November 1, 2019- Dia de los Muertos- (The Day of the Dead) – Remembering and Forgiving- Lead Us to Jesus -1 John 3:1-3, Matthew 5:1-12

day of dead

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Seeing the crowds, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12 (ESV)

Those of us who observe the church year may find the feast of All Saints to be one of the most difficult days to commemorate.  On this earth, death still has a very real sting.  The pain and longing of separation from those we love and those who have been big parts of our lives is a heavy burden to bear.

We also endure the pain of regret when loved ones go before us.  We may wonder if our loved one died in Christ.  Sometimes we carry grudges or unforgiveness toward those who hurt or wronged us before they died because we never had a chance to resolve the issues we had with that person when he or she was alive.  Sometimes our remembrance of a family member is tainted either by our regret that we were evil to them, or the pain we suffered due to their evil toward us.  The world is one big pack of sinners, after all.  We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We all desperately need the grace of God in our relationships with others.

We do not have to resolve the issues with someone in order to forgive them. They may never “forgive us back.”  We are called by Jesus to let go of our anger, resentment and unforgiveness toward others regardless of their response to us.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation.  There are situations in which reconciliation is impossible in this life- the death of the other party, or situations in which one’s health or life may be endangered through contact with the other party. Those who are living with physical or emotional abuse, or are enduring life with a loved one who abuses alcohol or drugs may have to separate themselves from and completely cut off contact with that person for the sake of their own life and health. In Christ we can pass on the gift of forgiveness, but we are not compelled to keep enduring abuse.

God gives us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, as Jesus has first forgiven us- even if there is no reconciliation, or even contact with the other party.

Jesus has sweet comfort for His own when we have to encounter earthly death, unforgiveness, disappointment and separation. He is walking with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4.)

Many people read the above verses from the Gospel of Matthew and look at the Beatitudes as a “to do” list, things that we need to pull up our bootstraps and just do.  On one level, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but like the Ten Commandments teach us God’s Law, (that are also seen as a sort of “to do” list,) and show us our inability to keep them, Jesus teaches these blessings so that we may see how we are not the source of any of the blessings of the Beatitudes.

Only in Christ can we receive these attributes.

He is the one acting upon us so that we do see our own complete inadequacy and our desperate need for Him.

He is our comfort and our companion in our mourning.

He is the champion of the meek and lowly, as He came to serve, not to be served.

He is the Bread of Life who feeds us with the most sweet and holy bread of heaven- His very own Body and Blood.

He is the source of all mercy.

He is complete and total holiness and purity.

He grants us peace that is beyond all understanding.

He gives us the confidence to stand up for things that are right even when they are not  popular and may lead to our own personal harm.

He suffered the ultimate persecution and punishment (Isaiah 53:5) in our place, so that we would be blessed with salvation and life with Him forever.

The Beatitudes point us to our utter dependence on Jesus.

As we remember those who have gone before us, we thank God for those who passed along the faith to us, those who loved us, and those who we have confidence in Christ who we will see again.  We ask God for the gift of forgiveness toward those who have hurt us, not because they deserve it, but because Jesus first forgave us. We ask that Jesus brings us healing and peace for the injuries from relationships that cannot be reconciled, especially those relationships that we have had with those who have died.

We pray for the gifts of the Beatitudes because they are the attributes of Christ.

Today is remembered in Mexico as Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Part of that tradition involves honoring one’s ancestors.  Another part of it is acknowledging that death isn’t the end.  It is a celebration of remembrance and anticipation.

We will see those who departed in Christ again in the next world, in the new heaven and earth.

According to the message of Genesis 3  we are all dead- every person living will die.  In Christ we have His promise of eternal life.  The Day of the Dead is for those who went before us, the great cloud of witnesses that the writer of Hebrews speaks of. (Hebrews 12:1-2)  We celebrate their lives.  We mourn their absence.  We think about what we may have done differently.  We pray for the grace to forgive where we need to forgive. But ultimately the lives of those witnesses serve to point us to Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, the One Who is beside us and with us always, the One Who broke the curse of death so that we may live.

 

September 29, 2017 – Forgive Us When We Do Wrong- Matthew 6:12

Forgiveness

Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. Matthew 6:12 (CEB)

The traditional English translation of this verse is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,”  and that is part of forgiveness, but that wording tends to limit our understanding of forgiveness to monetary transactions or mortgage payments. Forgiveness is much more than simply writing off a debt, which is why a more comprehensive translation of this verse is necessary here.

In Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we get into the hardest, yet most necessary thing to do if we humans are to live in community and live at peace with God: forgive.

It is therefore the intent of this petition that God would not regard our sins and hold up to us what we daily deserve, but would deal graciously with us, and forgive, as He has promised, and thus grant us a joyful and confident conscience to stand before Him in prayer. For where the heart is not in right relation towards God, nor can take such confidence, it will nevermore venture to pray. But such a confident and joyful heart can spring from nothing else than the [certain] knowledge of the forgiveness of sin.

 But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, — for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, — but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6, 37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6,14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. – from the explanation of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer from Luther’s Large Catechism

 Forgiveness is not blithe forgetfulness, in which we no longer remember the hurtful things said or done to us. Forgiveness toward others is a process in which we acknowledge the injury and pain that we have suffered at the hands of others, but we make the conscious choice to let go of our anger and surrender our claims to revenge against those who have wronged us. We surrender those who have wronged us to the mercy of God, as we surrender ourselves to His mercy and forgiveness when we do wrong.

Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation with those who have wronged us. Sometimes forgiveness means to let that person or group of people out of our lives, especially if they are unforgiving toward us or if they have the potential to be toxic to us in the future.  There is nothing about forgiveness that requires us to endure abuse or live in a toxic environment.  Forgiveness allows us to get rid of the toxic anger and pain we carry and give it to God.  He can handle it.  He can heal and restore us. We can’t work that kind of restoration and healing ourselves.  Forgiveness toward others is really for our own good.

Our response to a loving God who forgives us unconditionally is to pass that gift along, and let His healing and His grace flow through us.

It has been said that the heaviest burden to carry is a grudge.

However…Jesus said to take up His yoke, because His burden is light.

Who do we need to consciously decide to forgive today?

August 29, 2017 – We Hypocrites, (but for the Grace of God) Romans 2:1-11

hypocrites-room-for-more

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. Romans 2:1-11 (NRSV)

Many of my atheist friends- and I have had many atheist friends and acquaintances in the past- say that their number one problem with those who claim to be Christian or claim to follow Jesus are “such hypocrites.”

It is true that the same problems exist in Christian communities that exist in non-religious communities. Divorce happens. Poverty happens. Substance abuse, alcoholism and addiction happen. Promiscuity and unwed pregnancy happen. Apathy and indifference happen.

So how is following Jesus supposed to make a difference if all the same social ills go on in Christian homes? As one of my atheist friends put it, “What good does following God do me if I am no better for it?”

The response to that is that we are all hypocrites. There’s a saying that, “I wish I were as good a person as my dog thinks I am.” If only we could be. The problem is that we can’t. It is only by the grace of God that anything good at all can come from any of us.

We can choose how we respond when bad things happen to people though. Putting our heads in the sand and ignoring these things is not an option. Pointing the finger of blame isn’t helpful either. Those responses are what the world does. The world accepts broken homes, addiction and immoral behavior as being “normal.” The God-honoring response is not one of judgment or exclusion, because we know how human and fallible we all can be.

let love guide you

The God-honoring response is a proactive response, a loving response that comes from a heart set on God. That response is color blind. That response forgives and understands. That is a response that is merciful and kind no matter how the other person has failed or is failing. The response that honors God seeks healing and wholeness and restoration.

Yes, we are hypocrites. We fail daily at loving God with our whole hearts and loving others as we love ourselves. But God’s mercy and love show no partiality.

How does our response to our own failings and the failings of others further the cause of the Kingdom of God?