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Who Me? Thoughts on the Image of Christ…

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought of the Day:
16 They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. z “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. 17 Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar c or not?”
18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a •denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.
21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.  Matthew 22:15-22  HCSB

298      My Lord Jesus has a Heart more tender than the hearts of all good men put together. If a good man (of average goodness) knew that a certain person loved him, without seeking personal satisfaction or reward of any kind (he loves for love’s sake); and if he also knew that all this person wanted from him was that he should not object to being loved, even from afar… then it would not be long before he responded to such a disinterested love. If the Loved One is so powerful that he can do all things, I am sure that, as well as surrendering in the end to the faithful love of a creature (in spite of the wretchedness of that poor soul) he will give this lover the supernatural beauty, knowledge and power he needs so that the eyes of Jesus are not sullied when he gazes upon the poor heart that is adoring him. Love, my child; love and hope.

I vaguely remember the first time realizing the inference in the gospel reading in red above. That while money bears the image of Emperor’s and Presidents, we bear in ourselves the image of God. Intellectually, it was pretty cool insight for a kid, and I remember being pleased with the simple idea.

We are made in the image of God!

What a wondrous thought, that every person we meet was created by God  Even though we have too often obscured His image as we’ve fallen to temptation,  the image remains. Bruised and battered, torn, dented, covered in the slime and muck that is the result of sin. And one of the joys of being a Christian is when we see someone realize this, as God cleanses and recreates them, restoring the image.  What a joy it is, to see God begin to transform them!  (see 2 Cor. 3)

Yet there are times, even as I observe that the observation seems to be from a distance. I get the idea of being made in the image of God, yet as I look in the mirror, I see something far different.  I see the darkness and brokenness still, I see the damage of my sin.  To borrow from St Josemaria’s words this morning, I see far too clearly the wretchedness of my poor soul. 

This is where God’s love is so glorious, so wonderful, so nearly beyond belief.  St Josemaria describes it so well, as he is sure of God giving us the supernatural beauty, knowledge, and power we need so that Jesus is not sullied, not shocked by looking upon our brokenness.

Realizing this, we find another reason to adore Him, for we find another facet, another depth of His love for us!  He will let us love Him!  He doesn’t just accept the love we show Him, He will treasure the love we are able to show Him!

He is our God, and He makes us His people, and rejoices in our love!  Even as He transforms it, and creates in us the ability to love.

Enjoy His love, my friends!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1211-1219). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

I can see! A sermon to start Epiphany (based on Isaiah 60)

church at communion 2I Can See!  The Darkness is Gone!
Isaiah 60:1-6

In Jesus Name

May God’s glory, His mercy and Love revealed in Jesus, may that glory shine so brightly in your life, that even the darkest shadows are forgotten!

 Sunrise @ Concordia

One of the blessings I never expected when I came to Concordia was the incredible sunrises I would see on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes it is the sun breaking through the crowds, other times the entire sky looks like it is on fire.

There are times Dane will come out of the MPR and find me with my camera or my phone, trying to capture the incredibly beautiful blessing that so few see.

Though I hate getting up that early, there is a blessing that is so incredible, when a pitch black dark night is shattered by the sunrise

And that is what we celebrate during the weeks of Epiphany.

This feast which celebrates Christ entering the world and the glorious love of God being visible, being seen, drawing people to Him…

From the wise men whose arrival starts Epiphany, to the apostles who will witness the transfiguration, which we will celebrate 8 weeks from now, we are talking about the glory of God, shining in our lives, because Jesus is here!

and so Isaiah’s words are so meaningful and relavent to us,

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

Or maybe we should read it this way!

“Arise, Concordia! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

Time for the homecoming

Growing up, we would love electricity because of snowstorms.  Tree branches would get heavy with snow and ice, crashing down on power lines which would have to be replaced.  During the darkness you couldn’t do anything, but when the sun rose, life would return to normal.

It would be back to splitting wood for the woodstove and fireplace.  It would be cooking food to feed those who were out shoveling the snow, it would be having friends stop by, driving their trucks or skimobiles.

So too, when we realize that God has shined on us, that Jesus has come, and we have beheld His glory, that it is time to get ready.

For God tells us what is going to happen next,

All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance!

“Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home!

They are all coming – as they see God’s light – God’s glory shining here in this place.  As we realize what God has done, and is doing here, as we realize the glorious love He has for us, everything changes, and it is noticeable!

Others see it, and they will be drawn to His glory, like a moth to a flame, or like certain guy’s attention can be gotten by announcing a football score, or a child to a stuffed animal.

God’s glory will gather attention, and it will draw people to the place where it is seen, where it is made manifest, where it brings light and warmth and peace and love.

I love how Isaiah describes the homecoming, as sons and daughters are returned home.  What he is talking about is those of us like the prodigal son, who went our own way, and did what we thought was right.  Who either rebelled against God our father or simply ignored Him.

But as God’s glory is revealed, as the grace and mercy of God are revealed and remembered, the prodigals come home.  His love draws us back, hoping that we will be welcomed, unaware that God’s love for them has not dimmed.

The picture of the daughters being carried home is the same, as the Holy Spirit brings them home, those who strayed and wandered, those who were lost and without hope.

For those of us who have come home, to find God’s people waiting for us with open arms, it is something we never forget, this love of God shown through His people.  For we see them as Isaiah describes,

Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy,

When someone “comes home”, when their darkness is shattered by God’s glory, by the light of the world which is Jesus, that should be our reaction!  Our brother or sister has been brought home, and we begin to rejoice like the angels in heaven, indeed all of heaven does.

It’s time to worship the Lord

As we see that happen, we begin to rejoice, we begin to praise God. For the darkness is no more, even the shadows of darkness fade in the light that has revealed to us Christ, this glorious light that guides us to him.

Sometimes the words in Greek and Hebrew have a meaning that is deeper than we remember – and so it is with the word for praising God – it is to cry Alleluia or Hallelujah!

Hallel means to recognize the incredible thing that someone has done, the deeds that deserve to be shouted from the rooftops.

and Yah – well that is short for YHWH – God’s name.

To praise Him, for shattering our darkness with His light, with His glory….

The glory of the incredible thing that happens as Jesus dies to bear our sins, as he takes on himself our unrighteousness,  and is risen from the dead to give us life, to restore us from our brokenness.  His glorious work as the Holy Spirit cleanses us from sin, gives us life and lives within us,

This is Epiphany! When we realize the glory of God is His love for us, seen in the work He does in us, a work that shines through us to the world.

So,

“Arise, Concordia! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you!

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you!

AMEN!

Christmas Eve: Relationships: Isaiah 9

Relationships

Isaiah 9:6-7

†  I.H.S.

May you realize the long awaited promise of God’s active presence in our lives, came true for all on a night like this… as Jesus the Messiah was born.

Four Letters.

Four simple letters, written by a prophet 700 years before the event he saw.  The promise of God nearly two millennia before that.

Four letters, divided into two words, that matter more than we can imagine.

“to us.”

This child that we celebrate, this man who is God whom we glorify, was born to us.

To us…..

And everything changes, as the relationship that God wants to have with us, is revealed.  That which they couldn’t understand in Isaiah’s day, and couldn’t understand on the night when Mary gave birth, made clear.  God came to us.  To have a relationship with us, to relate to us in a number of ways Isaiah tells US.

Like Kay is my wife, the church’s office manager, the mother of my son, so too does God relate TO US in a number of incredible ways….. and as we celebrate Jesus coming to us, as we ponder what this all means, it is worth looking at who Isaiah says this Jesus, this God is saves relates… to us

Wonderful Counselor, the one who comforts and directs, who consoles and guides, whose wisdom we depend upon.  This is the God, who came to us. It is the first way Isaiah tells us that He will relate… to us.

He does this because we need direction, we need comfort, we need God here, to be our shepherd. Because we too often lose our way morally, We need Him when life results in despair and mourning. So a child was born to us.

That baby, who was laid in a feeding trough, this child born of parents who would soon leave their country because of persecution and move. He is one we truly need, A God, the God, not made of wood or fashioned from stone.  A God, who is mighty, and uses that might, that ability, that power, for us. For that is how He would relate to us.  Not just minimally from a distance but interacting with us here.

Too often we make false gods, ones who would promise to do what we want, what we think we want.  We don’t want these gods to love us; rather we only want them to give us what we think we need.  This God, though, who came as a child to us…is not like that.  He is a mighty God, who loves and knows what we truly need.  He relates to us as the God, who is always able to be Whom we need,

The next way is is my favorite of the ways in which God relates to us humans, to his people. As our eternal dad, as the loving Father, we run to when we are hurt when we’ve broken our neighbor’s window, or their hearts when we’ve done the things that leave us needing His strong embrace.

And this Father is eternal, and he will be our Father eternally.  Think about that.  God just isn’t a god of this day or that, a fad.  He will be your God always.

There is a lot in this idea that this child relates to us as our Father, our everlasting Father.  Theologians make a big deal of it.  But when you need Him, His embrace is there…for you.

The last way God relates to us, through this child given to us, is so needed today.  With all of the stress, all of the fears, with all the brokenness we have to witness, such is the nature of the God who comes to us.  He is the Prince of Peace!

We so often picture the serenity of the manger scene, which I am not quite sure would be that peaceful.  A woman gave birth, a husband tired and weary, the shepherds, still in awe of the million angels announcing the glory of Christ being born… into that scene comes the prince of peace… and we always picture that scene as serene, peaceful, because we know His character.

The child who would be, no who is, the prince of peace….our Prince of peace.

This child in the manger calms our fears, our anxieties, our lives…our world.  Because of him, we have this peace… peace beyond understanding.  For that is why He came… to us.

And the prince of peace….to us is given

The prince of peace who has come… to us.

AMEN!

3rd Week of Advent: He Gathers Us!

He Will Do All the Good Things He has promised!

He will gather   (JOY)

Zephaniah 3:14–20

† I.H.S. †

I pray that the mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so overwhelm you, that all you can do is rejoice as you think of His coming…even as God does!

How Can I….Know this Joy

A pastor once wrote,

Day by day we encounter the world of visible things. It assaults us through billboards, broadcasts, traffic, and all the activities of daily life, to such an enormous extent that we are tempted to assume there is nothing else but this[i]

Sometimes I feel like that, like all of world that I encounter wants to assault me, attack me, trample all over me.

I so understand those words, that we assume there is nothing else but this….

struggle.

And this week, when the darkness of the dark “blue” weeks of Advent are interrupted, as if a hint of a new day were peaking through, even as the darkness still threatens, we are encouraged to rejoice.  Not just look forward to the day of rejoicing… but to rejoice.

Now, today, even as we struggle with world events, with national and local problems; as we struggle with our finances, or families or maybe it is just our personal struggles, we are urged to sing and shout praises, to be glad and rejoice with everything in our hearts and minds and souls.  We are called to cheer up, and not be afraid.

Thank God that He gives us a reason too…

Are We?

The people that rejoice in the presence of God are described in the following ways,

Those who need to be calmed, for they are afraid and anxious,

Those who mourn as they consider the state of appointed festivals like Christmas, and how they have become less about God and His people.

The people who will rejoice are those who are oppressed, to those who are weak and helpless.

Those who were chased away, or exiled.

This is referring to those who were run out of the camp in the days of the Exodus, who were cut off from the people of God because of their sin, yet will be welcomed back and restored.

Those who were exiled because of their sin and shame, for they too will be drawn back by God and restored.

Yeah, those who will rejoice in Jesus’s coming will include those who are burdened by shame and guilt, but who will be called by a new name, who will be given a new name, whose life will be restored.  The prodigals who return, those crushed by their sin.  For that is what Jesus does, as He was lifted up on the cross.

Lifted there because Jesus wasn’t just called a friend to tax collectors and sinners, He is a friend to them.  And lifted up on the cross, the very image of God’s mercy and grace, He draws people to Him, as He desires.

Gather, for the Lord Will Live Among US

The pastor  quoted earlier, who talked about the world assaulting us, following those words with these,

One single soul, in Pascal’s beautiful words, (your soul) is worth more (to God) than the entire visible universe. But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

There is the key to seeing where our joy comes from, in the midst of a world that will try to make life a living hell.

Realizing the worth of a single soul, your soul, to God.

And that is why we are gathered by God together.  For in this Old Testament prophecy, over and over it mentions this promise – six times! – the fact that God will gather His people together, that He will make things right, and twice more just so we understand, he explains that happens as God lives in the midst of His people.

God living among His people

God gathering His people together

God living among His people

23  “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1:23 (NLT)

The apostle John said it this way,

14  The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son. John 1:14 (TEV)

and

The hardest thing to get theologically is a concept known as “now, and not yet.”

Jesus has been lifted up, He has drawn us into Himself in His death, and in our baptism, bringing us into life everlasting. We celebrate now the feast that is the first taste of the feast to come. We can live free of the guilt and shame, free of what separated us from God.

We don’t see it yet, but we get glimpses of it.  As we gather, and as we do, our hearts should cry out His praises, for He is our Savior.  And I want you to hear one more “now and not yet

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Know this, like the prodigal’s father, our Father rejoices as we are gathered into His presence…  that is His love and mercy… AMEN!

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Is Spiritual Growth Necessary? The Benefit of Prayer, Meditation and Frequent Reception of the Sacraments

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
1  As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2  Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (TEV)

9  For this reason we have always prayed for you, ever since we heard about you. We ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, with all the wisdom and understanding that his Spirit gives. 10  Then you will be able to live as the Lord wants and will always do what pleases him. Your lives will produce all kinds of good deeds, and you will grow in your knowledge of God. 11  May you be made strong with all the strength which comes from his glorious power, so that you may be able to endure everything with patience. And with joy give thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to have your share of what God has reserved for his people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-11 (TEV)

90         Optimism? Yes, always! Even when things seem to turn out badly: perhaps that is the time to break into a song, with a Gloria, because you have sought refuge in Him, and nothing but good can come to you from Him.

24 For the Old Adam, like an unmanageable and recalcitrant donkey, is still a part of them and must be coerced into the obedience of Christ, not only with the instruction, admonition, urging, and threatening of the law, but frequently also with the club of punishments and miseries, until the flesh of sin is put off entirely and man is completely renewed in the resurrection.

I started to write this blog yesterday, and then life seemed to get in the way.  Life can be like that.

My devotional reading this morning again hammered it home, as Paul’s prayer for those who followed Christ in a city named Colossae makes clear.  A life following Christ will be different than the life that doesn’t. It is challenging to hear those words of Paul, who desires we be able to live as God desires and that our actions please Him.

The challenge is seen in the quote in green, that our old nature, which we believe was killed off in baptism, continues to rise, challenge us and dominate our lives. And the Lutheran Confessions (you know – from the “saved by grace, through faith, no works folks – talk about the law still impacting and disciplining the believer.  Of the sin-nature is put off entirely and the   Paul mentions needing to discipline the body as well, and Hebrews talks of shedding the sin and everything that so easily ensnares us.

But what are those things that help us grow?  What are the things in our lives that encourage the growth that transforms us more and more into those who resemble Jesus?

We see it in all the passages, perhaps most clearly in St. Josemaria’s words in blue.  To, in the middle of the darkness of this world, break into praising and glorifying God, in Whose presence you dwell!   We need to take refuge in Him, to seek the peace that comes from being brought back to the Father, cleansed and healed and transformed, conformed to the image of Jesus. (Think that Phil. 2:5-10 is in context with the first verses, the ones that talk about being of one mind, one heart.

It is that transformation that is spiritual growth, and so things that help us grow to know we are in God’s presence, God’s loving, transforming presence, are what cause us to grow in and like Christ.  In Hebrews. This is described as fixing ou eyes on Jesus, who creates faith in us, and sustains it to completion.  In Colossians, we talk about the knowledge of God.  Not knowing about God as we know about Adam and Eve, or BioChemistry.  But knowing Him, the knowledge of His presence, His mercy, His love.

So how do we grow in this?  How does Spiritual Growth happen?

So obviously prayer fits in there, not just a casual Lord’s prayer, but a deep conversation, including listening.
Which brings us to meditating on God’s word, whether we scan a book, or meditate on one verse.  Both have their time and place.  And sharing scripture with each other, studying not in a vacuum, meditating on it with others, that we can encourage each other, teach, and pick up those who have stumbled off the past, or lost sight of Jesus.  Even those who shepherd the people of God need not just to study scripture, but also pray through it, listen and meditate on it.

The sacraments also stimulate this growth, for they not only make us aware of God’s presence but remind us of what happens in His presence. That’s why Luther often talked of remembering our baptism, not just as a passing thought, but considering what God did there.   How we were joined to Jesus Christ, to His death and resurrection.  How our sins were nailed to the cross, and we were cleansed of them.  How the promises of eternal life was guaranteed, and the Holy Spirit began o reside in us.

Communion, the Eucharist does the same thing, as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ. As He invites us to His feast and again reminds us of how He gives himself for us.  How welcome we are at the feast celebrating His work, His work not just saving us, but re-creating us, of His makin us the Father’s children.

I could go on and on, talking about the blessings of Confession, and hearing our sins are forgiven, of worship and praise, singing and celebrating, I could speak of the blessing of seeing a friend brought to God and made aware of HIs love, or of doing the same for an enemy.

This is the spiritual life, and it is found and grows in His presence…. learning to trust God, and entrust everything to Him.

There is His peace… and may you grow more and more aware of it, in your life, and may it spread from you into your community.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 594-596). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 568). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

God, please leave me alone!!! (and thank you Holy Spirit!)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

4  When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.” 5  Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” 6  It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. 7  They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch. 8  Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” Luke 5:4-8 (MSG)

574      You insist on trying to walk on your own, doing your own will, guided solely by your own judgement… And you can see for yourself that the fruit of this is fruitlessness. My child, if you don’t give up your own judgement, if you are proud, if you devote yourself to “your” apostolate, you will work all night—your whole life will be one long night—and at the end of it all the dawn will find you with your nets empty.  (1)

This morning I made it through my devotional time, without a thought that struck me hard.  I would think I was just going through the motions, but that is a poor excuse.  The reason I enjoy the time I spend in the scriptures, reading through the Book of Concord and Vatican II documents (my goal for this church year) and the writings of St Josemaria Escriva is because one of them reveals to me the presence and promises of God.

i do it so I don’t get into the practice of doing by just going through the motions.

I am in mourning this morning, and that has an effect on me, I am sure.  A very good friend from one of my previous congregations passed away, and it is hitting me all to hard. I haven’t seen him in a while, maybe two years…. and I miss him a lot.  This is on top of a very emotional week.  Two other friends in ICU, and pouring out in sermons on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Sunday the miracle of Christ’s presence, and the desire of God to make us His holy children.

I feel a lot like Peter, as Jesus performs the miracle and fills his boat with abundance. Lord, I am tired, weary, not holy enough to be in your presence. Just leave me alone….. please…..

As I was finishing up with devotions, the very first point in The Forge, is the one quoted in brown above. I knew I had to write on it, and the event that inspired it, the scripture passage.

What I didn’t realize, even as I started writing, having copied and pasted both quotes, was how Peter’s request would affect me.  It is how I feel.

Lost
Full of remorse,
Tired
Hurting.bereaved

And yet, all around me, I see miracles, stuff God is doing, there is no other explanation for what is going on….

“Leave me alone, I can’t handle this holiness Lord!” This is Peter’s cry… but it is echoing over and over in my soul.

Even as I am writing this, another passage comes to mind….

26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)

I will hang on this this today, despite my wanting to find a cave like Elijah, or the spot David can’t find in Psalm 139, a place where God isn’t.  I need to know God doesn’t forsake or abandon us, He is there, a Father who keeps His promise, a Brother who gives His life for us, who bears our sorrows, and iniquities… (taking away our excuse to run because we aren’t holy) and the Holy Spirit, who brings comfort and peace, and takes our cries…and prays for what we really need……

The assurance of God’s presence, and love.

Lord Have Mercy….. and He does!  

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2137-2140). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It is TIME to Sing GLORIA in Excelsis Deo!

“Glory to God in highest heaven,and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

 It is Time To Sing Gloria!

Luke 2:1-24

Featured image
May your hearts resound with great joy, as you glorify God with your life!

Forty-one Sundays a year, as part of our regular liturgy, we sing the song of angels.  It’s in different settings, from a chant, to hymns that were meant for hundreds to sing together in 8 part harmony, to the music Chris has written that we’ve come to treasure.

Gloria in Excelcis Deo.

The Gloria

The Doxology, words that have been sung in 1000 languages, by soloists and mass choirs, to every kind of instrument.  Simple words, yet… full of wonder and awe.

The greatest musical performance, as the largest choir sang in front  small exclusive audience.  As we lend our voices to them tonight.

The first performance so staggering, that the response was awe, and joy, and a mad desire to rush to see that which inspired the heavenly song.

For 11 weeks a year, this song is omitted.

Chris, cover you ears for a moment.

Come on. …..

there you go.

What Chris doesn’t know, is that we don’t have to have to omit it.  There is a tradition that we do, but there is an exception to the rule.  There is an exception for the Alleluia’s as well.   We could sing them, but we do not.

We don’t sing it, not because it would grow old to keep singing it.  Though for some perhaps it might.

We don’t sing it so that when we do, it will be more powerful either, though that is actually a reasonable reason.   And actually we do throw ourselves into a bit more.

We put it aside, to think of the blessing that we’ve been given in Christ, to spend time in Advent and in Lent in the dark so to speak.  To think about what life would be without God.  We can’t really remember – the difference is the difference between death and life.

The times of penitence, the thinking through the sorrow we feel, the struggle we have against sin.  That’s advent…. When we remember why we need God, why we desperately needed him to come and to be with us. To come and live among us, to come and die…

For the Messiah that was placed in a manger, was the offering for our sin.  In a very real way, that manger was an altar, though his death would come years later, the Father put Him there, to be the sacrifice that would bring grace and people to Him, that would buy us out from sin.

That’s why it is time to sing the praises of God, to sing Glory to God in the highest, , to praise Him with everything we are.

It’s time to sing, It’s time to rejoice with everything we are.

For God’s come to us.

To make us ready, not just for tomorrow, but to spend eternity with Him…..

So let us sing…. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You Won’t Ask? I will provide anyway!

You Won’t Ask? I will provide anyway!

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Isaiah 7:10-14

As you experience the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you know the peace of the Babe, held in His mother’s Arms.

Can We Know Peace?     Snoopy and the Red Baron & the real Story

As we look at the world, at Afghanistan, Syria, the Ukraine, as we hear of more shootings, and protests here in America, as we hear of disasters and people living in poverty, looking at a romanticized view of the manger causes… dissonance.

How can this be the same world?

My mind wandered back to a more peaceful time, or at least, It was in my mind.  In a small New Hampshire town, the news of the Vietnam War was far more distant than the wards of today… and life seemed at peace.

I remember listening to Christmas music, on our record player, the albums that would get pulled out, year after year.  One of my favorites was a group called Royal Guardsman, and their Christmas song was about Snoopy.

Yes, Charlie Brown’s dog, and a fight he had with Baron Manfred Richtofen in World War I, on Christmas Eve.  A battle about to end with snoopy getting shot down, when the bells of Christmas began to ring in the village below,

The chorus was

“Christmas bells those Christmas bells

Ring throughout the land
Asking peace of all the world
And good will to man”

And for a moment, there was peace.

Such actually happened in World War I, not between two pilots, but two armies.  For an evening, they laid down their rifles, they silenced their artillery, and as one man started singing silent night, men from his army joined their voices to his, then the other army did as well.

For an evening, as bells chimed from churches, announcing the birth of Jesus, there was peace.

Can that happen today?

Will we know if it does?

Can we know peace in War?

That question God wanted to ask…. Yeah

In the days of King Ahaz, in the time described in our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, there was a war.

We know the passage so well, because of the prophecy of Mary, and the name, Immanuel, which means Immanent or Immediate God.  It is from where we get our blessing, “The Lord is with you!.”

Jerusalem was going to get run over, brutally run over….surrounded by armies,

In order to provide for God’s people, a prophet is sent to break this new to them.

God asks the king, “let me prove I will be with you through these times, ask me for something to confirm it….Let me give you and answer for the questions you will ask.

Ask, and you shall receive…. Jesus will ask us, centuries later….

Ahaz refused to answer, for whatever reason.

I won’t put you to the test…. I won’t demand you prove your presence, your love, I won’t depend on you God, no matter what threatens me.  That’s Ahaz voice, defensive, dismissive….

Will we doubt the One who was promised, the babe born to a virgin, the One who would remind us that God is with us? That God has promised to deliver His people, and bring them, bring us safely home?
Will we hear it, more than this night!

Many of our wars aren’t military battles, nor even do they include weapons.  They are wars with our neighbors, or our families,, skirmishes and fights with friends.  Civil wars within our hearts, within our souls.

We need to hear that God wants us to ask of Him, we need to seek Him out, we need to realize that He will prove that He is as here this night

We need to know He is Immanuel, our God, with US.

That is what this night, these songs, these readings are all about.  It’s why we gather.  It ‘s why we are here……

and we are why He is here….

We are why this baby doesn’t just belong here… in the manger, but here, on the altar.

The sacrifice that we would know peace.

During a war, nearly 100 years ago, the bells pealed out, and the war was forgotten,… and men sang the praises of God, who came and dwelt among us…

To bring us the peace of heaven…..

So seek, and knock and ask….

And realize the answer was first seen, as a young lady laid her newborn babe in a manger, and God the Father offered Him as the sacrifice to prove Himself to be our God, and to make us His people.

The Hard Lesson From the Manger…..we have to share in it…

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Artwork by my friend, and soon to be ordained Mark Jennings. His artwork (either originals or prints) is available through http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/mark-jennings.html

Devotional THought fo the Day:

1  Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit, and you have kindness and compassion for one another. 2  I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind. 3  Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. 4  And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own. 5  The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had: 6  He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God. 7  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. 8  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death— his death on the cross.

1  Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (TEV)

562      When I preach that we have to make ourselves a carpet so that the others may tread softly, I am not simply being poetic: it has to be a reality! It’s hard, as sanctity is hard; but it’s also easy, because, I insist, sanctity is within everyone’s reach.  (1)

We have a fear of being taken advantage of, one that can easily consume us.

I feel it every time I get a phone call, and the person promises to come to church, if only we would pay their rent, or buy their meds, or provide them with money to buy food. I feel it when I get that text message at 10pm or 2am, knowing that the people need to listen, more than they are ready to hear my wisdom.

I see my fellow pastors, and all those who minister at this time of year struggling with it to, because they put in some much work, and sometimes only see a few people who will benefit from it.  Or we fear that this is the year when only 3 people will show up for the midnight service.on Christmas Eve. I see in it families, where one member always feels underappreciated, even as they continue to meet the needs of others in it.

We don’t like to be taken advantage of, we don’t want to be walked all over.

And that fear is confronted by the words of St. Josemaria Escriva.  What?  You think we should allow ourselves to be run over, run down, wiped out?  You want us to be a carpet or door mat that people can walk all over, grinding into us the mud on their feet?  He wants us to just take it, and serve people, knowing we may never even get a simple thank you?

(quick disclaimer – I am not talking about being run over by sexual, physical or emotional abuse)

But yeah, St. Josemaria is saying exactly what Paul is saying in Philippians 2.  The lesson of Jesus, lying there in the manger.  Lying there, with the shadow of the cross already promised, with the stripes that will be caused by whips already accepted, with the humiliation, with the fact that the very people that will praise Him, that He’s come to save… spitting on Him, cursing Him, nailing Him to the cross.

That Jesus would suffer all of that, to save us.  He through whom everything that has been created was created, becoming a infant, needing sustenance from another, needing another to change His diapers. That level of humiliation at the manger and at the cross, is first and above all, a picture of God’s love.

It is also a picture of God’s plan for our lives, here, during this life.

Paul knew that – and tried to live that way, accepting times of hardship, taking on the sacrifice it would take, including the humility to not strike back. but instead to let people see the strength of Christ-crucified, Christ-Incarnate alive in Him.

And he calls us to imitate him, as He imitates Jesus.  To live in Christ as Paul strived to, to have that attitude, that being a carpet doesn’t matter, that seeing people reconciled to the Father is far greater a reward than inconvenience, sacrifice, even martyrdom.

This is the lesson – that little Baby, willing left Heaven for you…. so you could walk with Him……in good times and bad.

that’s the lesson we need to remember…..

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2107-2110). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Radical. Ordinary,Practical Faith….Woven Into Our Very Lives

Devotional Thought of the Day:The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

25  And I have been made a servant of the church by God, who gave me this task to perform for your good. It is the task of fully proclaiming his message, 26  which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all human beings but has now revealed to his people. 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. Colossians 1:25-28 (TEV)

Recognizing time as a reality made holy by a loving God, the Celtic saints valued the daily, the routine, the ordinary. They believed God is found, not so much at the end of time when the reign of God finally comes, but now,where the reign ous already being lived by God’s faithful people.  Theirs was a spirituality characterized by gratitude, and in our stories,we find them worshipping God in their daily work and very ordinary chores.  (1)

140      Live your Christian life with naturalness! Let me stress this: make Christ known through your behaviour, just as an ordinary mirror reproduces an image without distorting it or turning it into a caricature. If, like the mirror, you are normal, you will reflect Christ’s life, and show it to others.

It is rare, but every once in a while people ask me why this blog quotes a Catholic saint by the name of Josemaria Escriva so often.  After all he is the founder of what seem to think is a radical catholic movement called Opus Dei. I am a Lutheran pastor, a spiritual descendant of one who didn’t quite get along with the Catholic hierarchy of his day.

So what are you thinking pastor?  ( Some might even think I am some kind of radical infiltrator, a sheep in wolves clothing, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing!  ( I guess mot only would Lutherans be suspicious, maybe some Catholics might be as well?)

An explanation is in order, and my thoughts this morning, looking on the lake near where I grew up got me thinking about this.

I want, no, I need a practical faith.  Like the quote in green above, like the Celts had.  A relationship with God who is Immanuel, that is God with us!  A daily relationship with jesus – whose names is literally Yhwh (the name of God in Hebrew) and saves,

I don’t want a God who is locked in libraries, or only found in the sanctuaries where He does gather His people.  I need one who bakes bread with bakers (I highly suggest Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of Christ) , and is with kids and collegians in classrooms, and with maudlin 50 year old pastors, going back to where they grew up.

I need, no, we need, a God who is closer to our hearts than our skin. Who brings peace where there was anxiety, where broken hearts find healing.  A God who ensures we are not, whether in Los Angeles or a small New England town, or a city of 15 million in China. that we are never, never alone.

A God who not only shares our lives, but His own, Not just His death, but His glory.

A God who I am grateful to know.

All of my favorite Christian writers talk of such, find rest and sanctuary in this God.  St Escriva and Martin Luther perhaps more than any, but also Gene Edwards, or Martyn Lloyd Jones, Brother Lawrence, or Robert Webber and William Willimon.  In Escriva’s books, it is boiled down simply, naturally, Christ is here… we just need to realize it.

We need a God whom we can worship, because He is here…

And praise and glorify Him, for He is here…. we don’t have to find Him, He found us, even at great cost… and is bringing us home!

(1)  From Celtic Daily Prayer, for October 18:  Original from EC Sellner, Wisdom of Celtic Saints. .

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 690-693). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Editi

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