Take the Hint

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  (John 20:30-31)

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You have probably heard the phrase “Preaching the whole counsel/will of God” which is most certainly Biblical, since those were St. Paul’s words in Acts 20:27 departing from  the Pastors in Ephesus.   The word he used there is interesting for what it includes – God’s will, motive, intent, plan, purpose, and counsel, but even moreso, that it is not a complete action.  It hardly means to know God’s entire will – for that would overwhelm us and probably destroy us in a heartbeat.  It would be too much.  Our Gospel gives us insight as to the application here:

“But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

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I have never endeavored to do anything but that in a pulpit.  But I am also of the opinion that we all-too-often miss God’s hints, which He has also revealed in Scripture.  Well, notice that John also said this:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book . . .”

This passage has always intrigued me.  Because when I add up what I said thus far, God intends for us to have a full and complete knowledge of how one is saved in Christ.  Not a doubt whatsoever about that.  But the “many other signs (more than a hint of heavenly things/mysteries/sacraments), means the Apostles got some things from Jesus that are above and beyond the counsel of salvation.  They apply, most certainly, but were somehow more.

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I told a friend I am a bit of a mystic.  Many of history’s great theologians were likewise.  When I begin putting a sermon together, there are the steps involved with translating the original, working the grammar, checking commentaries (none of us is an island unto himself), outlining, drafting, updating and correcting.  A multitude of chores.  But I take one more step, as I told my friend.  I go around to the back side of the tree, and every now and then, I am rewarded with the perfectly ripe piece of fruit I can share with all.

Putting it in more familiar terms, walking in the sanctification of life that follows salvation, and comes daily as does salvation, I am open to those moments or opportunities when the Holy Spirit, as Jesus told Nicodemus, is like the wind, and no one knows from whence it comes nor goes, but on certain occasions, shows me the perfect fruit.  It is not of my doing, mind you, but His.  But there is a something special to it.

It might be no more than a different way to turn a phrase or two.  Sometimes it is a theme that is right there to be had in the text, and is so often overlooked.  I think of the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price as an example.  Jesus was not meaning to have us go stepping and fetching to purchase the Pearl.  That upends the whole parable!  An insight that comes as a result of pursuing one’s other tasks in the process of studying and writing.  The Church speaks of its “Saints” as those who had special insights in writing and deeds.  Not that I am counting myself among their hallowed number – the Lord’s grace is sufficient for me.  But . . . every now and then . . .

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I believe John is “signing us” in this very text, by excluding certain matters.  Almost as a bit of a challenge, as if to say – “You are saved in the Christ, but are you not curious about my wording?”  Oh, Heavens!  Yes I AM.

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“There’s something out there, Ray.”

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There is something way beyond us, in each of us.  We call it many things – intuition, a hunch, just thoughts and all – but we all know what I mean.  I stand here to tell you “Yes, there is.”  John was hinting at it – you will find those kind of hints all over Scripture.  It might be something we perceive in the blink of an eye, or round the backside of a dream.  There is more out there – way, way more than our senses can perceive.  But every now and then, we are granted permission to peek.  Not to then be smarter or greater in the Faith than others, but mostly because at the moment, we and the Holy Spirit were at precisely the same location.  Another dear friend and I have spoken of artists – mostly musical.  They know what I mean.  I am not talking mere celebrities who bellow out sorry lyrics to even worse music, but of those whose music and words lay a hook in our souls and make us wonder.

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I would motion, at the risk of ridicule, that the “something way beyond us, in each of us,” is Faith slowly growing into its full potential, and taking those early steps of appropriating eternity.  We were created for eternal Communion with the Lord, why should my saying any of this be, or seem surprising?   Of course, none of us does so at the same degree, but it is inherent in the Faithful to move and grow into the things of eternity.  That is written everywhere in Scripture, and yet seems to remain its greatest secret.

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In Christ, all things are fulfilled – here, and in eternity.  We live in a daily grind of seeking things we must have or think we must have, and give little thought for things eternal.  Many reject all things metaphysical.  It can, many days, be a very dull existence.  Divine Worship is meant to transport us out of this grind and give us a sense of the Heavenly, eternal rhythm of life that we have lost in this world.  And as we seek that, we will happen upon those moments when the Heavens part, and we get a clearer glimpse of what is to be.  It is a truth, theologically speaking, that in this world we must wrestle and behold our sin to be confessed, but also, in our Baptisms, we were re-created – reborn – as Jesus told Nicodemus.  And as we take Christ into ourselves at the Holy Altar, we nourish, not merely the sinner, but the saint in all of us.  Be not surprised if you receive a glimpse every now and then.

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I fancy that is what John was hinting at.

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Agog!

Well, no, not really.  Giancarlo Stanton can crush home runs.   But let’s be realistic here – he is a .268 career hitter.  But he’s teamed up with Aaron Judge – a new Mantle/Maris, or Ruth/Gehrig!  No, again, not really.  Yes, both are extremely talented men, and I have no doubt Stanton will be an impact player.  But the old-time greats knew the art of hitting.

Having said that, I am from the “Talk is cheap, it takes money to buy whiskey” crowd – as dear old Dad used to say.  For me, the bigger news of the last few days was Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both finally getting elected to the Hall.  Those men were two clutch ball players – something neither Judge nor Stanton have yet proven themselves to be.  Can I envision either of the young men as a future “Big Papi?”  No.  Of course, David set a pretty high bar on that count.  When Judge and Stanton are celebrating their 3rd World Series  Championship in 11 years together in NY, then – well – maybe we can chat, but that jury won’t be in for a long time.

The Winter Meetings are always fun to watch.  Of course, the Red Sox need to get a big bat who can play first base.  Their infield will then be set.  The OF is good to go.  Alex and Dave need to do some tweaking here and there, but I more than suspect the Sox will be at the top of the heap the AL East always turns out to be.  Of course, they will have to step up to the speed of the Indians and Astros, which they did not the last two years.

Stanton and Judge need to learn the art/science of hitting.  I hope they do – but .260 hitters somehow fail to impress me much.  Jose Altuve can, getting a single or a walk, wreak far more havoc in the mind of the opposing pitcher – on the base-paths, and juice up a team, than a 480 foot home run.  Then again, the Little Shyte can do that, too, on occasion.  He’s always on base, and is a glove-smith.  He gives pitchers no rest.

So we shall see what the next coming days bring.  The countdown clock is ticking.

427/8352 – To Go/Since

What is but an hour?  They go by almost unnoticed, anyway.

Pat (may the Lord bless her always), said last week –

It’s been 6 years, and I miss him more now than I ever did.”

I get it.  Dear Lord, I get it!

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The death of one’s spouse, help-meet, partner in life, is an agonizing procedure.  There is, in Christ, a healing to be had, but even my Lord knows the immensity of it all.  His cries from the Cross stand as testimony to that.  The grief of death stands as the greatest testimony to the truthfulness of the Gospel – for in Christ, life comes alive.  It is Who He is.  He knows the fullness of death.  He knows the fullness of Life.

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Could I be in love again on this side of the veil.  Perhaps.  I would say it would have to be the perfect situation, but no such thing exists this side of the veil.  We are people of an expectation yet unrealized.  Fr. Patrick put it so well –  I shall love him always for those words at a time when I had so few.

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My bronze, pastoral crucifix hangs dead-center over my tapestry of the Last Supper above my screen.  The bas-relief picture of St. Jude is to my immediate left, and the glow of the lights of the tree softly illuminate the joint.  There is peace here despite the sadness, and hope despite the grief.  The star on the tree stands watch above the manger.  Da Pug sighs in his sleep every so often, as I am sure I do.   I do it when awake as well.  Two old men playing out our string.

It is what it is.

Pax Domini

In the Pink

Gaudete – The Third Sunday in Advent

The Texts:  The Introit/Others

Theme:  Releasing Us Captives

Hymn of the Day:  Veni, Emmanuel – No. 357 LSB

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Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione et obsecratione cum gratiarum actione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Lord, you have blessed your land; you have turned away the captivity of Jacob.”  (Introit – Gaudete Sunday)

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What has become of the world?  It is as though we have, collectively, gone off our rocker.  It seems as though “right” and “wrong” have lost all meaning.  Matters that were once the topic of great discussion and pious sermons, have been relegated to a mere shrug of the shoulders to most.  I think of the Revelation 20:3 passage of the satan “being loosed for a little season” and cannot but think perhaps we have entered that season.  And yet, in our text we are called to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!”  Gaude!

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One could make the case that a true disciple of Christ is mentally messed up – dual personalities and that sort of thing.  Welpers, odd as it may seem, I tend to agree.  The dichotomies or more properly stated – paradoxes – of “captivity versus free” . . . sinner and saint . . . dying yet living eternally . . . yeppers, all the ingredients are there to bake the cake of the Church as being officially crazy.  Certifiable, and all of that.  Add two eggs, whip, bake at 300 degrees until finished.  And yet, there remain those striking words of our Introit:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  Gaude!

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Today I wear my rose-coloured vestments.  We lit the rose-coloured candle.  We  are singing the great hymn of expectation – of the Christ who came, still comes in the Blessed Eucharist, and will come again.  These are all signs of Divine happenings in our midst, and we moderns have become so dull as not to notice.  So and so donated that Advent wreath, the tree looks bright and all, why the crucifix if Christ is risen, and “Ooops – forgot to turn my I-phone off.”  Somewhere, somehow, we have gone off the rails.  Once the Divine Liturgy was chanted with a deliberate cadence.  Now, if not discarded altogether for some second-rate 3/4 back-beat rhythm, it is spoken at great speed as if the world would disintegrate were the service to go 61 minutes!

And yet, the words remain – almost as if a rebuke to we moderns who disdain that which is holy of its own sake.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  Gaude!

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We are jaded.  So much comes at us so fast in this day and age that we reflexively – almost without thinking – simply tune out.  We have carried that into the bosom of eternity – this Sanctuary – and turned the dialogue between our God and Savior and us into a mere triviality – a quick and simple performance before we all rush off for Sunday brunch.  We sit in padded pews and with perfect climate control against the elements, no thought to perhaps kneeling in gratitude for forgiveness and grace, and then rush off as though nothing of eternity occurred in this place.  We have gone off the rails.

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But that still, small voice of the Lord, rings true.  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  Gaude!

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It won’t go away.  It came very early in worship – “Thy sins are forgiven thee.”  Israel, released from its long captivity, the father embracing his prodigal son, the cry of the Christ from the Cross – “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!”

There is something primal in those, and countless other examples from Holy Scripture, that call us up and out of ourselves, and this frenetic, frantic pace of what we call “life” – to contemplate and behold the Divine – to know God as He has known us, and came to us as the Christ.  And still does.  Our captivity to sin and this world and its devilish god are yet again, overcome in Jesus Who deigned to become what we are in our mess here, that we might begin to become what He is.  There is no other message like it.  None!

He has released us from who we are, what we have become, what we do, and what we imagine ourselves to be, and instead, made us His disciples again today – renewing once more our Holy Baptisms, feeding us Himself as the very Bread of Life, and announcing yet again that our captivity in and to sin, death and the devil –

Is OVER!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!  Gaude!

Amen.

 

It Never Grows Old

I have just completed my yearly ritual.  I watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

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Some 15 years ago, I wrote a “semi-sermon” about the movie.  If one knows and understands Capra –  the movie as “redemption” makes perfect sense.  The actors – beyond question – perfect.  Jimmy Stewart. the ever gracious and beautiful Donna Reed, Bert the cop, Ernie the tax-driver, and Clarence Odbody III.  One should not forget Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter and Clarence’s “Boss.”   Wonderful performances, all.  Would that Hollywood made such films again!

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Yeah, I know – theologically – I could tear it to shreds.  But then again . . .

Maybe not.  The story of redemption and salvation is an eternal story.  It is the hope of all, even the atheists who despise the One Holy Faith.  Who among us does not desire redemption?  I daresay not a soul.  We all do!  For in our hearts, minds and souls, we know our sin.  For some the knowledge is intense – they are close to God.  Others, not so much, but they know.

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Within the heart of a Pastor, is the entire theme of salvation.    It is integral.  No one but one or two know my present heartaches and travails at present, nor those of my past, however traumatic, yet my call demands I yearn for the Lord to save others.  It is a very strange and living paradox.  Do not ask me to explain it, for it is beyond me as it was beyond all before me, and will be for those who follow me.  My tears are mine alone.  My prayers . . . are for all.

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So . . . if you are reading this, I am praying for you.

Pax Domini