I know better
than God.

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

I have always wondered, really wondered about those who predict when the end will come, when the last days will arrive. More than that, I wonder why anyone would follow someone claiming to know.

As I mentioned last week, some people try to do biblical math, adding up various aspects of scripture, especially from the Books of Daniel and Revelation to reveal when the last days will come. As I also mentioned, I am not very good at regular math, and even if I were, I would not attempt it, it would be a foolish exercise. I do not know better than God. Consider also the many failed end time predictions that started with the Essenes in the 1st Century and continue through today. There are even predictions for the future stretching out as far as a googol (10100) years from now. So many think they know better than God. Don’t be fooled.

As Christians we need to act smartly, not foolishly. We need to have an understanding of last things that only comes from taking Jesus at His word – that not even He knew, and that we must be prepared. Sure, lots of things will happen as history unfolds, but those must not dissuade us. Justice and healing await us. 

As far as the end times, we cannot know it, we cannot predict it or figure it, but we have to live constantly expectantly for it is immanent. We must be Eschatologically focused. So, how do we do that?

We do that by looking to the totality of Jesus’ encounter with us and our encounter with Him. History did not start with His human birth and did not end with His Ascension. He is, after all, the Alpha and Omega. When we encounter Him in the Eucharistic celebration we are pulled into the totality of His eternity. We stand with Him from before time to beyond time. We must then stay Christ focused, following His model for life so that we are well prepared. We must live without fear, ready to give witness to Him by active ministry, mission, proclamation, and invitation. We don’t know better than God, but we know, as Jesus promised, that by our perseverance, we secure our lives.

Victory
cost.

Brothers and sisters: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

Last week we met Zacchaeus and found in his encounter with Jesus one reborn to new life. We found great hope and promise because each person has the opportunity to be reborn into new victorious life in Jesus.

This week we meet a different group, people who at great cost kept faith, did not falter through every cruelty, and persevered in the new lives they knew they had in the Kingdom.

These last few weeks of the Church year are dedicated to contemplation of the Eschatological moment, the end times, Jesus’ victorious return and our being caught up with Him. These are topics of wonder, so the Holy Church lays before us teaching that shows us the way.

Our starting point is the encouragement of God, called to mind by St. Paul. Our hope is not temporary nor is it fleeting. What we have is everlasting. Having come to Jesus by faith and confession of sin, we have new life. We have the promise of victory and we must not take it lightly. Let us study, read, pray, mutually encourage and be steadfast in our faith and in the expectation of Jesus’ return.

You know, it isn’t easy. The world and even other churches are throwing every distraction before people. Like the mother and seven sons, we must face torments that attempt to pull us away from the Kingdom life into abandonment of God. For us, these things may not be as outright as others face, but know Christians face these sorts of things daily in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Among us, it is not so obvious, more insidious.

I encourage you to read 2nd Maccabees. In Chapter 6 we see this: The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; They also brought forbidden things into the temple so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings. This is literally happening today on the altars of St. Peter’s in Rome and other Roman churches. Where is faith being kept? It is kept here!

Keep faith in these last days where the costs are high. Keep faith here and in your hearts. Jesus reminds us not to fret over the detail or the cost but maintain the hope that is our promise of victory – everlasting life.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Wholeness, completeness – words that present a sense of the ideal, and concepts that are so hard to live on a day-to-day basis. As a Church dedicated to scripture, and considering that we classify the proclamation and teaching of God’s word as a sacrament. let’s take a moment to consider the Bible. I remember classes from grade school on up – and the oft repeated question – what is the Bible? The expected, technical answer, which most kids got wrong? The Bible is a Book of Books. A Book of Books? Makes it seem as if the Bible is a kind of library, and indeed it could be considered that. However, my classmates and I would invariably get the ‘answer’ wrong, blurting out – “It is a book.” But what if we were right? My classmates and I were right because perhaps, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we were seeing the bigger picture, the completeness, the wholeness of scripture. All of scripture, from its inspired stories, histories, prophecies, and poetry in the Old Testament is one. It points invariably to the coming salvation found only in Jesus Christ. The Gospels give us Jesus in His complete revelation – the call to live life as He lived, the call to be a true sons and daughters of the Father as He is the Son of the Father. The invitation to accept Him as our Savior by confession of our sin and belief by faith. The remainder of the New Testament interprets the Gospel into keys for daily living within the wholeness of the Christian community. We dedicate the month of November to remembering our dearly departed. We have a lesson here. The wholeness and completeness of scripture is life’s model, who we are and where we are going. Life is not a series of separate stories and events, just a book of books, or unrelated chapters. Our life extends from birth to eternity. We are not just separate people and events. We live in a continuum that has, as its goal and end, life in the eternal wholeness and completeness of God Who holds all things together.

November and days of remembrance, days of honor and prayer, days of Thanksgiving. We have an active schedule throughout the month including the most important aspect of our life together – regular worship and fellowships that renews and strengths us for the totality of our life in Jesus.

Read more in our November 2019 Newsletter.

Worthy of the
call.

But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus is one of the most beautiful encounters in the gospel. It is beautiful and poignant because it speaks to us in the ways we fall short of the call we have received and the hope we have for coming to worthiness.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to be worthy of the call. Jesus reminds Zacchaeus to live up to his call.

Let’s take apart the words here.

First, Jesus had no intention of hanging out in Jericho. The gospel tells us “[He] intended to pass through the town.”

But… there was this man Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the short, the tiny, the little. It wasn’t so much about Zacchaeus’ physical stature, but rather his spiritual standing.

God’s only Son, Jesus, passing through the town comes across one fallen, one with great spiritual and moral shortcomings. and stopped as Wisdom says God does. The Lover of souls takes time to call Zacchaeus down from his lofty position and back to the reality of one called, a son of Israel and child of God. Jesus’ presence calls Zacchaeus to abandon his former ways … and he does.

Notice, Zacchaeus stands, stands on his own feet to be seen and heard by all. He renounces his former life and in doing so finds salvation. And not just Zacchaeus, but salvation had come to his entire house. 

There is such hope here. There is such promise!

Zacchaeus, like we, was the holder of God’s promise. He was not an outsider, not a castaway, forgotten – and Jesus did not pass him by. Jesus passes no one by. The Holy Spirit’s call to faith echoes in each person’s ears. We are all called as is every human being. There is no ‘them’ in the promise of hope. 

The call rang out in Zacchaeus’ heart, come unto Jesus. So, he climbed. It has rung out in our hearts – it is why we are here. It is ringing in ears across this city, county, state, nation, and world. We must therefore live worthy of the call, using the grace and power given us to powerfully bring to fulfillment the good God asks of us, the effort of faith. Let us bring in of the harvest through the word of hope we hold, the example we offer.

Strong in
prayer.

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

Jesus presents us with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both gone to the temple to pray. He draws a distinction in the manner of prayer offered by each.

The Pharisee takes his position (his entitled place, reserved just for him) and prays to… himself.

The tax collector takes the position of everyone, of no one in particular and in great humility seeks mercy.

It is easy for us to see the difference. Bad Pharisee, presumptive and arrogant, and poor tax collector, presumptive and humble. Our hearts close to one and open to the other. Wait, did you just say both were presumptive? Factually, yes.

The Pharisee was presumptive in the most negative way possible. He judged himself to be worthy. He had no need to pray to God because all was already settled. He spent his time in temple with himself. On the other hand, the tax collector presumed to pray in the first place, that God was merciful enough not to strike him down for his sins right where he stood. He spent his time in temple with God. Presumption in and of itself was not the problem, rather it was the focus of the presumption, the expected outcome.

For the Pharisee, the expected outcome was more of the same. In the end, Jesus points out, that presumption lost him the little he had. The tax collector’s outcome was change and that presumption won mercy, salvation, and justification.

In our New Testament lives, we need to modify our presumptions. Consider what they are and adjust. Our primary presumption in prayer must be relationship with God followed by trust in His promises. Our prayer is not a mere speaking to ourselves about needs, but full knowledge that our prayers pierce the clouds; does not rest till it reaches its goal. Indeed, our presumptions must be based on what Jesus taught, and He taught the strength and power of prayer. Jesus reminds us to constantly to set our hearts on Him in faith, not to despair, and to know that our prayer reaches the throne of God and is effective. Presume that!

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

Paul is once again charging Timothy to remain strong and faithful in his ministry to his people. Paul reminds Timothy, as he has been doing, of what he learned. Paul does these recaps before he enters into the strong charge his listeners are called and recalled to.

Paul tells Timothy: Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it

Now Paul was not necessarily referring to himself – you’ve got to get this, believe it, and live it just because I took the time to teach you. Paul never stood on his own words. Rather, Paul is helping Timothy to remember that his heart was touched, his soul was moved, by the Holy Spirit who imparted God’s word to him. This word – the Gospel of Jesus – has affected your life from the beginning. It has changed the course of your life and outcomes you would have otherwise been destined for.

Because God’s word comes to us by proclamation, through the insistence of faithful teachers, by the example of mentors, in ways that are ever human and ordinary, we can easily miss Who it is that is imparting the word. Paul reminds Timothy and us – you know from whom you learned it.

If we realize the source, the rest of Paul’s set of directives becomes easy: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. If this thing I have, that we have, is from God it will prosper by our persistence and dedication, by our patience and teaching.

Jesus brings this all home. He uses the example of the worst of the worst doing right to show us how much more our great, powerful, all just, all merciful God will do for His faithful. He will prosper our proclamation, teaching, persistence, in good times or bad, work. All we need do is ask with faith.

What we ask in faith is not just some poor request from an underling – please support me if You get a moment God. No, it is a word of power from us who remain in Jesus. Jesus guarantees we will see it done speedily. Believe that!  

Merry
joymas.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth.

Merry joymas! We still have 72 days until the Solemnity of the Nativity, till Christmas. We are currently living in the secular season of Hallowthanksmas.

The Urban Dictionary defines this time as: “the holiday celebrating the most wonderful time of the year, October through December. It is a time of great warmth, sharing, parties, and of great American commercialism. People complain about overlapping holidays, but why? Embrace it as Hallowthanksmas!”

Those who wish to rile up the crowds un-celebrate this time by reminding us of Jesus being the ‘reason from the season’ and that we should always and everywhere wish everyone Merry Christmas … and not Happy Holidays. Churches jump on the bandwagon too, yet here we are, celebrating the Solemnity of the Christian Family in mid-October with scripture taken from a gospel heard in the Christmas season. We must be weird. We aren’t on the frontlines saying let ‘Christmas be Christmas.’ Rather, we are placing ourselves in the middle of the Christmas story today.

In the great grace of the Incarnation, the Son of God places Himself squarely in the middle of the human experience. The fullness of His being as true God and true man shows God’s infinite love for us, His infinite mercy, justice and power, and the Divine wisdom of His saving action. Not to save and go, stop and shop, but to join Himself totally with us so that He could model the way forward, the way we can follow as His fellow human beings. The way of family.

Those posting the memes of Jesus being the ‘reason from the season,’ those little sayings we see online or hear in conversation, have stumbled on a bit of wisdom. Jesus is indeed the reason for the season, but not just Christmas, f or every season. He is the way and the model for each and every day.

Today we place ourselves in the midst of that young Holy Family. Today we recognize that His way is the way for the totality of our existence and experience. In the Incarnation, among all the aspects of our humanity, God, Who lives as family, chose family. As our opening prayer teaches: “through family life we learn to love and care for others, we are everyone’s kin.” Today we celebrate this great gift of God’s family way of life, the way Jesus modeled. The way we must live. Happy joymas! 

Stir it
up.

stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. 

St. Paul is writing a closing letter to the Bishop he installed over the Church in Ephesus. Timothy had been Paul’s student and coworker, traveling on Paul’s missionary journeys. Timothy learned from Paul and like Paul was filled with zeal for the faith. He wanted people to know about Jesus, and like him, to leave all behind to follow Jesus. Timothy cowrote some of Paul’s letters to the Churches and he was entrusted with important missions. After being installed as bishop, he oversaw the Church in Ephesus for thirty-three years.

In spite of all this, the co-work, zeal, the fact he left everything behind for Jesus, Paul issues this last letter filled with reminders. Included therein, thankfulness for Timothy’s work, today’s reminder on the gifts Timothy received, examples of the suffering Paul endured as a reminder that Timothy will also be called on to suffer at times, reminders about proper conduct as a witness to the power of the gospel, the care Timothy must use in facing the dangers of the last days, and a reminder of the reward that awaits him.

While only four very short chapters, this letter reminded Timothy, and reminds us, of the deep obligation incumbent on us to preach the word and to make Jesus known with patience, courage, constancy, and endurance. We have the gifts to do all this and more even in the face of opposition, hostility, indifference, and defection.

I mentioned, in spite of all this… Timothy could have said, look at all I have done. I don’t really need reminders. But he did and so do we. In reality it is far beyond reminders. Stirring it up is more than someone helping us recollect what we are called to. It is igniting our passion – passion for Jesus’ way of life. Passion that calls us to exemplify, in even the smallest of things, the gospel life. Passion that will not help but cause us to sing out rejoicing in our salvation. Passion that will not let us sit by and let any go unsaved.

Paul called Timothy, as he was called by Jesus. He passes those words to us: Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us. Reach up! Stir it up!

Gut
check.

I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ

Today, the Holy Church in choosing its readings and Gospel, provides us with three quick punches to the gut, a real gut check.

Amos once again is prophesying against the failures of God’s people. Imagine, God Who loves His people deeply, is forced to look at the wholesale disregard, the coldness, His people live in. Their hearts grew distant, not just from Him and His love, but from their very neighbors. The world was falling to pieces around them. Leaders, faithless and self-centered. As long as they were comfortable, nothing else mattered. There was increasing disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. God witnesses the glaring lack of social justice, a society living on corruption and the oppression of the poor and helpless. Even religion was corrupted, every belief and practice blended together to please the crowds. The wealthy and well-heeled thought that the superficial stuff they did could stave off economic failure, distress (for the rich), and invasion. They didn’t have to dedicate their whole selves to God; they only had to go through the motions. Amos points them to the natural and supernatural consequences of living that way. His words were echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King and others who call us back to covenant with God, to get out of our complacency and back to where we must be if we truly love the God who saves us. Gut check.

In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he reminds Timothy of his call in the fullness of the Apostolic Priesthood. No, the clergy are not exempt from living fully in Jesus, to being 100% witnesses to His salvation. He warns people like me to put aside all complacency: But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Gut check.

Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man runs a total of 295 words, with 21% dedicated to the set-up, and 79% dedicated to outcomes. As with anyone facing up to their consequences, the bed they made, all the bargaining in eternity makes no difference. Jesus tells us that if we are His we get it. We have listened and have not put off doing. Too late? No, but our gut check time is now. Let us set to work!

Being
shrewd.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

The beginning of our first reading is a perfect set up for trying to understand one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. The reading condemns those who are literally sitting around waiting for the end of the new moon (the beginning of each Hebrew month marked as a holiday much like parts of Passover would be) or the Sabbath, so they can go back to work – and not just any work – but work that defrauds their customers. How many people do we know, so anxious about tomorrow that they miss the blessings of a Sunday? So anxious, they defraud God of the worship due Him?

Much like the thieving merchants of Amos’ time, the master and his steward were both thieves. Recall that charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the vulnerable poor, yet that is what they both did. Jesus’ hearers would know that the debt contracts of the master and steward included exorbitant interest hidden from illiterate peasants – a cut for everyone rich enough to control the terms. Today’s analogies may be high-interest student loans, credit card debt, and predatory pay-day loans. Wealthy landlords and stewards in Jesus’ day created other ways to charge interest often hiding it by rolling it into the principal. Hidden interest rates up to 50 percent! The steward, once confronted, set out to shrewdly protect himself, to act smartly for his own benefit.

All this selfishness and self-preservation, and we would think Jesus would roundly condemn all the players. Yet, oddly, Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he lauds the steward for his cleverness, with an additional complement to “children of this age” (those who were not His followers), for their shrewdness.

The lesson we can take from this teaching is that being shrewd requires we know what rules our hearts, that we know Who we serve, and that we take decisive action to change our ways in light of the coming judgment. If we serve wealth and self-preservation for their own sake, we will fail. But if we shrewdly (i.e., wisely) work for God, placing Him first in all we do – on Sundays, with money, with what we have, in acting compassionately toward the poor and suffering, we will enjoy the blessings of life with God because we cannot “serve both God and mammon.