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Who Me? Thoughts on the Image of Christ…

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought of the Day:
16 They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians. z “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You defer to no one, for You don’t show partiality. 17 Tell us, therefore, what You think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar c or not?”
18 But perceiving their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the tax.” So they brought Him a •denarius. 20 “Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked them.
21 “Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left Him and went away.  Matthew 22:15-22  HCSB

298      My Lord Jesus has a Heart more tender than the hearts of all good men put together. If a good man (of average goodness) knew that a certain person loved him, without seeking personal satisfaction or reward of any kind (he loves for love’s sake); and if he also knew that all this person wanted from him was that he should not object to being loved, even from afar… then it would not be long before he responded to such a disinterested love. If the Loved One is so powerful that he can do all things, I am sure that, as well as surrendering in the end to the faithful love of a creature (in spite of the wretchedness of that poor soul) he will give this lover the supernatural beauty, knowledge and power he needs so that the eyes of Jesus are not sullied when he gazes upon the poor heart that is adoring him. Love, my child; love and hope.

I vaguely remember the first time realizing the inference in the gospel reading in red above. That while money bears the image of Emperor’s and Presidents, we bear in ourselves the image of God. Intellectually, it was pretty cool insight for a kid, and I remember being pleased with the simple idea.

We are made in the image of God!

What a wondrous thought, that every person we meet was created by God  Even though we have too often obscured His image as we’ve fallen to temptation,  the image remains. Bruised and battered, torn, dented, covered in the slime and muck that is the result of sin. And one of the joys of being a Christian is when we see someone realize this, as God cleanses and recreates them, restoring the image.  What a joy it is, to see God begin to transform them!  (see 2 Cor. 3)

Yet there are times, even as I observe that the observation seems to be from a distance. I get the idea of being made in the image of God, yet as I look in the mirror, I see something far different.  I see the darkness and brokenness still, I see the damage of my sin.  To borrow from St Josemaria’s words this morning, I see far too clearly the wretchedness of my poor soul. 

This is where God’s love is so glorious, so wonderful, so nearly beyond belief.  St Josemaria describes it so well, as he is sure of God giving us the supernatural beauty, knowledge, and power we need so that Jesus is not sullied, not shocked by looking upon our brokenness.

Realizing this, we find another reason to adore Him, for we find another facet, another depth of His love for us!  He will let us love Him!  He doesn’t just accept the love we show Him, He will treasure the love we are able to show Him!

He is our God, and He makes us His people, and rejoices in our love!  Even as He transforms it, and creates in us the ability to love.

Enjoy His love, my friends!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1211-1219). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

Is God More Than Love?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
28  ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Matthew 10:28 (NJB)

For what is increasingly taking place before our eyes can be summarized in the words: the fear of men, that is, the absence of the fear of God, is the beginning of all foolishness. Today, since the image of God has been subjugated to the laws of advertising, the fear of God has all but disappeared from the catalogue of virtues. If he is to have advertising appeal, God must be so graphically depicted in exactly the opposite way that no one can possibly find any reason to fear him. That would be the last quality that would appear in our representations of him. In this way, that reversal of values that was the real sickness of pre-Christian religious history spreads more and more throughout our society and even in the midst of the Church. For even in ancient times there was a widespread belief that one did not have to fear the good God, the real God, because from him, since he was good, only good was to be expected. There was no need to worry about the good God; the evil powers were the ones to fear. Only they were dangerous; consequently one must do all in one’s power to win their favor. In this maxim we can see that the service of idols is an apostasy from the service of God. But we are surrounded by this idolatry. The good God does us no harm; we need offer him no more than a kind of primitive trust.

I was told earlier this week that preaching the gospel wasn’t as important as living it.  That what was needed was to abandon all that divided us from others, in order to find the peace and love which would change our community.   That we couldn’t let doctrines like the Trinity or like Justification, or even the nature of Jesus divide us from worshipping together.  Because what really matters is being good, and being loving.    (I’ve also had to deal with the other extreme, but that is another blog perhaps!)

I think Cardinal Ratzinger’s quote above puts it quite well.  We seem to have caught the idea that God is love (and He is!), but failed to understand what it means to love.  Or maybe perhaps, we have let those we fear ( or are in awe of ) re-define the meaning of love. So love becomes a form of acceptance, an acceptance/love that doesn’t seek out the best for the beloved, but assumes where they are is the best.

Perhaps this why God is not feared, and therefore, His words aren’t heard or obeyed. We don’t want to hear the part of God transforming us, refining us.   We only want a God who will bless us, who will do us no harm, who will not wisely rebuke or expect us to change, or conform to the image of Christ.

But it that was true, why did Jesus need to come?  Why did He have to die on a cross?  Why is it, that even John the Apostle, who is described as the beloved, is terrified when he enters the presence of God?  Why did Jesus say that our fear shouldn’t be of the world, and the opinions of man, but of God, to whom we are ultimately responsible?

Yes, there are people who make mountains out of what is neither commanded or forbidden in scripture.  There is also the core gospel, that which is described in the creeds, about our creation, and the conception, birth, life, death resurrection of Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit that calls us to a life in relationship with Him. A relationship where we learn that God is amazing and holy and just… and yes loving.  Loving enough that He calls us to repentance and transformation.  Loving enough to wisely grant us that repentance, and cause and complete the transformation.

Being in fear of God, being in awe of His justice, His power, His wisdom and His love does something to us.  It causes to humbly, and yet confidently enter His presence.  To accept the relationship on the only terms offered. His terms.

But those terms are glorious….

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 47). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Are You Ready to Serve God? Yes, this means you!

Featured imageDiscussion Thought of the Day:
14  “Now then,” Joshua continued, “honor the LORD and serve him sincerely and faithfully. Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the LORD. 15  If you are not willing to serve him, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestors worshiped in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are now living. As for my family and me, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:14-15 (TEV)

364    Ah, if you would only resolve to serve God seriously, with the same earnestness that you put into serving your ambitions, your vanities, your sensuality …  (1)

Over the years, I’ve heard part of the Bible passage quoted above used to call people to faith, to challenge those who do not believe, to believe.

It has always bothered me a bit because when you look at the entire context, you see that Joshua isn’t challenging the people who are not yet in a relationship with God. He is challenging those who are in covenant, who have known God’s promises and have been blessed because God is faithful.

He is challenging us, my fellow believers!

Imagine what would happen if the church were as dedicated to serving God as they are to television?  If they were as dedicated to prayer as they were to playing Candy Crush Saga or whatever version of Farmville exists? What would happen if we heard Joshua’s call and began to take seriously the call to look out for others, to love and care for them?

What if we were willing to embrace the call to correct in love those whose disobedience drove them apart form God?

What if we were so committed to God that His passion overrode our passion?

I can continue to ask all the “What if’s”, they are good to use to see we need to do more like Christ, to be more like Jesus. If we are to live like those who are baptized believers.

But that won’t cause us to be.  We can’t “decide” to do this, and be successful at it. What we are choosing is more than to do stuff, though as we are transformed, we will find ourselves sacrificing our very lives (see Romans 1:1-10)

What we are called to do is more than serve.  It is to serve the Lord.   TO walk with Him, to be in a relationship with Him, to so know and trust Him that all He is is revealed to be who we are.  We are remade in His image and are called to imitate Him, transformed into His image!

Choosing this day to serve Him is a call to discipleship, to prayer, to sacrifice, to witness, to put aside our own vision, our own passion, everything we are.  It is time to live with Him.

It is a high calling, but it is your calling, and the calling to which you are tasked to share and encourage others to take up, as they come to know Him.

Let’s walk with Jesus… it is time to hear His call.

Lord, have mercy upon us!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 927-928). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Mission, Vocation, and our Neighbor

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

25  A teacher of the Law came up and tried to trap Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to receive eternal life?” 26  Jesus answered him, “What do the Scriptures say? How do you interpret them?” 27  The man answered, ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ ” 28  “You are right,” Jesus replied; “do this and you will live.” 29  But the teacher of the Law wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (TEV)

20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:20-21 (TEV)

 16  No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17  Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18  All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19  Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (TEV)

Does a believer have a responsibility to be missional?  To go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teach them to treasure all God has commissioned?

To speak theologically, is this one of our vocations, along with being spouses, parents, employees, employers and good church members?  Are we all missionaries?  Do I have a responsibility as a believer in Jesus to those around me, who still are lost in darkness?

In a recent discussion, I put forth the first passage – the story behind the story of the Good Samaritan for a reason.  Notice that that our relationship with our neighbor (whether they are our spouse, kids, actual neighbor, co-worker, or whomever) comes right after our relationship with God.  Being a loving neighbor is our vocation.

Our relationship with God and our relationship with our neighbors is inseparably intertwined.  The quote from 1 John makes this clear – our love for Him is seen in that love we have for our neighbor.  That’s why the teacher of the law combines the two.  We can’t love God if we fail to love those He calls us to love.

Loving them isn’t easy, it requires that we know.. no, that we dwell in the love and peace of God.  That His mercy so resonates with our life, that we don’t have to think about the ministry of reconciliation being given to us, we simply work in that ministry.  We seek to free people from the darkness of sin, the oppression of satan, and break the grip that death has on them.

Loving them means inviting them into the relationship where God reconciles them, where He makes us His friends, where we understand what He is about is bringing us home to the Father.  That is what being missional is about, or what some others call our apostolate. It is in loving our neighbors as God does, not because we have to fulfill some quota, but that’s what we do as we walk with Him.  (He describes it clearly for us, but we hear it…. like a duty, not as an invitation to spend time with Him)

We are missionaries, for our Lord is, and we walk with Him. It is His mission – and we live and breathe in Him!  Therefore we work with Him in seeing His desire come to being.

We love our neighbors, we desire to see them reconciled, to become friends with God, because He has done this with us.

May we rejoice in every baptism, and may we teach them to rejoice and treasure this life He has given us!

The Key to Loving Your Enemies, Loving God. The Key to Loving God…

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9  O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. 10  As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth. Your strong right hand is filled with victory. Psalm 48:9-10 (NLT)

You still do not love the Lord as a miser loves his riches, as a mother loves her child… You are still too concerned about yourself and about your petty affairs! And yet you have noticed that Jesus has already become indispensable in your life… Well, as soon as you correspond completely to his call, he will also be indispensable to you in each one of your actions. (1)

Yesterday’s Bible Study time at church was talking about the attitude of St. Paul towards the people of Israel. How, even though those people would have killed him outright, his love for God, and His knowledge of God’s promises, led him to desire their salvation, no matter the cost.  He said he would even give up is salvation, if that were possible,

A tough act to follow, as many of us realized, and even grieved over during the Bible Study.

Paul’s comments, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ,” take on a far more challenging perspective.  They drive home the idea of loving our neighbor – for love doesn’t count the cost.  Even when our neighbor is our enemy, our adversary, or just a huge pain in the neck.  Imitate Paul as he desires their salvation more than even his own, even as Paul imitated Jesus, as He died for those who caused His suffering and death.  You and I.  (All that debate about whether the Jews were responsible for His death, or the Romans is nonsense.  He chose to die to save us from our sins, to restore us to the Father.)

Are you willing to give up all for those you love?  Are you willing to love those who hate you?

Tough questions.

Even more difficult, when we realize Paul’s challenge to us is not alone, John issues it with these words,

20  If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 4:20-21 (NLT)

So how do we do this?  Is there some metaphysical knowledge that unlocks in us the ability to love our neighbor?  Is it some ritual that we must undergo, that magically gives us the ability to sacrifice all for our neighbor?

No, just simply – if you love God with all you are, when you correspond to His call on your life, then this happens.  Not because of our will or volition, it is deeper than that.  It is the work of God in our lives, what He has ordained for us.  it is a life of Holiness, it is a life, set apart to Him.

Again, not easy, a radical transformation in our lives.

So how do we do these things, things God has emphasized through His word, through the Apostles, the Prophets, in the Law of Moses, in the Gospel of Christ?

Think.

No – not think about where the solution, that won’t help.  We aren’t capable of it.

Do what the psalmist asks us to do – meditate on the Lord, on His love, on His mercy, on His promises revealed in His word. On His unfailing love.  As Paul will say, explore its depths, its height, its width, its breadth.  Realize how God’s love consumes us, how it transforms us, How the Holy Spirit makes it a reality in our life.

It sounds too easy, but keep in the forefront of your thoughts during the day the incredible love and grace of God.  Spend time just thinking about it.

Don’t limit yourself to worship and praise, to just studying the Bible in classes, or studying it as you read it.

Just read and be in awe, let the words run through your heart like a bubbling brook, occasionally like a waterfall, Like the Niagara Falls, or Iguazu Falls in South America. (Watch the movie “The Mission” to see this – and an incredible story of loving your enemy!)

Let the promises amaze you, the patience of God astonich you, the miracles and wonders of God leave you without the ability to read any further.

And delight that all of this has been done and revealed – to you… for you, for your neighbor, for that person…….

Then you will love, ot as a command, but because the gospel is alive in you, you won’t be able to resist,

It will be our lives… lived as our Lord lived.

We’ll stumble for sure, we struggle at times, but the correlation between realizing the love of God, and loving others is clear… and it is necessary…

So dwell in Him, rejoice in His presence. Know His love!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3299-3303). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Paradox of Life….in Christ

Sermon from Concordia Lutheran Church, June 29. 2014Concordia Lutheran Church - Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

The Paradox of Life in Christ

Matthew 10:34-42

IHS

 

May we understand that this grace, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, is what makes life worth living.

But I thought……             The paradox that isn’t

As I read the gospel reading first two verses last Monday, (for I did not come to bring peace… but a sword.. and cause division in homes)  other Bible passages started to run through my mind.

Isa 9:6 — For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.

Ac 10:36 — This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Ro 5:1 — Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Eph 2:14 — For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

Eph 2:17 — He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.

Col 1:20 — and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

And as I read the verses about division, I thought about the 4th Commandment, and our duty to Honor our father and mother.  Then St, John’s words, questioning how we can love God who we can’t see, when we don’t love our neighbor whom we can see.  I mean – isn’t God all about love?  The two greatest of commands are love Him and love our neighbor, right?

It seems confusing at first, that this passage contradicts so many others in scripture, indeed, some which form the basis of our relationship with God.

There is a word for this – it is called a paradox… and certainly, from the view of the world, this life we have been given in Christ is a paradox

So let’s look at this passage – and see something truly amazing…..
Yeah – Jesus does mean it –

Does Jesus actually mean it, when He talks about coming to cause division, to cause strife?  That He didn’t come to bring peace, but a weapon of war?  A sword to separate us from each other?

I mean, I like swords and knives and such, but is this the tool we need for ministry? Does following in His steps mean that we all have to carry swords and machetes? Of course not!

But does Jesus mean it, when He prophesies that families will divide, father against son, daughter against wife?  That some who hate us, will be those in our very homes?  That we have to love God more than any.  More than our parents, than our children? Or if we do not, we aren’t worthy, we aren’t capable of being in a relationship with him

Yes, He does. He means it.

As we struggle with this, it is helpful to know which of the words for “love” is used here.  It is phileo – the love usually expressed within a family.  Within that, there is a sense of loyalty, the recognition that these are “my people”, that no one takes precedence over them.  It is a tight mutual bond, one of great loyalty, one that can go deeper than we have words for, or the logic to explain.

Jesus says that this is the kind of love that we should have for Him, more than any other person in our lives.  It’s not new in scripture, remember God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac?  Remember Gideon, tearing down the statue of the idol Ba’al in his dad’s backyard?  Or the cry of Joshua to his people, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?

That word actually cuts deeper and harder for many of us. Challenging our loyalty to our family, our very natural desire to care and protect those we love is a dangerous thing.  Which is more important, the kids chance for a sports or academic scholarship, or spending time in church and Bible Study?  What about God’s commands about marriage, or wanting them to just enjoy being “in love?”  What about having to sacrifice time with our family, not to minister to a friend, but to show love and pray for an adversary, maybe their adversary?

Who is closer to us, who are we going to be loyal too?  Who are we going to listen to, and base our “right and wrong” on?

Please here me!  I am not talking about nagging people to death, or condemning those we love who aren’t living as God planned for them to live.  But there has to be an option between tolerating that which is evil and wrong in God’s eyes, and condemning them and turning our back on them.

The option that is only found… in loving God more than all. The only real option we, who trust in Jesus have….

For Jesus does mean these words, but not just to convict us of our sins, or to give Him a reason to condemn us.  This call, this command to love Him more than all others

The Reason – “being Mine”  Phileo!

One of the challenges of preaching on a portion of a chapter, is remembering the context of the entire chapter.  We noted this last week, as we talked about the context of these verses before – these are Jesus’ words to the men he is sending out, His representatives to proclaim that God’s kingdom is here, among us.  That God does care and is helping, comforting, saving and defending us.

That is the same context here.  Jesus is speaking to those who know in part, and will soon know how deep God’s love for them is, as they realize the message they are coming to give – is that God loves us so much, that His son would be crucified for us.

They recognize, intuitively, that this Jesus has for them the words of life, that He is going to free them from all that restricts life, from all that limits it from being lived to the fullest.

That when we respond to His love, when our loyalty, our priorities are all based in responding to His love.

A side note – to be explored more, but when we love Him first, when our loyalty and the primary relationship is with Him, then all the other relationships we are in take on a deeper and truer nature, they are less effected by sin, or by anxiety, they become less our gods, as we put them into God’s hands…..

We are called to walk with God, as His family.  Not just for a while, it is who we are, now and forever.  It defines us, this relationship we are in, more than our being a son, or a dad, a mom or a daughter.  More than any things else – we have to know we are loved by God to the point where we are now family.

His people, Close family, His children.

We are the people God is willing to die for, we are the people that Christ did die for, willingly, for the joy set before Him, he endured that cross.

He welcomes us to pick up ours, and walk with Him.  That may test us, as family and friends don’t get us, as they don’t understand why we do what we do, why we act like we act, as we struggle to leave behind the sinful behaviors and attitudes that they find normal. They will wonder as they see us struggle and sacrifice to love our enemies, rather than get revenge.  This relationship will test us as we struggle with our desire to do what pleases us, rather than what pleases God.

This isn’t what we have to do to save ourselves, for Jesus has done that already!  But as we realize His love, it is how we respond to His love, to His faithfulness to us. As we remember the new life He gave us in baptism, as He claimed us as His children, as we come to this altar and receive His body and blood.  As we realize that this is where we need to be, for chasing after the world’s idea of life stifles us, kills us….reduces us to mere animals

But in Him, there is life….

So welcome those who speak of His love, of His promises and yes, call you to repentance and life.  Welcome those who live life in Christ, struggling with the righteousness that is there.  Love those He brings into your life, helping them, even if it is by offering them a cup of cold water….

For following Him, walking in His steps is a life that is rewarding, for we realize the life He has given us, through the cross….

A life of God’s peace which is beyond our ability to describe, as we live it secure in Christ Jesus….. Amen!

 

 

Through You I Will Shine!

Through You I Will Shine

Isaiah 49:1-7

† In Jesus Name

 As you dwell in the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you realize that His glory shines through you, doing far more for His Kingdom than you could ever imagine!

Who is this servant who brings God glory?

As we hear this call from Isaiah to pay attention, to hear his words, written to us from distant lands and who are far far away, we need to ask the question.

Hear part of it again, starting in verse 3,

“He said to me, “You are my servant Israel, and you will bring Me glory”

So here is the question – who is it that is saying this?

Who is God’s servant, who will bring God the Father glory?  Who is it that God says to, “through you I will shine?”
The Sunday School answer is Jesus, some scholars would says the nation of Israel, others might indicate it is Paul, and missionaries and people who want to see the church grow may say it is…us.

Yet, who is this servant whom through God says “you will bring me glory”, or as I titled the sermon – “through you I will shine?”

I think we need to dig through more of the passage in order to find out.

What about this feeling of uselessness?  Is that Jesus or Us?

If we are going to find this person or persons out, let’s look at the next sentence:

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

That’s a proper response to realizing that God chose us from before our mother’s gave birth to us?  That is the response to realizing God knew our name – even then?

4  I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.

I think this would put many of us in contention for who this passage is about.  We know God’s called us, we know He knows our name.  Yet there are days where we wonder if our efforts to be faithful are working.  When our prayers don’t seem to be answered, where we have spent ourselves, exhausted ourselves in our efforts to build His kingdom, or some days, our efforts just to endure.

So is this passage about us then?

If it is, then can we finish the verse?

Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”

The real struggle in life isn’t enduring those times, but in leaving things in God’s hands, in trusting Him to make the situation be what He promised, when He promised that all things work for good for those who love Him, whom He called according to His will. When we look around us and wonder, why aren’t things reflecting the love of God, why does not it look like we are blessed by God?

Here is the catch, while we may know these feelings at times, they are also true for Jesus.  Think of the words he uttered in tears looking over Jerusalem,

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. Luke 13:34 (NLT)

Later He would say,

Luke 19:41-44 (NLT) 41  But as they came closer to Jerusalem and Jesus saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42  “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.

Just in case we in our pride think Jesus only felt this way about Old Testament Israel, read the letters to the church in Revelation, for there we see God’s call to Christians like us, who struggle to realize they are His.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus knew these questions as well, for He was tempted in every point, just as we are. Yet He was able to commit Himself into the Father’s hands

So is He the servant through whom God will shine?  Or are we?

The final “qualification”

If we go down to verse 6, there is another point to consider; that will help us determine whether this servant is us, or Jesus, or someone else.

6  He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Surely this points to our Lord, it is the very concept we sing of in the Nunc Dimitis, those words of Simeon when he saw the infant Jesus. For his ministry was seen to be just to the Jews, to restore them, that they would be readily identified as the people of God.  His ministry went beyond that, reaching out even to us, 2000 years later, in a far distant land, the land that Isaiah calls to listen, and pay attention!

I do not think it is only about Jesus though.  In our Bible Study, we’ll see Paul used the same language about Paul’s call into ministry, and about others. I would include, ABOUT US!  The people of Concordia, the people that God gathers here in the this place.

Even with this last qualification, there is a strong point to be made – that we are part of this….

The realization of the Gospel

To make my point, I will refer back to last Sunday’s sermon on Romans 6.  In the call and response we re-learned I said something – based on Paul’s understanding of our being united to Christ in Baptism….let’s see how good your memory is….

The call was, Alleluia!  His is Risen!  To my saying that, the new response is…

( “therefore WE are risen indeed!  Alleluia )

It is critical to understand the gospel, to learn to place it all in the Lord’s hands, to trust in God for the reward, that we are that united to Christ’s death and resurrection.  We need to realize that we find life in Him, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us that God has called by name, those whom He recognizes as His people.  (even if we do not yet)

So this passage is about Jesus – but because it is about Jesus, it is about us as well!  We can learn to leave everything in His hands, and trust in Him that it will be made right.  We can see that He has called us, knowing us and forming us in our mother’s wombs, and that our words can bring people to know that they are righteous in the sight of God, for that is His judgment for those who know Him.

Our strength isn’t spent for nothing and no purpose, our work isn’t useless.

The answer to that attitude is found not in trying different things, or working the old things harder.  Instead, its found in realizing that we are in Christ.

Even to the phrase that our ministry is not just found here, among the people we love.  Rather God uses us, our words, our work, to reach people throughout the world, and will continue to do so.  For what Paul said in our epistle reading this morning, to the church in Corinth.  Look there in your bulletin, for the verses are highlighted,

I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.

And let’s start at verse 7 for the second one..

Now you have every spiritual gift you need as you eagerly wait for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

For there, in partnership, in communion with Christ, we find who we’ve been called to be, the children of God. For there in Christ we know that God will shine through us!  That we will reflect His glory, and dwell in Him.

Knowing that, we find a peace that passes all understanding, which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!  AMEN?

The Challenge of Christianity…to Love

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Baptism

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Baptism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. 20 If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? 21 The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.   1 John 4:19-21 (MSG)

Jesus will enable you to have a great affection for everybody you meet, without taking away any of the affection you have for him. On the contrary, the more you love Jesus, the more room there will be for other people in your heart.  (1)

In my opinion, the greatest challenge to Christianity in America today comes down to one word:  Love.

We struggle with it, we avoid it, we avoid the very challenge of it, because it is universal.  It is not just loving those who love us.  Jesus says even the worst sinners can do that.  But it is loving people – and letting God love us when we are at our worst.

Loving others is a threat. A threat to our self-determination, a threat to our independence, a threat to our sin.  It is uncomfortable, for it demands that we sacrfice ourselves, before we realize that in that sacrifice, we find ourselves fulfilled.  Loving others is not a command of law, where our failure brings condemnation.  Loving others is a command of gospel – wherein we find the deepest levels of grace, and the greatest fulfillment.  Even so, it is difficult.

But that is where God’s love comes into play.  He doesn’t allow us to wallow in our sin, to hide in our independence, and self-determination and self centeredness.  He invades our life, calling us to a transformation that comes from being in His presence.  We can try and run from our relationship with Him, as Jonah ran from the people God called him to love- to love by sacrificing his life that they would know God’s love and mercy.  Even so, we are much better off in every way by receiving the love He invades with, the love that He invades by.

Don’t avoid His love – it will make loving the others He has brought into our lives so much easier!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3094-3096). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Do we do “devotions” or are we devoted?

29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31 (ESV)

9 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. John 15:9 (MSG)

14 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)
Jesus has died. He is a corpse. Those holy women had no expectations. They had seen how he had been abused, and how he had been crucified. How vivid in their minds was the violence of the Passion he had undergone! They knew, too, that the soldiers were keeping watch over the place. They knew that the tomb was sealed shut: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door?” they asked themselves, for it was a massive slab. But all the same…, in spite of everything, they went to be with him. Look: difficulties, large and small, can be seen at once… But if there is love, one pays no heed to those obstacles: one goes ahead with daring, with conviction, with courage. Don’t you have to confess your shame when you contemplate the drive, the daring and the courage of these women?  (1)

We hear these words from the Gospels often, we talk of the love of God weekly, if not daily, but how often do we do it?  Would we go and challenge soldiers – an attempt to move away a stone from a tomb, out of love for our Rabbi who has died?  How much more should we strive to show our love to the Resurrected Lord of Lords and King of Kings?  They  went to be with His body, the body given for them, even though they couldn’t understand this completely, they knew the miracles he had done, they had even been the recipients of that kind of grace – and they didn’t realize the grace that was about to be revealed.

Still they went!

How can we show Him a love that has recognized His love for us, the passion that God has, passion that would lead to that grave.  How can we respond in love?

John tells us, in the verses following that we remain in His love by treasuring that which He has commissioned – we often see that translated commandments – but it is more than the 10 – it is the life that God has called us to dwell in – the very work of art (Eph 2:10) that we have been created for – which includes the work – that He has planned for us.

This is nothing more, and certainly nothing less, than walking with Christ.  Realizing that each day is a gift – one that we can be at His side, as He continues to call people into a relationship with Him.  They would be our family, our friends, our co-workers, or even people we meet on the other side of the world from home.  We can’t do this simply out of a desire to obey so that we get something.  We would soon dry out, become weary, give up.

But if we love Him, if we come to adore the Lord who adores us enough to be buried… then we come….

Think often today of God’s love,

4 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15 this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16 I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17 that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18 you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19 Live full lives, full in the fullness of God! Ephesians 3:14-19 (MSG)

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2489-2496). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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