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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.

New Year’s resolutions, Mondays, and our Spiritual Struggle

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Devotional Thought for our Monday!
22  So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to—the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. 23  Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, 24  and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy. Ephesians 4:22-24 (TEV)

163      You shouldn’t be so easy on yourself! Don’t wait until the New Year to make your resolutions. Every day is a good day to make good decisions. Hodie, nunc!—Today, now! It tends to be the poor defeatist types who leave it until the New Year before beginning afresh… And even then, they never really begin.

Yesterday, some 60 friends and I knelt at the altar at Concordia, and celebrated the mercy of God.  We celebrated by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and spilled for us, to cover our sin, to remind us of the glorious life God gives us, where we walk with Jesus.

It was glorious, it was incredible, this sharing of God’s love, of realizing God’s desire to make us His has been fulfilled at the cross, and we celebrated it, together! What an incredible, overwhelming experience, as we were there, together, and realized the love of God!

Yet today is Monday, and what we used to call the “tyranny of the urgent” has found its way to dominate my life.  Too many critical things to do, competing with daily tasks, deadlines, and meetings to finish planning.  While balancing out the people who need help. 

It is as if yesterday’s moment of bliss happened a long time ago, not just yesterday.

It feels so distant, so much not part of who I am, today.  

And if I have trouble remembering – reliving those moments – how can I easily connect to my baptism?  And if I struggle to connect to either, my connection to Christ and to the cross where I was united to Him fades into the distant past as well. 

It would seem like those moments fade like our New Years’ resolutions, with a lot of great intent, and little impact and little change if anything.  To use Paul’s thought, we struggle to get rid of the old desires, the old self.

And what difference would it make; make these resolutions real as Paul advises?  How would it change the tyranny of the urgent, how would it change my Monday? 

The Psalmist tells us how to make this new beginning happen.  With words, words we know so, so well.

Be still, and know I am God…. God Almighty is with you, the God of Jacob is your refuge.

As He was when we knelt at the altar, He hasn’t left, He hasn’t stopped loving us, He hasn’t stopped being our God….. rely on that, for He promised.  He is with you, right now at your desk, or while you sip your coffee and wonder how to escape. He is there in the midst of this broken world. He is there with you.

Knowing that, makes every moment new, it makes every moment a communion, a fellowship with God who loves us. 

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 768-772). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What are you eating? Not Physically, but Spiritually?

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:
19 “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, m where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matt 6:19-21  HCSB

165      You must always remember that the spiritual faculties are fed by what they receive from the senses. Guard them well!

“You shall have no other gods.”
1 That is, you shall regard me alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.

I really don’t like meditating on this passage in scripture, because if I do, then waht follows next is an inventory of what I truly treasure.

Add to it the words of Luther and St. Josemaria, and I begin to realize what I treasure, what I value, have slowly become my idols, and just as gently, they wean me away from my faith, my trust and dependence on God.

For there is no idol we create and feed that knows satisfaction.  They desire more and more of our attention, more and more of our devotion, more and more time and money to satisfy them.

These idols may not be things we carve out of wood and stone, they can range from our health to our technology, to our careers, to even our family and their success. it might make more sense to ask what we value, what our priorities are, for it is the same question.  What do we invest, not our money, but our time, and our thoughts in, because they are our top priority?

This is hard for me, there are a number of things I invest too much time, too much thought in, that can dominate my day, and often determine whether it is a good day, or it sucks.

So where is my hope, how do I break away from these idols, and see my support systems taken away?

Simply put, to treasure heaven, to treasure the intimacy with God that is ours because of the work of Christ Jesus. To put our focus on what truly matters, His love. His mercy.  To take him up on his invitation to walk with Him, to dwell in His glory.  To feast at His table, knowing that such is reserved for His people, His children, on those he’s called there.

These things we are drawn into, prayer, meditation on His message, the incredible blessing gives to us in our baptism, strengthened as we are told again, “your sins are forgiven” and nourished at the altar; they are not our work. We are drawn into this glory of God, we are declared to be His beloved, and transformed into that which receives that love, and can love in return.

We need to be drawn into that love, constantly.  We need to know we are welcome there, not only that, that God desires us there.

That is the only answer to our idolatry.  To hear His voice, to treasure His love…which means we need it revealed.

Heavenly Father, please help us to listen to the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Reveal His presence through little children, through elderly saints, through our pastors and priests, so that we can drop our sin, our idolatry and cling to our hope in you.  We pray this in Jesus name. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 774-776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

 

A Long Awaited Day….

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Devotional thought for our days…

14  “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. 15  I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. 16  When that day comes,” says the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ Hosea 2:14-16 (NLT)

15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect 1 Pet 3:115-16 NCV

66 My God, teach me how to love! My God, teach me how to pray!

Every once in a while, when doing bills, I put the wrong month in, and sometimes the wrong year.

It is hard for me to accept we are in 2017, and that we are almost at 2018.  It seems that this should be in the future, way in the future.  

Similarly, it sometimes feels like the promises of God aren’t here yet, like 2017 shouldn’t be,  I can’t see it, I can’t picture it, even while I long for those days when my hopes, my expectations will be fulfilled.  The expectations and hope that make up my faith, the answers I need to answer people with, as St Peter says, in a gentle way and with respect. Even to those who do not respect me, especially to those who do not respect me, or God.

That is the amazing thing that gives me hope!  

We see it in the underlined part of the first reading, these people who hated GOd, who turned away from Him and worshipped gods they made of wood and metals and gems.  Those who ignored what He would say, especially when He told them that He loved them.

These people of God wouldn’t call him master, they wouldn’t call Him by some official titles, but they were to use an endearment to call Him by, a name that revealed the love that they recognized was between them.

For God would win our affections back, God would restore us, and we would willingly give ourselves to Him, a response to His healing and caring for us.

FOr we would finally realize that He loves us!

We are Christ’s bride, not His slave, we are the Father’s beloved children not, the servants who run from His anger. We are the companions of the Holy Spirit.  RElationships that are not bound by law, but love.  A relationship that began because God was stubborn and patient, not willing to let us perish, but bringing about in us a change of mind…

A change that comes when we begin to see His love for us fully revealed at the cross.

May we realize this is now – this hope, this expectation is not just in the future, some far off date when we finally realize He loves us.  That was revealed at the cross, and at our baptism, and every time we share in the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar.

This is our reason for hope, our assurance of everlasting life, with the God who doesn’t want us to call Him Lord and Master, but beloved…for

He loves us…

And so we pray, with St Josemaria, that God would teach us how to love, how to interact with Him!.  Lord have mercy on us!  (And be confident and know He has!)

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 452-454). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Transcendence…A Long Forgotten Blessing?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Day:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  1 Timothy 1:12-14

5      Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.

We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.

A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out.  Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible.  An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font.  His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.

I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last?  How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?   

Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing? 

It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us.  It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.   

It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace.  Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us.  The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed.  We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy.  Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile. 

This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence. 

it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day.  But when do we take the time?

As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?

As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..

and by His grace, it will.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

Because of What He is Done: A Sermon on Romans 11:33-12:8

church at communion 2Because of what God has done,
I plead with you…

Romans 11:33-12:8

I.H.S.

May you experience the incredible gift of the love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as that love changes your very life!

Because of What He’s Done

Normally, I unveil the bread and wine during the Lord’s prayer.

As I say the words, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, for in that moment we recognize that God’s will, I uncover and reveals the chalice and the tray.  That Jesus would die, giving up His body and blood, that our sin would be forgiven, that our lives would be renewed.

I am not going to wait to do that but will do that now, and as I do, I would ask that we all take a moment of silence, and think about the suffering, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(pause)

Now, thinking of all God has done for you, I plead with you, as Paul pleaded with the church in Rome, give your body to Jesus, a sacrifice that lives and breathes and IS holy.

For God has done so much!

As Paul wrote, everything comes from Him, exists by His power and is for Him! All Glory to Him for ever and ever!  AMEN!

So let’s find out what it means for us to be living and holy sacrifices…if we can!

How Impossible
I say if there for a reason.  We are talking about dealing with, and interacting with God, the Creator of all there is, the one whom Paul started this passage describing when He said,

How great are God’s riches and knowledge, How impossible it is for us to understand His decision and His ways!

We know it is impossible to know what God knows, and I think we get that it is impossible to understand His decisions and the ways He arranges our lives.

Even so, how often do we try to advise God, or throw a tantrum when things do not go our way?  How many times do we choose to go our way rather than His?  How many times do we struggle with life, and choose to sin because we can’t see how God’s way makes more sense than ours?

Maybe we don’t understand why it’s so important to be faithful to our spouse, (not just sexually faithful – but in all ways) Or maybe we struggle with respecting an authority figure because we can’t figure out why God put them there.  Maybe the temptation is to covet what someone else has, not being content with what God has blessed us with in our lives. Or maybe the problem we have is with judging people and sharing that judgment in a way that is called gossip.  Or maybe we don’t understand why God would have us set an entire day apart, we don’t get why we should waste it and be still, and know that He is our God, that He is our refuge and strength.

It doesn’t matter which sin it is, for they all find their origination in our not recognizing that God is greater in riches and knowledge, as we determine that since we cannot understand His decisions and ways, that ours is better.

It isn’t, and we don’t realize it until we hit rock bottom.  And most of the time not even then.

It takes the grace of God to run us over before we ever can realize that God’s decisions, His ways, His knowledge is best, even if we cannot understand it.

It takes the mercy of God, it takes a transformation, the one Paul describes that happens to us as we realize God’s ways are not just bigger, but far better.  Hear Paul again,

You Will learn

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Notice it doesn’t say let Pastor Dt change you, or change yourself, or let the latest self help guru change the way you think about yourself.

What Paul wants us to do is to let the Holy Spirit transform us, by changing the way we think.  What it says in Greek isn’t just to change a though or two, but to change your mind.

This is an absolute key, and it is what causes our lives to be lived in a way that is discussed in the rest of the chapter, to embrace depending on God, to work as God calls us to live, doing what He has chosen, but doing it in in accord with the faith he gives.

That is part of the result of the transformation.

You are a transformer!

Paul describes this transformation to the Corinthians this way,

18All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.

 

What a transformation God does to us!  (Much better than going from a car to a militant robot!)

A transformation that affects every part of us, every bit of our lives.

For God creates life in us, and shows us that we can have faith, we can depend on Him, and we can know, not all the mysteries of our faith, but what God’s will is for us, His pleasing and perfect will.

What is that will?  To do what God has called and equipped you to do.. whether it is to speak publicly about God, to serve others who are in need, to teach, to encourage others, to give beyond normal, to lead others, or simply show kindness to others…

just do it, depending on Jesus – as much as you can, as humbly as you can, as God has called you to do.

just do it, because of God’s love for you – and the work He does, revealing His love to you, serving you, teaching you, encouraging you, giving to you without any boundary, leading you, and simply showing you His mercy and kindness….

live life, moving with Him, for He is your God, and you are His people…..

For that is His good and pleasing will….for you – to know you are His, and He is with you always…  AMEN!

 

Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?

Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Time Management and the Church

St Francis Catholic Church

This was the church of my parochial school… a place where relationships were formed… with our students and with God

A devotional thought for the Day:

42 They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread, n and praying together.  Acts 2:42 NCV

Chapter 7 Baptism into union with Jesus is the sign of our new spiritual identity with the Triune God and with each other in the church. In baptism Christians embrace the new life that is the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ by the Spirit.
Chapter 8 The spiritual life is a living into our baptism—dying to all that is sin and death, rising through the new birth into the new life modeled by Jesus, the one who images humanity completely united to God’s original purposes for creation. The spiritual life contemplates the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ and participates in the purposes of God for humanity.
Chapter 9 The spiritual life is disciplined by the rule of steadfastness, fidelity, and obedience; it attends to prayer, study, and work; it meets God in daily life, in material things, and in people.
Chapter 10 The spiritual life is nourished by the church, which is the continued presence of the incarnate Jesus in and to the world. The spiritual life is nurtured by worship that sings, prays, preaches, and enacts the divine embrace in its daily prayer, weekly celebration, and yearly attention to God’s saving embrace in the services of the Christian Year. (1) 

Only from a personal encounter with the Lord can we carry out the diakonia (service) of tenderness without letting us get discouraged or be overwhelmed by the presence of pain and suffering.

A friend put up a meme the other day, that testified to the power of a good hug, one of those so powerful that you can feel the other person’s heart beat, and the ability it has to calm you down and assure you that everything will be all right. I experienced those kinds of hugs on vacation, as some of my friends from junior high got together 38 years after we had last seen each other. It was remarkable and refreshing.  (thanks, Ana, Dina, Christos, Danny, Glenn, and Brian!)

It is the kind of life the church had in its infancy, one we call koinonia or living in communion with each other.  We become a community that is incredibly close, and there for each other.  It is hard to explain, the level of such a relationship, where even years melt away as…. I can think of no other word… the intimacy of the communion is restored. ( Not physical intimacy as in sexual intimacy, but a connection of souls)

Webber would note that such an embrace is possible because of God, of His drawing us into His story, of Him invading ours, not just to purge us of our sin, but to embrace us, to heal us, to bring us into the depth of His peace. The outline of his chapters above shows how this happens in baptism and the spiritual life that is created as we learn to walk with God. This is what Pope Francis was talking about when he mentions our service and ministry of tenderness that begins with a personal (intimate) encounter with God.   If not a part of our lives we will (and still do when we forget to return there) burnt out, we will be overwhelmed.  But with God’s embrace, and with those around us who likewise are locked in His embrace, we are safe… and can find the rest we need, even as we hurt.

Webber went on from the start of the Divine Embrace to note that this spiritual life, this divine embrace is nourished in the gathering of people known as the church.  It is there we find the presence of the incarnate Christ in the world (this is why some call the church our mother and say salvation is not found apart from her! )  As we pray and worship, as we continue in the apostles teaching of the Word of God (Jesus) as revealed in the word of God (scripture)  as we take and eat the body of Christ, and take and drink His blood, poured out to remove all of our sin and restore our relationship with God, this divine embrace, this intimate relationship with God is restored, and it envelops all of us.  

This early description of the church in Acts talks of this – look at what they did! It doesn’t say they held endless meetings or held strategy meetings for growth.  It says that they did the things which reminded us and strengthened our awareness of God’s embrace.  

Maybe it is the time we got back to being the church, rather than doing church.  Our people need it, we need it. and oddly enough God treasures it far more than we can realize.  For He sent Jesus to minister to us, even to the point of offering His life as a sacrifice, that we could be held in God’s hands…

Time management in the church?  Where is our time of understanding God’s word, praying together, sharing our lives and meals together, and sharing in the Eucharist?  It may seem too simple, but the joy we will find being those God called together will be far more contagious than anything we can plan.  

The Lord is with you! It is time to manage our time so that we spend most of it Celebrating that Divine Embrace!

 

 

 

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

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.

Why I Don’t Want Sinners to Change their Behavior.

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.”  Mark 7:17-23 NCV

He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.

Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people,  Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners.  Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.

Most fail.

They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired.  They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment.  Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.

These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.

Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough.  Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability.  Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage.  It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion.  The matter is deeper.

So how do we deal with it?  Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well.  it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness.  It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.

This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest.  It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying.  It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.

This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism!  That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.

The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.

All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace…   Amen!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

 

The Powerful Presence of God… some thoughts on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16  When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.   1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NLT)

We have quoted all of this here, not to begin an argument on this subject (his Imperial Majesty does not disapprove this article), but to make clear to all our readers that we defend the doctrine received in the whole church—that in the Lord’s Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present and are truly offered with those things that are seen, bread and wine. We are talking about the presence of the living Christ, knowing that “death no longer has dominion over him.”7

826      You have to make your life essentially, totally eucharistic.

My father’s 88th Birthday was on Monday, and one picture of my dad continues to come to mind.  It was him, kneeling at the altar rail, wearing his sunglasses (with a  light brown tint )

I knew the reason he wore him, he was afraid of people seeing the tears that would flow as He received the body and blood of His Savior Jesus.  The presence that would lay his broken and wounded heart out, and allow healing to happen.  The tears couldn’t stop while he was there, the was nothing he could do about them.  And there was, in the midst of the tears caused by ripping open the scars, a sense of wonder at the peace.  It overwhelmed him.  There are two pictures of my dad that come to mind when I think of him in his older years, and this is the primary one.

I then think of a phenomenon that occurs when the youngest of children approach the rail in my church.  It started with one girl during an Ash Wednesday Communion service.  She was 2 and a half, and so comfortable at the rail next to her mother that communed that she grabbed hold of it, and wouldn’t let it go.  Her scream pierced the darkened church a moment later, “No I want to stay with Jesus!” she said!  Since then, almost always on their first visit, we’ve seen children do this, again and again, grasping onto the rail, or trying to come back after their parents returned to their seat.  Far too many times for it to be a coincidence, and my elders and deacons know well to simply tell the parents it is okay for them to stay there. They are welcome, and they are at peace.

When I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, as he advises us to make our lives eucharistic, ( or some Lutherans might use the word Incarnational) it resounded to me.  The words were supported by the observation in the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession – as Melanchthon reminds us we are communing with the Body and Blood of Christ, the presence of the living resurrected Messiah, Jesus.

We are in His presence, He gives us Himself in this bread, in this wine.  It is something that should leave us in awe at His sacrifice of love, at His desire to be part of our lives, part of us.  That in this meal, at this moment, we find ourselves in the same place as the elders of Israel in Moses day.

9  Then Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel climbed up the mountain again. 10  There they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there seemed to be a surface of brilliant blue lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence! Exodus 24:9-11 (NLT)

He did not destroy Him, they were so at peace in the glorious presence of God that they ate and drank ( the NLT adds in “a covenant meal, ” but they were indeed celebrating the Mosaic Covenant – God’s promise to care for them, to make them His people)

I know my dad felt that overwhelmed, even if he had great trouble describing it with words.  Just the thought would bring tears to his eyes, and cause him to struggle to speak.  He would be so overwhelmed he didn’t want to approach it too often, he had to work himself us to go to that place, so overwhelming was the peace and his need for it.  I think kids are more aware of the presence of God than we could credit them for, which is why the altar is a joyous, peaceful place they don’t want to leave.

I could tell you the story of others, whose body language shared how crushed they were by the world, or by the weight of their own sins, only to approach the altar and have all that pressure dissipate, all that weight lifted.

Not because of the pastor/priest, not because of the building, but simply because of the presence of God, Because of the gift, the grace He gives us in this holy sacrament, for He gives us Himself….. and like the elders, we do not die in the presence of God, but He nourishes us, as He reminds us of the covenant, of His promise that we are His.

I pray that you and I could be like the kids, who never want to leave, as we experience His presence, as He heals our broken hearts and souls.  May we yearn for it, not to be considered pious by the world, but to experience the foretaste of heaven, and share in His glory.

May we receive His gift with gladness and joy!  AMEN!

 

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2935-2936). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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