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No Time For Complacency! A sermon on Zephaniah 1:7-8

No Time For Complacency

Zephaniah 1:7-18

Jesus, Son, Savior

May the Gifts of Serenity and Peace of God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ not just sustain you in these days, but empower and drive you from being complacent about sin, to reconcile those divided by it.

Did you come here to hear that reading?

What were you thinking of, as you heard the Old Testament reading from Zephaniah this morning?  Was it what you expected to hear, what you thought about when you getting ready to come to church?

Anyone like the picture on the cover?  Although it is there, not sure many of you saw the word “hope” there!

This is a hard reading, for sure, and I wonder how many of us truly agreed with Bob as we said “Thanks be to God!”, to his “this is the word of the LORD!”

Even as we struggle with this, we have to realize that the day of the Lord is near, and that means there is, no time for complacency.

For while that day is one we hope for, for others it will be terrifying.

Being sucked into the dregs of Life (Complacency)

This idea of complacency in the Old Testament has an interesting word picture.  It is a word picture of someone so drunk that they do not notice they are drinking the bottom of the barrel of wine, what are called the dregs.

They are so drunk they do not notice they are drinking wine that is thicker than soup, and it causes them to be even more inebriated, even more, unaware of the situation around them.  They are simply numb to reality, unaware of what they are witnessing, unable to even care.

While we don’t realize it, that is the power of sin over us.

It makes us numb, unaware of those around us, unable to care for them, as long as we are able to continue in the sin.  Like the alcoholic who doesn’t realize the damage he is doing to himself and to others, sin slowly and surely claims those who are victim to it, slowly demanding that we give ourselves into it more and more.

You see, sin is the strongest addiction out there, and it doesn’t matter the sin!

That is what scripture is talking about when it talks about God searching through Jerusalem, searching through people that claim to be his, people that are so drunk in their sin that they don’t recognize His presence.

Please understand – God isn’t just searching out these sinners just in the world, but here, among His people.

And for those complacent in their sin, hear again what waits,

14  “That terrible day of the LORD is near. Swiftly it comes— a day of bitter tears, a day when even strong men will cry out. 15  It will be a day when the LORD’s anger is poured out— a day of terrible distress and anguish, a day of ruin and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness, 16  a day of trumpet calls and battle cries. Down go the walled cities and the strongest battlements! 17  “Because you have sinned against the LORD, I will make you grope around like the blind. Your blood will be poured into the dust, and your bodies will lie rotting on the ground.” Zephaniah 1:14-17 (NLT)

This is the word of the Lord!

Thanks be to God?

For judging us this harshly for our sin?

The Gospel of Jealousy

O wait, darn it, I forgot the last verse, the place where we will find not just the terror, but the hope. It’s a bit hidden, the gospel in the passage, so look closely

18  Your silver and gold will not save you on that day of the LORD’s anger. For the whole land will be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. He will make a terrifying end of all the people on earth. Zephaniah 1:18 (NLT)

 Do you see the hope there?  Right in the middle of that verse….

It might not be obvious at first, see it there?

In the fire of His jealousy, we see hope, right when our silver and gold does no good, when we can’t purchase our salvation, there is hope.

You see, God is jealous enough to burn it all up, yet when we take prophecy as a whole, and not simply focus on one passage, we realize that this too must be considered,

9  I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)

Throughout scripture, we hear about God’s jealousy, that God desires to make for Himself a people.  But God’s way of doing that is incredible, for He purifies us, He cleanses us, even as He burns off the impurities.

Remember John the Baptist promised this when He said,

“But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11 (NLT)

The fire of God’s wrath was poured out on Christ at the cross, all of His anger, all of His rage, and those of us in Christ were raised with Him when God broke the power of both sin and death.

Even are we can’t be complacent about our sin, we can’t be complacent about the sin of others.  Not just about warning them about the sin, but we need to reconcile them to God!  We need to help them wake up from their complacency that sin causes. We need to give them the hope that will see them through the fire to the resurrection, assured by the promise of Jesus.
That is why we are here, and knowing God is near, let us not fall into complacency, but rather hear God say that we are His people, while we rejoice that He is our God…and that He brings us through the fire, cleansed, holy, pure, and His.  AMEN!

I’ve fallen, and how can I get up?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days:

15  After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. 16  JeI’ve Fallen, sus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. 17  A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. 18  “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19  Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 (NLT)

8 So Esau said, “What do you mean by this whole procession I met?” 
“To find favor with you, my lord,”  he answered.
9 “I have enough, my brother,” Esau replied. “Keep what you have.”
10 But Jacob said, “No, please! If I have found favor with you, take this gift from my hand. For indeed, I have seen your face, and it is like seeing God’s face, since you have accepted me. 11 Please take my present that was brought to you, because God has been gracious to me and I have everything I need.” So Jacob urged him until he accepted.
12 Then Esau said, “Let’s move on, and I’ll go ahead of you.”  Gen. 33:8-12 HCSB

 

173      Keep turning this over in your mind and in your soul: Lord, how many times you have lifted me up when I have fallen and once my sins have been forgiven have held me close to your Heart! Keep returning to the thought… and never separate yourself from Him again.

There are times we are like Peter and Jacob, we are so focused on our sin.  We want to get past it, but we cannot.  It is not just the sin that hinders our relationship, but the inability to do anything about it.

Jacob was afraid, over twenty years later, that Esau still wanted to kill him.  Peter was afraid that Jesus would never forgive his betrayal, so afraid, he couldn’t be in awe of the Lord’s resurrection.  Perhaps he feared the holiness it required would further alienate Peter from the one he adored.

Sin is more than one or two actions, it is deeper, and it affects us more than we would like to admit.  Far too often we simply ignore the pain, and not believing the wounds that separate us can heal, we amputate the relationship. We simply deaden ourselves to the pain and refuse to grieve for what is lost.  But without that grieving, we soon become dead to the world and dead to ourselves.

We forget the power of God that is at work in us, was the power that raised Christ from the dead!

That power can heal our brokenness, even restore that which we amputated, the relationships we cut off.  This is the power of the resurrection that is Jesus Christ in us, and we in Him.  Those sins and the unrighteousness that divides us?  It was taken care of in our baptism, as they were washed away by the flood of Christ’s blood shed on the cross.

He lifts us up, as Esau lifted his brother up off the ground, as Peter was embraced by the risen Christ, and once again invited to walk with Jesus.

He holds us close to His heart,  so very close!  As he longed to do with the people of Jerusalem, when he wanted to embrace them, as a hen covers her chicks with her wings. He desires to clean us up, to make us spotless and pure, a glorious companion, as He shares life with us.

It may take us a while to learn this, we may need to relearn it a time or 20 , or 200.

But He is there, with us.

For He loves and cares for us… even when we struggle to see it.

Lord Jesus, help us to realize your love, help us to trust you and let you pick us up, and cleanse and heal the wounds and damage of sin.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 799-803). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Brighten up! It is Monday!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for our Days:

14 “You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. f 15 No one lights a lamp  and puts it under a basket,  but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine  before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16  HCSB

113      Don’t wait until you are old to start becoming a saint. That would be a great mistake! Begin right now, in earnest, cheerfully and joyfully, by fulfilling the duties of your work and of your everyday life. Don’t wait until you are old to become a saint. Because—I insist—apart from its being a great mistake, you never know whether you will live as long as that.

So it is Monday, and most of us are weary from the time change.  (Even though we got an extra hour of sleep yesterday!) Already encountered a number of irritable people, and I know several more who will be irritable as I deal with them today.  

Such is life!  Not just Mondays, but every day we live.  

Yet Jesus calls us to be the light of the world.  Please understand, Jesus isn’t saying that He is the light of the world here, nor is He commanding us to be. 

He is stating it as a fact.  

We can cover the light up, we can hide it, we can waste it away.  We do this all too easily when we forget that we are in God’s presence when we choose to ignore the fact that we dwell in His glory.  insted of realizing the blessings, we get dismayed, irritated, tempted and exhausted by the things of this world.  But we still are the light of the world.

Jesus, in uniting us to Himself at the cross and in our baptism had made this possible.  The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives, nourishing us, comforting us, is the guarantee of 

Yeah, today is Monday, and not even as especially good Monday.  Never the less, the Lord is with YOU.

So, be a saint, walk with God, know His love. and dwell in His peace.  And when you think you can’t be, cry out, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner!”  And know He has. That is why you are a saint, why you are the light of the world. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 599-604). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

How Do We Deal With All the Trauma?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days
15  Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Romans 12:15-16 (Phillips NT)

15  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:15-17 (NLT)

When the news just makes us exclaim “What a disaster!” and, then, we turn the page immediately or change the channel, we have destroyed our “fellowship,” we have further widened the gap that separates us.

It seems so much of my email is filled with news of trauma, or shortly thereafter, with appeals for money to care for the victims.

Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Tennessee, now the victims of the California wildfires.  And that is only the events in the USA.  There were Typhoons hitting Macao and Hong Kong, earthquakes in Mexico, and other traumas caused by men in England and other places.

There there are the traumas that are even closer to home.  A friend’s daughter passes away, another friend is dealing with a spouse whose illness is beyond their ability to cope with, other friends are struggling with cancer or even a pinched nerve.

And like I said, I am then deluged with the requests to help.  Houston is a good example.  Four friends are working with different church groups – all affiliated together.  They each ask for money, as does the district of our denomination.  I even received a request from another district to support their work in arranging for help for the district affected!  This doesn’t include all the churches and para-church organizations that spammed my email, for surely a pastor would help them? 

Part of me wants to react as Pope Francis described, just turn the page, just delete the email. Part of me wants to write letters to each group that seems less than above board, or those that insist their group is more in need or more deserving of money and tries to manipulate using guilt or shame, or hyper-emotional appeal.

And then I wonder if I am becoming too hard, too cynical, to suspicious,  to callous. What is the reaction all this is causing in my heart? Am I allowing my fellowship with humanity to be destroyed?  Will i end up on an island, with a huge gaping hole separating me from the rest of the world?   Or us the only other option to burn out, emotionally, physically, financially?  Will my faith become dead, because I can no longer bring myself to act?  Will I try to justify that by simply saying the system is overloaded?

I think the answer comes from the passage in Romans, this idea of living in harmony with each other. The example being weeping with those who weep, laugh with those laughing.  To take the focus from just giving a donation, to actually being with those who are in need.  ( One might say that just dropping 50 or 1000 bucks into an envelope may not meet the help they really need)  To be compassionate, to love, for there we find ourselves helping. Not just within the circle of friends we have, but with people we encounter, every day.

And mostly, the answer comes from trusting God, knowing His presence, hearing His voice, following His lead. For as we walk with Him, as we depend upon Him, we find the needs, and the resources he would have us meet.  Often those far different than we would have thought of… and yet, the peace and joy, even amidst the tears, confirms the presence of God.  

Here is the point.  Too often we rely only on our own strength, our own wisdom, our won will, overlooking the obvious, the presence of God.  As we cry out, “Lord have mercy,” we need ot rely on that mercy, even as we help others see it.  That will eradicate the gap that separates us, as we fellowship together with Him. 

 

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.

The Real Spiritual War We Must Fight…

Life is painDevotional Thought for our days…
24  Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25  Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26  That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27  I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (TEV)

13  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15  For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Romans 8:13-15 (KJV)

1 It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded,6 but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them as if thereby to merit favor before God.

60      Each day be conscious of your duty to be a saint. A saint! And that doesn’t mean doing strange things. It means a daily struggle in the interior life and in heroically fulfilling your duty right through to the end.

Let’s be honest, when I hear the term spiritual discipline, or mortification, most of us think of medieval monks with knotted ropes, whipping themselves over their shoulders.  Or maybe not doing that physically, but spiritually and emotionally, as Martin Luther was portrayed, struggling with the sin that would so easily ensnare him.A struggle which nearly drove him crazy.  Or perhaps it did, at least causing a breakdown.

Paul mentions the struggle as well, complaining about it in Romans 7, as he shares that he can’t do what is holy and right, and unsuccessfully battles temptation.  And in the passages in red above, Paul talks of mortifying the flesh – of beating the body physically in order to bring it to subjection.  (Never mind Jesus talking about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands when the cause you to sin!_

The struggle is real.

The Augsburg Confession is as clear as any other document, the good works that are planned by God are to be the result of the trust, the faith, the dependence we have in God’s work in our lives.  Again, Fr. Josemaria chimes in similarly – we just fulfill our duty, for we are saints,

But is it that happens, that short-circuits our desire? How do we overcome it?  Is it by physical and spiritual disciplines that punish our body and soul, even to the point of scarring it?  Or are these words of scripture simply an illustration – hinting at the different battle?  A different sort of discipline?

There is a part of me that wants to dismiss the entire conversation, and I would, except for one thing.  I tire of my sin, I am tired of the unrighteousness in which I dwell. I am tired of the Romans 7 battle and feeling like the wretch, unable to change, unable to transform, and afraid of the condemnation such deserves.

So where do I find the rope, and what knots do I tie in it?  Or do I find 8-12 hours to cry at the altar, as those using the mourner’s bench did in the Great Awakenings of prior centuries?  Or do I give up – and freely sin, thanking God for the abundance of grace that will result in my abundance of sin?

I think the answer is that spiritual disciplines are done, not to achieve a new level, but to remind us of what has been obtained for us.  Like a martial arts instructor who still does the basic steps with his students, so that he remembers even the basics, so we invest time in spiritual things to remind us of what we should know – the glory and incredible love of God.  These disciplines are not punitive or even restorative, but affirmative, to help us know the love of God, the presence of GOd, the mercy of God.

That is the purpose of striving to be regularly praying, regularly reading the scriptures, regularly doing both of those with other believers, and communing together, guided by those people the Body of Christ has called to serve them, is simple.  Life is pain (as the Dread Pirate Roberts was fond of saying) and these practices remind us that it is worth it, that God will make sure it works out for good, and that He will be with us, every step, every moment of the way.

In other words, God doesn’t need to have us so disciplined, though He does like our company, we need it!  We need to know He is with us, and will never leave us.  FOr we can easily chase after distractions, and think we have strayed to far… 

And still, He is here…

 


Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 439-441). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

A Reason for Your Monday…

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our days
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. 3  Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. 4  For in your struggle against sin you have not yet had to resist to the point of being killed. Hebrews 12:1-4 (TEV)

50      Feel the responsibility of your mission: the whole of Heaven is looking down on you.

Most of the time, when I read this passage, I get hooked on the idea of leaving my sin which has such a grip on me, and so many others I care about.   To be free of that insidious evil that tries to sink its talons into us, what an incredible thought!  To be rid of those things that get in the way of the life we live, whether it be resentments, or hurts or anxieties, what an incredible invaluable blessing!

A blessing that comes as we look to Jesus, keeping our eyes fixed on Him, as the Holy Spirit transforms us!  What an incredible thing!  It is amazing, awe-inspiring s we focus our adoration on the Lord who loves us.  us!

Yet this passage isn’t primarily about this blessing, but in what this blessing allows us to do, to run the race, to complete the mission, as Paul will say in Colossians, to present every man perfect IN Christ, who is the goal of our mission as well. 

That is the same mission as those who went before us and trusted in God. All of the great men and women of faith, who struggled with God and were used by God, who came to trust Him with their lives. And in the process, even when being martyred, killed for their testimony, they were able to embrace the hate and pain, knowing that in some cases, their dependence on God would bring the ones torturing them to know God’s peace.

The author here encourages us not to give up, reminding us of how much Christ endured for us, and how much those people of faith endured.  Don’t give up – keep focused on Jesus love for you – plunge its depths, ascend its height, explore its unending breadth and width, walk with Him through life…

Even on Mondays, even when it is not torture, but the boring return to our monotonous weekly grind beginning again.

He is with us, remember that, the day will be different.  Full of joy and peace, no matter what our bosses or the world throw at us. 

God is with us!  Let’s get back to work in His harvest, with Him!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 406-408). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Division Between Sacred and Secular? What if it Didn’t Exist?

St Francis Catholic Church

The Former St. Francis Church

Devotional Thought for our Days:
31  Well, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory. 32  Live in such a way as to cause no trouble either to Jews or Gentiles or to the church of God. 33  Just do as I do; I try to please everyone in all that I do, not thinking of my own good, but of the good of all, so that they might be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (TEV)

The Benedictine tradition is marked by a spirituality rooted deeply, intentionally in the issues and activities which confront us every day. These include the seemingly endless quotidian chores which fill the greater part of most of our days. Working. Eating. Caring for the sick and providing for the poor. Talking. Reading. Dealing with difficult people, just like ourselves. The Rule emphatically validates the sanctity of these efforts, drawing them up into the same sphere of holy activity as prayer, and meditation on sacred Scripture. Kitchen utensils and garden tools of the monastery are to be treated no differently than the sacred vessels of the altar. Guests are to be welcomed as one would welcome Christ himself. Rather than drawing lines between sacred and profane, or attempting heroic theological gymnastics to keep the high work of spirituality unspotted from the lowly tasks of this world, the Rule unabashedly weds life in Christ to life in the sanctified dust and sweat of our daily-grind existence.

6      Do not be afraid. Do not be alarmed or surprised. Do not allow yourself to be overcome by false prudence. The call to fulfil God’s will—this goes for vocation too—is sudden, as it was for the Apostles: a meeting with Christ and his call is followed… None of them doubted. Meeting Christ and following him was all one.

There are times the people that make up the church today seem to have a split personality. ( Or would it be better to say we are simply two-faced?)  

We create one set of rules for behavior with our friends at church, that is our sacred world’ and another set of rules for our behavior in the secular world.  And as a result, we don’t bring our religion/relationship with God into the “real” world, and we don’t want to bring before God in prayer our real life.   

I am not sure if we think he wouldn’t be interested, or is incapable of understanding it (I mean Jesus “lived” so long ago!  How could He possibly understand the fast-paced, media-hyped, techno/cyber crazy world in which we live?

Or maybe we want the disconnect between our sacred and secular worlds for our own benefit. Do we keep this illusion, that it is sacred and secular in order that we can have our sin and our Communion too?  

Is this a big deal?  It is when we think of the mission of the church, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, of bringing everything, of shepherding everything back to Christ.  To reveal His active and grace-filled presence to those around us, to the effect that they are saved  But if we have disengaged the two worlds, at least in our minds, then we can let them go, each to their own way.

Until the distance is so far we can’t stand on both.  Then we become hyper-spiritual and condemn all the physical, or we become even more driven to satisfy our own pleasure, hedonists of the first order. 

Some have tried to counter this division – Luther and his talk of vocation comes to mind.  The quote from Robert Webber above, citing the work of the Order of St Benedict is another.  And undoubtedly this get to the heart of St Josemaria’s Opus Dei – walking in faith in the midst of a broken world.

We need to stop dividing the life we have been given by God!  

He walks with us through every part of our day, and we need to rely on Him during every part of our day.  It is His mission to save the world and to do it through His people.  Whether they work at Subway, or a University, whether they are pastors or stay at home moms.  Whether they are 12-or 92.  God walks with each of s, everywhere.

Knowing that changes things, it changes them by making them holy, precious, the work of God.

When we cry out, “Lord have mercy on us” it includes all of our lives, all that we do, all that we encounter, and we need to know, He is here, the Lord is with us! Not to judge, but to guide.  Not to condemn but to comfort, to give us hope, to draw us into His glory and love.

Sacred?  Secular? Hole? Profane?  Religious?  Worldly?

These divisions aren’t real for us, for rejoice, we dwell in Christ! 

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 252-257). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What are you jealous about? A sermon on Matthew 21:1-16a

church at communion 2What Are You Jealous About?

Matt 21:1-16a

I.H.S.

 As you see the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus revealed in your life, may it cause great joy, such joy that you are completely content with all God has provided!!

Jealousy, the hidden beast

I can’t remember whose party it was, or the names of the guilty or innocent, but today’s parable of the vineyard brought it back to my memory.

There were two boys, about the same age, maybe somewhere between 3 and 5.  One came from a richer family and had all the stuff. The other one, from a much poorer family. They were at the same gathering and were opening up gifts.  Maybe it was Christmas, I don’t remember.

I just remember the richer kid taking the presents of the poorer kid because he wasn’t satisfied with his own.  So the poorer child, using his imagination, began to play with the boxes the gifts came in, turning them into magical toys with his imagination.  The rich kid came along again and took the boxes to play with.  So, the poor kid used the wrapping paper out of the trash bag.  Again, the rich kid, seeing the poor kid having more fun, tried to take the wrapping paper away.

Jealousy is an ugly thing.  We recognize it with other terms, those like envy, and coveting.

We see it in the parable of the vineyard, where a merciful landowner decides to bless those who hadn’t found a day’s worth of work with a day’s pay.  Even though the people who worked all day got the amount they negotiated for, the amount they worked hard all day expecting to get, they cried out, “it’s not fair!”

Like the rich kid never satisfied as long as the poor kid had fun, they couldn’t find satisfaction with the blessings of another person.

And they aren’t the only ones!

Could we be jealous of a baptism?  They why lesser providence?

Last week, we got to witness David Herrera III’s baptism.

Can you imagine someone grumbling about that?  Someone saying, hey, why is that child getting baptized, we should save that act, those moments in the service for someone who deserves those blessings!  Can we imagine someone saying, no let’s never baptized anyone else, no one who isn’t baptized deserves to be!

Why in the world would anyone be jealous of God blessing another person?  Of Him calling another person to be one of His very own people?

Can jealousy be that consuming?  Can envy be so evil as to even demand that someone not is blessed by God?  The Jewish people would be that way, ignoring all the promises of how us Gentiles would be saved by God.

That is what jealousy does, and if we shouldn’t be jealous of something as incredible as salvation, should we be envious of the little things God blesses us with in life?

What is it in us that makes us want to be blessed more than our neighbor?  What is it that thinks they challenges aren’t as tough, that somehow, we would be more content with their lives, rather than the lives God has gifted us with?

**Can’t we find contentment with our salvation, and then realize that with that comes not only more than we deserve, but more than we desire?

You see that is the ultimate question, can we be content with our salvation, and simply trust God’s sense of what is just and right for the rest?

The deal is enough

As you look at the discontentment of these people that think they deserved what they earned, we need to see the work of the Lord, of the Landowner.

The first thing we see is that he went out to seek out these people.  We hear the word hire and then the word sent, but the words have a bit more than that to them.

The word for hire comes from the word engage, to embrace these people.  When he sends them out to work – he doesn’t send out hirelings, the word there is apostello – he sends them out with responsibility, with a mission.

We begin to see that more clearly, as all day long he recruits and engages these workers, giving them hope and a reason for the day, even when there wasn’t a hope when all around them seemed worthless when they seemed worthless.

The Landowner’s/Lord’s mission was not about hiring these people, it was about providing for them.

It was about benevolence, about grace, about caring for people.

That’s why the Landowner went into town, it is why the Lord comes to earth, and why He will never abandon us but always, always be with us.

When Pastor Mark, and deacons Bob and Mike and I study passages like this together, one of the questions we ask is, where in this passage is Christ crucified?  Where does the relationship get restored between God and man.

Sometimes it is easy to see in a passage, sometimes it takes some time to think through.

In this passage, the cross is seen in this phrase,: 1  “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out.  The cross is seen in his engaging, in his embrace of the people he hires, whether they are those that believe and work hard from the beginning or those that spend the last moments of the day called by Him.  It is in His relentless pursuit of hiring people, of calling them to receive the wage of His day, the wage they didn’t really have a right to, unless He called them.

This is the deepest lesson of grace, the greatest of entitlements that God determines we all should receive.  That we would know His love, that we could share with Him eternity.

One last thought, for years I thought the good kid was the poor one, the one who found joy no matter what.  I think, as I look at this passage, the child was wrong as well.  What he had, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, he needed to share with his cousin.  For what he had was joy, and that was what his cousin wanted more than anything.

May we share our joy, the joy that comes from knowing the peace of God because we are found engaged, embraced by Jesus.  And no one can steal that joy away.  For He keeps, He guards, our hearts, and souls, for they are His, bought with the price of His blood.

AMEN!!!

The Key to Good Relationships. A sermon on Genesis 50:15-21

church at communion 2The Key to Good Relationships

Gen 50:15-21

 † I.H.S. †

 May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be so revealed in our lives, that we are certain that ALL things God intends for good.

You offended who?

Imagine if you offended someone with a lot of power.  Say, the head of the CIA, or one of the leaders of the Mafia.  Or to make it truly scary, the guy you cut off this morning, he’s waiting for you outside, and he is the head interrogator… Err… analyst for the IRS.

Can you imagine their fear the eleven brothers had that we heard about in the reading from Exodus, the person they offended had so much power that Joseph could have made them and their family disappear?

They were so afraid of him that they didn’t even go to beg for their lives themselves, they delegated that task to someone, coming up with a whopper of a story.

I can imagine the messenger trying to “sell it” to Joseph.

“Uhm, your brothers sent me… and uhm… they wanted me to tell you that your dad, uhm…. Before he died instructed them to tell you… you had to forgive them all that cruel stuff they did to you. Uhm like mocking you and tossing you into the pit, and saying they were going to kill you and then selling you to some passing merchants.

Uhm yeah, Mr. Prime Minister sir, yeah that’s the message they told me to say, uhm… please don’t kill the messenger?!?”

So afraid were they, that they didn’t get the message their brother told them in chapter 45, the same message he would give them here….

The same message we need to hear when we screw up, for it is the key to having good relationships, and really when one is broken, the only way to see those relationships reconciled, and healed.

Why the tears brother?

I usually look at this passage from Joseph’s perspective.  But today, I want to see it from the brother’s perspective.  There are people who have offended us, and that is a challenge, but do we ever think that someone we’ve offended would forgive us?

If we were to see the person we’ve offended cry as Joseph did, if we were to see them break down and weep, what would be going through our minds?

How would we understand his sobbing?  Would we think he was re-living the pain, the agony, the loneliness we caused?  Would his breakdown leave us more anxious, more worried, more afraid of what he would do?
It must have had an effect on them, for they no longer talked of being the servants of their father’s God.

They fell at Joseph’s feet and did something amazing.

They said they were his slaves.  That he had complete power of their lives, as they took a position of incredible humility… and still they were unable to think of the idea of reconciliation, or true forgiveness.

They are like the prodigal son, eating the same food as the pigs he fed, because there was nothing else.  He didn’t expect his Father would forgive him, but maybe he would accept him as a hired hand, or even a slave.

and maybe that person we offended would recognize we were people again.  They might not ever be friends again, but maybe they wouldn’t be actively hostile toward us?

Maybe?

The power of knowing God

I think the reason they struggled with reconciling broken relationships is they were missing something.

They didn’t understand how God worked, because they never looked for what God was doing.  They didn’t understand what Joseph had seen in Potiphar’s house, or in the jails, the very distinct and certain path God had planned.

Joseph couldn’t have become prime minister without meeting the cup bearer in jail, he couldn’t have bene there if he hadn’t been a slave in Potiphar’s house, he couldn’t have been sold to Potiphar unless his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery in the first place.

Each step, miraculously led to the next, and what was planned for evil God intended to use for good.
The other offense.

Joseph knew the heart of God, the heart of the Lord whom we have offended.

For our sins, much more numerous than those of the eleven brothers, offend Him.  He’s created us, given us a simple task of loving Him and each other, and we fail too often.  And like Joseph’s brothers, is there any way we could ever believe He would cry over our betrayal?

That somehow, God could plan for what we intended that was unloving and sinful to somehow end up being for good?

Yet in cross, where Jesus died to ensure our forgiveness, we see the ultimate version of what Joseph knew.  He knew the heart of God, and that God would always call us back to Him.  Perhaps he listened to his father, a pretty notorious sinner who even wrestled with God, fighting for a blessing.  Or remembered the stories of his grandfather and great grandfather, whom God would use and make promises to, even as they weren’t always faithful.

God always plans to call us back, to renew and heal us from our sin.  He will care for us as Joseph cared for his brothers, even comforting us and reassuring us about the promises He makes to us, the promise made to little David this morning.
The promise that is renewed here, when we are given the body and blood of Jesus, the blood spilled out as man did the ultimate evil, killing someone who was innocent.

And yet out of that ultimate evil, comes the greatest act of mercy, as Jesus died not just because they killed them, but to forgive every sin we’ve have committed. Every single one.

This is the heart of God that Joseph saw, the sacred Heart that cares for us more than the pain we caused.

The heart of God that would cry over our sins, and then call us back to Him, and care for us, providing for us.

This is our God, and trusting in Him, we can find peace overwhelming our anxieties, our fears washed away by His comfort, our sins washed away by His blood.

For what we meant for evil, God used for good.

It was our evil… it was for our good.

This is the secret to good relationships – the power of God to reconcile us to Himself, and then there – we are already reconciled to each other.

He calls to you today as well, offering that peace, which doesn’t make sense to us, but in which He promises to care for us, for we dwell in in Jesus.  Amen.

How Closely Should We Cling to God? You Will Not Believe What Scripture says!

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days:
11 Just as shorts fit tightly round the waist, so I intended all the people of Israel and Judah to hold tightly to me. I did this so that they would be my people and would bring praise and honour to my name, but they would not obey me.”  Jeremiah 13:11  TEV

Loneliness is indubitably one of the basic roots from which man’s encounter with God grew up. Where man experiences his solitariness, he experiences at the same time how much his whole existence is a cry for the thou and how ill-adapted he is to be only an I in himself. This loneliness can become apparent to man on various levels. To start with it can be comforted by the discovery of a human thou. But then there is the paradox that, as Claudel says, every thou found by man finally turns out to be an unfulfilled and unfulfillable promise; that every thou is at bottom another disappointment and that there comes a point when no encounter can surmount the final loneliness: the very process of finding and of having found thus becomes a pointer back to the loneliness, a call to the absolute thou that really descends into the depths of one’s own I. But even here it remains true that it is not only the need born of loneliness, the experience that no sense of community fills up all our longing, which leads to the experience of God; it can just as well proceed from the joy of security. The very fulfillment of love, of finding one another, can cause man to experience the gift of what he could neither call up nor create and make him recognize that in it he receives more than either of the two could contribute. The brightness and joy of finding one another can point to the proximity of absolute joy and of the simple fact of being found which stands behind every human encounter.

“I weep when the Enneagram or the Myers-Briggs analysis replaces the almost erotic intimacy with Christ described by John the Cross in his “Dark night of the soul,” or the stunning challenge to discipleship and companionship presented in some of the great Ignatian meditations on the mystery of Christ. The psychological tools are fun and even helpful, but they create a fascination with oneself and in the end, leave us alone with that fascination. I grow very sad when the paradoxical wisdom of our heroines and heroes is replaced by the strategies and stages of the psychological paradigm. A language that was once very large and awesomely beautiful has been transformed into a language that is very self-centered and very small.)

How closely does God want us to cling to Him? 

According to Jeremiah – as tightly as shrunken old underwear clings!  (Gulp!  How is that for a picture! No object lessons about this in a sermon – please!)

Gosh, that is close, very close!

That is what he always intended, a relationship that is that intimate, that close. That deep, that powerfully intimate and life changing. Nothing is going to get closer!

That is why Webber’s quote in green needs to be understood.  There are a lot of great tools for helping people, but ultimately, it comes down to knowing Jesus.  That is what sustained saints recognized and unrecognized by the church throughout the ages.  This level of intimacy with God that simply leaves us adoring Him with all that we are.  The level of intimacy we find in the sacraments, the intimacy that does fill the emptiness that no community can quench on its own.

Look at the way people have chased that kind of commitment, that kind of bond.  Of course is our madness with sex and the sensual.  But also the many fraternal organizations ( Kiwanis, Lions, KofC, even the Masons) and each tries to create those kinds of bonds and falls short.  The same thing for religious groups and orders, they come close and show this intimacy we need can exist, but they ultimately can’t replace a relationship with God.

Oddly, the Jesus movement started by promising this kind of intimacy, then as it morphed over the decades, it dropped that aside in favor of behavior modification and political power and influence.  This is why mountaintop experiences like prayer retreats and groups like Cursillo are so effective – they introduce that level of relationship, in a corporate environment.  They force us into it, but often fail to demonstrate that relationship is in our everyday life, and in our home church’s worship.  It’s there, but we have to learn to see it!

Ultimately, we are talking about a relationship sustained as we interact with God.  In the sacraments, in our time of prayer, (remember the ACTS outline – do we take enough time to ADORE Him?  We are talking about a relationship where He is allowed and welcomed into our lives, and we understand we are welcome to share in His glory.  

The more we experience it, the more we realize our need for it and hunger for it.  The more that happens, the more we cling to Him!

Even cling to Him like a pair of old torn shrunken underwear…. 

He is our God, we are His people.  We need Him in our lives, and He wants to be there.  This is how it was meant to be….

So go, spend some time with God… think about His love. 

AMEN!

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.  ( Dr. Webber was quoting Fr. Peter Fink in this passage)

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