God 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.
Devotional thought for your day:
23 Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24 Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25 Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)
16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)
667 Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.
I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently. Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!) and hypocrites ( correct again). Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)
Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not. If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it. The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.
So why go to church?
Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God. It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.
That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament) and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence. That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.
It’s all about God… and us.
Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus. The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together. That all God’s people need to experience this love, together. That too is what church is, not just what it is about.
It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.
It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.
It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together. Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am. To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.
It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .
It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.
Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him. the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding. And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.
This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
9 I will thank you, O Lord, among the nations. I will praise you among the peoples. 10 Your constant love reaches the heavens; your faithfulness touches the skies! Psalm 57:9-10 GNT
52 “How terrible for you, you experts on the law. You have taken away the key to learning about God. You yourselves would not learn, and you stopped others from learning, too.” Luke 11:52 NCV
Baptism has also shifted away from identity with Jesus in his death and resurrection and turned into “my personal testimony to others that I have given my life over to Jesus.” The spiritual life in this case is not a passionate embrace of God signified by a baptism into his death and resurrection but a passionate embrace of my personal decision to follow Jesus signified by my conversion. In the outworking of this experiential spirituality, baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus is replaced by confidence in my personal decision. And baptism no longer has any meaning. (1)
In Martin Luther’s small catechism, there is one phrase that constantly appears.
What does this mean?
It appears so often, that it has become part of Lutheran’s vocabulary, a phrase that is reduced to a thought.
Even so, as we excel at defining the concept, it seems we’ve lost our ability to make the connection. We have become the experts in the law Jesus is talking about in Luke’s gospel, able to become experts on the Greek and Hebrew, experts on the nuances of the history/ grammar, but we’ve lost the key to it all, and in our pride, refused to learn. The impact on our churches is enormous, and though the details can hold some people’s attention and fascination, it does only that, and it neglects their heart, their soul.
This is demonstrated in the quote from Dr. Webber, where he summarizes a shift that took centuries, showing our teaching on baptism moving from something that had great personal meaning to a teaching that highly defines baptism, yet robs it of its connection to the person we are instructing.
But it is not just those who have lost sacramental insight that rob scripture and religious teaching of what Webber caused the Divine Embrace ( I often use “intimate relationship” while others use sacramental or incarnational). I have seen this occur in my own denomination, as teaching on ministry becomes more and more about proper order and understanding regarding the ordained clergy than what the role of the ordained is. We are nothing more than conduits, the pipe of the pipeline that carries grace. We are necessary only when our role is that of dispensing grace through Word and Sacrament. But our teaching has elevated the understanding of the ordained to a higher priority than preparing and placing them where people need them.
That’s where “what does it mean (to me)” is such a necessary question. Or where we ask “so what” when someone explains the “what” of theology. We give them what the caused the psalmist to rejoice, the revelation of God’s love, of God’s faithfulness, of a God comes to us, and shares with us His glory, His love, HIs peace. A God who nurtures and cares for you and I – not just some group which we may be on the fringe of, but He desires and cares for us specifically.
He embraces us.
This is what evangelism is about, what sharing the hope we have in these dark times means. It is the gospel we preach, it is why we should teach scripture. To answer the question that they should have – “what does this mean…. to me?”
May God bless us, as we reach out with His love… and may they hear it. AMEN!
(1) Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:16-20 (NLT)
16 “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 (NLT)
249 Sacrifice, sacrifice! It is true that to follow Jesus Christ is to carry the Cross— He has said so. But I don’t like to hear souls who love Our Lord speak so much about crosses and renunciations, because where there is Love, it is a willing sacrifice— though it remains hard—and the cross is the Holy Cross. A soul which knows how to love and give itself in this way is filled with peace and joy. Therefore, why insist on “sacrifice”, as if you were seeking consolation if Christ’s Cross—which is your life—makes you happy?
All who believe, who trust and depend on Jesus are called to imitate Him. This is a constant theme in Paul’s writings, and it is what Jesus meant when he called disciples, when he asked men and women to follow Him.
It isn’t easy, in fact, there are days I wish we could quit, where the cost challenges my ability, or my patience, or the struggle and sacrifice is too high. Not wanting pity, for this is true for every believer. From the pastors that have labored for 40 years, to the young lady who was baptized last week.
Being a Christian includes embracing suffering, it includes greeting sacrifice willingly, not even complaining about it.
Yeah, I said that we are supposed to not even complain about it.
Look at Jesus’ words about fasting – don’t even show that you are, act normal, despite embracing the suffering you chose to embrace.
I am not saying we shouldn’t ask God to comfort us or ask other to pray with us, but there is a difference between asking people for help and whining and seeking praise for our suffering. Indeed, I think we can be addicted to the “praise” for being martyrs, for our suffering. That’s what we must avoid, for then our suffering serves a different purpose.
Think about this, Paul talks of rejoicing always, at the same time talks of praying without ceasing. The combination is that which sustains us, as we give our burdens to God, that is the way to deal with our struggle, with our sacrifice. Paul takes it further here. talking about making music in our hearts. singing and praising God.
St. Josemaria notes something we have to set our hearts upon, that as we take up the cross, there is love, His love. There the sacrifice takes on a new meaning, as it is a moment with Christ, a moment understanding the depth of His love for you and me. In fact, Josemaria would be so bold as to say run to that sacrifice, knowing what it means for us. Time with our Lord, time realizing the depth of His love, for He embraced far more than we will, he suffered that all of our sin would be forgiven.
God is with us, He is here…
Know His peace.. even in the midst of the storm.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1224-1229). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 When Jesus left the people and went into the house, his followers asked him about this story. 18 Jesus said, “Do you still not understand? Surely you know that nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean. 19 It does not go into the mind, but into the stomach. Then it goes out of the body.” (When Jesus said this, he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat.)
20 And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. 21 All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, 22 greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living. 23 All these evil things come from inside and make people unclean.” Mark 7:17-23 NCV
He that examines and prepares himself in this way, he truly uses this Sacrament worthily, not unto judgment,44 but unto salvation. And though all these things are still weak, infirm, and sluggish, yet one should not for that reason abstain from the holy Supper. Rather on the contrary, this very reason will rouse and impel us the more to partake of it more frequently, especially since we know that the Son of God gradually kindles, increases, and strengthens repentance and faith in us more and more through this means. For this medicine has been prepared and provided for the sick who acknowledge their infirmity and seek counsel and help.
Since I entered Bible College 35 years ago, I have seen many programs that are guaranteed to change the behavior of people, Some are determined to change the practices of giving to the church, some are geared to change the behavior of sinners. Some are not that blunt, they seek to make the exercise of faith more visible, as people give, pray, attend, volunteer/serve more, worship more “properly”, seeking the joy and peace that was promised to them, if they do.
They fail because o the basic method of formation, applying a force of some kind to the person, hoping to move them into the behavior that is desired. They use the four main forms of educational discipline; the promise of reward, the consequence of punishment, the withholding of reward, the freedom from punishment. Or to put it more religiously, the blessings and curses God warned us about.
These methodologies would work if all we needed was to modify behavior.
Jesus tells us clearly, that isn’t enough. Sin and Faith/Dependence on God is not a matter of changing the externals, it requires a change of our heart (see Exodus 36:35) and the mind (see Acts 2:38 and Romans 12:2) It is not something we can change in ourselves, it goes beyond our ability. Just as a man cannot perform open heart surgery on himself, so we can’t perform such a spiritual/psychological operation Change the behavior but not the heart and you end up with another sin putting them in bondage. It’s like the addict who simply changes drug addiction for work addiction or an addiction to sexual perversion. The matter is deeper.
So how do we deal with it? Martin Chemnitz puts forth that it would be trusting God, depending on God to deliver what He promises through His word and sacrament. Chemnitz calls the weak, the infirm, the sluggish to the altar, he urges them to head there more frequently, for Christ comes to those who are sick, not to those who are well. it is the place for those who acknowledge their need, a need caused by our sin, our brokenness. It is there we find the medicine that comforts those haunted by grief and shame, who long for something different.
This isn’t the religion of the good and proper, those dressed perfectly for the church, those best and brightest. It is the religion, the way of life, that delivers hope to the hopeless, healing to the broken, life to those dead, and dying. It is the blessing for the poor in Spirit.
This is the relationship that we humbly, and with great amazement are drawn into, cleanses and brings us to life in baptism! That is where that heart that poured forth sin is cut out, replaced with the heart of Christ, which begins to transform us, even as we take and eat, and take and drink the blood of Jesus.
The change to our hearts and minds happens, and then behavior changes, prompted by the Holy Spirit, guided by those who help us explore the Father’s love.
All the while stunned by the fact we are surrounded by His peace… Amen!
Chemnitz, Martin, and Luther Poellot. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
When it was late in the day, his followers came to him and said, “No one lives in this place, and it is already very late. 36 Send the people away so they can go to the countryside and towns around here to buy themselves something to eat.”
37 But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” Mark 5:35-37 NCV
191 When I speak to you about “apostolate of friendship”, I mean a personal friendship, self-sacrificing and sincere: face to face, heart to heart.
On any given morning my email box is filled with thirty to a hundred emails, and about 80 percent I simply delete. What really irritates me are the ones that are form letters sent out by a contact management software, that try to make it look like they are personal messages.
One recently even mentioned that if I had already responded to the previous email, they apologize for the software not being updated to recognize this and that they would stop sending the email eventually! I get the feeling that if I called the person, they would not know that they “contacted” me. I know some of the programs are set up to send letters, pre-written, on a schedule.
They didn’t. Their software program did.
I don’t mind bulk mail, I understand that missionaries and other churches are busy, and I appreciate copying me along with many others for support and prayer. I don’t even mind advertisements that are automated. It’s the idea that someone thinks that they will gain by making the advertisement look like a personal contact.
In the gospel reading this morning, the disciples were amazed by the people wanting to hear Jesus. I imagine they loved the accolades, the great joy (and a little frustration) that comes with being a superstar, or at least part of His crew. They were learning about the kingdom of heaven, and they would learn a lesson today.
” the show’s over, they need to go eat!” they tell Jesus. We are done with them, you taught, they listened, some were healed. Good day, let’s pack it up and get the rest, relaxation, and prayer you mentioned.
Jesus’ reply, “you feed them”
Don’t care from a distance, actually care Don’t just see their need, make sure the need is met. You can do it, (Jesus knowing he would supply the food) just do it.
That’s how the Missio Dei works, the apostolate of friendship as St Josemaria describes it. Laughing with them, crying with them, being involved. Not just monitoring responses to a contact system, but actually getting involved in their lives. Not just keeping in contact, but being in communion with them. And as St. Josemaria said, this means there is a sacrifice, there is something personal, face to face, heart to heart. There is cost, but there is also immeasurable grace, mercy, and love. For God is there.
As I was writing this, I think back to several conversations recently. The basic idea of each was that the pastor seemed to be writing the sermons directly to the person that heard it. Pastors who hear this often reply, “that was one I was preaching mostly to myself.” They are astonished when they realize how that sermon also touched their people’s hearts as deeply as they struggled with it.
I believe this is evidence of the relationship of people and pastor in communion with each other. It is the evidence of the apostolate of friendship, the communion of saints that we confess in our Creed. It is about learning what sacramental and incarnational ministry mean, and it is imitating Jesus.
Get to know those people around you, be their friends, share their struggles, rejoice with them in their celebrations. Whether pastor or layperson, you need to understand you were sent into their lives, and you get to help them explore the love of God. And as you do, with them you will find His love ever more true, every more bright, ever more glorious! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1012-1014). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
13 “Find out where he is,” the king ordered, “and I will capture him.” When he was told that Elisha was in Dothan, 14 he sent a large force there with horses and chariots. They reached the town at night and surrounded it. 15 Early the next morning Elisha’s servant got up, went out of the house, and saw the Syrian troops with their horses and chariots surrounding the town. He went back to Elisha and exclaimed, “We are doomed, sir! What shall we do?” 16 “Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “We have more on our side than they have on theirs.” 17 Then he prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes and let him see!” The LORD answered his prayer, and Elisha’s servant looked up and saw the hillside covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. 2 Kings 6:13-17 (TEV)
101 The difficulties you have met have made you shrink back, and you have become “prudent, moderate and objective”. Remember that you have always despised those terms, when they became synonyms for cowardly, faint-hearted and comfort-seeking.
There is a fine balance between presumption and courage, between demanding God act and hearing the Spirit’s guidance.
Some fail to discern this by assuming God will only bless them because they are those who are good, only they are righteous. So their presumption leads them to boldly state they are blessed, and what those blessings are. They are aggressive in their actions because of such a lack of discernment. They talk about a theology that dominates, that takes the perspective that the world is here for us.
Some, like me, fail because we have become prudent, moderate and objective. We want to take our time, especially when we encounter difficulties. We don’t want to cross the line and become those who synthesize God’s will and their own desires, so we back away. We struggle on our own, we fail to hear the promptings of the Spirit. We don’t act as we should, we end up preferring the minimal comfort of just getting along.
And so the church closes up tighter than a clam, afraid of its own shadow, or afraid to be confused with the extreme. But there is a balance.
Like Elisha’s servant, need to have our eyes opened, we need to see God’s work in our lives. For if the servant gained courage seeing the army of God surround him, how much more should we be encouraged by God’s presence?
God is with us, who can be against us?
Do we get this?
We need to know He is with us.
We need to live our lives based on knowing Him, for this is our faith, our hope, our joy!
If we get this – we will manage to avoid the extremes, for there is nothing greater to know!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 631-634). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
21 For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22 Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24 but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]
The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]
Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms. As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.
The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt. Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.
Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question. Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan. The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” As if man could do this! Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.
We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.
And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.
What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master. In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.
So what is the solution? How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?
I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”. It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat. It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.
In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people. When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.
This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life. It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.
We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness. AMEN!
[i] 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.
2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).
[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
13 Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (TEV)
As soon as you perceive that you are tempted, follow the example of children; when they see a wolf or a bear, they at once run to the arms of their father or mother, or at least they call out to them for help. It is the remedy which our Lord taught, when He said; “Pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). If you find, notwithstanding this, that the temptation still continues, or even increases, run in spirit to embrace the holy cross, as if you saw Jesus Christ crucified before you. Protest that you will never consent to the temptation, crave his help against it, and continue still to refuse your consent, as long as the temptation continues.
But in making these protestations and in refusing to consent, look not upon the temptation, but only on our Lord; for if you look upon the temptation, especially whilst it is strong, it may shake your courage. Divert your thoughts to some good and pious reflections, for good thoughts, when they occupy your heart, will chase away every evil temptation and suggestion. (1)
And this understanding is necessary for the church, so that it may know that God is daily at work in His world and embracing with His fatherly care especially those to whom He has given His Word, and He is defending them, watching over them, nourishing and freeing them from all dangers and troubles, and is unwilling to do anything which would take away anything good from those who seek the Lord, Ps. 34:10
Often times I hear the Bible passage above quoted in regards to the problems of life, that God doesn’t give us challenges that we can’t handle. As if God wants us to take on the challenges using our own wisdom, our own strength of character, our own power.
But that is not what the passage is about, if we look at the verses that come before and after the passage. It is a transition sentence, moving us from the sin of those in the Sinai with Moses, who grumbled and overlooked the care of God, and a powerful section about the communion we have with God, as we take and eat His Body, as we Drink His Blood that was shed.
It is the escape God provides, the way past temptation and sin that comes as we trust, as we depend on God to provide for us. That is our way out, carried in the palm of His hands, carried through death and the cross, through the resurrection and life in the glory of God.
Depending on the truth we hear Martin Chemnitz states so well, that God is at work, and won’t take away anything good from those who look to Him. It is what St Francis de Sales states as well, that our hope is found as we run to and embrace the cross, looking not at the temptation, but focusing on Jesus, on HIs presence, on HIs love, on HIs mercy.
This is our great escape – through Christ, from darkness to light, from guilt and shame into the very glory of God, from brokenness to being healed and life abundant in Christ. TO have the mindset of Christ, to focus in on the love of God our Father, to explore that love, as the Apostle Paul tells the church to, this is our safe place, our sanctuary, our refuge.
That is why the Kyrie Eleison (Lord Have Mercy! ) is such a powerful prayer, for it directs our hope to Christ, where it finds the proof that sustains it.
We must go back, and see where Paul finds that escape, in the communion of people and God. In the sharing of the Eucharistic (the Blessing) Cup, in the Body of Christ which we share. In that sacramental meal, we find ourselves so in the presence of God. This sacrament, this time of being with God, is so precious, so needed!
This is Christianity, our religious dependence and trust in God, the path of walking with Christ, being the place where the Spirit dwells, where the people of God are lifted up.
So look to Jesus my friends, and find the escape we all need. AMEN!
(1) Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Greater Confidence in the Message
2 Peter 1:16-21
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
As Jesus love for us in revealed as He journeys toward the cross, may the grace of God our Father, and our Lord Jesus transform our lives, as we dwell in His glorious light and love! AMEN!
An Odd line
I love the honesty of scripture, especially the insights that we see into the lives of Peter and Paul into their letters to the early church. They do not portray themselves as perfect, but as men who have struggled, and still struggle to walk in a relationship with God.
Much like I do.
And as Peter looks back on his life and ministry, and writes his second epistle, he remembers an “ah ha” moment in the section we come to today. A moment that everything becomes more real.
The moment on the mountain, when he and James and John see Jesus revealed in His glory and honorwhen it was revealed to them exactly who Jesus was, and what it meant for the Messiah, the Anointed One to be with them.
But in the middle, as Peter is talking about this wondrous voice, and the Father revealing to them who Jesus is, Peter makes an incredible statement
“Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets!”
Which means that while they knew the scriptures, there was something about this experience, this moment, that made the scriptures come alive for them. It makes them look differently at the Old Testament differently, something that you and I would benefit from as well.
The Temptation to just see the Bible as myth
We gain a little more insight into this comment if we go back to the first line of the readings,
16 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes.
Simply put, St. Peter is telling us that the reports he has made about Jesus are eyewitness accounts of God’s life, lived among us. It is not just a story or a fable that we tell people to get them to behave.
While we wouldn’t use the word myth, I think many of us treat scripture in a similar way. Stuff to ponder, and think about, to consider and to apply to our lives so that we live better. One pastor/theologian recently talked like this when they said that our mission wasn’t about waiting for the hope of heaven, but to bring heaven to earth now, by our doing good work. They dismissed the ideas of heaven and hell and said our focus is on transforming the here and now. That is how they see scripture as if it is the guide to making life perfect here.
And what Peter talks of counters that.
These are just stories from an alternate reality. They aren’t just fables. The transfiguration, like the incarnation, the death of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection are miraculous events, Events that Peter and the apostles are witnesses of, and that experience changed everything.
And in Peter talking of how His experience observing Jesus making a change in how he viewed the Old Testament, we see the same thing in effect. Prior to knowing Jesus, the stories in the Old testament, the lessons, all were simply that. History and training in being a good person. Scripture is living, and for Peter it came alive when he saw Jesus transfigured, and everything began to make sense.
But seeing Jesus in His glory, seeing the love of God up close changes that…
And Peter says it will change our lives as well.
The Bible comes alive as the words reveal Christ in you!
You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts.
These words in scripture. They aren’t just words.
They tell us that God planned to shatter the darkness, the hopelessness, the kind of life that is so oppressed by the brokenness of the world. Lives shattered by sin, broken by hatred, tormented by resentment we can’t free ourselves from, from guilt and shame, as well, for it is not just the brokenness of the world that could crush us, but our own brokenness as well. This is why he directs us to pay close attention to them, for as Jesus is revealed, our confidence in God’s work is strengthened.
In these words we see Jesus and the promise of his love enter our lives, as glorious as Peter and James saw – as He enters our hearts, as He reconciles us to God the Father and sets our lives apart to live in the presence of God.
For this is the purpose of scripture, to draw us into this relationship with God, a relationship more complete, closer, with nothing that can shatter it. One based on truth, the truth of God’s love for us.
God who spoke of Jesus as His dearly loved Son, and who speaks of us with the same words…..
Words which cause the scriptures to come alive, for they tell our story, and help us to realize the deep love He has for you and I.
Knowing that love, having Christ shine in our very hearts, brings to us the peace of God which can’t be explained, but which we are safe in, for Jesus keeps us there. AMEN!