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You Know It’s a Hard Week When…

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Devotional Thought of the Day

81  I am worn out, LORD, waiting for you to save me; I place my trust in your word. 82  My eyes are tired from watching for what you promised, while I ask, “When will you help me?” 83  I am as useless as a discarded wineskin; yet I have not forgotten your commands. 84  How much longer must I wait? Psalm 119:81-84a (TEV)

165    You, who for an earthly love have endured so many degradations, do you really believe that you love Christ when you are not willing to suffer—for him!—that humiliation?

I know it is not just me, other pastors and teachers of the faith will tell you this as well.

God prepares us for what we have to endure through the things we come across in our preaching, and in our personal study.

Preaching on a passage about Judas? Prepare to be betrayed by someone close. Or worse, prepare to deal with your betraying Jesus.

Teaching through 1 COrinthians, you might have to deal with some division, some self-centeredness, and some people who need to be taught that worship is about the community not the individual.

Been asked to give a message on missions and the need to go out into your community? Prepare to feel like Jonah at time.

It happens in our devotions too, and so when I come across passages like those quoted above… I shudder a bit. ANd then I look around figuratively and consider who do I know that is undergoing what the prophet Jeremiah and St. Josemaria are talking about.

In this case, who is overwhelmed, worn out, suffering under the weight they bear? Who is struggling and barely able to croak out a prayer asking God, “when?” WHo is feeling useless, so tired emotionally and spiritually they cannot even remember the promise that “all things work for good?”

St. Josemaria’s comfort comes across harsh, as if he is judging us as being thankless cowards, unwilling to suffer. I wonder if that is a translation issue? Working through his words for a few minutes, I see his point. Compared to our earthly loves, how much more God has done for us, and as we contemplate that, our sufferings become tolerable, they might even be forgotten.

This too is the Psalmist’s answer. In the midst of bottoming out, he comments that he hasn’t forgotten God’s commands. I don’t think he is just talking about the “do’s and do not’s” bt the words God has established things by, from “let there be light” to “you will be my people, and I will be your God”. Especially that last “command.” We need to remember that as we are in the midst of suffering, or in the midst of bottoming out.

“I will be with you,” “I will never forsake you!” These phrase are what we hold on to when we can’t find anything else, for they remind us that what we are going through.

That this time will pass, and we will see God.

This moment may last 10 minutes, or a few hours, or even a week or more. These times where we simply endure, knowing the Lord is with us. His presence will strengthen us, and allow us the freedom to ask for reassurance, and to be reminded that we dwell in peace, for He is God. AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 515-516). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Future? What Hope?

Devotional Thought of the Day

But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. 14 I will be found by you,” says the LORD. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jere. 29:10-14 NLT

For God chose you as the first to be saved by the Spirit’s power to make you his holy people and by your faith in the truth. 14 God called you to this through the Good News we preached to you; he called you to possess your share of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ 2 Thes. 2:13-14 GNT

159    Your heart weakens and you reach out for something on earth to support you. Good, but take care that what you grasp to stop you from falling doesn’t become a dead weight that will drag you down, a chain that will enslave you.

The part of the reading from Jeremiah I’ve heard people tell me a thousand times. Sometimes they are claiming it as a personal prophecy, to give them hope in the midst of suffering. Other times they are counseling me, telling me that God has that special plan for my life, that there is something greater that what is presently being experienced.

As if God’s plan for my future 20 minutes ago, or 10 years ago didn’t include this moment, this crisis, the time of trial.

St. Josemaria reminds me that trying to reach out for support, for help is a good thing. But we risk it becoming an idol, and the support being that which drags us down even farther than we presently are. Experience tells me he is right, that sometime that which we lean on, and those we lean on can drag us down. Including those who very sincerely try to lift us up by quoting Jer. 23:11.

Looking at it in context, we begin to see the future and a hope that God has laid out. It is more wonderful than anything we could anticipate.

In context, God promises to give us His attention. When we pray, when we talk to Him, He is all ears! That is what it means to be the people of God, He cares for us and listens to us. Instead of turning to potential idols, we can turn to Him!

In context as well, this means that we can find Him when we need Him. If we look for Him, He will be there. Not in some hidden place, He will be with us. This reminds me of Elijah’s taunting of the priests of Ba’al, who accused of going on vacation, or taking a bathroom break. Our God never slumbers or sleeps.

In context, the biggest promise is God restoring us, and bringing us home from the place where we are being disciplined (and even there He watches over us (see Jer. 23:7) This plan, this future, this hope is fulfilled because we are the people of God who dwell in His presence.

Nothing else we could ever dream up comes close to this wonderful relationship, nothing could be as comforting, nothign will bring us as much joy. This is what Paul talks about as the secret of the ages in Colossians 1, the secret that is because Christ is in you, you have the promise of sharing in His glory, the very same promise from 2 Thessalonians above.

That is our future, that is our hope. Eternal life with God. A life that has begun with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and will bedome more real on the Day of Christ’s return.

One more final thought

“What no one ever saw or heard,
what no one ever thought could happen,
is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.
” 1 Cor. 2:9b



Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 499-501). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Follow the Ancient Paths…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

16 The LORD said to his people, “Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the ancient paths and where the best road is. Walk in it, and you will live in peace.” Jeremiah 6:16 GNT

As you come upon verse 18 (1 John 7), you may prayerfully dwell on the ways in which love—God’s love for us, our love for him and love among people on earth—pushes fear out of all relationships. You may think of the fearless child surrounded by loving parents, of how loving neighbors give us confidence and relieve our anxieties. You may dwell on how the assurance of God’s love given to us in the death of his Son suggests that we will never be beyond his care. Seek God’s help in comprehending this and in seeing what your fear-free life might be like.

I do believe that the Church, from congregations like mine, to mega-churches and denominations, all the One, Holy, catholic and Apostolic church is at a crossroads.

To many of our communities are dying off, others are wandering away, some to be relevant, some to shrink back and protect what is theirs. Some will embrace change, and some will point to a passage like the one above from Jeremiah, trying to justify doing things the “old way” as it is good and proper and safe.

Not that the ways, from how we do liturgy to how we teach scripture are all relatively new. Not one of them existed at the time Jeremiah wrote this warning from God to His people.

So there is that.

Jeremiah isn’t talking about the liturgy, or the role of women in the church. He’s not talking about polity and structure, nor do I think we need to rebuild the temple. In fact, reading on in Jeremiah it was the worship they took so much effort in that God was going to reject. The tabernacle was already going to be rejected, which would include all the sacrifices.

If the system of worship established in the first 5 books of Moses isn’t the ancient paths walked upon how could we claim the latest liturgy or our favorite hymnal form the 1940’s or 50’s is this “ancient path?”

So what is?

Faith.

Faith, that relationship that is so special that we can depend on God in every circumstance of our life. Faith in the one we have a relationship with, the very thing that Hebrews 11 describes as how Abel, Abraham, our fore-fathers and the prophets saw sustain them,

Faith, which sustains because it is based on God loving us, a love revealed at the cross, and in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Faith, which is possible because we don’t travel down that ancient way alone, but Christ is that way, and we walk with Him.

The ancient way is the life in the Garden, where God walks with us, His people, as He did with Adam and Eve.

Finally a thought, that ancient way is none other than Jesus, the son of God. So let us walk with Him, as He leads us to Father, as He brings us home. AMEN!

Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson, Hearing God through the Year: A 365-Day Devotional (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).

God, You Showed Them!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  O LORD, our God, you answered your people; you showed them that you are a God who forgives, even though you punished them for their sins. 9  Praise the LORD our God, and worship at his sacred hill! The LORD our God is holy. Psalm 99:8-9 (TEV)

The temptation, for a seminarian or priest, to reduce Christ to an abstract idea is most destructive of the spiritual life. It leads to the loss of his own identity and prevents him from accomplishing his first and most important mission of leading the faithful in his care to a knowledge, love and service of Christ as He is alive for us in the Church.

The tempation that is descibed in Burke’s words above is quite real. Those who minister to others can spend so much time styudying Jesus, studying His word, that we can forget to interact with Him. That leads to our treating Him (and God the Father and Holy Spirit) like an abstact idea, something to study and observe from afar, something to comment on, much as an editorialist comments about the events and people of his day.

The result is our preaching becomes filled with illustrations and quotes, refering to what others tell us about Jesus. Their observations are far sharper, and sometimes we resonate with them, but don’t understand them. We resort to meme’s written by those whom we are told are “great thinkers.” Catachesis and discipleship become more about instruction than helping people see Jesus revealed to them, evangelism and apologetics become more about debate than sharing a journey,

And as Jesus becomes someone to be studied, what disappears is what Paul desired for people, what he described in this way to the believers in Ephesus,

I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18† so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Eph. 3:16-19

So how do we prevent this from happeneing? How do we realize Jesus is a person to talk to, and not just talk about? It is to see what He promised, that He is here, disciplining us when needed, but always ready to forgive, to show His mercy, to pour out His gifts of love upon us.

In our present journey thorugh Ezra Nehemiah, there is an incredible prayer, describing the journey of the people Israel. It mentions the times of blessing, and the times where God disciplined them, it is honest about their failure. But it isn’t a lecture, it is a prayer. We would do well to do the same, to consider how God’s been faithful to us, telling Him how we are greatful, and remembering in our rebellion and sin, how He was faithful to us.

I often do this while contemplating the incredible mystery in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, How Jesus comes again to us, and provides a feast celebrating our being forgiven and restored, of God’s revelation of His love for us, shown in the very Body and Blood of Christ, given and shed for us.

He showed us, and we experience that love when we partake, eating and drinking His body and blood. He shows us, as prayer becomes more than a duty, but a deep conversation, as we hear His voice. Worship comes alive as we realize we participate in its dance, again celebrating the fact that He is here, with us.

And that changes everything in our lives. including our study of scripture as we desire to know more aobut the Lord who loves us, who interats with us.

Lord bless us with the conviction that You are with us, and as You are healing us, help us to know who you are drawing to Your side, and help us reveal to them Your incredible love, mercy and presence in their lives. AMEN!



Burke, R. L. (2012). Adoration in the Formation and Life of Priests. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 144). London; New York: Burns & Oates.

Who is asking, “Come Stand by Me” A sermon based on Acts 16:9-15

Our worship service and the sermon

Who is Asking,
“Come, Stand by Me”
Acts 16:9-15

† I.H.S.

May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ enable you to hear those who cry out for someone to stand by them, even as the Holy Spirit stands with you!

The Vision – Mission Impossible!

A long.. long time ago there was a television show that every week started with a line like this.

“You mission Jim, should you choose to accept it….and then after describing int, ended with, “As always, should you and any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.  This tape will…. (self-destruct in 5 seconds.)

In the reading from Acts this morning, the Apostle Paul gets a similar message.  Not on tape that self-destructs, but in a dream, a vision from God that is so clear, that Paul and his team of missionaries knew it was God calling them to tell the people about God’s love and mercy.

The vision of a man crying out for help, pleading with them, “Come over to us and help us!”

In Greek, that is two simple words, Paraclete – to call alongside to help someone stay standing– and boetheo – a word used to describe a doctor’s rushing to come to the aid of someone mortally wounded. 

I hope we realize that St. Paul isn’t the only one given that mission, to go over and stand by people, to lift them up and help them find healing.

It is our mission, too! 

The Lady

Like the crew on Mission Impossible, which for 49 missions included Captain Spock by the way, Paul and his band of merry missionaries get to their destination.  They look for people who are searching for God, who are searching for hope.

They find someone who deals with the most expensive cloth, who cuts it and sews it.  This is Armani of her day, or Michael Kors, and she dealt with the kind of folk who she dressed up for the ancient Grammy’s or Academy Awards.

Not the kind of person that you would encounter at most small churches, but there she was, praying and hoping for an answer.  Like many people, she tried to worship God, but wasn’t clear who that God was.

As Paul started to share about Jesus, the Holy Spirit opened her heart, and she accepted it, the Greek says she held for dear like to what Paul was saying.

It’s like the story I read of a priest yesterday.  He encountered a young man who was struggling with heroin addiction.  They spent the night in the sanctuary, all night long, thinking about the Lord’s Supper, about the Body broken for this young man.  The priest described him holding onto the altar so tightly he thought he left his nail marks in it. 

And that is the way Lydia received the revelation of God love for her.

Except she wasn’t someone we would normally think of being that “needy”, that desperate, that amazed at finding out something we probably take for granted all too often.

That God loves us.
Oddly enough, Lydia, after Paul baptizes her and all her household (which includes her employees by the way, uses the word Parakaleo when she asks Him to come and stay at her home.

She’s not being hospitable, she realizes she and her household needs continual help to start growing in the faith. There is a sense of desperation in it, as her begging forces them to agree to stay there.

The Church and Apathy about its Mission

How do I know we take our mission for granted? 

How many people do we hear calling for help, whether they are the foreigner trying to adjust to living here, or the homeless guy, or the rich people we don’t think would bother with the likes of us?

How many of them do we hear cry for help and then take the time to respond to their cries for help?

I think we need to realize that not hearing them, not seeing their need is to sin, breaking the second commandment.  For we need to use the Name of God in those situations, sharing with these people in need the love of God, revealing to them His mercy, and His abiding presence. 

The need Him, and we need to remember this mission became our in our baptism, and we take it on every time we greet each other with God’s peace, and when we leave this sanctuary.

No-disavowal here

You know, I always wondered why they called it Mission: Impossible. 

Do you ever remember them failing one of their missions?  Ever?

They just kept solving mission after mission, week after week.

Our real life mission, while a little more difficult, is even more possible.

God doesn’t threaten us by saying He will disavow any knowledge of us, should we fail.

His call to us to go alongside and reveal to people His love and mercy includes His power, as the Holy Spirit empowers our work, and ensures it all works out for good for those who love God, for those He calls according to His purpose, His will.

Sure it may take a while to help some people see His love – but the days and years and decades are worth it. 

For while we are on this mission, Jesus promises He will never abandon us, that He walks with us, that we are united with Him, even as the Holy Spirit comforts us in our failings, as we are cleansed of our sins.
This is our mission.  To share with people.

The Lord is with you!

And that because He is risen,….. (We are risen indeed – and they are part of the “we”)

And therefore, invite all whose lives cry out for someone to Come, stand by them, to enter into the peace of God, the peace you experience, even though it more that you could ever describe, the peace in which you are guarded, heart and mind, by Christ Jesus. 

AMEN!

Burning out between God and Mankind

Future and a HopeDevotional Thought of the Day:
7  You have seduced me, Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered me: you were the stronger. I am a laughing-stock all day long, they all make fun of me. 8  For whenever I speak, I have to howl and proclaim, ‘Violence and ruin!’ For me, Yahweh’s word has been the cause of insult and derision all day long. 9  I would say to myself, ‘I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more,’ but then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not do it. Jeremiah 20:7-9 (NJB)

The prayerful persons are doubly seduced, by God and by people.
On the one hand, they cannot do without God because they need to constantly look for Him as they know that they are beloved and wanted by Him, nor can they do without the people because they feel the need to serve them as they see in them the face of God.
The prophet Jeremiah felt this experience to the core.

I started writing this blog when I came across both readings in my devotions last week.

The first is a verse I’ve come to know all too well.  The complaint of Jeremiah, that somehow God tricked him into ministry, that He seduces us, that He deceives us into this work where we get caught between God and mankind.

By the way, this is not just a pastoral issue, but an issue for everyone who ministers to other people. Elders, Sunday School teachers, parents, those who teach Bible Studies, we all find this challenge as we seek to point people to God, as we walk alongside them on their journey, as we see them struggle with sin, and with the narcissism that affects us all.

I love how Pope Francis describes it, we feel the need to serve them as we see in them the face of God.  Despite their brokenness, despite their sin (and ours!), we see in them the image of Christ Jesus, and we know we have to help them see Jesus.

Sometimes that is a burden that is tiring and seems unending. Sometimes it seems like they will never listen, or at least keep the memory of what they heard for even a day.

There are days the weariness gets to be such a burden that you want to quit, you don’t want to speak about God again.  Not even think about Him, Jeremiah determines.

It is impossible, and I think Pope Francis tells us why.

Not only are we burdened to do something about the sin and brokenness we see, we are likewise burdened to encounter God ourselves. We need to know we are wanted in this relationship we have with Him, we are loved!  Despite the effort, it takes to clean us up, He still wants us with Him, He still loves us.

That love burns within us, it changes everything, in our lives. It is the fire that burns within, the love of God who created us in HIs image, He restores that image as the Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus.

And if he can do that to you and I, surely he can do that to those we minister to, those we serve, those whose lives we weep over.

And so like Jeremiah, we enter another week, looking God, serving those He is calling to His side, helping them to see God at work in their lives, too.  And know this, count on this promise, revealed to us by the apostle Paul.

I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you j will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.   Phil. 1:6-7 HCSB

 

 
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 257). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

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!

An Everlasting Sign: A sermon on Isaiah 55

DSCN0014An Everlasting Sign
Isaiah 55:10-13

 I.H.S.

 As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. 

Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in… 

Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.

Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes.  They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon.   You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.

Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.

There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.

Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?

And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?

Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?

Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,

10  “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11  It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire.  After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought.  Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.

We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!

But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God.  They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs.  We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.

Again, do we see the rain and snow here?  Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink.  His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.

It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.

It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.

The change is real – let’s see it!

 So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.

Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?

Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?

Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause.  The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.

I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.

Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism.  Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast.  Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.

And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments.  The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us!  AMEN!

 

 

The Attitude of Advent: Our dearest Friend is coming to be with us!

Devotional Thought to Prepare us for Advent….
15  I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16  You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17  This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)

233         You spoke about the scenes in the life of Jesus which moved you most: when he met men suffering greatly… when he brought peace and health to those whose bodies and souls were racked with pain… You were inspired—you went on—seeing him cure leprosy, restore sight to the blind, heal the paralytic at the pool: the poor beggar forgotten by everybody. You are able to contemplate Him as He was, so profoundly human, so close at hand! Well… Jesus continues being the same as then. (2)

There is an attitude that negatively views contemporary worship (or that of 30-100 years ago) that treats Jesus to0 close, too intimate, too friendly.  They would rather perceive God from the perspective of great distance, and perhaps great fear.

Which would make sense if we were approach Christ’s advent, His coming, with the anticipation of judgment without the cross’s benefit.  To turn advent into a time of anticipating hell, fire, and brimstone, wrath and tribulation is wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, we need Jesus to come back, perhaps even desperately so.  Life is too screwed up, we all need to be delivered from sin completely, we need to come home to God.  But that turns advent from anxiety about Jesus coming, to realizing we and anxiety is more caused because of the wait we endure until He returns.

If we have friends we haven’t seen in ages coming to dinner during the holiday; we look forward to it.  We anticipate it, we work hard, trying to get everything as perfect as possible.  It is the same for Jesus second coming, we desire to grow in faith, we desire to see people come to know Him, to come to trust in Him, because He is our friend, because He loves us so completely.

Those contemporary worship songs which treat Jesus as a friend, they aren’t as far off base.  They bring home that which we need to know, the attitude that Luther noted, makes the difference between one who knows God, and one who only knows of Him,

“For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.” (2)

If we don’t understand God’s desire for an intimate, deep friendship with the people He calls and makes His own, we truly only know a God whose presence evokes fear and brings to the front of our heart the condemnation of guilt and shame. We have to realize the intent of Christ’s incarnation, to head resolutely to the cross, to show us the depth of His love, to bring us healing and forgiveness.

Yes, we should be in awe of God’s presence, we are overwhelmed by His glory, but a glory that pours out grace, that delights in showering us with His Mercy, embracing us in the love, even as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. The awe of realizing God, in all His glory, desires to be our friend.

Which makes the wait of Advent tense, as if we hear every passing car as if it is our long awaited Friend…

For He is coming!

May your patience and desire to see God sustain you, even as you anxiously await His return.  AMEN!

 

 

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1170-1174). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther. The Apostles Creed: Explanation of the Third Article.

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