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The Mystery and Glory of the Church… as it resonates in despair….

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
1 Corinthians 12:24-26 (NLT2)

The Christian who is seeking better things and who has to his consternation found himself in a state of complete self-despair need not be discouraged.
Despair with self, where it is accompanied by faith, is a good friend, for it destroys one of the heart’s most potent enemies and prepares the soul for the ministration of the Comforter.…
…..His love will never fail even while taking us through this experience of self-crucifixion.


The same: (John Chrysotom) “When you flee to the church, do not flee to a place, but flee to it with your heart; for the essence of the church does not consist in wall and masonry but in faith and virtue …. It is called a mountain because of its firmness; a virgin because of its sanctity; a queen because of its glory; a king’s daughter because of its relation with God; a mother, having given birth, because of the great number of her children whom it conceived after it had been childless for a long time, not to speak of uncountable other names that Holy Scripture gives to it in addition”

The Lord does not come just to liberate the oppressed so they would feel good, but to send them to mission. He does not announce a year of grace to give us a “sabbatical” but to entrust us with the mission of living our lives by actively participating in everything that enhances our and other’s dignity as sons and daughters of the living God.

When I started my devotional time this morning, I really didn’t like that first reading, the one in purple aboce from Tozer. You and I don’t want to hear about despair, we deal with it enough in real life, especially in 2020. Too many people anxious, COVID, elections, changes, and too many people mourning. Despair is all aorund us, and it sucks us dry at times.

But as I read it, I have to admit, my mind started wandering to what was God preparing me for, by having me read this! Times of self-crucifixion are never easy, and we tend to do a good job of it…. adding extra spikes here and there as our minds spin out of control.

Walther’s quote of John Chrysotom’s started to counteract the building anxiety over what could be coming next. His description of the church is beautiful and distracting, but the line about running to the church means there is something to run from – and my mind went back to a slight form of spiritual paranoia. (okay – its 2020 – maybe not that slight!)

The church, the body of Christ, is not the refuge, but together finds refuge in Him. Where two or three are drawn together, there He is, our refuge, our sanctuary, our rest and our peace. I have found this so true, even more so in 2020 as the people of God, gathered together in person or on line, find the presence of God together. We truly suffer together, and rejoice together. We laugh and cry together, we find the freedom to do so. And then we find healing…. sometimes slower than we would like. Sometimes the progress isn’t as sequentials as we would like, but we find it, Together. In the presnce of God, we resonate, sharing the same note. If it be a sweet one, itis sweet, if it is in minor keey, then we resoinate with it as well, touched by the Holy Spirit, our harmony testifies to His presence.

At which point the words of Pope Francis come into play. Even as we are healing, Christ goes with us to bring that healing to others. He uses the word dignity there. and I had to think about it for a moment. Looking it up, among the definitions there is the idea of worth. Of helping people see their worth, not just in the eyes of others, but in their own, and in God’s eyes. As we heal, it happens as God provies how much He values us… and that is the greatest of game changers.

TO know that we are loved, that we are treasured, that God promises to make our lives, even our times of despair masterpieces… that is amazing.

Lord, help us realize the Spirit’s presence in our lives, and as we are comfoted, as we find healing, help us see those you send us to, to help them hlea as well.

Godspeed!




A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry: Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry, electronic ed. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 33.

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), 366.

What Now? Hope…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

4 On the third dayq Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” 6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac.r In his hand he took the fire and the knife,s and the two of them walked on together.
7 Then Isaac spoke to his father Abraham and said, “My father.”
And he replied, “Here I am, my son.”
Isaac said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provideG,t the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Then the two of them walked on together.
Genesis 22:4-8 CSB

Love also implies hope. The Christian’s vision of our surroundings has to be optimistic. Not the naïve optimism of someone oblivious to the undeniable presence of evil, but that supernatural joy that is founded on a trusting abandonment to the plans of God’s loving Providence and on the free collaboration of people of good will with those plans.

To their mortal eyes He appeared as fire, and may we not safely conclude that those Scripture-taught believers knew at once what it meant? The God who had appeared to them as fire throughout all their long history was now dwelling in them as fire. He had moved from without to the interior of their lives. The Shekinah that had once blazed over the mercy seat now blazed on their foreheads as an external emblem of the fire that had invaded their natures.
This was Deity giving Himself to ransomed men. The flame was the seal of a new union. They were now men and women of the Fire.

I have seen a lot of despair in the last week. Politically among both those expeccted to win, and thosse expeccted to lose. I have seen it as well asthoseewh look at their churches and wonder how the churh will continue to be the church. They look for aswers, they dreamm dreamss, they read book about journeying into the unknown, looking for anything that wilgive them hope to continue their ministry, no matter how different it will look. Some of us, are in despair, because a good friend is ill, another is dealing with the loss of memory, and th ability to express their wisdom. More despair is being adresed by those who have someone dear to thm dying, and even harder, when onperson is being sucked into a ife of sn.

In the midst of this, I have hearpeople cry out, “now what?”

And I cry with them. I have to ask that question, for if I do not, I will not see the answer.

What now?

Hope!

(remember, it is a verb!) Hope, looking forward to the things God has promised.

So, what now? HOPE

You see that hope in Abraham, knowing he was going to sacrifice his son, and yet he says, that they will return together. You see it as he is tying up his son, and utters that God will provide.

No knowledge of how, but clinging to the idea that God cannot go back on his promise!

Hope is not naive! Hope is not to be confused with blind optimism. Hope is not blind to either evil, or the consequences of sin that is so visible in our broken world. It recognizes that, and something more….

It is abandoning our worries, our anxieities, our fears and pains simply because the Holy Spirit has invaded our lives. His presence, an unquenchable fire, causes us to endure…. even as it purifies us. This is where hope comes from, as the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of God’s love for us.

To realize the promises of God, such as this one, 5  Then I, myself, will be a protective wall of fire around Jerusalem, says the LORD. And I will be the glory inside the city!’” Zechariah 2:5 (NLT2)

This is the role of the Spirit in our lives… it is the Spirit who gives us real life… who gives us hope.

So what now? Hope! for the Lord is with you!!

Fazio, Mariano . Last of the Romantics: St. Josemaria in the Twenty-First Century (p. 68). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).

I Didn’t Want to Write Today…yet needed to

Devotional Thought for the Day:

No longer will the Philistines eat meat with blood in it or any unclean food. They will become part of the people of our God from the tribe of Judah. And God will accept the people of Ekron, as he did the Jebusites. Zechariah 9:7

To bless God for mercies received is also the way to benefit our fellow-men; “the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” Others who have been in like circumstances shall take comfort if we can say, “Oh! magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together; this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him.” Weak hearts will be strengthened, and drooping saints will be revived as they listen to our “songs of deliverance.” Their doubts and fears will be rebuked, as we teach and admonish one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. They too shall “sing in the ways of the Lord,” when they hear us magnify his holy name.

I didn’t want to write today, matter of fact, I didn’t want to even do my devotional reading. I realized as I did that I missed yesterday, and that may be part of the problem.

Another part was the serious prayer requests I’ve recevied over the last few days, people I long to help, but cannot visit them, cannot commune them, only just talk over the phone and pray with them. It doesn’t seem “enough”.

There are many things wearing me down as well – for example – receiving a note that I shouldn’t vote on election day, in order to protect me and my loved ones. Looking at the vanity of agendas all around me.

And in the midst of this funk, I come across this quote from Spurgeon, and again my heart looks forward to Sunday. When weak hearts like mine will be strengthened, when drooping saints will experience God’s revival… even as we sing of God’s rescuing us, even as we praise Him together.

Amidst this funk, the words of a little read prophet remind me of God’s care for every one of us, even us “gentiles”. For God will accept us, He will cleanse us, He has made us part of His people. He did this at the cross, and in the resurrection, as we died with Christ, so that we can be raised with Him.

One thing I have learned over this life, such times of despair are relatively short lived – at most the times in between gathering with others, seeing and hearing of how God is at work in their lives.

Sunday, my congregation will sing the following words, of a new version of the Sanctus…. “For you are Holy Lord… so PLEASE, save us Lord.” The “please save us” is the cry normally said this way, Hosanna! When I hear those words, along with the praises of Holy, I shall be lifted up, my heart will be strengthen, and revival will be there….

even as it is now….

When you hit bottom emotionally, spiritually, even physically, it is such a cry, recognizing God’s holiness, and our need for being rescued, that helps us remember His promise… and then gives us the endurance we need in such times….as we wait on Him, and know that He is Lord.

For that is enough…for this day.

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Another Day, Another Struggle, but that is why there is Hope.

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
2  Our LORD, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence? 3  Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere? 4  Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around. 5  Look and be amazed at what’s happening among the nations! Even if you were told, you would never believe what’s taking place now. Habakkuk 1:2-5 (CEV)

We still stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among people who sorely vex us and give us occasion for impatience, wrath, vengeance, etc.
87 Besides, Satan is at our backs, besieging us on every side and, as we have heard, directing his attacks against all the previous petitions, so that it is not possible always to stand firm in such a ceaseless conflict.
88 Here again there is great need to call upon God and pray, “Dear Father, forgive us our debts.” Not that he does not forgive sin even without and before our prayer; and he gave us the Gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness, before we prayed or even thought of it. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness.

223      Along the way to personal sanctity we can at times get the impression that we are going backwards instead of forwards, that we are getting worse instead of better. As long as there is interior struggle this pessimistic thought is only an illusion, a deception to be rejected as false. Persevere and don’t worry. If you fight with tenacity you are making progress and are growing in sanctity.

I came across the Luther quote this morning, and it resonated with me.

We stumble and sin far too often. We want to use other people for the reason, but it is still our weakness that allows us to sin. Luther was right, it is not possible always to stand firm in such a ceaseless conflict. Every fall seems highlighted by Satan, emphasized to cause us to grow in despair, and even to doubt God’s presence and work in our lives.

My reaction to the passage from Habakkuk is that I don’t have ot look out into the world to see the brokenness he describes. He could be looking at me, prophetically. Maybe at you as well. I resonate deeply with the question of why do we have ot watch this all?  Why do we have to see the sin and brokenness in the world, and then realize it is just a reflection of our own lives?

I missed out on other things in those passages, and it took St Josemaria to see what I was missing.

It is the impression that I am going backward, not necessarily reality.  It is a deception of Satan, much as he did when he took Peter’s eyes off of Jesus while he was strolling on the waves. (I just realize the winds and waves weren’t the issue to be scared of – drowning was!)  St Josemaria urges us to keep struggling, don’t worry about the progress,  for the struggle is proof of it.

The struggle is proof of God at work in us.

God is still doing what He promised Habakkuk – He is at work, and if we look at Him and see it, we should collapse in awe. God is at work, and even the passage from Luther notes that –  we need to recognize and accept the forgiveness God already provided. He forgave us already! He took care of it!

I didn’t see that beforehand but reminded of His promise, I remember He is there. Perhaps that too is understandable, for God says, “Even if you were told, you would never believe what is taking place now…”  We just have to trust Him that He is at the world, and depend on His view, for He is at work in us.

Mercifully, lovingly, compassionately comforting and healing broken sinners like you and me.

Even before we cry out, “Lord have mercy on me, a poor sinner!” God has, and our healing is beginning and guaranteed to be completed!

AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 432.E

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Isn’t God Helping? Something I learned as I cry out…

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

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Remember, life is short! Why did you empty our lives of all meaning? 48 No one can escape the power of death and the grave. Our Lord, where is the love you have always shown and that you promised so faithfully to David? Psalm 89:47-49 CEV

All this is summarized in the command in Ps. 50:15, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.” All this is what we mean by calling upon his name in service of truth and using it devoutly. Thus his name is hallowed, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer.

Dearest brothers, we should turn our minds and understand not only that we call him “Father who is in heaven,” but that we add to this and say: “Our Father,” that is of those who believe, of those who have begun to be children of God, sanctified through him and restored by a birth of spiritual grace.

I have to admit I feel much like the writer of the psalms this morning.

I feel useless, I feel as if my work on earth has no impact. Does being a pastor, or a friend, or a father mean anything anymore?

THought I saw and heard it three days ago on Sunday, as people received Christ’s body and blood, that seems a century ago. The curfews certainly add to it, after the months of stay at home orders.  One doctor says it will be a year or more before life returns to normal because of the virus, another says months, another says years. The despair that results from the murder of a man and the reactions to it will take longer to heal.

And in this, I find I must cry out to God and ask “Why? Where are you?” “What the ….. is going on?”

I have to, or my heart will be crushed.

But it is the fact that I can cry out, that I realize there is someone there to hear my cries. IN crying out I use god’s name in one of the holiest ways possible. I use it and you should, for the very reason, God revealed His existence to us.

Deliver us from all of this, from all the unrighteousness, from all the injustice, from the sin. Clean us up Lord, start with me. Or just come back, as you have promised.

Even as I cry out to Him, I realize the cry is not just an act of despair, it is an act of faith. Perhaps only the weakest of faith, a hope that somehow He will answer my cry.

But even that amount of faith is miraculous amid the pain, the turmoil, the hatred I am seeing. I am crying out to my Father, the only one who can do anything about this.

That is faith.

That is the Holy Spirit at work, the Comforter breaking through the spiritual blackness, reminding me of Christ’s love.

That is why Cyprian says we need to move from Address God as “the” to “our”, why we need to realize the significance of that cry as we pray, even praying the Lord’s Prayer.

He is our Father, He is our God, and He hears our cries, and responds…

We need to cry out, to use the old word, lament. To confess how broken we are, and that we are depending on God to fix us.  We need to do this!

Holy Spirit, fill our hearts with peace and strengthen our faith, our dependence on God to bring healing to the world, bring healing to us.  AMEN!

Luther, Martin. The Lord’s Prayer,   Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 373.

Cyprian: On the Lord’s Prayer, ed. John Behr, trans. Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, On the Lord’s Prayer,  Popular Patristics Series, Number 29 (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2004), 71.

Time to Stop Running and Hiding… Trust Him Instead!

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional thought fo the Day:

I don’t know what will happen to me in Jerusalem, but I must obey God’s Spirit and go there. 23 In every city I visit, I am told by the Holy Spirit that I will be put in jail and will be in trouble in Jerusalem. †24 But I don’t care what happens to me, as long as I finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do. And that work is to tell the good news about God’s great kindness.   Acts 20:22-24 CEV

Thinking of the love of God as something nice is forgetting that the love of God is the love of God. The awesomeness of God makes the love of God equally awesome. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a great Jewish theologian of the twentieth century, said, “God is not nice. God is not an uncle. God is an earthquake.” If you do not like that (one of my students responded to that quotation, “I prefer a God I can handle”; indeed!), then you do not like the love of God, for the love of God is also an earthquake, not an uncle’s love, but a Father’s.

“To die is a good thing. How can anyone with faith, at the same time, be afraid to die? But as long as the Lord wants to keep you here on earth, it would be cowardice for you to want to die. You must live, live and suffer, and work for Love: that is your task” (1037).

I wish I had Paul’s attitude.

I think I am far more like Jonah, who faced a difficult task and chose ot be cast overboard rather than do what God had called him to do.

The is a temptation to run and hid, even if that means embracing death for the wrong reason. For while we know, we are bound to heaven, even though we know God desires us there; eventually, it is not a place to escape the pain and suffering life brings. 

We can’t be cowards, abandon our lot in life, and run away.  No matter how tempting it may seem.

We have been called to share in the ministry of reconciling people to God. Every single one of us has a role in this. That means we have to be so sure of God’s presence, that we can enter their darkness, that we can break through the gates of hell and endure it, in order to be there and witness God’s love shattering their darkness.

God isn’t the kindly uncle, He is the Father who expects us to take on the family work, to embrace the suffering and pain it will require. To trust Him enough to hand over to Him the things we cannot understand or handle, freeing us to love those we minister too.  We need to trust Him enough to let the Holy Spirit comfort us in our distress, as is promised.

That is the key, depending on His promises.

To know that even if we are heading toward imprisonment, or martyrdom, or simply the struggle of our lives, He is with us.

He will see us through. He will be with us through it all…

Lord Jesus, help us to know You, to experience Your love so deeply, that our trust in You overrides our ignorance, our doubt, our fears.  Help us embrace the life You have created in us, and called us to live. AMEN!

 

 

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 201.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge. Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Does God Still Love Me?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

25 He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. 26 From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. Acts 17:25-26 CEV

We must accept that there will be defeats in this interior fight, and we may be threatened with the danger of discouragement. That is why the Founder of Opus Dei contantly instilled in souls that cry of Possumus!—”We can!”—of the sons of Zebedee.6 It is not a cry that arise from the presumption but from a humble trust in God’s Omnipotence.

How can I know God loves me? I believe it, or I want to believe it. But how can I know it for sure? How can I get assurance of the most important thing in the world?
The question is an excellent one. It demands something more than the mere mental acceptance of the three-word proposition “God loves me.” It demands three greater forms of intimacy or closeness.
First, I want to know that God loves me, not just everyone. Me, with all my very specific and very real sins and uglinesses and unlovablenesses. Does God really love me just as I am? Am I really completely forgiven? All my sufferings and failures seem to me to be a just punishment that proves that God does not and should not love me completely because I do not deserve it. I need to know instead that my very sufferings and failures are the caress of his personal, individual love-plan for me, not the inevitable result of His impersonal justice.

The title of my blog post this morning is not a rhetorical question.

It is a question I struggle with, and have struggled with often in my life. Apparently I am not the only one, as the notes in the introduction to the Forge indicate.

We are going to have days when we struggle, when we face discouragement because our spiritual life, our “interior life” seems poor, lifeless, oppressed. We bay seem beaten and rundown. In the midst of physical, mental and spiritual exhaustion, I don’t have to wonder what I’ve done wrong. Satan is there to remind me of my sins, and of my failures. He will throw it all at me, for that is what Devil means in the original language.

And my cry out to Jesus, do you still love me, do you still care is actually a cry of the soul engaged in spiritual warfare. It is not just a cry of despair, for this cry will be answered. It is the cry, as Peter Kreeft notes, that betrays an intimacy with God that requires trust.

Trust that He will answer. Trust to even dare ask, trust to realize He is listening and will answer.

He always does.

Look at the cross, there is your answer. Let the Holy Spirit comfort you, and be the assurance, the guarantee that Paul described.

21  It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart, 22  who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us. 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (TEV)

God guarantees that He loves us, for we are His, and we need to hear this often, especially in this midst of despair, or depression, or whatever struggle we are facing.

Remind each of this, often!

The Lord is with you!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 194.

Has My Hope Been Taken From Me?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thoughts for this Day
2
 I was resolved that the only knowledge I would have while I was with you was knowledge of Jesus, and of him as the crucified Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NJB)

929    The cross on your breast? Good. But the cross on your shoulders, the cross in your flesh, the cross in your mind. Thus will you live for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ; only thus will you be an apostle.

The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”226 Life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.

The comfort extended by Luther is rooted in the fact that the person assailed by temptation is a member of the communion of saints and is armed with God’s Word. The tempted person, however, should realize that there is always a benefit that accrues to him from such assaults, although he dare not attempt to divine it. Finally, he invites the tempted person to a fuller faith in Christ, but Luther warns that before the trials subside, they will first flare to greater intensity.

There is a  growing multitude of problems that have been caused by the pandemic. Beyond the health concerns, there are significant challenges in finance, in education, in mental health, in social dynamics – of homes and of communities.

Many of us are challenged by depression and temptation, as anger and pain can only be hidden for so long. Often, when we do strikeout, the target is not who it should be. We might even tear ourselves up, thinking that everything is our fault. This is not reasonable, yet there is no reason in a pandemic.

The Apostle Peter writes, “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:15 (NLT2)) In doing so, he calls me back to remember the hope I do have, a hope that I barely hold on to it at times. More important, that Hope, He holds on to me.

That is why Jesus is all Paul wants to think of, and specifically Jesus – crucified. Jesus bearing every sin, every injustice, every bit of brokenness. Jesus, lifted up, to whom we are not just drawn to, but into whom we are drawn. The Catholic Catechism righty uses the word intimate in regard to our union with Jesus. It is more than we can explain, it is more than we can cognitively know, yet in that movement, it that taking and eating, we go beyond a casual acquaintance with God,.

That is why St Josemaria would have us fixated on the cross. That is why Luther talks about coming out of a time of trial with a faith that is far greater than when we entered. For faith is knowing the presence of Jesus so well, that we just live and move dependent on Him.

That intimacy is not all we need, it is all we have.

Realizing that is the challenge, along with remembering it as we are assailed, as we see the brokenness, as we deal with our issue. not alone, but as He is here, with us.

That is the reason I have hope, this relationship with Jesus- the one crucified for us…

The One who is alive! Praise God – and because He is risen, so are we.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 351.

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), 182.

Come Back to Me and Live- A Midweek Lenten Sermon based on Ezekiel 37

Come Back to Me
And Live

Ezekiel 37:1-14

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that the Holy Spirit has been breathed into Your Life and that you Live.

Valley of the Empty Sanctuary
         Will these seats be filled?

As I look out over this nearly empty sanctuary, I think I understand how Ezekiel felt looking out over the valley filled with dry bones.

I will be honest, it is hard to do this, looking out over empty seats where there should be life.  Where a sermon should bring smiles, and deeper thoughts when a call for repentance might bring some tears when the announcement of forgiveness brings from those seats a full, powerful and joy-filled amen!

And I almost hear the Lord asking me, as He once asked Ezekiel, a question. “Can these seats be filled”  When will Concordia’s sanctuary be filled again with life?

And all I can answer is the same answer, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that!

He does…  but I wish I could do what Ezekiel did next… and speak and see a miracle take place.

Are we dry bones?
         Is our Hope gone?
         Are We finished?

As I talk to many of our people, and others who are reaching out, the words of the dry bones resonate with what I am hearing.  There in verse 11, are the words of complaint.

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Ezekiel 37:11 (NLT2)

Though many people have a good attitude about this, many talk of the weariness, even the times of tears that cannot be stopped…

We grow weary, and hope isn’t gone, but it does seem a long way off in the distance. We miss each other, the handshakes, the hugs, the elbows we usually pass off to each other.  Obviously, the “the Lord is with you and also with you’s” and the hands that reach out an receive the body and blood of Christ.

We are weary, we feel isolated, we feel like the people who Ezekiel wrote too – who were scattered and distant, and not “at home”, even as we are stuck in our homes. They weren’t literally the bones in the valley, but they certainly felt that way.

Which I think we understand, at least in the present moment

Again we don’t know our hope is gone, but it feels like it. We don’t know the effect on our people, but it doesn’t seem good.

So we cry out to God, together… and ask that the Holy Spirit breaths new life into us…

And God has promised that Spirit, the one Jesus calls the Comforter, will do just that.

Come Holy Spirit – Come comforter –
         He will bring us back!
         He will return us Home, He will gather us

There is our hope, as the Holy Spirit has already, because of the blood of Christ, defeated death.  That’s symbolized by the cartilage, muscles, and skin coming back on the skeletons.

But then there is a pause, and life is breathed back in – the Spirit of God, which breathed life into us… once again comes and breathes life into us, and the process of bringing us into the presence of God.

Making us know God is at home with us, wherever we are.

Helping us know that He will restore us to each other…

He is bringing He people back to life – His great army as Ezekiel describes.

And it won’t take as long as it took for Ezekiel’s vision to come to pass.

For God has already guaranteed this promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us, first at the cross and resurrection, and then in our Baptism.  The Spirit has come to us, we are its temple – and God will never ever leave or forsake us.

This is our greatest asset in times like this, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we say in the creed, the description of why we have hope, the description of what makes life, life.

This is our hope in this, the word of the Holy Spirit.

There is an old prayer I would like to end with…
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them, the fire of your love!”

Come, fill the place, and every place where people are watching..  AMEN!

Will You Catch Me, Lord?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of my day:

The LORD was like an eagle teaching its young to fly, always ready to swoop down and catch them on its back.  Deut. 32:11 CEV

The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God

This treatise is another example of Luther’s remarkable ability to withdraw from the heat of controversy into the pastoral atmosphere of serene devotion. The entire writing echoes his experience as a pastor and confessor constantly in contact with men and women who were terrified by the maze of popular customs and practices observed by the church in connection with death.

In reading the forward to Luther’s sermon on dying, I was struck by how often it was reprinted. His theology was still in the early stages of reforming, His battles with leaders of the Roman Catholic Church were just beginning. And as noted, he set this aside to help a friend, one terrified by all the stuff that surrounded death. His friend and many others would listen, for they were in what Spurgeon calls the crucible of adversity.

That crucible doesn’t have to be related to physical death. The death of a dream, the death of a relationship, the termination from a job, or the fear of any of these things!

Spurgeon’s quote comes from a section about the challenges of dealing with abundance, the challenge s of dealing with prosperity, and yet he notes the blessings of adversity, of being oppressed, of being under pressure. I resonate with that, for I know the most challenging, the most severe temptations which I face, the places where sin appears to have it greatest grip on me, are the places where life is easier, where I am not running to God.

It is better for me to write from the point of my own despair, for there I find this passage from Deuteronomy to be true.  God will catch me, I know he will, even as I struggle with the fears and anxiety caused by the fall.

Most of the time I don’t realize this, I am not looking for it, I am too overwhelmed by the impending crash.  I forget how faithful His promise is because my eyes are on me and my situation.

But in the midst of falling, He is always there…

And eventually, I hear the Spirit’s call and know the comfort of God’s presence, a presence that is there anyway. As I grow old, I realize that I eventually will, and that too calms the frayed nerves, lifts me out of my depression, and helps me see those around me, who need ot be lifted up by those same wings.

Thank you Lord Jesus, for being there in times of despair, the times when the brokenness is too great. Sustain us then, when we can’t seem to realize Your presence.  Sustain as well, when things are good, and we forget our need to depend on You,. AMEN!

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

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), 98

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