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We Still Need Reformation, (perhaps more than ever!)

dscf1215-copy-copyDevotional Thought for our Days:

6 “This may seem impossible to those of the nation who are now left, but it’s not impossible for me. 7I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, 8and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.  Zechariah 8:6-8 TEV

96      Discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance, and then, from everything that happens, you will be able to draw more love for God and a greater desire to respond to him. He is always waiting for us, offering us the possibility to fulfil at all times that resolution we made: Serviam! I will serve you!

One of the books I am presently reading is Metaxas biography of Martin Luther.  It is more than a bit distressing, as constantly Metaxas points out that what happened was out of control of everyone involved, especially Luther.

Why couldn’t the church simply reform?  Why did the leaders not listen and discuss things like the Church did at the Jerusalem council?  Why was the division and later shattering of God’s family so unavoidable?

As I read Metaxas account, it seems like the reformation was a huge tidal wave, that consumed all in its path.

So where was God in it all?  Can we, as another Catholic Priest/Reformer of the Church advised, “discover Our Lord behind each event and in every circumstance”?   

Personally, I find this difficult, I get overwhelmed by what seemed impossible to stop, Much like the people of Israel in the time of Zechariah.  It was impossible for them to even think of the restoration of the people (not the nation) Israel.  The people of God who struggle with Him (that;s what Israel means), yet are His people, for He is their God.   Yet the prophet assures them that for God this is not impossible, but it will happen.

God will restore His people, He will call them to His side,, He will call them home together.   It is God’s plan, His desire, His will, that we shouldn’t perish, and that He will call all His people home, together.

So how to grow in faith, in confidence that what God has promised, God will deliver? Even when the darkness seems to overshadow life?  How can I trust, as Joseph did, that God means all of this for good?  From the reformation which shattered the Western Church to arguments which threaten my own denomination today, that God will use these storms to bless those who love Him?

I have to look to the cross, the place where God seems the most vulnerable, even more, vulnerable than when He was in utero in Mary. To look to the cross as Jesus, fully God and fully man, is murdered by those who found God’s inconvenient and bothersome. As He died for all of our sin.  The sin of the Catholics, the Protestants, even the Orthodox.  s He died to cover the sins for those who do not know Him yet, but will as we reveal Him to them.  It is there- when even nature went dark and shook with fear, to realize even in the dark moment, God was at work.  Using the greatest evil Satan could ever con man into doing, turned out to be the greatest of blessings.

As God proved He is Immanuel, God with us.

As I look at a broken and fractured church, on his the supposed anniversary of the Reformation, my hope is in God’s promise, that not one of those in Christ will be lost, that He will call all of us home, and that He will continue to make us a holy people.

Lord, have mercy on us!  Help us to see You in everything we encounter, and in all of History!

AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 553-556). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Where and How We Worship and Pray: Does it Matter?

St francis at the crossDevotional Thought for our Days….

3“Is there anyone among you who can still remember how splendid the Temple used to be? How does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all. 4But now don’t be discouraged, any of you. Do the work, for I am with you. 5When you came out of Egypt, I promised that I would always be with you. I am still with you, so do not be afraid.
6 “Before long I will shake heaven and earth, land and sea. 7I will overthrow all the nations, and their treasures will be brought here, and the Temple will be filled with wealth. 8All the silver and gold of the world is mine. 9The new Temple will be more splendid than the old one, and there I will give my people prosperity and peace.” The LORD Almighty has spoken.   Haggai 2:3-9  TEV

Threats against those who do not love God: Ps. 11:5; 109:17; John 3:19; 1 Cor. 16:22; John 12:25; 14:24; 1 John 3:14.
Threats against those who do not trust in God: Ps. 49:6 ff.; 115:8; Prov. 11:28; Is. 59:4; 42:17; Jer. 17:5; 7:8; Luke 18:14; Mark 10:23.
Threats against those who do not hope in God: Job 8:13; 11:20; Prov. 11:28; Is. 20:5; 28:13.
Threats against those who do not fear God: Prov. 29:25; Hos. 10:3; Deut. 11:28; 2 Cor. 10:6; 2 Thess. 1:8.
Promises connected with love: Deut. 11:5–7; Ex 23:20 ff.; Is. 64:4; Prov 4:6; 8:17; John 14:23; 1 Cor. 8:3; John 16:27.
Promises connected with trust in God: Ps. 125:1; Jer. 17:7; Ps. 37:5; 56:11; 91:14; 31:1; Prov. 29:25; Is. 40:31; Rom. 5:5.

 

It cannot be that we choose for ourselves whether or how we shall worship God: what is important is that we respond to him in the place where he gives himself to us. We cannot decide on our own terms where God is to meet us, and we should not strive to reach him by our own efforts. He can come to us and let us find him wherever he chooses.

Of the three readings I posted above from this morning, the middle one troubles me the most.  Chemnitz’s inventory of threats (curses in Covenantal terms) is pretty clear.  If you don’t love God, if you don’t trust Him, if you don’t find Hope in His words, or aren’t in awe of His glory and power, what you have chosen is wrath and abandonment.  Yes, there are promises if you do love and trust in Him, but the threats, the curses that one could choose?  Why would anyone?  Why would anyone not warn someone who is heading that way?

Compare that to the promise of Haggai, and the people that looked out of their lives and couldn’t believe how far they had come from the beauty they once knew or heard of from their parents or grandparents.  The majesty of the temple of Solomon, where people could pray and know they were forgiven,  The beauty of the place where they met with God, sure that He put His name there  A place where their trust and dependence on God was rewarded, blessed, nurtured.

There is not much difference really, between Chemnitz and the prophet. They are both urging us to listen,, to really hear and depend on God.  We need to do that, and realize that while we are His people, He is our God.  

That means we have to let Him care for us, we have to let Him heal us.   We can’t be the doctor of our own souls. Which means when He prescribes something for us, such as being in a community of others who are struggling to trust Him as well, this is His good will for us, not some kind of harsh discipline. 

That’ why I love Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI’s ) remind us that we don’t get to choose for ourselves.  Nor do we have to seek God out.  He will find us, It is not by our own efforts we are saved, it is not something we deserve or are owed.  

God will go out and find us, and bring us home, but that is where we should stay, in the home, the church where He has placed us so that He can give Himself to us!  This is the greatest of miracles, the most glorious thing we can experience in this life, or in eternity. 

God, coming to us, loving us, cleansing us, and making us a holy people. 

Cardinal Ratzinger went on, “What matters is not just some pious feeling of ours that relegates religion to the realm of the nonobligatory and private but the obedience that hears God’s call and accepts it. The Lord does not want our private feelings; he wants to form us into a community and to build the new community of the Church on faith. The body must share in the divine worship as must the community with its hardships and discomforts.”

This is who we are, the people that have a God whom we can truly and completely depend on, a God who sees us complete, the masterpiece of His creation, a glorious work of grace and love.  

As we cry out for His mercy, the prayer should contain a willingness to receive that mercy, where He has promised to pour it out. 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

500 Years Later: What Blessings Does the Church have in Common?

It was an amazing opportunity, a blessing that would have been unheard of at the 450th anniversary of the Reformation.  A chance for a Lutheran pastor to explain where we have come from over the last 500 years, and using writings of a Pope, Martin Luther, Vatican II and a leading Lutheran Theology professors, give us hope and urge us on to seek reconciliation.

here is a rough draft recording of the talk…..okay a really rough draft.

May we pray that the Church would be one and that it would be seen as one by us.  AMEN.

Just Me and God? Hmmmm….

 

20141022_100816Devotional Thought for our days….

After the vision of these things I looked, and there was a great number of people, so many that no one could count them. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth. They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. 10 They were shouting in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10 NCV

43  A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44  And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45  They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46  They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47  all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47 (NLT)

The goal of the early Augustine, “God and the soul—nothing else”, is not realizable; it is also not Christian. In the last analysis, religion consists, not in the solitary way of the mystic, but in the community of proclaiming and hearing. Our conversation with God and our conversation with one another require and condition one another.

Every once in a while someone will tell me they don’t go to church because they don’t need it.  They can worship God in a park, at the beach, in the mountains, by a lake.  I almost believe them. After all, they will claim, didn’t Jesus often go away from the disciples to pray?

No, I do believe them.  Some of the most intense moments, where I have realized the grace of God, have been those solitary moments when I am still, when I must know that He is God, that He is with me. And it is usually dealing with people that drives me to seek such solitude!

And of course, I am not alone in this.  Augustine’s thoughts about this, referenced by Pope Benedict, show a similar desire.  Just me and God, just God and my soul, nothing else needed!  Benedict XVI sounds similar, if less harsh, to the critiques of Luther in regards to monasticism. Our relationship with God and with each other is the same relationship, it is the same package.  Both Paul and Peter describe this in scripture as we are one body, many different parts perhaps, but we are one, and Jesus is our head.  The creeds talk about one Church, noted because it is holy ( dedicated and separated to God ) Catholic (universal, across all 4 dimensions), apostolic ( it has a mission, it is sent by God) church ( those drawn together in Christ)

This is the way it was the early church, so in awe of the resurrection of Christ and what it means for us, they couldn’t help but meet together often, to talk about it, to show the love they had for each other.  It wasn’t programmed, it wasn’t the result of marketing, it was the joy of being in Christ.  Were there problems?  Sure, but they worked themselves out as people realized they were reconciled to God. 

Ultimately, in heaven, in the presence of God, face to face with Him, we are standing shoulder to shoulder, we are singing loudly together. It is not you, walking in the garden alone with God,  We are all His! He walks with all of us, He talked with all of us, and He tells us all, we are His own.   That is the way it is.

What does this mean for the church today?

That’s a big question.  In a world with tens of thousands of different bodies, each claiming to be the church, yet each a broken fractured part of the one Church.  But we can’t ignore the rest!  Just as an individual can’t separate themselves from the church, neither should a congregation or even a denomination.  There still needs to be a desire, a strong sense of this division is wrong and prayer that God would lead us to wholeness, real wholeness.  Found in reconciliation in Christ, not in man made compromise. Still- that we would be one, even as Jesus and the Father are One.

May this be part of what we cry out for, when we cry out, “Lord, Have Mercy!”  AMEN!

 

 

Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.

Another Urgent Task for the Church for Today!

Devotional Thought of the Day

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche* to come to a mutual understanding in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my true yokemate,* to help them, for they have struggled at my side in promoting the gospel, along with Clement and my other co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  NABRE Phil. 4:2-3

174    Don’t say, “That person bothers me.” Think: “That person sanctifies me.”

Yesterday I wrote about the church being urged to work for unity at every level.  That scripture urged us to do so, even as we find ourselves in opposition to others. That unity is found int he presence of God, in a sacramental (some would say incarnational) presence of God.

In my devotional reading today, Paul is again urging unity, but this time we aren’t the one’s who are divided – we are urged, as the church, to help bring two people back together, to help them reconcile and know the unity that can only be found in Christ.

Paul urges us to help them, and while we probably don’t have these names in our congregations and parishes, we have people that stand apart, that divided over something. People that we might classify as good people, people that work hard in the church, that minister to those hurting, that feed those who are hungry, that care and teach people about God’s love.

Let’s face it, we all have stubborn streaks, we all can be more than a bit irritable and irritating.  We can all struggle and in those struggles, get a bit defensive, and bit anxious, a bit territorial.  We all struggle with sin, and sin can divide people, even as it separates us from God.

Our sin, and the unrighteousness of the sins committed against us need to drive us to the altar, to the cross where the blood of Jesus cleanses us.  That is where the healing between two who find themselves divided and antagonistic can happen.  For there, face to face with sin being forgiven, with mercy being extended, we see what happens.

It is in the presence of God that we find that mutual understanding in the Lord.  It is where love overwhelms us and where healing begins, as God heals us, as God draws into unity together.

And sometimes – the two parties need the third to remind them of this – that there they are together, that there they are both cleansed, and whatever divided them fades as quickly as their own sin does.

There, at the altar, where we celebrate the New Covenant, there is where they are reconciled.  There, they find peace, and the joy of community united in Jesus is restored!  AMEN!.

 

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Location 534). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Do We Still Beg Jesus To Go Away? Why?

Featured imageDevotional/ Discussion  thought of the day

28 When Jesus arrived on the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gadarenes,* two men who were possessed by demons met him. They lived in a cemetery and were so violent that no one could go through that area. 29 They began screaming at him, “Why are you interfering with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torture us befoe God’s appointed time?” 30 There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding in the distance. 31 So the demons begged, “If you cast us out, send us into that herd of pigs.” 32 “All right, go!” Jesus commanded them. So the demons came out of the men and entered the pigs, and the whole herd plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
33 The herdsmen fled to the nearby town, telling everyone what happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the entire town came out to meet Jesus, but they begged him to go away and leave them alone.  New Living Translation (Mt 8:28–34).

But when theological discussion ceases to be a striving for truth and becomes, instead, a struggle for power in the Church, then the nature of theology has been radically falsified; it introduces party politics into the Church and becomes the medium of party power; it divides the Church. Wherever theology generates theological parties and these parties become Church parties, it has become a false wisdom. It creates enmities and embitters people. I must admit that what shocks me most deeply in many letters and publications is the rank hatred of the Church and her members that speaks through them. The role of true wisdom and hence of the authentic teacher of theology in the Church is to create peace, not strife, to create goodness and inner openness, not embitterment.

As I’ve read verse 33 above, I have always wondered what was in the people’s minds.  They saw Jesus deal with the person in their village who was most in need, and he completely rescued and healed the man. Because of his actions, the villagers were safe.

And they drove Jesus away… they pleaded with Him to leave them, to leave them alone!

I wonder if the church today is more sophisticated than that, but to the same effect.  Within our theological discussions, the last thing we look for is the presence of Christ, or His desire, reconciliation, health and wholeness.  You can see it in the refusal to meet at the altar and start theological dialogues there, in His presence, together as His body.  You see it in the nature of forming political parties in a church, or in a denomination. (we won’t call it that, but we have planks and litmus tests, and budgets and political machines )

We relegate the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Redeemer, Reconciler to the back room, to some closet or chapel, while tempers flare, and sides square off, and everyone battles for power. We would rather talk about purity of doctrine and purging ourselves from anything false (like we could!) or faithfulness to our mission. (as if we are ready to go out on our own, with a bunch of web articles and expert consultants)

In the meantime, we are so busy arguing what often boils down to semantics, that we forget the Lord can deliver us from all that crap. We forget that this is work based in His will, in His desire.  We forget that we are led by the Holy Spirit, not some negotiated consensus.

That is how these reconciliation happens.  True reconciliation that isn’t based in compromise, but in Jesus,

May we stop running from the one who will rid us of our demons, bring healing to our souls, bind us together as one body as we celebrate being in His presence,

Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 242). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

The Transformation of Easter: Pt VII A Relationship of Unity

The Transformations of Easter

The Change of our Relationship with Each Other

John 17:11b-19

IHS

 May the grace of God so flood your soul with mercy and peace, that you easily realize how many others dwell with you in Christ!

My Struggle with Cynicism

I’ve got a confession to make.

Some of you, for example, Chris and Tom, know that I am somewhat of a cynic.

I wasn’t always, you can ask Kay, but as I’ve ministered in the church, I’ve become more cynical over the years.

Once upon a time I would look at a passage like today’s gospel with great expectation, great hope, great enthusiasm for the day where I would see this unity happen.  Where simply because we preach Christ crucified, unity happens, and the Church throughout the world drops all of the squabbles, all of the politics, all of the guilt and resentment, all of the pride that announces we are right, and they are wrong, and we would gather around the altar and share in the biggest communion service ever seen.

Now I am somewhat of a cynic, because there are days I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, or if it does, it is because we have buried important parts of doctrine.  Things like the death and resurrection of Jesus, or the presence of the Holy Spirit, fulfilling the promises of Jesus, promises made to us in our baptism.

Part of the cynicism comes from being a history geek.  I know the times that unity was a driving force in the church, like in the 2nd great Awakening, or in the time of Gregory VII and even St. Francis of Assissi, and the results always seemed to be more division, or peace through the use of force. I see the other times, when hanging on to the correct teaching of the faith resulted in division, and death.  Even now, I see political games being played in denominations and churches.  I can see a lack of unity, and indeed, a desire for division.

So my cynical side says that such unity, throughout the church isn’t as possible.  Which leads me to the question.  If it is impossible, why did Jesus pray for it, and why didn’t God answer Jesus prayer?

The Standard of Unity

The idea of unity here in John’s gospel, in this incredible prayer, is a high level of unity.  Hear again verse 11:

Holy Father, you have given me your name; now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

Unity in the church, among the people of God is described as being united, just as the Father and Jesus are united.  That’s pretty close, so close that we can’t understand it.  For God is three persons, yet completely One.

That is pretty united.  Paul describes the unity of the church this way

10  Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit. 11  Let us not allow slackness to spoil our work and let us keep the fires of the spirit burning, as we do our work for God. 12  Base your happiness on your hope in Christ. When trials come endure them patiently, steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. 13  Give freely to fellow-Christians in want, never grudging a meal or a bed to those who need them. 14  … as for those who try to make your life a misery, bless them. Don’t curse, bless. 15  Share the happiness of those who are happy, the sorrow of those who are sad. 16  Live in harmony with each other…. Romans 12:10-16 (Phillips NT)

So I hear these words, and I hear Jesus prayer for unity, and I feel like the police officer in Les Mis, hopeless in view of the injustice, the division, and the fighting that goes on in Christ’s church, throughout the world.

Were we ready for the Ascension?  Did the Father answer the prayer

On my more cynical days, I wonder if either the Father didn’t hear Jesus prayer, or whether the church isn’t the church.

On my less cynical days, I wonder if the Ascension was a bit premature, that Jesus should have waited 2 or 3 thousand years before returning to the Father.  I mean, if He was here…. We wouldn’t be in this situation, would we?

I mean – we are just God’s kids, and you know what would happen if you leave your kids home alone for a few days…

Because even church leaders can act like a bunch of spoiled kids at times.

Jesus gave Himself… The Memorial Acclimation’s promise

So where is the hope that confronts our sin of disunity, our pride, our inability to love each other?

Go back to Jesus prayer,

Holy Father, you have given me your name;* now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

We find our unity as a result of God protecting us, giving us sanctuary. As He gives us His peace, as He assures us of His presence, of the Holy Spirit’s comfort. We find ourselves relaxing, restful, and trusting Him to maintain it.  For as we know we are safe, we drop our defenses, we forget to be anxious about people betraying or sinning against us, and we reach our in the love of Christ to them.

The is why later He prayers,

17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

We’ve talked about holiness before.  Rather than being perfect or pure, the idea is to be set apart to something.  Jesus asks the Father to make us holy, even as He is holy.  Remember Jesus addressed God as Holy Father?

Here is the truth, God sets himself apart for a relationship. A relationship with us, and Christ makes that relationship possible, by setting Himself aside a sacrifice. His sacrifice on the cross which opens the door for the Father sanctifying us, by giving us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, to abide with us.

And unity is the result of this holiness.  For as we enter into a relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find that we are together in that relationship.

I said before I can be cynical, I neglected to say that in one of those cynical moods, I find hope.  For I realize that what it takes to overcome my cycnicism is the same thing it takes to create unity.  The miracle of the blood of Christ, sacrificed for us, to create the relationship, a relationship described in this new covenant. We can’t find the unity and the peace we need around a negotiation table, or in the vote of a congregation, or a synod.

It has to originate from the baptismal font, where Christ claims us as His own, and from the altar, the feast where we realize the depth of His love for us. That is what has made the difference here in our congregation.  It is what can make the difference in the church at large.

And as I see that unity come to fruition here, I know it can envelop others.  That is why we are sent by Jesus, even as the Father sent Jesus to be our sacrifice. To reach out to them, to invite them into our sanctuary, into our fortress, into the place where God protects us.  Not this building, but this relationship, God and His people, together.

To share that peace which goes beyond all comprehension, and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen!

We Are Agents of Reconciliation, not Division…

Devotional Thought of the Day:Featured image

18  And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!21  For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NLT)  2 Corinthians 5:20-21 (TEV)

319      My God, how easy it is to persevere when we know that You are the Good Shepherd, and that we—you and I…—are sheep belonging to your flock! For we know full well that the Good Shepherd gives his whole life for each one of his sheep.  (1)

Interesting thought, speaking the truth in love requires that you love the one you are speaking to….Which means it costs you as much as it costs them when they don’t hear you.  (a thought I etched on Facebook recently)

The church has been appointed to a task, chosen for a specific role and ministry in this world.  All of the vocations that exist, exist to see this work of God, accomplished in and through us.

Paul calls it the ministry of reconciliation, and it requires great sacrifice and great love.  It is one, when we do not see it fulfilled, should bring us to tears, even as Paul cried for his fellow Jews who turned their back on God, and refused God’s grace, refused God’s actions reconciling them to himself.

It’s odd, if anyone had the right to claim he was persecuted for righteousness sake, it was Paul.  Yet he wept over his persecutors. he wept over the division between them and God.  He even offered up his life, that God would reconcile them to Himself.

As Paul found out, there were times of division, both with those who abandoned God, and within the household of God.  Peter knew this as well, yet he would write

15  Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. 16  But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear.  1 Peter 3:15-16 (NLT)

Again, the focus isn’t just about being right – but how that is communicated, how we go to those we consider lacking in that hope, in the trust in that grace, in that knowledge.  Realizing that our goal isn’t to win an argument, or create more division, but to see all reconciled to Christ, and therefore to each other.

Such is the nature of our ministry, of our life in Christ.

That is where our joy is found… in seeing all united in Christ Jesus.

Lord have  such mercy on us…

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 1276-1279). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Why There is a “Label” on My Church Sign

Discussion and Devotional thought of the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

Imitate me, then, just as I imitate Christ. 2  I praise you because you always remember me and follow the teachings that I have handed on to you. 3  But I want you to understand that Christ is supreme over every man…. 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 (TEV)

1  Finally, our friends, you learned from us how you should live in order to please God. This is, of course, the way you have been living. And now we beg and urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to do even more. 2  For you know the instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 (TEV)

203      Surely all those consolations I receive from the Master are given me so that I may think of him all the time and serve him in little things, and so be able to serve him in great things. A resolution: to please my good Jesus in the tiniest details of my daily life.  (1)

It sits there, on the sign identifying the congregation I pastor, on our stationary, on business cards and polo shirts.

A Label, something that identifies our heritage, but also potentially divides us from the body of Christ.

I both love it, and hate it, even despise it.

I despise it because people assume it is something that sets us apart, something that identifies why we are different, as if being a lutheran was a license to condescension, to some higher level of purity or knowledge or perfection.  Though not it’s intent in every place bearing its name, there can be pride associated with that label.  Because of both assumptions, I despise it, just as I despise the fact that we are 3 years from “celebrating” a division in the church, that is contrary to the will of God.  It is my regular prayers that something would happen, a miracle, that would allow the entire church to find healing together in Christ.  That my small section of the church would have the humility to encourage this, even noting our own sin, our own failures, our own poor theology that prevents it.

I hate the label, because it is not specific.  Many “wear” it, and have radically different beliefs.  Some have departed the focus on grace and mercy and Christ’s delivering us into the presence of our Heavenly father, saving us from sin… our sin.  They have neglected the treasuring of a relationship with God that brought such peace and joy to Luther.  For this man realized God was our refuge from the brokenness of the world.  Others have gone the other direction, forgetting the why’s and legislating the hows and whens. They look more to great theologians of different eras, taking even their errors as being right. They will even say their own teaching is beyond question. Extremisms define the label today, far more than the basic teachings of the catechism, and how it summarizes truth from scripture.  In some ways, the extremes almost defeat the benefit of the label.  Knowing this, I would actually think a better description of my church would be the old name, the Evangelical-catholic church.  Historically and with a pragmatic view to our work, it suits us well.

I think the reasons above are why some toss aside the labels, or at least try to toss them aside.  They label their church community church (though there are denominations with that moniker), or Christian Church or church of Christ (though I was originally ordained in that denominational family…err brotherhood of churches)

So why not just hang out a sign that says, “a church”, or “the church on the corner”.  Get rid of all other identifying markings, all other labels.

After all of this, why do I like the title?

1.  It reminds me that who I believe, and what I believe about Him, is bigger than just me.  It was handed down to me, entrusted to me by a larger community of faith.  My congregation and I don’t stand alone.  In the same way my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find comfort in seeing how saints have endured persecution and troubled times, knowing that God would work through Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Walther, Pieper, Piepkorn, that broken men found solace and hope in God’s is incredible to realize.
They pass us down, not just an academic belief system, but a sense of hope, a story of healing, the assurance that God is our refuge, our help in times of trouble.  As Paul encouranged us to imitate him as he imitated Jesus, so these men (and women) provide some helpful tracks along the journey.  The label reminds me of this, and those that went before.  Their failures, their successes, and how they coped with both!

2.  While it doesn’t reduce or eliminate extremism, it gives me a base to start from, a point to evaluate what I teach, and preach and how I administer the sacraments.  While their words are only legitimate when in accord with scripture, they do help me, to ensure I don’t fall far astream.  Creeds and catechisms are never end all, be alls, but they help.  One doesn’t have to go far back in history to see those who claimed to base their understanding solely on scripture fail miserably, leading people astray.  (Jim Jones is an example, as are denominations like the Jehovah Witnesses)  Think of a amusement park, and the “car rides”, which have a steel or cement center rail.  Having a heritage of faithful people running along the same rail before helps us stay the course.  (see Hebrews 11)

I suppose the last reason I love my particular label, is that the irony keeps my humble.  I know Luther would shake his head at us, wondering why in the world we would name our denomination after such a sinner as he was.  The irony that we did, because he was a sinner that God would use to restore something the church had lost (he also messed up a lot – please understand this!) But if God could use a pastor as broken, as crazy, as powerfully as he did…despite his pride, his temper, then there is hope for me, as I ask my people to follow me, as I follow in footsteps of all of those who follow Christ.

Rejoice, we aren’t alone in this journey, God has sustained people beyond number who have handed down to us, what we hand down to others!

By the way, know this, if your label is different, that doesn’t mean you aren’t welcome… just the opposite – please, plese come let’s find out why the labels are blessings… not letting them divide us!

Godspeed!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 901-904). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

We Are His!

Alleluia!  He is Risen…thereforeSAMSUNG

We are His!
John 17:1-11

In Jesus Name

 As we walk through this life together, may we know the grace and peace of God, for He has made us His own…

 

He is Risen, and therefore…

There is an old tradition among God’s people, to greet and respond to each other during the seven weeks between Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost with the following words,

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

(Some respond “He is Risen Indeed!  Alleluia!”)

Let’s all try that – English and Chinese at the same time

Alleluia!  He is Risen!

(response)

We’ve added something to that, this year in our congregation.  It is that I respond, “therefore” and the congregation responds, “we have risen indeed!  Alleluia!”

In each of our sermons, then, we’ve looked at what it means to be the people of God who are united to Christ in His death and in His resurrection.  Today is the last day of that series, and in our gospel reading we see the incredible truth,

He is risen and therefore we know we are His!

If there is something that should cause our praises to be heard throughout California, through the world, it is this.  You and I are Christ’s, and therefore dwell in the presence and glory of God!

Let’s look at how this is laid out in John’s gospel….

But first I want to hear it one more time.

Alleluia, He is Risen (response)

therefore, ((response)

The Son Gives us Eternal life

In verse 2, we are reminded why Jesus came, what the moment of His glory was all about.  It says there,

For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him.

But what is eternal life?  My first funeral sermon was done back in 30 years ago at a church in Yorba Linda.  Since then, I have done hundreds, and I’ve heard people talking before and after the services about what heaven is, or at least asking the same questions.

“Will my dog be there?”
“Will there be golf?”
“How old will I look?”
“Will we know each other?”

Or one of my favorite comments,

“When I get to heaven, I am going to ask God, (or maybe the Apostle Paul) why….

Most of the questions, we can’t respond to, they aren’t dealt with in the passages that describe heaven, like 1 Corinthians 2:9 – which says it is beyond our ability, or the passages in the Book of Revelation, where it talks its perfection.

Jesus describes eternal life here though, in this passage, in a way that is simple  and clear.

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

Eternal life is simply knowing the Father and the Son, to be in a relationship with them, to dwell in their presence, to dwell in their glory.  This is what it is, this relationship with God that is described here eight times in these verses, that we are His!

I think that deserves a Alleluia!  Or if we translate that – a “Praise the Lord” or in Mandarin (teach English speakers to say it  J )

Eight times as Jesus prays we are described as being God’s, either the Father’s or that we’ve been given to Christ by the Father!

  • Keep His Revelation

We are God’s people, that has been the plan since before the foundation of the world, it is what Jesus accomplished on the cross, and it is there that we are united to His death, and to His resurrection.

We see that relationship described in verse 6 as well, as we are described,

6 “I have revealed you* to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

We are described here in a way that is incredible. We have kept the Father’s word,

“Kept His word.”  Some translations in English translate this as obey, as if God’s word is simply about obeying the Ten Commandments, checking each one off, one by one.  The words go deeper than that – the word for kept is to guard, to observe, to value and treasure and protect.  In English it goes back to the most secure place in the community, the castle keep, where you put all of your treasure.  TO keep something was to secure it, to guard it with every ounce of your strength, for it is precious.

It is the same word as in verse 11, where Jesus asks the Father to protect us by the power of His Name.  The word for word is rhema in Greek – God’s declaration, God’s official statement regarding the issue.

In this context, I think of the word, as that which we find in Moses writings, and in the prophets, the statement that God makes to us.

“You will be My people, and I will be your God” or “You will be My people, for I AM your God”.

That is a declaration of God that should be at the core of who we are, for it completely defines who we are.

We are His!

And that is worth treasuring, not just with “a” Alleluia, or a Praise the Lord, but a life filled with praises, a life glorifying Him, as we live in complete awe of His love for us!

  • Keep/protect Us

I mentioned before, that the word translated as “kept” was also seen in verse 11 as “protect”, when Jesus prays,

11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, you have given me your name;* now protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.

This word, keep/protect, brings up the last point of our message, our reason to celebrate today.  The power of God seen in our lives again, as God protects us, as God guards us, protects us with the full power of His name.

That is something to have confidence in, to be in awe of, and to contemplate.  That God cares about us so much, that we are protected and His treasured people. That He would take the time to cleanse us of sin, to deliver us from the bondages of that sin, and of Satan, that He would free us of our anxiety and fear of death, for we know we have life eternal.

It is from this place of security, this place of peace, this walking with Christ daily that holiness and unity flows.

We are one, not because of our work, nor are we holy because we decided to be holy.  We find our unity, our eternal life, in God, in His making us His people.

All because God the Father send Jesus to us, to claim us for we are His.

For jesus Christ was born of Mary, was crucified, died and Alleluia! He is risen!  (let them answer) and therefore ( We are risen indeed.)

Hear it as Paul wrote to the churches in Colossae,

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. Colossians 3:1-3 (NLT)

So treasure the eternal life you’ve been given, know the blessings of God revealing that you are His children, His people, and be confident, that you are kept in Christ and we are one in Him!  To sum it up,

He is Risen, and therefore We are His!

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