Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent 2014

Countdown

What’s on your
clock?

Jesus said to his disciples: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Many of us have heard of some of the most well know timekeepers. There is Big Ben in London and the ball that drops at Times Square on New Year’s Eve in New York City. Both are symbols of the passing of time. The United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. operates the master atomic clock ensemble which provides the time standard for the Department of Defense. FOCS 1, an atomic clock in Switzerland, started operating in 2004. It looses only one second every 30 million years. The Doomsday Clock at the University of Chicago is a symbolic clock face that represents a countdown to possible political related global catastrophe (a nuclear war or irreversible climate change). The closer the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster. We are also in the midst of a whole group of sports seasons – football, basketball, and hockey. The clock at the top of our bulletin represents the last ten minutes of the game.

What’s missing? Of course, the score! Who’s winning? That is a question we tend to ask as time draws down. Who is winning, we even ask that in our lives as time draws down. Have I won, am I winning?

That should be a question Christians avoid. If we are focused on our successes and failures, the winning and losing of everyday life, we aren’t responding to Jesus’ call, we missed His request of us. If we aren’t much concerned with success, but are just allowing time to pass, biding our time in quiet, waiting for time to run out, we aren’t responding to Jesus’ call, we missed His request of us. Jesus tells us: He has placed His servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.

Advent is the season of the year that we should be taking account of our watchfulness, how we have responded to the Lord’s call. Are we at work for Him? We should use this time to redouble our efforts to be about our Master’s work, not our personal wins and losses.

All of the world’s timekeepers keep running, whether they are symbolic of the passing of time, predictive of the end of our times, or scientific instruments measuring its passage. We are always in the countdown period and our Lord’s return is near. What ends up on our clock will not be wins or losses, but how well we have responded to Him.

Now Thank We…

As I reflect this special day, I cannot help but give thanks to God for our beautiful family in the faith right here in Schenectady. I have been so blessed to minister to all of you and our wider community. I wish on this day that many more may find the Lord — come to know, love, and serve Him — among us so that they too would know the same joy that fills my heart.

thanksgiving-give-thanks4

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.

Now Thank We All Our God
Text: Martin Rinkart; Trans. by Catherine Winkworth
Music: Johann Cruger; Harm. by Felix Mendelssohn

Reflection for the Solemnity of Christ the King 2014

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The best life
can be.

I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal

Why did Jesus come to us? Why would the eternal Son of the Father give up the glory of heaven, His absolute power and Kingship to walk among us as a man, subject to all the temptations, pains, suffering, and sorrows we so often face as human beings?

Love! God’s answer to us is always love. He came so we would know exactly how much He, as God, loves us. He came to give us the promise only love could give: I love you so much that I am willing to give it all up. I am willing to empty Myself of everything and lay My life on the line, so you could have the promise of love – a life that will never end, in perfect joy and peace, with me in heaven. If I do not give up my life for you, you could never enter into heaven. Now you can, because I loved you enough to do all that for you.

This presents us with a challenge. How can we possibly respond to this enormous love? Our response is contained in the picture at the top of our bulletin: by making the rest of our life the best of our life. What does it mean to have the best life? Is it gathering goods, focusing on our personal successes, being satisfied in what we have and our pleasures? No, not at all! Making the rest of our life the best of our life means being changed, that we allow ourselves to be changed by the love of God and to be about the business of love.

To be engaged in the business of love starts with making love known. Jesus points out many ways we can do this: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

Of course, those are means – but what’s the point? These actions only make sense, make a point, if they are the means by which we bring knowledge of Jesus’ love to others and help them enter His love. We use human means to make Jesus known and as an invitation. This includes our charity, words and the way we act toward others. Making Jesus known and inviting others into His love is the point, the basis, of every Christian’s life. It is the way we make the rest of our life the best of our life. It is the way we carry out His work and help people into the Kingdom. To make the rest of our life the best of our life let’s set to work in helping people know how good and loving God is. The world is missing His love. Let us help them partake of His love.

Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2014

parable-of-the-talents

What is our
return on investment?

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

So a person walks up to one of us and gives us a bunch of money and says, go do something with it. Now let’s add to the scenario – this individual is someone we know and we know they can be really demanding. What do we do?

None of us may believe we are particularly shrewd or great investors. We may have worked for others all our lives, or we worked in the home. We have never run a business. What do we do?

Let’s add one more fact to this scene – the money this individual gives us is incredible – literally more than we could make in a lifetime. What would we do?

This is the situation Jesus was describing. A talent, as a unit of money, was the largest unit of currency at the time. Some calculate the talent in the parables to be equivalent to 20 years of wages for the common worker. Today, in New York, this would represent twenty times $63,000, which is average yearly wage paid in our state. One talent would be worth $1.3 million. If we had ten, we would have $13 million. What would we do?

God has invested richly in us, a value we cannot calculate or even estimate. He invested His life, suffering, and death for our salvation. He paid more than any money could measure and says to us: ‘Here is my investment in you, go do something with it.’ He also told us that He is coming back to see what we have done with His investment in us.

Certainly the servants who doubled the investment were welcomed. They received even more because they were profitable (a 100% return isn’t bad). The servant with ten talents came back with twenty (that’s $26 million to us). But, was it enough? Christians are called to measure their return on investment by Jesus’ standards.

Certainty, the servant who receives all of Jesus’ treasure and buries Him in the ground, ignoring Him and who returns nothing, is unprofitable, distanced from Jesus by his or her own choices and decisions.

For the rest of us, who are faithful and profitable, let us consider what we can do to up our return on investment. Can we return 200%, 300%, or more? It isn’t even hard – bringing a friend to church. 1 friend = a 100% return. That is worth eternity for both of you.

Reflection for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 2014

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Living a life
prepared.

For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words.

As we discussed last week, the Thessalonians accepted the Word and were faithful to it. They modeled what it means to be Jesus’ Church working in such a way as to advance the cause of the gospel in their lives and the lives of others.

They did have one concern. It was common in the early Church to believe that Jesus would return quickly and that all believers would be there to greet Him. They began to worry because, of course, some had died. They wondered whether their loved ones had done something wrong. They thought that those who had fallen asleep would not be there to meet the Lord. Paul set out to clarify that both those who were still alive and those who had fallen asleep would both be there on that wonderful day. Paul told them to hold onto that hope: For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

We are like the Thessalonians. Centuries have gone by and we begin to think – when will Jesus come? Will it be soon or in the distant future? Furthermore, Jesus is telling us that we always have to be ready, that we must be prepared: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

The last few weeks of Ordinary Time focus on the last things, on preparation. What does it mean for us to be prepared? How do we keep our lamps filled with oil and the flame burning?

Make no mistake, Jesus is coming again. When you look at our parish church you see the altar facing liturgical east. Why? Because that is the direction from which Jesus Christ will return in glory with the rising of the eternal Sun. We worship and pray in a way that shows our preparedness, facing the east, waiting for Him.

In our parish life we receive the sacraments that strengthen us and prepare us. We fill up our “oil stocks” with the gifts of grace – forgiveness of sins, the body and blood of our Lord. We encourage each other in reforming our lives, serving others not out of obligation, but out of joy, for we want them to experience the love of Christ. We invite others to come and worship, to be baptized and to believe so that they too may meet the Lord with lit lamps. What more must we do? The key to being prepared is to reject focus on our trials, to live, even when we suffer, with eyes focused on Jesus’ return.

Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Thess_2

Living the model
Church

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. And we also thank God constantly for this.

What is the model Church? Paul’s letter to the Church at Thessalonica gives us some clues of what it means to live the model Church, to be part of it, to live lives as models of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

This weekend also presents us with a vision of what will happen for those who have modeled discipleship in the model Church – they will become saints.

A model is an ideal. It may be a model practice, a model process – it is the best way of going about something so to reach success. In business we might see model sales practices or model accountability processes.

So what does it mean to be model Christians in the model Church? As mentioned, Paul gave us some clues.

To live model lives of discipleship in the model Church we must allow the Gospel to make an impact on our lives as it did on the Thessalonians. They received and lived the Gospel faithfully and Paul had praised them for it. If we take up their model practices we will live faithfully, labor diligently, and remain steadfast in the love of the Lord. We will be fully convicted of the absolute truth of Jesus’ way of life. We will imitate the lives of the saints. We will receive and proclaim God’s way of life – the Gospel – even in the face of much suffering and opposition because our true joy is in the Holy Spirit and the promise of everlasting life (something we particularly remember all of November). The model Church proclaims and teaches all these things, is godly in its conduct, and has its sole focus on leading people to God’s truth, in no way ‘watering it down.’

Paul himself lived a model life – calling non-believers to the faith, being gentle in teaching those new to the faith, working hard, not making a burden of himself, and boldly proclaiming the Gospel – never being ashamed of it; fully trusting in the Holy Spirit.

God has placed opportunity all around us. We meet people and are called to model Christ to them, to share the true faith, and to welcome them into faith. We are to work hard and even suffer by being counter-cultural – saying no to the sin of ‘everything goes.’ True and eternal freedom comes through Jesus, and faithfulness to Him. Model discipleship in the model Church, sainthood, calls us to live and work in such a way as to advance the cause of the gospel in our lives and the lives of others. We receive the word of God… accept it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God. And, we put it to work.

Reflection for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Jesus-Justice

We must do
justice!

Thus says the LORD: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate.”

When we think of the Old Testament, what is the first thought that comes to mind? For some it is the personalities – Adam, Even, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Ruth, Esther, Isaiah and the prophets. For some, it is the journeys – the exodus and journey to the Promised Land, the exiles, and the returns to Jerusalem.

For others, the Old Testament is filled with judgment, war, betrayal, and hard laws. Some point to the many slaughters that took place and even question how God could condone such things.

Regardless of perspective, what most fail to recognize is that the Old Testament is replete with God’s call to justice. He continually called His people to do justice to their own and to those who were foreigners. His prophets continually called the rulers and people to recall justice and put aside injustice. Micah spoke to the rulers and priests saying: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Is it not for you to know justice?

A really quick reference review indicates 212 biblical verses about justice; another 22 refer to acting justly.

Jesus came to offer humanity the fullness of God’s promise, to complete the law of the Old Testament. He came not to act as an opponent of the law. His goal was not to prevent its fulfillment. Rather, He revered it, loved it, obeyed it, and brought it to fruition. He fulfilled God’s call to perfect obedience and in obedience He acted with perfect justice. He calls us to live the very same justice. “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we recognize His command as perfect. Like Him, we must know and do justice. To do justice we must first and foremost recognize the inherent human dignity of each person and do nothing to diminish it, to steal it, or hurt it. By actions and work our parish family builds human dignity. As we do here, we must do every day in our homes, work, and leisure.

Reflection for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and Heritage Sunday

rendertocaesar

What is it we
worship?

Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today our Holy Church calls us to recall and honor the heritage of our members and of all people. It is a celebration of who we are as people — the gifts God has given us. More importantly, the Church calls us to properly order what is most important in our lives.

Whether our ancestors came to this country as immigrants, as indentured servants or involuntarily as slaves – we are called to honor their heritage and innate human dignity. We are to remember the struggles they faced and the battles they fought to grasp the freedom, honor, and dignity they and we are all entitled to. Where we come from is important because it is a part of who we are. Each culture and heritage enriches our common life and we share in each other’s heritage as members of God’s family.

The early Church recognized the gifts the faithful brought to the Church. Most importantly, it recognized that in Jesus Christ we all have equal membership in the one family of faith regardless of background. Heritage is a gift to be shared in the one family of faith. Thus, St. Paul reminded the Church at Galatia: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

While we honor each person’s heritage, we must remember that in Jesus we are equal members in His family and that we are called to properly order what we worship.

What does that mean? It means that while we honor heritage and the gifts of each nation we must not make heritage or nation an object of worship.

Jesus is reminding the Pharisees of this proper ordering. Our first and foremost obligation is to give to God what is God’s. When we let anything interfere with the proper ordering of our relationship with Him – politics, national affinity, or heritage – when we quibble over this or that being most important, we lose touch with that which must come first in our lives.

Jesus’ response to His questioners offers us a guide to properly ordering our worship. The Roman coin – Caesar’s – referred to him as a god. Jesus reminded them (and us) that we cannot give worship to both God and Caesar. We have to choose our focus of worship and properly order our priorities. We should chose only God as the sole focus of our devotion and worship. By placing Him first we clearly proclaim that He alone is our God.

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Christian Family 2014

2263

God bless our
family.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

In the time of advance technology and information, our families are almost continually confronted by bad influences and polluting information. One of the worst influences is that of so called atheists who claim there is no God, and who reject the salvation He offered to mankind in His Son, Jesus.

An atheist might say that God is nothing more than a mythical figure, made up in our imaginations to allay our fears and insecurities.

In a way they are correct. If we, as Christians, were to understand God as a mythical figure, a distant and powerful being that acts only as an occasional wish-giver, we would be without faith and understanding. We would be worshiping and following a false and fake god. Our God is very much different.

Our God is relational, and our understanding of Him is relational. This is His ultimate reality – the binding together of all of us in relationship to Him and each other.

God’s very character starts in relationship – the inter-relatedness and unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From that source relationship, He created us as a people desiring relationship – with Him and with each other. In coming to save us, Jesus did not just show up. He was born into family – into relationship, and throughout His life on earth He continued to build relationship.

In rejecting God, people reject the true source of relationship and the understanding that relationships, especially within family are truly blessed, are very good.

As the Creator and Builder, God set forth the family as the first and finest example of relationship. Within the Christian family we learn to love, honor, and respect others and to go on to further build relationship. It is there that our desire for relationship with God is nurtured. It is in the context of family that we become heirs to Jesus’ promises. We are brought into the family of faith, and we receive the promise of everlasting life in relationship with God and each other. In the nurture of family we learn to become like our God Who is defined in relationship.

Within the Christian family, at home and in our Church, we find God’s blessing and true life. We find how connected we are to God and to everyone who is in Him. We are blessed.

Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Isaiah 5 1-7

Help me to remain
faithful.

Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Today’s readings from Isaiah and from the gospel are cautionary. We need to take heed of their many lessons, but most especially the need to remain faithful to God’s call to live His way of life, to become more and more like Him, and to bear good fruit.

Both Isaiah and the gospel use analogy and parable to show what God had done for Israel. They also show that rejecting faithfulness will never lead to triumph.

The vineyard, hedge, wall, tower, and winepress represent God’s work at building Israel. He brought it all it needed to be beautiful, sweet, and successful. He protected it by His strong arm. He gave it kings to lead it, and prophets to reform it. He looked for its people to live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness.

Jesus makes plain that the landowner, that is God, in His care for us does not require any works on our part to come to faithfulness. He does all the work (plants, hedges, digs, and builds) so that we might freely give ourselves over to Him in an act of faith. He wants us to take up His work in the world and asks us to commit to it. If we live faithfully, we will build upon what Jesus has taught. He will be the true cornerstone for our lives.

The importance of faithfulness is made clear by the absence of that faithfulness in Israel despite God continued call and presence. God’s first chosen refused to be faithful. They brought forth “wild grapes.” This doesn’t just mean sour grapes – but grapes that are poisonous, offensive, noxious, and deadly. A life without faithfulness is empty and spiritually dead.

So, we see the two extremes. One is total faithlessness, the other faithfulness. We know that our life is a mix of the two. We fall from time to time in sin. The key aspect is that we recognize what Jesus calls us to do. When we loose our faithfulness, we must re-recognize His generosity towards us. We must recall that God never abandons us, but rather continuously offers us another chance. As God did for Israel He does for us. He calls us back, to recognize His faithfulness towards us. He helps us, by His grace to be faithful. Will we live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness, or will we reject Him completely and end up spiritually dead?

We must continue to work at our faithfulness, to recall our commitment to Him.