and even the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife, as an example of Israel’s actions towards God.

A bitter betrayal, the deepest betrayal.

A depth of pain that goes beyond our ability to cope with…..

Yet a level of pain God has endured, as again and again He has picked Israel up from her wandering into idolatry…..

It’s hard to imagine God hurting as the couples I’ve had in my office have hurt.  It’s hard to realize that you or I could hurt the Creator of the universe, that a congregation, that a people could so devastate God by betraying His love.

But we can… and we do…..

We fail to love Him with our entire heart, our soul, our mind, when we trust in our idols the way we are supposed to trust Him.  Even when the idol we trust in is ourselves.  When what we are proudest of, what we are in awe of, isn’t the God who created us, who created this planet.

If how we love our neighbor reveals how we love God, as the apostle John writes in 1 John, how much more does how we treasure our spouse, our faithfulness tell us about our relationship with God?

A Relationship to Cherish, to Guard, to Teach

Hear again Paul’s words from Ephesians 5…

25  For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26  to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.

 If what we’ve been working through, that these 10 commandments actually are the Old Testament Beatitudes, the masterpiece of God that is how we, rescued from Satan are to live, then Jesus’s work to render us a “the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or blemish, makes incredible sense.
It is what Hosea did for his wife, the very model of it.  Even though her sins, like ours, are scarlet red.  It is the depth of Christ’s desire for a relationship with us, the emotional intimacy, the being unified as one.  Not sexually, but in ways that are just as deep.

He is faithful, even when we struggle.  Even when we take the great blessing He has given us, this great example of marriage, that God considers it the model of our special relationship with Him, and we see it trashed around us, and sometimes, in thought or word and deed, we trash it ourselves.  Or don’t speak up when we see it cheapened, and mocked.

God’s faithfulness extends even then, calling us back to our relationship with Him, healing us, restoring us, and yes, He can and has even restored the relationships, He can recreate us, revealing His masterpiece that is creating by uniting us to Jesus.

But it is there, where healing happens, where God ministers to us, Father, Son and Spirit.  It is there were marriages find their healing as well, and the example of faithfulness and yeah – intimacy.  It is there, in that relationship, that all relationships can find the peace that passes all understanding, that peace in which we find ourselves guarded and treasured by Jesus.

AMEN?

Getting Past Betrayal: Finding Healing for That Which You Broke.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 6  We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. 7  For a dead person has been absolved from sin. 8  If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. Romans 6:6-8 (NAB)

6  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin; 7  for he that hath died is justified from sin. 8  But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; Romans 6:6-8 (ASV) 

 18  For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. 19  In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, 20  who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. 21   This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22 (NAB)

613 God has a special right over us, his children: it is the right to our response to his love, in spite of our failings. This inescapable truth puts us under an obligation which we cannot shirk. But it also gives us complete confidence: we are instruments in the hands of God, instruments that he relies on every day. That is why, every day, we struggle to serve him.  (1)

In my devotions today, I read of Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the grief that he dealt with, in realizing that he betrayed the promise that was made with all his heart, in realizing he betrayed Jesus. 

How do you go on, after betraying someone you depend upon, someone you care for, someone you told you would die for?  Do we just let the relationship fade into our past, even while we deal with the haunting guilt and the shame?

It maybe a family member you betrayed, or maybe an old friend, that person who you stood beside all those years.  Definitely, all of us have betrayed God, some perhaps as tragically as Peter did, the night before Christ’s crucifixion. At some point in most of our lives, we’ve cried those same tears as Peter.  We felt the pain and crushing anxiety of knowing that things will not be the same, ever again.  In order to deal with this, we find distractions, new relationships, new hobbies, we work more, even things that would numb us from our pain.

We need hope, even when we feel things have gone beyond any reasonable expectation of hope.

Peter found such hope, and restoration, a complete transformation.  Paul did as well.

Most translations in Romans 6:7 use the phrase “freed from sin” in translating dedikaiwtai apo tes amartias. I believe that this is a serious error, given the use of the root word’s ( dikaios ) multiple appearance in chapters 3-5. There it in its various forms is translated as righteious, made righteous, just or justified.  It is more than being freed, it is God’s judgment, saying that you have been counted not guilty, that He views you as righteous, a view that is possible because Christ took upon Himself our guilt.  This is more than just being freed from sin, it is declaring that sin has no claim on us, whatsoever.

The old ASV gets it right in saying we are declared justified, the NAB I think even makes it clearer with absolved from sin.  We are cleansed and declared righteous, just, because of what. God has done.

In both passages, this answer is our baptism. Baptism, not as our work, but the appeal to God because we’ve been unifed to Christ’s death and resurrection.  When we look at what God does, what He promises in baptism, we find the source of healing, of cleansing.  We’ve died with Christ and live in Him.  We have been absolved, counted righteous, cleansed, healed…

And it does something wonderful, it shapes us into God’s instruments, Our response to this work is to become God’s people, created to do good works, for we dwell in Christ.

How does Peter go from tears just before dawn on Good Friday, to the one who responds to others grief at their own betrayal of God?   How can Peter point them to Baptism, and the transformation of their souls?

Because of the confidence that dieing with Christ, and being raised with Him brings.  A confidence not in our ability to absolve us from sin, but His.

So rejoice in your baptism, may you grow in your knowledge of the extent of His love, mercy and healing given to you there.  

 

Persecution, Martyrdom, the Love of Christ…. and a hard lesson in prayer

Crucifix

Crucifix (Photo credit: LeChinchi)

 11  They have triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word to which they bore witness, because even in the face of death they did not cling to life. Revelation 12:11 (NJB)

 43  ‘You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbour and hate your enemy. 44  But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;  Matthew 5:43-44 (NJB)

 23  Do you think I enjoy seeing evil people die?” asks the Sovereign LORD. “No, I would rather see them repent and live. Ezekiel 18:23 (TEV)

The news again has horrible stories of terrorism in the headlines.  The situation in the Kenyan mall, and the two churches in Pakistan that were hit by suicide bombers.

This time, the targets weren’t just political – but they were specifically religious. They were after my brothers and sisters in Christ.   And there are new entries to the list of martyrs that extends through the centuries, and is growing day by day.

I want to be mad, I want to think about how to get revenge, whether its the President or some other official pushing a button and the merciless terrorists being zapped like vermin.

Yet I hear the words of my sermon yesterday, the quote from St Paul to a young pastor echoing in my mind, “I urge you – pray for ALL men, ask God to help them, intercede for them, and give thanks for them….”

Uhm God, is there an exception clause for this?   Can we strike out terrorists of body, and those who terrorize the soul?

My mind cries out that I can’t love them, that it is illogical and stupid and asking for more pain to forgive them.

Gosh I dislike that passage in Matthew 5.

This week I preach on that passage from Revelation 12, and iti s in my mind as well – how much do we cling to life?  Why do we do anything and everything to avoid death?  We don’t like to talk about it, we spend billions on hiding it and our aging (growing toward it) in our culture… and we hate anyone or anything that threatens it.   The Blood of Christ?  Sure  – we know and talk of that, our testimony about the Logos – the Word of God – Jesus?  yes definitely!

But… death?  Especially the death caused because of our witness to Christ?  You see that is what a martyr is – one who testifies in view of death.  And will embrace it because of that truth.

That is where I find the grace to even thik about praying for terrrorists, to hear the words, “pray for all people” and to know it includes those who encourage suicide bombers, shooters and others who are so full of sin and hatred that this is the answer they look for in life.

And then I remember those words from Ezekiel, those words that point to Jesus on the cross so clearly… for there we saw the truth of it.

God wouldn’t take pleasure in the deaths of terrorists, or those who indoctrinate or teach them.   Not for a second.  Anymore than He takes pleasure in any death, for at one time, we were all enemies.. and still Jesus died… we’ve sinneds, murfering people in our hearts, just as surely as others have done it physically.

And He loves us and pursues us and calls us… and prayerfully we hear and realize He forgives us and marks us as His.

This is perhaps the hardest and most blessed truth…. God loves and died for the terrorists as much as He did for the martyrs…..and weeps over the deaths of all.

Now… in this day – you have had some who’ve irritated you, you’ve had those people and those moments were you were just pissed off, you may have been betrayed, even brutally so…

So read those verses again – think through them… and ask God to touch those who’ve done you wrong…even as you rejoice in His bringing you back to Him.

And when its hard…to do this… cry Lord Have Mercy!

 

 

 

 

Choose Life, Be a Disciple, Show Kindness to….

I Appeal to You… Show Kindness to….

Philemon 1-21

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

As you learn of the grace of God our Father, the love and mercy poured out with the blood of Christ… may you show the same kindness towards those who also don’t deserve it…and find the glory therein…

 

The Appeal…

In each of the readings this morning, there is a challenge, a request of the people of God to choose to continue to be the people of God. To commit themselves into God’s hands, into His care…to be His disciples.

Moses asks them to choose life, to choose to embrace the God who delivered them from Egypt, and to love Him and treasure His commands.

Jesus will ask us to be true disciples, to set everything else in life aside, and love life that knows the cost of walking with Him, and chooses to do so, knowing the price.

I think both of those challenges are one’s we need to, as a church, answer this morning.  But the challenge in Philemon takes it from being a theological issue, to being downright personal.  It will question our heart, our devotion to Christ, the very core of our faith.   We will be challenged to minister with great love and patience, to those who’ve betrayed us…to those who have, and who can hurt us.

In other words – discipleship means trusting in Christ when it hurts…and when it terrifies us…

And as Paul challenged Philemon, I quote those words to you….”I appeal to you, show kindness to….(fill In the blank)”  Only you know the name that goes there….. The phrase means to come alongside and render aid and support.  It is the very word of the Holy Spirit.

 

Like Paul wrote – this isn’t a matter of command, but a matter of love… Christ’s love.

 

The Problem of Pain….
This would be an easy task, except for the problem of pain and the anxiety it causes.  None of us, once hurt, can easily choose to risk that pain again.  Even if we no it is what we should do, we cannot bring ourselves to, we struggle to embrace what we know is right and good, because it will hurt, and maybe hurt worse. Between the pain and the anxiety we can almost become paralyzed, and we need others encouragement, others to minister to us.

Because what Paul called Philemon to do, what Jesus calls us to do, is risky, and we are not sure of whether the risk is worth it. After all – what kind of heroes does God think we are?

The anxiety gets worse, when we realize that others are watching – and what we do might be criticized for the precedent that we set – or we will be judged as fools.   Philemon was supposed to make Onesimus a example – branding him, beating him, even killing him.  Revenge and an example to others were supposed to be poured out in great wrath.  Paul asks Philemon not just to put aside the pain of the betrayal and the theft, but the continued questioning and judgment of the community.

It’s going to take a church to pull around Philemon and His wife.  Archippus the pastor will need to build a consensus…and get the church to pull around Philemon and His wife, should they attempt this…

 

Even then, can Paul or God really expect us to put away our pain?  To trust this much?  To Risk this all?  Does God really know what He is asking Paul to ask Philemon?  Does God really mean for us to hear this and act likewise?

The Road of Discipleship

 

That’s the challenge of discipleship, where being a living sacrifice, where bearing one’s cross is an incredible challenge.  Where some people will walk away…and think they can wait for another day.

But those days, spent living in resentment, in building up anger, in not dealing with the problem, that isn’t really living either. Living in the fear, and the anxiety and pain…even re-living the betrayals…

Paul sees the ability, sees Philemon trying to be the man God would desire him to be, and knows this next step is critical – even more for Philemon than it is for Onesmus.

For Paul has been in Onesimus place… he saw the awe and joy in the face of those who he had betrayed.  It was the first thing he saw… as a new believer.

What Paul experienced….

 

Remember, Paul was tasked with arresting and persecuting and killing those who were followers of Jesus.  Luke records the story in chapter 9 of Acts, where Paul is blinded by his encounter with Christ and His glory – and Annanias is tasked with being the one to come to Paul and minister to him.  He too doubted, here are his words,

11  The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12  I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.” 13  “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14  And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” 15  But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16  And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Acts 9:11-16 (NLT)

 

As Ananias prays for Saul/Paul, Paul is healed – and will begin to preach, and the people are amazed at the power of God to transform someone. Despite the Old Testament being chock full of such stories, they never seem to lose their power.  The one written off, given the freedom of forgiveness from those they threatened and betrayed, are changed. How Ananias’s faith in God’s work must have soared!  How the people who trusted in Christ rejoiced!

You want to see God’s power at work?  Trust in Him enough to free those indebted to you, believe in His promises, delivered in word and sacrament to forgive those who trespass against you.

Hear God’s appeal to love your neighbor, hear Paul’s encouragement to Philemon to not just not punish Onesimus, but to free him from all debt, to set him free from both the civil law that condemns and the spiritual debt of sin which utterly condemns.

but How?

I am asking each of us, me included, to do that which the world would shake their heads at… that they would count us as idiots, suckers and worse.  On God’s behalf…

“I appeal to you, show kindness to… “  Show love and mercy.

And here is how… realize that you are being prayed for – and pray for those around you, ask God’s help for you and others, as we go to God for the strength to do this.

Remember Paul’s words early in this letter,

I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good (things) we have in Christ.

That is the key, fully coming to know the grace of Christ we have had poured over us.  The forgiveness and mercy and love and peace poured over us when we are baptized, nourishing us as we feast with Him together as the people of God.  The transformation, literally the metamorphosis that is occurring within us, as we spend time with Jesus, exploring His righteousness, His love, demonstrated in Christ Jesus.

It’s then, as He is at work in us, that the joy of knowing His powerful love, strengthens us to do these very things.  Focusing on His work – on the One who loved enough to die on the cross – for people who betrayed Him, who will betray Him again… to know that is us.. and yet He loves and forgives..

To hear. I appeal to you… show kindness to…

And we can… knowing His kindness..knowing His love… His unsurpassable peace in which He guards us…we learn to love as Philemon did.  AMEN

A Deacon’s Sermon on Philemon

One of the great blessings I have is to work with deacons and vicars (student pastors) who grow in their ability to share the cross of Christ and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I love working with them over the Bible text, and helping them develop their sermons.

This sermon is by one of those guys,  Deacon Michael Grobelch, a man willing to sacrifice time with family and his home church to serve alongside of me, going out to fill in as needed when pastors are unable to. This one will challenge you, and how you react to the love of God…

May the meditation of our hearts and the words of my mouth be acceptable to you O Lord, My Rock and my Redeemer! Amen!

Think back to your wedding day, the apple of you eye stands across from you and becomes your spouse, and you heart fills with unspeakable joy and happiness. Then one day you find out that the one you love, that you trust; betrays you by sleeping with someone else. Your anger reaches biblical proportions; you want to strike out at the cause of you humiliation and your pain. You feel betrayed, stabbed in the back; the bond of trust is broken; never being able to reach that level ever again.

You and your spouse enter counseling and after a period of time, after much prayer, and after many sessions with your pastor; he says to you: You need at take your spouse back; to forgive them; to love them once more.

Every fiber of your being screams out “No, I’ll never do that!” You tell him that “You don’t know what you are asking me to do; God doesn’t know what He is asking me to do”! He doesn’t understand what it means to be betrayed.

God doesn’t understand what it is like to be betrayed? Really?

What about where Judas betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver; the man who for the last three years had been his friend; his mentor, his teacher; and for a few paltry dollars gives up the Creator.

Or what about when Peter, St. Peter, denies Jesus three times, before the rooster crows. Peter abandoned Him, and acted as if He was some common criminal.

Or what about you and I, we betray God each and every time we sin; we go against His will. Every day we betray Jesus, we mock him just like the soldiers did; only we do it in more subtle ways or so we think. Every time we have an impure thought, either when we look at a woman on the street (us guys) or when we read those romance novels and let our imagination run wild (you ladies) we betray God and the order that He has set.

We betray God when we gossip about the plans the church leadership has in place or we gossip against the leaders themselves. God has put these leaders in authority over you and over me and we are obligated to follow as long as they  do not stray from the Word of God. Yet we still rebel like little children when we don’t get our way; we threaten to go home with our bat and ball and be done with the whole mess. Yet God has called each and every one of us here for a reason a purpose.

So how could God call on us to take back that cheating spouse; to try and rebuild those bonds of trust that were broken with a single act? God does know about betrayal and He certainly know about the intense feelings that are the result of being betrayed for He Himself was betrayed her on earth.

I think God’s purpose in sending Onesimus back to Philemon was twofold. The first was to restore Onesimus to his proper place – Onesimus was a runaway slave who broke the bond of trust with Philemon when we ran away. By going back, Onesimus could be beaten, stoned, or even killed for his actions. Certainly he would be disciplined and not enjoy the freedoms that he had previously enjoyed. It would be a very long time before Philemon would fully trust him again; there would be the lingering doubt, that little cloud that was always there. It may be months, or even years until Philemon fully trusts Onesimus again. I think we all can relate to those feelings and misgivings that after our earlier example.

That is why I think God’s main purpose is sending Onesimus back is so much for Onesimus’ benefit as it was for more for Philemon’s benefit.

Let’s look at this in a little more detail: when you are betrayed the raw emotions that you experience are, in a word intense. They are so intense that we sometimes lose all perspective and this is where crimes of passion are committed. When this occurs, all of the checks and balances God has put in place are in a moment, thrown out – they are no longer part of the equation and we do or say a thing we’d normally not even contemplate and that compounds the problem of the initial betrayal. Know both sides become emotionally distraught and the problem becomes worse.

God wants Philemon and Onesimus to reconcile with one another; to begin the process of forgiveness; to begin the process of healing. Don’t get me wrong, this process is going to take a while. Some of us hold grudges, and allow that bitter poison to consume us and turn us into something we don’t like or even recognize. But if we are confronted with our sin, and we are confronted with those we hurt, and we see the width and breadth of the damage we caused to the one we loved; we can begin the process of healing; we can begin the process of forgiveness. We find ourselves at the foot of the cross, looking up at the damage our sin has caused to Jesus; and He says I did this for you, even though you betrayed Me. I forgive you, I paid your debt, I paid you bill; what I have is yours. That is what Paul is trying to do with Philemon and Onesimus; he is trying to get them to acknowledge their sin and to begin the process of healing and the process of forgiveness for we know that we need to forgive others as God has forgiven us. We are lifted up out of the morass of sin and the bitterness that it causes and God  brings us into His presence and He brings us to His Table where our sins are forgiven; and they are removed from us as far as the East is from the West. We have become co-heirs with Jesus; we are made new again; and we are able to experience the peace of God, the peace that surpasses all understanding; the calmness of body, mind, and soul. Where God heals us, and cares for us. This is what Paul want for both Philemon and or Onesimus, we wants them in the fold, working towards a common goal; to work for God’s plan and not their own designs. He wants them to be at peace, to begin to heal, to begin to forgive and ultimately, to place each other in the hand of God, as equals, as workers in the kingdom, as brothers in Christ until the time that God comes again.

In the name of the father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How to Deal with Enemies, Adversaries, and Antagonists

We all have them – the people that drive us bonkers, or cause anxiety in our lives, or simply rob us of Christ’s peace.

It may be the politician in the town who wants to restrict what you can do in your own backyard, or the policies of state and federal folk that endanger your livelihood, or even  want to encourage immorality (as if it needed it)
Our enemies may be a neighbor or a relative, or one we counted as a friend.  It might be even someone in your church body, or even closer, a member of your congregation.  Someone who you aren’t sure whether it was intentional or not, but someone who betrayed you, or hurt you,  the pain of which makes you want to cry out for revenge.

Been their done,  that, bear the scars, or at least I think I do.

The writers of the scripture, especially David and the other psalmists  knew pain well, they were threatened.  They knew enemies and adversaries well – not just the kind we deal with in America today – but those who would kill the body as well as try to kill the soul. Their answer to such people was simple – turn them over to God – let Him deal out justice.

Such is Psalm 140,  where the psalmist cries for the LORD (All capitals means it is His name – not His title)  to rescue Him from them – to keep him from the hands of the wicked.  He calls out for justice for those who are wicked – but if you look at it – that which is called out for is that they don’t succeed in their desires, that they plans are foiled, but for what purpose?

Consider Ezekiel’s take on the wicked (by definition – our enemies and adversaries are… aren’t they?)

3:18 If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Ezekiel 3:18 (ESV)

and

23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?   Ezekiel 18:22-23 (ESV)

If God puts blocks in the way of their schemes, their actions, if He, as promised saves us from the snares of the evil one ( and his minions) then isn’t it possible, even probable, knowing the heart of God, that in their frustration they might determine that they  plans for evil, God will redeem and use for good?  If they grasp that, then they too will be granted repentance, even as we were.  They they will come ot know God’s peace?

In praying that God rescue us, could that rescue be accomplished by making these people His children?  To trust in God for this – yeah – that’s a level of faith we need to cry out that in His mercy – we find ourselves able to trust in Him.

Lord, may we learn to pray, as our forefathers did, that You turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries toward you…

And then may we, having seen your mercy.. your heart, your love.. rejoice.

 

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