Forgive the Church, Forgive me

I must confess.  I have been angry at the church this last year.  Angry that a church that proclaims that Jesus Christ is present each Sunday in the Eucharist, that guilts us into going each Sunday (and putting money in the offertory) to be with Him, closes its doors at the first sign of a pandemic.   Angry that a church replaces the real presence of Jesus with a streaming video of the priest continuing to enjoy His presence.  Angry that when the world needs God the most, the church locked its doors.  Angry that when we returned, holy water was replaced with antibacterial hand sanitizer. 

I blamed the church for my own sin, my own fear, my own distrust.

No more!  The Church is made up of humans, just like me.  And we fail.  All the time.  Jesus reached out to the sick, he touched the lepers. He doesn’t shy away from illness or close His doors or require us to wear a mask.  He welcomes us with open arms when we are sick and when we are well.  He kisses us, embraces us, and pulls us closer.  Jesus isn’t afraid of death because he has overcome it.  As much as our church proclaims this, our church is still full of humans who doubt, who fear, who are more afraid of a virus and death, than separation from our Lord.  No more! 

The Book of Revelation has always confused (and scared) me – but today it sheds some light:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

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I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and to it the kings of the earth will bring their treasure. During the day its gates will never be shut, and there will be no night there. The treasure and wealth of the nations will be brought there, but nothing unclean will enter it, nor any[one] who does abominable things or tells lies. Only those will enter whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:1-8, 22-27

There is no church building in heaven.  There is no need for one.  We fool ourselves into thinking that God is only in the building or that we can only pray and talk to Him there.  Or that we need priests or ministers.  We need God.  The church and its priests and ministers are helpful, because there is strength in numbers.  We need reminders of God’s presence.  We need help fighting off the distractions of every day life.  But our goal is not to be great in church. Our goal is not to have a great relationship with the church. Our goal is to have a great relationship with God.  Because the church closed its doors, I developed a closer relationship with God.  I discovered that although the church may be helpful, ultimately it is my personal relationship with God that is important, and He isn’t satisfied with a box being checked an hour a week, He doesn’t reward perfect attendance or hand out participation trophies.  He wants me all in.  He wants me to want to be with Him.  (Who would want to spend eternity with someone who didn’t want to be there.)

Lord, I want to be present with you for all eternity.  I want to be present with you every day here on earth as well.  Help me to focus on you whether I am in a church building, in my home or out in the world.  I want to embrace your presence wherever I go. I want the spring of your life-giving water to course through my veins. Lord, forgive the church and its leaders for being human, for having doubt, for being afraid, for cowering to the pressures of the world instead of standing steadfast in You and help me to forgive them too.  Father, forgive me for my own doubts and fear and the many times that I too cower to the pressures of the human world.  Forgive me for blaming the church when I am responsible for my relationship with you. Help me to remain steadfast in your love, your word and your glory.  Guide the church and me to do your will, not the will of those around us.  I know that your plan is far greater.  I know that I don’t need to be afraid.  I trust in you.

Are We in a Time of Persecution?

I remember, as a child, learning about the early Christians who were persecuted for their faith and nevertheless stood steadfast and strong in God.  I remember feeling jealous because the early Christians had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution.  Growing up Catholic in a Catholic community, at a time when stores and businesses were still closed on Sundays, when religion appeared to be a part of everyone’s life and the country still appeared to trust in God, I thought the days of Christians being persecuted were long gone.  How wrong I was.  I am no longer jealous of the early Christians  because they had the opportunity to show their faith in the face of persecution (unfortunately, I think that opportunity is now more widely available), now I am jealous because the early Christians had the strength to remain strong in the face of persecution.

Tonight the Bible opened to Maccabees.  At the time, the Jews were being persecuted.  But one man, Mattathias stood strong:

The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them sacrifice.  Many of Israel joined them, but Mattathias and his sons drew together.  Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias: “You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city, supported by sons and kindred.  Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command, as all the Gentiles and Judeans and those who are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends, and you and your sons shall be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered in a loud voice: “Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him, so that they forsake the religion of their ancestors and consent to the king’s orders, yet I and my sons and my kindred will keep to the covenant of our ancestors.  Heaven forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments. We will not obey the words of the king by departing from our religion in the slightest degree.”

1 Maccabees 2:15-22

Throughout the ages, humans have been persecuted for following God.  Upon his death, Mattathias told his sons:

And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in Heaven shall fail in strength.

Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.

Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be honored.

1 Maccabees 2:61-64

These words struck me: “Do not fear the words of sinners, for their glory ends in corruption and worms.  Today exalted, tomorrow not to be found, they have returned to dust, their schemes have perished.”   A little bit more powerful than the old sticks and stones saying.

If we believe in God…  If we hope in God and the promise of eternal life…  Why do we allow the words of sinners, or the pressure of their earthly glory to get to us?  When we do, we show our weakness, we show our doubt, we show our fear.  Do we doubt God’s promises?  Do we doubt God’s existence?  NO!  We can be strong knowing that no matter the persecution here on earth, no matter the hurtful words of sinners or earthly promises they may make, their glory is fleeting, and ends in corruption and worms.  Our glory is eternal (and worm-free).  Our glory is with God.

None who hope in heaven shall fail in strength.

God,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my faith in the face of persecution.  Help me to be strong in my faith.  Help me to be courageous and steadfast, whether I am surrounded by sinners or your faithful followers. Help me to cast my weakness, doubt and fear away, so that true knowledge can fill their place.  True knowledge of your love and your promise of everlasting life.

 

Janet’s Joy

Today, I went to a funeral service for Janet, the mother of a friend and a faithful servant to God.  I was lucky enough to meet Janet and to speak with her on a few occasions.   On one such occasion she shared her love of God with me and she shared this verse:

Yet even now—oracle of the LORD—return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.

Joel 2:12-13

She shared this with me when I was questioning whether God was the God of the Old Testament (who often seems angry and maybe even mean) or the God of the New Testament (who seems to be all about love).  Janet cited this verse to assure me that God was the same throughout time — all about love.

Return to me with your whole heart, He tells us.  No matter what we have done.  No matter where we are.  God invites us to return to Him.  He tells us to rend our hearts, not our garments and return to Him.    Sometimes our hearts and minds are fixed on something other than God.  Rend your heart, fast, weep, mourn and return to God.  I think sometimes we are afraid to make the change necessary to return our hearts to God.   It needs to be a conscious decision.  We need to fast and cleanse our body, weep and cleanse our inner spirit, mourn and say goodbye to something in our life.  We change our heart, change our life and follow God.  And the good part is…  He will take us back.  He is gracious and merciful.  He is slow to anger.  Look around at the world.  He has lots to be angry with.  But He still loves us, all of us!  He is abounding in steadfast love.  That is my favorite part.  Abounding in steadfast love.  God is love (Old Testament or New Testament — He is love).

And He is constantly calling us to Him.

Janet’s body is now returning to God, but I believe her heart, her whole heart, has long been with God.

God,

Thank you for your abounding and steadfast love.  Show me how to share the same with others.  I am sorry for the times I turn away.  Help me to rend my heart.  Help me to return to you whenever I turn away.

(And God, thank you for Janet.  No matter her struggle she remained steadfast in you.  Welcome her into your kingdom.  We will miss her here, but know that she is finding everlasting joy in you.)