Divorcing God

“In the spiritual life, I can promise myself nothing without the special help of God . . . From one moment to another, I may fall into mortal sin: consequently, even though I may have labored many years in acquiring virtues, I may in one instant lose all the good I have done, lose all my merit for eternity, and lose even that blessed eternity itself. How can a king rule with arrogance when he is besieged by his enemies and from day to day runs the risk of losing his kingdom and ceasing to be a king? And has not a saint abundant reasons, from the thought of his own weakness, to live always in a state of great humility, when he knows that from one hour to another he may lose the grace of God and the kingdom of Heaven, which he has merited by years of laboriously acquired virtues? ‘Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it’ (Ps. 126:1). However spiritual and holy a man may be, he cannot regard himself as absolutely secure. The Angels themselves, enriched with sanctity, were not safe in Paradise. Man, endowed with innocence, was not safe in his earthy paradise. What safety, therefore, can there be for us with our corrupt nature, amid so many perils and so many enemies who within and without are ever seeking insidiously to undermine our own eternal salvation? In order to be eternally damned, it is enough that I should follow the dictates of nature; but to be saved, it is necessary that divine grace should prevent (go before) and accompany me, should follow and help me, watch over me and never abandon me. Oh, how right therefore was St. Paul in exhorting us to ‘work out our salvation’—which is for all eternity—’with fear and trembling’ (Phil. 2:12).”
— Fr. Cajetan da Bergamo, p. 21-22
AN EXCERPT FROM, HUMILITY OF HEART

The salesman mindset of saving souls through cheap grace has permeated the body of Christ in America. Many, many people have been sold the lie that their salvation is like a legal contract defined by lawyers who say God must save you if you do this or that. Whether one realizes this or not this is an aspect of magic in its worst form.

God’s love is unconditional, but unconditional love can never force a person to love them back. If our love is a love we set conditions on, such as,  “You can be my God Lord but I will live my life as I want sins in all” then we, not God, had changed the nature of love.

The love of God in the Bible is a relational love, a love of intimacy and covenant. It is a love that is a marriage. We are not “saved” into our individuality, but are saved into the Church. Jesus’ own words to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18 NRS)

Marriages fail. Divorce is painful. Divorce usually occurs when the couple who made vows to God did not as individuals live up to those vows. I have yet to find a couple who came to the altar to say to one another, “Till death do us part” come with the idea, “Or until we divorce.” If you ask them on the day of their wedding, “Do you think this marriage will last?” they would answer, “Yes.”

But then things happen. Attention and love is focused else where. Issues are allowed to have more importance than the vows made. One or both of the partners quit working to make their love last. The spiritual dimension of their relationship diminishes and the certainty of separation grows. God watches in pain.

So it is with our relationship with our Lord. We put more trust in theological pronouncements devised by mortals than in actions of love and trust called for in a relationship of love. We quit spending time with God. We quit being transparent with God and we quit seeking to do all that we can for the one we said we love and who forgave us. We become open to seduction by thee enemy both within and without and commit adultery with the world. We leave God. We divorce God. And in spite of all that God does to try to maintain the relationship, we abandon it. God watches in pain.

There is a reason for these words, “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”   (Phil. 2:12-13 NRS)

These are words to take to heart with all seriousness.

“In this life no one can fulfill his longing, nor can any creature satisfy man’s desire. Only God satisfies, he infinitely exceeds all other pleasures. That is why man can rest in nothing but God.”
— St. Thomas Aquinas

The Certainty of Suffering and Sadness, The Assurance of Hope and Harmony, the Reality of Mass Shootings in America

“Jesus Christ could have appeared among us, radiant with joy and encompassed by divine splendor, amidst the glitter and pomp of His sovereign majesty. He deemed it more worthy of His glory and more profitable to the salvation of men, to show Himself to them girt with a diadem of thorns, clothed in purple and stained with blood, His face bruised, the gaping grimace of death on His lips, bearing the bloody unction of the nails imprinted on His hands and feet. In uniting Himself closely with suffering, Jesus Christ assuredly did not smooth all its severity and all its pangs; but He removed part of its bitterness, corrected and destroyed its poison. He made the chalice of His Blood fruitful. Like the brazen serpent set up by Moses in the desert, He implanted Himself in the center of the world as an inexhaustible instrument of mercy, life, and health. Owing to this transformation, His divine wounds, like fountains ever gushing, remain eternally open to all straying and fallen souls who are eager to escape from their coarse, sensual aspirations, wanting to immerse themselves anew in the joys of sacrifice and the honor of purity.”
— Fr. Charles Arminjon, p. 276-77
AN EXCERPT FROM
The End of the Present World

Two mass shooting in two days. This is the most recent public sorrow in America. There were likely more people killed in other countries, but we are most concerned with our own. These shooting could have been in our town, our neighborhood and could have taken our families from us.

I have no idea if any of the people killed in the two shootings were part of the privileged one percent. I have no idea how many were working class folks, how many were professionals or how many were unemployed. These things do not matter. What matters is that they were alive and now they are not.

My impulse as I write this post is to wonder about the spiritual state of those for whom death came unexpectedly as they shopped, dined, drank, conversed and lived. It is hard to image, groups of people seeking some need in life together, be it material things or the joy of a social gathering, suddenly having their life end due to an act of violence they had no warning or time to prepare to face the where or what that death may lead.

The wisest man who ever lived tells us, “No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death; there is no discharge from the battle, nor does wickedness deliver those who practice it.” (Eccl. 8:8 NRS) Do not these words have a special ring of truth today?

However, if you have not noticed, these events, be they acts of terror or madness, give us a warning about this world. Life, and death, are not predictable. And in spite of all the rhetoric that has begun and will continue, gun control may help but likely not much. Mental health treatments are needed but will not stop the violence. Even a change in our current hate-mongering, violence accepting secular leadership will unlikely stop the rise of evil we are seeing.

There is a reason the God of creation became human and suffered the violence he suffered at the hands of other human beings. The reason was to reach out to us, to alert us, to call us and to lead us to a hope beyond the inevitable conclusion of a world that will end in death and will always be a place of suffering and loss.

Yes, we should try and do all we can to stand against the evil. We should seek social justice and work against the powerful who prey on the less fortunate. We should speak out against hatred of any kind and call it the evil that it is. This is being the salt of the earth. But ultimately, in the end, our only hope is the Light of the world who is with us, among us, suffering within us until the alpha becomes the omega.

What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?
For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity. (Eccl. 2:22-23 NRS)

Theology

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“In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.”
— C. S. Lewis

If it was bad when C.S. Lewis wrote this in his book, Mere Christianity, in 1944 it is now catastrophic. From the far right to the far left, novelties on theology are continuously being circulated through the world of social media and absorbed by individuals of all sorts of denomination, faith affiliations, and secular orientations making everyone perceived experts on God or non-God.

I believe there are only two kinds of theologians who can be trusted. Theologians who are well educated and have an active growing relationship with Jesus and speak of assurance and trust more than confidence and certainty. The other theologian I believe can be trusted in one whose writings are like those listed above and have joined the great cloud of witnesses which have gone on before us.

When I read the writings of the Church Fathers and Mothers I find a faith filled theological understanding undergirded by biblical wisdom and devotional practice. Reading their words I encounter individuals who have walked with the Lord within and without. Their writings never have the feel of being written for fame or money, but out of a desire to share a wonderful treasure God had given to them as a gift.

Occasionally, I still find theologians like this who are writing today. What they offer is not something new or novel, but insightful and built upon the foundation of the theology passed down from the apostles to the church through the Holy Spirit. When I find theologians like this, I give them as much time as I can in study and reflection. I consider the gift God has given them a gift they are giving to me.

Eucharist

“The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, that is, of the work of salvation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, a work made present by the liturgical action. It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice.”
— (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1409-10)

This is the central act of worship for the church. For me, it is the sign of a true church. For years I served as a pastor for a church denomination that took this act as simple a memorial for Jesus work on the cross. We would have “communion” once every three months. My studies on the sacraments is one of the things that led me to leave this denomination.

I then joined a communion that, it its stated theology, said we should take communion as often as we can. The theology of this church was sacramental. However, as I was assigned a church to serve in this denomination, I discovered the people were just like the one’s I had left. They only wanted communion once a month and they would gladly use oyster crackers and a grape juice cocktail for communion. I did not last long in that church.

Now, I attend a church (I will not be allowed to serve as they do not recognize my ordination) that offers the Eucharistic sacrifice at least twice a week. It is here that I find spiritual strength and divine nurture. I just wish it had not taken me 40 years to get here.

I am grateful for the grace and spiritual substance the Eucharist offers. It is never a “common” event. Each time is different and meaningful. I find more hope in this act of worship than I would receive in a thousand sermons or songs. For in the Eucharist I meet with my Lord and my Lord offers to me Himself. What a joy, what an honor, what a powerful means of grace.

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Lectionary Sermon for August 4 2019

What Do You Want?

Do you realize that the world of business and economics really wants to know what you want? Businesses and corporations will spend millions of dollars to get data, information, about what you might want to buy.

If you go to a computer and you log on to a social media application, you will see ads. If you have been considering a new car, there will be car ads. If you have been thinking about a vacation, there are vacation ads. If you have been thinking about buying a certain type of shoe, there will likely be an ad for that shoe. Is this coincidence? No, you have been watched, studied, ran through an algorithm, a mathematical formula, that has given the social media site information about what you are likely interested in. These people work hard to try and discover what you want.

Are they doing this because they care about you? Are they doing this from a motive of compassion or service? No, they are doing this for themselves, to make money. If you are not sure about what you want, they know enough about you to try to direct you, manipulate you, and seek to convince you to buy what they are selling.

And do you really want to know the scary part? The fact is that what many of us think we want, is not what we want at all. Most human desires are based on what we think will make us happy, not what will really make us happy.

Can you just imagine how frustrating this is for God? Would you not be frustrated if someone you loved wanted something you knew would not make them happy or in fact was destructive? In a discussion with the prophet Hosea, God tells Hosea how time and time again God reached out to his people, but they wanted other gods, false gods, fake gods. They wanted pleasure and prosperity, but this was an illusion of happiness, a deception that only lead them into deeper and deeper isolation and alienation. God’s heart was broken. It was broken not because they did not do what God wanted, but because they were destroying themselves by what they wanted.

I believe many, many people are discontent with the church and with organized religion today in general because they believe the church does not give them what they think they want. People are to focus on their present situations. People want God to wow us if God is really God. We want God to do what we want. We want a church with fun, friends, fellowship and a focus on meeting our perceived needs. Our philosophy is I know what I want and have the right to have it.

We don’t want a God who suffers, yet this is the God we need. We don’t want a God who sacrifices, but this is the God we need. We don’t want to be told we have sick souls, we don’t want to be told it is the narrow path that leads to the best. And if we cannot get it from the church we are attending, we will find one down the street who will take our money until it too fails to deliver what we think we want.

Picture this scene. The wisest man that has ever lived, is sitting on a throne of gold. He has more wealth than he could ever spend. He has the power of life and death over everyone in his kingdom. He has over 6oo wives to choose from for his pleasure. He has the best of food, the highest quality of entertainment. He should be the happiest man alive.

But do you what he his doing as he is sitting on his throne high and lifted up? He is depressed. He is deeply troubled. He says, “I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me — and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes one who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave all to be enjoyed by another who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity (Eccl. 1:1-2,12-14, 2:18-23 NRS)

Do you want the things he had? Is this what you are seeking in your life? If so, boy are you a sucker for disappointment. What makes you think this is the way to happiness? What makes you think having what he had will make your life so much better?

Let me give you another option. There was a man name Paul. Paul hated Christians and tried to kill them or have them thrown in jail. But then he met Jesus and he realized just how wrong he had been. Did his life get amazingly better? If you consider being hated, hunted, hurt and humiliated better then no. If you consider a peace that surpasses all understanding, a reason to have constant joy, and a heart of love that cannot be described only experienced, they yes.

A few years back I wanted to give someone I care a great deal about a present. I asked the person who I felt was closest to this person what the person wanted. So I bought the gift and give it to the one I loved. She was so disappointed. This was not what she wanted at all. I swore never to make that mistake again. Now I go directly to her and ask her what she wants.

Paul thought he knew what God wanted. Paul thought he knew what he wanted. He found out, as did I, that what others perceive as what is wanted in not necessarily accurate. Paul discovered people, deep down, wanted to know God was real. They wanted to know they were accepted. They wanted a way out of the lives they were living in a meaningless repetition. Paul tells people, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” (Col. 3:2 NRS).

I want to tell you something I know to be a fact. If you have not figured this out yet, someday you will. This world is filled with stuff we cannot handle. It is ripe with things we cannot control. And I can assure you the last thing this world is interested in is your happiness.

But here is the irony, God really is. You were made for a purpose, a purpose that may be clouded right now by your situations, problems, ideals, doubts or the other multitude of mental and spiritual challenges we humans face. But through the spiritual gifts that are given to us in the church to help one another. Through the gift of grace that is the Lord’s table where God joins with us in the bread and the wine. Through the water, the holy bath we call baptism we are joined in a community of faith that can overcome anything this world sends our way. Would you not like to find out your real purpose for existing? Do you think this might change what you really want?

Imagine being in the room with a loved on who is dying and their standing beside you is a Christian brother or sister who feels your pain is there because they care. Imagine you are in a crisis in which your life falls apart and there are Christian brothers and sisters there to make sure you understand the mess is not permanent. Is this not something you would want?

Or, you can go it alone. You can be like the rich man in the parable Jesus tells. “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Lk. 12:16-20 NRS) You do realize that someday you will be that man.

So, what do you want?

I’ll tell you what I want. I want to be the man whose goods and possessions do not matter. I want to be the man when death comes calling can say, Lord, here am I, and the Lord says, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

That is what I want most of all.

How do I gain what I want? First, listen to what God says about his wants. God says to his profit, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” (Hos. 11:4 NRS) Am I willing to let God do this for me? Then this is what I want.
The Psalmist says of God, “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps. 107:1 NRS) If I am willing to accept this, I believe God love me this way. This is what I want.
Paul tells us, “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (Col. 3:4 NRS) What better life could be offered than this. This is what I want.
Finally, Jesus tells us, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Lk. 12:21 NRS) What I want is a life that understands this and makes decisions that provide the life, the treasure God offers. This is what I really want. What about you?

Allowing Silence to be Our Guide

Our contemplative prayer group met for the forth time on Tuesday.  Our intitial reader from R.Somerset Ward’s book gave a reminder and a warning of how easy it is to allow temptation to have its way with us. It was a good, insightful reading to prepare us for the temptations which will come as we seek to stay on the contemplative path in an age of instant gratification and over emphasis on the individual.

To take a journey on the contemplative path is to experience God in a very intimate and powerful way. Sometime these encounters can bring a person into a incredible state of consolation. Other times these encounters can give us intense assurance and confidence.

Our enemy knows how to use these things to make us over confident and complacient about maintaining our alertness, awareness, and attentiveness to the works of faith we are called to grow and excel in as we travese the desert of modern living.

I am thankful for how our group grasps the words offered to us as we prepare for our time of silence, inviting and allowing God’s Spirit to work on our hearts and souls as we seek to anchor our minds to the good of giving ourselves to this time.

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The Sign of Bread

The crowd said to Jesus, “What sign can you do that we may believe in you?”

As I read these words I remember a manipulative phrase that some males of my generation used to use as tool of guilt seduction upon unsuspecting girls, “What will you do to prove you love me.”

The kind of beleif that opens up the bakery of heaven to us is not one based on demands or manipulations. It is the belief of given faith that grows from a covenant, a commitment that surrenders rather than seduces.

In worship, I gather with others who join with me in a time of confession, an act of admission, that we are sinners who sin and are not worthy on our own to receive from God the bread of life. We do not ask for signs. We ask for forgiveness. We then bow and come to the altar where we are given the bread of life and the wine of the new covenant. We than thank God for these gifts that have been transformed into the very presence of the one who keep our souls from starving and our spirits for the thirst in this desert, this dry wilderness we call our lives.

Jesus’s ansestors ate manna given by God. We eat the sacraement. They were heading to the promised land upon this earth. We are heading to the promised life of all eternity.

Signs made by human beings can fade, fall, or even mislead do to the changes of this world. Much better is to trust in the One who alwasys knows the way.

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