An Everlasting Sign
† I.H.S. †
As we walk though this life, may we continually see the everlasting signs of God’s power and love, at work in our lives, and in the lives of those around us.
Walking by the lake… you can’t take it all in…
Walking by the side of Lake Ossipee in New Hampshire, I learned a lesson about photography, and perhaps about life.
Simply put, the camera can’t take all that we experience with our eyes. They can’t take in the gentles waves, little more than ripples, and the beautiful homes across the lake, never mind the mountains that are visible on the horizon. You can’t take in a 360-degree panorama of beauty, never mind the feeling that occurs when you walk down a road with your son, that you and your dad walked down before.
Likewise, even our eyes can’t focus on everything at once.
There is so much more than we can see and hear, never mind the stories that give the story more depth, and the experience that goes beyond words.
Either because the experience is so full of joy, or so full of the pain of being broken, or sometimes, because the experience is both, and how do you concentrate on the joy, when you are struggling with tears?
And if that is simply trying to process a vacation, how do we catch what is really important about life?
Maybe we need a sign or two to help us along the way, to help us focus on what we need?
Do we see the fruit God’s word accomplishes?
One of the things I don’t often see is what Isaiah recorded God telling us,
10 “The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. 11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
This illustration might be harder for us to understand here in California than it is sitting beside a lake in New Hampshire. After all, like looks little different at first today than it did a year ago when we are in a drought. Yet there is still snow in the high Sierras, the depleted reservoirs are again full.
We can’t see those signs, but we do know of the snow and rain from the crops that provide us food, from the grain that gives us bread to the grapes that provide us wine!
But like the camera view that cannot pick up everything, sometimes it is hard to see the blessings of God. They are there, just like the water that sits up in the High Sierras and the reservoirs. We may not regularly note the benefits of the blessings, but the blessings sustain us, none the less.
Again, do we see the rain and snow here? Not so much, but the evidence of that blessing we share see in a moment, just as we do every we eat, and with every sip we drink. His work is there, providing for us, even if all we can “see” are the end results of the blessings.
It is the same way spiritually, as God works through means, and delivers us grace and comfort, as He reveals His compassion and peace.
It will accomplish what God desires it to accomplish, and that is an incredible blessing.
The change is real – let’s see it!
So if in the physical life we see the end product, the food and drink that nourishes us, is there something similar spiritually.
Is there an eternal sign that proves God is at work, that He is blessing us?
Is there something that changes dramatically as a land that was once filled with thorns and weeds being filled with towering cypress and abundant colored myrtle trees, as verse 13 describes?
Yes indeed, we can see the effect of the blessing of God’s word, for the growth and change it does cause. The lives that do change, the lives that hear and know God’s peace in the midst of trauma, the lives that are reconciled.
I started this sermon by talking about the pictures that can’t take in everything the eye can see, and the eyes that can’t take in everything we experience.
Bu those eyes can take in a cross, and contemplate it’s meaning as we are joined to Christ’s death on the cross in our baptism. Those eyes can rejoice as we are welcome to feast on Christ’s body and blood, even as we try to meditate on that incredible feast. Our ears can celebrate as we heard our sin is forgiven, and rejoice as we hear that God is with us.
And as we know this peace, and share it, for so many need to know God’s gift of peace, given through His Son. That peace is the sign of His everlasting power and love, a peace bought for us at the cross and delivered to us in word and the sacraments. The word and sacraments used by the Holy Spirit to change us, for God is with us! AMEN!
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
16 Meanwhile, the eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. 17 When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. 18 Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.‘ Matthew 28:16-20 (NJB)
198 That way is very hard, he told you. And, on hearing it, you heartily agreed, remembering that bit about the Cross being a sure sign of the true way… But your friend noticed only the rough part of the road, without bringing to mind Jesus’ promise: “My yoke is sweet.” Remind him about it, because—perhaps when he realizes it—he will give himself.
Even as each of us is called into a relationship with God and all of His people, each of us has been given vocations, a great diversity of roles, and the gifts needed to fulfill them.
Yet, there is a common vocation, that of making disciples, for that vocation doesn’t belong to just a person, it is the vocation of the Body of Christ, the people of God. If we are part of His one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, we are a people who have been sent into the world. We have an apostolate, we are to be a mission-focused people. Wherever we are, whatever other vocations we have, we are called to make disciples of those we encounter.
This way is hard, as St. Josemaria tells us, it can be brutal, and lonely. It may have long stretches of doubt, of not seeing the fruit of our work. It is all too easy to notice the rough parts of the road, the problems, and trials that exist on the road. For the work is hard, our Lord even had to die to make our discipleship a possibility, and so we shouldn’t expect this to be easy.
Fearing this hardship we hesitate, (some translations say doubt) We have trouble committing to God’s work, knowing it will take us on a rough road, knowing it will cost. We hesitate, we wonder if we can do this if we are truly called to it if God would actually ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you. And Jesus tells us, in the midst of the hesitation, even as we doubt ourselves, “Let’s go, we’ve got people to disciple, even as I disciple you!”
But how can we embrace the roughness?
Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him, the joy of knowing His mission, the reason the Father sent Him was for our salvation, for bringing us back into the family. He suffered in order to welcome us home. Expecting that joy allowed Him to endure the pain, the insults, the betrayals, the loneliness. He saw us, cleansed, holy, redeemed, and was able to see it through.
For us to learn to have that attitude is beneficial, but we have something that even makes it sweeter. We have His authority backing us, and His presence sustaining us, that the Holy Spirit causes (and therefore is responsible) the changes in the lives we of the people we are sent to serve. We have the incredibly sweet joy of knowing God is with us, sharing in our ministry, even as we share in His.
So, in the midst of the bitter road, we anticipate hearing the angels rejoicing, as another sinner is transformed by the power of God. We hear the joy as one is baptized, or bows their knees at the altar, amazed that they are welcome, that their presence is desired. What joy they know, and how joyous is it for us to see!
This is our vocation, for all the members of the Body of Christ, we share in it, in the joy, in the tears, led by or Lord who shares in it all with us.
And that is truly sweet….
So when tired, worn out, struggling, look to the Lord who is with you, and know the joy set before us all. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 1034-1038). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Love Is; Jesus is; We are
Patient and Kind
† In Jesus Name †
As you experience the grace and mercy of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ may you see God enabling you to really love Him and others!
During this season of Lent, many people think we are to beat ourselves up for our sin. That we give up something in order to atone for our continued sin, to show God how sorry for what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do.
That’s not completely accurate, though it moves us to where we need to be.
The goal of Lent is to stop us, to help us realize we aren’t who we should be, as the children of God. Not to beat us up, but to encourage us to have a life that is more like Jesus’ life. The goal is to build in us a desire to imitate Christ, and to live like Paul, who could say, “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.
So this Lent, we are looking at one of the best descriptions of Jesus we can find, one we hear more often at weddings. We’ll take a couple of the descriptions each week, and this week we are looking at these two.
Love is patient and Love is kind.
The Message translation gives us another perspective:
Love never gives up.
Love cares for others more than for self.
Can you imagine if we were so patient we never gave up? Or if everyone was more interested in what was good for others rather than just being self-centered?
Not just within families and churches, but if everyone loved everyone. This is who we are supposed to be!
This is not just a nice idea, it is what God commands us to do, to love Him, to love our neighbors, to love those who hate us. We know this, but I wonder if we desire it, if this is truly who we want to be.
It should be
As we look at love being described by St Paul, we have to realize how it describes Jesus Christ, who was the perfect, sinless man. If we evaluated how he loved by these words, we see it perfectly.
Not just with his patience and not giving up on the Apostles, especially Peter. But Jesus doesn’t give up on us, He isn’t even tempted to do so.
And we see his kindness, His putting others first as He ministered to those around them, having compassion on the crowds who followed them, always being able to find the people who needed His care. Being there for those who would give up, or struggle with their sin, and don’t know how to break it.
This is what the Apostle John meant when he said God is love, for in Jesus, they found out what that really means…we see this amazing level of patience, that God will embrace suffering a long time, for His goal is bring everyone to repentance, to transform everyone so that their lives are a picture of Christ’s love. That is the ultimate example of kindness,
So we know this description of love should describe our life as well. We know it doesn’t, at least as we struggle with it, so how can we desire to grow in our ability to love?
The answer is on all of your minds. Look, you can see it on those around you.
The cross, the place where Jesus gave His life for you. We could put a blob on your forehead, but we put a cross. To remind you that while you have sinned, you really aren’t sinners anymore.
You have been united to Christ, and the ashes that mark you, mark you as His, just as the cross made over your head and heart at baptism did. His sacrifice, His body and blood broken and given for you provides the answer.
It is what we need to spend contemplating. As we think about this great love, a love that cleanses us from sin, and leaves us holy, set apart to God, set apart for God to dwell with. The more we spend time talking to God, exploring the breadth and width, the height and depth of His love, the more the Holy Spirit transforms us, causing and enabling us to love as He does…. For we are with Him.
As the song we will sing in a moment says, where You are Lord, I am free….
Free to love.. to be patient, to be kind, to be like Christ who not only sets you free, but makes you Holy.
We will be Like Him!
1 John 3:1-3
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace and peace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, as you realize you are the Father’s beloved, blessed children!
Awfully Big Shoes to Fill!
Jesus often taught in parables, so it makes sense that pastors should use them on occasion. Stories and words that paint a picture, and that we get the lesson of, intuitively.
I also like to use them because I can then address them as “Pastor Parker’s Panoramic Parables.
I bet that doesn’t sound quite as nice in Chinese!
Well here is today’s parable, the kingdom of God is like this,
The kingdom of God is like a child trying on their Father’s shoes!
We are just kids who can’t resist trying on Dad’s shoes.
And while the desire to be “grown-up” seems a good thing, we far too often want to try on God’s shoes and walk in them. And the usual result is that we fall down and hurt ourselves, and others.
We Can’t Walk in them Yet!
As children, we often want to be like our parents, to act like they do, and putting on their shoes is symbolic of that. It is a cute thing, but not so much when we try to put on God’s shoes.
It happens, we play God when we want that parental level of authority, we want to be in charge. Usually, there is another brother or sister involved, and if we have God our Father’s authority, we can judge them and put them in their place.
Instead of being responsible we want to condemn them, or get revenge, or just make sure everything is fair, according to what we perceive!
I mean, even as adults we have trouble loving our neighbors as we are supposed to love them. Can you imagine the temptation and the damage we would do if we were actually God?
I mean – it would be nice to get on the freeway and command everyone else to get off, so we wouldn’t be stuck in traffic!
Really, we are still kids, we still can be a little self-centered, we can still do things where we try and play God. We still mess up – we still get self-centered, we still want things our way, and will do things to try and make it happen. We even still throw tantrums when we don’t get our way – if you don’t believe me, wait until Tuesday, when some adults will be poor winners, and others poor losers. Either way – there will be tantrums, arguments, accusations of cheating and people saying “It’s not fair!”
And God will still be God, and He will look on us and show us mercy and love, and as that love leads us to repent, our sins will be washed away
That is why the Father sent the Son to the cross – to draw us into Jesus, to restore that relationship, to make us again His children, and to show us what we will be like when Christ appears, for we will be like Him.
But We will – This is assured!
Hear the words of the Apostle Paul that were written to the Colossian Church.
1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
Colossians 3:1-4 (NLT)
This is the same thing the apostle John wrote that we heard today
But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3 And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.
Holiness, purity, is simply living like Jesus, being like Jesus, and that is the transformation that happens, starting when the Holy Spirit brings us to life, gives us faith and cleanses us in baptism.
It comes as the Holy Spirit transforms us, as we gain that hope, that expectation that God will complete the work, the transformation He has began in us, as He promised.
We like all children will grow up – spiritually, this happens when we arrive at being completely like Christ Jesus. The good news, is that is His work, and the world of our loving Father. Want to know what you will be like – you will love the Father like Christ loves the Father, you will love each other the way Christ loves us.
So trust God, depend on God, and know that in Him we have a peace that goes beyond all understanding – that guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
499 Years Later
How is YOUR Re-formation Going?
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the mercy of God our Father, poured out on us as we were untied to Jesus in Baptism, be as real, as reforming our lives and God’s church.
Does History Guarantee our Reformation?
There was once a group of people who thought themselves good, who counted their spiritual heritage back across the generations, for they knew God had worked across those generations, and had often preserved His people. They did what they were told would make them holy, they regularly met and celebrated the promises of God. They ignored their sin, often while condemning the sins of others.
It sounds like the descendants of Abraham, doesn’t it?
Could it be said of Lutherans, even Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Lutherans, Even the people that gather here at Concordia Lutheran Church, even those here right now?
I think Jesus’ answer to us would be the same to those Jews who needed to be freed from sin, as He calls us all to be disciples, to remain in the truth He instills in us, to celebrate the truth that indeed sets us free!
To put it in another way, to be able to answer the question,
“499 years later, how is your re-formation going?”
Or do we know that the Holy Spirit is at work, reforming us!
Are we still enslaved to sin?
Jesus told them and told us, that if we are sin, we are enslaved to it, in bondage to it, that it set a trap and caught us in it, a trap we cannot easily escape. That’s why you can’t escape it at times, or the guilt and shame it can cause.
Ever lay awake at night, wondering why you said or did something, or have it come back to haunt you? Ever feel the suffocation of shame, as you think, if they only knew how bad I was, they would never forgive?
One article I read said that Luther had an over-active sense of guilt, a by-product of depression, and a burdened soul that created the Reformation to find comfort for his broken soul.
Would we all have souls so hungry to be found righteous, and haunted by our own unrighteousness! Would we all seek out the comfort God offers to those who are broken, and would we all point others, in need of us, to the comfort the cross offers!
For we need relief of being ensnared by sin, we need to hear that we’ve been freed from it, we need to know, in the midst of broken lives and a broken world, that there is peace!
That’s why Jesus points out that in their slavery, they may seem to be part of Abraham’s family, but they are slaves, people without rights, who aren’t part of the family. They lived in the illusion of it, while still in bondage. But if they would follow Jesus, if they would walk with Him, learn of Him, and find their place in Him, they would be free. They would be transformed.
We need to be transformed, which was the hope both the Reformation and the Restoration movements offered.
We need to see our reformation and restoration both personal, and permanent. To declared us free from the power of sin, freed to become the children of God!
We are part of that family
That was the freedom, the comfort, the relief Luther, and so many before and after found. In being a disciple, not just someone who learns by sitting in a classroom, but one who walks with Jesus in every aspect of life. Where we let God form us, even disciplining us as the Holy Spirit works to reform and transform us.
This is what happens at the Cross when we are united to Christ’s death and His resurrection, that is where our personal reformation begins, ever as Paul wrote to Titus.
3 Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. 4 But—
That is us, back when before this happened>0
“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace, he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:3-8 (NLT)
This is the teaching a disciple of Jesus remains in, the fact that He saved us, baptizing us in water and the Spirit, cleansing us from all sin.
That is where our confidence in being part of God’s family comes from! Not from anywhere else! That is where our reformation happened, even as it is revealed throughout the rest of our lives, and completed on the day of Christ.
And knowing that leaves us in a place of peace, A peace that is found as we remain in Christ Jesus. In that peace, we find the stillness needed to know He is God, and we have not only been freed, but we’ve become part of the family. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
19 and if you are confident that you are a guide for the blind and a light for those in darkness,o 20 that you are a trainer of the foolish and teacher of the simple,p because in the law you have the formulation of knowledge and truth— 21 then you who teach another, are you failing to teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?q 22 You who forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast of the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 rFor, as it is written, “Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles.” Romans 2:19-24 NABRE
To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish a universal brotherhood is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life……The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life’s journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of brotherly solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. (1)
The words from Romans above hit home hard.
Do we who preach learn the lessons we preach with such clarity?
Or is our preaching nothing more than a pious role, acting without the faith, but with the knowledge we have bene given? Is our message nothing more than a false mask, an act which we think they can’t see through?
Does the world, does our community hate God, not because of who God is, or what He has called into existence, but because of our hypocrisy?
By the way, this isn’t just for those who preach as part of their pastoral vocation, but those who preach with their lives through other vocations, as husbands and wives, employers and employees, and our “vocation” in social media.
You see Paul’s words from Romans this morning aren’t just applicable to the Jewish leaders of his day, but to us, to all who claim to call out “Lord! Lord!” while turning aside our brothers and sisters who are as broken, and are as made in the image of God.
So this day, do we need to be confronted as Paul did to those to whom he wrote? Do we need to have the law drive us back to the cross, back to the altar, back to the place where we can cry, “Lord” but add to it, “have mercy on me a sinner!”
We need his grace; we need His love, his mercy, his peace so that we can live by faith. A faith that betrays the hypocrisy. We can hear the law and the gospel we preach. We can have the hope of being transformed from a bunch of hypocrites into a community, a fellowship that is charitable and loving. Not just in the big things, but in the daily struggles we daily have.
That is the effect of the law – the Law we need to hear, as it drive us to the cross, to the place where our brokenness finds compasssion and healing. Vatican II sees this in the Eucharist, in that moment where Christ’s broken body transfigures ours, and His righteousness, His love, His life is found in us!
This is what each sacrament is, whether the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Confession nd Absolution, and even prayer. It is that moment when our hypocritical nature is overwhelmed by the incarnation, where love washes away all that is not love.
As we live in those moments, then our God is found attractive, not reviled, and as we see Him lifted up in our praises – people are drawn to Him, through our lives.
No longer hypocrites, but those broken, who find healing in Christ while helping others heal.
(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.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
76 And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord* to prepare his ways,r
77 to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our Gods
by which the daybreak from on high* will visit us
79 to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1 76-79
Finally priests have been placed in the midst of the laity to lead them to the unity of charity, “loving one another with fraternal love, eager to give one another precedence” (Rom 12:10). It is their task, therefore, to reconcile differences of mentality in such a way that no one need feel himself a stranger in the community of the faithful. They are defenders of the common good, with which they are charged in the name of the bishop. At the same time, they are strenuous assertors of the truth, lest the faithful be carried about by every wind of doctrine.56 They are united by a special solicitude with those who have fallen away from the use of the sacraments, or perhaps even from the faith. Indeed, as good shepherds, they should not cease from going out to them.
Mindful of the prescripts on ecumenism,57 let them not forget their brothers who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical communion with us.
Finally, they have entrusted to them all those who do not recognize Christ as their Savior. (1)
As Zechariah considers his son’s birth, as the Spirit fills him, as it will fill John, the words are worth considering, worth being struck with awe.
John prepares a people who are lost, blinded, in fear of death ready for a miracle. He is to begin to reveal to them their salvation, to ready them for the day when the Glory of God, seen in Jesus, will shine into their darkness. He would give them the knowledge fo the forgiveness of sin, which his cousin Jesus would actually bring us.
That God, Himself and no other, would come to guide us, to shepherd us into a place of great peace. To prepare the people of God for the arrival of the messiah, that was John’s role, as it is the role of everyone in ministry, especially pastors and priests. (though really, every Christian is in ministry)
Decades before the term “missional” became in vogue, Vatican II noted this when it describes the role of priests. I would include pastors in this, but I want to draw attention to these things,
the are to reconcile
They are to see no one feels themselves a stranger in the community
the are to defend the common good, and the assert the truth – that is to present Jesus and His mercy so clearly that people aren’t blown about by doctrine.
But get this as well
We who are in ministry are to unite with those who haven’t encountered Jesus in the sacrament, who haven’t been trusting and depending on Christ. We can’t cease to try and guide them back to Jesus.
And if brothers are divided – knowing that Jesus would see us unified, we don’t just dismiss those whose theology is different than our own!
And finally, Vatican II says – those in ministry have entrusted to them ALL who do not recognize Jesus as their savior.
This was John’s ministry, it is ours. Some will call it being missional, some will call it the apostolate. I really don’t care which you use, as long as you actually are doing it. A mom guiding her children, a pastor guiding Hs parish, a friend reminding another that God is indeed with them, and cares and loves them.
This is the ministry, this is our life as a church, led by priests and pastors, we guide people to Jesus, we reveal His love, and then we are overwhelmed again and again, as He works in their lives.
Revealing to us that they are the children of God, the ones He died to reclaim.
Lord have mercy on us sinners, help us lay aside our own brokenness, that we can help others see their salvation. AMEN!
(1) Catholic Church. “Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests: Presbyterorum Ordinis.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)
4 But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” 8 This is a trustworthy saying, and I want you to insist on these teachings so that all who trust in God will devote themselves to doing good. These teachings are good and beneficial for everyone. Titus 3:4-8 (NLT)
Article VI: Of New Obedience Also they teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruits, and that it is necessary to do good works commanded by God, because of God’s will, but that we should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. For remission of sins and justification is apprehended by faith, as also the voice of Christ attests: When ye shall have done all these things, say: We are unprofitable servants. Luke 17:10. The same is also taught by the Fathers. For Ambrose says: It is ordained of God that he who believes in Christ is saved, freely receiving remission of sins, without works, by faith alone. ( The Augsburg Confession: The Chief Articles of the Fatih)
For all of this, I must thank Him, praise Him, serve Him and obey Him. Yes, this is true!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, Under: “Part Two: The Creed”.
In these days following Easter, as we move towards Pentecost, the readings in my devotionals, and the assigned readings for church describe a major shift in the lives of those who trust in God. They don’t change; they are changed. They aren’t simply justified by faith, as if that is the end of their salvation, they are also sanctified, set apart in a holy relationship, described as the New Covenant between God and His people.
I think as a church we do a disservice. At the time of the Reformation, Lutheran and some Reformed churches has a balance between Justification and Sanctification. While we were absolute that nothing we do merits our salvation, that there is nothing we do to justify ourselves before God, there was a change that He did to us.
In the green and blue quotes above, from the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism, this change is made clear and absolute. It is necessary to do good works, and We must thank, praise, serve and obey Him. There is no option allowed in those words
Change happens. Change will happen. We are not saved by faith alone as if that is all that salvation is; it is to misrepresent Luther and the rest of the evangelical Catholic reformers to indicate that is so. They knew what would happen to us in the relationship we have with God; the New Covenant spells it out, as clearly as it spells out the assurance of Christ’s work in redeeming us.
So how does this work? How much effort will it take to change? How mandatory is it?
Regarding mandatory, I think Luther and Melanchthon and the words necessary and must make it clear from Lutheran theology. The quote from ROmans 12, Paul pleads with people to let God work this our lives, just to give ourselves into His hands (which is where we belong anyway!) and let the Spirit mold us, working through us.
Paul will also tell Timothy to keep teaching about God’s work transforming us, and the Spirit overwhelming us, for that will result in our devoting ourselves to doing good. That is the key to this, our grasping, not just with our mind but with heart, sou, mind and strength what it means to be in Christ, to have the Spirit dwell within us.
As we pray, as we learn, as God reveals Himself to us, in us, He transforms us. We become His masterpiece, a divine work of art. This is the promise God makes to us in His word.
So it makes no sense to argue about works or to call those who teach what God is doing pietists. Some need to be corrected gently, that they realize the change is made in us, rather than we make the change. Often we aren’t even aware of it, as the sheep in Matthew 25 were unaware when they ministered to Jesus. Love and ministry become more natural, more of what needs to be done. The sacraments become dearer, these active, covenant renewal moments, when the grace of God promised is delivered, whetting our appetite for the feast when all become completely transformed when all are welcomed home into the presence of our Father.
Look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, look to Him as the Holy Spirit transforms you from glory to glory, Look to Him, know HIs love, hear His promises, and let His word direct your thoughts words and actions. And if you fall, confess it, let His absolving cleanse your heart, and continue to journey with the God, who loves you.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not lament, do not weep!”—for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. 10 He continued: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD is your strength!” 11 And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Silence! Today is holy, do not be saddened.” 12 Then all the people began to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been explained to them. Nehemiah 8:9–12 New American Bible. .
10 Think about what the Holy Spirit says, and let yourself be filled with awe and gratitude: Elegit nos ante mundi constitutionem—he chose us before the foundation of the world, ut essemus sancti in conspectu eius!—that we might be holy in his presence. To be holy isn’t easy, but it isn’t difficult either. To be holy is to be a good Christian, to resemble Christ. The more closely a person resembles Christ, the more Christian he is, the more he belongs to Christ, the holier he is. And what means do we have? The same means the early faithful had, when they saw Jesus directly or caught a glimpse of him in the accounts the Apostles and Evangelists gave of him.
As my church has spent Lent considering what repentance is, one thing becomes clearer and clearer. Lent, while a solemn season, while a penitential season, is one filled with joy because it is filled with hope.
As Ezra read the Torah to the people of God, as the Spirit called to mind their sin, there was a grieving that took place, as people considered generation after generation of sin, as well as their own. And yes, a repentant sin does need an examination of conscience, as we approach our confession. But even that confession is done with expectation, clinging to the promise of God’s faithfulness.
We have to remember that a repentant life is a transformed life, a life where God is working on us, recreating us, cleansing us. This work of God, this masterpiece He is creating, is what repentance granted us is really about.
It is getting used to living in the light, as opposed to floundering in the darkness! It is walking around, free in Christ, free to be with Christ, rather than being chained to sin, anxiety, fear, and resentment.
It is the simplicity that St. Josemaria talks of, of simply living life, confident and aware of the presence of God, revealed in His word, communicated in the sacraments. It is when we catch that glimpse and hold onto it, letting everything else fall aside. It is isn’t easy, as our old nature will fight to stay alive, yet it is as easy as realizing we are Jesus’ friends, the Father’s children, His people. And that realization, especially when we know it isn’t right because we don’t we deserve it, but rather is right because God granted us this repentant life.
Repentance is not an act, any more than conversion is, and more than faith is a declaration of our trust. It is a state of being, it is being “the Repentant”, a joyous walk with a God that loves us, and is willing to forgive, showing mercy, and faithful, unending love!
Cry out, “Lord have mercy!” but do it in faith, and in expectation, for you dwell in His presence! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 270-276). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The Question of Who BenefitsFrom “My” Work
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ so transform you that you know the excitement and joy that leads you to see others needs…and meet them!
Part 1: Fruit of His Labors
When we hear Zacchaeus was a tax collector, I think we paint a picture in our minds. A small man, perhaps with squinty eyes, and hands that are moving way to fast. A glint in his eye when money is involved.
We probably assume he is evil, that he robbed people left and right of what they earned. After all, aren’t tax collectors the ultimate example of evil? There are some noble used car salesman out there, and even some very honest politicians and lawyers.
But a tax collector though? A government worker whose job depended on collecting enough revenue? Who had legal authority to fine and who received a bonus, or a cut, of all he took in, he is one who needs to repent, right?
So if he can repent, we have hope, right?
If Zack can be transformed by God’s love, then we are a much simpler job, right?
No. I don’t think so. I think we make a mistake in saying he was more evil than we are, just because of his role. Certainly, the little guy was hated more than anyone else, but he we can’t assume that he was more corrupt, more self-centered.
Certainly he was not a hero to his people. Look at how they grumbled because Jesus went to him!
He hoarded his wealth; he was successful in that we find out why he needed to repent. We see the change in him after he encounters Jesus. Instead of sharing, he hoarded. Instead of meeting needs, he made sure he had none. He didn’t care about those around him; he cared about himself.
It may be considered as American as apple pie, but greed is still a sin. Not loving your brother, and responding in love to his needs is still a sin. We don’t like hearing that, we want to enjoy the fruit of our labors, and not share it with others. We want what we deserve, the pay we earned with our own hands.
Which brings up an interesting question – why do we do what we do? To serve God, or to serve ourselves?
Zacchaeus served himself, but even as a wealthy man, a man who did his job well, that wasn’t enough. Throughout scripture, you see this – over and over, as those who are only focused on themselves live empty lives. Ethics and morality are reduced from living a life that benefits others, to lives that don’t rob from others.
We hear this in the first epistle of John,
16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; 1 John 3:16-19 (NLT)
This is our call to repentance this evening, this is the call to confession, to pray that God would help us to change.
That He remove from us the lack of compassion that has a grip on our souls. That He would remove from us a heart that is self-centered and only cares about its own needs.
As we enter a time of silence, let the Spirit convict you, show you where you need to have Him change you, and grant you the forgiveness you need.
( after confession of sin, confession of what we believe and why we have hope, part II begins )
Zacchaeus Part II
It probably never entered Zacchaeus’ mind that Jesus would be coming to dinner. He would be willing just to get a glimpse of him, maybe if was lucky, get a selfie with Jesus in the background.
Why would a prophet, why would a rabbi invest time in him? It is as inconceivable as Ebenezer Scrooge leaving his entire net worth to the elder’s benevolence fund. Or Mr. Grinch bringing Christmas presents for everyone in Whoville. Or Mr. Zacchaeus returning the tax money he collected to those in need.
No priest, no pastor would give him the time of day, he was a spiritually wounded man on the road to Jericho, and he really needed a Samaritan, a Savior. Even though he was a Jew, even though he probably donated money, how would he ever learn that he could repent of his sin? That he wasn’t a complete write-off in the eyes of God. He needed someone to tell Him,
And Jesus did.
He said let’s eat together – at your place.
I am interested in your life Zach; I want to be part of it.
It may be the first time any religious leader had said that to him, and it changed Zaccheus’s life forever.
Come, let us feast together, let me come to you.
My friends repentance doesn’t start with us promising God to make things right; it doesn’t start by our deciding we need to change. It starts like it did with Zacchaeus, with the Lord reaching out to us, loving us, wanting to be involved in our lives.
That love that interest in what is happening with us changes us heals us, makes us complete. It is the granting of repentance, the transformation from sinner to saint.
And it comes to all believers, as God comes to us and says, let me come with you, and let’s feast together this day…
Its time for us now, to hear that invitation. We too have realized that we don’t know always choose to love God with all we are, to love our neighbor as ourselves. But He’s come to make that possible, to show us His love.
So come, and eat with Jesus. He’s come here to be with you today. Here.