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Be Full of Joy: A sermon and service based on Phil. 4:4-7

Be Full of Joy
Philippians 4:4-7


† In JesusName †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ leave fill you with more joy that you can imagine!  AMEN!

Irritating tunes…

There are in life some very irritating tunes.

You know, the ones that get stuck in your head and remain there for hours?

A few years ago it was songs from the children’s movie frozen, specifically “I want to be a snowman” and “Let it go!” And anyone who has ever been to Disneyland knows how long this next song sits in your mind. Here, I will give you the first word of it… and see if you can get it…

“It’s” (a small world after all…

There are a few of those in the church as well, though thankfully the ’70s are over and we rarely sing them.

Song’s like, “I’ve got that joy, joy, joy…(down in my heart) and even worse, “rejoice in the Lord always..”   (Missy please note– these songs are never to be sung here unless I am on vacation in New England and Bob is preaching…)The latter praise song, “Rejoice in the Lord Always” is just the same words over and over, and over and… you get the picture. But what made it worse was that it was called a round… so, group, a would start it, then group b, then group c, so basically you were getting overwhelmed with this idea of having to rejoicealways

and sometimes we are not in the mood!

Dang it, sometimes you just don’t want to rejoice, you know, because sometimes life… is challenging.  (What did you think I was going to say sometimes life sucks?)

And to be assaulted over and over with people saying “rejoice always” (which is how some old translations state this passage… shortens already short, frayed fuses.

One of the reasons I like this translation is passages like this, that makes it less about us, and talks of being filled with joy.
 
Things that joy needs to replace.

But if we are going to be truly filled with joy, we have to get rid of the just that is in the place where joy is supposed to be.  Heck most of us have our lives so filled with these things, that we have not room for a chuckle or two, never mind full-blown, life overwhelming joy.

The things we are anxious about, the things that our minds dwell upon that cause us great stress.  Getting rid of that junk will give us a lot of room in our lives for joy.

Then, of course, are the things we need, or that we think we need in our lives.  Those too take a lot of room in our hearts and minds.  And even if we get them, we aren’t always satisfied.  And chasing after, or hyper-focusing on these things takes up room that should be allocated for joy!

Then there are the things we pray for because we are so desperate that we turn to God. I am not sure we always do give it to Him, but we at least say we have, yet we still let the situation burn a hole in us.. And when it does, it steals the place for joy.

I could go on and talk about the guilt and shame that we live with, the things that cause us to fear death or consider the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in a way that isn’t full of joy and expectation.

For we should look at God’s returning, with the same kind of eyes that kids have, as they see presents with their names on them begin to be placed under the tree.  For Christ’s return and what happens next are described with these favorite words from all of scripture.

9 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;  1 Corinthians 2:9 (NJB)

And this thought should help us see the joy that God would fill us with if our lives can be emptied of anxiety, and our needs, and desperation and guilt and shame.

How did I come up with the list?
          Our conversation with God revolves around these important things

So where did I come up with that list, the things that fill us instead of the joy God would so lovingly fill us with? Where did I get anxiety, needs, despair, guilt, and shame?

From the passage of course.  Though I changed the words slightly.

Worry for anxious – the idea is to have a dueling mind, or two separate minds, at war with each other.  Some translations actually use “be anxious over nothing”.

Pray comes from the word for desire – it is to lay before God all the things that cause us despair, and then we are not just to tell God, but we are to makeGod intimately aware of our needs, so that we can trust Him to take care of them, so we can empty ourselves of these burdens, and allowing Him to gill us with joy.

He does this when we come to the realization that Jesus return is what we truly need.  We set aside our guilt and shame, or more accurately, we realize He has set it aside, thinking of the joy God has planned for in our homecoming, in our finally seeing Him face to face.

We don’t empty ourselves of these things, we need to trust God to do this, understanding that it is His desire to do so, and to fill us with joy, This is the comfortingwork of the Holy Spirit!  As He cleanses us,and fills us with God’s joy!

For as we heard Wednesday night, the prophet Zephaniah revealed the God delights in our homecoming, even more than we do.  You see the joy we are filled with is His joy, the joy God has when He sees His people knowing they are loved, and able to fully experience it. 

His joy is contagious, and His joy is found, and always has been found when He and His people are together when He’s been able to provide for them something beyond anyone’s capability to understand. or explain…

That which Paul prayed for His people and I pray for you, that emptied of all that can be replaced by joy, I pray you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. And know this, His peace will guard your hearts and minds, as you live in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!

Confession of a Burnt Out Minister of God

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the day:

14 May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me never be blessed. 15 May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying, “A male child is born to you,” bringing him great joy. 16 Let that man be like the cities the LORD demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noontime 17 because he didn’t kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave, her womb eternally pregnant. 18 Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame?  Jeremiah 20:14-18  HCSB

14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.

I always worry when in my devotions I read passages like those above.

No, this confession isn’t mine, it is Jeremiah’s.

But it could be, as it could be the confession of so many pastors and priests and others who work in the church.  It doesn’t matter whether they are volunteers, or whether this is a paid vocation.

Burnout is inevitable.

There are days serving the church where it seems we would be better off dead.  (And we even think maybe those we serve would be as well!)  There will be days where the demands of our duties and the problems they bring will overwhelm us.  Where we would rather lock ourselves in our offices, and simply write.  Or find some passing big fish and dive into it, ala Jonah!

And Vatican II points out that devotion alone isn’t the answer, it also notes that just going through the motions of ministry doesn’t solve the problem as well.  We can do the job, it can bless others, but it is just as empty as becoming a monastic and retreating from the world which needs us, simply because we know we need God.

We can minister more effectively, and help others, even in the midst of burnout and brokenness, when we accept that the weariness is sometimes necessary.  That God is with us, even there.  That the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, the Lord of life will lift us up, and empower us, and work through our lives to call others to depend on the God who is there.

Max Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in a concentration camp, probably knew this weariness more than any pastor in the USA today.  Imagine, working with the guards, who denied their actions were evil.  He served the Christians who were in despair, Fr. Max served and died for those who didn’t know Jesus as well.

How did he do such a thing?

Maximilian Kolbe was an individual deeply marked by Christ, wholly ordered to Christ. When he immersed himself anew in the witness of Holy Scripture, he was not searching for theories, not on a voyage into the past. It is impossible to live with a mummy—with a merely historical Jesus; nor can we live with mere words and programs—with a “thing”. But Kolbe lived from and for Jesus. He could do this because he heard in Scripture the voice of a living Person. He heard Jesus as a living Person because he experienced him as a living Person; he could touch him in the Blessed Sacrament in which he forms a Church and is present for us.

The only way to minister through the hardest times and despair in ministry is to hang on to what we’ve been entrusted with as ministers.  Not word and sacrament, but what they are conduits of, the experience of encountering Jesus in both word and sacrament.  Of knowing God loves you, because of that encounter, of knowing His care because it too is encountered in the sacraments.

As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

14  When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT) 

Knowing about God’s love won’t sustain you in the darkness, it won’t keep you moving through the despair. It won’t help you see God at work in the midst of the pain.  But knowing you are known, finding hope in the fact you are loved, being refreshed through the grace and mercy poured out upon you.  Being filled through all your being with God Himself.

That is what we need, and that is what He provides… so relax, hear God!  Hear God! And find rest for your weary soul!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 281). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Which Miracle Would You Choose? Which is more needed?

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God, who am I?

Devotional Thought for our Broken Days:

Right away Jesus understood in His spirit that they were thinking like this within themselves and said to them, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  9 Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the Son of Man  has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He told the paralytic, 11 “I tell you: get up, pick up your mat, and go home.” Mark 2:8-11  HCSB

476      For each one of us, as for Lazarus, it was really a veni foras—come out—which got us moving. How sad it is to see those who are still dead and don’t know the power of God’s mercy! Renew your holy joy, for opposite the man who is decomposing without Christ, there is another who has risen with him.

A little background is necessary for this blog.

I grew up with a genetic disorder known as Marfan’s Syndrome.  It’s one of those nasty connective tissue disorders that affects my eyes, my spine, and my heart.  It was responsible for a cardiac arrest in my twenties, and the necessity of two of my heart valves being replaced 20 years ago.  I also had to deal with severe asthma attacks and allergies that put me in the hospital often and caused me to miss as many as 60 days of school in third grade.  Looking back, I was probably significantly on the Asperger’s spectrum, because my social skill wasn’t exactly…. normal. (If you know me, you know it still isn’t!)

In the process, for all of the above, my parents would have people pray for me.  We even went to see Kathryn Kuhlman once, which required a really long bus trip. My folks did what they could as did the experts.  If ripping off the roof of a house would have secured my healing – they would have done it.  For me, the idea of physical healing isn’t just a passing idea, it is something desired for a long time.  Regular back pain, poor eyesight, and the clicking of mechanical valves impact me greatly at times – both physically and psychologically, and more times than I want to admit, spiritually.

As I read that passage this morning, it hit me.  God did answer a prayer for healing in my life, but not the physical healing we all wanted.  Instead, what God gave me was what the paralytic was offered, the forgiveness of my sin.

All of it, and that is a lot.

From the things that would cause me not to sleep at night because of guilt and shame, to the little things in the eyes of the world, to the sin that I attempt to justify.

He came to die, that all my sin would be paid for, the debt I incurred by committing it erased.  For that, I will ever be grateful.

I think the scribes had it right for once when they noted that forgiving sins was a far greater miraculous act, a act far more requiring the full power, authority and responsibility of God.  

There are doctors and others who can perform physical miracles today, there are people who have the gift of doing so, and among those even some who don’t believe in God.  But forgiving sin, that is a whole different matter.

And Jesus, fully God, fully man, can forgive our sin and does.  He has that right, He has the ability, and he invested that ability in His people, with the responsibility given to those who shepherd them, who guide them into God’s presence, the men who reveal God’s presence in their lives.

This miracle is one that impacts us far beyond our mortal life.  That is why it required more dunamis, more power/authority/responsibility/capability than other miracles.  It was why the scribe doubted.

Would I love to be healed completely of the effect of Marphans?  Yes
Would I like to be more socially skilled, and less awkward?  Hmmm… tough one. 🙂  (there are days when the world not making sense is a good thing)

But were I to have all that, and not have the forgiveness of sins, all would be lost.  So I will rejoice in my weakness, and rejoice in a Lord that loves me and shows me the mercy I so need, and so do not deserve.  This is what raises us like Lazarus from the dead, this is the power of God’s mercy at work, this is the power that raised Christ from the dead at work in you and I!

Come know the joy of being forgiven, reconciled, redeemed,

( and we can still pray that God heals the rest!)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1820-1824). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

We Still Need Reformation, (perhaps more than ever!)

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought for our Days:

6 “This may seem impossible to those of the nation who are now left, but it’s not impossible for me. 7I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, 8and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.  Zechariah 8:6-8 TEV

96      Discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance, and then, from everything that happens, you will be able to draw more love for God and a greater desire to respond to him. He is always waiting for us, offering us the possibility to fulfil at all times that resolution we made: Serviam! I will serve you!

One of the books I am presently reading is Metaxas biography of Martin Luther.  It is more than a bit distressing, as constantly Metaxas points out that what happened was out of control of everyone involved, especially Luther.

Why couldn’t the church simply reform?  Why did the leaders not listen and discuss things like the Church did at the Jerusalem council?  Why was the division and later shattering of God’s family so unavoidable?

As I read Metaxas account, it seems like the reformation was a huge tidal wave, that consumed all in its path.

So where was God in it all?  Can we, as another Catholic Priest/Reformer of the Church advised, “discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance”?   

Personally, I find this difficult, I get overwhelmed by what seemed impossible to stop, Much like the people of Israel in the time of Zechariah.  It was impossible for them to even think of the restoration of the people (not the nation) Israel.  The people of God who struggle with Him (that;s what Israel means), yet are His people, for He is their God.   Yet the prophet assures them that for God this is not impossible, but it will happen.

God will restore His people, He will call them to His side,, He will call them home together.   It is God’s plan, His desire, His will, that we shouldn’t perish, and that He will call all His people home, together.

So how to grow in faith, in confidence that what God has promised, God will deliver? Even when the darkness seems to overshadow life?  How can I trust, as Joseph did, that God means all of this for good?  From the reformation which shattered the Western Church to arguments which threaten my own denomination today, that God will use these storms to bless those who love Him?

I have to look to the cross, the place where God seems the most vulnerable, even more, vulnerable than when He was in utero in Mary. To look to the cross as Jesus, fully God and fully man, is murdered by those who found God’s inconvenient and bothersome. As He died for all of our sin.  The sin of the Catholics, the Protestants, even the Orthodox.  s He died to cover the sins for those who do not know Him yet, but will as we reveal Him to them.  It is there- when even nature went dark and shook with fear, to realize even in the dark moment, God was at work.  Using the greatest evil Satan could ever con man into doing, turned out to be the greatest of blessings.

As God proved He is Immanuel, God with us.

As I look at a broken and fractured church, on his the supposed anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is in God’s promise, that not one of those in Christ will be lost, that He will call all of us home, and that He will continue to make us a holy people.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Help us to see You in everything we encounter, and in all of History!

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 553-556). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God, Why Did You Allow This?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:
26  In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27  And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29  Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30  And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)

149         I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.

Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle. 

Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above.  Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him.  I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love.  Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive.  The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…

Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God.  How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?

Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)

That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans.  We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.

But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard.  The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.

The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.

I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them.  It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me.  As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there.  ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.)   That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.

For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious!  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Dealing With the 2 Steps Forward, Three Steps Back Life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

6  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 (NAB)

78         You don’t feel like doing anything and there is nothing you look forward to. It is like a dark cloud. Showers of sadness fell, and you experienced a strong sensation of being hemmed in. And, to crown it all, a despondency set in, which grew out of a more or less objective fact: you have been struggling for so many years…, and you are still so far behind, so far. All this is necessary, and God has things in hand. To attain gaudium cum pace—true peace and joy—we have to add to the conviction of our divine filiation, which fills us with optimism, the acknowledgement of our own personal weakness.

There are days like yesterday when I feel like my faith, which took two steps forward the day before, takes three or four steps back.

Sometimes this is caused by my own sin, sometimes by the sins I have to help people find redemption from, sometimes from sin I see or hear about, but am not in the position to help people with, (and sometimes I do not want to) and sometimes it is something that just challenges my faith, like my 46 year battle with my health.  Some days are a perfect storm of all of the above, and I struggle to see God,

Sometimes, I do not want to.

My bet is that I am not alone

I think we all have those dark nights of the soul, those moments where we aren’t certain about God helping us, caring about us.  We are so overwhelmed, so broken that we doubt his existence, if we bother to think about Him at all.

These are difficult days, it takes an enormous effort to think of God, to not run to something else to console or comfort or distract from the despair.

St. Josemaria talks of adding to the conviction of divine filiation, to put it in our terms, our dependence on God’s love for us, and loving Him in return.  I am not going to say this is easy, for it requires us to look away from what is troubling us, and hear His voice, hear his promises, to know they are true. It’s not about our personal strength growing, but our dependence and awareness of His strength, His faithfulness. To see them as a measure of His love, His care, His work.  The way we add to our conviction of His love is to hear it, and experience it through His word, through prayer, through the Sacraments.  For all point to that day Paul tells the church in Ephesus is coming, the day when all is finished, all is complete.

A work that will be completed, a work that will be finished, a work that draws us into Him, into His eternity.  This is our hope, this is our faith, in a God that comes to us, that we might come to Him.  AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 547-552). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Did the Apostles Do Today…?

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  It is of the mysterious wisdom of God that we talk, the wisdom that was hidden, which God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. 8  None of the rulers of the age recognised it; for if they had recognised it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9  but it is as scripture says: 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 him10  to us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God.   1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (NJB)

318      Place yourself before the Lord each day and tell him slowly and in all earnestness, like the man in the Gospel who was in such great need, Domine, ut videam! —Lord, that I may see!; that I may see what you expect from me, and struggle to be faithful to you.   Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge

Yesterday they saw Jesus humiliated, they saw the results of the beatings, the interrogations, the whipping.  They heard the crowd cry out, “Crucify Him”; whipped into a frenzy, a desire for blood that scared a Roman Governor to the point of submission.

They watched Him carry the beam, and then fall, and then when He wasn’t able to carry it any longer, they watched a stranger carry it for him.  They didn’t volunteer, they didn’t go near Him.  They rejected Him.

Just like we do at times.

But what did they do today?  Where they so stunned they just sat behind locked doors?  Did they spend time in prayer, as they had been taught?  Did their fears and anxieties oppress them?  Did their guilt complete the job, leaving them depressed and in despair?

What did they do?

I ask this because I think we live in a similar situation today.  Jesus hasnt’ returned yet, and while we know scripture teaches it, while we know the prophecies and promises, there are days where it all seems like a nightmare, and the promises, well they are diminished by our grief, our pain, our anger, our denial. our guilt and shame.  We live in this time, where our minds should remind us, but our hearts and souls are overwhelmed.

We need to see Jesus.  As St. Josemaria advises we need to remember we are in HIs presence and ask Him to help us see that which we perceive.  We need to let the Spirit reveal to us the depth of the wisdom of God, the wisdom that planned for our salvation, that planned to and did raise Jesus from the dead.

And with Him, we died and rise as well….

 † Lord, have mercy upon us, and in these days when we are brought low, when we struggle to see Your face, open our eyes, remind us of your promises.  We pray this in the name of the Father,  † the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN! 

Surviving Cloudy, Dark, Hopeless Mondays

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

Devotional Thought of the Day

24  He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 25  Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.     1 Peter 2:24-25 (NLT)

241      If the outlook in your interior life, in your soul, is darkened, allow yourself to be led along by the hand, as a blind man would do. In time the Lord will reward this humble surrendering of your own judgment by giving you clarity of mind. (1)

I took a class a year ago on the text of St John of the Cross’s spiritual classic called Dark Night of the Soul. It was a hard read, not because of the language, but because it opened parts of my life where I need to let the Holy Spirit bring comfort and peace, cleansing them and helping us find God.  Yes, even there we can find Him.

As the Apostle Peter says, He is the Guardian of our souls.

In these days where everything seems broken, we need to understand that role that Jesus has in our lives.  It doesn’t matter whether the brokenness that clouds our Mondays is global, national, in our community or our church, or simply in the depth of our heart and soul, He is there.

Despite our sin, despite the injustice that oppresses us.  He is there.

It doesn’t matter if it is 2:30 AM, and we can’t sleep, or Monday morning when caffeine doesn’t seem to help us overcome our…. Mondayness.

He is there, guarding us, protecting us, providing for us, caring for us and bringing us the healing our souls so desperately cry out for, whether we allow them to do so audibly, or bury it and let it cry through our bodies.

He is there. He is caring for you, for me.

St Josemaria explains this using the idea of our being blinded – and there are times where surely I am spiritually.  The spiritual equivalent to the wasteland of a Monday, where nothing makes sense, nothing motivates, nothing is hoped for or planned for in our lives.  Where we might be in that wasteland, and so deprived of hope that we don’t care it is Monday. The key then is to allow Him to shepherd us, to guide our steps.

This is faith, the trust, the dependence on God.  It requires knowing those promises He has made us, that nothing can separate us from Him, that He will complete the work He began in us, that He will never leave us, never forsake us.

Here He is, guarding our hearts, our minds, our souls.  He is guiding us, and as we feel the warmth of His glorious mercy and love, we find peace….and hope.

Even on a dark, cloudy, Monday….

Lord, have mercy upon us, and reveal Your care and work as our guardian!

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1021-1023). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I Will Trust in My God! A sermon for the second week of Epiphany!

church at communion 2Epiphany!
I will Trust My God!

Isaiah 49:1-17

 In Jesus’ Name!

As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!

Is it him, or me?

When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider. 

How was it in originally fulfilled.

Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his

But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us.  For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.

But what about today’s selection?  Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?

Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God?  Or is it Jesus?

Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?

Who is this passage about?  Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?

Al – don’t say it!

Could He know the despair?

If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.

Think about those words for a moment.  Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus?  From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands?  From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life?  Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?

Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?

Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,

15  We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16  So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)

If so, then this passage could still be about Him.  If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges.  He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!

If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith.  It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap.  Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,

“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.

Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands.  Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him.  Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.

Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?

yes.

It is both, because we find life, in Christ!

So is this passage only about Jesus?  Or can we utter those words as well?  Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?

Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant?  Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth?  Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?

While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus.  It is true of us because it is true of Him.  For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.

That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus.  This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness.  As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!

We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…

This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks.  It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name.  The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones.  Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.

This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.

This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Unnecessary Suffering….how do we cope?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
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)

Do not limit your patience to such or such kind of injuries and afflictions, but extend it to all such as it shall please God to send you. Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations, but such as are honourable; for example, to be wounded in battle, to be a prisoner of war, to be persecuted for religion, or to be impoverished by some lawsuit determined in their favour. Now, these people do not love the tribulation, but the honour which accompanies it; whereas, he that is truly patient, suffers tribulations indifferently, whether accompanied by ignominy or honour.

As I write this, in the background is Anne Hathaway’s version of “I dreamed a dream” from the movie version of Les Mis.  I can’t help but think of the character, and the background found in the novel.  ALothough in the beginning a victim of her own sin, others make her misery and despair far more oppressive.

Some, like Val Jean, do so without thought. Others, like the Innkeeper and his wife, or the supervisor in the shop, do so with evil and malice. 

Either way, the suffering is real, the oppression stifling, the pain incapacitating.

As I read St. Francis De Sales words this morning, it, this idea of unnecessary suffering started dominating my thoughts. How do we deal with the suffering we don’t deserve, the pains that are caused by others, or whose biological cause cannot be blamed on anyone.

Things like my genetic heart issues, my dear friend’s ongoing battle with cancer, the unknown victims of terrorism and their families, those who suffer from PTSD, or some other mental illness and those who suffer with them.

This is different than the cyber-crusader who looks and desires and rejoices in his being “persecuted for rightness ( not righteousness) sake.”  Those people love the honor they receive from being a victim, and they deserve the persecution and the problems.

But what about the innocent who suffer?  Or those who suffering is so compounded by others neglect or deliberate harm?

As one, I’ve learned the hard way, through many sleepless nights, and times of tears that I cannot justify the suffering, I cannot find the “why” that I so desperately want to know.  I can strike out in anger, I can slip into the deepest of depression, I can, and have at times, hoped the suffering would simply end. 

Those thoughts don’t diminish the suffering, if anything, it gives the suffering more power over me, increasing the anxiety.  Nor am I strong enough, on my own, to avoid those feelings.  

I need to be patient, with these things I cannot explain, with the pain I can’t bear on my own. I need to have the patience De Sales calls for, I need the assurance of God’s empathy and benevolence of a God who invites me into HIS presence. I need to have the confidence to look to HIM, to understand how His innocent suffering had a purpose, and that somehow God will use mine for good.

It is not an easy task, coming to this conclusion, gaining this confidence. It is one I often fail to achieve, as this day or that is spent letting the darkness enclose me. Devotion is the answer, not devotions (remember – my strength had already failed), but devotion.  Considering Christ’s devotion to me, and as I do, growing to adore Him.

There is the answer.  Considering the depth of Christ’s devotion, there I find the hope that enable the patience I need, the strength to endure, the ability to take my mind off of my problems.  Being encouraged by others, who endure, and hear my words and find the same strength to endure.  That helps me realize the depth of Christ’s empathy.  As odd as it sounds, I can embrace the suffering, knowing His suffering that He embraced.  For He embraced it for a simple reason.  He loved you andI

Will I need the encouragement of others, pointing me back to the cross?  Yes!  Will I still struggle at times?  After 45 years of dealing with this, the answers is, yes. But I know I will come out of the depths, sustained by Jesus, who volunteered to suffer so that I would know His empathy, HIs love, and ultimately, His peace. 

This is my goal for today, to walk confidently into His presence, to accept His invitation to walk with Him. 

And to pray you will boldly, confidently walk with our God as well.  

Godspeed!

dt

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

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