Who carries
who?

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular even to this day.

Early Christian images were often symbolic. This was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted, even to death, at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd.”

The image of the Good Shepherd often depicts Jesus carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders, bringing the lost back. The image is evocative of the power and strength of Jesus as well as of His care and concern for each of the sheep. We see Him going off among the brambles and thorns, the rocks and cliffs, among the wolves and other dangers, letting nothing stop Him from His mission of care, His rescue.

As Christians, we have the same call, but it can be muffled by our dual personality.

The call is to be imitators of the Good Shepherd. W e are to live up to our responsibility to search for the lost. How many do we know that have lost their relationship or have a broken relationship with Jesus – we need to seek them out and bring them back. Jesus gives us the grace to have the same strength He has, so we can go among the brambles, thorns, rocks, cliffs, wolves and other dangers of this world to bring them back. As He carried us back or into the fold, we are to carry others back or into the fold.

Our dual personality is such, that while we are His sheep, we too go astray at times. Our call can be muffled by the sinful attraction of the world. It is in those moments that we may have confidence that Jesus will not leave us alone and abandoned in the wild. Jesus will marshal all His resources, graces, and people to bring us back. As we carry others back, Jesus carries us.

There are great temptations and sadness, seemingly impossible obstacles in our journey with Jesus’ flock. Yet we have great power in Jesus and the strong shoulders of a great God. It is time to have confidence; it is time to work out our shoulders in scripture, prayer, and the grace of sacramental encounter. The question is not who carries who, but the confidence that that Jesus carries us and we are strong to carry each other.

We have a gift
to deliver.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Beside ourselves, who are the sinners we know? Who are the least of sinners, who are the worst?

Our minds might have wandered to that person who had annoyed us, the one who treated us badly, the one who cut us off in traffic. Perhaps our minds dwell on ourselves, how we fall short.

It is probably best to start with ourselves. There is an old story about a person who went to confession after many, many, years. They sat down with the priest and said ‘I haven’t been to confession in years.’ The priest asks: ‘So my child, what sins do you have to confess?’ The person said: ‘Well, I really don’t have any.’ The priest looks up, takes off his glasses, and said: Well now you do, for St. John tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.” In other words child, you just lied a big lie.

Frankly, as St. Paul instructed the Church at Rome: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Knowing this, we know we have a real problem, and it is not the problem our minds go to.

Who here is forgetful? I know that I am getting more and more forgetful. Without a calendar filled with appointments, I just might not be where I need to be. Thankfully I have a loving wife and a great secretary who keep me on track. I forget stuff at home and leave things behind. Then I have to figure out where I left it. Is it in the car, on my desk, on the kitchen table? Did you ever go to a party and forget the gift you were supposed to bring?

Today, Jesus reminds us that sin and forgetfulness go hand in hand. Being forgetful isn’t sin, but forgetting what we are about is.

The problem is that we are quick to count sin and offense, either our own or that of others. Every person, even those worst at math, deserves a degree in accounting. We can add up sins with real expertise. Yes, all have fallen short. So we can leave that message to scripture. The part of scripture, the gift we forget is what Jesus says today (and every day). We need to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We are to be witnesses of these things.” We have a gift to give and it isn’t our ability to count! Our gift is word of Jesus’s redemption. Through Him all who confess are free.

All we need is
faith and love!

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.

We were looking through the closet in our office at home – a closet that has been changed into a set of storage shelves. We were looking for bags and ribbon for our basket social baskets – ribbons found, no bags. A trip to Michael’s and all set.

While looking through the closet I came across a lovely table runner from Poland. It is intricately woven together. That is what today is all about.

The community to whom First John was written was facing a crisis. Former members were denying that Jesus was God’s flesh and blood Son, fully human and fully God. Like many churches facing doctrinal conflict, the community was confused, afraid, and unsure of what to do. Who should they believe? How could they know what was true, and what was not? How should they react? Their closely woven life of faith and love was coming undone.

John’s response in a lesson to the community was both simple and confident: You know who you are – the faithful. You know whose you are – you are God’s. You know what you have been told from the beginning – love God, love the brethren, and keep God’s commandments. God’s own Spirit is with us to show us the way forward. There’s no need for confusion, anxiety, or fear. Focus on living your faith woven together in unity and love.

John echoes Jesus’ conversation with his disciples on the night before his death: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them;” and “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”

Loving God, loving God’s children, and keeping God’s commandments are all an inseparable part of our life in Christ. They are links in the chain of faith. We live in an interwoven reality that is the Church of God – the basic principles of Christianity. Like that beautiful table runner, every thread is linked together into something beautiful; something that gives joy and that makes love strong and real.

In today’s Gospel we have all the markers from the First John community. Perhaps the first display of fear and anxiety in the Christian community. Jesus settled the Apostles crises quickly. Yet the Apostle Thomas was missing. He was the one thread missing. He exhibits some aggressive non-belief. His thread was not just unraveled, but frayed and nearly broken. We get that way. The comfort is that Jesus returns for him as He returns for us – Jesus won’t let us stay unraveled. Easter is to live restored, interwoven, and unbroken.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us

April first and we are at Easter. The wonderful thing about this timing is how it all coincides and works together to represent a restart. A new month, a new day, a renewal of our Easter life – if we are willing to take Him up. The passage above from Titus 3:3-4 compares and contrasts what we once were, before Jesus, and what we can become – if we chose Him. St. Paul points out that people were foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hating one another. Paul in writing to Titus had recognized what the world was like. But rather than staying focused on what was wrong with the world, Paul is pointing out how much has changed because of Jesus. Jesus has restarted the world, He has renewed, regenerated, and re-energized the lives of those who choose to believe and are faithful to Him. The key to Paul’s writing is instruction on how life is to be lived. The life we can take up post-Easter is completely different than the life we had before. It is fresh, washed clean, and a call to continued faithfulness. The Easter life can be dangerous and demanding. Easter witness collides with the powers of “the age” that want us to stay stuck in old unredeemed ways. Worldly powers want us to chose a replay or repeat of yesterday – not an encounter with the new day of Jesus. Instead, if we chose Easter living we gain a new saved existence of joy and well-being. We join to build community in worship and work. We reach out to draw-in all who desire to set aside yesterday for today and tomorrow. Will we give up what we know, what we are comfortable with, for a new saved life? The crucified, buried, and resurrected Lord’s offer is so much better. His goodness and loving kindness is for us. Let us take Him up on Easter and leave yesterday behind.

Join us for the Easter Season. A wonderful time of joyful service in our Holy Church. Our Amazing Basket Social is Sunday, April 15th starting at noon at the Rotterdam Senior Citizens Center. Come out and bid on some really amazing (and valuable) baskets.

Our schedule is really filling up. Throughout Spring and into the summer months we are going to be so busy. Be part of it. Events include:

  • The Eighteenth Annual National Mission and Evangelism Conference, April 27th through 29th at All Saints Parish, Carnegie, PA.
  • Men’s Spiritual Retreat sponsored by the National YMS of R from May 17th through 19th in Walmart, PA. More information here.
  • Gospel Concert at Holy Name, Saturday, May 19th from 2-5pm. Come out and praise!
  • The 73rd Annual National Bowling Tournament will be held In Waymart, PA from June 8th through 10th. Check out YMSofR Bowl for registration documents and information.
  • Kurs Encampment being held June 30th through July 7th at the Bishop Hour Retreat and recreation Center in Waymart, PA. This year’s fun theme is “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Sign up forms are available here.
  • Convo 2018 will be held on the campus of The University of Scranton in Scranton, PA, July 23rd through July 27th. This year’s theme is “Anointed Lifeguards.” Application forms are due by May 20th for a discounted price. Registration forms and more information is available here.
  • The United Y.M.S. of R. 4th Annual Golf Outing will be hosted by Y.M.S. of R. Branch 20 at Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral, Lancaster, NY. The golf outing will be held on August 18th.
  • The XXV Holy Synod of the Polish National Catholic Church, will be held within the Western Diocese of the Polish National Catholic Church.  The dates and site of the XXV General Synod have been set by the Western Diocese as October 1-3, 2018 at Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL, nine miles from St. Louis, MO.

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

The stone is
gone.

Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.

Searching back through scripture we come to the various encounters between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There are thirty-eight verses that refer to her.

Some consider her the prostitute who was going to be stoned by the crowd until Jesus intervened. Some believe she is the woman that anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper, or the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them, and dried them with her hair.

While those women were not given a specific name, we do know from scripture that Jesus, specifically, saved her. Luke 8:1-3 is that reference to her: Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.

Mary comes to the tomb, early in the morning and finds the stone is gone. What a beautiful scriptural testimony to what Jesus has accomplished for her and for us; the stone is removed.

We face many trials and tribulations in our lives. The world is filled with stones that stand in the way of true joy and happiness. When we face these things, when the stones of our existence confront us, we are called to remember this moment of our salvation.

Mary is our example, standing before the removed stone. She is, at first, filled with questions and wonder, and then it hits. The alternate Gospel, for this morning, taken from Mark, adds detail: On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter.

She runs off to the Apostles. She begins to tell of it as she had been directed. She now connects fully to the removed stone.

We have a story to tell. We, the Christian faithful, have experienced the removal of our stones. By His death and resurrection, whatever stood in our way to eternal glory has been removed. Spread the joy!

Will we run across stones and confront roadblocks and obstacles? Most certainly! When we do, recall this most sacred moment, this day of indescribable joy. Whatever we confront can be climbed, and surmounted. Jesus has destroyed and overcome all stones. Alleluia! He is risen!

Why so
long?

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Father, why is he gospel so long?

Jesus was sent to earth as a man. As the Gospel of St. John tells us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word dwelt among us. The Word lives with us. Jesus, who is God’s Word came to preach the Gospel, the Good News.

God had news for us. It is Good News and was delivered by Jesus as the prophets foretold: Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1); or the “good news of God” (see Mark 1:14-15). Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom. The whole point of Jesus’ saving mission is in His words of life.

Today we read of the accomplishment, the completion of the Father’s work. The Good News of Jesus is that the barrier is broken. The curtain is torn. The graves have been opened. Curse and separation have ended. Reconciliation is here. What is in heaven is for us on earth. We have full access to the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God we have these words in all their fullness.

Today, we pause to hear the Good News in full. No shortcuts. Nothing – no concerns or worries about our time – getting in the way of God’s time. Like John, the faithful disciple, and the women, we walk through all the words, from Bethany to the cross and to the tomb.

We don’t look for a shortcut – like Judas did, trying to bring on the kingdom through treachery and betrayal. We stand unafraid before God’s word and accept it and Him in full. We do not walk away, denying Him like Peter did.

In my years of ministry and proclaiming the word, I have immersed myself in the Gospel. This is the good news, given for us who are weary. I, and I know you; have said, even in our weariness, this is the word that rouses us.

Again, Father, why is the gospel so long?

It is so we may wallow in it, swim in it, live in it. We are here to live in the moment. From the spectacle of Palm Sunday to the mystery of the Eucharist, to the foot of the cross, to the tomb; every nuance, every emotion, every tear is ours to own.

We are people of the word who center our lives on Jesus, the Word. There can be no compromise in that. We don’t want the watered down version. So today we stood, stood with Jesus, loyal to His word. Roused, energized, ready, we live faithful to His command: to proclaim the kingdom of God, and they went out and traveled from place to place, proclaiming the good news.

Faith discovered.
Faith lived.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

This past week we heard news of the death of Stephen William Hawking who was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. He offered the world wonderful scientific insights, theories, and suggestions. We could also connect with his long standing health issues and his courage in moving forward, in spite of challenges. He believed and lived like a person of faith, yet he was not a person of faith. He was an avowed atheist and did not believe in God, heaven, or eternal life. This sermon is not a judgment on his life. Rather, it is an exploration of how we come to and live faith. Can we do at least as much for God as he did for science?

Faith and science are processes of discovery, however their conclusions vary. The ‘scientific method’ is one lengthy testing to find results that are never really final. Science never draws absolute and bulletproof conclusions because a scientist knows that information or thinking might require they back up, re-test, refine, expand, or reject previous thinking. Faith, in contrast, is about making a clear and absolute statement: I believe.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the world to faith and to live out faith. For those who seek leadership He sets forth His example that also calls us to leadership. For those who connect with story, he provides analogy and asks us to preach His words. For the scientist, He provides evidence and calls us to testimony. Jesus calls us to get to faith, to accept it, and once there, to live faithfully.

Jesus is drawing near to His death. Hear His words: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Jesus was totally tuned in to the will of His Father. He makes an absolute statement of trust, placing His faith in the Father’s will alone, no matter where it might lead, even to his death. Jesus calls us to the same faith through His example. He calls us to act in absolute faith. Not ‘oh, but…’ Instead, ‘yes, Lord.’ Yes and, I will live it Lord!

Jesus gives us the grain of wheat and its lesson. We have to let go of the notions we cling to; we have to let our grains of wheat die so that new revelations come to us. Letting go of what we cling to is an act of faith-filled trust. Letting go is an act of living our faith.

God does not leave us to guess. We have Jesus, first hand testimony, and evidence for our sake, yet some will not hear, accept or live faith. Thanks be, we have come to faith and live it.

You house,
My house.

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

Today, our Psalm response is taken from the first verse of Psalm 122. It speaks of the overwhelming joy, gladness, happiness that comes to us when we enter the house of the Lord. When David heard the people say that they wanted to go up to the Lord’s house, His temple, his heart leapt for joy; We are all going, we are joining as one to meet the Lord.

Do we know how David felt? Are his words part of our experience? I can say that I know. Our Church and this parish are a place of joy for me. I can proclaim, using the words of Psalm 26: O LORD, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thy glory dwells. I hope David’s words and this place are joy for you too.

The Psalms mention the Lord’s house at least forty-seven times. Each mention is tied to praise, blessing, and renewal. In 1897, our forbearers sought a place of joy. They wanted to go up to the house of the Lord. When they got there, they wanted to find renewal and gladness. They didn’t. Rather, they found oppression. The vine they believed they were part of had withered; it was no longer grafted unto Christ but onto the political and economic interests of men of power. Psalm 127 instructs us: Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. And so, the men and women of that time determined to rebuild the Lord’s house. They did it, and because they did so, we can all say with Psalm 5: But I through the abundance of thy steadfast love will enter thy house.

Here we are, 121 years later. Today, we celebrate along with the words from Psalm 23: I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. More than celebrate, we continue to grow in our joy. How and why?

We continue to grow in joy because our Holy Church teaches that the house of the Lord is not just a temple or a building; it is our homes, it is our places. The house of the Lord extends beyond the walls of this parish church and encompasses our families, or neighbors, our communities, and all who seek to enter the house of the Lord. For those who do not know the greatness of this house, we are sent forth and called to make them part of our family. Repeating the words of Psalm 84 we can call to them saying: Blessed are those who dwell in the Lord’s house, ever singing His praise!

We continue to grow in joy because, as Psalm 92 says: We are planted in the house of the LORD. Being planted there means the house of the Lord goes where we go. Through our faithfulness and dedication to the Lord’s house, our homes and our families become bound together in the house of the Lord. Our homes become mini-models of His house. Our homes become places of praise and joy if we invite the Lord into our family life. Being in the house of the Lord, making our homes His house, and joining our families to Him we have the confidence David had and can say with him: Praise the LORD. you that stand in the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God!

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Escape is really popular. Whether we think of our everyday trials and challenges (I wish i could leave this all behind), or amazing escapes after a tragedy has struck (I can’t believe they found them under all that rubble), or the things we do just to get away (TV, music, gaming, virtual reality) we connect with the idea of escape. You might expect a church newsletter to go on about staying connected to reality – a lecture about being responsible and staying connected and involved. Even though it is Lent, we won’t go there. Everyone needs a little escape time, some respite from the everyday. What faith and Church is more about is the fact that our “reality,” the struggles, pains, failings, sins, disappointments, weaknesses we all know too well will not win or overcome us. We have escaped. More than two thousand years ago, God’s plan of redemption altered our reality forever. The reality and power of sin and death was broken through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ that first Easter. Death was defeated. True life, spiritual life, God’s life triumphed. We have escaped sin and death in Him. Over the next weeks, we will complete our Lenten journey, enter into Passiontide, and journey together through the events of Holy Week. We will connect with the brutal reality that changed our reality and provided us escape. Escape from sin and death in Jesus is true life. We are alive to Jesus’s life, sacrifice, and power. The new escaped life Jesus provides us is reason to celebrate! It is reason to respond to God’s open arms and His invitation to draw near to Him. Join us in these weeks and days as we experience the life-giving truth of God’s power. Find freedom, real escape, and transformation. Become part of God’s new life and creation.

Join us for the final weeks of the Lenten season, our Lenten retreat, Passiontide, Holy Week, and Easter – April 1st. A huge thank you to all who supported Souper Bowl Sunday and our Valentine’s Raffle. Need ideas for celebrating lent as a family, check out our suggestions. We look forward to having you in our family!

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

Valuing depth and
commitment.

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.

What do we value? Today’s scriptures confront us with that question and ask us to consider the value of our salvation in light of everything else.

Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, places three things of value on the table: wisdom (think learning, knowledge, and education), signs (think miracles, wonders that cannot be explained), and Christ crucified (our salvation). He is asking us to figure out what is most important, not in philosophical or conceptual terms – but in reality. What would we give our lives and our all for? And, if we were to give our lives for that thing, which of them would carry us beyond the here and now and into an eternity of bliss? These questions assist in defining our commitment as Christians and the depth of our faith by drawing value comparisons.

Knowledge or wisdom will surely not give us eternal life. They are the most ephemeral of things. When we die, all our knowledge and wisdom is gone. We could have a wall full of degrees, but none would be valuable enough to act as a passport into heaven.

Signs and wonders might get us a little closer. At least we would be acknowledging a power beyond ourselves. But, that alone will not get us to heaven. In fact, Jesus saw right through people who would only follow Him while He entertained them with signs and wonders. He also knew that His people had a history of experiencing all of His Father’s signs and wonders, and still wandered away in faithlessness. No, signs and wonders do not hold enough value.

If we set those two things aside as not valuable enough, we are left Jesus crucified. We know that faith in Him is entry into heaven. He is the only assurance we have. So, He should be at the top of our value list. In fact, all our values should flow from His being at the top of our list.

Jesus demonstrates this during His visit to Jerusalem. His Father was His sole value. Love for His Father, and His Father’s will, consumed Him. It was never about the building, the temple, it was about His value choice.

Jesus saw that the people of Israel had their values all wrong. They were focused on paying for form over substance. He is asking them to re-define their commitment and the depth of their faith in his Father. Is it about a building, a place, or setting values correctly? He asks us the same question each day. Lent is about our value choices, and what’s on our list.