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The Transfigurations: The Light Shines! A sermon on 2 Cor. 3:12-4:6

church at communion 2The Transfigurations: The Light Shines!

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6

† I.H.S. †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ reveal to you the transformation God is working in your life, as the Holy Spirit causes you to shine with God’s glory!

Two transfigurations?

If you looked carefully at the title of the sermon, you would have seen that the word transfiguration is plural.  You would also see the reading the sermon is based on is not the reading of Jesus transfiguration, that amazing day that stunned Peter, James, and John as Christ was transfigured, right before their eyes. 

Can you imagine being there, having Jesus revealed in all of His glory?  Would you drop to the ground in awe, or would you put your foot in your mouth like Peter did?  John would speak of it later with these words,

 14  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. John 1:14 (NLT)

But this sermon is not about the transfiguration, it is about the transfigurations.  It’s not based on the Gospel according to Mark, but what we call the second letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth.

It’s about the transfiguration the Holy Spirit is working on this morning, the transfiguration that is occurring to you and to me, as the glory of God is seen in our lives.

And because this is about our transfiguration, it, of course, it is about Christ being revealed to us, in all His glory as well.

What blinds you?

For the Jews in the time of Jesus and Paul, the Old Testament served as the veil which Paul describes.  Oddly enough it was voluntary at first, as people were so troubled by the glory and love of God that they couldn’t even look upon a reflection of the glory seen glowing in Moses.

They choose the veil, and they hung on to it as if seeing God, would overwhelm them.  Paul identifies that veil as the Law, the Old Covenant that allowed them to focus on all the law, on all the minutiae. On all the ways they can try to prove they are God’s choice, or on all the ways they fail and fail to see God’s mercy that is available to them.

But we have our veils as well, things that we think hide us from God, or at least His holiness, His glorious love from us.  Our veils are just as much a challenge, and we choose them and bind them about us.

The first veil is the one the Pharisees and Sadducees often wore.  It is the self-righteous we wear, that would melt away if we compared it to the glory of God.  We might consider ourselves good because we go to the best church, or because we have the better political beliefs, or because we don’t sin as blatantly as others.  We try to measure up to God’s law, well at least the commandments we haven’t overtly broken.  I mean, no one here murdered anyone this week, or committed adultery, or robbed anyone else…. Right?   ( I won’t mention “bear false witness- gossip” or “be envious of others homes, spouses, job, pets, – but I will project that on the screen!)

The other veil is self-condemnation, looking at all the rules and realizing that we can’t keep them, about living with the tears and shame that comes from hiding behind a veil, and realizing how we are wasting away in a prison of our own making. Thinking that because we can’t overcome sin and self-centeredness on our own, that this means we will never escape how it crushes us.

And we, who think we can hide behind a veil… often move from being self-righteous to being self-condemned, fluctuating day by day, sometimes far more frequent.

The veil stops us, but how can it be removed?

Only God Can And Has

It is removed when we trust in Jesus, as we depend upon Him to keep the promises made to us, about cleansing us from the sin we so hate.

This is the work of the Spirit, as we are turned to the Lord, as the Spirit takes away the veil, as Christ Jesus is revealed, and His work is made known.  As that happens, our lives are being changed,  our lives begin to reflect Christ, not as a mirror would, but something deeper.  For the Spirit begins to transfigure us, this is the same word that Mark uses in His gospel.   We are transfigured as we look to Christ, as we dwell in Him!  We begin to show His glory, as the Holy Spirit makes this happen!

We are changed for the glory of Christ didn’t just reflect from our lives, but as it made its mark there.  His glory, which we stand in awe of acts like a branding iron, forever marking us as His own people, a people who become more and more like Him. What a glorious thing!

It is why Paul says we can be bold, so assure of God welcoming us, His children, into His presence.  It is why we don’t give up, and why we strive to do things the right way, keeping this powerful word of God straight, undistorted, focused on Jesus, reveling in the fullness of His love!  It is so incredible, as Paul says, we don’t want to talk about ourselves, but rather the love of Jesus, and are willing to serve people to help them know that!

That is why Paul said we work so hard trying to reveal Jesus love to others. Hear His words again,

27  For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. Colossians 1:27 (NLT)

The assurance of sharing in His glory, the assurance of being loved by the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit!  For one with Christ, you are being changed into one who shines with His glory.  This is the transfigurations!  Rejoice and rest in His peace!  AMEN!

The High Cost of Love

devotional thought of the day:

44 Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. 46 You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, s but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 
49 Those who were at the table with Him began to say among themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 
50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”  Luke 7:44-50 HCSB

 

760      The cheerful love that fills the soul with happiness is founded on suffering. There is no love without renunciation.

There was a song when I was growing up called “Love Stinks” and though it was talking more about infatuation, there is some truth to the idea.

For love is commitment, and that commitment often requires us to go without, to make sacrifices, to lay all we are on the line, in order to truly care for the one we love. 

Parents know this very well, as they will go without to provide for their children,  From little things like watching television shows their kids like, and not watching the ones they want to, because they are inappropriate for their child’s ears and eyes.   Teachers who give up time to plan, or to think of how to reach “that” student understand this as well.  

It is a mystery, a paradox, that delaying or denying your gratification for the sake of the one you love can lead to greater joy, greater happiness. 

The lady in the gospel reading found this out. She did something quite costly, anointing Jesus feet with oils that cost her much, oils she probably bought ot treat herself well, to help her forget the pain of life, after suffering the humiliation of submitting to others desires.

Still, in awe of God’s mercy, she sacrificed the reward of her labors to treat Jesus with love, to adore the Man who didn’t drive her away.  Maybe she was one of the people invited to Zaccheus’ house, one of the sinners Jesus was accused of eating and drinking with by the Pharisees. She tried to repay that love, with the most costly thing she knew of, with a action of love that showed how much she adored the man that didn’t want sex from her, and still talked to her, and interacted with her.

The suffering that love costs is high, and often it stinks.  Yet in the case of loving God, what it demands, though pleasurable, or profitable, is the thing that stops us from knowing joy.  We go without the pleasure, without the gain, and find ourselves free.

Just at the prostitute found herself freed from sin, and shame, and guilt.   Instead, she knew love, and that she was welcomed in the presence of God. She gave up what was costly and pleasurable and found a joy so much greater, and happiness that comes from being accepted and loved.

knowing this, realizing it in our heart, gives us the motivation, the ability to desire to give up what we need to give up.  Not because we have to, but for the joy set before us, the same joy that drove Jesus to endure the cross, for us.

Lord, help us to embrace you, receiving your love.  And as our love and adoration “costs” us, help us to realize the joy that comes from knowing that love.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2743-2745). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Knowledge and Love: A Sermon on 1 Cor. 1:8-13

Kids phoneKnowledge and Love

1 Corinthians 1:8-13

†  In Jesus Name

 

As you experience the length and width, the height and depth of God’s love for you, may your knowledge be tempered by the love that God creates in your life, as you live your life through Him

Given a choice.. which will you choose for those you love?

There is a cute picture floating around the internet, of one of these.

It says above it, “it doesn’t matter how old or mean you are, when w toddler hands you one of these and say’s ‘it’s for you’, you take it and start talking into it.”

I think that is pretty much true, and I am tempted to try it on some of you afterward.

It’s because we care for our children, or grandchildren, or nephews or nieces or students. Or in the case of the teachers, our students. We love them, and they can melt the hardest heart.

So I want to think of that kid, who could get you to answer one of these.  Close your eyes, picture them in your mind and answer this question.

If you could choose what would be said about them at the end of their lives, would you desire it to be said they were geniuses, or that they loved and cared for the people around them and made a difference in their lives?

Not a difficult decision, or at least I would hope that it wouldn’t it be!

And in our gospel reading this morning, this is what the apostle Paul is talking about. And it is what we are talking about this morning, Knowledge and love.

Importance versus building up the community?

If I may, I would like to use a personal example.  When I was younger, there was this game called trivial pursuit.  Some of you may be familiar with it.

I loved it!  And I was…. pretty good at it.  Enough so that I usually won and proved the apostle Paul correct when he said, knowledge makes us feel important.  Some translations phrase it a little differently.  Knowledge puffs us up talking about our egos, and our minds.  And then one day, I looked at the name of the game again…

Trivial Pursuit.  What I was doing was chasing after what was trivial, what was meaningless.  And in the end, about all odd bits of knowledge were good for was putting little pieces of plastic inside another piece of plastic and annoying some friends.

While there is a lot of knowledge that isn’t trivial, there are enough examples of people who think they are more important than others because they have the knowledge given to them.  I won’t list the occupations, but I bet you are thinking of one or two professions that act that way.  Or you see yourself in this.

That is why Paul will say in chapter 13 if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (NLT)

Instead of focusing on knowledge, Paul tells us it is love that builds the house, in this translation, it translates the house as church.  But the concept works the same in the church, in the home, or in the community we call home.

In each, in our homes, in our church, in our community, it is love is what binds us together, it is love that makes that bond strong and causes us to grow as a family.

The challenge is loving others the way we love the kid handing us the phone.

In the example Paul uses, he talks about how this love changes us, using the example of food offered to idols.

For him, with all the knowledge of one who was a leading Jewish theologian and became the greatest of Christian pastor-theologians, the idea of food offered to idols was silly.

The idols were carved pieces of wood or rock, metal fashioned to look like how man imagined God to be. And because there was no inherent power in them, because they weren’t gods, eating the food someone else dedicated to them was of no great importance.

But it was of great importance to those who didn’t know different.  They saw the world as a cosmic battle between these false gods and the One True God who came to us, love us and died for us.

And while knowledge would say debate with them and show them the truth, love said that we needed to remember they weren’t ready for to hear that; be patient.  Winning the argument isn’t worth driving them from Jesus. We can go without being proved right in the small stuff, we can even go without that piece of bacon wrapped shrimp or stuffed pork chops rather than cause them to stumble and do what they thought was wrong.

It’s not worth the fight, it’s not worth the debate.  Such debates can destroy faith, but love puts it in the correct priority… and eventually, love will straighten it all out.

How it happens

But how do we love others, especially when we some people are just darn difficult to love?  And how do we teach our children, grandchildren, students and other children we come into contact with to love like Jesus loved us?

The answer on how to love like that, how to make a difference in someone else’s life isn’t found in some instruction manual, it isn’t found in a series of podcasts or videos.

It is found in knowing that we are God, as Paul said,

There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.

And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

It is found in living for and in God that we find the love that changes us.  It forgives and removes our sin, and makes us holy, set apart to love God, to love His people.  It is something that is realized more than learned, something that we spend our life growing in, and as He changes us, we love, even those others see as unlovable.

For that is what knowing God’s love does, it changes us, and it gives us hope in the middle of what seems a lost and broken world.  That is why we are here, and why we have a place for kids, who will hand us a phone, and learn from us how to love.  As we learn it from God our Father.  AMEN!

The Question of Repentance

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7 He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! 9 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” 
10 “What then should we do?” s the crowds were asking him.
11 He replied to them, “The one who has two shirts t must share with someone who has none, and the one who has food must do the same.” 
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 
13 He told them, “Don’t collect any more than what you have been authorized.”
14 Some soldiers also questioned him: “What should we do?”
He said to them, “Don’t take money from anyone by force or false accusation; be satisfied with your wages.”   Luke 3:7-14  HCSB

36  “So let everyone in Israel know for certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, to be both Lord and Messiah!” 37  Peter’s words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?Acts 2:36-37 (NLT)

A lot of things recently have brought about discussions about repentance, what it is, how it is gone about, what kinds of things are involved, and most importantly, who is active,  I’ve written about those things before, especially how repentance, like faith is something the Holy Spirit gives us. ALso how repentance is a transformation far more than it is feeling grief or a decision to follow God!

But as repentance is seen, there is always a question that comes up, the question seen in my first reading above. (and in the second as well)

John the Baptist tells them to live a life that produces fruit consistent with repentance,  

And hearts, just starting ot living in this transformation ask, “What should we do?”   It’s the same question the Jewish people asked when they learned they crucified the Messiah, the one God sent to establish a time of rest and peace for them. 

What should we do?  You could add, “now?” to the end of the question.

The reason that this is THE question of repentance is that when repetnance comes to us, the only questions that remains is – what do we do…. because repentance is happening already!

Repentance, as we are granted it, as our lives are starting to transform, leaves us a bit, befuddled. lost, and confused.  We are a new creation and this re-birth and renewal given as God cleanses us is about as confusing as a kid from Nebraska being dropped off in Hollywood on a Saturday night.  

And so the people, crowds, tax collectors, soldiers, were given some basic ideas.  Not all-encompassing ideas, bot a complete set of laws to follow.  But examples.  Examples that are consistent with a transformed heart, a heart that is capable of living for others, of loving and caring for them.

Think of John’s advice as the training wheels of the Christian life, the life of the repentant, the baptized.  There is much more to living a life transformed, but these bits of advice from John gets the wheels spinning and our moving with the Holy Spirit’s guidance and power.

Do things that don’t serve your self-interest, don’t be pre-occupied with proving your own righteousness.  Do things that are loving.  And when you find you aren’t…. pray, and confess and know that God is with you!  He came to save you!  He is your messiah, your Lord, your life.

The answer to the question of repentance, of what we do is always going to be the same – in Christ, love those you encounter.

Lord have mercy on us, give us the strength and desire to see you transforming the lives we live!  AMEN!

 

 

The Paradox of Christian Generosity: Do Jesus and Paul disagree?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
1  “Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. 2  “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 3  But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. 4  Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (TEV)

10  And God, who supplies seed for the sower and bread to eat, will also supply you with all the seed you need and will make it grow and produce a rich harvest from your generosity. 11  He will always make you rich enough to be generous at all times, so that many will thank God for your gifts which they receive from us. 12  For this service you perform not only meets the needs of God’s people, but also produces an outpouring of gratitude to God. 13  And because of the proof which this service of yours brings, many will give glory to God for your loyalty to the gospel of Christ, which you profess, and for your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else. 14  And so with deep affection they will pray for you because of the extraordinary grace God has shown you. 15  Let us thank God for his priceless gift! 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (TEV)

723      You are an ordinary citizen. It is precisely because of that secularity of yours, which is the same as, and neither more nor less than, that of your colleagues, that you have to be sufficiently brave—which may sometimes mean being very brave—to make your faith felt. They should see your good works and the motive that drives you to do them.

Maybe it is me, but as I read the two passages from scripture above, I am confused.  It would seem, at face value, that Jesus and Paul disagree.  That Jesus is stating that we must do all our good works in private, and Paul wants us to do them visibly so that many people will give thanks to God.  It would seem that St. Josemaria agrees with Paul.  

So is there a difference between Paul and Jesus?  

Should we do things completely anonymously, or so that people can see what we do?

Have to admit, this is one that always stumped me.  I knew there had to be an answer, that scripture is not contradictory. but how do you think this through?

I think St. Josemaria hits on the answer, that what we are doing is making our faith felt.  

Our actions can’t be based on the motivation of other people praising us, or others focusing attention on us. If our actions are done to focus attention on us, then, yes, it is far better that they are done in the dark.  Like the priests who would pray and make a big show of donating to those in need, such acts are passing in their effect, and have no lasting impact.

Paul speaks of another kind of giving, a giving that requires bravery, of courage.  Of going past ourselves, and meeting a need that isn’t just financial.  To give in a way to help a person know that someone cares, and the reason they care is that of the love of God that unites us, His creation, His children.  Paul wants the people in Jerusalem to know that their gentile brothers and sisters in the world still care,  To put names and faces to the much-needed relief.

The result of which is God glorified. That is the impact of being part of, being invited into a community, a community where God’s love binds us. Where those who observe us see love that is not forced or fake, but really a reflection of the love God has for us.  A love that would quietly embrace pain or sacrifice to help someone else.

God is with you – as you meditate on that, as you live in that truth, you will do things to help others, without regard to others watching.  And in doing so, both Jesus and Paul’s directions will be heeded.

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2631-2634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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What Will Hold You Back in 2018?

Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:
16  Once a man came to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what good thing must I do to receive eternal life?” 17  “Why do you ask me concerning what is good?” answered Jesus. “There is only One who is good. Keep the commandments if you want to enter life.” 18  “What commandments?” he asked. Jesus answered, “Do not commit murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not accuse anyone falsely; 19  respect your father and your mother, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 20  “I have obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else do I need to do?” 21  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.” 22  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. 23  Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of heaven. 24  I repeat: it is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” 25  When the disciples heard this, they were completely amazed. “Who, then, can be saved?” they asked. 26  Jesus looked straight at them and answered, “This is impossible for human beings, but for God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:16-26 (TEV)

486      A heart which loves the things of the earth beyond measure is like one fastened by a chain—or by a “ fine thread”—which stops it flying to God.

If you are going to make a resolution this year, I urge you to look closely at the above passage from scripture, and the words of wisdom from St. Josemaria.

And before you vow to lose weight, kick caffeine or some other bad habit, or taking on something new like going back to school or learning something, I want to ask you something.

What is holding you back?

What has tied you down, and restrains you from living life.

Of course, that leads to another question, what does it mean to live life.

The young man in the gospel story was after that, for to live eternally is not just about life after, but it is the life that is given now, which is never taken from us, even if we physically die.   Modern psychology might call it self-actualization, or they might point to obtaining some state of consciousness. We might joke about it as being at one with the force.

And most religions, including cults like Scientology, have some way to attain it, some way of freeing your mind and soul from that which separates you from eternity.   Some may even see it similarly to Jesus, and realize that it is not about attaining something, but freeing your heart and soul from things which bind it, restrict it, and stop you from soaring like an eagle, free of all encumbrances.

For the rich young man, ( Paul the apostle perhaps?) it was wealth.  There are a number of other things we could suggest, things that tie u down and restrict us from walking with God.  These things may even be the negative things of our past, that we can’t seem to escape the impact of, or at least we think we cannot. We can’t tie ourselves to these things, but we too often do.   

So how do we escape?  How do we cut these things that bind us, that we “love” an yet hate?  How do we stop loving these things that hold us back?

We can not.

That’ right, we cannot.

Our only hope, the only strategic option we have is simply this.

Realize you love God more.  And the way to do that spends time dwelling in His love.  Paul says it this way:

18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)

If you want to see a change in your life in 2018, if you want to break free from all that holds you back, then experience His love.  

Come join his people as we celebrate that love, as we share in His gospel, as we commune with Him in the sacrament He ordained to do this very thing.  Spend time in His word, not just studying it, but looking at it to see how He loves his people. Rejoice as you encounter His faithfulness to them, knowing it will be the same to you.  

This will change you, even though you may not see it yourself.  Others will, and they will praise God as you get even more hungry and thirsty to spend time with Him.  

The Lord is with you… you just need to know that.   And I pray all that read this will! (Pray for me a well, because I need to!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1866-1868). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

The Most Precious Preaching Lesson…I have ever learned

Devotional THoguht of the Day:

20 But dear friends, use your most holy faith to build yourselves up, praying in the Holy Spirit. 21 Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the Lord Jesus Christ with his mercy to give you life forever.
22 Show mercy to some people who have doubts. 23 Take others out of the fire, and save them. Show mercy mixed with fear to others, hating even their clothes which are dirty from sin.  Jude 20-22  NCV

 

“I noticed,” Pastor Crabtree told me, “that as I told the story of God’s identification with us, of the pain God himself experienced in the death of his son, that the weeping stopped, that people, including Rebecca’s mother and father and fourteen-year-old brother leaned forward in their seats and listened intently. God’s story was touching them where they hurt most and giving them hope.
“Many people in this small town were deeply touched by the story of God. A high school history teacher, for example, said to me, ‘What I took home from that funeral message was this: this world is turned upside down, and Jesus is the only one who can fix it.’
“ ‘You got it,’ I said, and he answered, ‘Yes I did!’ ”
What can I say? There is no story in this world that is more profound than the story of God’s embrace. My dinner companions heard the gospel in a new way. And each of them, in their own way, is growing in the life-changing embrace of God, as I am and I trust you are too. For there is no story but God’s; no God but the Father, Son and Spirit; and no life but the baptized life.

As I looked on FB this morning, to see who I should add to my prayer list, it revealed ot me that this is a special anniversary, the day I took my then 7-year-old son home for the first time.  Not home as in the place we live, but home as in the place that I consider my home.  Not a house, nor a place where the family gathered, but the place I want to be more often than not.  Not even a church, but a simple road.

It is the place where we could be still, or walk slowly, and just rest in God’s peace.

I mentioned it in a sermon once, a sermon delivered before other pastors, a sermon that was to be critiqued, and shredded, but there were tears instead.  You can read about that time here: https://asimplechristian.org/2014/10/21/walking-with-god/

The reading from Dr. Weeber this morning also reminded me of this.  My job as a preacher, as a shepherd is not to dazzle people with my theological acumen, or grind them into the ground with guilt, only to let them up at the last second.  It isn’t to make statements about politics or drive them to give and support just causes.

That will happen, as I disciple, as I teach and counsel, as people realize what I am here to tell them.

That God’s story is their story, that their story completely involves God.  We don’t walk on deserted stretches of road alone, nor do we drive the freeways of Southern California unaccompanied.  Whether it is at the beach, or a party, or crying alone in a park, or even on our deathbed, He is here…. with us.

That’s what our people need to know, that God doesn’t leave us alone, and in order to be here, He does what is necessary, forgiving us, cleansing us, healing us, loving us, comforting us, welcoming us to share in His glory and peace.

He is here…in our story, we in His.  He is our God, we are His people…..

That’s what we need to tell them…and that is what we preachers need to hear.  AMEN!

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

 

 

How Do We Deal With All the Trauma?

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The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought for our days
15  Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t become snobbish but take a real interest in ordinary people. Don’t become set in your own opinions. Romans 12:15-16 (Phillips NT)

15  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16  and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17  So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:15-17 (NLT)

When the news just makes us exclaim “What a disaster!” and, then, we turn the page immediately or change the channel, we have destroyed our “fellowship,” we have further widened the gap that separates us.

It seems so much of my email is filled with news of trauma, or shortly thereafter, with appeals for money to care for the victims.

Houston, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Tennessee, now the victims of the California wildfires.  And that is only the events in the USA.  There were Typhoons hitting Macao and Hong Kong, earthquakes in Mexico, and other traumas caused by men in England and other places.

There there are the traumas that are even closer to home.  A friend’s daughter passes away, another friend is dealing with a spouse whose illness is beyond their ability to cope with, other friends are struggling with cancer or even a pinched nerve.

And like I said, I am then deluged with the requests to help.  Houston is a good example.  Four friends are working with different church groups – all affiliated together.  They each ask for money, as does the district of our denomination.  I even received a request from another district to support their work in arranging for help for the district affected!  This doesn’t include all the churches and para-church organizations that spammed my email, for surely a pastor would help them? 

Part of me wants to react as Pope Francis described, just turn the page, just delete the email. Part of me wants to write letters to each group that seems less than above board, or those that insist their group is more in need or more deserving of money and tries to manipulate using guilt or shame, or hyper-emotional appeal.

And then I wonder if I am becoming too hard, too cynical, to suspicious,  to callous. What is the reaction all this is causing in my heart? Am I allowing my fellowship with humanity to be destroyed?  Will i end up on an island, with a huge gaping hole separating me from the rest of the world?   Or us the only other option to burn out, emotionally, physically, financially?  Will my faith become dead, because I can no longer bring myself to act?  Will I try to justify that by simply saying the system is overloaded?

I think the answer comes from the passage in Romans, this idea of living in harmony with each other. The example being weeping with those who weep, laugh with those laughing.  To take the focus from just giving a donation, to actually being with those who are in need.  ( One might say that just dropping 50 or 1000 bucks into an envelope may not meet the help they really need)  To be compassionate, to love, for there we find ourselves helping. Not just within the circle of friends we have, but with people we encounter, every day.

And mostly, the answer comes from trusting God, knowing His presence, hearing His voice, following His lead. For as we walk with Him, as we depend upon Him, we find the needs, and the resources he would have us meet.  Often those far different than we would have thought of… and yet, the peace and joy, even amidst the tears, confirms the presence of God.  

Here is the point.  Too often we rely only on our own strength, our own wisdom, our won will, overlooking the obvious, the presence of God.  As we cry out, “Lord have mercy,” we need ot rely on that mercy, even as we help others see it.  That will eradicate the gap that separates us, as we fellowship together with Him. 

 

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Can You Leave Your Friend there… in danger?

Devotional Thought for our days…

20 “If a truly good person starts doing evil and I put him in a dangerous situation, he will die if you do not warn him. He will die because of his sins—I will not remember the good he did—and I will hold you responsible for his death.  Ezekiel 3:20  GNT

13  The greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them. John 15:13 (GNT)

993         In our meditation, the Passion of Christ comes out of its cold historical frame and stops being a pious consideration, presenting itself before our eyes, as terrible, brutal, savage, bloody… yet full of Love. And we feel that sin cannot be regarded as just a trivial error: to sin is to crucify the Son of God, to tear his hands and feet with hammer blows, and to make his heart break.

I read an article the other day, that made the argument that a pastor cannot be friends with his congregation.  That he has to stay aloof, separated so that he can call them to repentance when needed, and that they will hear him when he does.

One of my questions in the conversation that followed was, “shouldn’t your friend also care enough, love you enough to call you to repentance”  I had several questions about the concept, but this question is one I think we need to address today.

Should a friend help a person see the error of their way?

Or should we simply ignore the path they were on, letting them move on to perdition?

This job isn’t just a pastors.  It belongs to anyone that cares about anyone else. A parent, a teacher, a co-worker, a son or daughter, a friend.

There are a couple of challenges to this.  

The first is taking sin seriously enough.  St Josemaria helps here, helping us realize that sin can only be reconciled at the cost of life, the life of Jesus.   His brutal death, the shedding of His blood.  We get that about murder, or grand theft, or adultery.  I am not sure we realize that about that little white lie, or lust, or envy or gossip, And what about not treasuring the restful time we call the Sabbath when we gather with other believers and weep and laugh and rejoice together? Do we see this as sin?  

The second is more akin to comfort.  We are afraid to broach the subject, we are afraid our desire to care for our friend will be misunderstood as condemning them (We are trying to stop that!)  We are afraid of that awkward moment when they have to look in the mirror when they have to see their sin and error.

But their salvation, is that not worth the discomfort we might experience in calling them back? 

These are hard questions, and yet, evangelism is not a matter of “Law”, but one of Gospel, one of Love.  One of Joy.  We want people to experience this because we know the difference being forgiven makes.   We know the difference being clean creates in our lives, and knowing the hope of eternal life.

Our friends need this to know about this love of God that can take a sinner and make them a friend, that revive a broken soul, that can restore to its strength.  We can’t-do this because we have to, because it is a duty because it is what good Christians do.  We do this because we love them, and we love the God who is merciful.  For then, our thoughts aren’t about preserving our life or being comfortable.  It is about knowing them.

SO that we all can have the same heart and mind – that of Jesus.

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 4014-4017). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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