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The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa

Devotional THoguht for the Day:

41  He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42  “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43  Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44  He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45  At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds.  (1)

17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises.  (2)

I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things.  The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.

I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted.  On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry. 

There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor.  Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.

The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen.  Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to  as their staff chaplain.  The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them.  The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community.  SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone! 

Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people.  The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering.  This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments.  It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.

This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too.  As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference. 

It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.

That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent.  When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids.  He ministers to each, through the other.

That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry.  You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.

As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.

 

(1)  Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

(2)  Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.  (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…

Are Christians Willing to Engage in This Fight?

Discussion Thought of the Day:
23  All this I do for the gospel’s sake, in order to share in its blessings. 24  Surely you know that many runners take part in a race, but only one of them wins the prize. Run, then, in such a way as to win the prize. 25  Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline, in order to be crowned with a wreath that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever. 26  That is why I run straight for the finish line; that is why I am like a boxer who does not waste his punches. 27  I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest.
1 Corinthians 9:23-27 (TEV)

22  I love God’s law with all my heart. 23  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 7:22-25 (NLT)

209      In your personal prayer, whenever you experience the weakness of the flesh you should repeat: Lord, give the Cross to this poor body of mine, which gets tired and rebellious!  (1) 

I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and abundantly forgives all my sins, and the sins of all believers, and on the last day he will raise me and all the dead and will grant eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. This is most certainly true.  (2) 


As I look at my social media feeds, it seems there many Christians are calling others to join in the battle against evil.  Some are targeting the recent bathrooms issues; others are targeting abortion, or homosexuality.  Others are waging other battles against divorce, or perceived injustices.  Some want to take on the entire community of Islam, or at least the terrorists who are creating martyrs of our brothers and sisters. 

There are cries in the church, as some want Equal rights for everyone in the church, or at least equal access to roles.  Others want to purify the faith, returning to eras when they think everyone was pure and without sin. They base this on a form of worship, or the use of a translation, or some other thing, overlooking the sin and division of those days.

There are many, many pleas, people begging us to join the battle, and each battle promises some form of heaven on earth, should we be faithful and win.  They promise utopia, if only our side can win, and the other be crushed in defeat.

But the war which is more critical, a true war for our souls.  One which we so easily overlook, one which is simple in theory to win, yet so difficult to execute and realize the victory.

The war for my soul.  The war for your soul. 

This is a battle for holiness, one which has faded into the background, because these other battles are easier to gather people around, they are less insidious, and we can be the heroes that are lauded and praised.  We can even find theological precepts, or create them, warning people about this horror called pietism, without extolling piety.  We will call people to focus on God declaring people to be righteous while ignoring the sanctification that makes the declaration true.

The personal war in our own souls, the souls which the apostle Paul describes at war, that St Josemaria describes as tired and rebellious,  the soul Luther describes as requiring the Holy Spirit to cleanse and make holy.  For we don’t have the ability to do it, save in our surrendering to the Spirit’s work.

What generations of the church called mortification comes from letting the Spirit purge us of sin, of bringing healing to that which is broken, to cleanse those parts of our lives that are rotting spiritually.

Or do we imagine Paul was speaking hypothetically when he talks of being disqualified?

Mortification is not about whipping your body physically; it is by no means that easy.  It is not about fasting to purify yourself, but it can help you to focus and prioritize.  In advocating the mortification that the Spirit controls, I am not talking about some kind of self-abuse.   Then again, we have to do something about the abuse that does crush us, our tendency to sin, even though we are Christ’s.  The sin that leads us to dare confess our wretchedness, and be guided to healing and strength by the Spirit.

Mortification is allowing the Spirit to guide you to take up your cross and walk with Christ. The quote from Romans 7 is preceded by that very discussion in chapter 6.  We are nailed to the cross with Christ, and it is back to that cross we must go to deal with sin and temptation.  If we are to find the strength to withstand the temptation this time, and the grace for those times in the past and the future when we will fail and fall.

Mortification is confessing our sins, and receiving absolution, it is found in remembering the promises that were made sure in our baptism, that we are called to know, as we feast on the Body and Blood of Christ.  As we kneel in prayer, as we adore the God, who calls us His.  These spiritual blessings, these things we call disciplines, are the place where we are reminded that spiritual warfare is the victory that comes in walking with Christ.

It prepares us for the other battles, giving us the reminder about what those battles are.  They aren’t the decisive battle between good and evil, but a rescue mission for the souls of the people we engage with, knowing that God desires that they too are declared righteous, and made holy by the power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead.   Because we need to remember that, for it is our hope when we begin to stray.

AMEN!

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 914-916). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press

Which is Your Hope: To Be Comfortable, or Comforted?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
3  “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them! 4  “Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them! 5  “Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised!    Matthew 5:3-5 (TEV)

 Instead of divine consolation, they want changes that will redeem suffering by removing it: not redemption through suffering, but redemption from suffering is their watchword; not expectation of divine assistance, but the humanization of man by man is their goal.

In his book on the Rapture, Tim LeHaye justifies his belief in the rapture based on the emotional appeal that Christ would never allow His people, the Bride of Chrsit to suffer.  (p.65-69) He pictures the church not surviing such suffering, such pain, such horrors.  He pictures Chrsit wanting to eliminate suffering for all believers, now, not just in eternal life. He fears the Tribulation, and even suggests that the church would not be able to sruvive it, should she be left behind.

I don’t want to focus on errors in his eschatology, but rather in the presupposition that God wouldn’t allow the church to suffer.   This is a much larger issue in American Christianity, for it is not just those that hold to the teaching of a premillenial rapture that would come to the conclusiont hat God wants the church comfortable.  i don’t know fo a theological system that doesn’t fall prey to this at some point, including those who like me express theology in a Lutheran or catholic-sacramental context.  ( In our modern version, this often means saving people from martyrdom or political oppression.  Or in our denial to seek help, whether it be from a father confessor, or a counselor, or a doctor. )

We all have our desire to be comfortable manifest itself in ugly ways. It might be in our attempts to isolate ourselves from the ugliness of sin, or to hide anything that would cause us to feel sharem, or grief.

I think it is a matter of maturity and faith when we can set aside this desire for being comfortable with the desire to be comforted.  And when faced with suffering or sacrifice Benedict XVI was right, we want to be redeemed from suffering, to be saved without experience the guilt and shame that tells us we need to be delivered.  If we want to be saveed – it is from the guilta and shame, not from what causes it.

But to desire to be comforted, even in the midst of the pain, is something radically different. It means relying on Jesus, on His wisdom, on His promises that what we are going through doesn’t seperate us from Him.

That’s different.

The article I quoted form Benedict above had another quote qorth including:

Before this image, the monks prayed with the sick, who found consolation in the knowledge that, in Christ, God suffered with them. This painting made them realize that precisely by reason of their sickness they were identified with the crucified Christ, who, by his suffering, had become one with all the suffering of history; they felt the presence of the Crucified One in their cross and knew that, in their distress, they were drawn into union with Christ and hence into the abyss of his eternal mercy

There is something about that which cries our with great comfort.  We do not walk alone, that we are not abandoned by God to make it through this vail of tears on our own.   The Lord is With In our brokenness, in our need for answers, in our need for hope, we find Him, we realize that He is holding us in His hands, bearing our sorrow, our grief, our sin.

So how do we grow in this, how do we lay aside our rights, our comfortability, our pleausre?  How do we take up our cross?

By trusting and depending upon Jesus.  By finding our refuge in the comfort of His love,  by dwelling in His presence, for there we know His peace, there we know comfort, and we experience a joy that sustains us.

Seek His presence, seek His kingdom, there is comfort there… and the more you know it, the easier it becomes to seek.

 

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 122–123). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Theological Hymn the Entire Church Needs Today.

Devotional Thought of the Day:

22
 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. 23  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. 24  That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. 25  But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy. 26  Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. 27  He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. 28  That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:22-28 (MSG)

But I pressed towards Thee, and was thrust from Thee, that I might taste of death: for thou resistest the proud. But what prouder, than for me with a strange madness to maintain myself to be that by nature which Thou art? For whereas I was subject to change (so much being manifest to me, my very desire to become wise, being the wish, of worse to become better), yet chose I rather to imagine Thee subject to change, and myself not to be that which Thou art.  (1)

139 Nothing less than Christ’s power is needed for our conflict with the devil. We know that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious God and his promise. And therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit may govern and defend us, so that we may not be deceived and err, nor be driven to do anything against God’s will.  (2)

The congregation gathered around, absolutely devasted by the events they had endured.  They humbly gathered, downcast, not know what to do or say.  Heartbroken, unaware of how they will continue on, a simple, profound, wondrous hymn breaks out among them…

A hymn maligned, denigrated, and used as an example of poor hymnody, poor theology, poor worship by countless experts.  I will contend that if we learn this hymn if we sing it as it was meant to be sung, there are few that express the theological depth it does.

It doesn’t matter to those singing it, for it is a lament that expresses the only hope they have… the gentle words pleading for that which is promised.  A prayer expressed in words so significant that they must resonate in the church today.

“Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya, O Lord, Kumbaya;”

O Lord, be with us…” 

These words express the same sentiment that Augustine reveals he needed.  The attitude that is found in brokenness, the attitude of facing death, and dying to self.  St. Paul’s  words echo this, comparing this life’s brokenness to labor pains, as we await the recreation, the rebirth of all things.  It speaks of those moments when our hearts are too broken to know what to pray, and the Holy Spirit must be our intercessor, the translator of the groans too deep for words.

This song speaks of the eschatological hope we have in Christ, which St Peter begs us to be ready to do.

This song is an expression of the Theology of the Cross, the simple hope found in our brokenness and the healing promised and delivered in word and sacrament.

This song speaks of the incarnation, as we count on Christ’s presence in our lives

This song speaks of vocation, as it asks God to be there in every situation we encounter.

This song talks of the Omnipresence of God, who incarnates Himself into our lives, who draws us into Himself.

It speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our comforter-paraclete, who teaches us of God’s love.

Amazingly, this song speaks of the sacraments, as we know He has come to us as we are united to Him in the waters of baptism, as we hear His words, you are forgiven, as we are fed with His body and Blood.

It does all this in a humble way, not with glorious melodies, not with perfect 4 part harmony, not with a worship that seeks to impress both  God and those who are spectators. Rather, it is sung by voices barely able to create an audible noise.  It resonates with the depth of the hearts aid open.  It can capture the heart of all, growing in fervor, moving us from darkness to the glory found in His presence.

It is sung with hearts who realize their only hope, the only way to find peace, to receive mercy, is to encounter Almighty God in all His glory and plead for mercy, to cry the Kyrie Eleison, to plead, O Lord, be with us…

This must become again the cry of a church, in a broken world, for it points us to what is necessary, what we need to desire more than all, the presence of God.  Here, now, in our lives. 

May we be able to cry such words in faith, together, knowing that He who has promised is faithful….

Amen!

(1)   Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

(2)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 126). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

where does loving my neighbor stop…..

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
Featured image
16  And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us. God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. 17  Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ’s. 18  There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment. 19  We love because God first loved us. 20  If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21  The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also. 1 John 4:16-21 (TEV)

869      If you really loved God with all your heart, then that love for your neighbour, which you sometimes find so hard to have, would come as a necessary consequence of your Great Love. You would never feel hostility towards anyone, nor would you discriminate between people.

Your neighbor, the one that cut you off on the freeway.  Or maybe the one who was promoted over you unfairly at work, he’s your neighbor, isn’t he?  what about your old high school friend, who stabbed you in the back/  Or what about that false preacher, the guy who doesn’t agree with anyone else (or so it seems) in your denomination, is he your neighbor?

If these are those you are called to love, is there a point where you can stop loving them?

Where you can with all purity of heart wish God’s wrath to fall on them?  Where you can hope that they receive justice, and not the mercy of God?

i can perhaps come up with 50 reasons I should be able to just hate them, or dismiss them into obscurity.  Those I have heard as a pastor, and some I came up with myself.   We may not want to deal with them, we may not want them in our neighborhood, or our church, or our denomination.

Yet, we are still called to love them. To not only do what is best for them, but to do it in a loving way.  (not gritting our teeth, or just saying – this will hurt  – but its what’s best for you… )  We are still called ot be like Christ in the way we deal with them.

I had a friend who once said you don’t change anything as a pastor within your church, until you know its place so well it hurts you to change it.  If that is true for a practice, or a tradition, can you see the necessity of the same attitude towards a person?

this is the atitude of God, so clearly seen in the words from Ezekiel,

10  The LORD spoke to me. “Mortal man,” he said, “repeat to the Israelites what they are saying: ‘We are burdened with our sins and the wrongs we have done. We are wasting away. How can we live?’ 11  Tell them that as surely as I, the Sovereign LORD, am the living God, I do not enjoy seeing sinners die. I would rather see them stop sinning and live. Israel, stop the evil you are doing. Why do you want to die?” Ezekiel 33:10-11 (TEV)

Would you cry over than neighbor’s continued lack of repentance? Or would you rejoice?  Would you carry a cross for them, for the joy set before you?  Or would you simply dismiss them as having rejected God, because they rejected you? ( And would you count on Jesus to forgive you your debts, even as you refuse to forgive them theirs?

Hard questions? Sure!

But they should cause you to run to the only place the answer can be found.  In the wounds of Christ crucified, in the eyes of the one who cries out for our forgiveness, even as He steals our sins from us.

You see, to love your neighbor like this requires only one thing…. our unity with Christ.

Nothing else will make it happen, nothing else will cause us to desire it to happen.  We will search for every lookhole, try to find every exception, Look back into our lives to every pain and challenge God saying, “You can’t mean this one Lord, the pain is too hard”

It is then we realize the depth of our need for Jesus…. and His faithfulness.

Which is what we need to know about Jesus.

May every service, every mass, every Bible study with others, every quiet time of prayer, devotion and study, reveal to us His presence… so we can know the impossible, is certainly doable….. AMEN

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3073-3075). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Forgiveness for Any Other Reason but Love…. Is Not…

Devotional THought of the Day:
38  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39  But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. 40  And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41  And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. Matthew 5:38-41 (TEV)

806         You were very sorry to hear that most un-Christian comment, “Forgive your enemies: you can’t imagine how it angers them!” You could not keep quiet, and you replied calmly, “I don’t want to cheapen love by humiliating my neighbour. I forgive, because I love, and I am hungry to imitate the Master.” (1)

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that forgiveness is not learned, it is not a discipline, it is simply the result of love.

Today, I cam across the quote from Escriva, and I again was amazed at the thought.  Simply because I’ve heard this said before, I’ve even probably used something like it along the way.  Just show them you are bigger than them, and forgive them.  ( I apologize to any I’ve said that too.  I’ve also heard it said this way, you don’t have to like forgiving them, you just have to obey God and do it.

Or perhaps the most common excuse.  Forgive them, for it may not benefit them, but it benefits you

Somehow I can’t see Jesus, on the cross, being benefitted by forgiving his captors, or Stephen, being stoned by Paul’s friends, being benefited.  Or any of the martyrs over the last 2 millennia, who forgave as they were tortured and died, benefitting from being free of the resentment and anger they felt.

If we forgive because we desire what is beneficial for ourselves, when the hurt and pain come back, then we will be ill-prepared to deal with it.  It will again fuel resentment and anger, and thoughts of how to make them pay for the sin will creep back into our hearts

The way to forgive, to bypass revenge is simple – love.

To accept the pain, the hurt, the cost of loving that person. To give that all over to Christ, the one who taught us to pray to the Father to be forgive and to be able to forgive. The one who died for His enemies, because He loved them.  The One who frees us, by paying for every debt, every trespass, every pain.

The one we hunger to love, and desire to imitate, because He has loved us…..

Mercy, Love, forgiveness….. on package deal.

May we do so…counting on the Lord’s mercy

 

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3326-3329). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why Doesn’t the Church Understand Pentecost?

devotional thought of the day….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14  But the disciples had forgotten to bring any food. They had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat. 15  As they were crossing the lake, Jesus warned them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.” 16  At this they began to argue with each other because they hadn’t brought any bread. 17  Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Don’t you know or understand even yet? Are your hearts too hard to take it in? 18  ‘You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all? 19  When I fed the 5,000 with five loaves of bread, how many baskets of leftovers did you pick up afterward?” “Twelve,” they said. 20  “And when I fed the 4,000 with seven loaves, how many large baskets of leftovers did you pick up?” “Seven,” they said. 21  “Don’t you understand yet?” he asked them. Mark 8:14-21 (NLT)

298 The faithfulness—in the service of God and souls—which I always ask you for, is not the easy type of enthusiasm. It is the enthusiasm you can acquire in the middle of the street, when you see how much there is to be done everywhere.  (1)

Tomorrow is Pentecost, the day when the church celebrates. Unfortunately what it often celebrates is the past, the anniversary of the events nearly 2000 years ago.  The Birthday of the Church some call it.  While this is true, I think that when we focus on just the event of Pentecost, isolated apart from the daily life of the church, we end up hyper-focusing like the apostles, and we miss the point of the celebration. We also don’t understand Pentecost when we reduce Pentecost to a focus on any gift, or make the case that the gifts are still operative or God the Father has directed the Holy Spirit to cease it’s work. Pentecost is not the time to argue the pros and cons of Pentecostalism, or the Charismatic movement.  Yes miracles happened, and we can argue until we turn blue about whether they still do,

When we focus in either way, we lose sight of what Pentecost is, as if we are focusing on the lack of food, and who is to blame for what is, or isn’t happening.  We go from trusting in God, to studying why we trust Him.  We go from loving God to theology, we go from experiencing is presence (what happened on Pentecost) to celebrating that the church once did know God’s presence.

I am probably stepping on toes here.  Heck I am doing the unique trick of stepping on my own toes, or at least the way I’ve talked about Pentecost in the past.  All those errors above, I’ve made them, I’ve lived them.

But Pentecost is not the past, what happened on that day hasn’t stopped happening, the work of the Holy Spirit is still going on today, this Feast, this celebration has never stopped.

The Holy Spirit is still bringing people to hear God’s promises, He is still working through those of us called into a relationship with Jesus, the same way He was working through the apostles and those that worked alongside them.  (remember there wasn’t 12 gathered, there was 120!) THe Holy Spirit is still revealing the work of Christ, and that every promise of God is fulfilled, that Christ died, rose and will come again. Pentecost is that time that St. Josemaria describes, when enthusiasm doesn’t come easy, but it comes from being in the street, seeing the work that needs to be done, and knowing the Holy Spirit is doing that work, through us.

The Holy Spirit is still cutting open man’s hearts, and replacing them with living hearts, He is still baptizing people and granting them repentance, The Holy Spirit is still a gift, living and active in each of us that trusts in Christ, a promise to our children as well – and to every person that is far from God, through us.

The Holy Spirit is at work, revealing that we are the people of God…. revealing how deep the love of God for us in Christ., revealing how the hope we have is the hope for this world.  Hope for Ethiopian Eunuchs and the person we are sitting next to at Starbucks.  Hope for the Ethiopian Jailer and the police officer that drives through our town, for people like Lydia, the seller of purple cloth, and the supermarket clerk.

We need to be people who don’t just celebrate Pentecost as a feast of the past, we need to be people who live in the reality of Pentecost, who are the ones who the Spirit is working on, or working in and through.  For this is the life we have been raised into, in Christ.

May we see thousands baptized into Christ in the days ahead, as we treasure this Pentecost, this outpouring of God’s Spirit upon His people!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1429-1431). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Mission: To Reveal Jesus Lifted Up

English: Lord Jesus at St Joseph Oratory, Mont...

English: Lord Jesus at St Joseph Oratory, Montreal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Mission: To Reveal Jesus Lifted Up

John 12:20-33

 

In Jesus Name

 

May you realize the gifts of God that are yours, the mercy, the peace, the love of the Father, which is yours because Jesus was glorified on the Cross.

Why didn’t they recognize the Father’s voice?

       That’s His mission and ours…

When I sit down to study a Bible passage to preach on it, I usually read the passage a few times – and wait for questions to develop before I start looking at the original languages, or at what people have said in the nearly 2000 years since the Bible was completed.

The questions are usually simple observations, the odd things I notice that make me wonder about our relationships.  First our relationship with each other, then our relationship with God.

Some of those questions stick with me a while, and so it was this week.  The question this week that bugged me.. that creates the basis for this sermon is this,

“Why didn’t the crowd recognize the Voice speaking through the clouds?” Why didn’t they recognize the voice of our Heavenly Father?

After all, how many times have voices spoken from the heavens?  Who else could it be?

On this day, as we dedicate our preschool staff, as we start a series looking at God’s mission in this world, the answer to that question is critical. For His mission becomes our mission.

“Why didn’t the crowd recognize the Voice speaking through the clouds”  Why didn’t they recognize God’s voice?”

When we realize the answer – we will realize what we are asking our staff to do.  Really what we are asking all that are part of this community of faith to do….
Simply put – God’s mission, our mission is to reveal Christ lifted up, entering His glory… that He can draw all to Him.

The Greeks and the Jews… same problem?

       Which Jesus would they see?

 

Today’s gospel reading starts out with the Greeks, the non-Jewish people looking for Jesus.  They had come up for the Passover feast, and whether they were simply curious about Judaism or they were in the process of conversion, we do not know.  It would be an uncomfortable place to be, for many Jews resented their presence.  Which is why they looked for one of the apostles, to ask permission to see Jesus.

Compare that to the Jewish leaders and people themselves who saw Jesus, but did not really see Him.  They could grasp that He was, and is the Son of God. It seems ironic – those who desired to see Jesus could not but those that could didn’t really see Him either.

I think we have the same problem today, when we “look” for Jesus, and especially when we want to see Jesus in all of His glory.

Some of us look for the cute Jesus, like in a movie where the star prays to the “sweet 6 pound 8oz baby Lord Jesus”.  A Jesus who is not threatening, one we can’t see judging our actions as sinful and self-destructive, but is precious, cute, and cuddly.  Like the Greek pilgrims, this is a romanticized version of Jesus to look at, to wonder about, to ooh and ahh about, to expect blessings from when we adore Him.

Others look for the risen and reigning Jesus, the One who will return in all glory, and then everything will be put into its place!  Everything will be perfect!  Like the Pharisees, we expect God to fulfil that promise – now and here, and according to our plan.  When we do not see that happening, we look other places. When we expect God to do things our way and He doesn’t – we give up. When we expect Him to applaud our pride, our self-righteousness, our sin.  Instead, He calls us on it and as we ignore Him we cannot recognize His voice, His authority, or His glory.

Like those in the days when Jesus walked and taught in Galilee – too often in our time people want to Jesus on their terms, or they are incapable of seeing Him at all.

What we need to do is see Jesus in all of His glory, when He was glorified.

Then the virgin birth and the 2nd coming can be seen properly… but when was He seen in all His glory?
When was He glorified? 

That is the key.  It is the reality behind Jesus statement about loving life means losing it – and caring nothing for it in this life…means everything for eternity.  He demonstrated that truth on the cross.
You see, when Jesus spoke of it being time for Him to enter into His glory, it is the same as  when he talked about being lifted up from the earth… for He is glorified, He is to be praised and honored and exalted, for what happened on the cross.

For like the serpent on Moses’ pole it is when we look to Jesus on the cross, that we know we will be okay.  God is here! God is aware of what we are going through! We realize that He will deal with all that burdens us, and all that challenges us, all that sin that would poison our lives and quench the life He gives us.

You see, the greatest thing, the most praiseworthy thing Christ does, was on that cross. When we look there, it is not about the sin that we have committed, it is not about whether we were a Pharisee or a prostitute, a pastor or a tax collector.

It is about realizing that it was because God loves us that he was there, that is was the away God deals with our rebellion, our pride, our sin, with love that only we can only see when we look to Christ.  That is why we worship Him, which is why we praise Him, which is why, according to Paul; our Father in heaven glorified His name above every other name.  We do not have to do anything to deserve His love – He poured it all out on the cross, when He was lifted up.

That is what our church and our preschool are about – that is what we are all called to do.  Simply to reveal the love of Jesus, that love that drove Him to the cross.  One of my favorite verses is found in the book of Hebrews – which talks about the joy that was set before Him, the reason He went and did that for which we praise Him.

For the joy that was before Him, Christ endures the cross.

The joy of knowing that we would be drawn to Him, that we would be able to hear the see Jesus, that we would be able to hear the Father.  We do not need to lift him up on the cross again, but our praises need to remind us of the love He showed, of the work He has done, of the very claim He has on our life, because of that cross.

For it is there the difference is made, He was lifted up, and we are drawn to Him and praise His name for what He has done in love for us.  This is why we will be in heaven.  This is why we can forgive others and live free of resentment and guilt, why we don’t have to hate,

Then we know why he was born, and why He will come back again….

For we see Him in all of His glory…in all of His love.
And knowing we are loved, we live in the Father’s peace, a peace that passes all understanding, and guards our hearts and minds which are secure in Jesus. AMEN!

FB Behavior and the Theology of the Cross…

English: the beginning of the 1. Epistle to th...

English: the beginning of the 1. Epistle to the Corinthians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. 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. Do not congratulate yourself on your own wisdom17  Never pay back evil with evil, but bear in mind the ideals that all regard with respect. 18  As much as possible, and to the utmost of your ability, be at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:14-18 (NJB)

4  Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, 5  it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. 6  Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. 7  It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NJB) 

  Never reprimand anyone while you feel provoked over a fault that has been committed. Wait until the next day, or even longer. Then make your remonstrance calmly and with a purified intention. You’ll gain more with an affectionate word than you ever would from three hours of quarreling. Control your temper.  (1)

How quickly we are ( okay – I am) to send a scathing rebuke across the cypberwaves!

We see something really idiotic, or vicious, or heretical posted, and we re-create the cyber version of MAD – mutually assured destruction.

Please read carefully, it is not that we shouldn’t respond, but it is how we should respond.  With love, with caring, with the goal of reconciliation and not just confrontation. ( Yeah I know I am preaching to me more than everyone else)  But if we don’t hear this, if we aren’t reminded to love, if we don’t bear the cross we’ve been given – for their sake, we find out that we will also suffer.

For we will have abandoned the peace of Christ, we will have walked out of the fortress, that mighty fortress that is our God.  We will have tried to become the conquering savior of FB or twitter… and chosen a path to deliver it from evil that is not the cross.   At the cost of destroying each other.

So today – if you have to do it – maybe not wait a day – but take a five minute walk… before hitting enter.

And while you do, pray,

“Lord have mercy on me… a sinner”

Godspeed

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 185-187). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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