I give
up.

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days

We know that the human body needs food and water to survive. A human can go for more than three weeks without food, but water is a different story. At least 60% of the adult body is made of water. The maximum time an individual can go without water is about one week in ideal conditions, less in more difficult conditions, like the broiling heat of a desert.

Jesus in His humanity is just like us (except for sin). It is unlikely that He gave up all food and water during His fast. What He did give up in the desert experience was any hint of self will. There, He fully connected with the Father and conformed Himself to the Father’s will. He accepted the hard road ahead as His mission. This experience, separated from human company, barely existing, the ultimate in aloneness, prepared Him and strengthened Him such that no temptation, no allure could pull Him off the Kingdom mission.

Believers are often called into a profound and mystical desert journey. It is a certain time of aloneness and apartness where we face the big roadblocks that are in the way of our journey to heaven. In that time, we break down the roadblocks, grind down the speed bumps, burn away self-interest, and commit to the road toward the kingdom. In the desert, we find God’s mission for us and learn to differentiate between the things that keep us on mission or draw us away.

This week we faced a horrible tragedy in Florida. Lives taken, young, beautiful lives that will never have the opportunity to experience the desert journey of growth. Rather, they were pulled away from all of life’s experiences and opportunities.

Jenny Rapson, writing at For Every Mom, notes that seventeen souls lost their lives on the first day of Lent. She asks us to seriously consider what we are giving up for Lent as individuals and as a nation. Reflecting on Jesus’ desert journey. she says: “Let’s give up, as a country, as a nation, let’s give up whatever it is” that blocks us from doing what is right; “whatever it is that allows people armed with assault rifles and shotguns to keep coming into schools time and time and time and time and time again to murder our children and their teachers. Let’s give that up. Let’s identify that thing and then let’s lay it down and sacrifice it so no more children have to die.”

Her poignant words call us to rise to the challenges we face as individuals, communities, and as a nation. They remind us that the desert experience must be part of our everyday lives. We must take the desert road to determine what we must give up. the actions, thoughts, and words that do not live up to the Father’s will and His Son’s example of resisting temptation, bringing healing, offering peace, and living anew.

What kind of letter
am I?

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reflects on credentials. He begins by saying: Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? Did Paul need a letter of recommendation when he came back to Corinth? After all, he had led the people there to Jesus. Yet, we infer from this passage that they were asking for exactly that; his credentials. The next time you come here, bring us some letters from John, or Peter, or James, or one of the real apostles. Paul is incredulous, “Do you really mean that? Don’t you understand? You are our letter of recommendation. Christ has written it on your hearts. He didn’t use paper or stones. He wrote it on your hearts, and the ink he used was the Holy Spirit. As for me, I’m nothing but the postman; I just delivered the letter. God did the work.”

Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that the changes that had occurred in their lives, the freedom they were experiencing, the deliverance from evil habits that were regular and destructive parts of their lives– all happened because Christ’s gospel, delivered through Paul’s work and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what changed them and turned them into a letter to others. They were credentialed.
Think back on the early Churches. Acts and in the letters of Paul said nothing about the Church and its ministries. Those early Christians did not go around, as we do today, talking about what the church can do for a person, or about the value of becoming a member of the Church.

The members of the early Church did not mention it because they understood that they were the message, the letter. People saw that Jesus changed healed and restored them. Look at what the Lord has done in me.

Paul seeks out their understanding – their realization of the power that is in them. Christ had written the letter of recommendation in them. It shows forth in their changed lives. People are drawn to Jesus because their lives witnessed to His power. They are all the testimony needed.

As we prepare to enter Lent let us reflect on our life letter. Are we a recommending Jesus in the eyes of those who read us? Can they see that Christ has done something powerful in us? That is the point. We ought to be the visible evidence of God at work; so much so that people will say: “What’s this? What’s going on? I know your name, but somehow, I get the feeling I’m talking to Jesus.”

What is new and
the best?

Thus says the LORD: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

Today’s gospel presents one of the most picturesque, most moving, and most dramatic events in Jesus’ ministry.

As usual, Jesus is in someone’s house. Everyone is there to see Him, to hear Him teach and proclaim the Kingdom. It is standing room only and people cannot even get inside the door. Four men decide to bring their friend, so he might be healed. The drama begins. They cannot get near Jesus. Like most guys, the devise a crazy plan. Let’s go up on the roof and break in from above.

Now imagine, they had to get ladders or ropes. They had to get up on the roof. They had to get their paralyzed friend up there too; he couldn’t move himself. That process had to take some time. They’re likely wondering if Jesus might leave in the meantime. The clock (or sundial) is ticking away.

They finally get up there. They start breaking open the roof. The people, down below had to have been – at least wondering. Pieces of the roof were falling down on the crowd.

The hole is open, the men begin to lower their friend. They are eager, working hard, trusting in a miracle. Our friend will walk, our friend will walk – almost like a Super Bowl cheer. And, Jesus says: “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

There is a mix of drama and disappointment. A moral drama is taking place between the Scribes and Jesus. All the while this man is laying there, suspended by ropes. His friends are teetering on the roof. They are teetering in their disappointment. They are on the edge of losing faith. They are looking at each other – What did we just do? This wasn’t worth it at all! How are we going to get out of here?

The focus is suddenly on Jesus’ question to the Scribes. It is phrased as: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ This is a question about the power of God and the greatness of the gifts He offers. Which is the greatest power and gift – to physically heal or to free someone from sins?

Jesus sets the record straight. Reflecting on Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus makes the paralyzed man’s past go away. I will remember not the events of the past. Jesus has freed the man from his past, his sins. He shows Himself as Master of the past, present, and future; the Master who can make everything new. Then to dramatically illustrate what He had done, He tells the man to get up and walk. The man’s life is totally new. He walks without bondage. The bonds and chains that drag us down vanish in Jesus’ words. This is for us. Jesus delivers extraordinary freedom for us, making all new and best. We will walk! We will walk!

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

This year we enter into the Great and Holy Lent on Valentine’s Day. The last time this happened was in 1945. This presents us with a whole bunch of dilemmas. Can I celebrate Valentine’s Day? Which celebration is the greater obligation? Do I have to fast and abstain from meat? The underlying question is: Does God’s love motivate us? Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians, recounts the great promises God has given us in Jesus. Among the great promises: That God will walk among us and live with us (He is not in a long distance relationship). That we are God’s people; He receives us in His fatherly love. We are His sons and daughters; co-heirs with Jesus to the resurrection and eternal life in heaven. That we have communion with Him, His protection and blessings that are absolute and unconditional. Does God’s love motivate us? Yes, if we work to improve externally and internally; to live in purity of heart and to train to avoid all sin – the killer of love. Lent is the time to discipline ourselves and cleanse ourselves so that we live up to the love we have received from God. That is what Lent is about – living up to the love and promises we own. Lent is an opportunity to live up to love – to cleanse ourselves, achieve deep-seated changes in our lives, and align ourselves with God’s love. It is a happy coincidence that Valentine’s Day marks the start of Lent because Lent is about the change real and honest love brings, the good love motivates, and the happiness and holiness love attains.

Join us in the run up to and for the start of the Lenten season. So much going on. Souper Bowl Sunday, Annual Meeting, Ash Wednesday, our Valentine’s Raffle, our Seniorate Lenten retreat. Join us – become part of a family of faith and shine forth – bringing more and more to real freedom in Jesus. We so look forward to meeting you, to working together, to being love to our world.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2018 Newsletter right here.

Will we live
big?

Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd playing Jake and Elwood Blues had just been released from prison. They went back to visit the orphanage in which they were raised. They find out that creditors are about to foreclose on the orphanage. Suddenly, the understood the big thing they had to do. They were going to pay off the debt. Their oft repeated statement of purpose was: “We’re on a mission from God.”

Paul was certainly on a mission from God. Yet, he says something very odd – especially on point for us in this day and age – give no offense. Many people tend to think (by our failure to live like Jesus) that giving offense is what the Church is all about!

Paul was focusing on the difference between insignificant matters, small ‘t’ traditions and practices and the essentials of faith. Don’t quibble, don’t focus on the small things, don’t create offense for anyone over small things. Rather, come together in unity on the big things, the essentials. In doing that, show off Jesus. Set an example of humility. Shine forth like Jesus – be like Him. Open the door to all in need of the big healing, big peace, big confidence, and big security only Jesus can give.

Think of what Jesus taught about the things that are key. Two things only. Two commandments. Love God, love each other. Any minor issues there, anything insignificant? Not at all.

Paul’s experience helped him to really understand what Jesus taught. Paul often focused on the greatness of the mercy that was shown to him. Paul saw and experienced, in a flash of blinding light, what Jesus focused on. It was never the small. Paul had been focused, in his pharisaical ways, on minutia. It his encounter with Jesus, Paul saw where he fell short in understanding. He finally got God’s big mercy. What counts is that God wipes out our small and the big mess of sins – our failure to love God and to share in that love as an act of love – so we can start anew.

If barriers are raised to our neighbors, by arrogance, being bound to the small and insignificant, then the path to Jesus’ big mercy is blocked.

As we begin our Pre-Lenten preparation, let us consider how we may remove any block on the way to Jesus. Are we opening the path to mercy? How will we live? What mission from God are we on? Who will we be imitators of?

Jesus healed the leper, and he couldn’t stand not to tell of the big mercy he received. …he went out and began to talk freely about [Jesus] and the people came to Him from every quarter.

The before and the
after.

Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed, ” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.

Jonah is on the job! Well, really, finally he is doing what he was asked to do.

Today is a story of the before, the present, and the after. The story of Jonah is so well known that we can almost recite it from heart.

Jonah, a well know prophet, was asked to go to Nineveh. He was to go into enemy territory, and tell people who had no faith or belief in the One true God that He was going to destroy the city for its sinfulness. Jonah figured he was doomed, he’d end up another dead prophet. So, Jonah ran it the opposite direction. More than run, Jonah immunized himself against God’s voice – so much so that he slept through the storm God sent to redirect him. This is the before.

Each of us has a before.

Sometimes, our before is a place we have been for a long time. It is something we want to get out of. Sometimes, our before is just a moment ago. We know we aren’t where we should be and we want to be different. We want to wake up. Sometimes, like Jonah we have a longstanding before in God’s presence. Even if we knew God and carried out His will, listened to His voice, we fall back into our before. Sometimes we immunize ourselves to God’s voice. When any of this happens, God sends His voice. He urges us, calls to us. If we stay stubborn, God sends the storm. He tries to wake us up. Sometimes He send friends – as with Jonah when his shipmates had to wake him up.

God’s call finally woke Jonah up, He decided to respond, to wake up. He decided, after days of reflection, to carry out the Lord’s will. He called out to God and said: What I have vowed I will pay: deliverance is from the LORD.

Those words need to be our now. If we are in a bad place, and have come here for the first time ever, for the first time in a long time, or if we have been here for a long time, yet feel numb and cold, we need to wake up, respond, and get on the job.

The Apostles had a before. Simon and his brother Andrew… were fishermen. James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John… were in a boat mending their nets. Then they heard Jesus call. Some slipped away completely. Others fell back, fell asleep until they were woken-up. They were not unlike us, but did great things because they laid aside their before for Jesus’ now and after.

We are called to set aside our before. To realize we are freed from before so to live consistent with Jesus’ call to us – now and ever after.

I want to
join.

The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with Him.

St. Paul teaches a beautiful reality today. As members of the Church, we are no longer alone or apart. We are joined to Jesus.

This is not a joining like a membership in a club or with our local automobile association. Those things are optional. If we have a club membership, we can go and partake in club activities if we feel like it. We can adjust our club participation to suit our needs. If we joined the local AAA or other automobile association, we can call them if we need them or are in trouble. We might even take advantage of club discounts if we think of it. Otherwise we can simply ignore the association; file our membership in the back of our minds. But, if we have joined ourselves to Jesus we no longer have options. We have to be all-in.

Paul points out that being part of Jesus is about being all-in. We are intimately joined to Him. What He has, will be ours. Who He is, we will become. His inheritance is our inheritance. If we are one with Him.

The Christian community – made up of each of us – is called to a new way of life; Christian living must show our membership in Jesus in ways that others can imitate. We must be so attractive, so Jesus like – love filled, gracious, peaceable, service oriented, sacrificing, and dedicated – that those who are seeking Jesus find Him. That those who are our fellow disciples grow deeper in their union with Jesus. All because of us.

We are called to completely orient our lives in a way that is in communion with Christ. This means we must make a giant change. We have to fully understand that our lives are not ours. Our bodies, minds, souls, desires, wishes, present and future do not belong to us – they belong to Jesus. We have to give up on ourselves to fully live our union with Jesus – our membership in Him.

This joining is not easy, nor does it happen overnight. If it did, every baptism would result in perfect Jesus-like people. Rather, our membership in Jesus is a process of becoming – and Paul is reminding us of what we must become to really be part of Jesus.

We hear of those who decided to walk with Jesus – they said, ‘I want to join.’ They walked with Him, listened to Him, prayed with Him – lived at His side yet still had to grow in their membership. That should give us courage.

To be really complete and all-in we must seek the Holy Spirit’s help and reach for the fully aligned life. With the Spirit’s help, we become, grow, draw others to Jesus and share in glory.

Peek-a-boo
We see You!

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

We have used the term Theophany several times in our teaching during this Christmas season. Last week we talked about the heavenly revelation experienced by the humble shepherds. This week, all who stood along the banks of the Jordan would experience heavenly revelation, the showing of God as He is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Some of this might be lost on us. We encounter heaven weekly in this church. We know God as He is. In our worship, our Eucharistic experience, we are pulled into heaven and all of eternity is made real, graspable, to us. God’s Son shows Himself and we commune with Him. We are drawn together, in Him and with all who receive Him here on earth and in the heavenly kingdom. We don’t ordinarily recognize the wonder of this moment, we don’t see it because Jesus is so available to us. It wasn’t always that way.

This revelation of God, His manifestation in a way discernable by the senses only occurred a few times in the Old Testament. God walked with and spoke to Adam and Eve in Eden. He spoke with Cain, Noah and his sons, and with Abraham and Sarah. Moses first encountered God in the burning bush. Later, at Sinai, He spoke with Moses face-to-face, as one would speak with his neighbor, in clear sight and not in riddles. Because of these encounters, Moses was visibly changed. When Moses retuned from his second encounter with God on the mountain the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.

Moses shined with the glory of God, and as Moses had been afraid before the burning bush, now the people were afraid. In fact, God’s glory was too much for them and they made Moses cover his face: when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.

Imagine that – being so changed in the presence of God – that you actually retained that presence in your body and on your face. Yet, that is in fact what is happening right here! Today! To us!

God is revealed. He has come to us. We have met His glory. We should look in the mirror. Are our faces shining? Are we glowing with the radiance of the heavenly kingdom opened to us each week, right here?

We might say, I am not worthy. We might say, I cannot see it. We might say, not here, in upstate New York, in Schenectady. Yet here He is, revealed, real, present and active in our lives. It is not our worthiness, but His great love that makes us shine. Bruised, just smoldering? Perhaps, but here He is to ignite us and give us glory.

Who’s
first?

but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior

The Christmas season is a time for recognizing firsts. As we browse through the scriptures, we encounter those who did things for the first time. It is, however, a little difficult to decide who did what first.

Did John the Baptist proclaim Jesus first? Not really. The Shepherds we honor today did that. They heard about Jesus and told of Him first. They made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

Was John the Baptist the first to be killed because of his proclamation of the truth? On December 26th, the Church honors St. Stephen, called the proto-martyr – the first martyr for the faith. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. But on December 28th the Church honors the Holy Innocents, the children and infants killed by Herod after the Magi’s visit. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region. They were first.

People have an affinity for firsts. We like winners – and these martyrs and evangelists were indeed the first winners. But do we realize that we are all winners? Like the Humble Shepherds, Jesus’ birth heralds the fact that we have been made winners, and are in first place.

In writing to Titus, Paul lays down the way winners, people in first place, are to live. He says that winners are different from non-winners because they lead different lives. Paul shows us that the change wrought in Jesus coming – the appearance of God’s kindness and love – gave us the possibility of changing – becoming victorious. It is not that we have done anything to bring about this change. Rather, it is a change gifted to us by Jesus’ appearance.

Those first visitors encountered this opportunity. Poor and outcast humble shepherds encountered Theophany. They saw the glory of God and heard the message. They were changed to winners, not just by the encounter, but because they acted on it.

Paul walks us through a formula he frequently uses, comparing before and after. In verse 3 he says how things once were – we were total losers: foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another. Now we are winners because, He saved us.

Because we are made winners, people in first place, we are called to boldly and richly live the life laid out for us by the One who gives the first victory.

Beloved:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ

Today we celebrate the ultimate encounter. Here we meet God. It couldn’t be any better. Nothing could be more amazing than this night in which all of God’s promises were fulfilled. It happened in this moment, in this manger, on this night.

Paul, writing to the early Church, summarizes what everyone knew pretty much first hand. He recalls the flash of Jesus’ glorious appearance. He recalls the beginning of transformation – Jesus brought opportunity for change, newness, and freedom. Paul helps his readers to see that the opportunity still lives. My brothers and sisters, it lives here today. Approach the manger, see it and enter into new life today.

Grace has come to earth, and it lays here today, ready to be picked up, ready to be accessed and used for a new way of living. As this passage is read in churches around the world, we not only remember an opportunity once given; we take up that chance once again in hopeful preparation for Jesus’ return in glory.

We have nothing but opportunity; a chance to reject the curriculum, the teaching of the world, the non-opportunity of death. Embracing the Christ child’s opportunity for change, newness, and freedom we turn from that which is false, old, and binding. By Christ’s birth, God gives us Divine opportunity to live new lives.

People of God, people filled with love for the newborn Babe, our ship has come in. Our chance is here. Let us link our lives together and with all who see the opportunity of God’s grace – opportunity for change, newness, and freedom – joy.