Why We Need to See Jesus in the Manger
Devotional Thought of the Day:
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you except to fear the LORD your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul?b13 Keep the LORD’s commands and statutes I am giving you today, for your own good. 14 The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the LORD your God, as does the earth and everything in it. 15 Yet the LORD had his heart set on your ancestors and loved them. He chose their descendants after them—he chose you out of all the peoples, as it is today. Deuteronomy 10:12=15 CSB
Ah, my Jesus, my love, my infinite good, my all, be ever welcome in the poor dwelling of my soul! Ah, my Lord, where art thou! to what a place art Thou come! Thou hast entered my heart, which is far worse than the stable in which Thou wast born; it is full of earthly affections, of self-love, and of inordinate desires. And how couldst Thou come to dwell there? I would address Thee with St. Peter: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.1 Yes, depart from me, O Lord, for I am indeed unworthy to receive a God of infinite goodness; go and find repose in those pure souls who serve Thee with so much love. But no, my Redeemer; what do I say? Leave me not; for if Thou departest, I am lost. I embrace Thee, my life; I cling to Thee. Mad indeed have I been in having separated myself from Thee for the love of creatures; and in my ingratitude I drove Thee from me. But now I will never more separate myself from Thee, my treasure; I desire to live and die ever united to Thee.
“It’s very difficult for a man to believe that God is gracious to him. The human heart can’t grasp this. What happened in my case? I was once terrified by the sacrament which Dr. Staupitz carried in a procession in Eisleben on the feast of Corpus Christi.47 I went along in the procession and wore the dress of a priest. Afterward I made confession to Dr. Staupitz, and he said to me, ‘Your thought is not of Christ.’ With this word he comforted me well.
This is the way we are. Christ offers himself to us together with the forgiveness of sins, and yet we flee from his face.
Ours is a joy not born from having many possessions, but from having encountered in our midst a Person: Jesus who never leaves us alone in difficult moments, and is all the more present when problems seem unbearable and obstacles insurmountable.
It is Christmas Eve.
It is 2020, and we are amid a pandemic that has caused further division. In the days after a political free- for all that has divided us further.
This world is so broken! Even Christianity has become more about a “personal” belief than a communal relationship with God.
It is Christmas Eve.
I look at the world and then look in the mirror and wonder why God would bother with us, why He would bother with me. Luther was correct; it is hard for man to believe that God is truly gracious, that God desires to cleanse us, heal us, help us in the midst of all the crap in which we live. Ligouri echoes the same sentiment when realizing God is here, that God is invading our lives. Ligouri’s reaction is to drive our Lord away…. as if the pollution in our lives could poison God.
I know that struggle; I wonder how God could even dare to descend into my world… I want Him here; I know I need Him here.
This is Christmas Eve.
This is Christmas Eve…
And in a few hours, the babe will go in the manger in nativity sets around the world.
I need to see Jesus there, in all His innocence, in all the simplicity, in that place were holiness and the crap of this world. I need to see, as the filthy shepherds did, God incarnate, the one the angels sang about, reveling in His glory.
I need to see Him there… We need to see Him there.
For there, we can approach Him and realize the incredible love and devotion of God. To realize His faithfulness, to realize His desire to dwell with us…not just in Israel 2000 years ago… but today in Cerritos, or wherever you are….. and then, maybe, we can see His desire for eternity with us…
But it starts there… where He can be approached…reverently for sure, but without the terror that comes as we realize His holiness and purity and realize the difference between man and God.
Seeing Him there, may we never desire to flee from Him again… but stay by Him… until eternity draws nigh…
It is Christmas Eve…
It is Christmas Eve!
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 77–78.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 19–20.
Pope Francis, A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings, ed. Alberto Rossa (New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013), 406.
Can We Recognize The Brokenness, so We can Recognize that We are part of God’s answer to it?
Devotional Thought of the Day
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT)
669 The co-redeeming—eternal!—efficacy of our lives can only become real with humility, passing unnoticed, so that others can discover Him.
Recently, the president of the United States was reported to have commented with harsh language about several countries. There is no doubt the phrasing he used was wrong. But there is also no doubt that those countries, much like our own, are broken.
Sin does that, and in some places, the sin is more evident to us, and to others, our sin is much more evident than theirs.
But rather than focus on the brokenness, both those backing our president and those opposing out president focus n the words of the message. I would not say the reason they d this is conscious and deliberate, but in focusing on the President’s phrasing, they are able to forget about the real problems in those countries and our own.
The brokenness, the sin that dominates our culture, whether it is corruption, or theft, or murder.
We would rather get mad, or get defensive about the word order than doing something about it
And these places, (including the USA) continue in their brokenness. And very few do anything about the problems. Which, in and of itself, is just as sinful, just as corrupt, and just as wrong.
St Josemaria wrote about the humility required to become effective, to have a real meaning to our lives. He talks about it from the point of our not caring about the credit we could receive, but rather being satisfied with only one goal, seeing people see God’s love for them. It doesn’t matter if I am the man baptizing them, or whether it is my Catholic priest or Methodist pastor friend. It doesn’t matter if it is my sermon that opens someone eyes to God’s love, or someone else’s.
All that matters is that they know God’s love and mercy. As they do, they will be changed by God, and their little area of the world will be filled with less skubala. (that’s is crap in Greek)
But humility doesn’t start with not caring who gets the credit. If it does, it could just be a nice excuse for apathy, and not working in the ministry God gave us all, the ministry of pleading with people to be reconciled.
Humility is found in our own reconciliation, in realizing the crap that we’ve got ourselves into, and that on Christ can reconcile us with the Father. He saved us from our crappy life, full of sin, and cleaned us up, and gave us life. As he doesn’t in just about every country in this world.
And He does it through us, the people He reconciled.
He shares this incredible work with us and makes it happen.
As we simply point to the cross and the empty tomb and invite people to know that is all for them. For Christ would unity with them there, as He did with us.
This is our hope, this is our joy, this is who we are meant ot be, working with people to see their lives change, and then to rejoice and see that every day. This is what makes our lives and communities a little less crappy…. and will do the same for the world.
The love of God, the power of God that would reconcile everything back to Him.
So rejoice in what God has done and is doing in your life, and pray for those who need reconciliation, and as you can, plead with them to let God do what God does… and then rejoice some more, in awe that God does work, and works through you!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2460-2462). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Lord Is With You… Even there!!! (A particularly powerful parable)
Devotional Thought for our days:
5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6 And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir. Galatians 4:5-7 (NLT)
14 Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin. 16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)
80 If you are a good son of God, in the same way that a little child needs to be assured of the presence of his parents when he gets up in the morning or goes to bed at night, your first and last thought each day will be for Him.
Luther saw in this the very essence of Christian theology. God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption. If we do not recognize that we need eternal life from the hand of God, we remain in our sins and are eternally dead. So because God respects us, he can reach us only if we are honest about our condition. So it fit well with Luther’s thinking that if God were to bestow upon him— the unworthy sinner Luther— such a divine blessing, it must needs be done as he sat grunting in the “cloaca.”
It is not what we think of as a holy place, yet it was.
A man who suffered incredibly from guilt and shame, whose anxiety nearly paralyzed him, when it wasn’t driving him mad.
And he finally had that aha moment while sitting on a toilet. During a particularly hard bowel movement.
Seriously? Yeah, seriously.
In a way, it is the perfect parallel physically to what needs to happen to us spiritually. We might call it thus, “The Kingdom of God is like a good laxative! We need to get rid of all the crap in our lives, the sin which binds us up! We try to eliminate the sin’s stench by trying to legitimize our behavior, to justify or excuse it. We do all things these, and all they do is cause us pain, and grief, and more foul air. And when God comes to us, all that crap is eliminated.
We need God to meet us there! And that is what Luther realized God would do, a God who loves His children so much that He will meet us even there. A God who would answer the cry of a child in pain, a God who would be there for us, no matter what we are dealing with in life. A God who knows the crap we’ve been messing around in, and loves us enough to set aside the stench and do what needed to be done.
As we realize this, how it changes us! How it reforms us and the way that we look at life! How it draws us to Him, to adore Him,, to love Him, to worship Him, even as we run to Him with confidence, assured that he can take care for the crap we cannot deal with by our own reason or strength.
This is our God, cry out to Him in confidence! Lord have mercy on me!
And assured of His love and grace, know the relief, the peace that His presence brings! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 498-500). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Metaxas, Eric. Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (p. 97). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The Infinitely Valuable, That Leaves All in the Dust; A sermon on Phil. 3:4-14
The Infinite Valuable
That leaves all in the dust…
† In Jesus Name †
May you realize the infinite value of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as you do, may you not even notice the things left behind.
Value beyond calculation…
Every once in a while, when the lottery gets over 500 million, I wonder what that kind o money would look like, and all the good things that could be done with it. It is kind of silly, to want to know what kind of money looks like, but interestingly Google has the information.
500,000 dollars in $20 dollar bills would be a stack over 10 feet tall, and it would weigh close to 60 pounds.
It might be difficult to calculate, but it can be done. And its value? That is easier to calculate. A half of a billion dollars could provide
2500 full-ride scholarships for 4 years
It could buy 750 homes for homeless families that live in places like Coyote Creek or the Santa Ana River Trail.
It could provide 5 thousand people health insurance for 10 years.
or it could build 50 new churches and provide them a pastor at district scale for 2 years.
Or perhaps, our dear friend Pr. Bernie could use it for his mission projects in … 6 months? 😊
So its value isn’t infinite
Not even close.
Yet today we are looking that is, enough so that as we realize it, we drop everything, leaving it all behind.
Because what we are given is the infinitely valuable thing in our life.
An Important word?
Like most of Paul’s writings, there is a lot to focus on in this passage. Some like to focus in on Paul’s qualifications and talk about how important he was. Others like to talk about the athletic language used in verses 12-14.
Me? I get distracted by one of my favorite words in Greek.
Translated in most modern translations as rubbish (who uses that today? Rubbish?) or garbage. The old King James was more accurate with dung. While it has the same amount of letters, it was in common Greek, you might say a much coarser or foul synonym.
For some reason I always got a chuckle out of Paul using that word to describe his genetic lineage, his academic and professional accomplishments, and that the word is in scripture, and that translators struggle with how to put it…nicely.
But that is part of the problem we face, in this passage which talks about not just the most valuable, but the infinitely valuable, we mess around with resumes, sports terms and other bull… rubbish.
I wish I understood why we can get so easily distracted, why we find it so easy to focus in on other things in a passage, rather than what the passage itself says is most important.
Important enough to leave all else in the dust.
For they have no value, and knowing Jesus who was chosen and anointed to save us, to realize He is our Lord, knowing Him is everything.
Nothing is worth chase after, like chasing after we’ve been caught
Paul explains why a few verses down,
I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
This is why knowing Jesus is infinitely valuable. Not just knowing about Him, knowing Him. To experience life, the life that comes from dying with Him, and being raised, for we are united to Him.
To be that close, to know Christ, to depend on Him, sure that while we may fail, He will never fail us.
In one of my readings this week, a pastor wrote the words he us with a burnt out pastor, “
Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”
That pastor, like so many of us, was looking to his own works to make him holy, looking to his own actions to prove how spiritual he was. And like the apostle Paul, he couldn’t do it. No way, no how.
Graduating seminary and getting ordained are great tools to prepare you to minister, but they don’t make you holy. Neither does just coming here, and doing your duty. All that stuff, if we don’t hear Jesus, if we don’t get to know Him, if we don’t hear His voice, if we don’t experience His love as He brings us to life, all that other stuff is a bunch of….. rubbish.
But when we come here, when we spend time hearing of His love, of His promised work in our lives, from forgiving us our sins to comforting us as we struggle, as He holds us in His embrace…
That is infinitely valuable.
So come, celebrate the Lord’s love for you.
Come, taste and know the love of the Lord…
For He is with you and wants you to know Him, and then know His peace. AMEN.
 Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
A Most Excellent Quote about Death, and Easter
Devotional Thought for the Saturday between the cross and the resurrection.
23 In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. 24 But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner. Acts 2:23-24 (TEV)
14 And God will raise us from the dead by his power, just as he raised our Lord from the dead. 1 Corinthians 6:14 (NLT)
Thus Christ the Lord became our פּוֹדֶה (redemption) and גֹּאֵל (redeemer). For He not only redeemed us but also freed us rightfully for Himself, so that the devil and hell were compelled in strict justice to let Him go, because they had killed the innocent Son of God. Therefore the Law burned its fingers, and death dirtied its pants. The devil, death, and sin overreached themselves. There they all became guilty and debtors to God, to this Son Jesus Christ, who now has the right over against His enemies. For why did you crucify the Son of God, O Law? Why did you kill Him who was innocent, O devil, death, and hell? (1)
I suppose some might find the italicized words above offensive, this idea that death filled its pants, that it couldn’t control its bowels or bladder.
But I find death offensive, brutally so. To be honest, after the last couple of weeks, and even over the last couple of years, I am pretty ticked off at death, at the damage and grief it causes, at the pain, as it separates what God has brought together as couples, as families, as communities. So when I read this quote by Martin Luther, I knew I had to use it, and soon.
I almost wish I knew German, to see if the translators “prettied up” this quote. SOmeohow I think Luther, who was no stranger to death or the anxiety it can cause, said something like this, “when seeing Christ’s resurrection, death crapped…” (not that I would actually use that phrase in public, though it is tempting!!!)
This horrible enemy that is death, whose presence can so hurt, will, in the end, be terminated. Then, St Paul tells us, there will be no more its horrible sting, it will have no impact. Like Satan and sin, it will be an object of ridicule, absolutely powerless.
What a joyous moment, the moment after death thinks it had gathered to itself God, as it wrapped its cold slimy hands around Jesus, as it thought it had at last one, that this God who kept raising people from its power, now was subject to itself.
And the Lamb of God, the sacrifice which redeemed us from sin, this incredible Redeemer begins to breathe, and life pours back into the body of the one who is the Resurrection, who is the Life, our Life. Death who thought to parade its victory around in Hades finds itself bound, and those who it held prisoner rejoicing as Jesus claims His own, the people He redeems because He was the sacrifice.
This scene is repeated, over and over, every time a saint enters into his Father’s glory, as sin and Satan and death are found powerless, (they can’t even control their bowels!)
For scripture tells us, the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. The Holy Spirit – the gift to all who believe, the gift God has given that brings us the gifts repentance, faith and hope, is ours.
We have been raised with Christ! Live in that peace my friends!
Praise be to God our Father, for by the cross of Christ joy has truly entered the world! AMEN
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s Works, vol. 8: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 45-50. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 8, p. 162). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven: #4 Hand Me All Your Trash!
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:
#4 Hand Me all Your Trash
† IHS †
May you always be quick to remember the grace, the mercy, love and peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, as we journey to seeing them face to face!
A Pleasant Journey!
We have been looking at the largest Pastor Parker Parable. That the Journey Home to Heaven is like one of those long journeys of our youth, when we were crowded into the backseat of the family car.
We’ve overheard some of those conversations, remembering when we were urged “to get along back there,” and “That’s Not fair!’. And last week Deacon Michael urged us to consider what happens on those journeys, as we grow up, and eventually get to ride in the front seat.
Today, as we look at Paul describing His life in Christ, I want you to think back to those trips in the car. To remember pulling into the gas stations, where men would pump your gas, clean your windows, check your oil.
When that happened on our trips, as we stopped and Ray Child’s Esso, there was something my dad would always say to us……
No, not, “who has to go to the bathroom” No one would ever want kids or ladies to go into the restroom at that place….
What dad said was….
“Hand Me All your trash!”
It was time to clean the car, getting rid of all the trash, all the candy-wrappers, all the napkins, all the masterpieces colored in crayon, all the broken cheap toys,
Stopping for gas was the time to get the car taken care of, and for us, that meant emptying the backseat of all our trash.
The question is, when our Heavenly Father asks us to hand to Him all our trash…. Will we?
in order to answer that, we have to understand two things…what the trash is, and why it is a benefit to get all that crap out of our lives….
What’s in the Backseat!
It is amazing what we thought were treasures as children. Remember the little 2 piece balsa wood gliders? Or those growing up after me, the happy meal toys that would break before you ever made it home? The baseball cards and the gum that came in the packages. The Pez dispensers with the heads broken off them…
They would end up on the floor, forgotten, smashed, even cried over.
Until Dad asked for them, because they were trash.
Then they were worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. And we would make a fuss and a fit when our dad’s wanted to throw them out. We counted them as our treasures, irreplaceable things that just cluttered up the backseat.
In today’s epistle, Paul reveals that he saw things that he once thought were invaluable as the trash he needed to stop carrying around. Things that he would understand were trash, which needed to be tossed to the side.
Looking at the list, they don’t really seem all that trashy.
Wait, I need to clarify something. The translators got to the back seat before we did. It wasn’t trash that Paul considered this stuff. Anybody remember the old cloth diapers and what they would be filled with, when they were in the dirty diaper bag? Anybody remember what that bag was like, kept in the back seat on a hot day like we’ve been having? Yeah – that is what Paul called these things he had been so attached to in life
The translators use nicer words, refuse, trash, the old KJV had it more accurate when it said dung.
If I told you the stuff God would take away from you in life, most of you would come up with the idea of sin, or with the old Catechism answer, God removed “sin, satan and death” from our lives.
I am not sure we understand that Paul is talking about sin, when he mentioned that used to count on being born into the right family, into the right race. That he had all the boxes checked off that would see the community think he was a perfect kid. He went to the right schools, go incredible grades. Paul thought, without boasting, that he was living the perfect life. That he did what he was supposed to, even religiously did it.
Sounds like good stuff to me.
Then again, so did the now in 8 pieces balsa wood glider!
The reason these things were trash, or the filling of a diaper, wasn’t because they had no value. It is that they have absolutely no value if you trust in them. They are worthless to trust in, and too often, we do. When we say we can’t do without them, or that these things make us who we are, we have turned them into an idol.
Luther said it this way,
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.
All Paul was doing in counting these things as trash, was confessing that they had become idols, things in his life he trusted in, especially that he was good enough. He swore he was going to get to heaven because he was a good person, because he had all the boxes checked off, and he trusted in his own work.
Which is why, when Paul heard the gospel from Stephen, it was hard. All that he believed in, all that he trusted in,
We do the same thing. We find our value in all sorts of things. It might be in our bank account, or our financial status. We find our meaning in our job, the awards and diplomas and certificates we receive. We find what defines becoming our roles as parents, or grandparents, even our citizenship. These are the equivalents to what Paul found to be trash, because we allow them to define us, rather than God defining us.
That’s the key, we aren’t who we think we are,…..
We are who God knows we are.
Nothing in our Way!
Getting rid of the trash in our lives is about learning to see each other, and indeed ourselves, as God sees us.
As those who died with Jesus in baptism, and have been raised from the dead with Him. This is what Paul talks about, when he says,
For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
He goes on to say,
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Paul is crying out for a level of intimacy with God that leaves everything in the dust. To be so united with Christ that we become indistinguishable from Him. He lives in us, He shines through us, we are one with Him, as He promised we would be! Paul says this again, when he says,
“But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”
Compared to knowing Jesus, well, the other stuff belongs in the used diaper bag. Our relationship with Jesus defines everything we are, and what we can be. It has eternal value, there is nothing that will make life better now, and nothing else, no one else gives us a future and hope that is eternal.
He is the one in whom we find hope, it is in Him we find life, it is in Him we find the peace that passes all understanding, as He guards and protects our Hearts and Minds….
So when you come up, and feast with Him, let go of everything else, and realize that He holds on to you… so hold on to Him.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind! In Sight? Christ!
Out of Sight, Out of Mind! In Sight? Christ
† IHS †
May you see the incredible love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so clearly, that it robs you of any desire to focus your life on anything else!
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
The thing parents miss the most…
It is the one tactic that works in raising children for a while, that works so spectacularly that when it no longer works, parents and preschool teachers cry.
Described by six little words, oh the problems solved by it.
If I give you the first three words, I bet you will get it. Heck, I bet some of you will get it with only one word.
Out ….. of ….. sight
Yeah – that great opportunity to simply remove something from the picture, and in a moment, most young children forget it was ever there. You are driving past a golden arches, and they so want to go there… until of course you are 30 seconds past it…. Then it is forgotten.
It is true for adults as well, especially spiritually. Not so much for things like coffee and doughnuts and… bacon.
But spiritually, we are very much children – we have to deal with those things that are in front of us, and the challenge is.. what is in front of us!
What should Be out of Sight and out of Mind
In the epistle reading today, we see a great example of this very thing. Paul talks of those things that we in front of him spiritually, consciously. The things that gave him the confidence he needed when he was a young up and coming rabbi. He had all the right boxes checked off, all the advantages that anyone could want.
Genetically – he was perfect, family – perfect (those are the root words in Greek Genea and phylum) the right schooling – the roughest and most demanding program which he excelled at, He even proved how loyal he was to his nation, to his religion, by squishing like a cockroach those who opposed it.
Imagine being the next American hero – a cross between Tom Brady and Bill Gates – and being the captain of Stanford’s football team and making a 4.0 in a dual major of computer science and a MBA and while there – you invent a computer that costs $5 dollars to make –can be sold for $500 and blows away everything else on the market?
These are the things that Paul counts on, they are on the forefront of his mind – so much so… that they become a detriment. They actually are so incredible – so depended upon, so much in sight, that what was not in sight, was was not forefront in his mind… was that which every Jewish person for hundreds of years said they were looking for, the Messiah.
The very things that should have helped him to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, got in the way, as Jesus was standing before him all the time. It is
These things – to put it simply, like the things we depend upon for our being considered “right” need to be put aside – for they distract us from what truly makes us righteous. It’s not that we’ve been coming to church all our lives, or that we’ve been Lutheran for 10 years, or that we are Irish, or that we’ve done this or that, or we’ve worked hard, or whatever it is… for if you don’t see Jesus, these things are nothing more than…distractions. It isn’t even that we belong to the very special church family,
Or As Paul says,
8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.
What should be in sight, and in Mind
Even before Paul leaving behind all his stuff, there were two sets of brothers, who left their dad, and their family business, to follow a young homeless teacher, who a preacher said was the Agnus Dei – the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Another man, a very tax collector, left his tables on April 15th, to walk with this teacher. Paul leaves behind everything else – it cannot capture his mind, or his heart anymore. Indeed, he counts them as refuse – not just the trash but the stuff that fills sewers and raises a stink. St Patrick will, because of this very thing – return to the land where he was a enslaved and escaped – knowing that he could face death…because of what he gained in leaving it all behind. Everything they were, they left behind…
Because of the infinite value of knowing Jesus. Please hear this – it is the most important thing I can tell you. It isn’t that we know about Jesus, As the Epistle of James tells us, even demons know about Jesus – they recognize Him faster than anyone else in scripture. It is not knowing about Jesus, it is about knowing him.
Luther explained it this way.
For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.
They can know of him – but unless they understand God’s mind and will – that His desire is that we all come to repentance – the transformation that occurs when He comes to our lives, unless we understand His love and blessing, the motions we go through are worthless…
It is as we gain Christ, and become one with Him – as we are pulled into that intimate relationship with a God who loves us beyond anything we can imagine. That is when we begin to grasp what Paul says when he says..
I become righteous through trusting in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on trust. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
The incredible blessing that comes from knowing what happened to us here – as we were baptized, isn’t easy to comprehend. How do you explain the “coming to life” that happens when we realize that we’ve been cleansed from sin, when the cross becomes more than just a historical event, but the place where our life completely transforms because we are untied to Christ there, at the cross, in our baptism? Where we are united with Christ, and His death and the hope of His resurrection?
Where we are united to Him!
A few days ago, the new pope said it this way, in his first sermon
“This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord.
Without the cross – all we have is the garbage – the worthless stuff, the things this world might recognize as important – but have no meaning in the face of life or death, that isn’t what will sustain a marriage, or as Pope Francis said, will sustain a church. He went on, to recognize, very much like St. Paul, what would. He said,
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. “
Though the challenge would be worded slightly different for us – it is when we are joined to the cross of Christ, that everything is transformed. As we partake of the Body and Blood of Chris. That we begin to realize what Paul says… how this can occur.
How it can be…
I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
You see – that is our key – to strive to “get” that we’ve already been gotten. That in Christ, it is not the attaining of perfection or holiness that is what we are challenged with, it is not being good enough.
The battle, the fight is to realize that we are already there, that God is calling us to realize He is there… He is our vision – and then we don’t need to toss aside all these other things – all these other “good” things… for they will have fallen aside, and become out of mind…
For we will dwell in incredible peace – the peace that comes from living in the presence of God, protected there, our hearts and minds kept there, for we are Christ’s possession. AMEN?
What will you do now… having encountered the Lord?
What will you do now…
having encountered the Lord?
† In Jesus Name †
The grace of God, the abundant love, the incredible mercy, the peace that comes from being in the presence of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is yours!
928,000 hits for hell, 597 million for heaven
If you look up two words on the internet, one word will return some 597 million references – web pages that deal with the subject in part or are on that topic – just for that one word. The other word is even more astounding, some 920 million web pages reference it. A combined total of 1.5 billion webpages referencing these two words.
The first word is heaven…
It amazes me that there is more attention paid to that second word, half again as many webpages referencing something that by definition cannot be compared to heaven, except to say that everything heaven is not, Hell is.
I wonder if humanity is more comfortable with the second word than heaven, and therefore uses it more, because it doesn’t take any imagination to picture what it is like. We witness hints of it everywhere, as we see suffering lived out, as we witness the broken lives, as we hear the lyrics of music, country, rock, hip-hop – it doesn’t matter the style,
But heaven? How do you imagine it, much less describe it? Even St. Paul, who indicates that he was taken up to heaven in a vision, when he writes to the church in Corinth struggles, and describes it this way..
What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualise; all that God has prepared for those who love him; (NJB)
Perhaps, because we cannot visualize it, our mind cannot comprehend being in the presence of God, in all of His glory… we struggle to tell people, to describe to them this relationship that we have with God, and what we expect of eternity, walking with Him.
Our knowledge of what heaven is like comes from the brief glimpses of it in scripture, the brief times where God reveals a little of our what heaven looks and sounds like. I think we deal enough with the other place way to much – so today – let’s spend our time in heaven, and see what happens when we encounter God in all his glory.
It’s a bit… overwhelming
As Isaiah describes where God resides, the incredible, majestic, throne room of God, there is one word that I think describes his emotions better than any other.
Isaiah cannot even describe the Lord God Almighty who we have praised in song – about the closest he comes is describing the hem of his robe – he quickly describes the angelic beings surrounding the throne, singing the praises of God, praises that ring so loud they shake heaven and earth! Which leads him to focus to God, for the focus point of their body, their voices, everything they are focused on Yahweh – the sight is so awe-inspiring that the translators have always replaced God’s name – YHWH, with His title, for it seems so wrong to address One who is the purest form of holiness by His name.
Isaiah, overwhelmed by it all, all of a sudden remembers that he is part of this picture, In this midst of all this purity, in the middle of the hosts of heaven adoring God in all His intimate majesty! There stands Isaiah, whose “woe” is a phrase that escapes his mouth, before he can control it – one which leads him to identify himself as a man of “unclean lips.” Unclean being a reference to a flow of mud or sewer waste that has infiltrated your home, something that no matter how hard you try to clean it, infests and infects every part. Because that is what sin is – no matter how hard you try to clean it – to fix it – you cannot!
Any of you out there dread public speaking and standing before 1000, 10,000 people? Or have you ever had one of those nightmares where you find yourself at center court of a basketball game, or in the middle of a mall on the day after thanksgiving clad only in an old torn pair of underwear? Yeah… that’s pretty much how Isaiah feels, as he realizes the only sin in heaven at that point… is him.
No wonder, as he gasps, that Isaiah confesses that he is a man of filthy lips – not because of anything that he ate – but because of what has come from him! Such a statement calls to mind Jesus words regarding that it is not what goes into a man that pollutes him, but what comes out reveals how rotten we can be inside.
Like with most of us, having one’s sin revealed is never easy, it is as overwhelming as being found in the presence of God….yet it is then… as Isaiah is standing there, that something incredible happens…
It’s incredibly healing
For being found in God’s presence in not just incredibly overwhelming, it is incredibly healing.
Even as the Heavenly choir is singing the Sanctus’ holy, holy, holy, even as Isaiah realizes how exposed he and his sin is, an angel who knows God’s heart, who grasp His desire takes action. From the altar something is taken, it touches the lips of the man of unclean lips, and those lips are purified, as is the heart and life of the man. Those lips are cleansed and can praise the God who created them, and cleansed them. That heart no longer fears being found in the presence of a holy and righteous God, but stands in awe… and basks and rejoices in the love of the Lord God who reveals Himself to us, in order to bring us back to Him, to restore the relationship!
The sewerage, the uncleanness that once polluted us, is diverted, it cannot reach Isaiah, it cannot reach us.
Our is atoned for – an incredibly deep word picture there – as it is removed and the wounds it caused are covered as they are healed! You see, the roots of the word attone is tar or pitch – the kind used on trees when you remove a diseased or broken limb – and cover that which remains, so the weak bare would cannot be infested!
That is what God’s love, revealed to us in the shedding of Jesus’ blood does to us – is cleanses, and heals and covers and protects. It’s that simple – takes that ugly spots out of life and makes us whole…just as the fiery coal in Isaiah’s vision did, so does Christ do, as He enters our lives.
But what is best about what God does in our lives – is that He makes us comfortable in His life – in His presence. The “woe” disappears and the question of Isaiah falls aside, no longer even needing to be considered!
That is what our faith, our religion, what walking and trusting and believing in Christ is all about my friends. We need to grasp that because what God has promised us in His word was clearly revealed in Christ – that we now know His love – and that name of His – is ours to use, to call upon, to praise – to ask Him to deal with all that burdens us –that we may know He is God – our loving father!
Wait…there are people
Note – they too will be overwhelmed…
As we realize this incredible promise is not just Isaiah’s but ours – we hear the same words as Isaiah does – the Lord’s voice crying out – who can I send? Who is going to let the people of La Palma, and Cerritos, and Artesia, and Norwalk and Torrance, those who work with the students at Cal State and USC, and in hospitals and at the senior center and even in St Louis – who will God send? Who else needs to go to the people of unclean lips and unclean lives and tell them that there is cleansing, there is healing, there is life?
As you respond – for you know what God has done for you – and you realize their need for it – realize that their reactions will be as yours were – overwhelmed by the presence of God, in fear that their sins, their struggles in life stand out. Going out with the message isn’t easy, and people’s reaction will be one of struggle – yet, because of Christ, the lamb that was slain, the message that comes from the heart of God’s altar – the message that cleanses – it will cleanse and heal, and cause them to do as we do…
To find ourselves in the presence of God, cleansed, healed – and able to in the midst of a broken world know a peace and rest that is unexplainable – yet calls us to look to an eternity of peace, as we adore the God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who has made us His own…..