Devotional Thought for your day!
6 Then one of the creatures flew down to me, carrying a burning coal that he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7He touched my lips with the burning coal and said, “This has touched your lips, and now your guilt is gone, and your sins are forgiven.”
8 Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?”
I answered, “I will go! Send me!”
9 So he told me to go and give the people this message: “No matter how much you listen, you will not understand. No matter how much you look, you will not know what is happening.” 10Then he said to me, “Make the minds of these people dull, their ears deaf, and their eyes blind, so that they cannot see or hear or understand. If they did, they might turn to me and be healed.”
11 I asked, “How long will it be like this, Lord?” Isaiah 6:6-8 TEV
673 Once you used to “enjoy” yourself a lot. But now that you bear Christ within you, your whole life has been filled with a sincere and infectious joy. That is why you attract other people. Get to know Him better, so that you can reach all people.
He should have asked what the message would be…
He should have wondered what the people’s response to the message would be.
But it didn’t matter, he still had committed himself to go, he still was willing to bear the stress and the cost of bearing a message to a people that didn’t want to hear it.
Was it done without thinking? Was it done without counting the cost? Was it stupidity or naivete? Or was it something else?
As a pastor, I’ve been able to witness the power of forgiveness, or reconciliation. Sometimes it is between a husband and wife, as one forgives the other. Sometimes it is the joy of a parent, who has forgiven all their prodigal has done, now that they’ve finally come home.
The greatest moment is when a person, fully aware of their sin, as they look up at me through their tears as I tell them (on God’s behalf and by His command) that they are forgiven. As their shame and guilt, which one had them convinced that there was no hope, is brushed aside by the Holy Spirit’s embrace, as they come alive with joy!
Looking in their eyes at that moment is hard to explain. It is like watching an artist paint a masterpiece, like watching a soul being born. It is seeing joy erupt like a volcano, a joy that was too long blocked, under way too much pressure, and now exploding with light and power beyond expectation. You see it in Isiah – who hears the people’s initial reaction, and doesn’t say, “no, I am not going,” he simply asks “how long will they not list.” Still his heart is set on going and his own forgiveness, his own being welcomed by God will sustain him.
Like the old camp song explained, you want to shout it from the mountain top, for I want my world to know, the Lord of Love, has come to me, I want, to pass, it on!”
And that is why Isaiah says, “I’ll go!
The love we’ve encountered, the power of forgiveness, it is hard to explain, but it is impossible to keep to ourselves.
The hope for the church today in America will not be found in it being conservative enough, or inclusive enough. It won’t be found in having perfect theology, or the perfect worship service. It’s not going to be found running this program, or emulating that church, or using this liturgy or that one.
It is found when a sinner, crushed beyond recognition is picked up, cleansed, made whole. When the unrighteous person finds they are not just allowed, but accepted and truly welcomed into the presence of God and His people. It is going to happen when we hear our Lord’s voice, when the Spirit reveals to us the power of God at work in us, when we realize what it means to be loved.
This is the impact of the cross, and the resurrection, it is the result of realizing we are free, we are forgiven.
Lord, help us to reveal your message to people, to be patient with them, and do this by helping us see what it means to be forgiven, to have you walk beside us. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2816-2819). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. 35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 39 40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40 (MSG)
277 Rather than commit a fault against charity, give in, offer no resistance, whenever you have the chance. Show the humility of the grass, which yields without needing to know whose foot is stepping on it.
As I read St Josemaria’s words this morning, my mind drifted towards the passage from Matthew above. Well, more like the passage smacked me.
We often think of that passage in regards to the needs that are mentioned, which are mostly physical. Hunger, thirst, loneliness, health issues. But what about the spiritual issues? What about that rude person, who desperately needs mercy? What about that antagonistic person, who is that way because of being in bondage to sin?
Could we really be reaching out and serving Jesus by serving those who are twisted in their brokenness? Whose are offensive, who are so against us that we would even classify them as enemies? Who won’t listen but love to argue, and even try to bait us into the arguments? Or those who are, through no cause of their own, so frustrating we want to give up, to run away from them.
This isn’t easy! I am preaching on Jeremiah this week, who laments trying to reach out to such people. He gets so frustrated he accused God of deceiving him, basically saying – it shouldn’t be this hard to share YOUR message.
Which is perhaps why Matthew 25 came to mind. We can’t pick which people we help, which types of brokenness we will care for, disregarding the rest. We are sent to minister to the needs of those around us, physical, spiritual, psychological, no matter the cost…
We simply serve, we simply offer that glass of cold water, the listening ear, the prayer, and patience they need. And on occasion, we even get to see God draw the to Himself and unite them to Jesus.
What a wonder that is, what an incredible thing God has sent us to do!
So next time you see someone roaring like a lion, hurt and bleeding and ready to pounce on you for trying to help, ask God for the wisdom, strength, and patience to be able to do so, knowing you are serving someone Jesus died for… and trust God to provide what you need!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1356-1358). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 For those whom Yahweh has ransomed will return, they will come to Zion shouting for joy, their heads crowned with joy unending; rejoicing and gladness will escort them and sorrow and sighing will take flight. Isaiah 35:10 (NJB)
210 At times, seeing those souls asleep, one feels an enormous desire to shout at them, to make them take notice, to wake them up from that terrible torpor they have fallen into. It is so sad to see them walk like a blind man hitting out with his stick, without finding the way! I can well understand how the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem sprang from his perfect charity.
If the Church stays “indoors,” she certainly will age. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the “existential peripheries,” where the mystery of sin, pain, injustice, religious indifference and of all human miseries are found.
Right now, I am in the midst of the Psalms, and over and over I see the writers of them describe scornfully those who do not follow God. There is often no call for mercy, no call for mercy, just a call for harsh, blind, and effective justice.
To use Lutheran-speak, there is a great call for the Law to be applied, yet little for the gospel.
As I look through FB post after FB post, I see the same attitude is prevalent among many in the church today. Whether their antagonist is a political figure or someone in Hollywood, whether it is all of Islam or those who understanding of morality is contrary to that found in scripture, there is a sense that we have to persecute them, that we have to not only separate ourselves from them but make sure everyone knows they are condemned to hell.
We want to apply the law to them, even as we desire the comfort of God’s grace to be shown to us, even in our struggle with sin. We overlook all of Jesus’ teaching which calls us to love them, to seek out their reconciliation, to seek them out and share the gospel with them.
While I wish we would recognize that there might be a better way that to shout at them and shake them awake from their soul-sleep; I think we need to grow in the grief that St. Josemaria describes. We need to know the sorrow and sadness that comes from watching people we know, people we should love struggling without God, without knowing His love, without knowing His mercy.
Look at that person you would condemn, is it that impossible that God would bring them home, with the joy that Isaiah describes? It is possible that God would desire to remove the blinders from their eyes, heal their souls, cleanse their hearts?
Or maybe, it is those in the church that need to be awakened. Maybe we are the ones stumbling in the darkness, who need to once again hear of His grace. That we need to experience the depth of His love and mercy and having done so, now want to share that time, that way of the baptized life with the world.
Lord, help us to grow int he awareness of your mercy, your love, your presence in our lives that Your compassion for the lost becomes our compassion, and that we would see them transformed, even as the Holy Spirit transforms us. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1086-1089). 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.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
16 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17 When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18 Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.‘ Matthew 28:16-20 (NJB)
198 That way is very hard, he told you. And, on hearing it, you heartily agreed, remembering that bit about the Cross being a sure sign of the true way… But your friend noticed only the rough part of the road, without bringing to mind Jesus’ promise: “My yoke is sweet.” Remind him about it, because—perhaps when he realizes it—he will give himself.
Even as each of us is called into a relationship with God and all of His people, each of us has been given vocations, a great diversity of roles, and the gifts needed to fulfill them.
Yet, there is a common vocation, that of making disciples, for that vocation doesn’t belong to just a person, it is the vocation of the Body of Christ, the people of God. If we are part of His one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we are a people who have been sent into the world. We have an apostolate, we are to be a mission-focused people. Wherever we are, whatever other vocations we have, we are called to make disciples of those we encounter.
This way is hard, as St. Josemaria tells us, it can be brutal, and lonely. It may have long stretches of doubt, of not seeing the fruit of our work. It is all too easy to notice the rough parts of the road, the problems, and trials that exist on the road. For the work is hard, our Lord even had to die to make our discipleship a possibility, and so we shouldn’t expect this to be easy.
Fearing this hardship we hesitate, (some translations say doubt) We have trouble committing to God’s work, knowing it will take us on a rough road, knowing it will cost. We hesitate, we wonder if we can do this if we are truly called to it if God would actually ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And Jesus tells us, in the midst of the hesitation, even as we doubt ourselves, “Let’s go, we’ve got people to disciple, even as I disciple you!”
But how can we embrace the roughness?
Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, the joy of knowing His mission, the reason the Father sent Him was for our salvation, for bringing us back into the family. He suffered in order to welcome us home. Expecting that joy allowed Him to endure the pain, the insults, the betrayals, the loneliness. He saw us, cleansed, holy, redeemed, and was able to see it through.
For us to learn to have that attitude is beneficial, but we have something that even makes it sweeter. We have His authority backing us, and His presence sustaining us, that the Holy Spirit causes (and therefore is responsible) the changes in the lives we of the people we are sent to serve. We have the incredibly sweet joy of knowing God is with us, sharing in our ministry, even as we share in His.
So, in the midst of the bitter road, we anticipate hearing the angels rejoicing, as another sinner is transformed by the power of God. We hear the joy as one is baptized, or bows their knees at the altar, amazed that they are welcome, that their presence is desired. What joy they know, and how joyous is it for us to see!
This is our vocation, for all the members of the Body of Christ, we share in it, in the joy, in the tears, led by or Lord who shares in it all with us.
And that is truly sweet….
So when tired, worn out, struggling, look to the Lord who is with you, and know the joy set before us all. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1034-1038). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
When it was late in the day, his followers came to him and said, “No one lives in this place, and it is already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the countryside and towns around here to buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” Mark 5:35-37 NCV
191 When I speak to you about “apostolate of friendship”, I mean a personal friendship, self-sacrificing and sincere: face to face, heart to heart.
On any given morning my email box is filled with thirty to a hundred emails, and about 80 percent I simply delete. What really irritates me are the ones that are form letters sent out by a contact management software, that try to make it look like they are personal messages.
One recently even mentioned that if I had already responded to the previous email, they apologize for the software not being updated to recognize this and that they would stop sending the email eventually! I get the feeling that if I called the person, they would not know that they “contacted” me. I know some of the programs are set up to send letters, pre-written, on a schedule.
They didn’t. Their software program did.
I don’t mind bulk mail, I understand that missionaries and other churches are busy, and I appreciate copying me along with many others for support and prayer. I don’t even mind advertisements that are automated. It’s the idea that someone thinks that they will gain by making the advertisement look like a personal contact.
In the gospel reading this morning, the disciples were amazed by the people wanting to hear Jesus. I imagine they loved the accolades, the great joy (and a little frustration) that comes with being a superstar, or at least part of His crew. They were learning about the kingdom of heaven, and they would learn a lesson today.
” the show’s over, they need to go eat!” they tell Jesus. We are done with them, you taught, they listened, some were healed. Good day, let’s pack it up and get the rest, relaxation, and prayer you mentioned.
Jesus’ reply, “you feed them”
Don’t care from a distance, actually care Don’t just see their need, make sure the need is met. You can do it, (Jesus knowing he would supply the food) just do it.
That’s how the Missio Dei works, the apostolate of friendship as St Josemaria describes it. Laughing with them, crying with them, being involved. Not just monitoring responses to a contact system, but actually getting involved in their lives. Not just keeping in contact, but being in communion with them. And as St. Josemaria said, this means there is a sacrifice, there is something personal, face to face, heart to heart. There is cost, but there is also immeasurable grace, mercy, and love. For God is there.
As I was writing this, I think back to several conversations recently. The basic idea of each was that the pastor seemed to be writing the sermons directly to the person that heard it. Pastors who hear this often reply, “that was one I was preaching mostly to myself.” They are astonished when they realize how that sermon also touched their people’s hearts as deeply as they struggled with it.
I believe this is evidence of the relationship of people and pastor in communion with each other. It is the evidence of the apostolate of friendship, the communion of saints that we confess in our Creed. It is about learning what sacramental and incarnational ministry mean, and it is imitating Jesus.
Get to know those people around you, be their friends, share their struggles, rejoice with them in their celebrations. Whether pastor or layperson, you need to understand you were sent into their lives, and you get to help them explore the love of God. And as you do, with them you will find His love ever more true, every more bright, ever more glorious! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Brutal, Honest, Real, Faith
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and our Risen Lord Jesus so reveal His love for you that you know with all your heart and mind that He will sustain you and that you will share in His glory!
When Words aren’t enough:
On Friday, I stood next to a man, as he spoke at his son’s funeral. He talked about how time after time, his son was simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time. The final time, it resulted in his death, as he was shot along with a married couple.
The grief was as overwhelming as anything I have seen. The despair in the sanctuary of a church was beyond anything I have experienced for a long time because they could not imagine a God who would answer their cry for help.
And as I looked at my outline for today’s sermon, as I looked through these words of a prophet with a name you can’t say ten times fast, I understood Habakkuk’s pain, and the despair of his cry,
2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. 3 Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. 4 The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.
The prophet’s words, his cries, his pleading with the Father, these words are brutal, they are honest, they are so real and even apply to today’s world.
And they only way to hear God’s answer is found in a Brutal, Honest, Real, Faith.
The faith God gives us, that He plants in us, that He nourishes is us.
I love reading the Old Testament prophets, not because they are so uplifting – they are not. But because they aren’t standing around pretending the world is okay, they call their listeners out on sin, but they also grieve.
They know how God has called us to live in peace, to know His live and to have faith in God. They also see the world dealing with the consequences of ignoring God, and it breaks their heart. They weep, they cry for what is, and what should have been.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
We look around us these days, and it seems like it hasn’t changed much. We still need a lot of help, the world is still violent, and it seems daily we hear about violence, not just overseas, but in our communities. The deeds that are evil, they still exist, whether those deeds are sorcery and idolatry, or murder/abortion, or sexual immorality, or unethical business, or gossip and envy. The world is still dealing with destruction, with misery, with injustice, and the wicked still outnumber the righteous.
Some of that, which we cry out for God to rescues us from, is our doing, our unrighteousness, our guilt, and shame.
Yes, some of the sin and unrighteousness in our world is because of our sin.
No pleasure in people turning away –
Just depend on Him
The key in reading the Old Testament, in fact, all of the scripture, is to no to a take a passage without considering the rest of the chapter, the rest of the book. There are times you have to keep going, such as this passage.
In the midst of his grief, Habakkuk says he will look – he will wait on God for the answer that must come. He will, despite his despair, continue to look to God for an answer.
And the Lord answers, and not only will he answer the prophet, the answer is to be etched into stone. So that all will hear and see these answers.
That is what verse 2 says,
And here is the answer,
3 If the vision is delayed, wait patiently, for it will surely come and not delay. 4 I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away, but the righteous person will live by my faith.*
if you don’t God working, He’s got it all in His timing, and that timing is perfect, As Habakkuk and all the Old Testament prophets waited for Christ Jesus to come, so we wait, trusting in His work at the cross to deliver us into the presence of the Father.
Peter certainly knew this, for he would paraphrase this passage
9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)
Peter will note this about Paul as well,
15 And remember, the Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved. This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— 16 speaking of these things in all of his letters.
2 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)
It is a hard answer to hear that God will be patient, that things are going to be fixed right now, in our time, because God is at work, through us, reaching out to other people. That is what the cross is all about – that no one should ever die without knowing that God would forgive them, that He would draw them to Himself, that He loves them. God delays the recreation of the world, just to save one more, jut to rescue one more sheep, to find one more who was lost, to give one more broken person the hope of His healing them.
That’s a brutally honest, real answer. It’s one I don’t like at first, as I see and know of so much pain, so much suffering, as I witness sin and the bondage it keeps people in, and the hope it robs of those created by God to walk in joy.
When you see that person given faith in God, who comes to know they can depend on Him, who finds themselves cleansed not only of their own sin but the righteousness of the world, the wait is worth it! As we see those we love, whom we pray for, whom we often struggle with and against – there is the Holy Spirit, drawing them to Jesus, where they find healing and peace. This is why there is a delay, so those we love- and those we are called to love, can be reconciled to Jesus.
For we do so in Christ Jesus, and that means we do so know peace that is beyond all understanding, as Christ is the foundation of our hope.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
If I am telling the truth, why do you not believe me?b 47 Whoever belongs to God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not listen, because you do not belong to God.” John 8:46-47 NAB-RE
Faith is a vital, deliberate trust in God’s grace, so certain that it would die a thousand times for it. And such confidence and knowledge of divine grace makes us joyous, mettlesome, and merry toward God and all creatures. This the Holy Spirit works by faith, and therefore without any coercion a man is willing and desirous to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything for the love of God and to his glory, who has been so gracious to him. It is therefore as impossible to separate works from faith as it is to separate heat and light from fire.” (1)
. But devotion to the Cross had a very different origin. Christians used to turn toward the east when they prayed as a sign of their hope that Christ, the true sun, would rise upon history—as a sign, then, of their belief in the future coming of the Lord. In the beginning, the Cross was closely linked to this eastward orientation of prayer. It was represented as the standard carried before the King on his arrival—with the appearance of the Cross the head of the procession had reached the throng of praying people. For the early Christians, the Cross was primarily a sign of hope—not so much a turning back to the past as a turning forward to the coming of the Lord. (2)
As a pastor, I am used to people struggling with “Faith.”
Most often, this is because they define faith as a known, for example, “the Christian Fatih” or the subdivisions such as “the Catholic Faith” or the “Orthodox Faith”.or the myriad and diversity of “Protestant Faith.” This definition reduces faith to a list of doctrines, a list of teachings, and reduces the Bible to a textbook to be learned, studied and interpreted. This definition confuses us then when we talk about “sharing” our faith, leading us to believe such is a matter of indoctrination, of our doctrinal positions overwhelming yours in some cosmic spiritual battle.
Faith doesn’t know doctrine, it is, as the Lutheran Confessions say, It is a vital, deliberate trust (or dependence) in God’s grace. It is listening to God and rejoicing not just in the rules, but realizing that God encodes in the law these incredible promises, incredible blessings. Such is what He commanded, what He commissioned and guaranteed with the cross and by the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
That’s why the issue of works being aa result of faith is not surprising, and not all that complicated. The vital trust results in it! If you trust God, if you hear Him declare you are His, that nothing can separate you from His love, then you simply live.
That is why Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote about the cross the way he did – it not only talked of the blessing of the cross in the past, but the sign of Christ’s return. ( the old Celtic crosses always included the sunrise behind the cross for the reason as well!) For faith is not just hope about the sins being covered by Calvary’s cross, it is the hope or eternal life, of eternal joy, of the day when every tear is wiped away.
The cross is a symbol of the hope of the future, of what God has promised to open up for us, the very thing we trust Him to achiece> Eternity, lived in the full glory of God, this is our hope, this is the end goal for the scriptures, the end of the means of grace poured out for us in baptism, the Lord’s supper and the mercy of being cleansed of every sin.
Eternity is when our faith is fulfilled, when our dependence on God is proven, when hope is seen to be reality.
This we can share – at whatever cost it takes – this we can rejoice in, this we can know, even when we can’t explain every bit of theology.
This is our faith, our vital dependence on God.
This is what happens when we hear Him testify,
“I love you so much; Christ died on the cross so we could be re-united..”
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print. FOrmula of Concord SD IV
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Discussion Thought fo the Day:
1 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 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? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.
Hebrews 2:1-4 (NLT)
1 God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it.
Hebrews 4:1 (NLT)
67 Surely it is a sin and a shame that, when he tenderly and faithfully summons and exhorts us to our highest and greatest good, we act so distantly toward it, neglecting it so long that we grow quite cold and callous and lose all desire and love for it.
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? (1)
Luther’s stance on communion here may be shocking to some. To avoid the Lord’s Supper is simply sin, it is shameful!
I hope it is! I hope it shocks us out of our lethargy, out of the apathetic attitude we have toward being the church, the lethargy that diminished our desire to be gathered around the altar of the Lord, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for us.
The very summons Luther notes, as Jesus draws us to Himself, as He summons us, and would dwell in us, and us in Him is the word used in Greek, which we translate into the word “church”. Ekklesia!! Thos called out, those called together! The people of God created in the work of Christ’s obedience in life and death, as we are cleansed and set apart into an incredible, intimate, wondrous relationship with God. A relationship beyond our ability to comprehend, as we dwell in His presence, and are promised His glory!
As church growth theorists and church planters and revitalizers study churches, the one thing that can’t be studied is the source for our life, this “being called”, this being the church. We want the answers to why churches are in decline in America, we want answers to stem the tide, and the answer is simple….
Take and eat…
Take and drink…
Celebrate the union, the wedding of Christ and His bride, those called to Him, those drawn to Him by His love. Those who are united to His death and resurrection in the sacraments, especially the feast that celebrates the work, the offering being completed.
But the Church, since the days of the Enlightenment, since the days where rationalism has become the dominant philosophy, has set it aside. We have lifted up the sermon higher than the reading of the gospel, nevermind the feast that is our foretaste of the Feast that will come when Christ returns.
We’ve neglected this salvation, of celebrating it, choosing instead to sit on the sidelines, describing it as if we were announcers at a sporting event. We’ve neglected it, even as we justify celebrating it every other week or once a month, less it loses its meaning? I even heard a man justify denying people men who would serve the people of God this precious blessing, because once people only were given the Lord’s Supper once every other month, and they were very glad they got it that often!
If it is shameful and sin when we fail to celebrate this great salvation, is it any less sin to not tremble with fear when we think of people who do not experience this relationship? How much more should we tremble when we realize we have put man-made rules in place that prohibit and blocked people from experience Christ’s presence?
My friends, I leave you with this thought from Luther, describing the need of humanity for the Lord’s Supper,
72 If you are heavy-laden and feel your weakness, go joyfully to the sacrament and receive refreshment, comfort, and strength. (1)
encourage others to go with you, for they have the same need, a need that will be met there in Christ.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Large Catechism: Fifth Part – The Sacrament of the Altar
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 After this, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, ‘This is what Yahweh, God of Israel, says, “Let my people go, so that they can hold a feast in my honour in the desert.” ‘ Exodus 5:1 (NJB)
1 It is taught among us that the sacraments were instituted not only to be signs by which people might be identified outwardly as Christians, but that they are signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us for the purpose of awakening and strengthening our faith.
2 For this reason they require faith, and they are rightly used when they are received in faith and for the purpose of strengthening faith. (1)
Hear, Lord, my prayer; let not my soul faint under Thy discipline, nor let me faint in confessing unto Thee all Thy mercies, whereby Thou hast drawn me out of all my most evil ways, that Thou mightest become a delight to me above all the allurements which I once pursued; that I may most entirely love Thee, and clasp Thy hand with all my affections, and Thou mayest yet rescue me from every temptation, even unto the end (2)
Although the sacred liturgy is above all things the worship of the divine Majesty, it likewise contains much instruction for the faithful34. For in the liturgy, God speaks to His people and Christ is still proclaiming His gospel. And the people reply to God both by song and prayer. (3)
All of the above readings are selections of my devotional reading, and they all have one thing in common. The people of God were responding to His love, to His call, to be in His presence.
For as people come into His presence, as they are made aware of His love, as they begin to understand it, something wonderful happens. Augustine describes this transition so clearly and begs God to help preserve it. It is a state of being where we are completely freed from anxiety, from guilt and shame, and we find rest in God’s presence.
The Augsburg Confession describes how the sacraments help bring about this awareness, as do the writings of Vatican II. That the liturgy brings this awareness out, as God’s love is revealed through the word, delivered in the sacraments. It is in these events that our faith is surely strengthened, our love of God and each other grows.
So now to the Bible passage – the Pharoah, who will hear these words from God over and over.
“Let my people go!” Put slightly differently, “Let my people come and feast with me.” It’s not a request from God to Pharoah. It’s not a suggestion. Pharoah will pay for his obstinance, for his attempt to block the will of God.
I sometimes wonder if the church is acting more like the Pharoah than it is acting like Moses.
We hold people back from coming into God’s presence. We won’t let them go, and feast with God. Consider…
* We don’t let them go when we put man-made systems and rules in place, which then deny them the desire God is putting in their hearts.
* We don’t let them go when we think they aren’t interested, or won’t bother, and we leave them in the suffering slavery of sin. ( Israel wanted nothing to do with Moses a couple of times in the process, remember?)
* We don’t let them go when we think they aren’t the right kind of people. (Check out Ex. 12:38 it wasn’t only the Israeli’s that were counted among the people of God in the Exodus!)
* What kept running through my mind during the devotion is that we don’t let them go, when we let our fears and anxieties stop us from letting them come among us, the people of God. Those who are fleeing violence, or drugs or war. When we tell them, hundreds of thousands of you in need aren’t worth the risk
In this last case, I am saddened by the number of church folk, people who claim to follow Jesus. As He is being lifted up by missionaries “on the ground” working with those refugees and they are coming to know God’s love, we are sending them a different message with our posts that they aren’t welcome, by the political leaders comments that we share, men who say just shut the borders down completely, and offer no option to helping those in need. We are showing those in dire need that we are more afraid of man than we can trust and obey in God.
We won’t let them come, because of fear. We won’t let them come to a place where they will hear of Jesus and find out about his love. We won’t let them come and feast with them.
Are we any different than Pharoah?
Read the blue, green and purple words again, and remember what Jesus said about if He is lifted up, he will draw all men to himself.
Reach out to all around you, and help them come to know Jesus.
One last thought, from last Sunday’s reading from the Old Testament
And those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. Daniel 12:3b (NLT)
It is time to shine, people of God, and find out there are far more os us, than we ever thought, as God draws people to Himself. AMEN
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 35–36). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(3) Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
Devotional Thought of the Day
34 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35 Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. 36 Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.” 37 But Jesus said, “You feed them.” Mark 6:34-37 (NLT)
14 “Return home, you wayward children,” says the LORD, “for I am your master. I will bring you back to the land of Israel— one from this town and two from that family— from wherever you are scattered. 15 And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:14-15 (NLT)
11 It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers. 12 He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. Ephesians 4:11-13 (TEV)
14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said: “What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly.”
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth. (1)
By the preaching of the word and by the celebration of the sacraments, the center and summit of which is the most holy Eucharist, He brings about the presence of Christ, the author of salvation. But whatever truth and grace are to be found among the nations, as a sort of secret presence of God, He frees from all taint of evil and restores to Christ its maker, who overthrows the devil’s domain and wards off the manifold malice of vice. And so, whatever good is found to be sown in the hearts and minds of men, or in the rites and cultures peculiar to various peoples, not only is not lost, but is healed, uplifted, and perfected for the glory of God, the shame of the demon, and the bliss of men.24 Thus, missionary activity tends toward eschatological fullness.25 For by it the people of God is increased to that measure and time which the Father has fixed in His power (cf. Acts 1:7). To this people it was said in prophecy: “Enlarge the space for your tent, and spread out your tent cloths unsparingly” (Is. 54:2).26 By missionary activity, the mystical body grows to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13); and the spiritual temple, where God is adored in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:23), grows and is built up upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the supreme corner stone (Eph. 2:20). (2)
This morning I had the greatest 15 minutes of my week since Sunday. I met and visited with a lady who was an incredible blessing to me. Her words though few, and with a tired voice, encouraged me to be what I am, a pastor. As I prayed with the lady who has lived in 10 different decades, I watched a beautiful smile, and her tired body relaxed, as she knew again the love of God. It is the first time we’ve met, and I am already looking forward to seeing her again.
It is not why I do what I do; It is who I am.
That is being a pastor, a shepherd. It what those called into ministry are called to be. I’ve included a lot of citations above, because they explain it far better than I can.
The reading from Ephesian starts it out by expressing that we aren’t born to be pastors/shepherds, but we are chosen to do it. Chosen to shepherd (that is what pastor means) and to guide people as they mature in Christ, as they struggle with living out the promise of being someone united to Jesus, as they struggle as the Holy Spirit transforms them into His image. As they struggle with their growing pains. As we hear Jesus command us to feed them (and he had to tell Peter that THREE times according to St. John’s gospel!)
I love how Vatican II puts it, as we see the transformation, even the exorcises all evil from them ( Paul calls this circumcising the heart and Ezekiel speak of it as well) Paul talks of us pleading with them to be reconciled to God, to being drawn to Him, to bring them to be embraced by a God who is both merciful and loving.
It is of the greatest of joys when this happens, as it did this morning as I sat next to my new friend, the new person I had the honor of reminding that Christ is indeed with her. Something she indeed knew… but loved to hear again. There are other times; it is not so easy. When showing them what Luther wrote of in the catechism means bringing about healing. Treating that which hurts and is painful.
This is why Jesus said pray for the shepherds, that God would send them as promised. It isn’t easy, it is heart-breaking and frustrating, it is ministering to people who might be angry at you, mad at you, that may think you are intentionally trying to hurt them.
A pastor stays with them, doesn’t discount them, and continues to point them to Jesus. He keeps encouraging them to cling to Jesus. He keeps reminding them that Jesus is there. Though it may be tempting, he doesn’t run from wolves or alligators or those who are crying in pain. He doesn’t run when it hurts him, or even those he loves. He helps them cling to Jesus. To trust in Him rather than their idols.
He is who he is; it isn’t a job, is a vocation.
If you are a pastor or priest, spend lots of time being amazed at what God is doing through you, for it is still He who will provide the food, the word and the Lord’s Supper which nourishHis people with the knowledge and experience of His presence.
If you are served by one of us, pray for us, encourage us, be patient with us, knowing we have to draw you into God’s presence, sometimes even as you are kicking and screaming. As you can help us to – for there are more broken people that we can minister too at times…
At all times – may we cry out together, Lord Have Mercy!
And may we encourage each other by crying out, “the Lord is with you!” and hearing “and also, with you!”
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 366). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.