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New Year’s resolutions, Mondays, and our Spiritual Struggle

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Devotional Thought for our Monday!
22  So get rid of your old self, which made you live as you used to—the old self that was being destroyed by its deceitful desires. 23  Your hearts and minds must be made completely new, 24  and you must put on the new self, which is created in God’s likeness and reveals itself in the true life that is upright and holy. Ephesians 4:22-24 (TEV)

163      You shouldn’t be so easy on yourself! Don’t wait until the New Year to make your resolutions. Every day is a good day to make good decisions. Hodie, nunc!—Today, now! It tends to be the poor defeatist types who leave it until the New Year before beginning afresh… And even then, they never really begin.

Yesterday, some 60 friends and I knelt at the altar at Concordia, and celebrated the mercy of God.  We celebrated by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, broken and spilled for us, to cover our sin, to remind us of the glorious life God gives us, where we walk with Jesus.

It was glorious, it was incredible, this sharing of God’s love, of realizing God’s desire to make us His has been fulfilled at the cross, and we celebrated it, together! What an incredible, overwhelming experience, as we were there, together, and realized the love of God!

Yet today is Monday, and what we used to call the “tyranny of the urgent” has found its way to dominate my life.  Too many critical things to do, competing with daily tasks, deadlines, and meetings to finish planning.  While balancing out the people who need help. 

It is as if yesterday’s moment of bliss happened a long time ago, not just yesterday.

It feels so distant, so much not part of who I am, today.  

And if I have trouble remembering – reliving those moments – how can I easily connect to my baptism?  And if I struggle to connect to either, my connection to Christ and to the cross where I was united to Him fades into the distant past as well. 

It would seem like those moments fade like our New Years’ resolutions, with a lot of great intent, and little impact and little change if anything.  To use Paul’s thought, we struggle to get rid of the old desires, the old self.

And what difference would it make; make these resolutions real as Paul advises?  How would it change the tyranny of the urgent, how would it change my Monday? 

The Psalmist tells us how to make this new beginning happen.  With words, words we know so, so well.

Be still, and know I am God…. God Almighty is with you, the God of Jacob is your refuge.

As He was when we knelt at the altar, He hasn’t left, He hasn’t stopped loving us, He hasn’t stopped being our God….. rely on that, for He promised.  He is with you, right now at your desk, or while you sip your coffee and wonder how to escape. He is there in the midst of this broken world. He is there with you.

Knowing that, makes every moment new, it makes every moment a communion, a fellowship with God who loves us. 

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 768-772). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

 

A Different Life, one of the Sabbath

nativityDevotional Thought for our Days:
12  Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13  Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15 (NLT)

102 Peace, and the joy which comes with it, cannot be given by the world. Men are forever “making peace” and forever getting entangled in wars. This is because they have forgotten the advice to struggle inside themselves and to go to God for help. Then He will conquer, and we will obtain peace for ourselves and for—our own homes, for society and for the world. If we do things in this way, you and I will have joy, because it is the possession of those who conquer.And with the grace of God—who never loses battles—we will be able to count ourselves conquerors as long as we are humble.

I am looking out the window of a timeshare, at a schooner being driven by the wind.  From a distance, it looks peaceful, calm, the stuff that makes a beautiful portrait or painting.

I am here, on a two day “sabbatical” of sorts, to plan for our Advent services, to find quiet, to get away and rest.  A good friend lent me some of his timeshare points to do this, for which I am grateful. And so time away, to pray, to think, to meditate on the incarnation, to have, in a real way, a Sabbath rest. 

But like the schooner in the distance, what may appear to be a peaceful time isn’t.  The master watches the sales, the quartermaster/pilot is considering the terrain, listening for directions, the sailors working hard to ensure all goes well.  And I am tempted to do the same. To think through all the problems and challenges I am escaping from for a brief moment.  To think of the chores and the work that will await my return.  It is too tempting for my mind to return there, while my body is here. 

Dear St. Josemaria is correct, we try to “make peace” but only cause more riots, more violence, more sin. Rather than go to God, who has supplied our peace, we try to create it on our own.  We try to even manipulate the silence when we encounter it.

Scripture calls us to something different, a life that is peaceful because God has conquered us internally first,  To know and rejoice that He rules over our hearts, that He has come there, even in the dark recesses where our lives truly aren’t peace-filled, but hectic.  Those places that we struggle to control, or having crashed our ships on the rocks, struggle to keep afloat.

There is something different that happens when we can relax in His presence.  We can allow Him to be the master of our life. We can take a moment to enjoy the Spirit breathing life into us, providing the power and guidance.  We can trust God to do all that is necessary, as He moves us from one place to another. as he reconciles our life to His.

It is then we find peace, even in the midst of storms and waves that would threaten us. For it is not a human peace we have made, it is His peace, a peace which will pass all understanding, but in which we shall live, Amen!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 568-575). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

What Causes People to Do Evil? Some defect? Some Dysfunction?

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional thought for our days:’

9  Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10  For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11  But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12  In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13  And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.” 14  Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15  It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart. Mark 7:9-15 (NLT)

9 We use our tongues to praise our Lord and Father, but then we curse people, whom God made like himself. 10 Praises and curses come from the same mouth! My brothers and sisters, this should not happen. James 3:9-10 NCV

79      I will not stop repeating until it is deeply engraved in your soul: Piety, piety, piety! For if you lack charity it will be for want of interior life, not for any defect of character.

As I have talked to people since the Las Vegas shooting, as I have read articles, posts and tweets about it, one question is asked over and over.  It is the same question that was asked after the Sandy Hook or Florida shootings, or the bombing in Oklahoma City, or even 9/11.

Why?

What defect is there in those who commit such horrors, what kind of evil lurks within them?  What dysfunctional part of their nature causes such evil?

And two questions follow those:

“Can we stop this from happening again?”

And the question we are afraid to ask,

“Am I capable of such evil?”

Most of us would believe we aren’t capable of that level of evil, of creating such trauma, such horror.  If you asked the Pharisees of Jesus day, they certainly didn’t believe they were capable of such evil; they were too holy.  Sure, a little sin here, a little lie there, some unforgiveness and pride, even a smattering of gossip.  But real evil?

Nah, not us.  We’re the good guys, remember?

If that isn’t our attitude, the contrary position we take, seeing every moment in our lives as proof that we make Hannibal Lector and Hitler look like simpletons when it comes to evil.  We believe our character to be broken, our dysfunctionality beyond salvation, our defects to irreparable.

We see the passage from Mark, and we know that there is something within us to cause such horror, we hear James and wonder how we can gossip or lie or brutally treat someone one moment, and sing A Mighty Fortress or say the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles Creed the next.

Well, sin is pictured several times (including James 5) as an illness, a sickness, a disease that has weakened us. Yes, we are responsible for our thoughts, our words, our actions, but at another level, we are incapable of living life free from the bondage in which sin grips us.  It is more than just a defect or dysfunction, this sin that so easily ensnares us.

I think St Josemaria points out the answer, as he mentions our interior life.  Our struggle with sin as Christians is because we don’t understand what it means to dwell in the presence of God.  It is that interior life, that time that we spend living in Christ, resting in His presence, being transformed by the Holy Spirit that provides the love we need to love others, and to love and adore God.

This isn’t some exercise in finding God, it doesn’t take a pilgrimage around the world, though there are places where realizing He is there is easier, like in a church as they celebrate the Eucharist, or in a gathering of people singing His praises. He is with you on that sleepless night as well, or in the heat of the moment, when you want to respond in anger, or in pain.

The interior life is simply living and recognizing the presence of God, and hearing His voice.

So call out to Him, give Him your burdens, pray that He will help you, confident of His promises too….especially when it is dealing with temptation, or with the ghosts of the past.

The Lord is with you!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 495-498). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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

St Francis Catholic Church

The Former St. Francis Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcendence…A Long Forgotten Blessing?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for our Day:

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  1 Timothy 1:12-14

5      Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.

We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.

A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out.  Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible.  An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font.  His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.

I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last?  How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?   

Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing? 

It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us.  It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.   

It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace.  Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us.  The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed.  We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy.  Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile. 

This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence. 

it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day.  But when do we take the time?

As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?

As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..

and by His grace, it will.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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.

How can I fail to take up your soul….?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our days:

 15  GOD then said, “Dress up like a stupid shepherd. 16  I’m going to install just such a shepherd in this land—a shepherd indifferent to victims, who ignores the lost, abandons the injured and disdains decent citizens. He’ll only be in it for what he can get out of it, using and abusing any and all. Zechariah 11:15-16 (MSG)

15  And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 (NLT)

14  “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15  just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15 (NLT)

There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun.
I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood!
How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?

As I begin to read St. Josemaria Escriva’s devotional book the Forge, I came across the words in blue in the prologue. It describes the heart of a pastor, a priest, a shepherd and caretaker of souls.

It is a heart to aspire to, at least in my mind.

I have been involved in a couple of conversations recently about pastors and their relationship to their people, to their parishioners.  One raised the question of whether pastors could be friends of their parishioners. Another was about the difference between worship and work at the church.  A third was about pastors retiring from ministry, and finding something completely different to do in their retirement.  Let’s just say I was in the minority in several of these discussions, and to be honest, I don’t understand the idea that ministry is work, that it is just a job, like caring for inmates or hotel guests.  

I think our hearts have to break when our their hearts break.  I think we have to desire what God would have for our people, to realize the treasure He sees in them.  To give them the sacraments, assured of the blessing we are giving them, as we untie them to Jesus death and resurrection, as we give feed their souls, as our words (actually His words) mend and heal broken hearts and souls.  

So how could this be a career, isn’t it our very life?

I won’t claim I have arrived.  There are still long days that weary me out, there are still people who ability to get under my skin challenge the pastoral heart I want to have.  There are people that hurt me, and I struggle to have a pastoral heart toward them, Or the people who won’t listen to God, and choose lives that are lived in rebellion to God.  Those people cause frustration, and often tears.  ( I want to say I would love to just stuff them into St Josemaria’s forge)  I am not going to say pastoring these people is easy, but it is necessary.  A pastor can’t just dismiss them as alligators, that decision and judgment is not in our pay grade.  Weare simply to try to reconcile them to Jesus.

This is why Jesus talks about good shepherds, as opposed to the stupid shepherds that have served his people in the past.  About shepherds who will have His heart for His people, which can mean laying down our lives for them, sacrificing time, energy, money, whatever it takes to see them drawn to Christ, and made holy by the Spirit that works within us all.

Again, even as I write these words I am torn.  For that is what I would desire as a pastor, yet I know I fall short, often too far short.  That is not an excuse or a reason to stop desiring to see my people grow.  Their failures and mine are not a reason to distance me from them as if that can reduce my brokenness.  Instead, it is a reason to cling all the more to God, for He will pour out comfort and mercy, continue to transform me, and yes, He will continue to cause us to grow, to forgive our sins, to transform us into the image of His son ( see 2 Cor. 3:16ff)

Lord, have mercy on Your shepherds, break our hearts and give us hearts like Jesus, so that your people can be assured of their salvation, and set apart to walk with You!  Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

No Other Words Can Express this…

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our days….
Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you.
As a groom is delighted with his bride, So your God will delight in you.  Isaiah 62:4 TEV

8 But you are our Father, LORD. We are like clay, and you are like the potter. You created us, 9so do not be too angry with us or hold our sins against us for ever. We are your people; be merciful to us.  Isaiah 64:8-9  TEV

You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. 13I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.  Isaiah 66:12-13

 

For God, we are not numbers! We are important; indeed, the most important of all his creatures, the closest to his heart whether we are saints or sinners.

Yet sisters continued to leave and new ones failed to come. Perhaps, without being fully aware of the reasons, women religious felt a deep unrest at living in a Church in which Christianity is reduced to an ideology of doing, a Church in which there is no longer any place for mystical experience, for that zenith of religious life that has been—and not by chance—the most precious treasure of the Church through centuries of uninterrupted constancy and fullness in the lives of religious, usually women rather than men; in the lives of those extraordinary women whom the Church has honored with the title “saint”, and sometimes even “doctor”, not hesitating to offer them as models for all Christians.

As I study the scriptures with a group of guys, all who are servants of the church, there is a debate that is somewhat constant.  It is over the use of a phrase that I use to help us study and communicate the good news of God’s love and care.

The phrase is simple, two words that I feel capture the essence of what we need to make sure people understand about God and them.  The words are 

Intimate Relationship

They would plead that we can’t use those two words together, they will scare off men, they will be heard and people will think about sex or sensual or even perverse relationships.   For years I have asked them to come up with another phrase, another way to express what Hebrew and Greek words like Agape and cHesed and Eleos do. 

They cannot.  And they admit that this is at the heart of the gospel, this relationship with God that is so deep, so powerful, so captivating. So intimate.

The Old Testament prophets saw this and expressed it simply and clearly.  Isaiah even is inspired to compare it to the delight of a groom as he takes his bride to himself.   He will also compare it to a woman nourishing her newborn.  or an artist crafting His creation ( relative to Eph. 2:10) and the relationship the artist has with his work.

It is scary, as anyone who has been a bride or groom knows, the anxiety of letting a person get that close to you, not just physically, but spiritually, psychologically.  Letting every barrier down, turning every defensive mechanism off, simply loving and being loved.  Whether it is the groom, the newborn’s mom, or the artist, each opens themselves up to the “Other”, or as some philosophers have said, the “Thou” is important to the I and they reach a point where you can’t define one without the other!

That is what “intimate relationship” describes,

What Isaiah also notes is that God is the one who initiates this, who keeps it going, who is responsible.  The groom in those days, the mom feeding the infant, the artist creating the “Work”.  Each has the responsibility in the relationship for making it happen, for making the connection.

As Pope Francis notes, we aren’t just numbers, we are just parts of the Body of Christ, Each one of us has that relationship with God!  As Benedict grieves, it is this zenith, this mystical experience, this constant fullness of the presence of God has gone missing from the church, and why it is weaker without the women (and some men) who could experience such joy, such delight, such wonder as living in the presence of God brings.

Luther would call this living the baptized life, living in the truth that in our baptism, we are united with Christ, and become one with Him. We live in Christ, for there is love, and joy and peace, far deeper than we could have ever imagined.

Far more intimate that we could normally be comfortable with…

Yet a place of peace.  deep abiding peace that is beyond the peace of the world,  A peace so unexplainable, save with these words….

The Lord be with you!

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.

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.

An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse! A sermon on Exodus 19:2-8

church at communion 2An Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

Exodus 19, 2-8

 In Jesus Name

As you learn of the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, it is my prayer that you so awe aware of how He considers you His treasure, that you respond to His love, even before you know all His covenant promises.

A Deal you cannot refuse

As we look at the Old Testament reading this morning, as we see Israel committing to hear and treasure God’s word, I thought of the line from an old movie,

“I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse”

They didn’t refuse it, and unlike the movie, they didn’t accept it from fear or intimidation, they accepted what we now call the Mosaic Covenant completely, and without any hesitation or reservation.

They heard what God said through the prophet Moses, and they accepted it.  Enthusiastically, with great joy, and with a hope that didn’t come from studying the fine print, for there wasn’t any fine print yet.

But with hope born from knowing Who it was that they were entering a relationship with, and knowing His character, His care, His patience and persistence, they were willing to become His people again, and they trusted Him at His word, “you will be my own special treasure.”

Having seen that, and knowing the character of God, they accepted,

What else could they have done?

They didn’t make the decision with complete knowledge of the Covenant!

If you take a moment to look at the chapters around this passage,

Right after this chapter, they will hear the basics of what God expected of them, of how they would be able to live in view of the fact that they were His people.

We commonly refer to these words as the 10 Commandments, or more precisely, the 10 Commandments, the Decalog.

Think about that for a moment.  They chose what was offered without knowing what it would cost, without knowing what God would require of them.  They didn’t have a copy of the covenant, with a magnifying glass to consider the small print.  Or for that matter the large print.

Some would say that is blind leap of faith.

Many would say it isn’t enough, it isn’t logical.

I mean – how many of you would buy a house or a car without knowing how much it cost?  How many of us would let someone we didn’t know watch out house and our finances for a couple of weeks/

That is what they did here,

They promised to God what He asked of them.  No questions, no details, no idea of what God would ask of them.

We may think them naïve, or maybe stupid,  We may think their leap of faith is beyond what we could do, we need proof of God’.  We might even think that they were caught up in the emotion of the moment, and that they promised something that they could not possibly keep.

It doesn’t matter, for you, whether you know scripture like a professor, or whether you are drawn to trust Jesus right now, are being given the same question right now.

Will you hear and treasure God’s covenant?  Will you be His special treasure, His priests, His holy people?

Every year, the Jewish people were to hear all the words of God anew, and re-dedicate themselves to doing this very thing.  So will you?  Will you listen to God?  Will you treasure the relationship, the covenant’s describe?  Will you be His people, will you have Him as your God?

No matter the cost?

All they needed to know was God

I said earlier that some people call this a leap of faith, some would say a blind leap.

It is neither.

let me explain, pointing you to what went before this reading.

We know God heard the cry of the descendants of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and brought them out of Egypt as promised.  We know about the plagues and the cool way they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. We know the Egyptians didn’t make it across the same Sea.

But what amazes me, and what I think convinced the Israelites was what happened next.

They complained, they whined against God.  First over no food, then over know water.  They turned their noses up with God and said that slavery in Eqypt was preferable to following God through the wilderness. They rebelled, they sinned, they tried to break up with God and go their own way.

And God took care of them anyway.

He provided for them, even miraculously.

He didn’t give up on them, He brought them to Sinai, and said look how I’ve carried you already, look how I’ve brought you to myself. I didn’t give up on you yet, I won’t break my promises.

They didn’t make a leap of faith, they simply were reminded of the love of God, and His patience with them, and the love He poured out on them, even when they were a bunch of whiney discontented folk.

Given the opportunity to cement the relationship they were promised a half century before they were born, a relationship God bound himself to provide,

They said yes, we will…for this was an offer they couldn’t refuse

Neither should we refuse it, for Jesus’ blood, shed at the cross, made this possible. For His sins cover their sins, and our sins, it makes it possible fod God to say, you are my people.  Your sin I have sent away, your unrighteousness has been paid for, come be my people, come be my special treasure.

Not saying we should be whiney or discontent, but this is the same relationship we celebrate in this place, from our songs which celebrate it, to the readings and sermons that reveal it over and over, to the declarations like you are forgive, this is His body and blood given for you, to the promise we hear over and over…..

The Lord is is with you.

You are his treasured people.

Will your hear Him still?  Will you treasure this relationship He’s drawn you into?

AMEN!

The Key to Patience, to Avoiding Worry and Anger

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the day:
3  Trust in the LORD and do good; live in the land and be safe. 4  Seek your happiness in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desire. 5  Give yourself to the LORD; trust in him, and he will help you; 6  he will make your righteousness shine like the noonday sun. 7  Be patient and wait for the LORD to act; don’t be worried about those who prosper or those who succeed in their evil plans. 8  Don’t give in to worry or anger; it only leads to trouble. Psalm 37:3-8 (TEV)

The view of Scripture developed by modern conservatives differs from the view held by the Reformers. The Reformers did not seek to prove Scripture. They simply spoke out of a scriptural worldview. For them, the story of God did not need to be proven; it simply needed to be proclaimed. People were to live in the story that Scripture authoritatively delivered by the hand of God, even though the story was seen somewhat statically, as opposed to the ancient dynamic view.

Webber’s point about modern Biblical conservatives needs to be considered, to be thought through.  As a fairly conservative pastor, I’ve been trained to see the Logos as logical, reasonable, and therefore it made sense that we would present that logic for others to see.

Do this, and this happens, dot that and deal with the consequences.  Viewing the covenantal relationship as a contract, a give and take, a scratch my back and I will scratch yours type agreement with God.  So line up the benefits and promises, and consider the cost, and accept it, because it is logical.

If we take scripture from that position, we make it subservient to our mind, our ability to reason.  If we do the same thing with Jesus, (we tend to get the logos and the Logos confused) we will make God our servant, not our Master who cares for us.  The relationship moves from a true partnership (koinonia) and participation to something that is far less, and Christianity becomes a simple bartering transaction.

That isn’t what it is about, we don’t become patient, we can’t surrender our anger or anxiety in that kind of system.  Those things run to deep within out heart and our soul.  It isn’t like going to the dentist every six months for a cleanup, (even if we go every week)  The ability to turn over to God that which we are impatient about, that which causes us to respond in anger, those worries that keep us awake at night only comes as we trust Him, as we depend upon Him, as we have faith that He is here, as He reveals Himself to us.

This is a life together with God, it is our story and his intertwined in a way that we can’t figure out where one begins and the other ends.  And the impact on our lives, as significant as it is, is nothing compared to the glory of the moments we are aware of His presence.

Don’t defend scripture, it doesn’t need you to, it stands on its own pretty well over the centuries.  Don’t defend Jesus either, he didn’t want any defense when he went to the cross.  Live with Him, remind and invite others to do so as well.

Nothing compares…

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


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