(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_
Matters of the Heart
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor! AMEN!
The Gospel? Really? ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)
Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.
I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”
Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah! Good news! You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night. There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!” Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there? Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it? Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?
We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_
Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading. The first is the word defile. It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.
It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.
It is the opposite of holy, it means common. Which was the original definition of vulgar.
Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb. You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less. Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard. That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.
Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.
Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God. We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God. Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.
Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God. And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts. That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…
It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat. It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.
It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.
The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise
If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,
We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel. If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it. Let’s read it together
26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.
There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.
This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.
This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him. For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!
What does this mean?
How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?
How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed? From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart? The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.
I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…
and who promises this as well
6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!
Devotional Thought for your new year!
4 “Israel, remember this! The LORD—and the LORD alone—is our God. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (TEV)
14 Their minds, indeed, were closed; and to this very day their minds are covered with the same veil as they read the books of the old covenant. The veil is removed only when a person is joined to Christ. 15 Even today, whenever they read the Law of Moses, the veil still covers their minds. 16 But it can be removed, as the scripture says about Moses: “His veil was removed when he turned to the Lord.” 17 Now, “the Lord” in this passage is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory. 2 Corinthians 3:14-18 (TEV)
503 Love Our Lord passionately. Love him madly! Because if there is love— when there is love—I would dare to say that resolutions are not needed. My parents—think of yours—did not need to make any resolutions to love me: and what an effusion of tenderness they showed me, in little details every day! With that same human heart we can and should love God.
In Lutheran thought, most commands are what are known as “Law.” Law has three purposes, The first is to keep civil peace. The second use of the law is to show us that we are guilty of sin and deserving eternal punishment. Knowing that we can be drawn to Christ to receive grace, the merciful forgiveness that restores us, and welcomes us into the presence of God. The third use of the law is simply to show us how to live, now that we are bound to Him, for Christ’s life is the picture of a life lived in full harmony with the law.
But the command following the words of the Lord being our Lord, the phrase known as the Shema, is not Law in the Lutheran sense.
Yes, we may struggle ot love God with everything we are, and if we think about it, this could make us wallow in guilt and shame. Most of us can keep our resolution longer than we can maintain a love for God that includes every part of our life! But if we feel guilty, or if we just ignore our shortcomings, we are missing the incredible, glorious, life-changing words that come before it.
The Lord, and the Lord alone, IS OUR GOD!
This line is why this isn’t Law, it I the purest of Gospel, for it describes what it means for us to have God (using His name YHWH) as our God. Loaded into that phrase is the idea that God takes responsibility for us, provides what we need, loves us. It means His nature of loving mercy (cHesed/Agape) is at work in us, bringing to completion the work began in us.
And as we consider this, as we think it through, there is no need for a resolution, no need for goals to change us. As we think and meditate on God loving us, we love Him, we adore Him, we become more and more hungry to hear of His love, and to share it with others.
So maybe you made a resolution or four to change in this new year. To lose weight, to be more patient with people, to be more determined in your spiritual disciplines. Maybe you already broke one or two.
Real change in our lives starts with something else.
Being still, and knowing He is our God.
Knowing His passion and love for you…
Just sit there for a moment, and let His love sink in…
and find yourself changed.
Godspeed my friends!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1920-1925). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for our days…and our future:
10 My brothers and sisters, try hard to be certain that you really are called and chosen by God. If you do all these things, you will never fall. 11 And you will be given a very great welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:10-11 NCV
“Life’s” destination lies beyond this life because it depends on “Someone” with a capital letter. All this is rooted in the hearts of our people, even if they are unable to express it conceptually.
There are times in my life, where surviving the evils of this day is my only goal. Where i just try to hang on to God, and His presence long enough to help this person or that one. Where I deal with these problems, those challenges, this person’s sin, or worse my own.
I drag myself home, climb the stairs, and hopefully remember to thank God that He carried and dragged me through the day…..only to have another day come all too soon.
I do not think I am alone, not by any means.
We need to learn to live for something more, something that is glorious, something that is perfect. Something that is beyond us, this destination that Pope Francis speaks of, the place where we will find Him, our “Someone”. A place that is truly home, a place of incredible, unbelievable peace, a place of joy, a place where tears, sorrow, weariness are unknown.
Francis is correct about our not knowing how to express it conceptually. We don’t know how to talk about heaven, we don’t know what it will be like, and to talk about it, sooner or later, we might have to talk about death and dying. We really don’t want to talk about that. NOT. AT. ALL.
But heaven is our reality, dwelling with God, in His glory, in His peace, in wonder and awe that He wants us there, that is what Christianity is about. An eternal, everlasting relationship that we can’t even begin to conceive of (see 1 Cor. 2;9)
But we know we shall be with Him.
At the end of the day, that is what matters,
At the beginning of tomorrow, we need to realize He is still here…revealing to us His love and mercy, comforting us, healing us, and preparing us for life with Him.
A life that began when we were baptized into His death, into His resurrection.. and given the promise of the Holy Spirit to dwell with us, keeping us til then.
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.
Devotional thought for your day:
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)
718 If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.
The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.
Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her. No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,
And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up. She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.
I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life. The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry. She didn’t talk about those things. Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor. It was about reading the sermons of those she knew. It was always about someone else,
Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was. Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there. They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades. How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )
Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed. I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.
I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home. Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.
I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Be Different: Act like God’s kids
† In Jesus Name †
May the gifts of God’s mercy, love and peace enable you to truly live life, as you learn to love those God brings into your life.
The hardest lesson to live!
The words of Jesus that I read this morning are hard to hear.
They are easily understood, but how easy are they to live up to?
Turn the other cheek! Give up more than you are sued for, give to those who demand of you, don’t turn away those who want to borrow.
And these hard words of Jesus, “Love your enemies, pray, that is, ask God to bless, those who persecute you.”
In a world where we are trained to look out for ourselves and those we love, how do we even do this? How do we set aside our resentment, our fears and anxieties, and the pain others cause, and love them?
Yet Jesus asks us to do exactly that….
And it doesn’t matter who our enemy is, whether it is a global one or the bully that lives down the street.
How can God ask this of us? What is really going on here? What is God up to?
What is God up to?
We see a clue in another of the verses,
In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
Why would God give good stuff to those who are evil? Why would He rain blessings on those who are not just? And what does that have to do with the challenge we have, in loving those who are our enemies, or who we think are, and therefore are afraid of them?
The first answer is the old one, (First written by Augustine) that talked about the fact that in hating our enemies we are hurting ourselves more than we could ever hurt them.
A better answer is seen in one parable, where Jesus taught that He doesn’t remove the weeds among the wheat; because we can’t be sure of not uprooting wheat when we dig out the weeds. Likewise, the enemy of today may become the friend, the brother in Christ. The one which we are praying for may stop persecuting us, as Paul the apostle went from killing and tormenting Christians, to being one who preached about Jesus’ love from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome and perhaps beyond.
We don’t know, we just know the heart of God, who the apostle Peter tells us is patient, not willing that any should die in their sin, but that would come to the transformation that happens when our sin is forgiven.
To put it another way, what makes the different between a weed and what is not how they look, but what happens when they encounter Jesus. That’s why the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel would write this, “
21 But if wicked people turn away from all their sins and begin to obey my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live and not die. 22 All their past sins will be forgotten, and they will live because of the righteous things they have done. 23 “Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live. Ezekiel 18:21-24 (NLT)
Knowing God’s heart, and knowing that neither we nor angels can know how someone will turn out, these are things that help us love those that others tell us can’t be loved. Knowing that every single one of them God loves and desires to be one of His own. This helps too…
Acting like God’s kids!
But what helps the most is knowing that God loves us, while we were His enemies, while we chose to live without him, choosing to do what we thought was right more than we cared what He thought, what He wanted.
Paul makes it clear – while we were all His enemies, Jesus died for us. He died, taking on the judgment we deserved. He died to make sure that our sin wouldn’t divide us from God. He died that we might live, and live life knowing God loves us and is with us.
So for us to be God’s kids – to live like that, we need to know what He loves, and how Jesus lived. Loving those the rest of the world considered unlovable, loving those who are our enemies, and asking our Father to bless those who make our lives difficult.
For when we know that, loving those who the world considers our enemies, is nothing more that loving those our Father in heaven would have become our brothers and sisters. And loving them becomes possible because we dwell in God’s glorious peace, peace that the world doesn’t understand, which is the peace in which Jesus guards our hearts and minds. AMEN!
I will Trust My God!
† In Jesus’ Name! †
As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!
Is it him, or me?
When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider.
How was it in originally fulfilled.
Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his
But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us. For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.
But what about today’s selection? Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?
Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God? Or is it Jesus?
Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?
Who is this passage about? Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?
Al – don’t say it!
Could He know the despair?
If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.
4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.
Think about those words for a moment. Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus? From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands? From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life? Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?
Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?
Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,
15 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16 So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)
If so, then this passage could still be about Him. If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges. He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!
If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith. It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap. Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.
Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands. Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him. Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.
Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?
It is both, because we find life, in Christ!
So is this passage only about Jesus? Or can we utter those words as well? Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?
Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant? Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth? Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?
While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus. It is true of us because it is true of Him. For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.
That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus. This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness. As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!
We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…
This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks. It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name. The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones. Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.
This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.
This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you! AMEN!
Ready, Are We?
As you encounter the grace, the mercy, and love of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, may your desire to experience His presence grow, as will your desire for Jesus to come again!
2 A.M. Somewhere….
Most of us picture Jesus returning based on a passage in First Thessalonians,
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever.
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NLT)
We see him, His long hair and robes flowing in the wind, his hand stretched out and a look of pure serenity on His face, with just a few high clouds in the sky, and the sun shining brightly, but no obscuring his glory.
But did you ever think – that somewhere when he returns – it will be 2 a.m in the morning? That somewhere people will be sound asleep; and in another home, a mom will be feeding her baby, as some will be taking their delivery trucks out, as bars and clubs close.
And somewhere, in the midst of their lives, at some time of the day or night, some people will be engaged in sin. Someone will be cursing using God’s name, and another forgetting to pray for an enemy. Someone will be killing with physical weapons, and others simply using their words to do damage as significant. Some will be committing adultery, and others gossiping., and some, just struggling to depend on God who they can’t see.
And out of the clouds, whether 2 p.m., 2 a.m. Jesus will return.
Our gospel tells us we must be ready always, for Jesus will not only return, but he will also return when you least expect it.
So as I share God’s love this morning, I want you to think about a couple of questions.
First – Do you care?
The first is challenging, well, they both are. But here is the first question:
Do you, or do you think the church cares about whether Jesus is coming back?
Is it on your radar at all? Do you wake up in the morning, and wonder if this will be the day? Do we ever consider it given our decisions to do this or that?
Do we even think about Jesus coming back?
Think about that for a moment.
second – why?
if you do think about Jesus returning, the second question comes into play.
Why do you want Him to return?
Is it to escape the pressure and depression that this world and the evil in it causes? I have to admit; there are days I don’t want to hear any news, to see any headlines.
Is it to stop having to struggle with life and the complications we have in our lives? Complications like aging and sick bodies, challenged relationships. ( Great line from Skorpion – Thanksgiving is about having meals with people we don’t get along with the rest of the year!)
Is it to stop having to deal with our sin, our guilt, shame, brokenness?
When we pray for Jesus to return – is it to be rescued from something, or to be delivered into the presence of God?
That’s what the issues were in Noah’s day, they forgot about the presence of God in their lives, and they lived life without thinking about God.
And to be honest, many of us get trapped in the same kind of life.
Unaware of God, and only turning to Him to be rescued.
Walking with Jesus is much, so much more meaningful than that. Eternity will be so much more than simply being free of the crap of this world! Eternity with God is dwelling with Him, in the purest peace, the most mindblowing joy, in fellowship divine.
It is to live, as we are being drawn into the glory of God…..
And it will happen… sooner than we have prepared for…
Ready, Are we?
SO then, the questions change a little….
How do we get ready for Jesus to return?
We turn to the words of Paul in the epistle…
12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes,
This speaks of two things – first our baptism, and the incredible work of God that started there, as God cleanses us from all our sin, just as He promises. But it also speaks of repentance – the continuing action of our being transformed – what we see when we confess our sins and expect God to keep His promise there as we and then the question of how we stay read
14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And this speaks of baptism too – as God the Father clothes us in Christ’s righteousness, in His holiness. As we see the work of God drawing us closer, and it is so incredible, so peaceful and so joyous that we begin to desire it more and more.
And we see that not only in baptism, but here as we kneel, as we receive Christ, as we have a glimpse at our relationship with God, and the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love for us, this endless joyous love.
Advent? TO desire Jesus presence, to have nothing hindering it, not guilt, no shame, no brokenness, this is what advent is about – and why we desire Him to return…
And may that desire grow – as you know His love, as you dwell in His peace.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Very rarely will I post another person’s work on my blog, but this parable reflects a real life event in their life. And perhaps, as good parables do….. our lives as well. As you read it, consider who you might be, and as needed, approach God’s throne of grace…and maybe bring a friend, a pastor, a professor, a maintenance man, and find the stone who the builders rejected. To the one who wrote this, thank you my friend, for helping us see.
The Maintenance Man
Well, the stones were all square. That’s what they had in common. And they all
(or at least some of them) got walked on. And yes, they were different sizes, to form a
pattern, but each one had its place, fitting neatly into the matrix of the walkway. Anne
liked how they all fit together, and so she felt a little guilty when she accidentally kicked
one loose. Locomotion required some serious willpower these days, and she hauled
her hesitant feet behind her into the building. Muttering, a maintenance man shook his
head in annoyance at all the cementing he’d have to do to replace that chipped stone.
Unaware of his displeasure, the young lady continued toward the building. She
wasn’t convinced this whole thing was a good idea, but in the face of her obvious
incompetence, she would obey the wishes of friends and administrators. They had
noticed the permanently blank look on her face, her listlessness, and her habit of
assuming failure, and they had particularly urged her to do this. Her response had been
one of apathy and resignation. “I suppose I’ll go, but I don’t know what good it’ll do.”
Mentally she had added, “or why they bother now.”
She knew right where the Pastor’s office was, and she followed the familiar path
there. As Anne walked in, the church secretary forced the corners of her mouth up just
a little bit. With as much work as the Pastor had given her, it was the best she could do.
Anne smiled back to encourage the older woman.
“The Pastor is with someone right now. Do you have an appointment?” His
calendar lay open on her desk.
The secretary hated this part of her job. So many people were turned away. “He
is very busy today. Would you like to make an appointment for another day? I think we
could probably fit you in sometime next week, even though things are pretty hectic
“No, thank you. I think I’ll just wait, if you don’t mind.”
“He probably won’t have time for you.”
“I shouldn’t be long.”
“OK. Whatever you’d like to do.” The secretary turned back to her typing. Better
not to think about it.
Presently, the study door opened and the pastor emerged from his office with the
new organist. They were chuckling to themselves, and joking about the old, worn organ
the church had.
“Thanks, Pastor. We’ll have a go at these. If the choir can learn them well, I
think they can lead the congregation on Sunday.”
“I’d appreciate that. Oh, and also, the elders think the services are too long, so
let’s try to pick up the tempo a bit on Sunday.”
“We’re already moving at a good clip, but if there’s no other way …”
“Thanks! Have a good day!”
“You too. Bye.”
Anne shook her head to clear the cobwebs.
“Excuse me, Pastor?”
“I’m really pressed for time right now. What do you need?”
Anne followed him into the study. The pastor gave a mental groan as she closed
the study door behind her. Anne noticed. Some things never change.
“What can I do for you?” His office seemed smaller. Perhaps it was the mounds
of paper that had accumulated on his desk and on the floor next to his desk.
“Well, I’ve been having some trouble concentrating – my grades are getting lower
and lower – my advisor told me to come and see you before I flunk out.”
“Why? Did the Professor seem to think there was something I could help you
with?” His brain silently translated, “Couldn’t it have waited till after Easter?”
Anne didn’t really believe he could help her at all, unless he happened to be
carrying something sharp. She was always in somebody’s way. But she answered him
politely. “He thought you might be able to get a handle on why my act isn’t together. I
wasn’t so sure, but I promised him I’d come see you.”
“Anne, we’ve talked about this before, and I’m afraid I just don’t have anything
else to say. Until you do something about your attitudes, things are never going to
change. It’s that simple. You come to church in jeans, you never smile, and all you
seem to care about is home – whether your mom called, your dad’s new girlfriend, or
how much he’s been drinking. You’d think you were the only person jin the world who’s
lived through their parents’ divorce. Take some advice, OK? Go back to the dorm,
have some dinner, and crack the books. Let your brothers and sisters worry about your
parents. The best thing you can do for your grades is buckle down and study.”
Anne didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but somehow she didn’t think that would
matter to him. “Well, I won’t take up any more of your time. Please tell the professor I
came to see you.”
“OK. I’ve really got to go now. See you Sunday!” Pastor hurried out of the
office. He had to get to the flower shop before it closed to pick up those extra palms. If
they ran out tomorrow, the elders would be upset with him. Yes, he had things to do.
Anne showed herself out. Walking slowly, she was deep in debate with herself.
Right, toward the river, or left, toward town? She decided on left, and forced her body in
The maintenance man saw her, and hurried to finish the hedges he had begun
when she arrived. Exhausted, he decided to leave the walkway til Monday and head
home. He had a blister on his hand, but at least the hedges would look nice for Palm
Sunday. He kicked the errant walkway stone back into its hole, stomped it down good,
and packed up his things. Anyway, the sky was clouding up.
Somewhere in the back of Anne’s mind it registered. Through the cloudiness,
thunder. Although it tried, the realization didn’t manage to worm its way forward until
her cheek felt the first trickles of the downpour. Weary from the struggle to make her
feet obey, she sought shelter in a nearby drug store.
Greeting cards, prescription drugs, vitamins, magazines – the signs intruded on
her foggy consciousness. Stopping in front of the non-prescription drugs, she tried to
look like she was shopping. The clerk eyed her suspiciously.
Then, as if a breeze blew through her mind, the fog cleared, and she understood.
Smiling, she selected the generic sleeping aids.
The clerk wanted her out of his store. “That’ll be three dollars and forty-six
cents.” She was barely to the counter. Handing him three-fifty, she left without her
Leaning up against a nearby post, Anne was suddenly calm. At least she
wouldn’t be in anybody’s way anymore. Finally spotting a water fountain, she
swallowed the contents of the bottle she had just purchased, sat down on a nearby
bench, and dozed off with the rain dripping off her fingers.
The Professor seemed angry when the pastor spotted him walking into church
the next morning.
“I know she isn’t here yet, but Anne asked me to tell you that she came into see
“Yes.” His voice lowered, and took an edge to it. “Well, she won’t be coming any
more. They found her on a bench about two blocks from here.” The Professor paused
to let his words take effect. “Her parents are flying in tomorrow from Ohio. Apparently
she decided to get rid of her insomnia for good.”
The verdict had been handed down.
“She never mentioned any insomnia.”
“You never asked.”
The gavel hit the bench.
The pastor looked disgusted. The Professor left. He didn’t think he’d be back.
Slowly walking out the front door, he stopped half0way down the crumbling path. There
was mud all over, and, dep in thought, he traced something in it with his toe. Then he
shook the wet earth off his feet.
The sentence had been pronounced.
After all, it really is difficult to get good help these days. He called to the
maintenance man, just arriving for church.
“You shouldn’t have left that loose stone, you know. Now all the soil’s washed
out from underneath and the whole thing will need replacing.”
The maintenance man scowled and didn’t answer. He walked in, muttering
greetings to the Pastor as he passed, who scowled and muttered back. Now the pastor
had yet another sermon to prepare this week, and he didn’t have time to deal with
Closing thought, from the words of another battered and chipped stone, named Paul. ” 19 You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. 20 You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. 21 Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. 22 And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live.”Ephesians 2:19-22 (CEV)
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
13 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven* before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves. NABRE Matt 23:13-15
I have loved thy beauty, and the place of the habitation of the glory of my Lord, thy builder and possessor. Let my wayfaring sigh after thee, and I say to Him that made thee, let Him take possession of me also in thee, seeing He hath made me likewise. I have gone astray like a lost sheep: yet upon the shoulders of my Shepherd, thy builder, hope I to be brought back to thee. (1)
As I come to Matthew 23 in my devotions, I feel the necessity to guard my heart. It is all too easy as Jesus begins to challenge Pharisees and Sadducees to begin to name their modern counterparts.
I know them, as they sit on either end of the spectrum, trying to create a system out of the covenant relationship God calls us into being , as His children, His beloved. As they create rules and rubrics, best practices and by-laws, assuring others that doing so is faithful and proper, missional and confessional.
I see them as either throwing out the baby with the baptismal water or drowning the baby in it, oblivious to the baby, for the sake of the holy water.
And this is exactly why I have to guard my heart, for Jesus words aren’t just calling them to repentance, but they are calling me to repentance. For I can lock the door on these Pharisees and Sadducees as quickly as they do for those I find myself akin to, those who are broken, lost and trying desperately to hear His voice of hope. What is worse, my cynical and sarcastic response to the Pharisee or Sadducee sets a horrid example for those I am leading, those who I am discipling. An example which doesn’t shepherd them into the presence of Christ who would heal them, but away from Him, into the desert where they will trust no one, eventually including me.
So where is my hope, how can I allow my inner Pharisee to be called to repentance, and see God deal with those who would drive people to a place outside the church?
I think Augustine in his simple brilliance showed me an answer this morning.
Focus on the presence of God! Let him carry you broken back tot he Father. We have to abandon yourself into His care, His guidance, join Him on the cross, and let Him heal us, including killing off our inner pharisee, or at preferably, purifying that devoted pharisee in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to let the Father remind us that we are in the presence of God, in His dwelling place, and call our mind back from the pigpens where our brothers were living large.
There is hope for Pharisees, and Sadduccees and so many others…
In the cross, in being carried back, physically or spiritually, into the presence of God’s glory, God’s mercy, God’s love.
And that is where we belong…. AMEN!
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 When they saw him, they fell at his feet in worship, even though some of them struggled to trust Him. 18 Jesus went to them and said, “I have been given all responsibility in heaven and on earth. 19 You area going disciple people of all cultures: by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and instructing them to treasure this covenant relationship I committed to with you! And I am with you ever day, for forever.” Matthew 28:17-20 (parker’s paraphrase)
To be a disciple of Jesus means that we can and must follow a way that is directly opposed to our own natural gravity, to the gravity of egoism, to the search for what is merely material and for the maximum pleasure that we confuse with happiness. Discipleship is a way through agitated, stormy waters that we can follow only if we are in the gravitational field of the love of Jesus Christ, if our gaze is fixed on him and therefore supported by the new gravity of grace that makes possible for us the way to truth and to God that we would have been unable to follow by our own efforts. That is why being a disciple of Jesus is more than concurrence with a definite program, more than sympathy and solidarity with a person whom we regard as a model. It is not just Jesus, a human being, that we follow; we follow the Son of the living God. We follow a divine way. Where does Jesus’ way lead us? It leads us to the Resurrection, to the right hand of the Father. It is this whole way that we mean when we speak of following Christ as his disciple. Only thus do we journey the whole way of our vocation; only thus do we really reach the goal of undivided and imperishable happiness. And only from this perspective do we understand why the Cross is also a part of our discipleship as followers of Christ (cf. Mk 8:24). There is no other way for us to come to the Resurrection, to the community of God. We must follow the whole way if we want to be servants and witnesses of Jesus Christ. And every single step is different depending on whether we intend to go the whole way or merely to carve out for ourselves a kind of human party program. We can come to Christ only if we have the courage to walk on the water and to entrust ourselves to his gravity, the gravity of grace.
I have to start with a disclaimer. I want to write nothing about this post, save what you see above. The charge for us to disciple the world, by helping people enter into a relationship as part of the people of God, and then to teach them to treasure this covenant relationship, this relationship based on God’s plan, on His terms, for Hs is God. That is the work of the church that is how we are to love our neighbor; that is the work of God, or as my favorite pastor/author noted, the Opus Dei.
These words of Cardinal Ratzinger in blue (later Pope Benedict XVI) are an incredible description of that relationship, this discipling process. Go back and read them again. Go ahead, go do it. And again, savor the words describing your relationship with God, as you are pulled into this incredible.
But is this what we are about in the church?
Is this what we value in our own lives personally? Do we understand this incredible, blessed fellowship we have been brought into with the Father, Sona nd Holy Spirit?
We need to, and we need to get that this is far more than obeying laws and commandments (though that is part of it). It is, to use the Old Testament prophecies, the very “being” that is knowing that we God has made us HIs people, and He is our God.
This is what is revealed, from the very beginning to creation to each time someone is baptized or is revived as their sins are forgiven, or are renewed as they take and eat the Body broken for them, the bloodshed to bring them into this covenant relationship.
This is what we treasure; this is what we guard, (which is what tereo means – not just obey/observe) This is what we reveal to the world, it is how we disciple, this is how we live.
Even when we struggle, or doubt, for Jesus is our Lord. And He is with us.
(1) 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. 140). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.