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No Time For Complacency! A sermon on Zephaniah 1:7-8

No Time For Complacency

Zephaniah 1:7-18

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the Gifts of Serenity and Peace of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ not just sustain you in these days, but empower and drive you from being complacent about sin, to reconcile those divided by it.

Did you come here to hear that reading?

What were you thinking of, as you heard the Old Testament reading from Zephaniah this morning?  Was it what you expected to hear, what you thought about when you getting ready to come to church?

Anyone like the picture on the cover?  Although it is there, not sure many of you saw the word “hope” there!

This is a hard reading, for sure, and I wonder how many of us truly agreed with Bob as we said “Thanks be to God!”, to his “this is the word of the LORD!”

Even as we struggle with this, we have to realize that the day of the Lord is near, and that means there is, no time for complacency.

For while that day is one we hope for, for others it will be terrifying.

Being sucked into the dregs of Life (Complacency)

This idea of complacency in the Old Testament has an interesting word picture.  It is a word picture of someone so drunk that they do not notice they are drinking the bottom of the barrel of wine, what are called the dregs.

They are so drunk they do not notice they are drinking wine that is thicker than soup, and it causes them to be even more inebriated, even more, unaware of the situation around them.  They are simply numb to reality, unaware of what they are witnessing, unable to even care.

While we don’t realize it, that is the power of sin over us.

It makes us numb, unaware of those around us, unable to care for them, as long as we are able to continue in the sin.  Like the alcoholic who doesn’t realize the damage he is doing to himself and to others, sin slowly and surely claims those who are victim to it, slowly demanding that we give ourselves into it more and more.

You see, sin is the strongest addiction out there, and it doesn’t matter the sin!

That is what scripture is talking about when it talks about God searching through Jerusalem, searching through people that claim to be his, people that are so drunk in their sin that they don’t recognize His presence.

Please understand – God isn’t just searching out these sinners just in the world, but here, among His people.

And for those complacent in their sin, hear again what waits,

14  “That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes— a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. 15  It will be a day when the LORD’s anger is poured out— a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16  a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and the strongest battlements! 17  “Because you have sinned against the LORD, I will make you grope around like the blind. Your blood will be poured into the dust, and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground.” Zephaniah 1:14-17 (NLT)

This is the word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God?

For judging us this harshly for our sin?

The Gospel of Jealousy

O wait, darn it, I forgot the last verse, the place where we will find not just the terror, but the hope. It’s a bit hidden, the gospel in the passage, so look closely

18  Your silver and gold will not save you on that day of the LORD’s anger. For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth. Zephaniah 1:18 (NLT)

 Do you see the hope there?  Right in the middle of that verse….

It might not be obvious at first, see it there?

In the fire of His jealousy, we see hope, right when our silver and gold does no good, when we can’t purchase our salvation, there is hope.

You see, God is jealous enough to burn it all up, yet when we take prophecy as a whole, and not simply focus on one passage, we realize that this too must be considered,

9  I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)

Throughout scripture, we hear about God’s jealousy, that God desires to make for Himself a people.  But God’s way of doing that is incredible, for He purifies us, He cleanses us, even as He burns off the impurities.

Remember John the Baptist promised this when He said,

“But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11 (NLT)

The fire of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ at the cross, all of His anger, all of His rage, and those of us in Christ were raised with Him when God broke the power of both sin and death.

Even are we can’t be complacent about our sin, we can’t be complacent about the sin of others.  Not just about warning them about the sin, but we need to reconcile them to God!  We need to help them wake up from their complacency that sin causes. We need to give them the hope that will see them through the fire to the resurrection, assured by the promise of Jesus.
That is why we are here, and knowing God is near, let us not fall into complacency, but rather hear God say that we are His people, while we rejoice that He is our God…and that He brings us through the fire, cleansed, holy, pure, and His.  AMEN!

With These Words… A Sermon on 1 Thesalonians 4

church at communion 2With These Words…

1 Thes. 4:13-16

 I. H. S.

 May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!

 What good did their words do?

In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.

The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”

It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.”  To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.

And then the war of words ensued…

Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.

We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.

Isn’t grieving…grieving?

When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.

I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again!  I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.

That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God.  For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.

Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.

Here is how that promise is described in scripture,

4  But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5  he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6  He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7  Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)

Look at the promises here,

God washed away our sin,

We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit

That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,

We are declared righteous and holy,

and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!

Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.

This isn’t a theological epistle,

Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.

It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead.  They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven.  It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.

Encouraged you say?  But we are grieving!

But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury.  Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.

Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain.  The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.

That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.

And that is what God does. every day for us.

Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.

As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God,  Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.

It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.

God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds!  AMEN!

Maranatha! I am not sure you know what this word means!

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!   Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

22  Whoever does not love the Lord—a curse on him! Marana tha—Our Lord, come! 23  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
1 Corinthians 16:22-23 (TEV)

Yet when the Church departed from her Semitic motherland she took with her some words that have since become familiar to all Christians: amen, alleluia, hosanna—and, above all, marana-tha!  (1)

59      If you respond to the call the Lord has made to you, your life—your poor life!—will leave a deep and wide furrow in the history of the human race, a clear and fertile furrow, eternal and godly.  (2)

I love reading Pope Benedict on the topic of worship, especially about liturgical renewal.  Despite being one of the greatest theological minds of the last 200 years, his focus is that liturgy must be understood, and it must reveal Jesus. This morning, the devotional I have that is made up of his writings focused on this,and it is very good.

What struck me the most was the blue quote above, and the word that we need to keep from our “Semitic motherland”.  Not amen, that is, “this is true.”  Not Alleluia, that is, “Praise you YHWH/LORD.”  Not even the cry hosannah, which means “save us, LORD”!

The word that he would have us keep more than all, is the prayer, Maranatha!  Come Lord!  
I thought I knew the word, but I looked it up, just in case.  It is a bold prayer, but more than a bit terrifying in context.  For the prayer is for God to come with all of His justice, to come with His judgment. To answer a call to purge that which is evil, that which is wicked, that which is sinful and rebellious. It is the cry of the psalms, Lord, rescue the righteous, to pour out your wrath on those who deserve it.

To get rid of the murders, the cheats, the liars, those who are envious, the sexually impure the gossips… those who sin actively and passively, in what they do, but also what they say and think.
 
Are you ready for that?  Are you confident that your soul is clean enough to have God come back right now?  Everyone wants to end up in heaven, but are we ready to be judged for what we have done, or didn’t do?  Do you feel a sudden need for confession, to hear the words you are forgiven?

I know I do…

I need to know that grace!  I know I need to realize that I have found my hope, in that in Christ’s mercy, my sins have been purged from me, that I am counted as righteous because He cleansed me, uniting me to His death and Resurrection in Baptism (Romans 6, Colossians 2, 1 Peter 3) I need to be comforted, and know the love of God for me, a sinner. 9

It is in this Easter season that we are reminded that we are hidden in Christ, in heaven already.  For we dwell in the presence of God Himself. We need to realize this, contrary to the old saying, we need to be so Heavenly minded, so that we can be worth something here on earth!  

That is what Josemaria Escriva is talking about as well, responding to the call that Jesus has put on our life. Not the call to be a pastor or priest, or a lay leader, but the call of all, to be the children of God, to live in His presence. As we think of heaven, as we realize we are dwelling already in His presence, that changes us, and we leave a mark on this earth that makes a difference, because we love as He loves us.

This isn’t just thoughts of piety, but immense practicality. We need to cry out Maranatha, but we need to do so in faith, knowing out relationship with Jesus, knowing that repentance which He grants us, which gives us life.  And that repentance, that cry of faith, changes us, and through us, changes the world. 

So cry it out, in awe, in fear, counting on Jesus to do what He has done.

And live life, knowing He is with you.  

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. 130). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 436-438). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Hope for Today, Tomorrow and ….

Devotional Thought of the Day:
 But there is one thing, my dear friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day9  The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 10  The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and melt away, the earth and all that it contains will be burned up. 11  Since everything is coming to an end like this, what holy and saintly lives you should be living 12  while you wait for the Day of God to come, and try to hasten its coming: on that Day the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. 13  What we are waiting for, relying on his promises, is the new heavens and new earth, where uprightness will be at home.   2 Peter 3:8-13 (NJB)

You have asked me for a word of hope: what I have to offer you has a name: Jesus Christ.

64 For a terrified conscience cannot pit our works or our love against the wrath of God, but it finds peace only when it takes hold of Christ, the mediator, and believes the promises given for his sake. Those who dream that the heart can find peace without faith in Christ do not understand what the forgiveness of sins is nor how it comes to us.
65 Peter (1 Pet. 2:6) quotes the words from Isaiah (28:16), “He who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Hypocrites therefore must be put to shame, for they trust in their own works and not in Christ to receive the forgiveness of sins. Peter also says in Acts 10:43, “To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  (1)

I’ve seen a lot of people looking for hope recently, for something to believe, something to trust in that will make a difference.  Some are looking for it from this candidate, others from that candidate.  One man is pushing a translation of the Bible as his hope, that nothing else matters but knowing it is the true Bible.  Another is pushing for the return to a morality that he was taught in his youth.  Some look for hope to a bottle, or a pill, or some kind of love or pleasure.  One church leader is even spouting off that the hope for the church is that church people need to have more children!  

Such looking is what the quote in blue is talking about when it uses the term “terrified conscience”, or to use something more common to us today, being paralyzed by anxiety.  Whether we admit to knowing about the wrath our actions earn, we know they aren’t right.  They don’t satisfy; they cause us to live in emptiness, even if we can quiet the guilt and shame we feel. And the places we look for hope, or at least an escape from anxiety, require more and more of our focus, more and more of our dedication.  Theses things, which a theologian would call an idol, a false god, enslave us.

We need to cast them off, to realize how much of a dead end they are.  To toss them aside, realizing they are hindrances.  The Lutheran Confessions are right when they call for the humbling of those trusting in their idols, depending on what they run to to relieve anxiety.  Being relieved of the falsehood of our idolatry is never easy, sacred cows don’t want to be ground up into hamburger.  (Note:  I am serious here because I do believe there is a demonic influence that would make such attachments and addictions painful to remove)

But that is what repentance is, the literal change of our mind/heart/soul. It is God freeing us from such idolatry, it is God entering into our life and doing what we cannot do, as Christ our mediator brings us to repentance; He brings us into a relationship where His righteousness and holiness is our identity, as our sins are removed from us.  That doesn’t make life easier now, for being righteous and holy are contrary to the world as we perceive it.

But there will be a day where our righteousness will be at home when we can see God face to face, as forgiven, holy people who belong in His presence.

This all because of Jesus, and His coming to us, living in us, dying for us, rising from the grave, ascending into heaven, where He intercedes for us now…..as the Father is patient with us.

This is why the Pope points to Jesus as our hope.

This is why Lutherans talks about trusting, about having faith in Jesus…

Lord, have mercy on us sinners and help us to know the hope we have in you.

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 191). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

4th Week of Adven: He Will Lead – Micah 5 –

He Will Do All the Good Things He Promised!
He Will Lead
Micah 5:2-5a

† Jesus, Son, Savior †

May God’s mercy sustain you throughout your life, as you realize that He is the Prince of Peace!  Your Prince of Peace!

Looking for Leadership

It doesn’t take a prophet to predict that the next year will be full of conflict, full of verbal abuse, full of people trying to manipulate most of the people of the United States, and often using fear and greed to do so.

As a relatively cynical man, I dread election years. I fear them because I fear that the result will be division, conflict, fear, and in my case apathy, occasionally mixed with sarcasm.

You all know that sarcasm is a major temptation of mine, right?

Apathy is even a worse temptation.

But I do fear the relationships that will be damaged, as people’s fear will dominate the reason they vote, fears that find some basis in self-centeredness.  What this means is that we won’t have discussions with each other.  We will attack each other’s candidates, and more than an argument will occur.  A great division will occur because our fears cause us to invest in our candidates as much with our hearts as our minds, we will see someone supporting an opponent as a threat.  They in turn, will get defensive.  We will not comprehend how someone in their right mind could support candidate Q, because we see them as a threat.  We will forget that we are family, neighbors, a community.

The reaction may take years to heal.

That is why I dread such years, and why I become so apathetic.

For it is hard to see good come from such times.

Why Do We Want to Trust in Princes

I wonder why we struggle to understand the wisdom of God when it comes to leadership, whether that is in national leadership, or local leadership.  Hear God’s wisdom again,

3  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. Psalm 146:3 (ESV)

We might even quote that about the opposition, see- they’ve put their trust in those people, how could they!  While we do the same – hoping that our candidate will save us.  Without thinking, we begin to believe, to have hope, in the work of men.

How about these two

8  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. 9  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT)


22  Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they? Isaiah 2:22 (NLT)

and this cry for mercy,

11  Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. Psalm 60:11 (NLT)

Finally, there is this one… which is terrifying,

5  This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. Jeremiah 17:5 (NLT)

That might be the nicer of the translations, others use the word condemned.

Like I said, this isn’t just about politics.  It can be that this job will save us, or that if we can only make it to retirement, then everything will be okay. Or meeting the right star, or seeing out children or grandchildren succeed, as the world measures success.  We create many idols, convinced that life will be alright, if only they…

It is clear, there is no one we should put our trust in, no one we must depend on, except for God.  No one else we should count on or hope in, even those who claim to be good Christians.

Otherwise, we have created an idol.

And those idols will be out in force.

And they can lead us into lives that are cursed.

The Good He Has promised

Advent reminds us of the failure of idols in the past, and that we need some One more solid to place our hope, our expectations in.

We need a God, not an idol.  We need a leader who restores us, who heals us, who makes us whole. Hear Micah’s prophecy again,

4  And he will stand to lead his flock with the LORD’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. 5  And he will be the source of peace

If we want a leader, we have but to look at the cross.   We see there a leader whose life isn’t centered in himself, or an agenda that promotes his party’s preferences.  We see a leader who wants the best for us, a leader who brings us into a place of peace, a leader who is willing to die to comfort us and heal us in our brokenness.  We see a leader that gathers his people, who helps them grow by refining them, we need a leader who will keep the Good He has promised. 

This is Jesus, our Lord.  Immanuel, the proof that God is with us.

And yes He leads us. The world will say they cannot see Him, but neither have I seen a president, premier, or king personally.  They are somewhere out there, whereas God is here, His Spirit within every believer in this place.  So I see him when I look into Chris’s eyes, or Esther’s, or Manny’s, or Cyndee’s.

Even more I see God when we see the body and blood of Christ, which He gives us, shed for the forgiveness of our sin. When I see His people kneel at the altar, ready for Christ to come to them. We hear Him as we hear our sins being forgiven, for it is by His authority and it is His desire to show mercy and bring us to the Father.  We hear it when He claims His people, when He claims us as His own.

This is a leader who will bring us into peace, both then, and now.  For that is His called, to guard our hearts and minds in the peace of God our father, a peace we dwell in, right now, because of Jesus, the Lord who leads us and helps us see all the good God has promised, He has delivered.

AMEN?

 

 

Are You Ready for….What are we getting ready for?

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:
37  “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38  In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39  People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)

50 Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.
51 What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.

This word of promise and joy thus turns into a question for us, making visible the challenge and meaning of Advent. Only when all flesh beholds God is his coming complete; the new heavens and the new earth can come about only when available to all. This word constantly intends to open the heart of Christianity, indeed our own heart. Adveniat Kingdom tuum [thy Kingdom come]—this plea of Advent, put on our lips by the Lord himself, is prayed by us correctly only if we allow it to transform us; if we let it open us up to all of God’s children, all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

As many of us prepare for Christmas, for the parties, as we gather gifts, even as we get ready for the abundance of church services over the next week, we may hear the following question.

Are you ready?

We get nervous, for most of the time we are not ready, otherwise the concerned friend wouldn’t wouldn’t recognize the fear and anxiety that has gripped our very lives.

The problem is we are getting ready for the wrong thing.  We are, like one Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to deal with Christmas past and Christmas present, and not looking not to Christmas future, but the Advent of Christ in our future. We are like the people in Noah’s day, not always doing things outside of “normal” life, but not questioning what normal life should be. 

How many of us have given any thought to Christ’s return since Thanksgiving?  How many of us have seriously considered whether our lives are being focused on that time, of the Christ-mass – the gathering of Christ that will happen on that day.

We can’t run around to prepare for it.  We can’t check out all the stores; we can’t do anything special to prepare for His coming.  Matter of fact, if we are trying to do something special, we’re are even less prepared.  For being ready for Christ’s second coming isn’t a special event, it is life itself.  Life abiding in the presence of God.  Life being comforted and lifted up by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Life as Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, described so well in the green quote above.  A desire for God’s kingdom, His reign to come to all, a prayer of desire and desperation, a prayer born in brokenness.  Our individual brokenness, our communal brokenness. 

Luther agrees of course, as he notes that the reason Christ came was to bring us to the Father.  And the Holy Spirit is given to reveal this to us, and support us in the life that is until we see God face to glorious Face. 

When we consider the normal life in view of Jesus’ return, in view of death for those who are not here, we end up depending on God in a far different way.  Our life is transformed by the His love, as we look forward with expectation, as we look forward with joy, as we trust in Him, and we are filled with life.

This is why we ask are we ready.  Not to stress us more, but to cause us to be still, and know He is God, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, our life.

May your normal life find you not just ready, but desiring His return, and the homecoming that follows.  AMEN  †

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 426–427). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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. 399). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

3rd Week of Advent: He Gathers Us!

He Will Do All the Good Things He has promised!

He will gather   (JOY)

Zephaniah 3:14–20

† I.H.S. †

I pray that the mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that all you can do is rejoice as you think of His coming…even as God does!

How Can I….Know this Joy

A pastor once wrote,

Day by day we encounter the world of visible things. It assaults us through billboards, broadcasts, traffic, and all the activities of daily life, to such an enormous extent that we are tempted to assume there is nothing else but this[i]

Sometimes I feel like that, like all of world that I encounter wants to assault me, attack me, trample all over me.

I so understand those words, that we assume there is nothing else but this….

struggle.

And this week, when the darkness of the dark “blue” weeks of Advent are interrupted, as if a hint of a new day were peaking through, even as the darkness still threatens, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Not just look forward to the day of rejoicing… but to rejoice.

Now, today, even as we struggle with world events, with national and local problems; as we struggle with our finances, or families or maybe it is just our personal struggles, we are urged to sing and shout praises, to be glad and rejoice with everything in our hearts and minds and souls.  We are called to cheer up, and not be afraid.

Thank God that He gives us a reason too…

Are We?

The people that rejoice in the presence of God are described in the following ways,

Those who need to be calmed, for they are afraid and anxious,

Those who mourn as they consider the state of appointed festivals like Christmas, and how they have become less about God and His people.

The people who will rejoice are those who are oppressed, to those who are weak and helpless.

Those who were chased away, or exiled.

This is referring to those who were run out of the camp in the days of the Exodus, who were cut off from the people of God because of their sin, yet will be welcomed back and restored.

Those who were exiled because of their sin and shame, for they too will be drawn back by God and restored.

Yeah, those who will rejoice in Jesus’s coming will include those who are burdened by shame and guilt, but who will be called by a new name, who will be given a new name, whose life will be restored.  The prodigals who return, those crushed by their sin.  For that is what Jesus does, as He was lifted up on the cross.

Lifted there because Jesus wasn’t just called a friend to tax collectors and sinners, He is a friend to them.  And lifted up on the cross, the very image of God’s mercy and grace, He draws people to Him, as He desires.

Gather, for the Lord Will Live Among US

The pastor  quoted earlier, who talked about the world assaulting us, following those words with these,

One single soul, in Pascal’s beautiful words, (your soul) is worth more (to God) than the entire visible universe. But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

There is the key to seeing where our joy comes from, in the midst of a world that will try to make life a living hell.

Realizing the worth of a single soul, your soul, to God.

And that is why we are gathered by God together.  For in this Old Testament prophecy, over and over it mentions this promise – six times! – the fact that God will gather His people together, that He will make things right, and twice more just so we understand, he explains that happens as God lives in the midst of His people.

God living among His people

God gathering His people together

God living among His people

23  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

The apostle John said it this way,

14  The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. John 1:14 (TEV)

and

The hardest thing to get theologically is a concept known as “now, and not yet.”

Jesus has been lifted up, He has drawn us into Himself in His death, and in our baptism, bringing us into life everlasting. We celebrate now the feast that is the first taste of the feast to come. We can live free of the guilt and shame, free of what separated us from God.

We don’t see it yet, but we get glimpses of it.  As we gather, and as we do, our hearts should cry out His praises, for He is our Savior.  And I want you to hear one more “now and not yet

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Know this, like the prodigal’s father, our Father rejoices as we are gathered into His presence…  that is His love and mercy… AMEN!

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Attitude of Advent: Our dearest Friend is coming to be with us!

Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)

233         You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)

There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly.  They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.

Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit.  To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so.  Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God.  But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.

If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it.  We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible.  It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.

Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base.  They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,

“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)

If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.

Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.

Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…

For He is coming!

May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.

The Final Lesson: We are priestly companions of Jesus the King!

Companions of the Cross

The Final Lesson:

Priestly Companions of the King

† IHS †

May you know the grace and peace that is yours, the gift of the One who is, Who always was, and who is still to come!

The Vision/the Mission

While both the Old Testament and Epistle reading today are about the end of time, about looking toward the end of time, the gospel takes us back to thirty weeks ago, to the remembrance of what happens the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, It covers one of the events we remember during Holy Week.

The gospel covers the trial of Jesus, the moments before he is sentenced by mankind to die.  The moment that God our Father planned for, that Jesus was committed to before the foundations of the world were laid.

The trial, the cross, the critical moment in all of time, as eternity hung in the balance.

Your eternity, my eternity.

We need to look back, in order to see why Daniel and the Revelation of John can talk so positively of the of the end. Hearing that Christ has been the King, even at the cross, we understand our future, and can walk confidently in the present.

For we walk with a king, and we are His companions.   The very King of King and Lord of Lords who makes us a Kingdom of priests, ready to serve God our Father.  Ready to serve alongside Jesus.

Let me rephrase that, He makes us into the priests of His Kingdom.

That was His vision, His mission, and it is what He has accomplished on the cross, even as Pilate was condemning Jesus, enabling Him to shed His blood for us.

The Ordeal of Hope

When we are involved in planning something, there is a hope that everything will work out well. It doesn’t matter if the planning and preparation are for a game, or for an event like the women’s advent tea.

Hope can sometimes be an ordeal as our minds consider all the things that could destroy our hope.  For instance, for a football team, we could focus on a critical injury or just an accumulation of them.  For an event like the Advent Tea, it could be that the speaker cancels out at the last moment.  It could even be the week between finishing a course, and getting the grades!  Our minds can spin wildly out of control, conceiving of all the things that could go wrong.  It is no different for our lives, and for our eternity.  When we think of hope, it can be an ordeal as we wonder what will happen to mess up that which we hoped for so eagerly.

Which is why I think the readings work together so well today.  They lay out a pattern that assures us that our hope is not in vain, that there is nothing that can change what we hope for, what our trust in God leads us to expect.  If we didn’t have that assurance, the first verses in Daniel would be terrifying; hear them again.

  I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge.His clothing was as white as snow, his hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from his presence.  Millions of angels ministered to him; many millions stood to attend him.  Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.

If we feel anxiety watching a football game, or waiting for the guests to arrive, of the report card to show, what kind of anxiety would we experience, knowing we had to stand before all of the missions of angels, and all of humanity, as God opened the story of our life and began to look at the details, examining our actions, our thoughts, our words?

We could try to dismiss the guilt and shame, but it still would haunt us.  We could try to rationalize it, we could argue that it isn’t fair for God to give us desires that cannot be eased without sin.

Before the throne, before a God that not only knows our thoughts but the hearts where those thoughts originate, such attempts at self-preservation do not matter.  If we are to have hope that Jesus is our salvation, that we will live in His Kingdom that has no end, we have to be serious about the fact we needed to be saved.

We sin.  Thoughts, words, deeds.

As we will say in Advent, it is our fault, we need to grieve over that fault, we need to seriously grieve over that sin.

If we are to know the grace and peace of God, we have to realize how radically different it is to know God’s grace and peace, compared to the brokeness of our lives.

Realizing the love of God
For then, understanding the depth of our despair, we find ourselves blown away by this word grace, by the peace that is ours when we should be weighed down by guilt and despair. We begin to understand how incredible these words written by the Apostle John are,

All glory to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by shedding his blood for us. 6 He has made us a Kingdom of priests for God his Father. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

It’s not just that Jesus has freed us from sin, and Satan, that He’s robbed death of the anxiety it can cause, that guilt and shame are wiped away.  It is that He’s made us like Him, He’s made us priests who serve the Father, He’s made us holy enough to be the very attendants of God the Father.

All of us, from the smallest to the largest, youngest to the oldest, we have been made companions of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

No wonder all of creation will bow before Him!  No wonder we will shout about the glory of God He has revealed to us.

He loves us!

He freed us from our sin, by shedding HIS BLOOD for us.

He has made us priest, …..

ALL GLORY TO HIM FOREVER AND EVER!  AMEN!!!

Sermon on Daniel 12:1-3 Companions in Glory!

Featured imagenote – the audio with slides is at the bottom of the manuscript

Companions of the Cross: Companions of Glory
Daniel 12:1-3

 IHS

May you know and depend upon the grace, the incredible loving-kindness, and peace that is yours because the God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ did what it took to make it yours!

 Times of Anguish
Even though Micha-el stands guard?

If one wasn’t knowledgeable about scripture, one might wonder if these are the days in which the prophet Daniel spoke of when there will be a time of anguish greater than any time since nations first came into being.

The numbers climb, as people in Lebanon, the Sudan, and as we have heard all over the news, France, have been killed this week.  The numbers climb as well, as lives are taken here in the US, as violence sweeps over our cities.  And less we forget, our state has now mandated that centers that hope to give women an option to abortion now have to advertise those places that will provide them, without offering any option.  That was driven home to me this week, as I talked to a Crisis Pregnancy Center director, whose office is surround by 9 of the largest abortion clinics in California.

There are days which are scary, and it was brought home Friday evening as a bomb was found in an Anaheim hardware store.

Certainly these are days of anguish, throughout the world.

Yet the prophets words talk of a messenger, actually “the messenger” standing guard over the people of God.

Where is He?  Where is this messenger who is supposed to be standing guard over us?

And what is to come next?

Like the Book of the Revelation, should Daniel’s words today bring us anxiety and fear, or comfort and peace?

I suppose that is determined by the judgment, and what we face for our eternity.

Everlasting Life or Everlasting Disgrace?
But which do we deserve?

There are two options that Daniel tells us,
The first is the for those who will rise up, and enjoy everlasting life because their name is written in the book of life, and they will have been rescued, delivered, and saved.  The word for life is incredible, it is not only life but everlasting nourishment, everlasting abundance,

The second is those who will have to experience shame and everlasting disgrace, a word that is far stronger, everlasting abhorrence and scorn. It is reminiscent of the anguish described in the gospels, as Jesus talks of Gahanna, of hades, of the destination prepared for Satan and that which is demonic, which wasn’t intended for mankind, yet in stubbornness and rebellion and self-centeredness is their choice.

It is the place we all deserve, yet in because God loves some are rescued and delivered from that path, that destination.

For that is what the one called Michael does, as this prime messenger comes from God.

So who is this Michael, who is this who stands guard over the nation.

Michael – One Who is Like God.

Well, one of the challenges is whether in Hebrew “michael” is a name or a title.  What Michael means in Hebrew is “One who is like God”, or “One who is as God.”

Consider these words from Colossians,

15  Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, Colossians 1:15 (NLT)

Add to that the term archangel simply means, “the first of all messengers.” In this case, the primary messenger; the primary message of God.

Who then cares for, and guards the people of God, who is the prime messenger of God, who is like God in every way?

If it is, then consider this, the anguish that is greater than any since before the beginning of the nations was His, and He embraced the entire wrath of God to provide and guard our hearts and minds.

It is this anguish that provides our rescue, our deliverance from the power of sin, Satan and death into the presence of God our Father.

It is He whose death and resurrection, as the wrath of God for all of our sins is poured out on Him, that is the cause of our rescue, our deliverance.

And finally, it is united to Him that we see the promise of Daniel fulfilled.  The promise that those who are wise and depend on God’s providing Christ for us shine as bright as the sky.

Here the apostle Paul again

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you the assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 (NLT)

and again

 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2  Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3  For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)

This is too good not to share!

This is so incredible, this Lord, who is the image of God the Father,  As we approach the end of the year, the readings all focus on the end the ages and the incredible blessing that is knowing Jesus.

It is so good, how can we not share this hope with all who need to know it!

That is why the Holy Spirit inspires Daniel not just to tell us we will share with the Christ’s glory, but repeats the promise with a slight modification.

and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.

For it is natural, as we learn the depth of God’s love, to pour out our praises, praising God with all we are, praising Him to those around us, desiring that they would come to know the love that resonates throughout our lives.

hear it again.

Jesus, the one who is like God, stands guard over us, taking all the wrath we deserve; He has rescued us, and we will rise to everlasting life, shining as bright as the sky, and as we lead people to Him, we will shine like the stars…forever.

For until that day, Jesus stands guard over us, His companions, protecting our hearts and minds as we dwell in God’s peace until we are revealed fully in His glory!  AMEN!

Pentecost 25 companions of the cross, companions of glory w audio

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