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Faith in Action: Makes Sure! A Sermon on Hebrews 3 (with video of the service!)

Faith in Action…
Makes Sure

Hebrews 3:12-29

I.H.S.

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.

Be Careful

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!

 

 

The Church’s forgotten mission: Hospitality

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.

Independence or Isolation? We need ot be careful which we choose.

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. 

Complete Isolation. 

Complete Autonomy

Complete Loneliness. 

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.

Why I Need the Church! ( a pastor’s confession)

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My Church’s Building – our goal – to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus while helping others heal

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.

Dealing with Loneliness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional 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: 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!

Where is the Church?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do We Realize an Urgent Need in the Church?


(church at communion 2
(TEV)
Devotional Discussion Thought fo the Day:
1  I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3  striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4  one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NAB)

Not only by the reception of the sacrament but by the words associated with the sacrament the heart will be encouraged to believe and be quickened. For it is in the words that God promises the forgiveness of sins: “This is my body, given for you.” “This is the cup of the new covenant,” is the new promise, the promised righteousness, eternal life, “in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sin.”
Thus they obtain the forgiveness of sins not through any outward act but through the faith which is awakened by the word and the sign.
Also the people are to be taught that this sign has been instituted not only to awaken faith but also to instruct us in love, as St. Paul says in I Cor. 10[:17]: “It is one loaf and it is one body, for we all partake of the same loaf.” We are not to harbor envy and hatred, but each is to care for the other, to help the other with alms and every kind of service which God has commanded us.
This teaching shall be repeated often. For what else is it than dishonor of the body of Christ when we harbor envy and hate and want to show no love and yet want to be considered a part of the body of Christ

First of all, that the Last Supper of Jesus is recognized as the authentic occasion of the founding of the Church: Jesus bestows on his own this liturgy of his death and Resurrection and, in doing so, bestows on them also the feast of life. At the Last Supper he repeats the covenant of Mount Sinai—or better: what was there initiated only in signs becomes here the full reality—a union of blood and life between God and mankind. When we say this, it is clear that the Last Supper anticipates both Cross and Resurrection yet at the same time necessarily presumes them, for otherwise everything would be but an empty gesture. That is why the Fathers of the Church could say, in a very beautiful image, that the Church sprang from the open side of the Lord, from which there flowed blood and water. That is, in reality, only another way of formulating the thought I express when I say: the Last Supper is the beginning of the Church. For it always means that the Eucharist unites mankind not only with one another but with Christ and so constitutes humanity as the Church, thus giving, at the same time, the basic constitution of the Church: the Church lives in eucharistic communities

Some people are afraid of it, for they assume unity means compromise.

Some people are afraid of it because they know that such unity does mean change, and requires us to submit our will, our right to grievances, our resentment and even jealousy to God’s desire for His people. 

Some are simply afraid of it, no let’s be honest, we are afraid of “them.” Of those we’ve been taught to stand opposed to, even as we recognize that we confess the same creeds ( or if we are “anti-creedal – we cover the same ground in our faith statements.)

And yet, in the New Testament, there is a definite call for the church to be “one,” to be unified, to be about the ministry of reconciliation. It is part of Jesus prayer, where He asks the Father to bless us, that we would all be one.  It is a major them in the 2 letters to the Corinthians, and to the Galatians, it is obviously here in Ephesians, and the great passage in Philippians 2 describing in Christ’s ministry to us, is to urge us to unity, to submit our personal desires and even needs to serve those who need it.

Even our enemies, even those we are afraid of, even those who cause anxiety. 

This kind of unity is not worked out in theological dialogues, or debates.  It is not fostered by blogs and vlogs and podcasts.  In fact, those monologs, even ones like this urging unity, don’t foster the unity. 

That is done in the sacraments, where God shows unity not only to be possible, but to be created.  Some will hopefully wet our appetite for such a unity, while I fear far more urge greater division, greater separation because of a false understanding of holiness and purity. 

In our mutual baptism, we are each joined to Christ.  Where we are so united, we share in His death, and in the resurrection.  But even as we individually are drawn to Him, and find that He has united us to Himself, we find we are united together.

We also see it as we kneel and commune, as we share in the body and blood of Jesus together. Where each of us is reminded we are part of the covenant, and we commune with the Body and Blood of Jesus, together.  Here are the words of St. Paul on this,

16  The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. 17  Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (TEV)

It is in these things where we not only encounter God, but are joined to them that we find we are joined.  Where the urgency that Paul observes finds not only hope, but the reality of what it means to be “one, holy (pure/set apart), catholic (universal – there is only one) and apostolic ( the church with a mission, a church that is sent into the word) Church.

A mission that is seen as people look at His church, His people and say, “see what love they have for each other!” and thereby are drawn to Jesus.  AMEN!

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 40. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999. Print.
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.

A Prophercy Self-fulfilled: The Church Life-Span

Devotional Thought of the Day:

19  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20  May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.    2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)

1  If GOD doesn’t build the house, the builders only build shacks. If GOD doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap.
Psalm 127:1 (MSG)

About 12 years ago, I was in a program that trained pastors for what is called Intentional Interim Ministry, or what I prefer to call Transitional Ministry.  It trained pastors, many retired or about to retire, in how to help a conflicted church or a church whose identity was found in relationship to their old pastor prepare to be shepherded by someone new.

A lot of the material was excellent, but there was one theory I questioned then, and I question even more now.  It was called the “life-cycle” of a church.  It proposed that most churches were lasting about 40 years, and 25 years into that cycle they began to decline.  Often overlooked in that discussion was the exception.  I questioned the theory and the basis for it.  I have seen too many churches that have existed for hundreds of years and are still a cornerstone of their community. I also wondered about the correlation of the theory to the generation it originated in – the baby boomers.

Now, I see the theory has become self-fulfilling.   But I still don’t think it is accurate.  Here is why.

1.  How we use our talent.
If we buy into the fact that a church has a specific life-cycle, then we will see a move to use our human resources and gifts accordingly.  Our brighter seminarians will be taught that the best will be the large church pastors or church planters.
After all, the statistics infer that the biggest “bang for the buck” is not in established parishes and congregations, but in doing something new.  Those churches in the decline or approaching 40 years will be relegated to men who go through the motions, or as the clergy crisis draws nearer, to retirees who are great preachers, but don’t have the energy or drive to disciple and work in the community.

2.  How we use our money.
What we will see here is similar,  Rather than invest in the costly upkeep of 40-70-year-old churches, we will fund new initiatives, and ministries that make us feel like we are accomplishing things now.  Effectively we will teach the next generation that sacrifice and determination are not as important and that it is better to give up and abandon, rather than dig deep and care for a community. (we already see this in the wastelands of cities that have been abandoned)
By the way, I am not just talking about the gothic cathedrals, but the store front chapels, the inner city, and extreme rural churches.

3. We devalue the people in a place
The first church I was called to pastor was a little place with 14 senior citizens left by the time I got there.  I was told by “the experts” that the most effective strategy was to drive off the people, close the doors, and re-open the church six months later with a new name.  They were willing to put their money where their mouth was and offer me a generous salary if I went with their logic.

But they couldn’t answer how these people would be cared for, where they would hear of God’s love.  I have since heard other leaders say it doesn’t matter; they will find some place to go, if they can’t travel to the new church plant, well they can go to some other church in their community.  These people of God didn’t matter, what mattered more were the resources they were hoarding, that they weren’t using. They didn’t see any value to them.  They didn’t see them as children of God, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Where there’s is no prophetic vision, scriptures tell us, people will perish.  When we teach them that their church must leave a legacy, rather than have them share what God is doing, then that is all that is left.  A legacy.  We’ve robbed them of what is theirs in Christ Jesus.

4.  We dishonor God, and dismiss His promises
As I look at scripture, while the church is the people of God, there is always a special bond between the people and the land where they gather with God.  The promised land to Abraham, the altars of Jacob/Israel, the role of the tabernacle and then Solomon’s temple.  God always talked of a place where He would put His name, where He would gather His own.  The only time those places “closed” and something new was started was during times of sin and rebellion.  Times where people did what was right in their own eyes.  Times when the people forgot the promises of God, and leaned on their own strength and understanding.
While a church building today isn’t the same as the Temple – it is still dedicated and set aside for a purpose.  There are still those who are baptized there, where the Body and Blood of Christ is a feast of our communion with God.  Where we celebrate new life, both physical and spiritual, and where we give thanks for those who are part of us, who have died and gone home.

When we invest in the new, as if it is the best, if not only hope for the church, we dismiss God, and we discount people.

But what if we invested in these places, in the communities?  What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient?  What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly.  What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there.  What if we realize God was with

What if we sent pastors who would sacrifice and strive, who would guide and be patient?  What if we rededicated those buildings, and re-read the gospel as the Jews were told to do regularly.  What if we treasured what happened in those buildings, and invited people to join us there.  What if we realize God was with us there, and put His name there for a purpose, for people?

I bet that would fulfill a different prophecy, and we would see that God doesn’t abandon a congregation, that God doesn’t forget His promises.

That God hears, and forgives, and reconciles and bless His people.  What if that vision were given, in such a way, that the people and the church didn’t perish?

Could we give that a try, rather than just abandoning people and planting new wildernesses?

Pray to the Lord of the Harvest – for these fields are still ready for harvesting..

A Measure of Congregational and Christian Maturity: The Sacrifice of Preference

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:

But Melchizedek, who was not a descendant of Levi, collected a tenth from Abraham. And Melchizedek placed a blessing upon Abraham, the one who had already received the promises of God. 7 And without question, the person who has the power to give a blessing is greater than the one who is blessed.(Heb 7:6–7)  NLT

Her purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed, this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ’s message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people.

I have an older member of my congregation; she is tone who loves a traditional liturgy with organ accompaniment going full throttle.  She said to me one day, “Pastor, I prefer the older liturgy, but I hear people singing the new liturgy, and I see where it is a blessing to others.  Keep doing it.”    I have another member, who learned the Lord’s prayer from a modern translation, without the hallow ‘d’s and Thy’s.  But hearing the passion in the voice of the older folk who say it, he wants to hear them say it, their way, and not steal their comfort by forcing them to become modern.

I hold them out to you, dear reader, as an example of Christian maturity.

Why?  Because they understand that being blessed by their preferences being satisfied is not as important as helping others know Christ Jesus, to experience His love and His mercy.

As the writer of Hebrews explains it, it is Christlike, it is the more mature that blesses, and what greater blessing is there that you can give someone, that to have the gospel communicate to them in a way they “get.”

That’s what I like about the statement from Vatican II.  It recognizes the purpose of the church to make sure that can grasp the gospel.   To express Christ’s message in a way that is different, not in core message, but in view of the context it is delivered to, knowing the age, the culture, the various ethnic and language idiosyncrasies.  Let me give you an example.  The French spoken in Quebec is different than the French of Belgium, is different from the French spoken in Vietnam.   Some is the same, but to communicate to the heart of the people, you phrase some things differently.  Likewise, I would preach a sermon on the same passage differently if I was preaching it at a Harvard Chapel, or at a rescue mission.  As Robert Schuller used to talk about, we have to study our milieu as much as the passage we preach.

A mature church adapts its message to the people.  This is not sugar coating it, but understanding it is an act of love to bless others with a message it can grasp. That means working hard, diligently preparing messages and music, and helping others see where they too can learn to sacrifice.

This is the church; this is growing in awareness of God’s desire. This is growing in our ability to depend on God, to love, to be transformed into the image of Christ.  It is proof of His work in us….

So think – and bless God fo the ability to communicate His love, even to those who are different!

Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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