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An Interesting Look at the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharistic.

church at communion 2Devotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

15  I am speaking as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I am saying. 16  The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (NAB)

4  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. 5  For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Romans 6:4-5 (NAB)

The Lord could say that his Body was “given” only because he had in fact given it; he could present his Blood in the new chalice as shed for many only because he really had shed it. This Body is not the ever-dead corpse of a dead man, nor is the Blood the life-element rendered lifeless. No, sacrifice has become gift, for the Body given in love and the Blood given in love have entered, through the Resurrection, into the eternity of love, which is stronger than death. Without the Cross and Resurrection, Christian worship is null and void, and a theology of liturgy that omitted any reference to them would really just be talking about an empty game.

As much as I appreciate the Lord’s Supper, as much as I’ve meditated on it and studied it, I’ve never thought about it as I read the blue quote above. I have read the great book by Pope Benedict, (then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) several times, in fact, I’ve used it as a supplemental text when I teach on the liturgy. And yet, I’ve never considered the point that is offered above.

That not only do we share, participate, fellowship, become partners with Christ’s body during the celebration of the Eucharist (Communion/Lord’s Supper) we are also because He is risen, a partner in the resurrection, drawn into His resurrected life, and into the “eternity of love.”

This is a mind-blowing thing to me, and be patient with me while I process it.

As someone formally trained in non-denominational theology, and then in Lutheran theology, I tend to think of the Lord’s Supper given His death, His offering of His body as the hilasterion, the sacrifice of blood that covers and cleanses us from our sin.   I know well the implications of that and am in awe to think of it. 

When I lead people to the altar, with the cross overhanging it, when we commune together in front of the New Testament version of the mercy seat  (Lev. 6:14) my thoughts are almost always on the love of God poured out on the cross.  There we meditate on the Body was broken, and the Blood was shed.  By no means am I saying that this is still not true!

There is something there, in these words of Pope Benedict, that I have witnessed so many times at the altar, the incredible, glorious mystery that happens as people come and are joined again to the death of Jesus, and that is that they come alive in that moment.  You can see their bodies change, as they enter into this blessed moment, this feast, ( I want to use the old word “repast” ) as the brokenness is shorn away from them, as the wait is lifted. As they are revived in their spirit, it shows physically. 

This is the missing key, the idea that not only are we given the gift of His death for us, but the gift of His resurrection, the gift of life in the resurrected Christ!  

This is something that we don’t understand, if we only think of the Lord’s Supper as in sharing in His death (though it does certainly proclaim it so strongly )  We don’t see it if we only see our sharing in the dead, lifeless corpse.  But our souls get it, as this feast is one of incredible joy, one of peace that shatters the chaos of life. 

This feast, which is a foretaste of the feast to come is just like baptism, a joining with Christ’s death, and with the hope, the promise, the reality of our resurrection, because He is risen.  

You have been united with His death, and sin has been dealt with, but in His giving you His body and blood, He also gives you life!

Hear again the blessing that is given, as people stand and kneel form the altar…and know it is for you.  ( It might make even more sense now!)

Now, may the precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen your faith, your confidence in the God’s work in your life; and until we are all before God throne, dwelling in His glory, may you know you dwell, kept secure in His peace!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

Christmas is how close? GULP! Some thoughts on struggle that Christmas can be.

Altar with communionDevotional Thought for our seemingly broken days:

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22  let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24  Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:19-25 (NLT)

But, as St. Gregory the Great puts it, it is still only the time of dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled. The sun is rising, but it has still not reached its zenith. Thus the time of the New Testament is a peculiar kind of “in-between”, a mixture of “already and not yet”. The empirical conditions of life in this world are still in force, but they have been burst open, and must be more and more burst open, in preparation for the final fulfillment already inaugurated in Christ.

Two weeks from today is Christmas, a day some are able to celebrate with great joy with those whom they love, who they care for, as meals are shared, as presents are exchanged, as laughter and smiles are contagious.

Yet recognizing that Christmas is only two weeks away causes my anxiety levels to rise.  There are services to plan, sermons to write, music to practice, and most of all, people to pray for and try and find ways to comfort and to try to reveal God’s presence to, so that they can know some peace.

Some are stressed out by finances, or work situations.  Some are broken by their own sin, or addictions, or broken by the sin and addictions of those they love, that have caused deep division.  Some are grieving, and that number has grown this year.  Some are simply wandering, directionless, unable to find anything stable enough to give them hope, even as they drive by churches advertising Christmas concerts, and advent services, even as they set up Christmas trees and manger scenes in their own homes.

I like how Pope Benedict phrased where we are in life, in this time of the dawn, when darkness and light are intermingled.  There are shadows that seem to overwhelm us, to convince us we still are in the darkness. The struggles of life are still there, undeniably, yet there is a hint of the perfect, complete life we know is coming in Christ Jesus.

We are in the time of the “now, and not yet!”  The time where God’s kingdom is here, yet we struggle to see it.  The time when we are in God’s presence, though we cannot see Him,  It is a time where we have to depend on God, but still have so many doubts, where we have to have hope, but struggle to define that, and therefore to express it.

Which is all the more reason to gather together as believers regularly,  To celebrate the fact that we are in His presence, that Christ has cleansed us, that we have been baptized by His blood, and therefore have clean consciences! This all in order that we know, that when He returns, He is not just returning to us, but returning for us.

We gather to encourage each other with these facts, for too often we forget them in the shadows of the world.  Too often we get overwhelmed by sin, ours and that of the world.

There is the hope, that is the real message behind all the decorations, all the mangers scenes – and the lights symbolizing Jesus coming, He whose light shatters our darkness, He who is our light, the Light of the World.  He who is our comforter, He who is our peace.

And for the next two weeks, and until His return, the One who hears us when we cry, “Lord Have Mercy,” and find int he manger and the cross, He has!

So let’s get together in these times, often, so that we can cry and laugh together, and encourage each other, even as we look forward to the day of Chrsit coming.  AMEN!

Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. Trans. John Saward. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Print.

A Problem: How We Talk About Sin Has Changed.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

61 Knowing that his followers were complaining about this, Jesus said, “Does this teaching bother you? 62 Then will it also bother you to see the Son of Man going back to the place where he came from? 63 It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh doesn’t give life. The words I told you are spirit, and they give life.  John 6:61-63 NCV

Luther, too, employed this “core” as unquestioningly in his catechism as the Council of Trent did in the Roman catechism. That is to say: every statement about the Faith is ordered to the four basic elements: the Creed, the Our Father, the Decalogue, and the sacraments. The whole foundation of Christian life is thereby included—the synthesis of the Church’s teaching as it is based on Scripture and Tradition. Christians find here what they are to believe (the Symbolum or Creed), what they are to hope (the Our Father), what they are to do (the Decalogue or Ten Commandments), and the ambience in which all this is to be accomplished (the sacraments). Today, this fundamental structure has been abandoned in many areas of catechesis with results that are plainly evident in the loss of the sensus fidei among the younger generations, which are often unable to take a comprehensive view of their religion.

Although all nations see the horrible confusion, vices, and grievous calamities of the human race and feel the burden of sin, yet only the church of God teaches both where sin comes from and what it is and hears the Word of God concerning divine wrath and present and eternal punishments. And though human wisdom teaches us how to guide morals [and] disapproves and punishes actions against common reason, yet it does not recognize what is inherent in the consideration of sin, namely guilt before God or the wrath of God. Alexander saw that he had acted shamefully when he killed Clitus and he mourned as a result, because he made a judgment contrary to nature, but he did not mourn because he had offended God or because he was guilty before God. But the church points out the wrath of God and teaches that sin is a far greater evil than human reason thinks. Nor does the church reprove only external actions which are in conflict with the law of God or reason, as philosophy does; but it reproves the root and the fruit, the inner darkness of the mind, the doubts concerning the will of God, the turning away of the human will from God and the stubbornness of the heart against the law of God. It also reproves ignoring and despising the Son of God. These are grievous and atrocious evils, the enormity of which cannot be told. Therefore Christ says, “The Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, because they do not believe in Me, and of righteousness because I go to the Father, and of judgment, because the prince of this world is already judged” [John 16:8–11].

It is now the third generation since the decline of the church in America began.

I have heard many theories about each of the generations as those in the church grieve over their absence.  We mourned the boomers who came and went, sometimes coming back.  Their kids, my generation, some either came and stayed, but others fell aside and rarely come back, even for Christmas and Easter.  It is any wonder why we think the millennials won’t come?

Our situation could be described in the words in blue above, the desperate times, the confusion, the carelessness towards vice and greed.  Those words are nearly 500 years old, but so reflective of our days today.

Except the church has forgotten about how to teach and preach about sin. Part of the church would ignore sinful acts, thoughts, deeds.  The same part would love to condemn and even crucify some specific sins that abhor them. But our focus (and I do mean our) is on “sins” rather than sin.  It is the symptoms that concern us, rather than the cause.  It is act, the thought, the deed that we either want to justify or condemn.

And because we are so two faced in the church, those outside the church only hear our rants about sins and sinners, and never about the issue, sin.

One of the reasons for teaching the basics of the faith with the outline of Commandments, Creed, Prayer, Sacraments was that it causes us to deal with sin, not just sins.  It causes us to face the evil that we live with, that we are held hostage by, that we love and we hate.  To deal not just with sins, the individual thoughts, words and actions that are contrary to scripture, but we must deal with the root cause.

Sin. That which divides us from God. divides us from each other, and shatters us personally.

That’s what needs to be dealt with, that’s the evil that has to be overcome in this world.

Our evil.  Your’s and mine.

That’s what Jesus did.

That’s what we all need to hear – no matter the generation, no matter the age.  That’s what we’ve taught for generations… what we need to teach again.

To give them the hope we all need.

Church – get that straight.. give them hope to deal with their brokenness – help them realize God still loves them, will cleanse them, heal them, declare them to be His own.

They will come for that.. they always have.

 

 

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.

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.

Altar with communionDevotional 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.

Can I ask, “So What?” now? (the purpose of Easter and Theology)

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3 God’s divine power has given us everything we need to live a truly religious life through our knowledge of the one who called us to share in his own  glory and goodness. 4In this way he has given us the very great and precious gifts he promised, so that by means of these gifts you may escape from the destructive lust that is in the world, and may come to share the divine nature.   2 Peter 1:3-4 TEV

At first we do not know him, but the voice of the Church tells us: it is he. It is up to us, then, to set out in haste to seek him, to come closer to him. We meet him by listening to the words of Holy Scripture, by sharing his life through the sacraments, by our encounter with him in our personal prayers, by our encounter with those whose lives are filled with Jesus, in the various occupations of daily life, and in innumerable other ways. He seeks us wherever we are, and thus we learn to know him. To come closer to him in a variety of ways, to learn to see him—that is the primary purpose of the study of theology. For this study has basically nothing to teach us if the knowledge it imparts does not refer to the reality of our life.  (1)

All day yesterday I saw people putting “He is risen! Alleluia!” on their FB posts, on Tweets, on Memes.  And most of the time, I was able to resist the temptation of asking “So what?”

I wanted to avoid the temptation because I knew the responses would miss the reason why I asked. You see, I’ve asked people before, and they look at me, stunned, as if trying to figure out if I was insane, or an atheist, or …

But it is a question we need to ask!

So what He is risen?  SO what the cross didn’t defeat him?  So what difference does this event make in your life today?

If you don’t know, then tomorrow or maybe by Thursday that post on Sunday will be forgotten, the response said on Sunday with such enthusiasm will be put in the closet until next year, when it will be dusted off again.

Does the resurrection have enough personal value to you that you will post He is risen in October or January?  Will you praise God that Christ is risen the midst of 100-degree temps in August when your A/C is broken, or when your family is in the midst of Trauma?  What about when everything is going well, and you begin to relax and enjoy your life?

Answering “so what” now will help you know the answer when all around you everything is perfect, or everything sucks.

Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI gets this.  He is one of the most brilliant theologians in the last 150 years.  Yet for him, it boils down encountering Jesus, not just alone, but in the midst of the church, in the midst of others who are the children of God.  In our prayer life, in our time reading scripture and sharing in the sacrament, but also in our work.  St Peter talks about it (as does St. Paul) using the thought that we actually share in His glory, we are welcomed into, and that is the place we belong.

This is what it is about, this walking with God, this knowing Him whom we trust and depend upon, this being humble enough to be spiritual children, rushing into the arms of our heavenly Father.

This is what it means that He is risen.  It means we are as well.  It means the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  It means we are the people of God, the ones He died and rose to share His life, His glory, His peace with, and whom He loves!

AMEN!

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.

 

Who are We to Judge God?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
4  “I have been the LORD your God ever since I brought you out of Egypt. You must acknowledge no God but me, for there is no other savior. 5  I took care of you in the wilderness, in that dry and thirsty land. 6  But when you had eaten and were satisfied, you became proud and forgot me.    Hosea 13:4-6 (NLT)

Being wise with someone else’s head … is, to be sure, inferior to being wise oneself, but it is infinitely superior to the sterile pride of one who does not achieve the independence of being wise himself, yet at the same time despises the dependence of one who believes on the word of another.” 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.  (1)

Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the heart which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: “See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek another,” i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or rest in any other.(2)

When we read something brilliant, and quickly begin to use ti to judge and condemn others, I pray we begin to first use the same standard to judge ourselves.

As I read Pope Benedict’s words this morning, (those are the ones in green) I immediately thought of those who dismiss scripture.  Some of those are outside the church, who look at stories of miracles and cannot believe them.  Others are those inside the church who examine scripture with a scientific mindset, looking to judge whether this passage is valid, or that passage is not really accurate historically. `Both place themselves as the final judge and jury over the word of God.

But that is a temptation for every person, conservative or liberal, confessional or missional.  We see it when we apply the text to others, and not to ourselves.  We see it when we treat the scriptures from a perspective that is academic, as if it is the greatest theological treatise.   When we want to create a system out of the scriptures and use it to put God in a box.

I see this in myself all too often, as I approach the incredible wealth of the scriptures, mining it, being in awe of the words, and forgetting their purpose, that they are the means, not the end.  For it is easy to focus on the study and not the prayer and times of intimacy with God that reflecting on them should create.  We can, in the name of God, studying His word, become proud, and forget Him, even as we study His revelation to us.

It is when we forget that He is revealed, His love, His mercy, His desire for us to be His people that we end up being proud, that we see ourselves as the authority, not the supplicant.

Luther catches us when we get to this point and reminds us of what it means for God to be God.  He tells us we can creep and cling to God, that we can approach Him in the sure knowledge of the hope He has given us, that He will respond, that He will love and cleanse, that He will heal us.

That’s the ends, for us to realize that He is our God, that we are His people.  In Him we find rest, and that is what the scriptures are there to teach us, to reveal to us, to assure us of.  That is what the covenants describe, it is what Law and Gospel drive us to, it is the reason for the cross.  There is no other end of the discussion that is valid.  For here is our hope:

We are His people.  HE is our God. And as scripture tells us,

But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. “  John 20:31 (NLT)

AMEN!

(1)    Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  Martin Luther, The Large Catechism of Martin Luther, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Part First: The Ten Commandments”.

Maranatha! I am not sure you know what this word means!

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
1  You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. 2  Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4  Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory!   Colossians 3:1-4 (TEV)

22  Whoever does not love the Lord—a curse on him! Marana tha—Our Lord, come! 23  The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
1 Corinthians 16:22-23 (TEV)

Yet when the Church departed from her Semitic motherland she took with her some words that have since become familiar to all Christians: amen, alleluia, hosanna—and, above all, marana-tha!  (1)

59      If you respond to the call the Lord has made to you, your life—your poor life!—will leave a deep and wide furrow in the history of the human race, a clear and fertile furrow, eternal and godly.  (2)

I love reading Pope Benedict on the topic of worship, especially about liturgical renewal.  Despite being one of the greatest theological minds of the last 200 years, his focus is that liturgy must be understood, and it must reveal Jesus. This morning, the devotional I have that is made up of his writings focused on this,and it is very good.

What struck me the most was the blue quote above, and the word that we need to keep from our “Semitic motherland”.  Not amen, that is, “this is true.”  Not Alleluia, that is, “Praise you YHWH/LORD.”  Not even the cry hosannah, which means “save us, LORD”!

The word that he would have us keep more than all, is the prayer, Maranatha!  Come Lord!  
I thought I knew the word, but I looked it up, just in case.  It is a bold prayer, but more than a bit terrifying in context.  For the prayer is for God to come with all of His justice, to come with His judgment. To answer a call to purge that which is evil, that which is wicked, that which is sinful and rebellious. It is the cry of the psalms, Lord, rescue the righteous, to pour out your wrath on those who deserve it.

To get rid of the murders, the cheats, the liars, those who are envious, the sexually impure the gossips… those who sin actively and passively, in what they do, but also what they say and think.
 
Are you ready for that?  Are you confident that your soul is clean enough to have God come back right now?  Everyone wants to end up in heaven, but are we ready to be judged for what we have done, or didn’t do?  Do you feel a sudden need for confession, to hear the words you are forgiven?

I know I do…

I need to know that grace!  I know I need to realize that I have found my hope, in that in Christ’s mercy, my sins have been purged from me, that I am counted as righteous because He cleansed me, uniting me to His death and Resurrection in Baptism (Romans 6, Colossians 2, 1 Peter 3) I need to be comforted, and know the love of God for me, a sinner. 9

It is in this Easter season that we are reminded that we are hidden in Christ, in heaven already.  For we dwell in the presence of God Himself. We need to realize this, contrary to the old saying, we need to be so Heavenly minded, so that we can be worth something here on earth!  

That is what Josemaria Escriva is talking about as well, responding to the call that Jesus has put on our life. Not the call to be a pastor or priest, or a lay leader, but the call of all, to be the children of God, to live in His presence. As we think of heaven, as we realize we are dwelling already in His presence, that changes us, and we leave a mark on this earth that makes a difference, because we love as He loves us.

This isn’t just thoughts of piety, but immense practicality. We need to cry out Maranatha, but we need to do so in faith, knowing out relationship with Jesus, knowing that repentance which He grants us, which gives us life.  And that repentance, that cry of faith, changes us, and through us, changes the world. 

So cry it out, in awe, in fear, counting on Jesus to do what He has done.

And live life, knowing He is with you.  

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. 130). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 436-438). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Deepest Theological Statement is only 4 words!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

Alleluia!(1)  He Is Risen! (2)

14  And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15  And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16  And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17  And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still guilty of your sins. 18  In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19  And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.
1 Corinthians 15:14-19 (NLT)

What would it mean if Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, had not taken place? Would it mean just one more corpse, insignificant among the statistics of world history, or would there be more to it? Well, if there were no Resurrection, the story of Jesus would have ended with Good Friday. His body would have decayed, and he would have become a has-been. But that would mean that God does not take initiatives in history, that he is either unable or unwilling to touch this world of ours, our human living and dying. And that in turn would mean that love is futile, nugatory, an empty and vain promise. It would mean that there is no judgment and no justice. It would mean that the moment is all that counts and that right belongs to the cunning, the crafty and those without consciences.
There would be no judgment. Many people, and by no means only wicked people, would welcome that because they confuse judgment with petty calculation and give more room to fear than to a trusting love.  (3)

62      Our Lord did not confine himself to telling us that he loved us. He showed it to us with deeds, with his whole life. What about you?

Some people think theologians live in ivory towers, deeply disconnected with the world. I will admit some of us do, and more often than not we get accused of it. Surely we go off on tangents, and make little details bigger than they ought to be.  In doing so, we find ourselves blinded by these little things, to the greatest of theological truths.

One of the reasons I love being a pastor in the Lutheran Church is our habit that Easter isn’t just celebrated for 1 Sunday, but for 40 days, and then every Sunday after that for the entire year.  The reason it is important to me is that I have to be reminded, and remind you of one simple truth, one we say over and over for these weeks.

Alleluia!  He is risen!  

(if you know the response, go ahead and say it… you know you want to.. and it is good for us that you do so!)

There are no words deeper than these theologically!  (There are some equally powerful, but hearing these you understand them, and vice-versa)  To overlook them turns our religion from a glorious, incredible mystery, into simply the most pathetic thing on earth!  To overlook them is well described in Pope Benedict XVI’s  words in blue above.  For if Jesus doesn’t rise, God didn’t act in the incarnation. He didn’t act in the life of Jesus lived in our midst, tempted at every point as we are.  And God didn’t act in Christ’s death…. which assuredly He did.

And I love Benedict’s words, which we don’t both with the church because we confuse God’s judgment!  We think of His judgment as some sort of cosmic balance sheet.  Were we good enough; did our sins reach the point of no return, is our brokenness beyond God’s patience, and therefore, He might be unwilling to deal with it.  What happens then is we take this fear to the extreme, dismiss the God whom we fear, and create gods of things that help us ignore that which we fear.

We run from God, instead of understanding that because of the resurrection we can run to Him!  We can trust in God to use the power that raised Christ from the dead to raise us! (see Romans 6 for an excellent description of this!) We can trust this love of God, which gets involved in our lives, to the most hidden details, and starts bringing about the healing, patiently overwhelming us with His love.

He doesn’t just say He loves us, He shows it, by making the resurrection known, by revealing the depth of His plan, the purpose of His covenants, to those He no longer counts as minions, but as his beloved friends. (John 15:15)

This is all wrapped up in those words; He is risen!  We can meditate on that for hours, for days, and we should.  For from these words of life we find our life, our hope, our very being.

This is what our religion is based on; this is what is the foundation to why a Christian trusts in God.  As Benedict XVI, perhaps the greatest theologian in the 20th century wrote:

All this makes clear what Easter does mean: God has acted. History does not go on aimlessly. Justice, love, truth—these are realities, genuine reality. God loves us; he comes to meet us.  (3)

Alleluia, He is Risen!

the Lord is with you!

AMEN!

 

——-

(1)  Alleluia simply means “Praise God! (YWHW)
(2)  This is our Easter cry, taken from Matthew 28:6  ” 6  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. ”  Matthew 28:6 (NLT)
(3)  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. 126). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
(4)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 444-446). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Theological K.I.S.S. Principal for Preachers/Pastors/Priests

A Devotional Thought of the Day:

5  God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.
Matthew 5:5 (NLT)

8  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.
Micah 6:8 (TEV)

The simple faith of simple souls merits the respect, the reverence of the preacher, who has no right simply to pit his intellectual superiority against a faith which has remained simple and which, by its simple and intuitive comprehension of the Faith as a whole, can, in some cases, understand the essence of that Faith more profoundly than is possible for a reflective faith that is fragmented by division into systems and theories . (1)

Whether I agree with him completely or not, Pope Benedict XVI has to be counted as one of the most brilliant theologian-pastors in the last 100 years.   He wrote documents and letters that are stunning in how profound they are, and yet they are intimately pastoral, a look into the life of an introvert who pastored a billion people.

Seeing writings like that in blue above, perhaps it would be better phrased to call him a pastor-theologian, a man who kept his priorities straight, and recognizes it is the faith in Christ, our trust, and dependence on God, that matters more than our meager intellectual pontifications. That is why those of us who would count ourselves as theologians, as professionals in the world of religion, need to respect and honor the simple and deep faith of the simple soul.

It is that Jesus points us to in the Beatitudes, that Micah calls us to, to realize that God’s silliness is far greater than our wisdom, and to live our lives in recollection of this.

For, in the end, it is not the stimulating blogs, our journal articles we write, or the great tomes on doctrine, or our understanding of the great theologians and philosophers in the past that matters.

Rather, as the former pope, who before was responsible for all the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church wrote, the understanding of the essence of our faith.

The joy we take in hearing and responding to phrases like this:

“He is Risen!”

and

“The Lord is with you!”

and finally, knowing that God will hear and answer our cry,

“Lord have mercy!”

So keep it simple my brothers, reveal to them the height and breadth, the depth and width, of God’s love for them, seen in Christ Jesus!  AMEN!

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 94–95). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

The Wise Ones say, “Do Your Job!”

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9  If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11  As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12  Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13  For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14  But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15  And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)

When then he came, I found him a man of pleasing discourse, and who could speak fluently and in better terms, yet still but the self-same things which they were wont to say. But what availed the utmost neatness of the cup-bearer to my thirst for a more precious draught? Mine ears were already cloyed with the like, nor did they seem to me therefore better, because better said; nor therefore true, because eloquent; nor the soul therefore wise, because the face was comely, and the language graceful. (1)

Today’s average Christian assumes on the basis of this principle that faith is a product of the individual point of view, of intellectual endeavor, and of the work of specialists, and such a point of view seems to him more modern and more self-evident than the Catholic positions. For many today it is hardly comprehensible that a mysterious divine reality lies behind the human reality. But, as we know, that is the Catholic understanding of Church.

In this sense it is said, “The doers of the law will be justified”; that is, God pronounces righteous those who believe him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.
253 These words, spoken so simply, contain no error….  (3) 

No, this isn’t about Tom and Bill, and the game this week.  But it is what happens on Sunday, and should happen through the rest of the week as well.

It is about something far more important, far more important than another Superbowl, and more accolades.  It is about a dynasty, but not an earthly one.

The passage from Augustine, the second quote above, reaches out to when he was expecting a great man to give him insights on life that would change everything.  And the man, though a phenomenal speaker, failed to impress. The rest of that passage goes on about how disappointed, and yet relieved, for from there he would go and realize more clearly the love of God

Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote how this issue has been recycled in our age.  That philosophers and theologians, the specialists, have so spoken of faith and Christianity that people don’t always realize that what religion is, is an encounter with the Creator of the myseterious divine reality that lies behind what we perceive as reality.  What disappointed Augustine in the arrival of Faustus is now the norm.  What Jefferson tried to do, in eradicating the miraculous from scripture, has been accomplished by those who study it until it is dead.  Simply put, they have studied it until it is either a complex set of moral guidelines or completely accepted to be a nice set of fables.

That is not the “job” of the theologian or the philosopher.  They are, by their labels, those tho are to study the logic, the reason of God (the-logos) and the lover of wisdom (Philo-sophia) Their job then, should be to reveal the God that was revealed to them, to pass on the truth and wisdom and awe of a God who left heaven, humbled himself, served and died on a cross to prove to us that He loves us.

The Lutheran confessions exemplify this when summarizing the incredible truth.  God pronounces sinners righteous because they believe, trust, depend on His revelation of His love for them.  That belief/trust/faith/dependence is what God sees, as the Holy Spirit transforms their lives.  This is what Benedict knows as faith, even as he weeps over its being redefined, not by the world, but by the church. It is the revelation Augustine was hoping to hear.  God loves us, and depending upon that love, revelling in it, adoring the God, who loves us, changes us.

Which brings us back to St Paul, and his words to a young church, easily swayed by fancy orators and powerful leaders.  People need to trust in God, the God, who will never let them be shamed.

And the way they come to know that is simple.  We bring it to them; we send to them those who will reveal that love to them. That is how we do our job so that all can come to know His love.

It’s not rocket science.  It is the work of those who understand the word of God, and those who love wisdom.

So do your job, send, be sent, share Christ, and watch the glory of God enfold as the Spirit transforms lives, heart and minds that find peace in Christ Jesus.

 

(1)  Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2)  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. 30). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 143). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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