Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”……Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story. Luke 1,5 GNT
And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 GNT
But Christ approached, raised him up, and placed him on a higher plane of faith. “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” Thus the man advanced from his first faith, when he believed that Christ could heal if he were present, to a higher stage of faith, by reason of which he now believed the mere Word of Christ. For if he had not believed the Word, he would not have ceased until the Lord had accompanied him to his house; but he accepted the Word, believed Christ and clung to his Word.
Does that mean we learn how to pray in community, that what we do in solitude is something we take from the community’s worship?
That’s what I mean. If somebody comes to me and says, “Teach me how to pray,” I say, “Be at this church at nine o’clock on Sunday morning.” That’s where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.
I had to look it up, but Petersen is right, our being taught to pray starts in groups. Bible studies, small groups, but especially in the church. In the book he will spend more time on the issue, but I needed to think through just this first part.
It was even this way in scripture, as Jesus taught, bet before, as Moses at Sinai and Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, as Nehemiah and Ezra and Daniel all learned to pray, it was as the family of God.
We need to learn more than by reading a book, for there we can only learn a form. We need to see others struggling with God, blessing God, realizing how complete His mercy is, how beyond reason God’s love is. I think that is what lifts us up, as we see Jesus lift up others. It is in these groups of believers that prayer becomes more than a spiritual exercise routine. It becomes a conversation based on our trust in God, our dependence on Him. We learn that from observation, from sharing in the tears, and in the joy, from sharing as our anxieties are calmed, our spirits are comforted, and as we realize that God is in our midst.
Does this mean we do not pray on our own? Of course not! But there is something about knowing others are praying for you, with you, as we storm heaven to ask God to be there. There is something about seeing others – locked in prayer, and being comforted by the Holy Spirit. The numbers aren’t the issue, the communion, the fellowship, the bonding is.
For as we realize we are praying in one voice, we realize that voice is in respons eot the Voice-the Voice who taught us to pray, together….
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 393.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 15–16.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
1 Corinthians 12:24-26 (NLT2)
The Christian who is seeking better things and who has to his consternation found himself in a state of complete self-despair need not be discouraged.
Despair with self, where it is accompanied by faith, is a good friend, for it destroys one of the heart’s most potent enemies and prepares the soul for the ministration of the Comforter.…
…..His love will never fail even while taking us through this experience of self-crucifixion.
The same: (John Chrysotom) “When you flee to the church, do not flee to a place, but flee to it with your heart; for the essence of the church does not consist in wall and masonry but in faith and virtue …. It is called a mountain because of its firmness; a virgin because of its sanctity; a queen because of its glory; a king’s daughter because of its relation with God; a mother, having given birth, because of the great number of her children whom it conceived after it had been childless for a long time, not to speak of uncountable other names that Holy Scripture gives to it in addition”
The Lord does not come just to liberate the oppressed so they would feel good, but to send them to mission. He does not announce a year of grace to give us a “sabbatical” but to entrust us with the mission of living our lives by actively participating in everything that enhances our and other’s dignity as sons and daughters of the living God.
When I started my devotional time this morning, I really didn’t like that first reading, the one in purple aboce from Tozer. You and I don’t want to hear about despair, we deal with it enough in real life, especially in 2020. Too many people anxious, COVID, elections, changes, and too many people mourning. Despair is all aorund us, and it sucks us dry at times.
But as I read it, I have to admit, my mind started wandering to what was God preparing me for, by having me read this! Times of self-crucifixion are never easy, and we tend to do a good job of it…. adding extra spikes here and there as our minds spin out of control.
Walther’s quote of John Chrysotom’s started to counteract the building anxiety over what could be coming next. His description of the church is beautiful and distracting, but the line about running to the church means there is something to run from – and my mind went back to a slight form of spiritual paranoia. (okay – its 2020 – maybe not that slight!)
The church, the body of Christ, is not the refuge, but together finds refuge in Him. Where two or three are drawn together, there He is, our refuge, our sanctuary, our rest and our peace. I have found this so true, even more so in 2020 as the people of God, gathered together in person or on line, find the presence of God together. We truly suffer together, and rejoice together. We laugh and cry together, we find the freedom to do so. And then we find healing…. sometimes slower than we would like. Sometimes the progress isn’t as sequentials as we would like, but we find it, Together. In the presnce of God, we resonate, sharing the same note. If it be a sweet one, itis sweet, if it is in minor keey, then we resoinate with it as well, touched by the Holy Spirit, our harmony testifies to His presence.
At which point the words of Pope Francis come into play. Even as we are healing, Christ goes with us to bring that healing to others. He uses the word dignity there. and I had to think about it for a moment. Looking it up, among the definitions there is the idea of worth. Of helping people see their worth, not just in the eyes of others, but in their own, and in God’s eyes. As we heal, it happens as God provies how much He values us… and that is the greatest of game changers.
TO know that we are loved, that we are treasured, that God promises to make our lives, even our times of despair masterpieces… that is amazing.
Lord, help us realize the Spirit’s presence in our lives, and as we are comfoted, as we find healing, help us see those you send us to, to help them hlea as well.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry: Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry, electronic ed. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 33.
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), 366.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had had the demons begged him, “Let me go with you!”
19 But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” Mark 5:18-19 Good News Translation
The papists and Anabaptists teach that if you wish to know Christ and keep your heart pure, then make it your preference to be alone. Do not wish to relate to people, but separate yourself, like a Nicolaitan brother.2 This idea is a devilish counsel that fights against the first and second tables [of the Ten Commandments]. The first table requires faith and awe, which in the other commandments is to be preached and glorified for the people and to be proclaimed among the people. We are not to be fleeing and crawling into corners, but socializing with others. Thus the second table teaches us to benefit the neighbor, with whom we are to associate and not isolate ourselves. So [isolation] militates against marriage, the household, statecraft, and the life of Christ, who did not always want to be alone. His life was filled with what most resembles a riot, for the people were always crowding around Christ. He was never alone, except when he prayed. So away with those who teach, “Be glad to remain alone, and your heart will be pure.”
The phrase is used in most professions, including by ministers, teachers, medical professionals, customers service experts. It is a simple thing, that our vocation would be perfect if it wasn’t for the people we had to deal with on a daily basis! It goes like this: Being
Luther points it out often in his writing, that Christianity isn’t to be lived in a vacuum, that with the exception of retreating into our closet to pray, we need to be in community. We can’t separate ourselves from the world, creating our own castles that are impervious to others, even other Christians in other denominations.
Yet we see a preponderance of para-church organizations, from schools and universities to coffee houses and even gyms. We isolate ourselves first from the secular world, then within the church, and then hide in our own refuge, hoping that the muck and mud of the world doesn’t stain us, that the contagion known as sin won’t infect us, and that we can lead perfect little lives, protected from all harm. We even pass this onto our children, hoping they will never have to deal with the brokenness of the world.
But holiness, being set apart for our relationship with God isn’t an individual thing. We need to encourage, comfort and even confront each other, and be open to those same efforts from others. That even includes those who do not know or depend on God, fr sometimes their insights into our lives is brutally accurate. (And in hearing them, and seeing how God uses them, they may come to know Him as well!)
Holiness is best seen in the light of God’s glory, something that is found in God’s presence, a place we are never alone, a place where all those He loves are gathered, in which we dwell with Him together. God and His people, together in communion, reaching out and inviting the world to be drawn close to God as well. Celebrating in His presence, the party taking off to another level as another prodigal, and then another is brought home. As another broken person begins to experience the healing that comes as the Holy Spirit comforts us.
This communal life is neither easy to start, nor does it ever become easy. There will be times where we laugh together, for sure, be other times we cry and grieve together. There will be times when reconciliation HAS to take place, and when we forgive 7 times 70. There will be times where we have to rescue each other from hell (literally). For that is what we are about, that is what enlarging the kingdom of God is about, that is why Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified un Pontus Pilate, died, rose and ascended into heaven.
So we, all, could be one with Him.
and hear these last words, from Hebrews 10
23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. GNT
Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey, Trans.) (p. 18). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
What do you think a man does who has one hundred sheep and one of them gets lost? He will leave the other ninety-nine grazing on the hillside and go and look for the lost sheep. 13 When he finds it, I tell you, he feels far happier over this one sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not get lost. 14 In just the same way yourq Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost. Matthew 18:12-14
312 You should not want to make the world into a cloister, because this would be a disorder. But don’t convert the Church into some earthly faction either, because that would be tantamount to treason.
One of the great challenges facing the church today is sin, not its existence, but how we are to deal with it, and the damage it causes.
St Josemaria points out the two different dangers in our response to sin.
The first is when the church tries to isolate itself from the world, for instance, when we create all our own options so our people don’t have to mix with the world. Our own schools, our own fraternal clubs, our own coffee shops, and even stores and social media. When we try to create a community that isolates our people from the world, creating a victual cloister. You see this as well in the attitude that the church is here to minister to its own, and those like them.
The second seems like the opposite, when the church, trying to “reach” people and bring them into the church, allow sin to convert them. We then bring into question what God really meant by sin, and was it only in that context, or since God will forgive all sin, why do we bother with telling people to stop, and just focus on healing the symptoms, trying to teach them to live a symptom free life, without getting at the cause itself, sin.
These two approaches aren’t really that different. They both shy away from dealing with sin. They try to avoid the appearance of sin, not by avoiding it or finding ways to absolve it, but rather just bury it, or hide from it, or try to justify it, because if it isn’t sin, we don’t have to confront it.
And in both cases, we betray the sinner, by denying them the grace they need, by blocking them from the healing and the restoration they need.
Dealing with sin and the brokenness it causes is brutal. Whether it is our own sin, the sin we have committed; or the sin people commit against us, or the sin we witness and are entrusted to help bring reconciliation to God to those who commit the sin.
And we have too often, afraid of being contaminated, or being labeled as accessories, as Jesus was mocked and berated for hanging out with sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes of his day.
It is time for the church to start going out after the sinners, to bring them to the place where they can find healing, and hope, and be restored. It won’t be easy, we will have ot deal with both anger, and even being sickened by the sin and the damage it has caused.
The church must commit to helping people heal from this brokenness. We can’t leave people out in the darkness anymore. We have to do this cautiously as Jude warns, and aware of our own inability to deal with sin, depending on the mercy of Jesus. That is the key to dealing with sin, to be so aware of Jesus presence, of His intimate role in our lives, in the place He dwells in our heart, soul, and mind.
This is our vocation, the true role of the church in this world, to go after the one, the broken. Let us pray,
Heavenly Father, strengthen our relationship with You, through Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws us close to you. Give us the courage to honestly address sin, our own, and the sin of the world, turning to You to be healed, to be absolved, to be made complete. We ask this in Jesus name, depending on Your love, revealed to us at the cross. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1484-1486). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Faith in Action…
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so fill your lives, that you without thinking look and support those who are struggling with sin. And when they come to support you, that you will let them.
I love the old movies, where the hero has to survive a gauntlet, avoiding the traps, the deadfalls, and make the decisions that mean life or death. They avoid death, if they, in the words of one of those who guided one such hero, choose wisely. (btw – that movie was released 29 years ago – so I guess it can be classified as an “oldie”!)
The hero had to be careful, he had to take his time, evaluate his situation, realize the words that had been spoken, and choose to act wisely.
In the case of the letter to the Hebrews, the idea of being careful include a deep discerning look at our situation, at the challenge we face with that sin, and the evil and unbelief it can cause in our lives.
Yeah – this passage is a call to us, this call to take a deep, hard look into our lives, and make sure about our hearts, warning and supporting each other….
For being deceived by sin is all to easy, and happens all too often.
Who Was it?
We see how easy it was, in the example provided by the writer of Hebrews.
The people of Israel, led by Moses from Egypt, who heard God’s voice and trembled. Who saw his power, both judging the sins of the Pharaoh in Egypt and in the incredible miracles at the Red Sea, and in the provision of water, and manna and quail.
And yet, as direct as their contact was, they still fell into temptation, they still sinned, and when things got hard, they didn’t trust God.
They didn’t believe.
For that is what faith and belief in God is, the ability to trust in God despite the entire world, and even your own life telling you that He isn’t there. Despite them telling you that he doesn’t care.
They struggled, oh how they struggled! They heard the very voice of God, yet still rebelled. They saw the signs of His presence, the miracles, the cloud of smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night, and still hardened their hearts
And so they did what was evil, what was in rebellion from God.
Too often, you and I join them. You might even have already asked, like the apostles, “Is it I Lord?” when He talked of the one who would betray Him.
We’ve heard His voice calling us, we’ve seen His power at work, We know both His wrath and mercy, Yet, we struggle to trust God in situations we encounter, or we all too easily forget about Him. Especially when we are tempted by sin, even what we might call the smallest of sins, or perhaps the biggest.
For the biggest of sins, the violation of the first commandment happens to us all the time. We create our own gods, something we want to trust in, something we can find hope in. and set aside the God who has revealed Himself to us, through word and sacrament, through the people that are the church.
We aren’t any better than the people of God in the days of Moses. We have all these blessings pointing to God in our lives, and yet sometimes we still turn away, we still get deceived, we still fall to scold others, rather than warn and counsel them as scripture teaches.
And so, we need to take time, to be careful, and discern what we are doing. Looking carefully at what we do, what we think, what we say!
Make Sure your (plural) own hearts (Parakleso)
It took me a while in studying this passage, to see an incredible blessing that God has given us, His people, His church.
It’s seen in words like “your” and “each other” and “you”, and “we” in this passage.
I think we hear the words, “Be careful” and “war” and “if faithful to the end, but we miss these pronouns and fail to see the blessing God gives us, when He takes us into Himself and makes us the body of Christ.
You see, when one of us baptized, when Christ’s promises are given them, they join us in His body. And the body looks after itself, each part caring for the rest. To be careful then is not just talking about individual introspection and confession, but being careful and in love, approaching those who are struggling with faith and sin, and lifting them up, helping them see God’s love and mercy revealed to them again.
We are one people, saved in Christ together, forgiven together, sent into this world together.
So we choose wisely, and care for each other, warning each other in a way that is loving and yet firm, which calls back the sinner, and assures them of the grace of God.
You see that word for warning, it’s not the kind of warning that warns you from the shore that your drifting to toward the waterfall. It dives in with a rope, catches you and helps you get back to short…
Or in Jones case, sweeps away all the other false gods, and leaves the one Chalice, the one filled with the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, that’s what a friend, a fellow member of the body of Christ would do, bringing you back to the word and sacraments, to remember and revive the word and sacraments
We are each a blessing God gives to us, when we care more for each other than the discomfort of helping someone being deceived, moving to the point of their hearts becoming evil and not trusting in God’s presence, in His mercy and Love.
As James wrote in His epistle,
19 My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)
So choose wisely, make sure that all our hearts are not evil and unbelieving turning us away from God, and warn each other, so none are deceived by sin, and hardened against God. Serve one another, loving each other enough to share in God’s glorious grace, helping each other to dwell in the peace of God which is beyond our comprehension, yet in which we dwell together, in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Devotional Thoughts for today
Now the end of all things is near; therefore, be serious and disciplined for prayer. 8 Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, it should be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, it should be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To Him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. •Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11 HCSB
By unremitting study they should fit themselves to do their part in establishing dialogue with the world and with men of all shades of opinion. Above all let them take to heart the words which this council has spoken: “Since humanity today increasingly moves toward civil, economic and social unity, it is more than ever necessary that priests, with joint concern and energy, and under the guidance of the bishops and the supreme pontiff, erase every cause of division, so that the whole human race may be led to the unity of God’s family.”
Yesterday, a man I had lunch with caused me great concern. He didn’t, rather something he said did.
He was someone I met at a chamber of commerce event, and he engaged some of my staff in a discussion, and then as I walked up to the table, we talked for a while. While very friendly, he was sure the church was based on falsehood, as he didn’t believe our God existed. I invited him out to lunch, to discuss things further, and handed him my card.
To be honest, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t take me up on the offer. But he did, and we had a great conversation, both of us rarely eating what was on the table before us. We learned a little bit about each other, talked about religion in general, Christianity, the church, and why a successful computer geek would sacrifice comfort and a great job to become a pastor in the middle of nowhere.
And what intrigued him the most, why a pastor/priest/minister would take the time to take him to lunch. ( or for that matter, why a Christian who didn’t know him would)
And in retrospect, the very thing he was curious about, causes me great concern.
The man has lived in my community for as long as my church has been here. There are other churches in my community that are as loving as caring as mine, and other pastors ( Mike, Bill, Father John) that are shepherds that care for people and for those who are lost or broken as I do.
So why would it take 4 decades for a man to be invited to lunch by a pastor/priest?
Why would we allow a man to go so long without knowing we could take him to lunch, and in a friendly discussion ( even with some teasing) help him explore what he doesn’t understand, that God loves him.
That God is with him, even as he sees a new doctor today.
God commands such hospitality, even to those who are alien to us, actually very specific to those who are alien to us. We are to love them, welcome them, help them experience and explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love.
The awesome thing about this is that we aren’t welcoming them on our behalf only, we are acting as agents of God’s grace, as those who have been tasked with serving as reconcilers, as those whose work is described in these words, “erase every cause of division, so that the whole human race may be led to the unity of God’s family.”
(Although I a Lutheran, I often find the missional wisdom of Vatican II inspiring, especially in a place like this.)
We can enter into dialogue with the world, assured by God that we don’t go alone. Prayer reminds us of this, as does our time of meditation, especially on the sacraments, which are all acts of God’s hospitality, revealed in very tangible means.
We know a peace beyond understanding, we know a love beyond the ability of poets to describe, we have a God who welcomes u into His presence and would welcome all, forgive their sin and inviting them to share eternal life, with Him.
Heavenly Father, help Your people again show Your will at work in their lives, as we open our churches, our homes, and our lives to those who need to come to know that YOU love them, as we show them that love, as we love them in YOUR name. And bless my new friend John on his journey, and be with him at his doctor’s appointment today. AMEN!
Do me a favor, share with me stories of how you have been welcomed and loved by churches you have visited. Or stories in which you share how you could have been made more welcome. THANKS!
(p.s – the end of the lunch included John inviting me out to lunch, to continue our discussion)
Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 I lift my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. 2 Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God until He shows us favor. Ps. 123:1-2 HCSB
Many men and women are experiencing more and more today serious lowliness and neglect as a result of their excessive zeal for autonomy which they inherited from modernity. But mostly they have lost the support of something that transcends them.
For the last day or two, pictures from last summer remind me of my favorite place on earth. It is a quiet place, and even in the midst of the summer Deer Cove on Lake Ossipee was quiet, tranquil, a great place to walk, enjoy God’s creation and peace.
I miss it, this idyllic, beautiful peaceful place.
When life is stressful and overwhelming, when I am dealing with people in great trauma, I long to find the autonomy, the independence of such a place.
Yet I hear Pope Francis’s words this morning and I know my desire to be introverted, independent, emotionally off-the-grid is a trap. What I would be choosing is isolation, not freedom. What I think is an escape is a sentence, a form of suffering I could not bear.
We choose, far too often the very thing prison wardens do to those who will not live by the rules. We dwell in that place that makes memory stealing diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia so frightening.
While a good deal of our stress comes from others, so should the support that comes from the people of God. So does the reminder from others that I need to hear, that the Lord is with me. (and also with them!) We were made to live in community.
But that community starts in the presence of God, Where love and mercy are the greatest of gifts, the purest grace. (this is a necessity, otherwise, our sin and brokenness can make the community a nightmare.) As a community, as the Body of Christ, we look to God to provide that which we need, and the confidence of that provision grows.
Even as we learn to be merciful to each other, it grows. For that is the power of the Lord demonstrated in our midst.
Our desire for freedom, for independence, for autonomy is really a desire for freedom from sin and the brokenness, guilt, shame, and division it causes. As the sin is forgiven, as the mercy is realized, as our hearts re-discover peace and joy, the desire for independence disappears.
For we realize God is with Us, we realize His provision unites us, brings us together as a family. Brings us together in His peace.
Which is what we need, more than anything.
Heavenly Father, as we try to run away from all that oppresses us, help us look to you, open our eyes to Your mercy and love, Help us to rejoice in Your presence, together with all your saints. Help us to be confident in Your work in our lives. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 227). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
22 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. 23 Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. 24 Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, 25 not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. 26 If we give up and turn our backs on all we’ve learned, all we’ve been given, all the truth we now know, we repudiate Christ’s sacrifice 27 and are left on our own to face the Judgment—and a mighty fierce judgment it will be! Hebrews 10:22-26 (MSG)
940 “Where charity and love are found, there is God” we sing in the liturgical hymn. Here is what a certain soul noted down: “Fraternal love is a great and marvellous treasure. It is not simply a consolation—which it certainly often has to be—but it really brings home the certainty of having God close to us, and shows itself in the charity our neighbours have for us and in the charity which we have for them.”
Yesterday, our church was blessed to have a great pastor come and preach, just months before he retires from a prominent role in the church. I really wanted my people to hear him preach, to hear him talk of God’s love. But I also wanted him to hear them respond to him, to minister to him, as they have for nearly 10 years, to me.
You see, I need them, I need the church,
Not to pay my salary as a pastor, (though that gives me the freedom to teach and care more) I need them to encourage me, to lift me up, to help me survive in this crazy broken world. I need them to remind me that my sins are forgiven. I need to hear them fire back with great confidence “And also with you” which is what I wanted my district president to hear.
He’s going to need it as life dramatically changes. Just as we need to hear it now.
St. Josemaria has it right, this bond between brothers and sisters in Christ is not just a consolation, it is far more than just the comfort we bring, it brings home the certainty that God is with us. The love, the charity, the mercy we find ourselves dwelling in, sharing with each other, is beyond our own ability. It is because of the love of God. It is His work, it is His love that empowers and enables us to love each other.
The challenge is that we get so distracted by life or by work, even by the business of church that we forget to look around, to pray for that person, to give that one a good solid hug, to look in that person’s eyes and make sure they hear us when we say, “The peace of God is with you!”
I need to be a part of the church because I need to know God’s presence, that He is at work, to be reminded of this when sorrow hits, to be encouraged to re-focus when I am distracted to be encouraged. I also need to be able to make that difference in other people’s life. I know that I am not the only one that needs the church, that needs to know God is present, not just as a doctrinal statement of omnipresence, but as a reality seen in a life in the community, in a life with others God has gathered together.
I need the Church, simply because through the Church we find revealed to us the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us. I find the comfort that God offers when I cry to Him, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner”.
I pray you find that need in your life answered as well.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3321-3325). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 I’m praying not only for them But also for those who will believe in me Because of them and their witness about me. 21 The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind— Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. 22 The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they’ll be as unified and together as we are— 23 I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me. John 17:20-23 (MSG)
But the opposite can also happen: men, who are made for love, can find in this presence that is everywhere around them the security for which their whole being cries out. They can see therein a victory over the loneliness that no human individual can ever banish even though it is in direct contradiction to our being, which cries out for a You, for someone to share our life. In this secret presence, men can find a reason for the confidence that makes life possible for them. At this point, their response to the question of God’s existence acquires critical proportions.
Until the Lord shall come in His majesty, and all the angels with Him266 and death being destroyed, all things are subject to Him,267 some of His disciples are exiles on earth, some having died are purified, and others are in glory beholding “clearly God Himself triune and one, as He is”;1* but all in various ways and degrees are in communion in the same charity of God and neighbor and all sing the same hymn of glory to our God. For all who are in Christ, having His Spirit, form one Church and cleave together in Him
My name is Dustin, and I am an extrovert. My vocation is that of being a pastor, where it seems I am constantly surrounded by people.
And I get lonely.
Even with an awesome church that doesn’t acknowledge the formal line between my being their pastor and being their friend! (this is a great blessing, an incredible one) Even with a great wife and incredibly bright son. it still happens.
There is time to be alone, but loneliness is a different thing. Being alone is needed at times, and is both restful and restorative. Loneliness is wearing, it is needing someone to relate to, of not wanting to be alone, of needing not to be alone.
Loneliness, Pope Benedict wrote, was something we can never banish. He also noted how it is in direct contradiction to our very existence. That creates a very ugly paradox, the one thing we can’t avoid is what robs us of who we are. The emptiness, the inability to express love, and ot know we are loved wreaks havoc with our psyche, with our soul. We are designed to share this life we live with others, which is why sin is so devastating, as it shatters our ability to relate to others. It devalues them, and without anyone to truly value us, the loneliness drives us further into despair, and into the bondage of sin and addiction.
I said I knew this struggle, as do many of those I know in ministry, as most people who are happily married. There are still times where the darkness of loneliness forms and tries to crush the individual.
so where do I find hope?
Among other places, I find it in singing a hymn in our liturgy. The words preceding it are “with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven, we praise and magnify your glorious name..even more praising you and singing” In that moment, I realize that friends that have passed away, and others that are singing it with me, and millions across the globe (along with angels ) are praising God together. Our voices are crying out to save us, (for this is what Hosanna means) to the One who can save us. Save us from the sin which divides us, from that which makes breaks us and leaves us unable to love, and unable to perceive we are loved.
We are, the very people the Spirit draws to Jesus, and in united to Jesus, we find our unity in God our Father, we are in Him, even a Jesus is.
As I read these words of mine, they seem too theological, to philosophical, to other-worldly to communicate the truth, the reality that I know. The presence of God, that should I remember leaves me never alone, and brings draws me out of the darkness, of my loneliness, and fills me with peace and comfort and joy.
This is why the gathering of believers around God’s word, and the sacraments where God pours out Hiss
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.
Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
Once 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!
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.