Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
29 The LORD our God hasn’t explained the present or the future, but he has commanded us to obey the laws he gave to us and our descendants. Deuteronomy 29:29 (CEV)
29 Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours and our children’s for ever, so that we can put all the words of this Law into practice.’ Deuteronomy 29:29 (NJB)
29 “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29 (NLT2)
“For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere.”
Although very few of those who express their uneasiness have a clear picture of these interrelated factors, there is an instinctive grasp of the fact that liturgy cannot be the result of Church regulations, let alone professional erudition, but, to be true to itself, must be the fruit of the Church’s life and vitality.
I read the verse in red in the first translation this morning. It piqued my interest because I get frustrated when I cannot understand the things going on in life. That has been happening a lot recently.
So i started looking the passage up in other translations. Sometimes that helps, sometimes I have ot go a bit deeper than that. I use the NLT in our church, and the NJB is the first full Bible I ever owned. I like it just like people who grew up with the KJV are not comfortable with more modern translations.
Turns out I like all three, but the NJB resonates the most with me.
To paraphrase it, “what God has made a mystery, these things we cannot know. That is good. The things God has revealed to us, this is what is needed for us to live in the relationship He created with us…. (at the cross) For the Law is not just the commandments, but the entire covenant, the entire description of our relationship. It is the explanation of, “I am your God, and you are my people!’
That’s the message – that is the mystery that we can’t conceive of, but we need to know is true. We have to have that, far more than why we have to understand some of the evil things that happen in this world or even the odd and unexplainable things.
Even if we understood the present or the future, could we change it?
No. Not really. We might even be more frustrated than we are with things all in the dark.
But if we know of God’s presence, HIs promise, HIs love, that changes it all…. and we can His peace and comfort in that revelation.
And this is where the two quotes about liturgy come in, for the liturgy needs to communicate God’s presence, love, and mercy above all. It cannot be the same, for it has to address the place where people are at, the struggles they face, the despair they know, and to reveal to them that they can depend on God, that He wants them to do so!
That means the liturgy may look a little different here from there. It gives expression to God coming into the presence of His people and healing them of their brokenness. And liturgy comes out of that feeling., as the people respond to the merciful, comforting loving presence of God. That is why liturgy is fruit, proof of the vitality of a congregation, proof of the truth revealed to them. And it is why those who would use the liturgy to bind the church are not protecting the church, but severely damaging it. Damaging it far more than the changes they fear ever could.
Liturgy is the expression of the faith of those who enter into worship and must always remain so. For then it gives voice to what God has revealed, and where He has not, where we don’t get it, the liturgy will bring comfort and peace.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Cinnfessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 173–174.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 86–87.
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
27 God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. 28 He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. 29 This means that no one can boast in God’s presence. 30 But God has brought you into union with Christ Jesus, and God has made Christ
Christ is not just a Head all pierced and wounded; he is the Ruler of the whole world. His dominion does not mean that the earth will be trampled under foot, but that that splendor will be restored to it that speaks of God’s beauty and power. Christ raised up the image of Adam. You are not just clay; you extend beyond all cosmic dimensions to the very Heart of God. It is not the one who is scourged who is degraded, but the one who scourges; not the one spat upon, but the one who spits; not the one put to scorn, but he who puts to scorn; it is not pride that raises man up, but humility; not self-glorification that makes him great, but that union with God of which he is capable.
Adoration places us in a ‘Paschal situation’. It is an encounter with the infinite love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and which is made present under the consecrated species. God reveals Himself without condition. He leaves man helpless in the face of the marvel of His manifestation: an all-powerful God Who makes Himself so small, so poor, under the appearance of bread.
You stand there or kneel there, and for a moment, all else falls away.
From the world’s view, it is a piece of stale bread and some really cheap wine. It is a moment the world would pass by, and pass by quickly.
It doesn’t make sense, but then so little of Christianity makes sense. At least from the world’s perspective. The King who serves, the Healer who is hurt, the Sinless one, bearing all sin…
As Benedict XVI noted, the humble end up being glorified, this little piece of wheat (?) and wine end up bieng a feast more meaningful than anything, That cup of water poured over one’s head, something that cleans away every sin, every bit of injustice.
This fact, that in the world’s logic Christianity, is not logical, is an incredible blessing. Here is why,
What has the world’s logic actually accomplished? When has its wisdom brought about peace? When could it heal a broken heart or a tortured soul?
When has it made a difference, in view of death?
And yet, giving someone who trusts in Christ, the bread and wine, the BOdy and BLood of Christ can overwhelm them with peace. Hearing a pastor lead mourners through Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer can bring peace in the midst of tears at a funeral. Hearing that your sin is forgiven, yes, THAT sin is forgiven, and that told by a man God put in place to tell you that, in that very moment.
Those things make a difference, no matter how the logic can’t explain it.
God is with you.. and that, someday, is the only thing that sustains us.
And oh, how
Lord Jesus, help us realize that it is okay for Your logic to be beyond us. Help us to accept that Your ways are not ours,
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. 52). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 6–7). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
His Mysterious Plan
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father help you see your role in the church, as God displays His wisdom, found in the mystery of His eternal plan carried out through Jesus Christ our Lord!
A mysterious plan
As this sermon will be translated
The Cambridge-English dictionary suggested clarifying what is meant in our usage of the word mystery. What comes closest to my understanding of the Greek word is this option: †
“something strange or not known, that has not yet been explained, or understood” Another way to phrase it would be an enigma, and in this case, a divine enigma.
Oddly enough, the word google translate suggest is Chinese is 谜, † pronounced “Me” ( Mi)
So “Me” is a mystery and an enigma.
Makes sense in English!
But we are talking about God’s mystery today, this plan that has been in existence since before time began. A secret which Paul would reveal, which is still challenging for us to comprehend, and it is still a challenge for us to use in our lives.
Not revealed? Kept secret?
Twice in this passage, Paul mentions that his mystery, this plan of God that is not yet completely known or understood was kept secret. In verse 5 he says, †
God did not reveal it to previous generations,
And then in verse 9, †
9 I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning.
There is a challenge here, that we need to deal with, this idea that God hides His mystery, that God doesn’t lay out His entire plan for us to deal with, for us to accept, for us to know.
That doesn’t just
sound right, after all, shouldn’t God just be completely honest with us? Why wasn’t He completely transparent with His
people? Why where His plans such a
There is tendency in mankind to want to know, to understand, but along with that we want to be able to raise questions, to criticize, to help adjust the plans. We want to be advisors to God, and we see that throughout history.
Peter did this, when Jesus talked about the cross, and Jesus called Peter Satan, and told him to get lost.
We do it now, when we choose to give in to temptation, when we decide to sin, when we choose to ignore God’s commands, especially the two great commands,
To Love God with all our heart, soul and mind
To love our neighbor as ourselves.
Every time we do something that Is not loving, every time we sin, we tell God that we don’t trust Him. How much more would we have done this, if we knew everything from the beginning?
The plan – all united in Christ
So God didn’t share the plan, but now He has. And it is about that very thing, loving God and loving those people God brings into our lives.,
To bring us all into this incredible relationship where God is our Father, where we all become one body in Christ.
Where we all share in the riches that we
For we dwell in Christ, united to each other, even as we are united to Him, at the cross.
That is why the cross is the center of the plan, for Paul will tell the church in Rome and the church in Colossae that we were united to Christ at His death on the
And as we are all united to Him, we find ourselves united
We are all one in Christ, that was the mystery that Paul revealed, the plan we needed. For we needed to see what the cross would make possible. That cleansed of all sin, restored and reconciled in our relationship with God
The fulfillment of the plan – we come boldly
Every plan has a final goal, a final measurement when
you know the work is done.
Even those plans that seem vague, have that moment when everything becomes known, when everything becomes clear.
In this case, the plan’s goal, is stated clearly in verse 12. †
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
So now you see God’s ultimate goal, the reason for everything He has planned.
That we would be able to confidently dwell in the presence of God.
Just simply dwelling with Him, find comfort and rest in His presence, depending on Him to guide us, and take care of us.
For that is what it means to have faith, to depend on God completely, no longer hidng behind illusions, but to trust God with everything…
For He is our God
And we, we are all His people! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Philippians 1:2-3 (NLT2) (italics mine)
God is always waiting for us; he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope …always.
The Christians adopted this term to proclaim their special relationship to Jesus Christ. For them, he is the King who entered this wretched province, our world, and gifted it with the feast of his visit. He it is whose presence in the liturgical assembly they profess. With this expression, they intended to say, in general, “God is here.” He has not abandoned this world. He has not left us behind alone. Even though we cannot see and touch him like so many things—he is present, nevertheless, and visits us in many ways
As I started to prepare for next weeks sermon last night, the two pronouns in the reading caught my attention, and wouldn’t let it go.
I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, if not a thousand times, preached on it a lot, and those pronouns never hit me like they did last night. Technically they are genitive pronouns, called that because they have a relationship with a noun, as opposed to having a relationship with a verb. They act more like adjectives than subjects or objects in a sentence. In English, we might call them possessive pronouns.
Here is what that means to those of us who aren’t language geeks.
Those pronouns exist to tie the object in the sentence to the person/people the pronoun represents. In the first case, “us”, in the second case, “Paul”.
And that makes all the difference in the world. This God of whom Paul speaks is OUR GOD, OUR FATHER this God he prays to is HIS GOD (or we can say when we pray MY GOD). There is a relationship there, a connection that defines this God of whom we speak. There is a personal close relationship that is so close we are defined by it, as is He.
This is a perfect thought to contemplate during Advent, especially as we begin this journey, contemplating what these pronouns mean. That God, the creator and sustainer of the universe is our Father. That we can go to Him in prayer, knowing that He not only will listen but that He desires too, offering comfort and peace in the times in our life that are the hardest.
This is the meaning of course, of Advent, the looking back and looking forward to Christ coming into our lives to reveal God’s love for us. Looking forward as well, to the incredible time when we prodigals return home, for Christ has come for us.
Because of Jesus entering into our drama, we aren’t alone, we are in a relationship with God who never grows tired, who will not abandon us, whom we can and should talk to, who nourishes our famished souls.
In the past week, I have seen too much trauma, I have seen people experience too much brokenness. too much grief. Perhaps more than any time in my ministry. It is in a time like this that the reality of Advent is such a treasured part of my life. I have to know God is here, I have to hear His voice comfort me, (through the scriptures and through those whom He has sent to encourage )
This is what Advent means, that until Christ’s return, we can dwell in His peace, something unexplainable, something unimaginable, yet something that is so real.
Lord, help us to realize your presence, as You surround us in your peace! AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
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. 381). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24 but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24 (TEV)
16 I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. 17 For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.” Romans 1:16-17 (TEV)
Poor and lukewarm is the Church that flees from and avoids the cross! She will become only a “polite social” institution in her sterility. This is, ultimately, the price paid, and indeed it is, by the people of God for being ashamed of the gospel and giving in to the fear of giving witness. If we do not confess Christ, what then would we be?
Jesus’ Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with “publicans and sinners”. He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that this meal was held in a family setting. Thus he kept it with his new family, with the Twelve; with those whose feet he washed, whom he had prepared, by his Word and by this cleansing of absolution (Jn 13:10), to receive a blood relationship with him, to become one body with him.3 The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and have become part of his family. That is why, from the beginning, the Eucharist has been preceded by a discernment. We have just heard this, in very dramatic form, from Paul: Whoever eats unworthily, eats and drinks judgment on himself, because he does not distinguish the Body of the Lord
For decades, the two gospel passages above have been burnt into my mind.
This is what we do, or what we try to do.
Preach Christ crucified, and we do it in a way that proves we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.
Being not ashamed of the gospel is harder than we think. It is not being a hire-powered, no holes barred evangelist. It is about letting our souls be laid bare so that we can be healed!
And yet, to preach Christ crucified we have to deal with our guilt and shame. And it may be that we are afraid of, no terrified of, our shame.
To preach the cross of Christ, means we have to realize something else is there, something God has to deal with, for we cannot.
6 Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the Cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call!
Romans 6:5-6a (MSG)
There we are. preaching the cross of Christ, knowing that on that cross our sins are nailed there, with Him. All of our dirty, shameful, secrets lifted up on that cross for Him to bear. Our sin was nailed to the cross with Him, and such a way that we are not ashamed of admitting it.
Our confession is not that we trust in Him, but that we confess our sins, we give Him permission to deal with them, to heal us of our brokenness.
That is what faith in Christ, depending upon Him boils down to, our recognition that He will help us deal with our brokennes, that he will take and remove our sin.
And the power of that salvation is such that we are not ashamed to depend upon Him for that.
Pope Benedict’s words have an incredible meaning here. For in clarifying that the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist) is not the sacrament of reconciliation, He reminds us of the intimacy of this feast, and the celebration of His Body being broken, His Blood being poured out, the action which brings us, a holy and healing people into the presence of God. We need to go to the cross, face our sin, and see it nailed there, that is what discerning the Body and Blood means.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is my hope, to deal with my brokenness, and to help me help you with yours. (and at times, vice versa)
It is this that is most ironic, that my shame, that yours, can be dealt with in a way of which we are not ashamed, but that brings joy and peace.
Lord Jesus, draw us to the cross, draw us close to Your side. Help us to not be ashamed of being there, help us as we not be ashamed of handing over all our sin, all our brokenness, letting You remove their hold on our souls. Lord, help us to receive the comfort of the Holy Spirit so that we realize Your presence.
Help us as well, to be willing to help others deal with their guilt and shame… knowing how You deal with ours. And then, lead us all into the Father’s presence. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Ratzinger, J. (2003). God is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life. (S. O. Horn & V. Pfnür, Eds., H. Taylor, Trans.) (pp. 59–60). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained.
*this helps us to understand the difference between a pastoral form of close communion, and the denominational practice of closed communion. The latter simply says you aren’t like me, you can’t be part of the feast, the latter looks at the common dependence on Christ’s mercy, the discernment of that need, and the desire to see God continue to heal us.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 However, as the scripture says, “What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (TEV)
A good communicator is sensitive to beauty, perceives it and does not confuse what is beautiful with what is fashionable or only “nice” or simply “neat.”
Because it is human, sometimes beauty is tragic, amazing, touching; it sometimes pushes us to think what we do not want or unmasks our errors.
One of the challenges we face, whether we are with friends and family at a meal, or if we are before the church preaching the gospel, is communicating the beauty that is our relationship with God.
We can’t describe heaven, and I think that is intentional, for heaven is not about the location as much as it is the presence. The presence of the people of God in the presence of God. No sorrow, no tears, no pain, rather we will know the purest of joy, the most incredible peace. These are things that cant be described in words, we just will never find ones that significantly portray this beauty.
Not that we understand beauty all that much.
A pretty girl in a bathing suit may be considered beautiful by most, year, does that compare to a picture of a wounded soldier, being greeted and welcomed home by his family? Or a picture of Mother Theresa embracing a poor victim of leprosy in the streets of India? What about a rainbow, coming out on the edge of a storm,
I think the most vivid thing we can communicate, the most beautiful thing we can describe is the scene of redemption, the prodigal being embraced by a father, whose tears of joy wash the young sinner. The face of Peter, as Jesus reminds him, despite the betrayal, to feed the sheep. The face of Moses, a stubborn pessimistic, man hiding from his destiny, in awe at the bush on fire that doesn’t burn. The sinner at the communion rail, who finally understands the words, “for you…” and doesn’t want to leave the only place they have found peace. The old man, who with severe memory problems, looks for meaning in the church, decides to study for the diaconate and preaches an incredible sermon of our need for God, and the fact God was with us. (the amazing tears that flowed from his wife’s face, as she was convinced that he actually could do this… I cry just thinking of them. ) The little six-year-old, who begs and pleads for the body and blood of Christ, and lights up at her first communion
These things are beautiful, and though not perfectly described, give us a hint of the beauty that awaits us, as the redemption, as what is broken in our lives is healed. THere is beauty, a beauty that is found in the incredible transformation as we go from being alone to being in a relationship with God. As we realize that is our existence, our meaning in life.
God with us… nothing more beautiful in this life, or the next…
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 302). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Our Lenten Journey: Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph
Part 7: The Mind for the Walk
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy, and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ cause your hearts to burn, as His love for you is revealed!
Do we walk unaware?
This morning we finish a journey we started some 46 days ago, on Valentines Day.
We’ve walked with Jesus through trials, we talked about the different things we’ve encountered, and today we cover the last bit. It is a hard journey, as we walk in the steps of men who are in a steep decline; both physically as they walk down the steep decline to their home in Emmaus, and spiritually, as they struggle with despair, as they lost their hope, and descend into depression, and despair, oblivious to God’s work.
But it is only from their that they can finish the journey,
It’s a journey each of us makes, that each of us endures, unaware of the fact we don’t make it alone…..
Even though we think we do…
The Struggle of our minds
As I look at the story of the two men, what amazes me is how oblivious they were.
First, they made the typical mistake that men make, they heard but didn’t listen to the women in their lives. They heard that they came back with an amazing report, that Jesus was gone. Did they listen?
Did they really hear what was being said?
Luke tells us as they were struggling with everything, as they tried to toss around answers to all the question ripping them apart they stopped and sadness and gloom were written across their face.
That gloom wouldn’t leave, even while Jesus took them through all of scripture, as Jesus explained to them every scripture that testified about Him.
We have days like that, when all the knowledge we have about Jesus, when all the information passed onto us doesn’t compute when we remain oblivious of God’s presence, and all the while there He is, teaching us, guiding us, walking with us.
Yet we remain oblivious, too worried about how we interpret what’s going on around us. Just like these two guys who followed Jesus were oblivious.
At least their minds were. Their hearts were a different story…. The hearts were on fire!
The Heart and Soul Knew Better.
Here’s a question to consider. If they were still struggling if they still didn’t understand, then why did they beg him to stay the night?
It wasn’t until a little later that their eyes would be open, so why was it so important to stay with this person they had just met? What made them want to do this?
Again, we go back to their hearts afire, the work of the Holy Spirit bringing them comfort and peace through the word of God that was being explained to them. They couldn’t let Him go, they needed Him there in their lives, they needed the Holy Spirit working through the word!
They couldn’t let God go, even though they didn’t know it was Him
And some days, we need to do that, and knowing this story, we see that God is still with us, that He still is guiding us, just as He promised. Even when we are struggling in a downward slide. The Lord who is Risen, is with you indeed!
As He broke the bread!
As they hit bottom, as they get to their home, something happens that changes their mind about where they belong. Enough so that they climb back up the mountain without thinking.
I mean, what kind of attitude do you have to have to run 8 miles, uphill, in less than an hour. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run that fast, anymore.!
He broke bread with them, He blessed it, he consecrated, just as He had in the upper room, and He gave it to them… and they recognized him the scripture tells us.
But recognized doesn’t tell us the entire picture. The word there is epiginosko – they knew Him. They deeply and completely knew Him. This is the word for the level of intimacy a couple has for each other, not just the physical stuff we think of as intimacy, but the level intimacy when people can finish each other’s sentences, where they can communicate with just looks, without words, where they know what each other is thinking.
This is what happens when God opens their minds, their hearts as He gave thanks to God and broke the bread. What they knew in their hearts becomes revealed in their mind, and the road they traveled in despair becomes somehow different, less challenging as they know He is with them, as they know they can trust Him, depend on Him
That’s why the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper means so much to so many of us, as we realize that God has not left us alone, that He who is risen, is risen indeed, Praise God!
And because He is… we are risen indeed, ALLELUIA!
And because we are risen, because He has opened our minds, we intimately and completely know Him, and we are loved. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day
21 For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22 Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24 but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]
The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]
Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms. As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.
The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt. Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.
Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question. Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan. The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” As if man could do this! Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.
We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.
And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.
What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master. In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.
So what is the solution? How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?
I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”. It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat. It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.
In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people. When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.
This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life. It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.
We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness. AMEN!
[i] Ratzinger, Joseph. 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. Print.
2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).
[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. John 6:48-57 (NAB)
40 Faith, joy, optimism. But not the folly of closing your eyes to reality.
As people are listening to Jesus, there is something wrong.
They get so distracted by what they can’t quite understand, that they give up something glorious. They went to him, because He was the Messiah, they expected Him to save them, to teach them, to heal them of their brokenness.
I struggle with the fact that because they couldn’t understand the teaching, because they couldn’t connect the dots, they walked away.
Don’t get it; it’s hard, and so they walked away, and left life on the table.
We don’t do well with mystery; we don’t hear Jesus’ offer about eternal life – about real life, about the resurrection. Because we go back to trying to discern whether he’s rolling real presence, or transubstantiation, or consubstantiation, or some other option which would satisfy our mind, and we starve our heart.
Some want to require others to understand this at a level far beyond how scripture teaches, and they drive them away with the same frustration we are not willing to admit that we share. So they force them to close their eyes to the reality as well. Far too much evangelism and apologetic material are geared this way, attempting to force people to believe our reasonable explanations of mysteries, rather than simply letting them be in awe.
In both situations, our inability to come up with a reason explanation results in such dissatisfaction that we close our eyes, that we refuse to believe what we see, that we refuse to hear what we hear. And we ignore the reality that is our life in Christ.
Consider Peter’s words a moment later, when Jesus asks if he is going to leave as well. “Nope, you have the words of life!” For Peter, man’s reason couldn’t trump God’s reality They were used to not getting it right away, they were used to getting the parables explained, and trying to figure out how He could speak words, and calm storms. How He spoke words, and blind eyes could see, and with limbs could function. These apostles, these they didn’t leave, they heard words of life that caused the dead to rise.
They couldn’t explain it either! They struggled with what it all meant. Even as Jesus is about to ascend, the wounds still fresh in His hands, his ankles, his side, they doubt, scripture tells us. They couldn’t come up with reasonable explanations for what they saw, they didn’t understand everything He taught, even when they had it explained.
But they knew Jesus; they saw his handiwork, and they clung to the one who did things they couldn’t understand.
Because He was real. Because He was present, they saw His work; they heard His promises, and they depended on Him when they couldn’t understand.
Reality is beyond our ability to reason; the logic is beyond our ability to discern. THe apostles went with reality, their faith in the one they know.
Our reality, our life is in Jesus….even though we don’t understand it all. He is the one who died and rose, the one who spoke and created, the one who said, “eat my body and drink my blood – and live.
Live my friends, knowing the Lord is merciful. Even though that may not seem all that reasonable either.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 251-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. 42 They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers. 43 Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. 44 All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45 They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. 46 Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
Acts 2:41-47 (TEV)
16 Ultimately, if we should list as sacraments all the things that have God’s command and a promise added to them, then why not prayer, which can most truly be called a sacrament? It has both the command of God and many promises. If it were placed among the sacraments and thus given, so to speak, a more exalted position, this would move men to pray. (1)
“Thy kingdom come.”
7 What does this mean?
Answer: To be sure, the kingdom of God comes of itself, without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may also come to us.
8 How is this done?
Answer: When the heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit so that by his grace we may believe his holy Word and live a godly life, both here in time and hereafter forever. (2)
Lord, since eternity is Thine, art Thou ignorant of what I say to Thee? or dost Thou see in time, what passeth in time? Why then do I lay in order before Thee so many relations? Not, of a truth, that Thou mightest learn them through me, but to stir up mine own and my readers’ devotions towards Thee, that we may all say, Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. I have said already; and again will say, for love of Thy love do I this. For we pray also, and yet Truth hath said, Your Father knoweth what you have need of, before you ask. It is then our affections which we lay open unto Thee, confessing our own miseries, and Thy mercies upon us, that Thou mayest free us wholly, since Thou hast begun, that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves, and be blessed in Thee; seeing Thou hast called us (3)
The question is asked less of me now than in was in the 80’s or 90’s, and I am not sure whether that is a good thing or as I fear a bad thing.
In the 90’s I heard it more from college students and young couples, perhaps because their children asked it, “do I have to go church?”, “why do I havvvveee to gooo to chhhhhurch?” Or the “can’t I just worship God in the forest, or at the beach, or playing my music?”
Somewhere along the line I think the answer was changed from the real “why” to simply, “you have to”, and as we often do, we find excuses. The same of course goes for prayer, or for confessing our sins, or reading the scriptures. Even for pastors. Ask yours what he was reading this week, that wasn’t done for preparing for church or a Bible Study. (If you don’t want to embarrass them I have a friend named Rich that would be more than willing to!
Some say that we go to church/pray/commune/confess for God’s sake – that we go to serve. That is a crappy reason! It’s been seen as a crappy answer for a long time! It has a partner in crime, the reason that says we go to be served! (since it is all about us you know!) I would use a more guttural term for that one.
We don’t go to church so that someone “gets something” or is benefitted, Neither do we pray or study the scripture for its benefit. When we use them, we set ourselves up to fail, for often, if we get anything out of church, it is subtle, and takes a while to process and see the effects of going? We see ourselves struggling with the same thing, fighting the same anxieties. And who really believes that God is somehow “helped” by our presence, as if church wouldn’t be as glorious without our presence?
So then why do we go?
If it’s not because we HAVE to?
If it’s not because we benefit?
If it doesn’t benefit God?
It is because church, like prayer and communion is about the encounter. Any benefit is secondary to that encounter. God and His people, those being reconciled and healed, coming together as one body. It is that encounter that is life, it is, in every sense, a foretaste of our eternal life WITH God, and the angels, archangels, and all the community of heaven. That’s why the early church met, not just on Sunday and for a special few on Wednesday nights, but daily in the temple. They prayed together, they ate together, the worshiped and celebrated the Eucharist, and in doing so, encountered God and they encountered His people, even as they were being added daily….
That is why the sermon isn’t the best point, the gathering that begins in the passing of the peace, and flows through communion is. That is where we come face to face with the God who draws us to Himself. Note, I said draws US. Not the individual, not you and I. He draws US, and gives us a serenity that allows us to drop everything as we encounter God, and His people.
It is this encounter we need, it is this moment that transcends everything, God, and man, this is the life.
This is why… this encounter… this being with God.
This is what it means to be His church, the one’s whom the Father calls, by lifting Christ high, and drawing us to Him.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 346). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 213). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. The Small Catechism -: Article III
(3) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.