The Call Never Changes
Isaiah 6 & Luke 5
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as you are formed for the works God has planned for you in the future, as you walk with Him through this life!
- Called to Train
Andrew Murray, a 19th Century Missionary from the Netherlands to South Africa, wrote,
“Let the Church awake to her calling to train the feeblest of her members to know that Christ counts upon every redeemed one to live wholly for His work. This alone is true Christianity, is full salvation.”*
While we need to carefully unpack that statement, it is quite true. Every person part of this community, young or old, is called to live for Christ.
Each of you is called to do God’s work, no matter what else you do, no matter where you do it.
The challenge is not to think that serving God is what saves you. Instead, salvation looks like these men’s lives: a relationship like Isaiah and Peter enter into with God. An intimate relationship resulting in a joy found in walking with Jesus throughout life.
And as you are called to walk in this journey, you are following in Isaiah and Peter’s footsteps, for the call never changes…
- Called into God’s Presence
The first part of the call is finding ourselves in the presence of God. For Isaiah, that was the incredible vision of heaven, seeing God in all His glory. It must have been overwhelming, to say the least, to see the angels ministering to God, praising God, seeing how God’s glory envelopes the entire world.
Peter and Andrew’s call was somewhat different. Their call happened at the end of a long night of fishing- long because all their hard work resulted in nothing but sore bodies and frustrated attitudes. As Jesus taught, and then the miracle – catching fish when and where you aren’t supposed to catch fish, led Peter to the same conclusion as Isaiah. “I have been called into the presence of God….”
- Called into God’s grace
Once called into God’s presence, both Isaiah and Peter had the same reaction,
5 Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.
8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him.
To me, that they could talk while seeing God’s glory is amazing!
They were both aware of two simple facts…
The first is that God is so incredibly holy and righteous.
The second was how they described themselves.
for I am a sinful man. And I’m such a sinful man.
But that is where the second part of the call comes into play.
For these men were not sinners in the hands of an angry God, they were in the presence of a God determined to be merciful, a God who loved them, a God who had a plan for their life….
And even as they are called into God’s presence, they are called into His grace…into receiving His forgiveness and pardon. Hear that clearly….
He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid!
God doesn’t call us in this life to punish us. He calls us into His presence to purify us, and so both Isaiah and Peter are calmed, and their sin dealt with…so that they can see the last part of their call into the presence of God
- Called to Minister to Others
What happens to Isaiah and Peter next is important.
Not because it happened to them… but because the call of God never changes.
Remember Murray’s statement?
“Let the Church awake to her calling to train the feeblest of her members to know that Christ counts upon every redeemed one to live wholly for His work. This alone is true Christianity, is full salvation.”*
Peter is told he will become a fisher of men, so he will. Isaiah responds to the same call that brought him into the presence of God, saying, Here am I – send me! I often hear that like this…
Send me! Send me! Please send me!
For that is the response. One early church describes it this way,
“The Lord does not say unequivocally whom he is sending. He leaves the matter vague so that the prophet might respond to the call voluntarily. When Isaiah responds, he does not do so out of rashness or overconfidence but out of trust. For his iniquity has been removed, and he has been cleansed of his sins”
And Luther adds, “But to offer one’s service is to say, ‘I’ll be glad to accept if you can use me in this place.’ If he is wanted, it is a true call. So Isaiah said, ‘Here I am. Send me’ [Isa. 6:8]. He went when he heard that a preacher was needed. This ought to be done.”
Sharing God’s love is always a matter of faith – of trusting that God has sent us into that place, using whatever gifts, whatever knowledge we have – no matter whether we are 9 or 90, a preschooler or a Ph.D. A fisherman, a tax collector, a student, a pastor, a financial guru, it doesn’t matter… We are called into this relationship… something so incredible, we need to bless others by bringing them into it.
Most of us will be like Peter, just fishers of men called where we live. As we live, called in the presence of God, saved by the cross of Christ, the end result is fantastic… sinners end up in heaven.
Just like we will be…. So my friends… when you are in the presence of God… hear His call… and go where He sends you…trusting in Him. For you dwell in His presence. AMEN!
* Andrew Murray, Working for God!: A Sequel to Waiting on God! (New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell, 1901), 35.
 Wilken, Robert Louis, Angela Russell Christman, and Michael J. Hollerich, eds. 2007. Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators. Translated by Robert Louis Wilken, Angela Russell Christman, and Michael J. Hollerich. The Church’s Bible. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Luther, Martin. 1999. Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk. Edited by Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 54. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Surprised by Christmas!
What Do You Want now?
1 Kings 3:3-15
† Jesus, Son, and Savior †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to worship God…in His Presence!
Just curious – how many of you have heard this story about Solomon before, that instead of asking God for money or fame, or victory in battle, he asked God for wisdom to govern and lead his people?
How many of you knew that God said because He asked this, God would not only grant Solomon the wisdom he would need, but would give him all the other stuff, too?
Curious – I wonder how many of us would follow Solomon’s example – not really wanting to have the understanding about right and wrong that was the basis of wisdom, but secretly thinking that is the shortcut to getting “all the other stuff?”
You all mean I am the one that ever failed at using reverse psychology on God?
As we look at this passage, there is a reason we find it here, on the last Sunday of Christmas…
It isn’t because of the wisdom or the other gifts that Solomon received.
It is because this passage is really about worship, about praising God in a meaningful way… as we recognize we dwell, as Israel did, as the shepherds, as the apostles would, in the presence of God.
- Heterodox Worship – Solomon’s Sin
In the Old Reading, we see something a little confusing. Solomon leaves Jerusalem, his father’s city and heads to Gibeon and there slaughters 1000 head of cattle in a huge worship service.
The reason it is confusing is that the Ark of the Covenant was back in Jerusalem. Remember, David brought it there, dancing in his underwear? David wanted to build a temple around it, and God said no. Of the Ark, God told Moses this, for every generation to know,
21 Place inside the Ark the stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, which I will give to you. Then put the atonement cover on top of the Ark. 22 I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. Exodus 25:21-22 (NLT2)
So God promised to meet the people of God at the ark, which is in Jerusalem, and outlined a very clear way of worship – worship that was a response to what God had done….
And instead of that, Solomon leads them off to Gibeon, to worship at a empty tabernacle, the tent formerly used to house the Ark.
God didn’t promise to meet them there though, he promised to meet them at the Ark. So despite the show of 1000 cows being slaughtered to provide burnt offerings, the worship was useless – because of disobedience, because they didn’t seek God, they just sought what was familiar.
Basically, they were worshipping God in vain. They were there, they might have been using His name, but the used God’s name in vain, because they weren’t where His promises were, and they didn’t know the Lord was there… with them.
We do this too….
We sometimes come to church, and we aren’t looking for God. We have something else in mind, we have some agenda, or something is distracting us. It might be stuff we think is good, family stuff or church stuff…
But if we aren’t where God is… if we don’t recognize His presence here… we are just like Solomon…in the wrong place, doing what we do… and missing what we need.
And we are caught in our sin….
- God moves us to Worship Him… in His presence.
It tells us something about the character of God that He didn’t fry Solomon right there or allow one of Israel’s many enemies to do so.
Instead, God comes to Solomon, and works with Him.
Just as He does with you and me….
Whaddya want Solomon? I’ll give you whatever you want….
In the process, Solomon looks at his dad, and what he treasured the most – the love of God. He saw the reaction of David to that love – how David became a holy man, who struggled to depend on God when things were upside down and backward… and God loved him, still.
Of everything David had – this is what mattered the most!
Solomon could think of nothing better than to ask God for that kind of relationship – which was why he asked for the wisdom to govern hem, that they would know the difference between what is righteous, and what is evil. For that only comes through knowing God. That is what changed David.
One pastor wrote about this relationship this way,
prayer is a process of interior transformation, a conversation initiated by God and leading, if we consent, to divine union. One’s way of seeing reality changes in this process. A restructuring of consciousness takes place which empowers one to perceive, relate and respond with increasing sensitivity to the divine presence in, through, and beyond everything that exists
Solomon sees the relationship his father had with God as the priority for his people, there is nothing else more important for them, or for him.
The way to see this is simple.
What does Solomon do after his time talking to God is over?
Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet
His reaction, when given the wisdom of God to lead his people to what was good and not evil was simple – he took them where God promised to be there for them, when the burnt offering would be acceptable, where the peace offering would celebrated – Israel would now experience a peace with God that would last Solomon’s life.
Solomon would have his ups and downs, but he would build the temple – a place for the people of God to meet God, to be cleansed and lifted up by God. Until Jesus came..
Today’s it’s not about location – where we gather is where God is, where He feeds us, because He offered the sacrifice.
But there still is a feast – for His people to celebrate that they dwell in peace, for they dwell in the presence of God….
You dwell in the presence of God…
As we go through this next year, let’s pray that we realize this all the more.
 Keating, Thomas. 2009. The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings. Edited by S. Stephanie Iachetta. New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury.
Devotional Thoughts for this Day
My friends, even though we have a lot of trouble and suffering, your faith makes us feel better about you. 8 Your strong faith in the Lord is like a breath of new life. 9 How can we possibly thank God enough for all the happiness you have brought us? 1 Thes. 3:7-9 CEV
Like homing pigeons flying home, like iron filings drawn irresistably to a magnet, like solar flares falling back to their parent sun from which they had sprung, lovers of God become one with the fire of their Beloved. The twentieth-century British poet Stephen Spender wrote their epitaph: “Born of the sun, they travelled a brief while toward the sun and left the vivid air singed with their honor.”
That is what a Christian is. Not to be one is life’s only real tragedy.
Twelve years ago today, two friends, I knelt down and my District President installed me as the pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. A few weeks before that, the church had laid to rest a beloved retired pastor and his wife. Within three months, I would bless the graves of another couple. And over the years, there have been a lot of deaths, people that had become not only parishioners, but good friends. There has also been trauma that scars one deep, and ministering to those broken by such, has been commonplace. Enough so that prayers start ascending every time the phone rings, or a text message beeps.
It would be lying to saying this has been an easy time. It would also be lying to say this time has not been a huge blessing. My devotional reading this morning explains why:
It is all about the faith of the people I see, a faith that is lived out in the midst of trauma, in the midst of sacrifice. A faith that keeps coming back to God, must as Kreeft’s pigeons and iron filings being attracted to their “home.” There is a joy in this, even amidst the shared tears. There is a confidence, born out of the Body and Blood of Jesus in which we share, that even the tears are somehow beneficial.
The ability of people to depend on God in this time is what lifts me up. Just as it did Paul, to see people being sustained by God, to the point where they are ministering to others during their own trauma, is the best feeling a pastor can observe. It is what sustains us, as we see the effect of them being drawn back to God.
This is how, after 12 years, I can look to the future.
Knowing the response of those to whom I remind, “the Lord is with you!”
And knowing they are right when they answer back, trusting in God, “and also with you!”
Lord, as we go through these days, help us to continue to help each other, trusting You to show us their needs, and empowering us to meet them. Help us set our own brokenness aside, help us to leace it there… knowing You are healing us in this time. We pray this, in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen!
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 93.
What will it take to prove…
† In Jesus Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as His unsurpassable peace guards your hearts, and your mind, until He returns.
From Lazarus’s Perspective
We know his name – but we’ve never heard his thoughts, save one. Even as he stands at Abraham’s side, we hear him thought of as a servant – someone to dispatch with a message, not like an apostle, but like and errand boy.
While he is alive, suffering, unable to care for himself, the only thing we head from him is his desire to be fed by what falls from the rich’s man’s table. How he longed for a piece of bread, a morsel of lamb, even and onion.
And he was so weak; he couldn’t even brash away the dogs who would lick and nibble at his open wounds.
Some scraps, please? Please?
A man who knew only hunger and pain.
And then one day, a procession of angels came, sent by God, to bring him to Abraham’s side, to wait for the day when there will be a new heaven and a new earth when God will dwell with His people, and we will see Him!
He was welcomed home, as we will be.
For like Lazarus, God knows our name!
The journey home
But what is this screaming in the distance?
As Lazarus is standing by Abraham’s side, he hears something you can’t usually hear in heaven, in fact, this may be the only time. Some un-named (and that is important) man is trying to get Abraham’s attention from across the gulf, from the place for those not welcome in God’s presence.
It’s a voice that sounds familiar, and maybe Lazarus even recognized it as the voice, that echoed through the gates, the laughed and enjoyed the fine banquets and parties.
But now the voice was one of anguish, one begging for help, begging for reliefs from the heat, crying for pity,
Because of his past, maybe we would think Lazarus was thinking Mr. No-Name was getting what he deserved. Or more likely, because of the very reasons he was escorted by angels, his heart was moved, and as Abraham was asked to send a messenger, maybe Lazarus was in tears, wanting to help.
Even so, the man’s torment would continue, his heart still not turned. And as he pleads for his brothers, Abraham’s words are haunting,
“‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
What will it take to convince us?
These words that Lazarus hears are scary when you think about them, and who is saying them. What kind of proof would convince someone about the consequences of their sin? If the words of scripture will not, if even the fact that Jesus not only raised people from death but rose from the dead himself – if that doesn’t cause people to think a little more, what will?
How do we reach people, and bring them to Jesus, If they aren’t persuaded by Jesus rising from the dead?
Or perhaps a better question – does the resurrection of Jesus make a difference in our lives?
Does it give us hope?
Does it help give us peace?
Does that hope, that peace transforms our lives in such a way we aren’t tied to stuff, but that we realize people have names, that we are to love them in the way that God does?
What difference does the resurrection of Jesus have for the way we look at life, and death?
What difference would it make if we realize that God, and all heaven, knew us by name because Jesus lived and died and rose again?
What will it take for us to realize God knows us and calls us by name?
Col. 1:28 –
The apostle Paul explains it this way.
27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.
This is the message that changes us, knowing that God loves us, and indeed loves every human being changes everything. It means everything. It means that each one of us is God’s beloved.
Knowing that means that loving others is no longer a duty, no longer a sacrifice, but it is glorious and wonderful to see them come alive in Christ, to see their lives transform, for they begin to share in God’s glory as well.
They have a name; they mean something to us. This is why Paul would go on to say,
28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.
Colossians 1:26-29 (NLT)
People need to hear of God’s love, while they are still alive. They need to see that love in a way that they can hear; that isn’t someone trying to persuade them, but rather share with them this glory, this love. They
But that happens best when we know His love when we realize He knows our name! It is then, as we hear Him calling us by name that we realize in awe that He has given us His peace, peace that goes beyond understanding, peace that we dwell in because Christ calls us His treasure, and keeps our hearts and minds there.
This is our life… where God calls us by name – so live it! AMEN!
Alleluia! He is Risen! Therefore
We Praise Him for He Keeps His Promises!
In Jesus Name
May you praise God our Father as you realize the richness of the grace, the depth of the mercy, and the overwhelming love given to you in through the work of Jesus Christ.
He is Risen….response…and therefore!
Once upon a time there was a pastor who tired of his work, and that people never seemed to hear the message that he labored to create. As the story goes, he decided to do an experiment, and started to preach the same sermon, week after week. Eight weeks or so later, one of his elders asked him if he had used one of the stories in the sermon before, because it sure sounded familiar.
Now, I’ve never done that, probably never will, but I have to admit I’ve been tempted a time or two.
I do imagine that some of the series we do get repetitive. It’s not just me, it’s the readings and the focus of scripture. Though it may say the same thing many different ways there is but one message we preach – Christ Jesus who is the hope our glory.
Since Easter, we’ve used a familiar cry, getting more familiar it, perhaps even tiring of it. (though I hope not!)
Alleluia – He is Risen!
(He Is Risen Indeed, alleluia!)
and therefore –
(We are risen indeed, alleluia!)
Because of the resurrection, we have a new life, a holy life set apart to God, Because of our resurrection with Jesus we have peace, and we persevere.
Today we realize we live a life that is lived in praise of God, because He has kept His promises to us, to those who call upon His name.
LORD versus YHWH
They’ve got to hear this… but so do we!
Luther’s explanation of the 2nd!
As we look at Psalm 146, which is the passage we focus on this morning, we see one word repeated over and over. LORD – is all capital letters.
The word LORD is there, because the translators didn’t quite know what to do with God’s name. It is the name he revealed to the Moses, to reveal to the people He would save. It is the name we are commanded to never use in vain, but to call upon in times of need, and as we see today, to use to praise God.
Does it make a difference, whether we use Lord, which is a title, or the personal name of God? Imagine a man call his wife, Mrs. X, or saying, “wife, come here!”. As I asked people such questions this week, there was a consensus that using a title puts distance between two people, it acts as an insulator, moving the relationship from personal and intimate to more distant, more uncaring.
Luther, in talking about the 2nd commandment, talked of it, not just using the name of God improperly, but by using it in vain, because we don’t use it when we should, to praise Him, to praise Him by laying before Him our lives, our problems, our struggles. That’s what we are supposed to do, that’s how we are supposed to use His name.
God gave us His name to use, to help us realize how committed He was to keeping His promises, the actions that He would take and complete. That’s is why we have hope in YHWH, in God.
Hear the actions He takes again,
He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry! The LORD frees the prisoners! The LORD opens the eyes of the blind! The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down! The LORD loves the godly! The LORD protects the foreigners among us! He cares for the orphans and widows! But he frustrates the plans of the wicked!
Where others fail us, God doesn’t. We aren’t going to get that kind of response from anyone else. We shouldn’t expect it from powerful people, yet we so often do, and complain when they let us down. Their plans don’t last past the time they leave office, never mind until they breathe their last. If our faith, if our trust is in God, then we have something, in them, not so much.
That is why we praise Him.
The Incarnational life – but not quite the way we think
That’s why we praise and glorify Him.
Just a few months ago, during the Christmas season, we praised God because, as the Gospel of John put it, “He came and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
We call that, using church words, the incarnation.
But we praise Him now for a different incarnation, that He has gathered us and given us a new birth Himself. We were born again, linked with His death, so that we could be raised with Him, so that we could relate to God the Father as our Father, so that we could use His name. He who dwelt among us, calls us to dwell in Him.
That is what Christianity is all about, the relationship we have with our Creator. With the God who loves each of us, and pulls us into Him. It is seen throughout our church service, from allowing Him to cleanse us from sin, to our leaving our burdens, the things that cause us anxiety in His hands in prayer, to communion, the most intimate meal’
He gives us His name to call upon, in prayer and praise. Knowing He is here, knowing He loves us,
That’s were find comfort, and the strength to do amazing things, as we reach out to those around us, loving those who do not know love, or the power of God to fix and heal relationships.
Incarnate, dwelling with God, or to use the old phrase, abiding in Him, we find something the world cannot give…..
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, and we are kept there, secured in that peace by Jesus Christ. AMEN.
Alleluia, He is Risen! Therefore
We are Risen Indeed!† IHS †
May you rejoice as you realize the gifts of God our Father, poured out on you in Baptism, as we are united with Christ’s death and Resurrection!
It’s not just for Easter Season!
For someone whose been to church for a while, some phrases we say are as automatic as responding to someone who sneezes.
They sneeze, we say, “God bless you”
For those who’ve been around this church and many others, if I were to say, “The Lord is with you”…. Hahaha… I knew some of you would not wait to hear me respond…so please – don’t respond to this next one…
“Alleluia! He is Risen@” you would normally answer, “He is Risen Indeed!”
Not today, today I want you to respond, “Therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!”
Let us try it – “Alleluia – He is Risen!”
“therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!”
One more time?
“Alleluia – He is Risen!”
“therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!”
We desperately need to understand this – that because He died, and He rose, we too with the church in Rome, can consider ourselves to be dead to the power of sin, and alive to God, through Christ Jesus.
That has to become part of our daily thought, to realize we are dead to sin, and alive to God through Christ. As it does, we become more and more aware of His love for us, and His walking with us through life.
How we would want to live
With 15 years of being a fulltime pastor now, I think one of the greatest challenges that exist for people is to understand the Doctrine of Justification personally, in their daily lives. Or to put it clearly – to get the connection between the phrase Alleluia! He is Risen, and “therefore we are Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
We know how God expects us to live, loving Him, loving those around us. We understand that is God’s salvation is His gift to us, and it is found in trusting Christ, not in our works. Many of us have known these truths as long as we can remember.
Yet when we look at our lives, we struggle, because there great truths aren’t always seen in our daily actions, We know what’s good, but can we live that way throughout our lives? It’s a paradox, one that can make us question whether God really is active in our lives. Or take the opposite tack, and try to excuse and defend our sin, rather than seeking the comfort
Though we think more of Romans 7 and 8 when we talk about our struggle with sin, it really begins here, in the first verses of chapter 6. Here Paul begins to address sin, and our being declared without sin, because of Jesus. We lose our ability to just dismiss it, or justify it’s constant presence in our lives. First, he deals with the dismissal, that sin isn’t that big of a deal, because God is glorified as He forgives and cleanses us of sin. Therefore, more sin equals more glory, so no big deal?
He says we can’t let that attitude even be born in our lives, because, we’ve died with Christ. Having died with Christ, why should we go back to it?
Paul strips away our excuses for our sin, by reminding us of what happened. Being in bondage to sin isn’t our normal way of life anymore.
Hear the Message!
That’s the key to this passage, sin and its power over us is history, sin doesn’t have the power we once knew it to have. It cannot, for we have been baptized into Christ, joined with Him
And as we have been united with Christ – the words are incredible there – we are nailed to the cross with Christ, they are compound words – syn-staurothe – crucified together with Christ, Synthapto, buried together with Him. The prefix syn indicating a communal aspect – all together in this, sharing in it, one with Him in His death.
These picture us so untied to Christ’s death, burial and resurrection that we can’t be separated from it, Paul then goes on to say, if this is true regarding being one with His death, we will be one with His resurrection, in His tossing aside death, in His leaving sin so powerless – that we are considered dead to each other.
For Alleluia! Christ is Risen! Therefore?
So what do we do? We realize what Paul is saying to the church in Galatia as well,
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Galatians 5:24 (NLT)
That is what living in Christ is all about – about leaving our sin, our passions and desires, nailed to the cross – and when we struggle with sin, to bring it back there and leave it where it belongs.
You’re dead to its power – and alive to Christ. Because God claimed you in baptism.
When we said earlier that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, that’s what we know, yet it is something for which we need daily reminder. It’s why we pray that God would lead us away from temptation and deliver us from evil, so that we will know He does. It is why we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and hear St Paul say that every time we do this, knowing Christ, we proclaim His death until He comes again.
Because in proclaiming His death, we are proclaiming the victory, the liberation of us from the power of sin. Delivering us into a life filled with the Father’s love and mercy and comfort and peace.
So you sinned this week, God’s dealt with it, and when you face temptation, your struggle is not to overcome it by your own strength, but to look to Christ, know you are in His presence, flee to His side, to the cross, and know that sin cannot defeat you there. Remember you are baptized into Christ’s death, and raised with Him, think of the body and blood given to you in this place, and know God has separated you from your enemy sin.
That’s what this service, and Sunday School, and our Bible study are all about.
To help us know this.
That we are dead to the power of sin, and alive to God through Christ.
For Praise God, He is Risen, and therefore we are risen indeed, Alleluia?
I Have Certainly Seen, I Am Aware,
I Have Come Down…
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
It is my prayer for you, that you realize the grace of God, that His merciful love and peace wash over you, cleansing you, as we realize that He has come to us!
The Burning Bush? Big Deal…
It draws our attention like a moth is drawn to a flame, like the day after thanksgiving gathers shoppers to stores. Like chocolate draws the attention of some people… or like Best Buy adds draw William’s attention… well and mine.
Yet in our Old Testament reading this morning, it is about as important on its own as the color and smell of the sheep Moses shepherded.
Burning Bushes are interesting, they get our attention, they call us to look at this passage, they gain our attention.
But this passage is about the burning bush. It is about what God reveals to Moses, something that after this week of challenges I don’t just want to preach about. I need to know it as you do. I need to know it is as true for us, as it was for Israel.
Verse 7, slightly adapted:
7 Then the Lord told us, “I have certainly seen the oppression of you my people. I have heard your cries of distress because of the trauma life is tossing at you. Yes, I am aware of your suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue you.
I have certainly seen….. I am aware…. And
I have come down
Our struggle – we aren’t sure if He sees, if He is aware…
I think we get that God has come down in the past, in the time where He walked with Abraham, or Moses, or when He inspired King David to write incredible songs of transparency and praise. We know He was there for the prophets. Yet when God talks so passionately about His people, about seeing them and being aware their troubles, and coming down to rescue them, I think we lose something in translation.
Because we use the pronoun “them”, rather the “us”
There are days I wonder, does God see us the way He saw Israel, does He know the pain we endure, whether it is our grief, or our anxieties. When our complaints and our brokenness seem unheard, seem that they do not gain His attention. Just like Israel, crying out for His help, as they struggled under oppression in Egypt. Faith is realizing the them is us.
So that we can cry out like the man who encountered Jesus, “Lord, we trust in you, help us trust in you!”
We look around to see if there is a burning bush nearby… or maybe we check with our friends, or maybe even our pastor, to see if they’ve seen one. After all – Moses was not outside the Starbucks in Cairo, Egypt when the people were crying out. He was out in the desert, out in the wilderness, trying to avoid his own problems. Hmmm.. maybe I should check with my friends in Anza and Yucca Valley, see if they’ve seen our bush?
I have to be honest in this, there are the days, where like the Israelites wandering in Sinai, I wonder if it would be better to go back to New Eng..err Egypt. That the problems and sufferings might have been less there.
We are not the super-heroes of the faith. Matter of fact, if we read their stories, Abraham, and Moses, David and Jeremiah were not superheroes either. They struggled as we do, to see God’s presence, to see God’s faithfulness.
Otherwise, why do burning bushes and arks of the covenant exist?
Because we need to know this: that He sees us, we need to know He is aware… and to remember He has come to rescue us. We need something to distract us from our normal grind of life, to call us to realize that we stand on Holy Ground… not because of a burning bush or a beautiful sanctuary, but because we live in God’s presence.
But He has… and He therefore comes down!
We are not in the situation Israel thought they were in, when Moses turned back to see phenomena, and instead realized He was in the glorious presence of God. We are in the journey from that place, on our way to the Promised Land, the place God has set aside for us to dwell with Him eternally.
He has come down! He is guiding us, even as He guided them through the Sinai. We are not in paradise, in heaven just yet. He calls us together like a shepherd gathering a flock, like Moses was sent back to Egypt to go get God’s people. Because our oppressors have been defeated.
It is not in today’s reading but not long after that the miracle at the Red Sea happened. Like this it was prophetic, a picture of our baptism. When the Israelites walked through that sea – it was to get to the other side. Passing through the sea was to get them to the place where God arranged for them to live in His presence. However, those that oppressed them died in the water, they did not pass through it.
Just like that is our baptism, where the goal is not just the removal of our sin, not just to unite with Christ’s death, but with His resurrection as well. Though we pass under/through the water of baptism that which would and could separate us from Jesus does not. It died – then and there. Our oppressor and the sins which enslaved us died and lost all authority over us there.
Because God saw, and was aware of our situation, and came down to rescue us. The rescue is only the beginning, even as sending Moses to Egypt was only the beginning for Israel!
And He is still here… because He has seen, and is aware… and is with you
Flash forward 1500 years, to two more mountains, the first and encounter between another tree, and another man, another appointment arranged by God. The second mountain, where that man would turn to his apprentices, to send them back to their lives, to free others still captive in sin, still oppressed by it.
Christ would die on that cross, and I pray that everyone we come in contact would turn to look at that tree, on which God was killed, yet would live.
It is that other mountain, that I would look at, to close this sermon and lead us toward prayer. The words that we know, but again, that we miss part of at times. The words that send us back out into our worlds, back to the places where people need to know God’s love.
18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT)
All authority is invested by the Father in the Son, and even as the Father sends the Son, so He sends us. Just like Moses was sent. The key is in the other part of the passage that is underlined.
I am with you… the same message that Moses would hear… as he was sent to deliver people from bondage. The same message those people would hear, as God guided them to the Holy Land. The same promise made to us when we were called into this relationship, the same promise made to every believer, as they are sent to free others from the bondage of sin.
He is with you.
He certainly sees, He is so aware, and He’s come down to rescue us.
That’s what the tree on the mountain that wasn’t consumed by fire was really about.
That’s what the parting of the water of Red Sea was about.
That’s what the cross on another mountain is about…
That’s what the water of baptism is about..
And it is what this altar, and this meal is about…when we, as Moses was told remember His name.
7 Then the Lord told us, “I have certainly seen the oppression of you my people. I have heard your cries of distress because of the trauma life is tossing at you. Yes, I am aware of your suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue you.
And He brings us into His peace, His indescribable peace that passes all understanding, where Jesus will keep us, mind and heart, safe and secure; for the Lord dwells with you! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day….
1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (TEV) 15 I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 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.
5 Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,”5 for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (1) (from Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession)
“XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (2)
“What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a sacrament? Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in him. ” (3)
530 Many Christians take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (no hurry here). They are leisurely, too, in their professional activities, at table and recreation (no hurry here either). But isn’t it strange how those same Christians find themselves in such a rush and want to hurry the priest, in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy sacrifice of the altar? (4)
Yesterday I had the great blessing of going back to my alma mater, and teaching a class on the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist and Holy Communion) it was really a good experience for me, and I think I caused some of the students to think.
I started the class with my own “personal theology” regarding the Lord’s Supper. I’ll briefly state it here:
You have a 16 oz cup that contains 8 ounces of wine. Do you:
(1) Agree and argue the position alongside the optimists that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.
(2) Agree and argue the position that it is only grape juice, and it only is a act of faithful obedience….
or (3) find some bread and with the people of God celebrate (give thanks) the gift of God given to the people of God as you commune with Him?
As always, there is a third choice, as I I thought through the lesson, I was struck by something truly astonishing. While the sacramental churches disagree on what I would call the mechanics of the Lord’s Supper – exactly how and when and in which ways the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, they don’t disagree that the Eucharist has a dramatic and transforming effect on those who trust in Jesus, on those in a relationship with Him.
For it is highly effective, and as a means of grace, brings into our lives so much, it is a wonder that anyone would ever avoid it, or not be glad to celebrate it.
The challenge is that how it affects us is not academic, or philosophical, but rather deeply spiritual, and if I dare us the word, emotional.
Maybe that is why we can’t agree on the mechanics, but can agree on its effect. We can’t academically and logically dissect the Bread and Wine, we can’t scientifically prove the presence of God there… and our post-enlightenment minds struggle with what we can’t forensically prove, what we can’t observe and demonstrate in regards to the elements.
It’s not knowing about God that is important when it comes to the sacraments, it’s about knowing Him. About realizing the depth of His love, the “sure-ness” of His presence, of resting in His comfort and peace, of being in community with Him, every part of us.
Melanchthon (author of the first quote from the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession) was absolutely right – this is about God’s work in our hearts. Like the very word of God it cuts our hearts open and circumcises them, cleansing us, as in our baptism – of the sin which ensnares us. Bathing us in God’s presence, His glory, His love, and bringing healing to our very hearts, our very souls. It is God working in us, the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us into the image of God – as the sacrament ( the physical element and the word of God – takes hold of us. ) is there.
I didn’t include the RCC quote I used – because of its length, but instead a quote from St Josemaria Escriva, a favorite writer of mine. I can begin to understand their practice of adoration and contemplation about the “mystery” of this – the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. Of sitting silently in wonder at the depth of God’s love, at the incredible power of the Holy Spirit within us, to take the time to think through what we’ve shared in, this body and blood, this precious gift, that causes faith to well up within us. For far too often as he points out – we rush through such times – we want to get it done, move through it. Yet think about a good meal – bacon wrapped bacon wrapped shrimp for example. You want to savor the smell, the enviroment, the flavor. Could we take such a time with the Lord’s Supper as well, to let the moment nourish our hearts longer – to set aside our intellect and realize how precious it is, that God comes to us, that He is here? To realize the Spirit’s work in us, drawing us to Him, transforming us, healing us, taking our burdens…
If I, in this week of returning to my alma mater – convince them of nothing theologically – that’s okay. It’s not what I am aiming for. it’s not what the sacrament is about. Doing a dissertation explaining 5000 years of sacramental theology? Cool – but what is needed – knowing our need for God’s presence… and knowing He responds to that need, for this He has promised, this blessing is ours…in Him.
So my friends, take and eat…. take and drink often, and know that the Lord is with you… AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 211–212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) The Articles of Faith (Anglican) http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html
(4) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1282-1284). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
26 If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it. 1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (NAB)
I am sitting here, after driving 10 plus hours (somehow getting through Soledad took more time than taking the 91-405-101 during morning drive-but that is another blog)
I am beginning to rest, the camper is all set up….and I finally think back to our church services yesterday. I think about our Taiwanese congregation, who are in those challenging days where they are looking for their new pastor….I think about the guests we had in our multi-cultural service, friends of friends. I think of our people suffering through cancer, through depression, through work issues and family issues. Sunday was my 5th anniversary with these people…we have been through the ringer…and have come out all the more dependent upon God’s love and mercy!
It was a little strange as so many of my friends, my parishoners said that I needed some rest that I needed to get away…. as if it was them that I needed to escape from! Be assured…we will get physical rest. But spiritual rest for me comes as we sing together, as we praise the God who brought us together, the God who is with us. When we witness God working through each other, even those whom those who don’t know God’s love and mercy would consider the weakest. Especially them, for they are the most amazing to watch God work through! Watching the people of God trust in Him…watching that trust grow and build…it does a pastor’s heart good!
The verse above perhaps explains my rambling a bit better. We are the people of God. We belong to Him, and therefore are bonded to each other. Distance can’t separate us.. lack of cell phone service or internet…( bahahahaha,,,,the campground has wonderful wireless!) can’t separate us. We’ve dined together with God.
There is nothing better….
Now to go and rest… knowing my people are in God’s hands…for that is not just my desire…it is His!
And my dear people at Concordia know this…above all….The Lord is with them! ( And also with me!)
And also…with you.
- Some thoughts on Church Leadership. EC XVI (justifiedandsinner.com)
38 Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me. 39 Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10:38-39 (NJB)
“989 Come, now! After saying so often, “The cross, Lord, the cross,” it is obvious you wanted a cross to your own taste.” (1)
It is pretty obvious that the culture in America doesn’t handle suffering and death all that well. Heck, we don’t even handle getting old that well, as our bodies begin to groan and ache. We find ways to hide the effects of suffering and the problems we endure, and if we can’t, we try to ignore it, shove it in a corner. Or we try and use it to get some kind of attention, as if we can play the martyr, or even top someone else’s martyrdom.
We don’t even like to see others suffer, and far too often, we leave them alone in it. Abandoning them because if we have to face their pains, their burdens, we might have to deal with our own as well. So getting down in the dirt, embracing the pain, being for them, no, that’s not where God wants us. Even pastors do it, as that open congregation must have less suffering and sacrifice than the one we are at. Congregations as well – as they look for another pastor, thinking that it’s his fault that the church isn’t what we think it should be. Indeed, how much time do we spend looking with envy at where the grass is greener? How often do we disrespect God by coveting the lives, the things, the churches that others have?
Like St Josemaria says…. we want a cross we like, burdens that we don’t lose sleep over, the perfect cross that doesn’t hurt, that doesn’t cause our bodies to scream out in pain, or cause our soul agony. One made by Sealy Posturpedic, with massage units.
No pain and maybe we gain.
Yesterday, I learned for a moment to greet a cross with a sense of joy. After having been away to bear a cross I whined and complained about, (and still am! My wise wife warns people for my sake not to bring up the pain!) I was able to be with my church family. A family that has and is bearing much pain, hardship, illness, and brokenness. I am sure there are others who deal with more, but the people I care for…together in Christ we’ve endured. We even know why, as we regularly greet each other with the phrase, “the Lord IS with you”. We’ve come to rely it so much.
As we waited for service – people came up to me – to add prayers. Some with tears, some barely able to say the words. Others added them afterward, in scratched out writing on paper crumbled and slightly damp. Two more were added from requests from friends via electronic media. Thirteen prayers total – added to a nearly full back and front half page. We pray a lot around here… because we have the need, and that’ has grown over the years.
As we looked at the Lord’s prayer, and why our prayers are answered, I felt more and more at home. As we struggled in prayer, as we worshipped the God who calls us to talk to Him, to lay our burdens upon Him, more and more peace flooded into our brokenness, bringing the healing and trust in God that we don’t have on our own. Our communion time, our passing the peace, were all incredibly….good? beneficial? moments of great awe?
As I look back on it. all I know is this, the pain and burdens we gave to God,… we trusted He would deal with in all wisdom and love. The things we celebrated, the joy and peace we know are evidence of His glorious presence.
We took up our cross – and we realized, consciously, subconsciously, that we were in His presence, we were with Him…..and the crosses were dealt with, and we relaxed with our God, We rested with Him. We dwelt in the presence of God, but we knew it. Taking up our cross is not just a matter of not hiding from the pain, it is a matter of embracing Jesus.
Now to remember that again today… as new crosses are embraced, new things endured, and can even become a joyous occaison, as we walk with the Lord who took the cross meant for us.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 2298-2299). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.