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.
Devotional Thought for our Days
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:14-17 (NLT)
827 A friend of ours used to say: “The poor are my best spiritual book and the main motive of my prayers. It pains me to see them, and in each one of them, Christ. And because it hurts, I realise I love him and love them.”
Article VI Of New Obedience: Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone.
A number of issues seem to be addressed by today’s readings, (and the quote from the Augsburg Confession)
We could start with the devastation of Houston, or Northwest and the fires that plague them. This week adds the Carribean, and possibly all of Florida as Irma draws close.
We can add to that those around us who are stressed by the changes brought about by the end of DACA. And the growing homeless along the Santa Ana and other river trails.
There are others I think of, as next week I will do a memorial service of a young man who left behind his father (who is my age) and a neighborhood of friends still in shock Or other friends battling health issues. Including them, our prayer list is over 150 different people and the friends and family that walk with them.
How do we help so many? We start on our knees, we ask God to bless them, to strengthen their faith, to strengthen ours as we pray, depending on God not only for the ability to help where we can…. but for the wisdom to know who to help.
And then we live out our lives, knowing God is faithful.
That is how we do it, looking to a God who so loves us, who so gives to us, who is with us.
We may end up giving more than we thought we could, we may end up having to make tough decisions between a lot of people in need, a lot of people who do not just need our money, but our time.
With confidence built up the promises of God, promises delivered through His word and the sacraments, we can do this… we can love, for that is who we become in Christ Jesus.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3401-3404). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
— Augsburg Confession, The
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.