“The LORD told Moses *to say to the community of Israel, ‘Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy’…. ‘Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. Obey my laws, because I am the LORD and I make you holy.’” Leviticus 19:1-2, 20:7-8 GNT
And all who heard were completely amazed. “How well he does everything!” they exclaimed. “He even causes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak!” Mark 7:37 GNT
When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained,
as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:4 GNT
Therefore he first gives the law, by which man recognizes this sin and thirsts for grace; then he also gives the gospel and saves him.
None of us can approach a consideration of the eternal nature and Person of Jesus Christ without sensing and confessing our human inadequacy in the face of the divine revelation…..This is the only one who can assure us: “No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me!”
It should be clear that the cure of souls is not a specialized form of ministry (analogous, for instance, to hospital chaplain or pastoral counselor) but is the essential pastoral work. It is not a narrowing of pastoral work to its devotional aspects, but it is a way of life that uses weekday tasks, encounters, and situations as the raw material for teaching prayer, developing faith, and preparing for a good death. Curing souls is a term that filters out what is introduced by a secularizing culture. It is also a term that identifies us with our ancestors and colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical, who are convinced that a life of prayer is the connective tissue between holy day proclamation and weekday discipleship.
I found one of those calculators that tell you how long you’ve been alive.
Over a half million hours. 30 million minutes, over 1,826,841,618 seconds – almost 2 billion seconds!
No wonder I feel old!
If I cannot even think through the enormity of those numbers, how in the world can I attempt to understand Jesus, who has been there. He knows me far better than I know myself – for I might remember a thousand or 2 of those hours– He knows every one of them.
What is overwhelming is that i remember as many of my failures and sins, maybe far more, than the good moments. Luther is right – the law causes me to recognize my sin, and thirst for this idea of grace! I hear the words from Leviticus–this call to holiness, and know I far too often fail spectacularly to meet that standard. I usually don’t even get to last part of verse 7, and the declaration that GOD MAKES US HOLY!
That is the point where a soul is cured. And it is revealed with more and detail every time we pray, every time we contemplate the scriptures.
It begins as Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus, who binds us to Himself in baptism, and brings us into the presence of the Father. And the ongoing work of revealing the cure our heart, soul and mind,
This is the work of the people of God, and those who shepherd them to Jesus.
It is why we pray, to revel in the relationship, to let God remove our burdens and empower us to live as Christ, giving hope to other sin the middle of their 1-3 billion seconds… to help them know they aren’t alone in this moment. This is what it means to be holy – to live in Christ, to love, to care for, to point people to the place where their souls find the cure they need. Even as the Holy Trinity provides the cure we need…
This is the work of the church…reviving the people Gpd called to be His own…seeing them cured.
This is the holiness God creates in us, as we are bound to Him.
Heavenly Father, help us see the cure provided as we are united to Jesus. Help us see that healing provided by the Holy Spirit, and help us look with joyous expectation to the moment we dwell with You forever! AMEN!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 9.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 68.
1 O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. 2 I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. 3 Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! 4 I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 5 You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. Psalm 63:1-5 (NLT2)
In a nutshell one could say that the goal of Asiatic contemplation is the escape from personality, whereas biblical prayer is essentially a relation between persons and hence ultimately the affirmation of the person.
We know God aright when we grasp him not in his might or wisdom (for then he proves terrifying), but in his kindness and love. Then faith and confidence are able to exist, and then man is truly born anew in God.
Luther’s words in green above come from a pamphlet (the forerunner to the blog) on the contemplation of the suffering of Jesus. It is a pretty difficult read, as he takes us through contemplating the incredible power of sin, that breaks us down, the crushes us…
that we to often choose.
It is painful, and though I hate to say it, it should be. We need to be horrified by the actions we have done, the words we have said, both in anger, and simply to do damage to those we dislike or are jealous of, we need to take a moment, and examine our thoughts to realize how little we control them.
And then, find relief, not in our own resolve, or our ability to make things right, or even survive our brokenness, but in the presence of God, in the Holy Spirit’s comfort and gentle careful cleansing of our lives, our hearts, minds, souls… all of it.
This is the meditation that Pope Benedict XVI discusses, the relationship we have with God, and He with each and all of His people. It is what affirms us, this new birth in God that we have to really contemplate – that we really have to sit and discover.
And in that contemplation, as we gaze on the power of God, as we realize what He has done and is doing, we can cry out praise, much as the Psalmist does.
It is in those quiet moments, contemplating the riches of God, revealed in Christ so that they may be revealed in our lives, that the desire for God’s work becomes stronger and stronger.
So take some time, not just a moment. Consider the cross and the grave… let the Spirit help you know the entire picture, how you’ve been broken, and how you’ve been healed…
For the Lord is with you…
(no matter which side of the Tiber you are, or whether you are on the bridge)
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 24.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 13.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
14 But as for you, continue in the truths that you were taught and firmly believe. You know who your teachers were, 15 and you remember that ever since you were a child, you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, 17 so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (TEV)
We are witnessing today a kind of meditation in which religion becomes a drug. Its object is to find, not an answer to truth, but a liberation from the burden and misery of each individual existence.
Though Pope Benedict’s quote is nearly 20 years in the past, I see it coming true today as well. There is a definite tendency in Spiritual Development to create a modern monasticism. There is a tendency to want to turn out the world, not to contemplate the mysteries of God as much to escape the rat-race.
We want to be freed from the brokenness of the world, we want to be saved from the misery and anxiety of today. We want respite, a rest that would refresh us.
We don’t want to leave our mountaintop experiences and return to our broken lives. I’ve seen this on too many retreats, and those who would easily volunteer to work on such retreats, experiencing the refreshing nature by observing others going through a process exploring what it means to depend on God.
But we need to meditate, we need to contemplate the mysteries of God. Meditation is not to escape life, but to embrace life in Christ, To explore the how wide, how long, how deep, how high the love of God is, by experiencing it in the midst of life. To treasure the guidance of God in His law, because we depend on His wisdom and mercy, to be amazed at the promises He has made us, and delivers in the sacraments.
That is why Paul urges Timothy to study the scriptures, to treasure them continually, for they give us the wisdom that comes from knowing we are saved, for we dwell in Jesus.
Meditation is not an escape from the world, it is the rest we need in the midst of the world, the chance to remember that the Lord is with us, the chance to take a rest and concentrate on His love, on His presence. To remember the cross, to remember our baptism and what it means, to remember the Body broken and the Blood shed for us. To see His place in our lives, revealed in the pages of the scriptures.
This is what we need, this gives us peace in the storm, a peace that can be far more powerful than the peace we find escaping the storm.
So take a moment, breathe deep, and remember you dwell in Him, and in His peace.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 328). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Discussion Thought of the Day:
14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)
I have already referred to contemplation as one of the two realities of the spiritual life, the other being participation. I have identified Christian contemplation with Mary who “pondered … in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Christian contemplation ponders, reflects, gazes, and delights in the wonders and the mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). In Christian contemplation God is the subject who acts in history; contemplation enters God’s vision of the world and is stunned, filled with wonder, amazed, full of inner delight and joy. This contemplation is, in sum, an experience of God’s presence. The realization of his presence in the world, creation, incarnation, death, and resurrection and the ultimate presence of God in the fulfillment of history in the new heavens and the new earth is the subject of our contemplation.
But the theme of the suffering God can thrive only when it is anchored in love for God and in a prayerful recourse to his love. According to the encyclical Haurietis aquas, the passions of Jesus, which are depicted as united and uniting in the Heart, are a justification and a reason for the fact that even in the relationship between God and man the heart—that is, the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love—must be included. Incarnational spirituality must be a spirituality of the passions, a heart-to-heart spirituality. Precisely in that way is it an Easter spirituality, for the mystery of Easter is, by its very nature, a mystery of suffering, a mystery of the heart.
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.
The last quote above, the short one, is my favorite from the Lutheran Confessions. It forms the basis for most of my ministry, and how I teach others to serve the people of God and their communities.
Yet over the sixteen years since I realized the truth of this, my understanding of it has shifted, it has changed.
All because I have asked, what do people really need to know about Jesus. What does it mean to give them what they need to know about Jesus? What do they need to know? How will the way I minister give to them what they need to know?
Let me explain, using the examples of Preaching and Liturgy.
When I was trained in Homiletics, the emphasis was on what is called expository preaching. That is, you take the passage apart, using Greek/Hebrew, studying the individual words, the grammar, the style of literature, and what it meant to those who heard it first. Pretty in-depth stuff, pretty powerful as the ancient languages were full of marvelous word pictures.
So I preached exegetically, revealing to people the wonder of this treasure we had in scripture. Like many of my peers, we could take apart the passage with great skill and find application, without ever bringing Jesus into the picture.
With hymnody, many have taken words like those from the Augsburg Confession and concluded that our hymns must primarily teach. They love the old hymns that are rich in doctrine, that are more like a lecture put to music, that communicate on a horizontal plane, as we share in the wonderful teachings of the faith.
In both cases we talk about Jesus from the position of an observer, somewhat distant, somewhat disconnected. We think about God’s work and urge people to accept it based on our logic and reason, and the wonder of the system that we have been able to describe. And we teach them all about the system, and the church service becomes the primary place of such teaching.
It is all good stuff and beneficial. However, it is not what they need to know about Jesus Christ.
It can accentuate that, but it is not the main thing our church services, our sermons, our worship is to communicate, to teach, to reveal.
I think the other three readings that head this discussion talk about it in depth. First, from Dr. Robert Webber, the words in blue about contemplation, a lost art among us. He gets to the heart of the matter when talking about pondering “the wonders and mysteries of God active in this world “reconciling the world to Himself.” It fills us with wonder, amazement and inner delight and joy because we are experiencing the presence of God. To contemplate this means we realize we are part of the story, we are the ones reconciled, we are the ones who God loves,
This is what Pope Benedict XVI was writing about (back when he was Joseph Ratzineger) as to our including the capacity for feeling, the emotional aspect of love, it must be a “heart to heart spirituality” This is what we so need to know. That we are not alone, that God is here, present, sharing in our lives.
This is what Paul urges for the people in Ephesus as well. Not just to know the theology, but to experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The vivid picture Petersen’s “The Message” uses gives us an idea of the power of this, to realize the depth of God’s love, His great passion for us, the passion that causes God not only to be patient, but to endure the suffering it takes. With one goal in mind, that we would be His people, that He would be our God.
Our preaching must reveal this love, it must help us explore its dimensions, even as our sacramental ministry must help our people participate in it. Our prayers, our liturgy, our hymnody and praise music must help us contemplate it, experience it, respond to it.
We need to give them what they need to know about Jesus Christ, true God, true man. That in realizing His love for us, we begin to see the Father’s love for us, and God draws us to Himself.
This is what we need to teach, this is the gospel, and without it, our meetings our empty and vain.
Lord have mercy on us, and help us to draw people into communion with you, revealing the love you have for them, even as we celebrate that love together! AMEN!