Devotional Thought for our seemingly Borday Days
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. 8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind. 9 Then when you call, the LORD will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Isaiah 58:6-9 (NLT)
The beauty offered the Child of Bethlehem is dedicated to all, and we need it like daily bread. Those who would rob a child of beauty to make something useful out of it do not support but destroy; they take away the light, without which all our calculations turn cold and trivial. Of course, if we truly join the pilgrimage of the centuries, which was anxious to lavish the most beautiful things of this world on the newborn King, then we must never forget that he still lives in a stable, in a prison, in the favelas [South American slums], and that we do not praise him should we refuse to find him there. Yet such an awareness will not enslave us under the tyranny of usefulness, where joy becomes a stranger and somber seriousness a dogma.
During our Advent and Christmas services, my congregation started singing a mash-up of an incredible Christmas hymn (For Unto Us A Child is Born) and an older contemporary praise song (Open the Eyes of my Heart). It is a striking combination, proclaiming the joy and glory of Christ here, among us, and our desperate need to see Him lifted high up on the cross, and in our praises.
It came to my mind immediately as I read the words from Pope Benedict XVI ( Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) Taken from an article in my devotions, the part above shows a truth we cannot ignore.
That Christ is found, now as much as then, with those who need Him.
For Jesus always comes to those who cannot provide for themselves.
That is the interesting thing about the Magi, about these wisest of men, they realized they needed Him too, and they searched him out. They didn’t hesitate when they found out hi humble origins when they didn’t find him lying in a castle or on some grand estate. They knew they needed to find him and honor Him, for He was their hope.
I think the former pope is right in this, that it is among the needy that we find Jesus, but as we go there, we don’t just find those we can help, we find out we are just as in need of a Savior. just as in need of someone to minister to us. And so Jesus brings us together, all with different gifts, all broken in different ways and therefore needy, but all in need of Hi love, a love which will heal and transform us all.
Isaiah notes this as well, as He writes of our needing to fast, to break away from the life that is all about us. For then we find God answering our prayers, we find His presence and His work that transforms us into saints, into something righteous. To break apart from what Benedict XVI calls the Tyranny of usefulness.
We need to find ourselves with those we thought more broken, and the realize the reality of our common need, we find joy, for we hear Hi answer to our call, “I AM HERE.”
For He is, He is Immanuel God with Us! AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought for our days:
11 Just as shorts fit tightly round the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honour to my name, but they would not obey me.” Jeremiah 13:11 TEV
Loneliness is indubitably one of the basic roots from which man’s encounter with God grew up. Where man experiences his solitariness, he experiences at the same time how much his whole existence is a cry for the thou and how ill-adapted he is to be only an I in himself. This loneliness can become apparent to man on various levels. To start with it can be comforted by the discovery of a human thou. But then there is the paradox that, as Claudel says, every thou found by man finally turns out to be an unfulfilled and unfulfillable promise; that every thou is at bottom another disappointment and that there comes a point when no encounter can surmount the final loneliness: the very process of finding and of having found thus becomes a pointer back to the loneliness, a call to the absolute thou that really descends into the depths of one’s own I. But even here it remains true that it is not only the need born of loneliness, the experience that no sense of community fills up all our longing, which leads to the experience of God; it can just as well proceed from the joy of security. The very fulfillment of love, of finding one another, can cause man to experience the gift of what he could neither call up nor create and make him recognize that in it he receives more than either of the two could contribute. The brightness and joy of finding one another can point to the proximity of absolute joy and of the simple fact of being found which stands behind every human encounter.
“I weep when the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs analysis replaces the almost erotic intimacy with Christ described by John the Cross in his “Dark night of the soul,” or the stunning challenge to discipleship and companionship presented in some of the great Ignatian meditations on the mystery of Christ. The psychological tools are fun and even helpful, but they create a fascination with oneself and in the end, leave us alone with that fascination. I grow very sad when the paradoxical wisdom of our heroines and heroes is replaced by the strategies and stages of the psychological paradigm. A language that was once very large and awesomely beautiful has been transformed into a language that is very self-centered and very small.)
How closely does God want us to cling to Him?
According to Jeremiah – as tightly as shrunken old underwear clings! (Gulp! How is that for a picture! No object lessons about this in a sermon – please!)
Gosh, that is close, very close!
That is what he always intended, a relationship that is that intimate, that close. That deep, that powerfully intimate and life changing. Nothing is going to get closer!
That is why Webber’s quote in green needs to be understood. There are a lot of great tools for helping people, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing Jesus. That is what sustained saints recognized and unrecognized by the church throughout the ages. This level of intimacy with God that simply leaves us adoring Him with all that we are. The level of intimacy we find in the sacraments, the intimacy that does fill the emptiness that no community can quench on its own.
Look at the way people have chased that kind of commitment, that kind of bond. Of course is our madness with sex and the sensual. But also the many fraternal organizations ( Kiwanis, Lions, KofC, even the Masons) and each tries to create those kinds of bonds and falls short. The same thing for religious groups and orders, they come close and show this intimacy we need can exist, but they ultimately can’t replace a relationship with God.
Oddly, the Jesus movement started by promising this kind of intimacy, then as it morphed over the decades, it dropped that aside in favor of behavior modification and political power and influence. This is why mountaintop experiences like prayer retreats and groups like Cursillo are so effective – they introduce that level of relationship, in a corporate environment. They force us into it, but often fail to demonstrate that relationship is in our everyday life, and in our home church’s worship. It’s there, but we have to learn to see it!
Ultimately, we are talking about a relationship sustained as we interact with God. In the sacraments, in our time of prayer, (remember the ACTS outline – do we take enough time to ADORE Him? We are talking about a relationship where He is allowed and welcomed into our lives, and we understand we are welcome to share in His glory.
The more we experience it, the more we realize our need for it and hunger for it. The more that happens, the more we cling to Him!
Even cling to Him like a pair of old torn shrunken underwear….
He is our God, we are His people. We need Him in our lives, and He wants to be there. This is how it was meant to be….
So go, spend some time with God… think about His love.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series. ( Dr. Webber was quoting Fr. Peter Fink in this passage)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. 42 They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. 43 Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. 44 All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45 They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. 46 Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47 (TEV)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever. (2)
Lord, since eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of what I say to Thee? or dost Thou see in time, what passeth in time? Why then do I lay in order before Thee so many relations? Not, of a truth, that Thou mightest learn them through me, but to stir up mine own and my readers’ devotions towards Thee, that we may all say, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. I have said already; and again will say, for love of Thy love do I this. For we pray also, and yet Truth hath said, Your Father knoweth what you have need of, before you ask. It is then our affections which we lay open unto Thee, confessing our own miseries, and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us wholly, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and be blessed in Thee; seeing Thou hast called us (3)
The question is asked less of me now than in was in the 80’s or 90’s, and I am not sure whether that is a good thing or as I fear a bad thing.
In the 90’s I heard it more from college students and young couples, perhaps because their children asked it, “do I have to go church?”, “why do I havvvveee to gooo to chhhhhurch?” Or the “can’t I just worship God in the forest, or at the beach, or playing my music?”
Somewhere along the line I think the answer was changed from the real “why” to simply, “you have to”, and as we often do, we find excuses. The same of course goes for prayer, or for confessing our sins, or reading the scriptures. Even for pastors. Ask yours what he was reading this week, that wasn’t done for preparing for church or a Bible Study. (If you don’t want to embarrass them I have a friend named Rich that would be more than willing to!
Some say that we go to church/pray/commune/confess for God’s sake – that we go to serve. That is a crappy reason! It’s been seen as a crappy answer for a long time! It has a partner in crime, the reason that says we go to be served! (since it is all about us you know!) I would use a more guttural term for that one.
We don’t go to church so that someone “gets something” or is benefitted, Neither do we pray or study the scripture for its benefit. When we use them, we set ourselves up to fail, for often, if we get anything out of church, it is subtle, and takes a while to process and see the effects of going? We see ourselves struggling with the same thing, fighting the same anxieties. And who really believes that God is somehow “helped” by our presence, as if church wouldn’t be as glorious without our presence?
So then why do we go?
If it’s not because we HAVE to?
If it’s not because we benefit?
If it doesn’t benefit God?
It is because church, like prayer and communion is about the encounter. Any benefit is secondary to that encounter. God and His people, those being reconciled and healed, coming together as one body. It is that encounter that is life, it is, in every sense, a foretaste of our eternal life WITH God, and the angels, archangels, and all the community of heaven. That’s why the early church met, not just on Sunday and for a special few on Wednesday nights, but daily in the temple. They prayed together, they ate together, the worshiped and celebrated the Eucharist, and in doing so, encountered God and they encountered His people, even as they were being added daily….
That is why the sermon isn’t the best point, the gathering that begins in the passing of the peace, and flows through communion is. That is where we come face to face with the God who draws us to Himself. Note, I said draws US. Not the individual, not you and I. He draws US, and gives us a serenity that allows us to drop everything as we encounter God, and His people.
It is this encounter we need, it is this moment that transcends everything, God, and man, this is the life.
This is why… this encounter… this being with God.
This is what it means to be His church, the one’s whom the Father calls, by lifting Christ high, and drawing us to Him.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. The Small Catechism -: Article III
(3) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day
16 “Therefore, tell the exiles, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile. 17 I, the Sovereign LORD, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.’ 18 “When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. 19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:16-20 (NLT)
WHILE our Saviour’s Redemption is applied to us in as many different ways as there are souls to be saved, still love is the one universal channel of redemption, without which it can never be applied. And so the gates of this earthly paradise were kept by the cherubim with the flaming sword, that we might learn how there is no entrance into the Heavenly Paradise save to him who is transfixed by the sword of Love. Therefore it is that the Dear Lord Who bought us with His Blood so greatly desires that we love Him in order to our eternal salvation; and that we attain that eternal salvation so as to love Him eternally; His Love effecting our salvation, that salvation His Love. “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled.”1[i]
I recently took a class that was supposed to discuss teaching pastors how to preach Christ from the Old Testament. I struggled with the class, and eventually dropped out of it because of the underlying perception that Christ could be seen in the Old Testament without the lens of God’s love. The authors of the text book had all academic methods to find analogy and typology and all sorts of literary devices to inject an understanding of Christ.
Personally, I didn’t think it was that hard, I didn’t think finding Christ in the Old Testament was an academic excercise, as much as it is one of trust, one of seeing the very promises of God and trusting them, for they will always lead us to Christ, for He is our way, our truth and our life. So that which points us to the Father, points us through Christ. You look for the relationship – as in the great passage from Ezekiel above – the removing of idols, the new heart, the new Spirit, You look for this relationship this love that would exist between God and His children, a relationship described in essence by the word love.
It is as de Sales says – though one person may be brought to Christ through the work of a child, and another through the work of a priest, and another by passing by a church, hearing the words of a man being read – and that man came to know God’s mercy because of a brush with death – each comes to find God revealed to them, as God’s love shines brightly upon them. But the one common way is that the love is revealed, the work of that love as Christ was nailed to the cross, bleeding and broken, to heal that in us which is bleeding and broken because of sin.
But what we often don’t realize, or perhaps meditate upon enough is that this is the greatest desire of God, to see His love revealed to us and thereby transform us. I’ve mentioned it before – this incredible desire of Jesus the Christ to embrace the cross – that His love would be revealed to us, and that His love would indeed save and transform us. It is mind-boggling to look upon, it is mind boggling to realize, it leaves us quiet and in awe….
And this desire of God is all over the Old Testament. It is on every page – for even as Luther was reported to note, Christ is found on every page of the Old Testament. More importantly is what He does to us as we encounter Him. Encountering Him in the scriptures, encountering Him in our church family gatherings as we worship Him in His presence, and as we meet Him in prayer, encountering Him in the sacraments of Baptism and Absolution and of course in the community celebration of the Lord’s Supper, All of this – seen in the Old Testament relationship of God’s people, all of this seen more clearly as Christ walked among us, all of this more seen as we gather as God’s people,
In the Old Testament, the people of God are His people because of Christ. In the time since.. the same is true. Where God’s love is, where the people of God are, there is Christ…even as He has promised.
Let us today find our rest as He and His love are revealed to us! AMEN
1 Luke 12:49.
[i] Francis de Sales. (1888). Of the Love of God. (H. L. S. Lear, Tran.) (pp. 55–56). London: Rivingtons.
- A Most Precious Gift….to receive often.. (justifiedandsinner.com)