Devotional Thought of the Day:
21 After all the people had been baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened, 22† and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.” Luke 3:21-22 GNT
16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:16 (TEV)
7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. Acts 20:7 (NLT2)
10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” 11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:10-11 (NLT2)
Moreover, the people are instructed often and with great diligence concerning the holy sacrament, why it was instituted, and how it is to be used (namely, as a comfort for terrified consciences) in order that the people may be drawn to the Communion and Mass. The people are also given instruction about other false teachings concerning the sacrament.
There are several communion services in my life that will always come to mind. One of those had its sixth anniversary this week, as I remember a dozen, maybe a dozen and a half missionaries gathering in Macao one afternoon.
Another was my first Sunday in my journey
It started with hearing the elder say these simple words to people. Bod said, “take and drink, the blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin.” He said it with such confidence, such faith that each word hammered into the hardness of our hearts. I don’t remember anything else, save for one thing, as these words of God were heard, not just
The other thing I noticed was the body language of the people. People I knew from the community, people dealing with more brokenness (I would learn) than I could ever suspect. They approached the altar, hunched over, unable to look up, the burdens of the world, and their own sin so oppressing them. And then, as they received the body of Jesus on their tongues, as they drank from the chalice or the little cups, their bodies changed. They relaxed, the stern reverence was replaced with smiles that were filled with peace, and joy.
I know no other way to explain it, except to say they encountered Christ. They were overwhelmed by His presence, His mercy, His love. And when they sang the traditional Nunc Dimittis after communion, they like Simeon, knew God’s salvation. Not as theology, not as some fact, but something that resonated with every beat of their heart.
That joy allowed them to leave the brokenness behind, it allowed them to be free of what oppressed them. One of my professors would later describe this using the word “incarnational” not restricting the incarnation to an event in the Judean hills 2000 years ago but seeing it happen here. This is what the early Lutherans meant by the sacrament comforting their frightened consciences.
And each of the sacraments does this, baptism, the Eucharist, Confession and Absolution, as we participate, as we share in life with Jesus, who brought us to life in HIs resurrection.
This can’t be adequately explained, even by the best of theologians. The sacraments aren’t something that man has the power to research, to “objectively observe.” But they bring about a healing of our souls, as the promises of God become true for us, as the love of God, in all its measureless dimensions, is revealed, As we are transformed, and that is revealed as well, the glory of God reflecting from us, as it did from
Come, let us adore Him, for the Lord is with us. AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). Article 24 of the Augsburg Confession: The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 56). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
The devotional thought of the day:
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,
” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 1 Corinthians 12:14-21 (NLT)
666 You insist on doing your own thing, and so your work is barren. Obey: be docile. Each cog in a machine must be put in its place. If not, the machine stops, or the parts get damaged. It will surely not produce anything, or if it does, then very little. In the same way, a man or a woman outside his or her proper field of action, will be more of a hindrance than an instrument of apostolate.
A long time ago, as I was working at a major university and preparing to leave for my first pastoral position, the president of the university gave me some advice on leadership in ministry.
He told me that among the people I want on my leadership team would be those who opposed me. That the best ideas and advice would come from them, and often, they would stop me from shooting myself in the foot.
This runs a bit contrary to what most management and consultant types will tell you. They will say you want all the people pushing on the same side of the box, sharing the same vision, people who have all bought into the plans.
And while this can be helpful in management or in ministry, you also need that person who will question you, who will keep you humble, who will be there, faithful to the church, faithful enough to say when you’ve messed up.
Of course, you may find this a challenge, having people around who oppose you is never easy. Loving them and caring for them may be difficult, but they are part of the Body of Christ, they are a necessary cog in the machine, and if you would see it, they are a blessing from God.
We can’t just do our own thing, we can’t always get our own way, often we don’t have the knowledge or the wisdom that together are needed to make things work. If we try to be, getting rid of the people that don’t conform to our system, we are the one who is hindering the apostolate, the mission of the church.
So next time someone gets on your nerves, the next time they question your idea, take a breath, thank God for their presence in your life, and consider what they say.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2450-2454). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. Galatians 2:20-21 (NLT)
513 The secret of being effective, at root, lies in your piety, a sincere piety. This way you will pass the whole day with Him.
It seems like almost daily I get e-mails from well meaning people, who want to help pastors to become more effective. They define effectiveness differently, and often talk of different aspects of ministry. Some on discipleship, some on outreach, some of being more pure in doctrine. Many are willing to be consultants, put one seminars, even become coaches of those who serve the church.
Some of these people have great experience in ministry and rely on their experience. Some have studied it from a distance, and teach and coach based on observing others effective ministries. They all have god ideas, some work better in this place, rather than that place. It is good to have their ideas available, but it takes wisdom born of prayer to know which might work, and when to shift from this idea to that.
But effectiveness as a servant of God, in whatever role, is found apart from methodologies, strategies, and even experiences. For even as Christians are not clones of each other, but are gifted and driven by the Spirit as the Spirit desires, so are churches. Some are great at evangelism, some are great at being resource centers, some are great at ministering to those that don’t feel at home in a church, who need very tender care.
Because they are different, because we are different, the same rules, programs, processes, worship styles don’t work in the same places.
What is needed in every place? Piety, or what I prefer to define simple as “walking with Jesus” or “walking in Christ”. Piety is simply the practice of realize our lives are focused in Christ, they are not lived some how distant from God, and this is a good thing. We need Him!
He is there.
With His grace, His wisdom, His love, His comfort, and yes, He shepherds us. We learn of His heart, and we are transformed into Him image according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 3. The transformation results in working in the ministry of reconciliation, just as presenting our bodies as living sacrifices results in the Holy Spirit using us in certain roles to minister to each other in Romans 12, and receiving the Lords Supper resolves into a similar discussion in 1 Corinthians 12-13.
Walking with God, Abiding in Christ, or even more clearly, the passage from Romans above – it is Christ that is living in us as we trust in His promises, in His work; there is the key to effectiveness, success, and even survival, whether as a church of 20, or one of 2000. Each different, each not just being directed by God as if we are soldering in Afghanistan receiving orders from the Pentagon and White house. Rather we are directed here, where we live, for we live and breath with Christ. There is where effectiveness occurs, there is where there is peace and joy, even in the midst of trauma, tribulation and even real persecution.
Walk with Him… talk, listen, love.. and see where He leads.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1949-1950). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Sermon from Concordia Lutheran Church
march 30, 2014
What Child is This?
The One Who Causes Blind to See, And to Reveal Others are Blind
May you rejoice as the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ opens your eyes to His presence and the restoration of brokenness!
So much talk about sin and its effects!
The gospel reading this morning is one of the longest we have all year, more than half the length of an average sermon.
it reminds me of the Old Testament Book of Job, but not because of the length, it shares the same quality that the Book of Job does, as we look at the discussions that take place. Discussions that are fascinating, discussions that touch on different theological and philosophical questions. Discussions that offer little comfort, peace, that are pretty much blind.
But discussions, at the end of it, are blind to the presence of God in the flesh, and blind to the work that Jesus would do. They don’t lead them to the truth, they don’t change their actions, they simply to seek to look back,
It would be like wondering what was responsible for an earthquake, and not bothering to get under a desk, or in a doorway!
Seriously, they while the discussions were going on, incredible things were going on, right there in front of them…..
God, revealed among them, and as we pray in the Kyrie he was helping, saving, comforting, and defending them… even as He does us.
So let’s look at the discussions, and what they missed….. (click)
Question 1 – who’s responsible for this brokenness
The passage opens up, with a discussion of his committed followers, which they bring to him to answer.
2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
We are well into the gospels at this point, they had heard Jesus’s testimony that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that the Messiah would bring healing to the blind and to the broken hearted, and their question is about what is the root cause of the blindness?
They could have asked Jesus if he would have healed him. Or perhaps asked Jesus to heal him. They could have asked how they could have helped.
But instead they treat him like a …. Object? A Thing to be discussed and a lesson in theology and philosophy.
They don’t see the man, and they certainly don’t see the reason that Jesus will lay out before them,
Answer: Jesus heals the brokenness
3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
There isn’t a day when I wish such work of God could be done here, that people who have devastating physical issues, couldn’t all be healed, that they couldn’t all be restored. It would be dangerous to take from this passage the idea that God is only glorified in the physical healing of a person. We’ll see why in the second discussion.
What I want us to see in this, is not the miracle of a healing, for something greater is about to happen. Something that will affect the man more deeply, more powerfully.
We need to see though, that Jesus saw the man, the man in great need, and responded.
The disciples didn’t, they hadn’t learned that lesson yet, but Peter would, when Jesus tells him three times to feed my sheep, and when he and John take time to heal the man begging at the Temple’s gates.
CLICK Discussion lesson number one, Jesus saw the man, not the sin that hinders him.
When we are dealing with people who are broken, as we were, it doesn’t matter how they were broken, whose sin has broken them, or even what the sin was.
It matters that the person was one whom God desired to minister to, to bring them into the kind of transformation where sin could not hinder him from living. To bring him to the realization that He was God’s child, and NOTHING could separate him from God’s love, revealed in Christ.
Which brings us to the second part of the conversation….the meeting of the Pharisees…
Discussion 2 – how can Jesus do anything about this?
The progress of the discussion went something like this.
A major disagreement about whether Jesus could do such a miracle. Some say it’s impossible, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, others are in shock, and can’t explain it… because how does a ordinary man do such things.
The mind works in odd ways, and rather than finding themselves in God’s presence, they decide they don’t have the right information…..so they call in the Blind man…
“We don’t believe you are the blind man.” “Yes, I am,” He responds.
Drats – they were hoping that maybe it was a temporary condition, and reversed itself. So they call in the parents….
“We don’t believe your son was born blind….”
“Yes, he was, but we don’t know what happened to him,” they say in timid, anxious voices, knowing what the Pharisees don’t want to hear….
ARRGGGHHH – get the young man back in….
And they ask his opinion, as if the opinion of a man who never looked at a night sky, at seen trees and looked into the eyes of those he loved, would say something to detract from the miracle that happened to him…. “Simple, He is from God!” And so they boot him out of the community.
While the first discussion didn’t see the man, the second didn’t see the God who would claim the man as his own, as one of His people. They couldn’t see God’s love for this man, this one they discounted as the sinner. CLICK
Discussion lesson #2 – Don’t miss that God wants to do something in every person’s life. To make himself known to them as real, as loving, as merciful, as their Lord, Savior, Father, Friend, Advocate….
You see, the goal of the interaction wasn’t just to heal the man of His physical ailments. Remember Jesus’ earlier answer?
3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
For to see a man healed of being blind is amazing, miraculous, just as many of Jesus miracles left people stunned, Yet, something more miraculous happens. Jesus doesn’t just leave the man with his physical sight….
He establishes a relationship! The man hears something, that talked of eternity, about the restoration of the people of God. For in revealing that He is the Son of Man, Jesus reveals that the people of God will be made whole, not some time in the future, but soon, and that Jesus is the long awaited one who will fulfilled the promises revealed in Ezekiel.
Jesus reveals He is the Son of Man the one who knows God’s heart, so clearly revealed in Ezekiel, (CLICK)
21 Suppose wicked people stop sinning and start obeying my laws and doing right. They won’t be put to death. 22 All their sins will be forgiven, and they will live because they did right. 23 I, the LORD God, don’t like to see wicked people die. I enjoy seeing them turn from their sins and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (CEV)
Jesus is revealing that it is time for God to make His people, His again, for them to realize that He will be their God, forever. He will raise them, even as the prophesy at the Valley of Dry Bones, or the chapter before, where God promises to wash us, to replace our hearts of stones, with hearts of flesh, to send His Spirit to live inside of us…
Such a revelation, to this man who simply realized that Jesus was from God. That is what is glorious, God coming to this man, God revealing Himself to Him.
When others couldn’t see the simple truth, the truth that they claimed expertise, but overlooked the heart of God who would come to the broken and restore them.
Glorious – that God would come to man, that He would assure them of His love, His faithfulness. It’s not about who was the sinner, or whether man can heal on Sunday, its’ about the love of God for His people, revealed in Christ. That is why we ask what child is this? And why we know and trust in Him…..
That would bring His people, broken and abandoned, that would bring us into His peace. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, the peace of God that you are brought into and kept, by Jesus the Christ.
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NLT)
189 The way Jesus called the first twelve could not have been simpler: “Come and follow me.” Since you are always looking for excuses not to keep on with your task, there is one consideration that fits you like a glove: the human knowledge of those first apostles was very poor, and yet what an impact they made on those who listened to them! Never forget this: it is He who continues to do the work through each one of us.
It’s that time of year when children return to school. Some can’t wait, some want to squeeze every moment of freedom that they can into these last days of summer.
The first few weeks, it is about gearing up, about getting back to the task of learning. Teachers will review basics, because some of the kids will know the material, some will recall it with some help, and some, well you think they never heard that 2 + 2 = 4 (or 5) before.
We are like that in church. We know we know who Jesus is, we know what the cross is about. We might even remember some of the more philosophical stuff, like the communication of magesterial attributes, or the balance of objective and subjective justification, and why it’s important to know all those “church words”.
But it is good, its even necessary to go back and sit in awe at the basics. For unlike math, or vocabulary, the basics of our faith are still lessons we need to learn, that we dare not leave to flash-card time repetitive memory. We can’t just simply flash back quickly the knowledge, as if we are a human version of google. Unlike many academic subjects, the depth of our faith, the critical application points are given at the very beginning. A little more explanation. In math you learn the basic functions, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. The you learn algebra and geometry (a great class to learn how to shoot pool) trig and calculus. At each level you can do more, applying the lessons learned before hand to do more and more. Each level builds the next level. And as you advance, you can do bigger and better things, for yourself, and indeed for humanity.
Christian learning is different. The core of our faith – what truly makes the difference, is learned first! Everything else we learn supports that, and strengthens that. If we learn deeply the Old Testament Theology regarding the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Supper – that is great and it will bring us great joy. But the basics – His body broken for you, His blood shed for you…. that is the priceless part. That is what makes the difference.
Which brings us to today’s passage. is work, from our being delivered, to the very thing that God, not us
Normally, we talk about the first 2 verses – the one’s that talk about salvation. We neglect the last – which is the basis for how we live in our relationship to Christ. St. Josemaria has it so accurate – the great words that the apostles did were done by the blue collar guys, the enlisted men types. Which is why the educated theologians of the day had so much trouble with Jesus. He didn’t pick the Ph.D.’s and the D.Min’s, he picked the guys that might be able to grasp new member classes and maybe a deacon class or two. The core of our knowledge is the what makes the greatest difference. It is that God is doing the work, that it is His strength, His wisdom, His power, and indeed His glory that He shares with us.
The greatest thing I can do as a pastor is not write the next Systematic Theology Trilogy, a replacement for the works of Pieper, or Chemnitz or Augustine or Aquinas. The greatest thing I can do..(or technically that God does through me) is to pour water over the head of someone… and say the words “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Or say, “Take and Eat, this is the Body of Christ!” as I place a piece of bread in the hand, or on the tongue of a person…or share with them about the most blessed day in history and the execution of a simple carpenter who would by dying destroy death. The same for you, the greatest thing you can do in this life… is share that Jesus loves me… this I know……(you can finish the song..)
Go for all the knowledge you can… but never ever forget that what matters… is the stuff that you learned at the beginning… and that 6 billion people need to know it as well!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1004-1008). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
We dare not look at a passage like Eph 2:10 above without taking the time to see what it says to us, what it assures us of, and how it reveals God working in our lives. It’s all H
- Worthy of Salvation? (fruitbearersoutreachministry.wordpress.com)
- Is your life of faith a struggle? Yes? Great!!!!!! (justifiedandsinner.com)
- When All Seems Meaningless…. (justifiedandsinner.com)
- What does Jesus “require” of His followers? (justifiedandsinner.com)
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NLT)
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. (1)
Within Christianity, there are two opinions about ministry. The division occurs in nearly every denomination, it doesn’t matter whether you are Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, non-denom, Anglican/
There are those that believe ministry is the domain of the those who are trained professionals, that are set apart to be ministers. This isn’t a theological issue, really, but one where we take the concepts of the world and interpose them on church. It also reduces ministry to what goes on between 9-11:58 on Sundays, and maybe 6-8:30 on Wednesday evenings. Ministry is more than the message delivered, more than the music sung.
The other view is that which is seen above in the quote from Ephesians, and the quote from Josemaria Escriva. This puts ministry into all our hands, into every moment of our lives. It is as much the parent, lovingly disciplining a child, a co-worker, taking time to pray with a stressed out friend, a person sacrificing their place in line at the market, so a hurried mom can get her milk and get her children home, a couple, donating their furniture to the Salvation Army, rather than selling it at a yard sale, priori to moving; as it is the pastor proclaiming Christ crucified.
I used Ephesians this morning for a reason, some say it is translated badly – that somehow it is the clergy ministry to train people, and that ministry itself is what builds up the body of Christ. But look at the part I italicised – it says the exact opposite – that each of us has our own special work, each has our own vocation of service – and it is when we are all “at work” serving each other and our neighbors, it is then the church works. It is then, Josemaria would say – that our life has a completely different meaning – and a real consequence.
Josemaria Escriva makes another point, that we need to consider. Simply put, such ministry is begins, it is generated and empowered by the love of God. It’s not about be commanded to do this – the compelling nature of service comes from God commissioning us, ordaining us, sanctifying us (if you don’t know these church words – simply put – God sets the appointments we have to serve others) to serve. It is a matter of love, not obedience.
So you are a minister. You are the beloved of God whom He has set into the world with a special purpose. To love people by serving them. When you do, the joy will be immense ( as may be the pain)
What are you waiting for – turn off your monitor and go love people as Christ did… for that is the way we serve….
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 997-1000). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Churches that are full of sinners… can be a great blessing to you! (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Some Advice for Surviving Mondays at Work (justifiedandsinner.com)
- The Problem with Leadership… (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Is your life of faith a struggle? Yes? Great!!!!!! (justifiedandsinner.com)
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
This can only mean that whenever you eat this bread or drink of this cup, you are proclaiming that the Lord has died for you, and you will do that until he comes again. So that, whoever eats the bread or drinks the wine without due thought is making himself like one of those who allowed the Lord to be put to death without discerning who he was. 1 Corinthians 11:26 (Phillips NT)
If you don’t keep in touch with Christ in prayer and in the bread, how can you make him known to others? (1)
Though I have been in churches of many denominations and brotherhoods, the three I have spent the most time in, have had something in Common. The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion, or my preference, the Eucharist.
To be honest, it is something that I took for granted far too often. The Eucharist was something that when I was younger I thought was a spiritual “fill-up”, an opportunity to refocus, a chance to be reminded of God’s promises, a chance to remember His grace covering my sin, as surely as His blood was poured out on the ground.
You might be saying, well Pastor Dt, that’ what it is all about – isn’t it? That moment of refreshing, a weekly “mountain top” experience, a break and rest from the norm, and a break from the sin which haunts them. A chance to really realize what holiness is about…
As we think about what the Eucharist results in, we slowly lose sight about it is… the Body of Christ, given for us; the Blood of Christ, shed for us…
It is not just about knowing God’s love – it is time with Him. A time for His to comfort and cleanse and help us explore with Him the height and depth, breadth and width of His love, and the Father’s love. A time not just where we are reminded of His covenant and its promises, but where He, Himself, reminds us of that promise – most specifically His loving presence. That we are His family, called to dinner with Him as the Host…
That is why Paul can say we proclaim His death – it is ours, we who are untied to Him in His death and resurrection (our re-birth) It is time with Him in that moment beyond time, that foretaste of the feast that will be thrown when we all have come home. We proclaim it – not just for our benefit – but that others would join us at this incredible moment, in this incredible time with Him…celebrating out union…our being the beloved. It is from there, from that depth of intimacy with Christ, that knowing Him and being known by Him, that the kerygma – the desire to introduce others to Him springs forth.
Not from duty…
But from the passion He has for us, the unbelievable love He has for us….
And we know who we are introducing people to, not just a way to “be saved”, but the God, the incredible, majestic, glorious God who loves them, Who gives them life… and brings them into His glory.
It is where we find the answer to our plea… Lord have mercy…. and know He does that in a way beyond expression… and it is He, even more than us, the is joyous in the reunion.
Godspeed us all to this realization.
Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 396-397). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition
- Will we trust what God has revealed? Or must we explain (and know) more than that? (justifiedandsinner.com)
Gung Ho! Serving All Together
1 Cor 12:12-31
† In Jesus Name †
May you know, intimately and deepy, the gifts of God, the mercy and love and peace that works within you as you love those whose lives you have a share in!
The USMC – and Gung Ho!
My father served in our military, in the exclusive branch known as the United States Marine Corps. He was a corpsman, which is basically a doctor’s assistant in the field of battle – but trained to do what he could to save men’s lives until they could be taken to the doctors, many miles behind the field of battle.
Growing up – and hearing the stories, not of battle – but of the spirit and teamwork of the USMC often, I heard two phrases that are the mottos, the slogans of the USMC. Neither is English, but they are phrases they have taken from the places they have served. They express things that take many words in English – and even then are vague. The first is in Latin, Semper Fi – it means always faithful, always dedicated, always willing to sacrifice, that others may be safe, and protected. The other my dad had no knowledge of the origin of. But it turns out to be from China, from the Marines who served hear before World War II. I would imagine it is very badly mispronounced – but it at the heart of this attitude of the Corps.
In Americanese – it is said this way – Gung Ho…
I don’t know if the USMC got the word right, or even the concept. But the concept they attached to this word is critical to them. From the way my father described it – it means to strive together – to work with everything everyone has, to achieve their goal. Each person using their skills where they are at – but also helping each other to do their best as well. It is the idea at the heart of the USMC – and it is the reason they are the most successful of the four parts of our military. It is not about who is strong, or who is weak – it is about the unit, the entire team.
It is a phrase I think – with our “meaning” ascribed to it, that would be most appropriate for a Christian community.
Our Independent Spirit
Not God’s plan! It is impossible/sin
That is a challenge in America today- where everyone is encouraged to do what is best – not for the community but for themselves. Independence is perceived as a virtue – and to lose that dependence and depend on others is seen as a weakness.
It is perhaps our greatest weakness, as those with more abilities are encouraged not to help – but to push on, ignoring those around them with different abilities. God’s call to love your neighbors – the people you interact with regularly, as you love yourself is pretty much ignored – in order that you might be successful – or achieve wealth or popularity or material things.
Perhaps that challenge is here in this society as well? The idea that one should focus on climbing the ladder of success – no matter who you have to step on to achieve that next step?
That is not the way God describes His people, His community functioning. As Paul says, that is like the foot hating that he isn’t a hand, or the ear not happy and leaving the body unless it can do the work of the ear! Surely God has chosen were each of us fit – yet no one is more important than the rest. Some of the most important – are the parts – like the heart and brain, that are never seen- but provide the very life for the rest of the body!
Indeed – such self-centeredness – what sociologists term narcissism, is the basic description of sin. To chose to love myself more than others, to choose to see myself as valuable, more valuable than the others… that is sin.
An example – I have the most visible role in my church – or perhaps I should say the most audible. I am the one up front all the time – it is my job to speak. But there are others, like Wanda and Kay, that keep everything moving in our church – especially Wanda! She is like the heart which beats – sending God’s love in every direction. Then there are the brains, Al and Jim and Bob, Manny and Tom and my other leaders – who help decide how best to meet the needs of all. However, each has their role – but what would happen if one decided to take all of the roles?
Such is sin, pure and simple.
And it is one – it should function as one, it should live as one.
We are the Body of Christ – joined to Him means joined together! Gung Ho – each with His different talents/abilities/charisms – charisms being the term for the special gifts – that define each part of the body.
To be united to him means that every barrier is broken down, that we understand every person is part – and not that parts aren’t important, but that they are at their most important, as they interact within the community.
When Christ reconciles us to God our Father, it is not just an individual thing, He reconciles humanity to Himself, all born of water and spirit. In reconciling us to Himself – we find ourselves reconciled to each other. We truly become one body – united in Christ. United in His love, which Paul will discuss in the next chapter- united in His, perfection.
That is the power of the cross – the place Paul described this way:
12 For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death. 13 You were at one time spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were Gentiles without the Law. But God has now brought you to life with Christ. God forgave us all our sins; 14 he canceled the unfavorable record of our debts with its binding rules and did away with it completely by nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:12-14 (TEV)
Think this through – if God nailed sin – all of the debts owed because of it it, to the cross. If there Christ wiped the slate clean, and cancelled our debts…. Then what is left to divide us from each other?
That person that irritated you, even if it was intentional (as you are certain it was) – that sin is gone – the damage it did healed. That thing you did, that has been haunting you for years, that too is forgiven. All of those debts, all of those problems, all of that junk – was nailed to the cross with Christ….
Done away with….
You are free…you are a new creation, a part of the body of Jesus Christ.
As are those around you who have been freed, brought into His new life, cleansed, and loved….
We are free….together!
That is how the body of Christ, His people, can be one – with nothing dividing us. Each part moving on its own, yet in sympathy – like a great symphony – each person playing their part. No one focusing on which part is best – because all parts are necessary. We are the body, We are His body.
We can learn to love, to even love sacrificially, because we are part of the whole, and for one to love another… that is the blessing of our life in Christ.
It is no wonder that God calls us His masterpiece, His worksmanship, as He makes us all into one body, one life.
Living together, living in His mercy and love – knowing that we are forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness… that is the “secret” the mystery of all ages, which we get to reveal to others….
For knowing we are one with Christ, part of each other, His holy people, His body, realizing that means we live in a peace that goes beyond all understanding, as Christ protects and guards His body… in peace.
Built Up in Love
† In His Name †
As the waves of this life, and the strong winds that would steal from you the hope given you by Jesus, may you realize the grasp of God on your life, as He surrounds you with His love and mercy, and may you rest and rejoice in His peace!
The Tossed Church
This week, a scrap of parchment, no bigger than a business card, was supposed to have enormous impact on Christianity. It was supposed to revolutionize everything, and it was soon nicknamed in the press – the “gospel of Jesus wife”.
All the major papers and news stations picked up on the story, as a lady Ph.D. showed the 4th century Coptic manuscript, which she claimed was a translation of a second century Greek manuscript. She “translated” the passage, then interpreted the words as meaning that Mary Magdalene was Jesus wife. The articles then extrapolated that since the 4 true gospels never mentioned Jesus having a wife, that they were unreliable, and this business card size peace of parchment was the true gospel. One reporter said, that even if it wasn’t authentic, it should cause us to re-examine (i.e. doubt) what scripture tells us about Jesus.
Do you remember the Ossuary’s of James, those white marble boxes where Jesus’ bones were supposed to be? What about The Gospel of Judas Iscariot? This wasn’t the first time in the last decade that someone promised their revelation would drastically change our faith, and I seriously doubt it will be the last attempt to discredit the claims of Jesus.
For each one of these lies, for each one of these hoaxes, there are people who hear them, and as Paul describes – are carried about like a feather floating in the wind, or like someone caught in the winds and riptides at the beach. Some of us buy into the “experts” analysis, some of us get caught up in the hype and have to try and prove their theory wrong, with so little to work with, and both gradually lose focus on the why God created the church, the Body of Christ. They are blown about, tossed about, and distracted from why the church exists… what its purpose is…
What is the church’s purpose – What is our goal?
That question, “What is the church’s purpose?” is on our second reading focuses us upon this morning. The purpose doesn’t change by location, it doesn’t change by the name on the sign, or how the pastor dresses, or even what kind of music and liturgy is used. The purpose of the church, both a congregation and the church throughout the world is simple.
The purpose of the church is the title of the sermon – “to build itself up in love,” which means that it is “to build itself up in Christ”.
Let me read verse 12 and 13 from a different translation:
4:12 …(Christ gave the office of holy ministry) to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13 (NLT)
Three times it describes this “building up in love” as our purpose, our goal.
It’s why the people of God are equipped to serve, to do the work of God.
It is what is described if all come to such unity as we trust and know Jesus
It is what it means to mature in the Lord, to measure up to His completeness, to meet the Father’s expectation of His children.
For when we are described as such, we are living in complete accord with the two basic commandments, to love our Father in heaven with everything we are, and to love His children, our neighbors, even as we love ourselves.
Not an easy task, and yet it is why God has given the church those who would proclaim the gospel – apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers. Not to do the work building each other up, but rather to equip the church to do that work in their daily lives. My friends we have a lot of work to do, both in the equipping, and in the actual work, what is called the poeima Theo in Greek, the Gottesdienst in German, the Opus Dei In Latin. Or to use the words of Paul two chapters prior to our reading today,
2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
That’s what it means to live in Christ – that each of us works in the same vocation as Jesus, working to see every person mature in Christ. That’s what I call “job security”.
How do we measure it?
In business, when you have a task – there are things called benchmarks. Ways you can measure both progress and effectiveness of the work being done. It’s not a pass/fail thing for us, but there is a benchmark for our growth as believers.
It is our unity, how we truly work together, how we see ourselves so joined together in Christ, To understand that we are so united in Christ, that we can together stand, even thru the challenges in life.
That is why Paul encourages us to not be subject to the schemes and manipulations that would distract us from Christ, but rather to “speak the truth in love”. To speak in such a way requires tremendous faith in God, and tremendous love for those to whom we are speaking.
In talking about the truth spoken in love, the Greek word pictures not just our words, but all of our communication being focus and communicated through love, as it is translated in 1 John 3:18, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” It isn’t talking just about speaking truth in love as we confront each other either, it isn’t about what some have called “tough love” in the past. Were we talk about our needs as well as helping others reveal their need. Speaking the truth in love means sharing the difficult burdens and tasks, and identifying how we need to grow, together. It’s talking about a life lived transparently, and know that we can expect care and compassion and that God will use every situation, every pain, every challenge that have, or that we bring to others.
It’s the kind of love Jesus showed, as He willingly forgave others, as He shared His life on the cross, and the night before in, through and under the bread and wine. As he sought to bring healing more than He sought His own pleasure.
So can we live lives like that, can we trust in God deep enough?
We are equipped, built up, given hope
The answer is no.. and yes.
No if we try to love each other that completely on our own. No if we protect ourselves from pain, and hold back. No if we are waiting for others to make the first step. There will be times were we are betrayed, hurt, and the challenge is not to become to defensive, to accept the challenge and even the pain, knowing the strength the enables Jesus to love in such a way, and endure the cross.
Remember, this passage started out by listing the various roles within what we call the Office of Holy Ministry, or the “Pastoral office” and that they were given to equip you all to do this work, to fulfill this commission.
Each of those aspects of the office of ministry exist to train the Body of Christ to build itself up in love – to do the incredible work of God of living a life that is true and loving and merciful, where we do that which God has always desired,
6:8 …the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)
The way it is done is described in those four offices, which we’ll talk more about in Sunday School. Yet how is relatively simple – we speak the greatest truth in love, when we reveal our need for Christ to heal us of our sin, and reveal the promise of that healing as well.
Another way the way the church is equipped is described in our confessions – the teaching and administering the sacraments, being in a sense, the conduit of grace that is poured out upon the church. Pipes aren’t special – what they carry is – and that is the basic role of pastor-teachers – to pour out on you grace as we preach and teach, and to feed you the nourishment needed to have the strength to love, to be the people of God, entrusted with building up each other in love.
And there, as we live in His love, we find His strength, His wisdom, in His presence we find that which allows us to heal, and be knit together, to see that happen, as we live in peace.
The peace of God which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And may you always know, and be reminded, that that peace is yours.
Thought of the day:
Last night I finally started writing a book. It’s an odd thing, since I don’t see myself as a wise sage, or a wildly successful pastor. Just a plain ordinary, slightly crazy pastor who believes that God puts churches in places to bring healing to the broken in that community. And the only time a church should “close” is when all the broken in the community are healed and are perfect. In other words, the need doesn’t happen until Jesus returns.
Of course the statisticians will tell you that there are life cycles to church – usually a 40-50 cycle where around 20-25 the church starts slowly dying, or at least losing its significance. I know a few that fit that model, and I know a few that have been around 10o or 200 years, or more. Go to Eurpose – there are some there that have been in use for 1000 plus years – and in India, 1800. So while the stats guys have noticed a phenomena – it ain’t necessarily a law/ My book will be about keeping the church in the business of healing, in the business of salvaging people, and their relationships. There is hope for such churches, and for those who attend them, and for the community that surrounds them.
The hope is found in soup – specifically “stone soup” and focuses heavily on the sacraments, and on Eph 2:8-10 – especially 10:
“2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
As a lutheran – we focus a lot on 8 and 9 – and for good reason. But if there is a answer, if there is a way to stop churches from closing, it is in realizing that we are God’s art work, His poetry, and there is much work to be done as we heal from the damage of sin, and the work, the poetry God has called our lives, because He called us, is key in that process of healing, together.
I’ve seen it happen, in churches in the desert – in a church in the suburbs. This isn’t some how to get er done book, with methodologies to implement. It’s a radical way to see the church return to faithfulness, one ingredient at a time. The recipe is a parable, and realizing the truth in it. A truth best described in Eph 2:8=10
So pray for me. as I write a parable about healing broken lives and broken churches, simply with sacred simple things, water, a Stone, and some bread.
oh and realize, that this book is about all of us… for there is hope for all – no matter how broken, how burdened, how alone.. as we heal together in Christ!