Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Today we triumphantly celebrate the repose of the Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It would seem that this event would be sad and mournful, because we are remembering death, the death of someone so very special. Why should we rejoice on this day of the Dormition of the Mother of God? Why is her death specially celebrated this day?

Before the coming of Christ on earth, death was frightening, because it snatched us away — irretrievably — and there were no means of escape, for sin reigned over people and we alone could not overcome our sin. But after the Lord’s coming and His victory over sin and death, the horror of death disappeared; it became as if a peaceful sleep, after which dawns the joyous morning of the Resurrection.

To the measure that each of us conquers the sin that still lives in us, the fear of death disappears, so that triumphant conquerors of sin meet death with joy, and no longer die but rather peacefully fall asleep. We see the clearest example of this triumph over death in the Dormition of the Most Blessed Mother Mary. She reclined in her grave with joy for she was confident in what awaited her as a fellow and perfect conqueror of sin. Similarly, we see the apostles, martyrs, and all the saints, meeting death as a joy, as a birth to new life, eternal blessed life because they overcame sin in their lives.

So today the Holy Church adorns itself in garments of triumph, rejoices and exalts, and calls all people to do the same.

Like all human beings, the Mother of God died on this day. But she, like all the saved, understood death differently; differently because fear has been broken by Jesus. The Son of God and Son of Mary provided Mary and all us Christians with new consolation. By Jesus’ death and Resurrection, the sting of death was destroyed. Death, once something terrible and painful, has become for all who follow Christ something joyful and blessed.

Mary fully understood this. We have no factual accounts of Mary’s death, exactly what occurred and how. There is pious tradition surrounding the event, but that is so very unimportant. It matters not one bit because how Mary died is not the point. The point is how she lived and that because of her gospel life she is in heaven. Of that there can be no doubt.

Mary was more than just mother. Mary was not just a servant of Jesus. Rather, she was that faithful and perfect disciple who walked the gospel path Jesus laid out. Her love of God caused her to trust and say yes to Him. Her faith in her Son made her fearless. Her listening, serving, praying, presence to others, and learning brought about one absolute for Mary – a constant pointing to Jesus, to His message, to His instruction, to the building of the Kingdom. That is why we know she is in heaven.

In all this Mary offers us a path to follow. Like her, our love of God should constantly cause us to say yes to all He asks of us. We too should be fearless in our faith and focused on the listening, serving, praying, presence to others, and learning necessary to be better and better disciples while we strive to build God’s Kingdom here and now. If we do all that, we can await the sleep of death in peace and confidence like Mary.

Amen.

Division and conflict?

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus

Welcome and thank you for joining us this day in our worship of, and dedication to, the Lord.

Today we face one of Jesus’s stronger instructions to His followers (that includes us). He said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.

The question for us is how do we deal with this? How does this make sense for us who work very hard to walk Jesus’ gospel path?

We could start by reading Jesus’ message backward. He says there will be division and conflict, so let’s be all about that. Let’s foment division and conflict especially by being self-righteous and judgy. See someone, especially a family member, doing something inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching – let them know all about it, how wrong they are, and in the process send both them and us to hell.

No, that makes no sense. Factually that is inconsistent with Jesus’ gospel way just as much as any other sin is.

Perhaps we should start by just accepting every sin, or at least looking the other way. Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Everyone is free to just be themselves. Live and let live. Anyway, I don’t want anyone to dislike me.

No, that makes no sense. Factually that is also inconsistent with Jesus’ gospel way just as much as any other sin is. It is just another kind of division and conflict.

Jesus does not want us to be indifferent or generators of conflict. The lesson from Jeremiah and from Jesus is that our agreement with God’s truth may cause us to suffer. We need to accept that fact and be willing to offer ourselves if called upon to do so.

The writer to the Hebrews gives us the solution – the key to how we are to live the gospel life.

We are to look to the great cloud of witnesses, both those like today’s martyrs in the Middle East and Africa, particularly right now in Nigeria, as well as those who came before us. Model their lives and their all for Christ.

We are to set aside sin, freeing ourselves therefrom with the help and guidance of the Church.

Willingness to witness and walking away from sin we are to be people who persevere, look constantly to Jesus, and live out His gospel way, unashamed, uncompromising, and resolute recalling He sees all we do.

Measuring Home.

They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.

As you are all aware I have been on the road a lot this summer with more to come. I remember the old days of traveling with my family to various locales whether to visit extended family or to go to some great park like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Back in those days we measured the distance from our home to where we were going and back in both time (are we there yet) and AAA TripTik pages. It is much like that today. On an airplane you can bring up the flight’s website and see how far you’ve gone and have left to go. Our phones and GPSs tell us much the same thing – and even give us expected arrival times.

The writer to the Hebrews talks about distance and time today. Abraham and the Prophets saw the coming of the Messiah and the ushering in of the Kingdom from afar. Over the span of thousands of years, they likely would have used up all the TripTik pages ever printed and would have worn out technology. The key learning for us is that those afar off did not lose faith nor hope, but rather invested their entire lives in the hope that was pointed to in faith.

Abraham’s journey is used as a prime example. Abraham knew where he came from, Ur of the Chaldeans. In fact, at an absolute minimum, Abraham, his family, and all their herds, livestock, and servants walked 1,551 miles in straight line distances to get to where God directed them. Because there were no straight roads from place-to-place it was much further than that! Knowing where he came from, Abraham could have opted to go back, yet his faith kept leading him forward. He never quit.

Abraham’s faith and hope were focused on the better homeland, God’s promise of heaven to His faithful who stick to His will and carry out His plan.

Jesus encourages us to be like Abraham, resolute in faith and hope. We have the Kingdom present among us. We are its citizens. Jesus asks us to keep our eyes focused on the road ahead. We are to see what is promised to us and await it with hard work and constant expectation.

A great self-check this week is to ask ourselves: Where is my home and my focus? Will I live as a stranger and alien or be at home with how things are? Am I using all given me to be the image of God and a bearer the Kingdom to those who are outside of it? Much is indeed required of us.

How much? Too much!

He said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday.

St. Basil the Great wrote a homily of about thirty pages in seven sections on today’s gospel. St. Basil took the time and the effort because the issue of social justice and equitable distribution was not just important to him, but was much more so, important to God.

Basil famously wrote: Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

Basil saw the accumulation of things as theft. If one takes and stores up more than what is necessary one is stealing from those in need. 

Basil also saw the provision of earthly goods as a test. He recalled that Saintly Job had a lot. The question, What would happen when it was all taken? Scripture tells us that throughout his suffering and loss Job never lost faith, never rejected God. 

The harder temptation is to have much. Having much, over abundance, is a test as well. The question, What would happen if we have much and more again? The rich man in the parable is not judged until his riches and stuff become his faith. The rich man relies only on himself so his life is demanded of him.

In Basil’s diocese of Caesarea, he created the Basilidad. It was a community of prayer that saw to the needs of the sick and dying, the starving and naked. Those who worked there, ordinary people and religious, gave up that extra coat, those shoes in the closet, the bread, and the silver to do God’s work. They shared what they had equitably. Others saw it and gave generously. We have an abundantly generous family here. We are a mini-Basilidad in seeing to the needs of our community and that is why we are blessed.

Yet, we must always be careful and aware of the test. Let’s try an experiment. Let us look at our closets – do we need extra storage space (larger barns). Try to count every article of clothing we have. How many days could we go without needing to do laundry? If our conscience calls to us, let us do what we can help another with what we have in abundance.

[Reflection delivered at the corner of Albany and Hulett Streets in Schenectady on Saturday, July 30th during March Schenectady for Jesus 2022.]

Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

At this stop we pause to address the plague of addiction and violence.

These two things, these two sins, are bound together. God asks us to be in control of our lives and our actions, to hand ourselves over completely to Him and to follow His gospel path. 

However, when we surrender ourselves to addiction, we surrender our self-control. We allow drugs and alcohol, addiction to food, sexual behaviors and pornography, and gambling to rule and run our lives. Time for family – none. Time for work – none. Savings – none. Church – forget it. The less and less control we have the less time we have for God’s way, and in His place we revel in destruction.

When we surrender ourselves to addiction, you know what comes behind it – yes violence. Place oneself under Satan’s guidance, and under the influence of that addiction, and one will engage in behaviors they wouldn’t if they were sober and right minded. 

Violent behaviors and addiction go hand-in-hand because anyone in your way is in the way. That includes God. I need to get my fix and my high – get out of my way or I’ll get you out of my way. Nothing can stop me. Lack of money – rob it. Someone trying to help me, attack them. That girl won’t give in – rape her. God trying to turn me back, to turn me around – deny Him and hate Him. Reject His Church.

Addiction fuels that pent up rage in us. Gasoline on the fire. In the end the addicted and the violent will stand there alone, shattered bodies and spirits in the wake. Satan laughing. His promises were meaningless.

Think that addiction isn’t being expressed outwardly in some form of violence? These are the other, more subtle forms of violence addiction fuels, things like: Blackmail, Physical threats, Gaslighting, Attacking another’s self-worth, Intimidation, Stalking, Name-calling, Withholding resources and necessities, Excluding a person from meaningful events or activities, Blaming the victim.

Is this in you? It is time to turn now. Immediately, right now. Go to one of the pastors here. Seek help. Call 988. Get help.

God asks for our surrender, the surrender of the whole self. No holding back and no backsliding. Now is the time to throw Satan and his booze, drugs, food, pornography, gambling, and any other addiction away and hand over our lives 100%.

God take me and heal me, mold me as You see fit. Amen.

Prayer answered? Yes!

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.. If you then … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we once again celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We can have confidence in the following things: Take the risks Jesus prompts us to venture and all turns out well. Know that Jesus is constantly seeking and looking for us, so we are safe in Him. Take up and accept Jesus’ call to service and learning from the word with great care and God’s promise will be alive in us.

Today we explore confidence in prayer; the fact that God responds to prayer and sees to our need.

How do you imagine prayer working, the mechanics of prayer? 

In today’s reading from Genesis, we see Abraham once again with God. This is a sort of part two after last week’s encounter between God and Abraham. Remember that God had promised a child to Abraham and Sarah. Now God was traveling on to Sodom and Gomor’rah to destroy them. Abraham pleads with the Lord over and over (as Jesus would say, knocking and pleading) because his nephew Lot and his family lived there.

This plea by Abraham, that Sodom and Gomor’rah be spared if any righteous people are found there, goes on and on, a sort of countdown of the righteous from fifty to ten. In the end not even ten are found, only four, and if you go on reading in Genesis Chapters 18 and 19 you will see that Lot and his family were barely righteous.

All of this makes prayer seem rather linear and time constrained, God hearing one man’s prayer over a series of hours. Seeing that, how could God possibly have time for my little prayers in the face of so many others?

Prayer does not work that way. This is because God is eternally present and not time bound. God is outside and beyond time, so our prayers are always in the present. Even if all the people of the world were to pray at once, each would be before God in His ever present now.

When we pray, we must always do so in confidence. Ask and receive – and be sure of this – what we receive is the gift of the Spirit alive in us: “the Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” God responds to prayer and sees to our need by the Spirit’s presence in and with us. With God’s presence, the power of the Holy Spirit, we have power and can face all with courage, confidence, and trust.

in receiving the Word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the Word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.

You know how it is. Someone tells you something. Then you get that sort of instantaneous feeling and thought – What am I supposed to do with that? You can create some great giphy memes with “Now what am I supposed to do…”

Hand Johnny Bravo a surfboard and you’ll get: “What am I supposed to do with this?” 

Typically, someone shows up – a friend, relative, or even someone you just casually know, and they are dropping all their drama on you. The queen or king of drama has arrived. We are left saying… what do I do with this?

So, the age-old question, What do I do with this?

Here we are, the best and the brightest of our Holy Church, the committed, gathered for a week of training, a week of study, a week of fellowship and fun, for a purpose. What this is all about is giving you the answer to: “What am I supposed to do with this?”

One man who figured out the answer was St. Paul.

The people of Thessalonica came to believe in Jesus and bound themselves together in His Church because of St. Paul’s preaching and teaching; because of Paul’s work. Yet, as it is, people bearing strong witness sometimes attract enemies. Paul got enemies. Those enemies tried to discredit Paul while he was away, especially because of his hurried departure from Thessalonica. Paul’s enemies said he left town quickly because he was a self-serving coward. Paul certainly must have had a moment of “What am I supposed to do with this?” Here’s how he solved it.

The scripture we read today, from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, was Paul proving himself by pointing back to his own behavior – how he lived and worked, how he bore witness to Jesus. The people knew him, saw him, worked at his side, learned from him. He is reminding them of the fact they are witnesses of his integrity of his character, they are witnesses to the image of Jesus in Paul. The enemies are lying, and you know it.

What Paul did was so impressive. Paul freely appealed to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul did not hide or fade away when enemies rose up. Paul always wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life. It was obvious. He lived it. He was the image of Jesus. He carried the likeness of Jesus wherever he went – he wore the face of Jesus.

Now here’s the harder part. When we face the “What am I supposed to do with this?” moment we are given a choice of who we are to be. Do I just stay me, stay wondering, hide, fade away, be a poser, or maybe just laugh or do I grow in my likeness to Jesus? Can we say: Look at my life with the confidence of Paul? Look at my life and see Jesus and His help clearly. See how I overcame who I was and what I worried about because I am confident that Jesus has me. He has me now and forever.

Factually, that is what God constantly charges us with doing. It is our homework, our assignment, career, and lifelong goal – become more like Jesus, bear His likeness, His face before the world, and be confident in Him. We are to solve the problems we and others face, not with philosophies or politics or reaction, but with the very face of Jesus alive in us. The more and more like Jesus we are the less perplexed we will be with the “What am I supposed to do with this?” moment. The parts of us that wanted to avoid: “What am I supposed to do with this?” no longer desire avoidance, but rather to bear the image of Jesus into the problem. When we face anything, do a self-check. Am I the image of Jesus right now?

Confronted by the drama king or queen, we are to be the face of Jesus to them. Help them to see in us, in our lives, the solution to the drama. Confronted by anything in life, let us be as impressive as Paul as we appeal to our own lives as an example. We should never have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Of course, we want people to look to Jesus, but we must also be able to confidently tell them to look at our lives because we have made the power of Jesus real in us.

Paul leaves us with a clear statement on how we are to become that image of Jesus. We are to be like the Thessalonians who received the word of God, who welcomed God’s word not as just some advice from some guy, but as the very word of God in all its glory and truth. They not only received and welcomed the word they let it effectively work in them. It changed them.

Paul’s confidence in the word of God wasn’t a matter of wishful thinking or blind faith. He could see that it effectively works in those who believe. God’s Word works, it doesn’t only bring information or produce feelings. There is power in the word of God to change lives; to change us into the very image and likeness of Jesus. So let it change us into the image of the One Who gave us the Word.

Care About Jesus.

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we once again celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

If we trust in Jesus and take the risks He prompts us to venture, all turns out well. We can be confident that God is constantly seeking and looking for us. We are His. Today we explore confidence in caring for God’s word and work.

We encounter Martha and Mary. Another one of those very familiar gospels most people can quote. We’ll get back to that in a moment. 

Let’s first explore the lead-in, Abraham’s encounter with God. The key to this encounter with the three men by the terebinth of Mamre is that Abraham saw through what was outward, past the obvious, ‘hey there’s three guys over there,’ to seeing the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Abraham not only recognizes but sets his entire household to work in welcoming God. For this he is blessed.

So, with Martha and Mary. The obvious go to for most church people is focused on Martha’s complaint and Jesus’ line: Mary has chosen the better part.

Unfortunately, we take this, and the other words spoken in this portion of the gospel, as a competition between Martha and Mary. We can draw all sorts of assumptions. Martha, hardworking, full of the gift of hospitality. Martha, hurt and maybe jealous. Mary, paying close attention to Jesus and learning from Him. Mary, maybe neglecting her duty of hospitality. Oh, Mary is so much smarter and better. Martha is so angry.

Phooey!

We tend to see drama and then perhaps attach ourselves to the drama. In doing so we miss a very important lesson that this encounter teaches.

What we learn here is not about the gift of listening and learning being better than serving and hospitality. It is not about better or worse parts. It is about the gift of caring being preeminent, i.e., in the first place.

Both Martha and Mary shared in this most important of gifts – the blessing of caring – to care enough to listen and learn, to serve and care for. These two women cared about Jesus very deeply and gave their all in that caring.  Like Abraham they recognized Who was there. Their sisterhood was Christ centered in the entirety of His being as both God and man.

That is the way it must be for us. There are certainly good and better parts in our service to God and His Kingdom and our priority must not be on which part we are to take up, on competition, but rather on recognizing God and doing the part we have been called to with great care.

[NOTE: The readings, gospel, and propers for this day are taken from the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time since the 15th Sunday’s gospel would be repeated on the Solemnity of Brotherly Love]

Trust in Jesus.

Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we once again celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Last week we began celebrating that confidence. If we trust in Jesus and take the risks He prompts us to venture, all turns out well (even if it seemingly doesn’t).

You see, our faith-based trust is not about specific accomplishment as we see it, but about walking the gospel path Jesus laid out. We repent of sin, we believe in Him, we join in worship and fellowship, and we proclaim Jesus in every aspect of our lives. In doing so all outcomes in Jesus are the best. Trusting in Jesus gives us ultimate victory, a place of honor in the Father’s house.

But what happens if we fail to live up to God’s call, to Jesus’ gospel, to the Holy Spirit’s promptings?

Today’s reading and gospel tell us of a seeing and seeking God whose heart, i.e., His whole self, longs to embrace us and forgive us for as St. Paul says – Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – we who fail from time to time.

In Exodus, Israel rebels and rejects God for a cold metal statue of nothing. The God Who saves was rebuffed. The God Who stretched out His mighty arm in power to free and save His people was rejected for depravity. He saw it all, it was all done right in front of His holy mountain, right at His front door. Knowing God’s holiness and justice must be satisfied, Moses pleads for his people and God relents of the punishment they deserved. His seeking heart of compassion and mercy prevails.

St. Paul knew God’s seeing and seeking heart so well. In writing to the Church at Colossae, he recalls all the wrong he had done, his life as a blasphemer and a persecutor, his very arrogance that separated him from God. In recalling it all Paul shows us the reality of God’s mercy made fully evident in Jesus who called him out of sin, who freed him by grace alone, and made him His minister.

Jesus’ parables today give us an image of the seeking and seeing God. He is the caring shepherd in search of the lost lamb. He seeks the lost coin. In both cases the work of seeking and seeing is consistent, it does not stop because God does not stop. 

As with the prodigal son, and his father, again a symbol of our Father, we experience the constancy of the Father. He awaits our trust, our step toward Him, our testimony of confidence in His abundance, and our effort to work again for His Kingdom.

Trust in Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Confidence is so important to us. We think of confidence in many ways – being sure of what we are doing, choosing our words carefully, and studying various approaches so to choose the best one for the most positive outcome. We don’t like making mistakes. We don’t like being embarrassed in our interactions with others or by our decisions.

Jesus sends His seventy-two disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to evangelize talking about God and the way God wants us to live. They were people just like us with the same worries, the same need for confidence. Unlike us, they had not yet seen the resurrection of Jesus in power and glory, nor had they experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit.

They were to go in trust, asking people to change their lives completely – to prepare themselves because the Messiah was about to come into their town. The Kingdom was at hand for them.

Jesus prepares the seventy-two with certain instructions, how they were to travel, where they were to lodge. In these first few instructions Jesus asks them to make a leap of faith, to put their trust in Him. He even insisted they trust so far as to leave their money, their bags, and sandals behind. They were to trust that they would be fed and housed – it was all about trust.

He also gives them the words and authority they are to use: “cure the sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”

Those seventy-two went out and did as Jesus asked in complete trust. Because they did that, they were able to come back rejoicing. The rejoiced not because of who they were, nor because of their sneakers, backpacks, or money, nor because they had confidence. It was because they learned that trusting in Jesus gave them real victory over fear, doubt, hesitation, and being timid.

I began saying that we celebrate the confidence we have in Jesus today. You see, Jesus fully understands what we face if we do all He asks us to do. So, Jesus shows us that trust is enough. We don’t have to be sure of what we are doing because Jesus oversees the accomplishment. We don’t need to choose our words carefully. We have Jesus’ gospel. We don’t have to study various approaches to get the most positive outcome. All outcomes in Jesus are the best. Trusting in Jesus gives us ultimate victory, names inscribed in heaven.