An Everlasting Sign
† I.H.S. †
As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in…
Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.
Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes. They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon. You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.
Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.
There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.
Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?
And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?
Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?
Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire. After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought. Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.
We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!
But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God. They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs. We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.
Again, do we see the rain and snow here? Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink. His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.
It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.
It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.
The change is real – let’s see it!
So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.
Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?
Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?
Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause. The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.
I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.
Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism. Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast. Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.
And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments. The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3 Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
83 Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.
There are times where the actions of people affect us. Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression. Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.
This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish. As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.
I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected. Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.
So how do you cope?
St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree. The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him. They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.
Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.
That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way. Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection, When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children. We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us. Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.
This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy. Satan will buffet us all the way. This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness. This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 (NAB)
23 Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, 24 knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (NAB)
277 You ask me, “Why that wooden cross?” And I quote from a letter: “As I raise my eyes from the microscope, my sight comes to rest on the cross—black and empty. That cross without a corpus is a symbol; it has a meaning others won’t see. And I, tired out and on the point of abandoning my work, once again bring my eyes close to the lens and continue. For that lonely cross is calling for a pair of shoulders to bear it.” (1)
It is Friday, and I am sitting in my office, trying to get my act together, to prepare an inspiring sermon. I’m tired, my allergies are not helping! Neither is a sore back. I want to whine and complain and go home and escape into a television show, or more likely a book.
And I know even those who aren’t tired are counting down the hours until the work day is over, and then get that rush of energy which signifies that it is the weekend!
O wait – the laundry needs, to be done, the garage cleaned, the …..
The energy drains and we are back to being tired.
As I was reading this morning, I was reading the book of Colossians, lots of good rich teaching in that work of Paul. Could have written about anything from preaching and baptism to the fact we dwell in and for Christ. IN fact, I was thinking about writing on the incredible song of praise that starts in 1:15, until I got to Josemaria’s writings, and the quote in blue above.
“Tired and abandoning my work….”
Uhm, yeah – I have not only been there, I am there.
And the ministry waits… and yet the cross has no body…
Will I bear my cross?
Part of me wants to say no, I’m too tired. I hear the invitation to bear the cross as one demanding more sacrifice.
Then I remember the other cross, the one where I am there, and His body has taken it up. There love is revealed in all of its fullness, where I find hope beyond belief. Where joy is the focus, not the shame (see Heb 12:1-3) Where I am invited to die with Him, that I may live with Him.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether my work is writing a manuscript from which to preach from, or listening to a co-worker, or a friend. “Whatever you do” Paul reminds us – all of it do in God’s name, for His glory, knowing we have already been guaranteed a reward of all of eternity, sharing in His glory.
To run to bear our cross, to embrace the work, even the suffering is not just a challenge, it is an opportunity to experience God, to know His presence that sustains us. For while we were nailed to a cross with Christ, He is with us, as we bear our cross.
Knowing that, the work takes on a new meaning, a time of contemplation, a time where His peace overwhelms my brokenness, my tiredness.
God is with you, share the work with Him, as a child shares their work with their dad.
Have a blessed Friday!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 735-738). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
16 I have complete confidence in the gospel; it is God’s power to save all who believe, first the Jews and also the Gentiles. 17 For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.”
Romans 1:16-17 (TEV)
When relating these events in his Gospel, Saint Matthew continually emphasizes Joseph’s faithfulness. He kept the commandments of God without wavering, even though the meaning of those commandments was sometimes obscure or their relation to the rest of the divine plan hidden from him. The Fathers of the Church and other spiritual writers frequently emphasize the firmness of Joseph’s faith. Referring to the angel’s command to fly from Herod and take refuge in Egypt,7 Saint John Chrysostom comments: “On hearing this, Joseph was not shocked nor did he say: ‘This is strange. You yourself made it known not long ago that he would save his people, and now you are incapable even of saving him—we have to flee, to set out on a long journey and spend a long while in a strange place; that contradicts your promise.’ Joseph does not think in this way, for he is a man who trusts God. Nor does he ask when he will return, even though the angel left it so vague: ‘Stay there, until I tell you to return.’ Joseph does not object; he obeys and believes and joyfully accepts all the trials.”8 Joseph’s faith does not falter, he obeys quickly and to the letter. To understand this lesson better, we should remember that Joseph’s faith is active, that his docility is not a passive submission to the course of events. For the Christian’s faith has nothing whatever to do with conformity, inertia, or lack of initiative. Joseph entrusted himself unreservedly to the care of God, but he always reflected on events and so was able to reach that level of understanding of the works of God which is true wisdom. In this way he learned little by little that supernatural plans have a logic which at times upsets human plans.
There are days where it is a challenge to live by faith, to live in view of the brutal world where people are butchered, tortured, and enslaved. There are days where the pain is much closer, a friend struggling with cancer, a son dealing with the death of a parent, the parent dealing with the death of a child. It can even be more of an irritant, an argument among friends, or even a relationship being broken, a relationship between people who should be united, but can’t get past their brokenness.
Some may dismiss these latter things by noting that we are sinners, that we are supposed to be broken, that what we need to do is be confident in our absolution. Surely that is true for sins in our past, but the danger lies in assuming that such a lack of faith is appropriate for tomorrow. The lesson that some will hear is that we don’t have to be concerned about loving our neighbor, caring for the widow and orphan, and if we fail to because of self-interest or greed or apathy? Oh well, confess it, and be confident in your forgiveness.
St Josemaria, in talking about Joseph, quotes one of the key verses for Martin Luther. The just shall live by faith! But what does that mean? Does it mean that we are simply quickened (as the old Creed says) and are alive because of faith, or does it mean we actually LIVE, day by day, moment by moment, dependent on God, trusting Him for what He has promised, revelling in the joy of His presence, even when life sucks?
That is life by faith, life in Christ, real life, the kind of life that accepts what comes to us, trusting and depending on God. This was ultimately freeing to Luther, not just in absolution, but in living. For Joseph, Escriva claims it gave him the strength to obey the angelic visitation that occurred in dreams (unlike Mary who encountered the angel face to face.) He just went, because he trusted God. He went depending on God, despite the oddities, despite the lack of answers, despite the appearance that God didn’t care.
You want to be right? Live this way, dependent on God, so dependent that obedience becomes more natural, and that when we fail, we run for forgiveness – in both cases dependent on the promise of God… How does this grow? Through encountering Christ through His word, through sacraments like the Eucharist, and through prayer and meditation on Christ.
For this is life!
Escriva, Josemaria. Christ is Passing By (Kindle Locations 1355-1371). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT)
502 If bare justice is done, people may feel hurt. Always act, therefore, for the love of God, which will add to that justice the balm of a neighbourly love, and will purify and cleanse all earthly love. When you bring God in, everything becomes supernatural. (1)
We live in a day where the cries for justice are ringing out, or do we?
At least the cries that sound call for justice.
But I don’t think we know what justice is anymore. If justice is based on an outcome that is demanded, It is justice? if in seeking justice, we have to commit injustice to achieve it, is it right?
Will will seek after justice if we, or our way of life is that which is found unjust? Will we as readily accept our punishment and suffer for what we’ve done, (or not done) that led to unjust actions?
Do we want bare justice? An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, ruination for ruination?
Because if we do, we don’t want true justice, we don’t want the other term scripture uses for justice, righteousness.
God showed His righteousness, His justice at the cross, When the value of those who act unjustly was seen – God’s righteousness, God’s justice meant He had to take on the burden of injustice, and make it just and right. That those who were once unjust, could walk into the presence of God Almighty peacefully.
I don’t know whether the which of those in Ferguson or New York, Cleveland or in the interrogation rooms of the CIA, in the Ukraine, the Middle East, the Ukraine, etc are just in God’s eyes. Well let me re-phrase that – none —- none are.. Yet all who believe, all who have been cleansed by God are now right. for they dwell in the One who determines what is righteous and what is just. ….
Praise God my friends… this is a marvelous thing that brings us hope and peace.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1916-1920). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought of the day:
4 “Israel, remember this! The LORD—and the LORD alone—is our God. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (TEV)
1 So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. 2 Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (TEV)
485 At times, someone has told me: “Father, I feel tired and cold; when I pray or fulfil some other norm of piety, I seem to be acting out a farce…” To that friend, and to you, if you are in the same boat, I answer: A farce?—What an excellent thing, my child! Act out that farce! The Lord is your audience—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Trinity is contemplating us in those moments when we are “acting out a farce”. Acting like that in front of God, out of love, in order to please him, when our whole life goes against the grain: how splendid, to be God’s juggler! How marvellous it is to play one’s part for Love, with sacrifice, without any personal satisfaction, just in order to please Our Lord! That indeed is to live for Love. (1)
It is Monday, the day after a long work day. Church was phenomenal, but then a meeting at another church drained me, and knowing that this week is booked absolutely full, I started on my research for this week’s sermons. One of my best friends I woke up early to pray with, as he faces surgery, and I am concerned for several others facing trials. I also have some pounding going on above me, and other issues of frustration.
It’s monday, and my devotional time is dragging. Let me be honest, I am to tired emotionally, I am to anxiety laden, I am overwhelmed and I don’t really feel like writing this blog, or spending time in prayer, or doing my devotional reading. (which happened to be on confession and absolution…. gee thanks God!) I don’t really feel like being holy today. I don’t want to just go through the motions either, and pray, and read and worship. If I don’t feel like being holy, setting apart my time and my life to God, I really don’t want to just fake it.
Maybe I should skip it my devotional time. After all, it’s only one day. I’ll be in a better mood on Wednesday, or maybe Friday. My blog hasn’t been read much anyways (writing this is part of my discipline ), and I’ve got a ton of work to do. Three extra services, picking up some of the work my friend would do, people recovering that I need to visit. I could so easily justify skipping this once….
Then of course, as I drag through my devotions, I found the above quote from St Josemaria. Tell you something – sometimes I really dislike how much a Catholic Saint who died nearly 40 years ago knows me. I feel like a farce, a fraud a hypocrite, even as I highlight things in my reading, and the meditative thoughts the word of God kicks into motion. I warm to some of it – but Leviticus? Really? And the part about worship was awesome, but the paragraph upon paragraph that drudged on through the book of concord…. sigh
Escriva notes that there is an option between doing this enthusiastically, and doing it as a hypocrite. It is doing it, admitting the struggle, but knowing the love and mercy of God the Father that will become more and more apparent. Being a living sacrifice is an act of love, even when I am not sure why I keep going. To strive to keep interested, to strive to see how Christ is revealed, to wait and the blessing He has for us.
To adore Him enough to trust Him that this time together will be cleansing, refreshing, empowering, but most of all peace-filled, glorious rest in His presence. To drink deeply of His love.
it is in the dead times, even perhaps more than the rebellious times, that I need to offer myself to God and keep moving with Him. That I need to realize His presence, His promises, His comfort. The kind of things that are apparent in His word, that the saints who’ve gone before us lived and died to pass down to.
It is such time when saints are made…. and sustained.
So cry out Lord, I trust you, help me to trust you!
And know His answer… come, follow me.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1858-1866). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thoughts for the day:
Matthew 5:43-45 (MSG) 43 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ 44 I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, 45 for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.
Mercedes Morado and Begoña Alvarez, who were among those who worked with Monsignor Escrivá for years, wrote that his spirit of forgiving and understanding toward those who slandered him grew progressively, to the point where he could say in all simplicity, “I don’t feel any resentment toward them. I pray for them every day, just as hard as I pray for my children. And by praying for them so much, I’ve come to love them with the same heart and the same intensity as I love my children.”30 He was putting onto paper something of his own personal experience when he wrote, “Think about the good that has been done to you throughout your lifetime by those who have injured or attempted to injure you. Others call such people their enemies…. You are nothing so special that you should have enemies; so call them ‘benefactors.’ Pray to God for them: as a result, you will come to like them.”31 On another occasion, Encarnita Ortega witnessed how he reacted when told that Father Carrillo de Albornoz had left the Society of Jesus, later apostatizing from the Catholic faith. Monsignor Escrivá was visibly moved and deeply sorry. He buried his head in his hands and fell silent, withdrawing into himself, praying. Salvador Canals reminded him that this same man had once organized a very serious campaign of slander against the Work. Monsignor Escrivá interrupted him bluntly, “But he is a soul, my son, a soul!” (1)
Facebook is becoming more and more for me a place of sorrow, a place I dread to go.
The reason is, in part, the present governmental crisis, the shutdown of the government.
But my sorrow isn’t caused by that, but by the reactions of many friends, most of whom are followers of Christ. Yet, even as they fall on both sides of the issue, they do so with anger and wrath to an extreme I haven’t seen yet in my life. They act like they are the survivors of church bombings in Pakistan, or the other persecutions that is literally costing lives – not just money, in this world. Again – I long for real discussion on these issues – but not this series of diatribes against President Obama or against the Republican leaders. Will the people of God grow up? Will we return our focus to things that truly matter, like the salvation of souls? The healing of wounds caused by sin?
Or will we major in the minors? Will we continue to neglect a need for God, because our focus is on governments, or economics or protecting ourselves? Will we mourn over sin, over those who choose separation from God, and will we rejoice when prodigals come home? Heck, will we seek them out, even as Christ sought the treasures in the fields
Will we become like Christ – who embraced suffering, so others could be healed, so others would know life as the children of God?
In order to do that, we’ll need to develop that same kind of spirit that was observed in Escriva. And I would be keen to note that it grew in him – it obviously needed to.
Is our reputation, our feelings, even our own personal well-being worth more than a soul that is broken, that is so easily healed by God’s mercy and grace? Can we put the best construction on our enemies and adversaries work? On those who battle in Washington D.C. or in St Louis, or here in our backyards?
Or are their souls worth trying to bring God’s light to? Are they worth mourning? Are they worth sacrifiing time to pray for them, and the effort to love them?
Lord have mercy on us – and help us minister to those who oppose us,, or whom we think oppose us. Develop in us the heart of Stephen the deacon/martyr, and may our spirit grow, and may that growth itself encourage others to depend on you.
(1) Urbano, Pilar (2011-05-10). The Man of Villa Tevere (Kindle Locations 1819-1832). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Forgiveness – A Stumbling Block Or An Anchor? (pearlsofwisdomconsultingservices.com)
- Encountering others on Holy Ground. (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Persecution, Martyrdom, the Love of Christ…. and a hard lesson in prayer (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Love Them, Love Them, Love Them: Discipleship lessons from the gym…and Coach C (justifiedandsinner.com)
- Have We Shut Down…the church (justifiedandsinner.com)
“Holiness is attained with the help of the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls, through grace given us by the sacraments and as a result of a constant ascetical struggle. My son, let us not have any false illusions about this. You and I—I will never tire of repeating it—will always have to struggle, always, until the end of our lives. So we will come to love peace, and we will spread peace around us, and we will receive our everlasting reward.” (1)
It’s time to get back to work, back to the grind of daily ministry, of seeing the list of prayer requests great me from being a week away. Glad to see some praises there as well, glad to see what people are thankful for in their lives. But it is time to get back to work.
It never really left of course. There were those in Rome that struggled with life, and with issues. There were people we met and talked to, who didn’t understand the magnificence of God’s glory, that was testified all around them in the artwork of mankind. But now I am home, with my family, with my church family, the people that have bonded together while we have sought peace.
Holiness is a struggle, and as St Josemarie says, an ascetical struggle. But I’ve come to realize ascetical isn’t about what you are giving up, it isn’t about sacrifice of things noble and good. It is the sacrifice of things which distract us from God, from His love, His mercy, His glory… and yes, the peace that we come to love. it is so counter-cultural to our world that we cannot grasp onto it easily. The televisions and music blaring, the things that crave attention of our senses. Each, if not focused on God, robs us of some of His peace. Each, if focused on God, draws us into that peace, into that life where it makes sense.
It’s good to be back, it’s good to look at Jude and the passage on which I shall preach tomorrow… it’s good, because even more than standing in the Basilicas of Rome, in the chapels, and in the oratory, it is here that I will find peace…. among the people I have been called to share that peace with,
It is a struggle, but a very joyous one. For God gathers us together, as His people, called and marked by His Name…into His presence… may we always recognize the glory that comes in such times.
It is good to be home!
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1647-1651). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.