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!’

Remember
me.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for their time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for winning, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for long service or high achievements and good performance, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award, yet receives such a gift anyway, it is a good picture of the way God’s kingdom is designed. His is a kingdom in which we receive the a full inheritance to which we were never entitled but has been won and gifted to us.

The generosity of Jesus’ kingdom is on full display in the encounter between the two robbers and Jesus. Each sentenced to death; one’s heart remains stone cold. The other’s heart is opened. The King of heaven and earth offering His life for the redemption of the world is both taunted and adored. In this sacred moment God reveals His offer to the whole world and how that offer is for all as well as for each of us individually.

The two criminals were equally near to Christ. Both of them saw and heard all that happened those hours that Jesus hung on the cross. One died in his sins, he died as he had lived, without repentance. The other repented and believed in Jesus. He saw the promise of His kingdom, called on Him for mercy, and went to Paradise.

It is interesting that Jesus responded directly to the thief that called out for mercy – Yes, I will remember you. You will be with Me in My kingdom this day. Jesus responds to us when we humble ourselves, when we recognize His rule over us. When we place Jesus on the throne, front and center of our lives, and give up our willfulness, we become co-heirs with the King. Notice that the criminal who repented placed Jesus on the throne; specifically mentioning ‘Your kingdom.’

It is even more telling that Jesus gave no response to the one who mocked and taunted Him. Some think that God is a punishing and vengeful power. Yet here we see God’s true nature. He does not curse, punish, or in any way does He respond to the one whose heart remains cold – who hates to the end. God gives Him every moment available to take the opportunity to repent, to place God front and center. Jesus’ offer of merciful opportunity is such a powerful gift

The Lord wants us all to recognize ourselves in this moment, to see the true nature of His kingship, to cry out too, “Jesus, remember me,” and to know He does. We receive a prize we have not won when Jesus is our King. We will be with Him in Paradise!

I give
up.

“You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Christians are oddball people. It took me quite awhile to figure that one out. They give up.

When I was young I used to read the prayers in the pew missal. There were all kinds of prayers – a prayer of confession. There were prayers to be said after receiving communion (something we find on pages 1-8 of our pew missal). A there was this prayer that really bothered me. A few lines from that prayer (attributed to Ignatius of Loyola):

“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess”

I said to myself – hold on – that cannot be right. Why would I give up those things? Didn’t God give me a will in the first place?

Frankly, this prayer confused and angered me. In those feelings I eventually found the source of my sin, and the source of all sin. It is our tendency to say ‘my way or the highway.’

Throughout biblical history God asked His people to surrender, to give up their will and to do His will. Again and again His people said no.

Jesus set before us the prime example of surrender as He prayed to His Father in the garden: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus agonized over surrender so much that He sweated drops of blood. Surrender is hard work. It requires intense warfare against our tendency to say no; to say ‘my will be done.’

Jesus asks us to do the hard work of surrender each day and today’s scripture exemplifies the level of surrender we are to have. It is extreme, it is powerful, and it is scary. It means saying yes to God and no to the world – even to family and friends. It means we may be hated or even killed.

If we surrender everything to God, if we choose – and we have to choose one way or the other – we rely on God to work things out. We stop trying to manipulate, plan, force our agenda, or control the situation. We no longer react to criticism or rush to defend ourselves. Our way of relating is changed. People are no longer the other. They are now before us. We are no longer self-serving but other serving. We let go and let God work. Instead of trying harder, we trust more.

Each day let us truly give up – giving all we have up to God. In that we will be victorious. As Revelation tells us: they have conquered because they loved not their lives even unto death.

What’s
next.

Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.

This week and next bring to an end the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. With these weeks we begin our expectation of the end times and Jesus’ return as our Lord and King. Today’s questions from the Sadducees get to the question of what happens after death and the essential truths of God’s kingdom.

The Roman historian of Jewish matters, Josephus, identified the Sadducees as being upper crust socially and economically. They had a great deal of political, social, and religious power. They believed that the soul was not immortal; that there was no afterlife, and that there were no rewards or penalties after death. They specifically rejected the resurrection of the dead.

It is ironic; the upper one percent denied any idea of hope or reward in the life to come. It sounds like something we might hear in this day and age. If you were the working poor, if you had nothing, you would receive nothing regardless of how faithful you might have been. Again, there is a distinct parallel to our present age. The rich Sadducees had no worries. They saw life as something they could enjoy to the fullest while the rest of the world suffered in despair.

Jesus came to set aside all such notions. He did not just attempt to set them aside. He destroyed this lack of hope with the authority and power of God.

If, like the Sadducees, our concern is about our power in this life and projecting that power into eternal life we fail to understand the purpose of the Kingdom of heaven. We fail to see essential hope that exists in God’s kingdom.

God’s kingdom is defined by life, not death. It transcends our senses and time. God’s kingdom – to which we are made heirs through Jesus – ends the base and immoral systems of domination and control that mar this life. God’s kingdom offers true rewards based on faith as well as our spiritual growth, loyalty of God’s way, and righteous living. God’s kingdom is limitless and eternal – our awaited home.

Hope does not regard today’s riches or defeats, power of lack thereof. As God’s children His rewards await us and we will enjoy them eternally. There will be many poor and lonely who will rule in God’s kingdom. The lordly and mighty men and women who ruled over institutions and nations and who, if they are lucky enough to even enter into the Kingdom of God, may get an apartment. This is what is next.

Jesus’
imperative.

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly for today I must stay at your house.”

We continue in our series of beautiful encounters with Jesus. Last week it was a parable meant to give people hope. Today, it is an actual encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus meant to exhibit Jesus’ missions’ imperative.

Jesus call to Zacchaeus, by definition, is in an imperative sentence. These are sentences that give instruction or that express a request or command. There are actually two imperatives in this sentence and we will get back to that.

First, let’s explore some of the finer details in this encounter.

Names matter in the Jewish world of the Bible. Each name, including Jesus’ Jewish name Yeshua carries with it particular meaning. A child was to grow into its name. Zacchaeus’ Hebrew name means the just one, righteous one, or pure one. How did someone with a name like that ever end up being a Chief Tax Collector – i.e., the chief sinner in Jericho?

The point is, it didn’t matter. Jesus sees what a person can become in Him, not what he or she was before His call. As bad as a person’s history might be, that is never a showstopper as to what a person can become in God’s Kingdom. In this encounter, Zacchaeus is the perfect name to dramatically illustrate God’s plan for him – that through Jesus he would become what he was meant to be. Jesus offers us the same.

This point is further illustrated in the fact that Zacchaeus could not help himself. He could not go to the Temple and offer sacrifice to be absolved of his many sins. Zacchaeus was seen as having willingly sold his soul to the Devil. He recruited others to also sell their souls. He was not only seen as responsible for his sins, but also for those of his fellow tax collectors. Because the rabbis declared that retribution was a prerequisite to being forgiven; by definition, Zacchaeus could not be forgiven. He had no way of repaying those he didn’t even know. Zacchaeus had no hope of ever getting right with God. We are sometimes convinced that we cannot get right with God. Yet Jesus comes to change that perspective.

The more we dig into context of this encounter, the more we marvel at how everything is there for a reason. Zacchaeus was a short person who climbed up into a sycamore tree. This Middle Eastern sycamore tree is very large, dense, and grows figs people cannot eat. These figs fall to the ground where the birds feed on them and leave their droppings in exchange. It was thus considered an “unclean” tree. Zacchaeus the unclean servant of evil climbed an unclean tree. He was complete in his uncleanness before the world. Yet Jesus calls him down using an imperative sentence.

“Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house.” This imperative is in two parts. One is to Zacchaeus himself – I have come to rescue you. I am rescuing you personally. I must do this. This is to show all people, every sinner who has lost hope, who has felt unredeemable, that I have come to rescue them personally.

Jesus Divine mandate is the relentless pursuit of the lost, the abandoned, and those who have lost hope. God’s “fullness of time” grace enters Zacchaeus’ life. The King of Glory has come to rescue yet another “lost sheep,” this one found in a sycamore tree!

For us, this encounter reveals the heart of the imperative the Father gave to Jesus; His mission and God’s purpose for the world. Now the time has come for all of us to walk out of our “no hope,” death row cell and become yet another “ex-con” mercifully ushered into the Kingdom of God.

Endless, joy filled,
hope.

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.”

This is one of those parables I refer to as the beautiful parables. They are a direct offer of hope. Today, and over the next two weeks Jesus offers His faithful special hope.

Hope is a verb; it is, as my high school teachers would say, an action word. It is something we engage in and do particularly as Christians. Hope is more than just desiring, longing, dreaming, or being optimistic. Hope is a confidence that what has been promised will in fact occur. It will happen. There is no might, or may, or maybe. As scripture tells us, it is yes and Amen. Jesus reminds us to let our confidence be known by our yes and no – really believing what we say is true because we are backed up by God Himself. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Assurance and conviction is that inward and outward steadfastness in what we know to be true.

Dr. David W. Orr, Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics writes that “Hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.”

The plain opposite of hope is despair. More than despair alone, it is the false illusion and confidence in things that cannot be backed up.

Do we trust in government? There is surely no promise there. Maybe there are some ideals (originally founded upon scripture), but still no guarantee. Do we trust in our good works alone? So many are deceived in thinking that good works are enough – that they will somehow be remembered and acclaimed beyond the memory of the next couple of generations. They are deceived for they sill be forgotten. None of these things are backed up by an everlasting promise.

Christian history is filled with the witness and words of those who had to face apparent hopelessness. They were confronted by war, poverty, personal failure and dreams unfulfilled, sickness, and death. We sit here in God’s presence and wonder whether we can hope, whether we dare hope and have confidence. Jesus answer to us is: Yes!

Christians who get this know that when they are down they will be raised up. They know that when they sin they will be forgiven. They know that nothing here and now is more powerful than what God has promised us. They simply know it – not so that they become arrogant but so that the hope they have might be spread through their joy. The tax collector found that joy.

Endless, joy filled hope is what God has given us in Jesus. It is for those who see in these beautiful parables the truth of His promises.