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The Words That You Need to Hear Me Say, but “I” dont say them.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought of the Day:

19  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21  (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” John 20:19-23 (NAB)

So rejoice my friends, based on your confession and your faith in Christ hear these words. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the  † Son and of the Holy Spirit.  adapted from the Lutheran Liturgy, Confession, and Absolution 

22 We urge you, however, to confess and express your needs, not for the purpose of performing a work but to hear what God wishes to say to you. The Word or absolution, I say, is what you should concentrate on, magnifying and cherishing it as a great and wonderful treasure to be accepted with all praise and gratitude.

It is necessary to discover anew the meaning of the scandal that enables one man to say to another: “I absolve you from your sins.” In that moment—as, for that matter, in the administration of every other sacrament—the priest draws his authority, not, certainly, from the consent of a man, but directly from Christ. The I that says “I absolve you …” is not that of a creature; it is directly the I of the Lord. I feel more and more uneasy when I hear the facile way in which people designate as “ritualistic”, “external”, and “anonymous” the formerly widespread manner of approaching the confessional.

It does seem scandalous, every Sunday as I stand in from of my parishioners and guests, and dare to forgive their sins.  Who am I to have just a great task.  Or worse, in those times where people aren’t repentant, to hand them over to Satan for a season.   ( 1 Cor. 5:5,  1 Thes. 1:20)  

But who am I to dare tell Joe that his sins are forgiven?  What if he is a man who cheats on his wife, or is verbally abusive toward his co-workers?  What if he’s been stealing and breaking into houses, or cheating on his taxes?  What if he constantly gossips about political figures?

How dare I stand there, look at him, and say, “I forgive your sins…”

Luther has it correct, the focus is not on me, but on you hearing what God desires you to hear.  You are freed from the bondage you put yourself into by sinning.  The eternal consequences have been transferred to Jesus on the Cross, they are not yours.  You need to cherish these words,  value them as life-giving, life-restoring.  It is a spiritual form of CPR and first aid. 

Pope Benedict seems to resonate with these words as well, as he discusses the delegation of Christ’s authority (see Matthew 28:18) to forgive sins is given to the pastor to use, for the benefit of God’s people.  THe “I” there is no longer dustin the sinner, but it is Jesus speaking to you.  

His authority, His message, His decision.

You are forgiven.

It is finished.

For by the stripes Jesus bore, you have been healed!

Rejoice!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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.

The Priceless Blessing We Cannot Afford to Neglect…

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional thought of the Day:

23  After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Matthew 14:23 (NLT)

26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)

16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.  (1) 

The intercessor is a worshipper who has understood the deepest feelings of God and clings to them, despite contrary appearances.

In prayer, our flesh, identified with the Word made flesh and moved by the Spirit, longs for the Father. This is the mystery that unfolds in prayer and that promises us a unique communion with the Father, in the Spirit, and through the Son.
He takes our flesh and we receive his Spirit.

I am sitting in my office, as I do most Saturdays.  My primary task is finalizing my sermon, the two Bible studies I teach tomorrow.  As I do, there is another task I do… on that can be heartbreaking at times.

It is receiving the prayers that people drop into mention, that text or message me or email me about.  They want to make sure they are included in the bulletin for our people to pray about, or if more confidential, that I will include them in my private prayers. 

This morning has been no different, in fact, one could say “business” has been a bit brisker than normal.  A military person going to Korea, another beloved friend diagnosed with cancer, a friend dealing with diabetes and other health concerns, people with family problems, people looking for a new home, people with family struggles.  There are a lot of people we pray for, an act often called intercession, or petitioning God on their behalf.  Or more simply – we ask God to bless them and care for them in their situation.  That includes praying for healing, for strengthening their trust and dependence on Him, which will give them hope.  Mostly that they would see God acting in their lives. 

This is prayer, this is, in a very real way, communing with God.  Or as the Lutheran confessions (in green) call it, a sacramental time.  Pope Franci echoes this sentiment when he calls it the mystery that is unfolded and revealed, a time of intimate communion, a time where we understand the deepest feelings of God and cling to them.

As I prepare for tomorrow’s sermon, this hits home strong.  Jesus sends the disciples across the lake, he sends the crowds away, and he heads in to the hills to be alone, to pray.  Specifically, the word for prayer is the word for petition.  He has to talk wiht the Father about the people he encountered, He has to bring them into the relaitonship He has with the Father because they matter to both of them!

Add to this the action of the Holy Spirit, seen in the passage from Romans. This incredible thought that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us as well, praying when we are too overwhelmed when we cannot find the words when we can’t find the words or thoughts to pray.  It is then that the Spirit is definitely interceding with and for us, with words that are inaudible, because the Spirit’s groans,, the Spirit’s pleading is beyond expression. 

That is how much the Spirit cares, how much the Spirit is in touch with our needs, with the needs of those we love, and those they love.

Prayer isn’t some empty time of waiting for an appeal to be heard and decided.  It isn’t a time to do out of a sense of obligation, either to God or to those who ask.

It is the time we have been given to walk with God, to see His heart, to realize His love for them is even deeper than ours.  THat He cares more for those we intercede for than He does for flowers and birds, and if he cares for them and makes them beautiful bow much more for us is He active, then we can relax, we can be at peace.

Such is this priceless gift of prayer, our time with God. And like the other sacramental times, we need to slow it down hear his voice. To let Him comfort our tears, to let Him still our anxious hearts, to help us realize He is with us….even when we don’t know what to pray.

He is with us…

If that is all prayer did,, was make us aware of that, it would be worth it.

Yet to realize that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are advocating for us, pleading for us, praying with us….. how that helps us… how incredible, how much more does it help us understand the heart of our incredible God who loves us!

Be at peace, the Lord is with you!

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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.

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.

Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?

Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  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. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

When You Don’t Know How to Pray: A Sermon on Romans 8

church at communion 2When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Romans 8:18-27

In Jesus Name

May you find great peace in knowing the grace and compassion that God has for you seen in the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for you when we are weak!

St Patrick’s dream
When I utter those words, “the Lord is with you!” what do you see?  How do you picture that? For a picture is worth all the words you can use.

While going through a period of turmoil and conflict, the great missionary pastor we call St Patrick wrote these words,

“And on another night, I know not, God knows, whether in me or near me, spoke in most eloquent language, which I heard and could not understand, except that at the end of the speech he address me this, “Who for thee laid down his life?” and so I awoke full of joy and again I saw on praying on me, and I was as it were within my body and I heard him over me, that is, over the inner man, and there he prayed fervently with groanings, and during this time I was full of astonishment and was wondering and considering who it could be that was praying in me but at the end of the prayer He declared it was The Spirit and so I awoke and remembered that the Apostle says, “The Spirit also helps us in our infirmities, for we know we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession with groanings which cannot be uttered” that is m expressed in words, and “the Lord our advocate makes intercession for us”  (the confessions of St Patrick)

What an incredible vision!  What an incredible picture, lying there, and seeing the Holy Spirit at our side, leaning over us begging the Father to work in our lives where we truly need it!

I wish that every single one of us could have such a vision as St Patrick, could know the peace and joy that comes from seeing the Holy Spirit so involved in our lives, in caring for our heart and soul. This is what I want us to see when we hear those incredible words, “the Lord is with you!

The Holy Spirit, actually and quite actively working in our lives, comforting us, healing our souls, bringing us to the Father to be blessed, and then becoming a blessing, which impacts our families, our friends, and everyone we encounter!

It’s a challenging vision, especially when we are struggling…struggling with our lives, and if so, often struggling to trust God as well.

The need for help

We aren’t alone in that struggle.  While Paul reminds us that the struggle isn’t even in the same ballpark as to the glory of God we are invited to share in, he also reminds us that we aren’t alone.

Hear how he says it, “All creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are, Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse, but with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay!”

Even so, he goes on to say, “we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, and we believers also groan”

I kinda want to give an “Amen” to that last part, the part about we also groan.

It has been a week of groaning and struggling, and I needed to know the Spirit was with us

I needed to know the Spirit’s prayer would be answered, bringing us into harmony with God’s will.

We need that kind of help, that kind of intercession in life.  For along with all that God has created we struggle to the point of groaning in this life.

The struggle could be with our health or finances, with a relationship at work or in our family, the struggle could be dealing with someone in our family, or at our work, or even here at church. The struggle could because of the cumulative effect of the sin of the world, or because of someone who sinned against us, and the struggle always involves our own sin.  Remember, this passage follows Paul;s words about not doing what he should, and doing what he shouldn’t, and therefore he is a wretch!  He needed the Spirit to remind Him that Jesus died for Him, that God would restore Him.

But we groan, even as we wait for the day when death and decay lose all their power over us, when our bodies no longer struggle with sin when we no longer suffer.

The question then becomes how do we wait patiently and confidently until that day when the hope we see becomes fully ours?

We see it, it is more than hope, even so, we wait for it.

Paul talks of this in verse 24 when he says,

“We were given this hope when we were saved! If we already have something (see it as real) we don’t have to hope for it.  But if we look forward (same word as have before ) to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”

We have been saved – that is guaranteed, though we don’t see it completely. The way I think of it is like ordering something. We pay for something, and it is ours from the moment the money changed hands.  But while it is ours, it has to arrive for us to fully enjoy it.

It works that way with us, as Jesus death paid for our sins, as God “redeemed us” buying us from the debt of sin. Yet we are still “in transit” to the Father, being drawn there by Jesus, guided there by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the delivery person, and we are safe in His hands until we are delivered to the seen in revelation, where with people of every language, of every culture, of every period in history we surround the throne and sing His praises.  For it is there in that room that we see God’s will revealed completely.

The people He loves gathered around Him, his people, us.  We look forward to that incredible day!

Until then….

 

Which brings us back to the vision of St Patrick.

This is how scripture describes one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us, pleading with the Father, straining and pleading in a way that brings us into harmony with the will of God. In groans so deep, so meaningful that they are inaudible – there are just not the words.
Yet God understands and hears, and acts.

For we are His children, the ones He has invited into His glory, the ones He reveals His love to, the ones Christ died to release from sin and suffering, the one’s the Holy Spirit will sustain until we are all before the throne

AMEN!

What Did the Apostles Do Today…?

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  It is of the mysterious wisdom of God that we talk, the wisdom that was hidden, which God predestined to be for our glory before the ages began. 8  None of the rulers of the age recognised it; for if they had recognised it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; 9  but it is as scripture says: What no eye has seen and no ear has heard, what the mind of man cannot visualise; all that God has prepared for those who love him10  to us, though, God has given revelation through the Spirit, for the Spirit explores the depths of everything, even the depths of God.   1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (NJB)

318      Place yourself before the Lord each day and tell him slowly and in all earnestness, like the man in the Gospel who was in such great need, Domine, ut videam! —Lord, that I may see!; that I may see what you expect from me, and struggle to be faithful to you.   Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge

Yesterday they saw Jesus humiliated, they saw the results of the beatings, the interrogations, the whipping.  They heard the crowd cry out, “Crucify Him”; whipped into a frenzy, a desire for blood that scared a Roman Governor to the point of submission.

They watched Him carry the beam, and then fall, and then when He wasn’t able to carry it any longer, they watched a stranger carry it for him.  They didn’t volunteer, they didn’t go near Him.  They rejected Him.

Just like we do at times.

But what did they do today?  Where they so stunned they just sat behind locked doors?  Did they spend time in prayer, as they had been taught?  Did their fears and anxieties oppress them?  Did their guilt complete the job, leaving them depressed and in despair?

What did they do?

I ask this because I think we live in a similar situation today.  Jesus hasnt’ returned yet, and while we know scripture teaches it, while we know the prophecies and promises, there are days where it all seems like a nightmare, and the promises, well they are diminished by our grief, our pain, our anger, our denial. our guilt and shame.  We live in this time, where our minds should remind us, but our hearts and souls are overwhelmed.

We need to see Jesus.  As St. Josemaria advises we need to remember we are in HIs presence and ask Him to help us see that which we perceive.  We need to let the Spirit reveal to us the depth of the wisdom of God, the wisdom that planned for our salvation, that planned to and did raise Jesus from the dead.

And with Him, we died and rise as well….

 † Lord, have mercy upon us, and in these days when we are brought low, when we struggle to see Your face, open our eyes, remind us of your promises.  We pray this in the name of the Father,  † the Son, and the Holy Spirit, AMEN! 

Then You Will Know that… A Lenten Sermon on Ezekiel 37

dscf1215-copy-copyThen You Will Know

Ezekiel 37:1-14

 In Jesus Name

 As you know the miraculous work of God in your life, as the grace, mercy, and love become reality, never forget that this is your LORD who walks with you!

In the midst of the miraculous

There is a part of me, the geeky part, that would love to see a movie made out of the Old Testament scene today, with the skeletons coming together, with the tendons and muscles crawling up the bones, the faces going from skeleton to muscle to flesh…

It would be like watching a horror movie in reverse….

And then the miracle of the wind, roaring across the valley, visibly entering each body’s nostrils, entering their mouths, their eyes snapping open, amazed by the life that now pumps blood through the body that surrounds the formerly dry and brittle bones!

What a wonder it would be!

A great crowd of people, awake and risen from the graves, brought back to the life they were always meant to live!

What a great movie, what complicated special effects, probably even beyond the imagination of Spielberg or Lucas!

And the most miraculous thing that happened would be overlooked in such a movie…

The incredible miracle of the chapter, found in these words,

“Then you will know that I am the LORD!”

“Then you will know that I am the LORD!”
Even as we see everything else happen, not just as a movie in our lives, but here and now, will we hear those words? Then will We Know?

Yea – those are our bones…

The first thing that might take away our knowing is looking at the bones, our bones.

Like Israel, most of us can see how we’ve withered and dried out.  We can see where our faith is challenged, where temptation has turned to sin, where the first cracks happened that left us broken, that made us outsiders.

It may have been the sin of jealousy and coveting that got you, or some juicy piece of gossip that you had to pass on.  Maybe it was a desire that caused you to be unfaithful in your words or thought, or anger that caused you to hurt someone you should have loved.  Or maybe the sin was not honoring parents or authorities, or not recognizing the need for time with God, or using His name in a way we shouldn’t, or not using it when we should.

It doesn’t matter the sin, whether it was in thought or word, or action that we took, or knew we should and didn’t.

Those bones in the story are ours, as much as they were Israel’s.

And seeing them, we can lose our hope, we can lose our focus on God, and see only our own sin.

But that isn’t the story here, nor is it where our thoughts need to dwell.  Can our dried bones live?  Can we, despite our sin and shame find life?  The LORD knows…

It’s time to stop focusing on your sin, your history

Yea – that is the Quickening

Our dry bones can take much of our attention away from God. So can our being brought back to life, the miracle of God covering our sin, our nakedness, and putting His Spirit within us.

It is truly a miracle, this work of God, this thing that theologians calls the quickening, this miracle were a sinner is declared and becomes righteous by God’s command. This miracle where sin is stripped from us, and laid on Jesus at the cross.  Where we are brought to life with Him and His resurrection.

This is a wonderful thing as God saves us from our hopelessness, and causes us to rise again.

But it is not the greatest thing, not even close…

But here is what you need to know.

Go back to that phrase, “Then you shall know that I am the LORD!:

We may skip over that far too quickly.   For the other things, our sin and our being brought to life seem to capture our attention, they are more graphic, more visual, and knowing that Jesus is the LORD, that is something we might just assume, or take for granted.

But know here isn’t just about knowing the facts, it is about knowing God as LORD, as the I AM.  To know him deep down into our heart and soul, the part of us that seems hidden.  Hidden not only from those who know us but deep down into the parts of us that lie beneath our character, that truly define who we are.

We also have to remember that when we see LORD in all capital letters, it is not His title, it is His name, YHWH, or Jehovah, the I AM that Moses was told to use to introduce Israel to Him with. The Name we are to call out to God with when we are in despair, the Name of God we are to use in our prayers and our praises, the God who communes with us here.

This is knowing at our deepest part, knowing Him in the most intimate of settings in our heart and soul.  Knowing Him at a point where brokenness is healed, where love is known, even if we can’t explain it.  Where peace is found, for there God has put His Spirit. For God has breathed into you life, a life that is abundant.

This is the real miracle in the valley of the dry bones, the revelation not just of salvation, not just of the Love of God, but of knowing Him, and realizing how well He knows and loves us.

For as that is revealed – we become more and more aware that we dwell in His presence, and are safe there… for He is our LORD, He is YHWH, our God.  AMEN!

 

It’s time to come home… coming to our senses about sin and the family of God

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
17  Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. 18  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” ‘ 20  So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
Luke 15:17-20 (NAB)

985    You strayed from the way and did not return because you were ashamed. It would be more logical if you were ashamed not to return.

Why, Then, is the Law to Be Taught, and What is Its Legitimate Use?
I. That people might learn from the Law seriously to acknowledge both their manifold sins and the judgment of God against sins, namely that they are subject to divine wrath and the curse or eternal condemnation, unless they are set free through Christ, so that they thus turn themselves away from sins, fear the wrath of God, and seek the true physician who alone can heal our weaknesses. Ro 3:20; 4:15; 2 Co 3:6–9; Eze 18:30–31; Mt 9:12.
II. That the Law, written by the finger of God, might be for the reborn a sure norm and rule, showing which works God has prepared, in which He wants the reborn to walk and serve Him. Dt 12:32; Eze 20:19; Ro 13:8; Cl 2:20–23.

He came to his senses. We need to do the same. 

Growing up 40-45 years ago, there was a rule in our home, be back int he house before dark.  We lived on 3 hilly wooded acres in New Hampshire, and darkness fell fast, there was nothing like lingering twilight in the, once the sun went down, darkness descended, and it was a black darkness.  

More than once, I would leave too late to get home before darkness caught me.  Once i remember sitting in the small ancient cemetery (newest grave was 1810 or so) a half mile down the road, fearing what my arrival home would bring.  As a side note, I don’t recommend sitting in a dark cemetery with huge creaky oak trees blotting out the moonlight.

Car lights could be seen, and I feared each one would contain my parents, out searching for their young rebellious, disobedient son. After about an hour passed by, as the night was getting colder, desperation would force me to leave my refuge, and walk my huffy bicycle home. 

As I walked by my neighbors, looking in their windows, I wondered if they knew of my misadventure if my folks had checked with the Stobers and the Zahns.  Eventually, I tried to figure if I could sneak in, through the basement sliding glass door, or maybe through the studio or kitchen door.  But I made it home, and at first hugged, then scolded, then hugged again, I was finally safe, and the anxiety could fade away.

This is how we treat God, whether we’ve run far off, or whether we are hiding deep inside our own hearts as we sit in church on Sunday morning.  St Josemaria tells us our shame should have driven us home, desperately seeking refuge, rather than ensnared us and kept us anxious, cold, hungry and left…. outside, tormented, and scared what would happen when we finally arrived home. 

As a pastor, there is a need for me to teach people that the best place for them to be, when struggling with sin, is in the midst of God’s family.  There, mercy and peace is waiting.  Forgiveness and love will be manifest.  Chemnitz was correct, where the Law serves properly when it moves believers from remaining in sin to remember they are set free from sin by Jesus, and enables them to respond to that mercy and love.  That it shows them they can seek the healing of their hearts and souls, for this is why Jesus reaches out to them.

People need to know that church is a safe haven fro sinners, a place where they aren’t going to be condemned for being snared by sin, but where they will find peace, as others similarly wounded assist them, and help them depend on Jesus.  

This is the church, this is the Father’s home, where we find His compassion.

So come home, enter the warmth and light, and know love and peace…. it’s time.

And if you see me or anyone else hiding behind a tombstone, bring us home too.

For we all get caught in the darkness from time to time.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 2290). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition 
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

This Church is For Misfits and Outcasts

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

15 Later on Jesus was having a meal in Levi’s house. A large number of tax collectors and other outcasts were following Jesus, and many of them joined him and his disciples at the table. 16Some teachers of the Law, who were Pharisees, saw that Jesus was eating with these outcasts and tax collectors, so they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such people?”  17 Jesus heard them and answered, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”   Mark 2:15-17

580    Humbly ask God to increase your faith. Then, with new lights, you’ll see clearly the difference between the world’s paths and your way as an apostle.  (1)

They were the those who were sent away, either to an island for toys that didn’t meet the standard, or out of the camp of Israel because they had sinned, or perhaps, their sin was just more obvious than the rest.

They didn’t fit in, and to be honest,  I count myself as one of their number, and sometimes, I even wonder if I am a mis-fit in their circles.  I have days like that, even a year or two where I feel that way.

Which is why it is hard at times to realize I do fit in at my church.

If I, their pastor, can feel this way, how many others do as well?

How many of us who gather on a Sunday morning know intuitively or because someone told us, that we aren’t like the others.  Maybe it is a psychological challenge, or one of intellect.  Maybe it is what appears to be a physical deformity or disease.  Maybe it is the weakness of character, or some other distinguishing factor that the world would use to separate us from the norm.

But the church is Jesus’s territory, not the worlds!  It is not so different from the Island of Misfit toys, the place where the outcasts would be gathered, and form a tightly-knit community.  One gathered around Jesus, because He shows us we do fit, we are fine and safe.

The incarnation was not for the people in perfect places, with perfect clothes, with sinless perfect lives.  The incarnation was among the misfits, the outcasts, those who others sent away, as if they were broken, or undesirable.  Such make up the One, Holy, catholic (universal/complete) and Apostolic Church, and indeed, of those who were judged mis-fit, some become some of our greatest heroes of the faith, those we call saints (even though all who walk with Jesus are!)

For the world’s paths can’t be tread by them, and as they learn to depend on God, as their faith increases, as they talk and pray with God, He sends them out to bring the healing they are experiencing to the world. They reach out to the other outcasts, and even to those who have pretended they are not!

This is church, real church, with real people who have real problems, and are sustained by a real God.

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1386-1387). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Crafting Serenity: A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King!

church at communion 2

Crafting Serenity

Col. 1:13-20

† Jesus, Son & Savior †

May the Grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the grace seen in action as He brings us from darkness to life, may you know so clearly that grace, that you dwell in His peace!

Made Peace – Crafted Serenity:

In the last verse read from Colossians this morning, we hear something that Jesus has done.  It is accomplished, done, competed, and yet we don’t’ always see it.

It is a great description of what reconciliation really is, what the cross accomplishes,

Hear the words again,

He made peace with everything on heaven and earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

He made peace…made peace.

It actually can read more powerfully than that…

He crafted serenity…

 Crafted Serenity….

I hear those words, and for a moment I am taken back to Lake Ossipee – to a place where you can barely see the homes on the other side of the lake, when the colors of the fall include just about every color imaginable, and the lake’s waters are so still there are no ripples… just calm serenity, with a brief breeze or a snowflake fluttering down….

A bit different than life lived on the 91, 5 or 605 freeway.

We need to note that God isn’t saying He will craft serenity later, that this peace will be made at some future point.  It’s not happening in some undefined period labeled “soon”.

It is a tense that originate in the past – and keeps going – that crafting serenity, that making peace hasn’t stopped for a moment..

But that raises the question….

Why doesn’t our spiritual life seem more like that serene day standing at the edge of a beautiful calm lake, and why does it too often seem like I am standing in the middle of that freeway at 5 p.m.?

Who is this?  Who are We not?

That peace is the creation of God, created as Christ’s blood was shed on the cross.  The Christ we worship and praise, the Christ who is the visible image of our invisible Father. He’s been there forever, in Him everything – including us is created.

He created it all – everything in heaven and on earth!  Everything we see and can’t see, and He is supreme over all creation holds it all together.

And that is where we struggle, and often why we don’t know peace.

That He is Creator, we don’t have a problem with, it is that we want to be supreme, we want to be in charge, we want to make it all work out.  That is the root of all sin, the idea that we think for a moment, or we are tempted to think that we know what is best for us.

And so we go off on our own, we walk away and do what we want, what we desire. Even today we struggle with this idea that Jesus is not only our Savior but our benevolent, loving Lord.

Rather than learning what He desires, rather than seeking Jesus first. we choose what we want, what excites us, what we think might quench our cravings, or what we think might lead us to comfort or peace, or rest.

That’s why Paul goes back over – it through Jesus God created this all. From the beginning, He was in charge, not us.  For if we look to our own efforts to find the rest we desire, all we will do is find the consequences of our sin, of our rebellion, our throwing off God’s desires.

We have to set our desires aside and hear Paul’s confession – Christ is the head of it all, everything that was created was created for him, and for Him,

Which means all things, everything was meant to be defined by it’s relationship to Christ.

For He is God, in everything. Over life and death, over the new resurrected life that we have been given, as Christ drew us back to Himself.  For that is what reconciliation is, retuning that which was changed beck to its original – apokatalsso- to bring back, to restore, to make right.  To take us out of the darkness we entered and bring us into the light of His glory!

And that is what Christ did and is doing – making everything in heaven and earth the way it should be….you see that, even as He hands on the cross and reconciles the thief to Himself.

The work that was planned before creation, that was revealed at the cross!

That’s why we are in awe

That is why we are here, to see this work of God revealed.  As He calls us to Himself, as He reconciles us to Him, recreating us in His image, recreating in us His righteousness, guiding us.

It is why we listen to people read the bible, why we confess what we believe, reminding ourselves of His return, it is why we listen to a sermon, that forces us to consider our struggles, and know He is the answer to them.

It is why we know we can pour out our burdens here in prayer, and then come here to be given the Body and blood to eat and drink, to know that He has crafted for us a serenity, that He has fashioned this place where everything is set aside and we see what heaven will be like, where He gives us this peace, a peace that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Jesus.  AMEN!

Give Thanks!

Give Thanks!

Luke 17:11-19

In Jesus Name

May the compassion of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed for you, that you hear Him as He tell you to rise up!

Jesus Frustration:

Jesus asks, “where are the other nine?!” and I can’t imagine hearing that without hearing some frustration in His voice, and maybe even a little pain.

Where are they?

Don’t they realize what I’ve done for them?  And don’t they know that this is only the beginning?

Where are the other nine?

I don’t know how you read it any differently, though it may seem odd to hear God being pained by our inattentiveness, by our being ungrateful, by our not being aware of the incredible mercy and compassion that goes neglected.

But consider this.

God describes himself in Exodus 34 with these words,

14  You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.    Exodus 34:14 (NLT)
and in Hebrews we find this,

3  So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT)

This is the God who weeps over Jerusalem, who compares himself to the man whose beloved wife whom he rescued from a horrible life cheats on Him.

Now can you hear the pain in his voice, as he asks, “Didn’t I heal ten?  Where are the other nine?

is it enough to color between the lines?

Where are they?  Why at the priest’s, showing them the healing so they confirm it.  They are obeying Jesus, but isn’t that enough? Isn’t’ that the point of scripture, and the commandments, to get us to obey the commandments?

A quick illustration why it is not enough might help.

Think of  a children’s coloring book – with pictures of great masterpieces in it.

Forgetting the parental requirement to love every piece of art your child or grandchild colors in; is it enough to color between the lines? Can a Van Gogh be as beautiful or a Mona Lisa look as stunning if the colors don’t make sense?

Or to use another illustration – if we stay in our lane on the freeway, does that mean we can travel as fast as we want?

Of course not!

So in this case, while listening makes sense, what they didn’t hear was that Jesus had heard them, and answered.

A quick background – these lepers were supposed to cry out when people approached, “UNCLEAN!  UNCLEAN!”  They were to warn people to not come close, their disease was not only devastating, it was contagious.

Instead, somehow this group recognized Jesus, they recognized that though he wasn’t their Lord, He was one with authority, and they called out to him have mercy, to have compassion on them.  Mercy and compassion aren’t just about feelings, but love so full that it acts, it finds a way to relieve the burdens, to bring comfort and peace to lives that were broken, that were shattered.

As Jesus speaks, he offers them something they could only have dreamt of – to go and show themselves to the priests, to be declared free from the ravaged brokenness they knew, to be welcomed back into the community of the people of God.

And as they left, they were healed physically, miraculously.  Bodies that were more rotting than whole, bow showed skin that was a whole and new and vibrant as any.

This was the Master that spoke, that commanded this.  The Master, the one promised and sent by God. This is the Messiah, the one who would not just restore bodies, but souls. That would cleanse not just skin, but hearts and minds. Who would make them His people for eternity!

And we walked away.  We neglected the salvation, we obeyed the letter of the law, and missed something more important.  The Spirit, the messiah, Fellowship with God.

Even though they obeyed to the letter of the law – they missed what the law was given to do, to show them they were in fellowship with God.
Rise up!  Not only healed – but saved.

There is Jesus, and we’ve just heard him ask where the other nine was, when he focuses on the man again, lying there on the ground in front of him.  Who voice, which was loud when he cried for mercy, was mega loud when cried out God’s praises, when he offered great thanks – using the very word Jesus will use as he starts the last supper and gives thanks.

And what Jesus says is lost in almost every translation.

In this one it says this,

“Didn’t I heal ten men?” Then it says, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

A few others say, Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.Luke 17:19 (NASB)

But a few say it this way – reflecting the Greek, ‘Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.’ Luke 17:19 (NJB)

Not just made well, not just healed, his faith, his trust in God demonstrated in the return to praise God was the trust, the dependence that saw a much greater gift given – and invitation, and the recognition that he was no longer an alien, no longer a foreigner, but a part of the people of God.

Jesus was now this man’s Lord, this man’s master.  Salvation, like the healing that was for so long only a dream, this salvation was now his.

And Jesus tells him to stand, he doesn’t have to grovel, he doesn’t have to lay there in the dirt.  He was made whole and saved, therefore he was welcome to stand!

If there was gratitude when he only knew the healing, can you imagine the gratitude when salvation was what was given?  When eternity, in fellowship with God, given the ability to stand in His presence, to truly live life.

Can you imagine how incredible the mercy, the compassion he cried out for was revealed?

Yet that compassion, that mercy, that love, that acceptance of God is ours.

It is time to revel in it, to give thanks and praise.

And to hear, as Jesus look at the table, and considers the bread and wine, the gratitude he shows the Father, who will allow Jesus to give His body and blood for us, to save us.

For it our time to hear those words, you trust in God has saved you,,, for He has had compassion on you.  AMEN!

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