Welcome to true
freedom.

I love the LORD because he has heard my voice in supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me the day I called. For he has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 116 – words that cut so true today. They cut through the gloom and pain of isolation and loneliness. They cut away pain and hurt. They cut the entirety of negativity away so we can clearly see what God has in store for us. Yes, each of us!

So often we feel unworthy. How can God love me? Where is He in my life? I feel so alone and abandoned.

These are not just feelings, brief thoughts that pass through our minds and cast a shadow over our hearts. They can be a reality whether we live alone or with 2, 4, 6, or even 10 other people. They exist whether we work or are retired. Young or old, loneliness, despair, and disconnection are on the rise. Seventy-five percent of Americans admit to feeling a deep sense of loneliness. That isn’t a once-in-a-while thing. That is deep despairing loneliness. The number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985.

That is what today, and frankly every Sunday, is about. It is about God’s house, His dwelling place, His family, His body. St. Paul often used the body as an analogy. If one part of the body needs help, we, the church, are to work together to save it.

Sunday is not just a momentary beginning – a few hour head start on the rest of the week. Sunday is the start of continuous action – to plug-in, to connect, to form and live friendships, to end loneliness and separateness.

In our Psalm, David finds God’s rescue. He sings thanksgiving in response to Divine rescue from mortal danger and from near despair. David knows God heard his cry. God freed him and David’s heart was filled with love – he saw and got it. God’s goodness made sense to him – finally. But David does more than sing.

In response to God’s love, David pledged and confessed faith. That is always the start. If you have never done that, pray along with me: Lord, I believe in You. I accept Your salvation and deliverance. I confess that I have sinned and done wrong before You. Cleanse me. I ask You into my life and acknowledge You as my Lord and Savior. You have been truly freed. Jesus will never leave you, nor will His Church, His people. Welcome to church!

Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus said these words twice, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Once was to the Apostles on the occasion where Jesus had asked them: “Who do people say I am?” They confessed their faith. Jesus then gave them an awesome and awful power, to loose and bind sin. The second time was when Jesus was explaining how the Church was to deal with sin. First, go to a person privately and confront them – try to turn them. Next go with two witnesses and confront them – try again to turn them. Finally, bring them before the whole Church, and if they refuse to change, to turn away from sin, they are to be treated as an outsider. Jesus reminded them of the awesome and awful power He had given them, the power to loose and bind sin. Why say awesome and awful? We frequently encounter the awesome part of Jesus’ gift to His Apostles and their successors. It is the power to loose sin, to free people from what binds them down. It is the ability to grant freedom. That is the greatest thing! We use this awesome gift a lot. Because of that, and because we hear it from the pulpit, ‘forgive one another,’ we kind of take forgiveness for granted. It seems it is always there for us. The other side, the awful side of Jesus’ grant is that we have been given the authority to bind. That is one fearful power, to leave someone in their sins, to effectively condemn them to their burden. Yet, Jesus gave us this power for a very important reason. The reason for this gift is some people’s refusal to turn around – the literal meaning of repent. Some just won’t repent, wont turn around and go the other way. If someone persists in their sin(s), we should not just give forgiveness. The faithful must reflect on both aspects of the power Jesus gave us. The call is to turn, and live as Jesus showed. We must take Him seriously. We must be aware and responsibly use both the awesomeness and fearfulness of Jesus’ gift to teach and correct.

Our September newsletter welcomes the season of change; the air, a little crisper, apples, leaves, and pumpkin everything. We celebrate our commitment to Brotherly Love. We open our doors and hearts on September 16th for Back to Church Sunday. We have a full calendar of events including: our 9/11 prayer service, Polish Dinner, prayers for our upcoming XXV Holy Synod, and so much more. Find out too why it is better to wash…

Check out all this and more in our September 2018 Newsletter.

Should we be
afraid?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.

Every year we go through these two weeks that mesh so well together.

This week we celebrate the Solemnity of Brotherly Love. This Solemnity only occurs within our Holy Church, nowhere else.

This Solemnity recalls the power of brotherly love. It is the antidote to every form of evil. It heals where there is destruction. It provides hope in the midst of despair. It saves.

The Solemnity was first established In 1906 as our Church gathered for a Special Synod due to attacks against our young denomination from both within and without the Church. As the delegates gathered they decided to not respond in kind. Rather, the lay and clergy delegates instituted the Solemnity of Brotherly Love. We would emphasize Christ’s teaching of love toward one another and even love toward our enemies.

So it is today. Just because our Church isn’t under attack as it was in 1906, does not mean we should just relax on our love.

Perhaps that’s the problem with Christians. The old saying was: ‘the blood of martyrs is seed of the Church.’ The martyrs’ faith and sacrifice drew others to the faith. People saw that kind of courage, faith, and confidence and said, ‘I want some of that; I want to be like that. No fear.

Today, not so much. Many congregations have gotten comfortable. They have flush bank accounts, around the same amount of people showing up each week. They may even do a few extra things in the community, a little charity here and there.

Here, we do things a lot differently. We, like over 10,000 other churches across the country, are participating in Back to Church Sunday next week. Rather than be complacent, we have put our faith in Jesus because He is the One who changes hearts. We have put our feet and voices into action by inviting people to church. We have been and must continue to be their Good Samaritan.

This is of great import. It is key to the Christian life. We must give people a reason, an example, a way to say: ‘I want some of that.’ The most interesting things about being that Samaritan is having no fear in doing what is right. That much will be the one necessary action that saves someone.

How do you do
religion?

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Welcome to September, a time of change and transition. We move from the activities of summer to pumpkin everything, apple cider donuts, and crisper air.

Our scriptures today are about essential change. Moses starts out with a long dissertation about the new Law of God. The people were to observe it, were not to change it, and in honoring the Law, they would find themselves the envy of nations and peoples. In honoring, maintaining, and keeping the Law, the people of Israel would show a unique wisdom and a very special closeness to God.

It seems kind of obvious to us, at least at first glance. God gives us something remarkably special, and if we have any sense at all, we honor it and respect it. We would want to brag about it, ‘look at what God has done for me.’ We would follow the dictates of whatever God has given us. Who would hide what God had done for them? Who would ever want to go against God? To do so, we would show ourselves as the opposite of smart.

Similarly, St. Paul speaks of the great gifts we have received. He was the biggest bragger of all – look what we have, look what God has done and revealed. Let’s live it large: welcome the word, be doers of the word, don’t delude yourselves.

Jesus brings this all together. He chastises the Pharisees because they had let the Law become only a series of doing – not living. They not only did that, they didn’t evangelize God’s word. They kept it all locked up and just for them. Jesus said on other occasions that they: “shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.” And in another: “you have taken away the key to knowledge. You have hindered those who were entering.” Not only were they failing to live God’s commands from the heart, going against them, they were hiding away His gifts.

Our call is to do religion right. Let us honor God with our lips and our worship – and from there do evangelization. Right religion means changed living – faith from the heart, showing God’s gifts, putting it all out there for the world to see. Tell the great gifts. Show them off. Listen to that little voice that prompts you to stop, turn, and invite.

Say what?

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord… As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word… So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

Modern sensibilities are often troubled when we get to these passages in Paul’s letters, today from his letter to the Church at Ephesus. Paul seems to pick at sensibilities all the time, and I imagine it felt that way, even in his allegedly unenlightened time. The Church, in picking readings for today, offers an alternative, a shorter Epistle without all that nasty ‘wives should be subordinate’ stuff. I guess sensibilities were upset.

One of the problems we face in understanding Paul, his text, and the communities he preached to, is that we layer our sensibilities, based on our experience, over what Paul was trying to say. For instance, a little study of the economic realities and relationships of Paul’s day would help us understand that when Paul spoke of slaves he was not referring to a slavery of horrors as was lived in America. There were different forms of slavery in that time, and in certain instances it was no more than an economic relationship between a worker and boss. More important than the form of slavery was how Christians were to treat each other.

Paul’s message was always countercultural. Slaves and masters were to treat each other differently because they had to live a new life in Christ. Both the slave/worker and master/employer were to act in accordance with their new life in Christ.

Today, Paul speaks of subordination and love. These are not to be mutually exclusive things, but in fact a unified whole. Wives and husbands, as with masters and slaves, are to live differently because of Jesus. The complete subordination, an emptying of oneself for the other, is key to life in Jesus. Give up to each other, don’t give in to evil.

This self-subordination, self-sacrificial love, is to mark the lives of Christ followers. Today’s Gospel clearly illustrates that. Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Exactly! Say what? Self-sacrifice, subordination, handing over one’s life to the community of faith offends modern sensibility. Let’s show today how wrong it is.

The days
can be…

Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.

St. Paul was not speaking of anything new, at least in part of his letter to the Church at Ephesus. In a certain way, everyone had and has heard it before: the days are evil.

The roman poet Cicero wrote “O tempora o mores” a little over one hundred years before Paul was to write to the Ephesians. It translates literally as ‘Oh the times! Oh the customs!’ The inference is that the times and the customs are far worse today than the old days. Edgar Allen Poe used Cicero’s quote as a title for one of his poems. It appeared in the movie (staring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur) Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. Politicians used the phrase in recent elections.

There is quite the history and tradition of looking at the evil of the day, not seeing the evil of yesterday, thinking that tomorrow will somehow be different, and giving up with the saying: the days are evil or “O tempora o mores”

The second part of Paul’s letter offers the antidote: be filled with the Spirit, address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and play to the Lord in your hearts, give thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

In other words, living the life of Jesus is the antidote. There is a way of living, speaking, singing, playing, and thanking that destroys evil. We have to be different.

There is a great contemporary Christian song: Chain Breaker by Zach Williams. In it, the composer recounts how Jesus is the difference maker. Jesus takes away pain, makes a way, breaks prison bars, and breaks the chains that bind us. The wisdom in the song starts when the composer confronts us with our reality: We’ve been walking the same old road for miles and miles. We’ve been hearing the same old voice tell us the same old lies. We’ve trying to fill the same old holes inside. He then tells us that Jesus’ better life, really the best life, makes the difference.

Certainly, the days are what they are – evil – but there is a way out. It is never the way the days or certain people are, but what we can be in Jesus. Jesus explicitly tells us: the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. That is huge. We have to feed on Jesus, be part of Jesus, hold faith in Jesus, and live Jesus’ life daily.

Eat and
run.

“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Elijah is both literally and spiritually in the wilderness in today’s first reading. He is so despondent that he asks the Lord to take his life.

Elijah had engaged with the worldly prophets of Baal and Asherah, the false gods that the people of Israel had come to adore. With God’s power he destroyed those prophets and any hope their false gods could deliver. We would think that he would have had a new found confidence, obviously, look at what the One and true God had done. But something is wrong. Elijah experiences a sense of failure, some kind of downer emotion that is not at all obvious to anyone. It is inside him, a nagging evil that leaves him deflated, despondent, depressed, and ready to die. He sits under the Broom tree; the end has to be now.

Most of us have experienced hard situations like Elijah did. We may feel down even though all around us seems great. There may be true miracles in our lives, but we take a different message from them. We grow sad or even despondent.

This story is repeated many times in scripture. Hagar lays Ishmael under a bush and waits to die. Jonah sits under the Castor Bean tree and is angry and despondent.

Some people calls these times ‘bumps in the road,’ but they are more than that to us when we are in the middle. Previously, Elijah was seen as assured and triumphant. He seemed to have no problem finding his way, yet now we see a very different Elijah, an Elijah sharing more in common with Hagar and Jonah. All were, at one time, seen as the blessed of God. Yet they came to ask: ‘Where is the blessing?’

The answer and blessing, as always, comes from God. While we meet a very different Elijah, we meet the same Lord who ministered to Hagar and Jonah. We meet the true God who feeds us, provides drink, gives strength, and shows the way. Elijah’s story, that of Jonah and Hagar, invite us to get up, to eat and continue moving forward. Just as God stays close to Elijah in order to help him overcome his travails, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives; He stays close to us. It is always down to Jesus’ promise: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever”

Growth
confusion.

I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; that is not how you learned Christ, assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds

Today, we find ourselves caught among the complainers and those who refuse to grow.

The Israelites were barely across the sea – having complained there that God’s servant, Moses, had led them to their impending deaths. Now, they were complaining about being hungry. Not just complaining, but dramatically complaining. They didn’t think, or intellectualize all that God had done for them. They forgot what God had done faster than we forget many of life’s minor daily details.

It is said that the human mind forgets things because our focus is on understanding, not remembering. For instance, we may go to a baseball game, or picnic, or family event not so much to remember the brands of hotdogs and chips we ate there, but to grow in understanding of times together. We do remember aspects of those events, but only as a byproduct our understanding and growing.

Ah, there’s the problem. The people of Israel forgot, not only the details, but also failed to understand, comprehend, or integrate the things God had done in their journey to freedom. They missed real faith in God. They did not grow.

On the other end are the people following Jesus around. Sure, they thought, but only with their stomachs. They only remembered what Jesus had just done for their physical wellbeing. They did not move beyond that to an understanding, comprehension, or integration of the things Jesus was teaching. As the days progressed, following Jesus around, they missed the spirit – the reality of God’s truth and their call to faith in His truth. They went so far as to say to Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?  What can you do?” in spite of everything they had seen Jesus do. Their stomachs grew but otherwise they did not grow.

Paul confronts lack of growth and refusal to get what God does. Don’t live for today or get caught complaining. See what God is doing. We learned of Jesus and were taught in Him. Abandon the futile. Let us be renewed in not just remembering, but in understanding and growing.

Called to
greatness.

I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call

Our Christian lives, as we have reflected on over the past few weeks, are not about the past. We can certainty take lessons from the past, but we cannot live there.

St. Paul clearly calls Christians out on living in the past. He writes: live in a manner worthy of the call you have received. That is important to us, to live and move forward.

The feeding of the multitude happens about right in the middle of Jesus’ thirty-second year. It is in fact, the pinnacle of His popularity with the crowd. He had been teaching them “many things” when He saw they were “sheep without a shepherd.

What He had been teaching them was the truth of His Father’s Kingdom plan. It was a new way of thinking, living, being, and acting. It was forward thinking – for today and tomorrow. It was in complete uniformity with all the prophets had been trying to get at – and as with the prophets, the people would not listen. The people could only look backward. They missed Jesus’ point. They missed tomorrow because they were stuck in yesterday.

Shortly after the multiplication of loaves the people would turn away, the majority left Jesus. He wouldn’t do today what He did yesterday – We see that they were stuck back there. They wanted a repeat performance.

For this past week the youth of the Church gathered new tools and new skills. They have set out on a mission to make the choice – to pray, plan, organize, gather people, and set to work to rebuild our Holy Church, our parishes, and our communities. So must it be with us.

We are called to greatness, but not to live in yesterday’s greatness. Our call is to a new greatness, a magnificent greatness. This greatness comes from carrying out the Father’s Kingdom plan as laid out for us by Jesus. So we must get into action.

Here’s the part where everyone says – well what do I do? The first step is pick up the Holy Bible and check out the kingdom blueprint. Then pray, ‘Lord, what would You have me do?’ Then listen. He will point out those we should invite. He will show us how to live and do in a manner worthy of our call.

Great green
today.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

As you know, over the past two weeks we have been focusing on history. There was our reflection on historical errors that keep repeating themselves because of the world’s sinful lather, rinse, repeat lifestyle. We reflected on manifest destiny, not as a political or social call, but as a call from God – by which we overcome all obstacles in furtherance of our carrying out God’s kingdom plan.

Today we hear the most well known Psalm of all – The Lord is my Shepherd. Psalm 23.

The 23rd Psalm is very well known chiefly for one reason – we hear it as we reflect on the history of a person who has died. It is said at almost every funeral home service and funeral or Requiem Holy Mass. It is, of course, comforting – being led by peaceful waters, protected, free from fear, anointed, having plenty – all is green and beautiful – but is it right?

Reading the words of Psalm 23 over and over, we are struck by the fact that it is not a mere reflection of some past benefit from God. It is not a historical re-telling of what God has done, but an indication of what God has done, is doing, and will be doing in our lives. For those who love grammar, the verb tense in the 23rd Psalm is the “habitual present.” God’s action is dynamic, regular, and repeated.

God’s Son, Jesus, is in the great right now. He is not just the past, a historical reality – the Lord was our shepherd, nor is He something we are just waiting on, off in the future – the Lord will be our shepherd. No, He is in our now.

It is time for us to take the 23rd Psalm as the prayer, poetry, and hymn of our everyday lives. All of the promises of God and the reflections of David in singing out this great hymn are about our now. Jesus is shepherding us. He is protecting us – have no fear in witnessing faith and prayer daily and publicly. He is gifting us with refreshment – that reserved for His faithful. He is feeding us, giving us rest, and calling us to follow His right path. Our God is amazing and now.

Faithful, it is about today. Let not the Psalm be a hopeful reflection only after death, but our reality today.