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Encounter God and Commune – A sermon for Holy Thursday

Encounter God and Commune
Exodus 24:3-11

† I.H.S.†

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ convince you of the feasts to come, and that you will dwell in peace until those days are here.

74 out of 2.4 Million

It struck me, as I was starting to write this sermon tonight, that while 74 of the leaders of Israel communed with God that night, it was 74 out of 2.4 million people camped there at Mount Sinai.

Those their share in the covenant meal, on behalf of those who were below.

I have to wonder if those gathered in the presence of God, eating and drinking, were aware of those who were not there with them? Did it affect their mood?

What about for the apostles in the upper that night, some 1990 years ago.  Did some think of who they wished were there?

This is getting me to think of all those I wish could be here, when things are normal, and who are not.

Some of those people are far away, in places like New Hampshire, or Sicily, or Michigan.

Others are in heaven, friends, and family who rest in God’s peace.

Some have moved on to other places, other churches.

Some, sadly to say, are struggling with sin, and are losing. Or they don’t know God loves them, and are not ready to listen to that news… quite yet.

There are a lot of people that I wish could be here… and yet, there is just a handful.

Let’s look back to the feast in Exodus, for there, we will find peace, and hope – that is a vision for the future.

But look at the feast – and what didn’t happen.

I want to read one verse again, listen to it well,
1`11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!

I love this picture!

There they are – in a room blazing with brilliance, the glory of God reflecting off of everything. A light that only God’s holiness could create! Looking at God – gazing at him!  They mouths dropped open, then eyes bugged out wide,
Despite the fact they were sinners, they were welcomed into God’s presence, so welcome they were fed a meal guaranteeing the relationship with God – for that is what a covenant meal is – that is what communion is, a meal to celebrate the relationship. It is given as a guarantee of it.

Eating and drinking in the presence of God.

With no fear of His wrath, with no hint of wrath or even disappointment on the part of God.

This is a little picture of a more substantial feast to come.

As is this covenant feast at this altar tonight.

This isn’t the feast we long for, it just helps our desire for that feast.

Just as that feast in Exodus, pointed to this- yet, even more, pointed to the feast when we all arrive before the throne.

Knowing that we can share in the suffering…

While we cannot share in the feast together this evening, there is another way we can commune, something else that we are sharing in….

When Jesus asks the apostles to wait and pray with Him when he faced suffering.

We need to realize He was doing that for those disciples and for you and me.

It is the tears that Romans describes us sharing in together; as one cries, we all dry, and when we laugh, we share in that as well. This is what He invited the apostles to

We surely share in this, and as we do, as we find a bittersweet communion.  Bitter because what we are going through is hard, it requires us to forgo one of the usual ways God strengthens and nourishes our faith, and reminds us we are His family, that we are one.

And yet to realize how much we miss it, has an oddly similar effect, as we long to share in the feast that will eventually take place.

Desire the Feast – and yes, the feasts to come.

The feast that is yet to come, the feast of the bread and wine, the feast of being welcome home into not only Jesus’ presence but the presence of the Father.

Not just a small percentage, but the entire people of God, Old Testament and New, Jesus and Gentile, the entire one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, united in Jesus Christ.

This is our hope, our expectation, and nothing can separate us from it, for we cannot be separated from our God.  AMEN!

 

Communion of a Different Sort

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
36  Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Matthew 26:36-38 (NLT2)

Therefore, when I suffer, I do not suffer alone, but Christ and all Christians suffer with me, for Christ says, “He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye” [Zech. 2:8]. Thus others bear my burden, and their strength is my strength. The faith of the church comes to the aid of my fearfulness; the chastity of others endures the temptation of my flesh; the fastings of others are my gain; the prayer of another pleads for me. In brief, such care do the members show one another that the more honorable members cover, serve, and honor the less respected members, as is so beautifully set forth in 1 Corinthians 12 [:22–26]

When I was 8 years old, a family friend who was a priest asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and specifically why.

I’ve been doing that now for over twenty years,

Well, sort of.

I told him I wanted to be a priest, and I am a pastor. Most people would say that is close enough, others might argue differently. But I specifically said, even though I didn’t understand why, that what I wanted to do was commune them, to give them Jesus,

And this evening, on the night of the feast where we would normally celebrate the first Lord’s Supper, it cannot be done for most of “my” people.

I know that some of them will cry because they cannot be here. I know it will wipe me out. I know other pastors who are struggling with this, too, as some simply will go without, and others will try to be innovative. I cannot and will not blame or crucify any of them. Simply put, a pastor is put into the life of people to reveal to them Jesus in their life by explaining the word of God and providing for them the sacraments they need.

Yes, I said, need!

People who are dealing with brokenness, sin, health issues, doubts, anxieties, and fears all need to know God is with them, loves them, will sustain them.

And just as our people need them, pastors have ot find a way to care for their people.

Even in these unmet needs, we find another kind of communion, a sharing in the suffering. For when one hurts, we all hurt.  When one weeps, all do. And there will be a day when we all laugh, and dance and sing, and shout amen.

Until that time, when joy runs amuck, we share, we have a communion based in suffering, but a communion where Jesus still gives us Himself, His body broken and His blood shed, for us. This is the hardest communion, it is the sharing in the dark night of the soul, Yet, it is a journey we never take alone. Jesus is with us, even as He endured his dark night alone, He assures us we will never be alone in these times.

As we share in it, may we know the promise of life, the promise of everything being made new…

And may e know He is with us…

AMEN!

( P.S., please pray for all pastors and priests – this weekend may be one the hardest in our ministries, as we try to do…what we really cannot.)

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 161–162.

Jesus gave thanks…and broke…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

“Give us this day, the food We need…”

39      I see myself like a poor little bird, accustomed only to making short flights from tree to tree, or, at most, up to a third floor balcony… One day in its life it succeeded in reaching the roof of a modest building, that you could hardly call a skyscraper. But suddenly our little bird is snatched up by an eagle, who mistakes the bird for one of its own brood. In its powerful talons the bird is borne higher and higher, above the mountains of the earth and the snow capped peaks, above the white, blue and rose pink clouds, and higher and higher until it can look right into the sun. And then the eagle lets go of the little bird and says: Off you go. Fly! Lord, may I never flutter again close to the ground. May I always be enlightened by the rays of the divine sun—Christ—in the Eucharist. May my flight never be interrupted until I find repose in your Heart.

As I have been contemplating the idea of Jesus praying His prayer, and our being able to listen in to the Father hearing, and answering, I arrive at the prayer and promise for God to provide all we need.

Oddly enough, it arrives on the same day we celebrate the same Jesus, reclining at the table with his disciples, taking bread, giving thanks, and giving his disciples His body and blood, the bread and wine.

Luther would talk of this section of the Lord’s prayer being the faith which asks God to provide not only the bread, but all things necessary to life, and more.  While we don’t picture Jesus being weak, being dependent, that was what He became, for our sake.  He needed to eat, and He needed to pray to the Father.

Jesus needed to depend on Him, especially during Holy Week.  Imagine eating with friends, knowing that they would desert you.  Imagine that two would betray you, one to your death, one in your time of need.  Imagine knowing better than anyone the sacrifice the bread and wine foretold, even as we proclaim that same death now, as we commune.  Jesus trusted the Father, and knew His prayers would be answered.  We too can pray with Him, knowing this.  Even when, especially when we bear our own crosses.

All we need, God provides.

In praying with Jesus, we are the little sparrow of St. Josemaria, caught up with the eagle,   We learn to trust in our heavenly Father, we learn to lay all we need at His feet, we learn to trust in Him for the bread, not just of earth, but the Body and Blood of Christ, what the ancients called the bread of angels. How great how incredible, how uplifting.

At the cross, where His body is broken… His blood shed.

When Jesus trusts in the Father to provide all He needs, all we need…..

He took the bread, and gave thanks…

Amen!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 366-374). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Evangelical Catholicism Pt IV: Why have churches shrunk?

Discussion Thought of the Day:

“If a robust Evangelical Catholicism, formed by Word and Sacrament to take the Gospel of truth and love “into the deep” of the modern and postmodern world, is the deeply reformed Church to which the entire trajectory of Catholic development from Leo XIII to Benedict XVI points, and which the Second Vatican Council envisioned, then the great postconciliar failure of Catholicism— the collapse of the Church in Christianity’s historical heartland, Western Europe— comes into sharper focus. Western European Catholicism’s demise was not, it becomes clear, the result of an internal civil war between Catholic progressives and Catholic traditionalists. Nor are the prescriptions of either of these exhausted camps likely to lead to revival and reform in the future. The Church in Europe has been in free fall throughout the postconciliar years because too many of its people ceased to believe that the Gospel is true. The crisis of Catholicism in Europe did not come about because the institutional Church faltered and its people subsequently bailed out. The crisis came because the people of the Church (including the clergy) ceased to believe with passion and conviction, ceased to find joy in the presence of the Lord— and sought their happiness elsewhere. Because of that, the institution (which in some countries, such as Germany and Italy, remains extremely wealthy) faltered— and seems to be collapsing in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The Catholic future in Europe lies not in managerial reforms (although those are needed), but in a renaissance of faith, which will likely come (as such things often do) from outside the formal structures of Catholic life (i.e., parishes and dioceses) and from within renewal movements and new forms of Catholic community. There, the vision of Evangelical Catholicism is alive. And if that vision attains critical mass, following the authentic promptings of the Holy Spirit, it may eventually reform— and transform— the institutional Church.” (1)

What I read above, though directed at the Roman Catholic Church by one of its own, I believe is equally true for all churches and all denominations and especially my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

It’s not a matter a matter of who is right in the worship wars, or the supposed division of being faithful versus being missional.  It doesn’t have to do, as much as we think it might – with who is in power, for I think that where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administer – that is where the church is.  The hierarchy exists to serve – to be a blessing to the people, as they serve the sacraments and are nothing but conduits through which God’s love and mercy flows.  And I have seen both churches that are contemporary, and that are high liturgical and that are 1950’s dream churches – that all are growing – and that all are failing to reach their community.  (Recently in Rome, I saw a church filled with people for a high Latin Mass – all of the with great joy as they looked to the sacrament.)  As Wiegel notes – we can reform all our admin, we can put allt he right systems in place and run programs and have staffing, but it will be in vain.  And our churches will continue to fail – and depend on what god has supplemented the God who came to us, and died.

I highlighted part of Wiegel’s words above in red for a reason, this is the only thing I see that makes a difference in a church, no matter the size, no matter the budget, no matter whether it is growing or not. It is, clearly this one principal – do they get that they are in the presence of God, do they celebrate His love and mercy and His presence.  Do we get that the Lord’s Supper, the focus of this day, isn’t about the rote movements – but as one of my oldest favorite songs describes – “God and Man at Table are sat Down”  DO we realize His presence, His love, cleansing not just our feet but our lives, healing us, transforming us, the Holy Spirit residing with us!

Do we get that God has invited us to be not just His servants, but as Jesus says, His friends?  To dwell in HIs glory, to be adopted children of the King?

You want such and such style of worship? Fine. You want such and such programs? They are out there!  You want a cozy intimate church where everyone knows you name?  You want a church that is involved in missional work?  Or in serving the poor?  Or in saving the unborn?  Or in educating everyone?  All good things… BUT

Above all, desire this – to be in a place that understands these words:

The Lord is with you!

And respond back… with fervor, with conviction, and with love…

And Also with you ( or and with your Spirit)

(1)Weigel, George (2013-02-05). Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 51-52). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

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