Devotional Thought for our days:
7 But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. 8 We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; 9 we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; 10 always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. 11 Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. 12 In us, then, death is at work; in you, life. 13 But as we have the same spirit of faith as is described in scripture—I believed and therefore I spoke—we, too, believe and therefore we, too, speak, 14 realising that he who raised up the Lord Jesus will raise us up with Jesus in our turn, and bring us to himself—and you as well. 15 You see, everything is for your benefit, so that as grace spreads, so, to the glory of God, thanksgiving may also overflow among more and more people. 2 Corinthians 4:7-15 (NJB)
929 Don’t forget that we will be more convincing the more convinced we are.
As you look at paintings of saints, some are portrayed in very peaceful serene moments, a soft glow seems to be about them, even without the golden halos There are others that show them in the depth of darkness, fully engulfed in pain, fully engulfed in a battle against Satan and sin and despair.
I find great comfort in the latter type of paintings, for I know far more people engulfed in a similar battle, who benefit from knowing they aren’t the first to do battle with temptation, sin, doubt, resentment, guilt, and all the lies of Satan. For when we look at Francis or St John of the Cross or Luther or Walther or Mother Theresa battling that which oppressed them, we realize there must be hope, for we know how the story of these holy men and women ring true in the moment.
Paul is correct, in these lives lived in the valley of the shadow of death, we don’t just see the brokenness, we see the Holy Spirit comforting and sustaining them, as the victory of Christ’s death on the cross becomes more and more real.
For united to that death, we find life.
United to His suffering, we find peace.
Yesterday I had the responsibility of sharing God’s love with a family, a neighborhood of people who were devasted by the death of a young man. A man so devastated by the pains of life that it overwhelmed him and he thought peace could only be found in the arms of death.
The confidence to speak in that situation comes not from theology books, or the education I have received, but from the darkness, I’ve seen Christ deliver so many people through over the years, from the darkness I have needed to be rescued from as well. St Josemaria is so insightful in his words, I can convince people of God’s love, because i have been convinced as well.
One of the 80+-year-old ladies is responsible for our church mission statement. She said one morning in Sunday school that Concordia is the place where people find healing in Christ, while helping others heal.
It is an absolutely beautiful, brilliant and true statement about our church. It may not be fancy or measurable, it does not meet the standards of the guru’s who teach church leadership. It doesn’t hold out a goal for some future time where we will have a perfect, thriving, idyllic large church.
Chruch isn’t some kind of utopia on earth. It is a place for the broken, for the different, for those struggling with life, with shame and guilt, with resentment and hatred. It is where we find healing and hope amid our brokenness, amid the tears and the pain to deep for tears.
This is what the saints knew… this is why the paintings can show them in despair, and in glory, for both are true, in Christ.
And we are called saints just as those whose faith in God we admire! For we, like those who walked before us, are those called out, drawn to Jesus, those made holy the Holy Spirit, whose healing is being accomplished, for it is God the Father’s will.
He has heard our cry for mercy, and has answered it. May we always be convinced of this, even as we convince others of it.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3775-3776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought for our Days
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. James 2:14-17 (NLT)
827 A friend of ours used to say: “The poor are my best spiritual book and the main motive of my prayers. It pains me to see them, and in each one of them, Christ. And because it hurts, I realise I love him and love them.”
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.
A number of issues seem to be addressed by today’s readings, (and the quote from the Augsburg Confession)
We could start with the devastation of Houston, or Northwest and the fires that plague them. This week adds the Carribean, and possibly all of Florida as Irma draws close.
We can add to that those around us who are stressed by the changes brought about by the end of DACA. And the growing homeless along the Santa Ana and other river trails.
There are others I think of, as next week I will do a memorial service of a young man who left behind his father (who is my age) and a neighborhood of friends still in shock Or other friends battling health issues. Including them, our prayer list is over 150 different people and the friends and family that walk with them.
How do we help so many? We start on our knees, we ask God to bless them, to strengthen their faith, to strengthen ours as we pray, depending on God not only for the ability to help where we can…. but for the wisdom to know who to help.
And then we live out our lives, knowing God is faithful.
That is how we do it, looking to a God who so loves us, who so gives to us, who is with us.
We may end up giving more than we thought we could, we may end up having to make tough decisions between a lot of people in need, a lot of people who do not just need our money, but our time.
With confidence built up the promises of God, promises delivered through His word and the sacraments, we can do this… we can love, for that is who we become in Christ Jesus.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 3401-3404). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
— Augsburg Confession, The
I AM here!
Matthew 14: 22-33
As you hear and think about the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, may you realize as well, that is only possible because He is here, with you!
An Interrupted Prayer time?
As I study a passage of scripture to preach on it, I look at other passages that are similar. With the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this is pretty easy, as they cover more than 2/3rds of the same stories.
In this case, Mark’s gospel adds one interesting note, that Jesus’s prayer time, his time talking with God the Father was interrupted. Mark’s gospel adds this little note in
47 Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. 48 He saw that they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. He intended to go past them, Mark 6:47-48 (NLT)
While Mark doesn’t mention Jesus praying, it does mention that HE SAW THEM!
So Jesus heads out – checks on them as He is passing, and that is when something interesting happens.
No, not their freaking out, as they’ve been struggling for 9 plus hours to row and sail a boat against contrary seas. That isn’t interesting, it is tragic. They are tired, and to see someone walking across the sea, in the midst of a horrible eastern Mediterranean storm… well – it’s got to be supernatural, a phantasmic (not fantastic) experience in Greek.
What is interesting is Jesus response to their cries of fear. I AM here.
Sounds like what I keep telling you, you know, “the Lord is with you!”!!!
The Struggles are Real
We need to know that, and some weeks, and some Saturdays, we need to know it even more.
Sometimes we are like the disciples, tired from fighting contrary winds, feeling like the world is going to overwhelm and drown us. Sometimes the other guys in the boat aren’t much of a help, or at least we don’t thing they are. And the wind – there is nothing we can do…
A few years ago, when Kay came back from a mission trip to Siberia, they had a team reunion near a reservoir in San Diego. The reservoir had little sailboats, brand new, in fact the one she and I got in had never been used!
We found that out as we get maybe 100 feet away from the dock, and the rudder, not fully screwed in , because it decides to float away! Then I notice they didn’t insert the centerboard, so there is nothing to keep the boat stable,, and then of course, the wind picks up.
We got blown across the reservoir, where a park ranger met us. She then told kay to get out of the front of the boat, and I learned they didn’t insert the ballast either, and the boat flips over with only my weight on board! Funny it was.. but more than a bit frustrating!
And we didn’t even get to see Jesus walking on the water, and when I got out – I didn’t walk on it! But life sometimes feels like it was that day, failing miserably, helpless, unable to go where I should, and ending up soaking wet!
But Jesus still sees us struggling, even when we aren’t aware of His presence, or His care for us. We don’t, otherwise we wouldn’t freak out, or scream like the disciples did, in fear of their lives.
We often talk about sin as this action, or that action. This evil thought, or those words that hurt that we say. But sin is also when we ignore God, when we try and play God, or choose things our way.
Please hear me, I am not saying the struggle is sin, absolutely not! By no means! But during the struggle, have we forgotten Jesus? Do we remember He cares? If not sin, or often the effect of sin in our lives is evident, for we’ve lost sight of our Lord, our Deliver.
I am here, compared to I AM HERE
Which is why we need to hear his voice, we need to be reminded of His presence. We need to realize it,, we need to let Him calm our fears, put to rest our anxieties, heal our souls and bring peace to our hearts.
By the way, there is a spelling error on the Bulletin, and I may have set this one up when I told Cris the sermon title.
It isn’t I Am Here…. It is I AM here.
That doesn’t seem like much does it? It would be to Peter and Andrew, James, Hahn, Mathew and the rest. You see, in both Greek and Hebrew, Jesus didn’t just reveal that he was walking by.
He revealed he was God, and that He was involved in their life. You see, that I AM is the I AM Moses heard at the burning bush, it is the name of God that is translated as LORD throughout scripture, the name God gave us to call out to him. Yahweh, Ego Eimi, the I AM THAT IAM . The name that was put on the temple for people to know who to pray to, and of course, the name we aren’t to take in vain, but use to pray and to praise God.
During the storm, and at the cross, God is there for you. In the trauma of everyday life, He answers us, and to finally get to that other guy on the water, He says to us as He did to Peter.
Don’t be afraid, I am here – come on – walk with me!
And so we shall, trusting in the Lord who is with you! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
26 In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. 27 And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will. 28 We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose. 29 Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son, so that the Son would be the first among many believers. 30 And so those whom God set apart, he called; and those he called, he put right with himself, and he shared his glory with them. Romans 8:26-30 (TEV)
149 I must warn you against a ploy of satan—yes, without a capital, because he deserves no more—who tries to make use of the most ordinary circumstances, to turn us away, slightly or greatly, from the way that leads us to God. If you are struggling, and even more if you are really struggling, you should not be surprised at feeling tired or at having sometimes to “go against the grain”, without any spiritual or human consolation. See what someone wrote to me some time ago, and which I kept for those who naively consider that grace does away with nature: “Father, for a few days now I have been feeling tremendously lazy and lacking in enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life. I have to force myself to do everything, and I have very little taste for it. Pray for me so that this crisis may soon pass, for it makes me suffer a lot to think it could make me turn from my way.” I answered only: did you not know that Love demands sacrifice? Read the words of the Master slowly: “Whoever does not take up his Cross quotidie—every day—is not worthy of Me.” And further on: “I will not leave you orphans…” Our Lord allows that dryness of yours, which you find so hard, so that you may love Him more, so that you may trust only in Him, so that you may coredeem with the Cross, so that you may meet Him.
Though I am going to direct these thoughts along the way of St> Josemaria’s discussion of dryness, they could be applied to almost any time of struggle.
Too often I could be the person that St Josemaria was speaking to in the discussion above. Too many times I have been struggling, and don’t have the “enthusiasm for fulfilling the plan of life”, that is working to do His will, to see this world reconciled to Him. I recognize the need to force myself to do the things I love. Part of the struggle is that I feel like I am trying to bail the water out of the Titanic, hundreds of feet under the ocean. Part of it is that for every trauma where people know God’s peace, three more arrive. The work seems unending and overwhelming, and my emotional and spiritual batteries drain too fast…
Then I come across Romans 8, and wonder how in the world these times of struggle fit into the promise of God. How can times where my faith wanders, where I feel so weary and dried out, burnt out, and where God seems silent, how can these times actually work for good?
Or is it that I am not one of those to whom this promise was made? (Yes, I’ve thought that even as I try to make sure others know they are…. and I bet I am not the only one!)
That’s why I included more than verse 28 in the quote from Romans. We know that verse so well, but we fail to see the context is in the midst of a time of weakness, a time of brokenness, a time where even the Holy Spirit groans out in intercession, for the brokenness we endure is great.
But that prayer of the Spirit, that prayer the Holy Spirit interprets and pleads on our behalf with the Father is heard. The Spirit ensures the connection to God’s heart is there, a connection we need to realize is there.
The context also discusses God putting us to right with Him, indeed, as Josemaria tells us, sometimes these moments are necessary so that we realize the connection is viable, that God is caring. That He is here.
I would never say God causes these struggles, these moments when we don’t know what to even say in our prayers, but I do know how He uses them. It is just as Josemaria says, that there I can find the depth of His love, the unlimited faithfulness that sustains me. As well, it from those depths that I find my desire to help people find God as well, that they can find the peace, that they can know He is there. ( I only pray they don’t have to follow as far in my steps before they realize it.) That is how amazing this is, that is how I’ve come to know to trust Him, and even though I don’t like the periods of dryness and despair, I have come to appreciate them, and even (grudgingly at first) embrace them.
For I know He is with me, and with us, and that is not just enough, it is incredibly glorious! AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 822-833). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. 2 Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne. 3 Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3 (TEV)
83 Faced by all those men without faith, without hope; by minds desperately near the borders of anguish, seeking for a meaning in their life, you found your purpose: Him! This discovery will permanently inject a new happiness into your existence, it will transform you, and present you with an immense daily hoard of beautiful things of which you were unaware, and which show you the joyful expanse of that broad path that leads you to God.
There are times where the actions of people affect us. Times where evil or unjust actions cause us to struggle, to even despair and sink into depression. Some of us are more susceptible to this than others, as we do not understand how in the world they justify their actions.
This kind of trauma can paralyze us, make us ask unanswerable questions, we can even begin to doubt God, for how can he allow this level of brokenness, this sin to dominate and evil to flourish. As we ask these questions, out hearts and souls receive hit after hit, even as we try to determine if this is the time to fight, or flee.
I hate to say it is “natural” to enter such struggles but after 50 years, I find that I don’t have the strength to avoid such, nor the power to overcome the tendency to be so affected. Simply put, you can’t care for people, you can’t try to love them without opening yourself up to such burdens, to such struggles.
So how do you cope?
St. Josemaria and St. Paul agree. The answer is to look to Jesus, to find our purpose is Him. They agree that our relationship with Jesus is so precious that we can look to Him and discover the greatest joy. This is the same joy that Jesus saw as he walked to, and was nailed to the cross.
Looking to Him, finding our life our breath and very being located in Him, allows us to see that our trust in Him is true. He will sustain us from the beginning to the end, it will reveal to us the incredible vastness of the love of God, and we will experience it more as we see ourselves as part of His story.
That’s what I need to know, that is why we need to go to the cross when we are feeling this way. Our hearts and souls and minds need to understand what happened when God baptized us when God drew us to Jesus and united us to His death and resurrection, When God declared us righteous, cleansing us of sin, and declared we are His children. We need to allow His presence to dominate our awareness, to let, for then His peace settles over us. Assured He is our fortress, we can then begin to respond in love, and in prayer for those who actions or words drew us deep into despair.
This is what we need, to focus in on Jesus, and be forewarned, it isn’t easy. Satan will buffet us all the way. This is where the communion of saints is so precious, for their testimonies in scripture and in the millennia since demonstrates God’s faithfulness. This is where the sacraments and the word of God come into play, ministering to our hearts, souls, and minds, bringing the peace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.
Here is our hope and joy are restored, renewed, here in this sanctuary we call the presence of God, for know this my friends, “the Lord is with you!”
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 571-576). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
I will Trust My God!
† In Jesus’ Name! †
As the light of Christ’s glory shines in your hearts, may you know how great His mercy, how complete His peace, and how deep His love for you is!
Is it him, or me?
When we look at a prophecy in the Old Testament, there are some things we have to consider.
How was it in originally fulfilled.
Is it primarily about Jesus during the time from His incarnation to his
But there is a third application of the prophecy – whether it is just a lesson for us, revealing Jesus, or whether it is directly applicable to us. For example, in the 23rd Psalm, or in Psalm 51 or 139, the words are as applicable to you and me as they are to David.
But what about today’s selection? Is it like those Psalms that are more about Jesus, or the ones that tell us more about ourselves?
Are we the ones who were named by God before our birth, while in our mother’s womb known by God? Or is it Jesus?
Are we the ones hidden in the shadow of His hand, who serve God the Father and will bring Him glory, or is it only Jesus who is so aimed, whose words will cause people to know God’s decision that declares them righteous?
Who is this passage about? Jesus, our Lord, the one who brings the light of His glory into our darkness, or are these words of Isaiah about you and me?
Al – don’t say it!
Could He know the despair?
If I were to make the case that it is about us, what would seem to make that point is found in verse 4.
4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
That sounds like something you or I would say, far more than it sounds like something the only begotten Son of God would say.
Think about those words for a moment. Do these words of despair sound like they would come from the mouth of the Lord Jesus? From the same lips that blessed bread and fish and fed thousands upon thousands? From the same lips that calmed storms, and called the little girl and the widow’s son and Lazarus back to life? Could Jesus, who forgave the adulteress, and healed the blind and paralyzed, could he have uttered such words of hopelessness?
Doesn’t this lead us to think these words, therefore, must be just about you and me?
Or is this what the writer of Hebrews means when he says,
15 We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. 16 So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.
Hebrews 4:15-16 (MSG)
If so, then this passage could still be about Him. If it is, then we have a God who doesn’t just look down on us, but can be there for us, knowing the challenges. He just doesn’t sympathize with us, this God who lights up our darkness with His light, it is His empathy that drives Him to do so!
If this passage is about Jesus, then it brings a whole different understanding to our faith. It isn’t n vain, and it isn’t a leap. Our hope is an expectation, just like Jesus’ faith is expressed back in verse 4,
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.
Somehow, Jesus was able to trust the Father, He was able to leave it all in the Father’s hands. Dealing with Peter and James and John and the wishy-washy disciples, dealing with Herod and the religious leaders who wanted to kill him. Dealing with the rich young ruler who walked away.
Did Jesus know those days when it seems like nothing works, that nothing makes a difference, and simply trusted in the Father’s will?
It is both, because we find life, in Christ!
So is this passage only about Jesus? Or can we utter those words as well? Can we leave it all in the hands of God, trusting in God to see us through?
Is He the only one who God formed to be his servant? Is he the only One who God uses to bring back those who’ve wandered off, to bring salvation to all who are far off, even to the ends of the earth? Who will see the powers and authorities of this world bowing before?
While it is about Jesus, it is about us as well, for we find our lives, the lives the Holy Spirit calls into existence, cleansing us from sin, in Christ Jesus. It is true of us because it is true of Him. For in the book of Acts Paul tells some gentiles in Athens that their poets had it correct when they said, “In Him we live and move and have our being”.
That is what it means to be in the season of Epiphany, to share in the glory of Christ Jesus. This is what it means for Him to be here, shattering our darkness. As we realize His presence anew every time we commune at the altar, every we time we hear His voice speak to us, as the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to create life within us!
We see this the last verse, where Isaiah says to those in Christ, it is the LORD, the faithful One, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you…
This is not about the one who is spoken too, it is not about their faith, but the faithfulness of the LORD who speaks. It is about His faithfulness in saving us, in lighting our way, in ensuring we endure, ensuring we hear His call of us, by name. The name for the church throughout scripture is this very term – the chosen or called ones. Called by name, kept in the hand of God, given a message to deliver to the nations.
This is our life, spent in Christ, our journey in the light of His glory, the glory that came when He came to dwell with man, and in our baptism as the Spirit comes to give us this wondrous life.
This is our focus during Epiphany, this is why we sing, as we recognize His glory has appeared here, where the Lord is with you! AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the day:
15 When Jesus heard about the plot against him, he went away from that place; and large crowds followed him. He healed all those who were ill 16and gave them orders not to tell others about him. 17He did this so as to make what God had said through the prophet Isaiah come true:
18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, the one I love, and with whom I am pleased. I will send my Spirit upon him, and he will announce my judgment to the nations. 19 He will not argue or shout, or make loud speeches in the streets. 20 He will not break off a bent reed, or put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph,
21 and in him all peoples will put their hope.” Mark 12:15-24
491 Nonne hic est fabri filius? Nonne hic est faber, filius Mariae?—“Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” This, said of Jesus, may very well be said of you, with a bit of amazement and a bit of mockery, when you really decide to carry out the will of God, to be an instrument: “But isn’t this the one…?” Say nothing, and let your works confirm your mission.(1)
I stood there, having voted for everything but a candidate for President. My mind was not made up even then even after praying a lot. Serious concerns over both candidates, and indeed about the political spectrum in which we exist delayed that vote. I have dear friends, many of them who follow Christ, who made passionate pleas for me to vote for their candidate, and those friends were advocating four different choices.
My thoughts were about them, and as the night closed, and this morning dawned, I saw some urging us to work together, others railing in triumph, and others drowned in despair. What words could I write this morning that would minister to these beloved friends? There is comfort needed, encouragement needed, and in some cases, a gentle rebuke, on that would re-focus them on Jesus, and restore a true hope.
Daily I do what I call devotional reading. Reading not to prove my devotion, but to see God’s devoted care for us revealed. It is there I found these readings this morning, and the promise of God’s precise care for us.
Even as we are at our weakest, our most broken, shattered point, Jesus does not crush us. Even though we are burnt out, God knows where that little spark can be found, enough that with care the fire will roar again. Even when we are at our weaknest – not because of despair, but because our success leads us to be vulnerable, and we don’t see a need for the hope we have in Jesus.
Yet justice, His justice, not ours, will prevail.
No loud speeches needed, no arguments, no cheering or wailing. Instead caring, comfort, a correction of course for those, re-orienting all to the presence of Christ.
It is so hard in these days when we let anxiety rain, or celebrate beyond what is beneficial. When we go on the defensive, trying to justify our position, to show those who mock us they are wrong. When overwhelmed by sorrow or joy we don’t pay attention to those around us and end up breaking yet another relationship.
It’s time to stop – get back to what we do, to be silent and not take things personally, and to simply point people to the comfort and grace that is found in Christ, because He died, He rose, and He leads us into and keep us in His peace.
Rest there, no matter who you backed, and greet those who like you, find a respite from the days past. Let Jesus minister to you – bringing you life and hope! AMEN!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1199-1203). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.] There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke. 3 What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? 4 One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes—it’s business as usual for old planet earth. Ecclesiastes 1:2-4 (MSG)
Then suddenly, filled with a holy love, and a sober shame, in anger with himself cast his eyes upon his friend, saying, “Tell me, I pray thee, what would we attain by all these labours of ours? what aim we at? what serve we for? Can our hopes in court rise higher than to be the Emperor’s favourites? and in this, what is there not brittle, and full of perils? and by how many perils arrive we at a greater peril? and when arrive we thither? But a friend of God, if I wish it, I become now at once.” (1)
As I sit in my office this morning, looking at perhaps a busier week than last, I am overwhelmed with thought’s like Solomon’s this morning.
Older translations use the word vanity; all is vain. Others use futile, or emptiness.Most of us on Monday can easily sympathize, why are we here? Is it just to earn a small paycheck, to buy food, pay for a roof over our heads, and find our “escape” whether it be television, or a vacation, or something less positive, like drugs, alcohol, gambling or other addictions.
On Mondays, we tend to be more aware of this futility. Even those of us who work in “noble” jobs, which strive to help. The work is unending, the pain we observe just seems to move from one family to another.
Augustine’s recounting of a friend shows a similar revelation, as they realize their futility. Even if they rise to the highest of heights, there they find the probability that such a place is fleeting. That the favor of those they would count on could shift like the wind, and they could be on the way out, terminated by the boss. In their day, termination was more than going on the unemployment line. It was an actual termination, with prejudice.
So why do we do what we do? What is the end reward, besides simple survival? Occasional moments of pleasure which cost us more in the end?
Augustine’s friend found an answer, simpler than he ever expected, and something I need to remember as I struggle on Mondays.
Being a friend of God.
TO know that we are loved, that we are the children of a promise.
15 I do not call you servants any longer, because servants do not know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because I have told you everything I heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me; I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures. And so the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. 17 This, then, is what I command you: love one another. John 15:15-17 (TEV)
To walk with God, to talk with Jesus, not as some great Lord, but as with a friend. To hear His encouraging voice, to know that He walks with us, His people. That He draws us together to be His family. What a blessing to be reminded by a hundred voices yesterday that God is with me, to hear them bless me, reminding me of the peace that is mine. To see God’s love revealed, through those who know the love of God!
I am, today, looking at a hard week, as I will deal with family after family struggling with death. It would seem vain, meaningless, even painful, where I not living in the shadow of Easter, the place where God proves His love for me, and for all those He yearns to call his friends. Because of that, I know why I work so hard, why I endure.
It is to give others the hope that all is not futile, that all is not vain, that it all will not just go up in smoke. It isn’t just a pastor’s job to do this, but the life of those who Jesus called friends, who someday He will welcome home.
As St. Peter said,
“simply concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you. 1 Peter 3 (Phillips NT)
And may you realize you dwell in God’s peace – a peace that goes beyond all logic, yet a peace where your hearts and minds are kept safe, guarded by Christ. AMEN
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine
. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
The Special Attention that Leads to Repentance
† I.H.S †
May the grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ make the call you hear to repentance one that you must answer. AMEN!
A Week of Why’s
As I look back over this week, it seems rather convenient that I would preach on the gospel. For in nine different very traumatic situations, no, ten situations, it would be easy to sit back and ask with the gospel, “is this why they suffer?”
Why is a family mourning they son/boyfriend was shot dead?
Why is a sheriff’s station wondering why one had to shoot someone, and why a community that normally is so supportive, could so quickly turn against them?
Why is a family being torn apart,
Why is someone facing a brutal betrayal of a friend?
Why did a 50-year-old mother die, just after burying her child last November?
Why did these things happen? Who is to blame? Was it their evil, or what God wrong to allow what happened? Ten situations, hundreds of questions asked, so few answers to offer in response.
In a way, Jesus response to these traumas seems cold, even harsh.
Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? 3 Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. 4 And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? 5 No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
What first seems heartless Is anything but. For the questions we ask we may never be answered sufficiently, though we might have a thousand theories, not of which will help us grieve, never mind heal. They just spin and spin our mind around.
Jesus asks us to move past the questions we cannot know the answers to, to contemplate, to meditate on something that has a real consequence, something that we don’t want to talk about, but we need to face.
Will we hear a call to repentance, or will perish?
I Won’t’ Perish, Will I?
I think we all need to ask regularly ourselves if Jesus came back today, would we perish?
We have to be careful with that question because it can lead to both self-righteousness and severe guilt. Both those options are deadly.
Self-righteousness that would lead us to false confidence in our holiness leads to perishing because we will grow to assume we can be holy on our own, and don’t need God.
Severe guilt leads us to believe we are beyond hope, that there is not ability to recover from where we at, stuck in sin.
Even so, we still have to ask regularly the question. Would I perish? Do I love my sin and resentment more than I love God? Have I set up false idols to worship, things that I put more trust in than God? Do I even bother with God in my life except for on Sundays and Wednesday nights for an hour or ninety minutes? Is God welcome in every part of my life?
St Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth talks about this, as part of preparing for communion,
31 But if we would examine ourselves, we would not be judged by God in this way. 32 Yet when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 (NLT)
Most of us would prefer not to do this, to not have to face the unpleasantness in our own lives. It seems much easier to bury it, to ignore it, or more than likely to justify it by pointing to others sins.
It is not the reason others undergo trauma, nor would I ever suggest that God puts us through trauma just to convert us and lead us to change. But Jesus is telling us to take stock of our lives, as these things happen. To really consider where we need Him to change us. To really see the sin that we engage in as the horrible thing that destroys our relationship with God.
Unless we repent… we will perish.
A hard line to hear – even during Lent when we expect it!
The Patience of the Gardener
So how do we repent? How can we be sure we have? Where do we find the strength to do so…
We need to understand this parable of the Owner and the Gardner. We need to realize that the Gardner is God in this passage – that the heart which is patient and wants to give special attention and plenty of fertilizer, to cultivate and cause us to bear fruit.
I love to watch Al or the Chinese congregation members tend the plants on campus. There is a tenderness there, and you could see their mind church as they decide where to dig next, or which rose branch to prune. If they do such a wonderful job, you know God will be doing the something special as He calls us to repentance.
That’s what he does at the altar, as He assures us of grace, as he lovingly nurtures us, as He provides a safe place for us to confess our sins, and hear His promise of forgiveness. It is what he does as we read of the grace and mercy of God, as we see it as we picture Him on the cross, His blood pouring out. This is where he continues to give us special attention, where he nurtures and cultivates our faith in Him.
This is how we come to live a life of repentance, assured of His work nurturing us, pruning us, cultivating us. It is an ongoing process of our faith in Christ. It starts here in Baptism, as God grants us faith and repentance, and keeps on going here at the altar, here as we worship, as we pray, as we study God’s word together as His people.
Because of His work, giving us special attention and yes, plenty of fertilizer, we are assured that we will not perish, that He has called and brought us to repentance, and is transforming us daily.
This is why we live in peace, peace that God promises is beyond understanding, peace He guards us in, our hearts and minds…. AMEN!
Devotional Thought of the Day:
16 Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16 (TEV)
5 Lord, we are glad to find ourselves in your wounded palm. Grasp us tight, squeeze us hard, make us lose all our earthly wretchedness, purify us, set us on fire, make us feel drenched in your Blood. And then, cast us far, far away, hungry for the harvest, to sow the seed more fruitfully each day, for Love of you. (1)
I live in a land of earthquakes. I have friends that live in Tornado alleys, others who live in the normal paths of hurricanes, Where I grew up, snow storms could strand you for a week. Where my first church was located, you could dehydrate so fast that you could die before you knew it. There are places where there are wars, cities where drugs and gang violence is rampant.
I have come to this conclusion, if you are searching for a safe place to live, there is no such geographical location on the earth. As long as we are alive, there will be some threat living over us.
Some of us even have those threats inside us, for me, it was a genetic issue that affected my heart. For others, it may a tendency to addiction.
There can even be problems and threats inside places that should be safe, churches, schools, hospitals.
Is there a safe place?
Where do we go for safety, for refuge, for sanctuary?
Is there a place where we can know peace?
There is a place, rather, there is a person, and the relationship we have with Him, that is our sanctuary, that is our place of refuge, He is our peace.
Even in the worse cases. Consider in the book of Daniel, the three men in the furnace:
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered, “Your Majesty, we will not try to defend ourselves. 17 If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. 18 But even if he doesn’t, Your Majesty may be sure that we will not worship your god, and we will not bow down to the gold statue that you have set up.” 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar lost his temper, and his face turned red with anger at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. 20 And he commanded the strongest men in his army to tie the three men up and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So they tied them up, fully dressed—shirts, robes, caps, and all—and threw them into the blazing furnace. 22 Now because the king had given strict orders for the furnace to be made extremely hot, the flames burned up the guards who took the men to the furnace. 23 Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, still tied up, fell into the heart of the blazing fire. 24 Suddenly Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement. He asked his officials, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the blazing furnace?” They answered, “Yes, we did, Your Majesty.” 25 “Then why do I see four men walking around in the fire?” he asked. “They are not tied up, and they show no sign of being hurt—and the fourth one looks like an angel.” Daniel 3:16-25 (TEV)
Jesus was there, and in the midst of the the moment, they knew His peace. They found their refuge.
Daniel Himself knew such opposition,
20 When he got there, he called out anxiously, “Daniel, servant of the living God! Was the God you serve so loyally able to save you from the lions?” 21 Daniel answered, “May Your Majesty live forever! 22 God sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me. He did this because he knew that I was innocent and because I have not wronged you, Your Majesty.” 23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders for Daniel to be pulled up out of the pit. So they pulled him up and saw that he had not been hurt at all, for he trusted God. Daniel 6:19-23 (TEV)
A final example, this time Stephen in the New Testament, who was killed, and tortured, and yet…. knew peace, and was in a very special refuge.
54 As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!” 57 With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58 threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died. Acts 7:54-60 (TEV)
Even there, in this midst of death itself, in the moments when all hell is trying to break loose, in what many would never be able to comprehend the existence of peace, there it is.
For the Lord was with the three men! He was with Daniel, He was with Stephen!
And the Lord is with you.
No matter the trauma, no matter the disaster, no matter the threat. No matter what, we are covered by His blood, sent by Him into these places, to be a beacon of hope, a reminder of God’s love and mercy and peace. For you need to know and count on this.
The Lord is with you!
and that is why Paul writes to us
6 Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. 7 And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus! Philippians 4:6-7 (TEV)
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 249-252). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.