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Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?Concordia Lutheran Church

Ezekiel 33:7-9

 In Jesus Name

 

May the peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ be your sanctuary, your refuge, and may you always welcome the journey there!

Cain’s question should haunt us….

There is something special about having friends and family around us.  We see that today, as some have come long distances to help their friends celebrate forty years of marriage.

But there is a challenge for family and friends as well, for no one can disappoint us, no one can hurt us, no one can challenge our ability to love, as much as they do.  It seems like it has always been so, well not always.  Once Adam and Eve screwed up in the garden though, there has always been tension in families, and among friends.

We see it especially in the relationship of their first two sons, Cain and Abel. The challenge of loving each other was brutally sacrificed to bring some sense of relief to the pain and jealousy that found a place in Cain’s heart.

The reason that I bring him up this morning, is a question he once asked of the Lord.

Am I my brother’s keeper?

The son of man hears the answer to Cain’s question, and the answer is found in our Old Testament reading today.

“Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.

Yes, we are to work to keep your brothers safe… for if something happens to them and they are unaware, the passage from Ezekiel tells we are held responsible.

That is a heavy burden, yet is our mission in this life.

The Apostle John wrote about this as well:

20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

We have to be watchmen for each other…we have to warn each other, as best as we can, for this is the will of God.

We have to care for the wicked folk too!

As we look at Ezekiel’s watchman, it helps to make the connection between the words watchman and keeper. It’s the same word in Hebrew, to guard them.  TO be on guard is to work for the safety and peace of those entrusted to your care.   A peace and safety corrupted and destroyed by sin.

But note in the Old Testament reading, those entrusted to the watchman’s care are called the people of Israel.  They are named, appropriately, after the one whose name means to struggle with God.  Not after Abraham, the father of Nations, or Isaac, laughter, but Jacob/Israel, the one who wrestles, who fights God.

It goes on to say that these we care for are wicked, and are certain to die unless they change their ways.

Great description of the people we have to keep safe!  Oh wait – he’s describing the people of God.  Uhm, that means the description could very well be of us.

Wicked here means those who are guilty, those who have violated either God’s law or His will.   Scary thought, if that is the definition of evil.  Do we realize we embrace evil when we sin?  Paul said it this way,

29  Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31  They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. Romans 1:29-31 (NLT)

All those people are evil, right?  Do you hear that it includes those who gossip and quarrel? That it includes those who are proud and boastful? What about those who do not show kindness or mercy?

It is them we are called to warn that certain judgment is coming.

Some of you may contend that the watchman are just the Old Testament prophets, and maybe the apostles and evangelists of the New Testament.  We might bristle a bit when we realize it includes the pastor, and that it could include deacons and vicars and elders.

But what if I said that each of one you is called to care, to help your brothers and sisters stand firm in the love of Christ Jesus?

That keeping them, guarding them in Christ by warning them is what we do, because we are called to love them?  Think about it for a moment, is it loving to allow someone to do harmful actions?  Maybe we can’t prevent them, Ezekiel seems clear about that, but we can call them to repentance.  We can call them back to Christ.  We can love them that much because He loved us!

Let this mind be in you…. Which is in Christ!

So what do we do with our past? What can we do when we screw up and fail?  What do we do with our sin?

What do we do with those times when we failed to be our brother’s keeper, to serve Him as a watchman?  When we’ve allowed them to be in bondage to sin without warning them, or when we failed to call them to repentance?  When we’ve failed as watchman, guards, and keeping them safe?   What about when we’ve rejoiced that they got what they deserved, ignoring our responsibility to call them to trust God?

Well, we don’t “do” something.  We listen.

When we confessed it we need to listen and hear of the faithfulness of Jesus to forgive us, and to cleanse us of that sin.   Maybe we need to hear His absolving us again. Maybe we need to hear the words of our baptism, that we are united with His death and sin has died to us.  We need to hear that His blood was shed, His body broken, that we would live forgiven.  We need to hear (and therefore proclaim) His death, until He comes again.

You see, ultimately, this prophecy is about Jesus as well. He is our watchman, our guardian; He is our brother who is our keeper.  He is the one who warns us, and makes possible the very repentance, the change of heart and mind that repentance is.

That is why Acts talks of repentance being granted to the Gentiles, even as it was to the apostles and disciples who were Jewish.

He’s called you out of wickedness, into a life filled with hope, with goodness, with joy as we see Him at work.  As we see Him take people that are gossips and haters and do not show mercy, who struggle with God, and re-create them into children of God.

This is why the cross happened; this is why He died, taking on the burden of the death and condemnation that awaited us.

That is how a brother acts towards his brothers and sisters.  He sacrifices Himself, so that they may live. That is what it took to get our attention, to reveal not just the existence of God, but His love for us.

For our brother, our Lord, Jesus our savior is our watchman – He is the One who is our Keeper, as He keeps us firm our heart and mind in the peace of God our Father. AMEN!

Is Desiring Reconciliation Optional for Christians?

Devotional Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11  As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die? Ezekiel 33:11 (NLT) 

23  “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:23 (NLT)

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)

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NLT)

824         Do you feel as if goodness and absolute truth have been deposited with you, and therefore that you have been invested with a personal title or right to uproot evil at all costs? You will never solve anything like that, but only through Love and with love, remembering that Love has forgiven you and still forgives you so much! (1)

Therefore it is God’s ultimate purpose that we suffer harm to befall no man, but show him all good and love; and, as we have said it is specially directed toward those who are our enemies.  (2) 

It seems like yesterday I had to quote the passages above from Ezekiel a half dozen times, and should have quoted them a dozen more.

In each, people were rejoicing over brokenness.  Some were larger than life, as they rejoiced over victories in war. Some were more organized, as people planned to celebrate larger divisions between people groups. (including the Reformation.)  Some were far more personal, as people encouraged each other to rejoice in division, to rejoice in broken relationships. There were even a couple of situations were those trying to promote reconciliation were attacked and mocked.

Yes I know, that in some of these cases, pain is involved,  But what about those who encourage the joy?  What about those who welcome the brokenness, who encourage it?

It is even more tragic that in each case, the people involved were leaders in the church.  Some of the brokenness was in the midst of the church, Traumatic and tragic, this lack of desire for reconciliation is!

And it is not Christian.  It is not imitating Christ.  It is not being obedient to His giving us the mission of reconciling people to Him, as Paul points out.  For in reconciling them to Him, we find them reconciled to us.

Life isn’t a personal crusade to stamp out evil.  That only turns us into evil people, as we place ourselves in the place of God.

Life isn’t about rejoicing over division, over the bad things which happen to those we consider enemies, adversaries, or just pain in the ass’s.

God has told us to love them, to work for their good, to see them reconciled to Christ.  For that is His will, even though every person who is brought to reconciliation was once God’s enemy, who chose evil over good, and hate over love.

This blog isn’t easy to write.  I have my own people I struggle with, who I have to grow in Christ to love and seek to reconcile with.  But let me tell you, the joy that is there when we do… is amazing.

I’ll leave you with this blessing, knowing that it pleases God when people reconcile:

20  Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— 21  may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen! Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3390-3393). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

 

What Child is This? The One Who Causes Blind to See, And to Reveal Others are Blind

Sermon from Concordia Lutheran ChurchMy Church's Building - our goal - to see it restored and filled with people who find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping others heal
march 30, 2014

What Child is This?
The One Who Causes Blind to See, 
And to Reveal Others are Blind

John 9:1-41

 May you rejoice as the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ opens your eyes to His presence and the restoration of brokenness!

 

So much talk about sin and its effects!

The gospel reading this morning is one of the longest we have all year, more than half the length of an average sermon.

it reminds me of the Old Testament Book of Job, but not because of the length, it shares the same quality that the Book of Job does, as we look at the discussions that take place.  Discussions that are fascinating, discussions that touch on different theological and philosophical questions.  Discussions that offer little comfort, peace, that are pretty much blind.

But discussions, at the end of it, are blind to the presence of God in the flesh, and blind to the work that Jesus would do. They don’t lead them to the truth, they don’t change their actions, they simply to seek to look back,

It would be like wondering what was responsible for an earthquake, and not bothering to get under a desk, or in a doorway!

Seriously, they while the discussions were going on, incredible things were going on, right there in front of them…..

God, revealed among them, and as we pray in the Kyrie he was helping, saving, comforting, and defending them… even as He does us.

So let’s look at the discussions, and what they missed…..  (click)

Question 1 – who’s responsible for this brokenness

The passage opens up, with a discussion of his committed followers, which they bring to him to answer.

“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”
We are well into the gospels at this point, they had heard Jesus’s testimony that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise that the Messiah would bring healing to the blind and to the broken hearted, and their question is about what is the root cause of the blindness?

They could have asked Jesus if he would have healed him.  Or perhaps asked Jesus to heal him. They could have asked how they could have helped.

But instead they treat him like a …. Object? A Thing to be discussed and a lesson in theology and philosophy.

They don’t see the man, and they certainly don’t see the reason that Jesus will lay out before them,
Answer: Jesus heals the brokenness

 

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
There isn’t a day when I wish such work of God could be done here, that people who have devastating physical issues, couldn’t all be healed, that they couldn’t all be restored.  It would be dangerous to take from this passage the idea that God is only glorified in the physical healing of a person.  We’ll see why in the second discussion.

What I want us to see in this, is not the miracle of a healing, for something greater is about to happen.  Something that will affect the man more deeply, more powerfully.

We need to see though, that Jesus saw the man, the man in great need, and responded.

The disciples didn’t, they hadn’t learned that lesson yet, but Peter would, when Jesus tells him three times to feed my sheep, and when he and John take time to heal the man begging at the Temple’s gates.

CLICK  Discussion lesson number one, Jesus saw the man, not the sin that hinders him.

When we are dealing with people who are broken, as we were, it doesn’t matter how they were broken, whose sin has broken them, or even what the sin was.

It matters that the person was one whom God desired to minister to, to bring them into the kind of transformation where sin could not hinder him from living.  To bring him to the realization that He was God’s child, and NOTHING could separate him from God’s love, revealed in Christ.

Which brings us to the second part of the conversation….the meeting of the Pharisees…

Discussion 2 – how can Jesus do anything about this?

The progress of the discussion went something like this.

A major disagreement about whether Jesus could do such a miracle.  Some say it’s impossible, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, others are in shock, and can’t explain it… because how does a ordinary man do such things.

The mind works in odd ways, and rather than finding themselves in God’s presence, they decide they don’t have the right information…..so they call in the Blind man…

“We don’t believe you are the blind man.”  “Yes, I am,”  He responds.

Drats – they were hoping that maybe it was a temporary condition, and reversed itself.  So they call in the parents….

“We don’t believe your son was born blind….”

“Yes, he was, but we don’t know what happened to him,” they say in timid, anxious voices, knowing what the Pharisees don’t want to hear….

ARRGGGHHH – get the young man back in….

And they ask his opinion, as if the opinion of a man who never looked at a night sky, at seen trees and looked into the eyes of those he loved, would say something to detract from the miracle that happened to him…. “Simple, He is from God!”  And so they boot him out of the community.

While the first discussion didn’t see the man, the second didn’t see the God who would claim the man as his own, as one of His people.  They couldn’t see God’s love for this man, this one they discounted as the sinner.  CLICK

Discussion lesson #2 – Don’t miss that God wants to do something in every person’s life. To make himself known to them as real, as loving, as merciful, as their Lord, Savior, Father, Friend, Advocate….

You see, the goal of the interaction wasn’t just to heal the man of His physical ailments.  Remember Jesus’ earlier answer?

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.

For to see a man healed of being blind is amazing, miraculous, just as many of Jesus miracles left people stunned,  Yet, something more miraculous happens.  Jesus doesn’t just leave the man with his physical sight….

He establishes a relationship!  The man hears something, that talked of eternity, about the restoration of the people of God.  For in revealing that He is the Son of Man, Jesus reveals that the people of God will be made whole, not some time in the future, but soon, and that Jesus is the long awaited one who will fulfilled the promises revealed in Ezekiel.

Jesus reveals He is the Son of Man the one who knows God’s heart, so clearly revealed in Ezekiel, (CLICK)

21  Suppose wicked people stop sinning and start obeying my laws and doing right. They won’t be put to death. 22  All their sins will be forgiven, and they will live because they did right. 23  I, the LORD God, don’t like to see wicked people die. I enjoy seeing them turn from their sins and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (CEV)
Jesus is revealing that it is time for God to make His people, His again, for them to realize that He will be their God, forever.  He will raise them, even as the prophesy at the Valley of Dry Bones, or the chapter before, where God promises to wash us, to replace our hearts of stones, with hearts of flesh, to send His Spirit to live inside of us…

Such a revelation, to this man who simply realized that Jesus was from God.  That is what is glorious, God coming to this man, God revealing Himself to Him.

When others couldn’t see the simple truth, the truth that they claimed expertise, but overlooked the heart of God who would come to the broken and restore them.

Glorious – that God would come to man, that He would assure them of His love, His faithfulness.  It’s not about who was the sinner, or whether man can heal on Sunday, its’ about the love of God for His people, revealed in Christ. That is why we ask what child is this?  And why we know and trust in Him…..
That would bring His people, broken and abandoned, that would bring us into His peace.  The peace of God, which passes all understanding, the peace of God that you are brought into and kept, by Jesus the Christ.

 

O Son of Man… Can these Churches Live?

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day

16  So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. For AbrThe Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God.  May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!aham is the father of all who believe. 17  That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. Romans 4:16-17 (NLT)

 7  So I prophesied as I had been told. While I was speaking, I heard a rattling noise, and the bones began to join together. 8  While I watched, the bones were covered with sinews and muscles, and then with skin. But there was no breath in the bodies. 9  God said to me, “Mortal man, prophesy to the wind. Tell the wind that the Sovereign LORD commands it to come from every direction, to breathe into these dead bodies, and to bring them back to life.” 10  So I prophesied as I had been told. Breath entered the bodies, and they came to life and stood up. There were enough of them to form an army. Ezekiel 37:7-10 (TEV)

926 When I am told that there are people dedicated to God who are no longer striving with fervour for sanctity, I think that—if there is any truth in this—their lives are heading towards great failure.  (1)

So, my wife and I are having this Sarah and Abraham moment… and in trying to live in a state of denial, I’ve been thinking about churches.  Today, we had a pastor’s gathering of our circuit – some 22 churches in our area – and five pastors showed up beside me.  After celebrating God’s gifts – we talked a little bit about our churches – and where we see God leading us shepherd them.

In all but one case – the chruches are in need of…. some call it revitalizaiton, some call it revival.  We talked about being focused on Christ, about discipling, about outreach – and about beng the church together.

In trying to process all of this, I remember what the experts told me about my first church – that is couldn’t possibly be a vital congregation again.  I had heard that about others congregations, that had on such advice folded, closed their doors, abandoned their communities, and their duty to be salt and light, usually in neighborhoods experiencing great darkness of sin. I’ve heard that since – as experts have told me that there is a growing need for church hospice pastors – the pastors that will assist churches as they mourn, as their lights fadee, as they die…..

But if God can create life in Sarah’s womb, in Hannah’s womb, in Elizabeth’s womb, if He can create this universe from nothingness, (and in my wife’s – who is much much younger than the others just mentioned) can He not create life in these churches?

Abraham believed God, the Son of Man in Ezekiel knew that even when there were bodies with flesh – God’s spirit was needed for those bodies to become alive, for them to be a “mighty army” (not going to war with the world – but going to war to save those in it).  St Josemaria talks aof failure in not being a place where God’s holiness is sought, and even though his writings are sacred writ – there is that same point.  Where is the Holy Spirit in our churches?  Where is the evidence of repentance and reconciliation, of lives that are made whole in Christ, of a desire to see people freed from sin, and from its wicked accomplices of guilt and shame.  Holiness being a characteristic – not thatit is intentionally developed – but it is the normal by-product of people in awe of God, and overwhelmed by His love for them.

Can these churches live?  Yes Lord, you know.

I also wonder, if we see this in little churches, does it happen in big ones as well?  Can the church do so many things that it forgets its first ministry is to know Christ and Him crucified?  Can even mega churches be a valley of dried bones, or a valley of bones with flesh – but no Spirit?  For there, when the Spirit enters our lives, we find our hope – we find God’s mercy, we find His love. We find that call to holiness that we should never deny,, for it is a very gift of our Baptism.  You see Holiness isn’t about some goody two shoes, condescnding holier than thou attitude.  Holiness is about realizing that we’ve been called into God’s glory – that He will share our lives, even as we share in His.

It is a million times the feeling a father has, when he holds the baby that has been in his wife’s womb for 9 months.  For daily, daily, we encounter God’s presence, His glory, His mercy, His love in much the same way a mother shares life with her baby.while in the womb.  Yet – then. on the day He returns, face to face…

Yeah – these churches can live – for that is why God has put His name there – to bring life from nothing, to erase darkness with the light of His glory.

We find our lives.

So let us, as His children, as His people, cry “Lord have mercy!” and “Come Holy Spirit” and know 1) the call is the same, and 2) It is always answered, Fear not, I AM with you!”

And then watch – as the Spirit breathes life into these congregations, and they live!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3264-3266). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Welcome Holy Spirit?

Icon of the Pentecost

Icon of the Pentecost (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:
5  “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus, “that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6  A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. 7  Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. 8  The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8 (TEV) 

24  I will take you from every nation and country and bring you back to your own land. 25  I will sprinkle clean water on you and make you clean from all your idols and everything else that has defiled you. 26  I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. 27  I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow my laws and keep all the commands I have given you. Ezekiel 36:24-27 (TEV) 

“Get to know the Holy Spirit, the Great Unknown, the one who has to sanctify you. Don’t forget that you are a temple of God. The Paraclete is in the center of your soul: listen to him, and follow his inspirations with docility.” (1)

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the beginning of Pentecost.  The beginning of the church, it’s birth in water and Spirit, that simply confounded Nicodemus, that incredible pouring out of God that started then, and continues during every worship service, with every baptism, with every remembrance of the work of the Spirit.

While many churches pull out all the stops for Pentecost Sunday, do we realize that Pentecost isn’t a day.  It is not even a season of the church year, but the era in which we, and so many have gone before us in, and who knows how many will follow in, in our stumbling steps.  It is Pentecost that we are in, as we take every breath, as we struggle with every sin, as we pray in desperation those prayers our hearts wonder will be heard, and be responded to by God with action.

If we really contemplate this, do we welcome it, or do we shy from it.

CS Lewis once described Jesus, using the picture of Aslan the lion, and stated that Aslan isn’t a tame lion, that Jesus isn’t a tame God.  I think that is the nature of the Holy Spirit as well, the wind isn’t tamed, it can’t be.  He is in control, and if we have any sense, that should begin to scare us, for we know the Spirit’s goal, it’s mission – to cleanse us as Ezekiel prophesied and rid us of our sin-hardened hearts.

But do we want that, more than one day a year?  Are we willing to hear God, do we want to know His presence continually?  Are we willing to listen to His voice, to those He calls around us? Are we willing to let Him cleanse us?   Are we ready for that?  Are we ready for the Holy Spirit to ready our  Heart, our spirit, our mind, and our strength to be separated from all that would hold us back from walking with God?

Or would we rather look at theology, or politics, or morality, or anything other that what God will do in our lives?  Will we welcome His fire purifying us?  Will we welcome Him removing the dross from our lives?

A hard question…

May we be willing to trust in His mercy, even as He does it!

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 299-301). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Heavy Responsibility…for the church, for you..to love

Devotional/Discussion thought of the Day:

 8 If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deathsEzekiel 33:8 (NLT)

 You have a duty to reach those around you, to shake them out of their drowsiness, to open wide new horizons for their selfish, comfortable lives, to “complicate” their lives in a holy way, to make them forget about themselves and show understanding for the problems of others. If you do not, you are not a good brother to your brothers in the human race, who need that gaudium cum pace, that joy and that peace, which maybe they do not know or have forgotten. (1)

I dealt with verse 8 above in yesterday’s sermon, but almost as an aside.  There were other things to explore, as we looked at our nature to call God out, because we don’t think the way He works is… well.. fair.  That the Lord, in showing mercy to sinners, to being merciful to wicked people, isn’t “just” or “righteous”.  We explored what it means that God doesn’t rejoice when sinners die, when they “get what’s coming for them”, but rather, He rejoices when that prodigal, that lost sheep comes home.  Powerful stuff, and we desperately need to understand God’s heart, and even more, to see it duplicated in our own lives.

That is where verse 8 comes in, and the quote from Fr. Escriva, which talks of the same thing, with a clarification that helps us comprehend our “duty” and why we would bear the guilt of others who would die, because we didn’t share the life transforming message of God’s love with them.

We need to tell them – we have an obligation to, but an obligation that is not from blind obedience, it is the obligation that is implicit in our being called to love our neighbor.

Let me give a favorite example.  Let’s say outside you favorite restaurant sits a billionaire, and he is signing 1 million dollar checks, and giving them to anyone there.   You get yours, you go to your bank – it’s legit.  Do you just go home happy your have a million dollars?  Or do you call a person or twenty or one hundred?  Do you do so out of a law driven sense of “duty”, are you obliged to?  Or are you calling people as fast as you can, demanding that they drive over as fast as possible, so they too can be blessed, because you know them, because you have a relationship with them?  If you do not call someone, why would that be?  Is it because you don’t have a relationship with them?  Or that you are so ticked off – you decide they don’t need it?

Same thing applies here – because our salvation, our being delivered by the mercy of Jesus into the Father’s presence, is priceless – even compared to a million dollars.  (we probably need to realize, to really comprehend  that as well!)

And if you are a “good brother to your brothers and sisters in the human race”, you are compelled, because of your love for them, and because of the priceless gift that is theirs, to help them see it, to bring to them the gospel and therefore the Holy Spirit who will transform them, even as He grants them repentance.  it is duty because of your love for them. It is the breaking of your heart as you see someone who lives, hounded by guilt and shame, or enslaved and tormented by their desires, that drives you to share with them the very thing that steals their hearts from that which oppresses them.  That brings them into the presence of God, and causes them to know His joy and peace!  It is phrased so delicately in the quote from Fr. Escriva – that they may not know, or have forgotten.

Calling them to repentance, calling them to be abandoned to that which has broken them… yes…that is our mission – because we love them… and can’t abide their not knowing Who we know…

God help us to do His will… and celebrate the prodigals homecoming and healing… even as we celebrate God welcoming us home.

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3183-3187). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

God isn’t Fair! He isn’t doing what’s right

“The Lord isn’t Doing what is Right?”

Ezekiel 33:7-20

Jesus, Son and Savior

May we realize the joy that it brings God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ to see the grace, the mercy, and love they have for mankind received and cherished!

 

A change in journalism, reflecting our sin!

I have suspected it for a while, but I think this week pretty much proved it – the art of news reporting is gone.  We are a long way from the days when a news cast signed off with “and that’s the way it was”, or a reporter pleaded like a Joe Friday, “just the facts ma’am.”

Every news article I read this week seemed more like an opinion-editorial piece, with the writer’s speculation about how the latest financial disaster could be averted, or why the pope really resigned, or what they should do to replace him, to bring the Catholic Church into the twenty-first century.  Of course, some of the ideas for both are nations budget and the choice of the new pope were… hmmm…how is the best way I can describe this… creative?

As if every journalist, every reporter, every blogger was an expert on to balance a budget, or deal with disasters, or was an expert theologian.

 

Of course, the newsman simply are doing what they see us doing.  We try to prove that despite our disagreement with the way things have been done in the past, there has to be some hope for the future…

If only those in charge do it.. the way we know is right!

We love to do the backseat driving, the second guessing, to question those who actually have the responsibility and the pressure of making the decisions. Not that we are more intelligent, or have the information at hand, that they do.  It is almost a national past-time.  It doesn’t even matter if it’s “our guy” that we are questioning.

Sometimes… it doesn’t even matter if it’s God….

That’s what we see in today’s Old Testament lesson, as God says,

17 “Your people are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right,’ but it is they who are not doing what’s right. 18 For again I say, when righteous people turn away from their righteous behavior and turn to evil, they will die. 19 But if wicked people turn from their wickedness and do what is just and right, they will live.

 

Imagine that, telling God that He isn’t doing what is right…. Because He is willing to save the people that are considered wicked, and condemning those who consider themselves righteous…..

Where do people get the… nerve… to declare that God doesn’t know what He’s doing, or that He is doing wrong…in showing His mercy?

 

Why do we question the depth of God’s mercy

I don’t think that it is just the people of those days who make such judgments.  In the Luther movie, there is a scene where Luther has to minister to a family where the son has committed suicide.   He challenges the view that everyone who does such is inherently evil, or doesn’t believe in God. He buried the body of the young man in a graveyard, and assured the parents that one could be in heaven, who died oppressed by satan, or for a time doubted….He trusted in God’s mercy in those situations, but can we?

How many of us question whether this person’s claim, or that one’s, that they are believers?  How willing are we to declare that this person in history or that one is in hell?  Do we really believe that people are beyond the reach of God.  That it is not right if God lets someone like Pol Pot’s chief prison warden, or someone like Jeffrey Dahmer, could get into heaven. What about someone like Christopher Darner?  Surely not him?

What if we said that someone who everyone thought was good, would not go to heaven, because their faith wasn’t in Jesus, or because they didn’t abide in Christ?

Would we have the same attitude as those who went before us?  Would we ask, “Jesus – what were you thinking when you made Peter the leader of the Apostles

 

Were you doing what is right?  What is just Lord?    Because to be honest, I do not see it!

 

What I need to realize, is that I don’t have to… we aren’t God, we aren’t the judge.  We don’t need to question His actions, His mercy

We need to rejoice in it!

The reason why hearing this is good news

 

You see, though many of us might consider someone we know as a just or righteous, or maybe even as a holy people, that they are just a “good” person, there is no such thing out of Christ.  We struggle – and that word for wicked sounds horrible, but it just means those who are guilty, not just found guilty in a court somewhere – but who actually did that which was wrong.

Simply put, it’s not just the mass murderers, or those who did the unbelievable evil, but those that simply broke one of the ten ways in which God ordained for us to live.

When we hear Ezekiel’s words, when we begin to comprehend his warning, or when someone like Ezekiel reaches out to us, we still need to listen!  We don’t need to hide behind some façade of righteousness!
We don’t need to hide anymore, we can confess our sins grasping onto these words,

As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?


God isn’t out to “get” people that do wrong, that wander away on their own!  He wants to rescue them, and that is why He gave us His word, and why we treasure it!  It assures us of His desire to fix what we broken, to restore that which we’ve wrecked!  That is why the sinner, the “wicked” can have hope!

That is why Ezekiel promises that as verse 16 promises, “none of their past sins will be brought up again!”

Imagine that – none of our sins, ever brought up again!  They are gone!  So gone that the issue isn’t whether we were wicked or good, but whether we are walking in the presence of God, for there is life!

That’s why St Peter joyfully tells us that God is patient with us, He is willing to suffer for a long time, so that we have the opportunity to see our sins separated from us, to rejoice in knowing His love!  It is why Paul tells us it was for the joy set before Him that Jesus endured the suffering and shame of the crucifixion.
Jesus talks of this too, that the Father doesn’t take any pleasure in the death of the wicked – but instead phrases it this way,

7 In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
Luke 15:7 (NLT)
That is why we talk of celebrating the Eucharist, the Lord Supper.  It is why this is a feast at His table, the same kind of feast thrown for prodigal sons, and those dragged off the street to come to the wedding Feast of the King’s son in another parable.

 

God doesn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked, but in their return, in their being saved.

And while some may think that isn’t a good or right thing to do, this prodigal, formerly spiritually homeless one rejoices greatly.

That desire of God is so strong, that is why the watchmen – those God has placed to warn the sinner and welcome the repentant – are told the serious nature of their work.  It is not because God is mean – but because the message is so…. Important to know – that there is a way out.

And so God instructs us all,

I have appointed you to stand watch for the (my) people of Israel. So listen to what I say, then warn them for me. 8 When I tell wicked people they will die because of their sins, you must warn them to turn from their sinful ways. But if you refuse to warn them, you are responsible for their death. 9 If you do warn them, and they keep sinning, they will die because of their sins, and you will be innocent.

 

My instinct is to hear that as law – as a command – that if I don’t tell you – and you don’t tell those who aren’t here yet – then we are guilty again!  Another law at work?

No, again – the context means everything!  For it is the very cry of those feeling the weight of their sin, who realize that they cannot pay the price of their sin to whom God speaks!  He promises them that it is not their death that pleases Him, but their return, the transformation that we call repentance, the kind seen when behaviors change, and when reconciliation and redemption and walking with God is what we know… and therefore what we do.

When we dwell in peace… the peace of God that passes all understanding, as we are guarded in Christ Jesus!  AMEN?

Come Holy Spirit, that They May Live

“Come Holy Spirit, that They May Live”

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 

In Jesus Name

 

In these days, when we look around at our world, may our faith not be shaken, but instead may we heed God’s call to pray, and to ask the Holy Spirit to enter those who need to come to life in Christ!


The hand of the Lord has Brought us here..

Like the prophet Ezekiel, we have been brought to this place, by the hand of God.  We have come from three or four different continents, and having possibly a dozen languages between us.  Children and young adults, parents and grandparents and even a great grandparent or two…

God has brought us here to this valley, to the Los Angeles Basin, with a purpose not unlike Ezekiel’s vision that was shared a few minutes ago by Dr. Wang.
Indeed, the words of Ezekiel not only describe the time in which he lived, but describe our time as well.  They also describe a time in between, when Jesus was the son of Man who fulfilled the prophecy, who brought healing to the dead bones of those who struggled with God.. and whose Spirit was poured into them, that they would live.

What a tremendous vision!  What tremendous work God does!

What an incredible blessing it is, to be involved in such a vision, to be taken a hold of, and brought to a place where sin and death’s damage is so visible, and see God reverse it all!

That is why we have been gathered, to bring this hope to this place…

Do our hearts break, for what has left these bones so dry and brittle?

When my mom’s dad came to America from Italy, it was because this was the land of promise, looked at much as Israel looked forward to the promised land, and in the time of Ezekiel, looked forward to returning to it.  Generations have come here, expecting blessings and freedom and the chance for a life.  I believe strongly, that as revival sweeps our land, just as it has in the past, there is a chance those dreams of freedom will be restored, that the blessings of God can return to this or any other country, which for a moment has turned away from God.  The entire Old Testament bears witness to this truth, for again and again, this was what happened, and God fulfilled the promises – He would be faithful and patient…even when they were not.  Even when spiritually they were as dead as the bones in Ezekiel’s valley.

Spiritually, while there is still a remnant in America of those who trust in God, who turn to him, a great deal of our country is spiritually dead, as is this valley in which we live.  A great evidence in this can be seen on our recent LA County ballot, where measure B mandated how an immoral industry was to provide “protection” for those in the industry!  No longer are we as a nation, we as a people finding such industries immoral, but we are creating laws that would mandate that their immorality is “safe”?

It is hard to realize how far this country has fallen, how far, like Israel – whose name means “they who struggle with God” have gone astray, each doing what is right in their own eyes, with no thought to God’s ways, or the forgiveness He offers!

Such are the days when we should be crying Lord, Have Mercy!

And knowing that He will!

Time to Prophesy over these bones! Time to see them Heal!

 

The Son of Man was told to prophesy over the valley, to speak to it words of life, the words of hope that tell of the Spirit’s washing of renewal and regeneration as Paul tells Titus in our second reading.

That happens as the Gospel was lived out in the life of Jesus, as He came and healed the lame, the broken hearted, as He brought healing to those physically deaf and blind, and spiritually deaf and blind. As the gospel is poured out in the life of Christ, as the prophesy’s found in Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and even Leviticus and Numbers are lived out in the life of Christ – the damage of sin is reversed, the bodies devastated and devoured by the sin of this world, and our own individual sin is reversed!

As we are united with Christ, as the Holy Spirit regenerated us, that healing, that restoration occurred in our lives….

As we proclaim God’s love, shown in Christ to this valley of bones, we will witness what occurred in the vision, what happened in the lives of every person called and claimed by Christ – we will watch the miracle of people being born again, born of water and Spirit!

For God’s word, the words we speak forth to those lost in darkness, are never uttered in vain…


Prophesy once more.. for the Spirit will bring them to life!

In our reading from Titus, there are two stages mentioned – regeneration – building up that which was ravaged by sin, and renewal – the restoration of life.  They are not two processes, but one – as God justifies us by erasing the damage of sin, and sanctifies us – making us holy, setting us apart to His purpose.

IN the same manner, as part of the same prophecy, the son of Man in Ezekiel is directed to complete the prophesy, to called the Spirit to breathe life into these bodies, that they may live! 
In Christ – this is one seamless promise – the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 as they are called to be cleansed in Baptism – a natural act as the cross and the empty tomb result in the Spirit falling on the people and breathing life into lives crushed by their own sin.  In Ezekiel – verse 5, that is the first thing promised – the Spirit being breathed into them – and the restoration of their bodies!  It is one movement, one act of God, one look at His work of Art, as He revives and renews His people!

Even so, as we look upon those who God speaks through us to- whether the pastors in gatherings like this, or the Bible Study leaders, or as you are talking to someone sitting at the next table at lunch, that is what is occurring – a change that will bring them to life, free them from sin, and pour out blessings that could never be seen, living under the rule of any man, of any system… but is seen as the norm for those who live in Christ, united to our Lord and Savor, cleansed by the power of God

Time to celebrate – as we live with Him, for we know He is our Holy Lord

My brothers and sisters – this is why we are gathered here.  This is vision of the work of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in our midst – in our valley of dry bones, in this place where dreams need to be fulfilled- even as they need to be clarified.

Our graves have been opened, the Spirit has poured into our lives, we have been raised from the dead, for we were crucified with Christ that we may live with Him forever!

For that is our homeland, whether our biological family is originally from Taiwan, or China, or the Phillipines, or German, or Italy, or Ireland….

Our homeland is where we live with God… no matter the geography..

For We know He is the Lord, we have heard Him speak the words of life…we have received His Spirit in our lives, and we know we are His people, called to speak to the Spirit to ask it to come into the dry bones of this valley, that they may live as well.

May, even as the Lord speaks through us, may we know the peace that comes from the Spirit of God, dwelling within us, the peace that we are kept in, our hearts and minds secured in, guarded by Christ Jesus.

AMEN?

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