The Show Must Go On!

you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him

Welcome Kurs campers, my parishioners from Holy Name of Jesus in Schenectady, and faithful from throughout our Church. Welcome to the Bishop Hodur Retreat and Recreation Center, this place of growth and renewal.

You are the little ones that Jesus speak of. What is hidden, what is mysterious, what is impossible for so many people, is obvious to you. 

What do you get that others don’t get?  You get the fact that Jesus has made the way we must go plain, the way we are to live. Those instructions are in the gospels and the writings of the Apostles. Since we get that, that is what we do. Do we get it perfect all the time? No. Are we trying and constantly working at it? Yes.

God has revealed His great plan to us and has told us that His plan relies and depends on us. 

Because we belong to Jesus, He helps us in making His plan work. Jesus does that by taking care of us, by joining us in our work, and most of all by giving us the gift of faith – the faith we hear and feel in our hearts and minds – I hear Him and I respond: I can do it. I can and will get the job done for You, Jesus.

We have strength, understanding, and wisdom not apparent to the world. That strength, understanding, and wisdom gives us confidence to get God’s plan done even when things seem tough. Our vision goes beyond what everyone else sees to what God sees for us and has planned for us.

St. Paul tells us that we can and will carry out God’s plan because we are something different, something out of the ordinary. We could easily say that we are something else! We are extraordinary. All – because we carry His spirit. As Paul clearly states, if we don’t, well what do we have then?

This week our campers will be focusing on the theme: ‘The Show Must Go On.’ Whose show? God’s. Whose work to be done? Jesus’

My dear youth, brothers and sisters, you are in the best position. The spirit of God dwells in you. Don’t forget that. You belong to Jesus. Because of that, the struggles and challenges we all face, the fears we have, although very real to us, are not roadblocks or speedbumps in the way of getting God’s plan done.

Solomon was very young and his father, David handed him the throne and a charge, to build the Temple of God.  The show had to go on. Today, we are charged with carrying out the plan, building the kingdom. The show must go on.

Deciding…

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We live in a time of decision, a time marked by outpourings of incredible passion focused on issues pressing on all of our hearts. It is an opportune time to hear Jesus ask us: ‘What and who do you love?’

Jesus defined love as only God can, perfectly. His love is a love open to everyone who will accept Him. His love is for those who come to Him when facing hopelessness or fear, or when they are just in search of understanding. His love is there for doubters and the even the angry.

Jesus’ definition of love calls us to be God directed and other directed. He calls us to an all-consuming and selfless expression of love each and every day. His definition of love requires us to acknowledge what we know inwardly and to express it outwardly. We are required to share His love, invite all to this love, and to avoid all hypocrisy. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees and lawyers failed, they lived in hypocrisy and refused to acknowledge what they knew.

We are to love with right passion. What kind of passion is that? It is one that places Jesus and His kingdom front and center as our sole focus. It is passion for the gospel message and the great commandment. It is a passion for evangelism, to baptize the world in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is often said (going back to college Latin), ‘O tempora, o mores!’ ‘O the times, o the customs!’ We have this knack of looking at our times and thinking them the worst, the verge of disaster. That phrase goes back to 70 B.C. This time is indeed a time of decision, and passion. We face the same decision we have faced from time immemorial: Will I receive Jesus, or will I let misplaced passion block me from Him? Will I love like Jesus and lose my life, or will personal passions block by heart?

What and Who do we love? If our love is formed and conducted in the way of Jesus and our passions are for all that is His, we live properly. Our passions are rightly focused. If our passions and love are for anything else, for just having our way (i.e., not losing our life), it is the time to re-evaluate and find true life, to decide to live and spread Jesus’ way of love.

Stand up.

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid”

Welcome as we once again enter the Ordinary season of the year. This is a time of growth, a time to engage in the work of standing up as God’s faithful people. As we re-enter this season, we see a very pointed story. It is the story of those who stand up, struggle, persevere, and have victory.

We start with Jeremiah. Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet for very good reason. He did not want the job, the ministry of prophet. He resisted and argued with God, providing every excuse for not doing that work. God won. Jeremiah did the right thing. He submitted himself.

Jeremiah had no happy message. Sometimes it is said that Jonah was the joyous prophet, only reinforcing the good news of God while in Israel. Jeremiah spoke only of doom – of condemnation. He spoke against greed and in opposition to false prophets. For those strong words he was beaten and imprisoned, he was laughed at and mocked. The people shut their ears to God’s truth and their accountability before God. In the end he tried peaching from exile, again to no affect.

For Jeremiah, it was not the words nor even the suffering. His mission was to stand up to wrong, to speak truth to un-listening ears, so that God’s truth would be known. God does not count success as the mark of our faith, but rather our willingness to stand up, even in the midst of the failure and to still offer the message of hope – the intervention of God in the world. That message resounds with all who are abandoned, oppressed, and outcast, who know no justice. Sin will not win.

In Psalm 69 we hear David exclaim: Because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. In other words, he takes it standing up for God above all. David relies on God rather than the world and personally feels every sin committed against God.

Paul reminds us that sin and death are not our destiny, the intervention of God in His Son Jesus has stood us back up.

Being lifted up, relying on God, speaking the truth, having zeal for God’s way are all markers of one who stands up. We will not be able to hide any shrinking back. So, stand today, stand always, stay strong and be acknowledged before the Father.

Enough for me.

“Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

Thursday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Today is the Sunday within the Octave, the eight-day period that began Thursday which we spend in celebration of Jesus’ wonderful gift to us. 

Is Jesus’ gift enough?

The Russian poet and singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava  wrote ‘The Prayer of François Villon,’ in Polish, Modlitwa François Villona. Its words are those of a person who prays that the Lord will grant gifts to all who ask, and after doing so would leave just a little for him. Its first stanza:

“As long as the world’s still turning, As long as the air’s still sweet, Lord, won’t you give to all of us Whatever it is we need. Give a mind to the wise one, To the coward a swift horse, Give some gold to the happy man, And don’t forget about me.” As the song ends, he repeats “Give a little to everyone, And don’t forget about me. Dajże nam wszystkim po trochu. I mnie w opiece swej miej.”

Is Jesus’ gift enough?

This song strikes home in its melancholy. Is God generous enough to leave just a little for me? Will He remember me in the midst of all the woe and strife in the world? Will my prayer rise up before Him? Will He reach out to me?

St. Thomas Aquinas answered that question as he contemplated the great gift of the Eucharist and our sharing in it. The bread, broken, fractured for us. The wine poured out. In each particle, in each droplet, the fulness of Jesus resides. No person receives more or less of Jesus. All receive equally. There is enough for all. Aquinas also echoes St. Paul in pointing out that while all receive the fulness of Jesus, it is the state of our heart that matters most.

Is Jesus’ gift enough? Yes. Is it enough for me? That is the real question. The state of our hearts in their attitude toward God, the state of our lives in their imaging of Jesus’ way, and our relationship to others shows whether what we have received is enough for us. It is not a question of God’s giving, but our receiving. If we have taken the gift seriously it has changed our hearts. The state of our heart matters most.

Let us, as we fall in worship before this great gift, receive Jesus as enough for me and live in Him. Let us then carry His fulness into the world and to our eternal reward.

His image.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Today we celebrate the ineffable nature and character of God made known to us by Jesus. That is enough for us. As the psalmist desires, we too only wish to live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

God’s wonderful mystery will be fully revealed to us when we finally go home to Him. In the meantime, we have work to do.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians and reminds us: Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

If we can simply do that, the God of love and peace will be with us.

Mending our ways is hard work, work that requires the full-on help of God’s grace. Mending our ways takes conversion, a turning of our hearts. It takes action, a doing of the right and a rejection of the wrong, a rejection of our own sinfulness. Yes, we sin, and we sin grievously.

Each night I review my Facebook feed. I find much good there, positive words, connections, mutual support and encouragement, an ability to be with distant family and friends and a chance to keep each other informed. Unfortunately, I also see words of hate, words that come from prejudice (a pre-judging of people), words that reflect frustrations, inordinate fears, and frankly a lack of knowledge pivoted to accusation and hate. Individuals are turned into “them” and “those.” I see it when people turn away from others physically, when we see someone approaching and turn the other way. How did we forget the Gospel lesson: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The world – all of us. Given to save, not to condemn.

If we think ourselves God’s followers, those who give God praise, glory, and honor, how can we hold any prejudice toward anyone? If we believe God, we know we are all created in His image. If we dishonor, disrespect, blame, accuse, or prejudge anyone we do so to the face of the Father. We do it to Jesus. We disrespect the Spirit. We must learn to agree, live in peace, and greet all with a holy kiss. We must mend our ways. 

Mending our ways from the overt and covert sins we engage in holds promise, not just for the moment God will be fully revealed to us, but here, today, for that is the action of kingdom builders. LORD, pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.

The whole world.

And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Par’thians and Medes and E’lamites and residents of Mesopota’mia, Judea and Cappado’cia, Pontus and Asia, Phryg’ia and Pamphyl’ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre’ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 

A strong driving wind. The City of Jerusalem filled with visitors from throughout the world. They heard it, were shocked and amazed, and came to attention. They came running. The light of the Holy Spirit’s fire filled the precinct where the Apostles were staying. They appeared to the crowd, on fire, lit by the Holy Spirit. They spoke in the languages of the world. Each person, with their cares and worries, with their outlooks and prejudices and opinions heard, no distinction. The Holy Spirit at work through these Apostles – witnesses – focused them on renewing the face of the earth.

The fire of the Holy Spirit and His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and holy fear were operative that day and have been ever since.

On that day, of the approximately one million people in Jerusalem, three thousand came to be baptized. Three thousand came to realize that cares, worries, outlooks, fears, prejudices, and opinions were the work of the opposer, of the devil. What the three thousand discovered was that human distinction meant nothing. They learned that the unity of the body, as Paul would later write, was what mattered, for they were the body of Christ in the world. They were the Holy Church.

The world remains afire, afire in opposition. Cares and worries, outlooks and prejudices and opinions – the ability for humans to ignore the image of God in each other burns. We have, as a people, resolutely ignored the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The seed of change must start with us. We must listen to the Spirit, we must accept His gifts, and not just count them theory, and a nice thing to have, but as the mark of our lives; the mark we will leave on society, our cities, towns, and villages, and upon the whole world. We are that three thousand.

As the new three thousand we must allow the Holy Spirit to burn away cares, worries, outlooks, fears, prejudices, and opinions. We must allow the Spirit to open our eyes to the dignity and worth of every person. We must be serious and be the witnessing Church, the body of Christ, for and with all, here and now.

My people will live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and quiet resting places.

Today is a day of remembrance. 

Memorial Day began as an occasion to honor and to remember soldiers who died serving their country during the Civil War. I have walked the cemeteries of Gettysburg. I got to see the vastness of the area, the immensity of it belies the scope of death and tragedy – the result of that horrific battle – thousands of American men and boys savagely killed.

Our current celebration of Memorial Day was inspired by the way people honored their dead after the end of World War I. People would go to cemeteries and put American flags on soldier’s graves, that’s why it was known as Decoration Day for a while. Memorial Day was later extended to include all American men and women who died serving their country in any military action or war.

On Memorial Day people often read a poem honoring fallen soldiers or look up family histories and honor those in our families who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. We come here, to this place of rest, and we pray and reflect. One week after the Pearl Harbor attack President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Those who long enjoy such privileges that we enjoy forget in time that others have died to win them.” Freedom is never free; it is almost always bought with the blood of those who voluntarily or even reluctantly stepped forward. We live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places because they did step forward.

As I wander around my house, trying to recall what I was about to do, or searching for that thing I knew had to be there, I am confronted by the ease at which I can forget. Yet when this day, marked on the calendar arrives, when we gather here, I cannot help but remember that I live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places because others died for me.

In the Book of Joshua, God commanded that the men of Israel build a memorial of twelves stones to stand as a silent witness so that the generations would not forget. God had his people put up so many stones of remembrance and created so many celebrations and festivals so that they would remember the sacrifices and the instruction from God; so they would remember and not take for granted their lives in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places.

It is vitally important that we remember those who died in battle on this day dedicated to them. The stones in Gettysburg, in Arlington, Saratoga, those here, and in cemeteries around the world are not just markers, but rather a commemoration – to help us call these things to mind. They stand as witness before us, calling us to make right choices, to consider before we act as a nation. To measure the value of every life sent to the front line.

The best way we can honor the men and women who gave their all for our freedom is to live lives marked by remembrance, gratitude for the gifts we enjoy, and to act in a way worthy of their sacrifice. As we live in peaceful country, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places may we have this prayer on our lips: May our honored dead rest in peace. May their memory be eternal and remember, thankful for their sacrifice.

Getting us ready.

Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly

Jesus’ dialog for the long road continues today. Over the past two weeks we listened in on Jesus’ talk with His disciples. He meant to prepare them, and deep down He knew He was. It would all eventually become evident to them – Who Jesus is, what laid ahead.

The dialog approaches its conclusion with a prayer to the Father, a prayer for us, and again we listen in just as the disciples were listening in. He prays: the words You gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from You, and they have believed that You sent me. I pray for them.

The road starts with Jesus’ word, a word that conveys sacramental effect in us. We only need listen to what we have been given, accept it, and understand that the One who provided that word was sent by the Father and is God. We have God’s word and if we believe on Him we are obligated to know Him and live out all He said and did.

The road ahead continues in doing what the disciples did. They returned from the ascension and took up prayer. They prayed as one and in the One who taught them how to pray. They lived and prayed as He prayed they would. They prayed in expectancy, for the working of God’s awesome plan; worked through our witness and in accord with the promptings and action of the Holy Spirit.

The road goes on in our work. It is amazing, isn’t it – St. Peter would tell us to Rejoice to the extent that [we] share in the sufferings of Christ. These words tend to trip off the tongues of the saints – and there is a reason. They experienced Jesus. Deep down they all encountered Him. Peter and the apostles, the disciples who walked with Jesus and saw it all, understood the promise. They saw the resurrection, the new man, the promise of heaven’s open door. Paul found it on the road to Damascus, right in the middle of his sin, hate, and anger Jesus broke through. The mystics and contemplatives found Him in prayer. Francis heard Jesus voice and set to work. The martyrs knew where they were headed. They counted suffering nothing because they knew where the road led.

We have been prepared for the work so that when his glory is revealed [we]may rejoice exultantly. We have Jesus’ word, the Spirit’s gifts, the model of the Acts Church, and the charge to carry on as His witnesses. Ready? Yes, ready Lord!

“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Today we celebrate the fortieth day after the resurrection, the Solemnity of the Ascension of our Lord. As you just saw, the symbols of the resurrection, the statue of the resurrected Christ, the victorious cross of our High priest, and the Pascal Candle have been removed from the altar. This symbolizes what the apostles factually encountered, they could no longer see Jesus in human form.

Of course, we see Jesus, in the sacrament of the altar. We see Him in each other and in all people who are formed in God’s image. Jesus remains with us, body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread and wine, and in His word, and in the forgiveness of sin.

Today, let us remember that Jesus’ leaving was actually a charging. He charged us with seven unique things. Let’s review those:

The first charge He left is: working His UNFINISHED TASK.

Jesus said in John 19:30, “…it is finished…” He was saying that the atonement for sin was finished. We might suspect from that that we can lay back. The job is done, nothing more to see, say, or do. But, it is not that simple, for Jesus is charging us with a to-do.

In Luke 19:10 we read “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” As long as there is one person who has not heard the message, the task is not finished. He left that task to be finished by us. All must hear, all must be given the opportunity to say yes. All must be given the chance to be satisfied, with nothing in their being crying out – “unfinished.” We are charged with making Him known.

The second charge He left is: have faith in a MESSAGE THAT CANNOT BE CHALLENGED.

In Acts 1:3 we read that Jesus showed himself alive … by many infallible proofs, being seen and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God”

Of course people have been challenging His message, His proofs, His witnesses since before His passion and death, much less after His resurrection and Ascension. Being challenged is not the problem. It is our willingness to let the challenge break our trust.

We cannot let challenges get to us. We are charged to believe by faith and by the testimony of His witnesses and to act on that.

The third charge He left us is: living in UNQUESTIONABLE LOVE.

No one can question the love exhibited by the Son of God. He gave His life that you and I might live forever, freed from the punishment due for our sins. He left His home in heaven and came to a world of sinners who rejected Him and nailed Him on a cross and then He even forgave those who killed Him. That is unquestionable love. 

In John 15:13 we read: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. St. Paul would go on to explain in Romans 5:7-8: For rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His charge is to live His example of love. His very way of loving is to be our way of loving.

The fourth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on His UNMISTAKABLE PLAN.

“…and you shall be witnesses…to the uttermost part of the earth.”

A witness is sworn to tell the truth of what they saw or experienced. Sometimes we get the plan wrong. It is an unmistakable plan. We are to be witnesses–not super salespeople, attempting to persuade the person with our ability. But by letting Christ in us work. Let us let Him use us with our neighbors, co-workers, friends, our city, state, nation and in the world. Let us follow the call within us. When we hear our conscience say – I should say something, let us do it. Trust His plan will work.

The fifth charge Jesus left us is: giving UNSHAKABLE TESTIMONY.

In Acts 1:10 we hear of the apostles looking “steadfastly toward heaven.”

We must do the same. To be steadfast means to be resolute, firm, and unwavering in our testimony. Will we get challenged at times, maybe be laughed at, thought of as silly? Certainly!. It really isn’t that bad if we remain humble enough to allow God to shine through those challenges. St. Peter says: “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” God is in control, let us be steadfast in realizing that and give witness to our hope by our solid testimony.

The sixth charge Jesus left us is: reliance on the power of an UNSTOPPABLE FORCE.

In ten days we celebrate Pentecost, the coming of the unstoppable Spirit. A Spirit of power, wisdom, strength, and understanding. If we believe, if we have been endued with that power, we, like the apostles and disciples must be bold in our proclamation. Nothing and no one should stop us from  “Going into all the world.” We are a family with unstoppable force. When we wake up and realize that we are an unstoppable force and we then engage willingly in going out on the limb a little farther, then we will begin to see that the power of His unstoppable force in us. We will produce the same fruit the apostles, disciples, and saints have produced.

The seventh charge He left us is: reliance on His UNFAILING PROMISE.

2,000 years ago Jesus stood on a mountain overlooking Jerusalem and said to His disciples: Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions … I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

The angel told the apostles: Men of Galilee, why stand here gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner.”

We know the battle gets tough, but do not be discouraged, one day soon that trumpet is going to blow. That is an unfailing promise. I am looking for Him to come now, today, Maranatha Lord Jesus, but I also know there is much more for us to do. Until He comes, we are those charged to do His work!

Getting us ready.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.”

Last week we studied Jesus’ dialog with his disciples. He was preparing them for the long and difficult road to Jerusalem and the cross. That dialog continues today. Jesus was setting expectations for what would occur. He would go to Jerusalem, be hailed, then persecuted and killed. He would rise. And then, what’s next?

What’s next is Jesus’ description of the next two weeks of celebration. He would Ascend. This Thursday (no, it is not on a Sunday), Jesus would ascend to the Father to take up His throne in heaven. Ten days later the great gift of the Holy Spirit would descend, the Church would be born, and Jesus’ salvation, Jesus the way, truth, and life would be preached to the ends of the earth.

We often think of the world as some random series of occurrences, a daily happenstance of events. Hey, maybe today my ship will come in?

Jesus shows us how untrue that is. He has a plan, a roadmap for us. As faithful Christians we know that the randomness of sin around us is not the way things are meant to be.

Jesus laid it out simply for the disciples even though they didn’t get it at the time. As Jesus says: “On that day you will realize.” Ten days after He ascended, after ten days of prayer, they did realize, and they stepped up and followed the plan. In following the plan, they submitted to the Father and overcame randomness. In following the plan, they brought many to know, love, and serve the Lord. In following the plan, the Holy Spirit’s promptings were brought to fruition in lives one with Jesus.

Our reading from Acts is just one small example of a faithful person following the roadmap. The Deacon Philip preaches to Samaria and people come to the Lord. Centuries before, David sings of the great things God does for His faithful. This is something we need to focus on and sing in our times: Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”

In saying “I will not leave you orphans” Jesus is guaranteeing that He will not leave us alone. There are two ways of looking at this, and both are great. Jesus’ ascension was not the end because He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us. In that He was saying too, I will be on you, pushing you to follow the roadmap. Be on board.