Thoughts to encourage our clinging to Jesus…
Then Moses called for Mishael and Elzaphan, Aaron’s cousins, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel. He said to them, “Come forward and carry away the bodies of your relatives from in front of the sanctuary to a place outside the camp.” 5 So they came forward and picked them up by their garments and carried them out of the camp, just as Moses had commanded.
6 Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not show grief by leaving your hair uncombed* or by tearing your clothes. If you do, you will die, and the LORD’s anger will strike the whole community of Israel. However, the rest of the Israelites, your relatives, may mourn because of the LORD’s fiery destruction of Nadab and Abihu. Leviticus 10:4-6 NLT
He is gnawing at his own heart,” said Luther. “I, too, often suffer from severe trials and sorrows. At such times I seek the fellowship of men, for the humblest maid has often comforted me. A man doesn’t have control of himself when he is downcast and alone, even if he is well equipped with a knowledge of the Scriptures. It is not for nothing that Christ gathers his church around the Word and the sacraments=- and is unwilling to let these be hidden in a corner. (1)
Of course, if you’re not careful you can burn yourself out in pastoral work. Sadly, thousands of pastors end up spiraling into emotional and spiritual collapse every year.
But when you take care to receive Christ’s own love and strength by means of his Spirit through his word, you have something to give to others without yourself being depleted and emptied. (2)
Any appeal to the public in the name of Christ that rises no higher than an invitation to tranquillity must be recognized as mere humanism with a few words of Jesus thrown in to make it appear Christian.…
Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. (3)
I have to admit, I don’t like the words Moses spoke to Aaron and his boys. Why aren’t they allowed to grieve alongside their family? Paul talks of us weeping with those who weep (and laughing with them as they laugh as wll.) So this stupid act of their cousins should bring a time of grieving and being there for the family.
In this case, by no means in every case, they could not be there. We have to be careful of making this scenario a case study and establishing ground rules for pastoral care. I have heard that pastors must keep their distance and be above and remote from the scenario to pastor people. Based on the Romans 12 description of weeping and laughing, I have heard the opposite.
The question is, how do we become wise enough to know the difference? And how do we deal with our own pain? How do we find our peace when we encounter such trauma as pastors or people? Where do we find the wisdom to enter into the family’s pain, or not?
Senkbeil and Luther both note the high cost of enduring such trials. Trials that lead to the “gnawing at your own heart,” not being able to “have control of himself,” and “emotional and spiritual collapse” that most pastors deal with regularly. They will both find the same solution, which I will get to in a moment after I deal with Tozer – his words help clarify the discernment needed.
The idea that our message is only an invitation to peace and tranquility is the danger of trying to multi-task as a mourner and spiritual care provider. I am not saying God cannot work in these situations, but it taxes us too significantly and will lead to a message that doesn’t tie our peace to the cross. Establish enough of these trials, one after another, and the pain will break anyone. And when we fail, our words become something less, a placebo, no longer connected to the peace that is genuinely needed in a time like these.
Tozer calls the believer to carry the cross first…to forsake the world because focused on Christ whom we meet at the cross, we can be relieved of burdens and find the peace we need. This is why Senkbeil talks of letting the Spirit work through Word and Sacrament to receive Christ’s love and strength within us. It is why Luther talks of the fellowship
and the humblest maid comforting him, even as Jesus gathers His church around the Word and Sacraments. It is only connected to God’s grace that our words can do more than be a placebo. Only then is there something to give something beyond all understanding… the peace of Jesus!
Aaron and his boys were responsible for the Old Covenant sacrifices, those activities that pointed to God’s promise of peace. They weren’t forbidden to weep because God was uncaring. Rather, I think they needed to have the strength
of the promise that would enable the community to find grace and peace at the moment. They needed to remind people that God was still with them and that God was sustaining them, and even as God was ministering to them through the community, Their comfort and peace came from God, and they needed to lead people there. For us that means embracing the cross, accepting its suffering, realizing that there we meet Jesus. That is where we find life and hope, and rest. THat is why baptism, absolution and the Lord’s Supper take us there.. to Jesus… at the cross.
When I was a hospice chaplain, I watched nurses put aside their grief to care for the patients who passed away. We would weep together later – apart from those we had gone to care for, the patient and their family. Like Aaron and his
boys, we were the hands and voice of God for those hurting and grieving. I think that is what Moses was working from with these words. He directed them to not show grief at that moment because if they lost their way in despair, not
only would they drown, so would the community. As they focused on God… and His mercy…then they would be comforted and be able to offer the same.
This isn’t easy; this idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus in the middle of the pain. To be bluntly honest, I needed to be reminded of it presently… but it is there, at the altar with others.. that God’s peace is found, where the burdens
After the years of 2020 and 2021… that is where we need to be found… and when we are… we can minister to so many who need to know the peace of Jesus.
(1) Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 54: Table Talk, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 54 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 268.
(2) Harold L. Senkbeil, The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2019), 7.
(3) A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thoughts to draw us to Jesus… and His love.
Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me—nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
43 Then an angel from heavenu appeared to him, strengthening him. 44 Being in anguish,v he prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground. 45 When he got up from prayer and came to the disciples, he found them sleeping, exhausted from their grief. Luke 22:42-45 CSB
That faith which passively accepts all the pleasant texts of the Scriptures while it overlooks or rejects the stern warnings and commandments of those same Scriptures is not the faith of which Christ and His apostles spoke.
Usually, as we read the story about the garden of Gethsemane, we focus in on the incredible suffering Jesus sufffers, and the prayers that He prays.
Which is good and right….
And usually, we look at the disciples as a bunch of weak lazy failures, who couldn’t keep their eyes open…. We usually use their failure to stay awake as a sign of their weakness, of their sin. I mean, why couldn’t they down a red bull or a mountain dew or something?
As I was reading the Bible passage show above, I saw something I ahve seen in 50 years of readings and hearing this.
This translation says they were “exhausted from their grief”.
Since I didn’t remember it, I checked a few others …
“worn out by grief” TEV
“exhausted from grief” NLT
“Sleeping from sorrw” ESV, NKJV, NASB, KJV
Emotionally, the week had been draining. There were emotional highs and lows, Lots of people in need, and many of things Jesus taught, well, they were simmering in the souls of these men. Jesus talking about His blessed death didn’t help, nor did that scene with Judas…
And so late in the night, wearing, drained, crushed…. and while we are focused in on Jesus… the Holy Spirit and the scriptures recognize the burden the dsiciples carry… and even then, Jesus is there for them.
Just as God realizes the burdens we carry. And the spiritual exhaustion that is leaving us weak , and needing rest and sleep. Evening to the point of dreading life.
In the morning, Jesus would endure even more… the beatings, the trials, more betrayals, and eventually, the cross.
But even seeing all of that coming, He cared for those who the Father gave Him….He wanted them to know the presence of the Spirit, just as God wants us to know that today in the midst of our grieving, in the midst of the burdens we carry.
He is here… He will provide you the rest for your soul that you need. Just as He was there in the Garden for them, He is there for you in the midst of your pain… and He is here with me…in the midst of my grief.
Rest in His love… even as you take up your cross.. He is there with you…
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Encounter God and Commune
May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ convince you of the feasts to come, and that you will dwell in peace until those days are here.
74 out of 2.4 Million
It struck me, as I was starting to write this sermon tonight, that while 74 of the leaders of Israel communed with God that night, it was 74 out of 2.4 million people camped there at Mount Sinai.
Those their share in the covenant meal, on behalf of those who were below.
I have to wonder if those gathered in the presence of God, eating and drinking, were aware of those who were not there with them? Did it affect their mood?
What about for the apostles in the upper that night, some 1990 years ago. Did some think of who they wished were there?
This is getting me to think of all those I wish could be here, when things are normal, and who are not.
Some of those people are far away, in places like New Hampshire, or Sicily, or Michigan.
Others are in heaven, friends, and family who rest in God’s peace.
Some have moved on to other places, other churches.
Some, sadly to say, are struggling with sin, and are losing. Or they don’t know God loves them, and are not ready to listen to that news… quite yet.
There are a lot of people that I wish could be here… and yet, there is just a handful.
Let’s look back to the feast in Exodus, for there, we will find peace, and hope – that is a vision for the future.
But look at the feast – and what didn’t happen.
I want to read one verse again, listen to it well,
1`11 And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!
I love this picture!
There they are – in a room blazing with brilliance, the glory of God reflecting off of everything. A light that only God’s holiness could create! Looking at God – gazing at him! They mouths dropped open, then eyes bugged out wide,
Despite the fact they were sinners, they were welcomed into God’s presence, so welcome they were fed a meal guaranteeing the relationship with God – for that is what a covenant meal is – that is what communion is, a meal to celebrate the relationship. It is given as a guarantee of it.
Eating and drinking in the presence of God.
With no fear of His wrath, with no hint of wrath or even disappointment on the part of God.
This is a little picture of a more substantial feast to come.
As is this covenant feast at this altar tonight.
This isn’t the feast we long for, it just helps our desire for that feast.
Just as that feast in Exodus, pointed to this- yet, even more, pointed to the feast when we all arrive before the throne.
Knowing that we can share in the suffering…
While we cannot share in the feast together this evening, there is another way we can commune, something else that we are sharing in….
When Jesus asks the apostles to wait and pray with Him when he faced suffering.
We need to realize He was doing that for those disciples and for you and me.
It is the tears that Romans describes us sharing in together; as one cries, we all dry, and when we laugh, we share in that as well. This is what He invited the apostles to
We surely share in this, and as we do, as we find a bittersweet communion. Bitter because what we are going through is hard, it requires us to forgo one of the usual ways God strengthens and nourishes our faith, and reminds us we are His family, that we are one.
And yet to realize how much we miss it, has an oddly similar effect, as we long to share in the feast that will eventually take place.
Desire the Feast – and yes, the feasts to come.
The feast that is yet to come, the feast of the bread and wine, the feast of being welcome home into not only Jesus’ presence but the presence of the Father.
Not just a small percentage, but the entire people of God, Old Testament and New, Jesus and Gentile, the entire one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, united in Jesus Christ.
This is our hope, our expectation, and nothing can separate us from it, for we cannot be separated from our God. AMEN!
Devotional Thought fo the Day
18 Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love. 19 Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!20 You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago. Micah 7:18-20 (NLT2)
The text (Joel 2:13) commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.
I hate watching hospital shows, whether it is E.R. in the old days, or Gray’s Anatomy or any of the clones today. I actually thought I found one I liked, the ads said the guy did medicine the right way, and I have to admit, it was interesting the first couple of shows. I thought it might be a nicer version of “House.”
But as with all of them, they eventually get to the episode featuring the patient with Marphans, and it gets too personal.
Back in the ’90s, I had a cardiac arrest and had to have CPR performed n me for 15 minutes, then resuscitated 5 times with a defibrillator. And though I have no memory of when they said clear and shocked me, my body still feels it when I hear those words on a television show.
It is painful to face my own mortality again.
And yet, that same pain renders me thankful for the lady who performed CPR, and for the paramedics and doctors who shocked me back to life.
As I’ve talked to others like me, there is often a different outlook on life. Because we’ve experienced death because we know how fragile life is, life is different.
Spurgeon understands this spiritually, in order for us to grieve over sin, we need to take it ot the cross, to look on the body that was beaten, pierced, and hung on a cross. We need to understand of all those executed in history, Jesus could have stopped the entire charade and made it right. We need to hear the words of Jesus on the cross and realize His entire life was aimed at this very moment.
He chose not to.
He chose to die that you and I could know the wonder that amazes Hosea. The amazement that God overlooks our sins, the compassion that causes Him to be faithful to promises made centuries ago, but to keep those promises for you and me.
I wonder if we can ever appreciate that sacrifice unless we see it in face of our grievous sins. Can we truly appreciate that love, unless we come face to face with our jealousy, our gossip, our desire for the things of others, or our lust, or desire for revenge? Or simply our desire to play God, and create idols of our own choosing?
You see that in Acts 2, when the people who thought they were good, who thought they were God’s people (and were) realized that they had killed the Messiah. You see it in Paul’s encounter on the road, in the myriad of stories where people encounter Jesus or the apostles, and realize how far they have fallen, and then are picked up, dusted off, and the prodigal is no longer the prodigal, they are a son of God.
You need to realize what you were, not grieve over it, but to rejoice in what God is doing to us, and to look forward to the day when that work is complete.
Rejoice, your sins, which were as dark as night, causing you to decay like a corpse, those sins are forgiven because of the death of Christ. And because He is risen, so have you.
Rejoice my friends, rejoice.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Devotional thought for our days:
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth h in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You!
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. t 13 He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted u by Satan. v He was with the wild animals, w and the angels x began to serve Him. Mark 1:9-13 HCSB
Thus we are told that only through Christ did real joy appear and that in our life, in the last analysis, nothing matters more than coming to recognize and to understand Christ, the God of grace, the light and the joy of the world. Only then will our joy be true, when it no longer relies on things that can be snatched away from us and can perish, but when it is rooted in the innermost core of our existence, which no power in all the world is able to take away from us. And every outward loss ought to become for us a pathway into these innermost realms and to prepare us ever more for our true life.
Christmas is an emotional rollercoaster of epic extremes. To go from the pressure of rushing around, trying to find perfect gifts, to the moments where a hug from a friend or relative means everything, to the loneliness that occurs, as we realize who we are missing in our life. Like being on the roller coaster, we are not in control, and we don’t always know how to prepare for the next drop or the corkscrewing turn.
For those in ministry, the roller coaster includes our ministry, as well as our own “private” lives. Often we go from trying to reconcile a divided family, to celebrate a service with joy, to worrying about a friend in surgery or recovery, to being there while another friend mourns. And we get to tell everyone that there is JOY in this world!
The reading from Mark’s gospel helps this morning, as we see Jesus going from His miraculous baptism, from hearing the Father’s cry of delight, immediately into the desert, to be assaulted by Satan. From the purity of a sacred moment, into the assault and oppression of Satan himself.
Jesus knows our roller coasters, he knows all too well our brokenness, our struggle with our emotions trying to keep up with the moment’s challenge. In revealing His love, in dying on the cross and rising again, He comes into our lives. and brings peace.
This is what Pope Benedict is talking about as he teaches about joy, this joy that comes from realizing that we are in the presence of Jesus. as we are given the hope of glory, as we are comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The roller coaster doesn’t disappear, but we realize there will be a time when this ride ends, and we will share in His glory.
If I have learned anything about Christmas and its emotional rollercoaster, it is this. In order to survive it, I need to spend some time, looking at the manger, trying to put myself there, realizing that the Lord came into our lives because He loves us. Then, hearing Him reveal HIs love, we find the deepest peace, and in that peace, joy.
God has given Himself to us, fully. Think on that, focus on it, as we prepare to celebrate it, together.
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.
Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)
But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.
Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.
Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise. There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.
Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations. Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division. Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year. Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.
I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.
We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!” The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it. The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him, It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.
Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly, To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.
We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world. Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.
There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World. He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.
And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!
So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming. AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.
With These Words…
1 Thes. 4:13-16
† I. H. S. †
May the word of God, which reveals to you the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, so comfort you that you can remember His plan for you, to spend eternity in His glory!
What good did their words do?
In the aftermath of last Sunday’s shooting in a church in Texas, a very odd discussion broke out on social media.
The discussion concerned this question, “was about whether God was listening to the prayers of the people in the church that was shot up.”
It started by a reaction to all the politicians and others who said things like, “our hearts and prayers are with the people of Texas.” To which many people asked, well what good did their prayer do them in the first place.
And then the war of words ensued…
Rather than face the actual issue, death, tragic, traumatic death, Christians and non-Christians alike were attacking and counter-attacking each other about whether the words of the people’s prayers that day protected them from a madman’s rampage.
We need words to make a difference in times like these, but it is not the words of those praying that will make the difference, it is the words of the of the Lord they pray to, the words of the promise He has made us, and the words, like in the epistle today, that reveal His promise to us.
When the apostle Paul talks of grief, he notes the following,
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.
I’ve heard over the years sincere people telling others not to grieve, usually, with something like, don’t grieve, you will see them again! I even once heard some explaining patiently that grieving is evidence of a severe lack of faith.
That is so much rubbish! That is not what Paul is saying here, he is simply saying the grief is different for those who know God. For them, it is a different kind of grief than the grief of those who don’t have hope.
Literally, it is those without something to hold on to, something to that sustains us and keeps us afloat. Those without God don’t have promises to hold onto, they don’t have the promises we are given in our baptism, the promises we remember if and when we make the sign of the cross.
Here is how that promise is described in scripture,
4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NLT)
Look at the promises here,
God washed away our sin,
We are born again and given a new life through the Holy Spirit
That Spirit is poured out on us in our baptism,
We are declared righteous and holy,
and we are, as we confessed in our creed, given confidence, we believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!
Our grief is real, it may be felt more powerfully, it may last longer, and yet, we have something to hold onto, the hope we have in God.
This isn’t a theological epistle,
Which is the point of this letter from Paul, and the description of Jesus second advent, His second coming. This letter of Thessalonians isn’t about an end times calendar of events. it is not a theological calendar.
It’s to remind us that before we see Jesus return if we are around at the time, those who died, those who are his will have risen from the dead. They will see Him, We won’t meet Him before they have joined Him. That is why in the liturgy we see the Sanctus with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven. It’s not just about doctrine, is about knowing God’s plan, and being encouraged by it.
Encouraged you say? But we are grieving!
But God’s encouragement is not just a friendly pat on the back, like a coach sending you back into play after an injury. Nor is that the kind of encouragement that scripture talks about His people giving each other.
Godly, Biblical encouragement is the kind of thing where we weep and laugh together, where we share each other’s pain, just as Christ shares our pain. The word is the verb form of the word to describe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, the One who comes alongside. lifts us up and carries you.
That’s what the word paraclete means – to call alongside to comfort, to encourage, to lift up and help carry.
And that is what God does. every day for us.
Through His word, through the sacraments, through each other, He makes Himself known, and the presence of the Holy Spirit comforts us.
As does the hope, no, the knowledge that eternity is ours, with God, Dwelling in and sharing in His glory, with all those who trust in Him.
It is for this reason Jesus came, to ensure our sin would never stop us from that eternity, to provide the Holy Spirit to minister to us, and carry us, to ensure us of all the promises of God, so that even now, we can live life in expectation of eternity, and thereby dwell in peace.
God’s peace, which passes all understanding – the peace in which Jesus keeps us, our hearts and minds! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
5 This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT)
65 Once again you had gone back to your old follies!… And afterwards, when you returned, you didn’t feel very cheerful, because you lacked humility. It seems as if you obstinately refuse to learn from the second part of the parable of the prodigal son, and you still feel attached to the wretched happiness of the pig-swill. With your pride wounded by your weakness, you have not made up your mind to ask for pardon, and you have not realized that, if you humble yourself, the joyful welcome of your Father God awaits you, with a feast to mark your return and your new beginning.
The divine embrace: The appropriate image for biblical and ancient spirituality.
I once again find myself struggling with those I would term sinful, even, in my more cynical moments, evil. Some are in bondage to sin and struggle to realize it, even though all around them can see it. Others seem to revel in their evil, and they will go to great length to defend the sin that so dominates and controls them.
There are days I want to oppose them, to fight the evil. There are other days I simply want to walk away, leave them to their own consequences, to by my absence curse them to remain locked into their evil. It is tempting to want to remove myself from their crap, whether that crap is found in what we call a secular arena, or in one that is supposed to be sacred.
To even think that way reminds me that I am no different, for my sin can dominate me as easily, and as St Josemaria points out, my lack of humility conveniently assumes their sin is far worse than mine. My crap, or the pig slop that St Josemaria identifies, is no better than theirs, my desire to fight or flee is really more about my pride that it is about the distaste for their sin.
It is hard, not at this point to want to condemn myself as much as I would condemn them. Don’t I know better? Don’t I hear John’s words regularly about the reality that exists when I deny my own sin? Those questions run over and crush my heart and soul, for how will I be ever delivered from this life and its struggle with sin? Well, those are my thoughts deep in my heart until I encounter something in someone else that is sinful or evil. Then I forget all about self-condemnation to condemn the easy target.
The only way out of this is to encounter what Webber calls the “Divine Embrace”, the Prodigal’s Father who runs out to embrace his son, casting aside all dignity, all hurt from his son’s betrayal, to embrace Him.
We are that prodigal, God is that Father who embraces us! We are that sinner who can’t deny our sin but confesses it, and finds not only that sin forgiven, but our lives cleansed of all unrighteousness.
A cleansing that enables us to do more than finding others sins revolting, but to actually hurt for them, to beg God to deliver them, to help them. We may even find ourselves led and empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach out and minister to them, to be the agents through whom God reconciles them to Himself, and to His people. Then we will be blessed to witness that which St James about,
19 My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)
May we all rejoice at being brought back, together.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 490-495). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
14 Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it. Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)
Do not limit your patience to such or such kind of injuries and afflictions, but extend it to all such as it shall please God to send you. Some are unwilling to suffer any tribulations, but such as are honourable; for example, to be wounded in battle, to be a prisoner of war, to be persecuted for religion, or to be impoverished by some lawsuit determined in their favour. Now, these people do not love the tribulation, but the honour which accompanies it; whereas, he that is truly patient, suffers tribulations indifferently, whether accompanied by ignominy or honour.
As I write this, in the background is Anne Hathaway’s version of “I dreamed a dream” from the movie version of Les Mis. I can’t help but think of the character, and the background found in the novel. ALothough in the beginning a victim of her own sin, others make her misery and despair far more oppressive.
Some, like Val Jean, do so without thought. Others, like the Innkeeper and his wife, or the supervisor in the shop, do so with evil and malice.
Either way, the suffering is real, the oppression stifling, the pain incapacitating.
As I read St. Francis De Sales words this morning, it, this idea of unnecessary suffering started dominating my thoughts. How do we deal with the suffering we don’t deserve, the pains that are caused by others, or whose biological cause cannot be blamed on anyone.
Things like my genetic heart issues, my dear friend’s ongoing battle with cancer, the unknown victims of terrorism and their families, those who suffer from PTSD, or some other mental illness and those who suffer with them.
This is different than the cyber-crusader who looks and desires and rejoices in his being “persecuted for rightness ( not righteousness) sake.” Those people love the honor they receive from being a victim, and they deserve the persecution and the problems.
But what about the innocent who suffer? Or those who suffering is so compounded by others neglect or deliberate harm?
As one, I’ve learned the hard way, through many sleepless nights, and times of tears that I cannot justify the suffering, I cannot find the “why” that I so desperately want to know. I can strike out in anger, I can slip into the deepest of depression, I can, and have at times, hoped the suffering would simply end.
Those thoughts don’t diminish the suffering, if anything, it gives the suffering more power over me, increasing the anxiety. Nor am I strong enough, on my own, to avoid those feelings.
I need to be patient, with these things I cannot explain, with the pain I can’t bear on my own. I need to have the patience De Sales calls for, I need the assurance of God’s empathy and benevolence of a God who invites me into HIS presence. I need to have the confidence to look to HIM, to understand how His innocent suffering had a purpose, and that somehow God will use mine for good.
It is not an easy task, coming to this conclusion, gaining this confidence. It is one I often fail to achieve, as this day or that is spent letting the darkness enclose me. Devotion is the answer, not devotions (remember – my strength had already failed), but devotion. Considering Christ’s devotion to me, and as I do, growing to adore Him.
There is the answer. Considering the depth of Christ’s devotion, there I find the hope that enable the patience I need, the strength to endure, the ability to take my mind off of my problems. Being encouraged by others, who endure, and hear my words and find the same strength to endure. That helps me realize the depth of Christ’s empathy. As odd as it sounds, I can embrace the suffering, knowing His suffering that He embraced. For He embraced it for a simple reason. He loved you andI.
Will I need the encouragement of others, pointing me back to the cross? Yes! Will I still struggle at times? After 45 years of dealing with this, the answers is, yes. But I know I will come out of the depths, sustained by Jesus, who volunteered to suffer so that I would know His empathy, HIs love, and ultimately, His peace.
This is my goal for today, to walk confidently into His presence, to accept His invitation to walk with Him.
And to pray you will boldly, confidently walk with our God as well.
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9 But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (TEV)
I knew what I was keeping down in my heart. And being very much displeased that these human things had such power over me, which in the due order and appointment of our natural condition must needs come to pass, with a new grief I grieved for my grief, and was thus worn by a double sorrow.
When I came across these words of Augustine this morning, they resonated deeply within me. He is right, I am so weakened by grief, that even this weakness causes me to grieve.
I’ve laid to many to rest recently; I am watching friends bury those they love, their dads, their husbands, their siblings, and even their children. Funerals with hundreds in attendance, a graveside with 7.
I grieve because I grieve, that my faith seems so weak in the face of death. As I attempt to move past this grief, I find myself unable to do so. Even as I see those I am ministering to, those who I try to point to the hope that is in Christ, hope I firmly hold onto because I know His love,the tears still flow, the heartache still pounds.
Why can’t I move from the trauma to the healing? Why can’t I move from the sorrow to the joy? Why can’t I move from the frustration that comes in realizing that life is all too short, to the confidence I should have, because I am a believer? After all, I am a pastor, I should have enough faith, I should realize the truth, I should be able to shut out this sorrow, this grief?
Or should I?
I think Paul the apostle would say no, that it is in the midst of the trauma we find the Spirit’s comfort, where we find the healing that God has promised there will be a day when death loses its sting. It is in the midst of the frustration that I stop trying to be strong, well aware that I cannot be. It is in the middle of the sorrow that I do find the peace, and yes the joy that comes from realizing that Jesus is here, sharing that grief, sharing that sorrow.
That death was defeated, not by avoiding it, rather it is dying that He destroyed death, and we now find life in Him.
I will admit this, in this last month and a half, when I have over and over been swamped with grief, and then have been grieved that I am not strong enough to get past it, in this time the most incredible worship I have experienced in my life has occurred. Simply because God has met us, and comforts. He is truly our refuge, our sanctuary, our hope and our life.
God has answered, His mercy is known… and we can rest….
Can I be thankful for the grief? Not for the reason, I grieve, but for that which has accompanied the grief, His strength supporting me in my weakness?
Yes, I can be thankful for that. AMEN!
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.