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Lord, You Really Want Me to do this? Don’t you have a better option?

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Devotional Thought of the Day:

17 When the seventy-two n came back, they were very happy and said, “Lord, even the demons obeyed us when we used your name!”
18 Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Listen, I have given you power to walk on snakes and scorpions, power that is greater than the enemy has. So nothing will hurt you. 20 But you should not be happy because the spirits obey you but because your names are written in heaven.”  Luke 10:17-20  NCV

 

10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)

I think that the hands of a priest, rather than expressing routine gestures, must tremble with excitement when administering baptism or giving the absolution of sins or blessing the sick because they become instruments of the creative power of God.

For priests, pastors and all those who minister to others, there is a fine balance between humility and confidence.  And if we are honest, it is when we are struggling with the latter that we don’t act all that humble.  I imagine there may be one or two of us that think they are God’s gift to the church. (In a way they are0  But many of us still wonder why God has put us here, why God has entrusted to us this incredible, sacred, beautiful, demanding ministry.

I love Pope Francis’s words about our ministry. He nails it when talking about the awe that hits you when you pray over someone, or see their body loose every bit of tension and anxiety as they realize God’s forgiveness, as they realize He is present.   I still can recall the eyes of people after I have baptized them, or their children.  (Two incredible “devout” atheist/agnostic types come to mind as I baptized their children – eyes bright and full of tears… and God isn’t done with them either!) But his also occurs when we pray with someone over breakfast, or see people having an “aha” at work, as they realize another dimension of God’s love because we said something.

It is in those moments that our lives do feel like a work of art, as God weaves our lives with others, and creates something wonderful. If it iis awe-inspiring to consider sinners in the hands of an angry God, how much more incredible is it to see God work through the hands of a repentant sinner who trusts in Him?

Still, my heart cries out… why?  Why me? What did I do to deserve this?

Nothing of course.

Which is where the first gospel reading helps us maintain some manner of balance.  As wonderful it is that God can use us, the even more wonderful thing is that we already are certain He’s got us, we are HIs, our names are written in the Heaven,

That is even more amazing.  As broken, as sinful, as able as I am to screw up something, God has claimed us as His.

SO tomorrow, as you go to preach, or lead worship, to distribute communion or work with the children’s ministry, or just tell the person next to you – God is with you, indeed, you are being used by God, you carry His presence within you, and it is blessing others.   Remember though, that is simply proof of a greater mystery, a greater blessing.  You are one of God’s people, He is your God, and He loves you!  (me too!)

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.

Happiness? Sex, Anxiety and the Daily Grind…. but also…

Devotional Thought of the Day:Dawn at Concordia

4  May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! Philippians 4:4 (TEV) 

61 “Happy?”  The question made me think. Words have not yet been invented to express all that we feel in the heart and in the will – when we know ourselves to be children of God!.  (1)

I just entered a chapter in Furrow that is all about happiness, or perhaps, more accurately in English – joy.

I don’t feel all that full of joy today.  I have a bear of a sermon to write ( on the plan of God revealed in “Do not Commit Adultery.” to my older congregation.   I am dealing with some anxiety because of what I know some friends are enduring things I cannot imagine. I am tired and sore and the idea of putting on a fake smile and saying, “It is well”.  I would feel like a hypocrite. a liar, and in this season of Lent, not quite right.  I am supposed to be, and in many ways I am lamenting this broken world in which we walk. THere are days when what resonates with me is not “Rejoice!” but the phrase from my teenage years, “Life a b&@*#” or as Siddhartha Buddha put it, “Life is suffering”

Rejoice always?

Yeah, Sure.

Even as I type, I know that tonight, as the beginning notes of the Kyrie are played, as the voices of our congregation sing God’s praises, as they proclaim His love, I will know joy.  It will hear such joy in laughter, as they watch an middle age pastor try to preach about God’s masterpiece of life….within the scope of God’s words about….. SEX? I will know such joy as we communion, fellowship, as we share in Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.  It will extend through-out the service, and as we eat together, sharing in each other’s lives.

But what about until then?  How will I know that joy?  How will I obey Paul’s command to “REJOICE?”

I need to hear it less as a command, more of an encouragement, a reminder,

St . Josemaria does a great job helping me see beyond what I have read (and heard ) for years.  It is as we know ourselves as God’s children that we can find that joy. Even in lament, as we know, as we trust God, and know His promises of His presence, of His love, mercy and how He cares for us, It is that incredible love that gives us a sense that all will work it out.

No wonder ancient Jews would bind the word of God to their forehead and to their hands.  TO constantly remind them of this.  It’s why I usually wear a cross, either the one embroidered on my shirt, or one around my neck.

Paul says that to the church in Phillipi, in that passage ( I chose to use the TEV this morning – because it makes it more clear)  Joy is found as we now we are in Christ. In that union.  For God has attached us to Christ, to Him in His death, and in His resurrection.  And even more, in the very presence of the Father.  Again, from Paul,

1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.Colossians 3:1-3 (TEV) 

There it is, the words of life, that remind us of our greatest joy…..>

That we aren’t alone, that God is here… with us… and we are more than just walking through this life…

There is our joy, there is our hope, there are we…. with Him.

(1)  Escrvia, Josemaria  Furrow

The Holy Spirit gives gifts… but not to individuals…

Devotional THought of the Day:

 10  For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

4  There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. 5  There are different ways to serve the same Lord, 6  and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (CEV) 

422         If the Lord has given you some natural quality or skill, you should not just enjoy it yourself or show off about it; you should use it charitably in the service of your neighbour. And what better occasion than now will you find to serve, since you live with so many souls who share the same ideal as yourself?

Yesterday I wrote about our need as believers to grow, and the responsibility of the church, (and by this I mean not the institution, but all the peope of God) to encourage and develop each other.

But that is… a little misleading.  For while we work together, while we encourage each other, while we occaisonally confront each other, it isn’t our work.  It isn’t our strenth, our skills, we don’t get to take credit for it.

It is His work, we are, together, collectively, His masterpeice, His poetry, THat’s where the word poetry comes from  – poeima – His work, His masterpiece, the very work of God.  That is who we are, not passive people, but people working with our Father in His business – in recreating this world, taking that which is broken and battered by sin and the world, and bringing His healing, His love, his reconciliation, that’s our work.

Whereever God takes us, whether it’s working in the drive through at McDonald’s or managing a department of a univerity  Whether it’s being the low man on the totem pole or being the President. It’s His placement, When we talk about HIs gifts, and the fact that He gives gifts to us, but it is not a gift to us… the gift is us to each other. We are His creation, His masterpice, but we are given to Him , and too each other.

That’s a challenge, because as gifts, we must do things, we work together, with the gifts we have become, strengthening each other, loving each other, serving each other.  That’s who we are. Not passive, not employed at at other thing… but to serve God by serving each other.

That’s what we are abot – that’s why we have gifts..

.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1889-1892). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Grateful to be used…

English: Jesus Christ - detail from Deesis mos...

English: Jesus Christ – detail from Deesis mosaic, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional?Discussion Thought of the day:

 10  We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of lifeEphesians 2:10 (NJB)

I don’t like to speak of someone being singled out to be part of a privileged elect. But it is Christ who speaks, who chooses. It is the language of holy Scripture: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy,” Saint Paul tells us.3 I know that such thoughts don’t fill you with pride nor lead you to think yourself better than other men. That choice, the root of our vocation, should be the basis of our humility. Do we build monuments to an artist’s paintbrush? Granted the brush had a part in creating masterpieces, but we give credit only to the painter. We Christians are nothing more than instruments in the hands of the creator of the world, of the redeemer of all men.  (1)

Among the mysteries of God that easily overwhelm me, is the idea that God uses us….especially that he uses me….

But this idea of someone else, even Someone else, using me – at times rubs raw against the way I have been raised.  Don’t I have a choice in the matter?  Can’t I choose when and where and … how much?

Especially the how much!

It seems like God wants an aweful lot from us at times!  First all the behaving appropriate, following the rules, do this, don’t do that, and even though I know the rules are there to protect my peace, my sanity, my eternity – there is a part of me that just…needs to rebel.  Claim some of my own time, take a spiritual day off, get some freedom…..maybe even adopt a pet (sin) or two.  I mean, does God really expect us to be available for others, serve others, love others, and forgive others, all the time?

The answer is – yeah – pretty much.

After all, He didn’t just create us, He designed and created and breathed life into us.  He created us and then cleans us up – renews us – breathes life into beings that really, only knew death.  In doing so, He makes of us even a more glorious masterpiece – but the glory is all His.  For in us – we find a masterpiece that is an incredible paradox.  Spirit and flesh, sinner and saint, creature yet friends, partners with creation, dead to sin, yet alive in Christ, part of the Body of Christ, yet also His Bride.  Living in mortal bodies, yet blessed with immortality… people who walk with God.

For we are created… to be His children.

That is His goal, that has always been His goal…. and He is the only one that can assure it.

And even as He uses us, even if that means like Paul we are to be poured out like a drink offering… we come to rejoice even in that…. and we find ourselves…grateful… joyful, that God would use us…. for that proves we are His chosen people.

AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 379-385). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness… right?

                Cleanliness is next to Godliness?  Really?

Mark 7:1–13 

 

In Jesus Name

 

May we recognize the gifts of mercy and love, that God the Father pours out on us, His children, as He cleanses us and sets us apart in Christ Jesus!

 

The Men Who Would Be Clean!

They were men driven by a noble desire, a singular focus that was admired by those they led, by those they were accountable to God to guide, to advise, to shepherd.

Even the named they were labeled with spoke of their devotion, their holiness, the fact their lives were separated from the world’s concerns, to spend all time in pursuit of holiness, and in trying to guide others into living lives that would be acceptable to God.

They were men who desired to be clean before God, and they desired that God’s people – all of them, would also be clean and righteous before a God that demanded of the people He chose and called His own

Except that label thee wore, the title granted to them, is known more today negatively, derisively, mockingly….

Pharisee…scribe…now synonymous with hypocrite, not holy man.

We see them in a way that is quite negative, hollow because of how we read scripture, and how we see them confronted.  Somehow, we miss that Jesus is trying to show them a different way.   In doing so, we become like one Pharisee, who in the temple thanked God that he wasn’t like “those” sinners.

I mean we don’t always say it exactly this way, but sometimes we come across this way…

“Thank you Lord that I am not like those hypocritical, hyper-legalistic Pharisees!

Even as we say it… we become that which we dislike…and like them, we need to remember their desire, a good and Godly desire: that we would be Men (and Women) who would be clean…

the difference being, we’ve come to understand how that happens.

We have to grasp what they overlooked, what they didn’t hear.

Is Cleanliness Next to Godliness?

         

Finish this old proverb: Cleanliness is next to….

While it is an old proverb, it is not as old as some would think.  Made famous in its present form by John Wesley in a 1791 sermon, it was a modification of this statement by Francis Bacon two centuries before:

“ ‘Cleanness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.”

 

It does sound though, like such a saying at least represents the ideas of the Pharisees.  It talks of their desire, and their concern to ensure that Jesus wasn’t teaching false doctrine.  They had the traditions, the teaching, the writings, the books of prayer, the manuals, and yet, did they really hear of what the scripture talked about, when it talked of being clean?  For example, this passage from Ezekiel:

I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols. 26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. 27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements.   Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NJB)

and from Isaiah,


33:8 I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. 9 And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them.
Jeremiah 33:8-9 (ESV)

 

Yet somehow, those who were entrusted with teaching the word of God to His people didn’t hear that God would do the cleansing, their ears were deafened, the eyes blinded, and they didn’t teach what the scriptures taught, what people were to praise God for revealing.

They taught we had to cleanse ourselves, and buying into that lie that appeals to our pride, they made so many rules for people to live by, so that they would appear clean – that they could play the part. Bursting with pride, they would claim they were holy, and many of them even believed their words, because they were based on what they were taught.  Which was wrong.  In Greek, the word hypocrites describe them so well.  It means to act, to pretend, to have no connection to the words you say, but to say them with incredible force, hoping to deceive, or at least get people to go along with the act.

That is why God says their lips praise Him, yet their hearts are fixed somewhere else – their devotion and dependence belong somewhere else. Like the Temple of that day, it was all an act.  There was no real dependence on God, and the shallowness of their system was revealed…

 

But are we any different today?  Do we do the right things, but with the idea that because we go to church, because we go to Bible Study, because we pray, we are somehow safe?  Many of the things the Pharisees recommended were indeed good things.  Personally, I like my hands and dishes and mugs and hands clean, as I start eating dinner.  I would love to see each of us with the first five books of the Bible, and the Psalms committed to memory.  Not the titles, but the entire texts.

But do we do them to impress God, to convince those around us that we are holy?

Or do we do them, to rejoice in the God who reveals that He comes to us, to love us, to comfort us, to heal us?

True Cleanliness, True Holiness

 

What the Pharisees needed to hear again, needed to see in scripture, was that it wasn’t their responsibility to cleanse themselves.  That the people of God were to find their confidence, not in their own work, but in the God who always responded to the cry of “Lord have mercy upon us!”  Who kept on calling to them, wanting them to hear…

In today’s Old Testament reading, it was put this way,

14 Because of this, I will once again astound these hypocrites with amazing wonders. The wisdom of the wise will pass away, and the intelligence of the intelligent will disappear.”

I love a God who deals with those who put on an act, not by writing them off – but by proving He is God, and a loving and merciful God.  Even though people, even though we sometimes talk about religion and god being man-made, like the pottery claiming to have created the Potter.  Jesus dismisses that silliness – by rising from the dead – something so amazing that it silences all those whose pride was in their own works.

Amazing miracles!  Not just amazing because of the overcoming of nature, but amazing because the death and resurrection of Jesus did what the Pharisees so desired to do by their own strength and reason – it provided for their cleanliness they worked for…and failed.

Their commands could not create a life that was beautiful and abundant, but what God commissioned did.  We’ll talk about those two words a bit in Sunday School, but what is amazing about the cross and resurrection is what Paul said occurred there…

 

2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life.
Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)

The Power of the Cross

         

Paul will refer to that cleansing again in our Epistle reading today.

just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.


What the Pharisees, what those who pretend to be holy, so want to convince themselves and others of – provided – no effort on their part, simply to revel in the love, to be in awe at the work of God, done in our lives!  How amazing!

It’s not our responsibility to get er done – He’s done it. He’s brought His love and mercy to bear on lives marred by every kind of sin, by every kind of unrighteousness washed away in a flood, cleansed by a blood.

Our lives, so completely unclean now described, all of us as a glorious people – without anything that mars us!. Completely Holy and without fault!

Let’s read Isaiah’s prophesy of our lives,,, there in the verse 18.

18 In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book, and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness. 19 The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the LORD. The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.


I love that phrasing – we are filled with fresh joy, and we shall rejoice – as we see and hear… Him!

Life changing, amazing, never will we be the same – because the God who would court us, and create a church that is His holy and precious and glorious bride cleanses us! Even if cleanliness were next to Godliness, with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we are found Godly!

And our life, even in the midst of that would try to mar it, would be lived in Him, fully cleansed, fully at peace… for we walk with Him! 

AMEN?

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