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Faith in Action: Makes Sure! A Sermon on Hebrews 3 (with video of the service!)

Faith in Action…
Makes Sure

Hebrews 3:12-29

I.H.S.

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.

Be Careful

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!

 

 

Faith in Action is in Dialogue (IV) A sermon on James 5:13-20

church at communion 2Faith in Action:  Is in Dialogue
James 5:13-20

† I.H.S. 

May the grace, mercy and love of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ instill in you the confidence to be drawn to them and enter intimate dialogue with Them

People in trauma

The people that James was writing too sound like us.  Based on the words we read just this morning, we could ask if they are part of Concordia!  Hear how James describes them

verse 13 asks if they are suffering hardships
verse 14  ask if any are sick
verse 15 mentions people who have committed sin
verse 16 may be the hardest question of all, have some of us wandered away from Jesus.

Pretty sure you can find most of us on that list, in fact, some of us probably can answer more than one of those questions.

As we’ve said a few times around here, how do we get through this life, without knowing Jesus?

This life is broken, we see it enough in our homes, in our workplaces, in our families, even in our churches.  But it isn’t a new thing, James wrote about these problems to people nearly 2000 years ago.

Even with all the differences, the problems are still the same, hardships, sickness, sin, and our struggle to go our own way.  And in asking how people go through this life without Christ, we begin to see how James addresses each of these ways we are broken with a simple, misunderstood four letter word.

Pray.

There is an answer

Prayer, Praise, Prayer, Pray for each other

Suffering hardship – pray!
Sick  call the elders (pastor and deacons too!) and have them pray
Sins?  Confess and pray for each other
Wanders from Jesus (the truth) bring him back from the wandering so he can communicate with God, with us.

Pray… Pray… Pray…

Sounds like one of Al’s emails or text messages to me. They often end that way… and for  reason.

We know prayer makes a difference. We know when that prayer isn’t what you do when there is nothing else to do.

It is what you do first, and always.

Not because prayer adds up like tickets you get playing skeeball at an arcade, or frequent flier points.

That’s not the way prayer works or the reason to pray.  It’s not about what we do to impress God, it is an act of faith, it is the way we depend on God.

But what is prayer – Elijah’s example.

James gives us as an example of prayer, in the situation with Elijah and the weather.  That prayer was not simple monologues, they are conversations. As you follow the story throughout 1 Kings 17 and 18, you see Elijah moving by God’s direction, enabled to do what he did because God was there, with Him, even as the Lord is with you! (and also with you?)

You see that in these chapters where Elijah is ministering to Israel, and to a the widow in what is now Lebanon, as he confronts sin and evil, as he deals with brokenness, and sickness and even death. As he is on top of the world, and as he feels like he’s the last man standing and isn’t sure how much more he can stand.

In other words, he is a man like us!  And yet. Because he walked and talked with God, this was said of him,

24  “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the LORD truly speaks through you.” 1 Kings 17:24 (NLT2)

God speaks through those who hear Him, who talk with Him, and that is what prayer is.
A conversation with God, depending on His presence, and on His love, shown in the mercy He has on us.

And then we see the greatest work that depending on God, talking to Him, hearing Him brings about.

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 from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins.

Here is where prayer is so necessary, to see those who come back from wandering away from God, sometimes even running away from God, come back.

To see them saved from death and hell, to see them freed form sin and the guilt and shame that can so haunt those caught in its grasp. That only happens when our faith is active, and that faith requires us to be in conversation with God.

We have to depend on God, for otherwise there is no way we can have the patience, the determination to have patience, the ability to withstand the rejection, and still leave the door open for them to come in, look around, put their toe in the water…ask a question or three.. even be critical.

Trusting in God, communicating with Him, knowing His heart for us and all prodigals like us, we can take the time to see people return to God, even if we have to help carry them.

This is the power of prayer, this is what knowing that the Lord is with you causes to happen in real life.  That is a major part of who we are. As one pastor wrote,

Finally, the suffering person is entrusted to an innkeeper, so that he might continue to care for him, sparing no expense. Now, who is this innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community—it is us—to whom each day the Lord entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit, so that we might lavish all of his mercy and salvation upon them without measure.
[1]

So let us pray, and as we dwell in Christ’s peace, the peace that passes all understanding.  AMEN!

[1] Francis. (2016). Wednesday, 26 February 2014. In Audiences of Pope Francis, 2013–2015 (English). Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

Communicating the Gospel: Don’t confuse the method for the purpose!

pexels-photo-279991Devotional Thought of the Day:
18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21  For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT2)

24 We believe and confess that these two doctrines must be urged constantly and diligently in the church of God until the end of the world, but with the due distinction, so that in the ministry of the New Testament the proclamation of the law and its threats will terrify the hearts of the unrepentant and bring them to a knowledge of their sin and to repentance, but not in such a way that they become despondent and despair therein. Rather, since “the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24), and hence points and leads not away from but toward the Christ who is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), 25 the proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Christ will once more comfort and strengthen them with the assurance that if they believe the Gospel God forgives them all their sins through Christ, accepts them for his sake as God’s children, and out of pure grace, without any merit of their own, justifies and saves them. 

The method of preaching, no matter which tradition, can be simplified as telling people why they need Jesus, and how Jesus meets that need, and our lives change as we walk with Him.

In the Lutheran tradition, the method of communicating that is called preaching “Law and Gospel.  It has been a focus and method of our preaching since Martin Luther was still an Augustinian monk.  And the first president of the Lutheran Church gave a series of lectures which were turned into a book titled, “The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel”.  While this post will use the word “preaching” a lot, this rule is true for any conversation, whether from a pulpit or altar or over a pumpkin-laden coffee or a nice ale.  Preaching is not just a formal sermon or homily, it is any time we take a moment to help people realize their need for God and His response to their need.

Preaching law and gospel is a method, and it is far more than just preaching the law, checking off a box, then preaching the gospel and checking off the second box.  Unfortunately, we can often get in that mindset, settling for that simplistic understanding of the method.

Even worse, we often preach against sin with a bias.  Some sins may be more repugnant to a pastor, or to an individual, and they may try to eradicate that particular sin with more force.  We might even come across as trying to purify the church from sinners who have committed that particular sin, driving those who are guilty of it into despair, into hopelessness, further into the guilt and shame which already haunts them.  ANd some would applaud this, saying we really crucified that sin, that we nailed it to the cross. They might see the role of the preacher, or the evangelist as the drill instructor, yelling at his recruits, trying to help them save their lives.

But that denies the purpose of preaching and in fact is contrary to the concept of preaching law and gospel.  Reading the quote from the Formula of Concord above, preaching the law so that people fall become despondent and despair, is not appropriate.  For doing so drives them away from where they could find hope, and the goal of preaching the law is such that realizing their brokenness, we can bring them to Jesus, we can help them see the cross and its blessed meaning in their lives.

What a challenge, to help them see their brokenness, to help them see their need for Jesus, rather than just making them feel guilty and ashamed!  Helping them to seek a source for the transformation, a source that is provided by the Spirit, as He draws them to Jesus, and then in Christ to the Father.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he describes the purpose of preaching, the purpose of evangelism, which is far more than the method of preaching law and gospel.  The purpose is to reconcile people to God. To help them realize that Jesus was the offering for the sin they are haunted by, that causes them to feel so ashamed, so full of guilt.

Proper preaching acknowledges its mission, to reconcile people to Father, by drawing them back to Jesus.  The method can be the preaching of Law and Gospel, holding them in tension, but that tension is for the purpose of becoming the people of God, the people who know His mercy and feel compelled to explore the dimensions of His love for them.

And again, preaching is not just the formal presentation of a sermon, it is as we comfort those who are anxious, as we cry with those who weep, as we listen ot those burdened, helping them see God take care of their burdens.

This is our mission, it is our apostolate, why we are sent where we walk in this world, as we walk with the God who pours out His love and mercy on us, and through us. So remember this purpose as you are with family and friends, and even those who antagonize you.  Remember these words as you sit in your study, crafting your messages, listing to the Holy Spirit. And rejoice, for you know GOD is with you!

 

 

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 562–563). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.  (Formula of Concordia: Solid Declaration: V. Law and Gospel

The Context of our Future and Hope!

Jesus foot washingthe devotional thought of the day:

For this is what the LORD says: “When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you”—this is the LORD’s declaration—“and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and places where I banished you”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “I will restore you to the place I deported you from.”   Jeremiah 29:10-14  HCSB

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. 6 He poured out this Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Titus 3:4-6  HCSB

In the first quote above, the one from Jeremiah, there is an amazing and well-known quote.  For I know the plans I have for you” —this is the LORD’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope! 

But is even more amazing, give the context of it.

I’ve heard a lot of people quote this passage when they get into hard times, or when they don’t know what is coming next. But that isn’t the context. Which is why it is even more amazing.

God’s not giving a future and a hope to those who are His spiritual superstars, not the heroes of the faith either.  The context is those whose sins are so shameful, so repugnant, so evil that God had to lead them into captivity.

The people in context were banished, they were broken, they were dominated by seeking after their own welfare, and indeed, their own pleasure. They were in the midst of being disciplined, discipline as hard as any faced in scripture.  They lost their home, their country, and all the things they counted on to tie them to God.  The temple – gone.  The sacrifices – gone. The land promised to Abraham, Issac and Jacob.. gone.

Because of their sin.

And yet they were given a promise, a future, and a hope.  The assurance that when they ceased being the prodigal, God would still be there.  The promise of reconciliation and restoration, when the time is complete.

Like them, there are sometimes that we become dominated by sin, when we are as broken when we deserve to be punished and disciplined, and worse, we deserve the wrath of God. We deserve the same kind of treatment that He poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues He poured out on Pharoah and Egypt, the justice He poured out on the people of Noah’s time.

Yet for us, even as for the exiles, there is a future and a hope.  There is a God who promises He can be found, and when He finds us. He pours our something incredible on us.

His Spirit, the Holy Spirit who washes us clean with the word and the water.  Who revives and regenerates our broken lives, who renews our strength, so that we don’t faith.

This is the promise you received as God baptized you, as He claimed you as His.  When He declares that we are healed, cleansed, His people.

This is the promise of a future and a hope that we’ve been given.

Rejoice in it! Remember it!  Celebrate it!  Hang on to it, when things are challenging, when you life is broken, when you find yourself yielding to temptation and sin, and despair…

He has promised you to cleanse you, guaranteed by the cross.  AMEN!

How Do We Become the One, Separated from the 99

photo(35)

The Good Shepherd, carrying His own.

Devotional Thought of the Day….
3  “You must not have any other god but me. 4  “You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5  You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. 6  But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. Exodus 20:3-6 (NLT2)

9         When they talked to him about committing himself personally, his reaction was to reason in the following manner: “If I did, I could do that…, I would have to do this other… “ The answer he got was: “Here, we don’t bargain with the Lord. The law of God, the invitation of the Lord, is something you either take or leave, just as it is. You need to make up your mind: go forward, fully decided and without holding back; otherwise, go away. Qui non est mecum…— whoever is not with Me, is against Me.”

Back in the late 80’s, early 90’s there was a huge battle over something called “lordship salvation”.   The question pit some of the mega-church, whose services were on television and radio against each other. The battle also sold a lot of books for them as well, as they countered each other with the dedication of boxers, each looking for the knock-out punch. 

They battled over justification, could a person become a Christian unless they sold out completely to God.  Was He going to become your Lord and Master, and would you follow him perfectly?  They would use the parables like the king going to war without considering how his army matched up to his enemy or the man who built his house on rock versus sand. 

Neither side accounted for the ongoing struggle with sin.  Neither side considered the work of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, we need to regularly ask the question,  Are we praying to God, or an idol of our own making?  Do we worship God, for the love He has for us, revealed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, or do we create a God that will answer our own desires?

We need to think these things through, regularly.  Are we willing to go where God wants us to go?  To do what He asks us to do?  Or do we just do what we want, what we desire, what seemingly benefits us the most?

It is a hard question, but I like the way St. Josemaria phrases it.  Do we consider our relationship with God based on a plus and minus calculation of how it benefits or makes u uncomfortable?  

Do we struggle with the big decisions, trying to ascertain His will?  What if it means we lose? What if it requires us to suffer?

And what about the small everyday decisions, the challenges to bypass the temptations that leave us broken in sin?  For those too deal with the idea of hearing God, and relating to Him as he determines. 

So, where is the hope?  How do we deal with our own infidelity when it comes to God?  How do we admit we’ve turned from our relationship with God, and put in His place an idol?

We learn to do so, to go to God, so that He can deal with the guilt, the shame.  That He can remove us again.  For just as He called us originally, He will forgive us, and revive us and cleanse us.  That too is His promise, and what we need to cling to.  he will not reject us, indeed, He will continue to try and call us home, or bring us home, to unite us to the 99. 

It is worth the struggle, it is worth seeing what God has in store, it is worth it, for, in the end, our idols can’t answer us or help us, but God can…. and does. So let Him pick you up… and rejoice in resting in His care. 

What are the things you don’t like about what God wants in His relationship with Him?  Have you checked to see if they are actually Biblical?  How will you deal with them?

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 274-279). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Matters of the Heart: A sermon on Mark 7 from the Concordia Lutheran Church!

church at communion 2

(if you would rather see the service, and hear the sermon, it is posted on my FB page and at Concordia.org_

Matters of the Heart
Mark 7:14-23

Jesus, Son, Savior

May this grace, the love and mercy of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, show you how He is transforming your heart so that you can love Him and your neighbor!  AMEN!

 

The Gospel?  Really?  ( O wait = there it is …Bacon is fine!)

Passages like the gospel always bring out my sense of irony.

I mean, we read these nine verses, talking about how our vile hearts defile us, and then I get to say, “This is the gospel of the Lord!”

Using less religious language, “This is the good news that Jesus has for you!”Yeah!  Good news!  You are defiled because your heart is vile! Not really a balance there between Law and Gospel…this passage is 100% law. Well, Bob found some good news in it, in our deacons and pastor study Monday night.  There down within the parenthesis you see it, “Every kind of food is acceptable in God’s sight!”  Which means bacon and shrimp and lobster are as acceptable as broccoli or kale or that horrid pumpkin spice stuff that is invading our stores! But how do we take a passage so focused on our failure, our sin, our being defiled, and find good news there?  Where is the gospel in this gospel reading?Or put another way, while this passage tells us we really need help, how do we find it?  Or are we always going to be defiled by our vile hearts?

We are defiled/vulgar (but that isn’t what you think it means_

Inigo Montoya, the famous swordsman in Princess Bride, uttered these works. “You keep using that word (inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means!”We’ve got a couple of those words in today’s reading.  The first is the word defile.  It sounds like it means rotten, disgusting, horrid, sickening, to use an old word, gross.

It isn’t actually bad as bad as it sounds, though, in reality, it is worse.

It is the opposite of holy, it means common.  Which was the original definition of vulgar.

Using last week’s illustration about holiness, to be set apart for a special purpose, I said Missy’s guitar was meant to play music with, not to be used as a stepping stool to change a light bulb.  You defile something when you take something that has a special purpose and use it for something… far less.  Say instead of using it for playing beautiful music, Missy used her guitar to move fertilizer around her parent’s backyard.  That would be defiling is, making it something used for something in common.

Or imagine you are going into surgery, and you see the surgeon opening his latest package from Amazon with the same scalpel.

Our hearts’ purpose had never been to be the place of origin for sin. We were meant to be set apart, our purpose to be the people, the children of God.  We were set apart to dwell in His love, and love the family of God.  Sin simply wrecks that, destroying our heart and soul, making us no better than any other biological creature, controlled by physical needs and desire for pleasure.

Sin changes us, from being the children of God, and that sin comes from a heart that doesn’t recognize God.  And that sin finds its origin, not in the world, but in our hearts.  That is what Jesus keeps coming back too…

It is not what is us that is wrong, it’s not the bacon, it is the heart that is a glutton that causes the desire to overeat.  It’s not the beauty that causes the sin, it is the uncontrolled desire for pleasure.

It is what is within us, what controls our heart, and our will that causes us to engage in sin.

The gospel – a heart transplant The OT Promise

If this is true, then what hope exists for us, in this world so oppressed by the sin which has ensnared us? What hope is there for our friends, of children, our grandchildren? If all there is to life is living without a special purpose, without reason,

We find the law in the Gospel today, so let’s look back at the Old Testament to find the gospel.  If sin originates in our hearts, then what is underlined in this passage is the only way to deal with it.  Let’s read it together

26  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

There is our answer, a cardiac transplant. To allow God to change our heart, from the one in which sin, passed down from Adam, and which dominates our heart. Changing our heart like he did with David, making us men and women after God’s own heart, men, and women who share His desire.

This is the promise made sure in us, as it was for Ethan last week, as God pours water on us, and cleanses us from all sin, and He makes us His people.

This new heart changes us… and enables us to do things that please God, it allows us to walk with Him, and relate to Him.  For as He changes our heart, as He puts His Spirit in us, we return to being holy, a people are special to Him, for we are His children!

What does this mean?

How can we believe this, I mean, we still sin, don’t we?

How can sin still come from a heart that has been changed?  From a heart that is supposed to beat in rhythm with God’s own heart?  The simple answer is, that sin is the old us, and as we walk closer to God, depending on Him more and more, others may see the change in us, while we never do.

I think that’s so we never stop depending on God, so we learn to run to Him when we are tempted, so we learn to run to Him, assured of His mercy and forgiveness, so that we learn to run to the God who has poured water on us, cleansed us of sin, given us a new heart, put His Spirit within us…

and who promises this as well

6  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6 (NLT2) Amen!

The Necessity of the Lord’s Supper

Altar with communionDevotional thoughts of the day:
17  But in the following instructions, I cannot praise you. For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together. 18  First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. 19  But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized! 20  When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 1 Corinthians 11:17-20 (NLT2)

19 9. We believe, teach, and confess that no genuine believer, no matter how weak he may be, as long as he retains a living faith, will receive the Holy Supper to his condemnation, for Christ instituted this Supper particularly for Christians who are weak in faith but repentant, to comfort them and to strengthen their weak faith.

If liturgy is to survive or even be completely renewed, it is essential that the Church be rediscovered. I add: if people’s estrangement is to be overcome, if they are to find again their true identity, it is indispensable that they find again the Church that is not a misanthropic institution, but the new “we” in which alone the “I” can acquire its foundation and its security.

Paul’s admonish to the church in Corinth is one I think we need to hear today.  It is neither easy nor would it make sense to most Christians today. 

They might see the admonition as one solely concerned with what I call hospitality, the reason Paul admonishes them is that they don’t wait for each other and that the taking of the Lord’s Supper becomes a testimony to their division and their lack of love for each other. I think it is far more severe than that, for the Lord’s supper is not a simple meal.

It is given to us, this blessed Body and Blood of Christ, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to heal our very souls, to quench the doubts and empower a trust in Him that would result in seeing the world changed. 

And yet we neglect it.  We put it off and only celebrate it on occasion, or we rush out of church after it, unaware of what we have received, or if aware, minimizing it.  We don’t see it as what establishes us, as a “we” (the people of God) and gives a real identity to the “I”.

By the way, in regards to Pope Benedict’s use of misanthropic, I had to look the word up.  It is the exact opposite of philanthropic.  It is to hate mankind, a charge we have to take seriously, for I do believe many see us that way.  It shouldn’t be accurate; but many see us as trying to oppress mankind, rather than freeing them from guilt and shame. In many ways. our poor and unbalanced proclamation of sin and the gospel does this, as we close off communion to only those in the club, or make people think they have to be “good” enough or have a perfect understanding of theology in order to receive the gifts of God.

It is about His ministry, His welcoming us home, it is the feast for prodigals, the feast He throws, giving all of Himself, to lift us up, to nourish us, to help us realize we are united to Him.

It is there, at the altar, that the liturgy goes from being an ordeal to become a blessing of renewal.  It is there our hope is renewed, our lives transformed, our hearts and souls healed. 

It is what those outside the church need to see evidence of so that they too will be drawn into union with Jesus, through His death and resurrection. It is what those in the church need to have, that they may once again realize their sins do not separate them from God, for God separates the sin from them.

If the church is to find renewal, it will be here… celebrating the love of God given to us all, welcoming us home.  All of us. 

Don’t neglect this necessity in life, don’t diminish it, hear God’s words, hear what they promise, and then come, take and eat the Body of Christ broken for you… and drink of His blood, poured out for you, that makes you part of His family, and cleanses you of all your sin. 

You and I need this… so let us celebrate His love, together!  AMEN!

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 484). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 248). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Dare I pray this? Dare I not?

54e14-jesus2bpraying

God, who am I?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

23  God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. 24  Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity. Psalm 139:23-24 (NJB)

Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. 2 For the person who speaks in another •language is not speaking to men but to God, since no one understands him; however, he speaks •mysteries in the Spirit. l 3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement, and consolation. 4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but he who prophesies builds up the church.  1 Cor 14:1-4 HCSB

771    God exalts those who carry out his will in the very same things in which he humbled them.

There is a joke about being cautious as you pray for things like patience and faith, because surely God will hear those prayers, and give you the opportunity to see your growth.  Of course, the only way to see growth in those things is when you have to demonstrate them.

Even though the idea of having to be patient is scary, the idea of praying the psalmist pray this morning is even scarier.  To give God permission, to beg God to investigate every nook and cranny of our heart, our soul, our very being, and to make sure I am not doing anything offensive, anything evil, anything that would lead me to ruin.

God knows our right and our wrong, our acts of rebellion, our sin, but to invite Him in to purge them from us?  That is a hard prayer, that is one that scares me, for somehow I think that what I hide from him, what I deny to myself, somehow doesn’t count, it doesn’t affect me and others, it just was a passing moment, something I barely remember.

And yet, it is only after I pray that, only after letting Jesus carefully circumcise my heart, that I can begin to understand how great His love his and be in awe of His mercy. It is only then that I can begin to realize what it means to be the one He loves, and adore God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is only then that life begins.

A focus on such love, pursuing such love is essential for those of us who preach, who prophesy, who teach.  Whether it is to a parish of thousands, or to two or three in a elementary sunday school class.  I believe there is a distinct impact on preaching and teaching that comes from knowing we are loved.  Not just knowing it as a fact, but living in the midst of that love, knowing that love so well that we easily trust Him, even with the darkest parts of our lives.

It is as we are rescued from that darkness we can speak of it in a way that edifies the church, that lifts them up, that convinces them of the love of God.  THat allow them to realize that God loves them as well, that they can trust Him to transform them.

That when God humbles us, it is so that, cleansed of all that has damaged us, we can be lifted up, healed, and in awe, knowing He loves us.

Such is our calling, such is our relationship with HIm… and though this prayer still scares me, can we pray it together?

Heavenly Father, we count on our love, we acknowledge the need of the Spirit to come through our lives, cleansing us from our sin, our brokenness, our pursuit of things we know distress you. Lord, help us to pursue the love you told us you have, and counting on that love, search our hearts our souls and minds, Find the things that displease You and take them away, so that you may guide us on this way of everlasting life.

AMEN!

 

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1785-1786). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Who Told You? A Sermon on Genesis 3:8-15

church at communion 2Who Told You?
Genesis 3:8-15

In Jesus Name

May the Grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ convince you that instead of seeking a hiding place from God, you should seek the refuge you find in Him!

Who Told You?

In today’s first reading, the one from Genesis 3, there is a question that God asks Adam, one that is relevant to ask today.

Who told you?

Specifically, who told you that you were naked, literally that you were exposed, who told you that your sin was visible for all to see?  ( who was all anyway?)

How did you find out you had sinned, how did you come across that information?

Where did this guilt come from that drives you to do things that are as unnatural as the sin you are trying to hide?

As I thought about this question, it came to me that you and I need to ask that question today as we have to deal with our own brokenness, with our own sin, and the damage it does to us.

For I think we’ve been taught about sin in such a way that we react to it as Adam did, hiding, getting defensive, shifting blame, all in response to the guilt that convicts us far more cruelly than God would.

So who told you that you were exposed, that your sin was something so horrible that you had to hide?

Who told you to pass the blame?

As Adam was anxiously dealing with the idea that God found him.  As God asks Adam who told you that you were naked, did you eat of the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”  While all that is scrambling his mind, he comes up with an answer.

Not my fault God!  It’s her fault, you know, the one YOU gave me.   She gave me the fruit, and because she is a blessing from you, I listened to her.

And since then, some men have avoided that problem, simply by not listening to their wives!

Of course, that causes other problems, and is just as sinful!

But who told Adam that the best way to deal with sin was to pass the blame?  To hide behind Eve, rather than hiding behind a tree?  Who told him that he wasn’t responsible for stopping Eve from falling into sin?

In trying to defend himself, to justify his own sin, Adam finds himself guilty of more than one sin, he finds himself shattering more relationships and allowing sin to get a better and better hold on his soul.

We do this all the time, and so does most of the world.  When we fear getting caught when we know the guilt and shame and embarrassment that comes from doing something we know we shouldn’t do or refusing to do something we should.

Who told us to do that?  Who told us that we needed to be defensive, that a defense even needed to be given?  For that is as much of a lie as the temptation to sin was in the first place.

Yet Adam does it, as will Eve, who will follow the pattern and play the blame game, blaming the snake for deceiving her, for leading her into temptation.

Who told us to hide, to try and escape from God’s notice. Who told us to hide behind others, trying to get them to pay for our sin?

Who told you about Eve’s offspring?

I am not sure where we get this idea to hide from God, but we do it all the time, don’t we?

What we need to hear, is the last verse of the passage, for it tells us how sin is to be dealt with.  It is the very first prophecy about Jesus in the Bible, what Luther called the “proto-gospel”.

You see it on the painting on the cover of the bulletin, as the offspring of Eve crushes Satan and all his minions on the cross.  Even as the serpent sees Christ die, Satan’s efforts to dominate, to lead people away from God are crushed.

This is what we need to know!  That sin, Satan, and death are crushed at the cross of Christ.  We have been made free!

Seeking Refuge, not Hiding

There is something that drives us to hide from God, and from others, like our parents, our spouses, our children, even our pastor, when we sin.

It is ironic when we run from God when we hide behind someone else, I think what we are trying to do is to find a place of rest, a place where the effects of our sin are negated, and we think hiding will provide it.  We don’t understand there is an option, there always has been.

We can seek refuge in God, instead of seeking a hiding place from Him.

Instead of laying the blame off on others, Christ will willingly, even joyfully remove it.

Seek refuge, not a hiding place.

Which means seek a refuge in God, we allow Him to remove all the guilt and shame, all the anxiety over punishment, all the anxiety of having our sinfulness exposed to the world.

For that was why He was looking for Adam and Eve, and until the cross, why He put them out of the garden.  Not as a punishment, but to sustain them until Christ’s death and resurrection would cleanse them from sin, and they and all who trust and depend on God were given refuge, in the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

For there we find life, and peace that is beyond compare or comprehension.  For in Christ we are kept secure, our hearts and minds are in His possession.  AMEN!!!

Where Does the Strength to Praise God Come from?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional THought of the Day:
7  But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan’s messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. 8  Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9  But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ’s power over me. 10  I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (TEV)

604    Humbly acknowledge your weakness. Then you can say with the Apostle: Cum enim infirmor, tunc potens sum—“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
605    “Father, how can you stand such filth?” you asked me after a contrite confession. I said nothing, thinking that if your humility makes you feel like that—like filth, a heap of filth!—then we may yet turn all your weakness into something really great.

There is a point of burn out in ministry, at least that is what I have often thought.  There is a point where a pastor simply can’t take anymore, where the grief and the problems simply overwhelm his strength. We aren’t superheroes, after all, and it doesn’t take kryptonite to drop us into times of depression, into times of great angst, into times where we just aren’t sure of anything, at least in our minds.

And yet out of such times, can come the most incredible moments of praise.

Out of brokenness, when we realize how our sin has caused devastation when like the person confessing their sins wonders how their priest can stand the filth, only to hear that once that is cleansed, then God strength resonates through us.  He renews us in a way that we cannot even completely understand, protecting us as we stand in awe at His strength.  As He watches over us, as He guards us, as His power cares and comforts us in our brokenness, and as we live in a world horrifically broken.

It is in such moments, humbled, broken, we stop trying to play God, and our prayers finally reach out to Him.

He’s been there, for He never abandons his children.

Even when we struggle to see Him, even when we struggle to entrust our brokenness to Him.

Waiting to pour His love into us… waiting to show us His glory, as He redeems and reconciles us, our very lives, and uses us to spread His love to this unjust and broken world.

Father, help us realize our weakness, our brokenness, and humbly walk with You.  Help us to stop playing God, and realize again that You are God, and that you love us.  AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1438-1442). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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