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Why I Don’t Care How Fast Your Church is Growing (or Shrinking)

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:

27  I will live there with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28  When I place my Temple there to be among them forever, then the nations will know that I, the LORD, have chosen Israel to be my own people.” Ezekiel 37:27-28 (TEV)

I want you to know that God has never yet punished the world more harshly than by allowing blind and ignorant leaders to exist, who destroy us by withholding the Word of God and our bread. Let the Turks be Turks. This plague surpasses them. Woe unto us for not realizing this and praying for it to cease!
On the other hand, God has never been more gracious to the world than when he granted it well-informed and devoted spiritual leaders, who supplied this Word daily and abundantly. Christendom, and every Christian soul, is born in and through the Word of God.

The whole point of justification by faith is God’s scandalous, crazy, and wonderful gift of love.

Luther’s words are scathing, brutal, and today are as true as they ever have been.

O sure, we have more pastors with higher education perhaps, more and more of my friends are getting Doctor of Ministry and Ph.D./Th.D  degrees. I am going for one myself.

So why am I saying that we are in a period where church leaders are blind and ignorant?

I think it is because we are spending most of our time on things besides the gospel. We are trying to find the answers to the declining church attendance, the aging church, how to fight the decline in morality, the sociological and political jungles out there.  We hear the latest Barna report,, the latest Pew Research Study, the latest from our favorite religious blogger/vlogger/podcast and we treat our parishioners to our newfound wisdom, our conservative theological acumen, or our theory on how to get our churches to grow and be relevant while staying confessionally centered.

We might even wax eloquently on the core doctrine of Justification by Faith!

Yet we forget the point of justification is to return us to God, to cause us to walk in the presence of God. To realize, using Dr. Kreeft’s words, that God is scandalous, and crazy, as He loves us!

I don’t care if your church is growing 40 percent a year, or declining as you weed out the refuse. If pastors and church leaders aren’t revealing to people the wonderful, crazy, scandalous love of God for them, their work is a curse!  Whether the church is 2000 people on Sunday morning, or 24 faithful, confessional, traditional people.

We have to get back to preaching about God’s love for us broken people. It has to be our message.  We have to reveal to them that love as we preach and teach, as we give voice to God’s forgiving them (a wonderful, crazy, scandalous thing on its own,) as we give them the Body and Blood to eat and drink.

Pastors, do these things – we know they bring life to our people.  People, pray for your pastors, ask them to focus on revealing God’s love for you, constantly.  You are in this all together, and you are not alone.  For the scandalous, crazy, wonderful God who loves you, is with you!  AMEN!

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), 55–56.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 25.

Advent Streams: Singing – a sermon on Isaiah 35:1-10

Altar with communionStreaming to a Joyous Place!
Isaiah 35:1-10

† Jesus, Son, Savior †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ cause you to sing!

Getting excited…

I had a great conversation (well, we sent messages across the internet) with a promising young theologian this week. He went to the youth group here back in the day, and he asked me some questions about advent.

As we were talking about the idea that Advent is just as much about the Second Coming as Christmas, you could see his mind spinning and a grin break out as he wrote:

“The hope is that the whole of creation can finally Shabbat (that is rest)!

:” and you can wrap in that from the winter (sin) comes the new spring and the new life”

“I like it.  I mostly remember the songs and candles of Advent. But it’s awesome to really dig into what the message is all about”

And finally,

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation.  The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

He gets it, that advent is not about looking back to the past, because Christmas is beautiful and the kids in Sheep hats are cute, but advent is about looking forward to the second coming and getting excited about what it means.

The first time, Jesus came and dwelt in our presence.  This time, He is coming to bring us back, so we can dwell in the Father’s presence.

You saw a description of that day when even the wilderness and desert will be glad!

Of all the cool things that will happen, I want to focus on two this morning,

Here is the first…

Those who can’t speak…

Hear the first part of verse 6 again.

“The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!”

Now, I look forward to the day when not one member of Concordia needs a cane or a walker, but they are lining up to go in the bounce house after

But what I am looking more towards is when those who cannot speak sing out for joy.

Interestingly, this is not just any song, it is the song of Jubilee in Hebrew, the rejoicing when every debt is cancelled, when everything is restored. It is the most joyous of sabbaths, the greatest rest in the presence of God that could be known in a lifetime.

That is what the people that can’t sing, learn to sing.

That is what being in the presence of God, and knowing how much he loves you does. It happens when we realize that He has taken care of all our sin, when everything we’ve ever done that has hurt someone, betrayed them, crushed their spirit is forgiven, all of it. I think it will be something like this,

Free at last! Free at last, praise God Almighty I am free of sin… at last!

Or maybe more like this…

Praise God from whom all blessing flow…praise Him all Creatures ..(and let them sing it out)

Streaming in..

If you think that was something now, imagine what it will be like in a year, when there will be 60-100 more people here?

Or what it will be like with a couple billion here, around the throne of God.  All excited because Christ has returned, the walkers and canes are tossed aside, and we are singing God’s praises. And all the other blessings are being realized.

When we see Jesus, who died that we might live eternally.

That bore the cost of sin so we didn’t have to,… not that’s not right.

He bore the cost of sin, so we could be with God the Father, forever.

That’s why verse 10 means so much, and so amazes me.

10  Those who have been ransomed by the LORD will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness.

Imagine how great that procession is going to be, every person for who Jesus died for, every person healed of everything, from blindness and being unable to walk to cancer and heart diseases, and most of all, healing of the damage that sin has done to us.

Ransomed, all the debt paid off we will flood into heaven like a flash food.. the mega crowd of billions heading to see God, to worship Him, to praise Him, to hear Him welcome us all home.

This is what we wait for in advent, and get a little foretaste of, every time we hear we are forgiven, every time we hear He is with us, every time we remember what He promised here, and see it again as another person is cleansed in the waters of baptism… We experience His presence, as he takes our cares away as we realize our prayers are answered, in ways more precious than we can imagine.

It is just as Brandon noted..with one thing added in… the Trinity.

“That is the Christian life, isn’t it?  We look to a future hope of a restored creation with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! The whole of scripture points to it, starting in Genesis 3!”

And every time Jesus meets us here, as we gather, and once again receive His Body and Blood…

This is advent, a time of now and not yet, a time where we glimpse a little of what it will be like when He returns because He has dwelt among us….and we beheld His glory, just as we will, even more clearly when He comes among us, and we dwell in the Father’s presence.  Amen!

“we”

 

Combined 4

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22 So let’s come near God with pure hearts and a confidence that comes from having faith. Let’s keep our hearts pure, our consciences free from evil, and our bodies washed with clean water. 23 We must hold tightly to the hope that we say is ours. After all, we can trust the one who made the agreement with us. 24 We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. 25 Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.  Heb 10:25

544    The Communion of the Saints. How shall I explain it to you? You know what blood transfusions can do for the body? Well, that’s what the Communion of the Saints does for the soul.

There is a challenge today that the church needs to embrace.

One that describes us as the author of Hebrews does, in the third person plural.  “Our,” “We”, “You” (the plural kind not singular.) these are words we need to restore to practice in the church.

Our faith is not an individualistic faith, it is always a corporate sharing of pain and sorrow, a sharing of joy and wonder at the grace of God.

That is why St Josemaria pictures it as an infusion of life as the Blood that is shared covers our sins as it brings life to us as a community, as a body, as the Body of Christ. For when a person is weak in their faith, the faith of the community lifts them up, comforting them and reminding them of the presence of God.

Without that infusion, life takes its toll, draining us of energy and the ability to depend on God. Without hearing others say the Lord is with you, without knowing that they are praying for you, we battle with the idea that the battle is ours, that we are alone. We need that input, we need the comfort and the encouragement we receive through the church, broken as she may appear.

“We” are the church, the people of God whom He ministers to through His word and the Sacraments. We need to be her…together.

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Don’t Rush Past Thanksgiving (or Advent) to get to Christmas!

Devotional Thought of the Day

33 Sir, I am your slave. Please let me stay here in place of Benjamin and let him return home with his brothers. 34 How can I face my father if Benjamin isn’t with me? I couldn’t bear to see my father in such sorrow… …Yes, I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt. 5 Don’t worry or blame yourselves for what you did. God is the one who sent me ahead of you to save lives. ….
Tell your brothers to load their donkeys and return to Canaan. 18 Have them bring their father and their families here. I will give them the best land in Egypt, and they can eat and enjoy everything that grows on it. 19 Also tell your brothers to take some wagons from Egypt for their wives and children to ride in. And be sure to have them bring their father. 20 They can leave their possessions behind, because they will be given the best of everything in Egypt.
Gen. 44:33-45:1, 4-5, 17-20 CEV

One good deed is more worth than a thousand brilliant theories. Let us not wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of work, but do just the things we “find to do” day by day. We have no other time in which to live. The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall have any time but time present. Then do not wait until your experience has ripened into maturity before you attempt to serve God. Endeavour now to bring forth fruit. Serve God now

You may just have read the excerpts from my devotional reading this morning and thought that I am a little… confused.

After all, neither reading has anything to do with Christmas, Thanksgiving or Advent. You probably have a point, yet,please listen to me for a moment.

Far too often we look past this moment, thinking of something in the future. At least I do, and in the process I miss the work God is doing, right now, today, here where I am. Other times, I miss where I am because I am haunted by my past. (this is starting to sound a little like A Christmas Carol!) We have to hear Spurgeon’s urging us to to live in the present, we have to see what God is doing.

We see that in the in the three voices from Genesis. They all live in the moment, and find themselves acting like Jesus.

Judah, remembering how he didn’t help Joseph, is willing to lay his life down for his brother Benjamin. He lives in the moment, and acts like Jesus would (maybe for a different motive) but he is willing to take the heat, and deal with the wrath that could be poured out on his brother. Jesus couldn’t go back tot the Father without his brother either, so He took your place.

Joseph, lived in the moment as well, looking past the sins committed against him, was able to see God’s hand in bringing him to this moment, for the purpose of saving lives. Despite the pain, despite all the suffering, he was sure that God had him there, and was able to minister out of the present moment, even to those who sinned against him. Sound familiar?

And then there is the Pharoah, the guy who ministers in the present, welcoming his “new” people home, and ministering to those who were broken by the famine, and were wasting away. He welcomes them into His presence and gives them of the best that He has. He even tells them to leave all the stuff they had behind, for he will provide all they need. Again, we see that in the moment, someone acting like God, who has us leave the brokenness of our spiritually famished lives behind, giving us more life than we can ever imagine,

There is something about living in the moment, seeing those in need around us, and ministering to them. Something that allows us to be God’s person in this place, brought here in advance, to save people.

So look around, and see who is there…

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

They Didn’t Know, but He Did!

They Didn’t Know,
But He did
Luke 23:27-43
† In Jesus Name †

May the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ help you to know that you will be with Him in paradise.

They Didn’t Know – 1 Cor. 2:8

I have a confession to make.

When it comes to politics, I am slightly… okay… mostly… apathetic!

I like to blame it on scripture, you know, passages like Psalm 146,

3  Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. Psalm 146:3 (NLT2)

Or Psalm 118

8  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in people. 9  It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8-9 (NLT2)

I mean –I can justify my apathy there, can’t I?

But if I am honest, it is because I have known a few politicians in my life, and I don’t understand them, or a system where what is popular is better than what is right by God’s standard.

I’ve even got one more passage that talks about people in power, one that nails their lack of knowledge clear. Paul tells the church in Corinth this,
7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8  But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (NLT2)

Jesus saw this as well, as he looked out on those who were crucifying them and said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

They didn’t know what they were doing as they crucified Jesus, and what they really did not understand was that they were doing exactly what they needed him to do/

Hear that again, in their ignorance they did exactly what God wanted them to do, what He needed them to do.

They crucified Jesus.

He did

When Jesus forgives them, he does so with full knowledge.  Not just the experience of the crucial pain of the cross, but the full knowledge of why He was hanging there. To be able to say “you are forgiven”. To be able to say to us, as we realize the depth of our sin, rise, go in peace, your sins are forgiven, sin no more…. Only to be ready to tell that to us again the next time.

Presently I am reading Luther’s little pamphlet on meditating upon the cross. It is powerful, not just in the depth of walking us through the depths of our sin, but helping us realize the love of God that causes Jesus to volunteer to bear that pain. He chose it, knowing over and over from where the Triune God inspired the Old Testament, that He had to suffer and die!

Time and time he told the apostles it had to come about, that He had to die for them, that He had to die for us.

They didn’t see it coming, the leaders didn’t, the people didn’t, and Jesus died, which would have never happened if they truly understood and lived their lives knowing He was the Son of God..

And the thief realized it…

Only one man that day, dealing with the pain of his own sin, realized what Jesus being the Messiah meant. The man being crucified next him. 

Hear this man’s words again,

Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Do you realize how crazy this is to say?  How insane/

They are hanging there, on the cross, both about to die! To die! 

Hey Jesus, when this is over, can I be part of what you’ve got coming next?  Please?  I mean, really Jesus, and as he leans to speak to Jesus, the pain once again robs him of all His strength.

please..? Can you imagine the joy that comes from hearing Jesus response? 

I am not sure if he even heard the word, day….. or maybe the word paradise.

He heard what was in between though, “YOU will be with ME”

“You will be with me”

That is why Jesus came to the cross, to be able to say those words to that sinner.  To that man who spent his life doing what He shouldn’t do, and not doing what he should do.  The kings and leaders who crucified him didn’t know this was Jesus’ intent.  Neither did all the people who cried “Crucify Him” and mocked him.

By the prompting of the Holy Spirit, this man knew… and he heard the sweetest words.

Words that every sinner can hear.  Including you and I.

Jesus says, “you will be with ME!”

And as we hear that, all else fades away. 

The sin, the shame, the grief, the pain. The doubts, the anguish…. It all faded away faster than this man’s life was, for he hear Jesus’s words…

We need to hear that, even as we struggle with out own brokenness and apathy.  We need to realize that all things – – including Jesus dying for our sins, works out for good, so even the ignorance of kings and leaders can, as well.

“You will be with ME!”

You will be with ME!

We indeed are with Him!!  AMEN!

Let us pray….

Our Responsibility to Each Other…from the beginning

Devotional Thought of the Day:

The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it. 16 But the LORD told him, “You may eat fruit from any tree in the garden, 17 except the one that has the power to let you know the difference between right and wrong. If you eat any fruit from that tree, you will die before the day is over!”
18 The LORD God said, “It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him.” 7 So the LORD took some soil and made animals and birds. He brought them to the man to see what names he would give each of them. Then the man named the tame animals and the birds and the wild animals. That’s how they got their names.
None of these was the right kind of partner for the man. 21 So the LORD God made him fall into a deep sleep, and he took out one of the man’s ribs. Then after closing the man’s side, 22 the LORD made a woman out of the rib.
The LORD God brought her to the man, 23 and the man exclaimed,
“Here is someone like me!
She is part of my body,
my own flesh and bones.
She came from me, a man.
So I will name her Woman!”

genesis 2:15-23 CEV

Is there an unconverted servant or child absent this morning? Make special supplication that such may, on their return to their home, gladden all hearts with good news of what grace has done! Is there one present? Let him partake in the same earnest entreaty.

Quite early on, the name catechesis was given to the totality of the Church’s efforts to make disciples, to help men believe that Jesus is the Son of God so that believing they might have life in his name, and to educate and instruct them in this life, thus building up the body of Christ.

Every November 1 I set up my new “devotional readings” for the year. Usually it includes a devotional work or two, a different translation of the Bible (from the Douay-Rheims to the New Jerusalem, from the ASV to the GNT and this year the CEV) and a couple of harder texts, like the Book of Concord.

This year, as I started, I was reminded of our need to care for one another, for our need to pass on our faith, to be discipled and to disciple. That would seem obvious in Spurgeon’s’ quote, taken from a discussion about Philemon, and what it means to have a church that is your home. And the Catholic Catechism makes it clear that discipleship is the work of the church.

But I see this as well in the creation of Adam, and in the command to not eat the fruit of the tree that gives the knowledge of right and wrong. We see there that even as God gives Adam a partner, he has a responsibility to her, to ensure she won’t eat of that tree.

And he fails.

He doesn’t equip her whether enough or at all, with the simple knowledge he has been entrusted. In fact, he will allow her to convince him to try. This first peer-pressured sin is in fact, a sign of his failure to take responsibility.

We need to remember we are in this together! Not just those in the church, but all people, of all backgrounds, all languages, all ages. This is who we are. James writes

19  My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20  remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20 (NIV)

This isn’t easy in our day, but it is what we are called to do, called in loving our brother and sister, our wife and children. To teach and disciple, to call back, and care for, to remind each other these simple words,

THE LORD IS WITH YOU!

and someday, rejoice together as we all realize how true it is!


C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 8.

Working on the Core, Spiritually

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day

8  “How can I give you up, Israel? How can I abandon you? Could I ever destroy you as I did Admah, or treat you as I did Zeboiim? My heart will not let me do it! My love for you is too strong. 9  I will not punish you in my anger; I will not destroy Israel again. For I am God and not a mere human being. I, the Holy One, am with you. I will not come to you in anger. Hosea 11:8-9 (TEV)

386    Don’t forget, my son, that for you there is but one evil on earth: sin. You must fear it and avoid it with the grace of God.

I recently started taking my son ot the gym. His first day, the trainer started working with him and talked about working on his core – and if he takes care of that (unlike Dad has) everything else he does would benefit him far more.

The thought was in the back of my mind as I wrote a paper last week on the Biblical theological foundations of worship. There had to be a core thought that threaded through scripture. FOr while the form may change a little from Adam’s sons times, through Abraham and Moses, through the Kingdom and into the New Testament, the core doesn’t change.

It cannot change.

That core is our struggle with sin, and more importantly, the ability to know God’s heart, and instead of fearing wrath, responding in confession, and the desire to be forgiven and healed.

A theologian would talk of this as the primacy of the Doctrine of Justification. I think, pastorally, we should talk of it as our core. Not core doctrine – but core as the place where our strength health comes from, the place that if it is swell exercised and strengthened, the rest of our spiritual nature will follow. If it is breaking down, if it is ignored, then the rest of our spiritual formation will crumble, and we will struggle, and even let our faith be minimalized and maybe disappear.

If however, we remember God’s heart, His determination and His unwillingness to give up on His people, that trust grows. If we understand the strength and power of His love, the love that raised Jesus from the dead, then we begin to trust Him, and trust Him with our brokenness.

There are exercises in the gym to strengthen our physical core. Crunches, working on certain machines, doing certain stretches. Spiritually there are exercises as well, all of them based on interacting with the love and mercy of God. Bible Study can be, as can prayer. But those things can often be focused on something other and our relationship with God, and our relationship with others. The sacraments are great core practices, as they cause us to encounter this heart of God.

Specifically, I want to address Confession and Absolution. For there we encounter God’s command to those serving you, and the power in hearing the words, “Your sins are forgiven”

You need to hear that. I do as well. We need to desire to hear that as well, so that when we do sin, we run to God, knowing how He won’t give up on us, and how He is there to heal and forgive, even to strength against temptation.

This is our core, this relationship where broken sinners can trust God enough to let Him deal with their brokenness.

So come, confess your sins. Hear you are forgiven, and strengthen your ability to depend on the God who loves you…

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 976-977). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ministering to The Agnostic (they aren’t just who you think they are!)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

25  Then King Darius wrote to the people of all nations, races, and languages on earth: “Greetings! 26  I command that throughout my empire everyone should fear and respect Daniel’s God. “He is a living God, and he will rule forever. His kingdom will never be destroyed, and his power will never come to an end. 27  He saves and rescues; he performs wonders and miracles in heaven and on earth. He saved Daniel from being killed by the lions.” 28  Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Daniel 6:25-28 (TEV)

Let us follow Jesus, knowing that he accompanies us and carries us on his shoulders. This is our joyful hope that we must bring to this world. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope that Jesus gives us!

There are times in life where we don’t know. Even the strongest Christian (whatever that means) throws their hands up and cannot explain what God is doing, and to be honest, we wonder if he is still there. Health issues, work issues family issues, even issues at church can get so complicated, so overwhelming, we forget that God is God. That God is our God..

And we drift into agnosticism.

We know there is a God, we know the data, but for the moment we can’t recognize Him, or His presence. We just don’t know!

We made try to hide it, ignore it, repress it, but we need to deal with it.We need to get past that stage, we need to rediscover the hope that we once had, as we realized the Lord is with us.

Except we cannot, unless we encounter the Daniel in our lives.

The one who God sends, whose faith is strong in that moment, who is able to speak for God, the one we need to hear, the One we need to be able to be in awe of, the One we need to be able to respect, the One we need to know will save and rescue us, Who will perform wonders and miracles in order to make us His own, to restore our broken faith.

We need to cry out with the boy’s father, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief!”

This is why in Hebrews 10 it tells us to always meet together, to encourage each other. For while some are Christ’s hands and feet, surely others are His shoulders, upon which we are carried, by Jesus. We need each other for this, for there are days we are Daniel, and there are other times we are the Darius of the world, testifying to the goodness of God, even though we see it second hand…

He is with us.. yet in our brokenness, we need someone else to help us see it.

God provides them!

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), 325.

Who is Your Man? Luke 14:1-14

If you would like to see the video of this sermon and the service it was part of, please check it out on my Facebook page or Bit.ly/concordiacerritos
Also, please leave your comments about the sermon, the feedback helps me prepare sermons in the future.

Who is Your Man?
Luke 14:1-14

I.H.S.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ bring you comfort and peace, allowing you the chance to look around, and see others need for that comfort and peace!

Who is “this man”… for you?

As they settled down for dinner, all attention was on Jesus, the “honored” guest.

I say “honored” that way, because the Greek is clear, they were on guard, not sure about what he was going to say.  They had heard cool things about His ministry, the miracles, the crowds. But they also heard about the concerns, that people had claimed he was a blasphemer, that there had been mobs that had tried to stone him, and that many of the pharisees stood against them, perhaps even the one who invited him this night!

and off in the back, was a man no one noticed.

How he had gotten there, it doesn’t say.  The pain levels he was encountering were severe.  Whether the swollen legs were cause by heart failure, or by blood clots, or diabetes, we don’t know.  But they didn’t have water pills in those days, and his legs were many times larger than they should be.

Even still, he was there, this man that was overlooked, and not one noticed.

Except Jesus.  He did, and despite the opposition, he performed a miracle, and healed this man!

Which brings us to my sermon question for this day.

If we apply this passage to your life, who is “your” man?  Who is the person in need that you are overlooking? Who is in need? Into whose life had God drawn you, so that you could help them?

The Parable and the Man

After Jesus heals the man, he sends him off.  Then he talks to the pharisees and the experts in religion about what He had done and whether it was kosher to do it on the Sabbath. They had a paradox to work through, an ethical dilemma.  Minister to someone in need, and break man’s interpretation of God’s law, or obey God’s law and leave the man in pain and in danger of dying?

They can’t answer.

So Jesus tells the parable, and gives them direction.  We need to realize that Jesus wasn’t changing the subject, this is the same context, the same conversation.

So who is the more distinguished person Jesus advises everyone to leave the best seat for?

Looking at the text of the entire passage, I think it is the man who is hurting, the one whose body is broken.  The reason I say this is the words from verse fourteen,

Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.”

The most distinguished people in God’s way of thinking, are those in need.  Whether it is because they are physically broken, mentally broken, or spiritually broken by sin and its partners, guilt and shame, these are the people that have value in God’s mind. 

For when you care for them, you are caring for Jesus

I mentioned those broken by sin, by guilt and shame. I think we need to examine how we treat those people. I am not just talking about sinners like murderers and rapists, I am talking about those who have trouble with envy, or gossip, lust, or using God’s word in the wrong way, to curse or swear.  We can add those who don’t use God’s name to praise or pray to Him as well, or who run to other gods, like drugs or sex or work, rather than depend on God to bring healing to their brokenness.

They are the people, these people that are broken and crushed by the weight of sin, that we need to be aware of, that we need to see, that we need to serve.  They are the people that we need to invite to feast, and it was for such people that this place, this altar was put here. 

Not for people who think they have a right to them

But for those who are broken, for those who are sinners

For you and I…
.
The Gospel – for Jesus, “this man” is for you

You see, you and I can have several roles in this story. Far too often, we are like the ones who try to get the best seats in the house.  That needs to stop! We can be like Jesus, seeing those who need to see and hear and find healing.   That should be our goal, and every single one of us needs to become accustom to seeing and inviting those God is preparing, those who God would see us help. 

But before we are ready to imitate Jesus, we all need to see our role in this story as being the man with the swollen arms and legs, the man who is broken and needs healing. 

The sinner who Jesus comes to and says, “Friend, we have a better place for you!”

We have to realize that is where we start, and as you come to communion this morning, hear Jesus’s voice calling to you, bringing you here, and remember that He is healing your brokenness.

For that is why He died on the cross, to take than sin from us. That is why we united to His death and resurrection in baptism.  That is why the book of Hebrews echo’s Jesus invitation,

16  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16 (NLT2)

My friends, we need to think through what He’s done, to remember this death we proclaim every time we commune, to remember the forgiveness that is ours because His blood was shed for us.

As we look around this room, and around our community, looking for these broken people God values, may we never forget He looked around, saw us broken, and invited us to dine with Him.  AMEN!

Show Me the… Works?

Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” James 2:18 (TEV)

Since faith brings the Holy Spirit and produces a new life in our hearts, it must also produce spiritual impulses in our hearts. What these impulses are, the prophet shows when he says (Jer. 31:33), “I will put my law upon their hearts.” After we have been justified and regenerated by faith, therefore, we begin to fear and love God, to pray and expect help from him, to thank and praise him, and to submit to him in our afflictions. Then we also begin to love our neighbor because our hearts have spiritual and holy impulses.

Even more upsetting, the devil can take your best works and reduce them to such dishonorable and worthless things and render them so damnable before your conscience that your sins scare you less than your best good works. In fact, you wish you had committed grievous sins rather than done such good works. Thus, the devil causes you to deny these works, as if they were not done through God, so that you commit blasphemy.

That is why it is important to learn and practice all one’s life long, from childhood on, to think with God, to feel with God, to will with God, so that love will follow and will become the keynote of my life. When that occurs, love of neighbor will follow as a matter of course. For if the keynote of my life is love, then I, in my turn, will react to those whom God places on my path only with a Yes of acceptance, with trust, with approval, and with love.

In the movie Jerry MaGuire, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character lashes out Tom Cruise’s character with the phrase, “show me the money!” Except it is not about money. It is a plea for Tom’s character Jerry to show how important the relationship is, that it isn’t just about the money that can be made from negotiating a deal.

Inside the Christian faith, our actions often speak louder than our words. They testify as to whether the words we say are true, or whether we are those who call out “Lord! Lord!” and yet don’t have a solid relationship with the Lord, in fact,t hey don’t have a relationship at all.

It is not about our works, it is not about the obedience, it is about the relationship. Works simply testify that the relationship exists. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, we think with God, we feel with God, and love follows as a matter of course! That love causes action, it creates the work, but the work is never apart from the presence of God.

We know we aren’t saved by works (the Lutheran phrase based on Ephesian 2:8-10) and there is nothing we do that merits salvation, it all depend on the grace of God which precedes anything (which is the way the Roman Catholic Church in the Council of Trent put it in Session Vi chapter V)) Yet the faith that depends on God for salvation will result in praise and worship – the latter being what we do with out lives.

Luther’s concern in the green text above must be heard, if we are to understand his version of “Faith Alone.” He isn’t denying the believer can do good works, or encouraging them to not even bother with the idea. Our good works, done in communion with Jesus Christ, are to be encouraged, extolled, and the glory given to God, whose light we are simply reflecting by those works. An attitude that denied this, that caused us to view the our good works with disdain Luther considered influenced by Satan!

As the Apology to the Augsburg Confession puts it, these works are the result of the impulses the Holy Spirit puts on our hearts. This doesn’t sound like we are denying that the Christian can do good works, does it?

And that is the point we need to clarify, that we need not be afraid of trying to do something the Holy Spirit is driving us towards. It my be simple, like holding the hand of someone struggling with old age and being feeble. It may be sitting and reading the catechism with a child, helping them to know God’s love. It could be something different, like heading to Africa or Asia on a mission trip. It could be… well, you fill in the blank. What is God calling you to do?

Then do it, and we can both rejoice in the faithfulness of God, who is close enough to you to put that idea on your heart, and give you the desire and ability to see it through! AMEN!

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 124.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Spirituality, ed. Philip D. W. Krey, Bernard McGinn, and Peter D. S. Krey, trans. Peter D. S. Krey and Philip D. W. Krey, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 212–213.

Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 276.

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