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The Cost of Fixing Injustice

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought for our day:
22  Then Peter took him on one side and started to remonstrate with him over this. “God bless you, Master! Nothing like this must happen to you!” Then Jesus turned round and said to Peter, “Out of my way, Satan! … you stand right in my path, Peter, when you look at things from man’s point of view and not from God’s”
24  Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it. For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world at the price of his own soul? What could a man offer to buy back his soul once he had lost it? Matthew 16:22-26(Phillips NT)

When you want to control your abandonment in the hands of God, the tenderness of your filial relationship is lost. Neither ideology nor psychoanalysis or sociological interpretation of the mystery knows of tenderness. Rather, they know the art of manipulation, not of caress.

You want the world to change.

You can’t understand why the problems in our society exist, why there is hatred, why people can’t work together.  You want them to change (whoever “them” is) and you easily get frustrated by their actions.

I get that, I am tired of my own anger at people who are angry at people who are angry because they are reacting against what they perceived as unjust.

I’ve got some news for you (and it applies to me), the change and the peace we seek doesn’t begin with their change, it begins with the change that needs to happen in us, in you and me.  It starts with your giving up all rights to yourself.  It starts with your relationship to God.  It starts with you letting God be God and trusting Him to do exactly what He promised to do in our lives.  You need to let Him guide you in life, and listen and follow. Not partially, but totally.

As Pope Francis notes, you can’t really control your abandonment in the hands of God.

There is a reason for this, which he explains as “the tenderness of our filial relationship is lost”.  What that means is that as we play God, as we determine we are in control of our lives, we forget and lose track of our relationship with God.  We forget about the fact we are His beloved children (hence filial – that of a son), we forget that He desires we walk with Him. , we forget about the love our Father in heaven has for us.

All this happens as we try to take control of our destiny, for 10 minutes or for a lifetime.  THat is what Jesus talks about in that trying to save our life, we lose, but if we abandon it to the care of the Father, to the guidance of the Spirit, to the work of Jesus on the cross, we gain it.

And we gain a sense of justice, a sense of righteousness that God fills our life with.  We realize that righteousness means we love those we consider unlovable, and rather than just condemn those who acts are unjust and unrighteous, we put them in God’s hands,  We pray that He would spare them by transforming them just as He is doing to us.  We work to help them realize they are His beloved children and that He has saved them from their sin.  That is how injustice is fixed, first as we remember that Jesus’ work has committed us into the Father’s hands, and then, abandoning our will, our destiny, our life into his hands, we see Him work miracles, reconciling others through our work, as He guides us to love them.

Easy?  No, and yet yes.  He does the work!  We have to just stop fighting Him…..

The cost?  Already paid for on the cross of Calvary.  The blood of Christ that was spilled that sin would be covered, and separated from the sinner.

This is our hope, whether the injustice is minor, or national.  That Christ came to redeem the ungodly, and we have seen it happen in our lives.

So go, in His name, and love.

Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.

Stop the Noise!!!!

ST MARY OF PEACEDevotional Thought of the Day:

5  Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. 6  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. 7  My victory and honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. 8  O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

179         Days of silence and of intense grace… Prayer face to face with God… I broke out into thanksgiving, on seeing those people, mature in years and experience, who opened out to the touch of grace. They responded like children, eagerly grasping the chance to convert their lives, even now, into something useful… which would make up for all the times they have gone astray and for all their lost opportunities. Recalling that scene, I put it to you: do not neglect your struggle in the interior life.

These days are filled with noise, and if it weren’t enough to have noise, it is noise that in many cases can’t be trusted, no matter where it originates.  And as the noise grows, it gets louder and louder, as those making noise want to grab our attention

As I sit here in my home, I have no television on, no music playing through my Groove Ap, there is just the odd bird chirp, my fingers making noise on the keyboard, and my artificial valves clicking away.

It is odd, and uncomfortable at first, this silence.

It takes a moment to adjust, to move past the temptation to close my eyes,

And as I write, my mind drifts to Sunday morning, and the Body and Blood of Christ that I will give to HIs people, the nourishment they need.  My mind drifts to the people I know are dealing with high stress. who need healing of body, mind, and soul.  My mind drifts then to my own failures and stresses, some I would rather not deal with, but the silence drives me there, and there in the midst of my own brokenness, I find Jesus…

Hard at work, the craftsman of life, transforming my brokenness into something glorious, something that others can see that will cause them to praise God, and desire such a journey for themselves.  If that alone were the reason for my journey into silence, into the place where I have to leave my anxieties, grief, guilt, shame and pain in Christ’s hands, it would be perhaps enough…

Yet there He is, welcoming me into this place, relieving my burdens, and my sin, and in doing this, I realize the what defines His glory far beyond His power, authority, wisdom.  What defines His glory is, His love for us!

Do not be afraid of the silence, but be still, and find in that silence, your refuge in God.  Amen

 

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locatitemptation63). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why We (pastors and priests) Do What We Do… and Your Role as well

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day:
27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

Ultimately that is what the priesthood is all about: to have seen Jesus oneself, to have received with love him whom we have seen, to live in that seeing, and then to show him to others. (1)

3 After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.  (2)

One of the greatest challenges for a pastor or a priest in this day is to minister to those who think they are already “saved.”.This includes ourselves and our peers.  The challenge is complicated by the fact that we often forget what our calling is, losing it in the various functions of our ministry.

We are expected to be jacks of all trades, able to do plumbing, accounting, music, leading a non-profit, knowledge about employment law, property law, tax law, teach, and keeping the balance between being a solid administrator and a competent theologian.  It is this latter role, that of a theologian, which can consume us even more than the rest.  In letting it consume us, it can lead us away from the ministry, the ministering to which we have been called, and set apart.

It’s odd for a Lutheran pastor to quote a pope or a Catholic, I probably do it more than most.  The above quote in blue is from a pope, but not as some might expect Francis.  It is from Benedict, whose writings are as pastoral as Francis’s words. He sees his role, and that of priests (and I would hope pastors ) as simply and clearly as St. Paul did to the church in Colossae.  It is also, according to Lutheran confessions, the reason we are gathered together with the people of God.  This is seen in the quote in green, our purpose, our reason for existence as the church, is to give people what they need to know about Jesus.

It is that simple, everything we do as pastors, priests, ministers of all kinds in all places, boils down to that.  Introduce people to the love of Christ.  Help them as Paul says, explore (and be in awe of) the immense dimensions of God’s love for you, for me, for us, that is revealed in Jesus.  From the planning of our salvation before the world began, to its creation, to His incarnation, life, teaching, miracle working, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and even His on-going advocacy for us at the Father’s side; He does this that we would know Him!

Our people need to know this, their friends and neighbors need to hear it.  Even our enemies and adversaries (and people who are simply a pain in the… neck) need to know Jesus.

Pope Benedict, a pastor at heart, in the same message, wrote why:

But when a person has once met Christ, when a person has once seen Jesus and really learned to know him, then everything is changed. Then everything else is comprehensible and life is renewed. And you priests have really only one task: to present Jesus to all people in such a way that they see him and learn to love him. Then everything that faith teaches will be self-evident. (1)

There it , it is why we do what we do… why we struggle to do it, trying to keep our eyes on Christ, working hard to see people know His love.

By the way, you are welcome to help as well, and as you get to know His love, you will find a innate desire to do so, for that is how much His love will mean to you.

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 191). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.  (devotions for June 13th)

(2)  Augsburg Confession, Art XXIV

Conversations On the Way to Heaven: Get Along Back There!

this was the destination of so many of our trips, My Aunt and Uncles home in North Andover…..those trips had some great times, and some challenges…

Conversations on the Way to Heaven:

#1  Get Along Back There!

Matthew 18:21-55

† IHS †

May our journey together always be filled with God’s joy and peace, as His mercy flavors every moment!

A Bajillion Hours crammed in the back seat… 

I remember every twist and turn, as if it was yesterday, and not 42 years ago.

Everyone went and got in the old yellow Dodge Dart.  Up two miles on Brookdale Road, the right onto North Policy, then right onto Pelham Road.  Up onto route 93, then route 213, then southwest on route 495, off the highway on Mass Ave, then right on Fernwood to my Auntie Lanie’s and Uncle Wally’s house, where Thanksgiving Dinner and my favorite French onion dip awaited.

I remember so much of the drive, the rest area we never stopped at, the Mall and the golf course, going over the Merrimack River on the double decker bridge, and along its banks the dump and the reform school,  My dad always remembered to point that out for some reason.   Some great memories, and well some challenging one’s as I squeezed into the middle seat between my older brother and little sister.

I looked it up on google maps this week – it was 12 miles, 18 minutes in no traffic. I swear there were times that it seemed like a bazillion hours.

And as we look into conversations that occur on the way to heaven, this was the often heard phrase,

“Get along back there!”

Which was usually followed by something like, well we will hear those in the weeks to come!

Why is it so difficult to get along with each other?  Why do we hear these same kinds of conversations today?  As Jesus, guiding our journey, hears not only our words, but our thoughts, it is difficult to hear him asking us to get along!

Get Along back there?

In today’s gospel, the words of Peter so sound like one of my siblings.  “Do I have to forgive my brother?  Do I have to forgive my sister?  Peter’s not as blatant as my brother and sister were, he asks, “how many times do I have to forgive?”  But you know if Jesus said 7, Peter was going to go to his brother Andrew and tell him he was at 7 already…and so the next time? You do it again Andrew, and you will pay for it!

But the base question is the same – do we have to forgive those who sin against us?

The answer is, of course yes.  We are people that believe in reconciliation.

It’s not a measure of the law, but a description of those who live the life of the baptized, those who live in a relationship where Jesus has reconciled them to the Father, and they are His children together.

That Is why Jesus tells the parable about the two slaves, they both belong to the same household, they are, legally, family.  Yet the first man, although forgiven that which he was to pay back, refuses to forgive the debt of the other man. Even to the point of visiting violence on the other slave.

Sounds like one of those backseat things – even up to the contact.

Why do we fight, and why do we struggle to forgive each other, when the dust settles? Haven’t we heard jesus’ 7 times 70 enough, or this parable?  Don’t we realize that we’re the ones who sins cannot be paid for in a thousand lifetimes, and we are willing to collect the debt for what is petty in comparison?

That sin you are holding onto, that pain, that resentment, how does it rate against the pain that your sin has caused God?  You have decades of it?  Do you really want that sin dividing the body of Christ Jesus?

I realized something this week as I was going over all three readings today.  There is account after account in scripture of how we are bound together, how we worship together, how we feast and fellowship together, how we endure together, how we face persecution and even die, together.  In all these things we are together, weeping together and rejoicing together.  What happens to one, happens to all.  What happens to all effects each one?

One exception, verse 12 of our epistle.

12 Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

Hearing that, we come back to the gospel….

33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters* from your heart.”

Faith if God is where we find the strength….

So what do we do? How do we find the ability to really forgive, to give no more thought to the debt incurred by sin?

Well Peter and Andrew weren’t the only brothers in the readings this morning.  There was also Joseph in the Old Testament Reading.  You know, the guy who his loving brothers kicked out of the back of the family station wagon, and sold to wandering merchants?

Look at how he forgave his brothers…

19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. 21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.

Can you see those words of Joseph coming from your mouth, to those who have sinned against you?  What do you think their reaction would be?  What do you think yours would be?

The sinners who thought their brother would grab them by the neck in revenge, he gave up that right, because of the work of God in all their lives.  A work that saved their physical lives.

We have something more incredible, something more beyond thought, in the work of Christ, who doesn’t just forgive 490 sins of ours, Heck, that is just this week!  He’s the master who forgives us all, who brings us home to the Father in heaven, cleansed, pure, holy.  Who gave up everything to make that happen, because He loves us. Who endured the pain of the cross, because of His love for us.

If Joseph could forgive, knowing the blessing of God seen in the saving his people from famine, we should be even more eager to let them know the gospel.  That every sin was paid for on the cross, that we have been forgiven a world of sin.  That is what the communion feast celebrates!

We are a forgiven family, we are brought together on a journey home, to heaven, to a feast.  We are called to love each other, even if for a moment we struggle with it – we still love, and we shall forgive, even as we are forgiven.

For that is what the Holy Spirit is transforming us into, giving us the ministry of reconciliation, the ministry mercy.  The Spirit’s transforming all of us who trust in Christ’s work, and the promises made to us, which we hear in His word.

So drop all the burdens, drop all the sins an rejoice in Christ’s peace…look to Christ, and find that we are all getting along on this journey in peace! AMEN?

Why Write Blogs? Why Preach? Why Worship? Because….

Devotional Thought of the Day:

18  Write down for the coming generation what the LORD has done, so that people not yet born will praise him. 19  The LORD looked down from his holy place on high, he looked down from heaven to earth. 20  He heard the groans of prisoners and set free those who were condemned to die. 21  And so his name will be proclaimed in Zion, and he will be praised in Jerusalem 22  when nations and kingdoms come together and worship the LORD. Psalm 102:18-22 (TEV)

Gently he helped each person to face up to his or her responsibility to love God and souls. This was always his main concern. No matter what he was talking about, everything he said was linked to this one theme: that because the plenitude of Christian life is rooted in charity , love is of the utmost urgency.”

A young woman who attended a retreat he preached in 1945 found in his preaching “something new, something distinct…. It moved me deeply. Although I had habitually made a retreat in the past, I had never heard anyone speak in the same way about the love of God. It was a great discovery for me, an encounter with God as Father, as friend. It had a great impact on me.”  (1)

I am sitting in my office, having done my devotions, having skimmed through the study notes I prepared earlier in the week.  After this blog is completed, I will review the notes again, and finally put down and polish the words of the sermon for tomorrow.

But why do all this?  Why have i written so many blogs over the last three years, why have I written and delivered somewhere around 1000 sermons.  Why do I get up on Sunday morning?

I hope in retrospect someday someone might say something like the young woman said about a priest back in 1945.   i hope what has been read, what has been heard, what will be heard tomorrow and for the years I have left is what she said about Fr. Portillo’s sermons.  That these messages reveal the love of God, the desire of God to make us His children, the incredible love that Christ showed to a bunch of sinners when He said, ” 15  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. John 15:15 (NLT)

That love was described by the Psalmist above, recorded that we would see the very heart of God.  Those of us that deserve death because of our sin, those of us imprisoned by the snares of sin, He looked down and heard, which means He acted.  Hearing isn’t just an auditory action, it is a stimulus to action.  That action, the Incarnation, the Life and Death of Christ, His resurrection and Ascension and advocacy , the coming of the Holy Spirit and His work as He abides in our lives.  That is what His love for us compelled Him to do, as He heard our cries….

The response, the world worships Him, we praise Him, we proclaim this love in whatever ways possible, to whomever will listen, that they may know His love… for them, for us.  

That’s why….and whether we are telling about God’s love as a pastor preaching or blogging, or as a friend over lunch, or as a parent telling their kids, that is our mission, why we have been sent…. for we too will learn to hear their cries… and respond in love…. as we worship God with our lives.

AMEN….

(1)   Coverdale, John F. (2014-07-09). Saxum: The Life of Alvaro del Portillo (Kindle Locations 1100-1105). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Can Pastors and all Christians Speak a Non-Christian’s Language?

Devotional THought of the Day:

 20  While working with the Jews, I live like a Jew in order to win them; and even though I myself am not subject to the Law of Moses, I live as though I were when working with those who are, in order to win them. 21  In the same way, when working with Gentiles, I live like a Gentile, outside the Jewish Law, in order to win Gentiles. This does not mean that I don’t obey God’s law; I am really under Christ’s law. 22  Among the weak in faith I become weak like one of them, in order to win them. So I become all things to all people, that I may save some of them by whatever means are possible. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 (TEV)

After all, in my parish, I would reach about a hundred and fifty people in church on Sunday, but thanks to the Internet and a shared passion for something beyond Latin and liturgy, I was able to reach out to many thousands of Star Wars fans. Most of them probably would have never been in contact with a priest otherwise. In a way, just like the people back home in Holland, these Stormtroopers, Jedi, rebel pilots, bounty hunters, and Twi’leks had become my parishioners— very unusual parishioners indeed.   How to Speak Wookiee When I have to prepare a homily, I always try to place myself in the position of those I’ll be talking to. What are the issues they deal with, and how can the Gospel help them in their daily lives? For communication to work, you need to speak the same language. If you want to communicate with a Wookiee, you need to learn how to speak Wookiee. (1)

One of the challenges in training lay people to serve in ministry, and in working with students who are preparing for ministry is the helping them learn to connect to those who speak a different language. No I am not talking about Mandarin or German or Tagolog, I am talking about the fact that Christians have their own language, much of which is, if known, defined differently.

Fr. Roderick – the author of the quote in purple above – gets this.  I highly recommend his book- though protestants might need to “translate” it themselves!  THe section describing a Christian’s conversation to a Wookie is alone worth the price of the book.  There is a whole lot of of good material for helping us understand the people with whom we interact, with whom we live our lives.  The very people to whom God has sent us, that we reflect Christ’s life and His love.  Here is a priest that has learned to communicate with people who speak a different language!  ( and has a great line about not arguing with a wookie!)

It’s not a matter of plotting every conversation, we are talking about our lives with them.  But it is necessary to realize we don’t always speak the same language, and that some of our terms mean different things to them.  Another example helps us understand this.  Robert Schuller was once invited to give a message in a Mid-East Muslim Mosque.  In talking to its leadership – they asked him not to talk about Christianity.  He asked if he could talk about knowing God’s love, as reavealed in Christ, talk about walking and following Christ, and talk about the relationship which brings such hope, a relationship with God the Father.  The answer was affirmative – for they didn’t know that was Christianity.  They defined Chrsitianity as a religion hostile to them, the very word caused great anxiety.  But in describing what Christianity really is from a Christians perspective – there was no issue. From that point on, Robert Schuller talked of following Christ, or the relationship, rather than just “being” a Christian.

This isn’t about dumbing down the Faith, and more than Paul’s words, written in Koine Greek, dumbed down the faith because it was a common language.  It rathers invests the time (which is an act of love) in those people, assuring they can understand what we talk about, because the topic, their relationship with God, is more precious than anything else we could do.  THat we understand this helps us be more patient with them, helps us to understand that the objections they have to what they perceive our faith to be, is not our perception.  It helps us cut through their frustration and often anger, and prevent our desire to become defensive. It helps us realize that we are taling to the very people Christ died for, even though can’t even begn to comprehend that love, that desire of God.

Bottom line – do we want to want to see people join us, being freed from guilt and shame, from the sin they commit and the burdens of sins committed against them?  Do we want them to understand the grace and peace that is beyond our ability to comprehend – or describe, but that we know its from God?  Will we love these brothers and sisters that we can see, on behalf of the God we cannot “see” but whom we perceive?

Then we need to communicate to them.. in their language.

Lord have mercy on us, and empower us to do that which is in accord with Your will, that no one should perish – but all are transformed in Christ.

AMEN.

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17.

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, Circa 1510-17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

(1)  Vonhögen, Roderick (2013-09-09). Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer (Kindle Locations 295-303). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.

Do you want a “comfortable” life or ministry?

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

 19  A teacher of the Law came to him. “Teacher,” he said, “I am ready to go with you wherever you go.” 20  Jesus answered him, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest.” 21  Another man, who was a disciple, said, “Sir, first let me go back and bury my father.” 22  “Follow me,” Jesus answered, “and let the dead bury their own dead.”      Matthew 8:19-22 (TEV)

 Copy me, my brothers, as I copy Christ himself. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Phillips NT) 1

148    Why stoop to drink from the puddles of worldly consolations if you can satisfy your thirst with waters that spring up into life everlasting?  (1)

I am still in awe that the Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom was created everything that has been created, journeyed around thinking nothing of His own comfort.  Jesus should have been afforded every comfort, and took none, sleeping on the ground with a rock ( which He created) as His pillow, the ground as His bed. His service (we like to call it a nicer word ministry) to us was His focus, and discomfort was taken on gladly.  Because of His love for the Father, because of His love…for us.

We are not so willing to follow Him, to make His life our pattern.  We want to have the positions that are comfortable, the ministries that are peaceful and growing, and without conflict or pain.  I myself have wondered recently, what would happen if I got a call that was to a church that was a distance off, far from our families and friends.  ( If it was in upstate New Hampshire or near Boston – that’s cool – but… that’s me looking after my comfort zone again!)  Would I be willing to endure that?  Or what about another conflicted parish?    What about going back to being bi-vocational?

I take my comfort in my electronics – I am presently struggling because my smartphone is in the shop, and I was given an ancient model (circa 2007) to replace it while it is there.  Oh the indignity! Oh the suffering of dealing with a 2 inch screen  (my 6 year old thinks its so cool and retro -cute!)

How much do we look for our comfort, for our lives and not look to where Paul looked,  because he copied (as best as he could) Jesus.

How can we find our comfort, our consolation (look it up in the dictionary – cool word) in the things of this world – the homes, the cars, the safe community, when something more is there…..

Something more fulfilling, more enduring, more incredible.

Something that will leave us in awe…

Can we look to Jesus, the author, finisher, model of our faith… and take up our cross… and for His sake, for His service, for His mission… follow Him?  Can we go where He  wants us to go – not giving thought to the cost… knowing the cost of the sins of people – that they need to know has been paid?

Lord, Have mercy on us, help our perspective, help our will and desires to be copied from You, and give us your strength and power to see that happen.

Amen.

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-...

Jesus and Saint Peter, Gospel of Matthew 4.18-20 Français : Jésus et Saint Pierre, Évangile selon Matthieu 4.18-20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 481-482). 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?

Come and See – His Day

 

 

Come and See: The Day!

Jer. 33:14-16

 

In Jesus Name

 

May the grace of God, the love and mercy and peace that is yours in Christ Jesus, be that which is most evident in your life, until the day

He returns in Glory for us! AMEN!

 
Come and See!

 

Yesterday afternoon, a man named Michael was standing right here, with his dad standing next to him.  He was as anxious as any man I have ever stood beside as they prepared to enter marriage.

As the doors back there opened, as he looked upon his fiancé, dressed in white, there was the loudest gasp I have ever heard from a man, as he commented, in awe of how beautiful she was, at how her beauty exceeded every expectation he had, every dream of how this moment would be.

During the wedding, it was kind of cute – as he looked upon her with such adoration that she often looked away – almost embarrassed to see the look in his eyes!   A couple of times during the vows I even had to remind her to look at him!

That kind of mindset, that nervous anticipation of the bride and groom, the moment before the doors open and they look at each other, that ½ second when time slows to a crawl prior to the doors opening – that is the mindset of advent.

We know He is coming, we know what has been promised.  We have desired the day to finally come, the moment, the time that is drawing closer.  Maybe we’ve even dreamed about it, as we hear the descriptions of what it will be like.

There is a sense of awe, and a sense of anxiety, a feeling of doubt as we wonder “how will I live up to His expectations?”

As we walk through this advent together, as we look to the day when Christ comes again, fulfilling the promises that were first fulfilled when He came 2000 years ago, it is my hope that we realize that our situation is not unlike the situation Mike’s lady found herself in, as we realize the love of God and the way that Christ sees us, the church, His bride.

For that is what that day is all about!

 

The day when we have come to see, as we come to adore our Lord.

What do we expect of the Messiah?

In my more self-righteous moments, I wonder how the people of Israel could overlook all of the prophecies about the Messiah.  How could they have been so far off in what they expected Jesus to be like, how they expected Him to come.  How could the experts have been so…wrong?

Those errors had incredibly serious implications, for example – if Herod’s advisors had known that Jesus didn’t come to establish some mere political kingdom, that he wasn’t going to overthrow Caesar and Herod, would he have bothered to slaughter all the innocent male children?  Would the Pharisees have reacted to Jesus if they had spent more time in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel, rather than just seeing the promises of a new Moses, a new David?

What about our expectations today, as we look at the church around the world – does it still expect the kingdom of heaven to be established on the earth?  I have mocked the television-evangelist types, when they promise wealth and health and happiness, yet there are times, I have to admit, when my expectations are just as self-centered.  And that leads to trouble, for false expectations can create a let down of massive proportions.  When our expectations are shattered, no matter their basis, how do we react?  Are we like the young couple that sees their life in the harsh reality that occurs when the bills are piling up, the in-laws are becoming more critical, and the pressures of work and household are taking their toll?  Do we spiritually “fall out of love” with God at times?

How do we balance off promises like “all things work for good for those who love God,” with the things we don’t understand, like economy, like disease, like death?  How do we hear passages like Jeremiah, that promise a day coming… when we’ve been waiting so long, when we’ve heard that Jeremiah’s promise was about the coming of the Messiah? – the first coming?  When those promises, supposedly fulfilled by the baby in the manger, now seem to be as naïvely received as the promises of how perfect a young couple thinks their marriage will be?

Has God let us down?  Will the second coming also be…more of the same?

What is promised?
As we enter Advent, as we take a moment and light an extra candle, and then two and then three, and then four, and then, in the right moment, at the precise time, this fifth candle is lit, the one that really matters, the one that makes hope and peace and joy and faith possible, we need to learn that lesson – these candles only find their meaning in that candle.

So to do the promises of God, found in the Old Testament only make sense when we, the church, the bride of Christ, are looking at our groom, at our Lord.

Hear Jeremiah’s words again,

 

14 “The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.
In Sunday School, we are going to talk about who Israel and Judah are, and who they aren’t.  For us, in this moment, I am going to tell you – what matters is that you are, one way or the other, included in that group.

God will do what He has promised, in His time, and it will be good.

What will done?  What will God do?

He will raise up a righteous servant.  One of David’s line.  He will do what is just and what is right – throughout the land – that is what Jeremiah tells us.

Isn’t that why Christ came?  To set everything right, to fix it all?  TO make life perfect?

Was not the Messiah to bring healing and light to the nations? To bring glory to Israel?

Even as I look around at the broken world in which we live, I can in truth say, yes, I believe Christ came to do that, and has done it, and is doing it still.

Except that we don’t see the work all that clearly, in fact, only with a little more clarity than those awaiting the Messiah the first time.  For in Jeremiah’s promise, we see that the righteousness – the perfection comes, not in us, but in Christ.   It is His work that establishes what is just and right – it is His work.

At the cross, that work was done.  At that time, we were saved, and indeed the people of God live in safety.  We have been delivered my friends, from all that threatens us.  Sin has no power over us, for God has given us the keys of the kingdom, the responsibility to nullify sin through the authority to forgive it, to dismiss it, to negate it.

Likewise its compatriots, Satan and death, though they seem to loom powerfully in this world, are but illusions and fraud. They cannot separate us from God, they cannot diminish His love for us. They cannot remove His guarantee that all will work for good, because He stands behind that.

That is what it means, for the city of God to be named, The Lord is our righteousness.  Yhwh-tsidkenu.   It is He that is perfect, righteous, holy.

And we, the church, are His bride.  Joined to Him, one, even as a husband and wife become one…

He Has Come, He is Coming!

In many ways, life is like the wedding ceremony, with the life that will become true, only hinted at, even as we wait for the life that is to come, afterward.

We haven’t begun the life together yet… even though the joys of the moment are here. We still struggle to look our Lord in the eyes, to see His love there, to know that He sees us as His beautiful, clean, glorious bride.

Yet that too is part of advent, the reminder that life is yet to truly begin.

We are in the presence of the bridegroom, who has paid every price to bring us to this point.  We see Him in His glory, and wonder whether we truly belong here.

There is the message of advent as well – we do, we’ve been called here, we’ve been called to live eternally as the bride of Christ, as the people of God.

Soon, the wedding will become the feast, and then the life…

May we live in this moment, looking to Jesus, the Lord who chose us to be His, who brings us into life and shares His life and His righteousness and holiness with us.

Come my friends. Come and see your Lord, the One who shares it all with you.  Come and see your Lord, look into His eyes of love, do not look away.

I’d leave you with two promises, found in the writings of the Apostle Paul, to churches like us…

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NAB)


1:6 I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes.
Philippians 1:6 (NJB)

Your Lord awaits… it is time to celebrate, for you have been saved, your life with Him is lived safely and peacefully, for in His righteousness, you are guarded, your heart and mind always in His care. AMEN.

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