10 As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud 11shining with the dazzling light of the LORD’s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. 1 Kings 8:10-11 GNT
20I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. 21When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. 22That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. John 16:20-22 GNT
While they are thus in fear and terror, the Lord brings them peace, not by removing any danger, but by quieting their hearts.
Now the liturgy is meant to form the individual Christian. Hence we have to learn how to understand its symbols, in order to absorb the lessons which they convey. But at the same time the liturgy is more than symbolism and more than ritual. Through the medium of the Church, which He has entrusted with the task of guiding, sanctifying and instructing mankind, God exercises a sacramental action upon the spirits of men of faith.
I have been thinking about church a lot recently, trying to understand why in parts of the world, the church is growing faster than it ever had, and why in others, it is rapidly shrinking.
I would love to blame the shrink on the amped up political atmosphere, as extremists in every spectrum try and force their way into power. Whether it is legalism or lawlessness, whether it is tieing to the secular conservatism or secular progressivism, the tactics are much the same.
I could blame it on apathy, and a country not able to escape the consequences of isolation.
I could blame it on a season dominated by every sin and temptation known to mankind.
Placing blame will do nothing – except causes dissention, more division and accelerate the decline of the Church, as sanctuaries empty—as they no longer are sanctuaries, as people find no refuge or peace in the places dedicated to communion with God.
I need the church to be such a place–a refuge, a sanctuary, the holy ground were peace overwhelms the struggles I am embroiled in this life. Luther’s words resonate with this, as he pictured God not taking away the struggles, the chaos, the anxiety or the pain. Instead, He quiets my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I share God’s word, the peace given them as I share with them the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Merton identified this as the sacramental action of God, as He pours out the blessings, the mercy, peace and love which forms us, creating a faith, a dependency on God, wherein the awe we find in His presence, makes everything else an inconsequential shadow. That all sounds like heavy theology tainted with a bit of mysticism.
I wish I could explain it in a simpler way, but the peace of the moment is beyond explanation, Jesus illustrates it well, in the moment a new mom holds her baby, and all the travail and even the mess isn’t important… the baby is here..
or in our case, God is here.
and like the priests – we are so in awe, that all we can do is enjoy the presence of God.
(Merton was wrong – this isn’t individual. It is who we are…together – the family of God)
This is why I need the church, the people of God gathered around His word, the people who receive His sacraments… who experience His peace..
I get to see it, facilitate it and that is awesome… but what is better – I participate….
I am so looking forward to this tomorrow… will you join me… either at Concordia, or with the saints in another location, but sharing in the same presence of the same Lord.
Please… come and know His peace and healing!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 138.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 160.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. 4 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT
Each time we consent to a new light on our weakness and powerlessness, we are in a deeper place with Christ.… Christ in his passion is the greatest teacher of who God is. Sheer humility. Total selflessness. Absolute service. Unconditional love. The essential meaning of the Incarnation is that this love is totally available.
Brother Lawrence expressed the highest moral wisdom when he testified that if he stumbled and fell he turned at once to God and said, “O Lord, this is what You may expect of me if You leave me to myself.” He then accepted forgiveness, thanked God and gave himself no further concern about the matter
Second, those who find that they are prompted to partake of it merely because of the order of the church or from habit, who, if wholly free to choose, would not come to it with good will and longing, also must not partake of the sacrament. As St. Augustine says, the sacrament seeks a hungry, thirsty, and desirous soul which yearns for it. But those who go only because of command or out of habit feel no desire or longing for it, but rather horror or dread, so that they would rather be away from it than near it. A person with a yearning heart does not wait for a command, nor is he moved by precept or habit. Such a man is driven by his need and his desire. He has his mind fixed only on the sacrament, which he desires.
Last week I was at a pastors’ conference with 200 plus peers of mine. Most of us were tired, emotionally drained, approaching or in burn-out. It’s the nature of ministry. Those who do it well, risk their health, including their mental health.
The planners of the conference had decided the theme would be SoulCare, providing it for our people, ensuring our families get it, and forcing ourselves to admit we need it, and then act on it. But the planners (I was one,) knew our pastors needed to get such needs out in the open – but also realized there would be reluctance and resistance against such baring of our souls.
There is a need to address this – as Keating explains. It is only as we see ourselves wounded and broken, do we really see Christ’s active care for us! The love that is there, to comfort us, to pick us up, to heal the wounds and cleanse us from sin… IT IS HERE–FOR HE IS HERE!
Brother Lawrence realize the same thing as Tozer quotes him. Without the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we are going to sin, and if sin and dwell among sinners, we will become wounded, and broken. That is why God planned from before the foundation of the world to be here with us…to rescue us, to deliver us.. to nourish us.
That brings us to Luther – and his words about the Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament of the Altar. We shouldn’t fell like we have to go because it is the rules. Never! We need to go because we need that intimate moment with God, as we eat the Body and bring the Blood of Christ Jesus. We need to desire this moment for where it brings us, deeper into a relationship with Him. This time of truly experiencing the God we come to know in the sacrament, the One who loves us.
The Lord’s Supper is where the spiritually broken learn to find hope and healing, as the Spirit ensures the promises that accompany it are communicated to us. It is where we find ourselves, weak and powerless, coming to realize we are welcome in the presence of God, that He shares every aspect of Himself with us., transforming us into His image. ( 2 Cor 3:16)
We need Him – as do our people.
So let us be encouraged to gather around the altar, and know our Lord ever more deeply, as He provides for us, as promised. AMEN!
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 277.
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 171.
Thoughts that draw me closer to Jesus- and I pray it causes you to draw close as well!
20 No, don’t say that. Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 When a potter makes jars out of clay, doesn’t he have a right to use the same lump of clay to make one jar for decoration and another to throw garbage into? Romans 9:20-21 (NLT2)
590 Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?
Hence it is easy to answer all kinds of questions that now trouble people—for example, whether even a wicked priest can administer the sacrament, and similar questions.  Our conclusion is: Even though a scoundrel receives or administers the sacrament, it is the true sacrament (that is, Christ’s body and blood), just as truly as when one uses it most worthily. For it is not founded on human holiness but on the Word of God.
I remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grow up by a family friend, a priest by the name of Fr. Alex.
My answer to him is actually what I do, and where I find my joy. I get to put into the hands of people the precious body of Christ, broken that they would be made whole, healed of their brokenness.
But there are two parts of that I wonder about.
The first is whether I will do something different when I grow up. There is a part of me that thinks this is temporary, that at some point, i will need to get an actual job! That someday I will need to decide what I want to be when I grow up.
The second thing is more serious, and that is that I don’t deserve the incredible blessing of being the waiter at this feast. That who I am should disqualify me from such an important task as connecting people to God. I resemble St Josemaria’s trashcan, and I know it.
And I wonder why God doesn’t find someone holier, more charismatic, more right for such a precious position. I am tempted to look around, and realize that all pastors and priests wander around with similar thoughts.. In my more sane moments, I know that all pastors and priests should feel that way, but when I am down, I don’t see that.
Two things keep me going. The first is the thought from the Lutheran Confessions. That even if I were the most broken, unholy, sin-filled person on earth, the Lord’s Supper is still the Eucharist, and people still commune with God. The promises He makes to HIs people are not diminished by the staff being perfect.
The second thing is more important – God put me here – for people/ He is the Potter who made me what the person that He placed in this position. His decision, His call, His equipping, and His responsibility. He is the one who cleaned up the trash can and put something beautiful in it.
Which is where you come in….
The bread that is the Body of Christ in my hand it is there for you.
Those words in my sermon, they are there to be heard—so that you will know Jesus, and experience HIs love.
Those words, when I say, “you are forgiven” are there, and I know them well, for I am forgiven as well.
There is another lesson for here as well. IF God can do this with me, He will certainly do amazing things in your life, to bless others. You may struggle with that thought – but God will make it happen. Just walk through life, knowing you are loved.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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), 468.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.” John 6:53-58 (NLT2)
But when Christ says “My flesh,” I take notice of the identity of the speaker. I ask: To whom does the little word “My” pertain? Then these words will denote more than mere flesh; it will not be a flesh that has the strength of mere flesh and blood. By virtue of the word “My” it is invested with greater strength than plain flesh and blood. It is “My flesh.” You must take note of Him who speaks these words. Then it will not be the sort of flesh from which red sausages are made.
He could not satisfy his love by giving himself to the human race by his Incarnation and by his Passion, dying for all men upon the cross; but he desired to find out a way whereby he might give himself entirely to each one of us in particular; and for this end he instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, in order to unite himself wholly to each: He that cateth My flesh, he said, abideth in me and I in him. In Holy Communion Jesus unites himself to the soul, and the soul to Jesus; and this is not a union of mere affection, but it is a true and real union. Hence St. Francis de Sales says: “In no other action can the Saviour be considered more tender or more loving than in this, in which he annihilates himself, so to say, and reduces himself to food, in order to penetrate our souls, and to unite himself to the hearts of his faithful.”
Reading the title of this post, the question might sound like a mother talking to her toddler, or a man talking to his dog. But it is one of the most important questions that can be asked, and answered in the church today.
Not because of the theological doctrines that have been debated since Zwingli, (and to the gnostics whose thoughts convinced him that the sacred cannot inhabit the physical, that is the profane) THose arguements can go on in classrooms, coffee shops and bars from now until eternity. THis is more than theology.
It is about faith – about trusting Jesus at His word. To realize that He promises to come to us in the bread and wine, so that we might have Him, that we might have life! THat is why Luther points out the power of the word my, this little pronoun that changes everything.
This is His body, given for you. This is His blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Not mere flesh and blood, Far ore than the greatest steak and noblest wine. De Ligouri points out what a tremendous communion this is, as Christ again unites us to Himself, and unites Himself to us. This is not just some simple rite that we do every week, this is God with us, that we can behold His glory.
He says, this is my body… this is my blood…
Rejoice in that moment, treasure that moment….. find your peace and sanctuary there…
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 23: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 23 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 119.
Alphonsus de Liguori, The Holy Eucharist, ed. Eugene Grimm, The Complete Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori (New York; London; Dublin; Cincinnati; St. Louis: Benziger Brothers; R. Washbourne; M. H. Gill & Son, 1887), 279–280.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. Matthew 5:6 The Message
Twelfth, you see, that is what happens when one tries to make people pious and lead them to the right by means of commandments and laws. It only makes them worse. Thanks to such tactics, they do unwillingly and drearily whatever they do. This becomes a hindrance to God’s grace and sacrament. God neither wants to nor will he grant this grace to those who were forced, pressed, and driven to the sacrament by commandment and law, but only to hearts that long and pine and thirst for it, to hearts that come voluntarily……
(a little further Luther writes) Therefore, these words of his must be understood to refer to the labor and the burden of the conscience, which is nothing else than a bad conscience oppressed by sins committed, by daily transgressions, and by a leaning toward sin. The Lord does not drive all such people from him, as do those who teach that we must come to the sacrament with purity and worthiness. Nor does he issue a command or compel anyone to go to the sacrament, but rather he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help. The sublime sacrament must be regarded by us not as a poison, but as a medicine for the soul.10 Christ himself declares in Matthew 9 [:12], “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The only question is whether you thoroughly recognize and feel your labor and your burden and that you yourself fervently desire to be relieved of these. Then you are indeed worthy of the sacrament.
1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity
In some denominations, including mine, there is a concern about who should commune, and who should not. Arguments abound in regards to what it means to have a close communion policy, Argmenets and division have blossomed over this idea, of who we can allow to commune.
There is something important in this, there is a Biblical basis for denying someone the Lord’s Supper, and it is found in several places – notable 1 Corinthians 11, where it talks of the consequences of approaching the Lord’s Supper without examining yourself first.
But that examination isn’t about whether we are good enough, or getting at least a B- on doctrine test, or having our membership in the right facility. (Remember – we confess that there is only one, holy catholic and apostolic church!) Yet we always seem to make it about such self-centered things.
One of my weight loss groups talks about the idea of eating when you are at the appropriate hunger level. Not to eat just because of stress, or pattern, (aka tradition) or because it seems like time too. Eat too soon, gain weight. Eat too late, and find that you overeat – and gain weight.
I think it is the same with God – we need to learn to hunger for Him and feed on Him regularly. For some, that does mean daily reception, for others weekly. But it is based on need – not on qualification. It is for those whose souls are tormented by sin and brokenness, who realize their need for Jesus because there is no other hope.
That is why I do not understand why there are people that say there is no emergency need for the Lord’s Supper. As long as there are sinners who need to know God’s grace, who are oppressed and haunted by their pasts, there is a need for this blessing for which Jesus gave thanks, even as He offered it. Luther makes this case clear. It is worth repeating the words, “he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help.” Yearn does not indicate they would like to have it, it means they desire it, they hunger for God, they hunger for the work He does, as He draws us into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
This is where we find hope, there is where we meet God in a very unique and powerful way, and it is where we know we are welcome.
Look at the Catholic Catechism – and see the beauty we need in this! The incredible unity that is found in the Lord’s Supper, as united in Christ, we find ourselves in the presence of God the Father! (see Colossian 3:1-3)
Caught in sin? Struggling with the burden of guilt and shame? Need to know God’s love and forgiveness?
Come… and find peace at the altar of grace.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 176–177.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 342–343.
24 As the Lord’s servant, you must not quarrel. You must be kind toward all, a good and patient teacher, 25 who is gentle as you correct your opponents, for it may be that God will give them the opportunity to repent and come to know the truth. 26 And then they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the Devil, who had caught them and made them obey his will. 1 Tim 4:24-26 GNT
Hence the profound sense of the Church’s social presence derives from the Eucharist, as is testified by the great social saints who were always great Eucharistic souls. Those who recognize Jesus in the Sacred Host, recognize Him in their suffering brother or sister, in those who hunger and thirst, who are strangers, naked, sick or in prison; and they are attentive to every person, they work in practice for all who are in need.
Our educational work should have a purpose: to elicit a change in our students, to make them grow in wisdom, to help them undergo a transformation, to provide them with knowledge, with new feelings and, at the same time, achievable ideals. Many institutions promote the formation of wolves more than of brothers and sisters by educating their students to compete and succeed at the expense of others, with only a few weak ethical standards.
For most of my life, I have loved a good argument. I loved getting into it with someone, whether over politics, sports (an easy one NOW, since Boston teams have been great for a couple of decades), philosophy, even, I am embarrassed to say, religion.
I still occasionally still enjoy a good debate, and with a highly intellectual 12 year old in the house, I have a ready made opponent. Yet I would dread to see him observe me arguing about religion. For what I would be teaching him is that our belief is God is not as important as winning an argument.
Our relationship with God, our ability to trust in Him is too precious, to important to argue about. Correction needs to me more loving, more patient, and this is something every single one of us needs to grow in and mentor others, helping them develop an attitude like Jesus.
This is something we need to model, to teach, whether as pastors, elders teachers, parents, our purpose is to help those entrusted to our care to mature in faith. What Pope Francis noted about our educational system is true in our lives as well – we need to stop pushing competitiveness in a way that humiliates and demonizes the competition. It has invaded to many relationships, wrecked to many friendships and divided too many communities, and sad to say, to many churches.
I think the quote from Benedict XVI shows us where the hope of the answer is found. I have long thought the answer to division is not found in an office or conference room, but at the altar. To realize that the Body broken and the blood spilt for me was also broken and spilt for my nemesis, to realize my being drawn to the table to communion is matched by the same Holy Spirit drawing them there, puts ou relationship into a different form. It helps us recognize Jesus in them, or the work the Spirit is doing to draw them to Jesus, a work that is either advanced or hindered by my actions, words and attitudes.
This is one of the myriad of blessings found in the Lord’s Supper, and it is one of the reasons I run to it, or spend time contemplating the gift it is, especially when I am in conflict. To realize what God is doing, bringing us all to completion, bringing us all into the holy relationship with Him that He has created and set us apart for, is amazing. At my church, we still have an altar rail, where everyone kneels together, and receives this blessing together. The choir and praise team especially, but many others have begun to hold hands after they receive, another sigh of unity. This isn’t forced, and it started during a time when one member was struggling. It is a sign of this unity that transcends anything we could argue about.
We can still strive to do our best, we can still try to correct what we see is in error, we can still hold strong opinions, but when we see Christ in the other person, it calms our spirits, it helps us still do our best, but to do so in a way that glorifies God, and encourages them to trust Him.
Lord, help us not only be good examples of Your love and care, help us to encourage that in others, including those we struggle with…AMEN
Benedict XVI, “Homily for the Solemn Mass of Corpus Christi,” in From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization, ed. Alcuin Reid (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 2012), 221.
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), 286.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 This means that every time you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 It follows that if one of you eats the Lord’s bread or drinks from his cup in a way that dishonors him, you are guilty of sin against the Lord’s body and blood. 28 So then, you should each examine yourself first, and then eat the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For if you do not recognize the meaning of the Lord’s body when you eat the bread and drink from the cup, you bring judgment on yourself as you eat and drink. 30 That is why many of you are sick and weak, and several have died. 31 If we would examine ourselves first, we would not come under God’s judgment. 32 But we are judged and punished by the Lord, so that we shall not be condemned together with the world.
1 Corinthians 11:26-32 (TEV)
651 You sometimes allow the bad side of your character to come out, and it has shown itself, on more than one occasion, in an absurd harshness. At other times, you do not bother to prepare your heart and your head so that they may be a worthy dwelling for the Most Holy Trinity… And you invariably end up by remaining rather distant from Jesus, whom you know so little. If you go on like this, you will never have interior life.
For the Fathers of the Church, the Eucharist is considered as the medicine of eternity. It is a remedy. Jesus continues to touch the sick with His Eucharistic Body. St Thomas Aquinas understands the Eucharist as the bread of the soul: as bread sustains the body, the Eucharist sustains the soul. As bread repairs the body, the Eucharist repairs the soul. As bread increases the life of the body, the Eucharist increases the life of the soul. As bread gives joy to the body, the Eucharist gives joy to the life of the soul, sometimes even to the life of the body, as it is given to us to see.
In refusing to go and draw from the Eucharist the source of healing, many of our contemporaries are tempted to seek out pseudo-healings in false spiritualities.
“He was insistent that the church, and the teachings of the church, not be the subject of evangelization but that Jesus
We stand there, kneel there, wait there…
So many come who are so burdened, so broken. Even though they confessed their sins not long ago, you can see the weight of their sin, and even the sins of their community, their world, weighing down on them.
And Jesus comes to them again, giving them the nourishment and grace that they need. They are not there to prove their holiness, their piety, they are there because they need to experience the love of God.
If, as Girzone notes, the church’s evangelization is in the message revealing Jesus, if our role as God’s people is to reveal His glorious love and mercy to the world, then the altar is a time where this happens.
It is why the fathers of the church, from Clement to Augustine to Francis and even Martin Luther put such a value on the sacraments. The means of grace where God reveals and pours out His love on us. Where we find ourselves in the presence of God. This moment, when the veil between heaven and earth is transparent, where the soul and heart realize what the mind assents to when it responds to “the peace of the Lord is with you!” and thunders back “AMEN!”
So how do we prepare for this? How do we not take such a great salvation for granted? How do we recognize that Jesus giving us His precious body, His blood which covers our sin?
It is not by perfecting our lives, for we cannot do that.
It is not by pretending to be holy, or deserving.
It is by realizing we need this medicine, that our souls need to be revived, that our hearts need to know God’s promise is not in vain, that He has forgiven us, that this sacrifice of Christ ~2000 years ago was done, to make you and me the children of God.
We prepare for this great gift, this means of grace, by realizing our need and expecting God to deliver what He said He would give us. We prepare for it by realizing our hunger and our need and rejoicing in the gifts of God, given to the people of God.
So come, and join us, and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and give thanks and praise to the Lord who serves us, in love. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2732-2736). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (p. 8). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Girzone, Joseph. (2011) The Homeless Bishop, Orbis Books , Maryknoll, NY
Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? Hebrews 2:3 (NLT2)
68 We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine which aids and quickens us in both soul and body. For where the soul is healed, the body has benefited also. Why, then, do we act as if the sacrament were a poison which would kill us if we ate of it?
69 Of course, it is true that those who despise the sacrament and lead unchristian lives receive it to their harm and damnation. To such people nothing can be good or wholesome, just as when a sick person willfully eats and drinks what is forbidden him by the physician.
70 But those who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help, should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems. For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils.
Sin can be forgiven but not corruption, simply because at the root of every corrupt attitude there is a fatigue for transcendence. In front of God who does not get tired of forgiving, the corrupt person gets tired of asking for forgiveness.
You can’t go to a seminar for church leaders where you won’t hear about the “nones”, the people who have no religious affiliation at all, that won’t even declare themselves agnostic, or atheist. They are described by those who “observe” them as apathetic toward any form of organized religion.
I am not sure as I would describe them as the apathetic ones.
I think I would describe as apathetic those who believe we can’t reach them, just as five to ten years ago we gave up on GenX and tried to focus on the millennials. You might be thinking I am talking about being apathetic about out-reach, about Evangelism,
I am not, I think our problem is deeper than that, that our apathy starts with the very salvation and the presence of God. It starts with what Martin Luther called despising the sacrament, or “getting tired of asking forgiveness” that Pope Francis describes as being subject ot corruption. We see it as well in Paul’s words in Hebrews, asking what hope is there for those who neglect so great a salvation.
As a pastor, as one who trains others in ministry, what I’ve learned is that people can only respond so long to motivational cries for evangelism before they burn out. They can only keep their purpose-driven lifestyle up so long before it fades and disappears and we lose our first love. If doing our duty is our motivation in our being missional, in working where God has sent us to be a light, then we will fatigue like metal, We will allow our spirits to be corrupted.
Some call this backsliding, others term it a “falling away”. I simply think a spirit of apathy has found room in our hearts and slowly taken over. Instead of maturing in our relationship with Jesus, we’ve allowed it simply to age, to get old. As it ages it becomes more fragile, brittle, and even bitter.
Where is the answer?
It is going back to what is amazing, what moves us from the fear of God into being in awe of Him. In once again finding the joy that comes when we know we are forgiven, that God is restoring our relationship with Him, and restoring the calling in our lives. We need to see the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist as the incredible blessing it is, and the promise of again knowing we are forgiven, and that God desires to share in our life, as He invites us to share in His.
The medicine that cures apathy is God’s mercy, applied to the wounds in our lives caused by sin. That healing changes us, and as we experience the fact that we are loved, that God rejoices when we allow Him to forgive and heal us of the damage inflicted by sin. That promise, fo forgiveness realized is not easily forgotten, nor that feeling as we take and eat, and take and drink, and experience the depth of God’s love. Prayer, reading the scriptures, remembering the promises given to you in baptism, receiving Christ in the Lord’s supper, and hearing your sins are absolved renews your faith. A renewed faith is full of joy. That joy is contagious, that joy, lived out day to day is noticeable…..and you can’t be apathetic about it.
That joy is the thing that will attract the “nones”
You want to reach a broken world? Let God reach you in your brokenness… and heal you of your sin!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 454). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 234). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
15 I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (NAB)
4 We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5 For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Romans 6:4-5 (NAB)
The Lord could say that his Body was “given” only because he had in fact given it; he could present his Blood in the new chalice as shed for many only because he really had shed it. This Body is not the ever-dead corpse of a dead man, nor is the Blood the life-element rendered lifeless. No, sacrifice has become gift, for the Body given in love and the Blood given in love have entered, through the Resurrection, into the eternity of love, which is stronger than death. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game.
As much as I appreciate the Lord’s Supper, as much as I’ve meditated on it and studied it, I’ve never thought about it as I read the blue quote above. I have read the great book by Pope Benedict, (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) several times, in fact, I’ve used it as a supplemental text when I teach on the liturgy. And yet, I’ve never considered the point that is offered above.
That not only do we share, participate, fellowship, become partners with Christ’s body during the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion/Lord’s Supper) we are also because He is risen, a partner in the resurrection, drawn into His resurrected life, and into the “eternity of love.”
This is a mind-blowing thing to me, and be patient with me while I process it.
As someone formally trained in non-denominational theology, and then in Lutheran theology, I tend to think of the Lord’s Supper given His death, His offering of His body as the hilasterion, the sacrifice of blood that covers and cleanses us from our sin. I know well the implications of that and am in awe to think of it.
When I lead people to the altar, with the cross overhanging it, when we commune together in front of the New Testament version of the mercy seat (Lev. 6:14) my thoughts are almost always on the love of God poured out on the cross. There we meditate on the Body was broken, and the Blood was shed. By no means am I saying that this is still not true!
There is something there, in these words of Pope Benedict, that I have witnessed so many times at the altar, the incredible, glorious mystery that happens as people come and are joined again to the death of Jesus, and that is that they come alive in that moment. You can see their bodies change, as they enter into this blessed moment, this feast, ( I want to use the old word “repast” ) as the brokenness is shorn away from them, as the wait is lifted. As they are revived in their spirit, it shows physically.
This is the missing key, the idea that not only are we given the gift of His death for us, but the gift of His resurrection, the gift of life in the resurrected Christ!
This is something that we don’t understand, if we only think of the Lord’s Supper as in sharing in His death (though it does certainly proclaim it so strongly ) We don’t see it if we only see our sharing in the dead, lifeless corpse. But our souls get it, as this feast is one of incredible joy, one of peace that shatters the chaos of life.
This feast, which is a foretaste of the feast to come is just like baptism, a joining with Christ’s death, and with the hope, the promise, the reality of our resurrection, because He is risen.
You have been united with His death, and sin has been dealt with, but in His giving you His body and blood, He also gives you life!
Hear again the blessing that is given, as people stand and kneel form the altar…and know it is for you. ( It might make even more sense now!)
Now, may the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, your confidence in the God’s work in your life; and until we are all before God throne, dwelling in His glory, may you know you dwell, kept secure in His peace!
Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.
Because of what God has done,
I plead with you…
May you experience the incredible gift of the love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, and as that love changes your very life!
Because of What He’s Done
Normally, I unveil the bread and wine during the Lord’s prayer.
As I say the words, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, for in that moment we recognize that God’s will, I uncover and reveals the chalice and the tray. That Jesus would die, giving up His body and blood, that our sin would be forgiven, that our lives would be renewed.
I am not going to wait to do that but will do that now, and as I do, I would ask that we all take a moment of silence, and think about the suffering, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, thinking of all God has done for you, I plead with you, as Paul pleaded with the church in Rome, give your body to Jesus, a sacrifice that lives and breathes and IS holy.
For God has done so much!
As Paul wrote, everything comes from Him, exists by His power and is for Him! All Glory to Him for ever and ever! AMEN!
So let’s find out what it means for us to be living and holy sacrifices…if we can!
I say if there for a reason. We are talking about dealing with, and interacting with God, the Creator of all there is, the one whom Paul started this passage describing when He said,
How great are God’s riches and knowledge, How impossible it is for us to understand His decision and His ways!
We know it is impossible to know what God knows, and I think we get that it is impossible to understand His decisions and the ways He arranges our lives.
Even so, how often do we try to advise God, or throw a tantrum when things do not go our way? How many times do we choose to go our way rather than His? How many times do we struggle with life, and choose to sin because we can’t see how God’s way makes more sense than ours?
Maybe we don’t understand why it’s so important to be faithful to our spouse, (not just sexually faithful – but in all ways) Or maybe we struggle with respecting an authority figure because we can’t figure out why God put them there. Maybe the temptation is to covet what someone else has, not being content with what God has blessed us with in our lives. Or maybe the problem we have is with judging people and sharing that judgment in a way that is called gossip. Or maybe we don’t understand why God would have us set an entire day apart, we don’t get why we should waste it and be still, and know that He is our God, that He is our refuge and strength.
It doesn’t matter which sin it is, for they all find their origination in our not recognizing that God is greater in riches and knowledge, as we determine that since we cannot understand His decisions and ways, that ours is better.
It isn’t, and we don’t realize it until we hit rock bottom. And most of the time not even then.
It takes the grace of God to run us over before we ever can realize that God’s decisions, His ways, His knowledge is best, even if we cannot understand it.
It takes the mercy of God, it takes a transformation, the one Paul describes that happens to us as we realize God’s ways are not just bigger, but far better. Hear Paul again,
You Will learn
2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Notice it doesn’t say let Pastor Dt change you, or change yourself, or let the latest self help guru change the way you think about yourself.
What Paul wants us to do is to let the Holy Spirit transform us, by changing the way we think. What it says in Greek isn’t just to change a though or two, but to change your mind.
This is an absolute key, and it is what causes our lives to be lived in a way that is discussed in the rest of the chapter, to embrace depending on God, to work as God calls us to live, doing what He has chosen, but doing it in in accord with the faith he gives.
That is part of the result of the transformation.
You are a transformer!
Paul describes this transformation to the Corinthians this way,
18All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.
What a transformation God does to us! (Much better than going from a car to a militant robot!)
A transformation that affects every part of us, every bit of our lives.
For God creates life in us, and shows us that we can have faith, we can depend on Him, and we can know, not all the mysteries of our faith, but what God’s will is for us, His pleasing and perfect will.
What is that will? To do what God has called and equipped you to do.. whether it is to speak publicly about God, to serve others who are in need, to teach, to encourage others, to give beyond normal, to lead others, or simply show kindness to others…
just do it, depending on Jesus – as much as you can, as humbly as you can, as God has called you to do.
just do it, because of God’s love for you – and the work He does, revealing His love to you, serving you, teaching you, encouraging you, giving to you without any boundary, leading you, and simply showing you His mercy and kindness….
live life, moving with Him, for He is your God, and you are His people…..
For that is His good and pleasing will….for you – to know you are His, and He is with you always… AMEN!