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The Missing Piece in Missional Thinking: D_____ !

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:
When John the Baptist heard in prison about the things that Christ was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him. 3 “Tell us,” they asked Jesus, “are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?”   Matt 11:2-3  TEV

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a place of safety in times of trouble. 10 Those who know you, LORD, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you.  Ps. 9:9-10 TEV

When darkness veils His lovely face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
from the hymn  THE SOLID ROCK by Mote and Bradbury (in public domain)

Mission springs from the certainty of faith that coexists with the thousand
questions of a pilgrim. Faith is not a matter of ideology, existential security, but of an irreplaceable encounter with a living person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Modern renditions of The Solid rock often change the verse above ever so slightly, changing “veils” to “hide”, and robbing the poet of the tie in the second occurrence of the veil.

I picture the sailing boat, anchored but with a thick fog, unable to see where its anchor rope even enters the water, unable to see what the anchor has grasped, but sure of its security, the people on the boat find rest, I also picture the rope, tied to the high priest, who moves from the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies, all hope of Israel tied to him, and the offering which will cover our sin.

And in my reading in the gospel today, we see the prophet John, weary and brutalized, sending word to his cousin, for his own strength no longer sustains him. He sends his men to ask for the words which will sustain him, the words which will assure him of the promise.

And so we can take refuge in the promises of God. We see hope revealed in His providing hold on us that will protect us in the storm, calming us amid the brokenness, even amidst the mess our sins have caused in our lives.

The Lord is with you… He is your God….He changes not, and so you know the love and mercy you experienced once is still there, even when you can’t see it.

Pope Francis, a man who has known a storm or two, takes this a step further. He notes that the pilgrim, the one who God has sent on a mission, can know a thousand questions, can be overwhelmed by them, and even struggle with doubt. Been there, done that, have the scars to prove it.  ANd those questions are a form of doubt, I don’t know the answers, os how can I cling to what is so…spiritual?

His answer is because faith is not just a list of doctrines or even our identity based on our beliefs.  It is more than that, it is a relationship, formed from encountering the living, resurrected, crucified Jesus.   It is that relationship that withstands the questions, the foggy times in life, the times we can’t see the God who holds, protects and preserved us.   But we can know He is there… and as we focus on His love, which word and sacraments refresh our experience of daily, we are free….

Free to reach out to those likewise broken, likewise struggling with sin, likewise wrestling with a thousand questions of doubt, and share with them, whether ancient believer, newly baptized, or those yet to encounter Him, that He is with you all.  Doubt drives us from our own self-sufficiency to realize we need something…not someone more.
And He is here… for all.

Being missional is not about being happy and positive about everything.  The missional Christian isn’t one who exudes confidence in himself or depends on her charisma.  The missional person is one whom simply knows that God is holding them, while they cling to Him, for in Him there is hope, in Him there is healing, and as we encounter Him, we experience life as the ones He loves.

So the next time you struggle, the next time the fog hides His face, hold on to His promises, hold on to those encounters, as you realize He holds onto you, the one He loves. And grab hold of the next person floating buy in the fog, for that is your mission.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

 

Having one of “those” days? You aren’t alone…..

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

Devotional THought of the Day:
41  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby moved within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42  and said in a loud voice, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43  Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me? 44  For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness. 45  How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true!” Luke 1:41-45 (TEV)

2  John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3  “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” 4  Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— 5  the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6  And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’” Matthew 11:2-6 (NLT)

32  And John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and stay on him. 33  I still did not know that he was the one, but God, who sent me to baptize with water, had said to me, ‘You will see the Spirit come down and stay on a man; he is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34  I have seen it,” said John, “and I tell you that he is the Son of God.” 35  The next day John was standing there again with two of his disciples, 36  when he saw Jesus walking by. “There is the Lamb of God!” he said. John 1:32-36 (TEV)

106    You wrote, and I well understand: “Every day I spend my ‘little time’ in prayer. If it weren’t for that …!”

As I was reading the 3rd reading about John the Baptist this morning,  (part of my daily routine) I thought of the other two readings.

John, before he was born, and while Jesus was even younger, recognizes the presence of God. (not to mention what happened to John’s mom must have been cool!)  Incredible experience!

Move to the second reading, and now John is in prison, he is having one of “those” kind of days. Miserable, depressed, anxious and afraid, he needs to be encouraged, he needs to remember that what he devoted his life to, actually was worth it.

A bad day to say the least.

A day where even he, a prophet, doubted the very prophecy he was meant to give.

John, who had pointed to Christ, who knew him well, who proclaimed he was Israel’s hope, doubted and struggled with trusting God.

Just like we do!

There is a lot of hope in this realization, that John the Baptist could have one of those days, and apparently more than one.  That he could be so caught up by his own situation that he needed to know God was at work, that God’s promises are true.

And God responded to his query, John wouldn’t die without knowing for sure Jesus was the Messiah, that John’s ministry was validated, it was good, it was needed.  That Jesus was still there, doing what John knew he would do, even when he didn’t know.

And Jesus is here for you and I, His promise is that we are never alone.  ( Read Psalm 139 sometime – David realized God couldn’t be outrun either)

Even when we struggle, even when we doubt, God is there…. and will respond to our cries, our cries of despair, our cries of doubt, even our cries of anger and frustration.  He hears you and I and responds.  As St. Josemaria notes, if it weren’t for those little times of prayer, where we listen, where we vent, …

This is the lesson of John the Baptist, the lesson that even the greatest stumble and struggle, and are ministered to by God.  For He hears us…and loves us.  AMEN

Does it help you to know the prophets and apostles struggled and doubted?  That they ahd bad days as well?
How do you feel when you realize God was there, working behind the scenes?  Can you accept that you won’t always be able to see Him at work?

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 397-399). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Doubting? Go…. A Trinity Sunday Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20

church at communion 2Doubting?  Go Ahead!

Matthew 28:16-20

 I.H.S.†

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that any thoughts of doubt and hesitation is simply set aside, as Your Lord says, “Go in My Name”  AMEN!

A Measure of Doubt/Hesitation

At first, I don’t think we understand it. It doesn’t make sense.

Here the apostles are, standing there in the presence of Jesus, the one who died in front of their eyes, and who was raised from the dead.  They had seen him walking, eating, teaching, with the holes in his hands, and they have seen the gaping wound left by the spear.

And as he stood in front of them, some doubted.  They wavered, they hesitated. They doubted.

It doesn’t really make all that much sense to us at first.  How could they doubt, they were in the presence of God!  They were overwhelmed, and couldn’t answer the question, “What does this mean?” because they could quite process the resurrection itself.

Jesus reaction is interesting.  He doesn’t confront them as sinners, and He doesn’t comfort them in the place they are.

He simply tells them, Go back to what is their “normal life” and while you are living, make disciples of everyone and anyone.

For men who were doubting, men who were hesitating, it is an interesting directive.  One that we need to hear today as well.

Unbelief or Doubt?

As we look at this, I think we need to be clear about what these disciples, these followers of Jesus were experiencing.

It wasn’t unbelief or disbelief.  It was doubt, it was a word that means to hesitate in commitment or action, it was to waiver, or be paralyzed in the moment because you don’t know how to act.

To think of it in a positive way, it’s like that moment when you are told you are one, husband and wife, and the pastor gently prods you to kiss your wife for the first time.

“My wife?”   Uhm – who is that… I mean – I am really married now?  Ahh – there she is! And everyone laughs as the kiss is much too quick, or far too long!

Or it’s like that moment when you receive news that your life is changing… and you don’t even know how to begin processing it, yet you must act.  You might even be ready to go through the motions, but what are you doing?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed… and that means we have risen indeed.

So what?  What happens next?  What am I to do with this?

How does the resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension, change my life 2000 years after the fact?

The Answer?  Go!

Jesus answers that question, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.  Therefore, it is time to go…

Go and disciples of people from every walk of life, from every culture, from every demographic statistic there is, that can be used to divide people.  Disciple, not just making converts, but a continuing process of revealing to people the promises of God that will be and are given in their baptism, and continuing to reveal to them not just the God’s laws which are commanded, but the blessings that are promised in commands as well.

Go and do this, and here is where we see the Trinity’s authority given to us, just as it was given to Jesus by the Father.

Next month, I get to act on President Stoterau’s behalf, installing the Rev. Mark Jennings as the pastor of Peace, Pico Rivera.  My responsibility, my authority, is very limited, yet I will be acting on our District President’s behalf.  When God says disciple them, baptize them, teach them to keep my covenant, we have all the authority found in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to do so.

Which is amazing, if you think of it!  God has transformed us to the extent that He entrusts us, just as He did the eleven disciples!  Disciple people, walk with them as Jesus did with the eleven disciples, as much as the eleven disciples did with people like Stephen and Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Phoebe and Mark.

How does that affect our doubt, our hesitation, to know that we are backed by God on this ministry of reconciliation we have been given?

This incredible, glorious, majestic, merciful, loving Triune God has called us, and is transforming us, and sends us out to minister to believers and unbelievers alike!  Revealing to them the work of God, done in their baptism, and the relationship God defines in the New Covenant, the same relationship that He promised in the Old.!

And as we make the sign of the cross, as we remember our baptisms, we remember how His plan and work, from before the foundation of the world, to the cross and to Pentecost has been to disciple us.

The Promise… I am! With you

If you are still doubting, if you are still hesitant, if you think you don’t have what it takes to disciple another person, to point them to the promises of baptism, to share and remind them of God’s gift of life, and the blessings of living in relationship with Him, hear these last words,

And be sure of this, I AM with YOU Always, even to the end of the age.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit!  They have kept their promise and come and made a home with you.

You aren’t alone, you aren’t powerless, God, who gives you His name, is with you.  When you are hesitant, even doubting, know that when God says “go”, He is also saying, “I am with you!”.

He loves you too much to stay away.

Amen!
So let’s go… and disciple each other and our world.  AMEN!

I am not ready for “Holy Week”, yet… I need it!

Devotional Thought of the day:
27  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my side. Stop your doubting, and believe!28  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
John 20:27-28 (TEV)

16      Meditate on this frequently: I am a Catholic, a child of Christ’s Church. He brought me to birth in a home that is his, without my doing anything to deserve it. My God, how much I owe you.

The quote is not from Holy Week, but a week after.

It seemed appropriate to me for this day, as we enter a week my heart is not yet ready for. I’ve dealt with too much grief and brokenness.  I’ve dealt with too much death, or more precisely, I’ve watched too many others deal with it.

I’ve got to get my head in the game; there are services to plan, sermons to write, people to visit and share the hope that seems distant.  It is there, faint in the background, sustaining me, yet it is nearly intangible. As waves of grief and other stresses of life flood over us.

I so understand Thomas today, so devastated that what is true is unbelievable.

I need to see His hands, His side, I need to eat with Him, to hear His voice, to know His love is not ended, nor is His mercy, nor his hand which corrects and guides.  I need to focus, and trust, and believe.

Although I would replace the capital c in Catholic, with the smaller c indicating the church is the entire church, I so am ministered to by the words of Fr. Escriva this morning.  For it is Christ that brings me into His church, even as I am battered and bleeding by sin.  The sin of a broken world, the sin of others which crushes me… and yes, most especially by my own sin.  A sin which heightens the anxiety over death, A sin which crushes with grief and shame, a sin which can bind resentment to me in ways I cannot overcome.

And the Savior, the benevolent Lord lifts us up, pours our His mercy and grace on us, and heals our souls.

Faith is nothing more, and nothing less, than depending on Him to come to us in our brokenness…. and bring us into His home, into His kingdom, into His death on the cross so that we will live eternally with Him.

This is the message of “holy week”, the week was broken are drawn to the cross in awe and wonder, and see the love and glory of God.

I may not be ready for it, but oh, do I need it.

You do as well… so let’s walk together, crying out with other pilgrims, “Lord, have Mercy!”  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 294-296). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Christmas Eve: He Will, He Has!

For He Will: For He Has….
Matthew 1:18-25

Jesus! Son! Savior!

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the hope of Glory, His gift to you!

 What does this Mean?

As people are driving by the church this evening, as they see the cars in the parking lo now, and later, and tomorrow morning, I prayer that they ask a simple question.

Why are these cars here??

I pray that they also seek out the answer. That they would realize the reason we are here is more than just tradition, It is more than the lights and music.  It is worth delaying the gifts, and the family and friends that didn’t accept our invitations to join us.

It is here in this place, Christmas takes on a real meaning.

For this night, we celebrate the greatest blessing the world has ever known.  The greatest blessing that we will ever have, and nothing else is close.

We will realize this through the eyes of Joseph this evening….as we see him twice, both times somewhat unable to put his thoughts into words.  Both times unable to really understand what is going on…

Anxious Joseph…

The first we see of Joseph, he is struggling, confused, hurt, broken.  Feeling betrayed and overwhelmed

His fiancé tells him she is pregnant, and he knows he isn’t the father.  In fact, he hasn’t been alone with her, so how could….  what is a man to think?  The story Joseph was told?  How could she be so malicious, to think Joseph such a fool?

Our translation tonight used the phrase, “as he considered this,” yet the word picture behind the original is one who is breathing hard, who is out of control.  Hurt and broken, feeling betrayed, shocked, he is beyond words.  Speechless, he struggles through the night.

Some of us know this kind of anger, this kind of stress, we’ve felt that betrayal.

Most of us have experienced this kind of stress, this anger, hurt, betrayal, and pain.  Maybe like Joseph, we cannot conceive of how someone else’s actions could be anything but evil.  We can’t find a way to explain the situation in any positive way.

It hurts, we can’t figure a way to get out of the relationship with more pain, yet…can we even stand the pain any longer?  He had every right to demand she pay for her unfaithfulness, but the pain was so deep, he knew that wouldn’t help.

Or maybe, it wasn’t someone else who betrayed us.

We are the one who betrayed us.  I betrayed myself, you betrayed you.  We fell into that one sin, we gave into temptation, we chose to do something we know we would risk becoming broken. We can’t believe we did it.  We can’t sleep, we are so angry with ourselves, so full of guilt and shame…..

And in either case, we need an angel, a messenger from God to come, and make everything right again.

We end up beside ourselves, or we bury the guilt and shame, or the anger and resentment deep, where it causes so many other problems when we can’t bury any more

The Second Joseph

When the angel comes to Joseph, it changes everything.

He hears the news from an angel,

“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:20-21 (NLT)

He will save, this baby that is growing in Mary’s womb.  He will save Joseph, and Mary, and his family.  He will save his clan and nation and all people will have the opportunity to be saved from that life of brokenness.

This message brought the news that would repair his relationship with Mary.  No longer would he think her guilty of being unfaithful.  No longer would he deal with the brokenness inside him.

The message of who this baby would be changed all of that. That is what He will save means.

It gave him hope it restored what was broken.

If we are to explain why we are here, in this place, if we are to ask what this ceremony means, it is the same message.  For Joseph the message was He will save His people, for us it is He has saved us from our sin.

For Christ is the greatest message from God, as God comes to us, to tell us He loves us, and because of that, we are saved by Him.

Saved from our sin, our guilt, and shame, and delivered into God’s presence, saved and healed in this life, saved to see relationships restored and healed.  Including our most important relationship, our relationship with God.

God coming, and making everything right, everything righteous, as Jesus goes from a wooden manger to a wooden cross.  A new life which would bring life for the rest of us.

This is why this ceremony, and the one at 1115, and the one tomorrow are worth being at, this is what these ceremonies mean….for the gift is beyond all comprehension.  It is a gift of everlasting peace, and joy, and the glory of God.  It is knowing where we belong, and who we are, and freedom from all that is not good and holy.

Let us worship and praise Him with angels and archangels, shepherds and even wise men.  AMEN!

A Necessary Ingredient for Faith in Troubled Times…

Devotional Thought of the Day
8  No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)

16  Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17  When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted! 18  Jesus came and told his disciples, I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

581    How humbly and simply the evangelists relate incidents that show up the weak and wavering faith of the Apostles! This is to keep you and me from giving up the hope of some day achieving the strong and unshakeable faith that those same Apostle s had later.  (1) 

The simplicity and pastoral care with which the Fr. Josemaria Escriva wrote his simple sentences astounds me.  I may not agree with everything he writes, but there is so much which resonates with me.  Simply put, he often puts the words to what I know and struggle to explain.

This is true today, as I struggle with how the church (myself included) struggles to reflect the love of Christ into a broken and dark world.  We get so caught up in our own pain, the sense of betrayal we have felt, our own anxiety and paranoia that we fail to trust God, to have faith in His promises.

The task to have a world, a country, a community that glorifies God seems overwhelming, and even impossible. The world wants what it wants, its version of justice, its version of freedom, its version of love and hope, and we seem surprised that it is at odds with what we know from scripture.

And rather lament over the brokenness of the world, we lament over the loss of power and the loss of our dreams. As we do, or faith wavers, we doubt, we give way to our feelings.

To this loss, the words in blue above speak strongly.  We aren’t alone when we struggle; the apostles struggled just as much as we do.  They walked for 40 days with the Lord Jesus, after he rose from the dead, after being beaten, crucified and a spear strike into his heart and lungs.  And in Matthew’s gospel, it tells us, their faith wavered, they doubted, they knew anxiety and fear.  (What else did they need – they had Jesus, risen from the dead!)

That they did, that God continued to work through them, that they would go on to grow in their trust of God is amazing.  10 of 11 of the men there would die, brutally, because they took the task Jesus commissioned them for very seriously.  They made disciples, they baptized people and taught them to treasure what God had given them in Christ Jesus.

But first they doubted, first their faith wavered, and Jesus even rebuked them a time or two… for not trusting Him, for not turning to God.

That is where humility comes in, of knowing we are children of God, people who are his, and are welcome to depend on Him.  Even when we don’t understand the world any more than it understands us. It is at that point where we need to be humble, to be meek, to find our confidence, not in our strength, not in our ability to argue, not in our witty meme’s or comebacks.  We need to be humble, to walk with God, to seek out the justice of the cross.  To know the love of God, shown in Jesus bearing the wounds that would bring healing to all the broken people, all the broken relationships in the world.  Including us.

As we find that healing in Christ Jesus, we can help others heal.

That requires trusting God… and being humble enough to admit our need, our dependence on Him.

Lord Have mercy on us!

1.  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1387-1389). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where’s the Rest of my Story? I Have to Know I Get the Miracle, Don’t I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

8  It was then that some Babylonians took the opportunity to denounce the Jews. 9  They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “May Your Majesty live forever! 10  Your Majesty has issued an order that as soon as the music starts, everyone is to bow down and worship the gold statue, 11  and that anyone who does not bow down and worship it is to be thrown into a blazing furnace. 12  There are some Jews whom you put in charge of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who are disobeying Your Majesty’s orders. They do not worship your god or bow down to the statue you set up.” 13  At that, the king flew into a rage and ordered the three men to be brought before him. 14  He said to them, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, is it true that you refuse to worship my god and to bow down to the gold statue I have set up? 15  Now then, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, oboes, lyres, zithers, harps, and all the other instruments, bow down and worship the statue. If you do not, you will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. Do you think there is any god who can save you?” 16  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17  If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18  But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” Daniel 3:8-18 (TEV)

872         To help you keep your peace during those times of hard and unjust contradictions I used to say to you: “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.”  (1)

In my devotional this morning, the Old Testament reading was exactly what you see above.

My first reaction was, why stop it here?

Why not give us the rest of the story.  (spoiler alert?)  Why not just let us read on, to the glory, to the miracle of the 4th man? To the repentance of the community in its sins, not just to God, but to me!

I want the rest of the story!  And I want it….. now!

I looked ahead – I don’t get the rest of the story tomorrow!  What is up with that?

What is up with that is the words of faith that the three men said.  They were sure of their trust in God enough to embrace the fact that the story might not end with a miracle, and somehow, they are okay with that.  Somehow, knowing that God is at work is enough, being sure He will keep His promises is enough.

Many martyrs die without receiving what we would want, their release back into the world.  Their freedom from those who would oppress, torture, and eventually kill them.

And they were able to endure, knowing something that their captors did not.

That God, by his very cHesed nature,the depth and height, the breadth and width of His love,  is worthy of the trust that the three men showed.  Even if He didn’t rescue them, even if they didn’t get the miracle they expected.  They knew His love.

May we, as we think through the work of God accomplished in our Baptism, as we meditate on the Body and Blood of Christ, as we hear with absolute delight that our sins are forgiven, that all is made right, know God enough to trust Him, even if we don’t get the miracle we want……

For we have the one we need. The Cross.  (see Romans 6:3-8)

He is our God.

AMEN.

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3565-3567). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Dare We Speak of Wanting to Leave God???? We must??

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

67  Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?” 68  Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. 69  We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69 (MSG)

257         The Lord, the Eternal Priest, always blesses with the Cross.  (1)

Last night, as we gathered in Bible Study, we talked about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12.  We talked of how he had a thorn in the flesh, and how he begged the Father in Heaven to remove it, not once but three times.  Each time he received an answer.  Peter had a similar discussion once with Jesus as well, three times having to hear an answer. We all laughed, knowing that some of us need to hear what has to be said 4 or 5 or even 211 times. Jeremiah accused God of deceiving Jeremiah.  St Josemaria tells us that Jesus always blesses with the cross…. but that means there is a cross.

Yeah, there are days like that.  Days were we have to give voice to that which flows from our hearts. The pains, the doubt, the brokenness. We can’t bury it, we can’t just ignore it, and let our hearts harden, for then they will surely shatter.

There are times where you have to exhale the poisons in your system, before you can breath in the Spirit.  You have to let it go (O gosh – not that phrase!  🙂 )  Prior to seeing the answer that is there.

In the gospel reading above, the crowds have abandoned Jesus.  They don’t want to admit the depth of their need, a need that can only be met through the body and blood of Christ be given and shed for us, to be more than just those who observe, but those who are joined to Christ’s death, that we would be joined to His resurrection. With all abandoning Jesus, He turns to the last dozen…..and offers them an opportunity to leave the pain, to leave the discomfort of the message that challenges their nicely fabricated holiness.

Somehow Peter gets it right, No, not somehow rather by God’s grace.

Where else could we go Lord? The best hope we have, the only hope, is to walk with you, through whatever it is that opposes us.  It’s the cry of faith, that God is God, we aren’t, and so we trust in Him. Or like a paralytics father cried out, “Yes I trust in you Lord, help me to trust in you!” As odd as it seems, we need the times in Elijah’s cave, we need to have rants like Jeremiah or Moses or David.  We need to have the times like Peter on the beach, and like Paul struggling to really hear God, distracted by a thorn in the flesh.

I think that cry of faith can only come from the point where we know nothing else, Where we are broken and weak, the place and time we’ve given up on trying to do it by ourselves.  It is then we look up and see that God’s been there all the time. It is then we hear His words, and know they are the words of life. It is then, as we feel His embrace, that we know His mercy, love and peace are endless.  Sometimes we don’t realize the value of that, until we face walking away from it.

And then – our hearts lifted by the the words of life, we find ourselves given that life, dwelling in it, for we walk in the presence of God.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Location 1254). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Through You I Will Shine!

Through You I Will Shine

Isaiah 49:1-7

† In Jesus Name

 As you dwell in the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you realize that His glory shines through you, doing far more for His Kingdom than you could ever imagine!

Who is this servant who brings God glory?

As we hear this call from Isaiah to pay attention, to hear his words, written to us from distant lands and who are far far away, we need to ask the question.

Hear part of it again, starting in verse 3,

“He said to me, “You are my servant Israel, and you will bring Me glory”

So here is the question – who is it that is saying this?

Who is God’s servant, who will bring God the Father glory?  Who is it that God says to, “through you I will shine?”
The Sunday School answer is Jesus, some scholars would says the nation of Israel, others might indicate it is Paul, and missionaries and people who want to see the church grow may say it is…us.

Yet, who is this servant whom through God says “you will bring me glory”, or as I titled the sermon – “through you I will shine?”

I think we need to dig through more of the passage in order to find out.

What about this feeling of uselessness?  Is that Jesus or Us?

If we are going to find this person or persons out, let’s look at the next sentence:

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

That’s a proper response to realizing that God chose us from before our mother’s gave birth to us?  That is the response to realizing God knew our name – even then?

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

I think this would put many of us in contention for who this passage is about.  We know God’s called us, we know He knows our name.  Yet there are days where we wonder if our efforts to be faithful are working.  When our prayers don’t seem to be answered, where we have spent ourselves, exhausted ourselves in our efforts to build His kingdom, or some days, our efforts just to endure.

So is this passage about us then?

If it is, then can we finish the verse?

Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”

The real struggle in life isn’t enduring those times, but in leaving things in God’s hands, in trusting Him to make the situation be what He promised, when He promised that all things work for good for those who love Him, whom He called according to His will. When we look around us and wonder, why aren’t things reflecting the love of God, why does not it look like we are blessed by God?

Here is the catch, while we may know these feelings at times, they are also true for Jesus.  Think of the words he uttered in tears looking over Jerusalem,

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Luke 13:34 (NLT)

Later He would say,

Luke 19:41-44 (NLT) 41  But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

Just in case we in our pride think Jesus only felt this way about Old Testament Israel, read the letters to the church in Revelation, for there we see God’s call to Christians like us, who struggle to realize they are His.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus knew these questions as well, for He was tempted in every point, just as we are. Yet He was able to commit Himself into the Father’s hands

So is He the servant through whom God will shine?  Or are we?

The final “qualification”

If we go down to verse 6, there is another point to consider; that will help us determine whether this servant is us, or Jesus, or someone else.

6  He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Surely this points to our Lord, it is the very concept we sing of in the Nunc Dimitis, those words of Simeon when he saw the infant Jesus. For his ministry was seen to be just to the Jews, to restore them, that they would be readily identified as the people of God.  His ministry went beyond that, reaching out even to us, 2000 years later, in a far distant land, the land that Isaiah calls to listen, and pay attention!

I do not think it is only about Jesus though.  In our Bible Study, we’ll see Paul used the same language about Paul’s call into ministry, and about others. I would include, ABOUT US!  The people of Concordia, the people that God gathers here in the this place.

Even with this last qualification, there is a strong point to be made – that we are part of this….

The realization of the Gospel

To make my point, I will refer back to last Sunday’s sermon on Romans 6.  In the call and response we re-learned I said something – based on Paul’s understanding of our being united to Christ in Baptism….let’s see how good your memory is….

The call was, Alleluia!  His is Risen!  To my saying that, the new response is…

( “therefore WE are risen indeed!  Alleluia )

It is critical to understand the gospel, to learn to place it all in the Lord’s hands, to trust in God for the reward, that we are that united to Christ’s death and resurrection.  We need to realize that we find life in Him, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us that God has called by name, those whom He recognizes as His people.  (even if we do not yet)

So this passage is about Jesus – but because it is about Jesus, it is about us as well!  We can learn to leave everything in His hands, and trust in Him that it will be made right.  We can see that He has called us, knowing us and forming us in our mother’s wombs, and that our words can bring people to know that they are righteous in the sight of God, for that is His judgment for those who know Him.

Our strength isn’t spent for nothing and no purpose, our work isn’t useless.

The answer to that attitude is found not in trying different things, or working the old things harder.  Instead, its found in realizing that we are in Christ.

Even to the phrase that our ministry is not just found here, among the people we love.  Rather God uses us, our words, our work, to reach people throughout the world, and will continue to do so.  For what Paul said in our epistle reading this morning, to the church in Corinth.  Look there in your bulletin, for the verses are highlighted,

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

And let’s start at verse 7 for the second one..

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

For there, in partnership, in communion with Christ, we find who we’ve been called to be, the children of God. For there in Christ we know that God will shine through us!  That we will reflect His glory, and dwell in Him.

Knowing that, we find a peace that passes all understanding, which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!  AMEN?

Is God Listening? Is God here?

Devotional thought of the day:

  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8  Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!Matthew 6:7-8 (NLT) 7

463         Your prayer will sometimes be discursive; maybe less often, full of fervour; and, perhaps often, dry, dry, dry. But what matters is that you, with God’s help, are not disheartened. Consider the sentry on duty. He does not know if the King or the Head of State is in the palace: he is not told what he might be doing, and generally the public figure does not know who is on guard. It is not at all like that with our God. He lives where you live, He cares for you and knows your inmost thoughts. Do not abandon the guard-duty of your prayer!  (1)
One of the more interesting challenges I have, is teaching my son how to pray.  Not the words to say, he has that down, but how to realize that prayer is a conversation with God.  That God is there, that God is listening, that God is present.

For a very intelligent 6 year old, who can read like a teenager can eat, what isn’t in front of him, visible, is hard to see.  It is hard not to see prayer and simply something we do together, a time we spend together.  Body language and voice intonation lets me know he is involved, yet not quite discerning the presence of God.  At least that seems to me to be what I’ve seen over the last year or so develop.

I look at people, and are we any different?  As we gather, two or three, together.  As we pray together in Church, never mind if I dare ask people about their prayer habits.  I’ve thought about the pastors gathering that is hosted at my church, and wondering what would happen, if we talked about out prayer habits, and how many would show up if I pre-announced that topic!  (Even writing this makes me a bit nervous, because if I ask them, they will surely ask me!)

So how to encourage this regular conversation with God?  How do we dare open our lives to Him?  How do we pour out on Him our anxieties, our concerns and how do we know He is listening?  How do we know the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of all creation is waiting to talk to me?  

The problem is, like a 6 year old, we struggle to believe in that we cannot touch, We want documentation, a proven methodical concept that works the same way each time.  In a way, we want to reduce prayer from the dynamic communication it is, to a formulary set of practices that will work the same way, each time.  And when it doesn’t, we can analyze what we did wrong, or dismiss the entire thing as a intellectual fraud.

Relationships are a matter of the heart though, not of our mind.  They are surprising and fluid, they are intense, and yet if abandoned dry out.  They are life, which is why its called a life of prayer. It is experiental – beyond our ability to logically or within our scope of reason.  So why would a relationship with God be any more rational, definable, subject to our control?  Knowing His presence is observable, but not with our eyes. It’s know through a trust in Him that is alien to our minds, but with which the heart overrides that analysis, and does so in great joy… for it is there we find peace.

All I can say is faith relies on Him.  It trusts Him.  He promised to be here,

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in Pray (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

and He promised to listen and to craft our lives and all that happens to work out for our best.  He invited us to pray, taught us how to lay it all out before Him, to let Him care for our burdens and bring life to our weary and broken lives.

I pray that we can be aware of the promises and the reality of them.

AMEN

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