Yes!
TOGETHER!

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.

Welcome BACK TO CHURCH! If this is your first time visiting with us, we want you to know how happy we are. If you are longstanding faithful parishioners, we want you to know how happy we are.

You may be thinking to yourselves, why is he happy, why should the community be happy if I am here? Maybe he is just one of those pastors who is happy at just about anything?

Well, yeah, but that’s not the point.

The real point of our joy is the same point St. Paul was making about himself. Paul was overjoyed because he was taken from a life without meaning, without purpose, without hope, to a life regenerated – new life in Christ Jesus. He had eternal life in Jesus and the joy of now working TOGETHER in the community of faith. He received mercy, not allowance to continue his own way, but the mercy necessary to be changed into the very image of Jesus in communities throughout the Mediterranean.

For those who are joining us for the first time, for the first time in a while, or are here again, returning faithfully and diligently, today’s call is about rejoicing in knowing Jesus deeper and better, to experience His exorbitant mercy, and to be changed into His image in our world.

Relying on Jesus and being His image is not an easy choice. It is not popular – and definitely puts us into the core countercultural movement of our time, but so it was with Paul and all the early Christ followers. Paul counted it as mercy – to be saved from sin into a new life that actually mattered, and he worked together with others to spread knowledge of that salvation. Paul stood as an example of what is possible in Jesus, and so must we.

Today, and each week we are happy you are here. We are happy that the mercy of Jesus is so all encompassing, so total, that He will not leave any behind. We are happy because now together, in Jesus, we celebrate and rejoice.

Outstanding, outgoing,
out-of-here.

But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD

Happy Sunday new Israel! Indeed, we are the new Israel. We are the holders of the New Covenant sealed in the blood of Jesus. As recipients, and beneficiaries of the New Covenant, we have the Lord written on our hearts. We are the Lord’s people. We belong to Him. With the Lord’s Law of love written within us, we no longer have need to be told ‘know this’ or ‘know that.’ Rather, we have innate and intimate knowledge of God’s way.

On this Sunday, dedicated to Brotherly Love, we see Jesus reminding us of the importance of living by the Word implanted in us. Two, a priest and a Levite, saw the man in need and passed by on the other sideBut a Samaritan came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion. The priest and the Levite did not connect with the Covenant in their hearts. They ignored it, or misinterpreted it, or just plain missed it. Yet the Samaritan, who was supposed to be outside the Covenant, responded. He didn’t seek a book or an advisor for guidance, he responded with compassion. Jesus made His point about actually living the Covenant. Having done so, He told the young man, who wanted to justify himself, to “Go and do likewise.”

So it is to us. As children of the New Covenant, we must live fully connected to God’s way in the midst of every situation. What we see, the situations we run into, are all a call to action – to respond with the action of brotherly love.

The Covenant was in the Samaritan. It called him to act in an outstanding way, to stand out with love. The Covenant called the Samaritan to be outgoing, to go out of his way to act with love. The Covenant called the Samaritan to get out-of-here, to get out of his own head, thoughts, needs, and desires so to act with love. Today, throughout this week before BACK TO CHURCH SUNDAY, and thereafter, let us live the New Covenant in our hearts by being outstanding, outgoing, and out-of-here.

He
provides!

A bountiful rain You showered down, O God, upon Your inheritance; You restored the land when it languished; Your flock settled in it; in Your goodness, O God, You provided it for the needy.

Welcome and happy Labor Day weekend! This weekend offers us an excellent opportunity to focus on God’s provision and what we, as Christians, and as a nation, do with His provision.

Our verse of focus is taken from Psalm 68. Biblical scholars, those who slice and dice original language, verse structure, the paradigms that existed at the time something was written have often opined that Psalm 68 is one of the most difficult Psalms to understand. Yet to us, the ordinary reader, the Psalm seems pretty straightforward.

The Psalm begins with a prayer for God to arise, and recounts what happens to God’s enemies and to His favored righteous. As a result of God’s action, the righteous rejoice, they sing praises. God defends and provides, no one is lonely or a prisoner.

The Psalmist recounts God’s saving history. He praises God again saying: Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, Who daily bears our burdens. He calls on God again to save, to rescue. Confident in God’s rescue and provision, he again calls the people to praise.

We can imagine historians and scholars looking at the paradigm of our times 3,064 years from now. They would say that our times are the most difficult to understand. Yet the ordinary reader would say, it is not difficult to see what was going on. A nation of success and riches failed to provide avenues of advancement for its workers. Wages were stolen by the rich, justice was not done through a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of a nation. The people cried out, suffered, but were not heard by their brothers and sisters. Those who traveled from afar, seeking refuge were turned away.

On this Labor Day weekend let us begin. Ask the Lord to arise again to scatter and defeat those who work to thwart justice. Let us pray that this Labor Day will mark the rising of the Christian people who have a God of power and might. May our words and work be a bountiful rain. Let us restore the landfrom its languish. Following God, we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Discount
entry fee?

I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them

Our first reading starts out and ends so hopeful. God is going to gather together many nations and peoples. There is to be no exclusivity in His kingdom. God’s glory will be proclaimed by these many peoples, and they shall gather others into the family of God. From among all these people, God will raise up priests and Levites from all people, not from some families.

Indeed, this hopeful message is what has been proclaimed by our Holy Church from its first days on Pentecost, when people of many nations and languages came to faith in Jesus Christ. This hope filled message was music to the ears of the downcast, the poor, widows, orphans, slaves, anyone in any sort of bondage, particularly sin bondage. The Church thrived amidst persecution, with people entering each week, to learn about the message of Jesus (and study over 3 years before being allowed full participation).

People heard the hopeful message of Jesus in the streets, in homes, from the mouths of His followers. Jesus’ followers could not help but speak of Him and what He offered. By their work and words, people came to be saved.

What does Jesus offer? He offers inclusivity for those who come to Him in faith, who believe on Him with their entire being. He includes those who seek freedom by confession. He offers eternal promise and inheritance. The things and ways of the world are broken and without value. God came Himself, for them, to set them free. They were worthwhile children and coheirs.

We have to ask ourselves: In the midst of torture, prosecution, potential loss of life (and long study), in the midst of an everything and anything goes pagan culture, where I can have whatever I desire, why did the hope of Jesus, the Messiah, resonate so deeply. Why were people willing to sacrifice all to have Jesus? This was the way it was for nearly 500 years! And more came to Jesus every week. More and more sought His community – the Church.

Today, we live in a neo-pagan culture. The old ways are back. What we forgot for 1500 years is real again. We are called to reassess, to see there is no cheap entry fee. We will not just get by. We are the sign among them– the world. We are therefore called to live faithfully, speak boldly, and offer what is priceless to all.

For what
reason?

For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

In this week’s Gospel we hear Jesus putting it all out there, laying it on the line. He will not offer us a placid earth, but rather one that has a cost if we hold to His truth and way. For what reason would we accept this cost?

When Jesus preaches all the truth, we get afraid. We really do not want to admit that the hard stuff is necessary. We prefer the soft Jesus of Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. We like the Jesus of peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. He is certainly that, but that has a cost. The cost of access to Him is living faith. The fruit of faith is a new life cleansed of binds that restrict and limit us; that keep us away from real joy, even if that is others. The life of faith gives us new and perfect reason to face every challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division. Will we accept that cost?

Today we encounter the warrior Jesus. The “fire” He brings is the cleansing fire that washes us of constraints, the things that keep us back from living a life of complete faith. His fire refines us and makes us ready to witness. Paul tells us that Jesus gave His all for the sake of the joy that lay before Him. We have the promise of that joy, not something less. Is that joy sufficient reason to face challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division?

If we reason it out, the choices we have to make every day, spreading the gospel, issuing the invitation, stating the truth of the gospel, admitting that there are limits, boundaries, thoughts, words, actions, and philosophies not in accordance with God’s way is both a path to conflict and to joy. To say Jesus is the way, truth, and life will surely turn some off, yet brings us joy. 

Being all-in with Jesus, living His way, proclaiming his word – the right way – has the assurance of everlasting joy. It is the joy of heavenly peace, God’s assurance, life in the Body of Christ, and the joy of being coheirs to victory.

Jesus won His and our joy on the cross. For what reason would we do, speak, and act. For what reason must we endure, abide, and face all things? For genuine joy!

Who by
faith.

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

What do you have?

Last week we spoke of introspection, and the necessity of getting out of ourselves, of looking up and out. We spoke of using the power God has given us to draw in many to know, love, and serve God, to build up a storehouse of treasures God will be proud of. It is what we have.

Today, St. Paul drives the power of faith home in a long illustration of faith history. We only heard a part of it, from Chapter 11 of Hebrews. If we take the opportunity to read the whole thing, we will see illustrations from every age of people who stood in the breech. These people did great and amazing things all founded upon faith in things unseen and only promised. Paul tells us that this kind of faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. It is what we have.

The people of the old Israel kept faith alive in the midst of every challenge. Even when they had to worship in silence and hiding, they did not stop, and because of this, God brought them to victory. This is not just then, or a tale of old. This kind of faith lives today. We see illustration of the Church in hiding through the days of communism – a Church emerging intact from behind the iron curtain, and these people too are well attested. We see it wherever bravery and perseverance are called for.

We have these examples of faith alive in our hearts, in our stories, in our reflections and prayers. They live in the way we face daily challenge and resistance to the worldly.

In just the past two weeks persecution has touched our Church. Fr. Franciscus Urban, a priest in Sweden, a former Marine, and an educator, was fired from his teaching job because of his faith. The headmaster said: “I can see no possibility for you to stay. Your ‘values’ do not meet with the school’s ‘value foundation’”

Walking by faith has never been unchallenged, nor unchallenging. Yet, in living faith out we gain the greatest attestation available, the blessing of God and the assurance of the kingdom. Jesus drove the point home, saying: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” Let us take confidence acting in Him. This faith is what we have!

Fearful navel
gazing.

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!

Have you ever navel gazed? I am serious in asking. Have you spent time, standing in the bathroom, or sitting on your bed, gazing at your belly button, your navel? What did you find? Sure, fuzzies. Maybe you considered whether you liked/disliked the look. Oh, I wish I had an innie or outie!

Thinking about this, we can see why the term ‘navel gazing’ is a perfect analogy for looking inward, for a failure to look up and out.

A ‘son of David, ’ a chronicler, assembled Ecclesiastes. Throughout the book we see the term ‘vanity’ coming up again and again. It is another one of those Hebrew words that has not been translated very well. The sense the author was trying to get across was about the sense of “emptiness, futility, and absurdity” we encounter when we spend our lives navel gazing, looking inward.

If we spend our lives looking inward, rather than outward, then we fulfil the writing: All [my] days sorrow and grief are [my] occupation; even at night [my] mind is not at rest. A terrible way of existing.

St. Paul calls us to get out of ourselves, our futile cares that will amount only to sorrow and grief. He says, seek what is above. Put the navel gazing to death, and venture forth to declare the kingdom, to seek, to find, and most importantly to encounter and invite.

Jesus brings the point home. He is asking us to consider the things we dwell on, the inward looking, navel gazing futility. Is it all that important? Will it matter eternally? No! Rather, we must be ready to answer God about the treasures we have stored up: the souls brought to God, those saved and entered into the rolls of the kingdom.

If we each get out of navel gazing, if we clear out the fuzzies in our head concerning the tasks to be performed, then we will be part of the prosperity saved for those who are about kingdom work.

Let us pull our eyes out of ourselves, out of what blocks us, away from fear. Gaze on the power God has given us. Doing that we will be Filled at daybreak with His kindness. We will shout for joy and gladness all our days.

And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh He brought you to life along with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, He also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Last week we found Abraham sitting in the entrance of his test on a hot summer day. Today, his three visitors walked on toward Sodom, intent on destroying the city for its sinfulness, while the Spirit of God remained with Abraham. In one of the most classic dialogs in scripture, Abraham presumes to bargain with God. He wonders, can God forget the serious sinfulness of Sodom for the sake of those who try to live justly? Not once, but three times, he sets a challenge to God – can He look past the sins of so many for the sake of the few innocents. Perhaps it is a bit too far to say, at least at that stage of salvation history, that God would forget the sins of so many. Yet, He could look past their serious sinfulness so that that those, innocent of those serious sins, might not perish. God shows forth His mercy. God previews His approachability.

St. Paul brings our new reality in Jesus to the fore. We are all guilty, all liable, yet God mercifully sent His Son to free us, literally to obliterate every sin (every failing, serious and minor, big and small) that held us captive. Paul tells us that we have been buried with Jesus by our baptism. In those waters we, by God’s grace, the cross of Jesus, and the working of the Holy Spirit, leave sin behind. Uncleanness is abandoned, and we come alive – alive for ever. In that moment, we were raised.

The question before us, what do we do with this new freedom? What are the next steps? How should we act?

Remember that Paul refers to when we were dead. It is past tense, it was before. It is addressed to every one of us, Gentiles in the old order and the new Israel in our rebirth. Freed from our sin, we must respect and honor the fact of our freedom. Again, but how?

Respect and honor our position of freedom in the kingdom. Stand tall, look straight ahead, and pray to the Father looking Him in the eye. Ask in faith. Believe that we will receive. Give praise and thanks. The Lord has forgotten our sin and invites us to approach Him right now.

Suddenly,
this man.

The LORD appeared to Abraham by the terebinth of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, Abraham saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said “Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree.

Abraham, sat in the entrance of his tent on a hot day, near a Mediterranean Sumac tree in Mamre. The Canaanites who lived in that land considered the tree to be holy. Mamre lies about halfway between the current day Palestinian cities of Halhul and Hebron. In Arabic, Mamre is referred to as Rāmet el-Ḥalīl or the Hill of the Friend.

Friendship is a key element in today’s scripture. As Abraham sits there, He suddenly encounters God in the form of three travelers (the Holy Trinity). He suddenly rushes out.

We can well experience the kind of day Abraham and his people were experiencing, just step outside. Abraham runs out on this hot day, leaves the shade of his tent, to welcome the stranger – and does just what someone would need on such a hot day. He offers them cool water to wash in, cool shade to rest in, and a fine picnic lunch. In return for Abraham and Sarah’s act of friendship, God rewards them with the promise of their desired child.

God’s mode of operation is predicated on friendship, His unfailing, all-in, friendship with us in grace and His desire for our friendship – a return to Him, dedication to Him. The Prophets Hosea and Joel make God’s word plain to us: “Come back to Me with all your heart.” The theme of friendship runs through the histories and prophesies of the Bible. God’s perfect witness of friendship – He Himself, comes to us and offers His whole self to reconnect us to God.

St. Paul rejoices in sufferings, because he suffered for the sake of his friends in Christ. He sets an example for us; we must be prepared to do all necessary out of the love the flows from our friendship with God. Run out of our tents, offer cool water, food, and most importantly, what we have heard from Jesus. Like Mary, take what we hear and put that into action. Do not let any anxiety get in the way of sudden friendship with God and each person we encounter.

The
Goal.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The age-old question, ‘How do I get to heaven?’ A young man, a legal scholar, approaches Jesus to ask exactly that. How do I receive a share of heaven, how do I inherit a place there?

Of course, the scholar came to the right person. Who better to ask than the King of heaven and earth, who dwelt in heaven from eternity? We will cover Jesus’ answer later.

For now, let us focus on the various attempts at human answers to the heaven question.

For some, heaven is an impossibility, a fantasy. It is something made up by primitive people who needed answers to the world’s mysteries. They have no need for an answer on how to get there because no one gets to heaven. Rather, they are readying themselves to flash out of existence.

On the opposite end are people with vague notions of spirituality. They have squishy notions of what heaven is, an indeterminant place of peace and contentment, the fulfillment of whoever conjures a fantasy of what it will be. In their estimation, everybody (except the usual suspects) gets to heaven.

The other major religions of the world have amazingly similar perspectives on how to get to heaven. It is as simple as checking off items from a to do list. For the Jewish people, it is the keeping of the Law. For Muslims, at a basic level, the following of the five pillars, righteous actions, and striving will lead to heaven.

God instructs us differently. Our call is to get to the core of all lists, laws, and rules. God’s way is love. So, how do we achieve our inheritance and get to heaven? It is faith based devotion of our our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds on the Lord. Love of God, in and of itself, is the first commandment. This love extends through and beyond God – and must also be focused on each person we encounter. With faith in Jesus as the way, we are to love, get to building the kingdom here and now, and thus gain the inheritance.