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For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. Psalm 88:3

A pastor once said to me that, in his experience, almost all of life’s our troubles come in three basic flavors: Grief, Grievance, and Grudge.  Over the years, I have added a fourth: Guilt.  The four G’s.  Four continents of discontent: Grief, Grievance, Grudge, and Guilt.  In each we wake in a foreign land, alien and disorienting.  We long for home, for simpler times, for comfort.  God is nowhere to be found.

In such a land – perhaps you dwell there now – say to yourself, “I am only experiencing an eclipse, but the sun is still there, still shining.  The darkness is only temporary.  God is not absent.  I will come out of it, for God will do it.  He is still there, though unseen to me now.”

We do not emerge from the eclipse back in our original homeland, but in a better one.  God is working a transformation.  Whether in this life or the next, the experience of suffering and weakness produces in us a God-given “weight of glory” not worthy to be compared with the our temporary troubles.  2 Cor. 4:17 Rom. 8:18

The paradox is that only by our weakness do we discover that our weakness is our glory, our blessing.   “Every believer is weak. We delude ourselves, as did Peter, if we think that we have any strength of our own. Even without reckoning with sin, the human constitution is frail by divine design. We were always meant to be reliant on God and should have been content to remain so. Our weakness is a fundamental characteristic of our creature-hood.” – The Rev. Roger Salter, Rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church Alabama

Let us be content to be reliant on God.  With St. Paul, let us “fix our eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  2 Cor. 5:18

Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Hebrews 9:24

“Christ has entered heaven itself … now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”  On our behalf!  Our needs – our deepest needs – became God’s gracious deed.  Failure and shame?  Unforgivable crime?  Unbearable guilt?  Vendetta and grievance?  Despairing sadness?  Beloved in Christ, we need a friend in high places. Our future depends not on what we know but who we know.  Do you know the living and Risen Christ?

Christ Jesus “is at the right hand of God, interceding for us.”  Romans 8:34  “Jesus lives forever.  He has a permanent priesthood.  He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for us.”   Hebrews 7:24-25

Let us consider Jesus “seated at the Father’s right hand” in highest honor.  He now fills the whole universe (Eph 4:10) and rules all things as Lord.  He ascended bodily.  When he ascended to the Father, Jesus did not leave his humanity behind, only his humiliation.  Nor did he leave our humanity behind, he bore it in him. Since we are included in his New Humanity, he has borne us with him into the presence of the Father.  “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:6

Hear how the Book of Hebrews summarizes.  “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.  Both [Jesus], the one who makes us holy, and we, who are made holy, are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.”  Hebrews 2:10-11  He was not ashamed to suffer on the Cross for us.  He is not ashamed now to be seen with us in the presence of the Father.  We are spiritually seated with him in the heavenly realms, of the same family.  Indeed we have a friend in high places. 

Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

Why do we pray for the dead in the Prayers of the People on Sunday? In fact, we don’t. When we mention people by name, we remember them before God, we do not pray for them.

We must not confuse the strict boundary line between this mortal life and the next. The New Testament is clear: This mortal life is the arena for decision. The next life is the arena for judgment. Jesus was urgent about repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” “Whoever believes the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36) “It is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Our prayers cannot alter the fate of those who have died from what it was sealed to be at the moment of their death.

When we mention people by name, we are doing two things. First, we are pouring out our feelings, our remembrance, our longings, our loss, our yearnings before God. At the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” Second, we are being schooled in God’s divine perspective about death. Prayer tunes our hearts and understanding to conform to God’s. We need a tempered humility. There are times we can be reasonably sure that a person has died in the faith (or not). But not absolutely sure. God alone is judge. There are times we can stray too far toward uncritical sentimentalism, on the one hand, or dismissive judgmentalism, on the other hand. But God alone is judge.

On Ash Wednesday we hear: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On Easter Day we hear, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” At burial we hear, “All who look to the Son and believe in him shall have eternal life, and the Son shall raise them up.” (John 6:40)

We do not pray for the dead, we remember them before God. We pour out our human emotions and thoughts. We surrender our hold on them. We commend them to God’s mercy. We allow God to re-tune our wills to conform to the Father’s will. “And this is the will of the Father who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39)

CAIN SLEW ABEL

 

“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer,and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  1 John 3:15

Tragedy in Boston at the marathon.  Three dead at the finish line.  A police officer dead in Cambridge.  Hundreds grievously wounded.  A whole city on lock down, traumatized.  An entire nation outraged and stricken with sadness and anguish.  It’s personal.  All of us were attacked.

“Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” (Gen. 4:8)  Thus it is from our earliest beginnings: brother slays brother.  Cain and Abel describe the human condition.  “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.”  Even just the motive of hate, absent any deed, is murder!  Who of us has not hated, even if only a little?  Who is not a murderer?  The human condition.

 No one has permission to hate.  Anger, yes. Justice, yes.  Malice, no.  Jesus said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder.’  …  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”  “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Dear people of All Saints’.  This wonderful God who has restored joy and gladness to the world in the death and resurrection of His only Son – this wonderful God – is Life.  Let us use this terrible tragedy to renew our resolve to live as Jesus lived.  “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16

If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:17

Jesus washed the feet of the disciples on the night he was betrayed. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” The foot washing stands as a profound act of humility and love. But the foot washing was only an example, not the deep substance of our need. The foot washing points beyond itself to the greater work of redemption on the Cross. We need redemption more than clean feet.

Does it ever happen that when you see an action of Jesus having a deeper symbolic meaning, such as the foot washing, that you tend to ignore the original, face-value meaning? “Oh, I get it Lord! You washed the disciples’ feet to drive home the point that the real way you washed our feet was by dying on a cross.” Implication? “Now I can forget that Jesus actually did wash the disciples’ stinky dusty feet. Yuck! Foot washing is so beneath me.”

Jesus really does mean for us to serve each other with concrete, practical, humbling acts of service, not just meditate on the mystery of our salvation at Calvary. It means doing things we may consider beneath us, things we expect others to do. In this culture that may mean babysitting someone else’s children, volunteering to take the minutes at a meeting, or wash the toilets.

Jesus exhorted guests at a banquet that when they go to party they should take the lowest seat. What if he meant it? Not just a figure of speech. Not just another example pointing to Christ’s great humility on Good Friday. Jesus exhorts us that when we throw a party, not to invite our friends but the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. What if we took him literally? Jesus instructed us to sell our possession and give to the poor. What if we took him seriously? Jesus said to turn the other cheek and forgive limitlessly. What if he meant it? “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I said that the foot washing was only an example, not the deep substance of our need. And that is true. We must never reduce the death of Christ to moralizing about living a “good life” and random acts of kindness. But equally, we must take Jesus at face value. The foot washing may only be an example but he means for us to do it. When we spiritualize the deeds and actions of Jesus to let us off the hook of obedience, we mock him on the cross.

But gladly, our highest call and deepest joy is to grow in the way of Jesus. At Easter, Jesus Christ means to bless us. “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

For our sake God the Father made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

Sunday, March 24, marks our entrance into Holy Week.  I commend the following meditation by George Herbert, 17th century poet and Anglican priest.  His allusion to “er’ry man’s peculiar book” refers to the final summary of the life and deeds of each individual.  God will “read” each “book” on the Day of Judgment.  George Herbert declines to show God his own book, but instead another; “to thrust a Testament into thy hand.”  It is finally a deep meditation on 2 Corinthians 5:21 – see above.

Judgement

Almighty Judge, how shall poore wretches brook Thy dreadfull look,

Able a heart of iron to appall,

                                  When thou shalt call For ev’ry mans peculiar book?

What others mean to do, I know not well, Yet I heare tell,

That some will turn thee to some leaves therein So void of sinne,

          That they in merit shall excell.

But I resolve, when thou shalt call for mine,That to decline,

And thrust a Testament into thy hand:

                                  Let that be scann’d.

          There thou shalt finde my faults are thine.

A Prayer:  O God of love, you have suffered – all for love.  You have borne the iniquity of us all.  O God of my salvation “my faults are thine” and Thy righteousness mine.  If this be true, “what language shall I borrow, to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?” (Hymn 167)

“If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.” 1 Corinthians 14:27
________________________________________

On March 3, A______ spoke during our worship service at 10:45 a.m. in an “unknown tongue.” The Bible gives instruction about the place of a tongues addressed to the whole community in public worship. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” In particular, he said, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.”

Following A’s utterance, there was a short period of silence, a purposeful waiting, because “someone must interpret.” That person was M______. Her words were brief and spoken in the first person, to the community. The message was simple: “I have extended my hand of grace and mercy to the church. You too then, extend your hands of grace and mercy to each other.” (All week since, M_____ said that word has burned inside her, as she asked herself: “Am I extending grace and mercy to people around me?”)

An interpretation (in this case by M_____) is not so much a word-for-word translation as it is a message. The length of the “tongue” does not necessarily correspond to the length of interpretation. The key element is that the interpretation completes the tongue into what is effectively a word of prophecy to the worshiping community. Paul taught that “everyone who prophesies speaks to men and women for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” [1 Cor. 14:3] Thus there is a prophetic function to tongues and interpretation in public worship.

Fr. Kelly gave us a brief explanation. Roughly paraphrasing, he said “our brother A_____ had an ecstatic utterance in a language not meant to be interpreted like ordinary speech, but as given by the Spirit and meant to be understood by the Spirit. This too is part of the way God’s people may worship.”

It is important that we are willing to take risks in our worship and that we maintain a respectful atmosphere. In our worship we are to “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” [1 Thess. 5:21-22] Just as with sermons, prayers, hymns, announcements, and pronouncements, we do not invest prophetic words with infallible authority. But just as with sermons, prayers, hymns, announcements, and pronouncements, we do expect the Spirit to speak. We are to sense, test, and respond to the presence of the Spirit. Last Sunday A______ and M_____ took a risk to bring a prophetic word to the community. Let us take a risk to test it, consider it, and respond.

The 14th chapter of 1 Corinthians is the best Biblical resource we have on the teaching of tongues and prophecy in the church. I commend you to read it yourself. If you have questions, please call me.

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