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Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection We see things differently! A sermon on Acts 4

church at communion 2

Transformed Minds:  The Effect of the Resurrection
We see things differently!
Acts 4:1-12

Jesus, Son, Savior

 May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help us to see all things from His perspective!

A Matter of Perspective

There are days my relationship to the world seems a lot like this picture.

I don’t quite understand what they see, and I am absolution sure they don’t see what I see.

And most of the time, that doesn’t bother me.

If we are talking about the gospel it does.  It bothers me tremendously.

The same concern exists when we talk about the church, have to offer people, it does.  Not just because my life is literally wrapped around the church, but because of what the church offers to us, as it reveals to us the very heart of God, His desire, His will… His love, for you and I.

His love for us..

A love that changes things, no, not really, it changes us.

This love transforms us so completely, it is as if everything was flipped over.

And while there are days I would willingly knock some people over, what we need is to build a desire that they would see what we see and treasure.  We need to understand how critical it is for them to see the Jesus who loves them, who died for them, who lives with them.

As we look at the Pharisees we will understand what they see, and why they can’t see it.

What they saw… something to reject

As hard as it seems, let’s try to walk in the priests and Sadducees sandals for a moment.  It’s now almost 2 months since the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazarene.  They thought they had gotten risen of the pesky troublemaker, and most of his followers had scattered like cockroaches when the light turns on, and know His followers are back

And the ministry, as interesting as it is, isn’t happening the way it should.  It wasn’t in conjunction with the appointed ministers of God in that place, And the ministry wasn’t happening to the best of people, it was to the rabble, like that lame guy who begged all his life.

They had lots of questions, and as we heard last week, they were ignorant.  They were looking for logic and reason.  They were looking for answers that could be put in a nice neat box.

That’s why they asked, “by what power, or on whose authority, have YOU done THIS?”

As if the answer would allow them to reject the miracle that was happening.  As if the answer would allow them to discount what the reality they are facing.

But humanity does that all the time.  We choose to be blinded to God, we choose to look at things upside down. We choose to call what is right wrong, and what is wrong right.

Even those of us who claim to follow Jesus do this, as we assume that our plans are God’s, that our beliefs about the world are equivalent to God’s plans.  ( I could mention that I had pastor friends in the last week, one tell me God is happy with the Republicans, and another the Democrats, and that’s why they feel free to bash the opposition!)

Matter of fact, I think we confuse those who don’t know God when we seek to speak for God on things not found in scripture, or when we make the sins that upset us the most the unforgivable sin,  or when we make the sins we personally struggle with not that big of a deal!  When we say, thus spake the Lord, and we don’t have the authority or responsibility to do so.
What we are doing in that case is not standing opposite the world looking at what was written, but opposite God.

And we find ourselves there too often.

What we see – the basis of our hope

Last week, I said the ignorance the people had was not that they were stupid, nor was it that they didn’t have the data.  They did, they just didn’t understand it.

This week the change is similar, they didn’t have the right perspective, even the apostles didn’t, and they heard Jesus prophecy about his death for three years.

The apostles didn’t understand the incredible message of salvation, until they put it together after the cross, until they saw the wounds in his hands and in His side, until He breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit, just as we received it in our baptism.

it was then that they realized what it meant for Jesus to be the cornerstone. That sets the perspective in stone, and we can’t say what Jesus says is a 6 is a 9, or what is wrong is right.

There is more to being the cornerstone than setting what is right and wrong though.    The idea of the cornerstone is that every stone is connected to the cornerstone, everyone is linked, and the cornerstone or keystone keeps them connected.

Because Jesus is the cornerstone because He is our rock, we are connected to Him, and that changes everything.  Paul talked about it this way,

16  So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17  This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 (NLT)

Because of Jesus, it is not only Jesus we see differently but ourselves… and each other.

And we need to!  We need to see Jesus as our Savior, our Lord!  We need to understand that we are connected to Him, that we are united to Him, and our lives are lived out in that connection.

You, me, him, her, each person here.  Each person is a new creation, each is as new in their redeemed lives as the lame man who could not only walk- he could dance now! Everything in our lives is new, from our lives free of sin, to our lives lived in the presence and peace of God.

This is our hope, and peace, to know His peace… and love.  Let’s pray

 

 

Walking with Jesus through the trials to the triumph! Part 7 The Mind for the Walk (on Easter)

church at communion 2 Our Lenten Journey:  Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph
Part 7:  The Mind for the Walk
Luke 24:13-35

In Jesus Name

May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause your hearts to burn, as His love for you is revealed!

 Do we walk unaware?

This morning we finish a journey we started some 46 days ago, on Valentines Day.

We’ve walked with Jesus through trials, we talked about the different things we’ve encountered, and today we cover the last bit.  It is a hard journey, as we walk in the steps of men who are in a steep decline; both physically as they walk down the steep decline to their home in Emmaus, and spiritually, as they struggle with despair, as they lost their hope, and descend into depression, and despair, oblivious to God’s work.

But it is only from their that they can finish the journey,

It’s a journey each of us makes, that each of us endures, unaware of the fact we don’t make it alone…..

Even though we think we do…

The Struggle of our minds

As I look at the story of the two men, what amazes me is how oblivious they were.

First, they made the typical mistake that men make, they heard but didn’t listen to the women in their lives.  They heard that they came back with an amazing report, that Jesus was gone.  Did they listen?

Yes.

Did they really hear what was being said?

Nah.

Luke tells us as they were struggling with everything, as they tried to toss around answers to all the question ripping them apart they stopped and sadness and gloom were written across their face.

That gloom wouldn’t leave, even while Jesus took them through all of scripture, as Jesus explained to them every scripture that testified about Him.

We have days like that, when all the knowledge we have about Jesus, when all the information passed onto us doesn’t compute when we remain oblivious of God’s presence, and all the while there He is, teaching us, guiding us, walking with us.

Yet we remain oblivious, too worried about how we interpret what’s going on around us.  Just like these two guys who followed Jesus were oblivious.

At least their minds were.  Their hearts were a different story…. The hearts were on fire!

The Heart and Soul Knew Better.

Here’s a question to consider.  If they were still struggling if they still didn’t understand, then why did they beg him to stay the night?

It wasn’t until a little later that their eyes would be open, so why was it so important to stay with this person they had just met?  What made them want to do this?

Again, we go back to their hearts afire, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing them comfort and peace through the word of God that was being explained to them.  They couldn’t let Him go, they needed Him there in their lives, they needed the Holy Spirit working through the word!

They couldn’t let God go, even though they didn’t know it was Him

And some days, we need to do that, and knowing this story, we see that God is still with us, that He still is guiding us, just as He promised.  Even when we are struggling in a downward slide.   The Lord who is Risen, is with you indeed!

As He broke the bread!

As they hit bottom, as they get to their home, something happens that changes their mind about where they belong.  Enough so that they climb back up the mountain without thinking.

I mean, what kind of attitude do you have to have to run 8 miles, uphill, in less than an hour. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run that fast, anymore.!

He broke bread with them, He blessed it, he consecrated, just as He had in the upper room, and He gave it to them… and they recognized him the scripture tells us.

But recognized doesn’t tell us the entire picture.  The word there is epiginosko – they knew Him.  They deeply and completely knew Him.  This is the word for the level of intimacy a couple has for each other, not just the physical stuff we think of as intimacy, but the level intimacy when people can finish each other’s sentences, where they can communicate with just looks, without words, where they know what each other is thinking.

This is what happens when God opens their minds, their hearts as He gave thanks to God and broke the bread.  What they knew in their hearts becomes revealed in their mind, and the road they traveled in despair becomes somehow different, less challenging as they know He is with them, as they know they can trust Him, depend on Him

That’s why the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper means so much to so many of us, as we realize that God has not left us alone, that He who is risen, is risen indeed, Praise God!

And because He is… we are risen indeed, ALLELUIA!

And because we are risen, because He has opened our minds, we intimately and completely know Him, and we are loved.  AMEN!

The Reason Life is Worth it…

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought of the Day:
21  “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “the time is coming when worshipping the Father will not be a matter of ‘on this hill-side’ or ‘in Jerusalem’. Nowadays you are worshipping with your eyes shut. We Jews are worshipping with our eyes open, for the salvation of mankind is to come from our race. Yet the time is coming, yes, and has already come, when true worshippers will worship in spirit and in reality. Indeed, the Father looks for men who will worship him like that. God is spirit, and those who worship him can only worship in spirit and in reality.”
25  “Of course I know that Messiah is coming,” returned the woman, “you know, the one who is called Christ. When he comes he will make everything plain to us.” 26  “I am Christ speaking to you now,” said Jesus. John 4:21-26 (Phillips NT)

Thus we teach that in using the sacraments there must be a faith which believes these promises and accepts that which is promised and offered in the sacrament.
20 The reason for this is clear and well-founded. A promise is useless unless faith accepts it. The sacraments are signs of the promises. When they are used, therefore, there must be faith, so that anyone who uses the Lord’s Supper uses it this way. Because this is a sacrament of the New Testament, as Christ clearly says (1 Cor. 11:25), the communicant should be certain that the free forgiveness of sins, promised in the New Testament, is being offered to him. He should accept this by faith, comfort his troubled conscience, and believe that the testimonies are not false but as certain as though God, by a new miracle, promised his will to forgive. For that matter, what good would such miracles or promises do an unbeliever?
21 Here we are talking about personal faith, which accepts the promise as a present reality and believes that the forgiveness of sins is actually being offered, not about a faith which believes in a general way that God exists.
22 Such use of the sacrament comforts devout and troubled minds.

Man is always looking for the right way of honoring God, for a form of prayer and common worship that pleases God and is appropriate to his nature. In this connection, we must remember that originally the word “orthodoxy” did not mean, as we generally think today, right doctrine. In Greek, the word doxa means, on the one hand, opinion or splendor. But then in Christian usage it means something on the order of “true splendor”, that is, the glory of God. Orthodoxy means, therefore, the right way to glorify God, the right form of adoration. In this sense, orthodoxy is inward “orthopraxy”. If we go back to the word’s origins, the modern opposition disappears. It is not a question of theories about God but of the right way to encounter him. This, then, was seen as Christian faith’s great gift: we know what right worship is. We know how we should truly glorify God—by praying and living in communion with the Paschal journey of Jesus Christ, by accomplishing with him his Eucharistia, in which Incarnation leads to Resurrection—along the way of the Cross.

I came across some big and heavy quotes in my reading this morning. But they center around that encounter with God we call worship.

In my opinion, this word is what makes life worth living, and I hope, in writing this, I can convince you of that as well.  But to do so, we have to come to a definition of worship, a way of understanding it that can be commonly accepted.

Worship is what the lady at the well experienced, it is an encounter with God.  For one cannot encounter Him without experiencing the love and mercy that is what is His glory, and our hearts respond in worship, in adoration.   As the early Lutherans agreed it accepts the promise of God in the sacrament as a present reality,   It is what Pope Benedict simplifies orthodoxy too (much to my amazement, as I have been teaching this for years!)  it is the right way to encounter Him.  

It is no surprise then that both a pope and the early Lutherans testified that this worship, this right praise is linked to the sacraments, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper.  For during that time of worship, every bit of our body is involved in recognizing that we are in God’s presence.  From our voices testifying that this is the lamb of God who takes away our sins, to our knees bent in supplication and adoration, to our hands and mouths receiving His precious Body and Blood, we encounter Him.

We encounter Him as He promised He would come to us, as He asked us to know Him, to recognize His presence with us.  This isn’t just some boring rite, some meaningless practice that can be overlooked. The Lord’s supper and the other times we encounter God in word and Sacrament ministry are precious because they bring comfort and the remainder of the peace that is ours because of Jesus.

And in the midst of this broken world, as we dwell in the midst of trauma, we need that reassurance, we need that reminder of what is real, that we are the children of God, 

Knowing that makes life worth living, it makes it precious, 

We are His, come celebrate that with us, and with the God who draws us together!

 

 

 

 

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

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Christian, do you ever feel like your life is a waste?

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the day:

16 Then He told him: “A man was giving a large banquet and invited many. 17 At the time of the banquet, he sent his •slave to tell those who were invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’
18 “But without exception v they all began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. I ask you to excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m going to try them out. I ask you to excuse me.’
20 “And another said, ‘I just got married, w x and therefore I’m unable to come.’
21 “So the slave came back and reported these things to his master. Then in anger, the master of the house told his slave, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in here the poor, maimed, blind, and lame!’ 
22 “ ‘Master,’ the slave said, ‘what you ordered has been done, and there’s still room.’
23 “Then the master told the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and lanes and make them come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will enjoy my banquet!’ ”   Luke 14:16-24 HCSB

The supreme and eternal Priest, Christ Jesus, since he wills to continue his witness and service also through the laity, vivifies them in this Spirit and increasingly urges them on to every good and perfect work.
For besides intimately linking them to His life and His mission, He also gives them a sharing in His priestly function of offering spiritual worship for the glory of God and the salvation of men. For this reason the laity, dedicated to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and wonderfully prepared so that ever more abundant fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them.

Vivification.  That incredible blessing as the Holy Spirit pierces our heart with the law, and then creates life in a person, creating in them the ability to believe in God, and the ability to depend upon Him.  We talked about Justification a lot, and Sanctification some, but Vivification?  Not so much!

To put it in less technical language, Jesus brings us to life, all of us, through the work of the Holy Spirit.  The older versions of the creeds talk of being quickened, and that is what we are talking about.  We were dead in sin, and in baptism intimately linked with Jesus death, and then so united, we rise to new life again. This is how the Holy Spirit makes us born again!

Too often though, we don’t encourage each other to live this new life.  We talk about being united with Jesus in life, but we too often forget we are united in His mission as well. To use the parable from Luke, we forget the importance of the party and choose instead to waste this new life away. 

We come up with so many good excuses though!  I can worship God on my own, I don’t have time for long prayers, or studying His word.  We don’t have to do these things -because we don’t earn our salvation!  We keep making the excuses, we keep telling ourselves we will get back to church later, that we will open that dust-covered Bible, that we will spend more time in prayer, and we will try to love our neighbor, and our enemy.

And with each excuse, we choose to not walk with Jesus, we choose to ignore His wonderful invitation, and we fail to see the Spirit work through us.

This isn’t “do this or you won’t be saved”, it is “this is what salvation is”, walking with God, knowing His love, ministering to others, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is having a life worth meaning, a life we can look back on and truly say, God was with us!”

Lord, have mercy on us, forgive us of making excuses, and help us live in everlasting life, with you!  AMEN!

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

The Struggle….of Brokenness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Pantheon, a place once dedicated to worship of idols but reborn to host the worship of God. May our lives tell a similar story as we realize what God does to us in baptism!

Devotional Thought of the Day:
12  I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. 13  Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. 14  I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG)

735      The interior struggle doesn’t take us away from our temporal business—it makes us finish it off better!

Brokenness.

It is real, I encounter it each day in my own life, and I try to shepherd others through it daily as well.

Brokenness.

It sucks.  And we aren’t the first generation to deal with it.  It goes all the way back to two people who weren’t broken but became broken.

The breaks may be physical, or social, psychological.  They may seem to others to be tiny fractures, for others life is simply shattered.  Some of our breaks we hide… not easily, and some we try to hide from, distracting ourselves, trying to find ways to numb the pain.

Some of our brokenness may be dealt with, for that is what doctor’s, counselors, and mediators are there to do.  Other types of brokenness have to be endured, and that to sucks.  To deal with something broken for 40 or 50 or 70 years.  Never knowing how bad the brokenness and pain will be the next day.  We never know when we will be completely overcome by it.

As a pastor, I know this all too well, in too many areas I’ve tried to endure it.  Physical, emotional, social, and outcast. Been there, done that. Have the scars and the memories that still hurt.

I wish I could heal it all, I know sometimes it happens, as God’s mercy overwhelms us and the person’s shattered life is made whole.  I don’t understand why this one, and not that.  I only know the healing we all have access to, the brokenness that for everyone there is healing, that there is being made whole, as we are made holy.

Spiritual healing. The healing that comes from realizing God’s love.  The healing that comes from the cleansing and restoration that forgiveness is.  Our heart and soul freed of the burdens of guilt and shame.  The healing that comes from encountering the love of Christ, pure, faithful, incredible, without measure.

A love so graphically pictured in the cross, and in our baptism.  A love that invites us to share in Christ’s brokenness in communion, that our brokenness we would realize He shares in as well.  And in our promised resurrection united with Him, the brokenness fades into the past. Freed of it, spiritually now, but when Christ returns… completely as we dwell with him in Heaven forever.

This is our God, who loves us, who cares… who heals.

Find your rest in Him, and your endurance is guaranteed. This is what Paul tells us about, the struggle to hold onto Christ, realizing He is holding on to us. A struggle that as we are healed spiritually has an incredible impact on our lives, on our work, on the art that comes out of our lives.  Remind others of this as well, for that is what it means to be the church.   A place where people find healing in Christ while helping others heal.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2662-2664). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

An Unexpected Call To Cheerfulness (but a needed one)

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  Yahweh is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2  In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me 3  to restore my spirit. He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name. 4  Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me. 5  You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over. 6  Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come. Psalm 23:1-6 (NJB)

520      Christian cheerfulness is not something physiological. Its foundation is supernatural, and it goes deeper than illness or difficulties. Cheerfulness does not mean the jingling of bells, or the gaiety of a dance at the local hall. True cheerfulness is something deeper, something within something that keeps us peaceful and brimming over with joy, though at times our face may be stern.

I sit here this morning, having survived ( I think ) another battle with influenza, only to have my soul troubled by what I read, as stories of the Church divided fill my browser.  It is depressing more than the flu, which managed to keep me from celebrating the hope I have in Christ Jesus with my friends and family.  For to watch people try to destroy what Christ came to save… is devastating.  Especially when such rot comes from within, from people who should know we have the ministry of reconciliation.

Yet in my devotions this morning,  St. Josemaria reminds me to be cheerful.

Not the cheerfulness that celebrates freedom from illness or difficulty, the kind of cheerfulness that is found at parties and dances.

Something far deeper, something that today I need as I look out on a broken world, on a broken church.

The cheerfulness, the peace that is found in times where brokenness should have dominated.  The cheerfulness I have seen wash over a group of people, allowing them to cry and laugh as we remember someone who has passed.  Pr when other tragedies occur, leaving us breathless, and for a moment hopeless…..

Then someone starts to read or recite Psalm 23…….

I used the old NJB edition, for that is how I learned it.  Yahweh is my Shepherd.

God gave me not only the right to use His name but the assurance with it that He is guiding, that He is providing and caring for me.   I hear the song I grew up singing, based on it, Yahweh is my shepherd now, I shall not want, I shall not want…

And on days like this – when the body and soul are wary when the spirit is weak, and hope for the church is dimmed by the Church itself, there are only the promises of God that sustain…. that bring peace, and eventually the ability to smile.

As St Josemaria notes, there is something within something within us at these moments, where we find peace, and hope, and God’s comforting presence, and His promise of eternity.

From here it is possible to write and speak with hope, to point out the presence of God, and to urge everyone to find comfort and peace and yes cheerfulness there.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1971-1976). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Joy and the emotional rollercoaster of Christmas

Canobie CannonballDevotional thought for our days:

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth h in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You! 
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. t 13 He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted u by Satan. v He was with the wild animals, w and the angels x began to serve Him.  Mark 1:9-13  HCSB

Thus we are told that only through Christ did real joy appear and that in our life, in the last analysis, nothing matters more than coming to recognize and to understand Christ, the God of grace, the light and the joy of the world. Only then will our joy be true, when it no longer relies on things that can be snatched away from us and can perish, but when it is rooted in the innermost core of our existence, which no power in all the world is able to take away from us. And every outward loss ought to become for us a pathway into these innermost realms and to prepare us ever more for our true life.

Christmas is an emotional rollercoaster of epic extremes.  To go from the pressure of rushing around, trying to find perfect gifts, to the moments where a hug from a friend or relative means everything, to the loneliness that occurs, as we realize who we are missing in our life. Like being on the roller coaster, we are not in control, and we don’t always know how to prepare for the next drop or the corkscrewing turn.

For those in ministry, the roller coaster includes our ministry, as well as our own “private” lives.  Often we go from trying to reconcile a divided family, to celebrate a service with joy, to worrying about a friend in surgery or recovery, to being there while another friend mourns.  And we get to tell everyone that there is JOY in this world!

The reading from Mark’s gospel helps this morning, as we see Jesus going from His miraculous baptism, from hearing the Father’s cry of delight, immediately into the desert, to be assaulted by Satan. From the purity of a sacred moment, into the assault and oppression of Satan himself.  

Jesus knows our roller coasters, he knows all too well our brokenness, our struggle with our emotions trying to keep up with the moment’s challenge. In revealing His love, in dying on the cross and rising again, He comes into our lives. and brings peace.

This is what Pope Benedict is talking about as he teaches about joy, this joy that comes from realizing that we are in the presence of Jesus. as we are given the hope of glory, as we are comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The roller coaster doesn’t disappear, but we realize there will be a time when this ride ends, and we will share in His glory. 

If I have learned anything about Christmas and its emotional rollercoaster, it is this.  In order to survive it, I need to spend some time, looking at the manger, trying to put myself there, realizing that the Lord came into our lives because He loves us.  Then, hearing Him reveal HIs love, we find the deepest peace, and in that peace, joy.  

God has given Himself to us, fully.  Think on that, focus on it, as we prepare to celebrate it, together. 

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.

 

 

 

Do We Still Need Christmas?

nativityDevotional thought for our seemingly broken days:

3 Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. v 4 “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” he said.
“What’s that to us?” they said. “See to it yourself!”
5 So he threw the silver into the sanctuary w and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.  Matthew 27:3-5  HCSB

20. But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament?
To such a person no better advice can be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scriptures say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7.
Second, he should look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15–16 and in 1 John 2 and 5.
Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace, within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16; 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.

In so saying, we finally discover the answer to the question with which we started. After the tearing of the Temple curtain and the opening up of the heart of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified, do we still need sacred space, sacred time, mediating symbols? Yes, we do need them, precisely so that, through the “image”, through the sign, we learn to see the openness of heaven. We need them to give us the capacity to know the mystery of God in the pierced heart of the Crucified.

In many ways, life would be easier without the celebration of Christmas.

For one thing, my cynical nature could use the rest.  It gets tiring, seeing people spend millions on decorations (which Costco was selling in September this year!) and gifts and clothes for all the parties, while people they should know are living on the streets.  In talking to other pastors, people who used to come to church on Christmas and Easter hardly do anymore, because they are too busy with celebrating Christmas!

It’s hard, all the extra work all the extra services ( 4 in 25 hours this year and add another on the prior Wednesday night ) 

And we know it all right?  We all know Jesus was born in a stable, and the angels sang to him, and the wise men didn’t visit him in the manger that night, but later at the house where they were staying. ( Hmm you didn’t know that? )

So why not give everybody so more time to rest, some more time to spend with families? 

I find the answer in the odd (given the season) reading in my devotions this morning.  When Judas, torn up with guilt and shame, tried to find hope, tried to find mercy and was denied. The very elders ( read pastors) who were supposed to point him back to God instead they threw his sin back in his face.  The very men who were supposed to give him a message of grace didn’t care. 

He needed Christmas.  he needed to know God would come to Him, forgive his sin, reveal His love for Judas, reveal that this was the very reason for the cross.  

Joseph Ratzinger, (later Pope Benedict XVI) had it right, we, like Judas, need to be given the capacity to know the mystery of God, reveal in the heart of Jesus, the one who embraced the manger and the crucifixion, for us.   Or as Luther pointed out, we need to realize that this life is full of sin and trouble and Satan is at work to steal our peace.  Just as that is done as we approach the altar, as God shares Christ’s body and blood for us, so we need Christmas. 

We need to celebrate, even if it is sappy or too utopian in its portrayal, the fact that Jesus shattered the darkness by coming into our world, not just 2000 odd years ago, but today, now, here.  That He is with us, that He loves us, that He is merciful toward us, cleansing us of all sin.  Our world needs to know this, we need to celebrate it, we need to find out that God has found us.

Rejoice, for unto us a Child is born, and He shall be called Wonderful!  Counselor! Almighty God!  Everlasting Father!  The One who Reigns with Peace…

the peace we are invited into, for that is why He came.

So celebrate Christmas, and see what is revealed to you this day.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1991. Print.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Of all people, SHE was the one? Amazing!

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for our days:

9 Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, “You must go back to your mistress and submit to her mistreatment.”

13 So she called the LORD who spoke to her: The God Who Sees, for she said, “In this place, have I actually seen e the One who sees me?” 14 That is why she named the spring, “A Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.”  It is located between Kadesh and Bered.  Genesis 16:9, 13-14

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.

God told her to go back where she was being mistreated.

I struggle to wrap my mind around what God was doing.  Who is this God who would send a poor slave back to her owner, to undergo more mistreatment?  To send her back to where she was told to commit adultery, to conceive a baby by a man who would never love her, who would later (see chapter 21) abandon her and her son.

Why did God send her back?  Why would he not just take care fo them then and there?

Another question needs ot be asked though, one that we really need to ponder.

Why was she the one who got to see God face to face?  Why did she have the great assurance that God would even listen to her prayers?  Look at the name of the place, see Hagar’s faith.

The One who sees me….

There are times where wonder why God would bother with me.  There are other times where I wonder why He would place me where he does so often, dealing with people who are in more trauma than I comprehend.

That’s when Hagar’s faith, this lady who was overlooked, taken for granted, given the worst work ( the idea of having to be involved with the 85-year-old spouse of her mistress must have been a bit traumatic) and not cared for, yet God came to her.  God was met her face to face and ensured Her of His presence in her life and in her sons.

As He is in ours.  He sees us… you and I.

Assured of that, I can live life, praying that my life is that mirror, that people looking at me see God.  And then, I can find some peace… in awe of the glory of God that surrounds us.  For He sees us.

Amazing love, how can it be?

I don’t know how… but I sure need it, and it is surely there.

AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 690-693). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

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