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


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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.

The Second Day of Christmas….or Have We Already Moved Past the Awe?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

And what about us? Are we so far away from the stable because we are much too refined and too smart for that? Do we not get all entangled in scholarly exegesis, in the proof or disproof of historical authenticity to the extent that we have become blind and deaf to the Child himself? Do we not really all too intensely dwell in “Jerusalem”, in a palace, withdrawn within ourselves, in our self-sufficiency, our fear of being challenged, too much so to be able to hear the voice of the angels, to set out to worship?  (1)

Twenty-four hours ago, I was standing before people, putting into their hands the Body and Blood of Jesus, as we celebrated the Incarnation, one of the most amazing of miracles the world has ever born witness too.  For those who don’t know the term, this is the physical birth of Jesus, the Savior.

Like the shepherds, we were in awe, this is God, this is the one who made it possible for all of humanity to become children of God.  The God who counts us not as servants, but as friends.

I woke up this morning, had breakfast, watched a little bit of a movie with my son, talked to him about his presents, cleaned the car in anticipation for our vacation starting tomorrow afternoon, and came to work to write a sermon on the passage listed above.  Calculating how to get my laptop’s keyboard fixed, how to manage 100 other things.

Then I come to my office, pull out my devotional reading, and hear Pope Benedict’s question.

What about us?  Are we already so far from celebrating Christmas that it doesn’t matter?  Have we already forgotten the joy and relief as we help in our hands the very body of Jesus, in and under the bread and wine?  Have we already lost the awe of the moment?

Unfortunately, I had to be shocked into remembering; this is Christmas! 

I had to be shocked into calming down, focusing and thinking about the fact that God so loved us, that He came to us.   That He continually dwells among us.  We need to see His glory; we need to know His presence.  Instead of dwelling on that, and knowing His peace, that I had, as the former pope noted, drawn into myself.

You and I need these words of a simple old man named Simeon burned into us….

30  I have seen your salvation, 31  which you have prepared for all people. Luke 2:30-31 (NLT)

Take time over the next few days, to repeat those words, to get to realize what they mean.  Let over the next week those words burn into your soul….

And rejoice, for to you a Savior has been born, and you dwell in His presence, like the shepherds, and Joseph, and Mary.

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.) (p. 406). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Are You Ready for….What are we getting ready for?


Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:
37  “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38  In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39  People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT)

50 Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.
51 What is the kingdom of God? Answer: Simply what we learned in the Creed, namely, that God sent his Son, Christ our Lord, into the world to redeem and deliver us from the power of the devil and to bring us to himself and rule us as a king of righteousness, life, and salvation against sin, death, and an evil conscience. To this end he also gave his Holy Spirit to teach us this through his holy Word and to enlighten and strengthen us in faith by his power.

This word of promise and joy thus turns into a question for us, making visible the challenge and meaning of Advent. Only when all flesh beholds God is his coming complete; the new heavens and the new earth can come about only when available to all. This word constantly intends to open the heart of Christianity, indeed our own heart. Adveniat Kingdom tuum [thy Kingdom come]—this plea of Advent, put on our lips by the Lord himself, is prayed by us correctly only if we allow it to transform us; if we let it open us up to all of God’s children, all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

As many of us prepare for Christmas, for the parties, as we gather gifts, even as we get ready for the abundance of church services over the next week, we may hear the following question.

Are you ready?

We get nervous, for most of the time we are not ready, otherwise the concerned friend wouldn’t wouldn’t recognize the fear and anxiety that has gripped our very lives.

The problem is we are getting ready for the wrong thing.  We are, like one Ebenezer Scrooge, trying to deal with Christmas past and Christmas present, and not looking not to Christmas future, but the Advent of Christ in our future. We are like the people in Noah’s day, not always doing things outside of “normal” life, but not questioning what normal life should be. 

How many of us have given any thought to Christ’s return since Thanksgiving?  How many of us have seriously considered whether our lives are being focused on that time, of the Christ-mass – the gathering of Christ that will happen on that day.

We can’t run around to prepare for it.  We can’t check out all the stores; we can’t do anything special to prepare for His coming.  Matter of fact, if we are trying to do something special, we’re are even less prepared.  For being ready for Christ’s second coming isn’t a special event, it is life itself.  Life abiding in the presence of God.  Life being comforted and lifted up by the presence of the Holy Spirit. 

Life as Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI, described so well in the green quote above.  A desire for God’s kingdom, His reign to come to all, a prayer of desire and desperation, a prayer born in brokenness.  Our individual brokenness, our communal brokenness. 

Luther agrees of course, as he notes that the reason Christ came was to bring us to the Father.  And the Holy Spirit is given to reveal this to us, and support us in the life that is until we see God face to glorious Face. 

When we consider the normal life in view of Jesus’ return, in view of death for those who are not here, we end up depending on God in a far different way.  Our life is transformed by the His love, as we look forward with expectation, as we look forward with joy, as we trust in Him, and we are filled with life.

This is why we ask are we ready.  Not to stress us more, but to cause us to be still, and know He is God, that He is our refuge, our sanctuary, our life.

May your normal life find you not just ready, but desiring His return, and the homecoming that follows.  AMEN  †

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 426–427). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

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. 399). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

Christmas Awe… is it completely lost?


Devotional Thought of the Day:
15  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16  They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20  The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2:15-20 (NLT)

14  All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’). Isaiah 7:14 (NLT)

All along, in pursuing this very notion in all its consequences, we will realize that, underneath the trivialized display of happiness about the God who became a child, there towers one of the great Christian concepts, which in fact leads us to the innermost core of the mystery of Christmas. This consists, after all, in the paradox that God’s glory would not be manifested in the triumphal procession of an emperor whose might conquers the world but in the misery of a Child who, ignored by society’s great, is born in a stable. The helplessness of a child has become the most genuine expression of God’s almighty power, which employs no other force than the quiet might of truth and love. In the unprotected helplessness of a child we were to encounter God’s saving kindness first of all.

I only remember one midnight Christmas mass as a child, but it had a definite impact on me.

This was what Christmas was about.  Later years would be filled with trips to my Grandfather’s house, and then my dad’s sister might come to ours.  Christmas Day was just my folks, my brother and sister and I.  We were filled with awe by the things we recived, cassette tape recorders, and games and a toboggan!

The decorations were there, and the manger scene sitting in the big bay window. or perhaps on the ancient sewing machine that doubled as a desk.

But the awe wasn’t about the greatest gift, the child in the manger.  The awe isn’t at the love of God, revealed not to presidents and kings, movie stars and professional athletes.  But too simple shepherds, who in awe (and not a little fear) realized the blessing they had seen.

Simeon a few days later would realize that all his life was centered in the moment he held Jesus.  For in that moment, not only did Simeon see his own salvation, but the hope for all the world,

THe hope that would bring darkness to an end for gentiles, and show Israel again the glory of God their anscestors saw and counted upon.

Simeon saw this, as did the shepherds in the fields.  Yes, it was revealed to them, even as it is to us.   They saw it, as Benedict XVI pointed out, in the unprotected helplessness of a child.  In the humble manger, in the poverty of Bethelem, not the neighboring riches of Jerusalem.

We need to find a way to be in awe of that moment IMMANUEL – GOD IS WITH US, and the moment years later, when the baby, now a man, would hang on the cross, when IMMANUEL would once again be seen as helpless, and yet all the power of God was there, as the Father poured out every bit of wrath our sin deserves, on Jesus, the one annointed to prove God’s love for us.

We can find the awe again, as we kneel, and receive His helpless Body and Blood in the Eucharist, in the Lord’s Supper. We can find it as we realize that God is still with us, the promise God gave us, as His Spirit was given to us in our Baptism….and as we hear our sins forgiven, and our being given access to the place where awe begins.

In the presence of God.

IMMANUEL! God with us…us!

The Christ, Jesus.  The chosen and set aside One who is God’s salvation.

We are in His presence… rejoice in that thought.  For this is what should cause the awe… that we need.

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. 396–397). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Christmas, Children and the Wisdom of Philosophers & Theologians


Devotional Thought fo the Day:

13  Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me – never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13 (Phillips NT)

But behold, I see a thing not understood by the proud, nor laid open to children, lowly in access, in its recesses lofty, and veiled with mysteries; and I was not such as could enter into it, or stoop my neck to follow its steps. For not as I now speak, did I feel when I turned to those Scriptures; but they seemed to me unworthy to he compared to the stateliness of Tully: for my swelling pride shrunk from their lowliness, nor could my sharp wit pierce the interior thereof. Yet were they such as would grow up in a little one. But I disdained to be a little one; and, swollen with pride, took myself to be a great one.

But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.

The words in blue from Augustine, one of the smartest philosopher-theologians amazed me this morning.  As he writes his confession, not unlike Solomon, he describes the times of darkness.  Even as he hungered for truth, he couldn’t find it.

Pope Benedict XVI’s words in the third quote support this lack of finding that which is sought for, as he responds that only conversion can bring what we need, what we search for in our lives.  To paraphrase Socrates, we are only truly wise when we realize how much we don’t know..

It is ike Christmas and the difference between a child and an adult receiving a gift.  The child is awe of the gift, even the box the gift came in!  They are in the moment, enjoying it. They are often in awe, as if to say, “this is for me?”   They dive into the joy of the moment, and that is their reality

As we grow older and know more, there is an innocence lost about such moments.  We don’t often dive into the presents, the moments of joy, and we contemplate instead on how we will pay the bills, or why people don’t understand us (proven by one of those gifts again!

( I was thinking, based on years of marital counseling – people can treat sex the same way, losing the awe and being int he moment, instead trying to analyze it!)

SO it is with God, if we stay outside and try to study and understand Him.  When developing the next great theological manuscript, or understanding what a dead guy said about some aspect of God, or His creation.   We spend too much time looking for the big answers, seeking to understand things that are far greater than us, things that simply exist when we approach them as children

The solution to this is simple. The same as it is for the adult at Christmas.  We need to get down on the floor and become part of the celebration. We need to engage in the joy, in the moment, in the relationship that God desires with us.   We need to pray more, trust more and celebrate His love with all of our heart and soul, mind and strength.

That may mean dropping that theology text, or putting aside that debate.

That’s okay, if you were meant to write it, or read it, you will get far more out of it when you have spent some time in the moment with the Lord who created that moment, and desires to spend it with you.  If you don’t believe me, think about Augustine, Benedict, Luther, Socrates, and the 2-year old who simply wants to sit at the altar rail throughout the church service.

Lord, have mercy on us, please give us the trust and awe of a child!

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

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

 

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