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A Different Approach to Grief.

man wearing jacket standing on wooden docks leading to body of water

Photo by Wouter de Jong on Pexels.com

Devotional Thought for our Day:

It is good to give thanks to the LORD,  to sing praises to the Most High! 2 It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening, accompanied by a ten-stringed instrument, a harp, and the melody of a lyre.
4 You thrill me, LORD, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done. 5 O LORD, what great works you do!  And how deep are your thoughts.  Psalm 92:1-5 NLT

Our griefs cannot mar the melody of our praise, we reckon them to be the bass part of our life’s song, “He hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.”

As you look at the Psalms, the early ones are through of trials. You see problems with the government in chapter 2, you see the brokenness caused by sin in 22 and 51, you see dealing with grief throughout and despair throughout the Psalms..

You also see worship, and it almost always comes after a lot of grief, and pain.  I even heard one pastor say that the Psalms end in worship even as they start in the complaint.

As I meditated on this, this morning, I realized we have made a crucial error. The quote from Psalm 92 made this point, and Spurgeon hammered it home.

Grief and trial are not what precedes worship.  In the middle of them, we find worship.  Worship that realizes the faithfulness of God requires that we see Him faithful to us in the midst of suffering. If there is no challenge, no pain, no sin, or resentment to deal with, there is no need for Jesus.

God meets us there, in the midst of our brokenness, in the midst of our pain, even in the midst of guilt and shame.

It is there the grief is realized to be the bass line – and often the volume of a teenager’s stereo’s bassline. But it still resounds with praise and awe. THis is lament.

He is there, with you…

 

C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).

The God Whom You Worship!

 

0This God Whom You Worship!
Acts 17:16-31

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you worship the God you know…

I Don’t think that word means….

In one of the most quoted moves of all times, a Sicilian mercenary captain keeps on using the word “inconceivable.” Over and over, you head the word come from this short, balding guy, inconceivable, inconceivable, inconceivable!

Finally, his swordmaster utters this favorite quote, ““You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ( Inigo Montoya, Princess Bride)

Now, what was funny was all the inconceivable things, well, they were actually conceivable, and doable.

This sort of reminds me of the people of Athens in this week’s reading from Acts. They had all these statues and temples dedicated to “gods.” The Greek gods, the gods of the countries they conquered, any god which they could find someone worshipping, hear of someone worshipping, they even had the one shrine dedicated to a god they prayed to when all else failed.

The “unknown” God.

They had to have a shrine with that name, for they really didn’t understand what a god was, never mind who God is, and how He would relate to all of His creation.

This word god that they used, they simply did not mean what they thought it meant… and for some, that would change, this day.

So my question for you today, when you use the word “God,” do you know what the word means?  If not, I pray you to do by the end of the day!

Who is this God?

Man creates and searches for gods for a reason. They know they need someone else to connect to, they know there is a presence that is missing.

So they create a god for this, a god for that, and attach to these gods a dream. For example, a lot of people are looking to authorities to save us from COVID, or the economic downturn that it has caused.  We blame those we think are interfering with that recovery, even calling them evil or demons.

We put all our hope and the joy that accompanies hope.

And then that god fails, or that dream turns out to be false, and the contentment we thought it promised turns out to be more heartache and more pain.

We need a God that takes care of more than one problem, who is not created, who is more than someone who provides us what we want, or what we think we need for life to be right.  We need the God Paul described.

This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. 24  “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25  and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26  From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. 27  “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28  For in him, we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.

This is what a God is, this is Who we need to find peace, to find fulfillment, to have a real hope at life – for as Paul said, in Jesus, in Him we live and move and exist.

This is what happened at the cross, when all that was not god that we invented, all our idols, and the sins they led us to commit, were stripped away.

We realized that we are the children of God, His beloved children!

Judgment is coming.

Which is a good thing, because Paul then moves his discourse into something that could be frightening.

30  “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice.

Judgment day!

For those who don’t know God, who keep on going back to their idols, who keep on putting hope in some they think will solve all their problems, there is a day when God will ask why – why didn’t you trust in  Me?

Why didn’t you consider my love, which I laid out before you?

Why did you create or find answers that won’t provide the hope and peace you need in the long run?

Why not just cry out to me?

Why not let me save you?

For the judgment day surely has two parts – the full justice of God.

The judgment of idolaters, the judgment of those who would reject God, and the part that truly gives us hope.

31  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising Him from the dead.”  

This is our hope… this is everything that God appointed on to judge us, would die to make things just and right. Jesus would not only strip away those things that draw us away from God but would heal us. That would heal the broken hearts, our broken souls, if we would but let Him.

It is time to call out to Him now, knowing this,

19  and how very great is his power at work in us who believe. This power working in us is the same as the mighty strength 20  which he used when he raised Christ from death and seated him at his right side in the heavenly world. Ephesians 1:19-20 (TEV)

I pray that you know this God and know what it means that He is your God and that you learn to depend on Him… and trust in Him…matter of fact, let’s pray right now…

Heavenly Father, help us to stop chasing after other gods, help us stop finding hope in things other than you… deliver us this morning, and surround us with your glory, that we may dwell in Your peace.  AMEN!

 

Encounter God and Live: A Sermon on John 11 from Concordia

Encounter God and Live
John 11:14-45

In Jesus Name

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ show you how to live!

Two odd focal points

Like most of the gospel, I have preached on reading from Luke before.  I thought I had attacked it from every possible point and hadn’t missed anything in the story before.

I did pick up on a couple of things I missed, two different phrases that are repeated twice. I was also trying to work on how you preach on the miracle of someone rising from the dead in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, if there was a time to repeat the miracle in the Valley of the Dry Bones, wouldn’t it be a great thing to do it now?

Back to the two things I missed – these two phrases.  As we deal with them, I pray that they will help us learn to live, to really live.

The first is that twice it describes Jesus as being Angry.

The other is a phrase that Jesus uses, that is translated as, “for your sake!”

Angry

The gospel records this,

33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. 34 “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

Did you catch this?

38 Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. 39 “Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

Other translations make this seem that he was simply bothered, that he was upset – and yet word describes someone who is enraged, indignant, and storming about angrily.

Does that make sense?  After all, what is he angry about?

My first reaction was the lack of faith, the absolute raw pain he is witnessing! Here he is, and Martha even acknowledges he is the Messiah.

Is Jesus truly mad at the lack of faith?

If so, perhaps he is mad at me for this week. After all, watching the fear and anxiety affect so many has been brutal. Hearing of friends whose families have contracted the virus has been brutal, especially as I can’t go to them, pray with them, give them a hug.

I don’t want to entrust these friends and their loved ones into God’s hands, and that, as brutal as it sounds, is a lack of faith.

Is that the reason God is upset?  Because they couldn’t trust that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead?

I don’t think so.

But I think we beat ourselves up too often for our lack of faith, and this time is definitely not a time to be doing so…

This epidemic is not about our lack of faith, and God hasn’t abandoned us in this time.

We might not see what He is doing, but that is true in other times of our lives as well.

We have to understand it is okay to struggle, it is okay to ask the hard questions, it is okay to weep, because then, having admitted where we are, we can see Jesus at work.

For your sake

Which is where the other duplicated phrase comes in to play.

Verse 14, “So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

and then verse 42, Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.”

When you see these verses bracket this story, it is not a major leap to see that Jesus’ anger isn’t toward those whose faith is struggling. For it is to strengthen our faith that this occurred.

So why would He be mad at the lack of faith?

God worked something out of this situation that led people to have more faith in Him, to depend on Him more than they ever did before.

In this case, it was a miracle, the resurrection of someone dead 4 days.

But that too – was something God had planned – remember – he said we are going to him. Even though Jesus said he was dead, they were going to him.

But that isn’t the end of the story, for God was going to demand more of their faith, which we get a hint of in Thomas’s comment, “Let’s go, too – and die with Jesus.

A Greater Demand on their Faith?

This story is about the fact the disciples would need even greater faith when Jesus dies just a little while after this. They would need to depend on God for the darkest three days of their lives.

Not knowing what any of it meant, not knowing what darkness would hit next…

As God would sustain them during those dark days between the cross and the resurrection –

For that is the place where God’s anger is purged – as the power of death and sin was crushed.

The sin which so separated us from God, and from each other – Jesus’s anger at that sin was made evident, there as He is with those dealing with the consequence of sin, death. He understood that death for the sinner would be final, which is why a short time later, the Father would deal with death through Christ’s suffering and death and resurrection.

He had to do something about the sin and death that so scares and scars us.

And so he did… Jesus would die,

For their sake…

And for ours.

And that is why we have a faith that is stronger, that is why we know we can depend on Him, not just for the forgiveness of sins, but that He will be with us always…

Caring for us, loving us, dying for us…

And know,

Alleluia – He is Risen!

and I can’t wait for you to say the next part

He is Risen Indeed Alleluia and therefore we are risen indeed! Alleluia!

AMEN!

Encountering God in the Midst of Isolation

Encounter God amid Isolation
(and be happy!)
John 4:5-26

† In Jesus Name †

May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ simply leave you praising Him…

What is God Looking for

What do you preach on, when the world seems, unlike anything you have ever experienced? What do you wen everything doesn’t make sense, and you seem to be holding on by the edge of your fingers?

How do you cope, when the new term for the day is “social distance.” And we are being told and telling people not to shake hands, or even exchange elbows.

How do we cope?

Of all the people in scripture, the Samaritan woman at the well knew the frustration of isolation, She went to well at lunchtime, in the middle of the heat of the day, because there was no one there.  Five times she had been abandoned by her husbands, and the latest jerk didn’t respect her enough to marry her, he just used her… and therefore the women in town treated her like trash if they even thought of her at all.

She was isolated, lonely, probably more than a little bitter.

And then it happened, she encountered God.

We need to hear her story today, and realize we encounter Jesus the same way,

The problem – do we really know Him

As the encounter goes on, as they move from an odd discussion about water to an odder discussion about her past, Jesus then says something that seems a bit… abrupt.

You Samaritans know very little about the one You worship

The original language is blunter – you don’t know the one you worship.

That is harsh, especially if you want to keep a conversation going!

This God you claim to worship – you don’t know who He is, or anything about him.

I am surprised she didn’t run off at that moment!

Or at least say, “What do you mean, I don’t know who God is? Who do you think you are?”

But it is true, that there are times in our lives when we wouldn’t recognize God if He was standing right in front of us, or if He dropped right into our hands.

That is one of our challenges in life, that when we all to often isolate ourselves from God. That all to often we self-quarantine and miss out on the love we so desperately need. It is not coronavirus that does this, but our own sin, as if we think w could infect God, or maybe he has some kind of scanner that will toss us out of His presence.

How the problem is being taken care of.

How we need to encounter Jesus the way this lady did!

Right in the middle of her self-isolation, right in the middle of her questioning what was going on in life, right in the middle of her brokenness.

God showed up.

It wasn’t even the normal route from Jerusalem to Galilee, not even a secondary route.  Peter must have been navigating for them to come to this place.

That day, that moment, she encountered God, and of all the people in the middle east, this Palestinian woman with a life that didn’t make sense encounters God, and hears Jesus confess something he was vague about until the resurrection.

Then Jesus told her, I AM the Messiah!

This lady would run to her village, and without realizing it, shatter all her isolation, her self-imposed quarantine would disappear, as she shared with all the others the Messiah. Jesus would stay with them a while, but the change he made in her life, in that encounter was amazing.

It is the encounter He would have with each one of us this morning.

In the middle of our brokenness, in the middle of our questioning, in the middle our frustration, our questions, our fears.

He is here.

I am the Messiah is an incredible statement, for it means God anointed Him to come here for her, and for you.  To be more than your savior, more than someone who lifts you up and gives you hope.

To be the Messiah, your Messiah means to reveal to you that you are loved by God.

It all begins there, with the love of God, that brings God to weird places, like beside a well, or to a church in Cerritos in the middle of a pandemic in Lent.

To people who need to know that their past will be forgiven, that their deepest thirst will be satisfied, that God will reveal Himself to them…

This is our miracle today, whether here in person, or “out there” watching the service. You are not alone, you are not quarantined from God, you are not isolated any longer from Him, so let us worship the Lord.

The Lord God is with you!    AMEN!

Churches, Worship, and the Missing Generation?

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:

After a while the people of Joshua’s generation died, and the next generation did not know the LORD or any of the things he had done for Israel. 7 The LORD had brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they had worshiped him. But now the Israelites stopped worshiping the LORD and worshiped the idols of Baal and Astarte, as well as the idols of other gods from nearby nations.  Judges 2:10-13  CEV

On the other hand, we must acknowledge that, together with the affirmation of this rich inheritance with its high technical demands, there is a desire to see the liturgy completely open to all, a desire for the common participation of all in the liturgical action, including liturgical singing, and this, inevitably, must put a curb on artistic requirements.

We should, then, learn what the sacraments are, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be used. We will find that there is no better way on earth to comfort downcast hearts and bad consciences. In the sacraments we find God’s Word—which reveals and promises Christ to us with all his blessing and which he himself is—against sin, death, and hell. Nothing is more pleasing and desirable to the ear than to hear that sin, death, and hell are wiped out.

When I was in High School and College, it was said that my generation (the early GenX’ers were leaving the church in droves. The worship wars were just starting to ramp up, the Seeker Sensitive movement had yet to begin, and the church changed from a place where the Gospel was preached to a place where scripture was exposited and doctrine was defended.  Still to this day, there are not a lot of people in my age group in the church.

I have seen all sorts of plans over the years to reach them, and now it seems the church has given up on us, and now they mourn the Millenials not being in church.  Now all sorts of ideas are being floated by boomers to reach them as if they are the last hope for the church in the world. We’ve even labeled this time as the “post-Christian” era, and strategize about how to consolidate our resources, closing churches as if the buildings were nothing more than fiscal assets, and our concern is not “return on investment” but eerily similar, where we make decisions based on a ratio membership against property value.

It is not unlike the time of the Judges, the time where a generation or two seems to be missing, and the church desperate for survival looks to consultants and business experts to guide them.

At the same time, the worship wars have gone underground, become more programmatic, and worship, whether contemporary, tradition or liturgical, has become more spectator driven and less participative. We’ve got it backward in many ways.  Pastors and priests should be facing the people when they are proclaiming the gospel in the sacraments, revealing the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Worship teams should be facing the cross and altar when facilitating the worship of God, rather than standing with their back to the altar.  In both cases, man is standing in the way of others being able to see and interact with God.

Pope Benedict was right, we have to put a curb on the artistic “performance” of the skilled musicians and liturgists, so that people can participate, so they can sing, so they can pray, so they can communicate with God!

This is why Luther was so adamant about people knowing how the sacraments are to be used, to comfort terrified consciousness, to communicate peace, their promises being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit as He transforms each and every one of them, from every ethnicity, from every language, from every generation.

It is this participation in worship, encouraging and empowering people to interact, not just with other believers, but together interacting with God, that was missing in the days of the judges.  They didn’t share what they saw God doing in their midst in the past, in the present, and the hope of what He would do in the time to come.

They didn’t share what they saw God doing in the sacramental acts at the Tabernacle, they didn’t share in the promises of the covenant. And so the generation that followed didn’t know God, didn’t know the benefit of walking with Him, so they searched out other gods.

But they did it, one by one, family by family. What was to be passed down, the work of God, the covenant describing the relationship, was all not passed on, but simply treasured in their own hearts.

If in these days, we are to see the church revive, we have to help people see God. Older people, younger people, people of every description you can imagine. We have to help them worship the God who reveals His love, His mercy, His care to them… and not get in the way while doing it…

Let’s call them now… and plead with them, “let God reconcile you to Him….”

AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 99.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 111.

Almost Tempted to…but I can’t…

Jesus Laughing

Devotional Thoughts of the Day:

After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn!  Deut 9:4-6 CEV

Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.

It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.

Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.

Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise

The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.

It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)

Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.

They are that significant, at least to me.

But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith.  So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.

The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.

We aren’t good enough.

We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.

And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.

Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay.  We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.

That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more.  We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle.  It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.

That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God.  Pope Benedict is right on in that quote.  Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.

That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.

In your soul and mine. (gulp)

Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.

You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…

That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.

 

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.

Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.

Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought for the Day:
27  Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)

6  Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7  Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8  And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9  It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)

For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.

Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.

I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.

Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.

Only one.

It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.

Does your liturgy,  your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?

The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.

Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way?  If not, reset them.  Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy?  If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them.  Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.

Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time.  So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.

Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all.  And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.  

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.

The Mystery that Underlies Worship, and Makes it Worth It!

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Devotional Thought of the day:

7  No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began.
1 Corinthians 2:7 (NLT2)

Christianity is both. It is full of mysteries like the Trinity, creation, the Incarnation, atonement, providence, and eschatology. In fact, it is the most mysterious religion in the world. It is not at all obvious, not what we would expect. That is what all the heresies have been: what the human mind naturally expected. Yet Christianity is also supremely simple. John was right. There is, in the last analysis, only one thing: the love of God.

Here is common ground for a discussion of the structure of liturgy. Strictly speaking we should say that liturgy, of its nature, has a festal character.2 If we can agree on this starting point, the issue then becomes: What makes a feast a feast? Evidently, for the view in question, the festal quality is guaranteed by the concrete “community” experience of a group of people who have grown together into this community.

As much as I hate the idea of worship wars, or the ability of both sides to ignore the blessings of their perceived antagonists, I love to talk about worship. Even more, I love worshipping God, with his people.  It can be done with choirs and pipe organs, it can be done with a band and people facilitating the singing of the congregation, it is done with a half dozen people and a guitar.  Or people singing acapella.

There is no need for worship wars, not when there is so much to celebrate, as the people of God are gathered together.

This is the point that Pope Benedict speaks of, this moment where the community is formed. The feast is not because of the many incredible mysteries we fail to completely understand.  Those mysteries, which Kreeft lists, are mere supplements to the true mystery, the truth that binds us all together.

What one thing Peter Kreeft says is the only thing. the love of God! (for us!)

This is our ultimate glory, this is our ultimate joy, this is what we celebrate, for as it is revealed, as the truth of it sets up inside our souls, worship and celebration is the result.

If we are more focused on the realization that God loves us, this staggering, beyond the experience of being truly loved, then worship is empowered to be something more than a pattern, a habit, a time set aside to make sure we are good with God.

It becomes a dance… it becomes a life-giving time of restoration and healing. It becomes the core of our worship, more important than being liturgical or contemporary. More important than being perfect, for all that falls aside with this thought.

“we are loved!”

Heavenly Father, as You gather us together, help us to remember this glorious truth.  All we shall hear, say, sing, pray, and even our silence, Lord, may we realize that You love us.  AMEN!

Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 35.

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 62–63.

Pastors and Priests are not Holy Pez Dispensers!

Combined 1
Devotional Thought of the Day:

28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in me. Colossians 1:28-29 (TEV)

In the sacrament Christ is received. However, this would not happen if Christ were not, at the same time, prepared and distributed through the Word. For the Word brings Christ to the people and acquaints their hearts with him. The sacrament in itself does not transmit this knowledge.

And even if there is some preaching, the mass may be of Christ but the sermon on Theodoric of Bern or some other story. God punishes us in this way because we do not pray for our daily bread. The venerable sacrament finally becomes not only a vain and empty custom but also an object of contempt. After all, what does it profit us if Christ is present and has prepared bread for us, if this bread is not given to us and we do not delight in it? That is just as if a delicious meal were prepared and no one was there to pass the bread, bring the food, or pour the drink, and all were expected to have their hunger appeased by the odor or the sight of the meal.

You might think that this post is going to laud the preaching of the word over the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  I mean, after all, Luther’s words could be interpreted that way.  Luther makes it sound like the sacrament is completely dependent on the word, that without it, it, it is vain and worthless.  It would be of no profit to our bodies and even less to our souls.

Theologically, that may sound right, but I do not agree with that interpretation.

I think it is that we can’t separate what God put together, the gift of hearing the word and receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood.  We need both, and we need them together.  They need to understand the experience they have, as they take and eat, and take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

As I said in the title, pastors and priests (Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, and other sacramental groups) are more than spiritual Pez dispensers.  Our role is to reveal to you Christ, to ensure you understand the grace that you are being given in the sacraments, to make sure you understand that grace is Christ’s presence in your life, and how that transforms who you are, it results in a change to your very identity.

That is why we see this Communion Feast so important, and the words that prepare us for it critical.  This time, not just about our sins being forgiven, but the time we know we dwell in Christ, and He dwells in us.

We need this, and we need to remember, to understand, to savor this moment.  So to preach on something else, to not focus on Christ crucified for us, to make sure you understand this and treasure it, and to give you the time to think and work through it, this is our calling.

For your benefit.

So let both people and their clergy, work together, and rejoice together, as God provides for us.  Amen!
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 57–58.

Does God Still Surprise Us?

Ponte sisto

Devotional Thought of the day

22 His answer surprised them so much that they walked away..…33 The crowds were surprised to hear what Jesus was teaching.  Matt 22:22, 33 CEV

 This development reflected the new liturgical awareness which had been growing in these years. At that time, young people were interested not so much in the inherited dogmatic problems of eucharistic doctrine as in the liturgical celebration as a living form [Gestalt]. They found that this form, or structure, was a theological and spiritual entity with an integrity of its own. What previously had been the rubricist’s sphere of operations, mere ceremonial, having no apparent connection with dogma, now seemed to be an integral part of the action. It was its actual manifestation, apart from which the reality itself would remain invisible. Some years later Joseph Pascher put it like this: as far as the structure is concerned, up to now people had only paid attention to the rubrics, to what was printed in red; now it was time to give equal attention to the red and the black print. “There is far more in the form and structure of the texts and the whole celebration than in the rubrics.”

Throughout scripture, I find God surprising people.

Sometimes it is with what they are taught, as in my readings from Matthew this morning. Sometimes it is with the call, the role He gives them in life, as they minister and try to lead the people who need to find themselves, by discovering their relationship with God.

So why does He keep surprising us? Or perhaps the question is “how” He keeps doing so.

The latter question is seen in the words from Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI)  We get so caught up in “how” we worship God, how we serve Him, that we don’t hear the words we read, that we sing, that we preach or hear in the sermon.  We get so caught up in the forms and directions for doing them right, (the rubrics – which were printed in red by the printers of worship hymnals, missals, and the agendas – the books that guide pastors/priests) Pascher talks about giving equal weight to form and matter, even realizing there is what is said.

We do that today as well, getting more focused on how we worship and how we live than in the glory of God that surrounds us, for we are His people. That is why some police morality and thoughts more than seek God’s face.  Why some think revival comes from people being corrected in thought, word and deed, rather than realizing that their errors in thought word and deed are forgiven, and the damage done by sin God will heal.  (That is what forgiveness really is, by the way, not just the removal of the punishment, but the healing of the damage done!)

That is why it is surprising when miracles happen, or when prodigals we gave up on come home. It is why we hide our sin and brokenness, rather than talking about it freely, we struggle to believe God will forgive what we cannot believe can be forgiven. It is why we have developed a culture that still is based on shame and guilt, rather than in the hope of restoration and the love that brings it about.

These things are taught in our liturgies, whether complex or simple. It should be heard in our sermons and our prayers celebrated and rejoice over in our songs sung in church and throughout the week.

And when we are surprised by what Jesus reveals to us in His word, then again give thanks, for the Holy Spirit is keeping us focused on Jesus… and the form will naturally follow.  As the ancients taught, as we worship, so we believe … and so we practice.

Lord Jesus, we ask that you keep surprising us, that you keep revealing to us the promises, and even more your presence and love which makes us sure of them.  Lord, help us never grow stale or dull in our dependence on You but keep us marveling at how You sustain and heal us.  AMEN!

Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 33–34.

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