There is another Way
Romans 4:1-8, 13-17
† In Jesus Name †
As we realize the sin we commit, may we also realize the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from the sin, even as we come to depend on His presence in our lives!
In the midst of the passage from Romans this morning, our translation puts a few of the words inside of parenthesis. They are no less part of scripture, and I would call your attention to them this morning…
They are these words, “The only way to avoid breaking the law, is to have no law to break!”
That seems simple. No law, no breaking the law.
Even though they are scripture, they present a problem for us. They are a literary device, not what we would call “pure gospel”. A literary device, sort of like sarcasm or irony.
You see, as a literary device, the idea of getting rid of God’s law is predetermined to fail.
For one thing, it’s impossible.
For another… well you will see.
We can’t avoid it – because of Adam
Paul’s literary device fails, simply because we can’t avoid sin. Last week we saw why, sin entered the world through Adam, and it was passed on, as vicious as any virus or genetic anomaly to every person who was a product of human conception.
All we have to do is look at what our lives produce, and we know that the Apostle Paul was right when he said that, “the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.”
That seems like a bit of a challenge, doesn’t it? You try to obey God’s law, and you can’t!
Some will say the law is impossible, that we should just ignore God’s law, and do whatever we want. Others give up, and others pretend that they have never sinned, or that their sin isn’t as evil as the sins of those they complain about.
Sin, we’ve all done it, we’ve all earned the wrath of God that are the wages for that sin. Ignorance of the law doesn’t matter, and we can’t simply make God’s law disappear, or claim that it isn’t for us…
You can’t avoid the law, it exists, which is why we need what Abraham discovered….. the discovery that David says brings great joy.
Rejoice, we were cleared of breaking it.
Hear David’s words again,
7 “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. 8 Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord as cleared of sin.”
This promise is for all people, without care for their age, their ethnicity, where they lived or even the sin they committed. This wondrous act of God, clearing us of sin, putting the sin out of sight is amazing!
Trusting God, depending on Him to keep a promise that goes back to the garden of Eden is what we are talking about, it is how we have a “right relationship” with God.
Since the beginning this is God’s plan, since God covered Adam and Eve’s sin with the skins of animals, since God saw Abraham’s trust, first in the promise of Isaac’s birth, and then as he went to sacrifice Isaac, knowing God’s promise was deeper than he could understand. Hebrew’s tells us that he counted that through Isaac God would provide him more descendants than the sand on the shore, or stars in the sky.
That trust, that dependence on God saw Abraham counted as a friend, just as David, whose sins far outweighed his predecessor King Saul, God describes as a man after his own heart. Paul gets this as well,
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. 1 Cor. 5:20-21
This right relationship we share – another way of describing God’s work in creating it is what Paul told the church in Corinth – His way of changing us from enemies into His friends.
Let that sink in.
Like Abraham, being counted as righteous means you are counted as a friend of God.
That’s what a right relationship with God is, which explains why David uses this word joy to describe our sin being put away.
During Lent, this is what we focus upon, this work of God we need, this love of God that proclaims we are cleansed, healed, forgiven, loved, by the Creator of the universe, who created us to be His friend.
And though sin tried to break that relationship, our God had already prepared for that, even before creation, for His intent has always been the same as it was in the garden,
to walk with us… He as our God, we as His people, his children, His friends.
And the cross, it is our way to avoid the damage of sin. And it works. So be at peace and trust in God who loves you more than anything.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. Proverbs 29:18 (MSG)
36 As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38 Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38 (TEV)
914 How pitiful are those crowds—high and low and middle-class—without an ideal! They give the impression that they do not know they have souls: they are a flock, a drove, a herd. Jesus, only with the help of your merciful love will we turn the flock into a legion, the drove into an army, and from the herd of swine draw, purified, those who no longer wish to be unclean.
The coach of my favorite football team has two very simple and yet profound slogans.
The first is “do your job.” which helps keep focused each member of the team, from players to coaches, trainers, the owner, and even entry level office staff and custodians.
The second talks about the nature of the focus. “No days off.” That speaks of the team as something more than a job, working on that team is what theologians call a vocation. It is who you are, it is part of what defines them. These two catch-phrases have come with a fair share of success. Actually, according to some, far more than just a fair share.
These are lessons those in the church and who lead it need to understand. Our ministry is more than just a job. It is a vocation, it is what we’ve been sent to do, our apostolate, our mission. Because of the nature of what we do, it demands our focus, and it should define who we are.
It is critical, far more critical than winning trophies and wearing five rings.
We see this in words from the Old Testament, a passage often translated “where there is no vision, people perish” or sometimes “where there is no prophetic vision.” But the translator of the Message has its sense – for the vision is not of what we are called to do, but what God is doing. It is the vision of the promises God the Father has given to us, delivered in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Lord who delivers us from evil. This isn’t just a vision for the church to grow, or build a new building, or raise money for this and/or that. It is the vision of God, gathering His people from every tribe and language, to live with Him. The vision of God being their God, and they being His holy people.
It is the vision that pastors, teachers, evangelists, prophets and apostles are to give them, what our worship is to cause them to be aware of. Which is where we come in, and where Jesus’ words about shepherds are so relevant.
People need those who are ministers in their lives, so that they might be drawn to God, and be given the vision of what God is doing in their lives. This is our job, primary and completely. It is the care these souls need, it is the mission that our sermons are tasked with, our Bible Studies, and why we baptize and commune people.
For without that, they are lost… they may not even realize what a soul is, never mind that theirs needs to be cared for, to have life spoken into it. It is only with God’s help that this is changed, only His Spirit can breathe life into them who are dead, trapped and imprisoned by sin.
This is what we do, and as we study, as we visit and teach, as we lead and inspire, may it be focused, every day, on Christ, and drawing people to Him.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional/Discussion Thought of the Day:
13 So brace up your minds, and, as men who know what they are doing, rest the full weight of your hopes on the grace that will be yours when Jesus Christ reveals himself. Live as obedient children before God. Don’t let your character be moulded by the desires of your ignorant days, but be holy in every department of your lives, for the one who has called you is himself holy. The scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’.
1 Peter 1:13 (Phillips NT)
887 That discouragement produced by your repeated lack of generosity, by your relapses, by your falls—perhaps only apparent—often makes you feel as if you had broken something of exceptional value: your sanctification. Don’t be worried: bring to your supernatural life the wise way simple children have of resolving such a conflict. They have broken—nearly always through frailty—an object that is dear to their father. They’re sorry, perhaps they shed tears, but they go to seek consolation from the owner of what has been damaged through their awkwardness; and their father forgets the value—great though it may be—of the broken object and, filled with tenderness, he not only pardons, but consoles and encourages the little one. Learn.
Like most pastors, I struggle with this thing called holiness.
On the one hand, Scripture clearly lays it out as a requirement for our lives, and as a measuring stick for me personally, and for my vocation, my life as pastor. If my goal is a pastor is to present you perfect and holy to God (see Col. 1:28)) then it is the standard to judge my work, my vocation, my life.
I’ve looked at how pastors treat holiness, looking for examples and encouragement, but I find too little. I see most pastors and priest taking one of two attitudes about it, and neither seems to help. I will go so far as saying both are contrary to scripture.
The first attitude is one of regimentation, of physical and mental obedience that doesn’t affect the heart. This quickly develops into legalism, that is less concerned about you than about your life being lived visibly according to the set standards. Everything becomes measured, notated and analyzed like a geometry test. It is not discipleship as much as a form of cloning. And it burns people out, for no one can live up to the standard, including those who see themselves as being responsible for measuring people against it.
The second attitude is just as dangerous, even though it seems the exact opposite. TO deny the need for holiness, to say it is a unachievable goal, and that Jesus broke us free from answering completely to the law. ( For Lutherans, this would be those who deny that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a third use of the law) As the legalists do this is not about the person, it is about the behavior. They might say since holiness is impossible, just rely on grace to forgive you. Not directly, but that is the result of their theory.
So I either push them too hard or don’t care what they do.
So where am I to shepherd them too? How are they to be holy even as the Father is holy if they aren’t taught what holiness is, and how it develops in a person?
Even harder is my own application of holiness if I am not holy, how in the world can I expect to lead them into holiness, into a deeper, more committed, more fulfilling relationship where the peace and comfort that comes from knowing God loves them is their primary desire?
I think it comes from understanding what holiness is, what it looks like.
St. Josemaria gives a picture of it, with his description of a child breaking a treasured item. This is going to God, the owner, the author, and perfector of our holiness, and asking for comfort, for consolation – this is holiness. At the very purest level, this seeing God’s help in restoring what is marred, what is broken, what is shattered, this is the kind of holiness we need to see.
The holiness of a child, seeking comfort, seeking peace, because we know what we have done, this destruction of what God treasured, is an act of faith, and an act of trust.
God will look past it; He promised He could because it was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. Knowing this, we can run to Him; we can tell those running to Him the words of comfort, “Your sins are forgiven!”
This is the faith that runs to God, knowing He is with us. Knowing and depending on a love that will allow nothing to separate us from Him. Providing for the people of God this encouragement, this blessing, this life.
Not just dismissing their sin, as if it didn’t cost the blood of Christ, nor scourging them and beating them up for their not living like the Lord who shed His blood for them.
It is in His death, which we are united to in baptism, that we find the grace St Peter talks of, the grace that gives us our hope, the hope that sustains us, and actually sanctifies us, for when we walk in His presence, when we run to Him for forgiveness and comfort, there He is working, making us Holy.
May we all run to our Father, and cry out for His help!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2049-2055). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Discussion Thought of the Day:
3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)
Where man is no longer believed to be under God’s protection, to have God’s breath in him, then people begin to assess him from a utilitarian point of view. Then there appears the barbarity that tramples on human dignity. (1)
Twenty-one years ago, an album containing the music of two masters was put together, one singing the lead of the other’s composition, both playing the instruments and blending their voices together. They went on tour together, and while I would love to see many people in concert, to see Michael Card and John Michael Talbot together, would be one of my dreams.
The album was called Brother to Brother, and it was playing in the background when I came across the words of Pope Ratzinger in my devotional reading this morning. The lead song, One Faith, comes from another favorite album, JMT’s The Regathering, which finds its inspiration in the words above from Ephesians 4. It pictures the regathering of all the saints, into the perfect communion that is Christ Jesus. As I look out on a broken world and the one holy, catholic (small c means all of us) apostolic and sadly fractured church, that day seems so precious, so wonderful and so far away.
It is the prayer and desire of Jesus fulfilled, that we truly be one, even as the Father and He are one.
And we see the glimpse of it in Pope Benedict’s (Cardinal Ratzinger when he wrote them) above in blue. When we realize that every man is under God’s protection, every man has God’s breath in them, we can no longer view them as anything utilitarian. We cannot hang generalizations, we cannot define them by affiliation or hang demographic labels on them. Even the labels adversary and enemy fade away, along with fears and anxieties, as we see Christ in them, and therefore find someone who is loved, even as we are loved. Someone Jesus is calling to, even as he calls to us.
Pope Benedict went on to say, “We must always look upon other men as persons with whom we shall one day share God’s joy. We must see them as persons with whom we are called to be members of the body of Christ, with whom we shall one day sit at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, at the table of Jesus Christ, as persons called to be our brothers or sisters, and to be, with us, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, children of God.”
This isn’t easy. It means we must trust and depend on God more than our fears, our anxieties, our resentments. it requires seeing the individual as more than important than those things. The only way to do that is to see the heart of God, the Lord who gave His body to be broken, and His blood to be shed for all on the cross, and then unify all He calls in a meal where He shares His body and blood again.
Including those that don’t understand yet, for we are called to love them, and invite them to this feast…..We won’t conquer our fears, we won’t willingly become martyrs if necessary if we don’t see them loved by God, even as He loves us.
Lord have mercy on us sinners, and help us to see that You died for each and every individual. AMEN!
(1) 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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5 For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6 Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6 (NLT)
Therefore, anyone who seeks an office in the Church must know that he thereby declares himself ready for a greater share of the Cross. For, properly speaking, the real pastoral activity of Jesus Christ, through which he fashioned the Church and will never cease to fashion her, is his Cross, from which there flow for our blood and water, the holy sacraments, the grace of life. To want to do away with suffering means to deny love, to disavow Christ. It is impossible to struggle with the dragon and not be wounded. That is why what the Lord says in the Beatitudes is valid for all times: “Blessed are you when men revile you; blessed are the meek; blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt 5:11, 5, 9). It is true, too, that where the Lord is, where the Master is, there must his servant be also. But the Master’s place was, ultimately, the Cross, and a shepherd who seeks nothing but approval, who would be content to do only what is required of him, would certainly not be taking his place where the Master has taken his.
I was once told that if I could be content in any other field, to avoid becoming a pastor. At the time, I didn’t understand. Today I do.
The blessing requires a high price to be paid.
I look at my friends in ministry, those I admire the most sacrifice so much to serve. Some are pastors and priests, others missionaries serving far from what most would consider their home. Some are teachers and youth workers, others are the leaders most don’t consider professionals. The elders, musicians, those who teach the Bible to young and old.
The costs are high, and while I am not talking about financial costs or the time demanded by the needs of those we serve, they cannot be dismissed either. The deeper costs include betrayals, it includes weeping with those who are weeping, crushed in grief. It means disciplining people that may not like be corrected. It means being willing to accept the loneliness of the prophet, being dismissed as we bring messages of hope, of being sent to stubborn and stiff-necked people as the prophets encountered.
It’s not about reports and strategies, it’s about laying aside our plans when someone is hurting, and helping them bear that pain. It’s not about giving a vision, unless that vision includes the cross, leading to the resurrection. It’s about the joy of the sacraments, and the pain when we see people in need for the comfort and strength they give, but who dismiss them. It’s about not giving up on the prodigal, it’s about showing mercy to the prostitute and tax collector, the drug addict and the scoundrel.
This is ministry, this is service, this is finding that as we minister to those who are drawn (and sometimes dragged ) to the cross, we find our healing occurs as well. For we are at the cross, where Jesus raises us from death, heals us from brokenness, comforts us in our grief, and gives us hope, even as we despair.
That is the paradox of Christian ministry, the sacrifice, the life surrendered at the cross is the great blessing of being such a servant leader.
Which is why Paul, the one we imitate as he imitated Christ praises God int he midst of sacrifice and suffering….
as will every leader in every parish, in every congregation, and throughout the Church in history, and throught out the world.
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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. Romans 12:3 (MSG)
684 So your talents, your personality, your qualities are being wasted. So you’re not allowed to take full advantage of them. Meditate well on these words of a spiritual writer: “The incense offered to God is not wasted. Our Lord is more honored by the immolation of your talents than by their vain use.”
It seems like a silly “dream”, yet it was the only option I ever thought of as an option to being a pastor. It was to use my musical talents in the way Billy Joel sang about in the song “Piano Man”. “And the manager gives me a smile, because he knows that it’s me they are coming to see, to forget about life for a while.”
Of course my classical piano teacher would have been aghast to hear me talk of using my potential for that lowly pursuit. He wanted me to play Rachmaninov and talked about how my finger spread would make it possible to do what so few could do.
I could look back and wonder if I wasted that talent, to be honest I couldn’t play either piece anymore without a month or four of serious practice and stretching out my fingers. I can pick up a guitar, or sit at a keyboard and do simple back-up to other musicians, but be the primary instrumentalist? Not so much…
SO did I waste my talent, and the odd gift that is found in the hands of someone with Marphan’s Syndrome? Did I not take full advantage of them?
Not that I haven’t’ wondered this on occasion, as I’ve sat down and just messed around on the piano, playing whatever my fingers want me to play. Or when I have had the chance to back up my friend Chris, or when a famous CHirstian musician came to do a couple of solos and asked if he could play with our church liturgy band.
What if… and what would have happened if…
St Josemaria has it right, I think. The little talent I have had, well, had it grown, what good would it have served, as compared to how it has served? It’s been used to help people worship, and to be honest, hearing 80 or 100 voices sing His praises, drowning out my voice is a blessing beyond anything I could experience
There is something amazing about hearing people who know and are responding to God’s presence, something that occasionally makes the musicians stop playing, as just find themselves lifted up by hearts resonating with the love of God, as they drop their pain and their burdens, as their souls find healing, deep healing, as tears still flow, but from joy and relief, not from pain and grief. To see people, as St. Paul wrote, understanding themselves in view of their relationship with God, as they realize the love that is beyond measure that is seen in the cross, and in their resurrection, their being born again.
These are moments I have never experienced at a live concert, as enjoyable as they are.
Talented wasted? Not in the least.
I can’t think of a better use… than when the musicians can’t play, and the pastor can’t speak, because His presence is so incredibly present and overwhelming.
May we all have the blessing of knowing God’s presence… to the extent that every
we are is dropped aside in awe.. and gratitude. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1591-1593). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 But he would go away to lonely places, where he prayed. TEV Luke 5:16
But there are other reasons why God has bestowed this external knowledge of Himself upon the minds of all men.
In the first place, He has done so for the sake of the external discipline which God wants all men to observe, even the unregenerate.
Paul explains the second reason in Acts 17:27 with the words “to seek the Lord.” This expression has been placed in the causal construction, “because of or on account of our deficiency.” Thus there is absolutely no doubt that this knowledge has been revealed so that we will seek God.
Nay, you must even accustom yourself to know how to pass from prayer to those occupations which your state of life lawfully requires, though ever so distant from the affections you have received in prayer: for example, let the lawyer learn to pass from prayer to pleading, the merchant to his mercial transactions, and the married woman to the care of her family, with so much ease and tranquillity that their spirits may not be disturbed; for, since all of them are in positions according to the will of God, they must learn to pass from the one to the other in the spirit of humility and devotion.
Chemnitz, in the reading in blue, notes our need to seek the Lord. In the passage it comes from, he is talking about what we see from natural revelation, but that too only wets the hunger for contact with God, and more than contact, for intimacy. In the intimate moments, we find peace and rest. When we enter that peace and rest, then something miraculous happens, we find healing, for we are being transformed into His likeness.
We need God, we can’t make it on our own, we have broken too much, and been broken too many times. The requirements of scripture primarily show us this, not just a path to enlightenment. We need him as much when we have been made His children, as when were alone in the darkness.
We are made for fellowship with the Father, we see that in Jesu’ own life, as He seeks the peace that comes as He finds rest in the Father’s love.
Why are we more in need of seeking God, of finding HIs presence? Don’t we mature? Don’t we become strong believers who can handle things on our own?
Simply put, no.
If anything, we become more aware of our brokenness, More aware of the healing needed in our lives, and in those around us. So we need Him more, we need HIs comfort, His peace, His presence. We need to be assured we are healing. The affections that he talks of maintaining.
Which is where prayer is so desperately needed.
I am not talking about praying unceasingly, as some portray it. Prayer is not a text message here and there or sending a tweet to God and occasionally seeing if. That isn’t the unceasing prayer.
Rather it is like De Sales advocates, this times of prayer where we find ourselves so enamored of God’s love that it becomes part of our parenting, part of our being an employee, part of being a boss, whatever it is. We move from our time of peace, our time of healing through our life.
That is unceasing prayer, a life of being there, in the presence of God, which stems from our sacramental time (3) where we deliberately take time to seek God and realized that He is our life, our breath, our breathing, as Paul states in Acts 17:28.
So go, spend some time crying out to the Lord! Find your rest and peace in His presence. Take your time there, consider the Lord’s supper, your baptism, the promises made then. Explore the dimensions of His love, allowing Him to relieve you of all your anxieties, your worries, your burdens, and yes your sin and shame. Then, knowing the glory of God’s love, re-enter life, assured of His presence as you walk by His side….
The Lord is with you!
(1) Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
(2) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
(3) Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIII talks of prayer as a sacrament, and if we knew it as one, maybe we would be more quickly run to it!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
14 So, my dear friends, flee from the worship of idols. 15 You are reasonable people. Decide for yourselves if what I am saying is true. 16 When we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? 17 And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body. 18 Think about the people of Israel. Weren’t they united by eating the sacrifices at the altar? 1 Corinthians 10:14-18 (NLT)
69 True and worthy communicants, on the other hand, are those timid, perturbed Christians, weak in faith, who are heartily terrified because of their many and great sins, who consider themselves unworthy of this noble treasure and the benefits of Christ because of their great impurity, and who perceive their weakness in faith, deplore it, and heartily wish that they might serve God with a stronger and more cheerful faith and a purer obedience.
70 This most venerable sacrament was instituted and ordained primarily for communicants like this, as Christ says, “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Likewise, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”8 Likewise, “The power of God is made perfect in weakness.”9 Likewise, “As for a man who is weak in faith, welcome him, for God has welcomed him” (Rom. 14:1, 3). For whoever believes on the Son of God, be his faith strong or weak, has eternal life (John 3:16). (1)
He says to her: “Unfortunately I can live and dispense love only in the small coin of everyday life—but then there is that person whose television is too loud, who makes so much noise, or who is so uncouth; then I have to try to understand him, to keep calm and to smile, and this will be true love without all the rhetoric.” And he tells us a brief parable that reveals him as he really is. An Irishman, who has done little good in his life, dies and comes before the heavenly tribunal. He stands in a long line behind those who are already being judged, and he hears and sees how the Lord scans the ledger of each individual and then says to the first: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. Paradise!” And to the second: “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. Paradise!” To the third: “I was naked and you clothed me. Paradise!” And his heart sank deeper and deeper, for he had done none of these things. So he comes in fear and trembling before the judge and can hardly raise his eyes. But in one of his timid glances he observes what seems to be an enigmatic, mischievous smile in the eyes of the judge. And the Lord consults the ledger and says to him: “Well, there’s a lot missing here. But once I was unhappy and you told a joke and made me laugh. Off with you—Paradise!” This is typical of John Paul I himself. That’s exactly how he was. He not only told us a joke, but he bequeathed to us his smile and gave us a glimpse of what humanity really is; he let us surmise something about our lost paradise. (2)
Forty-three years ago, as I watched a priest commune people at a prayer meeting in our home, I realized that was what I wanted to do with my life.
It doesn’t matter whether it is a 91-year-old lady in her room in a residential care facility, or hundreds at pastor’s conference. It doesn’t matter whether it is in a grand cathedral, or in a humble chapel.
It is also why I grieve the disintegration of the church, as more and more divisions split her, and break the fellowship that is found in Christ, and in His death and resurrection. I have wept as I refrained from communion at a friends church (3). Likewise, I weep as I hear men say they would never commune one “one of them”.
Even as we as God’s people need to take and eat, to take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, it is not a right. It is a need, not a membership benefit. The Lutheran confessions I quoted above in blue make it clear, the way you are “worthy” to commune is not because of your membership, or how mature you are, or how strong a believer. Rather it is because you recognize you need God’s presence, His healing and His mercy.
We recognize we aren’t able to live and the nourishment of Christ’s Body and Blood sustains us, renews us, revitalizes us. It is that “coin of everyday life” that Pope John Paul 1 mentioned, and while his illustration of the Irishman is how he pictured himself, it is a fine picture of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as well, and the ministry that is provided through His Body and Blood does in our lives.
For once i was unhappy, broken, crushed by sin and unrighteousness, and then you invited me to a feast, and made me laugh and know joy and peace.
This is what happens as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, as we celebrate His life, lived in us, and therefore our life, lived in Him. This is why this feast, this sacrament is so precious, so important that theologians can’t explain it, but a 8-year-old can desire it. It is Christ in you, the hope for those of us broken, the hope of sharing in God’s glory!
So come, all you are burdened, who are weak in faith, and find rest, and life and laughter.And God will give you rest.
(1) Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
(2) 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.
(3) Because of different beliefs, different denominations have different rules about communion. Not to be picky or self-righteous, but because they believe a person can eat or drink judgment on themselves (see 1 Cor. 11) and they can’t actively be a part of that. Such actions are often taken as hostile, but they should be viewed as a call to unity and to settling the matters that divide us. Understanding this, even as my friend and I desire to commune together, and it pains us not to, we long for the day when we shall.
Devotional THoguht fo the Day:
14 Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)
290 Joy, and supernatural and human optimism, can go hand in hand with physical tiredness, with sorrow, with tears (because we have a heart), and with difficulties in our interior life or our apostolic work. He who is perfectus Deus, perfectus Homo—perfect God and perfect Man—and who enjoyed every happiness in Heaven, chose to experience fatigue and tiredness, tears and suffering… so that we might understand that if we are to be supernatural we must also be very human. (1)
Tomorrow in church we will use the Athanasian Creed, an incredible wonderful set of words that describe the nature of God who is so much more than we can understand or conceive. It first describes Father Son and Holy Spirit (or for us older folk Holy Ghost). Mindblowing in both its simplicity and complexity. Very appropriate as we dedicate the day to thinking about the Trinity, this majestic and glorious God, who has revealed Himself to us.
The second aspect I want to deal with here, well sort of…
It describes, as best as one can, the divine and human nature of Christ. That he is 100% man, 100% divine. Theologians will talk about this ad nauseum, with fancy Latin phrases and epic tomes which make us sound far more brilliant than we are. Where it matters is where the saint who wrote Hebrews mentions above.
Christ has sympathy for us. Not just a sympathetic ear, but true sympathy for us. Or perhaps more accurately, empathy. He’s been here, done this, and instead of having a t-shirt to wear, He has stripes on His back, a gaping hole in His side, and in his wrists and feet. As the scriptures tell us, he endured the temptations we face, (and then some extras!) He experienced the fatigue and suffering, the tears and emotional exhaustion. his sacrifice was on the cross, but it was also His very life. A life that was an offering for us, and to us, to show us the depth of God’s love.
Which is why, broken and weary, tired and drained, even doubting and in despair, we can turn to Him. Or more precisely drawn to Him. We don’t have to avoid the pain, and the sorrow, the tears and the grief. For there, in the midst of the brokenness, we find Jesus, who was broken for us. We find in our Humanity, the Lord and Savior, who loved us enough to become human, and there, at that moment, we find the joy of His making us holy, and supernatural, as we share in His glory.
So if you are preaching tomorrow, remember to link the Trinity to their beloved, remember to mention the Birde of Christ. If you are hearing a sermon, worship with great joy, knowing that God is with you… that He has chosen to share your life, and at that moment, know the peace and joy that is beyond all understanding. For Jesus the Christ is with you, guarding you heart and mind. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1181-1185). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
22 “The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” 23 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. Luke 9:22-24 (NLT)
26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:26-28 (NLT)
252 Grant me, Jesus, the Cross with no Simon of Cyrene to help me. No, that’s not right; I need your grace, I need your help here as in everything. You must be my Simon of Cyrene. With you, my God, no trial can daunt me… But what if my Cross should consist in boredom or sadness? In that case I say to you, Lord, with You I would gladly be sad. (1)
Occaisonally I hear the complaint, “no one knows what I am going through, and no one understands, no one cares.” Sometimes I want to argue the point, confronting the opinion with that which proves it is not true. Other times I simply want to say, “stop whining, trust in God, you know that is not true!” And sometimes I want to walk away, tired of the complaints, which seem more an excuse for not living as one should.
But how do I walk away from myself?
Though I have heard such as a pastor and as a friend, I have heard it often in those internal arguments we have when we have that moment to think, when we have a moment where we are not recoiling from the constant stress that life provides. Even as I’ve shepherded others through those times, (some have even suggested I have a talent for it?) applying the same truth to my own life is difficult.
Part of me just wants to accept it, it’s part of taking up my cross, and I will get through it, eventually. After all, good Christians endure all things, right?
We are not meant ot bear our burdens alone. We are meant to share them, with God, and as our trust in God grows, with the people He’s called to be His own.
St Josemaria’s words that I read, that I need to inwardly digest this morning confront me in my struggles.They don’t dismiss the cross I’ve got to bear, but they remind me that a Christian doesn’t walk through such times alone. And we certainly aren’t the heroes who bear the weight by our own strength. We need to let Jesus be our Simon of Cyrene. We have to let the Spirit intercede for us, even as we are too overwhelmed to know what to pray.
We have to know we walk with God, we walk in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We need to depend on a God who reveals Himself to be not just in a relationship, but to be the Relationship.
This is how we find ourselves to be able to rejoice in all things, and to not be anxious about anything. In order to survive, it is not about bearing up with things bravely, it is about depending on Jesus, about living, not in view of that would crush us, but in view of the cross and the love revealed to us there.
For taking up the cross, our cross, is found in being united to His suffering and death, and His life. That is where our peace comes from.. a peace that doesn’t make sense.
A peace that is ours, as we let Jesus be our Simon, as we let Him be our Paraclete, our Comforter, as we let HIm be our Lord and Savior!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1060-1063). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.