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Will Skepticism Rob Us of the Incredible Gift?

this Body, give for you. This blood of the New Covenant, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18 They deliberately put God to the test by demanding the food they wanted. 19 They spoke against God and said, “Can God supply food in the desert? 20  It is true that he struck the rock, and water flowed out in a torrent; but can he also provide us with bread and give his people meat?” 21 And so the LORD was angry when he heard them; he attacked his people with fire, and his anger against them grew, 22  because they had no faith in him and did not believe that he would save them. 23 But he spoke to the sky above and commanded its doors to open; 24 he gave them grain from heaven, by sending down manna for them to eat. 25 So they ate the food of angels, and God gave them all they wanted. 26 He also caused the east wind to blow, and by his power, he stirred up the south wind; 27 and to his people he sent down birds, as many as the grains of sand on the shore; 28 they fell in the middle of the camp all around the tents. 29 So the people ate and were satisfied; God gave them what they wanted.
Psalm 78:18-29 (TEV)

But the Eucharist is more than just a ceremony, more than a liturgy. It is a form of life.

HUME: What do you fault about my method?
SOCRATES: As I said, it seems highly rationalistic.
HUME: And as I said, I am the enemy of the Rationalists!
SOCRATES: As an epistemological theory, yes, but not as a method. Your method, like theirs, is to reduce the data to the explanation, the complex to the simple, the rich variety of experience to simple universal formulas.

Israel was given manna, and they could not get past the idea of food to truly appreciate it. They did what Socrates accused Hume of doing in the fictional account of their meeting before the judgment. They explained manna simply as food, and they neglected the greater nature of it being a fellowship meal, with the “bread” supplied by the hand of God.

They simply reduced it to what they could see, which is why they hungered for more.

I wonder if we do the same with the Eucharist, with the Lord’s Supper. We reduce it to being simply part of the liturgy, simply part of the process by which we receive the gospel. We reduce it to being the approved conduit of the grace we need.

And so we reduce it from a fellowship meal with God to just a “means of grace” Our skepticism quietly sneaks in, and while we still claim it is a sacrament, our focus on the substance causes us to lose focus on the intimacy of the life we have with and in Christ, and His life in and with us.

The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is truly something incredible, a moment of we, a miraculous moment if we can only be in that moment, to have revealed and to revel in the presence of God who in a very specific, very intimate way comes to be with us. WITH US! YOU AND ME!

(This is why Paul finds it so dangerous to not perceive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament in 1 Cor. 11:27 )

That’s why Pope Benedict XVI, writing when he was still a cardinal speaks of it so powerfully. For surely in those moments, when our skeptical, cynical nature is pushed aside by the presence of Jesus, w find the life as God means for us to live. In His presence, sharing in His glory, understanding that we are truly His.

This is why theologians can never perfectly define the sacraments. It is Paul describes knowing the love of God.

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT2)

It is not something we can minimize, reduce and completely explain,It has to be something we experience, it is something beyond measure, yet which completes us as we intimately experience it.

For what we are experiencing, this incredible communion is what Pope Benedict XVI calls it, it is life. Life with a God who loves us beyond measure, and desires that we dwell with Him.

Lord Jesus, help us to not limit religion to the doctrines that correctly describe our relationship with You. Help us realize how they point us to You, and explain the promise of Your love and presence. We pray this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!


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. 141). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Kreeft, P. (2010). Socrates Meets Hume: The Father of Philosophy Meets the Father of Modern Skepticism (p. 38). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Where We Can Screwup the Doctrine of Justification

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

41 Jesus said, “Two people owed money to the same banker. One owed five hundred coins n and the other owed fifty. 42 They had no money to pay what they owed, but the banker told both of them they did not have to pay him. Which person will love the banker more?”
43 Simon, the Pharisee, answered, “I think it would be the one who owed him the most money.”
Jesus said to Simon, “You are right.” 44 Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has been kissing my feet since I came in. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet. 47 I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The people sitting at the table began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Because you believed, you are saved from your sins. Go in peace.”  Luke 7:41-50  NCV

42 As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I long for you, O God. 2 I thirst for you, the living God; when can I go and worship in your presence?  Psalm 42:1-2  GNT

Let me illustrate this shift toward a spirituality disconnected from God’s story by comparing historic spirituality to this new intellectual embrace of forensic justification.
Historic spirituality looks like this: God became one of us in the incarnation. When the Word became incarnate in Jesus by the Spirit, God lifted all humanity into himself and, by his death and resurrection, reconciled all to himself (Rom. 5:12–21). Spirituality is therefore a gift of God’s grace. God has taken the initiative to unite with us so that we may be united with him. Baptism is the spiritual rite of conscious and intentional union with Jesus (Rom. 6:1–14) and reception of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The spiritual life is the freedom to live in the baptismal pattern of his death and resurrection, dying to sin and rising to the new life in the Spirit. In this ancient model of spirituality, Jesus is our spirituality because we are in union with God through our union with Jesus by the Spirit. His entire life from conception to resurrection is on behalf of humanity. He reverses our belonging to Adam (Rom. 5:12–21). He overcame sin for us (Col. 2:13–15). He destroyed the power of death (1 Cor. 15:35–58). He begins the new order of creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He does all this in the power of the Spirit. Christ now dwells in us by the Spirit and we in him.
Spirituality rooted in justification without the connection to the incarnation and Christology looks like this: We are justified by Christ who has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God. Christ is our righteousness. God looks at us through the righteousness of Christ and imputes or declares us righteous in Christ. (This is called the forensic or judicial view of establishing our relation to God.) Now that God has made us spiritual through Jesus Christ, we are called to respond to God in thanksgiving by living the sanctified life. The new emphasis in spirituality within Protestantism, in general, is this justification/ sanctification model.

Sixteen years ago, I left the non-denominational brotherhood of churches I was trained and ordained by and became a Lutheran pastor. The Brotherhood had a broad diversity of theology, not just among church members, but in its Bible College and seminaries.  There was nothing that tied the group’s theology together, which made for some interesting conversations over the years!  but this isn’t about them, it is about Lutheran theology, and how it ((and most conservative theology today) screws up Justification.

One of the tenets of Lutheran Theology is that the Doctrine of Justification is the central doctrine of theology.  The first couple of times I heard that I hesitated, and still do on occasion.  Then a wise professor explained it to me this way.  Picture a bike wheel, you have the hub, the spokes, and the actual tire.  The hub is Justification, but it isn’t the only, nor the most important of doctrines, and if you remove any of them, the wheel will fail, sometimes faster, sometimes slower.

That makes sense, but I think today, as Webber points out, we have got the hub but forgotten the tire. We’ve forgotten the reason we are justified int he first place, to be in a relationship with God, to walk with Him, to know His love, to stop the fighting, internally and externally, and simply take refuge in God our Fortress, in God our peace.

This is the error of Simon the Simon, a leader in the Jewish religion.  He had his hub set, the spokes tightened, the rim in place, but he forgot the tire.  He didn’t recognize that God was there, not just to pronounce forgiveness, which is amazing.  He was there to eat and drink with Simon, to share bread, to laugh, to cry, to be with him.

This is our God, whose come to us.  God who wants to share our lives, even as we share in His, and dwell in His glory and peace.   Christ’s death on the cross, enables God to declare us clean, righteous, holy, and that enables us to walk with Him (Or maybe to ride?)  We need to keep this in mind, we need the entire wheel, hub, spokes, rim, and tire.  Missing a part, or getting it out of line, is serious, but the goal is and always will be, to sit down, and eat and drink, to fellowship with Him.

May you enjoy that feast this weekend and always!  AMEN!

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

 

The Communion-Community of Christ

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

“544    The Communion of the Saints. How shall I explain it to you? You know what blood transfusions can do for the body? Well, that’s what the Communion of the Saints does for the soul.”    Escriva, Josemaria. The Way

As a pastor, one of the things I do is to bring the Lord’s Supper to those who cannot make it to church, to those too weak or sick, to those who were once quite active, but now are counted as shut-ins.  In doing so, the discussion always includes their asking about how things are going at church, it never fails to astound me, how concerned they are for their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Often they talk of their desire to get well, to gain strength, just so they can once again commune in the sanctuary, with their friends, the people they love, with whom they have walked through their lives, even if they only knew the people at church for a small while.

We are on their hearts and minds.. and in bringing communion to them, they are reminded that they are part of the community.  It is bittersweet, for they realize they are part of the community that Christ has established.

How I wish we were in the future, and we had transporter units like in Star Trek.  Then we could beam them into the sanctuary, and fulfill a desire that they would have.  (It would also be cool if upon “reassenbly” their ills and pains and weaknesses could be quarantined and separated from them!

St Escriva’s words hit home a lot today, as I consider one of the people I visit, who I can’t anymore.  I know how much visiting him meant to me, how in many ways it was like the transfusion spoke of in this quote.  Yet in bringing him communion, he two received a transfusion I am learning.  The very life of the church was shared, the life we share in every time we gather and we eat together and drink together.   For sharing in the Lord’s Table, kneeling at the Altar together is a community, thing, just as our life as Christ’s body is a community thing.

It is tragic that we don’t comprehend this blessing we have in sharing in the feast of Christ – that we would relegate it to less important than other things we do, that we place limits on its time, both the time we spend preparing for it, and the time we spend celebrating it.   That we reduce the precious words to a formula, a incantation, rather than savor them, listen intently, and hear and absorb them.  It is tragic that the gathering of God’s people is an afterthought in many lives.

As a pastor, I am partially responsible. If you know not why a priest, or a pastor, could describe the gathering of God’s people together around His sacrament as a spiritual transfusion, we haven’t done our job as those who proclaim the world well enough.  If we haven’t taught you to treasure this incredible time, we have, in large part failed. If we don’t keep you in prayer, and help your prepare for this incredible gift, then perhaps we need to reconsider what our job is, to preach the word in its fullness, and to administer the sacrament – that those who are broken can encounter His healing, His mercy His presence.

Keep us, all the pastors and priests – and the deacons and elders and worship leaders who stand alongisde us, ready to serve, to minister to you… in your prayers.  That we would feed you so richly that your heart would long for the next gathering the next time His people gather around His word, and His table.

“Lord Have Mercy!” we cry, and as we kneel and take and eat… and drink of the Blood shed that sins would be forgiven, we realize how much He has had the mercy we pray for!

 

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