This week’s memory verse: But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?1 John 3:17

Pray the week: Lord, grant strength to Your Holy Church and its organizations. Open our eyes and help us by Your grace.

Shall we remain
blind?

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”

Our Old Testament reading lays it all out there. Amos is drawing a very clear picture of Israel’s complacency, laziness, arrogance, and blindness. They were too busy enjoying themselves, believing they had it all – and they failed to see the collapse that was all around them. Jesus picks up this theme in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Jesus points to the ways we can be complacent, lazy, arrogant, and blind. In illustrating the way one man failed to see what was right in front of him, Jesus reminds us that we can miss what is right in front of us. Even nature, in the form of dogs, recognizes what man could not see. This is a warning – in each age we must be awake.

We have been truly blessed here in Schenectady. Our members are faithful and generous. Everyone works together to raise up the Name of Jesus. The Gospel is proclaimed and we live it. We have a very high PNU membership rate. Yet we must redouble our efforts. Awake and aware, we must lead people to Christ and his Church.

The organizers of our Church, men and women, clergy and lay, came together because their eyes were open. They didn’t just sit in their pews blindly coughing up pennies and nickels while being accused of every evil and threatened with hell. They saw the hatred of evil pastors. They saw the power of greed and the exercise of iron-fisted rule. They saw hypocrisy. They didn’t ignore it and took action – organizing a pristine Church on the model of the early Church. Eleven years later and still on alert, they saw persecution and injustice. They took action – founding Spójnia. In this day and age we must remain diligent and awake doing what is needed.

Our world and our country are faced with tremendous challenges. Yet too many eyes and ears are closed as they were in Israel. We stretch comfortably on couches, eat rich food, listen to improvisations, drink wine in excess, and anoint ourselves with the best perfumes and lotions. As people of faith we must wake the world to God’s justice and truth.

Tragically, our Church is facing dire times. National Church dues amount to $2.15 a week, yet thousands have decided the Church is not worth it. Heaven forbid they go up to $3 a week! The PNU cannot get people to join together. As Amos warned Israel: the road ahead will be captivity and disgrace. Will that be our fate? We have much to do. Eyes open and resolute it is time to rise again. Let us lead the way to salvation.

This week’s memory verse: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.Hebrews 10:24-25

Pray the week: Lord, grant that I may be lifted up in Your sanctuary; that I may be Your Holy Church before the world.

He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people.

Why do we do certain things in life? We go to school to get an education. We go to work to make money. We go to the gym to improve our health. We go to the mall to shop for clothes and the grocery store to buy food. We go to parks, games, and the theater for fun.

But church? Why come here? Why get up early on one of our few off-days? Why go through the hassle of dressing up and the getting ready? Why go to the trouble of finding a parking space nearby? Why go to church?

If we’ve ever found ourselves wondering about that little question, we’re not alone. Surveys tell us that as many as 79% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, yet only 20% of Americans attend church regularly. I guess some people look at going to church as a bother—an unnecessary burden to be avoided or only a place for baptisms and funerals. Others see it as sort of like punching a spiritual clock or earning brownie points with their Maker.

But to someone who understands church and what it’s really all about, going to church can be the most spiritually fulfilling, inspiring thing we do all week. It lifts us up higher if we are high and helps us stand if we are down.

The Book of Acts tells the story of how the church got started. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to empower his disciples. They went out and began preaching Jesus—the only way who gave us the Good News. Millions listened, thousands believed. Then at the end of Acts 2, we find a short snapshot of what life was like in the early church: All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals, and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had… And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. I would love to be in a church like this! Wouldn’t you?

Churches are springing up. There is a longing. In every place, in small broken down and big fancy buildings people are being lifted up. God is on the move for those who say yes to Jesus – who invest the time to believe the promises of the All Powerful God. Church is the community of God – where we are pulled up higher, where we will do justice, experience victory, and find true peace. Church isn’t a destination; it’s something we become. When we understand what it means to be the Church, we discover our life’s true purpose—to be a member of His family, magnify His glory, mature in His image, be a minister of His mercy, and to be a missionary of His grace. Be lifted up, lift up all. Now is the time.

No
fear!

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.

One hundred ten years ago our Church gathered in Holy Synod. As a fledgling organization its members had faced persecution. Real persecution based on faith right here in the United States. Our members were cast out of social clubs. Jobs were lost. Families were split. There was hurt and sadness. The reaction of those Synod attendees was to focus on the words of Jesus – what one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. They instituted this Solemnity with its special focus on brotherly love; the only Church that has such a day. They cast out fear with love.

St. John, the disciple Jesus loved could have stood on those credentials – hey look at me, I’m the one He loved. He could have offered words, gave speeches. Instead he focused on putting Jesus’ love for us into action in his life and in our lives. He tells us: The commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. What one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. St. John and his church communities cast out the fear of persecution and stood above it in Jesus’ love.

As we gather today for worship we are reminded that coming here once a week is not enough. This place, this worship, the words we hear, and the prayers we offer are a capstone for what we have done right in our loving others over the past week. We should rightly be thankful for the graces we received that helped us do that. We should be proud of the ways we cast out fear and responded in love.

So too our gathering today is a recollection of where we have fallen short with a plea for forgiveness. While falling short is painful, we can find joy in knowing that our consciences are well formed enough to know we failed. In acknowledging our sin we find the pain it has imprinted lifted by God’s healing touch. We see our fears and pain relieved in God’s love.

Our gathering today is moreover a new start. A new week ahead and we hear: there is no fear in love. Next week we will gather again to be thankful, to recollect, and to start anew. Through all of it what is reinforced is fear removed, love triumphant.

In writing to the Romans, Paul asks: what will separate us from the love of Christ? He lists many things – but no fear will do it. On this Solemnity of Love, on this anniversary of a tragedy meant to instill fear, remember that nothing is more powerful than love. Destroy fear. Our members did it 110 years ago. St. John did it. We get to do it every week – no fear because in Him there is no fear.

This week’s memory verse: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Philippians 2:3

Pray the week: Lord, grant that I may live my relationships according to Your way of life. Preserve me from worldly and worthless relationships.

Relationship
changed!

I, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus, urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment; I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother.

Today we encounter Paul’s shortest letter. It is a letter to his friend and co-worker Philemon and his family. This letter is only one chapter containing twenty-five short verses.

Generally any letter from Paul deals with a crisis at hand. In this case the crisis is neither doctrinal nor a confused morality. Philemon and the fellow Christians that meet at his house seem to have their faith on straight. This letter is about one man and his relationship to another. Philemon’s slave Onesimus had run away, perhaps guilty of theft in the process. Onesimus ran off and found Paul in Rome. They had likely met during Paul’s stay with Philemon. Paul brought Onesimus to knowledge of and faith in Jesus. Onesimus spent time helping and serving Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. Now Paul was sending Onesimus back as a changed man.

Paul knew that in sending Onesimus back, Philmon would have to confront the reality of his faith. Paul’s lesson here, his teaching of the Gospel, is focused on getting relationships straight. For Paul, the essential fruit of the Gospel is transformed relationships. Who was Onesimus now – and how was Philemon supposed to relate to him?

Philemon and Onesimus were both to learn that being a Christian means being transformed and being part of a new relationship between oneself, God, the rest of humanity, and the world.

Faith in Jesus is to bring change to our lives. It is not just an interior thing, but also an exterior one. They way we relate and interact with others is to demonstrate our faith – faith truly lived. This changed relationship often stands at odds with the surrounding secular order. Philemon could easily and rightly have Onesimus killed in dozens of horrible ways for even the slightest of offenses, much less running away. Thus the social conflict that emerges from being Christian in an anti-God world. Paul focuses on this interpersonal conflict and the way we must revise and reform our relationships. How will our relationships be changed despite the world’s rules? How will Philemon react? Will Christ or the world rule our relationships?

Paul reminds Philemon of his encounter with the Jesus. So we must be reminded. The strength of our life in Jesus is tested in relationship. In daily crises let Jesus change our lives and our way of relationship.

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Five years – I can hardly believe it! We have been hosting Back to Church Sunday each September since 2012 and this will be the fifth time. Will we see each other there? I certainly hope and pray I will see you.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to assemble together for public worship. The group that assembles for worship will be the very group that is assembled on the last day. Meet together now so we may meet together at Jesus’ return.

The apostle says that we must regard it as a sacred duty to meet together for the worship of God. No causes should deter us. From this sacred social duty grace is received, we are strengthened, our light is increased, and our heavenly inheritance is confirmed. See you September 18th at 9:30am or 11:30am.

Also in our newsletter, tons of upcoming events – check them out and pitch in. There are reports on our summer activities. Say congratulations to our Music Scholarship Winners. Participate in our National Webinar. So much more too…

You may view and download a copy of our September 2016 Newsletter right here.

What kind of
Amazing Grace?

Brothers and sisters: You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is asking his Jewish listeners to fully perceive the fork in the road they had come to.

The Children of Israel once stood at the foot of Mount Sinai as Moses ascended the mountain. The mountain was covered in cloud, with lightning, fire, and various terrors. The earth quaked, and the trumpet of heaven sounded The Law was given. The people stood in terror and covered their ears.

Facing God, the people understood their own limitations. They knew they were sinful and unworthy. Isaiah had a similar experience. In meeting God, Isaiah says: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah didn’t know that he was such a bad guy and had a dirty mouth, but then he saw God in all His holiness. The instant he saw God’s holiness, he was aware of his own sinfulness. Even his smallest sin was terrifying.

God’s plan was that we should not live in fear and dread forever. Those moments, however, are instructive to us for we do not realize the extent of our sin before a holy God. The journey of Israel is meant to teach us the vast difference that Jesus has made. Thus the writer shows the Jewish people and us our choice. Do we chose to live back there, in fear and dread, under the Law, only recognizing that Amazing Grace has taught my heart to fear or instead that Amazing Grace my fears relieved.

God’s Law was His first offer of grace and His Son’s coming was the fulfillment of all grace. Jesus has changed all and now we stand in a new place. Yes, recognizing our utter lack of worthiness before the Father but also recognizing that when the Father looks at us He sees Jesus salvation. We stand in a new place, on Mount Zion.

We honor this day as Youth Sunday in our Church. We all face choices. Do I live in fear and dread every day of my life or do I live in joy and the glory of Zion. The world or law cannot offer this joy, only Jesus can. Let us stand together choosing to accept Jesus’ amazing grace, knowing His joy.