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Praise… and Prayer: Which comes first?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought of the Day:

22 People of Israel, every year you must set aside ten percent of your grain harvest. 23 Also set aside ten percent of your wine and olive oil, and the first-born of every cow, sheep, and goat. Take these to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped, and eat them there. This will teach you to always respect the LORD your God.
24 But suppose you can’t carry that ten percent of your harvest to the place where the LORD chooses to be worshiped. If you live too far away, or if the LORD gives you a big harvest, 25 then sell this part and take the money there instead. 26 When you and your family arrive, spend the money on food for a big celebration. Buy cattle, sheep, goats, wine, beer, and if there are any other kinds of food that you want, buy those too. 27 And since people of the Levi tribe won’t own any land for growing crops, remember to ask the Levites to celebrate with you.
28 Every third year, instead of using the ten percent of your harvest for a big celebration, bring it into town and put it in a community storehouse. 29 The Levites have no land of their own, so you must give them food from the storehouse. You must also give food to the poor who live in your town, including orphans, widows, and foreigners. If they have enough to eat, then the LORD your God will be pleased and make you successful in everything you do.  Deut. 14:22-29

Fifth, your trust must not set a goal for God, not set a time and place, not specify the way or the means of his fulfilment, but it must entrust all of that to his will, wisdom, and omnipotence. Just wait cheerfully and undauntedly for the fulfilment without wanting to know how and where, how soon, how late, or by what means. His divine wisdom will find an immeasurably better way and method, time and place, than we can imagine.

714    Yours is a desire without desire, as long as you don’t put firmly aside the occasion of falling. Don’t fool yourself telling me you’re weak. You’re a coward, which is not the same thing.

Prayer is hard.

Very hard.

Every week, with 50-80 people, I pray for about 150… Some are just people we need to pray for – those in government, those serving people and responding to protect and heal.  Others are grieving, or are ill, others are facing a struggle that cannot be discussed.

And we pray… I attempt to lead us in putting all these people, and their concerns, in the hands of God.

There is a balance between telling God what to do and having the faith that God not only will act but is acting at this moment. Part of me wants to say with Jesus, “not my will, but Yours.” and part of me wants to be the old lady that hassled the judge.

And to this I hear the words, “you aren’t weak, you are a coward..” and I wonder if it is true, at least when it comes ot prayer. Am I afraid to really let God have everything in my life? Am I willing to let Him answer my prayers in His time, in His wisdom, in His way? Luther advocates this, but how hard is it to do?  And how the heck did he learn to wait “cheerfully and undauntedly” without even the slightest bit of knowledge or control?

That’s why I asked which comes first, true prayer or true worship?

I think it has to be worship!

And we can’t worship until we know why we worship!  That is how the Old Testament passage relates. One of the major tithes the people had to gather, 10 percent of their harvest, and all the firstborn of their flock was to throw a party!  What kind of party? A party to “respect” the Lord- to realize His presence, to realize how He provides and cares for you. To celebrate the fact you aren’t alone.

With that knowledge, prayer seems… easier, it seems more natural, it seems to be how we are to relate to God, for it is in response ot how He cares for us.

I only have thoughts about whether prayer is effective when I am not thinking about God, when I am not in awe of His presence, of His love, of His care. When I am focused on that, such as during a worship service, prayer flows, it works, it is…

So, if you are struggling, if you aren’t sure God is with you, get with some other sisters and brothers in Christ. Be reminded of God’s love and mercy, and His presence… and praise Him for that, together.  Then pray about what stresses you, what causes you anguish, anxiety, stress, pain…

And leave it in the hands of the Lord who loves you.

 

 

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 89.

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Promise of God: I Will!

church at communion 2The Promise of God:  I Will!
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

 In the Name of Jesus, our King

 May the comfort that comes from receiving the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ sustain you, as we wait for the joyful return of our King, Jesus the Messiah!

At Least 18 times…the work of a shepherd

One part of the Feast of Christ the King Sunday is the purest celebration, as we look forward to seeing God in all His glory, as we hear Him welcome us home.

Another part to consider, I think, is the relief, for the battle is over.  Not the battle on the grand cosmic scale.  That battle ended when the ladies found the tombstone rolled away.  I was thinking the battles we face individually, the battles with life’s daily challenges, the people we interact with, who challenge us, and the inner battles we deal with, the anxiety, the pain, and yes, the sin.

Yet even as we celebrate Jesus as our King, as our Lord, we also celebrate His being the Shepherd King, the one who will guide us through every aspect of life, and frees us from the stuff that hinders us knowing God’s love and peace, the stuff that hinders us right now, right here.

We see that in the Old Testament reading today, as 18 times in English, and more in Hebrew we hear God making us a promise.  He makes you and me, and everyone that hears His voice a single promise.

That promise is described in detail but it boils down to this.  God promises, “I will!”

“I will be your shepherd”

So we are going to look at what that means, using the phrases said over and over…so that we would know His promise.

Search

The first part of the shepherd’s work, described multiple times – is that God will search us out.  Two words used here for searching.

The first describes the intensity and range of the search. To look for something with incredible diligence, without consideration of effort and range.  To look in every place, under every stone, and under the stone under that.  God searches for us far and wide, wherever we are, whatever trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The second is more along the lines of a very thorough examination of our situation, to understand our brokenness in order to care for us.  As we will hear about in our advent readings, the God who will care for us so tenderly that He will not break a damaged reed, but nourish it back to health, or a dying ember in a fire, that He will restore to a burning inferno.  It says He will bandage us, those who are broken and strengthen us.

He will do this, He is doing it right now, as we dwell in His presence.

Bring them safely home

The next “I will” our Shepherd promises is to bring us safely home.  For the Jewish people, the promise was to bring them back from where they were taken into exile, either by the Assyrians, or the Babylonians.  For us, the captivity is no less severe, but we are more likely to willingly enter it.  For sin not only tempts us, it drives and drags us away from God. It doesn’t matter the sin, whether murder, whether sexual sin, whether gossip or coveting what others have.

But Jesus will bring us home, as He searches us out, where ever we are, whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves, He will rescue and provide for us, and cares for us.

Feed/provide pasture land

And on this journey, He cares for us, He doesn’t leave us alone.

Numerous times he talks of feeding us, of providing us safe pastures, providing us the nourishment we need.  In verse 16, he defines that nourishment, what He feeds us is justice, righteousness,

And you could say because of Christ’s coming, we become what He feeds us, we are counted as righteous, that on judgment day, that is what the Father sees.

But that is what happens, as God nourishes us with His word, and with the word, the promise, that makes the Lord’s Supper more than just bread and wine.

He searches us out, rescues us, brings us home and nourishes us, with His word, His body and Blood!

I the Lord, will be their God!

Which brings us to the final I will, which is even more compelling, more incredible than Jesus being our shepherd, the one who searches and heals, rescues us and brings us home, nourishing us all the way.

verse 24 says it well, I, YHWH (the LORD will be their God, and Jesus will be the prince the ruler, the King of His People, for God HAS SPOKEN.

May we hear this clearly, for this Is the God who so dearly loves us. The God who made us His own.

May we rely and depend upon His work, to the day we are all found in His glory!  AMEN!

He Will Refine Us! An Advent Sermon

This sermon can be heard at https://youtu.be/Jmc2Pt_Be0M

He Will Do All the Good Things He Promised!

He Will Refine!

Malachi 3:1-7b

I.H.S

 May the blessing of God’s grace, the mercy, love and peace you should know, become more and more real as we expect the glory of His coming!

 How Can we return if we’ve never left?

In less than a month, many people will make resolutions.  My gym will probably go from the four that were there yesterday morning to fifty or so.  Diet companies will push their solutions to our weight problems, people will join 12 step programs, and perhaps a few more people will try church.

I was thinking about that, what if resolutions came out of our evaluation of our lives during advent.  For that is one of the purposes, you know, to take a inventory of our lives, of our behaviors, thoughts and deeds of the last year.

How many times did we trust in our man-made gods rather than Jesus?
How many times did we let our covetous, our jealousy, greed and desire cause us to damage relationships with those we are called to love?
How many times were we unfaithful in our thoughts or words, or in those thoughts and words damage each other, or killing others reputation by talking about them behind their back?

Could we blindly say what the people in Malachi’s day said?

“How can we return to God, if we have never gone away from Him?”

Do we deny that we need God working in our lives, not just working to bless, but working to heal, to cleanse, to refine us into the image of His Son, prior to Jesus return?

If we say we are not sinners we are liars we confessed early.  Do we mean it?

Or do we think everything is good and holy in our lives?

Do we tolerate injustice, do we practice it?

The prophet Malachi gives a few examples of things people do, while claiming they are God’s people,

“At that time I will put you on trial. I am eager to witness against all sorcerers and adulterers and liars. I will speak against those who cheat employees of their wages, who oppress widows and orphans, or who deprive the foreigners living among you of justice, for these people do not fear me,”

Do we do any of these things?  Very few of us may admit to doing sorcery, but what about the other things on the list?   Are we only counting actions? What about words or even our thoughts?

John the Baptist talked of this same attitude, when he called out the crowds for there sin,

Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.

It doesn’t matter what we claim, whether we think we are God’s people because we are American, or because we vote the right way, or even because we go to church and have the right name on the church, and can say the right things when asked what we believe about the Trinity, or Communion, or how the end times will come to occur.

You see, everyone sins, that is a simple fact.  The excuse given by the people of Malachi about not wandering off from God is either done in ignorance, or in denial.

Either way, if we say we haven’t sinned, the is nothing we should expect from God, nothing to give us hope.  No wonder Malachi says,

The messenger of the covenant, (talking of the Messiah) whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?

But if we do confess, if we do acknowledge our sin, there is hope, for we can expect that which God promises.
Our hope… His patience and promise!

Remember our theme, from last week,

14 “The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
Hear again from this week,

“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already destroyed. Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my decrees and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,”

God could, and some say He should destroy evil  Especially this week, as our thoughts and prayers have surrounded people, friends and friends of friends, who have been effected by evil.  Who have had to deal with grief in ways we say no one should.  Not that any grievous situation is one we welcome.

But God is patient, Peter’s epistle tells us so that none perish, but that all come to the transformation that we call repentance.

For repentance is not just feeling sorry, or confessing the sins, it is a change, of heart, of mind.

A change that is the greatest part of the promise,

The promise today – refining!

 For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.

 God will purify us, God will make us holy, God will transform us into the image of Christ.  He will burn away that dross, and make us so clean that we can offer acceptable sacrifices to God.  This idea of God refining us isn’t a simple one second change, but means He has to apply the heat in such a way that what is normal to us, is burnt away, purified away.  Scrubbed us like in the old days, as lye soap was applied to clothes, and then they were scrubbed against a washboard.

That is how sin comes to the surface, like dirt, like impurities in metal.

It is what happens to us, what God has promised.  Not just to punish us, but purify us. It is what He does to establish a holy and perfect relationship with us.  To rid us of the things which stop us from returning to Him, the sin, the desire for that which is not good and right, the resentment which stops us from knowing His peace.  Paul says he nails that sin to the cross, and it cannot be resurrected.  It is dead.  That is why we celebrate this refining, this necessary work of God in our lives.

He rids us of everything that would stop us from expecting good from God. Everything that would stop us from knowing He has come to us.  Saved us to Himself, Set us apart to Himself.

Everything that would rob from us, the peace which passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds as we dwell in and with Jesus.  AMEN!

 

want a meaningful vacation? try this…

Featured imagedevotional thought of the day

25  I will sprinkle clean water on you and make you clean from all your idols and everything else that has defiled you. 26  I will give you a new heart and a new mind. I will take away your stubborn heart of stone and give you an obedient heart. 27  I will put my spirit in you and will see to it that you follow my laws and keep all the commands I have given you. 28  Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God. 29  I will save you from everything that defiles you.  Ezekiel 36:25-29a (TEV)

Insofar as we can trace its history at all, pilgrimage is one of the primordial impulses of humanity. Man sets out again and again to find escape from the customary daily humdrum, to gain distance from it, to become free. This impulse is still active today in the more recent profane brother of pilgrimage, namely, tourism. Its continued existence accounts for the hordes of wanderers who incessantly make their way through our continent, feeling that they are not completely at home there. But pilgrimage must be more than tourism. I mean: it must realize more truly, more fundamentally, and more entirely what the tourist only hopes to experience.

I have to admit, I was tempted to put the entire devotion from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger into today’s blog, and leave it alone.  It is one of the most brilliant pieces I have ever read.  When we go on vacation, what we are, in the bottom of our hearts looking for, is a retreat, a pilgrimage, and encounter with something that will restore and give us rest.

Instead we often try to move so fast, see so much, experience it all.

A few years ago, my wife and I were given a gift – a vacation to Italy.  We tried to see it all in the ten or eleven days we were there.  Having read this, I thought back to the trip, and what made it special.  I asked her, and it was the moment I thought, as it was for me.

It was in a church; Santa Maria de la Pace, that was located in a place called Villa Tevere. The church was built in what we might call the basement of a very ordinary building.  It wasn’t ancient, it wasn’t even old by American standards, never mind Roman.  It wasn’t a large cathedral or a majestic major basilica.  It was a place where we were able to pray, given as much time as we wanted by the man who showed us around.  It was a place that invited such prayer, even begged for it.

It was the place where a vacation turned into a pilgrimage.

We could then identify two other places, much more humble, yet even more incredible and precious than the huge places that surrounded them.  The chapel/sanctuary where St. Francis was buried, under to other incredibly beautiful sanctuaries in Assisi.  And the pantheon, a place once dedicated to destroying life to appease gods and re-dedicated as a church, a place where people came spiritually alive as they heard the Word and received the Eucharist.  We came back from this trip not exhausted, but fulfilled, rested and aware of the grace of God because of those moments kneeling in prayer.

I don’t think either would have meant as much without the church inside Villa Tevere. Thirty minutes, simply quiet and on our knees.  Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict ) later wrote in the devotion why this is so critical;  Those moments were amazing, a taste of heaven in a way words cannot explain.

The purpose of pilgrimage is ultimately, not an object of interest, but a breaking through to the living God. We attempt to reach this goal by seeking out the scenes of salvation history. Its interior and exterior ways do not follow the direction of our whims. We enter, as it were, into the geography of God’s history, where he has set up his directional signs. We journey toward a goal that has been designated beforehand, not toward one that we invent for ourselves. By entering into his history and turning toward the signs the Church gives us out of the fullness of her faith, we go toward one another. By becoming pilgrims, we are better able to attain what tourism seeks: otherness, distance, freedom, and a deeper encounter.

It is a chance to get a sight of what Ezekiel describes, a foretaste of what we will have for eternity, a time where we realize the reality of walking with God, we see the fellowship, the communion that is life changing, that leads us deeper in faith.

If you can’t go to Italy, I can recommend two other pilgrimages.  The first is to travel in time, to go back to your baptism, to meditate on what was given there, promised there.  The promise God made to you, an eternal promise of life, an eternal promise of His presence. The second is also sacramental, the time at the altar, on our knees, as we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.  As we realize we are one with Him, as we gain what we really desire, the sense of otherness, distance from the world, freedom from sin and Satan and so much else.  It is that moment where we arrive at a deeper encounter, a transforming and transcending moment where all we are aware of is God presence and the presence of His family.  So in a very precious and real way, every Sunday becomes a pilgrimage, a real vacation, a real time of restoration and rest.

Come and rest, come and leave your burdens behind, come and know that God is indeed with you.  AMEN.

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. 335). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. devotion for 10/22

The K.I.S.S-S Principle for Jesus’ followers on Mondays.

Featured image

Devotional thought for a Monday!

18 Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. 19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. .  1 Ti 1:18–20NLT

Teach these things, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. 3 Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. 4 Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. 5 These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth. To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy.
6 Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. 7 After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. 8 So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.1 Ti 6:2–8NLT

92 We shall not, can not, and should not permit any clever human opinions, no matter what appearance or prestige they may have, to lead us away from the simple, explicit, and clear understanding of Christ’s word and testament to a strange meaning different from the way the letters read, but, as stated above, we shall understand and believe them in the simple sense.

The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life’s journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

I am too tired on Mondays to play games with semantics, to dive deeply into the great theological debates in history.

Some would look at the quote in blue, and fixate on the word “changed”, as opposed to simply saying is. The weight of the phrase is not on the how and why of the change, but on the blessing, as we are transformed by the feast into a solid brotherhood, a solid family.  What was simple bread and wine, has become a meal of miraculous intent and purpose.

That is what the quote in green argue’s for, not some fancy opinion of the change, or arguments about the how and why and for how long the change is effective.  But a simple understanding of the purpose of the Holy, Divine, Loving God, who gave Himself for us on a cross. Who gave His life, His body, and blood, that we could live.

That incredible blessing and promise we can be content knowing, rejoicing in, and adoring the God, who gave us Himself, to help us, to unite us, to restore us and reconcile us to himself.

That’s what Paul instruct Timothy to teach the very simple truths about Christ which we cling to with all we are, trusting He has us grasped in His hands, and He won’t let us go.

The K.I.S.S principle was explained to me once, Keep It Simple, Stupid.  While I won’t make any claim to great knowledge, I prefer to hear it this way,

“Keep it Simple, Sinner-saints”

Keep looking to Jesus, keep hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Keep thinking about the blessings He has given, and how He ties those blessings to simple things, the water of Baptism, the bread, body and wine/blood, the confession and prayers to those to whom we confess that assure us we are forgiven, and the very words of God that reveal this to us.

That reveal it simple,

That reveal it to assure us

The reveal it to us to cling to, and teach to others>

All Because He loves us.

Simple.  Trust and depend on the God, who gives us hope, and salvation.

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 586). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Catholic Church. (2011). Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes. In Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

What the Game of Thrones Can Teach Us About Death…..

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
54  So when this takes place, and the mortal has been changed into the immortal, then the scripture will come true: “Death is destroyed; victory is complete!” 55  “Where, Death, is your victory? Where, Death, is your power to hurt? 56  Death gets its power to hurt from sin, and sin gets its power from the Law. 57  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (TEV)

383 The scholastics do not teach the righteousness of faith. They interpret faith as merely a knowledge of history or of dogmas, not as the power that grasps the promise of grace and righteousness, quickening the heart amid the terrors of sin and death.

(disclaimer, I haven’t watched GoT yet…. but please keep reading)

Last night my Twitter and FB feeds went crazy, I mean really crazy. Like 1000 posts in five minutes crazy. 

Everyone was talking about someone dying, reacting the way I remember us reacting when the Challenger exploded, or perhaps when the way people did when Kennedy was shot.

Turns out it was a character on a television show called Game of Thrones. ( I vaguely remember a similar incident when someone shot JR, but then again, I didn’t watch that show either!)

One of my much younger friends tried to explain it to me.  She was kind of shocked that I hadn’t watched GoT yet and tried to convince me I MUST watch it. We “chatted” across FB for a while, and I went to sleep thinking I might be able to watch and episode or two… maybe in August?  

But I thought about it, apparently this show, like a few others this last year, have made a point about people dying who are someone special to the show.  Someone died in Gray’s Anatomy (McDreamy McSteamy, McBlasphemy?) , And I think there is some other show where they regularly kill off a character. I suppose if BlackList (the only show I regularly watch, and I am a season behind)

All this shock of death, even the death of a fictional character is, in my mind a good thing.  We can learn from it, that death is fleeting, and that life needs to be taken in a proper perspective.  That the relationships, we count on can be horribly marred by death, Whether that death is a friend in their 90’s or infant still in the womb. Whether it is the death of a dear friend whom we will miss for years or of someone across the world.

Dying sucks.

It can cause fear as well, I can testify to that.  Because of a genetic heart condition, I’ve faced it for a long time though since 1998 the threat has lessened because of surgery.  Even so, death has an incredible power over us who live. It threatens us, it hurts us, it damages our psyche as we try to cope with our lives being shorter and more tragic than we want to admit, that we want to face.

Yeah – a character can be killed off.  Even more importantly, a friend can die, or you can.  An accident, a cardiac arrest, food poisoning, cancer, war, civil unrest.  No one is immune.  No one.  (as GoT so aptly proves!)

In the quote above in blue, a man named Phillip Melancthon talked about belief, about faith, in a way that can give us some comfort.  Faith is what gives us peace in the midst of death and dying,  It isn’t just knowing some facts and figures, it isn’t just about thinking about God, or trying to behave well.  It is clinging to God in a way that brings hope, even in the midst of tears, and anger, and trying to make sense out of this life, and the terminal nature of it.

Faith clings to the God, who promises that death is not as brutal, that there is something more to life than ending in death.

It clings to the promises God has made, that He has revealed, that He sends the Holy Spirit to confirm to us and to comfort us and to be our guarantee of eternity. When we have faith, we count on God more and more, and He sustains us, comforts us, holds us close.  And nothing, not even death, can separate us from His love.

So if GoT caused you to grieve, to be angry, to hold onto speculation that the character really isn’t dead, to go even into a small depression, maybe that’s a good thing.  Take the time to think through your reaction, to realize the power of death, and the only way to break its very real hold on you, is to hold on to Jesus.

He’s promised to protect your heart and your mind… and surround you with the incomprehensible peace of God our Father.

You’ll be okay.  He died to make sure of it!

God’s peace!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 165). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Prepare the Way!

Prepare the Featured imageWay! It’s All About Jesus

John 1:6-8, 19-28

 IHS

 May You Realize That Life is All About Christ, and As You Do, May You Realize His Life Is All About You!

The New Pastor

I’ve heard the story a number of times, there’s even a pastor who did something similar and posted it on youtube.  No matter who did it, it is a great object lesson.  It went something like this.

A church was waiting expectantly to hear a pastor they were thinking of calling.  He was supposed to come to town in time to preach at their evening service.   He was reputed to be an incredible preacher, a great pastor, and one who led churches through times of great blessing.

He wrote them ahead of time, telling them the message would be one to encourage them to love their neighbors.  Everyone was looking forward to it. 

That morning, a man was sitting outside the church, with a piece of cardboard with the words Leviticus 19:18b written on it.  He was unshaven, His clothes were filthy, his hair was messed, the letters on the sign were crooked. 

Some people didn’t even look at him, as they passed by.  Others looks, and muttered under their breath, A few walked up and tried to hand him a dollar bill, one man even tried to threaten him with calling the police – trying to scare him off the property.  He stayed there all morning – and ever as people drove by later in the afternoon, he was there.

That night though, to almost everyone’s relief, he wasn’t there.  The new pastor wouldn’t have to see him, and they wouldn’t have to feel guilty about treating him badly.

They were waiting for the message about caring for their neighbors.  There was excitement in the air…. But wait, up by the altar, the man they thought was deranged talking to the elders…..and his sign was leaning against the altar…. One person looked it up – Leviticus 19:18B….

Love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord (NLT)

They had seen his message all morning – but they didn’t see it.  They heard this amazing pastor speak, but they didn’t hear him.

They would repent, ashamed and shocked by the message, and perhaps they were only more surprised, when they heard the pastor announce that he would take their call, that together they would learn to love God and their neighbor

it is a story not unlike the story of John the Baptist that we heard this morning.  For he too was not listened too by some, and we see that in the gospel today.

Why Couldn’t They See or Hear His Message.

Who are you the Priests and Levites ask John, not once, but five times.

Who are you, why do you act like a messenger from God, these messengers from the leaders of Israel ask. Men who most likely grew up with John, for his father was a priest as well.

Every time I see this passage, I wonder, why they couldn’t realize who John is.

Why couldn’t they get it? Why didn’t they hear his message?  Was it the odd clothes? 

We look at them, and ask those questions, but would we treat the odd looking guy in different clothes, whose life was very different from ours any better?

Would we try to drive off a pastor who was dressed like a bum and acted a little weird when we first met him?

Or might we check out the Bible passage on the cardboard sign he held?

Why Didn’t John Answer Them?

As odd as it is that they didn’t recognize John, John’s blunt refusal to consider their question is even odder.  Jesus would tell people that John was Elijah.  Did John lie? Did Jesus?

Why doesn’t he just say yes, I am Elijah, and over here – the Messiah, the Prophet you’ve been looking for?  That’s my cousin Jesus from Nazareth.

Why not just make it easy on them?

Why not just slap them upside the head, and say, “look – the answer to your question is here, right here, right before your very eyes?

The Answer:

I think we find the answer in the reaction of the crowds when they do realize that Jesus claims to be the Messiah.  They either try to kill Him, they try to make Him a king that will provide everything on their time schedule, when God is doing something far greater, far more eternal.

But God is about something else – about redeeming mankind, of reconciling everything together.

7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8  But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (NLT)

Surely they wouldn’t have killed Jesus, if they truly knew He was the Messiah, they wouldn’t have sacrificed Him, and he wouldn’t have borne our sin.  They would have honored him, praised him, expected him to lead them in glorious battles, but that isn’t why he was born of Mary, that’ isn’t why he emptied Himself, and lived under the weight of being human.  

That is what John means when he says he is the one who cries out get ready for God to come!  A cry of despair, a cry of last resort, a cry for God to act, for only God can make the changes needed for people to be ready to in His presence.

if John admits to being Elijah, then the attention is on him again, and not on the message, the message people need to hear.

Are you ready for God to be part of your life?  Are you ready to be part of His?

John’s message has to be about our need for Jesus.  It can’t be, “look at me, I am Elijah!”

It has to be about Christ.

Without His Incarnation, His Birth, His life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension, we won’t be ready when it is time for us to be before the throne of God.   We simply can’t do the miracle of reconciling every relationship we’ve broken, every hurt we caused others, every time we’ve betrayed others, and been betrayed by them.

Yet that is why He came. That is the ministry of Christ! That is the work He accomplished, to make our lives, as bruised and battered as they can be, lives that are masterpieces because of what He does…

He needed to die, we needed Him to die! He needed to offer Himself for us, that our way to God would be made clear. 

And He did.

We know of Him, and His work, and that it was all planned…..

For John testified of his work, as we do, with our words and our lives.

For when we trust God at His promises, the promise of a Messiah, of a Prophet, of our Savior, and what He would do to save us… everything changes, and it begins to make sense. 

What changes the most?  We go from darkness to light, we go from questioning God to reveling in His presence, we know Him… He’s the pastor, who sees us at our worst, at the moments we aren’t loving, and says, I’ll stay, let’s walk together.

Therefore, knowing why He came, knowing He will come again, trust in Him, count on the promises He has made us, and live in His incredible peace…. AMEN!

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Where Do You Run to? Where Do You Find Hope?

Devotional Thought of the Day:God, who am I?

16  This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does. God’s promise arrives as pure gift. That’s the only way everyone can be sure to get in on it, those who keep the religious traditions and those who have never heard of them. For Abraham is father of us all. He is not our racial father—that’s reading the story backwards. He is our faith father. Romans 4:16 (MSG)

What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.   (1)

We live in a world full of stress, full of anxiety, full of brokenness.

There is a blessing from this, well sort of, in a round about way.

The blessing is that it is often quite easy to realize when we have set up false idols, when we have set God aside

You see, the more stress we deal with, the more anxiety snares us, the more we deal with brokenness, the more false gods, and the idols we create are revealed.

it may be that are false gods are the the demons of distraction.  The distraction helps us escape or even ignore the problems, they create the illusion of refuge.  For some, this is drugs or alcohol; for others, it seems less dangerous – television or computers or listening to music or even books.  We run to them and hide in them, they become our refuge, our place away from the world and its trauma.  With the exception of the drugs, these things can be nice hobbies, but when we find ourselves spending to much time with them, and that is only the times when we are stressed, there may be an issue

It maybe that our idols, are false gods are a poor imitation of Christianity, the kind of thing where we control God, and we put our hope in cliche’s, not in the actual promises of God.

It maybe our false idols are our political and economic system, or in nationalism/patriotism.  That everything will be okay because we are Americans, or Canadians, or (insert country name here) and God is always going to take our side. This is often more subtle, but it also overlooks the sins of a nation that allows for abortion, that in many ways would redefine life and family, and which would rather see vengence than reconciliation or mercy. This while insisting we are always in the right, well, except for our politicians.

Simply put, idols today aren’t crafted of wood or stone or precious emeralds or ivory.  But they are idols none the less.   We turn to them and try to find hope, or relief from them.

There are other idols, especially the one that is a simple plaint capital letter:  I.  We try to fix life ourselves, we ponder what can be done, we rely first and primarily on ourselves, as our culture teaches us.  We go to the altar of self for refuge, for sanctuary, and we reveal that we only trust in ourselves, and we even know that is probably going to fail.

Luther is right on when he describes what “makes” a god or idol in our lives.  It is where we go to in those times where we should trust in God’s promises, that He is in charge, that He will work it out, and it will turn into a blessing. We fail to hear what Mary did at the annunciation, that we are filled with grace, that the Lord is with us.

That He who is our God becomes OUR God when we trust Him, when we embrace and hold on to Him for dear life, because His promises will make us whole. When we realize that it is, and has been all along to be our God, for us to be His people, His children, the one He pledges to take care of and love.  When the idols of our life fade away, as we realize the promises God has made to us in our baptism.  When God becomes our refuge our strength, to whom we turn when life is broken and stressed.

When He is our first option, our first action is to turn to Him, not any other idol, not any other false god.

It’s tough – but it is also why God starts in the first commandment, not with us, but with Him.  You see it starts with this….

“I, the LORD (actually His Name – YWHW) am your God, who brought you out of slavery……”

There is our hope at work, His action…. trust Him my friends, and know you can pray for the Spirit to help you when you are too weak too…

 

(1)  The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.

A Most Overlooked Blessing…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29  May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30  May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.  1 Kings 8:28-30 (NLT) 

 20  As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.John 20:20-23 (NLT)

If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and truth has no place in us; 9  if we acknowledge our sins, he is trustworthy and upright, so that he will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all evil.1 John 1:8-9 (NJB) 8

192  If ever you fall, my son, go quickly to Confession and seek spiritual guidance. Show your wound!, so that it gets properly healed and all possibility of infection is removed, even if doing this hurts you as much as having an operation.  (1)

 

It is one of the major events in the history of Israel.  it is right up there with the events at Mount Sinai, and the walk through the Red Sea.

As one of the wonders of the Ancient World was dedicated to God’s glory, the thing that the king prays for… is… forgiveness?
Really?  Not to dominate the world?  Not to have all his people become wealthy and successful, not for the kids to all be brilliant and well behaved… but blessed?

Forgiveness?

That’s the key to the Temple?

A Jesus appears before them in the upper room, after assuring them that there is peace – the very first thing He does there, is bestow on them the responsibility of fogiving (and retaining) sins.  Even as He breaths His spirit on them, this incredible ministry becomes theirs…this ministry of reconciliation, this ministry of forgiveness.

Forgiveness again?  Really – that’s the first thing Jesus wants them to know they have the power to do – as His apostles?

It’s still a amjor issue with John when he rights his first epistle – an epistle devoted to love.  Because I tell you something – you can’t love others, if you don’t know the forgiveness of God in your own life.   if you don’t know you are forgiven and cleansed, if you don’t get that God isn’t out to “get you” and “condemn you” for those sins, but would so much rather clanse you and bring healing into your life – you won’t get life. You will live defensively, your cynicism will rule over you, and anxiety will so cause you to defend yourself, that you won’t see the people you are called to love – much less be able to love them.

Forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness.  Complete, cleansing, healing, redeeming, reconciling, restoring…

Forgiveness.

I need it, you need it, we need to hear that we are forgiven, that God will make all things work for good, that everything is okay.

Years ago, there would be lines of people at Lutheran Churches, at Catholic Churches, waiting for private confession at mourning benches in Methodist and Holiness churches, people seeking the freedom of knowing their sin was forgiven, that they were purged of all unrighteousness, of all unholiness.  That God kep His promises. That’s what happened at the dedication of the Temple, it’s what the Tabernacle celebrated, it’s the story of the upper room – both on the night before He was betrayed, and on the night He appeared, wounds in His hands and side.

it is a blessing we need….

So as Josemarie is quoted above – even if it hurts to confess your sin – rush to those who are set apart to help you with this – to proclaim on God’s behalf that you are forgiven.  Don’t let it rot your soul, your heart, your mind…. Rush, confess your sins – as James says in his epistle – to another… and hear that you are forgiven.

And know the depth of the love of God, is greater even than your sin……

God’s peace… for you were meant to live in it.

Forgiveness?

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 866-868). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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