Devotional Thought of the Day:
17 When the seventy-two n came back, they were very happy and said, “Lord, even the demons obeyed us when we used your name!”
18 Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Listen, I have given you power to walk on snakes and scorpions, power that is greater than the enemy has. So nothing will hurt you. 20 But you should not be happy because the spirits obey you but because your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20 NCV
10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
I think that the hands of a priest, rather than expressing routine gestures, must tremble with excitement when administering baptism or giving the absolution of sins or blessing the sick because they become instruments of the creative power of God.
For priests, pastors and all those who minister to others, there is a fine balance between humility and confidence. And if we are honest, it is when we are struggling with the latter that we don’t act all that humble. I imagine there may be one or two of us that think they are God’s gift to the church. (In a way they are0 But many of us still wonder why God has put us here, why God has entrusted to us this incredible, sacred, beautiful, demanding ministry.
I love Pope Francis’s words about our ministry. He nails it when talking about the awe that hits you when you pray over someone, or see their body loose every bit of tension and anxiety as they realize God’s forgiveness, as they realize He is present. I still can recall the eyes of people after I have baptized them, or their children. (Two incredible “devout” atheist/agnostic types come to mind as I baptized their children – eyes bright and full of tears… and God isn’t done with them either!) But his also occurs when we pray with someone over breakfast, or see people having an “aha” at work, as they realize another dimension of God’s love because we said something.
It is in those moments that our lives do feel like a work of art, as God weaves our lives with others, and creates something wonderful. If it iis awe-inspiring to consider sinners in the hands of an angry God, how much more incredible is it to see God work through the hands of a repentant sinner who trusts in Him?
Still, my heart cries out… why? Why me? What did I do to deserve this?
Nothing of course.
Which is where the first gospel reading helps us maintain some manner of balance. As wonderful it is that God can use us, the even more wonderful thing is that we already are certain He’s got us, we are HIs, our names are written in the Heaven,
That is even more amazing. As broken, as sinful, as able as I am to screw up something, God has claimed us as His.
SO tomorrow, as you go to preach, or lead worship, to distribute communion or work with the children’s ministry, or just tell the person next to you – God is with you, indeed, you are being used by God, you carry His presence within you, and it is blessing others. Remember though, that is simply proof of a greater mystery, a greater blessing. You are one of God’s people, He is your God, and He loves you! (me too!)
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
33 The king was overcome with grief. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he cried, “O my son! My son Absalom! Absalom, my son! If only I had died in your place, my son! Absalom, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33
19 When David noticed them whispering to each other, he realized that the child had died. So he asked them, “Is the child dead?”
“Yes, he is,” they answered.
20 David got up from the floor, had a bath, combed his hair, and changed his clothes. Then he went and worshiped in the house of the LORD. When he returned to the palace, he asked for food and ate it as soon as it was served. 21“We don’t understand this,” his officials said to him. “While the child was alive, you wept for him and would not eat; but as soon as he died, you got up and ate!”
22 “Yes,” David answered, “I did fast and weep while he was still alive. I thought that the LORD might be merciful to me and not let the child die. 23But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Could I bring the child back to life? I will some day go to where he is, but he can never come back to me.”
55 Is it possible, you asked me, that Christ should have spent so many years—twenty centuries—acting on earth, and the world should be now what it is? Is it possible, you went on, that there should still be people who do not know Our Lord? And I answered you with conviction: It is our fault. For we have been called to be co-redeemers, and at times, perhaps often!, we do not follow the Will of God. (1)
A man suffers the death of two of his beloved sons.
The evil one, the one who died in open rebellion trying to kill and replace his father, is grieved over. Grief consumes the father, unbelievable, paralyzing grief.
The innocent one, the one who dies because of his father’s sin, seemingly isn’t grieved over. The death is accepted, life moves on, even to the extent that God is worshiped, not questioned.
This doesn’t make sense! Why wouldn’t David have the opposite attitude? Why wouldn’t guilt and shame and grief eat him alive as his “good” son dies? Why wouldn’t there be a sense of relief, even a little joy as the son who tried to kill him, who raped his concubines died? Why does he move on from the first, and become a paralyzed, bawling wretch over the death of the second?
Revealed in David, at this point, is the heart of God. The God who reveals through Ezekiel that he doesn’t take pleasure in the death of the wicked, the God who reveals through Peter that He is patient, because He wants everyone to be transformed, through Paul that our ministry is one of reconciliation. And shows Paul has the same heart when Paul says,
1 I am speaking the truth; I belong to Christ and I do not lie. My conscience, ruled by the Holy Spirit, also assures me that I am not lying 2 when I say how great is my sorrow, how endless the pain in my heart 3 for my people, my own flesh and blood! For their sake I could wish that I myself were under God’s curse and separated from Christ.
Romans 9:1-3 (TEV)
This is David’s heart as well. This is what is meant when he talks of preferring to die rather than Absolom. For if Absolom doesn’t die, there is still hope for reconciliation with God, there is still hope that God will work through all the blocks, and Absolom would find the gift of repentance. The same for Paul, who values his relationship with God more than anything, yet would surrender it, if it meant his people, Israel, would become the people of God again.
(note as well the assurance of David in regards to the “good” son. I will go where he is…)
I think this is the missing key in St Josemaria’s discussion, the reason we don’t follow the will of God, the reason that the world isn’t saved, that really, no major attempt is being made to do so.
Is is that we count our enemies as something less than those God desires, something not worth Christ’s death on the cross? Or do we value that death enough, realizing that our enemies are not the only enemies of Christ that He died for, for we were once, as well?
I don’t’ think we fix this by having conferences on evangelism, and training seminars on arguing people into submission to our doctrine. That hasn’t worked all too well over the last 40 years. Being obsessed with methodology – church growth, liturgical rubrics, etc doesn’t bring about this heart.
What does is prayer, worship, adoration, contemplated on the mysteries of God’s mercy and love. What changes us it knowing in our heart and soul that we are loved, that God is here, that we are standing on Holy ground.
For people to not know this peace? To not know this love? For us to not desire it for all we come into contact with? This needs ot become inconceivable.
Lord, have mercy on us! Give us your heart, your will to see people dwell with you. Help us to learn to cry when enemies and adversaries face death, or when they suffer. May our hearts move to help them, may we serve as servants to reconcile them. For we pray this in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 423-426). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Forging the faithful… and standing the heat…. Words of Encouragement for those who serve God’s treasured people
Devotional Thought of the day:
28 So, naturally, we proclaim Christ! We warn everyone we meet, and we teach everyone we can, all that we know about him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ. This is what I am working at all the time, with all the strength that God gives me. Colossians 1:28 (Phillips NT)
12 He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.
Ephesians 4:12-13 (TEV)
There was a mother who, like all mothers, was passionately fond of her little child, whom she called her prince, her king, her treasure, her very sun. I thought of you. And I understood —for what father does not carry deep inside some maternal feelings?— that it was no exaggeration for that good mother to say: you are more than a treasure, you are worth more than the sun itself: you are worth all Christ’s Blood! How can I fail to take up your soul —pure gold— and place it in the forge, and fashion it with fire and hammer, until that gold nugget is turned into a splendid jewel to be offered to my God, to your God?
I was talking to another person in ministry this week, and we were talking about how to encourage young people to make the sacrifices of entering the ministry. Within the context was also the discussion of the sacrifices we make to serve others. One of the sacrifices you might realize as you read the words in blue above.
If we are to be the instruments that which the Holy Spirit uses to “forge” people, to shape and mold them as we teach them and administer the sacraments, that weans we have to deal with the heat as well. Using more Lutheran terminology, you can’t preach Law and Gospel without hearing it yourself. For that is how St Josemaria’s forge works, as we are purified and fashioned for the life God has planned for us – to be there for them.
Yet if we spend time at the forge, we have to be there in the heat, we have to hold on, and care for those God gives us to care for, to be there with the fire and the hammer, to work despite the heat, despite how it zaps our strength, despite their sweat and tears (and even the stubborn refusal to bend to God’s will)
Over 20 years of preaching in jails and churches, spending time at bedside and with those who are ill and dying, this is what ministry has taught me. It is those moments where the heat is the hottest that I remember – not for the pain, but for incredible beauty that appears as the Holy Spirit transforms them, as the Spirit revitalizes them and reveals in them the image of God in which they were created, which was marred and broken by sin.
And being in the heat – you get to witness this, you get to see it. You get to look to God and say – I see what you did there, Oh my, how holy! How they shine because of Your care, your mercy and love! How they reflect your glory! As we see this, the heat is forgotten, the Lord and His beloved children are all our mind can focus upon. It is an incredible blessing to see, more than any discomfort, far worth the sweat and the tears…
Miraculously something else happens, those of us who serve as tools, who endure the heat for others, realize the same heat that transformed them, is why we are able to bear the heat, because we too have been transformed and tempered as well. While sometimes we think we are not made for this work, God turns our lives into masterpieces as well.
Praise God for the heat of His forge, and the work He gives us…. for it is an incredible thing to have a small part in, as He uses us. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 226-231). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
1 “Make certain you do not perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly, you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. 2 “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. 3 But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it. 4 Then it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (TEV)
693 It hurt you not to have been thanked for that favor. Answer me these two questions: Are you so grateful toward Christ Jesus? Did you really do that favor in the hope of being thanked for it on earth?
There is a part of us that cries out to be appreciated.
To hear someone say “thank you” seems only right, and when the thank you isn’t given, we are disappointed, even hurt. We may wonder about their manners, question how they were raised, even harbor a bit of resentment that our hard work and sacrifice was taken for granted, even ignored.
Examining our own expectation of that “thank you” never enters our mind, does it? Do we question our desire to hear that thank you? Or wonder if that announcement of appreciation was our motivation? Or why its lack would cause us to be bitter and resentful?
Or as the eminent theologian Jack Sparrow was noted to say, “The problem isn’t the problem. Your attitude about the problem is the problem.”
I think St Josemaria has an interesting point here. Are we as appreciative for what God has done for us, as we expect others to be for what we do for them? I am not asking this to create a guilt trip, precisely the opposite.
You see, our acts we want noticed and appreciated are actually how we show our appreciation for the work God has done for us. This life we live, is the fulfillment of Ephesians 2:10. What we want to be appreciated is the very life God planned out for us, as we’ve been recreated in Christ Jesus….a life lived in appreciation of His love.
I think as we realize this, then the appreciation of man becomes something that is nice, but not a need. The “thank you’s” are nice, but their lack becomes less noticed, as our actions become more something we are in awe of, as we realize they are done because of the Holy Spirit….. something that is holy and not our norm.
God is working in us! God is using us to bless others! What an amazing thing!
He has given us a place in life, and it is making a difference in others lives! And so our attitude changes a bit, and we begin to understand what Jesus said in Luke,
10 It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty.’ “
Luke 17:10 (TEV)
What happens then, is we desire that He be praised, that He be appreciated, that He be loved… and when that happens… we are content… and thankful for the opportunity.
Praise be to our Lord!…. and thanks for reading this!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1616-1617). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day….
1 Corinthians 10:15-16 (TEV) 15 I speak to you as sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper and for which we give thanks to God: when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ.
5 Through the Word and the rite God simultaneously moves the heart to believe and take hold of faith, as Paul says (Rom. 10:17), “Faith comes from what is heard.” As the Word enters through the ears to strike the heart, so the rite itself enters through the eyes to move the heart. The Word and the rite have the same effect, as Augustine said so well when he called the sacrament “the visible Word,”5 for the rite is received by the eyes and is a sort of picture of the Word, signifying the same thing as the Word. Therefore both have the same effect. (1) (from Article XIII of the Augsburg Confession)
“XXV. Of the Sacraments. Sacraments ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.” (2)
“What do United Methodists mean when they call this act a sacrament? Our Confession of Faith states: “We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of the Christian’s profession and of God’s love toward us. They are means of grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening [bringing to life], strengthening and confirming our faith in him. ” (3)
530 Many Christians take their time and have leisure enough in their social life (no hurry here). They are leisurely, too, in their professional activities, at table and recreation (no hurry here either). But isn’t it strange how those same Christians find themselves in such a rush and want to hurry the priest, in their anxiety to shorten the time devoted to the most holy sacrifice of the altar? (4)
Yesterday I had the great blessing of going back to my alma mater, and teaching a class on the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist and Holy Communion) it was really a good experience for me, and I think I caused some of the students to think.
I started the class with my own “personal theology” regarding the Lord’s Supper. I’ll briefly state it here:
You have a 16 oz cup that contains 8 ounces of wine. Do you:
(1) Agree and argue the position alongside the optimists that it is the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior.
(2) Agree and argue the position that it is only grape juice, and it only is a act of faithful obedience….
or (3) find some bread and with the people of God celebrate (give thanks) the gift of God given to the people of God as you commune with Him?
As always, there is a third choice, as I I thought through the lesson, I was struck by something truly astonishing. While the sacramental churches disagree on what I would call the mechanics of the Lord’s Supper – exactly how and when and in which ways the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, they don’t disagree that the Eucharist has a dramatic and transforming effect on those who trust in Jesus, on those in a relationship with Him.
For it is highly effective, and as a means of grace, brings into our lives so much, it is a wonder that anyone would ever avoid it, or not be glad to celebrate it.
The challenge is that how it affects us is not academic, or philosophical, but rather deeply spiritual, and if I dare us the word, emotional.
Maybe that is why we can’t agree on the mechanics, but can agree on its effect. We can’t academically and logically dissect the Bread and Wine, we can’t scientifically prove the presence of God there… and our post-enlightenment minds struggle with what we can’t forensically prove, what we can’t observe and demonstrate in regards to the elements.
It’s not knowing about God that is important when it comes to the sacraments, it’s about knowing Him. About realizing the depth of His love, the “sure-ness” of His presence, of resting in His comfort and peace, of being in community with Him, every part of us.
Melanchthon (author of the first quote from the Lutheran Apology of the Augsburg Confession) was absolutely right – this is about God’s work in our hearts. Like the very word of God it cuts our hearts open and circumcises them, cleansing us, as in our baptism – of the sin which ensnares us. Bathing us in God’s presence, His glory, His love, and bringing healing to our very hearts, our very souls. It is God working in us, the power of the Holy Spirit transforming us into the image of God – as the sacrament ( the physical element and the word of God – takes hold of us. ) is there.
I didn’t include the RCC quote I used – because of its length, but instead a quote from St Josemaria Escriva, a favorite writer of mine. I can begin to understand their practice of adoration and contemplation about the “mystery” of this – the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. Of sitting silently in wonder at the depth of God’s love, at the incredible power of the Holy Spirit within us, to take the time to think through what we’ve shared in, this body and blood, this precious gift, that causes faith to well up within us. For far too often as he points out – we rush through such times – we want to get it done, move through it. Yet think about a good meal – bacon wrapped bacon wrapped shrimp for example. You want to savor the smell, the enviroment, the flavor. Could we take such a time with the Lord’s Supper as well, to let the moment nourish our hearts longer – to set aside our intellect and realize how precious it is, that God comes to us, that He is here? To realize the Spirit’s work in us, drawing us to Him, transforming us, healing us, taking our burdens…
If I, in this week of returning to my alma mater – convince them of nothing theologically – that’s okay. It’s not what I am aiming for. it’s not what the sacrament is about. Doing a dissertation explaining 5000 years of sacramental theology? Cool – but what is needed – knowing our need for God’s presence… and knowing He responds to that need, for this He has promised, this blessing is ours…in Him.
So my friends, take and eat…. take and drink often, and know that the Lord is with you… AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 211–212). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) The Articles of Faith (Anglican) http://anglicansonline.org/basics/thirty-nine_articles.html
(4) Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1282-1284). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Built Up in Love
† In His Name †
As the waves of this life, and the strong winds that would steal from you the hope given you by Jesus, may you realize the grasp of God on your life, as He surrounds you with His love and mercy, and may you rest and rejoice in His peace!
The Tossed Church
This week, a scrap of parchment, no bigger than a business card, was supposed to have enormous impact on Christianity. It was supposed to revolutionize everything, and it was soon nicknamed in the press – the “gospel of Jesus wife”.
All the major papers and news stations picked up on the story, as a lady Ph.D. showed the 4th century Coptic manuscript, which she claimed was a translation of a second century Greek manuscript. She “translated” the passage, then interpreted the words as meaning that Mary Magdalene was Jesus wife. The articles then extrapolated that since the 4 true gospels never mentioned Jesus having a wife, that they were unreliable, and this business card size peace of parchment was the true gospel. One reporter said, that even if it wasn’t authentic, it should cause us to re-examine (i.e. doubt) what scripture tells us about Jesus.
Do you remember the Ossuary’s of James, those white marble boxes where Jesus’ bones were supposed to be? What about The Gospel of Judas Iscariot? This wasn’t the first time in the last decade that someone promised their revelation would drastically change our faith, and I seriously doubt it will be the last attempt to discredit the claims of Jesus.
For each one of these lies, for each one of these hoaxes, there are people who hear them, and as Paul describes – are carried about like a feather floating in the wind, or like someone caught in the winds and riptides at the beach. Some of us buy into the “experts” analysis, some of us get caught up in the hype and have to try and prove their theory wrong, with so little to work with, and both gradually lose focus on the why God created the church, the Body of Christ. They are blown about, tossed about, and distracted from why the church exists… what its purpose is…
What is the church’s purpose – What is our goal?
That question, “What is the church’s purpose?” is on our second reading focuses us upon this morning. The purpose doesn’t change by location, it doesn’t change by the name on the sign, or how the pastor dresses, or even what kind of music and liturgy is used. The purpose of the church, both a congregation and the church throughout the world is simple.
The purpose of the church is the title of the sermon – “to build itself up in love,” which means that it is “to build itself up in Christ”.
Let me read verse 12 and 13 from a different translation:
4:12 …(Christ gave the office of holy ministry) to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13 (NLT)
Three times it describes this “building up in love” as our purpose, our goal.
It’s why the people of God are equipped to serve, to do the work of God.
It is what is described if all come to such unity as we trust and know Jesus
It is what it means to mature in the Lord, to measure up to His completeness, to meet the Father’s expectation of His children.
For when we are described as such, we are living in complete accord with the two basic commandments, to love our Father in heaven with everything we are, and to love His children, our neighbors, even as we love ourselves.
Not an easy task, and yet it is why God has given the church those who would proclaim the gospel – apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers. Not to do the work building each other up, but rather to equip the church to do that work in their daily lives. My friends we have a lot of work to do, both in the equipping, and in the actual work, what is called the poeima Theo in Greek, the Gottesdienst in German, the Opus Dei In Latin. Or to use the words of Paul two chapters prior to our reading today,
2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
That’s what it means to live in Christ – that each of us works in the same vocation as Jesus, working to see every person mature in Christ. That’s what I call “job security”.
How do we measure it?
In business, when you have a task – there are things called benchmarks. Ways you can measure both progress and effectiveness of the work being done. It’s not a pass/fail thing for us, but there is a benchmark for our growth as believers.
It is our unity, how we truly work together, how we see ourselves so joined together in Christ, To understand that we are so united in Christ, that we can together stand, even thru the challenges in life.
That is why Paul encourages us to not be subject to the schemes and manipulations that would distract us from Christ, but rather to “speak the truth in love”. To speak in such a way requires tremendous faith in God, and tremendous love for those to whom we are speaking.
In talking about the truth spoken in love, the Greek word pictures not just our words, but all of our communication being focus and communicated through love, as it is translated in 1 John 3:18, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” It isn’t talking just about speaking truth in love as we confront each other either, it isn’t about what some have called “tough love” in the past. Were we talk about our needs as well as helping others reveal their need. Speaking the truth in love means sharing the difficult burdens and tasks, and identifying how we need to grow, together. It’s talking about a life lived transparently, and know that we can expect care and compassion and that God will use every situation, every pain, every challenge that have, or that we bring to others.
It’s the kind of love Jesus showed, as He willingly forgave others, as He shared His life on the cross, and the night before in, through and under the bread and wine. As he sought to bring healing more than He sought His own pleasure.
So can we live lives like that, can we trust in God deep enough?
We are equipped, built up, given hope
The answer is no.. and yes.
No if we try to love each other that completely on our own. No if we protect ourselves from pain, and hold back. No if we are waiting for others to make the first step. There will be times were we are betrayed, hurt, and the challenge is not to become to defensive, to accept the challenge and even the pain, knowing the strength the enables Jesus to love in such a way, and endure the cross.
Remember, this passage started out by listing the various roles within what we call the Office of Holy Ministry, or the “Pastoral office” and that they were given to equip you all to do this work, to fulfill this commission.
Each of those aspects of the office of ministry exist to train the Body of Christ to build itself up in love – to do the incredible work of God of living a life that is true and loving and merciful, where we do that which God has always desired,
6:8 …the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)
The way it is done is described in those four offices, which we’ll talk more about in Sunday School. Yet how is relatively simple – we speak the greatest truth in love, when we reveal our need for Christ to heal us of our sin, and reveal the promise of that healing as well.
Another way the way the church is equipped is described in our confessions – the teaching and administering the sacraments, being in a sense, the conduit of grace that is poured out upon the church. Pipes aren’t special – what they carry is – and that is the basic role of pastor-teachers – to pour out on you grace as we preach and teach, and to feed you the nourishment needed to have the strength to love, to be the people of God, entrusted with building up each other in love.
And there, as we live in His love, we find His strength, His wisdom, in His presence we find that which allows us to heal, and be knit together, to see that happen, as we live in peace.
The peace of God which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And may you always know, and be reminded, that that peace is yours.