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The Hope for the Miracle of Reconciliation

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

I want them to be strengthened and joined together with love so that they may be rich in their understanding. This leads to their knowing fully God’s secret, that is, Christ himself. In him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are safely kept.  Col. 2:2-3 NCV

  1. To attribute to God the good one sees in oneself.
  2. To recognize that the evil in oneself is attributable only to oneself.
  3. To make peace with an adversary before sundown.
  4. Never to despair of God’s mercy.  (from the rule of St Benedict)

For at first Jerome, when objections were raised against him (e.g. for his statement, “If anyone says that God demands the impossible, let him be anathema”) simply replied in his Dialog. adv. Pel., Bk. 2 [MPL 23.577], “These things are impossible for our nature but possible for grace.” And he understood grace only in the sense of the aid and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Also Augustine in his first argument with the Pelagians said many things like this: “Grace restores the will so that the restored will fulfills the Law.”

The green words above are from the rule of St Benedict.  They are critical for us to understand in these days where division is growing, where people are reacting not to what is said, not even to what they think they heard, but how they interpret it.

One friend recently said that he wouldn’t watch football because of the protests of players.  He didn’t listen to what they said, he immediately interpreted it through his emotions, and admitted it, bringing into the equation his father, who was buried at Arlington Cemetery. 

I wonder if he realized some of those players have relatives buried there as well?

I am not saying the football teams or those who support their actions are any better at listening to people.

In fact, the anger towards each other is simply reactionary.  It is done with though, but not thought about the other people involved. 

What originally started with one man, concerned with issues far deeper than a meme or slogan, has polarized many in this country, deepening the rifts.  Rifts encouraged by some in the media, rifts that are unavoidable according to some.

Rifts that even divide those in the church, those who are united by something more powerful than anything else known, the power that raised Christ from the dead.

A power that we need to see now.

Chemnitz pointed out that what seems impossible for our nature is possible for grace, specifically the aid and renewal tht the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete/Comforter brings into our situation. The Spirit who is responsible for the good we see in ourselves, and overcomes the evil which we must recognize and take responsibility for, only to accept the grace that will redeem it. 

It surprised me, as Dr. Webber quoted the Rule of St Benedict, to see #71 – to make peace with an adversary before sundown,  But the context is amazing, for in thinking of that task – that discipline, we could easily despair. “I can’t do it”, “it’s impossible” “They will never…”  I could easily despair, to which the Rule responds, “Never despair of God’s mercy”

There is our answer, there is our hope for reconciling the unreconcilable, the hope for healing relationships shattered by history, our present, and concern over our future.

It is the hope we see in Paul’s words in red above, the idea that we can be joined together in love, understanding God’s secret – the hope of being in Christ himself.

Heavenly Father, Lord bring peace to our fractured and divided society.  Bring the hope and love that comes by Your Holy Spirit.  Help those of us who claim to follow you to do so, to hear those who are our adversaries, and to be with them, that we all may be saved.  AMEN!

[1] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.

4 Meisel and del Mastro, The Rule of St. Benedict, 52–54.

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

Doing What is Right…. there is only one way.

Devotional Thought for our Day:

1  People of Jerusalem, run through your streets! Look around! See for yourselves! Search the marketplaces! Can you find one person who does what is right and tries to be faithful to God? If you can, the LORD will forgive Jerusalem. Jeremiah 5:1 (TEV)

804         That friend of ours with no false humility used to say: “I haven’t needed to learn how to forgive, because the Lord has taught me how to love.”

Unrighteousness is a contagious disease.

It spreads like wildfire, often consuming those who are trying to fight it the hardest.

We find ourselves caught hating those who hate, gossiping about those who gossip, seeking to be unjust to those who presume are unjust.  Not forgiving those who do something unforgivable.

We seriously need to send out search parties to find one righteous, just person.  Just one!

At least God lowered the standard from the days of Sodom and Gomorrah! Then Abraham got him down to 10 righteous people.  Now we have to find only One! If only there was some way to find that person, if only there was some way He could rise above the crowd, so that God could easily see Him!

The man has been found!  He’s been lifted up on the cross!  God forgave Jerusalem and all who look to Him for forgiveness!

God’s looked beyond our unrighteousness, beyond our betraying Him, beyond our brokeness and forgave us, not because He had to, but because He loves us.   He proved what St. Josemaria states, that one who loves doesn’t have to learn to forgive, the love they are compels them to do so.  Love will seek the course of reconciliation, it has to, and that means forgiving.

That is what the righteous and just do…

And that is contagious as well.

Lord, help us ot know we are loved, help us to be so overwhelmed by our experience the incredible height and breadth, depth and width of that love that we begin to love as well, and as we do, forgive as we’ve been forgiven!  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3319-3320). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.


 

God says, “I WILL BRING…” A Sermon/Homily on Isaiah 56

church at communion 2God says, “I WILL BRING…”
Isaiah 56:1-3a, 6-8

I pray that you realize the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ which has gathered you into His presence here and that you would realize you aren’t just invited to be here, God desires your presence here!

Doing Right and Good defined…

In the first verses of the fifty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, we heard this morning that God wanted us to do this,

“Be just and fair to all, do what is right and good, for I am coming soon to rescue you, and to display my righteousness among you.  Blessed are all those who are careful to do this,  Blessed are those who honor my sabbath days of rest and keep themselves from doing wrong….”

That’s a great promise, but perhaps a bit vague.  What is right and good to do, what is just and fair?  We might have our own ideas, but God gives us a great picture of it in the verse that follows us,

“Don’t let the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD say, “The LORD will never let me be a part of His people.”

This isn’t just God commanding us to do this, this work He asks us to do is revealed in the 6-8th verses as His action, as He blesses those who are committed to His care.  He pours out the blessings upon them, even as He has on every single one of us.

And so what God is calling us to do is imitate Him, to share His heart towards people He has created, to have His heart and love all those He loves.

It’s not going to be easy… it is, in fact, it will cause us to take up our cross, this call to follow him.

Who are these outcast & foreigners?

This passage shows two groups of people God loves, foreigners and those who are called outcasts.  Or as Deacon Bob is preaching about right now, those people who think they can’t be admitted to our club.

And we need to make sure they never, ever think this…. We can’t let them say, “The Lord will never let me be a part of HIS people!”

The first group is simple – they are people who aren’t like us, who don’t share our genes, or our language, or our culture, or economic or social status. Some translations use foreigner, some describe them as alien, some stranger.  Given our church’s makeup, I think he’s talking about Australians because we have members from just about everywhere else!  Guyana, Germany, India, Nigeria, Philippines, Indonesia, we even love people from places like Boston and Hemet!  Yet the command is to make sure they don’t think and say that God won’t let them be part of us.

Some people still struggle to feel comfortable in our presence, and it is our role to help those who God brings here to know they are welcome, that they are part of His people, and therefore part of us.

God is calling us to proactively make sure they know they are welcome,

In verse 8, God adds in another group – those who are outcast.

Back in the days when Moses and Israel left Egypt and were wandering around the desert, hen the Old Covenant was given to the people of Israel, there were a number of sins that could be committed that would require the sinner to leave the camp of the people of God.

Sometimes it was for a day, sometimes it was for life.

Basically, until they served their time, they were outcast, they had to make do for themselves, they weren’t welcome among the people of God. They were the recognized sinners, or those that condoned the sin that was committed. They were the outcasts, the sinners rejected by their own people, who also rejected themselves.  Never again would the joy be theirs, or so they thought.

Ever been there?  Ever been in a situation where you weren’t in the in group, where you didn’t understand what was going on, or wonder whether you were part of the church?

Ever wonder if you were beyond God’s desire to forgive, beyond His mercy?  Either because people treated you that way, or because you simply felt to guilty?

Ever treated people like they weren’t?

Or maybe, like me, you have been all of the above…

Time to hear God, time to make the foreigner and the outcast welcome..

Filling us with joy!

I want you to hear the gospel from the Old Testament again,

6  “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the LORD, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant. 7  I will bring them to my holy mountain of Jerusalem and will fill them with joy in my house of prayer. I will accept their burnt offerings and sacrifices, because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. 8  For the Sovereign LORD, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people Israel.” Isaiah 56:6-8 (NLT)

These promises aren’t just basic entry, by saying that God will accept their offerings, because God is hearing their pray- the prayer of all people, he’s talking about full membership in this family.

Not half-sister, or step brother, but complete membership in the house of God….
For those who were once outcast, victims of their own sin, and who were once foreigners.  They are family, because of the love of Jesus on the cross, the cross where we were all made family.

We need to understand, and we need to share with people – that Christ died for all.  For you and for me, for people from every language, every tribe, ever culture.  For people of every economic group and from every generation.

Jesus died for them all. Every person in Cerritos, Artesia, Norwalk, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma, Whittier.

All those who are different, all those who have sinned and belong somewhere besides a house of prayer.

Jesus changed all that, as Isaiah prophesied, as God unites us to him on the cross, cleansing us of the sin that could have prevented us from being here.

We need to know this, we need to understand that God died for us, that we might live, and we need to welcome all who would know this, that would come to adore the God who loves us all.

Which is why we have hope, no matter where we’ve come from, no matter what we’ve done wrong. HE can and will restore us!  We have hope because of Christ’s death and resurrection for us all.
AMEN!

 

Let Them Make Peace With Me! But what does that mean?

20170124_103703Devotional Thought for This Day:

5 “But if the enemies of my people want my protection, let them make peace with me. Yes, let them make peace with me.”  Isaiah 27:5  TEV

748         Let us make a firm resolution about our friendships. In my thoughts, words and deeds towards my neighbour, whoever he may be, may I not behave as I have done up to now. That is to say, may I never cease to practise charity, or allow indifference to enter my soul.

It is very possible to misread Isaiah in the passage above, to think that the burden of reconciliation God is placing on those who are the enemies of His people.  That are the ones to “make peace”, therefore it is their effort, their work.  We hear it as a demand from him, as the thundering voice of God’s law, with the undertones of wrath below it.

We choose to hear it as God’s law – as the prophetic voice that will allow us to thrash them unless they prove their intent to make peace.  Which means, of course, that we can then have the same attitude, because the enemies of God’s people are our enemies, because we are God’s people, right?

This gives us full license to be holier than thou – or at least holier than those racists, or those politicians, or those other people, you know, the ones that don’t go to our church but go to “that” church, or no church at all.

I even heard that to preach “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is law, therefore we don’t have to obey it, just confess it when we fail too! ( We need a refresher in Augsburg Confession Article VI)

St. Josemaria’s words caught my attention this morning. He described a desire to change his attitude toward his neighbor,  whoever he maybe!  He then describes a life that is charitable, that loves, that has compassion, and never allows indifference to enter his soul.

What if that neighbor was an addict to drugs, or dealt them?  what if that neighbor was into porn, or and it was wrecking his life and family? What if that neighbor was a militant atheist or someone who morality and ethics we question.  What if they murdered someone, deliberately or by neglect? What if that neighbor was one of those in Charlottesville that was rioting?  (It doesn’t matter which side, or whether they were those who just wanted to “amp” up the tension)

Each of those people may be identified as our neighbor, and we need to rid ourselves of our apathy, we need to find the ability to be compassionate toward him or her.  We need to invite them to make peace with God, and then perhaps, over time, with us.

Which brings us back to Isaiah, and the question about God’s intent about these enemies.  Does He mean they have to make peace with Him, atoning for their own sin, proving their intent?  Or is it an invitation to be at peace with God, to be drawn to Jesus, and the cross which cleanses us from all sin?

From St. Paul,

8  But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9  And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10  For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 (NLT)

Let them make peace, a peace for which the price has already been paid.

It is an invitation, one that will result in them (and us) being cleansed of all sin and unrighteousness.

It is there, in this invitation, that we ALL can find hope. …

Lord Jesus, help us to shed our apathy, our indifference toward our neighbor, and with great compassion and love lead them to where God reconciles them with Himself.  And remind us constantly of the wonder of the peace you give us, as by grace you save us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3115-3117). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

American Bible Society. The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation. 2nd ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1992. Print.

The Most Needed of Ministries

Tau CrossDevotional Thought for the Day:

57 Then they shouted loudly and covered their ears and all ran at Stephen. 58 They took him out of the city and began to throw stones at him to kill him. And those who told lies against Stephen left their coats with a young man named Saul. 59 While they were throwing stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 He fell on his knees and cried in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” After Stephen said this, he died.  Acts 7:57-69 NCV

This is the perpetual characteristic of the true church: it not only experiences suffering and is dishonored and held in contempt, but it also prays for those who afflict it and is gravely concerned about their perils.[i] 

It is a necessity that we are reminded that Spiritual Warfare is not battling against flesh and blood, rather, the flesh and blood is what we are called to do battle on behalf of, to help free them from what would keep them away from the gospel.

Yet so much of our literature, so much of our training, so much of our attitude is about defeating the person, bringing them to submission, We have so bought into a competitive lifestyle, that it impacts and drives our ministry.

If we are that competitive if we see our spiritual warfare as against those we differ with, how we will nourish the faith and desire we need to pray as Stephen did?

How will we learn to plead for those who do evil as Moses, Abraham, and Paul would?  How can we begin to imitate Christ, who asked the Father to forgive those who mocked, stripped, bet and tortured Him, even as He died to secure their freedom from sin?

We need to develop this characteristic that is found in Christ Jesus.  We need to develop it not just as a measure of our holiness, but for their sake. As Luther said, we need to be concerned about the perils that the people who oppose us will face, especially the peril that would come if they never find out about God’s love.

This may sound imprudent, or impossible,  It may seem that it is only for saints and the holiest of us, but holiness is not an inbred characteristic.  Nor is the patience and compassion that this kind of ministry requires. Which should give us the key to the ministry.  It isn’t about us being holy enough, it is about realizing the compassion and love of God show to us!  It about trusting in God’s promises more than we fear them, or are shamed by the contempt and dishonor they would throw at us,

It’s the result of walking with God, of sharing in His glory, of realizing the love we treasure would free them.

It would bring about reconciliation.

And when it happens, it is amazing to see, it is wonderful and incredible to see

And so needed.  It is our ministry, to walk with Jesus as He seeks and saves the lost.

Lord Jesus, help us love them as you love them. Help us desire that they would know you mercy, that they would experience your compassion and love, that they would find themselves sharing in your glory, as you claim them as your own. Lord, have mercy on us all.  AMEN!

[i] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Vol. 2: Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14. Ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann. Vol. 2. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

The Greatest Thing a Pastor/Priest can do! (for you!)

A Devotional Thought for the day:

Sunrise at Concordia

Sunrise on the day of our combinsed service at Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos Ca (also home to Passion International Christian Church!)

Foolish people don’t care if they sin, but good people want to be forgiven. Proverbs 14:9

486         That big young man wrote to me saying: “My ideal is so great that only the sea could contain it.” I answered: “And what about the Tabernacle, which is so ‘small’; and the ‘common’ workshop of Nazareth?” It is in the greatness of ordinary things that He awaits us!

When a pastor is ordained, or perhaps is installed in a new church, we often make grandiose plans, and have visions of the church growing, and becoming stronger,  We (and our people – that’s why they called us) envision our churches overflowing with people, with ministries that meet the need of every demographic in our community, and even impact the world through the missions we support.

What is often overlooked is the simple things, the things that are needed, the common work of a pastor or priest.  The sacramental things that make the greatest difference in a person’s life.  Not a great difference, the greatest difference, even though we may also need to teach them about it along the way.

THis great work? This simple thing that will radically change their lives?  For a Lutheran pastor, it is these words,

“Let it be done for you as you believe! In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus, I forgive you all your sins!  In the Name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN!”

For a Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican priest the words are different.  The Baptist or Evangelical pastor may simply say, “you’re forgiven”, without backing it up with the formal language.  These words of forgiveness are heard in church service during a baptism, or as we celebrate the Lord’s supper in confessionals, in the pastor’s office or out having coffee. They are said at the bedside of someone who is dying, and while counseling the prisoner in a jail.

It is the simple work of ministry, something we need to hear, something we know we need to hear. Ordinary perhaps, but as those words are heard, as they are understood in our heart, soul, and mind, shame and guilt are swept away as the sin is removed.  We are reminded of God’s love for us, and the relationship Christ’ death on the cross secured and guaranteed for us.  We might even find the strength and hope needed ot ask forgiveness from that relative we hurt or the friend we accidentally betrayed. 

Most pastors and priests will never preach to thousands at once.  Most of us won’t baptize a hundred in a day.  We would love to see that of course, but the best thing we can do is found in what we can do for you…. to tell you of a God who loves you so much that He would forgive you of all your sin, and has.  Who would do so in such a way that you would learn to run for forgiveness, that you would desire it, that you would rejoice when you hear it.

This is ministry, real ministry, a ministry which heals and restores and leaves you full of joy and peace.

So come talk to us, hear the words you need to hear, “you are forgiven of all your sins, (and yes – that one as well!)

See you soon!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2126-2129). Scepter Publishers. 

Who would weep when those who do evil die…?

dscf1215-copy-copy

Devotional Thought of the Day:

33 The king was overcome with grief. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he cried, “O my son! My son Absalom! Absalom, my son! If only I had died in your place, my son! Absalom, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33

19 When David noticed them whispering to each other, he realized that the child had died. So he asked them, “Is the child dead?”
“Yes, he is,” they answered.
20 David got up from the floor, had a bath, combed his hair, and changed his clothes. Then he went and worshiped in the house of the LORD. When he returned to the palace, he asked for food and ate it as soon as it was served. 21“We don’t understand this,” his officials said to him. “While the child was alive, you wept for him and would not eat; but as soon as he died, you got up and ate!”
22 “Yes,” David answered, “I did fast and weep while he was still alive. I thought that the LORD might be merciful to me and not let the child die. 23But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”

55      Is it possible, you asked me, that Christ should have spent so many years—twenty centuries—acting on earth, and the world should be now what it is? Is it possible, you went on, that there should still be people who do not know Our Lord? And I answered you with conviction: It is our fault. For we have been called to be co-redeemers, and at times, perhaps often!, we do not follow the Will of God.  (1)

A man suffers the death of two of his beloved sons.

The evil one, the one who died in open rebellion trying to kill and replace his father, is grieved over.  Grief consumes the father, unbelievable, paralyzing grief.

The innocent one, the one who dies because of his father’s sin, seemingly isn’t grieved over.  The death is accepted, life moves on, even to the extent that God is worshiped, not questioned.

This doesn’t make sense!  Why wouldn’t David have the opposite attitude?  Why wouldn’t guilt and shame and grief eat him alive as his “good” son dies?  Why wouldn’t there be a sense of relief, even a little joy as the son who tried to kill him, who raped his concubines died?  Why does he move on from the first, and become a paralyzed, bawling wretch over the death of the second?

Revealed in David, at this point, is the heart of God.  The God who reveals through Ezekiel that he doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked, the God who reveals through Peter that He is patient, because He wants everyone to be transformed, through Paul that our ministry is one of reconciliation.  And shows Paul has the same heart when Paul says,

1  I am speaking the truth; I belong to Christ and I do not lie. My conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, also assures me that I am not lying 2  when I say how great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart 3  for my people, my own flesh and blood! For their sake I could wish that I myself were under God’s curse and separated from Christ.
Romans 9:1-3 (TEV)

This is David’s heart as well.  This is what is meant when he talks of preferring to die rather than Absolom. For if Absolom doesn’t die, there is still hope for reconciliation with God, there is still hope that God will work through all the blocks, and Absolom would find the gift of repentance. The same for Paul, who values his relationship with God more than anything, yet would surrender it, if it meant his people, Israel, would become the people of God again.

(note as well the assurance of David in regards to the “good” son.  I will go where he is…)

I think this is the missing key in St Josemaria’s discussion, the reason we don’t follow the will of God, the reason that the world isn’t saved, that really, no major attempt is being made to do so.

Is is that we count our enemies as something less than those God desires, something not worth Christ’s death on the cross? Or do we value that death enough, realizing that our enemies are not the only enemies of Christ that He died for, for we were once, as well?

I don’t’ think we fix this by having conferences on evangelism, and training seminars on arguing people into submission to our doctrine.  That hasn’t worked all too well over the last 40 years.  Being obsessed with methodology – church growth, liturgical rubrics, etc doesn’t bring about this heart.

What does is prayer, worship, adoration, contemplated on the mysteries of God’s mercy and love. What changes us it knowing in our heart and soul that we are loved, that God is here, that we are standing on Holy ground.

For people to not know this peace?  To not know this love?  For us to not desire it for all we come into contact with?  This needs ot become inconceivable.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Give us your heart, your will to see people dwell with you.  Help us to learn to cry when enemies and adversaries face death, or when they suffer.  May our hearts move to help them, may we serve as servants to reconcile them.  For we pray this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN!

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 423-426). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

There is Another Way: A Lenten Sermon on Romans 4

church at communion 2There is another Way

Romans 4:1-8, 13-17

 In Jesus Name

As we realize the sin we commit, may we also realize the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, which cleanses us from the sin, even as we come to depend on His presence in our lives!

Parenthetical Statement

 In the midst of the passage from Romans this morning, our translation puts a few of the words inside of parenthesis.  They are no less part of scripture, and I would call your attention to them this morning…

They are these words, “The only way to avoid breaking the law, is to have no law to break!”

That seems simple.  No law, no breaking the law.

Even though they are scripture, they present a problem for us.  They are a literary device, not what we would call “pure gospel”.  A literary device, sort of like sarcasm or irony.

You see, as a literary device, the idea of getting rid of God’s law is predetermined to fail.

For one thing, it’s impossible.

For another… well you will see.

We can’t avoid it – because of Adam

Paul’s literary device fails, simply because we can’t avoid sin. Last week we saw why, sin entered the world through Adam, and it was passed on, as vicious as any virus or genetic anomaly to every person who was a product of human conception.

All we have to do is look at what our lives produce, and we know that the Apostle Paul was right when he said that, “the law always brings punishment on those who try to obey it.” 
That seems like a bit of a challenge, doesn’t it?  You try to obey God’s law, and you can’t!

Some will say the law is impossible, that we should just ignore God’s law, and do whatever we want. Others give up, and others pretend that they have never sinned, or that their sin isn’t as evil as the sins of those they complain about.

Sin, we’ve all done it, we’ve all earned the wrath of God that are the wages for that sin. Ignorance of the law doesn’t matter, and we can’t simply make God’s law disappear, or claim that it isn’t for us…

You can’t avoid the law, it exists, which is why we need what Abraham discovered….. the discovery that David says brings great joy.

Rejoice, we were cleared of breaking it.

 Hear David’s words again,

“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord as cleared of sin.”

This promise is for all people, without care for their age, their ethnicity, where they lived or even the sin they committed.  This wondrous act of God, clearing us of sin, putting the sin out of sight is amazing!

Trusting God, depending on Him to keep a promise that goes back to the garden of Eden is what we are talking about, it is how we have a “right relationship” with God.

Since the beginning this is God’s plan, since God covered Adam and Eve’s sin with the skins of animals, since God saw Abraham’s trust, first in the promise of Isaac’s birth, and then as he went to sacrifice Isaac, knowing God’s promise was deeper than he could understand.  Hebrew’s tells us that he counted that through Isaac God would provide him more descendants than the sand on the shore, or stars in the sky.

That trust, that dependence on God saw Abraham counted as a friend, just as David, whose sins far outweighed his predecessor King Saul, God describes as a man after his own heart.  Paul gets this as well,

20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! 21Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.   1 Cor. 5:20-21
This right relationship we share – another way of describing God’s work in creating it is what Paul told the church in Corinth – His way of changing us from enemies into His friends.

His friends.

Let that sink in.

Like Abraham, being counted as righteous means you are counted as a friend of God.
His friend.

That’s what a right relationship with God is, which explains why David uses this word joy to describe our sin being put away.

During Lent, this is what we focus upon, this work of God we need, this love of God that proclaims we are cleansed, healed, forgiven, loved, by the Creator of the universe, who created us to be His friend.

And though sin tried to break that relationship, our God had already prepared for that, even before creation, for His intent has always been the same as it was in the garden,

to walk with us… He as our God, we as His people, his children, His friends.

And the cross, it is our way to avoid the damage of sin.  And it works. So be at peace and trust in God who loves you more than anything.

AMEN!

Lent: It’s Not about YOUR Sin! A sermon for the first Sunday in Lent

church at communion 2Lent: It’s Not About YOUR Sin
Romans 5:12-19

Jesus, Son, Savior

As you encounter the brokenness of this world that goes back to the days of Adam and Eve, my you know how great the difference is in your life, because of Jesus Christ our Lord!

A Misconception

A friend of mine commented this week that “we aren’t supposed to “like” Lent.  Because that would defeat the whole purpose.”

It was an interesting thought, and I wondered about what her dislike Lent so much.

Perhaps it is because we have the focus on the wrong part of Lent.  Because while Lent has us look at sin and our need for the Holy Spirit to grant us repentance, Lent isn’t about sin.

The purpose of these 40 days is to evaluate out lives, to see the places where the Holy Spirit needs to work, and to invite that work, to desire it, to allow God to clean out the unholy, unrighteous stuff that stops us from truly living life.

The goal of Lent isn’t to beat ourselves up for what we’ve said or thought or did.

The goal of Lent is to realize that crud is there and to desire it gone from our lives.

But how does that happen?  How do we see the reality that sin doesn’t have us locked down and headed straight to hell?

Your sin is nothing new…

Please understand that I am not saying sin doesn’t exist, or that we shouldn’t be repentant. Not at all, sin is serious business, but it is not our primary business.

Hebrews 12 tells,  “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up… and let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”  (Heb 12:1)

That is the invitation of Lent, to recognize sin for what it is, and to cast it aside.  Yeah, it is bad, yes it damages our relationship with others and really damages our relationship with God.

As Paul says, this sin kills, it brings death as serious as any plague known to mankind.  And we are its latest victim, in what appears to be an unbroken line, all the way back to Adam.  That seems to be the point Paul makes over and over in the passage from Romans 5 that was read this morning.  Time after time Paul tells us that Adam’s sin, his stepping over the line brought death, it brought condemnation.

For each of us, without salvation, would stand condemned, passing on sin as if it was a genetic syndrome.

Christ’s Act, and your right relationship

But I’ve said that Lent and this section of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome aren’t about sin.

They are about bring delivered from sin, and to look at our lives, and learning to desire to live in the like Christ, in His glorious holiness rather than in the darkness of Adam’s sin.  To live, in what Christ righteous act on the cross brought us, what Paul calls a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 

This relationship, this life is the focus of Lent.  Forty days to think about what we retain from Adam and to ask God to cleanse our lives.  To depend on Him more, to live with Him in a more devout way.  Not some kind of false holiness that would exalt us, but simply depending on Him, trusting Him, adoring the God who would take our debt and lay it on Christ, who would bring about righteousness in us.

To want to see this happen, to desire this above all, that is what these days we call Lent are about.

The Continuation of the thought..

At the beginning of the next chapter, Paul will ask the Romans the question which boils down to – who are you going to be like, Adam under condemnation, or Jesus who brings life.  I like the way the Phillip’s translation phrases it,

1  Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin – how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptized into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? Romans 6:1 (Phillips NT)

This is what we are aiming for in Lent, the desire expressed here, to live in sin’s power not a moment longer, to receive the grace that makes us live in triumph over sin and death as Paul mentioned in today’s reading.

To run to the altar, seeking the comfort that comes from knowing there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus.  To remember what was done in our baptism, to remember His death, burial and resurrection, not as historical facts, but as part of our life, for we died and rose with Him. This is what we celebrate, as we partake of His body and blood and know, the Holy Spirit is changing us, even as we can’t take our eyes off of Jesus.

This mystery of the faith is what we celebrate during Lent, building up to Good Friday when we hear Jesus’ words, it is finished.  It is accomplished.  We are clean, we are holy, we are righteous, for we dwell in Him!

Lent helps us realize that, and realizing that we do toss aside that sin, and look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  To realize in Him we live and move and have our very being.

For in Christ, we exist in the unexplainable, unsurpassable peace of God.  We are safe there, our hearts and minds kept there by Jesus.  AMEN!

Do I love My Neighbor Enough to…

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
32  They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. Romans 1:32 (NLT)

1  Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2  Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:1-3 (NLT)

19  My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20  you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (NLT)

We must indeed meekly bear with our friend in his imperfections, but we must not lead him into imperfections, much less imitate his imperfections ourselves. But I speak only of imperfections; for as to sins, we must neither occasion them, nor tolerate them in our friends. It is either a weak or a wicked friendship to behold our friend perish and not to help him; to see him die of an abscess, and not to dare to open it with a lancet of correction, to save his life.

I am preaching this weekend on Jesus’ direction to us to really love those around us, even our enemies.  To be so committed to people that we won’t even consider what we sacrifice to help them.  To be so dedicated to what is best for them, that we don’t look at the impact on us.

But before we get to loving our enemies, I need to consider whether I really love my friends, and those I claim to love.

Given the passages above, it is not as easy a question as I would like to think.

Do we love our friends enough to rescue them from sin?  To bring them back when they wander away from the truth?

Are we willing to see the relationship deep enough to where they know our love and care enough to respond when we ask them to confront the demons that assail them and allow them to do the same for us?

Or will we ignore the sin that so easily takes us captive, the temptations that so distract us from the presence and grace of God?   Will we even let our friends think we approve of their sin?  ( or will we simply abandon them in their sin?)

I think, more than we want to admit, that we need to repent, so that we can encourage their repentance.

So that we can hear the answer, together, to our cry,

“Lord,, have mercy on us, for we have sinned, and need your healing touch.”

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

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