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The Transformation of Easter: Pt VII A Relationship of Unity

The Transformations of Easter

The Change of our Relationship with Each Other

John 17:11b-19

IHS

 May the grace of God so flood your soul with mercy and peace, that you easily realize how many others dwell with you in Christ!

My Struggle with Cynicism

I’ve got a confession to make.

Some of you, for example, Chris and Tom, know that I am somewhat of a cynic.

I wasn’t always, you can ask Kay, but as I’ve ministered in the church, I’ve become more cynical over the years.

Once upon a time I would look at a passage like today’s gospel with great expectation, great hope, great enthusiasm for the day where I would see this unity happen.  Where simply because we preach Christ crucified, unity happens, and the Church throughout the world drops all of the squabbles, all of the politics, all of the guilt and resentment, all of the pride that announces we are right, and they are wrong, and we would gather around the altar and share in the biggest communion service ever seen.

Now I am somewhat of a cynic, because there are days I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, or if it does, it is because we have buried important parts of doctrine.  Things like the death and resurrection of Jesus, or the presence of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promises of Jesus, promises made to us in our baptism.

Part of the cynicism comes from being a history geek.  I know the times that unity was a driving force in the church, like in the 2nd great Awakening, or in the time of Gregory VII and even St. Francis of Assissi, and the results always seemed to be more division, or peace through the use of force. I see the other times, when hanging on to the correct teaching of the faith resulted in division, and death.  Even now, I see political games being played in denominations and churches.  I can see a lack of unity, and indeed, a desire for division.

So my cynical side says that such unity, throughout the church isn’t as possible.  Which leads me to the question.  If it is impossible, why did Jesus pray for it, and why didn’t God answer Jesus prayer?

The Standard of Unity

The idea of unity here in John’s gospel, in this incredible prayer, is a high level of unity.  Hear again verse 11:

Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Unity in the church, among the people of God is described as being united, just as the Father and Jesus are united.  That’s pretty close, so close that we can’t understand it.  For God is three persons, yet completely One.

That is pretty united.  Paul describes the unity of the church this way

10  Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit. 11  Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning, as we do our work for God. 12  Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come endure them patiently, steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. 13  Give freely to fellow-Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them. 14  … as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless. 15  Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16  Live in harmony with each other…. Romans 12:10-16 (Phillips NT)

So I hear these words, and I hear Jesus prayer for unity, and I feel like the police officer in Les Mis, hopeless in view of the injustice, the division, and the fighting that goes on in Christ’s church, throughout the world.

Were we ready for the Ascension?  Did the Father answer the prayer

On my more cynical days, I wonder if either the Father didn’t hear Jesus prayer, or whether the church isn’t the church.

On my less cynical days, I wonder if the Ascension was a bit premature, that Jesus should have waited 2 or 3 thousand years before returning to the Father.  I mean, if He was here…. We wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?

I mean – we are just God’s kids, and you know what would happen if you leave your kids home alone for a few days…

Because even church leaders can act like a bunch of spoiled kids at times.

Jesus gave Himself… The Memorial Acclimation’s promise

So where is the hope that confronts our sin of disunity, our pride, our inability to love each other?

Go back to Jesus prayer,

Holy Father, you have given me your name;* now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

We find our unity as a result of God protecting us, giving us sanctuary. As He gives us His peace, as He assures us of His presence, of the Holy Spirit’s comfort. We find ourselves relaxing, restful, and trusting Him to maintain it.  For as we know we are safe, we drop our defenses, we forget to be anxious about people betraying or sinning against us, and we reach our in the love of Christ to them.

The is why later He prayers,

17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

We’ve talked about holiness before.  Rather than being perfect or pure, the idea is to be set apart to something.  Jesus asks the Father to make us holy, even as He is holy.  Remember Jesus addressed God as Holy Father?

Here is the truth, God sets himself apart for a relationship. A relationship with us, and Christ makes that relationship possible, by setting Himself aside a sacrifice. His sacrifice on the cross which opens the door for the Father sanctifying us, by giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to abide with us.

And unity is the result of this holiness.  For as we enter into a relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find that we are together in that relationship.

I said before I can be cynical, I neglected to say that in one of those cynical moods, I find hope.  For I realize that what it takes to overcome my cycnicism is the same thing it takes to create unity.  The miracle of the blood of Christ, sacrificed for us, to create the relationship, a relationship described in this new covenant. We can’t find the unity and the peace we need around a negotiation table, or in the vote of a congregation, or a synod.

It has to originate from the baptismal font, where Christ claims us as His own, and from the altar, the feast where we realize the depth of His love for us. That is what has made the difference here in our congregation.  It is what can make the difference in the church at large.

And as I see that unity come to fruition here, I know it can envelop others.  That is why we are sent by Jesus, even as the Father sent Jesus to be our sacrifice. To reach out to them, to invite them into our sanctuary, into our fortress, into the place where God protects us.  Not this building, but this relationship, God and His people, together.

To share that peace which goes beyond all comprehension, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

The Transformations of Easter, God changes our Demographics

Featured imageThe Transformations of Easter

The Change to Our Demographics

Acts 10:34-36

IHS

 May the mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so heal and transform our lives that we continually hear His desire that all come to the same healing and transformation.  And may we dedicate our lives to this very work!


Whose conversion would leave you “out of your mind”?

Have you ever been so confused that you felt out of place?  That life all of a sudden was so jumbled that you wondered if you were out of your mind?  That life didn’t make all that much sense, that your world seemed to be turning upside-down, inside-out and backward,

You aren’t alone. I’ve had those days myself. Matter of fact, I’ve had more than my share of them!

So did the apostles. Imagine how you would feel if at the next combined service – with two hundred people to feed, we only had 5 filet-o-fishes from McDonald’s, and Jesus said, “No problem, let me pray and then hand out what you’ve got?”

Or the time Jesus was asleep in the middle of the storm, wakes up and tells the sea to be still.   That one left them more afraid of Jesus than the storm.

Think about how things changed that night when Jesus, who they witnessed dying on the cross, just walked into the room and told them to stop being afraid, to stop being anxious. That confused them a bit, don’t you think?

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus transforms everything in our lives, and sometime, okay, most of the time, we aren’t even ready for it.

Like in the story from Acts today, when the Roman soldier and his family, the enemies of Israel are saved.  The word for amazed in our translation is the word existemi – to be displaced, or more bluntly, to be out of your mind.

That’s what happens when God transforms your enemies into your brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Yeah, your enemies.  God wants to transform them and welcome them to our family.

Whether that is the ISIS leader, some politician you don’t like, your neighbors whose dog keep you up last night, there is someone whose salvation might confuse you a bit.

You see one of the transformations of Easter is God changing the demographics of His people, to include people of every group on earth.

Including you.

the Challenge of Grace

As we walk through life, we are going to encounter those people who are described with words like enemies, adversaries.  They may seriously threaten us, or they may simply irritate us.

For the most part, the Romans were counted among the former group in Peter’s day.  And the animosity and fear were mutual.  Jews were taught that non-Jews were not people because they weren’t allowed to be people of God.  That isn’t what the Bible taught, but it was so often heard in synagogues that it became part of the religion.

This resulted in a culture of fear, and the oppressive Roman government didn’t help much, nor did the extremists like the zealots, who made every issue a critical one.  Jewish men weren’t supposed to go into the homes of Gentiles, whether, Greek or Roman.

We may not feel this way about a nationality or race of people today, but most of us do have people we find hard to love or accept.  Maybe it is because they are of a different economic class, or because they belong to a different political party. Maybe they are family, these people who you would struggle with, And maybe your own reaction to them causes you to grieve, to be filled with anxiety, to even give up hope for reconciliation and healing.

Maybe we have even been dealing with the brokenness of a relationship so long, we believe it beyond God’s ability to heal?

For the Jewish people, these relationships with Greeks and Romans, even with their Samaritan neighbors, had long since been shattered.  Even though, God had promised Abraham that his descendant would bless all nations, even though David and Isaiah wrote about it, even though Solomon dedicated the Temple to both Jewish and non-Jewish people praying to God there….

The relationships were shattered; there was nothing there but animosity, fear, resentment, division and hatred.  Simply put, they were shattered by sin.

As have our relationships…indeed all relationships… until the hope of Easter transformed our relationships.

Among the things we can “take away” from this passage, it is the hope that realizing how “out of their minds” the Jewish believers were, when they witnessed their natural enemies and adversaries being touched by the Holy Spirit.  When the Holy Spirit who they counted on, who they were comforted by, who transformed their world, in a moment healed the broken relationship Cornelius’s family had with God, and therefore healed all the brokenness between them.

It is as radical as if we got a call from the leaders of Isis, to come share God’s love with them, and we ended up baptizing them and their families.

It is as radical as the guy who killed and captured pastors, coming to know Christ’s love, and becoming an incredible missionary,

It is as radical as God saving you, or I.

Making us the body of Christ, the people of God, the friends of Jesus.

As it happens, as God transforms this Roman military commander, and his family and household, there is confusion and joy and a myriad of emotions as they realized that God doesn’t have a list of types of people that are welcome before His throne.

There are people of every nation, every culture, every language, every economic class.  People who grew up worshipping idols, people that grew up knowing of God, but needing to know Him.  All types, all kinds, all ages,….

And those who, when God begins working in them, cause us to pause, to wonder, and then to be beside ourselves with joy!

That is why we don’t lose hope for those we struggle with; that is why we try to live at peace with them, care for them, love them.  That is our hope for dealing with them and seeing reconciliation happen.

Because it can, and it has….

Because of a cross, a burial and a resurrection of Jesus Christ the son of God.

Yes, because of that we can all know the peace of God, which passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

AMEN!

A Simple List To Revitalize Church Services: (just 2 things!)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Featured image

37  Right at the crest, where Mount Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd of disciples burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed: 38  Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places!39  Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!” 40  But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.” Luke 19:37-40 (MSG) 

For ceremonies are needed to this end alone that the unlearned be taught[what they need to know of Christ. (1)

With zeal and patience, pastors of souls must promote the liturgical instruction of the faithful, and also their active participation in the liturgy both internally and externally, taking into account their age and condition, their way of life, and standard of religious culture. By so doing, pastors will be fulfilling one of the chief duties of a faithful dispenser of the mysteries of God; and in this matter they must lead their flock not only in word but also by example. (2)

Yesterday I was sent links to a number of articles about worship.  They were from every aspect of Christian faith, and from different views, even within my own small corner of Christianity, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.

It was funny because each article had a “to do” list, that if you followed these things, your church’s service would be right, and people would benefit, and be blessed.  It was funny because the advice in the articles were often in complete disagreement!!

Dust off that organ!  Ditch that old organ!

Get people to used to the patterns and use of hymnals!  Get them out of rote use of hymnals!

Of course, they both stipulated the need for trained excellent musicians, that would leave the people in awe – whether organists or praise bands, even as they lamented the fact that people would listen to the musicians of the other style, and not sing!

I am not a expert in worship, I don’t have a PhD, or pastor some church of 2000.  I do teach lay ministers, guys and ladies who help their pastors by serving, and I am about to teach a class on worship.  It is the 7th or 9th time I’ve taught it.  In it I do rely on experts, like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop William Willimon of the United Methodist Church, Dr. Robert Webber, and of course the Lutheran Confession – especially the article quoted above from the Augsburg Confession.  I also learn a lot from my minister of worship arts, Dr. Chris….. and this is what I have learned… and taught, based on experience.

If I boil it down, there are only two things that are needed to revitalize worship services,

Give them something to sing about.
Our job is to preach Christ, their hope of glory, to give a reason for why in the midst of this broken world, e have hope.  To reveal to them the height and depth, the breadth and width of God’s love for them – which is so clearly revealed in Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and in their being untied to all of that, and given the gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
The presence of God’s Spirit which brings comfort, peace, mercy, assures us of God’s love and promises…

Give them that to sing about…..as they said at Vatican II – dispense the mysteries of God!  (and teach them what you are giving them! Vatican II and the Augsburg Confession both agree on that)

Let them sing
I have heard a million reasons why people don’t sing in church, why men won’t, why young people won’t, that older people won’t sing new songs.  When I came to my present church, it was clearly stated to me, this church has never sung, does not sing, will never sing!  The music choices pretty much guaranteed this, and propagated it.  Songs that required extensive vocal talent, sung in keys that even a first tenor and first soprano found challenging.  Words that couldn’t be savored, sometimes because you need a dictionary to define them.

We sing now, because we can.  We don’t always do it well, but it is from the heart, it is a reaction to God’s love, poured out on them.  From hearing it through every aspect of the service, from tasting it, touching it.  The songs are simple enough, the instrumentalists facilitate it. The people pour out the emotion need to pour out, the praise, the glory, the trust, the thanks, the despair, the lament… it becomes their music the lyrics that resound from their heart, and we let them sing it. (yeah – even those who voices are challenged)

They sing the praises of the God they know is present, they put into prayer the trut they have, to put it all into His care.

it is at the point that we are no longer afraid to let them sing acapella for a verse, for even a song….or a chant.

And it is wonderful….. whether the powerful anthem, or the simple cry of this version Lord’s prayer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4lcfXcZ68I   (this is how we do it – as our time of family prayer ends)

give them a reason to sing…..

let them sing…

give it a try… and see what happens….. as God is lifted up… and praised.

AMEN

(1)  The Augsberg Confession,

(2)  Catholic Church. (2011). Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Conversations On the Way to Heaven: Get Along Back There!

this was the destination of so many of our trips, My Aunt and Uncles home in North Andover…..those trips had some great times, and some challenges…

Conversations on the Way to Heaven:

#1  Get Along Back There!

Matthew 18:21-55

† IHS †

May our journey together always be filled with God’s joy and peace, as His mercy flavors every moment!

A Bajillion Hours crammed in the back seat… 

I remember every twist and turn, as if it was yesterday, and not 42 years ago.

Everyone went and got in the old yellow Dodge Dart.  Up two miles on Brookdale Road, the right onto North Policy, then right onto Pelham Road.  Up onto route 93, then route 213, then southwest on route 495, off the highway on Mass Ave, then right on Fernwood to my Auntie Lanie’s and Uncle Wally’s house, where Thanksgiving Dinner and my favorite French onion dip awaited.

I remember so much of the drive, the rest area we never stopped at, the Mall and the golf course, going over the Merrimack River on the double decker bridge, and along its banks the dump and the reform school,  My dad always remembered to point that out for some reason.   Some great memories, and well some challenging one’s as I squeezed into the middle seat between my older brother and little sister.

I looked it up on google maps this week – it was 12 miles, 18 minutes in no traffic. I swear there were times that it seemed like a bazillion hours.

And as we look into conversations that occur on the way to heaven, this was the often heard phrase,

“Get along back there!”

Which was usually followed by something like, well we will hear those in the weeks to come!

Why is it so difficult to get along with each other?  Why do we hear these same kinds of conversations today?  As Jesus, guiding our journey, hears not only our words, but our thoughts, it is difficult to hear him asking us to get along!

Get Along back there?

In today’s gospel, the words of Peter so sound like one of my siblings.  “Do I have to forgive my brother?  Do I have to forgive my sister?  Peter’s not as blatant as my brother and sister were, he asks, “how many times do I have to forgive?”  But you know if Jesus said 7, Peter was going to go to his brother Andrew and tell him he was at 7 already…and so the next time? You do it again Andrew, and you will pay for it!

But the base question is the same – do we have to forgive those who sin against us?

The answer is, of course yes.  We are people that believe in reconciliation.

It’s not a measure of the law, but a description of those who live the life of the baptized, those who live in a relationship where Jesus has reconciled them to the Father, and they are His children together.

That Is why Jesus tells the parable about the two slaves, they both belong to the same household, they are, legally, family.  Yet the first man, although forgiven that which he was to pay back, refuses to forgive the debt of the other man. Even to the point of visiting violence on the other slave.

Sounds like one of those backseat things – even up to the contact.

Why do we fight, and why do we struggle to forgive each other, when the dust settles? Haven’t we heard jesus’ 7 times 70 enough, or this parable?  Don’t we realize that we’re the ones who sins cannot be paid for in a thousand lifetimes, and we are willing to collect the debt for what is petty in comparison?

That sin you are holding onto, that pain, that resentment, how does it rate against the pain that your sin has caused God?  You have decades of it?  Do you really want that sin dividing the body of Christ Jesus?

I realized something this week as I was going over all three readings today.  There is account after account in scripture of how we are bound together, how we worship together, how we feast and fellowship together, how we endure together, how we face persecution and even die, together.  In all these things we are together, weeping together and rejoicing together.  What happens to one, happens to all.  What happens to all effects each one?

One exception, verse 12 of our epistle.

12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

Hearing that, we come back to the gospel….

33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters* from your heart.”

Faith if God is where we find the strength….

So what do we do? How do we find the ability to really forgive, to give no more thought to the debt incurred by sin?

Well Peter and Andrew weren’t the only brothers in the readings this morning.  There was also Joseph in the Old Testament Reading.  You know, the guy who his loving brothers kicked out of the back of the family station wagon, and sold to wandering merchants?

Look at how he forgave his brothers…

19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. 21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

Can you see those words of Joseph coming from your mouth, to those who have sinned against you?  What do you think their reaction would be?  What do you think yours would be?

The sinners who thought their brother would grab them by the neck in revenge, he gave up that right, because of the work of God in all their lives.  A work that saved their physical lives.

We have something more incredible, something more beyond thought, in the work of Christ, who doesn’t just forgive 490 sins of ours, Heck, that is just this week!  He’s the master who forgives us all, who brings us home to the Father in heaven, cleansed, pure, holy.  Who gave up everything to make that happen, because He loves us. Who endured the pain of the cross, because of His love for us.

If Joseph could forgive, knowing the blessing of God seen in the saving his people from famine, we should be even more eager to let them know the gospel.  That every sin was paid for on the cross, that we have been forgiven a world of sin.  That is what the communion feast celebrates!

We are a forgiven family, we are brought together on a journey home, to heaven, to a feast.  We are called to love each other, even if for a moment we struggle with it – we still love, and we shall forgive, even as we are forgiven.

For that is what the Holy Spirit is transforming us into, giving us the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry mercy.  The Spirit’s transforming all of us who trust in Christ’s work, and the promises made to us, which we hear in His word.

So drop all the burdens, drop all the sins an rejoice in Christ’s peace…look to Christ, and find that we are all getting along on this journey in peace! AMEN?

The Eucharist: the Strength to Reveal Christ to Others…

English: The Lord's Supper. Christ standing at...

English: The Lord’s Supper. Christ standing at an Orthodox altar, giving the Eucharist to the Twelve Apostles. Frescoes in the upper church of Spaso-Preobrazhenski cathedral. Valaam Monastery Русский: Алтарная апсида верхнего храма Спасо-Преображенского собора Валаамского монастыря. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:

This can only mean that whenever you eat this bread or drink of this cup, you are proclaiming that the Lord has died for you, and you will do that until he comes again. So that, whoever eats the bread or drinks the wine without due thought is making himself like one of those who allowed the Lord to be put to death without discerning who he was1 Corinthians 11:26 (Phillips NT)

If you don’t keep in touch with Christ in prayer and in the bread, how can you make him known to others? (1)

Though I have been in churches of many denominations and brotherhoods, the three I have spent the most time in, have had something in Common.  The weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, also known as Communion, or my preference, the Eucharist.

To be honest, it is something that I took for granted far too often.  The Eucharist was something that when I was younger I thought was a spiritual “fill-up”, an opportunity to refocus, a chance to be reminded of God’s promises, a chance to remember His grace covering my sin, as surely as His blood was poured out on the ground.

You might be saying, well Pastor Dt, that’ what it is all about – isn’t it?  That moment of refreshing, a weekly “mountain top” experience, a break and rest from the norm, and a break from the sin which haunts them.  A chance to really realize what holiness is about…

As we think about what the Eucharist results in, we slowly lose sight about it is…  the Body of Christ, given for us; the Blood of Christ, shed for us…

It is  not just about knowing God’s love – it is time with Him.  A time for His to comfort and cleanse and help us explore with Him the height and depth, breadth and width of  His love, and the Father’s love. A time not just where we are reminded of His covenant and its promises, but where He, Himself, reminds us of that promise – most specifically His loving presence.  That we are His family, called to dinner with Him as the Host…

That is why Paul can say we proclaim His death – it is ours, we who are untied to Him in His death and resurrection (our re-birth)  It is time with Him in that moment beyond time, that foretaste of the feast that will be thrown when we all have come home.   We proclaim it – not just for our benefit – but that others would join us at this incredible moment, in this incredible time with Him…celebrating out union…our being the beloved. It is from there, from that depth of intimacy with Christ, that knowing Him and being known by Him, that the kerygma – the desire to introduce others to Him springs forth.

Not from duty…

But from the passion He has for us, the unbelievable love He has for us….

And we know who we are introducing people to, not just a way to “be saved”, but the God, the incredible, majestic, glorious God who loves them, Who gives them life… and brings them into His glory.

It is where we find the answer to our plea… Lord have mercy….  and know He does that in a way beyond expression… and it is He, even more than us, the is joyous in the reunion.

Godspeed us all to this realization.

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 396-397). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition

“My own faith?” … not so much!

Discussion thought of the Day..

 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. 10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. 11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another.1 John 4:7-11 (TEV)

“A disciple of Christ can never think as follows: “I try to be good; as for others, if that’s what they want… let them go to hell.” Such an attitude is not human. Nor is it in keeping with the love of God, or with the charity we owe our neighbour.”  (1)

This Lent the theme of most of our readings continues to be reconciliation among the people God has created.  We have seen God’s heart – that he will not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, that He only wants them to come home, as the prodigal did. 

When will our heart break for those who walk without Christ?  I am not talking about the kind of guilt caused by a spiritual version of those programs that show starving children, seeking to get us to send wads of money to appease our shame, to give us the feeling that we helped a little, therefore it is alright to go back to living life.  I ask the question again, when will our hearts truly break for those that do not know the mercy of Christ, or the peace of God our Father.

When will we love them, as He loves them?

It has to come down to whether we see ourselves as His family, that our neighbor, even the one we struggle with, as someone as close to us as family.  It is because… they are.  Christ died not just for us – our faith is not an individual faith, Jesus is a personaly savior – He died to reconcile us all to Him, and therefore to each other.  We aren’t really talking aboout ng strangers, but our own people, our own family.  And that takes patience, and love… time.

So look on those who do not know the love of Christ, and love them and be patient with them, until their journey brings them home as well.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3358-3361). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Body of Christ, united in Love…. that which remains!

That Which Remains…
1 Cor. 13

 

† In Jesus Name †

May your life be so lived in the mercy and love of God, that it resounds with trust, with hope and with the love of God!

 

For nearly two hundred years, the doors of a cathedral in Macao have stood open, and people have poured through them, cameras at the ready, with guards quickly reminding them that they couldn’t bring any food or drink into the church proper.

The day we visited there, you could not count the throng of people, as tour busses dropped people off at the base of the stairs, 66 steps below the church’s main doors, to see that hallowed ground.  The church was on top of one of the hills in the city, and looked over the streets below, where everything you could think of was for sale.

It was a bit eerie walking through the doors, as your eyes ran the length of the stone floor, as you looked to where the altar should be, as you saw people snapping pictures. You’ll see a picture of the church later, well, of the one way that has been all that has remained since 1830….

As I read today’s epistle passage about the incredible things we are given the ability to do, and their value if we do them without love, St Paul’s Cathedral comes to mind. A Church, a place, designated as holy ground, with people thronging and busily moving about it, but without the word of God, without the altar to which people are called to share in Christ’s feast, It too, is lacking.  For both, a ministry without sacrificial love, and a church without God’s word and sacrament, is worthless, a testimony of no value, a place where history may be celebrated, even bragged about, but no transformation, no repentance, occurs.

It may bring about awe for a moment, but really is a place of sadness, and regret.

 

Such is the nature of ministry without His love, no matter how great the charisma, not matter how many people throng and applaud the works done and the words said.

The Test

          How do we judge how well we are doing in our vocation?
As individuals?  As the church?
This test reminds me of 7-11 – we get a big gulp!
Just curious – how many people had 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding?  How many of you remember your wedding?

You all know that this isn’t just the standard for you marriage, but for every relationship, you are in…in your entire life?  Remember the two commandments? Love God with… (wait for answer) and love your…

So let’s take a test, and inventory of how well we love… how good we’ve gotten at it.  I’ll even give you a pass on your love for God, and we’ll just talk about your love for your spouse, your families, and your neighbors and coworkers.  So in this test – at the bottom of the prayer list, you have a little chart. First column goes the Bible’s characteristic of Love… then the second is your grade, pass or fail.  The third would be the church’s grade.

Number One, put a check in the box a1 if you are patient and kind with you spouse if you are married, with your family (including in-laws) and with your neighbors and co-workers. Patient is from the word long-suffering  and kind is to be merciful, willing to forgive and restore people to their original relationship with you…  Okay, if you do that – no exceptions – put a check there.

Now put a check in box 1B if you believe the church has the same characteristic.

 

Same for box 2a and 2b if you are never jealous of what your spouse, your family or neighbors and co-workers have or do.  Or if you never show off what you have.  What about us as a church.  Are we jealous that another church has a better…. Hmm well no other church has a better congregation or music team… O wait – just bragged about us – no check there!

Box 3a and 3b – Are you ever one who has to have your own way, that your spouse, your children, your neighbors have to do things your way or else it is not good enough?  What about us as a church – do we demand we do things our way – and if others don’t like it, well they aren’t real Christians anyway, so who cares about them?

Box 4a and 4b  – any of us easily irritated by our spouses, by our kids and/or grandkids, or that one co-worker, or the neighbor who plays their music too loud?  What about the person who bashes Christianity?  You can only put a check in the box if you ever irritable…

What about box 5a an b?  Do we ever, as individuals, keep a records about the things people do wrong, or the sins people sin against us?  The things of the past – that we said we forgave, yet still remember – and still hold against them?

Do we do that as a church?  Have we realized that God’s grace doesn’t just cleanse our slates of our sin, but the sins committed against our people?

 

I suppose I could go on, and deal with the rest of the list, but I am already feeling a little cymbalistic and worthless….

How many of us can claim to be loving, to act, towards all people in every instance in the ways described in this passage?

It’s a pretty sobering inventory…but I am not sure that we totally grasp the passage, and what it means.  Matter of fact, I think we take it one of two ways.  As a naïve romantic statement about how the perfect marriage will be… or perhaps, as a list to prove how messed up we are, or our spouse is.  I mean – aren’t they supposed to never lose faith, never give up and endure every circumstance?

Used the wrong way, this passage becomes a great weapon to beat others into the ground with, or to beat ourselves up with!  Either way, everything becomes like St Paul’s Church/wall in Macau… a sorrow-ful shell of what once was a vibrant place filled with the presence of God.
But Paul was showing them a better way

         


That is why we always need to consider the context of our reading.  We need to take into consideration not just our chapter, but the ones before and after it.  We need to look at the entire book as well.

In this case – we started the reading by Paul talking about showing a better way – so we have to ask, a better way than what?  Last week you heard Mike talk about how the body of Christ is knit together, with each having its own role, and how we are one, even as we rejoice together, and cry together, as we show compassion and as we love.

In this reading, he gets deeper into the mystery that is the body of Christ, How we are bound together, how what God does in us, as a diverse body, is yet a ministry that is whole and one.

It is something that requires something beyond our vision, beyond our comprehension.  The purest love, the kind that will bring life to that which is empty and hallow.  The kind of love that will be impossible to explain, yet give meaning to it all…
The kind of love that comes only as we live, together, in Christ.

 

The kind of love that is the life of the church.. That is our life.

What remains…of us

          That which we trust in..
That reason we have hope

          The very love…of Christ

 

I think that is perhaps my biggest take away from this trip, as I worked with young missionaries, who are living in the shadow of a church, that is but a wall.  For reasons I can’t get into in the sermon, they can go without the Lord’s supper for a month, or ever two or three.  They don’t get to celebrate with the family of God, the very gifts that God has for them.

It shows.  A pastor like me is treated like a royal guest, not because I am the greatest preacher or teacher, but because I bring them a tangible reminder of God’s love.  The words of absolution, the word of God around which they can gather and celebrate, the precious, life giving, life renewing celebration and feast – where they can know God’s love.  I introduced them to the concept of how we shared God’s peace with each other, after the words of institution, before we feast together as we commune.  The fact that the Body and Blood of Christ is shed for them, that because of it there is God’s peace among them.  Fifteen people from two cities, people that work together, yet… need the power of God’s love, and yeah – they learned to pass the incredible peace of God.

Do we even begin to realize what the love of God brings into our life?  Do we understand how it cleanses, and reconciles and forgives?  Do we realize how it is the very skeleton and the blood that pumps through our lives?

Do we even realize it is why we are here?

Those characteristics, they aren’t about us, though we should strive to imitate the one they describe.

The reason that the the gifts and talents and abilities we have – no matter how great or how small – have meaning, is that love…the reason the church can overcome sin, see reconciliation comes down to this.
The Lord of love…is with you.

AMEN?

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