Saint and Sinner


A little different post today…

I’ve been really struggling with how to engage in conversations on social media, where we seem to be dividing more than uniting.  I’m okay with differences of opinion, but I’m sensing something shifting in the sands of how to converse with one another online. 

Lack of humility seems to be a key challenge with online conversations, but I don’t think that’s totally it.  

Here’s what bothers me most: cynicism.   When we make cynical remarks or react cynically to a post or person with whom we disagree, we fail to allow room for growth.   I don’t think we need to give up our opinions, research, or desires…I just think that cynicism cripples our opportunity to find a way forward together.  

I was thinking about all of this as I read Richard Rohr’s daily devotion from today, Monday, December 5, 2016.  I’m working through how this applies to my comments on cynicism.  What are your thoughts?

(And here is my favorite quote from his devotion today)

“We are all a mixture of weeds and wheat and we always will be. As Martin Luther put it, we are simul justus et peccator. We are simultaneously saint and sinner. That’s the mystery of holding weeds and wheat together in our one field of life. It takes a lot more patience, compassion, forgiveness, and love than aiming for some illusory perfection that is usually blind to its own faults. Acknowledging both the wheat and weeds in us keeps us from thinking too highly of ourselves and also from dismissing ourselves as terrible. ” – Richard Rohr, Monday, Dec 5, 2016

The full devotion can be found here.  
For more information about Richard Rohr (and to subscribe to his daily email devotions) and for more about the Center for Action and Contemplation, visit: https://cac.org/

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Saint and Sinner

mk12_02S (Scripture): Mark 12:1 Then he began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a fence around it, dug a pit for its winepress, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and went on a journey. 2 At harvest time he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his portion of the crop. 3 But those tenants seized his slave, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 So he sent another slave to them again. This one they struck on the head and treated outrageously. 5 He sent another, and that one they killed. This happened to many others, some of whom were beaten, others killed. 6 He had one left, his one dear son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this scripture:

‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.'”

O (Observation): Israel itself was once the rejected people, yet God stood by them and protected them…whether they were faithful or not.  God sent Moses and the prophets, who were sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected.   But now, Jesus is the one being rejected…and not by foreign powers…but by God’s own people!   The irony should not be lost on us that God’s people were once the rejected ones before being led to the land of milk and honey.

The Pharisees are listening to Jesus’ story and I wonder if they realize that Jesus is challenging them and all people who have missed God’s grace along the way?   Are they missing the fact that God is in their very presence in the person of Jesus?  Can they be that blind?

A (Application):  I have to admit that I’ve been blind to God’s presence a time or two : )  Typically, that comes at a time when I’m down on things, or if I’m having a bad day.  I start playing the pity party with myself and fail to see the bigger picture or the fact that God might be using this difficult situation for an ultimate good.  Not that God wants me or others to suffer…but that God can transform the suckage of my life…and make something fantastic out of it.

When I’m down in the Pit, I try to remain calm, and spend time in contemplation…seeking the Spirit’s presence and guidance.  From that, the hope is that I can sense God moving me into a place where I can forgive others or myself.

This is my way of understanding that I can be both the Pharisees (and the workers in the vineyard) and also the one who learns from this lesson.   Both sinner and saint.

P (Prayer):  Lord, clear my heart and mind of worry and let me know of your presence.  Here.  Now.  Amen.

Confession and Forgiveness 

  

S (Scripture): 1 John 1:8 If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.

O (Observation): John writes about the fact that part of being a believer is to recognize our shortcomings.  We sin.  Plain and simple.  We are to walk in the light, but we cannot let that walk blind us to the fact that we still have this flesh that hangs around our neck.  

A (Application): Our walk is one of sainthood and peccator-hood. (Peccator = Sinner, in Latin) 

These words from 1 John 1 are extremely familiar to Lutherans.  These were the standard words spoken between the worship leader and the congregation during the portion of worship we call “Confession & Forgiveness.”

As I was growing up, acknowledging our sinfulness and receiving absolution of those sins as God’s people together was extremely formative for me.  We opened every worship service with the recognition from 1 John, that we are sinners and cannot free ourselves.  Then, typically the pastor would acknowledge our repentance in a corporate way and declare God’s forgiveness of our sins as a corporate act.  

One body.  Repentant.  Forgiven.  An act that has shaped me for almost 4 decades now.   I hope that never goes away. 

Have you ever had someone declare you forgiven of all your sins?   Did that feel true to you?  Did it feel like empty words?  Why?

For a film that deals with the real-life struggles with confession and forgiveness, check out the movie Get Low, starring Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, and Sissy Spacek.   A friend of mine, Scott Seeke, co-wrote the screenplay, and wrote the follow-up book, Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral.

Click here to join me and Advent Lutheran Church for the book club event with author Scott Seeke, as we discuss “Uncle Bush’s Live Funeral” on Dec. 14, 2015.  

P (Prayer):  Forgiving God, keep our hearts pure and repentant.  Give us a posture of humility. Amen. 

Truth?  We Are Sinners, All

  

S (Scripture): 2 Peter 2: 19 Although these false teachers promise such people freedom, they themselves are enslaved to immorality. For whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if after they have escaped the filthy things of the world through the rich knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they again get entangled in them and succumb to them, their last state has become worse for them than their first. 

O (Observation):  Peter continues to rail against false teachers some more.   This time, he works on the immorality of these false teachers, how they will return to their immoral behavior time and again.  

A (Application): The truth of these words to me are not about how I can differentiate between myself and other people…but about the fact everyone one of us – Christian or not – struggles with these issues.  We all desire to do that which pleases us, and we return to that sinful behavior time and again.  

What do we do with this?  We repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near.   We pause and reflect on our own sinfulness and seek God’s mercy. 

I could us this text to put myself on the opposite side of those that Peter talks about here, but I just can’t go there.   Too much of my sinfulness is on “repeat” for me to put myself above another. 

And yet, I feel that Jesus is the one that keeps me going.  Jesus is the one that catches me when I fail.  Jesus is the one to guide my steps.  He lets me fail, but he always picks me up.   He always calls me.   Sometimes I listen; sometimes I don’t. I’m not proud of that, but that is truth.  

I just hope that my God is bigger than my failures. 

How about for you?   In which camp are you?  Christ-follower?  Sinner?  Both???

P (Prayer): Lord, keep me in your care, sinful being that I am.  Amen. 

Saint and Sinner

  

S (Scripture): Ezekiel 34:11 “‘For this is what the sovereign Lord says: Look, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my flock. I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a cloudy, dark day. 13 I will bring them out from among the peoples and gather them from foreign countries; I will bring them to their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams and all the inhabited places of the land. 14 In a good pasture I will feed them; the mountain heights of Israel will be their pasture. There they will lie down in a lush pasture, and they will feed on rich grass on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will make them lie down, declares the sovereign Lord. 16 I will seek the lost and bring back the strays; I will bandage the injured and strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them – with judgment!’ ”

O (Observation): Jerusalem has been overrun.  This is actually happening for Ezekiel and the rest of God’s people who have been scattered now to surrounding countries.   

God declares words of hope to the people of Israel, and judgment against the priests of these days.   In this passage, God is challenging the priests who have ignored God’s people in this extremely difficult time.  God calls them out for taking the spoils for themselves, and ignoring the spiritual needs of God’s people. 

God says, “I’ll take it from here, thanks.  You have done enough damage for now.”   God promises to gather the scattered flock and bring hope to those who have very little hope.    And for those prophets and priests who lived only for themselves, they will be harshly judged.

A (Application):  As a pastor and a husband and a father, I realize that my heart is always in several places at once:  at school or home or sports or music with my kids; with my wife as she cares for other people’s children or doing her Zumba or leading choir or sitting on the couch with me after the kids go to bed. Not to mention what might be going on in the lives of individual members of the congregation I serve, or for the congregation as a whole.

With the many blessings in my life, I can easily drift into that which is most comfortable for me, my wife, and my children. I can even do the same thing with the church I serve. I can choose to just be around for the good things, and ignore the difficult stuff.   

This passage reminds me that I am to be dedicated, but that I also fail at times.    I’m both the priest who serves diligently (as husband, father, and pastor), AND the selfish priest living for myself only.  

This makes me (I hope) humble.  This text makes me want to abide by Martin Luther’s explanations to the commandments: “We are to fear and love the Lord, so that…”  The fear comes with a healthy dose of knowing my place in the world as a pastor / shepherd / servant of my family and congregation.   The love comes from knowing that as I fail, God will care for my family and my congregation.   

How does this work for you?  When do you feel like your really doing what you’re supposed to be doing?  When have you failed?   Either way, we are the Lord’s…

P (Prayer): Lord, we are sinners, and yet you make us saints.  Be with us in our struggles. Amen.  

What Say You?

  

I blog for me…not for you.  Really. 

I’m glad you read and I want to do the best I can to help you and me make it through the Scriptures in the hopes that God changes us.  

Part of how this works is that you have to make your own observations and applications, too.  

What you are seeing in my blog is my raw and awkward attempts at making sense of Scripture.  One day at a time. Some of it is useful, some of it isn’t.  Some of it is spot on, some of it is complet rubbish.  I get that.  This is not the polished me.  This is just me.  My sinful-saintly self.  

So, what say you to today’s texts?

Put up your reply here in the comments section, or just send me a reflection via the Contact form on this site.  

Blessings to you on your reflections.  

And if you don’t know where to go in the Scriptures, then click here for the daily Moravian text for today. 

Lord, be with my brother and sisters in Christ as they each struggle with your Word.  Change them…move them…as you have changed and moved me.  Amen. 

Law and Gospel and Non-Believers

  S (Scripture): 1 Timothy 1:8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 9 realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners,…

O (Observation):  The Law handed on to Moses, and subsequently observed by God’s people throughout the ages, is called upon here in a peculiar way.   The Law is for those who are outside of righteousness.  

That’s a difficult concept to grasp.  Aren’t we all sinners?  Yes.  But maybe Paul reminds us that the Law is a set of boundary markers that helps us to understand where to draw a line regarding our actions in the world.  

And another complication is this: if we are part of the community of faith, don’t we still have some accountability to the law?  Yes, we do.  

Perhaps Paul is stating that the Christians that Timothy hangs with can point to the law in order to help those outside of the faith – to give them a plumb line, to borrow an OT image.  And in doing so, God’s people will see that they are set free from the worries of the law (they have salvation already), in order to serve God and their neighbor (and worry about their own salvation less and less and more about the salvation of non-believers).

A (Application): I get so uptight bringing up my faith when talking to non-Christians.  I don’t want to judge, but I know some things we do in this are wrong – they don’t give God glory.  My comfort zone is to share about my story and why I do what I do.  I don’t throw that on others, just myself. 

We have to be careful here.  I think it’s almost too bold for Paul to call others “ungodly and sinners”.  That’s not because I just want everyone to feel nice.  I just don’t think it’s my place to call them out.   

I do use the phrase “non-believers” as a way to talk about people who do not subscribe to the Christian faith.  But my stance is that I’m still called to witness to them through my words and actions.  

And perhaps that’s my takeaway this morning.  God is calling me to live the life of a disciple, and as God calls people to me, I can work with them in ways of discipleship.  I can help people transition from only knowing the law, to becoming a gospel-oriented person.   The transition from law to law & gospel is indeed freeing…but at the same time, keeps us in check.  

P (Prayer): Lord, see us through a transition from law to law & gospel. Help us to know that you call us to be responsible and yet free in this world.  Helps us to see the clarity of being a servant of all and yet free. Amen.