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I AM here! A sermon on Matthew 14


church at communion 2I AM here!
Matthew 14: 22-33

As you hear and think about the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you realize as well, that is only possible because He is here, with you!

 An Interrupted Prayer time?

As I study a passage of scripture to preach on it, I look at other passages that are similar. With the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this is pretty easy, as they cover more than 2/3rds of the same stories.

In this case, Mark’s gospel adds one interesting note, that Jesus’s prayer time, his time talking with God the Father was interrupted.  Mark’s gospel adds this little note in

47  Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. 48  He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them,
Mark 6:47-48 (NLT)

While Mark doesn’t mention Jesus praying, it does mention that HE SAW THEM!

So Jesus heads out – checks on them as He is passing, and that is when something interesting happens.

No, not their freaking out, as they’ve been struggling for 9 plus hours to row and sail a boat against contrary seas.  That isn’t interesting, it is tragic.  They are tired, and to see someone walking across the sea, in the midst of a horrible eastern Mediterranean storm… well – it’s got to be supernatural, a phantasmic (not fantastic) experience in Greek.

What is interesting is Jesus response to their cries of fear.  I AM here.

Sounds like what I keep telling you, you know, “the Lord is with you!”!!!

The Struggles are Real

We need to know that, and some weeks, and some Saturdays, we need to know it even more.

Sometimes we are like the disciples, tired from fighting contrary winds, feeling like the world is going to overwhelm and drown us.  Sometimes the other guys in the boat aren’t much of a help, or at least we don’t thing they are.  And the wind – there is nothing we can do…

A few years ago, when Kay came back from a mission trip to Siberia, they had a team reunion near a reservoir in San Diego.  The reservoir had little sailboats, brand new, in fact the one she and I got in had never been used!

We found that out as we get maybe 100 feet away from the dock, and the rudder, not fully screwed in , because it decides to float away!  Then I notice they didn’t insert the centerboard, so there is nothing to keep the boat stable,, and then of course, the wind picks up.
We got blown across the reservoir, where a park ranger met us.  She then told kay to get out of the front of the boat, and I learned they didn’t insert the ballast either, and the boat flips over with only my weight on board!   Funny it was.. but more than a bit frustrating!

And we didn’t even get to see Jesus walking on the water, and when I got out – I didn’t walk on it!  But life sometimes feels like it was that day, failing miserably, helpless, unable to go where I should, and ending up soaking wet!

But Jesus still sees us struggling, even when we aren’t aware of His presence, or His care for us.  We don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t freak out, or scream like the disciples did, in fear of their lives.

We often talk about sin as this action, or that action.  This evil thought, or those words that hurt that we say.  But sin is also when we ignore God, when we try and play God, or choose things our way.

Please hear me, I am not saying the struggle is sin, absolutely not!  By no means! But during the struggle, have we forgotten Jesus?  Do we remember He cares?  If not sin, or often the effect of sin in our lives is evident, for we’ve lost sight of our Lord, our Deliver.

I am here, compared to I AM HERE

Which is why we need to hear his voice, we need to be reminded of His presence. We need to realize it,, we need to let Him calm our fears, put to rest our anxieties, heal our souls and bring peace to our hearts.

By the way, there is a spelling error on the Bulletin, and I may have set this one up when I told Cris the sermon title.

It isn’t I Am Here…. It is I AM here.

That doesn’t seem like much does it?  It would be to Peter and Andrew, James, Hahn, Mathew and the rest. You see, in both Greek and Hebrew, Jesus didn’t just reveal that he was walking by.
He revealed he was God, and that He was involved in their life.  You see, that I AM is the I AM Moses heard at the burning bush, it is the name of God that is translated as LORD throughout scripture, the name God gave us to call out to him.  Yahweh, Ego Eimi, the I AM THAT IAM .  The name that was put on the temple for people to know who to pray to, and of course, the name we aren’t to take in vain, but use to pray and to praise God.

During the storm, and at the cross, God is there for you.  In the trauma of everyday life, He answers us, and to finally get to that other guy on the water, He says to us as He did to Peter.

Don’t be afraid, I am here – come on – walk with me!

And so we shall, trusting in the Lord who is with you!  AMEN!

The Five Words You Need to Hear, that You Must Hear at Church!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA devotional thought for your day:
20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 (NLT)

23  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

659         If you had presence of God you would remedy many things that have apparently “no remedy”.

You need to hear these words.

They are critical for you to hear, not just with your ears, but with your heart, your mind, and into the depth of your soul.  They make the difference in your life….

“The Lord is with You”

If you’ve ever attended a Lutheran liturgical serve, or a Catholic Mass, or even some Anglican or Orthodox services you will hear these words repeated several times throughout the service.

Do you ever wonder why?  Are we just saying this as a form of greeting, or in order to mark a transition in the service?

Or is this what church is supposed to be doing, helping you realize you dwell completely in the presence of God!  That the Holy Spirit has brought you to that place, in that moment to realize you aren’t alone,  That God wants you there, and will do anything to make it possible for you to be there in His presence.

It might be that it is a time to be still and know God is your God.Maybe it is time to celebrate the freedom of Jubilee, when God erases every debt you incurred by your sin and unrighteousness, maybe it is time to offer a cup of water to someone who is physically or spiritually thirsty and dehydrated.  Maybe it is to receive that cup of water.

As St Josemaria notes, it is this presence of God that remedies that without remedy, that heals relationships to shattered to be healed.  It is the fulfillment of the greatest of prophecies, the very name attached to Jesus, Immanuel – God with us.  It is the promise of the last words He tells the apostles as he ascends to heaven.

It makes the difference in our lives, and incomparable difference, for the peace that comes realizing and depending upon it is beyond anything we can express.

A peace that is there and starts to impact you, as you realize their truth.

The Lord is with You!

(and yes  – and also with m)

Lord, have mercy upon us, reveal to us the presence of your Spirit, cleanse us of sin, and help us dwell in your peace! AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2767-2768). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who Is Really Your King? A Tough Question for the Church.


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

14 ,,,Pilate said to the crowd, “Here is your king!”
15 They shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to crucify your king?”
The leading priests answered, “The only king we have is Caesar.”
16 So Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.  John 19:14-16

508         The Lord has the right to be glorified by us “at every moment”—it is an obligation for each one of us. So if we waste time we are robbing God of his glory.

One of my greatest temptations is to respond to my friends on the left and the right political spectrums who say (and post and tweet) news that seems to replace God with Donald, or bash him and say if only we had Hilary, if only we had Bernie. if only “they” would get their act together and think about us.

Some even talk as if the end of the world is imminent, because of the “others” being so stupid, so ignorant. As if the eschatology of the universe was completely dependent on American politics.

It is as if we are back on Pilate’s porch, willingly casting aside Jesus, as we pin our hopes to a god that is foreign to us.  It doesn’t matter whether it is Trump or it is the idea of someone else needing to sit in that seat – both sides find their only hope in either Trump or getting rid of him.  As if that we do away with all that is evil, all that is negative, all that is broken in our lives.

But kings and presidents, governors and judges cannot save us from ourselves, from the evil within that demands to be fed, demands to be taken care of, that demands to have our desires met and fulfilled.

Not only is that not the job description of any government official, often it is contrary to their work, especially the work God gives them as is described in places like Romans 13.

Yet we still lay aside Jesus, we still forget about God, we still shatter the commandment to not beat false witness, all in hopes.

It is time to stop, time to repent.  We know that Christ died on the cross to redeem us, to save us, to bring us into the kingdom of heaven. He is our God, He is our King, Jesus is the one who presides over us.  He is the one who gives us hope, who sustains us in times of trouble, and who defends us, promising nothing can separate us from his love.  And may God be glorified in everything we say and post and tweet.

May we trust in and depend on Him more than we trust or distruct in those who lead us.  Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2214-2216). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8


church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….

 

Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne

AMEN!

Civil Rights and/or Following Jesus…


clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought of the Day:
29  Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30  For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.” Matthew 11:29-30 (TEV)

7  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. 8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross. Philippians 2:7-8 (TEV)

413         Aspire to have no more than one right: that of fulfilling your duty.

I often hear fellow believers and even those who are ministers of the gospel talking about our civil rights being infringed upon, and even warning us that they are being taken away.   Our freedom of speech, our freedom to assemble, our freedom of religion, our freedom to own guns.

They are being stripped away we are warned, we have to rise up and defend these rights.
I have to wonder what would happen if the church instead rose up to love, to serve, to sacrifice for others, to follow the path that Jesus walked, living life as a servant.  A servant who has no rights, whose focus is on pleasing His master, fully assured that His master will care for him.

Ask yourself this morning, which are you more attached to, your civil rights, or the yoke of Jesus?  Which are you more likely to fight for, your ability to have free speech or the eternal life of the one who would hinder your free speech?   Which will matter at the end of the day, having your voice heard in Washington D.C., or having your voice heard as His by those crying in grief, or those struggling with sin?

It’s a hard question, and like me, you are probably lining up a list of “buts”.  Thoughts like, “if we don’t defend our freedom of speech and freedom of religion then we won’t be able to share Christ’s love…”  Here’s the harder question, with all these rights, and with our focus on them, are we sharing His love, is our money and time going to that, or to fighting for the rights, funding and working for those we think will defend them?

A hard question indeed.

Will we ask it?

Will we take up the right we have as Jesus’s co-workers in the ministry of reconciliation? Will we see the wonder of shattered relationships healed,  of the guilt and shame being washed away?  Will we see our burdens lifted, our anxieties fade away as we see the glory of Christ revealed?  These are the things Jesus fought for, our access to the Father, our knowing His love and mercy, our being transformed into His likeness as the power of the Holy Spirit is at work.

Will we trust in God, depend on Him, walk with Him,

The Lord is with you!  May He be revealed in your life, and may His glory and love bring you joy, as it shatters the darkness!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1856-1857). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

I love it when a plan comes together! (a plan… not mine)


Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

O LORD, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever. 2 I know that your love will last for all time, that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky.  Psalm 89:1-2  GNT

 

345         What a great discovery! Something you barely half-understood turned out to be very clear when you had to explain it to others. You had to speak very gently with someone, who was disheartened because he felt useless and did not want to be a burden to anyone… You understood then, better than ever, why I always talk to you about being little donkeys turning the water-wheel: carrying on faithfully, with large blinkers which prevent us personally seeing or tasting the results—the flowers, the fruit, the freshness of the garden—confident about the effectiveness of our fidelity.

The contemplation of God, of his person, creation, incarnation, and re-creation of the world, is a different kind of knowledge. It is a contemplation on the mysteries, namely, the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim his lordship over creation. The contemplation of these mysteries moves us to live into these mysteries, participating in God’s life for the world.

This week has not gone as I planned, I had a number of things to accomplish to get ready for vacation, also plans to celebrate my 28th anniversary tomorrow.

Let’s just say those things I planned to get done were often interrupted, as hours were spent in crisis moments, and in a meeting, a very necessary meeting, that took out most of a day.  And then, of course, the implementation of a new phone system.  Yeah, my plan?  Long days and nights, and some of the things are off the checklist… but I am leaving for “home” in a little more than 48 hours…

Yet with the esteemed Colonel on the old A-team, I can look back and say, somehow, “I love it when a plan comes together!”  Even if I haven’t seen it come to its fulfillment.

More and more I realize that Escriva’s idea that those who serve as the church are like blinded donkeys, walking around, supplying the work that God uses to bless others is true.  We love it when a plan comes together, but we are equally sure that it cannot be our plan. At least if we want it to come together!  There must be a greater planner who is able to not just plan well, but execute and carry us to where the plan “comes together”

One in whom we can trust, one who we can depend on, not just for the plan, but for the result. And then we can go back to our trodding through life, content to let the Spirit lead, flexible enough to simply follow that Spirit when the need occurs, even when we think we are a round peg being placed into a square hole.

That is where Webber’s words this morning make so much sense to me.  That as we contemplate the very mysteries of God, as we try, not to understand as much as observe in awe, and accept we cannot have all the answers, but we can have Him, the need for all the answers, the need to see all of our agendas come to pass fades.  Simply put, knowing Him, living in His glorious peace is….. more than sufficient.

We learn to sing with the psalmist about God’s love, about His faithfulness.  Which feeds on itself.  For the more aware of this, the more we explore the breadth, width, depth, and height of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ, revealed at the cross, and at the table, the more we desire to simply know that….

And we are assured of the living water that our lives help distribute to fields will see them ready to harvest, as the world comes to know the love of Jesus.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1604-1609). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

Doubting? Go…. A Trinity Sunday Sermon on Matthew 28:16-20


church at communion 2Doubting?  Go Ahead!

Matthew 28:16-20

 I.H.S.†

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that any thoughts of doubt and hesitation is simply set aside, as Your Lord says, “Go in My Name”  AMEN!

A Measure of Doubt/Hesitation

At first, I don’t think we understand it. It doesn’t make sense.

Here the apostles are, standing there in the presence of Jesus, the one who died in front of their eyes, and who was raised from the dead.  They had seen him walking, eating, teaching, with the holes in his hands, and they have seen the gaping wound left by the spear.

And as he stood in front of them, some doubted.  They wavered, they hesitated. They doubted.

It doesn’t really make all that much sense to us at first.  How could they doubt, they were in the presence of God!  They were overwhelmed, and couldn’t answer the question, “What does this mean?” because they could quite process the resurrection itself.

Jesus reaction is interesting.  He doesn’t confront them as sinners, and He doesn’t comfort them in the place they are.

He simply tells them, Go back to what is their “normal life” and while you are living, make disciples of everyone and anyone.

For men who were doubting, men who were hesitating, it is an interesting directive.  One that we need to hear today as well.

Unbelief or Doubt?

As we look at this, I think we need to be clear about what these disciples, these followers of Jesus were experiencing.

It wasn’t unbelief or disbelief.  It was doubt, it was a word that means to hesitate in commitment or action, it was to waiver, or be paralyzed in the moment because you don’t know how to act.

To think of it in a positive way, it’s like that moment when you are told you are one, husband and wife, and the pastor gently prods you to kiss your wife for the first time.

“My wife?”   Uhm – who is that… I mean – I am really married now?  Ahh – there she is! And everyone laughs as the kiss is much too quick, or far too long!

Or it’s like that moment when you receive news that your life is changing… and you don’t even know how to begin processing it, yet you must act.  You might even be ready to go through the motions, but what are you doing?

He is risen!  He is risen indeed… and that means we have risen indeed.

So what?  What happens next?  What am I to do with this?

How does the resurrection of Jesus, and His ascension, change my life 2000 years after the fact?

The Answer?  Go!

Jesus answers that question, “All authority in heaven and on earth is mine.  Therefore, it is time to go…

Go and disciples of people from every walk of life, from every culture, from every demographic statistic there is, that can be used to divide people.  Disciple, not just making converts, but a continuing process of revealing to people the promises of God that will be and are given in their baptism, and continuing to reveal to them not just the God’s laws which are commanded, but the blessings that are promised in commands as well.

Go and do this, and here is where we see the Trinity’s authority given to us, just as it was given to Jesus by the Father.

Next month, I get to act on President Stoterau’s behalf, installing the Rev. Mark Jennings as the pastor of Peace, Pico Rivera.  My responsibility, my authority, is very limited, yet I will be acting on our District President’s behalf.  When God says disciple them, baptize them, teach them to keep my covenant, we have all the authority found in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit to do so.

Which is amazing, if you think of it!  God has transformed us to the extent that He entrusts us, just as He did the eleven disciples!  Disciple people, walk with them as Jesus did with the eleven disciples, as much as the eleven disciples did with people like Stephen and Barnabas, Priscilla and Aquilla, Phoebe and Mark.

How does that affect our doubt, our hesitation, to know that we are backed by God on this ministry of reconciliation we have been given?

This incredible, glorious, majestic, merciful, loving Triune God has called us, and is transforming us, and sends us out to minister to believers and unbelievers alike!  Revealing to them the work of God, done in their baptism, and the relationship God defines in the New Covenant, the same relationship that He promised in the Old.!

And as we make the sign of the cross, as we remember our baptisms, we remember how His plan and work, from before the foundation of the world, to the cross and to Pentecost has been to disciple us.

The Promise… I am! With you

If you are still doubting, if you are still hesitant, if you think you don’t have what it takes to disciple another person, to point them to the promises of baptism, to share and remind them of God’s gift of life, and the blessings of living in relationship with Him, hear these last words,

And be sure of this, I AM with YOU Always, even to the end of the age.

God in three persons, blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit!  They have kept their promise and come and made a home with you.

You aren’t alone, you aren’t powerless, God, who gives you His name, is with you.  When you are hesitant, even doubting, know that when God says “go”, He is also saying, “I am with you!”.

He loves you too much to stay away.

Amen!
So let’s go… and disciple each other and our world.  AMEN!

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


20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:

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

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

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

Most fail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Can I ask, “So What?” now? (the purpose of Easter and Theology)


photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own  glory and goodness. 4In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature.   2 Peter 1:3-4 TEV

At first we do not know him, but the voice of the Church tells us: it is he. It is up to us, then, to set out in haste to seek him, to come closer to him. We meet him by listening to the words of Holy Scripture, by sharing his life through the sacraments, by our encounter with him in our personal prayers, by our encounter with those whose lives are filled with Jesus, in the various occupations of daily life, and in innumerable other ways. He seeks us wherever we are, and thus we learn to know him. To come closer to him in a variety of ways, to learn to see him—that is the primary purpose of the study of theology. For this study has basically nothing to teach us if the knowledge it imparts does not refer to the reality of our life.  (1)

All day yesterday I saw people putting “He is risen! Alleluia!” on their FB posts, on Tweets, on Memes.  And most of the time, I was able to resist the temptation of asking “So what?”

I wanted to avoid the temptation because I knew the responses would miss the reason why I asked. You see, I’ve asked people before, and they look at me, stunned, as if trying to figure out if I was insane, or an atheist, or …

But it is a question we need to ask!

So what He is risen?  SO what the cross didn’t defeat him?  So what difference does this event make in your life today?

If you don’t know, then tomorrow or maybe by Thursday that post on Sunday will be forgotten, the response said on Sunday with such enthusiasm will be put in the closet until next year, when it will be dusted off again.

Does the resurrection have enough personal value to you that you will post He is risen in October or January?  Will you praise God that Christ is risen the midst of 100-degree temps in August when your A/C is broken, or when your family is in the midst of Trauma?  What about when everything is going well, and you begin to relax and enjoy your life?

Answering “so what” now will help you know the answer when all around you everything is perfect, or everything sucks.

Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI gets this.  He is one of the most brilliant theologians in the last 150 years.  Yet for him, it boils down encountering Jesus, not just alone, but in the midst of the church, in the midst of others who are the children of God.  In our prayer life, in our time reading scripture and sharing in the sacrament, but also in our work.  St Peter talks about it (as does St. Paul) using the thought that we actually share in His glory, we are welcomed into, and that is the place we belong.

This is what it is about, this walking with God, this knowing Him whom we trust and depend upon, this being humble enough to be spiritual children, rushing into the arms of our heavenly Father.

This is what it means that He is risen.  It means we are as well.  It means the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  It means we are the people of God, the ones He died and rose to share His life, His glory, His peace with, and whom He loves!

AMEN!

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.

 

Do We Choose our Crusades/Battles Wisely?


20170124_1037031  When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2  For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (NLT)

14  As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.
Galatians 6:14 (NLT)

One word should suffice, that is, the cross itself. The cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the cross of Christ: a word that is love, mercy, and forgiveness. It also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us.

A thousand years ago, there were crusades. Men fought for land, urged on by those who would use religion as the promise of reward.

Now we have crusades to correct what we think are injustices.  And like those who fought a thousand years ago, we often do so without completely understanding what we are getting into, without having the whole picture, without understanding the cost to those we crusade against, or to ourselves.

I’ve been there, getting all excited, getting all ready to do battle, working strategically on the arguments and planning the step by step approach to annihilate the opponent.  The energy that ramps up is amazing, as our hearts feed on the competition which can quickly turn to hatred.

And then, whther victorious or shot down in defeat, we realize the emptiness, the quickly fading glory, as we see the cost in the bodies and relationships that are broken.  Including our own.

I would suggest that in the quotes from the apostle Paul above (in red) is a great guideline to help us choose wisely what we invest our heart and soul in, a way to measure whether a crusade is good, moral, beneficial. Simply put, does it lead to the cross of Christ?

There we find the answer, God’s answer, to injustice.  There we find an answer to the brokenness of the world which we experience.  There we find the hope that sustains us, and the glory of God which brings us peace.  For He was broken so that we didn’t have to remain broken.  He died, so we could live.

Does what we do help people know about Jesus, does what we speak, tweet, post, do these things show His love?

People need an answer, we have one that will bring peace.

There is a crusade worth involving ourselves in… one that will cause our own peace to grow.. and will never leave us empty.

 

 
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.

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