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Faith in Action is in Dialogue (IV) A sermon on James 5:13-20

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Is in Dialogue
James 5:13-20

† I.H.S. 

May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ instill in you the confidence to be drawn to them and enter intimate dialogue with Them

People in trauma

The people that James was writing too sound like us.  Based on the words we read just this morning, we could ask if they are part of Concordia!  Hear how James describes them

verse 13 asks if they are suffering hardships
verse 14  ask if any are sick
verse 15 mentions people who have committed sin
verse 16 may be the hardest question of all, have some of us wandered away from Jesus.

Pretty sure you can find most of us on that list, in fact, some of us probably can answer more than one of those questions.

As we’ve said a few times around here, how do we get through this life, without knowing Jesus?

This life is broken, we see it enough in our homes, in our workplaces, in our families, even in our churches.  But it isn’t a new thing, James wrote about these problems to people nearly 2000 years ago.

Even with all the differences, the problems are still the same, hardships, sickness, sin, and our struggle to go our own way.  And in asking how people go through this life without Christ, we begin to see how James addresses each of these ways we are broken with a simple, misunderstood four letter word.

Pray.

There is an answer

Prayer, Praise, Prayer, Pray for each other

Suffering hardship – pray!
Sick  call the elders (pastor and deacons too!) and have them pray
Sins?  Confess and pray for each other
Wanders from Jesus (the truth) bring him back from the wandering so he can communicate with God, with us.

Pray… Pray… Pray…

Sounds like one of Al’s emails or text messages to me. They often end that way… and for  reason.

We know prayer makes a difference. We know when that prayer isn’t what you do when there is nothing else to do.

It is what you do first, and always.

Not because prayer adds up like tickets you get playing skeeball at an arcade, or frequent flier points.

That’s not the way prayer works or the reason to pray.  It’s not about what we do to impress God, it is an act of faith, it is the way we depend on God.

But what is prayer – Elijah’s example.

James gives us as an example of prayer, in the situation with Elijah and the weather.  That prayer was not simple monologues, they are conversations. As you follow the story throughout 1 Kings 17 and 18, you see Elijah moving by God’s direction, enabled to do what he did because God was there, with Him, even as the Lord is with you! (and also with you?)

You see that in these chapters where Elijah is ministering to Israel, and to a the widow in what is now Lebanon, as he confronts sin and evil, as he deals with brokenness, and sickness and even death. As he is on top of the world, and as he feels like he’s the last man standing and isn’t sure how much more he can stand.

In other words, he is a man like us!  And yet. Because he walked and talked with God, this was said of him,

24  “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the LORD truly speaks through you.” 1 Kings 17:24 (NLT2)

God speaks through those who hear Him, who talk with Him, and that is what prayer is.
A conversation with God, depending on His presence, and on His love, shown in the mercy He has on us.

And then we see the greatest work that depending on God, talking to Him, hearing Him brings about.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Here is where prayer is so necessary, to see those who come back from wandering away from God, sometimes even running away from God, come back.

To see them saved from death and hell, to see them freed form sin and the guilt and shame that can so haunt those caught in its grasp. That only happens when our faith is active, and that faith requires us to be in conversation with God.

We have to depend on God, for otherwise there is no way we can have the patience, the determination to have patience, the ability to withstand the rejection, and still leave the door open for them to come in, look around, put their toe in the water…ask a question or three.. even be critical.

Trusting in God, communicating with Him, knowing His heart for us and all prodigals like us, we can take the time to see people return to God, even if we have to help carry them.

This is the power of prayer, this is what knowing that the Lord is with you causes to happen in real life.  That is a major part of who we are. As one pastor wrote,

Finally, the suffering person is entrusted to an innkeeper, so that he might continue to care for him, sparing no expense. Now, who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community—it is us—to whom each day the Lord entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we might lavish all of his mercy and salvation upon them without measure.
[1]

So let us pray, and as we dwell in Christ’s peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  AMEN!

[1] Francis. (2016). Wednesday, 26 February 2014. In Audiences of Pope Francis, 2013–2015 (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The unusual strength we need…

Devotional Thought of the Day:
38  And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 (TEV)

56    Spiritual childhood demands submission of the mind, which is harder than submission of the will. In order to subject our mind we need not only God’s grace, but a continual exercise of our will as well, denying the intellect over and over again, just as it says “no” to the flesh. And so we have the paradox that whoever wants to follow this “little way” in order to become a child, needs to add strength and manliness to his will.

We live a life that is challenging, that is complicated, and when we are doing right in one person’s eyes, we are doing wrong in another’s view.  If we forgo the former, we are criticized, if we play by the latter’s rules, we are judged and perhaps even condemned.

Very few are wise enough to navigate these harsh waters that we find ourselves in, yet our minds tell us we must.  And so we screw up, sometimes critically, unable to balance all the things in the adult world.

We aren’t the first with this problem, see the writings of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul.

I’ve always thought the answer would be found in wisdom, the application of the intelligence God has given us. Now into my 50’s, I wonder if that is achievable,  As St. Mark records of Jesus, we desire to do what is right (just and fair, ) Our spirit resonates with what is right, we are so willing to do it, but we fail.

I find some help here in the words of St Josemaria this morning, that it is not our mind that provides us with the answer, Our mind, our wisdom, and intellect, has to be humbled and broken.  It must submit to Christ, be entrusted to His guidance.  And it is in this discipline that the fruit comes forth, as our faith becomes the childlike dependence on God that will always sustain us.

This isn’t easy, it requires strength and a focus that needs to be crafted, It requires that our souls learn patience, so as to temper the mind.  It requires our hearts be comforted, that the anxiety which often compromises our intellect be stilled.

This is not possible by our own strength and merit.

We need the Spirit, we need the loving, strong guidance of the Spirit who cleanses us of sin, revives and renews us.  The Holy Spirit causes us to look with awe at Jesus, our savior, and Lord.  And as we do, we become more childlike in our faith.  more willing to accept God’s directions, more willing to depend upon Him.

This is our hope, this work the Spirit is doing in us, this hard work that is truly a blessing, for it testifies that God is at work in our lives and that He cares for us.

Heavenly Father, please help us become childlike in our dependence on You!  Continue to pour our your Spirit upon us, disciplining us, that our heart, soul, and mind would be Yours, and reflect the glory of Your love ot our lost and broken world.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1975-1979). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where Does the Strength to Praise God Come from?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional THought of the Day:
7  But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. 8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (TEV)

604    Humbly acknowledge your weakness. Then you can say with the Apostle: Cum enim infirmor, tunc potens sum—“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
605    “Father, how can you stand such filth?” you asked me after a contrite confession. I said nothing, thinking that if your humility makes you feel like that—like filth, a heap of filth!—then we may yet turn all your weakness into something really great.

There is a point of burn out in ministry, at least that is what I have often thought.  There is a point where a pastor simply can’t take anymore, where the grief and the problems simply overwhelm his strength. We aren’t superheroes, after all, and it doesn’t take kryptonite to drop us into times of depression, into times of great angst, into times where we just aren’t sure of anything, at least in our minds.

And yet out of such times, can come the most incredible moments of praise.

Out of brokenness, when we realize how our sin has caused devastation when like the person confessing their sins wonders how their priest can stand the filth, only to hear that once that is cleansed, then God strength resonates through us.  He renews us in a way that we cannot even completely understand, protecting us as we stand in awe at His strength.  As He watches over us, as He guards us, as His power cares and comforts us in our brokenness, and as we live in a world horrifically broken.

It is in such moments, humbled, broken, we stop trying to play God, and our prayers finally reach out to Him.

He’s been there, for He never abandons his children.

Even when we struggle to see Him, even when we struggle to entrust our brokenness to Him.

Waiting to pour His love into us… waiting to show us His glory, as He redeems and reconciles us, our very lives, and uses us to spread His love to this unjust and broken world.

Father, help us realize our weakness, our brokenness, and humbly walk with You.  Help us to stop playing God, and realize again that You are God, and that you love us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1438-1442). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Is Spirituality a Priority?

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A Picture of our Journey… with Christ

Devotional Thought of the Day:
8  Bodily fitness has a certain value, but spiritual fitness is essential both for this present life and for the life to come. There is no doubt about this at all, and Christians should remember it. It is because we realise the paramount importance of the spiritual that we labour and struggle. We place our whole confidence in the living God, the saviour of all men, and particularly of those who believe in him. These convictions should be the basis of your instruction and teaching. 1 Timothy 4:8 (Phillips NT)

 

282    Paradox: Sanctity is more attainable than learning, but it is easier to be a scholar than to be a saint.

I have been having the same conversation recently with a couple of friends. Both were asking about how Christians growth.

And as I talked with them a question started to grow in my mind.  Do we even know what spiritual growth looks like?

If we cannot define it, how can we make it a priority in our own lives, and how can we lead others and help them grow and mature in their faith?    As I look at my mail, and the various Bible Studies, Sermon Series, and other materials offered for sale to help me guide and shepherd my congregation, it is rare than the material is geared to help them grow, at least grow in more than knowledge.

For the record, I would use two words to describe spiritual maturity, dependence, and expectation. ( Or if you want to use “churchy” words, faith and hope. )

Dependence is simply trusting in God.  It starts with trusting Him to save us from our sins and thereby giving us eternal life.  But our dependence upon Him only begins there. We need to depend on Him in every moment of the day.  We need to depend on Him when everything is… screwed up. We need to depend on Him when change occurs, or when He calls us to take on some mission, or reach out to people.

There isn’t a part of our lives where we don’t need to depend on God.  To trust Him that all things work out for good for those who Love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  This is especially true as we try and deal with our failures, our brokenness, our sin.

Expectation is what the other measure would be.  What do we expect God to do in our lives, and what do we expect afterward  Do we expect Him in our lives, do we expect Him to keep His promises, do we look forward to the day when He comes again? Do we base our lives on these expectations?

Those are the areas we need to grow in, to mature in, if we are to be spiritually mature.

It seems counter-intuitive, for most see maturity linked with freedom or independence. But with spirituality, true maturity comes from realizing that God is God, and we are His people.  That means we expect Him to care for us, even as He cared for Jesus.  That means we realize He is wiser and has promised to care for us, and depending on that care.

That is why being holy is so challenging, even though it is so easily attainable.

Questions
What area of life is the hardest to trust God with?

What expectations should you have of God, that you don’t think of often?

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 747-749). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Preparing for After the Election… “O Lord What Will We Do NOW?!?”


Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha. 16  “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 17  Then Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.
2 Kings 6:15-17 (NLT)

482    What does it matter if the whole world with all its power is against you? Forward! Repeat the words of the psalm: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? … Si consistant adversum me castra, non timebit cor meum—“If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear.”

If I were to believe everything said about each of the candidates, I would think that no matter who is the next President of the United States, we would be better off with a global flood, or perhaps that the full tribulation had come into effect.

The words of Elisha’s servant would certainly be mine, as fear and anxiety overtook me. “Lord, what are we going to do now?”  How will we survive this?  Every worst case scenario will flash before our eyes, as we expect America to sink in a moral crisis unheard of since.. well at least the 1960’s – and maybe all the way back to the 1890’s! (Or ancient Rome)

Some fear one winning, others fear the opponent dominating.  Some and anxious because they don’t want either to win! No matter who, there will be people displeased and distraught, worried about the world changing, even fearing it ending.

What we need is the same thing the servant needed, to have our eyes opened to the reality that this world is still part of God’s kingdom.  That the richness of His promise of eternity and His presence with us in this life is more than our fears.

Christ is with us.

Think about that….

No, I mean really think about it, let your heart and mind dwell in the presence of Christ here, in your presence right now.  Remember the moment you communed that you shared His Body and Blood and experienced for a moment, the wonder and awe that comes when He is revealed.

This experience, this knowledge, this awareness that God is for us, is what has sustained people of God for millennia.  That has enabled them to know peace in dictatorships and revolutions, in times of global war, and famine.  They have known that peace even as their brothers and sisters are martyred, even as they are martyred.

It is the one constant hope we have, in a broken, hurting, rebellious world.  Knowing this, we are confident not only that the world’s sin cannot separate us from God, but we are reminded that our own cannot either.  Including the anxiety and doubt, we have that God is still in charge, working everything our for good for those who love Him.

And it is more than enough to sustain us at this time.

Lord, have mercy on us and help us to see you, incarnate, present, benevolent and in control.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1179-1181). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Method That Works When Dealing With Evil…

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:

No doubt about it! God is good— good to good people, good to the good-hearted. 2  But I nearly missed it, missed seeing his goodness. 3  I was looking the other way, looking up to the people 4  At the top, envying the wicked who have it made, 5  Who have nothing to worry about, not a care in the whole wide world. 6  Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, 7  Pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. 8  They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. 9  They’re full of hot air, loudmouths disturbing the peace. 10  People actually listen to them—can you believe it? Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.

11  What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch? Nobody’s tending the store. 12  The wicked get by with everything; they have it made, piling up riches 13  I’ve been stupid to play by the rules; what has it gotten me? 14  A long run of bad luck, that’s what— a slap in the face every time I walk out the door. 

5  If I’d have given in and talked like this, I would have betrayed your dear children. 16  Still, when I tried to figure it out, all I got was a splitting headache... 17  Until I entered the sanctuary of God. Then I saw the whole picture: 18  The slippery road you’ve put them on, with a final crash in a ditch of delusions. 19  In the blink of an eye, disaster! A blind curve in the dark, and—nightmare! 20  We wake up and rub our eyes… . Nothing. There’s nothing to them. And there never was. 21  When I was beleaguered and bitter, totally consumed by envy, 22  I was totally ignorant, a dumb ox in your very presence. 23  I’m still in your presence, but you’ve taken my hand. 24  You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me. 25  You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! 26  When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful. 27  Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again. 28  But I’m in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord GOD my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do! Psalm 73:1-28 (MSG)

212    That Christ you see is not Jesus. At best it is only the pitiful image that your blurred eyes are able to form … Purify yourself. Make your sight cleaner with humility and penance. Then the pure light of love will not fail you. And you will have perfect vision. The image you see will really be his: Jesus himself. (1)

Evil.

We encounter it daily.

You see it as the acts of ISIS are discussed, we hear that some think that police are evil, or politicians, or maybe someone close to you.  Someone who has betrayed you, or disappointed you. We wonder why there can’t be anything done against evil, whether it is some physical action that stops their work, or a physical judgment in which we can all rejoice.

Psalm 73 looks at this issue, why those who are evil can appear to be successful, we might even dare use the word blessed.  But the psalmist can’t even bring himself to ask publicly that question. To do so would betray the people he is set aside to lead in worship and praise of God. But this existence of evil, is too much, and that they succeed, and are not punished, there is no logic to this.  There is only questioning, and even that we feel seems to be wrong.  For to question, does that mean we don’t trust God?

The answer is not found in words, they fail.

It is found in the sanctuary, the Holy Place, the temple of God. It is found as we realize the presence of God in our lives, in the comfort His presence brings.

That is why I am so completely overwhelmed when we commune, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. There is something that is not only humbling, as the Psalmist mentions, but healing as well,  Comforting, Assuring, building our confidence in a way that goes beyond words. God, giving Himself, to rid us not only of the evil in the world, but the evil in our lives.

His promise, His action, His death on the cross – giving His life, for us.  Letting His blood be poured out, so the nations could be reconciled.

As St. Josemaria says, it is then, our vision cleared by seeing Christ, humble and at peace, we can turn evil over to God.  We know His protection, His peace.

We can even find rest, knowing that He is Lord, and Savior, and the One who loves us.

So if you have to deal with evil, at whatever level.  Look to Christ – let Him cleanse you.

He will.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 604-607). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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