Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 4 – Theodicy, Universalism (and Free Will)

At its core, the story is an exercise in Theodicy – the question which posits three contradictory statements and wonders how they can all be true: God is good, God is omnipotent, evil exists. Mack begins the story firmly believing that, if God exists, he is not good. The narrative arc then traces his “conversion” into a positive relationship with “Papa” (his wife’s nickname for God).

Does The Shack answer this question correctly? The answer given (or rather implied) is that evil exists because man is given free will to do evil. Scripturally speaking, free will is never part of the discussion, but is rather a philosophizing term invented by human beings to seek to understand the unfathomable. In fact, the story of the world begins with man created “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). Then, “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” so that “death reigned” (Rom. 5:12, 14), and “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3). Scripture repeats frequently that human will since Adam is not free, but is trapped and cannot do otherwise than sin.

The two sides of the fight, therefore, are God (who is only good) and fallen creation, man, and the Devil (all of whom are only evil).  Papa states in the film that she is “working in the middle of” all the evil in the world, to make it work out for man’s good.  This is intended as an echo of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  But as we discussed in the context of Justification, the “good” result that Papa wants is only emotional.  The God of The Shack is not working for redemption in any true sense, but working to save his children from feeling bad.

In this context, there is a thinly veiled streak of Universalism throughout the film: the teaching that all religions essentially have the same God, and all people are heading to the same place anyway, whether you call it heaven, nirvana, paradise, or any other name.  This is highlighted when Papa states that she has “many names.”  Before this, Mack tells his daughter the story of an Indian princess who sacrificed herself, and how the Great Spirit caused her sacrifice to be remembered in a waterfall.  His daughter asks if the Great Spirit is the same as God.  Mack brushes it off with, essentially, “Ask your mother,” but the question is never returned to.  In fact, the strong implication is that yes, God is the same as the Great Spirit, because he loves all his children and doesn’t care what they call themselves so long as they are kind.  Again, the Jesus of The Shack states that “Religion is too much work,” and claims that the word “Christian” is not something he likes.

There is a scene in the movie in which Mack is given the ability to see all the departed souls of God’s children in heaven walking in a field, pictured as light and color.  While it’s not made explicit that there are more than Christians present, the movie never tells how anyone gets to heaven, but instead throughout strongly implies that there’s no way for any human being not to get to heaven.  Instead, the goal that Papa is working towards (specifically with Mack) is to have a friendly relationship with his children while they are on earth.

Therefore the question of why evil exists is answered: because man doesn’t always keep a positive relationship with God while on earth, but instead, in free will, performs “sin,” whatever that means, and has pain.  God is a cosmic janitor, trying to clean up after the sin man performs, to keep creation clean, aligning all the evil in the world into good.  He doesn’t condemn evil, but pities it, sighs, and picks up his broom and dustpan to sweep it into place.

Scripture, however, proclaims a God who condemns sin and evil (Ex. 20:5; Rom. 6:23), and although he foreknew evil, for he knows all things, he was not its cause, but the devil and man caused evil (Rom. 5:12, 1 John 3:8), and God works both to condemn evil and to save mankind (Gen. 3:15).  While Scripture declares that it is in heaven where “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 7:17), The Shack declares that God wants to wipe away our tears on earth: “When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me,” states Papa.  In a sense this is true, if our pain is allowed to blind us to God; but the Jesus of the Bible says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25).  Christians see God in pain, not by forgetting and getting over pain.

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Heresies in The Shack, Part 2 – The Source of Religious Knowledge (and the Nature of God)

A great deal of the movie’s themes are wrapped up in the idea that man cannot know the mind of God.  This is truly Scriptural, as St. Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 2:11).  So in the film, Papa (the nickname for God) declares, “You have no idea how much I’m doing right now,” while appearing to the main character, Mack, to be sunbathing.  Likewise, the personification of Wisdom convinces Mack of this moral: God’s job is very, very difficult, so don’t act like you can do what he does.

In the midst of all this unknowability of God’s mind and thoughts, Papa directs Mack (and the audience) to a faith-understanding, or trust, based on feelings.  When Mack asks questions, frequently he is directed to look inside himself and investigate how he feels about it.  Never is Mack directed to the Word of God to understand God’s will.  Instead, the Word is often dismissed and belittled.  For example, when Papa appears to Mack as a large, comforting woman, he asks her name.  Her response is, “I am known by many names.  One of my favorites is Elousia.”  Then, when “I AM” is brought up, Papa jokingly says, “I AM that I AM,” dismissing the Scripturally revealed name of God. The name God reveals of himself in Scripture is therefore dismissed in favor of a man-made name that Papa presumably cherishes because one of his children invented it for him (depicting God as a glorified loving parent who frames up the terrible mac-and-cheese art made by his children, not because it’s good, but because he loves them).

On another occasion, Mack interrogates Papa on why he abandoned his Son Jesus on the cross.  Mack even quotes Jesus’ words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  Papa brushes this quotation off and says, “You don’t understand the mystery.”  She then shows Mack the nail scars that she has on her hands, seeking to prove that she (God the Father) was with Jesus in his death. (More on this specific event later.)

If this isn’t enough evidence to demonstrate that The Shack directs the audience away from Scripture for God’s revelation, Mack receives his communication from God via an unmarked envelope in his mailbox, not from God’s Word.  St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy: “[C]ontinue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17).  The Shack at least implies that something else is needed to supplement Scripture – and if you’d like to put a name to what that other thing is, it’s “Subjective Feelings.”

Ash Wednesday 2017

ash-wednesday-2017-redeemer

 

Why place ashes on our foreheads?  It’s an old, old Church tradition that carries with it an important symbolism.  By placing ashes on our foreheads, we enter a visible state of repentance, knowing what God said after the Fall into sin: “for your are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19).  The ashes signify our complete inability to save ourselves, and our faith that the death of one man, the Lord Jesus Christ, brought us the life we had lost.  Join us Wednesday, March 1st at 2 PM for the imposition of ashes.

The evening of March 1st, our regular schedule of Wednesday night Lenten Vespers begins with our service at 6:30.  We begin by looking back at that Garden where mankind fell, but always in light of the promise of One who would restore life in the fruit of his blood.

Love and St. Valentine

valentines
Cupid on a Vintage Valentine

For a little more than 1500 years, February 14th has been known as St. Valentine’s Day.  Pope St. Gelasius I (Pope from 492-496) is the likely founder of this day as the commemoration of St. Valentine, understanding February 14th as the day on which St. Valentine died.  However, there are possibly three different Ss. Valentine who died on this date in different years: St. Valentine of Terni, St. Valentine of Africa, and St. Valentine of Rome.  However, none of these three men have any reliable legends regarding love or marriage.  Somewhere between the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. there was an expansion made to the life of St. Valentine of Rome, assigning to him the miracle of healing the daughter of his jailer of her blindness.  However, this is not presented as a love story.

A number of other legends were recorded between A.D. 1260 and 1493, adding new ideas of one of the Ss. Valentine performing miracles or standing up against unjust rulers, all in the name of love or marriage.  Besides this, in the 1750s many secular critics began to have the idea that the choice of day for St. Valentine’s commemoration was due to the fact that the Romans had a number of festivals for their pagan gods around the same time, especially festivals for the dead or other obscure ideas.

The point is, there are a lot of ideas about what Valentine’s Day means, all invented and added sometime after A.D. 500.  Pope St. Gelasius I may be the only one remembered in history for having pure motives to observe St. Valentine’s Day.  Even today, the motives are hardly pure.  Valentine’s Day conjures in the mind every possible shade of pink and red, boxes of chocolate, flowers, and romantic exploits.  To put it bluntly, Valentine’s Day is, to the secular world at large, a festival to the Greek god Eros (Roman: Cupid).

Eros is one of three Greek words for “Love.”  Eros is romantic or sexual love, the sort of love that is embodied exclusively in desire and want.  Compare this with the two other Greek words for “Love”: Philos, which is brotherly love or affection and care and friendship.  It is the sort of love that is motivated by the enjoyment one feels in another’s company.  And the last love is Agape, which we may briefly define as undeserved love.  Agape is the kind of love mentioned in John 3:16, love that is not motivated by anything someone feels or wants to gain.  Agape love is love offered because one simply wishes to give.

Keeping in mind the nature of one who is truly a Saint, that is, one who has been clothed in the robes of Christ, which of these three loves should be the focus of St. Valentine’s Day?  Evangelical Lutheran Synod  pastor Rev. Joseph Abrahamson notices, looking at the three Ss. Valentine: “As far as we have records these Sts. Valentine are examples of men who did not love their life unto death, but considered everything in this world, including their own lives as nothing compared to the gift of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.”

Ask yourself this question on Valentine’s Day: should we focus on romantic love, the love we feel for people we find attractive for one reason or another, or should the focus be selfless love, Agape love, undeserved love, which we have received from God, who loved us even though we were his bitterest enemies, loved us even so that he would die for us to save us, love which he asks us to embody and perpetuate to others?

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:4-7)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another….  We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:7-11, 19)

Thou sacred Love, grace on us bestow,
Set our hearts with heav’nly fire aglow
That with hearts united we love each other,
Of one mind, in peace with ev’ry brother.
Lord, have mercy! (ELH #33:3)

-Rev. Michael G. Lilienthal

Feasting with God #19 – Communing with a Betrayer

Feasting with God #19

Communing with a Betrayer

 

Text: Luke 22:19-23

19And he took 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.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying,“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. 22For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” 23And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.

The Lord’s Supper is often called simply “Communion.” We refer to it in this way because in this meal, as we eat and drink our Lord’s body and blood we find ourselves in communion or fellowship with him. This meal brings us so close to Jesus, it is as though we are sitting down to an intimate dinner with family and close friends.  And not only are we in such close communion and fellowship with Christ, but we are with our fellow communing Christians – those who stand or kneel next to us at the altar rail, those in all other churches around the world, and even those who have died, the saints in heaven.  This sacrament is a sacrament of community, by which we confess that we share in the beliefs and mission of those we commune with.

But the first communion hosted an intruder.  It should have been the most intimate of suppers: Jesus and his closest followers, his twelve disciples.  But among them was the one who would betray their master.

Paul warns other Christians against the same thing in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27).  The Lord’s Supper brings us forgiveness, and where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation.  These are brought to those who are in true communion with their Savior and with one another, but anyone who eats and drinks as though he is part of this communion and yet is not “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (11:29).  This difference we see between Judas and the other disciples, when we examine their ends.  Judas, who betrayed him, hanged himself in sorrow, unwilling to accept any forgiveness that would be offered to him.  The other disciples, after Jesus’ resurrection, were sent into the mission of their Lord, to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, and to teach them Jesus’ doctrines and truths.  This they did joyfully, because the forgiveness that was offered to them on account of Jesus’ death – the forgiveness tangibly fed to them in this communion, inspired this new life in them.

Let us be aware of the forgiveness we receive in this communion, and of the closeness of our relationship with our Lord and one another.  Judas sought silver to replace all that, but what could be a greater treasure than forgiveness, life, salvation, and communion with God and our fellow Christians?  All that is possible because of the sacrifice Jesus made and the Supper he instituted.

Dear Jesus, thank you for the great gift you have given us in the Sacrament of Communion.  Guide us to see the wonder of the forgiveness, life, and salvation we receive there, and move us into ever closer fellowship with you and one another.  Make our faith and new life sincere, and strengthen it by this Supper.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Epiphany – After the Twelve Days of Christmas

January 6th is the festival of the Epiphany.  In our liturgical calendar, the next few Sundays are called “Sundays after Epiphany,” to observe this celebration.  While Christmas is a familiar holiday, however, not many recognize what Epiphany means.

The word “epiphany” comes from Greek, and means “manifestation.”  In this holiday, it is recognized how God manifested himself, or made himself present and visible to the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.  We can define the difference between Christmas and Epiphany by saying that Christmas celebrates Jesus as True Man, while Epiphany celebrates him as Very God.

In some parts of Christendom (specifically the Eastern Churches) Epiphany is regarded as the actual celebration of Christmas.  There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world and the beginning of his ministry and work.  Christmas is his birthday, while Epiphany is his coronation.  Epiphany, in fact, is closer in relevance to the average human population than Christmas is – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are really the only ones directly affected by Christmas.  Epiphany meant that God had come to fulfill his promised work of salvation.

There are several little epiphanies celebrated during this season.  Historically, the first “epiphany” is the coming of the Magi or the wise men to worship Jesus.  They were the first from the broader world to see this God-Man, and actually to bow down before him, recognizing his glory and power.  Other epiphanies include when Jesus was presented at the temple and Simeon sang his famous song of thanks to God for sending salvation, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father declared him publicly his Son and endorsed his mission, when Jesus performed his first miracle and demonstrated his divine power to the wedding guests at Cana, and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before his disciples so that they could see his divine glory.

All of these epiphanies and more are designed to bring proof to the world that Jesus is God made Man, that he is the promised Messiah and the Christ, and that he is the Savior of the world.  After seeing what this season and this holiday is about, can you fail to recognize its blessed significance?

At Redeemer this season, we celebrate on January 11th the Baptism of Jesus, on January 18th and 25th the calling of disciples by God, on February 1st and 8th the miracles of Jesus, and on February 15th the Transfiguration.

Feasting with God #7 – What Comes Out of the Mouth

Feasting with God #7

What Comes Out of the Mouth

(Fountain for ceremonial hand washing before entering a synagogue)

Matthew 15:17-20

17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?  18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  20These are what defile a person.  But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year is to lose weight, or to eat healthier.  Many people are very concerned about what they eat, because they know how different nutrients affect their bodies.  In Jesus’ day, there was another idea about the food one takes into his body, and the way he eats that food.  The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had very strict regulations about how a person was to take his meals in order to live the holiest life he could, to cleanse himself of sins, to purify himself.  But Jesus told them and his disciples that what goes into a person’s body makes no difference spiritually.  It is what comes out that defiles.

Since Adam and Eve fell into sin, all humanity is corrupt through and through.  Because of sin’s beginning, we cannot help but sin.  We are full of sin.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  We wash our hands before we eat to avoid ingesting harmful bacteria and materials.  But what really needs washing is our hearts, our very souls.  The most deadly bacteria lives in our veins.  This sin that has become a part of our very existence will not only cause us to die and leave this earth, but it causes us to die eternally, forever separated from our heavenly Father.  This sin, which festers in our hearts, manifests itself in actions, words, and thoughts that are harmful to ourselves and others, and omission of actions, words, and thoughts which would be helpful to ourselves and others.  Because our hearts are so filthy with sin, everything we do becomes sin.

It is easy enough to wash our hands.  We have water and soap: simple things to find and use.  But how can we wash our hearts?  The answer, again, is water, but water and the Word.  Through baptism, which takes the Word of God and applies it to the water, our hearts are washed clean of sin’s impurities, and we are given forgiveness, new life, and the salvation that Jesus Christ won for us on the cross.  Jesus’ heart was never corrupted by sin, and he never committed an evil act.  Yet he suffered the punishment for the sins all of us committed – he suffered hell’s torment.  When we are baptized, we receive faith in him which is what takes ahold of what he won: perfection.  Yes, while we live on this earth we still commit “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander,” and other sins.  But because of our faith in Jesus and what he has done, because our hearts are washed clean, we face no punishment, but rather reward.

Dear Lord Jesus, continue to come to us through your Word as you came to us in our baptisms.  Let our hearts each day be made pure toward you, prepared to leave behind our sins and go forward in the doing of good works in your name.  Let us rely not on ourselves or on our own abilities which are themselves corrupted by sin, but let us rely instead on you and your Word of promise.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #4 – Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Feasting with God #4

Prepare a Feast for the Coming King

Luke 22:15-18

15And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”  17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Last week we read about the institution of the Lord’s Supper, in which we are given the forgiveness of sins.  In Luke’s Gospel today we see another portion of that institution, when Jesus speaks with his disciples in what must have been a very sad tone.  He knows that this is the last time he will eat the Passover with his friends, and the last time he will drink wine with them, “until the kingdom of God comes.”

The day before Jesus died, he and his disciples were celebrating the Jewish festival of the Passover, which was a remembrance of the time in Egypt when God sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn in that country, but those who spread the blood of a lamb according to God’s command on the doorposts were spared, and the angel “passed over” their houses (Ex. 12:1-51).  Now it would become connected to the fulfillment of the Passover, when the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, would cause eternal death to pass over all who believe in him.

But there is yet more.  This meal was to be a sort of good-bye party for Jesus.  His disciples were all gathered around, and although they refused to acknowledge it, they had heard Jesus tell them over and over that he was going to die very soon.  As with all good-bye parties, the loved ones gathered around are saddened at the separation to come, but look longingly and hopefully towards that time when they can be reunited.

This is what Jesus meant when he said, “From now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  He was telling his disciples what to look for, what to wait for – to wait for his return.  And the Church has waited and waited for two thousand years.

We still wait.  We do not wait with despair, but we wait because we hope, and because we know that Christ will do as he promised: he will return.  The anxiousness is almost too much to bear, so that we hope for him to come now, immediately, post-haste so that we can see him and be in joy and glory with him!  But we must be patient, for he will come in his appointed time.  In this patience, we prepare.

Rather than sit idly throughout these ages, we have things to do.  Jesus asked his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  We have the task of telling others about him.  We have the task of worshiping together, of reading his Word, so that we can be strengthened and ready when he comes.  But we have also been given a gift to help us prepare.  This is the gift of that same Supper.  We eat this feast in the Church together as a preparation for the coming of the King.  As we partake of it now, we eat with the saints who have already gone before us into heaven, and we remember Jesus’ words that he will come again.  Eating this Supper, we look back at what Jesus has done to save us, but we also look ever forward at when he will come back.  It strengthens us and feeds us on our journey through life until we reach heaven, and when Christ comes, we all will have another, wondrous feast, a feast of glory, a feast fit for a king.

O Jesus, come in glory now, fulfill our expectation.  We hold our faith which you endow, through joy or tribulation.  We eat this very feast you gave, with your own blood that us did save, and praise you for salvation.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #3 – Forgiveness in the Meal

Feasting with God #3

“Forgiveness in the Meal”

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Matthew 26:26-28

26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”  27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

For almost two whole millennia people have been partaking of the blessed meal known variously as the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Altar.  This sacrament Martin Luther described as “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and drink” (Luther’s Small Catechism).  Yes, we eat bread and wine in this meal, but also, through a miraculous means that we cannot understand, also the body and blood of Christ.  We Lutherans are accustomed to saying that the body that we eat is the very body born of Mary, and that the blood that we drink is the very blood shed on the cross.

The Church has been mocked for its entire existence on account of this meal.  The Romans used to persecute those in the Church for being cannibals, for they heard that Christians would eat a baby in their secret worship meetings.  But despite the ridicule of centuries, Christians still eat the body of Christ and drink his blood.  Why?

Jesus’ own words give us the answer: “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Forgiveness itself is given to us in this meal!  The blood of Christ, which justifies us – “we have been justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9) – this very same blood is now given to us where we can see it, feel it, smell it, and taste it.  It is fed to us so that it becomes a part of us, nourishing our souls even as worldly food nourishes our bodies.

And notice as well that we did not take this blood.  Blood is taken by murderers and executioners, such as when Cain murdered Abel, and Abel’s blood was “crying to [God] from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).  Blood taken unjustly highlights the sin.  How many murder weapons haven’t been found with the blood still on them?  To be “caught red-handed” is to be found with the blood of your victim still on your hands.  But the blood of Jesus is different.  We already had blood on our hands.  Our sins stained us from the moment we were conceived, and like layers of grime only grew thicker and thicker as we continued through life.  We by nature are red-handed murderers, sinners and rebels to God.  Our very inmost thoughts are only selfishness and evil against him.

Jesus Christ’s blood became the universal solvent, cleaning that grime of sin away more quickly than the fastest-acting soap.  That blood and that body are given to us as a gift in this Supper of our Lord.  What a gift!  And certainly it is worth all the ridicule of the world.

Lord Jesus Christ, as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, let us remember your death and the shedding of that blood, by which you freely gave us the forgiveness of every one of our sins.  Help us to see that we daily sin much, and much need the forgiveness you give, so that we can learn better to put our full trust in you and in your promises.  As you promise to give us forgiveness in this holy meal, let us come to it with joy.  Continue to give to us your promised forgiveness.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #1 – Praying for God’s Blessings

Introduction:

This weekly series of devotions will seek to nourish the soul of the reader as food nourishes the body.  Each week, based on a specific text of God’s Word, we will delve into how God feeds our spirits through that Word, feeding us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  From the blessing of food in the Garden of Eden, to the feast of the Passover, to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, to the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb in his Kingdom, God seeks to satisfy our spiritual hunger.  So we ask all to join us, feasting with God.

Vicar Michael G. Lilienthal

618px-Grace1918photographEnstromFeasting with God #1

“Praying for God’s Blessings”

Psalm 145:15-16:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Every family has its own tradition of table prayers.  Some families pray what is called the “Common Table Prayer,” which begins, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest….”  Others pray some translation of the Psalm text above.  Still others pray, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts….”  Whatever the tradition of the family, these table prayers are the means by which we ask God to bless the food we are about to receive.

What does it mean for our food to be blessed?  No, it’s not a magical incantation that somehow makes the food more nourishing to our bodies.  This blessing means so much more than that.  Because of our sinful natures, our whole lives have been corrupted by sin.  Everything we do, even our good deeds, are tainted by our innate sinfulness, so that even those good deeds are considered sins, as Isaiah writes that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is. 64:6).  As sinful beings, everything around us is sinful, everything we do is sinful, and everything we take in is sinful, including the food we eat.

But looking to God, we can see where our salvation comes from.  This psalm says, “You satisfy the desire of every living thing.”  In one sense this means that, whatever every living creature needs to survive in its daily life, God provides it, as the Creator and Preserver of the universe.  The hunger of each being is not satisfied by anything other than what God provides.  But in another sense, we can understand the keen desire of God’s creation, being broken and corrupted in sin, to have salvation brought to it.  And that, God satisfied.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.  And not only the creation, but we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).  Creation groaned for its salvation throughout history until the satisfaction came in the form of a literal birth: a child born in a stable, who then grew up performing miracles and never sinning, and ultimately who died on a cross, suffering the pains that our sins deserved.  And he rose again to lead those who followed him into a new life that never hungered again.

Because of our faith founded on Christ, all the corruption of sin in us and around us is sanctified, made holy.  Now, doing our good deeds in faith, they are no longer sins but true good deeds.  Now, although this world is still sinful and continues to harm us, the things we eat are nourishing our bodies and our souls.  Therefore we pray God to bless our food the same way we ask him forgiveness.  We pray it knowing that he provides, knowing that he opens his hand.  And so we have the blessing of food given by God, and the forgiveness of our sins, salvation of our souls, and new life in his Son.

Come now to us, Lord Jesus, and bless us with your presence.  Be a welcome guest at our table and in our lives.  Help us to realize that the gifts you give us of food and nourishment are truly blessings from you, as are the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of our eternal life after our death.  Bless these physical gifts also with your grace so that we may grow in our holiness and thankfulness to you.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

 Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.