10 One day spent in your Temple is better than a thousand anywhere else;
I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God than live in the homes of the wicked. Psalm 84:10 GNT
For the entire gospel testimony is unanimous that Jesus’ words and deeds flowed from his most intimate communion with the Father; that he continually went “into the hills” to pray in solitude after the burden of the day (e.g., Mk 1:35; 6:46; 14:35, 39). Luke, of all the Evangelists, lays stress on this feature. He shows that the essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality and that this core was his dialogue with the Father.
Thus the spiritual life of the minister, formed and trained in a school of prayer, is the core of spiritual leadership. When we have lost the vision, we have nothing to show; when we have forgotten the word of God, we have nothing to remember; when we have buried the blueprint of our life, we have nothing to build. But when we keep in touch with the life-giving spirit within us, we can lead people out of their captivity and become hope-giving guides.
A good deal of my time this year has been spent contemplating the question that is the title of this post. I’ve had three distinct possibilities, three times I was a finalist for a position, and once I received a call to pastor a different church. All three interested me, and I dread the idea of having to decide between my present call and them.
But the question about where I am supposed to be is far deeper than a geographical location, or what vocation I have. In fact, the locations where we live and what we do are meaningless without the insight of “where we are” offered by the psalmist.
We have to imitate Jesus, and rely on our location in response to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our identity is determined by our awareness of our proximity to God. If we know we are in HIs presence, everything else takes on a new dimension, a new meaing. Our families, our workplaces, our hobbies all become a way in which to experience God’s love, and to see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
This is essential for the entire church – and it resolves with all of us taking our positions as ministers, as those who serve people, that they might know Jesus. Intimacy with God is the core of our spiritual leadership–it is also the core of our spiritual lives. Without interaction with God prayer, meditating on the gospel and the sacraments, there is little that we can and should attempt to do. Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI ) is correct – all we are and do flows from our intimate – yeah – intimate connection with God.
I believe that is what the psalmist knows, and puts into words… it is being there in God’s presence that is the most desirable place to be.
And then we can give people the hope we find there, with Jesus,… as they are called and drawn to the One lifted up on the cross.
Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 17–18.
Nouwen, Henri J. M.. The Living Reminder (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
10 As the priests were leaving the Temple, it was suddenly filled with a cloud 11shining with the dazzling light of the LORD’s presence, and they could not go back in to perform their duties. 1 Kings 8:10-11 GNT
20I am telling you the truth: you will cry and weep, but the world will be glad; you will be sad, but your sadness will turn into gladness. 21When a woman is about to give birth, she is sad because her hour of suffering has come; but when the baby is born, she forgets her suffering, because she is happy that a baby has been born into the world. 22That is how it is with you: now you are sad, but I will see you again, and your hearts will be filled with gladness, the kind of gladness that no one can take away from you. John 16:20-22 GNT
While they are thus in fear and terror, the Lord brings them peace, not by removing any danger, but by quieting their hearts.
Now the liturgy is meant to form the individual Christian. Hence we have to learn how to understand its symbols, in order to absorb the lessons which they convey. But at the same time the liturgy is more than symbolism and more than ritual. Through the medium of the Church, which He has entrusted with the task of guiding, sanctifying and instructing mankind, God exercises a sacramental action upon the spirits of men of faith.
I have been thinking about church a lot recently, trying to understand why in parts of the world, the church is growing faster than it ever had, and why in others, it is rapidly shrinking.
I would love to blame the shrink on the amped up political atmosphere, as extremists in every spectrum try and force their way into power. Whether it is legalism or lawlessness, whether it is tieing to the secular conservatism or secular progressivism, the tactics are much the same.
I could blame it on apathy, and a country not able to escape the consequences of isolation.
I could blame it on a season dominated by every sin and temptation known to mankind.
Placing blame will do nothing – except causes dissention, more division and accelerate the decline of the Church, as sanctuaries empty—as they no longer are sanctuaries, as people find no refuge or peace in the places dedicated to communion with God.
I need the church to be such a place–a refuge, a sanctuary, the holy ground were peace overwhelms the struggles I am embroiled in this life. Luther’s words resonate with this, as he pictured God not taking away the struggles, the chaos, the anxiety or the pain. Instead, He quiets my heart, and the hearts of those with whom I share God’s word, the peace given them as I share with them the Body and Blood of Jesus.
Merton identified this as the sacramental action of God, as He pours out the blessings, the mercy, peace and love which forms us, creating a faith, a dependency on God, wherein the awe we find in His presence, makes everything else an inconsequential shadow. That all sounds like heavy theology tainted with a bit of mysticism.
I wish I could explain it in a simpler way, but the peace of the moment is beyond explanation, Jesus illustrates it well, in the moment a new mom holds her baby, and all the travail and even the mess isn’t important… the baby is here..
or in our case, God is here.
and like the priests – we are so in awe, that all we can do is enjoy the presence of God.
(Merton was wrong – this isn’t individual. It is who we are…together – the family of God)
This is why I need the church, the people of God gathered around His word, the people who receive His sacraments… who experience His peace..
I get to see it, facilitate it and that is awesome… but what is better – I participate….
I am so looking forward to this tomorrow… will you join me… either at Concordia, or with the saints in another location, but sharing in the same presence of the same Lord.
Please… come and know His peace and healing!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 138.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 160.
If the Son sets you free, then you will be really free. John 8:36 (TEV)
Not that grace somehow adds to an otherwise imperfect creation, but that grace puts a stop to our misguided attempts to usurp God’s place and so allows creation to shine forth in all its glory
The “world” is the body of those who hate, because they are prisoners of their own narrow illusions and petty desires. They cannot recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit because they are not willing to conform their lives to His inspirations. They cannot become free with the freedom Jesus compared to the unpredictable blowing of the wind, for they are rooted in their own attachments and bound down by their own compulsions. They have a fixed way of acting (which may be wild and erratic and possess a spurious “freedom” of its own) and they cannot break away from it. They have rendered themselves incapable of doing anything but their “own will” in the sense of their enslaved will. Only the Spirit Himself can penetrate their hard carapace of resistance, and too often they will not let Him do so. They are unable to love freely because they are afraid of freedom.
The power and effect of faith are especially seen in temptations, when sin, death, devil, and hell are overcome. Nor are these weak enemies; they bring out perspiration, weaken our limbs, and make heaven and earth cramped. When the devil and death come, no one can help except only the person who has said, I am he who shall sustain thee. Under such conditions we learn what faith is.
Yesterday, my son’s high school was locked down, and for several hours I waited for him to be released. First, they were kept secure in a classroom. Then, they were escorted to some fenced in tennis courts where, eventually, they were released to parents. The parents waited in the sunlight for hours, because of miscommunication.
My thoughts upon getting into the car hours after I arrived was the old phrase, “Free at last, Free at Last!” A couple of hours of inconvenience, and yet I treated it like a lifelong trauma. ( A little projection here, as I was also wanting to deal with some other traumatic events)
So I was thinking about freedom as I came across these words this morning. And the illusion of freedom was shredded, again and again.
When we clamor and protest to have freedom, we must contemplate two things:
- What are we wanting freedom from?
- What do we want to do with this freedom?
Answering those questions will help us determine whether what we want is truly freedom, or simply the ability to serve our own preferred slavery –to our lusts and desires, our addictions and other sins that plague us. The problem is, enslaved to those things–we don’t even realize we are enslaved! Or, if we do, the lure of that which we are enslaved to overshadows the life we don’t know we can live.
Luther’s words about faith are clear here. It is not an easy fight to overcome sin. It requires a lot sweat and a lot of tears. It takes prayer, and mostly, it takes dying with Jesus on the cross to break those shackles, and the work of the Holy Spirit to draw us to that cross.
Forde’s words are so clear to that as well, as the Holy Spirit convinces us to set aside our self-idolatry, nailing that sin to the cross as well. That when the Son sets us free- we can begin to see glimpses of the glory of God.
There is freedom from everything we need to be free from – hatred, violence, anxiety, resentment, sin, guilt and shame…
And there is freedom to do one thing… to love.
Upon getting home, just before 6, homework and chores awaited both my son and I. As did dinner. We weren’t free to do whatever we wanted, but we were free to do that which was good, and beneficial. Mostly, my family was free to be together. And so it is with freedom we find in Christ Jesus-we are free to be in the presence of God, to know His love, to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ…
This is accomplished simply by having faith in God, depending on what He’s promised – that He will set you truly free..
Gerhard O. Forde, “Hearing,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 144.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 132.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 102.
Jesus: The Pathway to Peace
Knowing Jesus Means Letting Him Deal
with the Anxieties caused by having relatives
† I.H.S. †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus strength help you see the blessing of God’s faithfulness even in the midst of family related anxiety.
- Dysfunction Junction
I love when I find in scripture people struggling with issues similar to what you and I do. It is said there is nothing new under the sun, and that includes all the things that stress us out, that cause us anxiety, that cause our minds to overthink and fear how bad reality is….
And that includes the stress and anxiety caused by family!
Look at the family in the gospel! They could stress out anyone! First you have the helicopter mom, who drives her kids insane, wanting them to be successful! She demands that Jesus give them the top two spots in the kingdom of God! Can you imagine how embarrassed they were? I can still hear their muttered whisper echo through time….. “mom… please don’t, mom please stop! Mom!!”
And they could not, could not disappoint her when Jesus asks them if they can suffer the way He will…
Of course, the boys…. Err men weren’t something to write home about either. So argumentative they were that they are recoded for history as “the sons of thunder.
I imagine all three stressed each other out, quite a bit. Maybe that is why dad was always out fishing!
- Serious harm
We all have stories about some crazy uncle, or some cousins who seemed to thrive on being a pain in the neck. There are other relatives that cause real stress, real pain, and therefore real anxiety. The kind of thing of hurt that starts when we are kids, that affects us until we retire.
This is what Joseph dealt with, the fights and betrayals and failures. King David’s children were even worse in how they treated each other, something that destroyed him as he watched them.
The hardest part of addressing the anxiety and stress caused by relatives is not what they say, or do, or do AND say. That hardest part is our sin. Paul talked about that with the church in Ephesus when he wrote, “26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Ephesians 4:26 (NLT2) It’s our reaction to the sin, to the betrayals, to the pain caused by those who should love us more than the rest of the world.
Our kids, our parents, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces can do things we don’t like, that cause us to worry, that cause us heartache. We can’t control that – but sin can occur when we loose our ability to control our reaction.
And it is often our sin, or our desire to sin, that causes us as much anxiety and stress. Our feeling that we have to do something, anything…that leads to sin in thought, word and deed. I mean how many of us are willing to let those things go for a couple of months, or years, or even a decade without letting it anger us, hurt us, or just frustrate the hell out of us. How do we deal with their sin, without wanting to sin ourselves? And that causes even more anxiety and stress….
- God lifting the burdens
- Gospel Answer
- OT Response
As we go through this Lent, the purpose of this series is not to face our anxieties and things that cause us stress. It is to shed those anxieties off, to let Jesus remove the burdens they cause, to heal the wounds they leave behind.
That is what Jesus means when He says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That is His response to the disciples’ arguments about who is the greatest. He doesn’t point at this one or that, he points out that He is hear to serve, and to pay off the debt we find we are in to God and each other.
He does away with the sin and its punishment, leaving us free….
This is the work of God that Joseph witnessed, the reason he would weep when his brothers were expecting vengeance.
He knew God would work it out, and His trust in God allowed him to say those incredible words, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”
That is where forgiveness and reconciliation begins, in seeing what God can do with the situations that cause anxiety and pain. Sometimes we need to be patient and faithful waiting to see God’s plan work out – hopefully it won’t be a decade like Joseph and His brothers.
God did what He promised. He always does. That is what the cross is about, healing the broken relationships now, and forever.
Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things. Matthew 6:33 (TEV)
When the prophets try to describe for me the attributes, the graces, the worthiness of the God who appeared to them and dealt with them, I feel that I can kneel down and follow their admonition: “He is thy Lord—worship thou Him!”
Here everything must be abandoned: friends, acquaintances, the whole city of Jerusalem, and everything belonging to these and to men; for all this neither gives, nor aids comfort, until the Lord is sought in the temple, since he is in that which is his Father’s. There he can truly be found and the heart is made to rejoice, otherwise it would have to remain without the least comfort.
Annie Dillard goes to church: “I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.… There is one church here, so I go to it.” It doesn’t matter that it is out of fashion, she goes anyway: “On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia.”
It is unfashionable because it is ridiculous. How can searchers after God and seekers after beauty stomach the “dancing bear act” that is staged in Christian churches, Protestant and Catholic alike, week after week? Dillard, cheerfully and matter-of-factly, goes anyway.
Most Christians know we are to seek first Jesus Christ and His righteous life.
But do we do it?
Peterson’s Annie gets it, I think.
SHe chooses to go to a church which isn’t particularly proper or professional. She goes to a small church where two or three are gathered in His name, and share in His gifts of word sacrament. Finding the God she barely knows, but knows enough to know she has to worship Him, that is her focus…
A million and one things to criticise, but she goes to find God, in the middle of His people.
She succeeds, for God will always be found where He says.
Arriving there, Tozer’s words make sense—it is too much to try to comprehend the God who draws us into His presence. There, realizing the very special incredibly intimate relationship He has created, we are drawn to our knees and our face flooding with tears of joy; we praise Him!
We don’t even think about abandoning everything – we just do. We abandon our sin, we abandon those things we think will make life perfect; we abandon our fears and anxieties and simply desire to join Annie, and worship God, who loves us.
Seek Him first and then be aware He is here… and allow that to change and guide your life. When you mess up – be assured, He will be there.
He loves you.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 35.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 88.
† In Jesus Name †
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,Christ, give you grace and peace!
I could leave the sermon with just the blessing, a simple blessing that plus or minus a word, begins every letter Paul writes to the churches.
If you all believed this promise, if you all knew that God gives you grace and peace, and you shared that with all your relatives, friends, neighbors and enemies, and lived life counting on it… well – sermon is done… let’s get to communion!
The problem is that little three letter word “may” in the translation. It doesn’t sound… solid enough.
Is it going to happen? Is it just Paul’s dream for the church in Rome? In my case, if someone says something good “may” happen, my instinct is, “what will I do that will mess this up”
That’s why we have to take a step back – and to understand that this “may” is not dependent on us, but on the who Jesus came to be, and the promise of God that is ours, because of Jesus.
In this case, “may” means, “this will definitely happen…”
- The evidence
So what gives Paul so much confidence in blessing people like this?
The short answer is the gospel—the good news.
1 This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. 2 God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. Romans 1:1-2 (NLT2)
Paul tells us he was called by God to speak.
Not only him but God promised this through the Old Testament prophets over and over throughout scripture.
The reason we have confidence that we will have grace and peace because of Jesus has been communicated over and over, it was ingrained in the people of God, even if they didn’t understand it.
The promise was there, and Paul revealed it was there—now. As it is for us now…as we will see.
Paul will then say this,
The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line, 4 and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.
Here is the summary: Jesus is who the prophets said he would be. He was the promised Messiah, the Savior who restore David’s kingdom, who would restore the people of God, whose arrival would result in an eternal, everlasting kingdom.
So he had that going for Him, fulfilling that part of the promise. But then, the mystery that was promised – but never seen before.
Jesus, the Son of God, the one who would lie in a feeding trough when born, would be raised from the dead.
We consider this often around here, not just at Easter
Alleluia! He is risen! (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!)
And therefore, (We are Risen Indeed!)
And at every baptism, and every celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we realize that we’ve died with Him, so that we may… no we will live with Him.
“He is, He IS Christ our Lord”, Paul tells us.
And before we can come up with another excuse… he makes us understand we are the ones Christ died for, and rose for…
5 Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority as apostles to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name.
6 And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ.
You are included.
That’s my privilege. I don’t care what you’ve done in the past, or what you are presently struggling with guaranteed. God raised Christ from the dead—for you.
His Body was broken, His blood was shed—for you.
Look at the blessing
- Grace and peace!
Therefore, you know this blessing is more than a casual “may”, and a fond wish for a friend.
This is the blessing that has been planned for you since before the foundation of the world
Grace – the gift of salvation. And let me be absolutely clear—salvation is not having sins forgiven. That is what leads to salvation.
And let me be clear—salvation is not the forgiveness of sins. That is how we are saved. Salvation is the relationship that is guaranteed.
I was reminded of that in one of my devotional readings this week. Eugene Peterson wrote,
“The way a pastor uses the language is a critical element in the work. The Christian gospel is rooted in language: God spoke a creation into being; our Savior was the Word made flesh. The (pastor)/poet is the person who uses words not primarily to convey information but to make a relationship,”
My role, just like the apostle Paul’s is not to lecture you, not to teach you Greek or Hebrew, or make you feel guilty about your past. Some of that may happen along the way—but my one purpose, the way I am to use my words, is to make sure you know the grace of God–which is the relationship that Christ claimed for you. It is why you were redeemed.
It is what makes Christmas and Easter special, this incredible relationship we have with God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
Therefore, we are here…to know God’s grace…
And knowing that, we find ourselves at peace.
Knowing this love, knowing all the promises God has in store for us, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
This is what it is all about—this incredible relationship.
This is what makes the difference now, and for eternity.
Knowing He is here, knowing the grace that accomplishes this—may you realize this peace which is beyond understanding… as Jesus keeps you in this peace, your heart and mind secure in it.
Visions of Peace III
† In Jesus’ Name †
May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize you dwell in the most incredible and unexplainable peace!
- The Promise
Have you ever talked to someone who, though speaking English, was using the technical knowledge that is known only to people in their own work?
Maybe they are a lawyer and tossing around terms that you think might have been Latin, or a doctor talking about your health in medical terms that have 16 syllables per word. Maybe it is an engineer, or someone talking about crocheting.
Pastors aren’t immune to this either. IN fact, one of the many reasons I miss one certain person’s presence, is that she always signaled me when I used to many theological terms, and didn’t define them. She does it with such grace that I could never be offended by it, but that she wants to know what I am saying… is a wondrous thing!.
One of those technical theological terms is the word “gospel.” We know it is something I am suppose to preach, that you all are supposed to share with loved one, neighbors, friends, even enemies…
We know it has something to do with God’s love, and with Jesus, and the cross.
But the gospel is more than that…
The gospel, completely revealed, is what Isaiah describes in our Old Testament reading this morning…
It is heavenly…
And that is why Isaiah says to share it,
“With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. 4 Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”
I don’t know about you—but I could use some strength and encouragement!
And the gospel should do that—as you look for the incredible change in all of creation that comes with Jesus’ return!
- The Party
For someone who had to deal with wars and oppression, Isaiah has an incredible vision for life in Christ.
He describes it so incredibly! Places where there is little life just explode with life. I am not sure if I would use the deserts and wilderness and the flowers that appear over a few hours.
So I came up with a different example.
Everything comes to life as fast as Christmas decorations proliferate stores and streets at the first opportunity. Think about how fast everything changes!
I mean ever here—yesterday at 10 there were the poinsettias and by noon—everything was different; the tree is up and lit, there is green all around, there is the sense that Christmas is near.
But it is not just how things look that changes.
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unplug the ears of the deaf. 6 The lame will leap like a deer, and those who cannot speak will sing for joy! Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland. 7 The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived!
What an incredible vision this is!
Imagine if after church we had a basketball game, and Tom and I were running full bore up and down the court, doing things we haven’t done in 20 and 30 years?
Imagine everyone with hearing aids being actually able to hear what their wives are saying and responding to what is said!
I shouldn’t keep saying, “imagine” as if this is some kind of naïve, idyllic pipedream.
I should say “look forward to” for that is the gospel, that is the truth. We are looking forward to this, not just thinking it might come
God has promised. He has sworn it will be true and guaranteed it with the blood of Christ.
This is what we long for, when everything broken in our lives and in the world… is made brand new….
Including our hearts and souls… everything is made new as we celebrate in the presence of God, our Creator, our Redeemer, the One who draws us into a special relationship with Him!
- The Way
That relationship was described in the of Acts as those who were “followers of the Way,” probably with this passage from Isaiah in mind. This is well before we were known as Christians or little Christs.
To be on the way means we are walking with Christ, for He has ransomed us, in order to walk with us on this way home.
Here it described again,
There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. 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.
I would equate this as going on a plane trip—from our baptism to heaven is simply walking up the ramp from a plane to the terminal.
The excitement is building—we know we’ve arrived; we are where we are supposed to be. Now more hassles, no more security checks, no more struggles. Just the excitement of being at our destination.
That is where we are at right now, because Jesus came.
We are almost there, at the point where we will see God face to face…
Because Jesus came into our world—all our troubles are taken care of—all our weaknesses and instabilities. All our guilt and shame…
We are in His Kingdom even now… and those who depend on Him, and come to love Him, will rejoice…
For Jesus Christ is born, and was born for you. AMEN
Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other.
4 But—When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, TItus 3:3-4 NLT
In what I have to say I may not be joined by any ground swell of public opinion, but I have a charge to make against the church. We are not consciously aware of God in our midst. We do not seem to sense the tragedy of having almost completely lost the awareness of His presence.…
Revival and blessing come to the church when we stop looking at a picture of God and look at God Himself. Revival comes when, no longer satisfied just to know about a God in history, we meet the conditions of finding Him in living, personal experience.…
No one knows the Father like the Son because He emerged from the bosom of this Trinitarian Mystery that John says is love. Notice John doesn’t just say God shows love. God is love. This is a huge distinction. The love of God is God. That means it’s not sentimental. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s ruthlessly determined. It’s determined to give itself away at any cost. And one problem we will have with the God who really is, is that he’ll invite us to do the same.
As I write this, I feel rushed, I feel anxious, there are so many things to do to prepare for the weeks to come, there are people I need to see now, there are things I need to figure out how to defuse, and move past.
I didn’t want to do my readings and prayer this morning, or maybe it was I was tempted not to. (Last night Bible Study was on the Lord’s prayer and “lead us not to temptation!”) Satan would love me not to break and spend time…and my own flesh is weary.. and the pressures of the world… well lets not go there.
In the worship service, what some call the mass, there is a phrase often repeated that we need to correct. It sounds like a blessing in modern English, yet it was a statement of fact in the old days.
“The Lord BE with you!” Is how it sounds in most Lutheran and Anglican Hymnals, and in the missals our our brother and sister Roman Catholics.
We need to hear that as “The Lord IS with you!” (and us who guide worship – desperately need to hear, “and also with you!”)
Tozer had it right – to often we enter worship and go all the way through it without giving a thought to the presence of God. That He IS with us, in that moment, a participant in worship–more active even than we are. (side note: as I write this, my grammar checker tells me that the words “the presence of” are not needed for clarity! I think the church has unknowingly done the same! ) We must recognize that we are standing on holy ground.
This is the God of whom Keating is speaking, The God who IS love. A love that is powerful, ruthlessly determined to make Himself known, and willing to give up everything for the benefit of those whom He loves.
I need to know that – as do you. And there are days we desperately need to know this!
We need to know what Paul told Titus about..
We need to see God reveal His kindness and love…and in order to do that, we have to be drawn into His presence. He needs to clean us, teach our hearts and souls and minds that He loves us. If we don’t get that point right, everything else we do as a church is worthless, hopeless, and pitiful.
We have to get HE IS HERE. HE IS with you and me. RIght now, at our desks, or in our work places. He is here to heal, forgive, comfort, lift up, and give us hope. Hope for this life… and for eternity.
He is with you my friends.
The Lord IS with you!
A. W. Tozer, Tozer for the Christian Leader (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2015).
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 251.
Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people; come near and rescue me.
5 Let me share in the prosperity of your chosen ones. Let me rejoice in the joy of your people;
let me praise you with those who are your heritage. Psalm 106:4-5 NLT
The ninth Fruit of the Spirit is Self-control. Self-control as a fruit of the Spirit is not the domination of our will over our emotions. It is rather our awareness of God’s abiding presence and is the result of the infusion of God’s steadfast love. Hence our former compulsive reaching out for security, affection and esteem, power and status symbols ceases.
The others, however, who are not so callous and dissolute but would like to be good, should not absent themselves (from the Eucharist), even though in other respects they are weak and frail. As St. Hilary has also said, “Unless a person has committed such a sin that he has to be expelled from the congregation and has forfeited the name of Christian, he should not exclude himself from the sacrament,” lest he deprive himself of life.
Keating’s words are powerful, for they recognize the truth.
If self control is a matter of will-power, I might as well give up now. There are too many points where self control is overwhelmed. The desires we have will eventually break us down and overwhelm us. Hunger and Lust are two examples – if we feed them to often, or not enough, they will dominate us, wanting to be fed, or fed more. Other desires include a need for recognition, a need to be valued. That is where security comes from – the position of having meaning, knowing we are needed in a place, by those around us.
Simply put, if we are needed, our place in life is secure.
The problem is when we feel we aren’t needed, then all our desires run rampant, and we become open to addictions of every sort.
Keating makes self-control focus not on man’s will-power, but the infusion and enlightment that comes as the Spirit inswells in us. No longer do we need to be needed, for we know God has a place for us. We no longer need to be valued by the world, because again – He shows us our value as He sends Jesus to the cross, and to the altar. THe more aware of HIs presence in our lives, the less we are needy for others to recognize us.
Hence the Psalm’s cry, for God to come nearer, for God to include us. It is a cry for that security, that recognition, for the need to be valued.
Luther nails it as well, in describing who should come to the Lord’s Supper. It is the life-hack for those who are empty, broken, feeling worthless, and therefore are out of control. There reconciliation and rehabilitation happen, as God lovingly pours peace into our lives. That is why Luther welcomes believers who are struggling. In fact, he encourages them, reminding them they are the reason the feast exists. He quotes Hilary saying this is where we find life! Even as our life began anew when we were baptized, so we find renewal as the Father gives us Christ’s body and blood.
This is who we are, this is our security, that God Himself has paid the highest cost to make us HIs own people, and brings this reminder to us as often as we are drawn to HIs altar. This is where healing happens, and reconciliation, and where peace is poured out – because we are valued by God. It is where we know best the presence of God, the presence that floods through us and helps us realize – nothing comes close to feeding us like this.
Lord, help us to find our life in You, as we receive Your body and Blood frequently. And may our desire for these moments grow, and overwhelm all other desires as You provide for all our needs. AMEN!
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 195.
Martin Luther, “The Large Catechism: The Sacrament of the Altar”, Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert, and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000), 473.
“I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me. Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me.” Hosea 5:15 (TEV)
This is the human condition—to be without the true source of happiness, which is the experience of the presence of God, and to have lost the key to happiness, which is the contemplative dimension of life.… What we experience is our desperate search for happiness where it cannot possibly be found.
In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints.
Hosea’s message is brutal, or at least it seems that way.
How could a good God consign people to suffering, to the pain that is endured because of their sins. Not just the individual sins, but the sins of the community and the sins of the world. (There is another post there, that sins, and their consequences are not individual issues – but every sin is allowed, and affects the community) Back to the thought, how could a loving, compassionate God be this petty?
What God is allowing is not the suffering. Scripture tells us over and over He would prevent that suffering. He would protect us from suffering, and He will heal us from the wounds that we and society embrace.
The problem is our search for happiness, and our hunger for pleasure that we mistake for happiness. Keating is correct, we become so desperate in our search for happiness, because we look for it in places that it cannot be found! Instead, those illusions of happiness only drive us harder to find it, even as we look for it in the places that have already left us dry, wounded, broken.
Money can’t buy us the happiness we thought it could. The perfect house/home, once found and purchased, becomes empty. The perfect job doesn’t fulfill the way we thought it would. Relationships require far more work to be completely fulfilling and sex only leaves us wanting more of the moments of pleasure, or leaves us disappointed as those moments aren’t achieved. Every form of pleasure, though echoing pleasure for a moment, ends and leaves us wanting more. When they don’t provide what we want, we turn to things to distract us from the lack of happiness. Or to anesthetize the emptiness.
In 57 years of life, I have found happiness in the sacramental life. Not just at the communion rail, or in a shut-ins home sharing in prayer and the Lord’s supper. More there than anywhere else, of course, but the promise of such moments sustains me in the most brutal of weeks…. I know the moment of seeing God, of receiving all the blessings of which Luther spoke, is coming. Like heaven itself, these moments, whether forgiving or being forgiven, communing, or seeing new life begin in baptism, show the deep intimate relationship the people of God have been given.
These are the moments of revival of life, and of joy, and of peace. The hope they reveal of a day without pain and heartache brings its own happiness, and empowers us to live, until we are welcomed home by the Father.
And so God allows us to look in places where happiness isn’t, guiding us back to where it is promised. In His presence, in knowing He is here, with us.
And so letting us wander, letting us search, is allowed by God in order that we are drawn home. The power that Christ from the dead is at work, drawing us home, and cleansing us, so that we may be presented without sin, unbroken, completely healed. This is what the sacraments promise, and what they see accomplished, for God has promised this!
Lord Jesus, draw us home from our wanderings, help us hunger for what does fulfill our deepest needs, needs fulfilled by the Holy Spirit. Amen!
Thomas Keating, The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O., Sacred Scripture, and Other Spiritual Writings, ed. S. Stephanie Iachetta (New York; London; New Delhi; Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2009), 154
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), 108..