The Paradox of Freedom and Faith
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to the cross!
If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. John 8:36 (TEV)
Not that grace somehow adds to an otherwise imperfect creation, but that grace puts a stop to our misguided attempts to usurp God’s place and so allows creation to shine forth in all its glory
The “world” is the body of those who hate, because they are prisoners of their own narrow illusions and petty desires. They cannot recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit because they are not willing to conform their lives to His inspirations. They cannot become free with the freedom Jesus compared to the unpredictable blowing of the wind, for they are rooted in their own attachments and bound down by their own compulsions. They have a fixed way of acting (which may be wild and erratic and possess a spurious “freedom” of its own) and they cannot break away from it. They have rendered themselves incapable of doing anything but their “own will” in the sense of their enslaved will. Only the Spirit Himself can penetrate their hard carapace of resistance, and too often they will not let Him do so. They are unable to love freely because they are afraid of freedom.
The power and effect of faith are especially seen in temptations, when sin, death, devil, and hell are overcome. Nor are these weak enemies; they bring out perspiration, weaken our limbs, and make heaven and earth cramped. When the devil and death come, no one can help except only the person who has said, I am he who shall sustain thee. Under such conditions we learn what faith is.
Yesterday, my son’s high school was locked down, and for several hours I waited for him to be released. First, they were kept secure in a classroom. Then, they were escorted to some fenced in tennis courts where, eventually, they were released to parents. The parents waited in the sunlight for hours, because of miscommunication.
My thoughts upon getting into the car hours after I arrived was the old phrase, “Free at last, Free at Last!” A couple of hours of inconvenience, and yet I treated it like a lifelong trauma. ( A little projection here, as I was also wanting to deal with some other traumatic events)
So I was thinking about freedom as I came across these words this morning. And the illusion of freedom was shredded, again and again.
When we clamor and protest to have freedom, we must contemplate two things:
- What are we wanting freedom from?
- What do we want to do with this freedom?
Answering those questions will help us determine whether what we want is truly freedom, or simply the ability to serve our own preferred slavery –to our lusts and desires, our addictions and other sins that plague us. The problem is, enslaved to those things–we don’t even realize we are enslaved! Or, if we do, the lure of that which we are enslaved to overshadows the life we don’t know we can live.
Luther’s words about faith are clear here. It is not an easy fight to overcome sin. It requires a lot sweat and a lot of tears. It takes prayer, and mostly, it takes dying with Jesus on the cross to break those shackles, and the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us to that cross.
Forde’s words are so clear to that as well, as the Holy Spirit convinces us to set aside our self-idolatry, nailing that sin to the cross as well. That when the Son sets us free- we can begin to see glimpses of the glory of God.
There is freedom from everything we need to be free from – hatred, violence, anxiety, resentment, sin, guilt and shame…
And there is freedom to do one thing… to love.
Upon getting home, just before 6, homework and chores awaited both my son and I. As did dinner. We weren’t free to do whatever we wanted, but we were free to do that which was good, and beneficial. Mostly, my family was free to be together. And so it is with freedom we find in Christ Jesus-we are free to be in the presence of God, to know His love, to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ…
This is accomplished simply by having faith in God, depending on what He’s promised – that He will set you truly free..
Gerhard O. Forde, “Hearing,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 144.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 132.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 102.
Jesus is INDEED the Savior of the World: A sermon from Concordia on John 4:25-30, 39-42
Jesus is indeed the Savior of the World
† I.H.S. †
May the grace and peace of God be so clear in your life that you declare with the Samaritans, “now we know He is indeed the savior of the world!”
- Woman at the well
She was the first person Jesus to whom Jesus confessed He was the Messiah, the Christ.
He simply said to her, “I am He.”
She wasn’t a princess; she didn’t come from a powerful family major metropolitan city. She wasn’t even married, but so desperate she shacked up with someone who used her, but who could provide a roof over her head.
It turns out she was a princess, the daughter of not just any king, but the King of kings.
Because of that relationship, there were no games with Jesus’ answer. He would play with the Pharisees and Sadducees, never answering their questions, as they weren’t ready for them. She didn’t get a convoluted answer, as Jesus gave Herod and Pilate.
“when He comes…he will explain everything to us…” she said, with hope it might be…
Jesus replied, “I AM he!”
A relationship, long dormant, was formed in that moment, as this lady became someone’s daughter, and realized this man who knew all about her, loved her in a way she never knew she could be loved….
But that is only the beginning…
- Are we blind like the disciples?
There is an interesting reaction by the disciples, that sort of proves how naïve they were.
They ask, “What do you want with her”—at least that is what it translates out to in English. But the word is zeteo—the word for pursuing, it is the word for desiring something from someone.
After all, why would Jesus be talking to “one of them?” Why would He be interested in a lady who was one “their” castoffs?
I struggled with that word desire – and I think I understand why translators didn’t translate it more clearly. Why would you use the word desire, with all the potential mis understandings?
But that is where their sin comes in, as in their minds they are seeing this lady as, well, not a lady. I can leave it there.. right?
They bore false witness against their neighbor – they shattered the 8th commandment.
And because of that, they couldn’t understand a good reason for Jesus to want to be found in her presence.
They couldn’t understand his desire to reveal who she really was
She was a daughter of the King of Kings
And she proved it…. She went and gathered others who were meant to be God’s.
Leaving her bucket – the reason she was there behind, she went into the village, and invited others to see.
And this is where the gospel story gets interesting….
- Steps to believing
This lady, revealed to be the daughter of the King of King go and gathers everyone in the town. AND THEY LISTEN TO HER AND COME!!!!!
They are so enamored with Jesus that they ask Him to stay with them, and this Jewish Rabbi breaks every rule in the book and does so. He not only dines with heathers, he stays in their homes.
He invests them the very mysteries of God, for hear what happens.
So he stayed for two days, 41 long enough for many more to hear his message and believe.
They came to trust and depend on Jesus! This crowd of outcasts who weren’t part of the right ethnicity, the right culture, never mind from the right schools of religious thought. Heck – these people wouldn’t even be allowed in the synagogues of Jesus day.
Yet he stayed with them, and they came to trust in Him, for their salvation –for their life, even before the cross!
What’s more – the faith went deep—listen to these incredible words
Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
That word know there—they understand, they comprehend that He is not just the Saviour of the Jews, and not just that of those who are Abraham’s descendants – He is the Savior of the world—He is the savior of all!
They have begun to love and trust in God the way the Lady does, not just because she told them, but because they experienced His love for them. This is remarkable – this is what it is all about – this relationship that God wants with all people – everywhere.
This is the place where every parent should want their children – to know God is their Savior – not just because they said He is, but because they know Him. This is what every pastor wants of every person, not just in their church but their community—for every person to know Jesus, to experience His love, to be relived by His mercy.
TO experience the love of God, to experience how much He cares and He lifts your burdens off of you, as He cleanses you, as the Spirit dwells within you… this is what you need to know of Jesus.
To have that relationship with God that we encourage each other in, yet which is so intimate and shared with the Father who calls us His children, with Jesus who calls us His brothers and sisters and friends. With the Spirit who ministers to us in a way that is beyond words. TO know Jesus wants to have this relationship with everyone, no matter the depth of their sin – it can happen…
To have you depend on God – not just because I and the elders tell you about Him, but because you know Him… and knowing Him, lets us praise Him… forever! AMEN!
An Ancient Italian “Blessing” (I want to be true) – A sermon on Psalm 32:1-7
An Ancient Italian “Blessing” (I want to be true)
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ create in you an eager repentant Spirit that rejoices in the God’s presence!
- We should be envied!
There is an old Italian “blessing”, which mommas used on their children when they are misbehaving! That “blessing” is this:
“I hope your children grow up to be …. JUST LIKE YOU!”
Oddly enough, the Psalmist would agree, but without the sarcasm.
You, according to the Psalmist, you are to be envied greatly! People should want to be just like you! Well, at least in one way!
Let me explain. Our translation reads:
“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! 2 Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”
In looking up the word “joy”, I discovered it means “to be envied with great desire” So we could translate this
“Greatly envied (with a desire to be like them) are those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is forgiven. Yes, how we should envy (and wanna be like) those whose record the LORD has cleared from guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty”
So you are to be greatly envied, and people should want to be just like you!
- Our stupidity!
Well, except there is a problem—at least the writer of this Psalm had one, and I think some of us might as well. He describes the problem spiritually in verse 3:
3 When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. 4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
That sounds like a bit of a problem!
I need to be clear here, not all physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering is caused by refusing to confess your sin. But there is a definite correlation between suffering from the guilt and shame sin causes and one’s well-being.
Sin can and does rip us apart.
We need relationships, and it destroys them. It can cause a type of paranoia—as we are afraid someone is going to find out. It creates all sorts of stresses, as it disconnects us from God and from those who love us and would have us live in peace. Even if we convince ourselves that our particular sin isn’t that bad, living a life based on that lie hollows it out until it collapses.
Sin drains us,
It wipes us out..
And makes our life hollow.
There is only one way to deal with this—though it is a joyful one.
- Our Joy!
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone!
I know how much courage this takes to stop trying to hide all the guilt. But as much courage as it takes, the reward of knowing those sins are completely lifted and tossed away…
All of it – forgiven!
All the guilt—gone!
Think about that for a moment…
Not one thing should haunt you.
Not one thing should you even regret!
As much as we contemplate our sin and brokenness during Lent, it is for this purpose–to know the relief of Psalmist–the absolute joy of the weight being lifted off of us!
We really need to take the time and think through what God has done to us… what He continues to do in our lives. …
Therefore, the psalmist says people should envy us, as we live forgiven lives, empowered by the Holy Spirit! For the burdens we no longer carry, or at least that we aren’t to carry,.. so many do! This is what Jesus came to do, to free us from the sin which stops us from being with God!
So many walk around, living with guilt and shame….so many people walk around without knowing God really loves them, without experiencing that love.
- What happens next
The change is so incredible for the psalmist – that feeling the relief inwards; he turns to those around him
Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. 7 For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory!
This is an evangelistic spirit.
Wow, God, you did this for me! All of us need to know this – we all need to pray—we all need to experience this relief, especially before the waters rise, and judgment occurs.
The more you know God has done for you, the more you need to share it with others, to share with them how God heals and protects and hides us from trouble, the more we need to invite people into the safe place we have found.
This is Christianity at its simplest… to realize the incredible way God has called you to His side, cleaning you up along the way, as you invite others into a peace that is beyond explanation….as Jesus saves them, as the Holy Spirit takes us residence with them, as sin and satan the fear of death are tossed out like yesterday’s trash…
This is our hope, and it is the very reason people should be envious of us, why we want them to be just like us.
Why The Report of the Death of the Church is Highly Exagerated!
Thoughts which draw me to Jesus, and to the Cross
1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4 And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NLT2)
We shall see that in order to enter fully into communion with the life brought to us by Christ we must in some sense—sacramentally, ascetically, mystically—die with Christ and rise with Him from the dead. The whole life of the Kingdom of God consists then in the gradual extension of the spiritual effects of the death and resurrection of Jesus to one soul after another until Christ lives perfectly in all whom He has called to Himself.
This gospel is to us a true example of firm and perfect faith. For this woman endures and overcomes in three great and hard fought battles, and teaches us in a beautiful manner the true way and virtue of faith, namely, that it is a hearty trust in the grace and goodness of God as experienced and revealed through his Word.
Is the church dying? Is it dead? Is it no longer relevant to a society that ignores its brokenness? Will we continue to consolidate and merge ministries, selling this off to try something different over here? Will we believe the post-covid reports abut what the decline in church attendance means?
There is no doubt attendance is less across all Christian denominations, but what does that mean?
I think it is time to listen to St. Paul, and focus on the cross of Jesus, to think through that which is our only hope, to realize we have died, and risen with Him. We have to get back to that message – for the sake of our people. Merton states this clearly – the whole life of the Church nad its believers consists of the death and life of Christ, and our unity with it. Luther adds the grace of God experienced and revealed through His word which proclaims Christ crucified.
We can’t afford to be in a defensive position any longer! In fact we should have never gone down that road to begin with, relying on our own intellect and ability to strategize the next moves for the church..
Paul, one of the greatest intellects in the history of the church, says he abandoned the things which communicated loftier ideals with larger words.
Just Christ. Just the cross.
This is where we die, and live…
This is the message that sparks revivals and reformations. That Jesus dwells with His people, His church. This is what is seeing churches in other places in the world grow so fast they are sending missionaries here.
God at work, in the lives of people, redeemed and reconciled by the body and blood of Christ shed on the cross, and found on the altar.
Let’s celebrate that love, that passion, that presence… and depend on Him. As we do, we will find the rumors of the death of the church to be greatly exagerated, and in fact, lies from hell.
Merton, Thomas. 1976. The New Man. London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. 1915. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern.
The Unobserved Sacrament… that we desperately need
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to the Cross
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 4:16 (TEV)
16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. 19 Do not restrain the Holy Spirit; 20 do not despise inspired messages. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-20 (TEV)
The New Testament language is as plain as can be—in Christ through His death and resurrection, every legal hindrance has been met and satisfied: taken away! There is nothing that can keep us from assurance except our own selves.
Let us quit trying to think our way in, to reason our way in. The only way to get in is to believe Him with our hearts forevermore!
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.
Imagine having tickets to some major amusement park, going in, and standing in line for 3 hours to ride the newest, greatest ride in America. As you get there, as it is time to take your place, you decide, its not worth it, and you walk away, apathy. All of that time and money invested, is now wasted, never to be used for something else. Or imagine someone giving you the best seats to the Superbowl, or to a favorite concert–plus the airfare and limo rides and access to all the good stuff, and just as you get there, you decide, “Nah, this isn’t worth it,” as you walk away.
Every person and every church has access to God the Father, because someone else paid the admission price, and waited for us to enter the presence of God the father with great confidence, but what do we do with this access? Tozer is right, to often we are the ones who dismiss the access…
Despite the encouragement to pray and be thankful, despite the commands and promises attach to it, the church has been not one that prays all that much. Not just today, even back in Luther’s day. even back in the 1st century.
We need to pray; we need to pour our hearts out to God, assured that He will provide what we need. His love, His mercy, the faith we need, even persecution and trauma that draws us closer to Him. We need to talk to Him enough that we can thank Him for the good things – and the challenging things in life as well.
The joy doesn’t come from the problems, but the awareness of God’s presence, His protection, His care, from the healing He causes. That hope comes, not from academic knowledge, but from experience. That is why the early Lutherans still considered prayer a sacrament, as sacred action that we need to keep at all the time. Not because doing that shows off our holiness, but because we need to be lifted up by God, we need to hear Him speak of His mercy and love..
So pray… and pray for me..
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 213.
Spiritual Formation and Dentistry
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and to the Cross
Then Joshua called the twelve men he had chosen, 5and said, “Go into the Jordan ahead of the Covenant Box of the LORD your God. Each one of you take a stone on your shoulder, one for each of the tribes of Israel. 6These stones will remind the people of what the LORD has done. In the future, when your children ask what these stones mean to you, 7you will tell them that the water of the Jordan stopped flowing when the LORD’s Covenant Box crossed the river. These stones will always remind the people of Israel of what happened here.” Joshua 4:4-7 GNT
Prayer and spirituality feature participation, the complex participation of God and the human, his will and our wills. We do not abandon ourselves to the stream of grace and drown in the ocean of love, losing identity. We do not pull the strings that activate God’s operations in our lives, subjecting God to our assertive identity. We neither manipulate God (active voice) or are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice.
In supernatural union (union with God by grace) the divine Spirit within our spirit unites us immediately to the Image (the Word) in a new way. No longer is the divine Image present within us as unrecognized and known. We become aware of His presence. We plunge by supernatural understanding and love into the abyss of His light and being. And beyond all knowledge and love we are united with Him and rest in Him
My death is nothing. Christ’s suffering is my consolation, upon it I rely for the forgiveness of my sins; but my own death I will suffer to the praise and honor of my God freely and gratuitously, and for the advantage and profit of my neighbor, and in no way whatever depend upon it to avail anything in my own behalf before God.
Luther’s claim about death, is, I pray, what pastors and our people learn.
That eternal life is not just possible, but definite because of Christ’s suffering and death. Yet in reaction to that, I pray we would desire that our lives bring God praise, and cause people to praise and find value in a relationship with God.
But that is not simply a matter of saying a few words here and there. It is not by my reason or strength that I come to Christ, nor is it by my reason or strength that others come as well. It has to be the Holy Spirit’s work, through the words and sacraments I simply carry to them, that people are drawn into Christ and are united to Him. Merton’s word are far more eloquent than mine – but it is as He says, the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ.
That union is deep, and deeply intimate. It is, as Peterson notes, neither active or as passive. It is like a dentist extracting one of our teeth. We are there; we are part of the process, and it deeply affects us, as that which shouldn’t be there is removed, and we are forever changed – living in the life so different than the pain and infection that required the tooth to be removed.
THe difference, of course, is that the dentist doesn’t remain – the Spirit does! The intimacy of the operation is nothing compared to the intimacy that Peterson reflects upon in the passage from his work. Both he and Merton talk about it, this consolation and comfort from knowing we aren’t alone, but we walk every day in God’s presence, as He comforts and consoles and empower us.
This is what Joshua and Israel had to conclude, and as important, remember. THeir walk with God wasn’t over as they entered the Promised Land. It only had begun. God made Joshua put up and altar of 12 stones to remember that point of origin, and what God did to make it happen. That God was going to be with them in this strange new world. As He does with us, neither being manipulated by us, or manipulating, rather walking and guiding and consoling.
This is our joy, our hope, and what sustains us. So may we always remember these markers in our lives, so that we never forget His presence.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 110.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 102–103.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 65.
Christians Know This, But Do we Depend on it?
Thoughts which draw us closer to Jesus, and to His cross!
Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:33 (TEV)
When the prophets try to describe for me the attributes, the graces, the worthiness of the God who appeared to them and dealt with them, I feel that I can kneel down and follow their admonition: “He is thy Lord—worship thou Him!”
Here everything must be abandoned: friends, acquaintances, the whole city of Jerusalem, and everything belonging to these and to men; for all this neither gives, nor aids comfort, until the Lord is sought in the temple, since he is in that which is his Father’s. There he can truly be found and the heart is made to rejoice, otherwise it would have to remain without the least comfort.
Annie Dillard goes to church: “I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.… There is one church here, so I go to it.” It doesn’t matter that it is out of fashion, she goes anyway: “On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia.”
It is unfashionable because it is ridiculous. How can searchers after God and seekers after beauty stomach the “dancing bear act” that is staged in Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, week after week? Dillard, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, goes anyway.
Most Christians know we are to seek first Jesus Christ and His righteous life.
But do we do it?
Peterson’s Annie gets it, I think.
SHe chooses to go to a church which isn’t particularly proper or professional. She goes to a small church where two or three are gathered in His name, and share in His gifts of word sacrament. Finding the God she barely knows, but knows enough to know she has to worship Him, that is her focus…
A million and one things to criticise, but she goes to find God, in the middle of His people.
She succeeds, for God will always be found where He says.
Arriving there, Tozer’s words make sense—it is too much to try to comprehend the God who draws us into His presence. There, realizing the very special incredibly intimate relationship He has created, we are drawn to our knees and our face flooding with tears of joy; we praise Him!
We don’t even think about abandoning everything – we just do. We abandon our sin, we abandon those things we think will make life perfect; we abandon our fears and anxieties and simply desire to join Annie, and worship God, who loves us.
Seek Him first and then be aware He is here… and allow that to change and guide your life. When you mess up – be assured, He will be there.
He loves you.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 35.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 88.
What worship is… the place where souls are cured
8 Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the LORD. The bread is to be received from the people of Israel as a requirement of the eternal covenant. 9 The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the LORD.” Leviticus 24:8-9 (NLT2)
The rites and liturgy of man acquire the power to evoke the divine mystery that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard and that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Words, therefore, become seeds of prayer and of contemplation, instruments of man’s transfiguration into the likeness of the Holy God Whom no one can see without dying. Words and symbols lie in the depths of man’s inherited store of knowledge and memory and even in the souls of men who have completely forgotten God these archetypal seeds of divinity and mystery still lie hidden, waiting to germinate like the grains of wheat laid away thousands of years ago, with a Pharaoh under his pyramid
Running-the-church questions are: What do we do? How can we get things going again?
Cure-of-souls questions are: What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?
In order for the rites and liturgy of which Merton speaks do what he desires, we have to understand that the rites and liturgy of man means that he is an actor, a part of those rites and liturgies. He is not their controller, their guardian, their defender, or the one who manipulates them. They have to be Divine, the rites and liturgies that are soundly based in scripture and they must reveal Jesus to those who need healing.
Any other goal for worship, which deviates the attention of God and His people dwelling together as God heals hearts and souls, and bodies, that’s not liturgical worship. It doesn’t plant the word of God deeply in them, it doesn’t result in a spiritual connection. It blocks us from seeing what God is doing, replacing His actions with the actions man has done, or that the pastor/leaders want the congregation to do.
They may be highly motivated, they may be doctrinally astute, but that is not the purpose of worship. Worship is to give people what they need to know about Jesus, it is to comfort terrified and anxious souls (see the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV) The service provides the healing of souls, what has been called the cure of souls. It is what God is providing for His people, this miraculous work of His in our lives.
This is what Peterson is getting at – the difference between “running a church” and being a place where the “cure of souls” occurs. That cure results in a worship that is beyond just singing a couple of cool songs, it results in a transformation that is beyond words, and a peace that is beyond expression. Both a result of a love that is beyond logic.
And realizing that love, that mercy, that peace, is what we are to be doing…. and then responding with God’s people.
That’s what the scripture passage is really about – the fact that the offerings God’s people give are used to provide for …God’s priests. And since all believer’s now belong to the priesthood… God uses our offerings, our sacrifices – to care for us. (He certainly doesn’t need the $$) Again – a response to the cure of souls…
This is why God gathers us together, to care for us, to cure us, to make us whole, and wholly His.
Lord, help us to see Your work as we are gathered by the Holy Spirit, in Your Name! AMEN!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 60–61.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 70.
WWJP2D – His list of roles! A Christmas Eve Sermon based on Isaiah 9
WDJP2D (What did Jesus Promise to do?)
His list of roles
† Jesus, Son and Saviour †
May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, which you were meant to receive—united to Jesus, be evident in your life!
Close your eyes for a moment, and picture one of the Christmas Trees of your childhood. You see the packages there, all wrapped up nicely, the name tags properly hanging off of them.
Your eyes spot that one package, prior inspections tell you that this one is yours, and for some reason you know this is “the present”.It doesn’t include the socks or underwear or flannel pajamas (he we all didn’t grow up in California!).
It was that present. You knew it.. and you wanted to rip it open first!
Do you remember what that present was?
Now move your vision to the stable, and the manger, and realize that the present there was done with more thought, with more care….hear the prophet Isaiah’s words about this present…
For a child is born TO US… a Son is given TO US.
It is as if, on the manger, there is a tag on the manger.
To; The child I love.
So let’s look at this intimate, influential, immanent gift from which we are inseparable!
For the prophet teaches us a lot about our incarnate Lord Jesus!
- Wonderful Counselor–Intimate
The first words to describe Jesus is that He would be a Wonderful Counselor. The comforter whom you can tell anything too, knowing that they will support you through the crisis, through the time of reconciliation, through the time of healing.
There is nothing you can say that would shock Him, for as God He knows your deepest and darkest secrets… and loves you still. This is the most intimate of relationships, one that goes beyond all defenses, for God knows you better than you know yourself
- Almighty God—Influential
The second phrase of the description is that Jesus, this child born TO US, this Son given TO US is that He is Almighty God. That power is wielded on our behalf, both to defeat our enemies of Satan and death, but also to change us, to transform us, giving us new hearts and minds that are Christ’s.
This powerful influence of God is beyond anything that can be described, as He uses all He is to transform and protect His people.
This is why Paul prays that “you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power 20 that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT2)
This is the Almighty God—who has come – and uses that might to influence everything for us us
- Everlasting Father—immanent
The next thing this child born to us, the Son given to us is takes a while to wrap our heads around. He is our Eternal Father.
From the Creation of the World to the recreation of the heavens and earth at the Judgement Day, Jesus, who is one with the Father, reveals the Father to us.
He is always our Father, always therefore us, because He has loved us and will love us. We call Jesus Immanuel as
The Lord of all, is our Father, and welcomes us to pray to Him, to ask for help, to let Him be our dad, for that is part of the revelation of the child being born to us
- Prince of Peace—Inseparable
The last description of Jesus, the last title in this list, the result of His being sent to us, given to us is that He is the Prince of Peace.
And as He comes to u-bringing that peace into our darkness, into our times of doubt, into our times where peace just doesn’t seem possible. Where it is beyond our imagination, but that is exactly what God’s peace is, – beyond all understanding.
I can tell you that, I’ve had too many experiences where peace should not be known. Times of doubt, times of anxiety, times of fear. And yet, in the midst of trauma, there is Jesus, the one born and laid in a manger,
the one who is Immanuel – the Eternal Father whose is always there,
The one who is Almighty, and uses His power to influence every aspect of our lives,
All because who is the Wonderful Counselor who intimately knows us.
This is the birth of our God, who dwells with us.
The Greatest Miracle! (If I only remember to think of it!)
Thoughts which draw me to Jesus, and to His cross
Put this altar outside the curtain which hangs in front of the Covenant Box. That is the place where I will meet you. Exodus 30:6 GNT
Contemplation is that wisdom which makes man the friend of God, a thing which Aristotle thought to be impossible. For how, he said, can a man be God’s friend? Friendship implies equality. That is precisely the message of the Gospel:
But you may argue that the statement of Paul is too awful, when he says, whosoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, eats and drinks judgment unto himself, and is guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. Dear friend, you must not consider yourself so much from the standpoint of worthiness or unworthiness of your person as from that of your need, which makes the grace of Christ necessary. If you recognize and feel your need, you have the requisite worthiness and preparation.
It is not hard to see myself as a servant, a slave of God. And I resonate with Paul, as he refers to himself as a doulas – a fully owned slave. Not that I am a particularly good one, I am stubborn, and I don’t follow directions all that well. But God can use us, often despite our thoughts and actions.
That is amazing…
But Merton’s words this morning, I know they are based in scripture (John 15:15), they are still tough for me to work through. A “friend of God?”, even contemplating on that leaves me shaking my head for a while. My mind comes up with 1000 reasons Jesus wouldn’t befriend me. He has to love me, but “friends”? That seems too much, too overwhelming!
Yet that is what God wanted from the beginning, as He walked through the garden with Adam and Eve. That’s what the meetup with God was about at the Ark of the Covenant, and the wonder of the mercy-seat, where blood would cover the sins of Israel.
All done so we could know God is with us, as a friend. That is what Job sought as well,
I want someone to plead with God for me, as one pleads for a friend. Job 16:21 GNT
And as it would be seen at the Ark of the Covenant, it would really be seen at the cross. As Jesus would tell the Father to forgive us..
He pleaded for His friends would be forgiven, to be restored to Him.
It is not a bad thing we struggle with this idea, though. That is where Luther’s quote come into play. We need to know Jesus makes this friendship possible! Even as we realize our sins have damaged it, for the moment. We can’t assume we deserve it. We know better. But we can rejoice in His actions to make it real, to make it true.
But He does all this, so we can be friends.
Amazing! This is the greatest miracle in all of scripture.
But Merton was right, we need to contemplate; we need to think through and work through and struggle with this thought. But we need to – it is true.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 12.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 400–401.