Devotional Thought of the Day:
4 Then the word of the LORD of Hosts came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh months for these 70 years, did you really fast for Me? 6 When you eat and drink, don’t you eat and drink simply for yourselves? l 7 Aren’t these the words that the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem was inhabited and secure, m along with its surrounding cities, and when the southern region and the Judean foothills were inhabited?” Zechariah 7:4-7 HCSB
Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things e have passed away. Rev. 21:-3-4 HCSB
Speaking with God must be a progression in and for ourselves—a progression in the literal sense of the word, that brings us forward, that moves us toward God and away from ourselves.
Many Christians have a routine for how they relate to God. For some, it is a walk, every day meeting Him, and traveling with Him. For others, it is a weekly, thing, as they pray with others on Sunday and Wednesday night. Some only react to God when facing a challenge.
While I would desire that all interact with God more and more, it is not just the amount of time invested that matters. It is also about how we interact with Him. The prophet Zechariah writes of this, as the words of God are given through the prophet to challenge us all.
Why do we pray, fast, go to church and Bible study? Is it just to feel good about ourselves? Is it just to appease our own feelings of guilt or inadequacy? Is it just to be assured that we won’t spend eternity in hell?
Or is it because of the glorious promise we see in Revelation. When we shall dwell with God, in all of His glory! Is it because, having seen revealed in part how much God loves us, we need to explore it, we need to adore Him, we find ourselves craving His presence? For as we find we are loved, that unbelievable fact must be explored, its height, its depth, its width, and breadth. We want to experience it more, no, we need to!
This transformation we need to be patient with, it needs to be nurtured, it needs to be guided. This journey happens in community, it is the nature of communion. It ebbs and flows, and this means we need to look out for each other and be there for each other. For it is to easy to be dragged away by the cares of the world, it is too easy to be trip and fall off the path (one of the definitions of is exactly that!)
And yet it happens, as we look to the end of the journey, as our hope is found in God’s promise that He will draw us to Him. As prayer, speaking and hearing God causes that progression, and the Holy Spirit’s presence assures us, comforts us and enables us to see God’s love.
Prayer isn’t important in and of itself Every religion prays, even atheists. Gathering with people to study religious doctrine doesn’t either, every religion does that, including those who are agnostics, or secularists. What makes the difference is the loving God who loves us is who draws us to pray, to commune together, to celebrate the love which drove Jesus to cross, looking forward to the eternal relationship cleansing us from sin would bring.
It’s all about the end, the end which is a glorious, wonderful moment, when we see God face to face!
Lord Jesus, help us to encourage each other, as the day of Your return draws closer, as the Holy Spirit draws us closer, and into the relationship that You have with the Father. Help us to do the things we do, adoring You more and more, as we realize Your love for us. AMEN!
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 344). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 So by virtue of the blood of Jesus, you and I, my brothers, may now have courage to enter the holy of holies by way of the one who died and is yet alive, who has made for us a holy means of entry by himself passing through the curtain, that is, his own human nature. Further, since we have a great High Priest set over the household of God, let us draw near with true hearts and fullest confidence, knowing that our inmost souls have been purified by the sprinkling of his blood just as our bodies are cleansed by the washing of clean water. In this confidence let us hold on to the hope that we profess without the slightest hesitation – for he is utterly dependable – and let us think of one another and how we can encourage each other to love and do good deeds. And let us not hold aloof from our church meetings, as some do. Let us do all we can to help one another’s faith, and this the more earnestly as we see the final day drawing ever nearer. Hebrews 10:19 (Phillips NT)
Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there may be a great spirit of communion.
Once you’ve heard a child cry out to heaven for help, and go unanswered, nothing’s ever the same again. Nothing. Even God changes.
But there is a healing hand at work that cannot be deflected from its purpose. I just can’t make sense of it, other than to cry. Those tears are part of what it is to be a monk.
Out there, in the world, it can be very cold. It seems to be about luck, good and bad,
and the distribution is absurd.
We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites.
The song came up in a discussion yesterday, the cover of a classic that is even rawer, more real, more…powerfully and compelling than Simon and Garfunkel ever imagined.
I have listened to it over and over this morning, in awe of the pain, of the devastation and emptiness observed. (one track is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Dg-g7t2l4&start_radio=1&list=RDWJCGY0Hxz1M ) In awe of the helplessness expressed as the singer looks upon those he would help, and they won’t listen.
This morning, in my devotions, the resonance continued, as the quote in blue echoed the theme… the brokenness, the rawness, of prayers of a child unanswered, or prayers of a friend. The only answer is tear-soaked prayers of my own, and the insistence that we live between the moments of hope and despair, and faith and doubt, death and life.
Life is about more than good and bad luck and the distribution of them that is so absurd. Yet there are days it seems so, as evil seems blessed, as good seems oppressed, as sin and brokenness seem to reign over the land. Even in the church, as people set aside their relationship with God to define and be in a religion that resonates with their opinions, beliefs, bias and political positions.
So how do we survive, and how do we help people caught up in the meaningless and vanity of this life? Can we truly bring them peace, can they find it within what we reveal to them, with what we encourage each other?
The scripture passage from Hebrews says, “YES” and I do not believe it to be so!
I can’t believe it, I have been too overwhelmed by the times where there are no more tears, when the heart feels heavy and empty, and where eyes seem lifeless. I can’t believe it, because I’ve seen the people in bondage to their pain, their grief, their shame.
I can’t believe it!
I know it though, my soul is in awe when it is has seen people come to life, be renewed, be healed of brokenness that has shattered them, and their family. I have seen God do the impossible, I have seen the tears return at altars once abandoned, I have seen peace wash over those whose lives have known only suffering. I have seen joy break through empty eyes like the sun exploding through the darkness of night.
I know it.
I have seen this prayer come true,
and I pray that out of the glorious richness of his resources he will enable you to know the strength of the spirit’s inner re-inforcement – that Christ may actually live in your hearts by your faith. And I pray that you, firmly fixed in love yourselves, may be able to grasp (with all Christians) how wide and deep and long and high is the love of Christ – and to know for yourselves that love so far beyond our comprehension. May you be filled though all your being with God himself! Ephesians 3:14 (Phillips NT)
That is the difference having a relationship, a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with Jesus makes in life. A life with Him that is shared with others, as we remind each other of this,
As we realize that in the sound of silence, in that place stillness, we can encounter and be lifted up by the fact that He is God, and He loves us.
That is the sound of silence, transformed by the Holy Spirit…
Lord, help all who read this resonate, not only with the honesty that brokenness leaves us with but with the hope that even in the silent darkness You come and are with us. Help us to realize that You are our sanctuary, our fortress, our peace. AMEN!
Pope Francis. (2013). A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. (A. Rossa, Ed.) (p. 251). New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis.
William Brodrick from https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/offices/morning-prayer/
Devotional Thought of the Day
15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:15-17 (NLT2)
6. We also believe, teach, and confess that, although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.
Men expect redemption from themselves, and they seem quite prepared to provide it. Thus there is linked to the primacy of the future the primacy of practice, the primacy of human activity above all other activities. Theology, too, shows itself more and more open to this concept—orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy. “Eschatopraxis” seems more important than eschatology. If in earlier days it was left to popular enlightenment to tell the lower class that artificial fertilizer was more effective than prayer, now, after a suitable interval, we can read similar commentaries in the kind of “religious” literature that strives to reflect the contemporary Zeitgeist; we can even find voiced there the argument that under certain circumstances prayer itself will have to be “refunctioned”: it can hardly be considered any longer an appeal for divine assistance; on the contrary, it must be regarded as a period of quiet composure in preparation for the practice of human self-help.
Benedict XVI’s words about orthopraxy replacing orthodoxy (right practice replacing right praise) seem eerily prophetic. Written in 1971, these words I believe talk of the church today. For the focus on doing things correctly, doing things in a way that seems holy to man dominate both traditional and contemporary Christianity, It can be seen in both conservative and liberal voices.
As he notes, even prayer becomes the preparation for doing things correctly,
As I look at this, I think I see a tie into the quote from the Lutheran Confessions in green. I think that we struggle with the fact that while we believe, the weakness and shortcoming we have (which is simply a fancy way of saying we still sin). We don’t know how to deal with our own frailty, our own brokenness. We are impatient with the healing we are experiencing in Christ, and so we seek to fast track our own sanctification.
If only we can do everything right, if only our performance reveals how much faith we have, then maybe others will see us as holy, and then, based on our testimony, we can believe we are holy. So we look for the masters, the life coaches, the pastors who will show us the way to worship, how to live, how to raise our kids, and be a bastion or moral and religious perfection.
And instead of being an imitator of Christ, we try to become a clone of those who we follow. Driven by the fear of being revealed to be something less than faithful, we take on the mannerisms, while leaving a soul behind that is empty, broken, and struggling with the sin that so easily ensnares us.
Prior to the passage from Romans above, we see Paul going from the joys of rising with Christ in baptism, to the absolute low of discovering he still can’t get things right. Orthopraxis is impossible, He can’t do what is right, he can’t help but do what is wrong. In this moment of shame and self-pity, he finds in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That despite his struggle with sin, God sees Paul as righteous, holy, a son of God.
This discovery changes things, it changes our fear of our sin being discovered into a cry for help, Daddy! Daddy! HELP! We realize that our hope is not found in our attempts to be holy, but in hearing His voice tell us we are His children. In hearing His promise to complete everything in the day of Jesus. We find our transformation not by our work in ministry, not in our perfection of word and sacrament, but from being there, broken, and finding healing.
Nothing I can do will bring you the level of holiness you will be satisfied with, in this age. For satisfaction means you want to judge if you have made it, or rely on the judgment of others. That desire for satisfaction will drain you, ripping out from you the core of your heart and soul.
But allowing God to minister to us, allowing His grace, His mercy and love to pour into us, living life being drawn to Him, sometimes in tears, this is our hope. Not starting with prayer, but a life lived in Him, allowing Him to recreate us.
This is our hope of wholeness, of holiness. Letting God be God, as we realize we are His.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 474). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 242–243). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Some thoughts from my retreat today:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” 10 Later, when Jesus was alone with the twelve disciples and with the others who were gathered around, they asked him what the parables meant. 11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secret of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables for everything I say to outsiders, 12 so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they see what I do, they will learn nothing. When they hear what I say, they will not understand. Otherwise, they will turn to me and be forgiven.’” Mark 4:3-12 (NLT)
The 75%, the groups that were too hard and callous, or too shallow, or distracted and did not bear fruit. I worry about them
I don’t know why I do, what t always bothered me that they missed out on God’s love, that they didn’t bear fruit, because if they had bore fruit, that meant that they were dwelling with Jesus, that the Holy Spirit was hard at work in their lives. But these people didn’t bear fruit, and therefore…
Some would use this to claim that God was never interested in them, that He was okay with them rejecting Him. Some would even have the nerve to speak for God, and claim that He never planned to save them anyway. That they were, from the start, to be condemned to hell.
That is why they didn’t hear, they didn’t see, they didn’t learn, and why they were not forgiven.
I’ve just got back from a retreat, led by an old friend, actually, my high school youth pastor. The theme of the retreat was based around this passage, and considering the times in our lives when our “ground” was callous and hard paths, or we had to deal with rocks or weeds that choked our faith. It was a good exercise, (gonna take about a week to process it all) but from the time he read the passage above, I kept on thinking about the 75 percent.
Why would God let them go that way…..
Why couldn’t they know the joy and peace that comes from being forgiven, the incredible joy of being reunited with God?
It is a frustration I’ve known as a pastor, since the beginning. Some people we care so much about, that we invest time and energy in, and yet they are the ground too hard to plant, or they get excited at first and then die out, or they get choked by the cares and desires of the world.
And if you care, especially if you are a parent, pastor or priest or elder or Sunday School teacher, their lack of fruit can cause tears and massive heartache. A lot of it over the years…
As our retreat was nearing the end phase, as I just opened my Bible (rare that I actually had a physical one for the retreat – I usually just use my pc/tablet/phone ones) and I came across this…..
4 Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! GOD is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!” 5 Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, Isaiah 35:4-5 (MSG)
God hasn’t given up on the sinner, or the wayward, or the people who struggle with keeping their faith alive. He never had, He always planned their rescue, He always planned to continue reaching into their lives, He didn’t write them off.
He still wants them to come to repentance.
There is still time to invest, words that can be said with love, and yes, love of God to reveal to them. They can’t open their own eyes, but neither can we, they can’t make themselves hear, but the Holy Spirit can, these are simple miracles.
And they are right in God’s heart. And ours …
Keep praying for them, keep loving them.
God is with you in this, as I close with these words from St. Paul…
16 No longer, then, do we judge anyone by human standards. Even if at one time we judged Christ according to human standards, we no longer do so. 17 Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. 18 All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19 Our message is that God was making all human beings his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends. 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! 21 Christ 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. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (TEV)
So let us pray for these people, that we would have the desire not to write them off, but knowing God’s desire to renew them (to make them right-eous) that we would see this happen, and even be tools God uses to make it happen!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. 12 This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life o for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you slaves anymore, because a slave doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from My Father. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. 17 This is what I command you: Love one another. John 15:11-17 HCSB
It is the urgent wish of this Holy Council that the measures undertaken by the sons of the Catholic Church should develop in conjunction with those of our separated brethren so that no obstacle be put in the ways of divine Providence and no preconceived judgments impair the future inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father’s love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. “And hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.
During the early years of the Reformation Luther and others proposed again and again that a general council of the church be convened to discuss and arbitrate the questions of doctrine and practice that were in controversy…..
It is a hard thing tl o love people you do not know.
It is a harder thing to love those you think you know, and whom you think wish you ill, but whom you do not really know.
This doesn’t matter whether we are talking about large groups (i.e. the Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, and Lutherans looking at each other) or whether we are talking about neighbors or “those” people.
if we are honest, each of us has people we think we understand, and whom we think we need to protect ourselves from, for we know they mean us evil.
Even so, we are called to love them, really love them. Even to the point of death…
Surely then, if that is the length we are to go, we could try to get rid of the preconceived judgments that Vatican II warns us of, trying to put no obstacle in the way of divine providence.
We know, as St. John’s gospel pointed out, the will, the desire of God to see us one. Surely indeed we could pray for that, and learn to love each other so that it would be possible? FOr is this not the fruit of Christ being at work in our lives?
In the title, I asked whether the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960’s meant these words in blue above. If we ask that question, it has to be without the preconceived assumption that they do not. (Luther’s idea of best construction) We have to rely on God to move in that way, for it is our faith in God that
I believe many of the leaders did, they saw the need for the future. It has taken a generation for that to trickle down to the parish level, for the people of the church to know this was even possibly a desire. And I think, from the priests I know, that it will become more and more a desire for the church. (The last three popes made it an issue, and I think Francis will continue that!)
Do they all? It will take time, and teaching, by both example and instruction. But I believe it will grow.
Now the question becomes, can we mean it? Can we, like Luther, seek our, not compromise but community?
And if I can ask that of these huge groups… can I ask it of me and that person?
The answer if found in the same place. In the love of God, in know His will, and the providence He supplies to His people. For as Vatican II noted,
The Council moreover professes its awareness that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective-the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ. It is because of this that the Council rests all its hope on the prayer of Christ for the Church, on our Father’s love for us, and on the power of the Holy Spirit.
So let us pray to the Lord of mercy. Amen!!
Catholic Church. “Decree on Ecumenism: Unitatis Redintegratio.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought for our Seemingly Broken Days:
9 These wise teachers will fall into the trap of their own foolishness, for they have rejected the word of the LORD. Are they so wise after all? 10 I will give their wives to others and their farms to strangers. From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. Yes, even my prophets and priests are like that. They are all frauds. 11 They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace. Jeremiah 8:9-11 (NLT)
311 Everything seems so peaceful. God’s enemy, however, is not asleep… The Heart of Jesus is also awake and watching! There lies my hope.
Since the devil is not only a liar but also a murderer,3 he incessantly seeks our life and vents his anger by causing accidents and injury to our bodies. He breaks many a man’s neck and drives others to insanity; some he drowns, and many he hounds to suicide or other dreadful catastrophes.
116 Therefore there is nothing for us to do on earth but to pray constantly against this arch-enemy. For if God did not support us, we would not be safe from him for a single hour.
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
It has, in the last few years, become my favorite Christmas song, replacing “What Child is This.” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on a poem by Longfellow, whose story seems like a modern Job.
In the verse above, we see the paradox of peace. As we see it in the prophet Jeremiah’s description of his time, when those who taught and led Israel would tell them there is true peace, and ignore the gaping wounds and despair their people were suffering because there was no peace. Their proclamation of peace simply was a band-aid, not put in place to bring healing, but simply to hide what was underneath.
It is in recognizing the despair that we can know peace, it is dealing with the mortal wound, that we can see the healing fo God which leaves us in true peace. This is the paradox that peace is.
I have seen this too many times, even as recent as last night, when in the midst of tears, of heartbreak and grief, a sense of peace that leaves us in awe floods a sanctuary. Even as the tears flow, there is something, you hear it in the voices singing His praises. It is hard to address the brokenness – but it is so prevalent in our lives, we can’t just cover it up and ignore it.
I think the illusion of peace provides the scenario that St Josemaria mentions, where under the illusion, the facade of peace, Satan and his minions are not asleep, but hard at work. (And yes, Satan is real, not just a mythical explanation for evil.) He is the one who would have us project peace when there is not. He would have us dismiss the havoc, the anger, and hatred, the misery, and grief, allowing people to dwell in despair, blinded to the idea of hope.
That is how Satan can do what Luther describes him doing. Satan could not keep Christ in the grave, and so his desire now is not just the glorification of evil, that it simply a means to his end. His end game now is simple, to keep Christ from living in our hearts, in our lives, and through us redeeming the rest of the world. He would stop us from being drawn to Jesus, to the mercy and love, and the peace that comes when we depend on Jesus for all of our life.
You see, that is the greatest paradox of peace. It is known, not in the absence of conflict and pain, but it is found there, in the violence and anguish of the cross. It is not found in ignoring the mortal wound, but found in the wounds of Christ crucified, It is not found in covering the brokenness with a holiday facade, but in the body broken, and the blood shared.
For there at the cross where Jesus was broken there is found peace, for there, untied to Him, we find the glorious peace that comes from knowing the immeasurable love of God for us.
This is what we need to experience, a love so amazing, so overwhelming, that doesn’t hide the brokenness, but bring to its healing, and comfort. That notes the mortal wound and pain and brings healing through the resurrection.
This is our hope, especially in these days…
So be drawn to God, allow Him to comfort you in your despair, Then, you will dwell in the glorious peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, but which Christ guards you, your heart and soul and mind. AMEN!
The Forge (Kindle Locations 1252-1255). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.
Devotional Thought for our days….
After the vision of these things I looked, and there was a great number of people, so many that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They were shouting in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10 NCV
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47 (NLT)
The goal of the early Augustine, “God and the soul—nothing else”, is not realizable; it is also not Christian. In the last analysis, religion consists, not in the solitary way of the mystic, but in the community of proclaiming and hearing. Our conversation with God and our conversation with one another require and condition one another.
Every once in a while someone will tell me they don’t go to church because they don’t need it. They can worship God in a park, at the beach, in the mountains, by a lake. I almost believe them. After all, they will claim, didn’t Jesus often go away from the disciples to pray?
No, I do believe them. Some of the most intense moments, where I have realized the grace of God, have been those solitary moments when I am still, when I must know that He is God, that He is with me. And it is usually dealing with people that drives me to seek such solitude!
And of course, I am not alone in this. Augustine’s thoughts about this, referenced by Pope Benedict, show a similar desire. Just me and God, just God and my soul, nothing else needed! Benedict XVI sounds similar, if less harsh, to the critiques of Luther in regards to monasticism. Our relationship with God and with each other is the same relationship, it is the same package. Both Paul and Peter describe this in scripture as we are one body, many different parts perhaps, but we are one, and Jesus is our head. The creeds talk about one Church, noted because it is holy ( dedicated and separated to God ) Catholic (universal, across all 4 dimensions), apostolic ( it has a mission, it is sent by God) church ( those drawn together in Christ)
This is the way it was the early church, so in awe of the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us, they couldn’t help but meet together often, to talk about it, to show the love they had for each other. It wasn’t programmed, it wasn’t the result of marketing, it was the joy of being in Christ. Were there problems? Sure, but they worked themselves out as people realized they were reconciled to God.
Ultimately, in heaven, in the presence of God, face to face with Him, we are standing shoulder to shoulder, we are singing loudly together. It is not you, walking in the garden alone with God, We are all His! He walks with all of us, He talked with all of us, and He tells us all, we are His own. That is the way it is.
What does this mean for the church today?
That’s a big question. In a world with tens of thousands of different bodies, each claiming to be the church, yet each a broken fractured part of the one Church. But we can’t ignore the rest! Just as an individual can’t separate themselves from the church, neither should a congregation or even a denomination. There still needs to be a desire, a strong sense of this division is wrong and prayer that God would lead us to wholeness, real wholeness. Found in reconciliation in Christ, not in man made compromise. Still- that we would be one, even as Jesus and the Father are One.
May this be part of what we cry out for, when we cry out, “Lord, Have Mercy!” AMEN!
Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
Devotional thought for our days…
14 “But then I will win her back once again. I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. 15 I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope. She will give herself to me there, as she did long ago when she was young, when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt. 16 When that day comes,” says the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’ instead of ‘my master.’ Hosea 2:14-16 (NLT)
15 But respect Christ as the holy Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect 1 Pet 3:115-16 NCV
66 My God, teach me how to love! My God, teach me how to pray!
Every once in a while, when doing bills, I put the wrong month in, and sometimes the wrong year.
It is hard for me to accept we are in 2017, and that we are almost at 2018. It seems that this should be in the future, way in the future.
Similarly, it sometimes feels like the promises of God aren’t here yet, like 2017 shouldn’t be, I can’t see it, I can’t picture it, even while I long for those days when my hopes, my expectations will be fulfilled. The expectations and hope that make up my faith, the answers I need to answer people with, as St Peter says, in a gentle way and with respect. Even to those who do not respect me, especially to those who do not respect me, or God.
That is the amazing thing that gives me hope!
We see it in the underlined part of the first reading, these people who hated GOd, who turned away from Him and worshipped gods they made of wood and metals and gems. Those who ignored what He would say, especially when He told them that He loved them.
These people of God wouldn’t call him master, they wouldn’t call Him by some official titles, but they were to use an endearment to call Him by, a name that revealed the love that they recognized was between them.
For God would win our affections back, God would restore us, and we would willingly give ourselves to Him, a response to His healing and caring for us.
FOr we would finally realize that He loves us!
We are Christ’s bride, not His slave, we are the Father’s beloved children not, the servants who run from His anger. We are the companions of the Holy Spirit. RElationships that are not bound by law, but love. A relationship that began because God was stubborn and patient, not willing to let us perish, but bringing about in us a change of mind…
A change that comes when we begin to see His love for us fully revealed at the cross.
May we realize this is now – this hope, this expectation is not just in the future, some far off date when we finally realize He loves us. That was revealed at the cross, and at our baptism, and every time we share in the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar.
This is our reason for hope, our assurance of everlasting life, with the God who doesn’t want us to call Him Lord and Master, but beloved…for
He loves us…
And so we pray, with St Josemaria, that God would teach us how to love, how to interact with Him!. Lord have mercy on us! (And be confident and know He has!)
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 452-454). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
But now in these last days God has spoken to us through his Son. God has chosen his Son to own all things, and through him he made the world. 3 The Son reflects the glory of God and shows exactly what God is like. He holds everything together with his powerful word. When the Son made people clean from their sins, he sat down at the right side of God, the Great One in heaven. Heb 1:2-3 NCV
I conversed recently with a pastor who was agonizing over the conflict between his head and heart. Even though this person is a well-trained seminary graduate with an appetite to know and teach the Scripture and has a comprehensive view of the Bible, his heart feels empty and dry. “I’ve even attended to the disciplines of spirituality,” he said, “but they don’t do anything for me. I can’t seem to feel what my head knows.”
Eventually this pastor put his finger on the real problem. “I’ve done everything I can to make myself spiritual,” he said, “but nothing seems to work.”…. (a couple of great paragraphs then this critical one:)
I think this pastor and others like him have a hard time connecting head and heart and, as a result, experience the contradiction between what they know and what they feel for two reasons. First, they situate spirituality in something other than God’s embrace. Second, they look for spiritual nourishment outside of the church and its worship.
Martin Luther, in ch. 2 of his commentary on Galatians, says of this argument, “I believe that if believing Jews had observed the Law and circumcision on the condition which the apostles permitted, Judaism would still stand and that the whole world would have accepted the ceremonies of the Jews. But because they argued that the Law and circumcision were necessary for salvation and established their worship on this basis, God could not endure this and therefore He overturned the temple, the Law, the worship, and Jerusalem.”
To walk in hope is to walk next to Jesus in the darkest moments of the cross when things have no explanation and we do not know what is going to happen next.
With the exception of Pope Francis’s account, I could have quoted the entire readings I had today in the other selections. ( Maybe I am sill to put my words beside theirs – but I need to process these things in my own words, which is the real reason I write these words)
I know all too well the danger Luther speaks of, where we take our practices, the rituals and observances we practice and use them to justify our solution. Hey, I go to church, therefore I am a Christian! I study the Bible, I spend time in prayer, I even teach others. That should get me the deluxe mansion in heaven right? Or at least make sure I get in the door?
THat leads to the burnout that Webber talks about ( I highly recommend his book The DIvine Embrace – probably 50 times he put into words that which I struggle with experiencing, never mind describing!) in these two excerpts from a conversation with a fellow pastor. I have been there as well – looking for ways to be more spiritual – pushing myself with devotions, punishing myself with the reading of Leviticus, trying to spend hours, (okay half hours) on my knees in prayer. I know Paul’s misery in Romans 7, and what is worse – when I did do the things I longed to do, they didn’t sustain me, they didn’t make me stronger in my resistance to sin, they didn’t create in my a super preacher that everyone longed to come hear.
When we try to become spiritual on our own, we will fail, because spirituality isn’t the goal, it is a result, really a by-product of our walking with Jesus. Being spiritual is not about our behavior, it is about hearing His voice, of accompanying Him to the darkness of the cross, because there, our darkness is nailed to it, as we are united with His death, and with His resurrection. That is the point that Pope Francis makes, that Webber shares when he encourages his pastor-friend this,
I counseled this minister whose heart felt empty and dry to cease striving to be spiritual and see spirituality as a gift to contemplate. “Delight,” I told him, “in the mystery of God revealed in Christ, who, by the Spirit, is united to our humanity and opens the way to our union with God. Delight in the incarnation of God in Jesus, in his sacrifice for our sins, his victory over the powers of evil, and the good news that everything that needs to be done to unite us with God and establish our spiritual relationship with God is done through grace by faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Affirm that Jesus, in union with God, dwells in you and you in him, and see the world through God’s divine embrace. Then live in your freedom to participate in God in the life of the world!”
This is why Luther could say that if the Jews didn’t count on following the law for the salvation, Jesus and the apostles wouldn’t have taken it away from them. They mistook things that would help them see Jesus, things that could help them walk with Him, for that which proved they were okay with God.
And we do that today, all the time. That’s why some who observe us find our religion empty but still want to know Jesus. The Jesus we know, but try to impress. We simply need to walk with Him, to delight in His role in our lives, to realize the work He is doing,
For He hears your cry of, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”
And I can tell for sure, His response is heard well in these words, “The Lord IS WITH YOU!” Amen.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Devotional Thought for our Day:
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who gave me strength because he trusted me and gave me this work of serving him. 13 In the past I spoke against Christ and persecuted him and did all kinds of things to hurt him. But God showed me mercy, because I did not know what I was doing. I did not believe. 14 But the grace of our Lord was fully given to me, and with that grace came the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:12-14
5 Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you.
We are in a time of “spiritual myopia and moral shallowness” that try to impose on us as normal the “culture of lowness,” where there is obviously no place for transcendence and hope.
A friend reaches out with a hand that is shaking, another’s bright gray eyes water as her hand to reaches out. Another refuses to look at me, his hand and arm stretched out to desire that which he knows is his, yet knows it shouldn’t be possible. An old man will stand up a moment later, and as he returns to his seat, his hand brushes up against the baptismal font. His hand lingers there, caressing it, in awe of the grace given him at another font, some 90 years before, on another continent, in a time even more turbulent.
I often wonder and even get anxious about a question that arises from such moments, How long does the sense of transcendence last? How long does this blessed moment, this peace, this awareness of the glory and love of God last?
Are the people aware of what I see happening to them, do they realize what they are experiencing?
It is well described by the Apostle Paul, as he talks about the grace completely given to him, this incredible ability to depend on God, assured of His presence, completely aware of His love for us. It is what Josemaria also writes about, as he pictures us, as he wants us to see ourselves, firmly held in the nail shattered palm.
It is such faith, such love that calls us to want to be thrown into this broken world, wanting people to know this grace. Not just out of duty or obligation, not because of the gift that was given to us. The awe that makes us wonder, and then become amazed, as we find ourselves alive, transformed. We need these times, whether life is oppressive, or going easy. Whether we lack any hope or have hope that is found in this world, the kind that is too fleeting and fragile.
This is what the church has meant by transcendence, this time when we are more sure of the presence of God that we are of our own existence.
it is why sacramental time, whether times like Baptism and the Eucharist or time of meditation and prayer are so needed in our day. But when do we take the time?
As a pastor, do I teach about this, model it, encourage it? Isn’t this where I am to shepherd people into, the realization that they dwell in the presence of God, who loves them, cares for them, and will cleanse them and restore them?
As I work on my sermon and worship – and Bible Studies – this needs to remain in my mind…..
and by His grace, it will.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.