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“And Therefore,” A New Easter Tradition…that I highly recommend!

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

Devotional Thought of the Day”

51 Listen to this secret truth: we shall not all die, but when the last trumpet sounds, we shall all be changed in an instant, as quickly as the blinking of an eye. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again, and we shall all be changed.
53 For what is mortal must be changed into what is immortal; what will die must be changed into what cannot die. 54  So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!”
1 Corinthians 15:51-54 (TEV)

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. Colossians 2:12 (TEV)

4 By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life. 5 For since we have become one with him in dying as he did, in the same way we shall be one with him by being raised to life as he was. Romans 6:4-5 (TEV)

Christ is risen! In old chronicles we read how the faithful in Russia used to embrace each other with this greeting. They had undergone tangible renunciation during the period of Lent, and now that this period was over, they experienced a real, immense overflowing of joy. By entering into the rhythm of the Church’s year they knew quite tangibly that life had triumphed and that life was beautiful. We still celebrate Easter today, of course, but the grey veil of doubt has spread over the heart of Christendom, robbing us of joy. So is Easter obsolete, a word powerless to inspire hope?

A few years ago, I wrote an Easter sermon called “So what”. And as I took the church through the Easter Acclimation, I asked them to respond one more time:

Pastor: Alleluia! Christ has Risen!
Church; HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!!!
Pastor: And therefore…
Church: WE ARE RISEN INDEED! ALLELUIA!

The concept worked well, and with Great energy, they responded. It worked so well, we used that call and response for the rest of Easter (which is celebrated for 7 weeks in our church)

But what I would have never expected happened the next year, when I was planning on only doing the traditional Acclimation, and one of my elders, seeing me pause, enthusiastically and loudly proclaimed the “And therefore” and the entire church responded with the “We are Risen Indeed!”

It is now tradition!

And some poor pastor 30 years from now will have to consider whether it is a tradition he is willing to pay the price of changing!

But I love it. It helps drive the meaning of Easter home. In a world where, as Pope Benedict notes, Easter has become obsolete ( You rarely see church attendance go up on Easter anymore, when it was once the only day some would show up) this little tradition is making a difference.

It makes people realize the Resurrection is personal, they have a major stake in it. THeir role in the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus is talked about throughout scripture, and especially in Paul’s writings (there are more than the ones above)

And what we now know as a promise, and see hints of here and there, it is guaranteed. We will be changed, we are immortal, and our bodies will one day resemble this. We dwell in the presence of God, and death’s defeat is sure.

Easter matters, and however it takes to make that something we realize, for ourselves and can teach with conviction to those who follow is a not a bad tradition to have.

With Christ, you have risen indeed. Alleluia! AMEN!


Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 126). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

A Lenten Sermon: With This Gift I Acknowledge…

(you can find the audio for this sermon on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQLSG0ngxU8 )

With this Gift I Acknowledge
Deuteronomy 26:1-11

† I.H.S. †

May you become so aware of the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that you respond to God with your entire life!

 When????

As we enter Lent, a lot of the readings we will hear are about the journey to the promised land, and they often take place in what I call the “in-between time.

The  “in-between” time starts with the rescue of Egypt, where the Red Sea split and they crossed through that sea until the time they crossed the Jordan river, and they headed west into the Holy Land.

That’s the in-between time, the time between the crossing, between the rescue and the delivery.

Often we compare that time to the time we live in now.  In such a comparison the land of the promise becomes the equivalent of heaven. We’ve been told we’ve been saved, but we haven’t arrived yet.  We follow that pattern, then we are in the journey toward the promise land.   We can take the same comparison and compare the season of lent to the time wandering around in the wilderness. And the promised land becomes the celebration of Easter.

It lines up nice and neatly, and there are some interesting parallels.  Such a study helps us build up the anticipation of heaven, and the glory and rejoicing we will see when we all get to heaven.

As I was preparing this series, some of my thoughts went along that journey, as the idea written about in the old song came to mind. “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, sing of His mercy and His grace, in His mansion, bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.”

What a day of rejoicing that will be, the chorus says, but an odd thought struck me.

Are we expecting to rejoice only then?  What about now?  The song doesn’t say wait till then to sing of the wondrous love of Jesus, wait till then to know His mercy and His grace.

Then I looked at this passage and the idea that when we get “there” when we enter the land, we are to prepare an offering.

“With this gift, I acknowledge to the Lord God that I have entered the land He swore to our ancestors He would give us…”

And so we think of heaven… for isn’t that the promised land?

And we aren’t there yet, I mean all you have to do is look around and see that is so…we haven’t entered the promised land, right?

Wrong.

We have entered into what was promised; our problem is that we can’t see it yet.  Which is why we have to understand what Paul means when he says,  “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth, for you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”

That sounds more like we have entered the promised land… except that life doesn’t look so heavenly… does it? How can we be in the Holy Land, the Promised Land, when it doesn’t sometimes seem like we’ve left behind struggling with God in the wilderness?

We Cried out to the Lord
If we are going to make a parallel to the wilderness journey that is described in Deuteronomy, we need to figure out what verse 7 is talking about.

“we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard our cries and saw our hardship, toil, and oppression.” 

 

Where these words find their place in our lives, is when we were in bondage, not to Egypt, but to sin.  Where our hardship and struggle were the futility that comes in life that is self-centered and only worried about its own happiness, its own contentment.
I will be the first to admit that there are days where we act like Israel, doubting God and wanting to return to the lives unrestricted by God, but enslaved to “our” own desires.

But does that mean that we are back in Egypt?  Does that mean we are living on manna and quail and wandering around like Jacob/Israel?

The question comes down to this my friends.  Are we living in the Kingdom of God, in the promised land, or are we living in the wilderness, cared for and waiting for the promises of God to come true in our lives?

For the land God promised us isn’t primary geographical.  Rather, it is the land where God clearly rules, where He is Lord and King, providing for His people.  It is the place where His people find rest and refuge, a sanctuary of peace and a place where His love evident.

A place where Deuteronomy describes as the place which in our special possession, the place where our inheritance, what God has promised His people has become a reality.

You see, that’s what bothers me about the passage being only a parallel to our journey to heaven.

For in Christ, we already are citizens of His kingdom and heirs of His promises, He has already delivered us.  We just have to understand this and trust Him on it, knowing our reality is in heaven, in Christ.

Which is why we can bring before him the gifts that acknowledge that we have been delivered.  The gifts that acknowledge we dwell in Christ.  The gifts that acknowledge we have been killed off with Christ in our baptism, and brought to life because of His resurrection.

That is why Paul will also tell the church in Romans 12 to present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is the appropriate worship, the reason worship, declaring what God has done.

The passage in Deuteronomy ends with this, “

It’s time to party!

11 Afterward, you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration.

My friends, Jesus has given us life, the abundant life that begins in the waters of baptism, and matures as we see the Father face to face.  We aren’t waiting on that to come about some day.  We are His children, now.

So it is time to celebrate, to know His love… and to include all who would come in the celebration, so that they too may understand and celebrate His love.  It will take faith; it will as Paul said mean focusing on the reality of heaven, of dwelling, not among clouds, but in the very presence of our loving God.  AMEN?

Time for Church? Time to Celebrate or be Reverent?

Devotional Thought of the day:
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8  They gave an oral translation of God’s Law and explained it so that the people could understand it. 9  When the people heard what the Law required, they were so moved that they began to cry. So Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra, the priest and scholar of the Law, and the Levites who were explaining the Law told all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, so you are not to mourn or cry. 10  Now go home and have a feast. Share your food and wine with those who don’t have enough. Today is holy to our Lord, so don’t be sad. The joy that the LORD gives you will make you strong.” 11  The Levites went around calming the people and telling them not to be sad on such a holy day. 12  So all the people went home and ate and drank joyfully and shared what they had with others, because they understood what had been read to them. Nehemiah 8:8-12 (TEV)

There are those that think church is a time for high reverence.  For everyone to sit calmly and sedately, to not make noise.  To somberly listen to the music, the sermon, play their part in the responsive readings and prayers.

And while I know we are to be in awe of God, I think the somberness of church can be taken too far.  This is especially true when God is at work. At work as He reconciles and restores His people. Seeing God at work, whether it happens when God’s people are gathered together, is an awesome thing. I am not saying being irreverent, but that our definition of reverence needs to be changed, changed to include the joy of God’s love, manifested in our lives.

As people hear God’s word, things happen.  This is why it is so critical that they are told, as they were in the passage above, in a way they can understand!  The Holy Spirit’s work is amazing, as the Spirit breath’s life into people.

You see it in this passage, as the crowd has to be told that this day, the one God has made, is not a time for weeping and mourning.  tHey heard the Law, they knew where they fell short, and hearing the law grieved them.  They had a heart that was no longer stone (see Exodus 36:25) but flesh, and was still broken, damaged by the sin.  Their hearts were broken because they realized how they had rebelled against God, how they had treated the special relationship He had created, where He would be their people, and He would care for them, love them, and protect Him, for He is their God.

Hearing that was painful.  So much, that the priests had to go around and assure them of God’s love, and teaching them not to mourn, not to cry, this is God’s day.  As they gather they are told that this is the day, He has set aside for us to rest, to be at peace, to know His love.

Not the day to mourn, not the day to dwell on the failures of our past, but the day to celebrate!  You are His people!  He has restored you! He is your God, you are His people, and nothing will separate you from Him.

The result is amazing!  They leave the gathering and go and feast together. Even the poorest of the poor are provided for, as they celebrate His love.

IF this was the pattern before the Crucifixion, before Jesus rose from the grave. How much should it be now?  For now we can explore the height, the depth, the width, the breadth of His love.   Now we can realize that He has brought us to life with Christ in our Baptism.

Church, a place for mourning and tears because of our sin?  Now, there are times and places for that, This is the time for a feast, for a celebration, to realize that the Lord is with us!

So make sure you don’t miss the celebration tomorrow… and when you are there, celebrate!

Rejocing During Lent? Inconcievable? Not at All!

Devotional THought of the Day:concordia lutheran button only logo (1) - Copy

 25  Then David and the elders of Israel and the generals of the army went to the house of Obed-edom to bring the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant up to Jerusalem with a great celebration. 26  And because God was clearly helping the Levites as they carried the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. 27  David was dressed in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who carried the Ark, and also the singers, and Kenaniah the choir leader. David was also wearing a priestly garment. 28  So all Israel brought up the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant with shouts of joy, the blowing of rams’ horns and trumpets, the crashing of cymbals, and loud playing on harps and lyres. 29  But as the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with joy, she was filled with contempt for him.   1 Chronicles 15:25-29 (NLT)

16  “To what can I compare this generation? It is like children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, 17  ‘We played wedding songs, and you didn’t dance, so we played funeral songs, and you didn’t mourn.’   Matthew 11:16-17 (NLT) 

1    Don’t let your life be sterile. Be useful. Blaze a trail. Shine forth with the light of your faith and of your love. With your apostolic life wipe out the slimy and filthy mark left by the impure sowers of hatred. And light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.  (1)

Tonight my church will gather to celebrate the love of God.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say God will gather them, for that too is part of the celebration.

We are in the beginning days of Lent, just a week ago we celebrated Ash Wednesday, with a service that…could only be called a celebration. It wasn’t just that we had a much larger group than is our pattern. It was the idea that people gathered, and with reverent smiles  they were marked with ashes, knowing that this reminder of their sin, which grieves them, would be accompanied by another trip forward, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, proof that God wouldn’t leave them in ashes, that they would not be left in the dust.

That’s something to rejoice in, that’s something to celebrate, and even…like King David, dance over.

Yes, like Isiah, we are people who sturggle with sin, (and sometmies struggle is a strong word) , who live in a world that more and more rejoices in sin.  This is indeed something we should grieve over, it is something that we should never be callous about either.  Christ grieved and wept as He looked over Jeruslaem, the prophets wept as they reminded Isarel of what would be the consequences of their sin, especially their abandoning their relationship with God in order to choose idols of their own making.  Even so, Jesus went on to the cross, to do something about that grief, just as the prophets would foretell not just of doom and judgment, but of the glory of Christ incarnation, death and resurrection, and what it means.

So to, our journey of Lent, the remorse and grief we find as we review our lives, is tempered by the glory of God. The shear joy of realizing that we will soon be in Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter Sunday!  The joy of knowing that our grief has been dealt with, our expectation of God’s promises have been fulfilled. This is also a season of expectation, a season of hope that is guaranteed by the presence of the Holy Spirit!  How can we not be excited y the promise, and knowing it is fulfilled in Christ.

And so each service is a mini-lent to easter celebration, from the death of sin, to the resurrection to life in Christ, celebrated as we feast together at the altar (and on Wednesday nights, at the table)

Rejioce?  How can I not, when the glory of God is present, when His people are gathered together, when He gives us life and shares with us His mercy, His peace, His love?

As we walk through lent, even as the priests and David walked with God toward the Holy CIty, let us rejoice in His glory.  As well, may the light of His glory draw all to Him.

AMEN.

(1)    Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 171-173). Scepter Publishe(1rs. Kindle Edition.

Why go to church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day…..

Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:

As I was in the place between sleep and waking this morning, my mind wandered and thought of the “work” that lay ahead of me this day…. a marathon of study and writing, and then two church services – and then just a few hours of sleep – then up for yet again another service.  It’s a long day, this last day of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

And while I know it will be a great blessing, it is a long day as well….and part of me – just longed to sleep in!  It’s the classic battle of our lives!

Some would use guilt, or a call to duty, or other gimmicks to give them the strength to get done what needs to be done.  To be honest, I’ve thought of that, for all one has to do is look at the “successful” churches – and such techniques are used – even as they sincerely desire to have people come and hear of God’s love.   It works – and there will be churches that are full, cathedrals with people huddling in from the cold, as people respond to the call of a “Holy Day of Obligation”, or that come because there is an incredible “show”.

My heart longs for our sanctuary to be filled – but it also longs for a different attitude from those coming.  One that comes, in response to God’s love… to celebrate it, to hear about it, to revel in it.

Christmas Eve, as we re-live the last moments of expectation, and celebrate the coming of Christ, and indeed, Christmas Day as well – are not days of our obligation as much as days were God did what He fulfilled His obligations, His responsibility to us.  That is what these days are about.   Going all the way back to the Garden, God promised to cover our sins, He promised to fix our brokenness, He promised that we would always be welcome in His presence, and He has given us Jesus, His only begootten Son, and the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit to prove it.

I long for the day, when this is so clear – that we rush to church – to hear it confirmed again, to celebrate this great love, to gather – not because we have to – but because it just makes sense to be with each other, those united in Christ, those who are One in Him.

They may say I am dreamer – but to quote the song, I am not the only one…..

A priest/pastor wrote…

In the interior life, as in human love, we have to persevere. Yes, you have to meditate often on the same themes, keeping on until you rediscover an old discovery. “And how could I not have seen this so clearly before?” you’ll ask in surprise. Simply because sometimes we’re like stones, that let the water flow over them, without absorbing a drop. That’s why we have to go over the same things again and again—because they aren’t the same things—if we want to soak up God’s blessings. (1)

I pray that as we gather this day. and tomorrow, and I pray that you do gather, that our hearts are open wide, are open expectantly, to soak up God’s blessings, to revel in them, to rejoice, and celebrate His love, that you know the depth and height and width and breadth of God’s love for you, in Christ Jesus.  And I pray you pray the same for me…

Merry Christ’s gathering!  (for that’s what Christmas means!)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2034-2039). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Church?

When the topic of my occupation comes up, I have heard one answer pretty frequently over the years.

“A Pastor?  That’s cool, but I don’t need a building to worship God.  My worship time is just He and I”

It is, in our day and time – seemingly logical.  After all, many talk about their relationship with God as if it is individual, as if God’s purpose is to help a person through life, so that he/she can survive it, and then gain access to paradise, where everything will be perfect, and then we’ll find peace.

Makes for a nice movie, and some great stories… yet.. heaven is so much more.

Scene’s like the one from Isaiah 6, that we will hear tomorrow together in church – leave you filled with wonder and awe.  The scenes from Revelation of Jesus Christ ( you know – the last book in the BIble and yes – there is no “s” at the end!)  show crowds beyond number, over and over, entering the presence of God and adoring Him. It is a grand celebration, a feast beyond compare, a celebration thrown by God our Father, because His children are finally home… 

That is as well, a description of what church is, and how we should see it – an appetizer, a foretaste of that feast, a celebration where we with the whole company of heaven – sing our praise, voice our adoration of the God.  Church is a gathering of His family, to celebrate the love that He has for us, the work, the crafting of our lives – which to some may seem hypocritical and sinful at times – yet after He is completed with it – shine in the reflection of His glory.

That’s a lot to celebrate… that is a lot to feast upon, and as the ultimate Host, may we return our thanks.. to Him, with our voices, and our lives… together!

 

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