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Our need for community, a special community.

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The church, is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought of the Day:
42  And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44  And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

As the Father is called Creator and the Son is called Redeemer, so on account of his work the Holy Spirit must be called Sanctifier, the One who makes holy.
37 How does this sanctifying take place? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion by purchasing us through his birth, death, and resurrection, etc., so the Holy Spirit effects our sanctification through the following: the communion of saints or Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In other words, he first leads us into his holy community, placing us upon the bosom of the church, where he preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

We often talk about the Body of Christ from a functional or clinical viewpoint.  That is, we will talk about it as we try to find people their place in the church, finding out what part they will play, what gifts they have.  Or we might use the concept clinically when one person is disrupting the unity of the church, and we appeal to them, reminding them that they are a part of the whole.

I think Luther, in explaining the work of the Holy Spirit, brings the topic up from a view that is not primarily functional.  Rather it is experiential, that the Holy Spirit brings us into the special community to reveal to us the dimensions of God’s love and transform us.  That transformation is called “sanctification”, which is another way of saying making us holy, setting us apart to a special relationship, to be one with God and all His family.

His family, His holy people, His holy community, His communion.

This is easy to say, but hard to accept, this idea that we are one body, that we are one community (no matter how fractured or impaired)  That we are one in Christ, which makes us one, even as Jesus and the Father (and the Spirit ) are one. That we live and move and have our being in Christ, as the Spirit sanctifies us, removing every bit of sin, causing us to live, reflecting the glory of Christ into the darkness of a world that doesn’t know hope.

We are, whether we want to admit it, one, holy, catholic (all of us in all places/times) holy and apostolic church.  This isn’t our work, it is what the Holy Spirit has established and drawn us into, even while we are being saved. This isn’t just a theological teaching or a pragmatic tool to use.  It is our reality, it is where we together explore the incredible dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ.

Let us pray, as Jesus prayed, that we all may be one!

 

Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 415). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Parts aren’t just Parts, They are the Church

Devotional Thought of The Day:

18 But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” 22 Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, 23 and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, 24 whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. 26 If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.  NABRE – 1 Cor 12:18-26

Our faith is not for ourselves alone; it is also for others. Faith wants to be shared. Consequently, it always involves a going out to others, going with the steps of a heart enlightened by the name of Jesus.  (1)

I can’t help but think of the the old catch-phrase. “parts is parts” when I come across this section of the 1 Corinthians.  So I looked it up, and it comes from an old fast food commercial, mocking another food chains description of their chicken product.  The basic idea that the 2nd chain’s employees tossed every part of the bird into the grinders – saying the description is “parts” and therefore any part meets the description.

We’ve come to the point in the church where I think we take the same attitude.  Toss anyone into any role, it doesn’t matter what their vocation, or their training.  After all – we are all believers; we are all priests and children of the king.  So we are like legos – and we can fit in anywhere.  Just plug them in, and keep building.  Don’t worry if they do or don’t fit there, don’t be concerned whether they burn out. Don’t treat them as an individual.  Cause parts are parts

The result of such is a generation of people who don’t value the church, because the church didn’t value them. The church didn’t take the time, invest in them, provided what they need, to be the part of the God designed them to be.

The problem with this attitude is that it doesn’t value the person, or the work God is doing through them.  It assigns to each person a generic value, and may even put them and others in spiritual danger. Sometimes, this is simply because the frustration leads them to give up on being “part” and they walk away.  Other times, their inaction leads a part of the body to get overlooked, and sometimes they drive others away because they don’t function well where we put them.

Each “part” has its place. A vocation where that person can share the grace and mercy, the peace and love that God has blessed them with.  Sometimes that is very surprising, both to them and to us. For all the interests and surveys ever written cannot adequately understand the plans of God.  As they find their  “part,” they do what they are called to do, and it is natural as they flourish, as all benefit of their talents, their gifts, and the knowledge and wisdom God gives them.

This takes faith, a trust in God that calls for discernment, as those who care and serve the church watch the “parts” come together, and shepherd them into places.  It takes patience, and understanding that we can only do what we have parts to do, and yet that work in and of itself is beautiful. )too often we force people into parts that aren’t their vocation and calling because we “have” to have that ministry, or offer this or that)

Each person has their place; each person has their vocation, their part.  When we allow them, and guide them to finding it, what we see is amazing.  It is nothing less than the Body of Jesus Christ.

(1)  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.

 

Will you let them see you….

Devotional after a long Day:

 15  Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. 16  Give the same consideration to all others alike. Pay no regard to social standing, but meet humble people on their own terms. .  Romans 12:15-16 (NJB)

442         Diamonds are polished with diamonds…, and souls with souls. (1)

On Sunday, the people of my church will promise to a little baby, to be there when she is full of joy, to cry with her when her heart aches.  In all things, to pray for her, and to remind her that the Lord is with her, for He has claimed her and united her to Himself.  And as a baptized belever, she will grow in this as well, and as we struggle, she will be there for us, and as we know Christ’s peace, she will as well.

That’s the way Paul says we are supposed to be, as Jesus church, the people called together as His own, whom He calls His friends (yeah He does – look it up) But since you are His sibling and son or daughter of God, as am I, we are siiblings, we are united together in Christ.  As Paul says

25  This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 27  All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. .1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT) 

But this is where we in the western world, seem to short circuit.  We don’t like people to know our “business”.  We don’t mind them knowing our successes, our joys, but dare we let them see us when we are crushed, bruised, hurting, anxious and scared?  When our health is failing, when someone is breaking our heart, when we are lost in sin, when we can’t escape its trap on our own, the causes of our pain and brokenness,

But will we dare to reveal ourselves, so that others can cry with us?  So that others can be there, and remind us Jesus is there.. Will we let them see us, let them minister to us, cr with us?  Will we we let their presence remind us of His presence, their love remind us of His love.

For the sake of the body… will we let it do what bodies are supposed to do?

I know it’s uncomfortable, I know its awkward, and we fear the embarassment….

O well, we are a family, let’s get used to being one…

For as that family, we have Christ, we have the Faher, and we have the Holy Spirit, the one who’s title is, the Comforter.

Will we cry out together, Lord have Mercy! and Maranatha! and Hallelujah?

If you want to see a church that does this… come join us at Concordia…

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1964-1965). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Body of Christ, united in Love…. that which remains!

That Which Remains…
1 Cor. 13

 

† In Jesus Name †

May your life be so lived in the mercy and love of God, that it resounds with trust, with hope and with the love of God!

 

For nearly two hundred years, the doors of a cathedral in Macao have stood open, and people have poured through them, cameras at the ready, with guards quickly reminding them that they couldn’t bring any food or drink into the church proper.

The day we visited there, you could not count the throng of people, as tour busses dropped people off at the base of the stairs, 66 steps below the church’s main doors, to see that hallowed ground.  The church was on top of one of the hills in the city, and looked over the streets below, where everything you could think of was for sale.

It was a bit eerie walking through the doors, as your eyes ran the length of the stone floor, as you looked to where the altar should be, as you saw people snapping pictures. You’ll see a picture of the church later, well, of the one way that has been all that has remained since 1830….

As I read today’s epistle passage about the incredible things we are given the ability to do, and their value if we do them without love, St Paul’s Cathedral comes to mind. A Church, a place, designated as holy ground, with people thronging and busily moving about it, but without the word of God, without the altar to which people are called to share in Christ’s feast, It too, is lacking.  For both, a ministry without sacrificial love, and a church without God’s word and sacrament, is worthless, a testimony of no value, a place where history may be celebrated, even bragged about, but no transformation, no repentance, occurs.

It may bring about awe for a moment, but really is a place of sadness, and regret.

 

Such is the nature of ministry without His love, no matter how great the charisma, not matter how many people throng and applaud the works done and the words said.

The Test

          How do we judge how well we are doing in our vocation?
As individuals?  As the church?
This test reminds me of 7-11 – we get a big gulp!
Just curious – how many people had 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding?  How many of you remember your wedding?

You all know that this isn’t just the standard for you marriage, but for every relationship, you are in…in your entire life?  Remember the two commandments? Love God with… (wait for answer) and love your…

So let’s take a test, and inventory of how well we love… how good we’ve gotten at it.  I’ll even give you a pass on your love for God, and we’ll just talk about your love for your spouse, your families, and your neighbors and coworkers.  So in this test – at the bottom of the prayer list, you have a little chart. First column goes the Bible’s characteristic of Love… then the second is your grade, pass or fail.  The third would be the church’s grade.

Number One, put a check in the box a1 if you are patient and kind with you spouse if you are married, with your family (including in-laws) and with your neighbors and co-workers. Patient is from the word long-suffering  and kind is to be merciful, willing to forgive and restore people to their original relationship with you…  Okay, if you do that – no exceptions – put a check there.

Now put a check in box 1B if you believe the church has the same characteristic.

 

Same for box 2a and 2b if you are never jealous of what your spouse, your family or neighbors and co-workers have or do.  Or if you never show off what you have.  What about us as a church.  Are we jealous that another church has a better…. Hmm well no other church has a better congregation or music team… O wait – just bragged about us – no check there!

Box 3a and 3b – Are you ever one who has to have your own way, that your spouse, your children, your neighbors have to do things your way or else it is not good enough?  What about us as a church – do we demand we do things our way – and if others don’t like it, well they aren’t real Christians anyway, so who cares about them?

Box 4a and 4b  – any of us easily irritated by our spouses, by our kids and/or grandkids, or that one co-worker, or the neighbor who plays their music too loud?  What about the person who bashes Christianity?  You can only put a check in the box if you ever irritable…

What about box 5a an b?  Do we ever, as individuals, keep a records about the things people do wrong, or the sins people sin against us?  The things of the past – that we said we forgave, yet still remember – and still hold against them?

Do we do that as a church?  Have we realized that God’s grace doesn’t just cleanse our slates of our sin, but the sins committed against our people?

 

I suppose I could go on, and deal with the rest of the list, but I am already feeling a little cymbalistic and worthless….

How many of us can claim to be loving, to act, towards all people in every instance in the ways described in this passage?

It’s a pretty sobering inventory…but I am not sure that we totally grasp the passage, and what it means.  Matter of fact, I think we take it one of two ways.  As a naïve romantic statement about how the perfect marriage will be… or perhaps, as a list to prove how messed up we are, or our spouse is.  I mean – aren’t they supposed to never lose faith, never give up and endure every circumstance?

Used the wrong way, this passage becomes a great weapon to beat others into the ground with, or to beat ourselves up with!  Either way, everything becomes like St Paul’s Church/wall in Macau… a sorrow-ful shell of what once was a vibrant place filled with the presence of God.
But Paul was showing them a better way

         


That is why we always need to consider the context of our reading.  We need to take into consideration not just our chapter, but the ones before and after it.  We need to look at the entire book as well.

In this case – we started the reading by Paul talking about showing a better way – so we have to ask, a better way than what?  Last week you heard Mike talk about how the body of Christ is knit together, with each having its own role, and how we are one, even as we rejoice together, and cry together, as we show compassion and as we love.

In this reading, he gets deeper into the mystery that is the body of Christ, How we are bound together, how what God does in us, as a diverse body, is yet a ministry that is whole and one.

It is something that requires something beyond our vision, beyond our comprehension.  The purest love, the kind that will bring life to that which is empty and hallow.  The kind of love that will be impossible to explain, yet give meaning to it all…
The kind of love that comes only as we live, together, in Christ.

 

The kind of love that is the life of the church.. That is our life.

What remains…of us

          That which we trust in..
That reason we have hope

          The very love…of Christ

 

I think that is perhaps my biggest take away from this trip, as I worked with young missionaries, who are living in the shadow of a church, that is but a wall.  For reasons I can’t get into in the sermon, they can go without the Lord’s supper for a month, or ever two or three.  They don’t get to celebrate with the family of God, the very gifts that God has for them.

It shows.  A pastor like me is treated like a royal guest, not because I am the greatest preacher or teacher, but because I bring them a tangible reminder of God’s love.  The words of absolution, the word of God around which they can gather and celebrate, the precious, life giving, life renewing celebration and feast – where they can know God’s love.  I introduced them to the concept of how we shared God’s peace with each other, after the words of institution, before we feast together as we commune.  The fact that the Body and Blood of Christ is shed for them, that because of it there is God’s peace among them.  Fifteen people from two cities, people that work together, yet… need the power of God’s love, and yeah – they learned to pass the incredible peace of God.

Do we even begin to realize what the love of God brings into our life?  Do we understand how it cleanses, and reconciles and forgives?  Do we realize how it is the very skeleton and the blood that pumps through our lives?

Do we even realize it is why we are here?

Those characteristics, they aren’t about us, though we should strive to imitate the one they describe.

The reason that the the gifts and talents and abilities we have – no matter how great or how small – have meaning, is that love…the reason the church can overcome sin, see reconciliation comes down to this.
The Lord of love…is with you.

AMEN?

Harmony in the Body of Christ…is journeying together…

Devotional:discussion thought of the Day…

 28 And not to mention other things, every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 When someone is weak, then I feel weak too; when someone is led into sin, I am filled with distress. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (TEV)

 15 Rejoice with others when they rejoice, and be sad with those in sorrow. Romans 12:15 (NJB)

One of the biggest challenges I see in the church today, is our apathy towards interdependence.  Whether it be within a congregation, or within a brotherhood of churches, we don’t function as one organism much any more, save in the political sphere.  In my blog today, I want to address this – at the brotherhood/synod/denominational level.

I’ve heard little churches blast big churches, often for stealing their sheep, or doing things that seem condescending.  I hear big churches complain about the return of investment that little churches have – and the only way some will offer help is if the little church turns the deed of their facility over to the big church.   The idea of area churches meeting for a time of fellowship is almost unheard of now in our area, because we tend to be a bit paranoid.  I will confess this as well, as I’ve the smiles I’ve seen when a pastor tells me about how some of my people are fitting into “his” church, I interpret as a smirk, or  a subtle jab.

But if it is true that the way to revitalize a congregation is to actually bring the people together, and show them what they have in common – their needs, their brokenness, and Christ healing them, bringing them together, then this should be the way we get together as well.  Not to iron out the differences, not to see who is willing to compromise or not, but rather, before the throne of God, the place where there is no division – we are all equally sinful, all equally needed, all equally blessed.  W e won’t find unity just in a honest discussion of differences…

I love that Paul was willing to voice his concern – his care – his anxiety even, over those churches he knew.  His comprehension of the interdependence, the sympathetic bind that caused what happens to one to affect all is incredible.  The words sympathetic- not just as a …. emotional heart tug – but a simultaneous reaction to the pain, the sorrow, the grief over sin, the joy over new life.  Like a body when the toe is stubbed, or we are bruised – the entire body reacts – so should it be with us.   When we are praying with another, when we are at their side, or their at ours, as we beg Jesus for His mercy, His intercession – that is where harmony begins, that is where peace allows us to heal in ways our logic and strength cannot.

And as we are healing, as we are helping each other, praying with each other – then growth occurs, our defenses drop, our unity in Christ becomes manifest….

For we dwell in His peace…together.

The Breakfast Club Sermon

If a Man’s Home is His castle
God’s People are His Temple!

Eph 2:11-22

 

In Jesus Name

 

May we realize that God has brought the gospel of peace to those who were far off, and to those who have been near, and in so doing, has made us into the place where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell!

Looking in from the outside

 

The most powerful memory from my high school back east was of a morning in a  hallway, where I first realized how much I lived my life on the edge.

We all arrived early, some on the bus, some dropped off, some just because.  There was my best friend John, a gymnast he was heading to the weight rooms. Bill – the star athlete, president of the class, and he was heading to Mrs. Johnson’s Algebra II class.  Mike, well, Mike had interactions with various pharmacology, and was heading for an area we called the “hash block.”  Another friend was heading to band practice, and another to autoshop – which was his second home.  I think that of the 15 kids that hung out for 20 minutes, that of them every major clique in the school had representation.  We hung out there…

every morning, for nearly two years…

It was one cold February morning, whenI realized I lived on the edge.  As I was watching my friends, talking to some, I came to the conclusion that I lived on the edge.

Not the edge of danger, life filled with danger type edge.

But the edge of all their cliques, not really one of the brains, though we were in the same classes, not one of the jocks, though I ran and played with them, though I was a musician, the band geeks were a marching band – and you can’t carry your baby grand down main street.  I knew the druggies and gearheads through my brother.  I knew them all, yet, wasn’t part of their groups.

I was on the edge.   Maybe some of you know what I mean, or maybe you wanted to be in one group – but found yourself in another – shut out from where you wanted to be – an outsider, and maybe you tried to force your way in.  Maybe you still are trying to find that group to which you belong.

Paul’s description – painful but accurate?

         

In Paul’s epistle this morning, he is writing to those God has gathered together and made one in the city of Ephesus.  In verse 11, he brings up the pains of their pasts – he reminds them that they were once on the edge, outside, not part of the group.
He reminds them that they were call names by those who thought they were cool. The phrases Paul writes, one after another, pounded in reminders of the feelings of being excluded, of the pain of realizing that life seemed somehow empty, and there were not part of the group that had it made.  Basically, because you weren’t part of the family, because you didn’t know God, you were without hope.

By the way, there is a subtle reminder to humble those who think they are in the right group.  Paul says, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts”   I would realize much later, that those who made a big deal about being in this clique or that one, were the ones most insecure in those connections, who weren’t sure they belonged.  Same thing in regards to our faith – those who compare themselves as far better than those outside of the faith, are the ones who need to find confidence in God’s work, rather than their own, to take it from being just an outwardly projected image, to seeing the image of Christ in them.
Returning to those of us former outsiders to whom Paul writes. It still seems strange to me, that there are those of us, who are comfortable in living on the edge.  It is as if we desire to be part of the group, yet can’t bring ourselves to risk the rejection, as we may have, once or twice in life.

Will they accept me, both the good and the bad? If this is true with the cliques of our youth, it may be true of our adulthood.  I hate to say it – but sometimes those fears have been proven, as people become part of a church, and struggle with the fact that sometimes we are more comfortable with each other, than the stranger who just walked in. How many in this world, are just looking for a group to belong to, a place where they are no longer the outsiders, living on the edge.

 

We’ve been re-created – a new people.

 

There are reason behind Paul bringing up these memories. First, we need to remember how incredible our Lord is, and how mind-blowing what He has done for us is.

You see the hard memory of the past is to be compared to where we are now, in the present.  I want to re-read these words with you.

13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. 14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us.

You’ve been united with Christ!  You aren’t going to get anymore “in” than that.  The one whom all exists for and you are close, He has brought you near to the Father – close and loved.  Hear some more

 

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20

 

You belong!  Not just as the newbee, the one on probation – you are members of the family!  You have been brought with Christ – and God is the One who called you and I into this incredible relationship, – one more – verse 21!


22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

In comparing where we were – on the edge, on the outside looking in, without hope, to being an integral part of the people of God, a active and needed part of the body, we have been given hope, as the prophet Jeremiah tells a broken people who found themselves outside and on the edge.  He said,

“This is God’s word on the subject…., “29:11 I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:10- 11 (MSG)

And in Christ, that hope is not some far off and barely possible thing, but as the word used to mean – that which we have 100% confidence in, it is our expectation, because God has given us His Holy Spirit as a guarantee of this.

Look whose here…

I said that there were a number of reasons Paul would bring up our painful pasts, the feelings of not even having been abandoned, the feelings of not belonging in the first place.

It is to keep us humble, to help us from becoming, now that we are the people of God, like those who were proud of a circumcision that was only physical, that wasn’t the cutting away of the crap around our hearts, the sin and effcts of sin that can change us, and make us cold.

A number of times Paul helps us with this as well, as he explains that God is pulling all people into Christ, and therefore into His presence.  Hear His words

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.

 

15b  He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

 

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

Together, we are the people of Christ – He has brought us all into Him, and joined us to Himself, that He can bring us into the presence of the Father.  The second reason to cause us to remember we were outside, is to explain how much we have all become one.

The sermon has a long title.  If a Man’s Home is His castle God’s People are His Temple!  God’s home isn’t created out of wood and stone, His temple isn’t one built of human hands.  It is a house, a lineage, a people, that He Himself as called together, united, together, joined together,

Made one.

 

20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.

One of the things I realized as I grew older, was that as one who lived on the edge, I was part of those groups – all of them.  They weren’t so different than I am, and that each of us, is being called to be part of a bigger group, a real family, where burdens are shared together as we give them to God.  For what defines us, what makes us who we are, is not our personas that we show to the public, not our gifts and abilities and differences and things we have in common, It is Christ, who has made us His.

We see a glimpse of it here, at this altar, as we will feast together, with our Lord, with our Savior, the One who made us His people, the one who calls us together in a life that knows peace.

AMEN?

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