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We Can’t Avoid it (or each other) Any Longer…

MV5BMTE0NTI1MDAyNDZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDg5ODg5OTgx._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1386,1000_AL_Devotional Thought of the Day:

10 But Moses said, “No, LORD, don’t send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven’t become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.”
11 The LORD said to him, “Who gives man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? It is I, the LORD. 12 Now, go! I will help you to speak, and I will tell you what to say.”
13 But Moses answered, “No, Lord, please send someone else.”  Ex 4:10–13  TEV

22 “You don’t know what you are asking for,” Jesus answered the sons. “Can you drink the cup of suffering that I am about to drink?” “We can,” they answered. 23 “You will indeed drink from my cup,” Jesus told them, “but I do not have the right to choose who will sit at my right and my left. These places belong to those for whom my Father has prepared them.”  Mt 20:22–23  TEV

We cannot proclaim Christ’s promises to ourselves; we cannot store them away safely on a computer disk or in a safety deposit box for later reference. We need the word to come from outside of us so that it may reign over us. Someone must wash us, someone must feed us, someone must speak an inescapable and unconditional word of absolution, and in doing so these someones become Christ for us. The worldly spirituality of Luther with its emphasis on vocation and service to the neighbor is also a thoroughly churchly spirituality. We are called to venture forth on our individual paths of discipleship as members of a redeemed people, the very body of Christ.

There is no way for the Christian to avoid the brokenness in life.

We may try to hide it.  We may try to justify it in our hearts and minds, yet our soul will still feel the brokenness.

We may try to run from it, and to be honest, this week, there have been times I wish I could have.

We encounter brokenness in each day, in each relationship, and even if we could isolate ourselves from the world, lock ourselves up in some monastery, we would still be crushed by our own brokenness.

So too often we from this aspect of brokenness to that one.  From this shattered place to that, never having found the rest we need, never dreaming that there could be a way to see all of life healed, never seeing life restored.

Moses ran from where he encountered the greatest point of brokennes in his life. Everything he was. up to that point, disappeared in a moment of rage. And so he ran, rather than face his brokenness.  God sends him back, not to deal with his own, but to help others deal with theirs. To deliver them from slavery, not the physical kind primarily, but the spiritual kind.

Moses goes back to help people realize that God isn’t distant, but that He is here.  That God loves them, that He wants a relationship with them where He can love and care for them. (That is why Christ came as well!)  And Moses, broken, afraid, more than willing to let someone else bear the burden, Moses would let someone else address the sin and shame.

God wouldn’t let him, but God also didn’t let him wander back alone.  He never does.

We are meant to see people healed and find hope in the community.  For even as Moses ministers to Pharoah and Israel, Aaron will minister to Moses, serving him as his mouthpiece, being his right hand, and Aaron does what Moses cannot do for himself.  They were Christ for each other, as we need to be.

That can get pretty messy, as we, sent by Christ in his stead ( and yet paradoxically with Him) encounter their brokenness.  As we share the grace they need, speaking absolution, binding their wounds, helping them have hope.  Them helping us by serving us as Christ would. This interchange can get extraordinarily painful, as we sacrifice our own comfort, our own illusion of peace in order to encounter the brokenness.  And even then, God provides real peace – that passes our understanding, meeting us in the midst of soul-wrenching pain that brokenness causes.

It takes confidence in God to reveal your own brokenness, to confess is and let yourself It takes confidence to go, and embrace those who are broken, to reach out and give them the proof of God’s healing them, the hope of the day when there will be no more sorrow, no more tears.  When brokenness and the spiritual death it threatens is swallowed up in the greatest of victories.

This is what we hold onto, this hope of the new day coming. The day the church holds onto each other until, as we minister to each other, and remind each other of the love of Christ.

Lord, help us neither hide our brokenness or run from it, or the brokenness of those around us.  But let us begin to minister to each other, to be Your hands, Your feet, Your mouthpieces, even as You minister to us through others. AMEN!

Strohl, J. E. (2007). General Introduction. In P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey (Eds.), P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. Krey (Trans.), Luther’s Spirituality (p. xxx). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

The Necessity of the Lord’s Supper

Altar with communionDevotional thoughts of the day:
17  But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18  First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19  But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20  When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (NLT2)

19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.

If liturgy is to survive or even be completely renewed, it is essential that the Church be rediscovered. I add: if people’s estrangement is to be overcome, if they are to find again their true identity, it is indispensable that they find again the Church that is not a misanthropic institution, but the new “we” in which alone the “I” can acquire its foundation and its security.

Paul’s admonish to the church in Corinth is one I think we need to hear today.  It is neither easy nor would it make sense to most Christians today. 

They might see the admonition as one solely concerned with what I call hospitality, the reason Paul admonishes them is that they don’t wait for each other and that the taking of the Lord’s Supper becomes a testimony to their division and their lack of love for each other. I think it is far more severe than that, for the Lord’s supper is not a simple meal.

It is given to us, this blessed Body and Blood of Christ, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to heal our very souls, to quench the doubts and empower a trust in Him that would result in seeing the world changed. 

And yet we neglect it.  We put it off and only celebrate it on occasion, or we rush out of church after it, unaware of what we have received, or if aware, minimizing it.  We don’t see it as what establishes us, as a “we” (the people of God) and gives a real identity to the “I”.

By the way, in regards to Pope Benedict’s use of misanthropic, I had to look the word up.  It is the exact opposite of philanthropic.  It is to hate mankind, a charge we have to take seriously, for I do believe many see us that way.  It shouldn’t be accurate; but many see us as trying to oppress mankind, rather than freeing them from guilt and shame. In many ways. our poor and unbalanced proclamation of sin and the gospel does this, as we close off communion to only those in the club, or make people think they have to be “good” enough or have a perfect understanding of theology in order to receive the gifts of God.

It is about His ministry, His welcoming us home, it is the feast for prodigals, the feast He throws, giving all of Himself, to lift us up, to nourish us, to help us realize we are united to Him.

It is there, at the altar, that the liturgy goes from being an ordeal to become a blessing of renewal.  It is there our hope is renewed, our lives transformed, our hearts and souls healed. 

It is what those outside the church need to see evidence of so that they too will be drawn into union with Jesus, through His death and resurrection. It is what those in the church need to have, that they may once again realize their sins do not separate them from God, for God separates the sin from them.

If the church is to find renewal, it will be here… celebrating the love of God given to us all, welcoming us home.  All of us. 

Don’t neglect this necessity in life, don’t diminish it, hear God’s words, hear what they promise, and then come, take and eat the Body of Christ broken for you… and drink of His blood, poured out for you, that makes you part of His family, and cleanses you of all your sin. 

You and I need this… so let us celebrate His love, together!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 484). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 248). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

How Do We Deal With All the Trauma?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days
15  Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Romans 12:15-16 (Phillips NT)

15  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:15-17 (NLT)

When the news just makes us exclaim “What a disaster!” and, then, we turn the page immediately or change the channel, we have destroyed our “fellowship,” we have further widened the gap that separates us.

It seems so much of my email is filled with news of trauma, or shortly thereafter, with appeals for money to care for the victims.

Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Tennessee, now the victims of the California wildfires.  And that is only the events in the USA.  There were Typhoons hitting Macao and Hong Kong, earthquakes in Mexico, and other traumas caused by men in England and other places.

There there are the traumas that are even closer to home.  A friend’s daughter passes away, another friend is dealing with a spouse whose illness is beyond their ability to cope with, other friends are struggling with cancer or even a pinched nerve.

And like I said, I am then deluged with the requests to help.  Houston is a good example.  Four friends are working with different church groups – all affiliated together.  They each ask for money, as does the district of our denomination.  I even received a request from another district to support their work in arranging for help for the district affected!  This doesn’t include all the churches and para-church organizations that spammed my email, for surely a pastor would help them? 

Part of me wants to react as Pope Francis described, just turn the page, just delete the email. Part of me wants to write letters to each group that seems less than above board, or those that insist their group is more in need or more deserving of money and tries to manipulate using guilt or shame, or hyper-emotional appeal.

And then I wonder if I am becoming too hard, too cynical, to suspicious,  to callous. What is the reaction all this is causing in my heart? Am I allowing my fellowship with humanity to be destroyed?  Will i end up on an island, with a huge gaping hole separating me from the rest of the world?   Or us the only other option to burn out, emotionally, physically, financially?  Will my faith become dead, because I can no longer bring myself to act?  Will I try to justify that by simply saying the system is overloaded?

I think the answer comes from the passage in Romans, this idea of living in harmony with each other. The example being weeping with those who weep, laugh with those laughing.  To take the focus from just giving a donation, to actually being with those who are in need.  ( One might say that just dropping 50 or 1000 bucks into an envelope may not meet the help they really need)  To be compassionate, to love, for there we find ourselves helping. Not just within the circle of friends we have, but with people we encounter, every day.

And mostly, the answer comes from trusting God, knowing His presence, hearing His voice, following His lead. For as we walk with Him, as we depend upon Him, we find the needs, and the resources he would have us meet.  Often those far different than we would have thought of… and yet, the peace and joy, even amidst the tears, confirms the presence of God.  

Here is the point.  Too often we rely only on our own strength, our own wisdom, our won will, overlooking the obvious, the presence of God.  As we cry out, “Lord have mercy,” we need ot rely on that mercy, even as we help others see it.  That will eradicate the gap that separates us, as we fellowship together with Him. 

 

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.

Brother to Brother…..one glorious hope!

church at communion 2Discussion Thought of the Day:
3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.    Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)

Where man is no longer believed to be under God’s protection, to have God’s breath in him, then people begin to assess him from a utilitarian point of view. Then there appears the barbarity that tramples on human dignity.  (1)

Twenty-one years ago, an album containing the music of two masters was put together, one singing the lead of the other’s composition, both playing the instruments and blending their voices together.  They went on tour together, and while I would love to see many people in concert, to see Michael Card and John Michael Talbot together, would be one of my dreams.  

The album was called Brother to Brother, and it was playing in the background when I came across the words of Pope Ratzinger in my devotional reading this morning.  The lead song, One Faith,  comes from another favorite album, JMT’s The Regathering, which finds its inspiration in the words above from Ephesians 4.  It pictures the regathering of all the saints, into the perfect communion that is Christ Jesus.  As I look out on a broken world and the one holy, catholic (small c means all of us) apostolic and sadly fractured church, that day seems so precious, so wonderful and so far away.

It is the prayer and desire of Jesus fulfilled, that we truly be one, even as the Father and He are one.

And we see the glimpse of it in Pope Benedict’s (Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) above in blue.  When we realize that every man is under God’s protection, every man has God’s breath in them, we can no longer view them as anything utilitarian.  We cannot hang generalizations, we cannot define them by affiliation or hang demographic labels on them.  Even the labels adversary and enemy fade away, along with fears and anxieties, as we see Christ in them, and therefore find someone who is loved, even as we are loved.  Someone Jesus is calling to, even as he calls to us.

Pope Benedict went on to say, We must always look upon other men as persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy. We must see them as persons with whom we are called to be members of the body of Christ, with whom we shall one day sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the table of Jesus Christ, as persons called to be our brothers or sisters, and to be, with us, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God.”

This isn’t easy.  It means we must trust and depend on God more than our fears, our anxieties, our resentments.  it requires seeing the individual as more than important than those things.  The only way to do that is to see the heart of God, the Lord who gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed for all on the cross, and then unify all He calls in a meal where He shares His body and blood again.

Including those that don’t understand yet, for we are called to love them, and invite them to this feast…..We won’t conquer our fears, we won’t willingly become martyrs if necessary if we don’t see them loved by God, even as He loves us.

Lord have mercy on us sinners, and help us to see that You died for each and every individual.  AMEN!

(1)  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.

Why Christianity Isn’t a Solo Act

Devotional Thought of the Day:

21  It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. 22  I truly delight in God’s commands, 23  but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. 24  I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? 25  The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Romans 7:21-25 (MSG)

19  My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back 20  and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God.
James 5:19-20 (MSG)

1  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2 (NIV)

59    It’s good for you to know this doctrine, which is always sound: your own spirit is a bad advisor, a poor pilot to steer your soul through the squalls and storms and across the reefs of the interior life. That’s why it is the will of God that the command of the ship be entrusted to a master who, with his light and knowledge, can guide us to a safe port.

It is one of the most grievous things a pastor can observe.  

When a person is driven away from the church in the midst of their need, or in the midst of the pain caused by the need – they try to drive the church away. 

I’ve been there myself, not recently, but not so long ago that I can brush off the pain easily. Being at the end of the rope isn’t good, it is worse when the rope is set afire by fear, by pain.  

Guilt and shame can do this, so can anxiety, so can the unrighteousness of the world. We fear judgment, and condemnation. We fear people pitying us, or looking down in scorn at our brokenness. We may even fear healing, and push away attempts, rather than take a risk that God and those He sends us can be trusted to not do more damage.

Paul knew this – he recognizes he wretchedness, and his need to hear the answer that is found in Jesus. 

Paul also knew the danger of being the person who is helping and warns those who do to watch their own lives carefully, less they find their own brokenness.  We get deceived by our own estimations, we exaggerate our spiritual health until its too late, or are so overwhelmed by the pain we can’t see anything blessed.

We need others to point us to our hope in Jesus,ro remind us of the Holy Spirit’s work, right now, right here, in our lives.  We need to enter His rest, but often we can’t – unless guided, or even dragged to that place.

But what if they let us down?  What if they are drowning too?  What if we drag them down? Been there, had my mind pound those ponderings through my head. 

Logically, I can answer that with another 100 plus Bible passages and another thousand cute, overused stories and cliches.  But the best answer is to simply be there and keep pointing the person to Jesus.  For He is the reason we have hope.  The only reason.

That reason, and only that one, leads to hope, and the hope to peace. Peace found in Christ, in His promises, in HIs love, in His bringing us into the glory of the Father. 

But we can’t get there alone…… we will betray ourselves. But we have our brothers and sisters.  For the church is a place where broken people find healing in Christ Jesus, while helping other heal.  

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 305-307). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Traveling Companions of the Cross. Lesson 3: YOU Are Created for Companionship

Travelling Companions of the Cross

Lesson 3: You Are Created for Companionship

Genesis 2:18–25

I.H.S.

 May you become more constantly aware of the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they are the proof of His presence.

It’s not good…

If you read the first chapter of Genesis, you would hear God talking to Himself as He created the heavens, the earth, seas and all the creatures.

Then as He creates man and woman, He notes, this is very good!

But there is more to it than that, between the last “this is good” and the “this is very good”, there is one more phrase, the phrase that we hear in chapter two.  When the Lord God notes there is something that is wrong in creation.  Something that is not good.

Hear the words again,

“It is not good for the man to be alone.

Not good at all, but there is a solution

“I will make a helper who is just right for him.”

A Helper, a companion, the one who works alongside….

Remember that one, the one who works alongside.

For it is not good that we live life alone.  We need to have companionship, without it, creation is screwed up.

A simple summary, everything was good, then man had no companionship and it was not good, then man did, and it was very good.
They knew no barriers… and there was no guilt/shame

As we look at the end result, what chapter 1 calls very good, we see why in chapter 2.

23 “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’ ”

24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. 25 Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.

What an incredible blessing, the fact that there was no guilt, no shame that divided them.  No embarrassment, no division, nothing that created a barrier between them.  Of course, they didn’t have a toilet seat to leave up, or trash to forget taking out.

Seriously, the Hebrew word there for naked meant there were absolutely no barriers between them, there was nothing that stopped them from seeing each other the way they truly were.

Sin of course, created those barriers, and the need for something to cover, to hide, a defensive mechanism. It is there because we don’t want to see people the way they really are, and we don’t necessarily want them to see us.

You are probably thinking just in the physical sense, but it is true for most of who we really are.

They lived perfect, sinless lives for that time, and it was very good.

Exitus-Reditus

There is a old theological thought, is Exitus-Reditus – that which leaves, returns.  Theologically speaking, what returns is always that which completes, and by God’s power, it is more than what left.

A rib is taken out and it returns a helper, a companion, That action made what was not good, very good.   The fellowship, the communion, the companionship that was formed ws greater than the loneliness that preceded it.  That is the power of reconciliation, the power of God’s mercy, forgiveness and healing, the power of God drawing back together that which is supposed to be one.

It’s more than just the couple – they were representative of all humanity

This is true more than in the sense of husband and wife, for example that same kind of language is used as men join David’s army

1  All the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said: “Here we are, your bone and your flesh. 2 Samuel 5:1 (NAB)

Though it is a different bond than that between husband and wife, all od God’s creation was meant to live together, companions of God, companions formed at the cross, when Christ’s side was opened…and because of the blood that was spilt, a new relationship – the companionship of Jesus and His bride the church was formed.

At the pastor’s conference, our district president made mention of this when he was talking about the church.  One of his major points was this, “Servant leaders live in Intimate Community He was teaching pastors that in order to be effective pastors, we can’t be apart from our people, shepherds are companions, He even used the idea that we have to know each other in a way that sounds scary, Intimately.

Not intimate as in husband and wife, but intimate because there is no division, not barriers, no shame that divides us.  That we work together because we realize that God has brought us back to each other.

Another speaker made mention of it this way, The idea of the nuclear family being the cornerstone of society has become a 100 year failed experiment”  What he meant is that society is more than a dad, mom and children.  That prior to 100 years ago, the extended family, that included blood relations an even long term neighbors was the cornerstone of the family.  Not less intimate relationships in depth, but deeper relationships and more numerous ones.  That writer noted the amount of young people striving to live in micro-communities, what we in the church sometimes refer to as small groups.  But groups that live like in Acts, where the group survives together.  The broken world is looking for something they can’t find, yet it is what we know so well.

It is not good that man should live alone….

Followed by God saying, “I got this, you will not be”

Adam was given Eve, and humanity was born, and one day, the ultimate Companion for each of us was born, as Mary would give birth to Jesus.

So how do we get reconcile?

Not long after that, and ever since, most of us have put up barriers that frustrate our desire for companionship.  We drive away those we are called to love in Christ,  As we have come alive in Christ, that doesn’t have to happen anymore.  Reconciliation is not just a good idea, it is how God desires we live.  Reconciled to Him, reconciled as a family.

I kind of wish it could be like Adam, where God caused sleep to fall on him, and then took the bone away from him.  He then woke up, and knew the person standing before him, who would stand beside him was literally, part of him.

He recognized the work of God, that what was taken was return to make him complete, but in a way far beyond anything ever expected. 

Adam was complete – he had his helper, he had the one who completed Him.

When our companion died and rose on the cross, He took away the barriers, He destroyed the things we stop us from seeing each other.  Not the physical barriers, not the clothes.  But God destroyed the sin, and gave us a new life, made us a new creation.  He forgave all sin.  The sins we’ve committed against Him and each other. And He reminds us of that each time we remember our baptism, or commune at the altar as His family, or hear those words, your sins are forgiven.

Because of Christ our companion. Because of the cross, where our companionship was forged in His blood. For He reconciles us to God, and the in Christ, we are reconciled to each other.

That is why there is peace, a peace that passes all understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!

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!

What Does the Rich and Satisfying Life in Christ Look Like?

Alleluia! He is Risen! And ThereforeSAMSUNG
We are a community that perseveres

Acts 2:42-47

  In Jesus Name!

The grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ shall build here His family, His community, as we serve in love.  AMEN!

The Purpose of God Revealed

As we travel these weeks of Easter with those who lived in and witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the will of God revealed to His people, and we see the will of God revealed in His people.

The message is repeated over and over, as a friend says, “we preach the same thing every week, we just use different words.”  Or in the case of our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, we see those words describing a picture of God’s people, those He gathered.

The church pictured there is incredible, not because it has the best people, or is the biggest. It is a church that shows the effect of their Resurrection, not just in their words, but in their deeds.

A church with the same purpose as Jesus revealed His purpose to be. A church where the will of the Father is lived out in view of mankind.  They become a picture of what Jesus prophesied about in the gospel, when He said,

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

A life portrayed in Acts 2, a life portrayed here in our lives, if we take time enough to look.

A life lived, because Jesus is Risen!  (He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!) and therefore (We have Risen with Him!  Alleluia!

So let’s look at what this abundant, rich and satisfying life looks like, compared to life lived outside of Christ, life lived without the resurrection.

The Before

Mere hours before the Crucifixion, we see a tiny picture of the world in one room.  There are people there, arguing about who is most important to the group after Christ. Another one thinks his holiness is sufficient that he doesn’t need the Lord Jesus to cleanse him, or minister to him.  He will later deny Christ, just like the rest.  Another is ready to betray one he loves, a betrayal so severe that it will wreaks havoc not only with the relationship, but it will end his life, ashamed and desperate for the guilt that overwhelms him. By the end of the evening, all relationships will be broken and shattered as promises fail, as they abandon Jesus.

Sin seemed to reign over them, even in the midst of the very first Communion service. Even in the presence of God, as Jesus was there, washing their feet, teaching, breaking the bread, giving them the cup.

It was life, well life that was neither rich, nor satisfying, if we think about it.

It was a life that needed something…

Just like our lives, when they are lived outside of Christ need something. For the broken relationships we see at the last supper, and in the garden are what we encounter in our lives.  Sometimes the arguments, the superior attitudes, the betrayals and denials, the shame and the grief are all we see in our lives.

The After

Less than two months later, the same group gathers, the men from the upper room now leading a group of thousands, but a group that is so radically different, than you know something has happened.

For it is true, Praise God, He has Risen!  (He has Risen indeed) and therefore…. ( We have Risen with Him!  Alleluia!)

How else can you describe a group that acts like these people do, when 50 days before they were acting like jerks?

Look at the change described in verses 44, look at how they loved each other…

44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.

That seems like a pretty incredible group – worshipping together daily, sharing in the Lord’s Supper, not just in church together, but in each other’s homes.  They even helped each other financially, the word there for need was “in debt”.  They shared in meals, they shared in each other’s lives, they shared in everything….

This wasn’t because of being commanded to, it was a matter of desire, of volition, it’s what happens to people when they become part of God’s family.

They could, because when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, they were raised from the dead with Him.

Just as we have risen with Him, alleluia?  O come on – that means to praise God, not just too sort of compliment him.  We have risen with Christ! Alleluia!

How?

Living in Christ, our lives focused on Him, walking with Him, is where this transformation happens.  It is the reason we do the things in verse 42, for in each of these we encounter Christ, we learn of His love.  Which is why they were devoted to it, together,  Let’s look…

That’s what the apostles’ teaching, or as older translations put it, “the apostles’ doctrine” is all about.  The fact that Christ was born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, rose, ascended and will judge the quick and the dead.  Those words sound familiar, because that is our Creed – it is what we believe.  It is what the apostles handed down to us. And so they were devoted to this together, because Jesus had given them the words of life.

They devoted themselves as well to fellowship, to being a community together, not just to being a bunch of individuals who each looked after #1.  How well this shows the work of the Holy Spirit in them!  How it testifies to the love of Jesus working in their lives.  It is who they are in Christ, It is who we are!

They shared in meals, especially the Lord’s Supper!  The purest, most basic form of fellowship, sharing in the blessings of God as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.  For in this meal, in the simplicity, we come to know the blessings of God, we begin to understand that He died on the cross for each one of us. We begin to know the depth of His love! The intimate relationship that God has called us into, which is seen in communion, is one that we are called into together.  The church devoted itself to this practice, as have we.

The picture of God reconciling us to Himself that in the sacraments is so clear! These sacred times of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and private Confession and Absolution/ Cleansing.  We remember our baptism daily, Luther reminds us, and we commune frequently, for there are many among us who need this blessing.. indeed we all need it.  Finally, who of us doesn’t need to hear the words, “your sins are forgiven, by the authority of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”

How precious is this grace of God given us, in the Apostles teaching in scripture and the sacraments!  Because they communicate to us that He is Risen! And therefore….

The last thing they engaged in, as Christ engages them, is prayer.  The laying of all burdens down before God, of knowing and trusting in God so that we keep nothing back.  That is why Phillip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s most gifted friends and students includes prayer among the sacraments in the Apology of the Augsburg confession,  saying,

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.

Praying together, knowing those burdens are taken, that we can release them to Him and that He will provide us peace, the life that is complete and rich and satisfying.  A life in which that peace of God is ours, our hearts and minds secured in that peace by Jesus Christ.  AMEN?

Vacation?

26  If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. 27  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.  1 Corinthians 12:26-27 (NAB) 

I am sitting here, after driving 10 plus hours (somehow getting through Soledad took more time than taking the 91-405-101 during morning drive-but that is another blog)

I am beginning to rest, the camper is all set up….and I finally think back to our church services yesterday.  I think about our Taiwanese congregation, who are in those challenging days where they are looking for their new pastor….I think about the guests we had in our multi-cultural service, friends of friends.  I think of our people suffering through cancer, through depression, through work issues and family issues.  Sunday was my 5th anniversary with these people…we have been through the ringer…and have come out all the more dependent upon God’s love and mercy!

It was a little strange as so many of my friends, my parishoners said that I needed some rest that I needed to get away…. as if it was them that I needed to escape from!  Be assured…we will get physical rest.  But spiritual rest for me comes as we sing together, as we praise the God who brought us together, the God who is with us.   When we witness God working through each other, even those whom those who don’t know God’s love and mercy would consider the weakest.  Especially them, for they are the most amazing to watch God work through!  Watching the people of God trust in Him…watching that trust grow and build…it does a pastor’s heart good!

The verse above perhaps explains my rambling a bit better.  We are the people of God.  We belong to Him, and therefore are bonded to each other.  Distance can’t separate us.. lack of cell phone service or internet…( bahahahaha,,,,the campground has wonderful wireless!)  can’t separate us.  We’ve dined together with God.

There is nothing better….

Now to go and rest… knowing my people are in God’s hands…for that is not just my desire…it is His!

And my dear people at Concordia know this…above all….The Lord is with them! ( And also with me!)

And also…with you.

The Roller Coaster of Life…How to Ride it in Joy:

Devotional Thoughts of a day that wavered in devotion….

7  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8  We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.    2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (NLT)

Yesterday, the entire “day” seemed like a downer, until I got to Bible Study – and we looked at the church in Phillipi.  If  I had to compare it to anything – it would be like a long subway ride, with all the lights out….. and finally Bible Study – with the incredible saints here at my church – lifted me out of the darkness and gloom.  Fellowship – the partnership with God in the sharing His love and work to reveal that love to us (i.e. the gospel) that Paul shared with the Philippians and I share with the Concordians – does that.  It pulls us out of our gloom, our darkness… for assuredly where two or three (or 25) are gathered in His name – He is there, with them.

Today – well – it’s been less a subway – and more like a roller coaster – the ups (another Bible Study and Devotions) were quickly dropped into lows, and then the hard slow grind back to the top.  ( I think that was lunch – reading a good book!) and then – woosh – off we go again!  There are days I just wished all I could do is teach and preach and lead worship – from waking up until lieing down.  (I know better than going into academia – they have more meetings and grading papers, and accreditation and. and and… blech – give me the subway!)

Paul likewise had some challenging days!  These kinds of spiritual/emotional/psycho/physical roller coasters didn’t start yesterday.  They’ve been around a while, these roller coasters!  The challenge is to find out how to have our faith, in the midst of the highs and lows. The challenge is to not go about it on our strength – but to cling to Christ – by remembering He has us fully in His grasp.

Our hope is found in the same place Paul found his sustenance.  It is the dunamis – the power of God – the work of the Holy Spirit – within us, the very promise delivered to us in our baptism.  We find our resilience – our ability to stand – not in our ability, rather because we know He has placed us there, and that He stands with us, He is our armor, our righteousness, our strength.

He is why we can withstand the stomach bouncing drops – and the long drags back up the hill… for we are more aware of His presence – than anything else.  For if we have been united with His death and resurrection – it stands to reason that He has been united with us, and we indeed carry God about in us, as we enjoy the ride… trusting in Him.

 

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