A Question

I never understood why people felt the need to defend God. God is God and does not need finite, ignorant, arrogant me to defend God. How would I defend God? (I have a hard enough time just desiring not to offend my Lord who loves me).

If you feel you need to defend God, then how could the god you are defending truly be a god at all? Not intending to insult but asking one to think.

I want to write about a view I have of David and Goliath. Very popular story and oft used analogy of courage. However, I have a question. Did God want David to fight Goliath?

Let me set the context. It starts with this; “Jesse said to his son David, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers; also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See how your brothers fare and bring some token from them.” (1 Sam. 17:17-18 NRS) Note, “and bring so token” was a directive to bring back good news a sign that things were ok. David disobeyed his father. And this was after,

“The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.” (1 Sam. 16:12-13 NRS)

Now back a little further, “The word of the LORD came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the LORD all night.” (1 Sam. 15:10-11 NRS) God was going to remove Saul as king. Likely God was using the Philistines to bring this about. God has Samuel anoint David is King. Saul is tormented by an evil spirit. The stage is set for abdication. Saul will either resign or have an nervous breakdown and be removed. Then in comes this young arrogant shepherd boy who feels he must defend God and country and sets himself on course for a suicide mission.

Malcomb Gladwell does not see it this way. He sees David having the advantage due to weaponry and tactics. I do not believe it matters. David’s actions back God into a corner (not), but David does change the direction of the scenario and because of his victory Saul is kept in power and will make David suffer. Saul will come to hate David and become driven to try and kill him. Many people suffer because of this. And David, a man with blood on his hands, cannot build a temple for God in spite of being a man after God’s own heart.

Again, I ask, “Did David do what God wanted?

Can this mistake of David, a man after God’s own heart, show us what God is willing to do in order to bring about the best out of the worst and love whose limits exceed our unbounding ability to be non-discerning and impulsive.

I ask this for the following reason.

When your heart is open, you are willing to be convinced of the opposite of what you believe to be true, knowing you are seeking Truth, not trying to defend it. Anything true will stand in the Light of Truth.[1]

This is what good spiritual direction offers.

I am open for new pilgrims.     Email or Zoom contact at this time.  Lovethelord2@outlook.com

The importance of being an image bearer.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost . Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon September 7, 2021 Mark 7:24-37

Resources for the Fall

Mark 7:24-37

We all have watched the bad news on TV. It is sad. The Good News of God is that God’s Kingdom is with us. This is wonderful. It is found within our hearts. This is found in Luke 17:21. The older King James Version translates the passage, “the Kingdom of God is within,” ἐντὸς – entos the word KJV translates within can be translated within or among. Most modern translation translate the word among, in the midst, or some other form of among.

I think this is a good paradox of faith. What do I mean by paradox? The Kingdom of God is both with and without. We find the Kingdom of God within us, that is through the process of soul, heart, and mind. While at the same time we are surrounded by the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ without.

Because the Kingdom of God has come to us in and through Jesus, we can discover God’s love for us and learn how we can become the greatest we human beings can become, a person who loves God and neighbor with all they are.

Also, it is through the power bestowed on us by God’s Kingdom’s presence that we have the strength to pursue this love in the midst of a curse world, demonic activity, and death’s continual presence.

In this passage selection Jesus confronts both demonic suffering and the suffering of an imperfect world in which people can be deaf and dumb. A world that is unfair and constantly judging us.

First, in the passage selection, a mother comes looking for Jesus. This is more than a wishful dream that she has. She is committed to getting to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. I am not going to argue what kind of unclean spirit or virus or illness or what the daughter was suffering from. I trust the Scripture to believe it was an evil that was causing this suffering. I will tell you that if you do not believe in spiritual forces that are against humanity I honestly feel sorry for you. You do not even realize the spiritual danger you are in. And, you will experience this danger whether you accept it or not.

This woman who comes to Jesus is an outsider. She is not of his people, his tribe, his faith yet she seeks because of what she has heard. And when, after all her effort, she gets to him Jesus insults her.

I have heard several sermons in which the preacher tried to make light of this or attempted to explain it away. Why, why do that? Just because we judge things through our limited finite perspective does not mean we judge correctly. Jesus does not need defending.

Jesus knows the heart of everyone he encounters. Jesus knows what every person needs and what everyone faces. Jesus knows his disciples are watching. The way Jesus responds is the way any good Jew should respond to this kind of situation. First a gentile, second a Canaanite, and third a woman.

Jesus says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Mk. 7:27 NRS) Jesus basically calls her a dog one of the worst insults you could call a person then. We say how horrible yet, this would have been a common practice in Jesus’s day. In fact, it is likely the woman was prepared for this type of reception. She likely even rehearsed her reply.

“Sir, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

I wonder if she knew Jesus loved her and if she were the only sinner Jesus would have come for her. She pleads, “Sir, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She has faith. She is committed to having Jesus help her. And Jesus responds, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.”

I am thankful Matthew give us more information is his Gospel. Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.”

Faith, she placed faith in the person and power of Jesus. She was rewarded. Even at a distance the power of the Lord ruled over the evil power that oppressed the child and the child was healed. Does she know Jesus is the Promised One, the Messiah, the Savior? Likely not, but her faith is confirmed.

I have a few questions. Do you see bad things in our world? Do you see more selfish things than selfless? As you view this world and know what you know can you honestly not say that evil, selfishness, hatred is growing, and love is shrinking? Where are we to turn? Where can we find the strength to be the source of love we need to be?  Only in the one whose power does exceed time and distance. Jesus. The account of this woman should let us know Jesus is open to all.

The next account we find in the selected passage is an account of a healing. A man who is deaf and has a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. Jesus follows a seemingly personal ritual that is ripe with opportunity for symbolism and heals the man of deafness and cures his speech impediment.

We are not told why the man was in the condition he was in. We are not given any insight into his future. All we know is that Jesus had compassion on an individual who was trying to live his life with a horrible disability. Jesus changed his life at that moment.

Jesus does have the power to change lives. Anyone believe this is true and/or happened to you raise your hands.

We need to understand, God is very much aware of the unfairness of this world. God is very much aware of how hate seems to be growing. God is well aware humanities’ unwillingness to see how we are destroying this planet. God knows very well how and where we live.

Does God still have compassion? Yes. Can God still cure deafness even if it is the deafness of ignorance and arrogance? Yes.

Here is the Good News. Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and Jesus will come again. God incarnate who has compassion on all people will come again. This is what we believe even if it is just crumbs from the table.

In fact, through the gift of the Holy Spirit Jesus is with us now. The Kingdom of God is with us as we face evil and suffering in this world. God incarnate who will never leave us or forsake us and will surprise us with his power and glory if we are but willing to encounter him.

Lectionary Sermon Mark 7 1-8 14-15 21-23

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Confrontation, for most of us confrontation is not an enjoyable experience. A confrontation may be verbal, physical, solo or social. A confrontation may be meant to

accuse, abuse, humiliate, intimidate, curse or worse. A confrontation may also serve as an attempt an interdiction to the benefit of the one confronted.

I believe that every confrontation Jesus was involved in, he deeply cared for the individuals he encountered. When Jesus was seemingly harsh it stresses the importance of the choices he was offering to all humanity.

For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Lk. 19:10 NRS) This includes the Pharisees and Sadducees, and any other person seduced by arrogance and ignorance in the realm of religion. Jesus came to try and reach the whole world with the good news of the Kingdom of God.

The argument was over handwashing. It was a confrontation of tradition. The confrontation is over the place of traditions in the spiritual life. Why did Jesus not follow tradition? Is Jesus anti-tradition? No, Jesus honored many traditions, but Jesus was not a legalist. When traditions were treated as law and used to judge other people, Jesus pointed these out for what they were, potential evil human creations.

In verse 21 Jesus makes a sobering, convicting proclamation that should awaken us to a significant truth many believers today have forgotten. Listen again to what Jesus says,

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:” (Mk. 7:21 NRS)

The human heart, we know it is the organ of the body that pumps blood. It keeps us living. Yet we all know and probably use the word heart in other ways. The use of the word heart can be a means of representing our loves, passions, desires, will, choices, and many other non-material aspects of who we are.

The word for heart, Kardia, in the New Testament refers to the inner self viewed as the seat of physical vitality; viewed as the innermost self, the source and seat of functions of soul and spirit in the emotional life, the volitional life, and the rational life. Our heart defines who we are in relationship to ourselves, others, and God.

God has constantly revealed to humanity that the heart is where the battle for our souls takes place. And we are at a disadvantage. God tells us, “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it? I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” (Jer. 17:9-10 NRS)

In this confrontation with the religious people Jesus is confronting the heart of those who refused to be open to the Spirit of God. He is striving to correct their thinking. Jesus knows that they are spiritually in trouble. Jesus is confronting their hearts and the potential evil they were ignorant of.  Jesus, God incarnate, warns them in the strongest means possible that they may think they are worshipping God, but they are not.

He (Jesus) said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.” (Mk. 7:6-7 NRS)

I found this definition of tradition and the example it offers as perfect example of how traditions operate. It defines traditions as: “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way: “every shade of color is fixed by tradition and governed by religious laws””

Now where does the Bible say you need to use the color red for Pentecost and Christmas, White for Easter and purple for advent. Yet if you were to use a different color you would like by considered a heretic or a least a closet pagan.

Traditions are helpful when they help us in our faith by creating in us a sense of the holy but are harmful when they move from tradition to legalism. This is what the Pharisees and Sadducees had done with hand washing.

Those arguing with Jesus believed Jesus’s disciples were polluting themselves within by not keep the traditions. Jesus states, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” (Mk. 7:14-15 NRS)

Jesus was letting them know that their traditions, their human innovations, do not determine a person’s spiritual state.

Scripture tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6:45 NRS)

But if our heart is so deceitful and is so open to evil, what can we do? We cannot do anything, but God, Jesus, offers us this, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek. 36:26 NRS)

I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:7 NRS)

Our Lord, our creator, can create for us a heart of flesh that holds the Spirit. This is the beginning of the relationship. All we have to do is to be open to God’s desire to reveal God’s love for us and to us.

Jesus is also teaching his children (those of us who call him Lord and seek to follow him) how to protect our heart from deception. This is a constant challenge to us all. God have given us the Scripture not as the law, but of love. Every believer should be a student of, a person seeking, a person praying the Scripture.

Can we trust what the Scripture says about itself? With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Ps. 119:10-11 NRS)

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 NRS)

However, primarily, God has sent his Holy Spirit to be with us. The Spirit never forces but will guide. The Spirit will teach us to test traditions. The Spirit will teach us to discern what God’s will (as best we can know) is for us. With the Spirit and the Word, we can then seek to be a people who are more interested in relationships than religious orientations.

Final word to the Apostle Peter, “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Pet. 1:22 NRS)

Lectionary Sermon for August 15, 2021 Gospel of John 6:56-69

John 6:56-69   It has Never been Easy

When I was very young, a well-meaning middle-aged woman who was a friend of our family tried to help me get saved. She used the four spiritual laws, the Roman road, and several other canned presentations of the Gospel. She was driving me home when I told the lady that I didn’t want to go to hell, and I wanted to be saved. She immediately put on the breaks and pulled over to the side of the road. She told me becoming a Christian was easy. I am sorry but it is not.

Being a Christian is not about saying the right words, participating in the right rituals, or even “getting saved.” Being a Christian relies on one thing and one thing only thing, that is our relationship to God, our relationship to Jesus. Being saved is both an event and a process. It is when, through dramatic encounter or awakening love, an individual is aware of who, what, when, where, why, and how of the love of Jesus and seeks to be his disciple. To do this is hard. Even Jesus said so.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. (Matt. 16:24 CEB)

Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. People’s enemies are members of their own households. “Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. (Matt. 10:34-38 CEB)

They will arrest you, abuse you, and they will kill you. All nations will hate you on account of my name. (Matt. 24:9 CEB)

Do these verses sound like an easy path to you?

Passage today, some individuals who though Jesus was the way to a free meal or perhaps even a political leader against Rome that many were hoping for, were grumbling. They did not like what Jesus said.

We are told they were grumbling as Jesus was continuing his message about his being the Bread of life. He explained that the manna of Moses was only to sustain through the wilderness. Jesus is the bread from heaven that can be claimed from heaven and will give the one who eats us what is needed to live into eternal life rather than eternal death.

Their response to Jesus, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”” Jn. 6:60 NRS) It was hard because it when against their perception of the truth. There will always be people who refuse to believe in Jesus no matter what he says or does. They have hardened themselves against the Spirit’s calling which is the one sin that will not be forgiven.

Jesus tells us, “But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.””

 (Jn. 6:64-65 NRS)

We live in a time in which the some who call themselves disciples no longer believe in the Bible. They say the Bible is wrong. It is too hard to accept what it teaches. There are even other so-called disciples who no longer accept the divinity of Jesus.

The reality is that the cultures of this world will always find something wrong with what Jesus says. This world is always looking for ways to counter the offer of life Jesus gives to all. This world is always seeking to interfere with the work of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit seeks to convince us of the truth.

Faith is not certainty. Faith requires risk. Faith means not having all our desires met, all our questions answered, and still, we trust of Lord. Faith means trusting enough to make a commitment to believe even when what we hear is hard.

The world does not want to hear Jesus say I am the way the truth and the life and no one comes to God unless they come through me. The world does not like to hear Jesus say, I am the living water. How dare Jesus be so arrogant as to say that he is the Son of God.

No, no arrogance but the truth. Jesus then tells the grumblers, “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”” (Jn. 6:62-64 NRS)

It always comes down to this, to our human free will, our God given gift of choice.  Do you believe? Do you trust what God says? Are you willing to act in faith? It is okey to have doubts. It is okey to struggle. When we are in such a situation we can cry out, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!”

Sadly, the Scripture tells us, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (Jn. 6:66 NRS)

Jesus then turns to his disciples and asks them if they want to leave as well. Their choice is different than the others. Was it had for them? Yes, Jesus was challenging everything they thought they knew. Yes, Jesus was making some dangerous choices. Yes, his distractors were growing just as were his followers. Why, why would they follow Jesus? Why should we listen to these words? Why should we believe? Why, Peter gives us the answer.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn. 6:68-69 NRS)

Peter hits the nail on the head. Where can we go? Jesus is the Holy One of God. Jesus leads us on a hard path but it is the only path to God. It has never been easy to follow Jesus. But it can be done.

No, the road of following Jesus will not lead to prosperity. No, the road of following Jesus will not lead to popularity. “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 10:21-22 NRS) Will you endure? The path may be difficult, but one thing is for certain, we will not walk alone. Jesus will be right there with us through it a

Lectionary Sermon for August 8, 2021 Gospel of John 6:35; 41-51

John 6:35, 41-51 Deserving our Devotion

The lectionary passage today involves one of the verses from last week. Verse 35 in which Jesus makes this incredible declaration. I am the Bread of Life.

Now when people encounter a profound declaration, they are likely to respond to it emotionally. In our passage, some of those who hear Jesus begin to grumble, “How dare he say to us, I am the Bread of Life. We know his background. We know his parents, we know you Jesus!”

Sadly, we human beings tend to try and judge people based on what we think we know rather than how the person really is. There is an old cliché, “Familiarity breeds contempt” that I believe fits this situation pretty accurately.

But in what these grumbles do we find a spiritual danger that is found in a Danger of deceptive decisions.

Each day of our lives we make decisions. It is a gift we have been given by our creator that can go from gift to curse very easily.

The gift of choice is good. How we use this gift, however, can be good or bad. It depends on how random or how careful we are when we make our decisions. This is where, and why, discernment is so important.

Those who grumbled against Jesus were making a decision. The decision was not to accept what Jesus said of Himself. Now these people were from the crowd who had seen Jesus feed 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. They were glad for Jesus to do this. However, their motives were more than spiritual. In fact, Jesus confronted them that the reason they followed him was for the free meal. Now, when Jesus doesn’t do as they want, they decide to grumble. They decide to focus on his upbringing. They are looking for any reason to complain or try to discredit him. They are not listening to what he says.

Yet He is someone who has demonstrated great power. Not a good decision.

God wants a loving relationship with us. Familiarity with God should not breed contempt but awe, respect, and devotion. Jesus always offers and never coerces.

We receive this advice from one of Jesus’s most loved followers and the Holy Spirit, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 Jn. 4:1 NRS)

What does Jesus ask of any of us? Jesus asks us to hear the good news. And the good news is God has become one of us, to love us, teach us, reach us and offer us the Kingdom of God.

Now, he does warn us of the cost of following him like taking up one’s cross and a willingness to die to ourselves, but that is only if we chose to follow him. But he also makes it clear that it is worth the devotion, the choice, of seeking God through Jesus, thus the bread of life.

But if we think the bread of life statement is a bold statement, just wait. Jesus also says, “No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father.”. In this, Jesus gives us, the Declaration of the divine draw.

“No one can come to me unless they are drawn to me by the Father.” It is important for us to understand what Jesus is saying here. John 6:44 is as important for the church today as John 3:16 is to the whole world. It tells us that our ability to even believe must come from God.

There is a mistaken idea that in order for the church to survive it must stay relevant to the culture and business-like in its operations. People do not come to God unless it is the Spirit that draws (Calvinists would like drags) a person toward the Divine.

Churches have lost touch with the reality of being the Church. Never has our faith depended upon human structures without the structures trying to deepen that dependance. Deep down I am afraid far too many are influenced more by fear than faith.

Here is our faith. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people1 to myself.” (Jn. 12:32 NRS)

This is God’s chose way to continue to involve humanity in God’s active, creative, restorative grace by giving us the privilege of living in the light of such a deep and spiritual understanding.

Jesus knew the cross was coming. His Divine nature and his human nature understood this kind of love was what we needed. This honor to our free will hopefully would open our eyes to the reality that surrounds us, sustains us, and will determine our life in all eternity.

Ah, eternity, I wonder how those listening felt when Jesus mentioned the last day and eternal life. Remember his words, “and I will raise them up at the last day.” This opens for us we need to understand. For verses 44 and 50, open up for us a promise help us. Determining the described destiny.

Whoever eats from it will never die. But didn’t the disciples eat the Bread of life?

Flash forward: So, Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it.” (Lk. 22:8 NRS) And during that Passover meal (itself is a very rich study in remembrance of God’s faithfulness) Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”” (Lk. 22:19 NRS) So, here we find the Bread of Life linked with the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving.

But wait. The disciples died. Yet the Scripture says, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die.” (Jn. 6:50 CEB) Is this not a paradox?

Remember verse 44: I will raise them up at the last day. (Jn. 6:44 CEB) Now add verse 50, “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. “(Jn. 6:50 CEB)

These two things are not in paradox but in promise. Yes, physical death, but tied to resurrection. Raised to new life in a reality yet to come, yes, but now we live in the promises of God no matter what our place in unfolding time.

The great mystery in which we live. We are called to remember. We are called to remembrance. We are called to join as the Church in communion, bread and wine, flesh and blood, life and death. Holy Spirit please call to us all. Draw us oh Advocate to a desire for devotion and direction as you speak to our hearts and minds to Him who is Deserving our Devotion.  Amen.

Collateral Consequences

The other day in my study, I came across this statement made by Francis de Sales to a young woman Philothea:

“Slander is a kind of murder since we have three kinds of life: the spiritual life consists in the grace of God, the bodily life depends on the soul, and the social life consists in reputation. Sin takes away the first, death deprives us of the second, and slander strips us of the third. With a single stroke of his tongue, the slanderer usually commits three murders. He kills his own soul and that of the one who listens to him by a spiritual homicide, and the other by destruction of his reputation.”[1]

I am think Francis stretched the spiritual homicide idea but he is absolutely correct to understand our action always have a multiple of consequences, evil will always seek to do as much damage as possible to as many people as possible.

The journey which is focused on the words “Well done good and faithful servant” has for its goal is a journey seeking the will of God. This is not an easy journey. Jesus himself spoke such a warning. “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. (Matt. 7:13 CSB) and of course one of the most quote text for struggle, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  (Lk. 14:27 ESV)

On this difficult journey we are going to make mistakes. Hopeful through experience, education, prayer, faith-building activity, growing older, and a lot of grace we try hard to minimize the damage our actions do to others. We understand there can be spiritual consequences to what we do. In the past the church was able to help in setting ethical standards and a social structure to help protect and maintain the community in its life-giving efforts so that the effect of sin and death were not as socially destructive, but those days are gone. As Stanley Hauerwas reminds us, “The church is in a buyer’s market that makes any attempt to form a disciplined congregational life very difficult.”[2]

Therefore, it is all the more important to develop our own spiritual practices and take responsibility for our own spiritual maturity. Also, we need to seek to find others to form a voluntary community connected in non-traditional ways. The true church has never been an organization or building.

It is good to read the master spiritual directors of the past. Their words have a way of transcending time and are very relevant for our age.

[1] de Sales, St. Francis. Introduction to the Devout Life (p. 173). Opened Heart Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition.

[2] Hauerwas, Stanley. Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life . Eerdmans. Kindle Edition

Lectionary Sermon for August 1, 2021

John 6:24-35 More than Wheat Bread

In my earlier years as a pastor, when this text would come up in the lectionary cycle, I would put a bread maker in the pulpit and set the timer where the bread would be finished when I finished the sermon.

It was always interesting to watch the congregation as they began to smell the fresh baking bread. Some would look around try to find out where the smell was coming from. Others licked their lips. Everyone was aware of the baking bread. I thought I had a pretty good sermon illustration but in fact, the baking bread was a distraction from the bread of life I was breaking.

How was it a distraction? The distraction was the wonderful smell that filled the room was getting more attention than the opportunity for understanding and faith that this passage offers to us.

First, lets look at the context in which the dialogue between Jesus and the crowd.

The crowd had been looking for Jesus. This crowd was part of the 5000 Jesus had recently miraculously fed. They wanted more of this seemingly free meal that Jesus was able to provide. And while feeding 5000 with a few fish and loaves of bread is a miracle, the miracle’s purpose was to authenticate Jesus’s authority to teach and guide people back to God. The physical beneficial of satisfying their hunger was not the main idea. Sadly, evidently the crowd didn’t get it. Listen again to what Jesus says to them.

Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.” John 6:26-27

Jesus is basically telling the people they have the wrong motives. They are cheating themselves by missing the true purpose of the Human One, the human being who was God incarnate, God with us.

And what was the crowd’s response? They want to question. They question Jesus about what God expects. They say, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  (Jn. 6:28 NIV)

Jesus answers that the work of God is believing in Him, the one whom God has sealed, that is put God’s stamp of authority on Him. The work of God being making the choice to have faith in the person God has sent.

How is that work? Work is defined as, an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. We work to get a project done, a paycheck to support us, and desire achieved.

But are we not saved by grace? Yes, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Eph. 2:8-9 NRS) But we need to have the next verse included to fully understand what Paul is talking about.

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:10 NRS) We are created, in other words, our purpose as a human being is to live in the realm of faith in the light of the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus.

The crowd does not get the answer they want from Jesus and so they try to use Scripture against him. The bring up the story of Moses and the manna that fell from heaven. They want Jesus to perform a sign

“What sign then are You going to do so we may see and believe You?” they asked. “What are You going to perform?

 (Jn. 6:30 CSB) The man has just fed 5000 people, some of them in this crowd, and they want a sign?

Jesus then uses the Moses event to try to get the crowd to understand what God was doing. First, the manna did not come from Moses but God. The work was to gather the bread. That bread did not last. Manna prevented the Hebrew people from starving to death in the wilderness. The bread Jesus offers is bread that does more than feed the body, it is a bread that gives life, eternal life, to the body and soul.

What manna in the desert reveal was that God will provide for God’s people if we will but listen. It lets us know God acts on behalf of both those who understand and those who just show up. As God guides God provides.

Short fact. In the New Revised Standard Bible the word bread is used 330 times. Pretty significant substance.

In the beginning of God’s relationship to humanity became very unstable. Humans chose a deception, a lie, over God. One of the results we are told is, “You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it. For you are dust, and you will return to dust.” (Gen. 3:19 CSB)

We are told bread is important and we are going to have to work for it. During the Passover when God rescues the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, bread again is important.

“You are to observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread because on this very day I brought your divisions out of the land of Egypt. You must observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent statute. (Exod. 12:17 CSB)

This theme of the importance of bread is carried over in our practice of communion. We remember, “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take and eat it; this is My body.” (Matt. 26:26 CSB) This is a sacrament, an opportunity for us to be with God and God with us.

Here is the good news. He is the reason for our gathering. He is the reason for your faith. Here is the reason we have hope. Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (Jn. 6:35 CEB) This is the offer of God.

We will not be force fed. God provides grace. It is up to us to do the work of God.

While growing up, our family put marks on a door frame to show us how much we have grown. If the marks were growth in faith, would our growth be evident? This is a good question to ask oneself.

Is This Evil?

Beware- And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. (2 Cor. 11:14 NRS)

Systems and approaches to pastoral care, or indeed any other dimension of the church’s formal or informal practice, that exclude a focus on developing ways of restoring such a relationship with God and creating a context for a hopeful outcome can easily find themselves selves functioning in ways that are implicitly or explicitly evil.

John Swinton. Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Kindle Locations 704-706). Kindle Edition.

Isaiah 5:20 gives us a warning: “Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20 NRS)

As a spiritual seeker and spiritual director I have learned to be careful in my discernment of what is good and evil. As I reflect on my own life I have discovered with regret that too many I have engaged in evil when I was thinking I was doing good. As I grow older I also have discovered just how easy it is to be deceived by evil and to be involved in evil unaware.

Over the last year and a half as we have lived with the pandemic caused by Covid-19 I have been shocked and frustrated with how people seem so selfish in regards to taking precautions to stop the spread of the virus and in caring for others. People seem more concerned with their own comfort, their own independence, their own situation without much regard for others. Could this be a sign of love growing cold?

Over the last four years the joke about politicians have a tendency to lie has become the reality in which people do not care if politicians lie as long as it is their politician. People have elevated a liar to be their leader with the attitude that this leader can do no wrong. They even declare this leader a defender of righteousness when nothing could be further than the truth.

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. (2 Tim. 4:3-4 NRS)

To me, it seems that this time is now upon us. Truth does not matter. What I want is what matters. What is good for my tribe is what matters. Again, love seems to be growing colder.

Even the church has been infected with Qanon conspiracies and Wall Street sensitivities. Too many pastors have forgotten their roles as spiritual guides and are more interested in professional advancement and materialistic comforts. Too many church goers are more interested in being entertained rather than enlightened.

Never has the need for spiritual discernment and competency in spiritual warfare been greater. Niche ministry (not a biblical term) has become the norm. We have cowboy churches (no cowgirl churches yet), biker churches, goth churches and hipster churches, black churches, white churches, Hispanic churches, and multiple other types of churches designated by things that highlight difference rather than unity. Is this of God or is this evil?

As a spiritual director I understand how easily it is to be caught up in movements that seem good but have a dark underside. I understand the need to have a daily (or twice daily) time for Examen prayer and for developing those skills and practices that strengthen discernment and compassion. I am hoping there are those in the church who recognize the situation and understand we need a new reformation that puts the emphasis on a different way of living that develops faith for the hard path needed to stand against evil and truly experience God’s love in a real and life expanding way.

I want the Lord to return. However, I don’t want the reason for the Lord’s return to be because the church failed to standing against evil, it all its forms, and allowed our love to grow cold.

Understanding Evil in Spiritual Direction

In my early years of training as a spiritual director the one area I wished I would have had more training in how to respond to evil. When I faced true evil, I was unprepared for the hatred, hostility, deceptiveness, and seductiveness evil sends our way. The consequences for me were quite traumatic, however, the gift of grace I received from the consequences are what drive me now.

Many of the new schools and programs of spiritual direction do not deal with the issue of evil. Also, many orientations of faith other than Christian do not recognize evil as a reality. And while spiritual directors are not supposed to be theodicists, we may not have an answer to the question of evil, but we do need to be able to help our directees discern and respond rather than react when faced with evil.

Stanley Hauerwas (a very competent theologian) writes, “For the early Christians, suffering and evil did not have to be “explained.”  Rather, what was required was the means to go on even if the evil could not be “explained.”[1]

One I understood the need for the ability to sense the presence of evil and to have the skills to overcome the spiritual complications it brings to human life and the divine/human relationship I sought out the skills and methodology for spiritual direction taught by Ignatius of Loyola. The skills to discern between desolation and consolation has vastly helped me to grasp the battle that surrounds us always.

Evil is about lies from the father of lies. Evil is about destruction, deception, doubt, despair, and death. Evil seeks to move us like cattle toward ignorance and arrogance. Evil does not like intimacy. Evil does not like vulnerability found in a complete surrender to the will of God. Evil understands that when we are weak, God is strongest in us. When God is close, loved as a lover, evil fades and fails. Still, we must remember evil never gives up.

Along with Ignatius, I have found the work of Frank Rogers and his book, Practicing Compassion, to be a great help in doing the basic work to help me be total available (save space) for my directee. Frank gives tools for compassionate living (which for me is learning to live with Christ on the journey of life) that can make us aware of how evil uses our issue on others. Evil knows our fears and so should we. Evil knows our longings and so should we. Evil knows our aching wounds and our gifts not recognized and so should we. If we do not know our own FLAG (fear, longings, aching wounds, gifts not recognized) we give evil the upper hand in our spiritual lives.

The question is not if we will encounter evil in spiritual direction for, we will. The question is will we be used by the enemy or will we be the vessel God uses to rescue others. This issue is not whether our directees will face the fierceness of the foe but when they face it will they be ready? What have we done to help them? I believe every session of spiritual direction needs to spend time in honest analysis of how the battle is going in the life of our directee. I wish my director had.

[1] John Swinton. Raging With Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Kindle Locations 407-408). Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon for July 25th

John 6:1-21 Who is in Charge?

The events of this passage are incredible. They are miraculous. According to our current level of knowledge of the physical universe, these things cannot be done. The are impossible. How can we believe these things really happened? Jesus is supposed to have fed over 5000 people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread and then he is found walking on water, is this really true?

The recorded events of Jesus life put us in a position to make a choice. Did these things really happen? If they did then something with significance and importance is happening.  Or is this just a story to try that magnifies the myth of a man named Jesus? This is our dilemma. 

This story portrays Jesus as someone who has supernatural events happening around him. If supernatural events are taking place around Jesus how can they be explained?

Note what the story tells us about how the people reacted, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.  (Jn. 6:14-15 NRS)

People have all kinds of misperceptions about Jesus. They still do today. People still try to use Jesus to obtain power, position, or profit (that is money).

I often wonder how the Lord does not get frustrated with people who just won’t get it. People who, as I have said before say, “Don’t confuse me with the fact, my mind is made up.”

The Lord has patience. The Lord has love. Our Lord knows that the people are going to have a hard time accepting him. The Lord is still willing to alleviate human suffering when he can even if his message is being distorted or ignored. Even if he had to deal with individuals who wanted to use his popularity for their own political purposed.

There was a song in the play Jesus Christ Superstar that captures the mentality of many who encountered Jesus in that day. They wanted a political messiah

There must be over fifty thousand. Screaming love and more for you.

And every one of fifty thousand, would do whatever you ask him to.

Keep them yelling their devotion, but add a touch of hate at Rome.

You will rise to a greater power, we will win ourselves a home!

You’ll get the power and the glory for ever and ever and ever

Amen! Amen!

So many people want to use Jesus for their own agenda in politics.

Just think of how many politicians and preachers tried to use the name of Jesus politically in our last election. Jesus agenda is never politics, it is always people.

Jesus heals out of his love and compassion. His mission is to seek and save the lost. Healing was a way to demonstrate his authority. He seeks to teach them the will of God, the way of God, and the wonder of God.

OK, but what about the walking on the water, “Why defy his own laws?”

It is important to understand how foolish such a question is. The boundaries set up by laws are for our good. Our understanding of “laws” cannot confine the will of God.

Laws must be interpreted (that’s why there is an occupation called lawyer). It is also important to know the reasoning behind the laws. Traffic laws such as speed limits have a purpose to protect lives, but some local communities can perceive speed laws as a way to make money with speed traps. And there will be times when laws conflict. When there is a conflict, how do we decide then?

Laws are part of the human process. Laws help us build stability and sustainable community. The purpose defined of the law helps define the spirit of the law and the spirit of the law determines how the law is applied within God’s will.

In the discernment of any behavior, the ultimate law is what God says for all law comes from God. Jesus demonstrates he has authority over all-natural law. His will establishes all-natural law. So Jesus is not braking a natural law by walking on water because he is the ultimate law, the living Word.

We must never become distracted from the reality that who Jesus is defines what Jesus does. Jesus is God incarnate. God who opens the kingdom in the midst of us now. God who calls us and loves for who we are not for what we do.

Scripture makes this clear about the human condition., “as it is written: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”” (Rom. 3:10-12 NRS)

Did you get that? Not even one!

There is no human reason for God to love us. There is no logical reason for God to care about us. There is nothing we can do but not having a reason other than God choses to love us is in fact reason enough because God is God. If God wants to walk on water, then God can walk on water. If God wants to feed 5000 in a miraculous way, then God can feed them. If God wants to love me, if God wants to care for me, if God wants to save me God can do this.

However, if I want to make God fit into what I believe God should do Jesus wants no part of that. If you try to make Jesus fit your political agenda, your social agenda, your economic agenda, your lifestyle agenda, or even personal agenda he will not cooperate. It is not our agenda that counts. It is not our agenda that will create unity. It is not our agenda that will create harmony. It is not our agendas that will last into eternity.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (Jn. 14:6 CEB) This is the agenda. The actions are indicative of the authority. It is the person that is the issue. The question is, “Have you come to the truth?” Only you can decide.

Decide for the one who has true authority. Focus on the person and you will receive the promises.