At the Mass we weekly make a public confession of sin. I tend to come to it rather unprepared. I don’t really consider what I am about to say until the Deacon says, “Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbors, devoutly kneeling.”
The confession starts out, “Most merciful Father, we confess…” We confess? I mean, I don’t know what everyone else has done this week, but I know I haven’t done anything so bad as to need to confess. Except for that time when I did…. Oh yeah, and that thing I said about that one person… and that thought I had just before coming into Mass… and… well none of that is THAT bad.
And so it can become a habit to just SAY the confession without hearing or considering the words. I am only speaking for myself, here. The truth is, I have sinned against God in what I have thought, and said to my Brother or Sister, and in what I have done. Oh, and then there is that stuff that I haven’t done when the opportunity was presented to me by the Holy Spirit, or in genuine need.
It’s kind of like I approach the idea of confession as something I don’t really need to do. After all, hasn't Jesus already forgiven me? Of course He has. But my confession is not for Him. It’s for me. Everything Jesus calls me to do, is for me, so I can be Him in the world. So I can be transformed.
So this weekend, I thought I would just do God a favor and really think about what I have to confess. And this is what my Heavenly Father gently said to me. “My son, don’t do me any favors.” WHAT? I mean I am trying to do this with the right spirit and… I was cut off. He said to me, as I was kneeling there, “Love me first. Serve me as I have called you. Pour out your life for your neighbors by loving them as yourself. Do this because you love Me. I have given you life and love so you can do these things. Just do them. Don’t throw your favors on top of it. I don’t need your favors. I don’t need anything. I want your love.”
And so we come to the Discipleship Group Gospel story this week. Peter was broken when he denied Jesus the third time as the rooster crowed, and Jesus looked at him from across the court yard of the High Priest’s house. So many other incredible, terrible things were happening just then. But Jesus looked at Peter as Peter’s heart broke and he fled from the face of his sin. And even as Jesus was about to be taken from that place to be lied about, to be falsely accused, to be falsely testified against, to be spit on, to be struck, to be beaten, to be dragged from place to place, to be beaten again and ridiculed, to have His words of love twisted into accusations by those He came to serve and save, to be beaten to within a breath of His life, to be made to carry a great cross and finally to be crucified, He prayed for Peter, so that he would be strong for his brothers.
My Lord, what love is this? God doesn't need our favors of service or good intentions. He doesn’t want them. He wants us and our love. He wants us to grow and to fulfill the purpose He has given us. He wants us to follow. It’s simple. But it is really hard to do. You have to confess you are not where you need to be so you can come along.
In our Discipleship Group we finished the Arrest of Jesus and the Denial of Peter, from the gospel according to St. Luke 22:39 - 62. In almost everything, Pete is US at our best. Jesus wants us to learn so that we can have the relationship with Him that will allow us to do the things He has called us to do. It’s simple. But it requires us to do, to follow, and to change.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
There is a movie made from a book by John Irving called, "Cider House Rules." Skipping over the whole topic of the story, there is a doctor who runs an orphanage and there is a scene where at the close of each day the doctor looks in on all the young boys as they are going to sleep and says, "Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England." Again, side stepping the rest of the story, I remember thinking how awesome it must be to have the last words spoken to you each night by someone who loves you saying, you are a prince, you are a king. Sweet. And the stuff of sweet dreams for an abandoned 5 or 6 year old for sure.
The funny thing is, as we pray with God every night before we sleep, He offers us just such a blessing for our dreams, and rest, and comfort. In fact, an even better blessing. Through St. Peter, God says, "But you all are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you all may shine out all the excellent things of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." God has called us out of the darkness of our lives without Him into His light of unconditional love with Him. In following His calling, we are being made into Princes of God's Church, a holy nation set apart from the way the world does things to become the very cherished possession of God Almighty. And so much more.
Jesus Christ calls us to follow Him. We can go where He goes, do what He asks, we can move as He moves. The proper response to His call of love is to follow. But we can also choose not to follow.
If you think about the word, "follow" has a very specific meaning. We know the word from childhood. But we forget the meaning in its real intention as we grow up and exercise our own will. As a kid, you played, 'Follow the Leader'. The idea of the game was to go over and through every obstacle that the Leader threw in your way, but only after the Leader conquered the obstacle themselves.
As we grow up, we think following the leader is figuring out where the leader is going, and seeing if we can get there before they arrive. In the real world that's called initiative. We look for short cuts and ways to save effort and work. And that's ok in the 'real world' examples of our lives. But then the word we use shouldn't be 'follow'. I am not sure what word to use, but the meaning of 'follow' is not well defined by the illustration I just used.
When Jesus calls us to follow, He picks the path we will go. There are reasons for the ways He goes the way He goes, and there are reasons that the follower would travel along as He goes. Following means that someone else is leading. In this case, Jesus is leading. If someone is following, they don't get to pick and choose the way to go. The follower doesn't get the benefit of following Jesus if he runs ahead to Jerusalem and skips the side trip to Bethany and misses the whole experience of Jesus calling Lazarus out of the tomb.
In the end, following is a choice we make every day. But in following, we don't get to pick and choose the parts we follow and the parts we leave out. We don't get to choose to take short cuts or the locations we skip all together. If we do, we aren't following. And if we aren't following, we will miss the things Jesus is doing. We will not be there when the stone rolls away and Jesus by the power of His love for His friend, calls out, "Lazarus, come here!" And we will miss the miracle that strengthens our faith.
As we follow, really follow, not taking a short cut or making a side trip, or missing a turn, then Jesus changes us!. Just like the clay in the hands of the potter. By following we learn trust. By following we learn the real meaning of love. By following Jesus we learn there are places we can go and learn there are events and storms we can make it through. But we have to follow.
It is the work of a disciple, lead by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of eternal and unconditional love. It is the obedience of moving over every obstacle that the world will set in our way, because the one who leads us has already conquered the obstacles.
At the end of the journey, we are friends of Jesus Christ. Brothers and sisters who were not even related before. We are joint heirs with Jesus. We become princes of the Church, children of light who shine our love into the darkness of the world. All because of the light that shines in us. All of that happens just by playing a child's game and following our leader.
We aren't orphans. Our sweet dreams are not prompted by a good night phrase that sets our sights above our current circumstances. We are not merely kings of New England, as loving as that sentiment from the movie may have be. We are Children of the Most High God. We are walking in the footsteps of the one who calls us and makes us into all that we were intended to be.
So here is Jesus' encouragement. Don't stop. The obstacle in front of you has been defeated by the one who leads you. He calls you to pray, so you pray. He calls you to learn what He has said, so you learn. He calls you to come together and become a real community, so you come. And together we follow. Amen.
.... People don't come to church; people ARE the church (1 Peter 2:5). I believe God's goal for the church isn't to accumulate a crowd and impart information to them. God's goal isn't to create an emotional experience that will keep people charged up for a few hours or even days and make them want to come back so they can feel it again. I believe Jesus Christ's goal is that we, as his followers, are to raise up biblical disciples and deploy them into the world so they can raise up other disciples. Christ's disciples are called to grow into 'copies' of Jesus who rightly deliver His message in His way.
I truly believe that if people could see Jesus for who He really is, they would love Him. Unfortunately, most people who have rejected Him, have done so because they've been shown a false Jesus. A graven image or an idol of Jesus, as we present Him in our lives. That's the big question we need to explore: how do you make disciples so that our Parish experience real faith and reveal the real Christ to the world in a way that glorifies Him?
Stealing some thoughts from another pastor, my parish is filled with a lot of goodhearted people who want to do the right thing. But when we, as the Church, do not explain what we mean when we say, "Follow Christ," church can get a little rocky even with the best-hearted people in the world. It is important to consider that it's not just 'the world' that tries to tear apart our faith and love. We have a scheming, lying spiritual enemy who wants to confuse, lie and bring doubt in to what we do. He sows the seeds of division.
For that reason, we as church leaders, servants of Christ to our parishes, must constantly clarify our words and meaning, communicate clearly and, where necessary, resolve our family conflicts if we are to succeed. And succeeding looks like following Jesus Christ, being changed by Him and then being on mission with Him.
Friday, September 28, 2012
The Story of the Fall of Man in Genesis starts with a lie. The devil lied to Eve about what God told her would happen if they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve doubted what God told her and her husband. She ate the fruit and Adam took it from her and ate it too. In the end, death was introduced on the earth by this breach of trust, faith, obedience and relationship. Someone lied to one of the two people who were married, and because they made a free will decision to believe the lie, the relationship was changed forever, damaged and in need of redemption.
Jesus called the devil a murderer and the father of lies. This is the devils most destructive lie, and it introduced death and is the foundation of broken relationships from then to now.
The idea we have to apply to our lives is that with this fall of man, we became the judges of good and evil. We have to listen for God, if we will hear Him, and we must decide when we hear a lie what its true value is. Lies told to the spirit can cause immeasurable damage in our own lives if we are not cautious.
The lies we hear take many forms. Some kid hears that he is worthless and no one loves him, so he take the lives of others in an act of violence, terror and desperation. A woman hears in her heart that there is no way she can care for the child she has conceived and that the best thing to do now that the father is gone and the 'relationship' has ended is to 'terminate' the life inside of her. (Every time I hear the term 'terminate' I think of the scenes of violence and destruction in the Terminator movies. Bad parallel uh?) Someone thinks that the situation they face is so bad, the embarrassment to great, the damage so lasting that the only way out of this temporary darkness it to 'play god' and end their life. Some spouse somewhere thinks that the life they live is too hard, too hopeless, too difficult, too broken and so it must be ended and the only hope is to 'start again.' These are what the lies sound like.
In any marriage, one of the two partners may hear lies being told in their spirit that tempt them away from the truth of God, and call them to make bad choices. The type of choices that breach trust, faith, obedience and destroy relationships. The lies might sound like, "If you leave this relationship, the things that will make you happy will be found elsewhere. Don't worry. Your friends will understand, if they really are your friends. You can maintain your old relationship with your children and your soon to be ex-spouse will see how good it really is for you once you find your happiness elsewhere. You have the right to be happy and you are not happy here. Go, seek your fulfillment and leave this all behind." How do we chose between following the lies and doing what is right?
Here's the great news. God has defeated the liar. The devil was bound by the strong man, Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Living God. But until all of Jesus' enemies are made His footstool, the devil can still tell lies. And although the devil has no other power, because he was defeated by Jesus Christ when He descended into hell and broke the doors of death, and took death captive, the destruction and damage our enemy can do is still pretty bad.
God loves us so much that He never leaves us without hope. In the darkest part of the worst moment of our lives, He is there and we are not alone. After the worst has happened He is waiting to lift us up and lead us to the place where we can live, love and hope again. There is so much more to be written here, but this was intended as an introduction.
I hope these musings will help provoke some thoughts and prayers along the way. Let me know what you think if you have questions or comments. I will answer in e-mail if I can. Let the journey begin and we go in peace to love and server the Lord. By whatever means you have found yourself here, I bid you God's peace and love.