† In Jesus Name †
May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you as you walk through this time of Harvest!
- Context! Context! Context!
I recently began riding a bike again, and I am amazed at how much more you are aware of everything around you than you are in a car. From the potholes to neighborhood dogs to whether you are going uphill or down.
You end up so much more aware of your context!
As we look at scripture, we need to be aware of the context of the passage! Not just who is talking to whom, but what surrounds the passage we are looking at, what bookends the passage.
Today we see these bookends:
10 “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.
4 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish…
And so there is a lot of focus on those God considers His little ones… and the rest of the passage gives us insight into who they are…
- Take Care of the Little Ones
So who are these little ones? We start to see who they are in what the two comments book end.
12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.
So this isn’t just about those we normally think of as “little ones.” It follows through their lives, and God is the Shepherd who never gives up. So God’s little ones include those of us who have occasionally wandered away, whom He is working to return.
God cares about each of us, as much as every parent cares for their child. It is something that never changes, this care that God has for us. The only difference is God doesn’t worry like a mom whose son just got a new bike. (Even if he is a 58-year-old pastor!)
But God rejoices when we He is able to forgive and restore us. His joy is so enthusiastic that Isaiah says He will dance when we arrive at the point where all of God’s children are home! And that, even now, when someone comes to depend on God and the promises He has made to save them, all heaven rejoices!
That’s something that to me shows God’ love. It doesn’t stop because we throw a tantrum, or we tell Him off, or we decided we would rather have it our way, and dwell in what we call sin – the destructive behaviors God has warned us about—because those behaviors destroy our relationships, with God, with others and our internal peace.
What is worse is that when we are caught up in such behavior, we are like that lost sheep, we don’t even see the mess and the danger we’ve gotten ourselves into!
Which is why God sends Jesus, and his followers out to find us, and bring us home.
And He does do that—He searches for us, He sends friends and pastors and other believers to find us, He might even drag us to see a friend or family member prayed for, or a child’s back blessed and to see them sing…
All to bring a lost wanderer home to where they can find peace, where they can know they belong, where their souls can find rest and healing.
Because we are God’s children, this is what He wants for us!
- Those Needing Forgiveness
Which brings us to the last section of our gospel reading this morning.
15 “If another believer* sins against you,* go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. 16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. 17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid* on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit* on earth will be permitted in heaven.
We have to see that this passage isn’t about just correcting someone who has done us wrong. It’s about bringing that little one, that sheep that is wandering lost, back into the family, to make sure they know they are welcome at home.
Notice it doesn’t put the emphasis and the work on the sinner, but rather on the one who was sinned against, the one still in the family, still part of the church. It is our job to restore people, to take on the sin and work for reconciliation in a process.
Not just one conversation, several, then several involving wise men of the church skilled in reconciliation, then even bringing the entire church into the discussion – that the lost sheep might be restored…
That is the responsibility of forbidding and permitting, what is called the authority of the keys. To use the responsibility God gives us to say sin is forgiven, or not, to rejoice in the announcement of reconciliation—this is even the end of treating someone like a pagan or tax collector – the people that Jesus reached out to, and died to save.
It’s all about bringing the children of God back to Him – no matter how far we have wandered.
SO let’s go bring everyone who is lost and wandering home, even as God has brought us here.
Thoughts to help us realize God’s love….
71 Then he started to curse and swear,be “I don’t know this man you’re talking about!”
72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time,a and Peter remembered when Jesus had spoken the word to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:71-72 CSB
When Jesus encourages us to pray with insistence he sends us to the very heart of the Trinity where, through his holy humanity, he leads us to the Father and promises the Holy Spirit.
We’ve been there…
We have fallen deeply into whatever temptation Satan has thrown at us.
You and I deny Jesus far more often than we want to admit.
Sometimes that denial is in order to secure some momentary pleasure. Sometimes the sin is to avoid discomfort, the unknown or known consequences that happen because people don’t understand what it means to be baptized into Jesus.
And in that moment, when we are in tears, the Spirit comes and brings us to repentance once again.
As the Spirit calls us to pray, as Jesus encourages us to pray, it is not a prayer of an someone cast away, drowning. Satan would love for us to think of it that way. And our own hearts and minds might agree with that demonic assessment.
But God is drawing us in, cleansing us, brinnging us into the very heart of the Trinity, into the place of healing, into the sanctuary, into the place of rest, until we find hope….
When we realize that, when we take a deep breath and remember that we dwell in Chirst – and therefore are in the presence on a holy, triune God, everything slowly takes shape.
And that is the only answer when we find ourselves betraying God, or anything that is less painful.
Here is our hope, that He is our fortress, our sanctuary, our place of hope and healing. Ours, not yours or mine, but everyones. If, as we are realizing God’s work in our lives, can help someone else come along, that is wonderful, and the way it should be…
But you and I, we need to pray… and talk with God.. even when we just sinned.
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), 255.
Devotional Thought of the day
22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching. Matt 22:22, 33 CEV
This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”
Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.
Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.
So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.
The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon. We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.
We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face. Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal. (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)
That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.
These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.
And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow. As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.
Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them. Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us. AMEN!
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
51 He said, “God has made me forget all my sufferings and all my father’s family”; so he named his first son Manasseh. 52 He also said, “God has given me children in the land of my trouble”; so he named his second son Ephraim. Gen 41:51-52 TEV
I cannot count the times that I have heard, “I will forgive them, but I will never forget.” And I know the difficulty, as we deal with the pain of being betrayed, the pain of being the victim of sin.
But how do we turn our backs on the pain? How do we risk being so brutally betrayed again? And how can we stand with the victims, and yet be obedient to God’s call to work for the reconciliation of all to Jesus? How can we have hope as well, when we struggle to obey, “forgive us our sins, and we forgive the sins of others.”
I don’t know about you, but this isn’t just a matter of teaching others. It is a matter of my own ability to forgive. And I deal with the guilt of it, how can I encourage people to turn to God for forgiveness, when I can’t forgive them?
How I long for the blessed peace that Joseph must have felt as he encountered his brothers. The same brothers that so made his life miserable growing up, that eventually threatened to kill him, but instead simply sold him into slavery. The brothers he could exact revenge upon, without hesitation.
And he chose to love instead, able to because of God’s making Joseph forget because God giving him a new family in the place where the only a life of struggle had been known.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
It is God’s work that heals us, that removes the burden of resentment, that restores us from the brokenness that shatters us beyond repair. It is the loving mercy of God (cHesed) that enabled this to happen in the life of Joseph.
This is what we need, what we need to hope for and expect from God. It is the miracle we need to depend upon Him for, as the Holy Spirit comforts us, not only in regards to our being betrayed but in the moments we realize we betrayed someone else.
This is what grace is…
Heavenly Father, bless us as you blessed Joseph, as you made him forget, and enabled him to love and provide for those who betrayed him, knowing it was all Your work and ability to make it so. AMEN!
Faith in Action…
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so fill your lives, that you without thinking look and support those who are struggling with sin. And when they come to support you, that you will let them.
I love the old movies, where the hero has to survive a gauntlet, avoiding the traps, the deadfalls, and make the decisions that mean life or death. They avoid death, if they, in the words of one of those who guided one such hero, choose wisely. (btw – that movie was released 29 years ago – so I guess it can be classified as an “oldie”!)
The hero had to be careful, he had to take his time, evaluate his situation, realize the words that had been spoken, and choose to act wisely.
In the case of the letter to the Hebrews, the idea of being careful include a deep discerning look at our situation, at the challenge we face with that sin, and the evil and unbelief it can cause in our lives.
Yeah – this passage is a call to us, this call to take a deep, hard look into our lives, and make sure about our hearts, warning and supporting each other….
For being deceived by sin is all to easy, and happens all too often.
Who Was it?
We see how easy it was, in the example provided by the writer of Hebrews.
The people of Israel, led by Moses from Egypt, who heard God’s voice and trembled. Who saw his power, both judging the sins of the Pharaoh in Egypt and in the incredible miracles at the Red Sea, and in the provision of water, and manna and quail.
And yet, as direct as their contact was, they still fell into temptation, they still sinned, and when things got hard, they didn’t trust God.
They didn’t believe.
For that is what faith and belief in God is, the ability to trust in God despite the entire world, and even your own life telling you that He isn’t there. Despite them telling you that he doesn’t care.
They struggled, oh how they struggled! They heard the very voice of God, yet still rebelled. They saw the signs of His presence, the miracles, the cloud of smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night, and still hardened their hearts
And so they did what was evil, what was in rebellion from God.
Too often, you and I join them. You might even have already asked, like the apostles, “Is it I Lord?” when He talked of the one who would betray Him.
We’ve heard His voice calling us, we’ve seen His power at work, We know both His wrath and mercy, Yet, we struggle to trust God in situations we encounter, or we all too easily forget about Him. Especially when we are tempted by sin, even what we might call the smallest of sins, or perhaps the biggest.
For the biggest of sins, the violation of the first commandment happens to us all the time. We create our own gods, something we want to trust in, something we can find hope in. and set aside the God who has revealed Himself to us, through word and sacrament, through the people that are the church.
We aren’t any better than the people of God in the days of Moses. We have all these blessings pointing to God in our lives, and yet sometimes we still turn away, we still get deceived, we still fall to scold others, rather than warn and counsel them as scripture teaches.
And so, we need to take time, to be careful, and discern what we are doing. Looking carefully at what we do, what we think, what we say!
Make Sure your (plural) own hearts (Parakleso)
It took me a while in studying this passage, to see an incredible blessing that God has given us, His people, His church.
It’s seen in words like “your” and “each other” and “you”, and “we” in this passage.
I think we hear the words, “Be careful” and “war” and “if faithful to the end, but we miss these pronouns and fail to see the blessing God gives us, when He takes us into Himself and makes us the body of Christ.
You see, when one of us baptized, when Christ’s promises are given them, they join us in His body. And the body looks after itself, each part caring for the rest. To be careful then is not just talking about individual introspection and confession, but being careful and in love, approaching those who are struggling with faith and sin, and lifting them up, helping them see God’s love and mercy revealed to them again.
We are one people, saved in Christ together, forgiven together, sent into this world together.
So we choose wisely, and care for each other, warning each other in a way that is loving and yet firm, which calls back the sinner, and assures them of the grace of God.
You see that word for warning, it’s not the kind of warning that warns you from the shore that your drifting to toward the waterfall. It dives in with a rope, catches you and helps you get back to short…
Or in Jones case, sweeps away all the other false gods, and leaves the one Chalice, the one filled with the love and mercy of Christ Jesus, that’s what a friend, a fellow member of the body of Christ would do, bringing you back to the word and sacraments, to remember and revive the word and sacraments
We are each a blessing God gives to us, when we care more for each other than the discomfort of helping someone being deceived, moving to the point of their hearts becoming evil and not trusting in God’s presence, in His mercy and Love.
As James wrote in His epistle,
19 My friends, if any of you wander away from the truth and another one brings you back again, 20 remember this: whoever turns a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (TEV)
So choose wisely, make sure that all our hearts are not evil and unbelieving turning us away from God, and warn each other, so none are deceived by sin, and hardened against God. Serve one another, loving each other enough to share in God’s glorious grace, helping each other to dwell in the peace of God which is beyond our comprehension, yet in which we dwell together, in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Devotional Thought for our days:
15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. 16 JeI’ve Fallen, sus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. 17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. 18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 (NLT)
8 So Esau said, “What do you mean by this whole procession I met?”
“To find favor with you, my lord,” he answered.
9 “I have enough, my brother,” Esau replied. “Keep what you have.”
10 But Jacob said, “No, please! If I have found favor with you, take this gift from my hand. For indeed, I have seen your face, and it is like seeing God’s face, since you have accepted me. 11 Please take my present that was brought to you, because God has been gracious to me and I have everything I need.” So Jacob urged him until he accepted.
12 Then Esau said, “Let’s move on, and I’ll go ahead of you.” Gen. 33:8-12 HCSB
173 Keep turning this over in your mind and in your soul: Lord, how many times you have lifted me up when I have fallen and once my sins have been forgiven have held me close to your Heart! Keep returning to the thought… and never separate yourself from Him again.
There are times we are like Peter and Jacob, we are so focused on our sin. We want to get past it, but we cannot. It is not just the sin that hinders our relationship, but the inability to do anything about it.
Jacob was afraid, over twenty years later, that Esau still wanted to kill him. Peter was afraid that Jesus would never forgive his betrayal, so afraid, he couldn’t be in awe of the Lord’s resurrection. Perhaps he feared the holiness it required would further alienate Peter from the one he adored.
Sin is more than one or two actions, it is deeper, and it affects us more than we would like to admit. Far too often we simply ignore the pain, and not believing the wounds that separate us can heal, we amputate the relationship. We simply deaden ourselves to the pain and refuse to grieve for what is lost. But without that grieving, we soon become dead to the world and dead to ourselves.
We forget the power of God that is at work in us, was the power that raised Christ from the dead!
That power can heal our brokenness, even restore that which we amputated, the relationships we cut off. This is the power of the resurrection that is Jesus Christ in us, and we in Him. Those sins and the unrighteousness that divides us? It was taken care of in our baptism, as they were washed away by the flood of Christ’s blood shed on the cross.
He lifts us up, as Esau lifted his brother up off the ground, as Peter was embraced by the risen Christ, and once again invited to walk with Jesus.
He holds us close to His heart, so very close! As he longed to do with the people of Jerusalem, when he wanted to embrace them, as a hen covers her chicks with her wings. He desires to clean us up, to make us spotless and pure, a glorious companion, as He shares life with us.
It may take us a while to learn this, we may need to relearn it a time or 20 , or 200.
But He is there, with us.
For He loves and cares for us… even when we struggle to see it.
Lord Jesus, help us to realize your love, help us to trust you and let you pick us up, and cleanse and heal the wounds and damage of sin. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 799-803). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for This Day:
5 “But if the enemies of my people want my protection, let them make peace with me. Yes, let them make peace with me.” Isaiah 27:5 TEV
748 Let us make a firm resolution about our friendships. In my thoughts, words and deeds towards my neighbour, whoever he may be, may I not behave as I have done up to now. That is to say, may I never cease to practise charity, or allow indifference to enter my soul.
It is very possible to misread Isaiah in the passage above, to think that the burden of reconciliation God is placing on those who are the enemies of His people. That are the ones to “make peace”, therefore it is their effort, their work. We hear it as a demand from him, as the thundering voice of God’s law, with the undertones of wrath below it.
We choose to hear it as God’s law – as the prophetic voice that will allow us to thrash them unless they prove their intent to make peace. Which means, of course, that we can then have the same attitude, because the enemies of God’s people are our enemies, because we are God’s people, right?
This gives us full license to be holier than thou – or at least holier than those racists, or those politicians, or those other people, you know, the ones that don’t go to our church but go to “that” church, or no church at all.
I even heard that to preach “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is law, therefore we don’t have to obey it, just confess it when we fail too! ( We need a refresher in Augsburg Confession Article VI)
St. Josemaria’s words caught my attention this morning. He described a desire to change his attitude toward his neighbor, whoever he maybe! He then describes a life that is charitable, that loves, that has compassion, and never allows indifference to enter his soul.
What if that neighbor was an addict to drugs, or dealt them? what if that neighbor was into porn, or and it was wrecking his life and family? What if that neighbor was a militant atheist or someone who morality and ethics we question. What if they murdered someone, deliberately or by neglect? What if that neighbor was one of those in Charlottesville that was rioting? (It doesn’t matter which side, or whether they were those who just wanted to “amp” up the tension)
Each of those people may be identified as our neighbor, and we need to rid ourselves of our apathy, we need to find the ability to be compassionate toward him or her. We need to invite them to make peace with God, and then perhaps, over time, with us.
Which brings us back to Isaiah, and the question about God’s intent about these enemies. Does He mean they have to make peace with Him, atoning for their own sin, proving their intent? Or is it an invitation to be at peace with God, to be drawn to Jesus, and the cross which cleanses us from all sin?
From St. Paul,
8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. Romans 5:8-11 (NLT)
Let them make peace, a peace for which the price has already been paid.
It is an invitation, one that will result in them (and us) being cleansed of all sin and unrighteousness.
It is there, in this invitation, that we ALL can find hope. …
Lord Jesus, help us to shed our apathy, our indifference toward our neighbor, and with great compassion and love lead them to where God reconciles them with Himself. And remind us constantly of the wonder of the peace you give us, as by grace you save us. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3115-3117). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
American Bible Society. The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation. 2nd ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1992. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. Romans 1:32 (NLT)
1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:1-3 (NLT)
19 My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, 20 you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. James 5:19-20 (NLT)
We must indeed meekly bear with our friend in his imperfections, but we must not lead him into imperfections, much less imitate his imperfections ourselves. But I speak only of imperfections; for as to sins, we must neither occasion them, nor tolerate them in our friends. It is either a weak or a wicked friendship to behold our friend perish and not to help him; to see him die of an abscess, and not to dare to open it with a lancet of correction, to save his life.
I am preaching this weekend on Jesus’ direction to us to really love those around us, even our enemies. To be so committed to people that we won’t even consider what we sacrifice to help them. To be so dedicated to what is best for them, that we don’t look at the impact on us.
But before we get to loving our enemies, I need to consider whether I really love my friends, and those I claim to love.
Given the passages above, it is not as easy a question as I would like to think.
Do we love our friends enough to rescue them from sin? To bring them back when they wander away from the truth?
Are we willing to see the relationship deep enough to where they know our love and care enough to respond when we ask them to confront the demons that assail them and allow them to do the same for us?
Or will we ignore the sin that so easily takes us captive, the temptations that so distract us from the presence and grace of God? Will we even let our friends think we approve of their sin? ( or will we simply abandon them in their sin?)
I think, more than we want to admit, that we need to repent, so that we can encourage their repentance.
So that we can hear the answer, together, to our cry,
“Lord,, have mercy on us, for we have sinned, and need your healing touch.”
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 He then taught the people: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations.’ But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!” Mark 11:16-17 TEV
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 56:7-8 (NLT)
Thus confession of sin is a sovereign remedy against sin itself. Contrition and confession are so precious, and have so sweet an odour, that they deface the ugliness and destroy the infection of sin. Simon the Pharisee pronounced St. Mary Magdalen a sinner; but our Saviour denied it, and speaks of nothing but of the sweet perfumes she poured on Him, and of the greatness of her charity. If we be truly humble, Philothea, our sins will infinitely displease us, because God is offended by them; but the confession of our sins will be sweet and pleasant to us, because God is honored thereby. It is a kind of consolation to us to inform the physician correctly of the disease that torments us.
As I grew up, I preferred walking into St Francis rather than St Joes, and definitely St Basil’s over Mary Queen of Peace or the Formation Center in Andover.
Not because of the priests, or because the masses were better, or because of the music was more to my liking. It wasn’t that at all. I loved the stillness, the quietness, the ability to sit and kneel before the cross, to think about the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper) that we would receive, to just find peace, there in the presence of God.
The other churches were much more friendly, much more interested in you. Those churches were full and had lots of activities. But as I went into the church, I didn’t have the time, or so I thought, to settle in, to hear the silence, to be in awe of God.
Even today, as I pastor a church without a sizeable narthex, I enter the church just before service, bow at the altar, move over to the musicians, and try to catch my breath, and long for 10-15 minutes of silence. ( as much as I love our worship music, I love our quiet communion in our midweek Advent services…)
As I read the scriptures this morning and considered what it meant to be a house of prayer, I thought for a moment and wondered if they truly are….
Our churches need to be places of prayer, whether silent or sobbing, full of joy and excitement as we come to our Father and share with Him our lives. There are many forms and ways of prayer, each has their own time and place. But when scripture is talking about the church, or the Temple being a house, a home of prayer, it has something specific in mind.
Something our churches today need to be that we must be, if we are going to make a difference in our people’s lives. Whether the church is a place where 20 people gather in a storefront, or a cathedral where thousands pray.
We need to realize what that means to have a house of prayer to go to, what Isaiah is hinting at (as Mark cites him,) as he talks of sacrifices and offerings being acceptable again.
What Solomon mentioned, as God dedicates the temple by being present, and listening as Solomon prayer,
19 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you. 20 May you watch over this Temple day and night, this place where you have said you would put your name. May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 21 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive. 2 Chronicles 6:19-21 (NLT)
If our churches are to be a place of prayer, then they need to be a place where we give God every burden we have, especially the burdens of guilt and shame, the weight that is added to the sin that we commit.
This is the prayer the temple and the church are set apart to facilitate, to make the prodigal (whether they realize they are one or not) welcome home, to dress them up again,, to help them realize they are part of the family. The ministry of reconciliation; as the incredible love of God is revealed to those who are broken. As they hear, “you, child of God, are forgiven and restored.”
By the way, this isn’t a Sunday morning thing, this should be anytime you need it, the chance to go and sit in the quiet with God, to talk to a pastor, to hear of God’s love, to leave those burdens at the altar, to walk away with your hunger for righteousness sated, to know you are loved.
That’s what it means to have a church that is a house or prayer….
May our churches be houses of prayer… may our shepherds help us pray, be relieved and overjoyed as we find out He hears us and forgives.
Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.
WHAT MEANS THESE STONES:
Land of my fathers,
how i long to return,
What means these stoneswhich beset thy coastline, who in twisted agony cry out, in praise and supplication of Him and the renewal of the faith that bled to secure them here. Yet we would walk again thy sacred paths, repair thy ancient ruins restore the broken altars, raise up the foundations of many generations.
Part of me knows that some of my feelings are caused by bereavement, or loss. Yet passages like this one from my devotions this morning resonate with something inside me. A dozen or so years ago, when we went home, I was grieved to see the church of my youth closed, Last year, after my father passed away, I stood across the street from it on a Sunday afternoon. It is now some kind of academy…..no longer a place where God’s word is preached, where people are baptized, where people receive the body and blood of Christ.
where spirituality, once vibrant, is now cloaked in mediocrity, the neighborhood poor and seemingly without hope.
It’s not that one church, there are many that are but shadows of what they were, as there are many where I now live. I’ve seen some rebuilt, an incredible blessing of peace where there was discord and misery, and a romantic tie to the past. I know those ties, even as I know they aren’t entire…accurate.
Yes the churches weren’t closed, yes, they all had multiple services, multiple masses. But what was important was that there is where we first walked sacred paths. Not sacred because of the stones, but sacred because of the company that we walked in, for there we first walked with God.
The idea of seeing St Francis’ or St Anne’s or the other fellowships I know of restored is indeed romantic, and sometimes – seems to burn a hole within me, especially those “back home.” But those ruins are restored every time I baptize someone here. They are rebuilt every time someone kneels at the altar, and is given the Body of Christ, and the Blood shed for them. They are rebuilt when I am working with those I have been entrusted to mentor, even as I was mentored by Fr Alex, and Fr. Janounis, and Pastor Chip.
Rebuild the ruins back in Massachusetts and New Hampshire? I would take up such a task, were it offered. Yet what I need to realize is that task isn’t just in that locality, in the land of my dad and grandfathers, and the Parkers and DeLucas. It is done here, in this place. The land to where we’ve been called. In a land where the church also needs to be restored. .
Can ruins be restored? Yes. Let’s get to work then, guided and empowered and placed by God.
Lord, have mercy on us…