Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 They deliberately put God to the test by demanding the food they wanted. 19 They spoke against God and said, “Can God supply food in the desert? 20 It is true that he struck the rock, and water flowed out in a torrent; but can he also provide us with bread and give his people meat?” 21 And so the LORD was angry when he heard them; he attacked his people with fire, and his anger against them grew, 22 because they had no faith in him and did not believe that he would save them. 23 But he spoke to the sky above and commanded its doors to open; 24 he gave them grain from heaven, by sending down manna for them to eat. 25 So they ate the food of angels, and God gave them all they wanted. 26 He also caused the east wind to blow, and by his power, he stirred up the south wind; 27 and to his people he sent down birds, as many as the grains of sand on the shore; 28 they fell in the middle of the camp all around the tents. 29 So the people ate and were satisfied; God gave them what they wanted.
Psalm 78:18-29 (TEV)
But the Eucharist is more than just a ceremony, more than a liturgy. It is a form of life.
HUME: What do you fault about my method?
SOCRATES: As I said, it seems highly rationalistic.
HUME: And as I said, I am the enemy of the Rationalists!
SOCRATES: As an epistemological theory, yes, but not as a method. Your method, like theirs, is to reduce the data to the explanation, the complex to the simple, the rich variety of experience to simple universal formulas.
Israel was given manna, and they could not get past the idea of food to truly appreciate it. They did what Socrates accused Hume of doing in the fictional account of their meeting before the judgment. They explained manna simply as food, and they neglected the greater nature of it being a fellowship meal, with the “bread” supplied by the hand of God.
They simply reduced it to what they could see, which is why they hungered for more.
I wonder if we do the same with the Eucharist, with the Lord’s Supper. We reduce it to being simply part of the liturgy, simply part of the process by which we receive the gospel. We reduce it to being the approved conduit of the grace we need.
And so we reduce it from a fellowship meal with God to just a “means of grace” Our skepticism quietly sneaks in, and while we still claim it is a sacrament, our focus on the substance causes us to lose focus on the intimacy of the life we have with and in Christ, and His life in and with us.
The Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is truly something incredible, a moment of we, a miraculous moment if we can only be in that moment, to have revealed and to revel in the presence of God who in a very specific, very intimate way comes to be with us. WITH US! YOU AND ME!
(This is why Paul finds it so dangerous to not perceive the Body and Blood of Christ in the sacrament in 1 Cor. 11:27 )
That’s why Pope Benedict XVI, writing when he was still a cardinal speaks of it so powerfully. For surely in those moments, when our skeptical, cynical nature is pushed aside by the presence of Jesus, w find the life as God means for us to live. In His presence, sharing in His glory, understanding that we are truly His.
This is why theologians can never perfectly define the sacraments. It is Paul describes knowing the love of God.
18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:18-19 (NLT2)
It is not something we can minimize, reduce and completely explain,It has to be something we experience, it is something beyond measure, yet which completes us as we intimately experience it.
For what we are experiencing, this incredible communion is what Pope Benedict XVI calls it, it is life. Life with a God who loves us beyond measure, and desires that we dwell with Him.
Lord Jesus, help us to not limit religion to the doctrines that correctly describe our relationship with You. Help us realize how they point us to You, and explain the promise of Your love and presence. We pray this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 141). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Kreeft, P. (2010). Socrates Meets Hume: The Father of Philosophy Meets the Father of Modern Skepticism (p. 38). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
Sing to the LORD a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly. 2 Let Israel celebrate its Maker; let the children of •Zion rejoice in their King. 3 Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre. 4 For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation. 5 Let the godly celebrate in triumphal glory; let them shout for joy on their beds. Psalm 149:1-5
39 In conclusion, now that we have the right interpretation and doctrine of the sacrament, there is great need also of an admonition and entreaty that so great a treasure, which is daily administered and distributed among Christians, may not be heedlessly passed by. What I mean is that those who claim to be Christians should prepare themselves to receive this blessed sacrament frequently.
Since I started studying for the ministry in 1983, I have usually been taught two things about what happens when the people of God gather together. (You may call this a worship service, a divine service, church, or the mass; but I am talking about the main time a group of people are gathered by God together, where they sing, hear scripture read, a teaching time (called a sermon or homily) and perhaps (more about this later) sharing in our communion with the Lord’s Body and Blood.
Both teachings focused on service. The difference is who is serving whom.
In the first theory, we go to church to serve God. We go out of obedience to the commandment which talks about keeping holy the Sabbath. We go to church because it is our duty, and if we miss doing our duty, God will punish us, either actively, or perhaps by withholding the blessings He would have poured out for us.
The problem is that looking at this “active” view of church reduces it to mere duty, and then we start to ask how much is enough. Can I serve God by going once a month instead of weekly? Can I get by with once a year or one a quarter? How active do I have to be to be a Christian? Why can’t I just be with God at the beach, or in a forest?
The second theory is that we go to church to be served by God. That His servants exist to make sure we receive what we need through explaining God’s word and giving us the sacrament. This breeds a consumer mentalism to church as well, as we go to the church that feeds us the best. We want the purest doctrine, explained in an enjoyable way that drives away our sin and weaknesses and makes us stronger in our faith and the way we approach life.
Both of these ways make sense, and in part, they both are true., in that in a church service, in the mass, we should be serving God and He, most assuredly,, serves us.
But the reason we go to church, the reason we are gathered into the assembly of His people (and those that are becoming His people) is neither.
The reason we are gathered is that it is a celebration, It is a time for us, as the Psalmist says, to sing and dance as we rejoice in the presence of our King, our Lord, our Heavenly Father! It is likewise a chance for God to take pleasure in His people. It is, as one of my professors was known to utter, “the people of God gathered in the presence of God”
It is why our forefathers called it the “Celebration of the mass” understood as the “Gathering/Communion of the saints”. Yet this gathering, this celebration is that not just of the saints, bit the saints gathered around and in fellowship with God. That communion, that fellowship, that time where we and God are together, His people and Him, that is the treasure we find in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (which is why the passage from Luther’s catechism described it being offered daily!)
This church service/mass and Lord’s Supper/Eucharist isn’t a solemn occasion, though certainly, it is one we should treasure and celebrate with all we are. It is God and man, together, living as one, because of Christ. It is a Thanksgiving feast, a celebration of peace with God, and the welcoming of the prodigal home.
It is a time we celebrate with an abundance of Joy, it is one God where God looks out on His people and is pleased. It should be an amazing time, where we realize what God has done, adopting us as His kids, and we adore the one who loves us.
Celebrate this, my friends. and jealously treasure this time with the One who loves us, and draws us together.
Heavenly Father, draw us together with greater and greater frequency, with a hunger to know You, to explore and experience Your love. We pray this all in Jesus name! AMEN!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 451). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
We Are Blessed to Be in His Presence
Free from Blame and Made His Partners!
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
† I.H.S †
As the Apostle Paul desired for the Corinthians, may God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace!
Thank God you belong to Jesus!
An observation I heard more times than I could count yesterday is one familiar.
“How do people get through this without Jesus?”
“How does the secular world deal with this?
And to be honest, I don’t know, but I have an answer to their problem, at the end of this message.
So when I got back to church yesterday, and I looked again at the passage, what caught my eye more than it did before was Paul giving thanks to God for his people and the grace He’s given, for they belong to Jesus.
And so memories of after the service came back, so many of your faces, resonating with these words of Paul.
I have to thank God that it the grace He has given so evident, as is that you belong to Jesus, you are His! All of the words of comfort you offer each other confirms it, as we seemingly do it month after month, year after year. The gospel I share with you from up here, or in the MPR, I get to see them lived out far more clearly, as the riches of God’s gifts is seen in you.
I don’t have to prove His presence is true, you know that, even if you are little hazy about all the details, we cannot deny that God carries us in times like these.
Look at what we do, this isn’t possibly without God’s work being true
I don’t know how often you think about Jesus coming back, never mind are eagerly waiting for His return. Most of the time for me, it is a prayer of desperation, a prayer because I don’t know how we are going to cope any longer, or dare I say, how much more of a challenging life we can endure.
That’s the same kind of feeling Isaiah had in the Old Testament, when he cried, Lord, just burst open the heavens and come down!!!!
We’re waiting Lord! Just rip open those skies and get down here!
I mean what are you waiting for Lord?
We’re not the first people to struggle, and we aren’t the only people who think the struggle’s gone on long enough. According to the Book of Revelation, even those in heaven, those who testified to God’s love cry out, “How long, O Holy and true Lord, how long until the suffering is dealt with?” (Rev. 6:10)
God’s answer to them is rest a little longer, the number of your brothers and sisters aren’t complete. Remember that please. That the number isn’t complete….
The church is like Maxwell house….
So how do we endure all the suffering? All the pain that sin causes in our lives? If God won’t come and take us all home right now, how will we get past tomorrow?
How can we endure to the end? How will we be strong and faithful from this moment until Christ returns?
While Jesus isn’t coming back for the final judgment yet, He promised that God would never abandon us, that He would never leave us alone. Here he promises it again,
“He will keep you strong to the end,”
But it doesn’t end there, there is more , “so you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus returns”
Hear that guys? All blame! By guys I was talking to the men who are to blame for everything! You know who you are!
Seriously, that promise is twofold. The first is that God will personally sustain us, and keep us strong until Jesus returns. The second is that we will be blameless – completely righteous, innocent of all sin, completely cleansed by God, our soul completely healed.
What we can’t do, He did already. For our strength comes from our being untied to Jesus’ death and resurrection in our baptism, in God claiming us as His, for it is when we were united to Jesus that we became His, new creatures, that He fully cares for and sustains.
Because of Him we were sinners, and now we are forgiven, righteous, holy, and this is how Jesus will find us, the very work He did on the cross made it possible, and made it happen
Partnership with Christ – from His death till He comes again
So let me bring back up the idea of how people get through this life without knowing God.
It’s not supposed to be that way, and in fact, even as God planned for us to be blameless and holy, and strong to the last drop, he planned for those people who didn’t know His comfort.
Just as the Father sent Jesus to us, Jesus sends us to them.
You heard me right, that’s what the idea the Apostle is getting to, when he says, “God will do this, for he is faithful to do what He says, and he has invited you into partnership with His son, Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Our partnership, our communion, our fellowship with Jesus is so complete, we share in His vocation of Savior. Not that we are crucified for their sins, but they hear about that incredible act of love, and the resurrection through us. They hear of the love of God that will sustain us through this seemingly broken, shattered life.
And our words will confirm the work of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit draws them to Him, as we share the hope we have.
They don’t have to go through this life without Christ, and certainly, we know that God doesn’t desire that they go through life without hope, and for that reason, He isn’t come back yet…
You and I are Jesus partners, have been since our baptism, and through us, through the gospel, we share with family and friends, they will know that God is with them as well…
And then on the days when they like us are broken and exhausted, or tire of crying, and dealing with the guilt and shame of sin, they will know the power and beauty and strength and peace found in these words,
The Lord, who loves you, is with you!
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.
Backseat Conversations on the Way to Heaven:
#4 Hand Me all Your Trash
† IHS †
May you always be quick to remember the grace, the mercy, love and peace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, as we journey to seeing them face to face!
A Pleasant Journey!
We have been looking at the largest Pastor Parker Parable. That the Journey Home to Heaven is like one of those long journeys of our youth, when we were crowded into the backseat of the family car.
We’ve overheard some of those conversations, remembering when we were urged “to get along back there,” and “That’s Not fair!’. And last week Deacon Michael urged us to consider what happens on those journeys, as we grow up, and eventually get to ride in the front seat.
Today, as we look at Paul describing His life in Christ, I want you to think back to those trips in the car. To remember pulling into the gas stations, where men would pump your gas, clean your windows, check your oil.
When that happened on our trips, as we stopped and Ray Child’s Esso, there was something my dad would always say to us……
No, not, “who has to go to the bathroom” No one would ever want kids or ladies to go into the restroom at that place….
What dad said was….
“Hand Me All your trash!”
It was time to clean the car, getting rid of all the trash, all the candy-wrappers, all the napkins, all the masterpieces colored in crayon, all the broken cheap toys,
Stopping for gas was the time to get the car taken care of, and for us, that meant emptying the backseat of all our trash.
The question is, when our Heavenly Father asks us to hand to Him all our trash…. Will we?
in order to answer that, we have to understand two things…what the trash is, and why it is a benefit to get all that crap out of our lives….
What’s in the Backseat!
It is amazing what we thought were treasures as children. Remember the little 2 piece balsa wood gliders? Or those growing up after me, the happy meal toys that would break before you ever made it home? The baseball cards and the gum that came in the packages. The Pez dispensers with the heads broken off them…
They would end up on the floor, forgotten, smashed, even cried over.
Until Dad asked for them, because they were trash.
Then they were worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox. And we would make a fuss and a fit when our dad’s wanted to throw them out. We counted them as our treasures, irreplaceable things that just cluttered up the backseat.
In today’s epistle, Paul reveals that he saw things that he once thought were invaluable as the trash he needed to stop carrying around. Things that he would understand were trash, which needed to be tossed to the side.
Looking at the list, they don’t really seem all that trashy.
Wait, I need to clarify something. The translators got to the back seat before we did. It wasn’t trash that Paul considered this stuff. Anybody remember the old cloth diapers and what they would be filled with, when they were in the dirty diaper bag? Anybody remember what that bag was like, kept in the back seat on a hot day like we’ve been having? Yeah – that is what Paul called these things he had been so attached to in life
The translators use nicer words, refuse, trash, the old KJV had it more accurate when it said dung.
If I told you the stuff God would take away from you in life, most of you would come up with the idea of sin, or with the old Catechism answer, God removed “sin, satan and death” from our lives.
I am not sure we understand that Paul is talking about sin, when he mentioned that used to count on being born into the right family, into the right race. That he had all the boxes checked off that would see the community think he was a perfect kid. He went to the right schools, go incredible grades. Paul thought, without boasting, that he was living the perfect life. That he did what he was supposed to, even religiously did it.
Sounds like good stuff to me.
Then again, so did the now in 8 pieces balsa wood glider!
The reason these things were trash, or the filling of a diaper, wasn’t because they had no value. It is that they have absolutely no value if you trust in them. They are worthless to trust in, and too often, we do. When we say we can’t do without them, or that these things make us who we are, we have turned them into an idol.
Luther said it this way,
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.
All Paul was doing in counting these things as trash, was confessing that they had become idols, things in his life he trusted in, especially that he was good enough. He swore he was going to get to heaven because he was a good person, because he had all the boxes checked off, and he trusted in his own work.
Which is why, when Paul heard the gospel from Stephen, it was hard. All that he believed in, all that he trusted in,
We do the same thing. We find our value in all sorts of things. It might be in our bank account, or our financial status. We find our meaning in our job, the awards and diplomas and certificates we receive. We find what defines becoming our roles as parents, or grandparents, even our citizenship. These are the equivalents to what Paul found to be trash, because we allow them to define us, rather than God defining us.
That’s the key, we aren’t who we think we are,…..
We are who God knows we are.
Nothing in our Way!
Getting rid of the trash in our lives is about learning to see each other, and indeed ourselves, as God sees us.
As those who died with Jesus in baptism, and have been raised from the dead with Him. This is what Paul talks about, when he says,
For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.
He goes on to say,
10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Paul is crying out for a level of intimacy with God that leaves everything in the dust. To be so united with Christ that we become indistinguishable from Him. He lives in us, He shines through us, we are one with Him, as He promised we would be! Paul says this again, when he says,
“But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”
Compared to knowing Jesus, well, the other stuff belongs in the used diaper bag. Our relationship with Jesus defines everything we are, and what we can be. It has eternal value, there is nothing that will make life better now, and nothing else, no one else gives us a future and hope that is eternal.
He is the one in whom we find hope, it is in Him we find life, it is in Him we find the peace that passes all understanding, as He guards and protects our Hearts and Minds….
So when you come up, and feast with Him, let go of everything else, and realize that He holds on to you… so hold on to Him.
Alleluia! He is Risen! And Therefore
We are a community that perseveres
In Jesus Name!
The grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ shall build here His family, His community, as we serve in love. AMEN!
The Purpose of God Revealed
As we travel these weeks of Easter with those who lived in and witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the will of God revealed to His people, and we see the will of God revealed in His people.
The message is repeated over and over, as a friend says, “we preach the same thing every week, we just use different words.” Or in the case of our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning, we see those words describing a picture of God’s people, those He gathered.
The church pictured there is incredible, not because it has the best people, or is the biggest. It is a church that shows the effect of their Resurrection, not just in their words, but in their deeds.
A church with the same purpose as Jesus revealed His purpose to be. A church where the will of the Father is lived out in view of mankind. They become a picture of what Jesus prophesied about in the gospel, when He said,
“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
A life portrayed in Acts 2, a life portrayed here in our lives, if we take time enough to look.
A life lived, because Jesus is Risen! (He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!) and therefore (We have Risen with Him! Alleluia!
So let’s look at what this abundant, rich and satisfying life looks like, compared to life lived outside of Christ, life lived without the resurrection.
Mere hours before the Crucifixion, we see a tiny picture of the world in one room. There are people there, arguing about who is most important to the group after Christ. Another one thinks his holiness is sufficient that he doesn’t need the Lord Jesus to cleanse him, or minister to him. He will later deny Christ, just like the rest. Another is ready to betray one he loves, a betrayal so severe that it will wreaks havoc not only with the relationship, but it will end his life, ashamed and desperate for the guilt that overwhelms him. By the end of the evening, all relationships will be broken and shattered as promises fail, as they abandon Jesus.
Sin seemed to reign over them, even in the midst of the very first Communion service. Even in the presence of God, as Jesus was there, washing their feet, teaching, breaking the bread, giving them the cup.
It was life, well life that was neither rich, nor satisfying, if we think about it.
It was a life that needed something…
Just like our lives, when they are lived outside of Christ need something. For the broken relationships we see at the last supper, and in the garden are what we encounter in our lives. Sometimes the arguments, the superior attitudes, the betrayals and denials, the shame and the grief are all we see in our lives.
Less than two months later, the same group gathers, the men from the upper room now leading a group of thousands, but a group that is so radically different, than you know something has happened.
For it is true, Praise God, He has Risen! (He has Risen indeed) and therefore…. ( We have Risen with Him! Alleluia!)
How else can you describe a group that acts like these people do, when 50 days before they were acting like jerks?
Look at the change described in verses 44, look at how they loved each other…
44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.
That seems like a pretty incredible group – worshipping together daily, sharing in the Lord’s Supper, not just in church together, but in each other’s homes. They even helped each other financially, the word there for need was “in debt”. They shared in meals, they shared in each other’s lives, they shared in everything….
This wasn’t because of being commanded to, it was a matter of desire, of volition, it’s what happens to people when they become part of God’s family.
They could, because when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, they were raised from the dead with Him.
Just as we have risen with Him, alleluia? O come on – that means to praise God, not just too sort of compliment him. We have risen with Christ! Alleluia!
Living in Christ, our lives focused on Him, walking with Him, is where this transformation happens. It is the reason we do the things in verse 42, for in each of these we encounter Christ, we learn of His love. Which is why they were devoted to it, together, Let’s look…
That’s what the apostles’ teaching, or as older translations put it, “the apostles’ doctrine” is all about. The fact that Christ was born of Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, died, rose, ascended and will judge the quick and the dead. Those words sound familiar, because that is our Creed – it is what we believe. It is what the apostles handed down to us. And so they were devoted to this together, because Jesus had given them the words of life.
They devoted themselves as well to fellowship, to being a community together, not just to being a bunch of individuals who each looked after #1. How well this shows the work of the Holy Spirit in them! How it testifies to the love of Jesus working in their lives. It is who they are in Christ, It is who we are!
They shared in meals, especially the Lord’s Supper! The purest, most basic form of fellowship, sharing in the blessings of God as we take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus. For in this meal, in the simplicity, we come to know the blessings of God, we begin to understand that He died on the cross for each one of us. We begin to know the depth of His love! The intimate relationship that God has called us into, which is seen in communion, is one that we are called into together. The church devoted itself to this practice, as have we.
The picture of God reconciling us to Himself that in the sacraments is so clear! These sacred times of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and private Confession and Absolution/ Cleansing. We remember our baptism daily, Luther reminds us, and we commune frequently, for there are many among us who need this blessing.. indeed we all need it. Finally, who of us doesn’t need to hear the words, “your sins are forgiven, by the authority of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”
How precious is this grace of God given us, in the Apostles teaching in scripture and the sacraments! Because they communicate to us that He is Risen! And therefore….
The last thing they engaged in, as Christ engages them, is prayer. The laying of all burdens down before God, of knowing and trusting in God so that we keep nothing back. That is why Phillip Melanchthon, one of Luther’s most gifted friends and students includes prayer among the sacraments in the Apology of the Augsburg confession, saying,
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray.
Praying together, knowing those burdens are taken, that we can release them to Him and that He will provide us peace, the life that is complete and rich and satisfying. A life in which that peace of God is ours, our hearts and minds secured in that peace by Jesus Christ. AMEN?
Devotional Thoughts of a day that wavered in devotion….
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (NLT)
Yesterday, the entire “day” seemed like a downer, until I got to Bible Study – and we looked at the church in Phillipi. If I had to compare it to anything – it would be like a long subway ride, with all the lights out….. and finally Bible Study – with the incredible saints here at my church – lifted me out of the darkness and gloom. Fellowship – the partnership with God in the sharing His love and work to reveal that love to us (i.e. the gospel) that Paul shared with the Philippians and I share with the Concordians – does that. It pulls us out of our gloom, our darkness… for assuredly where two or three (or 25) are gathered in His name – He is there, with them.
Today – well – it’s been less a subway – and more like a roller coaster – the ups (another Bible Study and Devotions) were quickly dropped into lows, and then the hard slow grind back to the top. ( I think that was lunch – reading a good book!) and then – woosh – off we go again! There are days I just wished all I could do is teach and preach and lead worship – from waking up until lieing down. (I know better than going into academia – they have more meetings and grading papers, and accreditation and. and and… blech – give me the subway!)
Paul likewise had some challenging days! These kinds of spiritual/emotional/psycho/physical roller coasters didn’t start yesterday. They’ve been around a while, these roller coasters! The challenge is to find out how to have our faith, in the midst of the highs and lows. The challenge is to not go about it on our strength – but to cling to Christ – by remembering He has us fully in His grasp.
Our hope is found in the same place Paul found his sustenance. It is the dunamis – the power of God – the work of the Holy Spirit – within us, the very promise delivered to us in our baptism. We find our resilience – our ability to stand – not in our ability, rather because we know He has placed us there, and that He stands with us, He is our armor, our righteousness, our strength.
He is why we can withstand the stomach bouncing drops – and the long drags back up the hill… for we are more aware of His presence – than anything else. For if we have been united with His death and resurrection – it stands to reason that He has been united with us, and we indeed carry God about in us, as we enjoy the ride… trusting in Him.
Devotional thought of the Day:
10:19 We have, then, my friends, complete freedom to go into the Most Holy Place by means of the death of Jesus. 20 He opened for us a new way, a living way, through the curtain—that is, through his own body. 21 We have a great priest in charge of the house of God. 22 So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith, with hearts that have been purified from a guilty conscience and with bodies washed with clean water. 23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer.
Hebrews 10:19-25 (TEV)
It is amazing to be the recipient of the concern and encouragement that comes from what our creeds, the traditional belief statements of the Church call the “communion of saints.”
Yesterday, I saw this in action – as some of our members were dealing with incredible challenges, and the service seemed to emphasize our need to depend on God. Even as I was preaching, the pains were evident, and I was praying for them, yet the wear and tear must have been obvious on me, for I too was the recipient of prayers and encouragement, and similar words pointing me to the Lord who endured the cross, for us. Broken and battered by life, struggling with recent losses, the Body broken for us, the Blood shed for our forgiveness and healing, was given, and the body of Christ that are the church, was the church. ANd sincere hearts, and those who trust in Him, were brought together in Him.
The thing that is amazing about this community, this Body of Christ, is how it transcends time and distance. Former members, kids who had grown up in our congregation were there, and welcomed back. The pastor that served me and lots of other youth was there, someone I haven’t seen in 25 years, and he too, in songs blessed us with that same message of God’s work in our lives, His being a refuge for His people. He gave a concert last night, and people from my youth were there, as well as from the church were I served as an intern – connections were made between us all. And in each case, their presence re-inforced the concept that this is one faith, one church, and one Lord of all!
I used to think that such community was the source of our strength, there sociologically, a team bound together under pressure, creates a esprit de corps that is nearly palpable. But with the church, it is far more, far deeper, for the strength is not in any individual and multiplied, nor is it the strength of the combined people. It is, instead, found in the Lord of the Church, the One who brings us together, the One who can be always trusted to keep His promises.
Instead of the usual invitation to discuss this, today I would ask that you tell your stories, of how God has ministered to you, even as He has ministered through you. Such would be a blessing to all who read this.