Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.” Mark 7:17-23 NCV
He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.
Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people, Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners. Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.
They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired. They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment. Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.
These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.
Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough. Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability. Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage. It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion. The matter is deeper.
So how do we deal with it? Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well. it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness. It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.
This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest. It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying. It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.
This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism! That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.
The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.
All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace… Amen!
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained, as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. 5 Then I confessed my sins to you; I did not conceal my wrongdoings. I decided to confess them to you, and you forgave all my sins. Psalm 32:3-5 (TEV)
175 You are consumed by the desire to seal once more the self-dedication you made some time ago: remembering that you are a son of God and living like one too. Put your many weaknesses and infidelities in the Lord’s hands. For that is also the only way to lessen their weight.
In Paul’s teaching about the Lord’s Supper in Corinthians 11, he mentions the need for self-examination. To ake some time and think through our lives. to think about our sins, to realize the great need we have for God’s mercy and abundant love.
Most of us want to please God, we want to avoid sin and temptation, we want to do better. We understand all too well though the battle that rages on in our hearts and souls which the apostle Paul describes clearly in Romans 7 and then again in Hebrews 12. In the latter, he begs us to leave it all behind, this sin which so easily traps us.
Yet many of us are bothered by this idea of self-examination. We don’t want to see what we know is there, the resentment, the hatred, the lust, the greed and envy, the thirst for what benefits us, no matter what the cost. We don’t like looking int he mirror, and if we are “made” to, we act like we can clean up our mess. “Just give me another week, just be more patient, I will fix this,” we tell God.
We can’t, the burden will just get greater, the pressure more intense, the spiritual and emotional crushing pain will go on and it will either eat us up, or will cause us to become callous, and defensive.
With a little humility and some trust, this burden can be removed and in its place, we came know peace and joy, just as the Psalmist says. We can give to God our weaknesses, our infidelities, placing them in His hands, knowing He will deal with them, forgiving them, cleansing us, answering our prayers to lead us not to temptation, and deliver us from the evil one.
Free of the snares, your heart will be far less burdened, your mind at ease, knowing that what you really desire, to please the God who loves and saves you, is possible.
But you say, how can I do this? How can I take this step?
You aren’t alone in it, for the Shepherd of your soul, Jesus, has provided you and all the church those who can guide you through this, the pastors and priests who are tasked by God and the church with helping you with this, of hearing you confess, of counseling you through this, and then saying, on Jesus’s behalf (and by His command), “you are forgiven!”
Come, lay down your burdens, and lay down your pain. Let God deal with your sin, and let the Holy Spirit set you apart as one who is the child of God. Trust Him, He won’t turn you away, for this is what he wants for you. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 945-948). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion Thought fo the Day:
2 But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. 3 All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.
1 John 3:2-3 (MSG)
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)
413 Each person in his own situation should lead a pure life, courageously lived. We have to learn to say No for the sake of that great Love, Love with a capital letter.
We hear the word used in church, or maybe we read it in scripture, We bypass it quickly, either not thinking about it or dismissing it as a foreign concept.
Pressed on the issue, we will probably define purity in a way that appeases our nature. We will dismiss it as impossible, we will justify our impurity by indicating such purity doesn’t save us, that the law of Moses which defined purity isn’t binding on us any longer. We will hide our desire for impurity behind theology, behind reason, behind whatever we think will cover it up. And we will accuse those who encourage/demand purity it of being pietistic and hypocritical. ( This is not to say that some who encourage and demand purity are pietistic and hypocritical, but we apply the mocking labels far too liberally!)
So let’s talk about it. is there a sense of purity that is neither hypocritical, but that we should strive to be? Is it possible to be concerned with our own state without submitting to a legalistic system of demands?
Of course! It is possible!
The problem is that our idea of purity is too narrow, it is focused on behaviors, what we do or do not do, and maybe what we say or don’t say, rather than on who we are.
Purity in Greek is related to the idea of holiness, of being set apart to a relationship with God. It is about who we are in God’s sight, in His eyes. It means living a life that is devoted to Him, that we strive to please the Lord who loves us, who is compassionate toward us, that is merciful.
Which means we strive to live life as He would desire. That when we fail and think, say or do things that are not pure, we immediately we turn to Him and let Him cleanse us once again. For God purifies us, He refines us. Purity is about being grieved by our sin enough that we desire that he care for us, about hearing His voice comforting us with the words of forgiveness, and encouraging us not to sin anymore.
Is this easy? No, it is much harder to seek forgiveness than it is to enjoy for a moment the sin. But it is needed.
This is what life really is, living in His presence, not anxious or afraid, but full of joy. It is about dwelling in peace, assured that our purity isn’t fake – because He is the one who is our model, and who makes us pure and holy.
Let’s not waste His work, let’s not run or hide from it,, but rejoice as His glistening purity becomes ours, as we dwell in Him.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1597-1598). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional and Discussion Thought of the Day:
20 He also asked, “What else is the Kingdom of God like? 21 It is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.” Luke 13:20-21 (NLT)
5 In coming to the other side of the sea, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Look out, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” ………11 How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Matthew 16:5-6,11-12 (NAB)
397 Don’t place obstacles in the way of grace. You need to be convinced that in order to be leaven you must become a saint, and must struggle to identify yourself with Him. (1)
The exquisite elites know how to pucker their noses when confronted with failure; they are scandalized. They prefer to set up models of the Church based on “common sense” rather than on the failure of the cross.
Being effective is not always a blessing. In fact, some of the most effective things in the world are deadly, those viral and bacterial infections that can run amok and kill or gravely would everyone that comes in contact with them.
The scriptures above show this as well, as two different things are compared to the idea of yeast or leaven. The Kingdom of God can be like that, as we see the church explode during the time of the apostles, and in certain parts of the world today. Growth that goes beyond anything pragmatic, that causes us to scramble to try and adjust our plans to compensate for the growth. Yet the other passage shows a negative form of leaven, that of the teachings and practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees, groups that promoted a very pragmatic approach to being the people of God.
Yet their very approach was an obstacle to grace, a way that blocked people from identifying themselves as God’s children, And they were very effective – so effective that they were able to kill God, even as they nailed Jesus to a cross.
St. Josemaria talks about effectiveness that arises out of faith, not of reason. That the leaven we need to become is found in our holiness, in our being set apart to God, It is found, as Francis says,, not in models set up in common sense, but in the failure of the cross. For drawn to the cross we find Jesus, that is where the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus, binds us to His death and resurrection. That is where we are given gifts like repentance and faith, where we are declared God’s people, where we are cleansed. At the cross, we are infected/affected by His great love and mercy, and find ourselves set apart to Him. It is here we become infectious and spread the gospel simply by being in people’s lives.
Not a very pragmatic or reasoned approach, this dying and rising to life, this admitting our failure and our desperate need for God.
Yet it is how God would affect us, infect us, and see our effectiveness, as the Kingdom of God testifies not only to our presence but His presence in us.
Lord, help us see you on the cross, and know the depths of your mercy, and know you have risen, as it testifies to Your immeasurable love, and may our lives be effective, as we are united to You. Amen!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1548-1549). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) 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 of the Day:
7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. 8 In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:7-9 (TEV)
How does your heart stand with regard to God Himself? Does it delight in the remembrance of God? Does this remembrance leave an agreeable sweetness behind it? “Ah!” said David, “I remembered God and was delighted.” Do you find a certain propensity in your heart to love God and a particular satisfaction in relishing that love? Does your heart feel joy in reflecting on the immensity, goodness, or sweetness of God? If the remembrance of God comes to you amidst the occupations and vanities of the world, does it make room for itself? Does it seize upon your heart? Does it seem to you that your heart turns in that direction, and, is it were, runs to meet God? Certainly, there are such souls to be found.
We all have our breaking point. It may not be caused by the same stresses, the same anxieties, the same temptations, but each of us has a point where we lose focus.
Without regular self-examination, it is all too common for such a breaking point to catch us off guard. Without a regular time of giving to God our sin and the unrighteousness we deal with, we are setting ourselves up as easy targets.
One of the things to consider is what is our heart resonating with? Is it the kind of things Paul urges us to think of in Phil 4:8 above? Are we rejoicing when we consider our time with God?
Or is our heart being torn apart by cynicism, by gossip and complaining? Does our time feed such bitter things captivate us? Are we devoting that time to that which is depraved or immoral? ( we might not even realize it is so…)
The good stuff in Philippians, and in the quote from St Francis De Sales isn’t self-generated. It isn’t something we can just make up our mind and focus upon. It comes from being sure we dwell in God’s peace. It is about relaxing in the presence of God, sure that He is our fortress, our strength, our life. It is our focus because that is what is, when we are aware of His presence. It is a more “natural” way of existence. That is why Paul surrounds this second about our minds being filled with good things with the thought of God giving and preserving our peace.
The key then is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the Lord of Life who calms our hearts and sets them at peace. The Spirit who cleanses us from the brokenness of the world, and heals our souls.
As we open ourselves up to the Spirit, as we search for Him and find He is here, we desire Him more, we desire His presence more, and we see the difference it makes as being a difference the world needs, that our neighbors and family and friends need. For we need it, and are amazed the need is so completely met by the Holy Spirit.
This is the Christian faith, the dependence on God’s presence that makes everything beautiful, everything precious, everything good.
May we desire His precence more and more. AMEN!
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
27 It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (TEV)
“Judge not, and you shall not be judged,” says the Saviour of our souls; “condemn not, and you shall not be condemned” (Luke, 6:37). “No,” says the holy apostle, “judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart” (2 Cor. 4:5). Oh, how displeasing are rash judgments to God! The judgments of the children of men are rash, because they are not the judges of one another, and therefore usurp to themselves the office of our Lord. They are rash, because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention of the heart, which is an impenetrable secret to us. They are not only rash, but also impertinent, because everyone has enough to do to judge himself, without taking upon him to judge his neighbour.
As I read the words in blue this morning, I knew I had to write about them.
I didn’t want to, because the moment I read them, I start judging all the people around me who are not just judging others but condemning them. The spirits of division, of bitterness, of hatred aren’t just seeping into their lives, we are drowning in the flood of them.
We aren’t foolish enough to claim we are more righteous than the world, but we are more than willing to bash people, Trump, Clinton, the Kardashians, people of other religions, heck some even bash the New England Patriots and their loyal fans. And the bashing is always judgmental, always condemning, always done in a way that raises anxiety
It is a sickness, one which depresses and isolates. Personally, I long for the days when I was an introvert and could shut out the world. Even as I write this, I see it for what it really is, a form of judgment, a temptation to isolate myself from the evil, without recognizing that I can’t escape from it, for in trying to do so…. I embody what I am trying to flee.
It was the last line from St. Francis de Sales that helped me this morning, the line about everyone having enough to do to judge themselves.
You might think it odd I found this to be good news, the purest of gospel. For judging myself does bring the gospel into my life, erasing the need to judge others. For there, when I realize my frailty, when I recognize my sin, my instinct is to cry out for grace, to find sanctuary from the evil that not only threatens me externally but seems to well up internally.
In examining myself, I find the need to find a safe place, a place where judgment is cast aside, where burdens are lifted, where hope is revived and finds stimulation. Where I find a love beyond measure, seen in a grace where God forgives my desire to judge others, and the times where I do so. Examining myself drives me to absolution, and to the altar where God reminds me of His love by giving me His body and blood to eat and drink, where I get to fellowship with Him!
There, I find not just the peace I need eternally, but I find others receiving it as well. I find it offered to those I struggle with, those I want to judge, those I want to condemn. And even if they aren’t there as my parish communes, they might be on their own, and they are to be welcomed at all places.
Not only am I reminded of God’s grace forgiving me, drawing me to Him, into Christ, but I also am reminded that forgiveness is for all….
And for the moment, peace invades my darkness, shattering it, revealing a wholeness, completeness, that will be mine when we are found before Hi throne.
This is life in Christ, this is why I try to remain devout, depending on Him. For there I find the answer to my cry,, not for judgment, but for mercy.
For all of us.
Judge not… except yourself, so you may run to Him and find peace.
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” TEV Mark 14:38
23 “We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything”—but not everything is helpful. 24 None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (TEV)
Games, balls, feasts, dress, theatres, are not evil things in their nature, but indifferent, and may be used both well and ill; yet, notwithstanding, these things are dangerous, and to have an affection for them is yet more dangerous. I say then, Philothea, that although it may be lawful to play, to dance, to advice yourself, to be present at moral dramas, and at banquets; yet to be over fond of such things is contrary to devotion, and very offensive and dangerous. It is no sin to do such things, but it is a sin to pursue them to extremes. It is a pity to sow in the garden of our heart such vain and foolish affections, which take up the room of virtuous impressions, and hinder the sap of our souls from nourishing good inclinations.
When my devotional readings harmoniously scream the same message and grab my attention, I tend to want to hide, accosted by a law which seeks to conform us to the image of Christ.
It’s too random to be random, one might say.
As I did my reading this morning, this happened. De Sales’s comments struck a chord, thought I would replace the events with other things. Hobbies, Television, “computer” games, golf, even social media, all these things can be neutral, and even positive. Moments to relax, times to share with friends (Pokemon hunting with 4 or 5 is kinda fun, and other conversations happen ) theses are all beneficial. We could add to that even our religious traditions, music, cultural identity, etc. We in the USA talk about the “pursuit of happiness”, which, divorced of the joy of God’s presence, becomes a demanding idol to pursue.
Any of these can dominate our lives (and some are programmed to!) as they become things we grow in affection for, as we grow fond of, and those feeling turn to desire, desire which enslaves us. Which is when what is permissible become unprofitable, when our desire for these things override our desire to love God, and love our neighbor.
Which sounds all too easy.
For we are like St. Peter, so desiring to follow Christ in the spirit, yet so weak. Affections for things distract us, anxieties cause us to turn away. We deny Christ, we allow our time with Him, and our time working in his kingdom to be minimized. Am I one of His? Hmmm, I will be after I do this. I’ll get back to you after I….
I am not talking about asceticism here, that too has its ability to become an affection, it too can become a form of pietism, and looking after out own self-interest. (think about the idea that those who fast should not show their hunger – but how do you do that without your own pride taking control?)
I am talking about realizing the presence of God, in our lives. I am talking about depending on Him, asking the Spirit to mold us as He would. To see others needs before our own, because God puts us in the place we are, not for our benefit, but that they would be reconciled to Him, that they would be cared for, that they would realize they are loved.
The only way to see these things put in their proper place, is to find Christ’s love so incredible, that it draws our attention. To become so enamored, so wanting to know His love, that all else fades, and is dropped asidee.
This isn’t easy…. for it means shedding those things we are overly attracted to…. to allow God to break their hold on us.
Lord have mercy on us! Help us to have no greater desire that to know your presence, and then to minister at Your side to those you bring into our life. AMEN!
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day
13 “You are like salt for the whole human race. But if salt loses its saltiness, there is no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it. 14 “You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. 16 In the same way your light must shine before people, be so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16 (TEV)
Almost all those who have hitherto treated of devotion have had the instruction of persons wholly retired from the world in view, or have taught a kind of devotion leading to this absolute retirement: whereas my intention is to instruct such as live in towns, in households, or in courts, and who, by their condition, are obliged to lead, as to the exterior, an ordinary life, and who frequently, under the pretext of a pretended impossibility, will not even think of undertaking a devout life, believing, that as no animal dares to taste the seed of the herb called Palma Christi, so no man ought to aspire to the palm of Christian piety so long as he lives in the turmoil of worldly affairs. (1)
As I read the quote in blue, the thought resonated with me. I had found some interesting quotes from this book in the past, so I added ti to my devotional reading for the year.
Some many devotional writings are written to either people who spend hours a day in meditation and reflection, or they are 200 words or less that are to be read while driving one’s morning coffee, or while sitting at traffic lights as we hurry from place to place. The latter pacify our spiritual hunger,satisfying it, or perhaps numbing it.
Yes we say, I’ve done my devotions, as if to check them off a list, and not be concerned about God in the midst of a broken life. We’ve been taught that the prayers of those who shut themselves away are not as noble as those that live them out, but how many of us do? Even a generation after Luther, de Sales wrote that many think leading a holy and devout life to be impossible within the turmoil of worldly affairs.
So Francis de Sales wrote a book, very much along the lines of how I desire. There has to be a way to turn devotion from a duty into a life. To realize that devotion is a combination of adoration (being in awe of God’s love ) and mercy- showing that love to all we encounter. it is a way of life, a way of walking with God where we allow Him to transform us into His image.
It is the place where God is incarnate, so incarnate, so real that our hearts, souls, minds and strength resonate with love for Him, because we are sure we are loved. It is a place where joy overwhelms suffering or pain. It is a life set apart to God, for God has set Himself apart to us.
He is our God, we are His people, and we are more aware of this than not.
Being devoted to God, Holiness, Sanctification, living the baptized life, this is possible. Even in the middle of 2016, and as we approach 2017.
St Paul describes it this way
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 3:18 (TEV)
Lord have mercy upon us sinners, and help us to see the Spirit’s work in our lives. AMEN!
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
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:
38 *“You have heard that it was said,x ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 yBut I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile,* go with him for two miles.z 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.a
Love of Enemies.* 43 b“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. NABRE – Matt 5:38-48
24. Yet man must respond to God Who calls, and that in such a way, that without taking counsel with flesh and blood (Gal. 1:16), he devotes himself wholly to the work of the Gospel. This response, however can only be given when the Holy Spirit gives His inspiration and His power. For he who is sent enters upon the life and mission of Him Who “emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave” (Phil. 2:7). Therefore, he must be ready to stay at his vocation for an entire lifetime, and to renounce himself and all those whom he thus far considered as his own, and instead to “make himself all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22)
This Christ calls all sinners to himself and promises them refreshment. He earnestly desires that all men should come to him and let themselves be helped (2)
I have heard many people define holiness over the years. Some confuse it with purity, a lack of sinlessness and being completely remote from the world. But those who promote this view do not know how to deal with Jesus eating with whores and tax collectors, filthy sinners and fisherman.
Others would discuss holiness in view of martyrdom, the peaceful testimony of Christ in the presence of persecution and death. But most of us will only be inconvenienced because of our faith; if that is the real reason for people taking a dislike to us.
Others will look upon great acts, the work of those who are steadfast in the faith, who have this or that gift, who spend hours locked away in prayer, or tending to the poor and needy. As if holiness is some kind of heroic virtue, instead of a life we are called to live.
The last group treats holiness with little concern at all, saying in reaction to those above, that holiness is a virtual impossibility, that no one can attain holiness, that it is impossible by our own strength or power, and that God doesn’t really care, as long as we depend on Him to forgive our lack of holiness.
This last view is the most dangerous. It steals from us our hope in this life, and it convinces us that how we live, what salvation is about, isn’t living dependent upon God. It denies, faith, hope, and love. And it justifies our self-centeredness, our Machiavellian-inspired theology and practice, and our apathy towards evangelism and service.
In one of the greatest calls to holiness – in the Gospel reading above, Jesus tells us we need to be perfect, (other translations use “holy” here ) even as God is perfect and holy.
It is not an impossibility. If so, Jesus wouldn’t have commanded it, nor would the Father hold us to that standard.
The context provides the measurement of such holiness as well, the love The love of our enemies, and the love of those who you aren’t connected to, recognizing the fact that in Christ Jesus you are connected.
Those who would do evil to you, those who would demand more than is their “right” of you, those who you would say are your enemies.
Holiness is loving them.
Holiness is caring for them.
Vatican II notes this with the call to work in the vocation of the gospel – without thought or cost – even if it means a lifetime of service. It means living this way at the cost of renouncing yourself, or the people who are “yours”, serving instead “all men”, yes, including those aren’t “ours”
That they aren’t our religion, our countrymen, out ethnicity, our race, our culture, our family, or our friends; even so, we are to love them as if they are! We are to love them because they are.
This is having the attitude of Jesus, the attitude Philippians 2 tells us to have – as described in the great hymn that we love in verses 5-10. The preceding verses tell us we are to have this mind, this attitude, this same servant’s heart, and love those who are different from us.
NO option. This is what the people of God are to do.
By now – you are tempted to stop reading this – to write me off as naive, or pelagian, or some kind of fanatic. A blogger who obviously is so heavenly minded he can’t be of benefit.
We think we aren’t capable of that kind of holiness. We cannot possibly love like that, can we? Can we actually care more about our enemies and adversaries as much as those like us? Can God expect us to love our enemies and lay down our lives for them? WOuld any many?
Well, any man not nailed to a cross and who rose again three days later?
If we say we cannot, we miss the work of God. For He calls us, inspires us, and empowers us. This si the refreshment and help that the Lutheran Confessions describe as well, ad walking with God that is daily and practical, and incredibly effective. I
Holiness isn’t walking alone, it is walking with God, moving with Him. Loving as He loves, serving as He serves, bringing healing and trust as He brings it to us. Such is our calling, and such is our life
(1) Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church: Ad Gentes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 495). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.