(you can find the audio for this sermon on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQLSG0ngxU8 )
With this Gift I Acknowledge
† I.H.S. †
May you become so aware of the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that you respond to God with your entire life!
As we enter Lent, a lot of the readings we will hear are about the journey to the promised land, and they often take place in what I call the “in-between time.
The “in-between” time starts with the rescue of Egypt, where the Red Sea split and they crossed through that sea until the time they crossed the Jordan river, and they headed west into the Holy Land.
That’s the in-between time, the time between the crossing, between the rescue and the delivery.
Often we compare that time to the time we live in now. In such a comparison the land of the promise becomes the equivalent of heaven. We’ve been told we’ve been saved, but we haven’t arrived yet. We follow that pattern, then we are in the journey toward the promise land. We can take the same comparison and compare the season of lent to the time wandering around in the wilderness. And the promised land becomes the celebration of Easter.
It lines up nice and neatly, and there are some interesting parallels. Such a study helps us build up the anticipation of heaven, and the glory and rejoicing we will see when we all get to heaven.
As I was preparing this series, some of my thoughts went along that journey, as the idea written about in the old song came to mind. “Sing the wondrous love of Jesus, sing of His mercy and His grace, in His mansion, bright and blessed, He’ll prepare for us a place.”
What a day of rejoicing that will be, the chorus says, but an odd thought struck me.
Are we expecting to rejoice only then? What about now? The song doesn’t say wait till then to sing of the wondrous love of Jesus, wait till then to know His mercy and His grace.
Then I looked at this passage and the idea that when we get “there” when we enter the land, we are to prepare an offering.
“With this gift, I acknowledge to the Lord God that I have entered the land He swore to our ancestors He would give us…”
And so we think of heaven… for isn’t that the promised land?
And we aren’t there yet, I mean all you have to do is look around and see that is so…we haven’t entered the promised land, right?
We have entered into what was promised; our problem is that we can’t see it yet. Which is why we have to understand what Paul means when he says, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth, for you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
That sounds more like we have entered the promised land… except that life doesn’t look so heavenly… does it? How can we be in the Holy Land, the Promised Land, when it doesn’t sometimes seem like we’ve left behind struggling with God in the wilderness?
We Cried out to the Lord
If we are going to make a parallel to the wilderness journey that is described in Deuteronomy, we need to figure out what verse 7 is talking about.
“we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors. He heard our cries and saw our hardship, toil, and oppression.”
Where these words find their place in our lives, is when we were in bondage, not to Egypt, but to sin. Where our hardship and struggle were the futility that comes in life that is self-centered and only worried about its own happiness, its own contentment.
I will be the first to admit that there are days where we act like Israel, doubting God and wanting to return to the lives unrestricted by God, but enslaved to “our” own desires.
But does that mean that we are back in Egypt? Does that mean we are living on manna and quail and wandering around like Jacob/Israel?
The question comes down to this my friends. Are we living in the Kingdom of God, in the promised land, or are we living in the wilderness, cared for and waiting for the promises of God to come true in our lives?
For the land God promised us isn’t primary geographical. Rather, it is the land where God clearly rules, where He is Lord and King, providing for His people. It is the place where His people find rest and refuge, a sanctuary of peace and a place where His love evident.
A place where Deuteronomy describes as the place which in our special possession, the place where our inheritance, what God has promised His people has become a reality.
You see, that’s what bothers me about the passage being only a parallel to our journey to heaven.
For in Christ, we already are citizens of His kingdom and heirs of His promises, He has already delivered us. We just have to understand this and trust Him on it, knowing our reality is in heaven, in Christ.
Which is why we can bring before him the gifts that acknowledge that we have been delivered. The gifts that acknowledge we dwell in Christ. The gifts that acknowledge we have been killed off with Christ in our baptism, and brought to life because of His resurrection.
That is why Paul will also tell the church in Romans 12 to present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is the appropriate worship, the reason worship, declaring what God has done.
The passage in Deuteronomy ends with this, “
It’s time to party!
11 Afterward, you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household. Remember to include the Levites and the foreigners living among you in the celebration.
My friends, Jesus has given us life, the abundant life that begins in the waters of baptism, and matures as we see the Father face to face. We aren’t waiting on that to come about some day. We are His children, now.
So it is time to celebrate, to know His love… and to include all who would come in the celebration, so that they too may understand and celebrate His love. It will take faith; it will as Paul said mean focusing on the reality of heaven, of dwelling, not among clouds, but in the very presence of our loving God. AMEN?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 11:19-20 (NLT)
933 Jesus, may my poor heart be filled from the ocean of your Love, with such big waves that can cleanse me and expel from me all my wretchedness. Pour those most pure and ardent waters of your Heart into mine, until my desires for loving you are fully satisfied and I can no longer hold back my response to your divine ardour. My heart shall surely break then, dying for Love, and pour out that Love of yours which, in irresistible and most fertile, life-giving torrents, will reach other hearts that will beat through contact with these living waters, with the pulsating force of Faith and Charity. (1)
At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. (2)
For many of us, this is the last day before the beginning of Lent.
I’ve already seen people posting on FaceBook and Twitter the things they are going to give up. The usual list appears, chocolate, sugar, alcohol, they’ll read the Bible where they used to watch their favorite television shows, they’ll give up going to the movies, using the money to help those in homeless shelters. Even some have dared say they will give up FB, or Instagram, ( maybe this explains snapchat invitations rising?
People are willing to give up things that do them damage, to attempt to control the cravings that so easily entice them, To enter into a time of discipline, to make sacrifices. Those that have been at it for a while also know they need to replace these things with better habits. If they do not the temptation will rise, and failure will happen like it did with our New Year’s resolutions.
I have a suggestion if you are still looking for something. Even if you have already decided on something, consider this as well. It will be tough; it will be challenging. It will cost you something you are not that willing to give up.
Give up your isolation, your individuality. Give up your defensive walls that have been so carefully erected and protect your pride and self-esteem. Get involved in people’s lives! Let them into your life. Even those with whom you struggle to get along. Talk to them, invite them to sit next to you at church, or go and sit near them. Find ways to let them into your life, and love them.
This isn’t easy, yet for those who trust in Jesus, it is His nature. It will take faith, not in your strength, not in the hope they will change, but in trusting in Jesus promise. Remembering God is with you, right there in those moments, you can depend on His promise, that all will work for good. He knows your love, He chose you, He will take care of you.
It is God’s design, it is how we are to live, not just loving God but loving His people, and all the people whom He would call His own. The words from Vatican II struck me this morning, as did St. Josemaria Escriva’s. The nature of being transformed by God’s love gives us a new heart, a heart from which His love pours out, to those around us.
So go and get involved in that Bible Study, even encourage someone to join you. Take a step of faith and take on a new ministry at church. Buy that homeless guy lunch; talk to that lady sitting by herself at the table next to you as you eat dinner with your family at a restaurant. (Even invite her to join you!)
Trust in God’s love! Know He is with you! See Him in each of those you meet! Then this sacrifice of you, will not seem like a sacrifice at all. It will be a great joy!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3294-3298). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(1) Catholic Church. (2011). Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.