Devotional Thought of The Day
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. 7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8 he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
12 Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. 13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Philippians 2:5-8, 12-13 (NLT2)
Our Lord asks for generous hearts that are truly detached. We will achieve this if we resolutely cut the thick bonds or the subtle threads that tie us to ourselves. I won’t hide from you the fact that this entails a constant struggle, overriding our own intelligence and will, a renunciation which, frankly, is more difficult than the giving up of the most prized material possessions.
I know many theologians, good ones who are also great teachers, imparting
information in ways that their students gain knowledge. Their knowledge is
beneficial, and I rely on them when considering the problematic intersections
of life and religion.
But there is more to Christianity than doctrine. There is the relationship with
God that is established. Surely good Theology describes that, and its
understanding of scripture ensures we do not go off and recreate God in our own
image or imagination.
Spiritual Formation is different. It is getting involved in the
relationship. It means God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power
to live life in a way that resonates with Him and thereby brings Him joy. Being
devoted to God means what St Josemaria describes, detached hearts where our
intellect and will are overridden.
St Paul was describing this when he was quoting the early Christian hymn known as the Carmen Christi. This is what Jesus did,
what we are called to do! The Theologian looks at this, and words describe the incredibly sacrifice of self that we see in Jesus. The pastor, guiding the disciples formation, sees verse 5 and says -here – how will this happen. They see this attitude develop because of God’s
work, not human will, and so they focus the believer on Jesus, on His love and mercy, on His presence.
This isn’t a either or, we are not getting rid of Theology or Theologians, But
there needs to be as much effort, no there needs to be more effort in forming
disciples. We need to help people be able to have the mind of Christ, to be
able to see God’s work in their lives. To see God manifested in their
relationships. This is what shepherding, about what being a pastor or a
minister is truly about. It is why elders and Sunday teachers, exist as well,
as we work together to present every person perfect in Christ Jesus.
Father in Heaven, help us keep the desire of studying Theology in its proper place, balancing it out with drawing people deeper and deeper in their relationship with you. Lord, help us to help them imitate Christ, as you give them the desire and the power to serve and love as He did. Help us as well to see that our efforts keep this balance, so that we can continue to see the Spirit at work, making disciples and seeing them grow. We pray this in Jesus most precious name.
Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
12 When he was in distress, he sought the favor of the LORD his God and earnestly humbled himselfe before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and the LORD was receptive to his prayer. He granted his requestf and brought him back to Jerusalem, to his kingdom. So Manasseh came to know that the LORD is God. 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 CSB
26 Say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the LORD: ‘This is what the LORD God of Israel says: As for the words that you heard, 27 becausen your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before me, and you tore your clothes and wept before me, I myself have heard’—this is the LORD’s declaration. 28 ‘I will indeed gather you to your ancestors, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace 2 Chron 34:26-28 CSB
Someone wrote to the godly Macarius of Optino that his spiritual counsel had been helpful. “This cannot be,” Macarius wrote in reply. “Only the mistakes are mine. All good advice is the advice of the Spirit of God, His advice that I happened to have heard rightly and to have passed on without distorting it.”
Likewise, they teach that this faith is bound to yield good fruits and that it ought to do good works commanded by God on account of God’s will and not so that we may trust in these works to merit justification before God Article VI, Augsburg Confession
Naturalness and simplicity are two marvelous human virtues which enable men to take in the message of Christ. On the other hand, all that is tangled and complicated, the twisting and turning about one’s own problems—all this builds up a barrier which often prevents people from hearing our Lord’s voice.
Reading about the Kings of Judah can be depressing, it can even rob you of hope. For so many of them rejected the God we know, that their ancestor David knew so well. Mannasseh started out like so many of them, in fact, he may have been the one who strayed the furthest from God, leading people into all forms of idolatry.
Then God entered into the picture… and everything changed.
God brought him back to Jerusalem – completely reversing the captivity that has been prophesied to Hezekiah. His grandson would grasp on to that promise as well, and restore the Temple, the place where God would meet His people, care for them and cleanse them.
They both realized their need for God, and that humbled them. And God healed them, and healed the people,
That is the same kind of spirit that Macarius had, One that realized that anything good in him was because of God, and indeed tracable to Jesus. It is the same thing the Lutheran Confessions testify too – that the believer will do good and righteous thigns, as they dwell in Christ. That is the nature of the Bishop, who gave up the treasure of the church, his own treasures, because ValJean was one of God’s people. It would take a lifetime for ValJean to give up the game… but he did.
It is keeping it simple – because the more complicated we make it, the more plans and strategies we lay down, the more it is about our work, and the less it is about Jesus.
Which brings us to the idea of the church, the people the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and makes holy by the Blood of Jesus. That is who we are. a bunch of broken people desperately in need of God’s love, and His touch on our lives.
That is what being a normal Christian is about, our need for God, a God who is always there. A God who can redeem us, and what we’ve done, and even find a way to make that into a blessing. So we don’t have ot hide who we are, we dont’ have to make up stories, or play games that make us our to be more moral or virtuous than we are. We can stop wasting time on trying to convicne ourselves and others that we are worth some.
God alreayd provided for that, by letting us nail Jesus to the cross. Sending Him to be nailed there, so that we could be drawn into Him….die to self… and be resurrected to new life.
That is what it all boils down to…
We are in Jesus…..
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 41.
Escrivá, Josemaría. Friends of God . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
1 Corinthians 12:24-26 (NLT2)
The Christian who is seeking better things and who has to his consternation found himself in a state of complete self-despair need not be discouraged.
Despair with self, where it is accompanied by faith, is a good friend, for it destroys one of the heart’s most potent enemies and prepares the soul for the ministration of the Comforter.…
…..His love will never fail even while taking us through this experience of self-crucifixion.
The same: (John Chrysotom) “When you flee to the church, do not flee to a place, but flee to it with your heart; for the essence of the church does not consist in wall and masonry but in faith and virtue …. It is called a mountain because of its firmness; a virgin because of its sanctity; a queen because of its glory; a king’s daughter because of its relation with God; a mother, having given birth, because of the great number of her children whom it conceived after it had been childless for a long time, not to speak of uncountable other names that Holy Scripture gives to it in addition”
The Lord does not come just to liberate the oppressed so they would feel good, but to send them to mission. He does not announce a year of grace to give us a “sabbatical” but to entrust us with the mission of living our lives by actively participating in everything that enhances our and other’s dignity as sons and daughters of the living God.
When I started my devotional time this morning, I really didn’t like that first reading, the one in purple aboce from Tozer. You and I don’t want to hear about despair, we deal with it enough in real life, especially in 2020. Too many people anxious, COVID, elections, changes, and too many people mourning. Despair is all aorund us, and it sucks us dry at times.
But as I read it, I have to admit, my mind started wandering to what was God preparing me for, by having me read this! Times of self-crucifixion are never easy, and we tend to do a good job of it…. adding extra spikes here and there as our minds spin out of control.
Walther’s quote of John Chrysotom’s started to counteract the building anxiety over what could be coming next. His description of the church is beautiful and distracting, but the line about running to the church means there is something to run from – and my mind went back to a slight form of spiritual paranoia. (okay – its 2020 – maybe not that slight!)
The church, the body of Christ, is not the refuge, but together finds refuge in Him. Where two or three are drawn together, there He is, our refuge, our sanctuary, our rest and our peace. I have found this so true, even more so in 2020 as the people of God, gathered together in person or on line, find the presence of God together. We truly suffer together, and rejoice together. We laugh and cry together, we find the freedom to do so. And then we find healing…. sometimes slower than we would like. Sometimes the progress isn’t as sequentials as we would like, but we find it, Together. In the presnce of God, we resonate, sharing the same note. If it be a sweet one, itis sweet, if it is in minor keey, then we resoinate with it as well, touched by the Holy Spirit, our harmony testifies to His presence.
At which point the words of Pope Francis come into play. Even as we are healing, Christ goes with us to bring that healing to others. He uses the word dignity there. and I had to think about it for a moment. Looking it up, among the definitions there is the idea of worth. Of helping people see their worth, not just in the eyes of others, but in their own, and in God’s eyes. As we heal, it happens as God provies how much He values us… and that is the greatest of game changers.
TO know that we are loved, that we are treasured, that God promises to make our lives, even our times of despair masterpieces… that is amazing.
Lord, help us realize the Spirit’s presence in our lives, and as we are comfoted, as we find healing, help us see those you send us to, to help them hlea as well.
A. W. Tozer and Marilynne E. Foster, Tozer on the Holy Spirit: A 366-Day Devotional (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2007).
C. F. W. Walther, Church and Ministry: Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Question of the Church and the Ministry, electronic ed. (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1987), 33.
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), 366.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
16 The three men replied, “Your Majesty, we don’t need to defend ourselves. 17 The God we worship can save us from you and your flaming furnace. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we still won’t worship your gods and the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18 CEV
Dost thou feel that all thy desires are satisfied in Jesus, and that thou hast no want now, but to know more of him, and to have closer fellowship with him? Then come continually to the fountain, and take of the water of life freely. Jesus will never think you take too much, but will ever welcome you, saying, “Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”
2652 The Holy Spirit is the living water “welling up to eternal life”3 in the heart that prays. It is he who teaches us to accept it at its source: Christ. Indeed in the Christian life there are several wellsprings where Christ awaits us to enable us to drink of the Holy Spirit. (694)
Prayer is no illusion. God’s will and ours really do touch and interact in prayer, not in the way that a human father’s and son’s do, but in the way that the divine Father’s and Son’s do. The ultimate dignity of prayer lies in the astonishing fact that through prayer we share in the very life of the eternal Trinity.
I’ve often wondered about the confidence the three men had in God. As I’ve wondered about it, I’ve also heard the same question of these willing martyrs and those who have proven the words, that they were willing to die rather than worship some other God. Those questions and comments usually run this way,
“Pastor, what those martyrs did was amazing, I don’t think I could ever handle that!” Or, “Pastor, I would fail if that was my test, does that mean I am not saved?”
I think we see the confidence the men had, and feel like far less faithful people. We struggle when the government says we can’t worship in the buildings God dedicated for that purpose, We struggle when persecution means we don’t like it when people don’t agree with us.
So how could we walk into a furnace, confident that God was with us, whether we bake, broil, or simple dance and sing?
I think the context is important, what the people around the king wanted to take from them was the most important thing in their lives.
Their time with God. Their time of prayer and adoration and meditation. Their time of being reassured of His presence, of His love, of His promises. Far from home, this is what God them through each day.
That is why Spurgeon talks about drinking in Christ, and why the Catholic Catechism talks of the Spirit facilitating our new life of which Christ is the source! And Dubay’s incredible thought that in prayer we not only let God share in our lives, we share in the life of the Trinity. (This is why I describe the liturgy as a dance – that the prayer and meditation of a liturgical church service is simply a sacramental prayer.
This isn’t a do this, and you will gain the confidence to be a witness of God. It isn’t a way to exercise and strengthen our muscles of faith. That confidence grows stronger, not by our effort, but simply because of the joy we know, as we find peace in God’s presence. That presence of God means so much that we would allow nothing to supplant it, we would desire to have it more, to share it with those around us.
This isn’t an illusion, a coping mechanism, a opiate for those who struggle in life. Prayer is the greatest reality we can encounter. For through it, even the most heated moments, can become a time of joyous fellowship… one that hopefully will amaze those we pray for who persecute us… to the point they begin to praise God.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 637.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 148.
Devotional Thought for This Day:
15 In Ramah a voice is heard, crying and weeping loudly. Rachel mourns for her children and refuses to be comforted, because they are dead. 16 But I, the LORD, say to dry your tears. Someday your children will come home from the enemy’s land. Then all you have done for them will be greatly rewarded. 17 So don’t lose hope. I, the LORD, have spoken.
37 Can you measure the heavens? Can you explore the depths of the earth? That’s how hard it would be for me to reject Israel forever, even though they have sinned. I, the LORD, have spoken.
Jeremiah 31:15-17, 37 (CEV)
743 If you put your mind to it, everything in your life can be offered to the Lord, can provide an opportunity to talk with your Father in Heaven, who is always keeping new illumination for you, and granting it to you.
Maybe it is a once dear friend who loved the Lord in a way that inspired others. Maybe it was a cherished mentor in the faith, a professor who taught you more than you ever realized. Maybe it is a parent, a child, a cousin, even a spouse.
Most of us have someone who has rejected God, or is struggling with His way, and so rejects the gifts of forgiveness and mercy, who rebel against God. Perhaps there is a reason, a church, a pastor or priest who has caused them pain.
WE all have a person who has wandered, even as many of us have. Our reaction is usually the same as grieving the loss of physical life, for we realize that eternity is at stake… We may not want to say it is the difference between heaven and hell, yet our heart fears that consequence.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah are so appropriate for those who watch with tears, those who attempt to wander away. The need to hear God say “dry your tears, they will come back” is real, to allow God to comfort those who worry, who deal with anxiety over those they care about.
The second part of the selection, where God reminds us of His power, and the inability of man to completely reject them is even more comforting. It tells us how much God is willing to pour into calling the people back. Despite their sin, God will continue to work in their hearts.
So then, how do we deal with the trauma we see in their lives? Josemaria’s words comforted me this morning. We talk to God about it, we spend time offering the person, and the situation, and our hearts, batter and torn, to Him. It seems counter-intuitive to offer such to God as a sacrifice, but it is the best we can do. We are His children, and our Father wants to fix what is broken in our lives. He wants to recreate, to show the craftsmanship He finds joy in…and as we give into His care those we love, whom we worry about, we can realize peace. He died for them, that they may live.
Lord, help us give you our brokenness, help us place in your care those we would see return to the joy of your salvation. For Your love for them is even deeper than ours, and You can reach them. Help us to trust You, and in Your love and work in all our lives! Amen!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(if you would like to hear the message and the service, please go to bit.ly/concordiacerritos )
Your Encounter with Jesus
Revealed to All!
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that because Jesus has risen, you have risen indeed!
Getting called to the front of the class
There are two types of people in the world.
The first type is the kind that is scared to get called up to the front of the class because it means they are in trouble again. Or called on in the midst of the sermon… which I can’t do today.
The second type is the kind that is scared of being called up in front of the class period. They don’t like to be in the spotlight, and they are usually more upset when you call on them to praise them, than if they are in trouble.
Either way – most people don’t like being the center of attention. And yet in today’s epistle lesson, every believer is going to find themselves in the center of attention. You will be in the spotlight!
Isn’t this about Jesus?
You may be saying, wait – this Is Easter, it is supposed to be about Jesus being the center of attention! It is about the fact that Alleluia! He is Risen! (He Is Risen Indeed – and therefore We are risen Indeed!)
Did you hear that last part?
Now hear how Paul describes this,
4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory!
This idea that because Jesus has risen, so have we leads to that thought. We won’t be sitting in the nosebleed section of heaven, nor will we be in the kitchen, or outback mowing the lawn.
We will be there, sharing In His glory. The term in Greek means to be in the focus of the lights. Yes this is all about Him, and yet the reason it is, is because He is bringing us home!
The Struggle with not seeing ourselves the way God does!
Whether we are type 1 or type 2, the idea of being in the spotlight with Jesus might seem more than a little crazy, it might seem downright insane.
For the first type, the type always getting themselves in trouble, there is a more than a little fear that maybe God will figure out the mistake that was made, that let us into heaven in the first place. Peter didn’t have a bookkeeper like Sandie, so there was an error that wasn’t caught, and that’s why we are there!
We know we are sinners, it is just a matter of time before we are caught. We think right now that we don’t belong, we are not good enough.
And the type two person may not see themselves as evil and rotten, but they don’t see themselves as anything spectacular, noting essential.
Sin robs us of the truth.
Even the sin we know has been forgiven, seems to leave a shadow hanging over us, convincing us that we might get into heaven, only because of technicality – Jesus had to forgive us, so we get the seats furthest out…
I wonder if that is why Lutherans like the seats in the back of the room?
You will share in His glory!
Seriously, we have to get used to this idea – that God did save us, that Christ didn’t die so that we could be stashed in some back corner of heaven.
He saved us to spend eternity with us.
(And that is a lot longer than a pandemic’s stay at home order)
God’s desire is not that we become some kind of audience in heaven, nor His fanbase.
We died with Jesus in Baptism so that we could rise to live with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, forever.
That is what faith is, waiting to see Him, to see our real life revealed in Christ Jesus in heaven.
Jesus didn’t die just to save us from our sins, he died for this life to be created, for us to live with Him. I love how Psalm 68 describes it
18 You have climbed the heights of heavens, having taken captivity captive, you have taken men as tribute, even rebels that Yahweh God might have a dwelling-place with them. Psalm 68:18
Jesus, having died, burst through the gates of hell, and taken His ransom.
A ransom of people to call His own.
He broke down the walls of hell to rescue you and me,,, to bring us to the Father. That is why Hebrews say this,
19 So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. 20 21 22 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. 23 Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.
Hebrews 10:19-23 (MSG)
A promise that you will share in His glory, for He is risen Indeed Alleluia… and therefore… you are risen indeed ALLELUIA!
Come Back to Me
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that the Holy Spirit has been breathed into Your Life and that you Live.
Valley of the Empty Sanctuary
Will these seats be filled?
As I look out over this nearly empty sanctuary, I think I understand how Ezekiel felt looking out over the valley filled with dry bones.
I will be honest, it is hard to do this, looking out over empty seats where there should be life. Where a sermon should bring smiles, and deeper thoughts when a call for repentance might bring some tears when the announcement of forgiveness brings from those seats a full, powerful and joy-filled amen!
And I almost hear the Lord asking me, as He once asked Ezekiel, a question. “Can these seats be filled” When will Concordia’s sanctuary be filled again with life?
And all I can answer is the same answer, O Sovereign Lord, you alone know the answer to that!
He does… but I wish I could do what Ezekiel did next… and speak and see a miracle take place.
Are we dry bones?
Is our Hope gone?
Are We finished?
As I talk to many of our people, and others who are reaching out, the words of the dry bones resonate with what I am hearing. There in verse 11, are the words of complaint.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ Ezekiel 37:11 (NLT2)
Though many people have a good attitude about this, many talk of the weariness, even the times of tears that cannot be stopped…
We grow weary, and hope isn’t gone, but it does seem a long way off in the distance. We miss each other, the handshakes, the hugs, the elbows we usually pass off to each other. Obviously, the “the Lord is with you and also with you’s” and the hands that reach out an receive the body and blood of Christ.
We are weary, we feel isolated, we feel like the people who Ezekiel wrote too – who were scattered and distant, and not “at home”, even as we are stuck in our homes. They weren’t literally the bones in the valley, but they certainly felt that way.
Which I think we understand, at least in the present moment
Again we don’t know our hope is gone, but it feels like it. We don’t know the effect on our people, but it doesn’t seem good.
So we cry out to God, together… and ask that the Holy Spirit breaths new life into us…
And God has promised that Spirit, the one Jesus calls the Comforter, will do just that.
Come Holy Spirit – Come comforter –
He will bring us back!
He will return us Home, He will gather us
There is our hope, as the Holy Spirit has already, because of the blood of Christ, defeated death. That’s symbolized by the cartilage, muscles, and skin coming back on the skeletons.
But then there is a pause, and life is breathed back in – the Spirit of God, which breathed life into us… once again comes and breathes life into us, and the process of bringing us into the presence of God.
Making us know God is at home with us, wherever we are.
Helping us know that He will restore us to each other…
He is bringing He people back to life – His great army as Ezekiel describes.
And it won’t take as long as it took for Ezekiel’s vision to come to pass.
For God has already guaranteed this promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us, first at the cross and resurrection, and then in our Baptism. The Spirit has come to us, we are its temple – and God will never ever leave or forsake us.
This is our greatest asset in times like this, the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life as we say in the creed, the description of why we have hope, the description of what makes life, life.
This is our hope in this, the word of the Holy Spirit.
There is an old prayer I would like to end with…
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them, the fire of your love!”
Come, fill the place, and every place where people are watching.. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Matthew 6:31-33 (NLT2)
Raise magnificent buildings? Construct sumptuous palaces? Let others raise them. Let others construct them. Souls! Let us give life to souls—for those buildings and for those palaces! What fine dwellings are being prepared for us!
There is a balance to life, especially a religious life.
It is hard not to worry about the food we will eat this week or next. It is hard not to see the pictures of the lines. It is hard not to try and make large plans, and make decisions that affect our people. It seems every other day that the government is changing what restrictions are out there, and foreseeing the impact on our people is hard.
As I get to work, my instinct is to lay aside my devotions, to get right to work. There is so much to do, so many people to talk to, care for, so many different things to consider, how do I have time for 30-45 minutes (or preferably 75-90 to catch my breath and remember I dwell in God’s presence?
My devotional readings this morning were kind of bland.. which didn’t help. I didn’t see anything much to think through that was applicable to my day until I got to St. Josemaria.
Soul care! What German Lutherans call seel-sorge – this is our calling as the church. Making sure our people are looking to God – realizing that even now, we still need ot seek Him, and lay our burdens down. Then take the guidance He offers, and go about our lives, assured of His peace.
So I will let those who make the decisions, make the decisions. I will care for those who come to me and go to the ones who are mine. I will point them to Jesus, and find ways to help.
God is with us, and the peace that news brings gives us the ability to live, and love those around us.
Seek Jesus first!
It will make a difference.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3 Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4 All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people. 5 We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6 There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us. Eph. 4:2-6 CEV
It becomes genuinely possible for people to share in a common expression once this interiorization has taken place under the guidance of the common prayers of the Church and the experience of the Body of Christ which they contain. Then people are no longer merely juxtaposed in role-playing but actually touch one another at the level of being. Only in this way can “community” come about.
He means that in human relations it is not peevish, harsh, or implacable; that it covers up some of the mistakes of its friends; and that it puts the best construction even on the more offensive actions of others, as the common proverb says, “Know, but do not hate, the manners of a friend.”
We call God “our Father” because we believe in His fatherly love and care.
We want His name hallowed and loved and praised, because we love Him and want others to do the same.
We want His kingdom to come because His kingdom is the kingdom of love.
We want His will to be done, even in preference to our own—we will the abolition of our own will when it is out of alignment with His—because we know His will is pure love. Ours is not.
This morning, I led the invocation and benediction at our city’s Martin Luther King. Jr. Day remembrance in our community. As I listened to the young people sing, read, and recite, and my friend Bill preach, my heart wanted to see the dream come true.
A day when the color of their skin and my son’s skin didn’t matter at all. A day when Dr. King saw coming to fruition as we found our way onto a mountain top. As we obeyed God more than we obeyed our hearts.
As I left, I wonder how many left determined to do what would make that dream happen?
It will, of course, when we reach that mountain top that Dr. King spoke of, when we enter into the presence of God, when those who see Him face to face understand true peace that comes from a love we can not wrap our heads around…yet.
It is not a coincidence that my readings today approach this subject of unity.
Nor is it a coincidence that the quotes above, from those readings, all focus on God as the hope for such a life. It is, after all, how He designed for us to live! It is God’s dream, even more than Pastor King’s.
It is why the Father sent the Son to reconcile us to Himself, and therefore to each other as well. For the sin that so marrs our unity, the self-centeredness that stops us from loving our neighbor can only be dealt with in Christ. That is where God’s will becomes a reality, as we are joined to Christ’s selfless act of sacrifice, as He, in His mercy pays for our sin. It is there, united in His heart, that our hearts find each other, and learn to value and love each other. There we find the power and desire to forgive, to cover our neighbor’s, and our enemies’ faults and brokenness.
It is there, with our souls resonating in a way stronger than this broken life can manage, that unity occurs.
Unity in Christ then becomes something to cherish, to rejoice in, to work to maintain, looking again to Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith. Reconciled to Him, we find our lives reconciled to each other.
Therefore patience and love, mercy and understanding become something that is our norm, and not just the virtues of saints.
You want to see these kids’ dreams, based on a speech decades ago come true?
Realize the love of God, realize His mercy and sacrifice, His patience,
And then, in Him, you can share it with your community, and the world.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 70.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 141.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 46.
Useless! It’s All Useless! ??
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ assure you that your life and your ministry is not worthless!
The Feeling of Uselessness
There are times in life when you will put all your effort into your work, or into the work you do here at church.
But when you sit back at the end of a day or a week, you look and wonder why you worked so hard. You wonder why you tried so hard,
And yet, you seem to have accomplished so little.
There are still bills to be paid, dishes to be done, there is still a pile of tasks at work, and the church doesn’t seem to grow the way you would like.
It is not a good feeling, and it can tempt you to despair.
to wonder why things aren’t getting better
to wonder if they ever will.
My friends, we aren’t the first to ever wonder that!
In fact, that is part of our reading from the book of Isaiah. Part of our reading this morning was this,
He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, and you will bring me glory.” 4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Is. 49:3-4
I’ve had days like that, where I know that my actions and thoughts should be bringing God glory, that they should have some tangible results, and yet…
So how do we deal with this feeling?
Why does it exist?
First, we have to identify where it comes from.
The first is simple and often overlooked.
Satan would try to cause us to believe there is nothing to our relationship with God.
He would love to paralyze us, blinding us to the work God is actually doing in our lives,
and through our lives.
You heard that! God does the work through us!
The second cause is our own sin,
When we want to play God and determine the impact and effect of what we do.
You see, we aren’t the ones who determine the results of the actions that God calls us to do, and the Holy Spirit guides us and empowers us to do.
When we demand to know the results, we usually have demanded to determine the actions as well.
What we’ve forgotten is what Paul taught the Corinthians,
5 After all, who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 (NLT2)
That is what is comes down to sometimes, we want to determine the growth. We want to be in charge, rather than letting God be in charge.
We try to get the results we want, and ignore living and ministering to others in the way He has directed us to live.
Loving Him with all our heart, soul and mind.
Loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. (depending on God’s love to make this happen)
When we demand the results, per our standards, per our expectations, we need to go back and double-check our actions, our plans, and see whether they are in line with His commands.
And if not, repent, and seek the forgiveness that God graciously plans for us.
The Real Answer
The person Isaiah writes about found the same answer, and the way to measure the results.
“Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.” Isaiah 49:4b (NLT2)
That’s a challenge, to simply place all that we do in the Lord’s hands, to let Him determine how He will use what He directs and empowers us to do.
He is God remember? He is with us! His Holy Spirit dwells in us, gives us the gifts that we have to use in loving Him and loving each other!
Our reward ultimately is when He tells us, “well done, MY good and faithful servant!” Matthew 25:21NLT2
That reward is what is guaranteed when we leave it in His hands!
Remember He makes what is righteous, righteous, and in cleansing us from all sin and unrighteousness, even that is judged righteous!
Without having to worry about how we will be judged, we can simply look at what we want to do, measure it by how it loves God and our neighbor, and if it does, go with it.
That’s why I tell people in the English service, whatever idea you have for this church to minister to others, let’s pray about, make sure it loves God and our neighbor, and ask God to bless it, and do it!
Leaving the results in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father.
Remember, He cares for you… and for the people around you.
He sent Jesus to correct all the times we try to be in charge, when we try to manipulate the results, and when we despair when we don’t get what we want.
That’s why the cross, and that is the final proof of this passage.
You see, the passage isn’t just about us. At the cross, one could easily wonder if the work of Jesus was useless! He had spent his life investing in the people of Israel, and in 12 guys, all of whom betrayed Him.
Sounds useless to me!
What value was it? He didn’t cause great revival during His life, he couldn’t even get 12 guys to get it right.
Yet, His reward is that every knee will bow, and every tongue confess He is Lord.
No, His reward is greater than that. His reward is our homecoming, our relationship with the Father, that He invested His life, and death to re-create
If Jesus didn’t love the Father and love us, the cross makes no sense. But because of that love, it makes sense, and it is rewarded!
Loving the Father who loves us, loving our neighbor, even if they would crucify us… or just make our life inconvenient, and less about…. Us. That is how we live in Christ, that is what makes our life incredible.
We can do that because of His forgiveness, because He heals our souls, because the Spirit, given to us in baptism, empowers that and makes it happen. Look to Him, fall madly in love with God, pray, and let us serve Him together!