Devotional Thought of the Day:
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:31-34 (NLT2)
Hurry is an unpleasant thing in itself, but also very unpleasant for whoever is around it. Some people came into my room and rushed in and rushed out and even when they were there they were not there – they were in the moment ahead or the moment behind. Some people who came in just for a moment were all there, completely
Live from day to day, just from day to day. If you do so, you worry less and live more richly. If you let yourself be absorbed completely, if you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.
I don’t know about you, but there is a challenge to get focused on Monday.
Even after a good, productive Sunday! ( good day in worship, good Bible study, bills paid, taxes are done, errands taken care of..even got some rest!)
I usually leave one task for Mondays, to do the sermon study for the next Sunday. But some weeks, it is a challenge to get that focused on it. People have issues that weren’t dealt with last week. There was a crisis over the weekend, and of course today, I have to wonder who will try and play and April Fool’s joke on me.
How do I get focused? I also start to worry about the rest of the week, about the meetings Wednesday and Thursday, about the coverage on Wednesday night, about a million and one other things. So getting started on preparing for the sermon… doesn’t get the focus it needs.
I am like the person in purple, who is there but isn’t there. I am not “
especially on Mondays!
Yet the need to be “in the moment” is so strong!. The need to hear God and not just rush through my reading. The time to let trickle into my soul the names I need to pray for, the ability to focus on the passage I am studying, not just academically, but with a heart focused on God and my people.
But this isn’t just a “pastor” thing. Matthew’s gospel makes that clear. Living in the moment is about letting worry and distractions go, and realizing that this moment is one where you dwell in the Kingdom of God. That you are in His presence, that you are loved by Him.
To live righteously means to live in His forgiveness. For no one can live a perfect life, but we can hand over our sin and the temptations we struggle with to God, asking His help to do better.
It is from such a place of peace that we truly live, that we are truly in the moment, attuned to the Lord for whom time is simply a creation. of His.
God is with you… make that the center of you Mondays, even as you might have yesterday between 9 and 10:30…..and rejoice!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! 2 From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, 3 for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. 4 Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
Psalm 61:1-4 (NLT2)
How, then, can I learn what it means to be human? What must I do? In his question the teacher of the law mentions a prerequisite that we seldom consider nowadays: if my life in this world is to be successful, I must view it as a stepping-stone to eternal life.
There are days in my life that are dark.
Just like most of you.
We hide from those days, we try to ignore them, and if we can’t, we try to anesthetize ourselves from the pain and emptiness they bring.
Days when I seem lost, when life doesn’t make sense, or when it gets in the way of what I want to do. Especially when what I want to do is serve God? To be with His people? It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem that I am doing what I have been put here to do, and that dissonant feeling is horrid.
For me, those days have been a major part of life. Recovery from surgeries that left me isolated for months, asthma as a kid (one year I was in school only 40 days more than I was not!) and even the odd flu bug that knocks me out of church, like it did yesterday. Never mind all the fun things with my son and wife that I miss out on, because of health concerns.
Life can suck at times.
Into those thoughts, invading them comes these readings from this morning. First the psalmist, whose words I skim over at first, tacitly and religiously agreeing with them, Yep, I want that, that’s where I should be, there in the presence of God. What is next to read, oh yeah, proverbs?
A couple of readings later, I come to Pope Benedict’s one-year devotion. It’s become a favorite of mine. And his words make me go back to the Psalm and read it again.
My life doesn’t revolve around this mortal life. It revolves around my life with God. An eternity with Him, dwelling in His presence, not just in the stadium, like watching a rock star from the nosebleed seats. But interacting with Him, sharing the joy that comes from knowing the depth of His love.
This life isn’t the end, not even close, it is the dance lessons for our eternal dance with God.
That is exactly what I need to remember in these dark days. What I so missed my people telling me yesterday, as I missed church. What they fire back with me with conviction, as I tell them the Lord is with them
His presence here and now is a start.
And it’s only a start!
Lord Jesus, help us realize that your ministry to us was not just to make us right and holy, but to have a relationship with us, one that will last forever. Lord, help us to dwell with you, in peace! AMEN!
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. 87). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
27 God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and he chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. 28 He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. 29 This means that no one can boast in God’s presence. 30 But God has brought you into union with Christ Jesus, and God has made Christ
Christ is not just a Head all pierced and wounded; he is the Ruler of the whole world. His dominion does not mean that the earth will be trampled under foot, but that that splendor will be restored to it that speaks of God’s beauty and power. Christ raised up the image of Adam. You are not just clay; you extend beyond all cosmic dimensions to the very Heart of God. It is not the one who is scourged who is degraded, but the one who scourges; not the one spat upon, but the one who spits; not the one put to scorn, but he who puts to scorn; it is not pride that raises man up, but humility; not self-glorification that makes him great, but that union with God of which he is capable.
Adoration places us in a ‘Paschal situation’. It is an encounter with the infinite love of God revealed in Jesus Christ and which is made present under the consecrated species. God reveals Himself without condition. He leaves man helpless in the face of the marvel of His manifestation: an all-powerful God Who makes Himself so small, so poor, under the appearance of bread.
You stand there or kneel there, and for a moment, all else falls away.
From the world’s view, it is a piece of stale bread and some really cheap wine. It is a moment the world would pass by, and pass by quickly.
It doesn’t make sense, but then so little of Christianity makes sense. At least from the world’s perspective. The King who serves, the Healer who is hurt, the Sinless one, bearing all sin…
As Benedict XVI noted, the humble end up being glorified, this little piece of wheat (?) and wine end up bieng a feast more meaningful than anything, That cup of water poured over one’s head, something that cleans away every sin, every bit of injustice.
This fact, that in the world’s logic Christianity, is not logical, is an incredible blessing. Here is why,
What has the world’s logic actually accomplished? When has its wisdom brought about peace? When could it heal a broken heart or a tortured soul?
When has it made a difference, in view of death?
And yet, giving someone who trusts in Christ, the bread and wine, the BOdy and BLood of Christ can overwhelm them with peace. Hearing a pastor lead mourners through Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer can bring peace in the midst of tears at a funeral. Hearing that your sin is forgiven, yes, THAT sin is forgiven, and that told by a man God put in place to tell you that, in that very moment.
Those things make a difference, no matter how the logic can’t explain it.
God is with you.. and that, someday, is the only thing that sustains us.
And oh, how
Lord Jesus, help us realize that it is okay for Your logic to be beyond us. Help us to accept that Your ways are not ours,
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 52). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Rey, D. (2012). Adoration and the New Evangelization. In A. Reid (Ed.), From Eucharistic Adoration to Evangelization (pp. 6–7). London; New York: Burns & Oates.
Devotional Thought of the Day.
The LORD told Moses 2† to say to the community of Israel, “Be holy, because I, the LORD your God, am holy.
4† “Do not abandon me and worship idols; do not make gods of metal and worship them. I am the LORD your God! Lev 20:1-2 GNT
7 Keep yourselves holy, because I am the LORD your God. 8 Obey my
1 Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. 2 Happy is the one whom the LORD does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit. 3 When I did not confess my sins, I was worn out from crying all day long. 4 Day and night you punished me, LORD; my strength was completely drained, as moisture is dried up by the summer heat. Psalm 32:1-4 (TEV)
It is there in the wounds of Jesus that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of his heart. I have seen so many people
who find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him,
“Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds
and wash it away with your blood.”
And I always see that God does just this: He welcomes, consoles cleanses and loves.
Throughout scripture, we hear this theme over and over again. Be perfect, be holy, be mature, imitate me as I imitate Christ,
If you know church history, you know that there have been several seasons where this was the focus of the church. It drove the earliest monastics, it found roots in the immigration from Europe to America, we see it in the Welsh Revival and the Azusa Street revival also comes from a holiness movement that resulted as well in the formation of the Nazarene churches. and before that the Wesleyans. The Catholic and Lutheran Churches as well had their moments of pietism, often forced, guilt-driven pietism. Even the moral majority was a passing thought to see the image of holiness cast on our nation.
But all these movements, as movements, eventually lost their momentum. You can only drive holiness into your people so long before they will abandon it, the guilt and shame too hard to handle. Or again, harassed by an unreachable goal, they opt for the image of holiness, (the appearance of Godliness – see 2 Tim. 3:5) often creating a pharisaical system which focuses on some minute behaviors while ignoring others.
But the failure to maintain the appearance of Godliness, the failure to be truly holy is not an admission that we can’t be holy, that we can’t imitate Christ Jesus. Indeed, if anything, these failures should help us realize we go about being holy in a way that is the cause of our unholiness.
Our holiness isn’t about us. It isn’t about our effort, our determination, our will being broken and tempered correctly through this practice, or that book, or following these spiritual exercises. Ultimately, these things can be beneficial, if they help us understand the secret of holiness.
The secret is found in the first two readings
Don’t abandon God…. and I am the Lord your God, I make you holy!
There it is, the secret to holiness.
Let God do it!
Just relax and focus on walking with God. Revel in His presence, rejoice in His promise, as often repeated throughout scripture, of forgiving, cleansing, us of all sin, making our lives right, restoring our lives which were broken. Reconciling, redeeming, declaring us innocent, and righteousness. Removing the burdens of guilt and shame, all these things He does makes us Holy
As God does all this, what is left, is simply….. holy. It has been sanctified.
And if you look at the early works of the great revivalists, this freedom, this joy of being freed from the burden of our sin, would result in people restoring that which was stolen, reconciling with those they sinned against, and finding the sins and temptations of the world as what they really are, unsatisfactory, destroyers of peace.
Know my dear friend, that you are forgiven. Stay in the
You will be holy, for this is what God does. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 20). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Devotional Thought of the day:
38 During all their wanderings they could see the cloud of the LORD’s presence over the Tent during the day and a fire burning above it during the night. Exodus 40:38 Good News Translation
13 Then Isaiah said, “Listen well, you royal family of David! Isn’t it enough to exhaust human
Isaiah 7:13-14 (NLT2)
The humanity of Moses, David and Elijah, of Paul, Peter and Jesus Christ himself and of other riotously human women and men in the Bible and throughout church history teaches us a vital lesson: our humanity will not by itself prevent us from knowing and interacting with God just as they did.
I have encountered several people thismonth, who are best consdiered to be “spiritually wnadering”. They are struggling with God, or better to say, they are struggling within themselves, with their own brokeness, with the damage caused by the sin, theirs or the worlds.
They are wandering, bouncing from here to there, unable to come to rest, unable to be be still and realize they are in the presence of God. ANd for the moment, unable to hear the voice that calls to them, that draws them to Him.
In that time, we often wonder where is God. We may get very angry, trying to determine why God would abandon us, why He would let us fall to the side of the road, and wander off of the path.
It is then that we need to realize what Israel had going for them, while they wandered through the desert for 40 years because of their own brokenness, their own self-determinatio,n, their own sin.
Scripture tells us that even in the midst of their wandering, God was present, and made that presence known theough the smoke and the fire. As evil as some of the things they did were, He didn’t abandon them. He cared for these spiritual descendants of Abraham,
God will do the same for us, He has promised to, in places like Matthew 28:20 (and in v.16 it said some of them doubted – even having seen the risen Lord with wounds still fresh) to the very promises of the Messiah in the Old Testament. He is still there, He is still able to be found, and seen in those signs He has ordained for us. His word and sacraments, through those He has placed in our lives, that speak of His love and mercy, He is there for you!
He is there..even as we
And will bring to us His peace.
If you are
Willard, D., & Johnson, J. (2015). Hearing god through the year: a 365-day devotional. Westmont, IL: IVP Books.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. 3 Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Philippians 1:2-3 (NLT2) (italics mine)
God is always waiting for us; he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence and hope …always.
The Christians adopted this term to proclaim their special relationship to Jesus Christ. For them, he is the King who entered this wretched province, our world, and gifted it with the feast of his visit. He it is whose presence in the liturgical assembly they profess. With this expression, they intended to say, in general, “God is here.” He has not abandoned this world. He has not left us behind alone. Even though we cannot see and touch him like so many things—he is present, nevertheless, and visits us in many ways
As I started to prepare for next weeks sermon last night, the two pronouns in the reading caught my attention, and wouldn’t let it go.
I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, if not a thousand times, preached on it a lot, and those pronouns never hit me like they did last night. Technically they are genitive pronouns, called that because they have a relationship with a noun, as opposed to having a relationship with a verb. They act more like adjectives than subjects or objects in a sentence. In English, we might call them possessive pronouns.
Here is what that means to those of us who aren’t language geeks.
Those pronouns exist to tie the object in the sentence to the person/people the pronoun represents. In the first case, “us”, in the second case, “Paul”.
And that makes all the difference in the world. This God of whom Paul speaks is OUR GOD, OUR FATHER this God he prays to is HIS GOD (or we can say when we pray MY GOD). There is a relationship there, a connection that defines this God of whom we speak. There is a personal close relationship that is so close we are defined by it, as is He.
This is a perfect thought to contemplate during Advent, especially as we begin this journey, contemplating what these pronouns mean. That God, the creator and sustainer of the universe is our Father. That we can go to Him in prayer, knowing that He not only will listen but that He desires too, offering comfort and peace in the times in our life that are the hardest.
This is the meaning of course, of Advent, the looking back and looking forward to Christ coming into our lives to reveal God’s love for us. Looking forward as well, to the incredible time when we prodigals return home, for Christ has come for us.
Because of Jesus entering into our drama, we aren’t alone, we are in a relationship with God who never grows tired, who will not abandon us, whom we can and should talk to, who nourishes our famished souls.
In the past week, I have seen too much trauma, I have seen people experience too much brokenness. too much grief. Perhaps more than any time in my ministry. It is in a time like this that the reality of Advent is such a treasured part of my life. I have to know God is here, I have to hear His voice comfort me, (through the scriptures and through those whom He has sent to encourage )
This is what Advent means, that until Christ’s return, we can dwell in His peace, something unexplainable, something unimaginable, yet something that is so real.
Lord, help us to realize your presence, as You surround us in your peace! AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 366). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 381). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the day:
14 May the day I was born be cursed. May the day my mother bore me never be blessed. 15 May the man be cursed who brought the news to my father, saying, “A male child is born to you,” bringing him great joy. 16 Let that man be like the cities the LORD demolished without compassion. Let him hear an outcry in the morning and a war cry at noontime 17 because he didn’t kill me in the womb so that my mother might have been my grave, her womb eternally pregnant. 18 Why did I come out of the womb to see only struggle and sorrow, to end my life in shame? Jeremiah 20:14-18 HCSB
14. In the world of today, when people are so burdened with duties and their problems, which oftentimes have to be solved with great haste, range through so many fields, there is considerable danger of dissipating their energy. Priests, too, involved and constrained by so many obligations of their office, certainly have reason to wonder how they can coordinate and balance their interior life with feverish outward activity. Neither the mere external performance of the works of the ministry, nor the exclusive engagement in pious devotion, although very helpful, can bring about this necessary coordination. Priests can arrive at this only by following the example of Christ our Lord in their ministry. His food was to follow the will of him who had sent him to accomplish his work.
I always worry when in my devotions I read passages like those above.
No, this confession isn’t mine, it is Jeremiah’s.
But it could be, as it could be the confession of so many pastors and priests and others who work in the church. It doesn’t matter whether they are volunteers, or whether this is a paid vocation.
Burnout is inevitable.
There are days serving the church where it seems we would be better off dead. (And we even think maybe those we serve would be as well!) There will be days where the demands of our duties and the problems they bring will overwhelm us. Where we would rather lock ourselves in our offices, and simply write. Or find some passing big fish and dive into it, ala Jonah!
And Vatican II points out that devotion alone isn’t the answer, it also notes that just going through the motions of ministry doesn’t solve the problem as well. We can do the job, it can bless others, but it is just as empty as becoming a monastic and retreating from the world which needs us, simply because we know we need God.
We can minister more effectively, and help others, even in the midst of burnout and brokenness, when we accept that the weariness is sometimes necessary. That God is with us, even there. That the Holy Spirit, the great Comforter, the Lord of life will lift us up, and empower us, and work through our lives to call others to depend on the God who is there.
Max Kolbe, the Catholic priest who died in a concentration camp, probably knew this weariness more than any pastor in the USA today. Imagine, working with the guards, who denied their actions were evil. He served the Christians who were in despair, Fr. Max served and died for those who didn’t know Jesus as well.
How did he do such a thing?
Maximilian Kolbe was an individual deeply marked by Christ, wholly ordered to Christ. When he immersed himself anew in the witness of Holy Scripture, he was not searching for theories, not on a voyage into the past. It is impossible to live with a mummy—with a merely historical Jesus; nor can we live with mere words and programs—with a “thing”. But Kolbe lived from and for Jesus. He could do this because he heard in Scripture the voice of a living Person. He heard Jesus as a living Person because he experienced him as a living Person; he could touch him in the Blessed Sacrament in which he forms a Church and is present for us.
The only way to minister through the hardest times and despair in ministry is to hang on to what we’ve been entrusted with as ministers. Not word and sacrament, but what they are conduits of, the experience of encountering Jesus in both word and sacrament. Of knowing God loves you, because of that encounter, of knowing His care because it too is encountered in the sacraments.
As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus
14 When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name), and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled through all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)
Knowing about God’s love won’t sustain you in the darkness, it won’t keep you moving through the despair. It won’t help you see God at work in the midst of the pain. But knowing you are known, finding hope in the fact you are loved, being refreshed through the grace and mercy poured out upon you. Being filled through all your being with God Himself.
That is what we need, and that is what He provides… so relax, hear God! Hear God! And find rest for your weary soul! AMEN!
Catholic Church. (2011). Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.
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. 281). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Revelation 3:20 (NLT2)
117 Thus you see how God wants us to pray to him for everything that affects our bodily welfare and directs us to seek and expect help from no one but him.
118 But this petition he has put last, for if we are to be protected and delivered from all evil, his name must first be hallowed in us, his kingdom come among us, and his will be done. Then he will preserve us from sin and shame and from everything else that harms or injures us.
Our God is so eager to forgive that at the slightest sign of repentance he is ready with his mercy. He does not forget the covenant he made with our ancestors.
716 “I don’t know how to conquer myself!” you write me despondently. And I answer: But have you really tried to use the means?
As I read the passage from Luther’s Large Catechism (in blue above) this morning, I found words that explained a key to what we need to do as those who disciple others, or who act as spiritual directors.
Luther nails it so well, as he explores the Lord’s prayer. It is something we get so confused as we disciple people, as we serve as their spiritual directors and/or pastors. In reality, we put the cart before the horse, asking people to believe in God’s mercy, in God providing for us, and in God’s forgiveness before God’s presence is established as a reality in their lives. We want to help them know they are free from their past, and to be strong enough to overcome temptation.
St. Josemaria’s thoughts are similar, as he wonders about the person who can’t overcome the compulsion to sin and fail when confronted by temptation. His question about the means of grace come to a similar conclusion as Luther’s. If you haven’t been brought into the presence of God through hearing His word, and partaking in His sacraments, how can you ever be assured of His mercy and protection? How can you know that He is guiding you and that all things work for good in your life, as you grow in loving Him?
Which brings me to the title of the blog post today, why is Jesus standing at the door and knocking? Is it simply to call us to account for our sins, clean us up, forgive us our sins, strengthen us against temptation and then leave us to fight the good fight on our own?
Of course not!
He comes to spend time with us, in fellowship, sharing in life. TO feast with us, and for us to know we are there for Him. It is all about the relationship, not just the things that He does that makes the relationship possible. That’s why Luther says we need to see His name made Holy, to see His kingdom established, to see His will be accomplished among us. All these things are based on God being present in our lives, walking with us, living with us. This happens before we can know His provision, His protection, and really the power of what it means to be forgiven and free.
You can’t know those things apart from the relationship described in Covenant, where God promises us that we are His and that He is ours. That relationship is why He stands at the door and knocks. He wants to be with us, it is sharing our lives as we share His.
For those who pastor, for those who disciple or direct the spiritual growth of people, (and if you are being served by such) this has to be the priority. To explore the breadth and width the height and depth of God’s love as we experience it. This is the end of the means, this is the purpose we exist for, and as we learn ot live in it, we find it easy to ask God and live in the assurance that He will answer our prayers for daily bread, for the ability to forgive as we are forgiven, to overcome temptation and not fall into evil.
Never forget this, the Lord is with you!
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 436). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 223). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1679-1680). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness. AMEN!
The Fable of the Animals
As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.
Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals. And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community. There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was. There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal. One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.
Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do. He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner. You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him. And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being. So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger. He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.
Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr
We do this all the time, no matter the culture. We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes. So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.
Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want? That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.
It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.
Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system. Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.
And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing. A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,
My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.
My grace is all you need…..
If we could only understand that.
The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.
I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene. He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself. For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself. Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.
That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need” He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us. That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.
What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being. What sin has killed, God resurrects.
If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day. The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.
Beyond our Sin
If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others. We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.
What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions. For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.
He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there. If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…
In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness. Understand that… and you will be at peace.
Devotional Thought of the day:
5 For you can have 10,000 instructors in Christ, but you can’t have many fathers. For I became your father r in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 This is why I have sent Timothy to you. He is my dearly loved and faithful t son in the Lord. He will remind you about my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach everywhere in every church. 1 Cor. 4:15-17 HCSB
How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus, how much tenderness is in there!
Brothers and sisters let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!
But what is it to pray that his name may become holy? Is it not already holy? Answer: Yes, in itself it is holy, but not our use of it. God’s name was given to us when we became Christians at Baptism, and so we are called children of God and enjoy the sacraments, through which he so incorporates us with himself that all that is God’s must serve for our use.
As I was working through my readings this morning, the first, the reading from Paul’s letter to a church he loved (and struggled to love) kept coming back to mind. And then as I read Pope Francis, and Pastor Martin Luther’s words, I saw great examples of what Paul was teaching.
Anyone can deliver a lesson, a sermon that is exegetical and explains the Bible passage more completely than someone can see at first glance. To be honest, you don’t even need a good preacher to do so, for we have 2,000 years of commentators like John Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Lenski, Matthew Henry and William Barclay who will do that for you.
Someone whose primary goal is preaching can do the studies, or borrow them from someone else, and lecture you, mailing you on what you did wrong, showing you how you must behave, and reminding you of who God is, helping you explore the incredible knowledge we have in scripture. They are instructors, and we need that kind of information.
But a sermon, a real sermon, is something a pastor crafts and delivers. It is a pastor, someone who acts as a spiritual father. Someone who has learned from their errors, and cares enough to help you when you are in error, guiding you back to the way that is “in Christ”.
The pastor brings you to see God in all His glory, the glory that comes from our love and our mercy. He wants you to experience the healing that happens when seeing Christ, you respond to His love being poured out upon you. When you realize as Luther said, that God through His word and sacraments, just doesn’t teach you, but see you incorporated into Christ that our thoughts turn to Him, depending on Him to care for us.
A pastor shepherds you to the place where you realize what a treasure it is to know God as your Father, when you realize the difference that makes in your daily life, no matter how challenged, no matter how boring, no matter how broken.
you see this in the words of Pope Francis, and Fr. Martin Luther. You see them not just wanting to impart knowledge of God, but helping people experience the love.
Imagine a boy learning to teach. The instructor tells him all about the bait, all about the rods and reels, all about the way to study the river or the lake. The pastor father takes the young man fishing, watching him learn, urging him to be patient, applauding him when he catches something, consoling him when the big one gets away. This is the father-pastor at work, and that care needs to occur in the midst of the sermon, in the midst of the worship service. Helping people “catch” God, who is never far away….reading to be caught, ready to be devoured, ready to be incorporated i our lives, as we are incorporated in His.
This is a pastor’s calling… to help people experience the love of Christ, even though it is too great ot understand fully (see Ephesians 3:19) while being made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 216). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 425). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press