An Everlasting Sign
† I.H.S. †
As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in…
Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.
Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes. They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon. You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.
Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.
There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.
Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?
And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?
Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?
Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire. After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought. Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.
We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!
But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God. They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs. We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.
Again, do we see the rain and snow here? Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink. His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.
It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.
It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.
The change is real – let’s see it!
So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.
Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?
Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?
Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause. The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.
I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.
Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism. Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast. Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.
And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments. The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
18 When Jesus noticed the crowd around him, he ordered his disciples to go to the other side of the lake. 19 A teacher of the Law came to him. “Teacher,” he said, “I am ready to go with you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus answered him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” 21 Another man, who was a disciple, said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” 22 “Follow me,” Jesus answered, “and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:18-22 (TEV)
9 When they talked to him about committing himself personally, his reaction was to reason in the following manner: “If I did, I could do that…, I would have to do this other… “ The answer he got was: “Here, we don’t bargain with the Lord. The law of God, the invitation of the Lord, is something you either take or leave, just as it is. You need to make up your mind: go forward, fully decided and without holding back; otherwise, go away. Qui non est mecum…— whoever is not with Me, is against Me.”
Our culture seems in love with negotiating, or at least the idea that if we negotiate we can get a better bargain. We negotiate for our homes, our cars, computers, vacations, our pay, never mind the fun of going to a swap meet or yard sale and negotiating to pay 3 dollars instead of 4 for something we don’t need or have room for in our garage.
We even try to negotiate with God.
This is not something new, people have been trying to negotiate with God for since the beginning. Or at least they imagine they are negotiating. They take his lack of a counteroffer as a kind of approval, or simply don’t listen to what God has already told them.
Why am I saying “them”, I am just as guilty of trying to make deals with God. Though we can couch this in pious prayers, offering God what we should already have given Him, what is His by right, if only he would bless us in this way or that, or remove this or that. I
I am not saying we shouldn’t pray, but prayer isn’t a negotiation. Neither is salvation or sanctification. And to try and make a deal, or to set the conditions means that we need to go back and examine what the word faith means.
It means trust, it means to depend upon, rely upon.
We don’t bargain with God just out of respect or fear. We learn not to bargain with Him because we’ve learned to trust Him, to know that He has our best interest at heart. That His love, His patience, His desire is to make all things work for good. We can’t negotiate a better deal that He offers in the New Covenant.
That is what God being Lord is all about, it is what being in the Kingdom of God is all about, knowing the Lord who loves us, and calls us to be His special people.
Rejoice, the best is already yours. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 274-279). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for the Day:
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. Luke 17:5-6NAB-RE
Men experience the preciousness of things, and experience it fully, only in the company of those who share their enjoyment; in this way, they become aware of the festive quality of an existence that is so often hostile and ill-humored in their regard but is present at a meal, as it were, with open hands, with a gesture of lavish generosity, of unrestrained joy. This liberality of existence, which is rich and bestows itself freely, is an intrinsic part of a meal. The same is true of a wedding. In it, the elevation of the biological process of sexual attraction to a fundamental spiritual act of Eros, of the human being’s loving transcendence of self, is crystallized, epitomized, and confirmed. Here, too, we experience the liberal graciousness of existence, which grants us the festive wonder of a love we cannot force but that comes to us of its own accord, takes us by surprise and overwhelms us, transforms our life, gives us a new inner center, and even, in moments of ecstatic bliss, confers on us a foretaste of a life that is brighter and fuller than our everyday life. (1)
I’ve been known to use the phrase “intimate relationship with God” more than once, and more than in one setting. Reactions are often very strong and very polarized to it. Some feel it is too common, to base, even too perverted, or it could be taken that way. Some understand it, even though they might struggle with the implications of a God that desires that we should be His people.
The words in blue above come from a man whose took an oath to remain celibate for the rest of his life. His words describe it well thought – the transcendence, the even spiritual act of eros – of giving and being given, or experiencing a level of transcendence, and even “confers on us a foretaste of a life that is bright and fuller than our everyday life”.
The physical act is not contrary to God’s purposes – he established it as something two should share. two that committed before God and man to each other, as a way of testifying to the love. It is as much spiritual as it is physical, and in that sense gives us a look at what our spiritual relationship with God is like, and what it will be like in heaven.
Please hear this – we aren’t saying eternity is sexual – that our relationship with God is simply physical – but rather – that the spiritual aspect gives us an insight into what it means to truly commit to another – to love them, to seek our their best interest. Love means losing yourself, the awareness of yourself, as you care for the other person – and as you do that – there is something overwhelming, something that transforms us, something that is more than life, alone, abandoned, broken. It is intimate in it reveals the innermost parts of us, the part that is being recreated in Christ Jesus – the most intimate, deep, definition who we are – defined in relationship to God – the I AM.
You see this a little earlier – as a father reacts to his beloved son’s return,
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. – Luke 15:20
The father doesn’t care about his dignity, he doesn’t care about his prestige or reputation. He doesn’t care about people (including his other son) thinking he is fool who will be taken advantage of. All that is set aside – this is a son, whom he loves, and the answer to many a night without sleep. THIS IS HIS SON!!!
It is that transcendent moment, the moment the I become I-Thou, the moment we realize how deeply God loves us, and how it transforms us, as we learn to love in return, as He teaches us. As we are united to Him in baptism, reunited as He forgives our sins and cleanses us of all unrighteousness, as we celebrate this relationship – this holy relationship as He gives us His body and blood.
Bringing us back to the original quote of scripture. They ask fo more faith, and what they are really asking for is to trust God more, that God would draw us closer to Him, make Himself more real, defeat our defenses – and show us His complete love for us.
That is, of course, the answer to another prayer as well…
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
And it is answered, and we see it when we are in union with Christ Jesus.
(1) Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
13 Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, “You must let little children come to me – never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13 (Phillips NT)
But behold, I see a thing not understood by the proud, nor laid open to children, lowly in access, in its recesses lofty, and veiled with mysteries; and I was not such as could enter into it, or stoop my neck to follow its steps. For not as I now speak, did I feel when I turned to those Scriptures; but they seemed to me unworthy to he compared to the stateliness of Tully: for my swelling pride shrunk from their lowliness, nor could my sharp wit pierce the interior thereof. Yet were they such as would grow up in a little one. But I disdained to be a little one; and, swollen with pride, took myself to be a great one.
But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that you may see God’s presence in the world—change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world.
The words in blue from Augustine, one of the smartest philosopher-theologians amazed me this morning. As he writes his confession, not unlike Solomon, he describes the times of darkness. Even as he hungered for truth, he couldn’t find it.
Pope Benedict XVI’s words in the third quote support this lack of finding that which is sought for, as he responds that only conversion can bring what we need, what we search for in our lives. To paraphrase Socrates, we are only truly wise when we realize how much we don’t know..
It is ike Christmas and the difference between a child and an adult receiving a gift. The child is awe of the gift, even the box the gift came in! They are in the moment, enjoying it. They are often in awe, as if to say, “this is for me?” They dive into the joy of the moment, and that is their reality
As we grow older and know more, there is an innocence lost about such moments. We don’t often dive into the presents, the moments of joy, and we contemplate instead on how we will pay the bills, or why people don’t understand us (proven by one of those gifts again!
( I was thinking, based on years of marital counseling – people can treat sex the same way, losing the awe and being int he moment, instead trying to analyze it!)
SO it is with God, if we stay outside and try to study and understand Him. When developing the next great theological manuscript, or understanding what a dead guy said about some aspect of God, or His creation. We spend too much time looking for the big answers, seeking to understand things that are far greater than us, things that simply exist when we approach them as children
The solution to this is simple. The same as it is for the adult at Christmas. We need to get down on the floor and become part of the celebration. We need to engage in the joy, in the moment, in the relationship that God desires with us. We need to pray more, trust more and celebrate His love with all of our heart and soul, mind and strength.
That may mean dropping that theology text, or putting aside that debate.
That’s okay, if you were meant to write it, or read it, you will get far more out of it when you have spent some time in the moment with the Lord who created that moment, and desires to spend it with you. If you don’t believe me, think about Augustine, Benedict, Luther, Socrates, and the 2-year old who simply wants to sit at the altar rail throughout the church service.
Lord, have mercy on us, please give us the trust and awe of a child!
Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 391). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Compelled to Share our Hope
1 Corinthians 9:16-27
† IHS †
May the joy of knowing and understanding the love and mercy of God compel you to proclaim that love to a broken world.
As I read the second reading for this week, the one from 1 Corinthians, there is a phrase that convicted me.
I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t preach the Good News!
The word there in Greek for preach the gospel is not the word for what I am doing right now, in the middle of a church service. It is the word we get evangelism from, the idea of sharing the hope you have; because you know Christ.
What we are all are commissioned to do, it is the work of the people in church, to share the love of God, and His mercy, with everyone we meet.
I am compelled by God to do it. How terrible for me if I didn’t share why I have hope for I know Jesus Christ!
I have to admit, there are times where I don’t feel so compelled to share my hope.
There are times where giving people hope isn’t that much of a priority. Where we don’t care, as we go about our day, being driven by our tasks, by our needs, by our desires. We aren’t compelled to share our hope, the hope we have because we know Jesus.
When I heard this how terrible for me, what I don’t hear why it Is terrible when our hope isn’t shared. I think it is terrible because God is going to be up there, disappointed in us, because we didn’t obey and do what He has asked us to do. We’ve let Him down again, we’ve disobeyed, and we might even think we need to be punished. We are wrong when we think those things.
Or we might believe we are being punished because things aren’t going right.
That’s not it either, and I am going to try and explain how we are compelled, why it is terrible for us, when we overlook our hope and don’t share it.
Not of my initiative
In verse 17, Paul tells us that we aren’t alone in this, that he didn’t have any initiative for sharing His faith either. Doesn’t that sound a little strange, that Paul, the great missionary apostle, didn’t do what he did because he was such a mission-driven, natural born evangelist?
He wasn’t self-compelled, he had to be compelled. Being compelled means that Paul was passive, this task was given to him to accomplish, and the drive to accomplish it was external. He had no choice, no initiative yet he accomplished the task,….
You see the text, what does it say?
God has given me this sacred trust…..
God has put His faith in Paul to get this done….
Talk about a heavy load to bear, a heavy weight to carry. God trusted Paul to do this work, to be sent to people to show them the love of God. He was sent to give them hope! He’s one of those about whom Jesus spoke when He said,
“Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” John 20:21 (TEV)
So of Paul and the apostles, Jesus talks of being sent on the same mission, to have the same goal. That God gave Paul this sacred trust, even as we read a moment ago.
It doesn’t end there…for hear what Paul says to the church at Corinth, and to us,
## “You should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”
It is what the love of Christ compels us to do, what the poured out blood of Christ compels us to do. This love, this knowing God compels us to tell people why we have hope because we know Jesus.
But God compelling us, God laying upon us this burden, isn’t His heavy-handed law coming down.
It is about the gospel, it is about knowing the joy that we have, in Christ, and as we realize this, we will desire, we’ll be compelled to share this incredible joy.
Escriva & Jeremiah 9:24
One of my favorite writers struck me like this passage questioning my desire to share my hope with a quote, which turned into yesterday’s blog. It’s a bit long, but the basic idea is that our ## prayers and focus should be on the mission. That we are to help people have the hope that we have. We strive to see God’s desire that all come into this relationship with Him.
if yes, then there is great joy in your life, as you see God working through you, as people hear about this hope we have in Christ.
If no, the answer wasn’t to get out of your pew and go do it anyway. The answer was to trust more in Jesus, to know His promises more, to understand what the Father wants to give us, this covenant relationship.
The promise is seen in the cross – as His body was given, and His blood was shed, to bring us into this relationship, even as our sins are forgiven. This promise teaches us to know that we have life with God, not just now, but now and forever!
We celebrate that every time we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, for Paul says each time we do, we proclaim His death, His death for us until He comes again.
We need to know that desire of God, to rejoice in understanding that this is the aim of God our Father.
All of the sin; all of the things you are ashamed of in your life; all of the things that breaks us down; that kills our spirit; the rebellion and selfishness that is nothing more than making an idol out of ourselves. It is killed off, the sin that blocks us from God, intercepted and the victory prize is Christ’s. We became His, when we were united in His death and His resurrection.
St. Josemaria went on to say,
If you possess joy, then you seek to give it to others!
You might even say, if you possess this joy, you are compelled to give it to other! That God has so shared with you His glory, that you have no other choice for God has given you this sacred trust. Just like Paul, the apostle.
That is the love of God that compels you, the more you experience it, the more you are changed, born, transformed, and the more you want to pass it on to others.
Even to the point where like Paul, you will be what people need you to be, you will be with them, that you might gain them for Christ.
For when one comes… the joy is beyond belief.
Jeremiah put it this way…
23 GOD’s Message: “Don’t let the wise brag of their wisdom. Don’t let heroes brag of their exploits. Don’t let the rich brag of their riches. 24 If you brag, brag of this and this only: That you understand and know me. I’m GOD, and I act in loyal love. I do what’s right and set things right and fair and delight in those who do the same things! Jeremiah 9:23-24 (MSG)
Rejoice in this, even to the point where you brag about it!
You understand and know God, the God whose love is yours, the God who sets things right, and you know and understand His faithfulness and His loyalty.
Who makes you His own!
When someone asks you why you have hope? Share His love with them,…..share His mercy with them, and invite them to know His peace!
Discussion and Devotional Thought of the Day:
24 The LORD directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way? Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. 2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. 3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Psalm 23:1-3 (NLT)
I talked to you about the horizon which opens up before our eyes and of the road we have to follow. I have no objections, you said, as if surprised at not having any. Engrave this deeply on your mind: there is no reason why there should be!! (1)
Picture a couple in love, walking through a park together, enjoying each other. They might laugh at that squirrel, or be amazed at the flowers and the beauty of the water which sings in the creek, as it too travels to the pond on the other side of the park. The might even forget where they are, as they enjoy each other, as they learn about each other, as they share in the love they have. They live in the moment. There is a growing trust, growing discovery and revelation of life.
And they know the destination when they get there…. as the sit on the rock, as the young man asks the question that they both know is coming…..will you share my life, will you let me share yours?
Unsure of the future? They aren’t even looking past this moment. The joy of each other’s presence is too overwhelming
God knows the future, much more than the young man and woman. He directs the steps, knowing the beauty we will encounter, and the times when we will stumble. We walk with Him, our Shepherd,
Yes, we inherently trust Him for our salvation, but what we are saved to is a life, a relationship where that trust infects every other part of our life. As He reveals Himself, as we explore and know the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love for us in Christ,
That means we aren’t going to know every step, we won’t understand this time or that, We may not want to take the time to rest and pause, we want to fight for control. We can’t know all the details, any more than the prophets or apostles did. We need to grow to where we don’t raise objections to the horizon, we need to accept the road, not because it is the road….
But because we trust the Shepherd who will lead us along the right roads, who walks with us.
How do we do this?
Spend time with Him, realize His presence, meditate on and rejoice in the promises that are sure in Christ……
It’s not about having every detail planned out, about preparing for every contingency, this life of those baptized and who walk with Christ.
It’s like the journey along the paths of the park- where a young couple are amazed at the love, at the growing bond between them. Where they realize their long for love is there. It’s like that, as we, the bride of Christ, walk with Him.
So enjoy, as the beauty of His creation unfolds before you!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2399-2402). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” Luke 4:8 (NLT)
424 Your relatives, colleagues and friends are beginning to notice the change, and realise that it is not a temporary phase, but that you are no longer the same. Don’t worry, carry on! Vivit vero in me Christus—it is now Christ that lives in me —that’s what is happening.(1)
The picture accompanying is this blog is on of the high points of a trip I took a few years ago. My wife and I were wandering around Rome, on a trip that was an incredible gift. As we were, we came across this building, with lots of excavation around it. It was rough, worn, old, and we wondered what it was….
As we rounded the front, we realized it was the Pantheon, a place built and rebuilt for the Roman Cultic worship…. a place were ritual sacrifice was done, a place of martyrdom as well. The Roman Pantheon, perhaps the best kept of all of the ancient buildings of Rome…Re-built early in the 2nd century, it is amazing.
But for nearly 1500 years… it has been something more significant – it has been a church. A place where God is glorified, a place where His peopel have been gathered, and blessed. A place that has over time been redeemed, been blessed, and amazed people for its grandeur, for its arts and craftsmanship, for the history and skill it contains, skill that speaks of something greater… the work of God. The meeting of God and His people to celebrate a love that is beyond measure….for His people to return that love, as they lay their lives down as living sacrifices to Him, giving of themselves to love Him, including loving Him by loving those He’s brought into our lives. That place where other gods demanded their sacrifices, for a longer period of time celebrated that God sacriced Jesus… for us.
This love of His changes us, completes us as we walk with Him. St Josemaria is correct – there is a change in us, even as there was in the use of the Pantheon, We cannot know God’s love and be the same. The Westminster Catechism as it right as well – our purpose in life changes drastically, as we realize who God is, and how He relates to us.
Worship becomes more powerful, as we realize it isn’t a duty, something we must do, but as it becomes a reaction to God sharing everything with us, including His glory. How can we read St. Paul’s words to the church in Colossae and not rejoice?
27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. Colossians 1:27-29 (NLT)
This is what life is about, this is the abundant life…
Lord have mercy, and help us to share Who makes us who we are…
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1898-1902). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) Westminster Larger and Smaller Catechisms; Electronic Edition, Wordsearch
Sermon from Concordia Lutheran Church, June 29. 2014
The Paradox of Life in Christ
† IHS †
May we understand that this grace, the mercy and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, is what makes life worth living.
But I thought…… The paradox that isn’t
As I read the gospel reading first two verses last Monday, (for I did not come to bring peace… but a sword.. and cause division in homes) other Bible passages started to run through my mind.
Isa 9:6 — For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end.
Ac 10:36 — This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.
Ro 5:1 — Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.
Eph 2:14 — For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.
Eph 2:17 — He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.
Col 1:20 — and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
And as I read the verses about division, I thought about the 4th Commandment, and our duty to Honor our father and mother. Then St, John’s words, questioning how we can love God who we can’t see, when we don’t love our neighbor whom we can see. I mean – isn’t God all about love? The two greatest of commands are love Him and love our neighbor, right?
It seems confusing at first, that this passage contradicts so many others in scripture, indeed, some which form the basis of our relationship with God.
There is a word for this – it is called a paradox… and certainly, from the view of the world, this life we have been given in Christ is a paradox
So let’s look at this passage – and see something truly amazing…..
Yeah – Jesus does mean it –
Does Jesus actually mean it, when He talks about coming to cause division, to cause strife? That He didn’t come to bring peace, but a weapon of war? A sword to separate us from each other?
I mean, I like swords and knives and such, but is this the tool we need for ministry? Does following in His steps mean that we all have to carry swords and machetes? Of course not!
But does Jesus mean it, when He prophesies that families will divide, father against son, daughter against wife? That some who hate us, will be those in our very homes? That we have to love God more than any. More than our parents, than our children? Or if we do not, we aren’t worthy, we aren’t capable of being in a relationship with him
Yes, He does. He means it.
As we struggle with this, it is helpful to know which of the words for “love” is used here. It is phileo – the love usually expressed within a family. Within that, there is a sense of loyalty, the recognition that these are “my people”, that no one takes precedence over them. It is a tight mutual bond, one of great loyalty, one that can go deeper than we have words for, or the logic to explain.
Jesus says that this is the kind of love that we should have for Him, more than any other person in our lives. It’s not new in scripture, remember God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac? Remember Gideon, tearing down the statue of the idol Ba’al in his dad’s backyard? Or the cry of Joshua to his people, As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?
That word actually cuts deeper and harder for many of us. Challenging our loyalty to our family, our very natural desire to care and protect those we love is a dangerous thing. Which is more important, the kids chance for a sports or academic scholarship, or spending time in church and Bible Study? What about God’s commands about marriage, or wanting them to just enjoy being “in love?” What about having to sacrifice time with our family, not to minister to a friend, but to show love and pray for an adversary, maybe their adversary?
Who is closer to us, who are we going to be loyal too? Who are we going to listen to, and base our “right and wrong” on?
Please here me! I am not talking about nagging people to death, or condemning those we love who aren’t living as God planned for them to live. But there has to be an option between tolerating that which is evil and wrong in God’s eyes, and condemning them and turning our back on them.
The option that is only found… in loving God more than all. The only real option we, who trust in Jesus have….
For Jesus does mean these words, but not just to convict us of our sins, or to give Him a reason to condemn us. This call, this command to love Him more than all others
The Reason – “being Mine” Phileo!
One of the challenges of preaching on a portion of a chapter, is remembering the context of the entire chapter. We noted this last week, as we talked about the context of these verses before – these are Jesus’ words to the men he is sending out, His representatives to proclaim that God’s kingdom is here, among us. That God does care and is helping, comforting, saving and defending us.
That is the same context here. Jesus is speaking to those who know in part, and will soon know how deep God’s love for them is, as they realize the message they are coming to give – is that God loves us so much, that His son would be crucified for us.
They recognize, intuitively, that this Jesus has for them the words of life, that He is going to free them from all that restricts life, from all that limits it from being lived to the fullest.
That when we respond to His love, when our loyalty, our priorities are all based in responding to His love.
A side note – to be explored more, but when we love Him first, when our loyalty and the primary relationship is with Him, then all the other relationships we are in take on a deeper and truer nature, they are less effected by sin, or by anxiety, they become less our gods, as we put them into God’s hands…..
We are called to walk with God, as His family. Not just for a while, it is who we are, now and forever. It defines us, this relationship we are in, more than our being a son, or a dad, a mom or a daughter. More than any things else – we have to know we are loved by God to the point where we are now family.
His people, Close family, His children.
We are the people God is willing to die for, we are the people that Christ did die for, willingly, for the joy set before Him, he endured that cross.
He welcomes us to pick up ours, and walk with Him. That may test us, as family and friends don’t get us, as they don’t understand why we do what we do, why we act like we act, as we struggle to leave behind the sinful behaviors and attitudes that they find normal. They will wonder as they see us struggle and sacrifice to love our enemies, rather than get revenge. This relationship will test us as we struggle with our desire to do what pleases us, rather than what pleases God.
This isn’t what we have to do to save ourselves, for Jesus has done that already! But as we realize His love, it is how we respond to His love, to His faithfulness to us. As we remember the new life He gave us in baptism, as He claimed us as His children, as we come to this altar and receive His body and blood. As we realize that this is where we need to be, for chasing after the world’s idea of life stifles us, kills us….reduces us to mere animals
But in Him, there is life….
So welcome those who speak of His love, of His promises and yes, call you to repentance and life. Welcome those who live life in Christ, struggling with the righteousness that is there. Love those He brings into your life, helping them, even if it is by offering them a cup of cold water….
For following Him, walking in His steps is a life that is rewarding, for we realize the life He has given us, through the cross….
A life of God’s peace which is beyond our ability to describe, as we live it secure in Christ Jesus….. Amen!
Devotional thought of the Day
25 God has given me the responsibility of serving his church by proclaiming his entire message to you. 26 This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. 27 For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory. 28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me. Colossians 1:25-29 (NLT)
6 “I have made you known to those you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me. They have obeyed your word, 7 and now they know that everything you gave me comes from you. 8 I gave them the message that you gave me, and they received it; they know that it is true that I came from you, and they believe that you sent me. 9 “I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those you gave me, for they belong to you. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine; and my glory is shown through them. John 17:6-10 (TEV)
291 The Lord has shown us this refinement of Love: he has let us conquer the world for him. He is always so humble that he has wished to limit himself to making it possible… To us He has granted the easiest and most agreeable part: taking action and gaining the victory. (1)
It seems there is one more blog this week about humility, and the role it plays in our relationship with God our Father. Our relationship with God, what some would call our faith, But ministry, like reconciliation and faith, it doesn’t start with us.
It is about Christ.
His humility, His gift to us of sharing His work with us. of working through us.
The words of Escriva in my devotions this morning sent dozens of passages through my mind, from the Carmen Christi hymn of Philippians 2:5-10, to Isaiah 52-53, to Psalm 139, to the description of Jesus going into hell to preach to those captive there in Peter’s writings, to the very promises of the Incarnation.
Why would Jesus share His ministry, His work of reconciling, of redeeming the world, of restoring in us what we were created to be, the children of God? What do we have to bring to His work, that He already isn’t? Can we love as purely? Sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others? Can we speak as eloquently, or heal those who are broken? Do we have the wisdom, the knowledge, and the depth of love?
Why does Jesus share with us the work to achieve that which the Father desires?
Why would He humbly step aside, and give to us, His people, the responsibility to ‘take action and gain the victory?”
Why would He give us the opportunity to share in His glory, in His work glorifying the Father?
Why would He trust us to work with all we are, to present every man complete as they are joined to Him?
it is something incredible to contemplate, to wonder about the love of God that is shown to us in giving us this ministry of reconciliation. Think through this day the relationship you have with God, where He would entrust you with that which He desires. Think of how He must see us, as we are joined to Christ. Consider how complete God’s work is, a true masterpiece in His opinion, as He united us to Christ’s death and resurrection in our baptism.
This trust God would place in us, as Jesus entrusts to us (and we are empowered to do this work by the Holy Spirit!) with His own work, with bringing the message of His love, His mercy, His grace.
That is why ministry isn’t about law, why serving others isn’t a command, it is a moment of unity with Christ, of walking with Him, of the unity of His resurrection and ours, lived out in our very lives. It is about the gift of the Holy Spirit, where we do this work, not by our own strength, but the Holy Spirit working in us, revealing the glory of God at work in us. as we find ourselves striving to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Even as God humbles Himself to allow us to be partners in ministry, He ensures the work is done through us…. amazing….
Ministry? It is about walking humbly with a God, who humbles Himself to walk with us.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1400-1403). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
24 The father at once cried out, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!” Mark 9:24 (TEV)
8 No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. Micah 6:8 (TEV)
FAITH IS SOMETHING we need to ask for. God forbid that we should fail to be importunate with God and with his saints. One of the most refined forms of arrogance consists in claiming that prayer of petition is inferior to other forms of prayer . Only when we become beggars do we realize that we are creatures. When we don’t honor the faith of humble folk, who can teach us how to ask for what we need, then we think that what saves us is pure faith; but that is empty faith, a faith devoid of all religion and all piety. In such a state, we are unable to interpret religious experience. Our intellects go astray with their feeble lights, and we resort to explaining the truth of faith with slogans borrowed from cultural ideologies . (1)
This quote from a pope is one we desperately need to hear, especially those of us who spend any amount of time on Facebook or any other social media.
For far too often we reduce our faith on social media to a snappy quote, a “gotcha” meme, or even try to debate theology or the existence of God in 140 character bursts. What this does is what Pope Francis talks about above – a faith without experiencing God. A Creed, a statement of “faith” that is not communicated, but forced in a way that eliminates conversation, that eliminates discussion. Such burst messages don’t give the full picture, they miss the context, and therein is the problem.
One of my professors once said that good preaching and good theology contains not only the “what”, but the “so what”. How the message impacts the hearer, or in the case of tweets, the reader. How do those words, seen digitally on the screen communicate the need we have to relate to God, to live in fellowship with Him? How can we help people realize that God is dependable, and that they can depend on Him? Even that sentence doesn’t include the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Christ. It doesn’t shake us from our idol of self-sufficiency, our illusion that we can control our world, our environment. For that is where humility begins, knowing that we can’t possibly be God, and in humility finding out that is okay.
Because God,, loves us enough to give up everything for us.
Neither the Pope or I am claiming you need more words to be holier, or more intellectual, but that deep faith is born in deep need. Holiness originating in us, in our brokenness, healing of our lives comes as we realize how shattered they are. It is at those points, when we cry out to God, that we can hear His voice.
And that is what faith, what the “Christian religion” is about – walking humbly with God, in a conversation, assured that He will guide us, comfort us, heal us. Because He has proven, in Christ, the extent to which He will go, and has gone, to do this very thing.
May we today walk humbly, knowing we are His children, and He is our Heavenly father. …
Pope Francis; Jorge M Bergoglio (2013-11-18). Open Mind, Faithful Heart (p. 28). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.