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Christian Maturity is not Self-Sufficient

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:

20 “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else do I need to do?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich.  Matt 19:20-22  TEV

5  That is why I have sent my prophets to you with my message of judgment and destruction. What I want from you is plain and clear: 6  I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me. Hosea 6:5-6 (TEV)

One encounters Christ throughout the creation, says Luther, but the troubled conscience experiences him as its judge and flees in terror. In the supper, however, the believer meets the Lord unequivocally as the savior who lays his life down for me (“This is the body of Christ given for you; the blood of Christ shed for you”). There is no escaping Christ’s single-minded intention. He proclaims his love to each and every participant and asks only that they take him at his word.

he (Augstine) had a sort of vision, in which he heard a voice saying to him: “I am the bread of the strong, eat me! But you will not transform me and make me part of you; rather, I will transform you and make you part of me.”3 In the normal process of eating, the human is the stronger being. He takes things in, and they are assimilated into him, so that they become part of his own substance. They are transformed within him and go to build up his bodily life. But in the mutual relation with Christ it is the other way around; he is the heart, the truly existent being. When we truly communicate, this means that we are taken out of ourselves, that we are assimilated into him, that we become one with him and, through him, with the fellowship of our brethren.

We measure Christian maturity wrong, and we have for a long time.

We measure it by the level of theological knowledge they have, or by the amount of scripture memorized.  How dynamic they are when it comes to sharing or defending the faith. How much they “have it together” doesn’t really count all that much either, for anyone can put on an act.

The young man in the first reading above would have been counted as mature in the faith.  he did all the right things, he said them all, he knew it all as well.  The Israelites in Hosea’s time had the sacrificial system down, they had all the right movements, they processed sacrifices with the precision of a military unit, yet they too were not mature in their faith.

They didn’t understand, any more than we do today.

Being mature in the faith is not about being self-sufficient, but it is about being dependent on God, about walking with Jesus, about loving Him, about knowing Him!  Being a Christian is about letting God invade your life, about learning to hold no part back, for the Lord would save all of us.

Read again the words about Luther, and the writings of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger above.  Look at how they describe meeting Christ in the Eucharist, the transforming nature of God.  It is encountering the absolute love of God, as He pours out mercy and peace and healing upon us.

This isn’t just about the substitutionary atonement or the discussion of consubstantiation versus transubstantiation. It’s not just about the words of institution or the form of the mass in which this gift is celebrated.  Those things are part, but they mean nothing without the encounter…the encounter with Christ.

It is about this encounter, about meeting God, right then and there. About knowing the purest, most invasive, most intimate love, about taking in the Body and Blood of Christ. It is about being drawn into His glory, for His glory is simply the light of His love.

Christian maturity is about desiring to know this love, about realizing how much we need His presence, about rejoicing as we depend on Him, as we entrust to Him our very souls.

It is what Jesus asked the young man. …drop everything… let it help others… come walk with me.

The mature Christian has learned to do so, even asking God for the help.

Lord, help us grow in faith, depending on You, allowing You in every part of our lives and rejoicing in the His love for us.  AMEN!

 

Strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxviii). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Ratzinger, J. (2003). God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life. (S. O. Horn & V. Pfnür, Eds., H. Taylor, Trans.) (p. 78). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Being “Not Ashamed” of the gospel, is harder than we think

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:
23  As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24  but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God.   1 Corinthians 1:23-24 (TEV)

16  I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. 17  For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.”   Romans 1:16-17 (TEV)

Poor and lukewarm is the Church that flees from and avoids the cross! She will become only a “polite social” institution in her sterility. This is, ultimately, the price paid, and indeed it is, by the people of God for being ashamed of the gospel and giving in to the fear of giving witness. If we do not confess Christ, what then would we be?

Jesus’ Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with “publicans and sinners”. He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that this meal was held in a family setting. Thus he kept it with his new family, with the Twelve; with those whose feet he washed, whom he had prepared, by his Word and by this cleansing of absolution (Jn 13:10), to receive a blood relationship with him, to become one body with him.3 The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and have become part of his family. That is why, from the beginning, the Eucharist has been preceded by a discernment. We have just heard this, in very dramatic form, from Paul: Whoever eats unworthily, eats and drinks judgment on himself, because he does not distinguish the Body of the Lord

Of course, fasting and other physical preparations are excellent disciplines for the body. But anyone who believes these words, “Given for you,” and “Shed for you to forgive sins,” is really worthy and well prepared. But whoever doubts or does not believe these words is not worthy and is unprepared, because the words, “for you” demand a heart that fully believes.


For decades, the two gospel passages above have been burnt into my mind.

This is what we do, or what we try to do.

Preach Christ crucified, and we do it in a way that proves we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.

Being not ashamed of the gospel is harder than we think.  It is not being a hire-powered, no holes barred evangelist.  It is about letting our souls be laid bare so that we can be healed!

And yet, to preach Christ crucified we have to deal with our guilt and shame. And it may be that we are afraid of, no terrified of, our shame.

To preach the cross of Christ, means we have to realize something else is there, something God has to deal with, for we cannot.

6  Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the Cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call!
Romans 6:5-6a (MSG)

There we are. preaching the cross of Christ, knowing that on that cross our sins are nailed there, with Him.  All of our dirty, shameful, secrets lifted up on that cross for Him to bear.  Our sin was nailed to the cross with Him, and such a way that we are not ashamed of admitting it. 

Our confession is not that we trust in Him, but that we confess our sins, we give Him permission to deal with them, to heal us of our brokenness. 

That is what faith in Christ, depending upon Him boils down to, our recognition that He will help us deal with our brokennes, that he will take and remove our sin. 

And the power of that salvation is such that we are not ashamed to depend upon Him for that. 

Pope Benedict’s words have an incredible meaning here. For in clarifying that the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist) is not the sacrament of reconciliation, He reminds us of the intimacy of this feast, and the celebration of His Body being broken, His Blood being poured out, the action which brings us, a holy and healing people into the presence of God.  We need to go to the cross, face our sin, and see it nailed there, that is what discerning the Body and Blood means. 

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is my hope, to deal with my brokenness, and to help me help you with yours. (and at times, vice versa)

It is this that is most ironic, that my shame, that yours, can be dealt with in a way of which we are not ashamed, but that brings joy and peace. 

Lord Jesus, draw us to the cross, draw us close to Your side. Help us to not be ashamed of being there, help us as we not be ashamed of handing over all our sin, all our brokenness, letting You remove their hold on our souls. Lord, help us to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit so that we realize Your presence.
Help us as well, to be willing to help others deal with their guilt and shame… knowing how You deal with ours. And then, lead us all into the Father’s presence.  AMEN!

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.

Ratzinger, J. (2003). God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life. (S. O. Horn & V. Pfnür, Eds., H. Taylor, Trans.) (pp. 59–60). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

*this helps us to understand the difference between a pastoral form of close communion, and the denominational practice of closed communion.  The latter simply says you aren’t like me, you can’t be part of the feast, the latter looks at the common dependence on Christ’s mercy, the discernment of that need, and the desire to see God continue to heal us. 

Confession of a Burnt Out Minister of God

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the day:

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

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

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

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

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

Burnout is inevitable.

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

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

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

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

How did he do such a thing?

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

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

As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

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

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

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

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

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

Chew on This! A sermon on John 6:51-59

church at communion 2Chew on This

John 6:51-59

†  IHS  †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to contemplate the love you experience, as you eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, and remain in Him!

Bothered by an Attitude

The disciples of Jesus today had an attitude and said something I just can’t believe.  It bothers me a ton, as a pastor and as a fellow disciple.

This is what they said, This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”

And a moment later, they did something that shouldn’t just bother us, it should bring us to tears.

But there is Jesus, who has fed them, healed them, taught them in such a manner that they are in awe, and they don’t want to listen to Him.  It is too hard to understand, it doesn’t make sense to them.

Even though it promises life, and life eternal.  The life lived in joy in the promise of God. Rather than simply giving up trying to understand, rather than refusing to accept Jesus teaching that He was the Bread of Life, they needed to do something…

They needed to chew on what He told them about Himself.

just like we do.

They left the Building… would we?

They didn’t. And not only did they not accept it, in verse 66 they did something even worse.

They walked away.

They abandoned the man they thought was at least a prophet, and very probably, the long-awaited Messiah, the hope, and savior of God’s people.

They couldn’t accept what He said, so they gave up.

They walked away from the free food, from the healings, from seeing miracles happen.

They walked away because they didn’t understand, they couldn’t accept it.  Despite the evidence, despite the miracles, the teaching, the food

They walked away.

But many of us do as well.

We don’t like what God reveals to us in scripture.

The simple lessons about what is right and wrong, the lessons about loving your neighbors, and your enemies, the lessons about the fact that we all have sinned, or how the church and the family should be arranged around mutual submission as we will hear in next week’s lessons.

We don’t understand, we think we can never accept it.  Some leave. Others just ignore the parts that make them uncomfortable or say that it may have been that way in Jesus’ day, but its changed now….

And we walk away, ignoring the blessing.

In the case of Jesus talking about eating His body and drinking His blood, we walk away from the promise of eternal life.

We need to stop ignoring what we don’t understand, we need to stop giving up on what is hard to accept and just chew on what God gives us, what He reveals to us for a while.

Chewing on the Words that give life…eternal life.

I’ve used the word “chew” intentionally during this sermon, even as I titled the sermon “chew on this for a reason.

I am not talking just about thinking about and deeply meditating on the Lord’s Supper and what it means.  Though doing that is a very healthy exercise, especially when you are struggling life.  For the Lord’s Body and Blood, what he calls true food and true drink, reveal a lot about His love for you.  But that is not what is talked about here.

Where I got the word “chew” is from the Greek.  Up until verse 53, when Jesus talked about eating the Bread of life, eating His Body, he used a generic term for eat.  (Phage) But in verse 53, he changes the word to another Greek word, the to chew or chomp down on what is in your mouth.  (trogon)

Jesus isn’t just talking about understanding the imagery of the Lord’s supper, he is talking about participating in the act of remembering Him, eating His body and drinking His blood, in and under the bread and wine.  Communion is not just an intellectual or heartfelt thought, it is receiving these gifts, and trusting what Jesus says they are.

His body, His blood, given and shed for you, given to help you know your sins are forgiven. Given to help you know you are in a relationship, a relationship defined by the covenant.

it is like our benediction for the service, turn a couple of pages over to it. These last words of the service,

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 for you! May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.

Here, as we receive the bread, as we drink the wine, we experience the love of God, the love of God that is far beyond anything we can understand.  Chewing on this is not about in-depth thought, it is about the awe of communing with God, experiencing His love. You can’t comprehend it all.

And that’s okay… for knowing you are loved, knowing the width and length, the height and depth of His love for you are more than our brains can process.  This time at the altar, this time of communion with God is beyond words, for we know His love, and accept it.

We know it in our heart and in our soul, as Christ makes us one with Him.  Not in a magical way, but in a holy sacramental way. In a way, we experience that unity, as we trust Him at His word, and come and share in His feast.  As we eat His body, as we drink His blood, and find that we remain in Him, that we have a place with God. A place made secure for our heart and mind, by Jesus himself.  AMEN!

 

 

 

The Necessity of the Lord’s Supper

Altar with communionDevotional thoughts of the day:
17  But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18  First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19  But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20  When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (NLT2)

19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.

If liturgy is to survive or even be completely renewed, it is essential that the Church be rediscovered. I add: if people’s estrangement is to be overcome, if they are to find again their true identity, it is indispensable that they find again the Church that is not a misanthropic institution, but the new “we” in which alone the “I” can acquire its foundation and its security.

Paul’s admonish to the church in Corinth is one I think we need to hear today.  It is neither easy nor would it make sense to most Christians today. 

They might see the admonition as one solely concerned with what I call hospitality, the reason Paul admonishes them is that they don’t wait for each other and that the taking of the Lord’s Supper becomes a testimony to their division and their lack of love for each other. I think it is far more severe than that, for the Lord’s supper is not a simple meal.

It is given to us, this blessed Body and Blood of Christ, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to heal our very souls, to quench the doubts and empower a trust in Him that would result in seeing the world changed. 

And yet we neglect it.  We put it off and only celebrate it on occasion, or we rush out of church after it, unaware of what we have received, or if aware, minimizing it.  We don’t see it as what establishes us, as a “we” (the people of God) and gives a real identity to the “I”.

By the way, in regards to Pope Benedict’s use of misanthropic, I had to look the word up.  It is the exact opposite of philanthropic.  It is to hate mankind, a charge we have to take seriously, for I do believe many see us that way.  It shouldn’t be accurate; but many see us as trying to oppress mankind, rather than freeing them from guilt and shame. In many ways. our poor and unbalanced proclamation of sin and the gospel does this, as we close off communion to only those in the club, or make people think they have to be “good” enough or have a perfect understanding of theology in order to receive the gifts of God.

It is about His ministry, His welcoming us home, it is the feast for prodigals, the feast He throws, giving all of Himself, to lift us up, to nourish us, to help us realize we are united to Him.

It is there, at the altar, that the liturgy goes from being an ordeal to become a blessing of renewal.  It is there our hope is renewed, our lives transformed, our hearts and souls healed. 

It is what those outside the church need to see evidence of so that they too will be drawn into union with Jesus, through His death and resurrection. It is what those in the church need to have, that they may once again realize their sins do not separate them from God, for God separates the sin from them.

If the church is to find renewal, it will be here… celebrating the love of God given to us all, welcoming us home.  All of us. 

Don’t neglect this necessity in life, don’t diminish it, hear God’s words, hear what they promise, and then come, take and eat the Body of Christ broken for you… and drink of His blood, poured out for you, that makes you part of His family, and cleanses you of all your sin. 

You and I need this… so let us celebrate His love, together!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 484). 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. 248). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Has your Faith matured, or just gotten old?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:
3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT2)

68 We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?
69 Of course, it is true that those who despise the sacrament and lead unchristian lives receive it to their harm and damnation. To such people nothing can be good or wholesome, just as when a sick person willfully eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician.
70 But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help, should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems. For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.

Sin can be forgiven but not corruption, simply because at the root of every corrupt attitude there is a fatigue for transcendence. In front of God who does not get tired of forgiving, the corrupt person gets tired of asking for forgiveness.

You can’t go to a seminar for church leaders where you won’t hear about the “nones”, the people who have no religious affiliation at all, that won’t even declare themselves agnostic, or atheist.  They are described by those who “observe” them as apathetic toward any form of organized religion.  

I am not sure as I would describe them as the apathetic ones.  

I think I would describe as apathetic those who believe we can’t reach them, just as five to ten years ago we gave up on GenX and tried to focus on the millennials.  You might be thinking I am talking about being apathetic about out-reach, about Evangelism, 

I am not, I think our problem is deeper than that, that our apathy starts with the very salvation and the presence of God. It starts with what Martin Luther called despising the sacrament, or “getting tired of asking forgiveness” that Pope Francis describes as being subject ot corruption.  We see it as well in Paul’s words in Hebrews, asking what hope is there for those who neglect so great a salvation.

As a pastor, as one who trains others in ministry, what  I’ve learned is that people can only respond so long to motivational cries for evangelism before they burn out.  They can only keep their purpose-driven lifestyle up so long before it fades and disappears and we lose our first love. If doing our duty is our motivation in our being missional, in working where God has sent us to be a light, then we will fatigue like metal, We will allow our spirits to be corrupted.  

Some call this backsliding, others term it a “falling away”. I simply think a spirit of apathy has found room in our hearts and slowly taken over. Instead of maturing in our relationship with Jesus, we’ve allowed it simply to age, to get old. As it ages it becomes more fragile, brittle, and even bitter.

Where is the answer?  

It is going back to what is amazing, what moves us from the fear of God into being in awe of Him.  In once again finding the joy that comes when we know we are forgiven, that God is restoring our relationship with Him, and restoring the calling in our lives. We need to see the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as the incredible blessing it is, and the promise of again knowing we are forgiven, and that God desires to share in our life, as He invites us to share in His. 

The medicine that cures apathy is God’s mercy, applied to the wounds in our lives caused by sin.  That healing changes us, and as we experience the fact that we are loved, that God rejoices when we allow Him to forgive and heal us of the damage inflicted by sin.  That promise, fo forgiveness realized is not easily forgotten, nor that feeling as we take and eat, and take and drink, and experience the depth of God’s love. Prayer, reading the scriptures, remembering the promises given to you in baptism, receiving Christ in the Lord’s supper, and hearing your sins are absolved renews your faith.  A renewed faith is full of joy.  That joy is contagious, that joy, lived out day to day is noticeable…..and you can’t be apathetic about it.

That joy is the thing that will attract the “nones” 

You want to reach a broken world?  Let God reach you in your brokenness… and heal you of your sin!

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 234). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Has the Church forgotten this critial direction?

Altar with communion

Devotional Thought for the day:
28  So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29  For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30  That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31  If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32  But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 (TEV)

235    Examination of conscience. A daily task. Bookkeeping—never neglected by anyone in business. And is there any business worth more than that of eternal life?

Of course, fasting and other physical preparations are excellent disciplines for the body. But anyone who believes these words, “Given for you,” and “Shed for you to forgive sins,” is really worthy and well prepared. But whoever doubts or does not believe these words is not worthy and is unprepared, because the words, “for you” demand a heart that fully believes.

We don’t allow enough time for it in our church services.

Perhaps because the silent time of reflection is awkward.

Perhaps it is because of the shuffling of papers that occurs, or the sound of people shifting (squirming) in their seats, fifteen or so seconds into the silence.

Perhaps it is because we mistakenly think the things we have to say or sing are more important,

The time of reflection, when we consider that we’ve sinned against God, and against others.  When we think back and take inventory of the time since we last confessed our sin since we are brought face to face with those moments where we failed to love, where we failed to care, where we made ourselves and our desires the most important thing in life.

It shouldn’t be just on Sunday morning that we do an examination our of lives or our consciences. But we need to do it before we commune, not out of a sense of duty, but because we need to realize why we commune, why we need Jesus to come to us, why we need to know He loves us.

Because we realize we are broken because we need to realize that it was our sin that Jesus responded to, laying down His life to erase it from our books with the grace found in the body broken and sacrificed, and love found as He offered His blood to cleanse us.

We need to do this, not to dwell in the guilt and shame, not to recount how horrible we are, but to realize how precious God’s forgiveness is, and how much He truly loves us, and how much we need to know He does love us.

That is why Paul warns us to examine ourselves. because as we do, we understand the blessing of God’s forgiveness.  If we don’t if we neglect this, look at the warning, God will, and rather than pour out His grace, it will result in HIs judgment, and His punishment or worse, His wrath.

Not because we didn’t cover every sin (who has that big of a memory) but because we didn’t trust Him enough to deal with our failures, and we continued in life not dealing with our sin. Because we neglected the freedom God offered to us, and chose to stay in the dark.

So take your time, let God bring to your heart and mind the sins you need to know are forgiven. Ask Him to help you, so that you are convinced of this, you are clean, hole, healed,

Because He was broken, and His blood was shed, for you….

And knowing that, it is a time for a feast!…

AMEN!

How much time do you need, would you like, to examine your conscience in regards to the last week…?

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 640-642). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

The Limit of a Pastor’s (or Priest’s) Authority…

 

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29  for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. Matthew 7:28-29 (NLT)

14  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15  the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 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 3:14-19 (NLT)

Confession has two parts:
First, a person admits his sin
Second, a person receives absolution or forgiveness from the confessor, as if from God Himself, without doubting it, but believing firmly that his sins are forgiven by God in Heaven through it.

The pastoral work of our parishes should involve reflection, logistics, planning, etc., but only in order to dedicate more quality time to the important task: works of charity.

Thus he discoursed gravely and paternally; in default of examples, he invented parables, going directly to the point, with few phrases and many images, which characteristic formed the real eloquence of Jesus Christ. And being convinced himself, he was persuasive.

The other day a lady from our community called me and asked if we helped people other than Christians. I replied that we do, and then she proceeded to describe needs that couldn’t be met by a church 50 times larger than the one I pastor.  But she demanded that I demand my people to meet the need she had. 

She said I had the authority to do so… and was disappointed and angry that I couldn’t. 

But it got me thinking about the church and the authority it invests in those that it calls pastors, or ministers, or priests. 

I think the perfect portrayal of a pastor is found, not in theology books, but in the priest/bishop described in blue above.  The quote is from Les Miserables, and the Bishop is the one who forgives the sins of Jean Valjean, giving him the silver he stole.  He talked directly, and with authority, the authority that is proper for one in ministry, the authority to be merciful, the authority to reconcile, the authority that is persuasive, because the pastor is convinced himself.

Not of his authority, for that is simply delegated.  

We are (or we should be) convinced of God’s mercy toward us.  We need to be convinced that though we can never fully understand His love, we can experience it, and lead people to experience His love. The authority is seen most clearly when we realize that we are the ones who have been forgiven, we are the ones who God has saved from the brokenness we chose. 

It is that conviction that leads us to wield the authority we are delegated, the authority to pour out the grace of God upon broken people, assuring them of the healing of God found as He cleanses them of their sin.   We can speak for God about this, in fact, we must speak for God in this way.  For He commands it.  

This is our vocation, this is our call.  Somewhere along the line, we picked up other hats, other roles, especially administrative ones, but our only God-given role is that we are overseers and caretakers of souls.  Mercy is what we’ve been authorized to distribute.  Love as well, for in reality, they are the same thing.  Or to use the word that combines them, charity.   The more we can delegate the other stuff, the more time we spend doing what we are called to do, the more the church will come alive, as is it freed from the sin which so ensnares us.

If you are a pastor/priest, find ways to preach and teach God’s word, revealing to people God’s love, and administer the sacraments as often and faithfully as you can.   If you are not, turn to your pastor/priest for such care often, and do what you can to free him up to use this special gift to bless others.

And at all times, praise God for providing this minsitry of reconciliaiton ot us all! 

 


Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.

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

Hugo, Victor. Les Misérables (English language) (Kindle Locations 438-439). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.

Slogans, Sermons, and The Celebration

A devotional thought for our days…

Jesus went with them, and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to tell Him, “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, since I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. 7 That is why I didn’t even consider myself worthy to come to You. But say the word, and my servant will be cured. 8 For I too am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under my command. d I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”  Luke 7:6-8  HCSB

705      Christian responsibility in work cannot be limited to just putting in the hours. It means doing the task with technical and professional competence… and, above all, with love of God.

Yesterday, my birthday presents were delivered a bit early.  Actually, they came just in time for the Superbowl ( my second favorite part of tomorrow!) 

The present included two items, a hat and a sign for my office. 

The first is a new cap, with what I thought was my favorite slogan for sports and ministry.  “Do Your Job” and that is a critical aspect in football, in the military (as the centurion noted) or in our relationship with God and the ministry that is created by God in our lives.  

We simply need to walk with Him and do as He leads.  Which takes faith, the dependence on God that provides the will and ability (Eph 2:13) to do what pleases Him!   Do Your Job, do it trusting in God.  Do Your Job, loving God

The second slogan now hands on my office door, a few feet from me.  No Days Off!  Oddly enough, this slogan was not revealed during the march to last year’s Superbowl victory, but afterward, during the victory parade.  What was the secret to the victory?  The coaches and players lived football, they lived the game, in season and out of season.  They lived according to the standard of their slogans… and did their job, whatever it required.

Can you imagine if the church did this?  If it made the sacrifices to walk with God each day?  If it dwelt in His presence, depended on His mercy, realized His love and peace fills our lives?  If we stopped treated being Christian was a part-time gig, and desired to live in His love, not just part-time (as if to hit the minimum requirements to gain heaven) nor even full-time ( meeting what we think is our duty) but every day treasured our time with Him, and rejoiced in the love that is our, in and through Jesus?  That is really what our “job” is, everything else, worship, loving for others, caring for others, these things are just the impact of walking with Him. 

Then there is the motto I don’t have anything on, one that I couldn’t find applicable in the Kingdon of God.  The most recent slogan, ‘Not Done Yet”

Then I realized where that slogan comes into play in the church.  It happens as the sermon finishes, and for some people, that is the high point of our church time together.

It isn’t even close.

Altar with communionFor the sermon is simply revealing God’s plan in our lives.   But we aren’t close to being done at that point.  The greatest time in the church comes when we approach the rail together, as we bow together, recognizing the presence and invitation of God, and those who can kneel, and as a community of His people, share in the Eucharist as one.

As I preach, my hunger for the sacrament grows, and I pray it grows in my people.  To be welcome at the table, fully righteous in the eyes of God, fully cleansed by Him and made ready to celebrate.  Even as we realize we are not done yet, as we take a knee, the Lord’s Supper is the beginning of the celebration of Jesus completing His work in us,  For He has done all it takes to make us His own.  And the Eucharist is His thanks to the Father, and our thanks to Him, for it is finished.

He Has done and is doing, His job.  
He takes no days off…
And He is not done yet but will be, when He brings the last prodigal home.

Until then, let us walk with, work with and celebrate the love of God.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2578-2581). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

An Interesting Look at the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic.

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

15  I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (NAB)

4  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5  For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Romans 6:4-5 (NAB)

The Lord could say that his Body was “given” only because he had in fact given it; he could present his Blood in the new chalice as shed for many only because he really had shed it. This Body is not the ever-dead corpse of a dead man, nor is the Blood the life-element rendered lifeless. No, sacrifice has become gift, for the Body given in love and the Blood given in love have entered, through the Resurrection, into the eternity of love, which is stronger than death. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game.

As much as I appreciate the Lord’s Supper, as much as I’ve meditated on it and studied it, I’ve never thought about it as I read the blue quote above. I have read the great book by Pope Benedict, (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) several times, in fact, I’ve used it as a supplemental text when I teach on the liturgy. And yet, I’ve never considered the point that is offered above.

That not only do we share, participate, fellowship, become partners with Christ’s body during the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion/Lord’s Supper) we are also because He is risen, a partner in the resurrection, drawn into His resurrected life, and into the “eternity of love.”

This is a mind-blowing thing to me, and be patient with me while I process it.

As someone formally trained in non-denominational theology, and then in Lutheran theology, I tend to think of the Lord’s Supper given His death, His offering of His body as the hilasterion, the sacrifice of blood that covers and cleanses us from our sin.   I know well the implications of that and am in awe to think of it. 

When I lead people to the altar, with the cross overhanging it, when we commune together in front of the New Testament version of the mercy seat  (Lev. 6:14) my thoughts are almost always on the love of God poured out on the cross.  There we meditate on the Body was broken, and the Blood was shed.  By no means am I saying that this is still not true!

There is something there, in these words of Pope Benedict, that I have witnessed so many times at the altar, the incredible, glorious mystery that happens as people come and are joined again to the death of Jesus, and that is that they come alive in that moment.  You can see their bodies change, as they enter into this blessed moment, this feast, ( I want to use the old word “repast” ) as the brokenness is shorn away from them, as the wait is lifted. As they are revived in their spirit, it shows physically. 

This is the missing key, the idea that not only are we given the gift of His death for us, but the gift of His resurrection, the gift of life in the resurrected Christ!  

This is something that we don’t understand, if we only think of the Lord’s Supper as in sharing in His death (though it does certainly proclaim it so strongly )  We don’t see it if we only see our sharing in the dead, lifeless corpse.  But our souls get it, as this feast is one of incredible joy, one of peace that shatters the chaos of life. 

This feast, which is a foretaste of the feast to come is just like baptism, a joining with Christ’s death, and with the hope, the promise, the reality of our resurrection, because He is risen.  

You have been united with His death, and sin has been dealt with, but in His giving you His body and blood, He also gives you life!

Hear again the blessing that is given, as people stand and kneel form the altar…and know it is for you.  ( It might make even more sense now!)

Now, may the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, your confidence in the God’s work in your life; and until we are all before God throne, dwelling in His glory, may you know you dwell, kept secure in His peace!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

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