Let’s get
dressed.

But when the king came in to meet the guests, he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’

John Wooden was a basketball player and later head basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles. He won ten national championships His teams won a record 88 consecutive games. He had his choice of players. The players UCLA recruited were the best of the best, having been part of winning successful teams. When these star players showed up for the first day of practice, Coach Wooden sat them down and very patiently taught them how to put on their socks and shoes. He got down to basics, telling them that if they get their socks on wrong, with a crease or fold in the wrong place, it would harm the team. He taught them to double tie their shoes so that they could play on, not leaving their team without their presence.

As Christians, we need to get down to basics, and Jesus reminds us of that today. We have to take time to remind ourselves of basic Christian responsibilities, to prepare ourselves so we show up well presented at the King’s feast. Let’s cover a few of the ways we should prepare ourselves.

In the early Church, some believers thought that one of the gifts of the Spirit, the ability to speak in tongues, was particularly special. They often flaunted that ability and saw it as a point of pride. St. Paul was quick to correct them. He criticized them because their everyday words were ruining the unity that Christians ought to have. He said: “Some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you. Your meetings do more harm than good.” It came down to this – they couldn’t control their own tongues. They used the words they knew from birth to gossip, slander, and to create disunity. What did the Spirit gift of speaking in tongues matter if they could not control their own tongue? No Spirit gift is more important than the Christian love and the respect they were to show for each other. We all are tempted especially when there are stresses, and we try to figure it all out. We continue to face the challenges the early Church faced. Getting ready, preparing for the King’s feast, includes our dressing our thoughts and words in love.

Several years ago, someone close to me contracted cancer. He ended up losing one of his lungs. It reminds me of the end of 2011, we were on our last lung in this parish. We had little to nothing to sustain this parish but for a few months to a year. I had asked one thing only – that we make a great act of faith and put our trust and belief in God, that He would provide. We did, and we did it together. It happened, God moved many hearts and caused miracles to happen. We did no extra fundraisers. Yet our coffers were filled and we invested in many things – spending more than we had in years we ended up with more in the jar. The oil did not run out, the jar of flour was filled. The man who ended up losing a lung met that challenge with perseverance, joy, and faith. So too we who are preparing for the King’s feast. We are called to act with faith above all else, to wear and show trust in God and His provision. A grain of faith dresses us for the King’s sumptuous feast.

Like the Acts Church, we are all learning to dress. We are all in the process of getting ready so that we may be welcomed at the King’s feast. Those members of the Acts Church did not always agree. Like those at the feast, they were rich and poor, people of every background and color, yet they overcame by sacrifice, in communal worship, fellowship, joy even in challenges. Setting aside all we arrive ready for the King.

It is about
understanding.

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. 

Gaining understanding, seeing what God is doing and what our relationship is toward Him are the things Jesus fought for His entire life. He wanted us to see family as more than a functional organization that does stuff together, but as the model of the kingdom. Family is designed to be a peek into what the eternal kingdom will look like.

Jesus and his parents had been at the festival for at least seven days. They spent their time growing in relationship to their community (the model of church), to each other (the domestic church) and most of all, toward God (their eternal Father source of family). They were living out church.

We know how it is when we get caught up in something great. We don’t want to leave. So it was for Jesus. In the Temple precincts, Jesus had it all. He has the fullness of family all in one place. He didn’t want to leave. He was having an excellent time. He wants us to feel and live this way too – right now.

Jesus wants to share the fullness of family relationship with us. He wants us to gain insight, to understand and see beyond the ordinary and look to the extraordinary greatness of life that is the Christian family – the family centered on and living in Him. He wants us to revel in the family of God and to never want to leave.

God is all about family. He designed us and the world around us to mirror family life in heaven. “Let us make man in our image.” He wants us to be moved to such an extent that we want family. He wants us to stay, not just with Him, but with each other in family. He ministered to and built family to provide a life example – this is how it is supposed to be.

Jesus taught His disciples to refer to His Father as their Father. He asked the crowds – who is my mother, brothers, and sisters? It is those who understand and live in family relationship with Him and His Father. He wants us to remain, to stay in family love.

God’s family is built upon all the things Jesus taught – the example He gave us – one of dedication, worship, sacrifice, and love. God wants us to understand His great desire – that we are family and are to live that way.

As we once again renew and take up life as the kingdom family, let us remember the example of the Acts Church – people living as one – living, sacrificing, praying, and worshiping – really getting it, never wanting to leave.

Investing it
all.

Have in you the same attitude
that is also in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied himself

Pretty much everyone knows who Warren Buffet is. He is the billionaire investor with the golden touch. He has been quoted many times, and certainly people seek his advice. Mr. Buffet, how do I succeed? One of his oft quoted rules is: “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No.1.” Another of his rules is to focus on achieving high returns (making a lot of money) with very little risk. Avoid risk to get rich.

We have also heard anecdotes about that person who invested his or her last few dollars and because of making a good choice, or by being incredibly lucky, they became rich.

That is two ends of the spectrum. In one case, the rich get richer by conservatism, being very careful, minimizing risk. In the other case, we have those with little to nothing putting it all in and finding success.

St. Paul presents us with something completely different today. In the revelation He received, Paul was overcome by the awesomeness of what God did. God, who had it all, all power, all eternity, Who wants for nothing, invested it all. He gave it all away – for us.

Paul asks us to be of the same mind as Jesus. He asks us to put our whole selves in. To invest ourselves in the life of Christ – community and worship.

Paul goes on to give us the greatest Christological hymn ever written. He illustrates for us: This is who Jesus is, This is what Jesus is all about. Paul shows us, in this hymn, that Jesus literally stripped Himself down to nothingness in order to take on our humanity. He ended up stripped, on a cross, in abject poverty, having lost everything and to the point of despair feeling utterly abandoned by His Father. He dies this way to save us and because of this sacrifice, His name is to be adored.

Indeed, God invested it all, His whole being, for us. Paul then says: Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

This is the essence of the Christian life. It calls us to invest fully. Like Jesus’ discussion today, it is not where we are, what we have done, where we have come from – but whether we believe, whether we put our all on the line.

When we invest it all in God – offering Him our faith, our daily lives, our dedication to His way, and our worship and dedication to the communal life, we grow truly rich. we preserve our lives for everlasting joy and really live.

Let Me tell you
about My Father.

When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and ending with the first.’ When those who had started about five o’clock came, each received the usual daily wage. So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage.

All of Jesus’ coming, His life, His worship and prayer, His healings, His poverty, His message, and His life, death, and resurrection are about one thing – Jesus showing us the Father. Jesus plainly told us: Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. After hearing Jesus’ words today, how do we better get the Father?

The late workers were amazed by generosity. The early workers felt ‘cheated,’ as if something due them was taken away. But it really wasn’t specifically about any of that. Rather, Jesus uses all His parables and allusions to more fully describe His Father. He walks about the cities and countryside living a very particular way – to show us the life of the Father. He calls us to understand, to comprehend, to allow our hearts to be touched by the reality of the Father. He says – let Me show you My Dad. Get to know Him. He is amazing.

Again, this parable is not specifically about workers feeling cheated, nor a generous landowner with no business sense. It isn’t really about getting more than we deserve for our work. It is not, in any special way, about people who come to the faith in their youth versus those who come late in life, or toward the end of time.

This parable is about revelation. It is a look into the life of God – something formerly beyond understanding, and now revealed. In every word of this parable, Jesus is saying – let Me show you My Dad. I love him so much. I want you to know what He is like because He is so amazing.

Like the workers, we face a bit of a problem. Our understanding is often blocked because we let our minds get in the way of falling into the love of God. We let minor parts of parables become the reason for the parable, and we miss the revelation. We should ask ourselves, ‘What do I know about the Father that I didn’t know before?’

What we now know is that the Father’s love is so all encompassing, so magnificent, that in complete trust we can fall into Him no matter where we are in our lives, no matter what happened the day before, or a few minutes ago. We may have run head on into the Father’s love in our life and were changed by it. We may be experiencing it today for the first time, or the first time in a long time. We may still be waiting for that revelation. No matter, Jesus opened the opportunity for us – to know the Father and to fall into His love.

Memory verse for this week: Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. — Psalm 100:3

  • 9/17 – John 10:27-28
  • 9/18 – Romans 14:8
  • 9/19 – 1 Corinthians 6:19
  • 9/20 – Galatians 3:28
  • 9/21 – 2 Corinthians 1:21-22
  • 9/22 – 1 John 3:1
  • 9/23 – 1 John 4:4

Pray the week: Lord, help me to recognize that I belong to You, and because I belong to You, I belong to the great family of faith.

You
BELONG!

Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all my being, bless his holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Everyone needs a place to belong. A place that fits you like a favorite pair of jeans or that comfortable sweater. A place where you feel welcome. A place that makes you strong, that supports you, that stirs you up. That’s the way we’re made – to be together — experiencing life with others. And yet, Vance Packard calls America “a nation of strangers” and studies show that 4 out of 10 people experience feeling of intense loneliness. Peek behind the curtain and you’ll find people hungering for fellowship, community, and family.

The Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the Church, but the most persistent is that of belonging to a family. In the New Testament, believers call each other brothers and sisters and, in his letter to the Church at Ephesus, Paul writes: “Now you…are not foreigners or strangers any longer, but are citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.

Maybe there’s a pew here that fits you just right. Maybe you’re as comfortable here as you are in your favorite pajamas. On the other hand, maybe you’re here for the first time or for the first time in a long time. Maybe you never felt like you really belong somewhere. Maybe you’ve never known the blessing of being a part of something as big as the family of God! Either way, I’d like to share with you something that Solomon wrote about the benefits of belonging:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lay down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. In his unparalleled wisdom, King Solomon says, “Two people are better than one…” He then goes on to describe three benefits of belonging: strength, support, and warmth.

Strength – Solomon saw a principle that holds — none of us can do alone what all of us can do together. There is strength in numbers. You know how it is when church has events. There never seems to be volunteers to go around, but when a few people join together, miracles start happening. None of us can do everything, but all of us can do something. We are strong together.

The Jerusalem church was a hodgepodge of believers from a lot of backgrounds, with different personalities, and sometimes conflicting opinions, yet they found a way to work together. They understood there is strength in numbers. And because they did, lives were changed — history was changed. Our belonging here, our joining ourselves to Christ, makes the same miracles happen today.

Support – belonging to a church family provides support. Solomon anticipated the “I’ve fallen and I cannot get up” commercial. “Two are better off than one, because… If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him.

Jesus is all about helping people up, isn’t He? He helped the dead to rise, He helped Peter when he was sinking. He helped the woman caught in adultery and publically humiliated to stand again. Jesus set the example and asked us to live it. That’s what we’re supposed to do for one another. Belonging to God’s family provides us with the strength to get more done and the support we need to get through troubled times.

Warmth – Belonging to a church family provides spiritual warmth. “Two people are better off than one, for… two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone?” While this is practical advice for a nomadic people living in the desert, it also serves as spiritual metaphor. You don’t have to live in a tent in the tundra to feel cold and alone. When someone is separated, alone, apart from family, our fire starts to go out and our spirits grow cold.

A pastor went to visit a man who had been absent from church for some time. When the pastor arrived at the house, his parishioner was sitting by a fire of glowing coals. The man fully expected his pastor lecture him about church. But instead the pastor drew up a chair alongside the fireplace where the man was sitting just peering into the fire. With the tongs the pastor reached into the fire and took one of the red hot glowing coals and placed it by itself out on the hearth. In no time at all the coal began to lose its glow and in a few minutes it was cold and black. The man looked up into the face of his pastor who hadn’t said a word and he said “I’ll be there next Sunday.”

That warmth you feel as we worship together here today — that’s your coals being stirred. That’s your passion for Jesus, your love for God and for people being rekindled. Belonging to a church family that you worship with and fellowship with fans the flames and keeps you spiritually warm and truly alive.

Everyone needs a place where they belong, where people smile when you arrive and say, “See you soon!” when you leave. Maybe your family is far away, maybe you’re feeling alone, or maybe you could just use a new friend or two. God doesn’t just call us to believe; he calls us to belong.

The entire Bible is the story of God building a family that will support, strengthen, and stir one another up to love — and he created you to belong to it. Belonging, we can say together Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Why take
it?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

A question some of us face as we serve the Lord is, ‘Why should I take it?’

I started taking it in my youth. I was in church every day, so I heard today’s gospel and God’s word along this theme over and over. It may not have made much of an impression on me except for the fact that I was that odd kid. You know, the kind other kids either do not like or cannot relate to. Today, we call those kids victims of bullying. In my day, there was no label. You just suffered. By my teenage years the world finally found a label for me – nerd. Nerd – a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills.

Why was I odd – I had no dad. My father died when I was four. Forget father-son events. I had no one to teach me boy things – sports and such, and I was uncoordinated anyway – I’m sure you’ve noticed. I lived in a house full of women, so I got them. I learned to cook and clean – what a nerd.

Beyond that, I liked being with adults. Most of my relatives were significantly older – so I learned how to talk to them and relate with them. On the other hand, I never really learned how to relate with my peers.

Oh, and I loved church. While many saw it as an obligation, I just loved being there. I found Jesus’ parables to be the best stories ever – I got them. And best of all, Jesus said that if I lose my life, if I am persecuted for His sake, I will have everlasting life, eternal joy. So, I learned to take it. I didn’t fight back or resist. I had reason to take it. Ironically, for all my love of the church, I still had to take attempts at abuse from my pastor. Even in God’s house I couldn’t be safe.

Somewhere in my school career, that all came together. I learned the term: unconditional love. God loves each of us totally. We cannot earn it, pay for it, give anything for it. He just loves us. Cooking, cleaning, uncoordinated, nerd – He loves me. That’s why. I must serve the Lord and take it for His love.

As I became successful I lost my innocence. I learned to fight back, to stand my ground. As that happened I grew further and further from the Church and serving God. That’s the consequence, isn’t it? If we stop living sacrificial lives, if we want to gain and win, we lose.

Thankfully, God’s love will not let us be. Like Jeremiah, we cannot resist serving Him. Our thirst for God’s unconditional love is greater than any person, persecution, or challenge. Why should I take it? Why should I serve? For greater love, for life!

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

Did you ever wonder why we do what we do at church? Not the Holy Mass as an act of God directed worship or educating our youth as God has commanded so that they may have knowledge of the fullness of God’s love – those things are pretty straightforward. No, I mean the investments we make in church infrastructure for the future. Since the beginning of 2012, we have taken on twenty-two major infrastructure projects. This month we are replacing the entire sidewalk along the side of the church and have made major repairs to the church hall floor with the entire floor soon to be updated. Do you wonder why? If it were about dedication to just a building, or to memories, it would not be a wise investment. After all, what is a church without people, or memories without people to share them with. Grabbing onto Paul’s Letter to Timothy, we find the real reason for investing. It is about you! Paul exhorts us to guard the good treasure entrusted to us. We have Jesus in our midst and we have you in our family. The Holy Spirit guides us in what we do so that you may have a place, a home, and a family. A place to belong. We invest – we invest so the church is there for you – we invest so you may belong to and rejoice in being God’s precious treasure.

Join us this September as we celebrate brotherly love, take up a collection for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, and welcome you to a ‘Place to Belong’ on Back-to-Church Sunday, September 17th. There are lots of activities, a new kids corner, and best of all, a true sense of belonging.

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

What is our
presence?

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

 
Jesus asks a pretty tough question today. “Who do people say I am?” It is a very human question. I am pretty sure I have wondered and asked the same question. Perhaps many of you as well. What do people think of me? How do people perceive me?

The answer to Jesus’ question lies in how we respond to His presence. Do we fully live and proclaim His presence or do we just recognize it?

Some social scientists tell us that people assume different personalities, or different ‘presences,’ based on who they are with or where they are. Their theory is that we care so much about what others think that we change who we are to meet their perceptions. We are one way at work, another with friends or family, another at church, another when we are alone, maybe even another way when we are dreaming. We put on different ‘suits’ to fit the party we are attending.

What do we put on for Jesus’ party? What suit do we put on when we go to church? This isn’t a sermon about how we dress. Frankly, that does not matter. So, we will stay away from clothing. But we will focus on presence.

Presence is a funny word. Webster’s would say that presence is the fact or condition of being in a place or time. It can also mean the way we carry ourselves.

Being in church or at church is about being in a place and at a time. The way we carry ourselves, our outward behaviors at church, is also about presence. We easily meet Webster’s definition of presence. So, we are here.

Is being present, is the ‘suit’ we are wearing today, enough of an answer to Jesus’ question? It is an answer, but is only the beginning of an answer.

Peter took a huge risk blurting out his understanding of Jesus’ identity as God among us. He moved from just living in Jesus’ presence to being fully in and of Jesus. Full on committed.

Like Peter, we need to move from just wearing an outward suit, from a following along, from just being a consumer of God’s presence, to full on, fully involved faith.

There is big risk in taking off our suit (thankfully I’m not talking about clothes). We are not protected anymore. We cannot just walk away after church. We have to live in the presence of Christ in an ongoing and involved way. We must become people in and of Jesus, making Him present by our genuine presence every day – keeping Him real. We must be willing to show and tell the world – this is Jesus – God here.

All are
welcome.

The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to Him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming His servants—all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to My covenant, them I will bring to My holy mountain and make joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Is a picnic the right topic for a sermon? Today we hold our annual parish and community picnic. This is a long-standing tradition. It used to be held at Schenectady’s Central Park. Parishioners and their families would gather in one of the park’s wonderful shelters, near the rose garden, for a day of great food, games, and fellowship. Then, we skipped a year.

Something changed in that brief lull. We found that we missed the picnic. We thought of alternatives. Should we go back to the park? Maybe at pastor Jim’s house? At the same time, we had started our free lunch on Sunday program. We thought, why not combine these events. Why not a picnic right here on the parish grounds – open to all, free – a community event.

Ordinary Time, as we have stated, is a time for reflection, growth, renewal, and opportunity.

Didn’t God readily give us the grace of this chance? That is one of the most wonderful and remarkable things about our God. He actually considers each of us, our family, our community, and He shows up with the grace of opportunity.

This opportunity echoes what we hear in Isaiah. My house, My altar is open to all, free – a community event. This was an amazing and incredible statement uttered by the prophet. The traditional Jewish religious practice of drawing lines that excluded the foreigner and the eunuch are clear in Scripture. Eunuchs were not permitted to enter into the assembly of the Lord and foreigners were an abomination. Suddenly, this is ended by the Lord’s new opportunity. His declaration was not about offering an “olive branch” to the “outsider.” This was not about some kind of associate or junior membership in God’s family. It meant full inclusion for all who are seeking. God’s people, once outcasts, are to be a home for all the world sees as outcasts.

Our opportunity today, and every day, is inclusion and welcome. Our witness in our community, and in our troubled nation, is that the Lord draws no barrier and makes no distinction. The eunuch shall be given better than that given to a son or daughter. The foreigner will be made joyful. What great opportunity we have.

People will come to us. The opportunity is our allowing them to find Christ and home in us. Easy, tidy, not always – God’s word and opportunity – always!