Our
travelogue.

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord.

Today’s first reading from Acts presents quite the travelogue. Paul and Barnabas had been getting around and welcomed the Gentiles into the Holy Church. In fact, Chapter 14 of Acts covers eight cities where the leather of their sandals really got a workout. The road wasn’t easy. At Iconium they were nearly stoned. At Lystra, Paul was stoned.

Those things are facts. Cities, miles, shoe leather, the number who came to the Lord, the number who turned away. Above the facts of the trip and the numbers in and outside the Holy Church, Paul and Barnabas were carefully laying out a model of behavior. Through teaching and example, they present us with a measuring stick, a barometer, a gauge, standard, and frame of reference by which we may determine how committed we are to travel Christ’s way.

The Gospel and Revelation speak of newness. A new way of life – founded on love, but not any old love. It is the love Jesus walked. A new heaven and earth unknown to anyone before and unachievable except by traveling with Jesus.

This newness is Jesus way of life. He makes all things new, doesn’t He? But to have part of that newness, to be welcomed into the new Jerusalem we have to walk the same travelogue Paul and Barnabas walked.

Jesus is the steps, the map. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed Jesus, the truth of the Gospel told plainly in the face of rejection – because there was those who did come to believe and were saved. They stayed strong! So must we with truth to turn souls to Jesus. They made disciples – we must tell and invite. They lived community by strengthening, encouraging – It is what our community in Mont Pleasant is about. They exhorted – called people to faithfulness, didn’t let people slack – Call that person who has been away. They shared the ministry. Call men to take up the challenge. It is time to hit the road on Jesus’ travelogue.

About the
when.

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

It is often said that it is all about the timing. It is about being there when our ship comes in. Well. today the ship has really come in. Three special celebrations all in one day. We, of course, celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday. We also honor our Blessed Mother, Mary, in a special way today crowning her with our admiration and love. Finally, we celebrate Mother’s Day. While these celebrations may seem somewhat disparate, there is a central theme that runs throughout. It is the theme of motherhood, of deep caring. About mom getting us to when.

As we consider the concept of motherhood, let us look at it from the angle of our mom’s, our Blessed Mother, and what the Good Shepherd left us, our Holy Mother, the Church.

Each of the ‘mom’s’ in our lives exist in time. Each of them has related to us throughout our lives in differing ways. Each of them has left an impact and a past. Each offers potential for the future. Each has been the source of tears and joys leading us to when.

We start with our mom’s. As we reflect on them we consider their experiences of us, and what they prepared for us. As we reflect on such things, we consider those many times mom may wondered about us. We also, and much more frequently, reflect on the happy moments. Those times mom was assured of our love, when she knew her counsel made a difference, when she had assurance of our ok’ness. For her, it is/was about our when, the opportunity of the moment – for us to have everything that really matters.

The same with our Blessed Mother. She holds out her hands to us. She watches over and intercedes for us. She certainly has wondered about us when we were distant from her Son. But there she is, always ready to help us come back. For her, it is about our when, the opportunity of the moment – for us to have everything that really matters.

Our Holy Mother, the Church, works diligently to raise us to the realization of Jesus’ intervention as Good Shepherd. We find Him holding the gate open, leading us, knowing us. For the Shepherd and His Holy Church it is about our when, the opportunity to have everything that really matters.

Expect the
amazing.

And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus appears again resurrected.  He encounters His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. We have all the drama of the encounter with the unexpected. The disciples do not recognize Jesus. He sounds like a sideline commentator; hey you should fish over there. Peter, the nearly naked fisherman runs for cover once John recognizes Jesus.

So much of Jesus’ ministry is an encounter with the unexpected. The widow, bringing out her dead son, sees him risen. Martha and Mary, thinking Jesus too late, see their brother risen. The woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman who went from man-to-man, find the Lord full of both insight and compassionate forgiveness.

Last Sunday, we were asked to share Jesus, His resurrected life, His mercy, His central role in our life. If we did, did we experience an encounter with the unexpected? Did Jesus show up, surprisingly, and give new sight, new freedom, and forgiveness?

The disciples, the nascent Church, found Jesus with them. In spite of locked doors, unbelief, poor fishing, lack of insight, nakedness, and past. He returned and returns, feeding, instructing, forgiving.

Do we perceive or understand this resurrected Lord? Are we ready to really get what’s going on? If we truly saw, if this empty tomb, the glory of Easter morning hit us full on, life would be so different. Why?

Because we have a life of unexpected encounter in Jesus. We have been changed. Hit with this power, Revelation tells us: the elders fell down and worshiped. Knowing what we have this minute, knowing what we will receive, knowing the power of our baptism and our sealing with the Holy Spirit, we would be out those doors proclaiming like the first apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” Jesus was killed and is raised. Jesus is exalted. Jesus offers you opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. I am His witness. We are His witnesses, here in Schenectady, and Scotia, and Glenville, Rotterdam, across New York, and everywhere we go. We would be constantly in awe. But we are afraid.

Peter was afraid, naked in his betrayal – until the unexpected. Jesus was there telling Him as He tells us: Let go. Be unafraid. Follow me. Feed and tend. Expect the amazing.

We
share.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

On the Sunday following His resurrection, in the evening, Jesus appears once again. These appearances of Jesus fulfill many purposes. They perpetuate and reinforce the teachings He had provided over the course of His ministry. They obviously show His resurrected body and its physicality (He eats and drinks with them) – the promise for our resurrection in the body. Today, we see Him also strengthening the faith of Thomas and leaving direction for all who doubt (doubt is never wrong, rather it is the outcome, how we overcome our doubt that matters). We also see a commissioning of the disciples with power, sending with the right to loose and to bind.

In jumping between Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples and the encounter with Thomas, we tend to miss a nuance. The nuance is that we share. As disciples, we share. Christianity is about sharing.

This sharing begins with the fact that we are sent. Consider that Jesus had no reason to send us, nor do we have any reason to go, unless we have something to share. 

He asked that we go and share His word, we share His life-giving sacrifice, we share the promise of this – His empty tomb. We share both as empowered individuals and as a community.

It is so nice to share – great to share but sharing also has a cost. We have to be ready to accept the cost. What would we give up to share Jesus today? Tomorrow? 

St. John the Evangelist declared in Revelation: I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus. That captures it so well. John starts introducing himself, calls himself our brother, and starts sharing. He sees that he shares in all things – the good and the bad. What a perfect model of what Jesus wanted of us told through the disciple He loved. What a perfect model for us.

The week ahead – share. Let us introduce ourselves, be a brother or sister, share with each person so they may share also in the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance. Share to grow the community. Share Jesus because we share.

Getting done
what had to be done.

For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

What a weird thing to say. John, in writing this gospel, is recalling that moment at the tomb. As he is recalling, he interprets the scriptures to say that Jesus had to rise from the dead. A weird thing to say because this writing and interpretation of scripture is directive to God. It is telling God what He must do.

Would we ever presume to tell God what He must do? Oh, by the way God, You have to do this. Yet this is what we read about Jesus today. Jesus had to rise from the dead.

On the morning of the resurrection John, and Peter by inference, did not yet understand. Later they would all realize that Jesus had to do this. Jesus had to get done what He had to get done.

Jesus mission to us is an eternal arc. This narrative, this historical account, begins from eternity and goes to eternity. His work is completely directed to and for us.

Easter, the Solemnity of the Resurrection, all the joy and celebration we feel today, is about this. It is about celebrating what God wiled Himself, required Himself, to do for us.

God’s work is never incomplete, it is never pointless. Each aspect of His work has purpose and effect. Every moment of Jesus life was about and for you and me, each of us, no one excluded.

Is there any point where Jesus’ arc was just good enough? Should He have just sent word through the prophets and left good enough alone? Should He have stopped at the stable in Bethlehem, giving us only a glimpse of what might be possible? Perhaps after His preaching and miracles? After all, we would have had wise words to live by, a nice example to follow. Should He have stopped at the cross, gotten down to show His power? Could we say enough, all right, at His death and burial. Should that have been it? No! We, by Jesus’ eternal arc, have the fulness of God’s life in us. We have the examples of the prophets. We have Jesus’ incarnation and coming for us. We have His life – God among us showing us how to live God’s life. We have freedom from all sin and freedom from eternal death by the cross. Life forever in the resurrection because Jesus did what He hadto do.

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 

you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Tonight, Jesus gave us the gift of the ministerial priesthood, the power therein to serve and forgive, His holy words and example, and His body and blood. He gave all that is needful for right praise and worship. He gave us all we need until He comes again. He gave it this very night.

Jesus left these wonderful things this night, not just because, but so that in them He would remain fully present and available to us. We are able to confess our sins in honesty and are reconciled to the community. We hear His words and see His example illustrated and taught so that we might live likewise. We have His body and blood, and through them unity with Jesus, oneness with He who only wishes to be one with us. He provided all this, this very night.

Jesus provided the ongoing and living opportunity for the faithful to encounter, learn from, praise, and worship Him. He left us the preeminent model of worship that his disciples are to follow this very night.

Jesus told us to gather – and here we are. He told us to learn from Him, to take up His yoke – and so we are ready. He told us to serve one another – and so we do. He told us to eat and to drink – and we partake. We gather, enter the Holy of Holies as one, and come into His presence. We find a unity with God that is at once comprehendible and similarly mysterious.

No matter where we worship – from a glorious looking church, to an auditorium, to a jungle hut – In this re-presentation of what Jesus did and modeled this night, Jesus pulls us into heavenly existence. This is what He left us this very night.

No matter how many people we see worshiping and praising together, from thousands to a handful – – Jesus wanted us to know that we are worshiping with the entirety of the Church throughout the world and the entirety of the heavenly host – all the angels and saints joined with us every time we come together. This is what He called us to do this very night.

In this memory, this remembrance of Jesus we are joined with Him in His eternal being. It isn’t just a photo or video from the past, but an entry into the eternal present. We touch our eternity with Jesus, and in that encounter find comfort, joy, and glory. We get a taste of what is to be for us, His disciples, this very night.

Jesus left us the gifts of this night so we would not remain stagnant. He gave us gifts to get us from where we are to where our possibilities are. 

Jesus moves us, in this worship, through these sacramental realities:

from sin and death / to eternal life

from corruption / to wholeness

from brokenness / to healing

from ignorance / to knowledge

from mere habits / to His way of living

from apartness / to presence

from aloneness / to community

from fear / to courage

from ordinary existence / to extraordinary glory

from earth / to heaven

This very night.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Not the
Conclusion

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Through Lent we encountered Dismas. We learned who he was and what brought him to the life he led.  

We discussed the issue of his equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both; to recognize inherent human dignity. The image of God is in all. We are all provided the same possibility all those around Jesus have. 

Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved. We, like Dismas, must set aside the fear we have in the face of God’s honesty. 

As we heard today, Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him, overcame fear, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life. 

From the cross, Dismas proclaimed his faith in Jesus, confessed his sin, and allowed Jesus to take hold of him.

Today, we walked with Jesus, from the supper table, to the garden, through arrest, questioning and torture, prison, conviction, the journey to Calvary, crucifixion, and this encounter with Dismas and Gestas. Seemingly the end.

There is so much here but reflect on the words of Dismas: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Isn’t that what we all want. Isn’t that what touches us so deeply.

We, who await the supper of the Lord, who have joined ourselves to Him, who are dedicated to Him, have come to realize that all He did, His finishing of the work the Father sent Him to accomplish, was exactly for this reason. God remembered us.

As we reflect on what Dismas asked and what Jesus did, what His sacrifice promises us, let us give thanks. Jesus indeed remembers us eternally. Our life is now, like Dismas, without conclusion.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 5

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

We have to wonder if Dismas, as he was encountering Jesus on the cross, thought back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

As one who encountered death so often, and who perhaps murdered, who likely saw his criminal colleagues similarly crucified, he was certainly seeing and experiencing something new. In the midst of this horrific tortuous death, he found freedom and forgiveness. Outside himself, he saw Jesus take care of His mother and he saw the executioners also pardoned by Jesus.

Paul’s words to the Philippians would have therefore rung true for Dismas, for this is what he experienced. I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus… I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.

What happened to Dismas was beyond his comprehension. Dismas’ sinful and failed life was not his final testament. Rather, his testament is that of mercy, of a new way of life. It was something he had missed, he could not posess, yet here it was.

Dismas, just like the woman caught in adultery, was taken possession of by Jesus and was given the chance to respond. They were both set free by meeting Jesus. Neither had a claim on mercy and freedom. They had no possession they could claim. Yet, they allowed themselves to be brought into the something new Jesus provides. They both allowed Jesus to fill their lives with His newness. 

As we enter the Passiontide, the Holy Church offers us the great reassurance that is so apparent in these readings. Jesus is ever near to us, ready to take hold of us. He has new life for us – the past is no more. All we need do is respond as Dismas and the woman did. 

In these two weeks, let us reflect on how unready we are, how lacking in perfection, and despite that, how much we want to draw ever closer to Jesus. We are His possession. Because of this, let us press forward growing in our discipleship and witness to Him

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 4

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation

Three Sundays ago, we met St. Dismas. We learned who he was. We considered what brought him to the life he led. We began considering questions about those times when we, like Dismas, turned from God, let temptation win. Then we set on the road to repentance. We set to take the same opportunity Dismas had; to ask ourselves questions and use those questions to grow into better and better images of Jesus.

We discussed the issue of equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both.

We recognize inherent equality in human dignity. The image of God is in all. Dismas, like every other person around the cross, is us. None deserves hatred. None is less than we are. In our equality we acknowledge that we are all presented with the same possibility Dismas and Gestas had. Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved.

While we have that ability to come and be saved, we tend to get caught up in our weakness and fear. Fear is compounded when we face God’s absolute honesty. Dismas wasn’t strong enough and lived a sinful and destructive life even in the face of God’s truth. Until. Like Dismas, we must have the courage to grab the chance. We must not forego the chance like Gestas did. We are called to see the full honesty of God – truth and mercy that provides each of us the chance to grow and produce even in the direst of moments.

Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him. He overcame fear without neglecting Jesus’ truth, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life.

Dismas, in his encounter with Jesus, spoke the prayer of faith. He spoke to be saved. In this short moment, Dismas acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus, admitted his sin, and asked for salvation. Dismas lived the parable of the Prodigal by coming back and received eternal life. We are called to do exactly the same. Our Lenten journey with Dismas is a model to be followed. If we follow it, take hold of Jesus’ promise, and live in Him, we are recreated as disciple ambassadors, ever new.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 3

Today I offer three scriptural quotes:

God called out to him from the bush, God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.

Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert… These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us

“Do you think that because [they] suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all [the others]? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!

Pretty scary stuff, because when we hear the honest word of God, the alternative to living in Him and in His way, we face eternal reality. Live in God, follow His way, be His disciple, or die. When we are clearly told to set aside sin, walk away from it, to repent and go in the opposite direction, it is frightening. We face our weakness and wonder if we are strong enough to do it. In fact, we know we are not strong enough.

Dismas wasn’t strong enough. He wallowed in a sinful and destructive life that led him to a tortuous death on a cross. As a fellow Jew he certainly heard of God’s word to Moses. He knew the commandments and the penalties, the blessings and the curses. He was dying on a cross in consequence. The curses all came home at once.

We all must face the God of consequences, the honest God Who tells it like it is, without shadow or excuse. Reflecting on this, how do we see Him?

Do we picture this God as god in a Yul Brynner disguise? Is he god as the King of Siam in the ‘King and I?” Is he in a stance of strength, bald headed, bare chested, fierce, calling for his whip so might beat his slaves?

As Dismas looked to his left, in the midst of his curses, he saw a short, bearded, dark haired Jewish man. He suddenly he saw through his sin and inability, past the curses to the reality of God. God is the Gardener Who says: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate it and fertilize it.” Dismas saw his chance to grow and produce even in that moment where his curses were overwhelming. Let us recognize our chance, the reality of God’s truth. He seeks only our growth and production. We must be honest in the face of weakness and rely on His strength. Let us see clearly and grab His chance.