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What Are We Giving to People? Some Thoughts about the Purpose of Preaching and Leading Worship


DiscussionAltar with communion Thought of the Day:
14  My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15  this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16  I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17  that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18  you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG) 

I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.

But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.

Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.

All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus?  What do they need to know?  How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?

Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.

When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching.  That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.

So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture.  Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.

With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach.  They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.

In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected.  We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe.  And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.

It is all good stuff and beneficial.  However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.

It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.

I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth.  First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us.  He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.”  It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God.  To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,

This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know.  That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.

This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes.  With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.

Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it.  Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.

We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man.  That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.

This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.

Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together!  AMEN!

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

Once Upon a Time: A Sermon on 1 Peter


Combined 1Once Upon A Time

1 Peter 2:2-10

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ overwhelm your heart with the knowledge you belong to Him, for you have received mercy!

A struggle to belong

I’m going to list a group of television shows and movies and I want you to think about them as I do.  You may not know them all, but think about what they have in common,

The Breakfast Club, MASH, Friends, Force 10 from Nazarene, the Power Rangers, Stripes, Grey’s Anatomy, Seinfeld, Gilligan’s Island, Cheers, the Dick Van Dyke show, Lost.

You might know some of those movies and shows, a few of you might know all of them.  Some of those are comedies, some dramas, some tragedies.  They span five decades, and include diverse casts, playing diverse people.  People who will get on each other’s nerves, that won’t understand each other at first.  They will grow to depend on each other and find a place in each other’s lives.

Which is why we resonate to such shows.

It gives us a hope that we might find a group of people we belong with, that we can depend upon, a group that belonging to will give us something to identify ourselves by.  A chance to stop being the outsider but to belong.

But they are only television shows, they are only movies.  No matter how much they resonate with us, they are simply stories that strike a chord in our soul.  These things help us identify a need that the Apostle Peter identified for us nearly 2000 years ago.  He described the need this way,

Once you had no identity as a people…

Once upon a time, you didn’t belong, you had no place in life, you were broken off, lost, helpless.

But all that has changed now.

how we got there

There has been a great concern for a couple of decades regarding how we see ourselves, our self-esteem, how we see ourselves, how each one of us identifies themselves.

We, as a culture, and as individuals struggle with this, and because of that, we often fell left out, not part of the in-group.  Most of the characters in the movies and shows I mentioned had that problem.  And they dealt with if differently.

Some very aggressively, trying to lead and dominate the group

Others tried to impress, or make themselves valuable and needed.

A few kept back, afraid to trust others, afraid for people to see who they really were.

And many tried all of those tactics at one time or another.

We do this today as well, as we try to figure out our roles, to figure out the meaning in our life.  We want a reason to belong, a valid reason that gives us value.

The problem with this is that our creating our identity usually backfires, for what happens is we separate ourselves from those not like us, who we think cannot understand us, and the further we separate, the harder it is to let the others be part of our life.

We just go on our own way and assume no one else knows or even cares. We realize we aren’t like others and we won’t fit it with them.  Hurt by this, and even angry about it, we eventually will make the decision that they aren’t worth it.

Which is why the following

43  “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven

Jesus goes on…

46  If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47  If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.    Matthew 5:43-48 (NLT)

Anyone struggling with this standard?   Anybody else got a group of people they don’t understand, don’t like, are afraid of, and can’t imagine being part of that you find it hard to love?

Yeah?  Well, Jesus calls you to love them.

That is what following Jesus, results in, that is your identity, what it means to receive mercy…when you can’t imagine someone showing you mercy.

The key is found in Peter’s words about acting like babies.  Seriously!

The Cry 

Hear Peter’s words again,

2  Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3  now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness. 4  You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple.

Where I to have several hours to preach, I would explain the cornerstone illustration more completely.  But realize this – God has given us an identity, a part in those who are called to be His people.  Each one of connected to Jesus the cornerstone,

We find our identity in how we relate to Him, we find our place in life based on His place in our life.  We find out who we are in God’s eyes, and we find the mercy, the welcome, the hospitality in the eyes of Jesus who died and is risen, that we would know life.

But this is just a little taste of His love, of His desire to make us His own. Peter says to crave experience this love, now that you know about it, drink deeply of His love, desire it, make experiencing it the major priority of your life.

For knowing His love, with not just your mind but your heart, your soul, that is what helps you realize you fit in, that we all do, for we find our place in our relationship to God.

Our identity as well, and the reason we can love those we formerly didn’t fit in with, for they two are coming to Jesus, and being made part of His chosen people, called out of the darkness into His glorious light.

For once upon a time you had no identity, but now you are identified as His people.

AMEN!

We aren’t just obligated to go to church, it is something we desperately need


IMAG0406

The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

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

997    Absence, isolation: trials for your perseverance. Holy Mass, prayer, sacraments, sacrifices, communion of the saints: weapons to conquer in the trial.

Growing up, there was a sense that church was an obligation.  In fact, there were days called “holy days of obligation.” To miss going to church on these days was considered a sin.

But I never asked why it was a sin, I was just told it was, and I responded as everyone does when forced to do a task, I rebelled.  Didn’t go, and even if I did, I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t really particpating. So even if I was there, I really wasn’t. 

The one thing I never asked was why we were obligated, and if I had, I am hoping the answer would have been what we see above in Hebrews 10.  There God makes clear that we are welcome there, and there we find encouragement to endure until Christ returns. 

We need to be with each other, we need to be celebrating God’s presence together, we need to share as those who receive His mercy.  (this is why I am so in favor of having the Lord’s Supper weekly, if not offered more frequently!)  
For there together, we find God keeping His promises – reconciling that which was torn apart, healing that which is broken.Bringing together that which was isolated and fitting into the place it fits in His body.  We were created to experience life in community, as part of something that endures, that is sustained, that grows healthy and strong. 

As we realize that this is not an obligation of force, but one of need, our hearts change.We begin to treasure what church brings, we see it as a time that is holy, set apart as a time for us to find rest, and refuge, forgiveness, and the awareness of God’s presence in our lives.  A presence confirmed as others tell us His peace is with us, that He is with us. 

As we realize this church goes from being more than an inspiring message, or uplifting music.  The gathering of people we realize is something sacred, the place they occupy becomes holy, it becomes a moment where heaven is revealed. 

It is what we desperately need, it is what those around us need……and so the more we go, the more we realized we needed to…. 

For this is why we were made…. to live in peace with God and each other.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2315-2316). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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


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Dawn at Concordia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For all of us.

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

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

Brother to Brother…..one glorious hope!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missed the Celebration? Maybe not….


10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional THoguht of the Day:

9 The LORD told Moses 10 to say to the people of Israel, “When any of you or your descendants are unclean from touching a corpse or are far away on a journey, but still want to keep the Passover, 11you are permitted to observe it one month later instead, on the evening of the fourteenth day of the second month. Celebrate it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12Do not leave any of the food until the following morning and do not break any of the animal’s bones. Observe the Passover according to all the regulations.  Numbers 9:9-12 TEV

It is there in the wounds of Jesus that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of his heart. I have seen so many people who find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him, “Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds and wash it away with your blood.” And I always see that God does just this:
He welcomes, consoles, cleanses and loves.

For the orthodox fathers were pressured with great hatred by heretics under this particular pretext, namely, that the church should have no other thought concerning the inaccessible light of the Deity than that which the Deity Himself in proceeding from the secret place of His majesty has revealed concerning Himself.

I encountered the heart of God today in a most unexpected place.

Sure the Book of Numbers is in scripture, but we usually think it is one of those boring books with lots of lists and lots of precise and even complicated directions.

Yet, in the midst of it, God offers something to those who are far off from God.  Far off because of business, or far off because of being unclean. There, God gives direction to those who cannot celebrate the Passover, the great high feast where the angel of death is told it has no right to take us, it has no right to deny us the grace God meant for us.

Yes, it isn’t time to celebrate it, because of your situations, but that doesn’t mean don’t celebrate it at all.  Here is your opportunity, here is the way you can know you are with me, that I am still your God, and you are my people.

For us, the equivalent is seen in the wounds of Christ, the place we find our security, our serenity, our peace.  It is there where we ask Him to take away our sin and to wash us.  It is there we find the consolation, the comforting hand of God showing us His love, even as He has always done.

This is the majesty that Chemnitz notes, the heart of God revealed that we don’t have the authority to change. This is the God who reveals Himself to us, and reveals His will that none should perish, but that all be transformed by His love.

Far too often, the church considers people as being away, as if they are no longer part of the family, as if they are no longer part of the church.  Rather than welcome them back, we too often, like the prodigal’s brother, wonder why they’ve returned, why they should be allowed back, as if they weren’t away at all. And as the Father celebrates their presence, we turn away, we refuse to acknowledge their presence, we fail to celebrate with them the love of God which drew them back.

CHemitz reminds us that we need to have the same heart, the same attitude that Jesus has.   For that is what has been revealed to us.  We need to help them know the wounds Christ bore is not something they should fell guilty about but should be in awe of, for He loves us.  We need to celebrate this cleansing, this consolation, this love for them.  No, that’s not right.  Rather this cleansing, this consolation, this love for us all!

AMEN!

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

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

 

Ready, Are We? A Sermon on life as We Await Jesus’ Return


MarkJ AdventReady, Are We?

Matthew 24:36-44

I.H.S.

 As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!

2 A.M. Somewhere….

Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,

16  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17  Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)

We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.

But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning?  That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.

And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy.  Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant.   Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.

And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.

Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.

So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.

First – Do you care?

The first is challenging, well, they both are.  But here is the first question:

Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?

Is it on your radar at all?  Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day?   Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?

Do we even think about Jesus coming back?

Think about that for a moment.

second – why?

if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.

Why do you want Him to return?

Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes?  I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.

Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives?  Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships.  ( Great line from Skorpion  – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)

Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?

When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?

That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.

And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.

Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.

Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world!  Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.

It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..

And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…

Ready, Are we?

 

SO then, the questions change a little….

How do we get ready for Jesus to return?

We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…

12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,

This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read

14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness.  As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.

And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.

Advent?  TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…

And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.

AMEN!

It’s time to come home: A sermon on Luke 15


It’s Time to Come Home

Luke 15:1-10

In Jesus Name

 May the grace, the incredible love, mercy, and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, give you confidence and desire to let Him joyfully carry you home!


You are the One:

When you compare the epistle and the gospel lessons this morning, there is a conclusion you can draw that is pretty simple.

Paul didn’t see himself as one of the 99.

He saw himself as the one, the one who wasn’t just lost, but in the process of being destroyed.

He saw himself as the one who was as notorious a sinner as any, yet he realized the incredible patience of God, who searched for him, and found him.

The challenge isn’t thinking we are the ones who get to celebrate Paul’s return, but the fact that we, like Paul, needed to be rescued.  For we like Paul, find ourselves broken, lost and in need of a savior.

And when we trust Jesus, and He joyfully carries us home… then there is a party like none we’ve ever seen.

To get there – there are a few challenges

It’s not “them.”

The first challenge is realizing who we are.  There are two groups mentioned in the gospel.  The first group who work and sincerely dedicate their entire lives to following God’s law – to living as He commanded.  The second group is our group – the group that is notorious sinners.

Now I need to let you know what a notorious sinner is.  It’s not as bad as it sounds…

It’s actually kind of worse.

One of the ways the word is defined in Greek is one who falls off the path, one who can’t stay on it.  We understand that the path is narrow, but I don’t think we realize it is a bridge like this one, with ditches that are about 1000 feet deep to each side.

Sort of like this path in China that they call the glass path.

Here’s another view.

Sin is simply deviating from the path.  It doesn’t matter whether it is using God’s name in the wrong way, murder, adultery or gossip.  It is sin, and you and I fall into it, far too often.

Even as the Pharisees stand there, judging the tax collectors and notorious sinners, they are sinning, denying the very grace of God, the grace they were entrusted with, the grace that should have inspired them to help others come to hear Jesus.

Jesus realizes this, and there is a gentle jab at the Pharisees when he says the shepherd leaves the 99 in the wilderness – for he identifies that all are in the wilderness,

The wilderness – the place of nothingness, the place without any blessing from God.

The ones who determined they are holy enough, that they are truly dedicated to God, find themselves outside… while the sheep who lay dying, is brought home…

And brought home Scripture says – joyfully.

Guess it pays off to admit we need His mercy, that we need God to find us. Doesn’t that sound strange?  That those who depend on their strength are left behind, while those needy are brought to safety and celebration?

There is joy in your transformation

This is the second challenge.  We need to recognize the joy that Jesus has bringing us home and the fact that the work brings more joy to God than the 99 who are righteous. Of course, we know that none are righteous, but even so, the picture of Jesus is one with a grin on his face!

Dad, I’ve brought another one home!

Now imagine him saying it on the cross – it’s finished – Tom’s home, Al’s home, you’ve been brought home.

Remember, the letter to the Hebrews tells us that it was this very joy of getting us into the kingdom of God, bringing us to where we should be, that Jesus endured the cross.

What an amazing thing!

To think that what brings God the greatest joy – and all of heaven with Him is when we trust Him enough to cleanse us, heal us, and bring us into the presence of the Father.

That is what brings God joy, for us to become His children, for us to become His people, for us to realize, and trust the fact that He is our God, our heavenly father.

I don’t know if we understand that all too well.  That when we realize God’s grace, when we have an aha moment when His grace transforms our lives and that is seen, the joy it brings Him and all heaven is greater than our awe, and our joy!

The Feast.

It is so great – that Jesus’s parable mentions a great feast – a great party full of joy, inviting everyone to rejoice with Him.  The same for the lady who finds the reward for her work, that was for a moment – thought lost. They both throw a feast – as they recover something quite precious to them.

I often wondered- for the man who owned the sheep – what did they feast on?  What was the main course?

I mean, it would be a little odd to throw a feast like that and serve lamb chops!

I bring the sermon to a close with this; the man gave his life to bring us home, to carry us with him in His death and resurrection,

and so for this feast- celebrating our homecoming, celebrating our repentant, transformed life, is a feast where the host serves the very best – where He gives His all to us.

His broken body, the blood poured out so that we could be brought home… and this feast is on of great joy, as it celebrates this,

Alleluia! He is Risen indeed
He is Risen!  Indeed!  Alleluia

And therefore,

We are risen alleluia indeed!
And He has brought us home….

Confronting Spiritual Apathy & Indifference


Discussion Thought fo the Day: 

1  So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2  For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4  And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.
Hebrews 2:1-4 (NLT)

1
 God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.
Hebrews 4:1 (NLT)

67 Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it.
68 We must never regard the Sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?  (1) 

Luther’s stance on communion here may be shocking to some.  To avoid the Lord’s Supper is simply sin, it is shameful!

I hope it is!  I hope it shocks us out of our lethargy, out of the apathetic attitude we have toward being the church, the lethargy that diminished our desire to be gathered around the altar of the Lord, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for us.

The very summons Luther notes, as Jesus draws us to Himself, as He summons us, and would dwell in us, and us in Him is the word used in Greek, which we translate into the word “church”. Ekklesia!!  Thos called out, those called together!  The people of God created in the work of Christ’s obedience in life and death, as we are cleansed and set apart into an incredible, intimate, wondrous relationship with God. A relationship beyond our ability to comprehend, as we dwell in His presence, and are promised His glory!

As church growth theorists and church planters and revitalizers study churches, the one thing that can’t be studied is the source for our life, this “being called”, this being the church.  We want the answers to why churches are in decline in America, we want answers to stem the tide, and the answer is simple….

Take and eat…

Take and drink…

Celebrate the union, the wedding of Christ and His bride, those called to Him, those drawn to Him by His love. Those who are united to His death and resurrection in the sacraments, especially the feast that celebrates the work, the offering being completed.

But the Church, since the days of the Enlightenment, since the days where rationalism has become the dominant philosophy, has set it aside.  We have lifted up the sermon higher than the reading of the gospel, nevermind the feast that is our foretaste of the Feast that will come when Christ returns.

We’ve neglected this salvation, of celebrating it, choosing instead to sit on the sidelines, describing it as if we were announcers at a sporting event.   We’ve neglected it, even as we justify celebrating it every other week or once a month, less it loses its meaning?   I even heard a man justify denying people men who would serve the people of God this precious blessing, because once people only were given the Lord’s Supper once every other month,  and they were very glad they got it that often!

If it is shameful and sin when we fail to celebrate this great salvation,  is it any less sin to not tremble with fear when we think of people who do not experience this relationship?  How much more should we tremble when we realize we have put man-made rules in place that prohibit and blocked people from experience Christ’s presence?

My friends, I leave you with this thought from Luther, describing the need of humanity for the Lord’s Supper,

72 If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength. (1) 

encourage others to go with you, for they have the same need, a need that will be met there in Christ. 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  Large Catechism: Fifth Part – The Sacrament of the Altar

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