Hit the
road.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

Two weeks ago, we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. We then came face-to-face with our competitive natures and how we can turn them, use them, for God’s work, not to battle each other but to build up the Body of Christ. These are both aspects of preparation – getting us ready spiritually and mentally for our Lenten journey. Are we warmed up and ready? Are we ready to compete to build the Kingdom?

We now come to how we are to live day-to-day, the words of Jesus we need to make real going into Lent.

This is the hardest part of our preparation because it is where the fullness of the faith lived life confronts us hardest. Sure, we can warm up, we can feel our competitive instinct kicking in. I’m ready to go, but then the reality of the race confronts us head on. We begin to doubt again – but the road will be bumpy, I’ll get a pebble in my shoe, my muscles will be sore, the couch looks so much more comfortable.

The couch is that comfortable place that will eventually kill us. If we sit in our habitual sins, if we rest where we are, if our charity and love do not increase, we are just inviting that heart attack. The heart attack will be that final realization that we haven’t pushed ourselves enough, we haven’t gotten as close as we can to God’s ideal life.

Jesus illustrates the various cares and worries that keep us sitting on the couch. These are the things that weigh down on us – for His listeners it was clothing, food, drink, housing, and length of life. Some of these things may be our worry, but we can certainly substitute a lot of other stuff that bears on us while we sit on our couch.

In accepting Jesus as our salvation, we were regenerated and inherited a great promise. He now confronts us with what we have done with that salvation. Have we boxed it up, put it in our laps as we sat back down on the couch or have we put it all into action?

Warmed up and ready? Ready to compete to build the Kingdom? Sure – but ready is not enough. Now is the time to get off the couch, to take the pain, to accept it with joy. Faith in Jesus, acceptance of His promises requires us to hit the road, to go. The grace of Jesus is not a cushion for our pews but is that adrenaline we need to reject worry and do all needed to seek only the kingdom.

Donna Hanson Munafo had a vision several years ago to visit a different “church” each Sunday morning and then share her experiences. After each visit she posts her impressions and thoughts to her Church Journeys website. Donna’s passion and purpose is to edify and encourage area churches, help bring unity to the Body of Christ and give insight to those who have never been to a particular “church.”

Donna wrote a beautiful reflection based on her visit with us last Sunday.

Thank you for visiting our parish and for your beautiful work for the Kingdom.

Extraordinary
life.

So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

Last week we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. Getting ready to engage we now come face-to-face with the reality of competition.

We could categorize this time of year as the season of competition. A couple of weeks ago we watched football’s ultimate competition, the Super Bowl. That competition encompasses a time of preparation and training and a whole season of smaller competitions. This weekend is basketball’s All-Star game and all the competitive/show-off events that surround it. March madness is ahead and of course the various musical, stage, and movie award nights have taken over our televisions.

Throughout history people have enjoyed competition. Economists tell us that competition is an essential force in maintaining productive and efficient markets. Even the human quest for love is not free of competition. For most people, there is something compelling about competition. Perhaps that’s because, as some argue, “competitiveness” is a biological trait that supports the human need for survival.

In this season of competition, Paul asks us to check our competitiveness because life in Jesus is not a rivalry, trial, match, race, or struggle. It is a gift given and by grace we already own it. We own the whole promise of God. We can trust that God has placed us where He wants us, where we can make the most difference, while we rely on His grace. But what to do with our competitive nature? Do we deny it or pretend it doesn’t exist? Do we sublimate it? That wouldn’t last too long; only as far as the next time our favorite team plays or we go after that item that’s on sale and that everyone else wants.

Paul isn’t denying our competitive nature, or saying we should ignore it. The message is that we need to bring our lives – our physical and psychological selves, our gifts and competitiveness – into accord with the way life should be. This is the life the prophets proclaimed and that Jesus revealed. Our competitive nature is real and is to be used to glorify God and to build up His body.

But Pastor, how can we do that? How to make Jesus’ way real and tangible. How do I make competition work for good? Our visitors from Church Journeys did exactly that. They took Paul’s words to heart and have focused on ending the sorts of competition that separates the Body of Christ into the factions of Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world into a shared journey that builds up and glorifies what God is doing in our community, right here, right now.

As they have done, we need to set our competitive ambitions and energies on the very hard work Christians need to live (not just do). Stretched and ready, we need to take on those who would strike us by offering ourselves up as a complete sacrifice. For those who would seek our coat we need to hand over our wardrobe. For those who would demand a mile of us, we need to be ready to walk the entire journey with them. We need to use our competitive energy for a love that surpasses that of the world, a godly love that embraces enemies and persecutors.

Making Jesus’ way real and tangible requires we live the big above and beyond; our competitive instinct turning us from ordinary to extraordinary people taking all that belongs to us and competing to “be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect.”

Stretch
out.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Health and exercise experts advise us to stretch before exercising – in other words to prepare before doing.

The benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Websites and exercise books list myriad benefits derived from stretching including: Stretching encourages an optimistic outlook; Improves our posture; Enables flexibility; Increases stamina; Decreases the risk of injury; Gives us more energy; Promotes blood circulation; Improves performance; Reduced soreness; and Reduces cholesterol.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of preparation – a time for stretching. The Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey so that our Lenten workout will pay off.

Athletes would attest that failure to stretch before getting into the game will almost certainly result in injury. So it is with our Lenten journey. Will we go into Lent without having prepared? Will we wonder somewhere around the fourth Sunday in Lent – Am I getting anything out of this? Has my prayer life, charity, evangelization, sacrifice, repentance, or forgiveness increased or am I in the same place I was on January 1st? Have I improved?

Stretching for God results in the same good that athletes get. Our outlook becomes more optimistic because we get a better picture of God’s mercy. We see the beauty of what He has done for us, of His promise, much more clearly and we become joyful in that knowledge. Our spiritual posture improves – we begin to carry ourselves as people of faith in all that we do. We become more flexible – not in terms of accepting sin or saying that it is ok, acceptable, allowable, or a choice – but in removing judgmentalism and replacing it with compassion. Our spiritual stamina increases – we can pray, read scripture, and do good works longer and without distraction. Best of all, our preparation, our stretching decreases the risk of self-injury. We learn to turn away from sin, to stop harming ourselves and others by our sinful action or inaction, by our words or by our failure to speak God’s truth.

Will our blood pressure and cholesterol improve this Lent? While scientific studies differ on the benefits of spiritual practice, we do know that if we sacrifice and avoid temptation then our spiritual and physical health will improve.

Sirach reminds us that by stretching out to God we will be saved. Now is the time to renew our stretching out to salvation.

Stop being
bland.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

We all face the challenge of blandness. We get bored, complacent, and just don’t have the energy we used to. It certainly isn’t an age thing, for it happens no matter our age.

It happens in our relationship with God. A friend once told me that he gave up going to church because he’d heard it all before. There was no new sermon, was no new inspiration, the same platitudes got trotted out season after season, year after year.

We crave stimulation and newness for very healthy reasons. If we do not receive proper stimulation, boredom creeps in. When boredom is left unchecked, disgust forms and leads us into cynicism, anger, and distrust. Unchecked boredom is a red flag. This red flag can result in two outcomes.

The red flag can cause us to go off the rails; lead us to reinventing God. Boredom becomes license to add to and change God’s teaching, or to turn God from what He is into a false image created to satisfy and justify our sinful desires. This is damaging Christianity.

On the other hand, we can use this red flag as God intended. It should drive us to dig deeper, to invent anew, and to be creative. Digging deeper, creativity, and newness are hallmarks of healthy Christianity.

If we are feeling bored with the Jesus we think we know, we need to dig deeper. Read and study more – find that aspect in His eternal and infinite perfection that we haven’t plumbed yet. Learn and enter contemplative prayer. We could spend an entire lifetime and still not grasp everything in just one aspect of God’s life. We won’t get bored doing this.

If we are getting bland in our practice of Christianity, let us resolve to add something new to the life of the Church. A new ministry? An added form of prayer? Lead a bible study in our homes or at work. Gather a focused prayer circle to pray for those who have struggles in our parish family. Make it fun, interesting, and new. In the process, we share our faith with new people and expand our family.

Let us get creative. Let us work together to do exactly what God commanded through Isaiah: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Because then our light shall break forth like the dawn, and any wound shall quickly be healed.

When we end blandness, when we make a new and creative difference, the glory of the Lord dwells with us and our light shines.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Christians, in attempting to understand the tremendous nature of God, Who sent and sacrificed Himself out of love for us, adopted the Greek word agape to describe God’s love for us and how our love is to be. Agape is love that is universal, unconditional and extraordinary. Agape its stronger than circumstances… We are invited to accept God’s real love and to let it envelop us. Accepting His love we are overcome by its unconditional nature. We move from saying, ‘How can He love me.’ to swimming in the sea of His tremendous love, letting it draw us in, allowing it to refresh and renew us and finally allowing it to become agape love in action in our lives.

Join us as we move from the season of Christmas into the Pre-Lenten season. Check out all the great events we have planned for the month ahead, find some beautiful prayers, reflect on the true meaning of stewardship, and so much more.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2017 Newsletter right here.

Starting and ending
with Jesus.

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Imagine a world in which some criminal, a reactionary and revolutionary becomes everyone’s hope. Imagine a world in which being foolish, weak, lowly and despised is more powerful than power.

Paul was telling the people of Corinth to be focused on Someone and something the world saw as completely absurd. A criminal in the world’s eyes was crucified and had become the center of their faith. Jesus – Who the Jews saw as a stumbling block and Who the Gentiles saw as foolish – was their means of salvation. In fact, Jesus specifically called them, chose them – the lowly of the world – into the fullness of salvation and victory. Can we be foolish enough to get there?

Around 300 a philosopher explained that Christian “simplicity” attracted people. It is a fact of human history that power and strength and its benefits are limited to a few. The power of the strong and their cruelties make us question whether their way is our goal and hope or is it a corruption of what life was designed to be.

Jesus’ life calls us to question what is important. It helps us to realize that we, the foolish, weak, lowly and despised, are chosen and worthy of God. Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension calls us to realize that all He said and did was meant to raise up our everlasting status and to make us His coheirs – that’s real power.

Like us, the Corinthians probably doubted. Worldly power and status is powerfully attractive. Yet there they were, none of them powerful or aristocratic. Paul reminds them that the real victory in not being “all that.”

God’s way is to choose those of apparently little account to show the apparently important that they are wrong, to “shame” them. It is a paradox with a beautiful outcome. Instead of choosing learned, perfect, and proud figures to bring about the greatest good; God chooses the small, imperfect and weak. It that, God works the most beautiful of miracles. He does away with boasting so that His faithful might place their boast and receive their power from Him alone.

God asks that we grasp the real power that comes from boasting in Him. We are to rejoice in our simplicity and rely completely on the One who gives us real power. Seeing Him as our beginning and ending leads us into becoming His blessed, His coheirs, the receivers of His real power.

Love to
completion.

I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.

Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Mr Jinks is an orange tuxedo cat. Mr. Jinks was always outfoxed by Pixie and Dixie, the mice. Mr. Jinks trademark line was, “I hates those meeces to pieces!”

Reading today’s Epistle, we could easily imagine all sorts of Christians saying the same thing about other Christians. “I hate those _________ to pieces!” What we fail to recognize is that saying things like that ends up as I want Jesus in pieces.

We have a centuries long legacy of that which Paul warned against, people choosing Church leaders over the Lord. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.”

Paul words show a hint of weariness and frustration. The Church, just a few decades old, was descending into factionalism. Yet Paul’s love and devotion to this quarrelsome community would not let him stand by. He understood that the sinful side of human nature eventually reveals itself. The brokenness of our human condition causes all manner of brokenness in the flock.

Church leaders can behave unethically and inappropriately. Parishioners can turn into a pack of church-going coyotes attacking the weak and vulnerable in their midst. Pastors burn out and leave ministry. Parish Committee members become disillusioned by the dark underbelly of the church world or by grabs for power and control. Children of church workers see this and decide that organized religion is hypocritical and vile. We’ve all seen the fallout from trying to follow the call of Christ in a wounded and difficult world.

“Follow me,” Jesus says to the fisherman by the Sea, “and I will make you fish for people.” Those fishermen knew that fishing is dangerous business and hard work. Did they think fishing for people would be any less? And yet they immediately dropped everything and followed Jesus.

We have been called to follow and disciple for Jesus. He believes each of us is worthy. We all have our story of how Jesus called us into discipleship. Whatever expression our call takes it is not going to be an easy journey but will be one of great reward. Yes, we are called. We are called into discipleship that does not hate or divide into pieces. We are called to make the Holy Name of Jesus known; to magnify Him above all else. We are called to live in real agreement with all who proclaim Jesus – loving all in Jesus to completeness.

Look!
Jesus!

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

I saw a cute little poster. Kermit the Frog is drinking tea and reflecting: ‘You slow down when you see the police but you don’t stop sinning even though God is watching.’ It makes me think of exactly how scared I was as a kid when I heard that God saw and knew everything.

Of course, now I know better. Certainly, God is all knowing, He sees everything – but He sees us through a kind of rose colored glasses – He sees us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus who gave Himself for us. If I have placed my faith in Him, all my sins have been washed away and I need no longer fear. As the hymn proclaims: ‘Grace, my fears relieved. The hour I first believed.’

The one error we fall into as people freed by grace is to maintain a two-plane view of our relationship with God. He is ‘up there.’ We are ‘down here.’ We do stuff here; He watches from there.

Having a two-plane view of our relationship with God sets Him apart from us. As Kermit surmises in the poster, we see the police and slow down. We fail to see God’s near presence in our lives, our workplaces, and our community because we do not believe He is with us, near us.

The changes we are called to make begin with our breaking down separateness from God.

Indeed, Jesus came into the world to demonstrate God’s desire to be with us. He did not leave us alone and apart, but sent His Holy Spirit to live with us, advise us, and to fill our lives with grace as we encounter Him in sacrament and community. We are called to break free of our two-plane view and live closely with God – as St. John tells us, walking with Him ‘in the Spirit and in truth.

The next step moves us from concept and thought. We must decide how we will see God – Is He apart or near? This is where the rubber-hits-the-road. If God is on another plane and apart from us, we may choose to live just as we live, disconnected from Him, not seeing Him. But if He is with us, part of every aspect of our lives, not just watching, but involved here and now, then we must take John the Baptist’s observation seriously. John pointed to Jesus saying ‘Behold!’

If we believe that He is with us, we are called to point to Him just as John did. We are called to bring clarity where there is doubt and to make Him completely real – on the same plane – as those we encounter. That happens when people recognize Jesus in their midst when they recognize His very real presence. That happens when they see the face of Jesus in our faces and feel His touch in our work – when the light goes on and they say, ‘Look! Jesus!’

Hurry
up.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste

Reflecting on this team of shepherds we see some amazing things happening.

For the shepherds, their meeting an angel and seeing the whole heavenly host would be amazing enough. Hearing that the Messiah had been born – for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah – represents a promise that had become a dream that for them had now been fulfilled. Amazing to have one’s dreams fulfilled in an instant.

We have several choices when we encounter something amazing. We might stand there with our mouth open. We might jump for joy. We might, after the initial shock, begin to question whether it was real. Would we leave everything, would we abandon our entire life, for that amazing thing?

Throughout faith history we encounter amazing things happening. An elderly barren couple becomes the progenitors of God’s chose people. The people of Israel, enslaved, are freed. Judges are chosen to lead the people against enemies that vastly outnumber them. A youngest son, a shepherd, is anointed king.

In Jesus’ coming those amazing things are magnified. The deaf will hear. The poor will have the good news preached to them. The dead will be raised.

On this Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds the amazing teaches us an important lesson.

Among the amazing things that happened that morning was the fact that the shepherds left their herds. They abandoned their herds, their means of livelihood and hurried toward Bethlehem “to see this thing that has happened, which the Lord made known to them.”

This is the same thing that was to happen thirty years later along the shores of lake of Gennes’aret. Men would leave their livelihood; abandon their families and boats to follow Jesus.

Let us reflect on our faith journey, that moment we finally recognized the power of accepting Jesus and placing our faith in Him. In that the amazing became real for us.

Following Christ goes far beyond just believing certain things about God. It is more than intellectual endeavor. It comes down to our willingness to be part of the amazing and to do the amazing because our lives have been changed by God’s agenda for us.

By God’s grace, the shepherds left their flocks; the apostles dropped their nets. What are we to do? Our call is to hurry up in leaving the old self behind and join with Jesus in living amazing grace filled lives.