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 Days:
31 Well, whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory. 32 Live in such a way as to cause no trouble either to Jews or Gentiles or to the church of God. 33 Just do as I do; I try to please everyone in all that I do, not thinking of my own good, but of the good of all, so that they might be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (TEV)
The Benedictine tradition is marked by a spirituality rooted deeply, intentionally in the issues and activities which confront us every day. These include the seemingly endless quotidian chores which fill the greater part of most of our days. Working. Eating. Caring for the sick and providing for the poor. Talking. Reading. Dealing with difficult people, just like ourselves. The Rule emphatically validates the sanctity of these efforts, drawing them up into the same sphere of holy activity as prayer, and meditation on sacred Scripture. Kitchen utensils and garden tools of the monastery are to be treated no differently than the sacred vessels of the altar. Guests are to be welcomed as one would welcome Christ himself. Rather than drawing lines between sacred and profane, or attempting heroic theological gymnastics to keep the high work of spirituality unspotted from the lowly tasks of this world, the Rule unabashedly weds life in Christ to life in the sanctified dust and sweat of our daily-grind existence.
6 Do not be afraid. Do not be alarmed or surprised. Do not allow yourself to be overcome by false prudence. The call to fulfil God’s will—this goes for vocation too—is sudden, as it was for the Apostles: a meeting with Christ and his call is followed… None of them doubted. Meeting Christ and following him was all one.
There are times the people that make up the church today seem to have a split personality. ( Or would it be better to say we are simply two-faced?)
We create one set of rules for behavior with our friends at church, that is our sacred world’ and another set of rules for our behavior in the secular world. And as a result, we don’t bring our religion/relationship with God into the “real” world, and we don’t want to bring before God in prayer our real life.
I am not sure if we think he wouldn’t be interested, or is incapable of understanding it (I mean Jesus “lived” so long ago! How could He possibly understand the fast-paced, media-hyped, techno/cyber crazy world in which we live?
Or maybe we want the disconnect between our sacred and secular worlds for our own benefit. Do we keep this illusion, that it is sacred and secular in order that we can have our sin and our Communion too?
Is this a big deal? It is when we think of the mission of the church, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, of bringing everything, of shepherding everything back to Christ. To reveal His active and grace-filled presence to those around us, to the effect that they are saved But if we have disengaged the two worlds, at least in our minds, then we can let them go, each to their own way.
Until the distance is so far we can’t stand on both. Then we become hyper-spiritual and condemn all the physical, or we become even more driven to satisfy our own pleasure, hedonists of the first order.
Some have tried to counter this division – Luther and his talk of vocation comes to mind. The quote from Robert Webber above, citing the work of the Order of St Benedict is another. And undoubtedly this get to the heart of St Josemaria’s Opus Dei – walking in faith in the midst of a broken world.
We need to stop dividing the life we have been given by God!
He walks with us through every part of our day, and we need to rely on Him during every part of our day. It is His mission to save the world and to do it through His people. Whether they work at Subway, or a University, whether they are pastors or stay at home moms. Whether they are 12-or 92. God walks with each of s, everywhere.
Knowing that changes things, it changes them by making them holy, precious, the work of God.
When we cry out, “Lord have mercy on us” it includes all of our lives, all that we do, all that we encounter, and we need to know, He is here, the Lord is with us! Not to judge, but to guide. Not to condemn but to comfort, to give us hope, to draw us into His glory and love.
Sacred? Secular? Hole? Profane? Religious? Worldly?
These divisions aren’t real for us, for rejoice, we dwell in Christ!
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 252-257). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for our days…..
19 If our hope in Christ is for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone else in the world. 1 Corinthians 15:19 NCV
18 We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings ever greater glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18b NCV
Paradoxically, a widespread decline in traditional religious practice in the West runs parallel with an ever-increasing hunger for spirituality. The question at the forefront of most of the great spiritual classics used to be “What or who is God?” Nowadays the characteristic question of the contemporary spiritual seeker is more likely to be “Who am I?” Great Christian teachers of the past such as Julian of Norwich understood quite clearly that these two questions are inextricably linked.
And I saw very certain that we must necessarily be in longing and in penance until the time we are led so deeply into God that we verily and truly know our own soul. (a quote from Phillip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology in Webber’s text The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life) (1)
850 In your heart and soul, in your intelligence and in your will, implant a spirit of trust and abandonment to the loving Will of your heavenly Father… From this will arise the interior peace you desire. (2)
Who Am I?
I’ve been trying to answer that question for as long as I can remember. I see som many others trying to answer it as well.
Who is God?
Most people don’t bother to ask this, and those who do pursue it with an academic passion that is absolute, and yet nearly impossible to communicate to others simply. (this is why we develop creeds and confessions, statements of belief and doctrinal texts, and then wonder why they don’t sell as well as novels and religious fluff)
Some might even try to describe this in general terms as Webber’s citation seems to above. The older folk are more concerned with proving beyond a shadow of a doubt who God is (or isn’t) and the younger (gen X and Millennials ) struggling with who we are.
And without both questions being asked, neither is ever truly answered.
And in asking both at the same time, as Julian of Norwich and Augustine and Luther did, as Webber is trying to ask, we find the answer. In that answer is the hope and peace that we so need.
We can only define God in terms of His relationship to us, as our Creator, Redeemer, the One who makes us Holy, the One who loves us and is our Father, Brother, Friend, Counselor, Encourager, Comforter.
We only find out who we really are when we are defined by God, as He ministers to us. We may not like to hear it, but we have no identity outside of our identity to Him, our identity in Him.
it is in that definition of “who am I” that I find out I am loved, cared for, guided, That GOd is transforming us into the very image of Jesus, to be like Him, yet to be ourselves. And yet this definition, this transformation is far more than we know, for it is an eternal transformation.
Paul isn’t joking when He says without the resurrection we are a hopeless group of people. For a life trusting in God is not just about this life, and the change takes our entire life to begin to see. It may mean we live in hardship, it will mean that we deny ourselves, abandoning ourselves into the hands of the Lord whose love for us is seen in the scars on His hands.
Spend some time there, at the cross. Spend some more time there, at the altar, examining yourself and knowing how desperately you need Him, and the fact, HE IS HERE! And we will be with Him Forever! Everything we are in life flows from Him, and it is glorious and real, and now, and yet even more to come!
The answer to Who is God?
He is your God
Who are you?
You are His!
So live life, based on these words: He is our God, we are His People! AMEN!
(1) Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3487-3489). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
O LORD, I will always sing of your constant love; I will proclaim your faithfulness forever. 2 I know that your love will last for all time, that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky. Psalm 89:1-2 GNT
345 What a great discovery! Something you barely half-understood turned out to be very clear when you had to explain it to others. You had to speak very gently with someone, who was disheartened because he felt useless and did not want to be a burden to anyone… You understood then, better than ever, why I always talk to you about being little donkeys turning the water-wheel: carrying on faithfully, with large blinkers which prevent us personally seeing or tasting the results—the flowers, the fruit, the freshness of the garden—confident about the effectiveness of our fidelity.
The contemplation of God, of his person, creation, incarnation, and re-creation of the world, is a different kind of knowledge. It is a contemplation on the mysteries, namely, the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim his lordship over creation. The contemplation of these mysteries moves us to live into these mysteries, participating in God’s life for the world.
This week has not gone as I planned, I had a number of things to accomplish to get ready for vacation, also plans to celebrate my 28th anniversary tomorrow.
Let’s just say those things I planned to get done were often interrupted, as hours were spent in crisis moments, and in a meeting, a very necessary meeting, that took out most of a day. And then, of course, the implementation of a new phone system. Yeah, my plan? Long days and nights, and some of the things are off the checklist… but I am leaving for “home” in a little more than 48 hours…
Yet with the esteemed Colonel on the old A-team, I can look back and say, somehow, “I love it when a plan comes together!” Even if I haven’t seen it come to its fulfillment.
More and more I realize that Escriva’s idea that those who serve as the church are like blinded donkeys, walking around, supplying the work that God uses to bless others is true. We love it when a plan comes together, but we are equally sure that it cannot be our plan. At least if we want it to come together! There must be a greater planner who is able to not just plan well, but execute and carry us to where the plan “comes together”
One in whom we can trust, one who we can depend on, not just for the plan, but for the result. And then we can go back to our trodding through life, content to let the Spirit lead, flexible enough to simply follow that Spirit when the need occurs, even when we think we are a round peg being placed into a square hole.
That is where Webber’s words this morning make so much sense to me. That as we contemplate the very mysteries of God, as we try, not to understand as much as observe in awe, and accept we cannot have all the answers, but we can have Him, the need for all the answers, the need to see all of our agendas come to pass fades. Simply put, knowing Him, living in His glorious peace is….. more than sufficient.
We learn to sing with the psalmist about God’s love, about His faithfulness. Which feeds on itself. For the more aware of this, the more we explore the breadth, width, depth, and height of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ, revealed at the cross, and at the table, the more we desire to simply know that….
And we are assured of the living water that our lives help distribute to fields will see them ready to harvest, as the world comes to know the love of Jesus.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1604-1609). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Discussion Thought of the Day:
26 Then Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like someone who plants seed in the ground. 27 Night and day, whether the person is asleep or awake, the seed still grows, but the person does not know how it grows. 28 By itself the earth produces grain. First the plant grows, then the head, and then all the grain in the head. 29 When the grain is ready, the farmer cuts it, because this is the harvest time.” Mark 4:26-29 NCV
182 What compassion you feel for them!… You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time… Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you—a miserable creature—have seen? Why don’t they go for the best? Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them—also one by one—that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society.
Perhaps a better way for us to grasp the meaning of theosis and deification is to use the word relationship. However, the word relationship may not be strong enough to express the Eastern grasp of participation in Jesus and through him a participation in the very communal life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that theosis and deification imply. In Eastern thought, the goal of the Christian is to so commune with God that he or she is made more and more in the image of Christlikeness, fulfilling God’s purposes for humanity in God’s creation.
Back in the 1950’s and 60’s, former missionaries noticed trends in the church and wondered why the church in America was static and beginning to decline, while on the mission field it began to grow.
Such studies developed into the field of church growth, which my alma mater required all ministry students to major in, as well as their field (preaching, youth ministry, worship ministry, Christian Ed) An entire industry has been created, with experts and consultants that will come and analyze your church and provide nice neat programmed solutions that may result in growth in numbers, in budget, etc.
Another industry has grown up that counters the church growth movement. Usually, it calls for more precision in doctrine, a more historic approach, looking back to the glory days of the church when everyone came and the pews and coffers were filled.
The battles between these groups have led to denominations being devoured in conflict, which drives more people away, burns out more pastors.
But what if the answer is found, not in treating the symptom of decline, but what causes the decline? What if our studies and the raging wars around what to do with the data, are part of the problem.
What if the issue isn’t “church growth” but simply being aware of the presence of God in our lives? Whether it was Roland Allen or Donald McGavran, or C Peter Wagner or John Wimber , whether it is Paul Boland’s theories on revitalizing the church, Webber’s Ancient-Future thoughts, there is a focus on prayer, on communion with God. The call to prayer, the call to awareness of the relationship, the theosis, the intimate contact between a God who comes to us. It’s there, in all of their works, the essential component, yet so forgotten in most implementations. Overlooked because there is no way to measure the results, no way to quantify in a timely matter the success of such things. Overlooked because it cannot be measured against a creedal or confessional statement. Maybe it is overlooked because we ourselves aren’t actively living a life walking with God?
Let’s admit that Jesus is right – we don’t know how the kingdom of God grows, so why are we focusing our energy on that? What would happen instead if we spent the time and effort walking with God, exploring the height and depth, the breadth and width of His love? What effect would that have on our worship? Our preaching? Our teaching? Our lives lived, with the Holy Spirit, in our communities?
What effect does the glory of God have on us, who should have experienced it? We see it in the eyes of those given the first Bible in their language, the crowds that rejoice in mass baptisms, the barely trained evangelists and pastors in the third world who cry fro training because their churches are growing faster than they can manage.
Without programs, often without full Bibles, sometimes not being even able to read. Yet full of the awareness of God’s love, something happens. They make Him known. People come to know God, and know He loves them, they are so joyous over walking with Him, they share this with those who are blind, but will see, with those lost, but are found. Without the studies, without the consultants, without the experts in growth, these churches are growing – simply because they know Jesus!
God chooses to commune with us! God is here, not distant! He loves us! We have been found by divinity, and He wants us to enter HIs glory! Here it is, givet this to your people, help them to see
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 974-978). 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
34 Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 35 This fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet: “I will speak to you in parables. I will explain things hidden since the creation of the world.” Matthew 13:34-35 (NLT)
After a brief pause, Jack said, “Explain yourself. I’m willing to hear you out.”
“Okay,” I said, “but to explain myself I have to tell you a story.” I sensed a puzzlement on his part, so I quickly added, “All spiritualities are based on a story. You have to know the story of a particular religion to understand its spirituality.”
This statement aroused the curiosity of everyone. “Tell the story,” said Jack. “Maybe I don’t know the story; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard Christianity told as a story.”
“Okay,” I responded, “but I have to tell you I can’t prove the story.”1
“I like that! I don’t like it when religious people try to prove their faith. Just the fact that you say that we shouldn’t try to prove the story with history and science makes me want to listen.”
899 The children of God are present and give witness in the world to draw others, not to be drawn by them. They should spread their own atmosphere, the atmosphere of Christ, not let themselves be won over by a different atmosphere.
One of the hardest lessons to learn in preaching is that it is very different from teaching, very different from teaching, very different from giving a lecture.
The goal isn’t merely to impart knowledge and information, but to draw someone into a relationship, to draw someone into the story, to reveal to them that they have a part, a role, and are wanted. (This is true not only about the sermon but about any time we bear witness to Jesus, that we share His love with others)
This is profoundly different than the way I was taught in the early days, in classes like Expository Preaching and Homiletics. I have written similarly before on apologetics, that the idea is not to win a case, to convince someone to judge Christianity right based on the proof I present.
We simply need to tell the story, to tell it so well the people are drawn into their place in the story,
This is why the post-modern sermon needs to be transparent, that the messenger be willing to tell his portion of the story transparently, the brokenness, the sin and shame (though not in great detail) the hopelessness that exists when we take our eyes off of Jesus, and His continual drawing us back, and the peace that comes when we see Him again. For if they know God can help us, then we are writing on their hearts the word of the story, the “God so loved (me)”, the “body broken/blood shed for (me).
I would assert that teaching the Bible without making the connection to the listener is not preaching, it is not bearing witness to Jesus. It is simply giving people, overloaded with facts, more facts to deal with intellectually. It appeals to their baser instinct, that they are the judge of reality. But they aren’t the judges, they are not just interested observers. So why preach to them if they were. Telling them the story involves them, it helps reveal to them that they aren’t observers and judges, but part of the story.
This takes the objective truth of salvation and helps it become subjective as well. It takes the historical information stored in our minds and makes it meaningful to our heart and soul.
This is the mystery that has been revealed, that which has been hidden from the beginning of the world. The mystery of God and His people, the people He makes His own, the mystery of how you and I, broken by our sin and the sin of the world, are picked up, healed, brought home.
That is preaching, that is bearing witness to God’s love, that is giving people what God wants them to comprehend.
Tell me the story, write on my heart every word, tell me the story of Jesus (and us), greatest that every was heard.
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3181-3182). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:36-39 (NLT)
3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ. (1)
“Biblical worship is rooted in an event that is to be lived, not proven. The purpose of worship is not to prove the Christ it celebrates, but to bring the worshipper so tune with God’s reconciliation through Christ that His death and resurrection becomes a lived experience.” (2)
““As long as I have strength to breathe, I will continue to preach that it is vitally necessary that we be souls of prayer at all times, at every opportunity, and in the most varied of circumstances, because God never abandons us” (no. 247). That was his one and only concern: to pray and to encourage others to do likewise. That was why he brought about in the midst of the world a wonderful “mobilization of people,” as he liked to call it, “who are ready to commit themselves to live Christian lives,” by developing their filial relationship with God our Father. We are many who have learned, from this thoroughly priestly priest, “the great secret of God’s mercy, that we are children of God.” (3)
The quote in blue, from the 24th Article of the Augsburg Confession, is among my favorite quotes from all religious writing. When I teach Worship/Liturgy, Caregiving, or even Preaching, it becomes the 1 statement that MUST be understood, the foundational statement of the course.
As I look at what is being taught and written about; as I consider my own education for the ministry; how I was taught to preach, teach and lead worship, I realize I have to ask the question,
Are we teaching them what they really need to know about Jesus?
I think one of the ways we can measure that is found in the scripture verse above in red.
Are they learning to love God with all they are, and to love their neighbor? (without asking, “are they really my neighbor?
I have to ask, is that the result every aspect of our church services, from the sacraments, the sermons, the singing, the liturgy, and prayers? Is it what results from our Bible studies, the counseling sessions and even the meetings of boards and teams? Do our people love God more, grow in their adoration of Him? Will they share in the lives of those around them? Will they weep with them, laugh with them, share food and life with both those who know Christ, and those who need to know Him?
Can we hold that up as the standard? Does how our people love reflect on whether we’ve told them what they need to know about Jesus?
Webber makes another point worth considering, that reveals a sobering answer to this,
“Liberals turned worship into a time for ethical reflection on the love of God, while conservatives concentrated on an intellection defense of the Gospel. In both cases church leaders gave into to secularism and allowed it to define worship.” (4)
Far too often, we forget what changes people, what creates the love of both God and neighbor. It isn’t just found in nurturing the intellect, or making logical appeals for what is good, ethical and beneficial. This only provides a narrow stimulation, that of the mind. Our teaching, our preaching our worship, has to go deeper. It has to cause, as Webber says, ou words must guide them in living through the death and resurrection of Christ.
It is there, in the presence of God, dwelling in Christ, abiding in Him, that we discover what true love is. That we, the very children of God, live our lives intimately communicating with God. A relationship that goes beyond anything we know, for this relationship reveals the transcendent life of a Christ, what Paul talks about in Colossians.
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This is what it means to give them what they need to know about Christ, to know His presence, His love, His mercy! To see Him so clearly that the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts of stone into hearts that beat with the love of God, and then can love others.
Whether our people grow in love of God, and their neighbors is how we judge whether our preaching, our administration of the sacraments, our worship, and our very ministry give people what they need to know about Christ.
Lord Have Mercy on Us, even this mercy of revealing to us what we need to know of Christ. AMEN!.
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 59). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Webber, Robert: Worship is a Verb Peabody Mass, Hendrickson Publishing
(3) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). Friends of God (Kindle Locations 136-140). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(4)Webber, Robert: Worship is a Verb Peabody Mass, Hendrickson Publishing
Why is Prayer Answered?
† In Jesus Name †
As you are overwhelmed by the mercy and love of Jesus Christ, in you may there develop an unquenchable desire to commune and communicate with our Father, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit!
We can’t understand if… if we don’t understand why…
Of all the times I have taught about prayer in sermons, in Bible Studies, in classes, on retreats and in conversations over meals, I have never taken the approach I will in this sermon.
For that, I ask your forgiveness.
For I think that the question the sermon title asks and answers is the only question that really needs to be answered. This question can confidently be answered; one, without cliché’s or well-meaning stock answers that avoid the responsibility of saying, “I do not know.” This question, why are our prayers answered…silences many of the other questions.
This question causes us to see His heart… we need to grasp how much He loves us, how much He is our Father…and how much at relationship is the reason our prayers are answered.
Or our prayers are simply rote and in vain…as empty as praying to some gold lacquered statue.
So let’s answer the question – why are our prayers answered?
The Burden of Life – Melancthon
Instead of just a prayer sheet this week – I included two short excerpts about prayer. The first is by someone that Luther was a father figure for, the deacon Phillip Melancthon. Asked why we should pray when we don’t want to… he responded with 9 reasons. Look at number II.
II. The great and manifold need by which we are burdened in this penitentiary of the world, and which we cannot sufficiently understand or comprehend by thinking, must less guard against or avert by our effort, should properly move us to pray even all by itself.
In simpler language – we need to pray because this life isn’t easy, and it can overwhelm us all to easily. Whether it is the challenge of our sin and the struggle to overcome temptation, or the effects of others sin, or the brokenness of the world and even the church, prayer is what will make the difference, what helps us get through the day.
Melancthon is right – we are burdened in this world, and there are times where prayer is barely able to be said, never mind can we grasp what we are saying. This isn’t something new, it isn’t something we are the first generations to encounter this. Remember what St Paul said to the early believers in Rome/
26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27 He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our (pregnant) condition, and keeps us present before God. 28 That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:26-28 (MSG)
It is often in such desperate times we remember to pray… yet would we pray sooner if we understood why prayer is answered?
The Blessing of Presence
If we pray only in such oppressive times, we do because we hope someone will hear us. Maybe we realize it can’t hurt, or we vaguely remember a promise that God has made. Melancthon mentions this as well,.
IV. Very sweet divine promises draw and incite us, namely that God the Father embraces us with such great love in Christ His Son, that He regards it as pleasing and acceptable if we approach and address Him with our prayers, and He has promised to incline His ears and hear us.
I love this point – and how clearly it is seen in the Lord’s prayer, as God promises to take care of our physical needs (like providing bread) and spiritual needs – helping us with knowing we are forgiven, helping us forgive, dealing with temptation and protecting us from evil.
I love the verses that follow the prayer – those that cause us to think of how we love our kids and our grandkids. They compare the Creator of the Universe to us – to help us realize our love for them is but a small example of His love for us. If we want the best things – imagine the “best things” that He has planned and created for us!
But if reason number IV, is true, then look at number V.
V. Likewise, that our mediator, Christ, has bound Himself with the firm promise that He would be present when we pray (Mt 18:20) and as our advocate and High Priest Himself bring our supplications to the Father, and intercede for us, and ask the Father together with us.
Remember Matthew 18:20 (TEV) 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Jesus has promised to be here – where we pray, the Father has promised to answer our prayers. Not because of some incantation or form, or because we are holier than the people praying down the street, or on the other side of the world.
He answers our prayers because He loves us, because He is here, because we are His.
So Let Prayer Arise from within
On the prayer list, along with the quote from Melancthon, is a description of a type of prayer and devotion that is indeed ancient. It is called Lectio Divina. The quote is from one of Chris’ mentors. The man who is the reason he is the Rev. Dr. Chris Gillette. It’s a great way of doing devotions – one Luther used as well. Look at the part I underlined:
Let the word touch your heart (prayer, Oratio). In Oratio, the Word of God goes deeper into the self and becomes the prayer of the heart. In this prayer, open your heart so that his light may enter. The goal is like that of St. Augustine, who cried, “O God, our hearts are made for thee, and they shall be restless until they rest in thee.” There emerges within the heart a holy desire, a longing for the text, the Word of God, to be concretized in reality.
Enter into contemplation (Contemplatio). Contemplatio shifts praying the Scripture into a new language (silence). This silence does not ask us to do anything, it is a call to being. Thomas Merton says, “The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.”17
This concept is especially true, as we work through the Lord’s prayer, or even the Old Testament account where Abraham learned to pray for those who were lost. As we know these words, they well up within us, they become part of our life, because God makes them live in us, even as He quickens life in us.
The words ingrain is us these promises – they cause us to desire to pray even more. They bring the words to life in us, when nothing else brings comfort – a message from God. When thought through… they cause us to realize this important thing..
Why does God answer our prayers…
Because He is our father… because He loves us… because He is with us….
Use His name, not in vain my brothers and sisters…but as He encourages us to, to talk to Him – to know Him as our Father… to know His love and mercy…for us.
17 Thomas Merton, Seeds, ed. Robert Inchausti (Boston: Shambhala, 2002).
- Some wise words to encourage us to pray (justifiedandsinner.com)