Perfection among us.

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

The perfect King of Kings enters His holy city. As you may remember from past homilies of this day, the arrival of a king on a donkey was the sign of a king’s arrival in peace. And so, the Savior of the world enters in peace to shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David.

Jesus, God made man, the perfect Son, enters into a city far from perfect. In fact, it was a broken city. 

In one corner the Chief Priest and his council were planning to kill Jesus and we not too shy to use bribery to accomplish their ends. They were not afraid of soliciting false testimony or engaging their enemy to accomplish their ends.

The Temple was filled with salesmen and money changers. The House of God was turned into Crossgates Mall. The worship of God was nothing more than a reason for commerce.

There were revolutionaries in the street. There was the persecution of the Roman overlords who took advantage of the people. The Roman governor set up his palace opposite the Temple for all too see, so they would know who was really in charge.

The once great city of David had become a city without God. In fact, God had not spoken to His people for several hundred years. Malachi, the last prophet before the Baptist, pointed out that God loves Israel, but that the people do not return His love. The people withhold what is due to God, and if they do give, give only what is defective. People divorce their spouses to marry worshipers of other gods. Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound. Priests tell people whatever they want to hear, suppressing God’s word. Things had not changed in the 478 years since Malachi! Talk about a losing streak! Things were far from perfect. 

The perfect Lamb enters breaking through people’s focus on everything wrong, calling their attention to Him. But it would not end there. Again, and again, Jesus broke through the whispers and silence of corruption. The Son of God broke through just as the sun breaks darkness.

Jesus, the perfect Savior, is finally lifted up over the city, and in that moment of salvation He changed the world. He crushed death and its fear and made us new FOREVER. Amidst our imperfection let us set fear aside and rejoice in the King’s power to destroy every imperfection and redeem what is broken.

Seven.

“I am going to awaken him.”
“Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him
[Martha] went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.

Throughout this Lent we delved into the problem of sin and have used our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we have found what is required of us. In doing what is required we took the time to grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, and greed. Today we tackle the last, Sloth.

Being cooped up at home these days, it might be easy to let sloth creep in. We may have cleaned everything there is to clean, have organized everything there is to organize — Right? Perhaps we are working or studying from home? Being active in those pursuits?

Getting things done may seem less of an activity and more sedentary now. Keeping that in mind, it is vitally important that we keep busy, not just doing whatever, but active in organizing our prayer and scriptural reading, in reaching out with cards, letters, and calls; in making good use of this time to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus and each other. Let us not be slothful – another term for wastefully lazy. Let’s not be Gilligan or Patrick.

It is said that there are special punishments in Hell for the slothful. This one is very apropos: You’ll be thrown into snake pits. Dance, sinner, dance!

Jesus, and those closest to Him, loved by Him, did not avoid physical and spiritual action. Even when Jesus told His disciples to come away and rest – it was to rest in prayer.

Our contrary virtue, our call in these extraordinary times, is a call to diligence, to doing the physical and spiritual work necessary for our sanctification and that of the world. We are called every day, and most poignantly in these times, to redouble our efforts so that walking out of Lent, out of crises, we enter Easter strong in faithful diligence across the board.

Seven.

Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, and lust. This week we tackle Anger and Greed.

These two deadly sins are the ‘nothing else matters’ sins. They are the, ‘I’m going to take over your life sins.’ We see in these sins the surest way for people to break relationship with each other. They are the nuclear options of sins for they leave nothing but devastation.

Anger spurns all love. Personal fury, the desire to hurt, the pull of hate drives love out. The hate that comes with anger is nothing more than a deep desire, wish even, for another’s death. The contrary virtue is patience. Love requires, as St. Paul would say, that we bear all things. Phyllis Diller said: ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’ In that we see, with some humor, how we should live. Let us not destroy ourselves in anger, especially in the midst of crises, but fill ourselves with the virtue of patience.

Greed too breaks relationship. Our desire for stuff, for gain or wealth, causes us to ignore both God and each other. It too is in plain evidence in times of crises. Its antidote is liberality, a generosity that is free and without limit.

Today we hear of the man born blind whose sight was restored by Jesus. He helped that man to see anew, to see differently. After the healing, we hear of a long ordeal. People reacted in different ways – all of which were sinful. The neighbors in their confusion brought the man to the Pharisees. There he was questioned, abused, and when he spoke the truth, they threw him out. They reacted out of anger and greed; anger at the man and greed for power and position now being questioned by the man and Jesus. I love how the man pointed to the amazing nature of their reactions.

Jesus’ life, His teaching, His judgment helps us to see, to clearly see, how sin destroys, kills, and takes, and how His light gives life, renews, frees, and generously makes us whole.

Blessed is he who trusts in God Almighty.
And he who hopes in God’s most gracious mercy.
He shall acknowledge: God is my protector.
In life’s dark journey, I shall fear no danger,
I shall fear no danger.

From all the pow’rs of evil God shall save him.
Of nature’s forces, he shall ne’er fall victim.
Under the pinions of the Lord Almighty,
In God’s protection, he shall dwell in safety.
He shall dwell in safety.

Kto się w opiekę odda Panu Swemu,
A całym sercem szczerze ufa Jemu,
Śmiele rzec może: Mam obrońcę Boga,
Nie przyjdzie na mnie żadna straszna trwoga,
żadna straszna trwog

2.Ciebie On z łowczych obieży wyzuje
I w zaraźliwym powietrzu ratuje,
W cieniu Swych skrzydeł zachowa cię wiecznie,
Pod Jego pióry uleżysz bezpiecznie,
uleżysz bezpiecznie

PNCC Hymnal #196

O Jesus Christ, my Savior and healer, You traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At Your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience Your protection, providence, and healing.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Renew faith in our people so that they may come to truly know You as Savior and Redeemer, acknowledge You as the source of every good gift, and live as witnesses to Your power and glory as You overcome all things.

Show forth Your mighty hand! 

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health and return to Your Holy Church to give thanks and take up anew witness to You.  Heal us also from our fear and from all panic.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.  Welcome those who have died from the virus into Your heavenly kingdom.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help, who put themselves at risk in the process. May they be enlightened by the power and outpouring of Your Holy Spirit so as to find a treatment and a vaccine and to stay strong in the battle.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus Christ, heal us.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Amen! Amen!

Seven

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride and envy. Today we will focus on gluttony and lust, two closely related deadly sins. Both have to do with inordinate desire – for more than we require and for the pleasures of the body.

Look at our world right now, right here, locally. Gluttony and lust have taken hold – just look at the paper products, hand sanitizer, or the bread aisle in stores. We need to practice the contrary virtues of abstinence and chastity, a self-denial that raises Christ above all things. Putting Jesus first and trusting in Him shows the world where our great love lives.

Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at a well. Through their talk Jesus draws out her confession. He presents her with the chance for living water – His baptism, word, and forgiveness. She is shocked, for Jesus tells her everything she had done. Those tough sins of gluttony and lust that had controlled her life were laid bare. Her encounter with Jesus bore fruit, for people came to encounter Jesus through her testimony – and they evolved in their faith. Now, no longer reliant on her word alone, they came to know Jesus personally and to personally experience His living water.

Now is the time to witness. It must not be a witness of sin, but of virtue. We need to show our reliance on and faith in God, the truth of His word, sacraments, and His living water. We need to offer His living water to a scared and sinful world. We need to be truthful, that we are not in control. We can and should take steps, but none of that puts us in charge. God is in control regardless of whether we see it or not. We need to pray for non-believers around the world. Pray that in this time they be protected and that they come to know Jesus’ living water by our faith witness. Fear and worry are not the mark of a true Christian. Instead, let us have a faith that conquers worry and a peace beyond understanding. If Lent is about living our faith more truly, then this is the test. Now is the time to get it right and to be right with God. Like the Samaritan woman, let us hear His voice and open our hearts, let us tell of our encounter with the living water, for that will lead others to Jesus, and in the end, will be what saves us.

Seven

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we are walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We are studying contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Last week we covered pride, the first and core deadly sin. As we said, that sin is foundational to all the others. Today we cover Envy.

Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation. We engage in envy because we see others as so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than we are. Of course, this stems from the pride we take in our own perceptions rather than the reality of others’ lives. If we take the time to set envy aside and learn about, empathize with, and care for others we will quickly learn that our envy is unfounded. By way of example, we have all heard that talented handsome actor or beautiful actress tell someone, much later in their career, ‘I thought I was ugly and untalented.’

Looking to television, in Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann was the symbol of envy. She felt – and key on felt – that she could never achieve Ginger’s glamour. The interesting fact is that those characters, those sins, were portrayed on a castaway island. Sin indeed separates us and keeps us apart, abandoned, and lonely. In that, we nurse our envy.

Ok, I have to throw in SpongeBob – where envy is perfectly exemplified by Plankton. He was so envious of others that he never saw their struggle, he never came into relationship with anyone else.

The cure for envy is charity and kindness. We see in Jesus’ instruction on the vine that we are all part of Him, that His father cares for each of us, and that we need to be pruned from time-to-time. In pruning we feel some pain and that is our tool to overcome envy – to take the time to really know our neighbor, understand them, and support them in their struggles, to feel their pain. To do so with kindness and in the end to be truly fruitful

Seven

For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

For those many who joined us on Ash Wednesday, you heard me speak of our reflection for this Season of Lent. Throughout this Lent we will delve into the problem of sin and use our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we will walk through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We will study contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we will find what is required of us. In doing what is required we will grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Pride. That word stands on its own as the first of the seven deadly sins. Indeed, pride alone is the root sin cause of all other sins. We see it in Genesis. Pride took hold of Adam and Eve and they decided they could do what they please without regard to God’s instruction. I am smarter than God, I am more powerful than God. I stand on my own, full of myself, believing only in my own abilities, and say thanks/no thanks to God’s grace.

Pride. Why do we do it. Why are we so full of ourselves? One individual wrote: ‘We do it because our well-meaning elementary school teachers told us to believe in ourselves.’

If you have ever watched Gilligan’s Island, pride was portrayed as the Professor – smarter than all and the source of all solutions. He didn’t need anyone else. If you like SpongeBob, pride is Sandy the Squirrel. Sandy, from the Big State of Texas. She believes herself to be the best at everything from karate to extreme sports, and she boasts about it all.

St. Augustine wrote that pride changed angels into devils; and it is humility that makes men as angels. As we take inventory this first full week of Lent, let us consider the parts of our life where pride has taken root. The strategy is to chop at those roots with increased humility, to be other focused, to consider the other more important than myself, to do without seeking recognition, when recognized to be gracious, and to follow the example of Jesus who left the glory of heaven to teach us and die for us. Let us be genuine in humility and ask God to humble us all the more.

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

Every Ash Wednesday we hear the exact same reading, Epistle, and Gospel. 

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel is quite beautiful. Its poetry, God’s call to return. Come back with our whole hearts! Come back now. Quit whatever we are doing and return. Offer up prayer and tears to the Lord. Punishment shall be set aside, and the Lord will forgive us and welcome us home.

Does anyone know when the Prophet Joel wrote this message? The fact is, no one really knows when it was written. There are no actual historical references in Joel such that a definitive time can be set. Conjecture ranges from 900 to 400 years before Christ. That is a span of half a millennium. How appropriate because Joel’s message is timeless.

From the sin of Adam and Eve to the sins of the people in Joel’s half-millennia, to our present-day, Joel’s words ring true. It is our weakness to be seduced by sin and to fall away over-and-over. Yet, we have ready help, the grace of God, the promptings of the Holy Spirit to help us cast off sin and to reach out such that Jesus lifts us to stand again.

The Holy Church in her wisdom gives us the season of Lent to double down on our return and on our tears, to build up our reserve of spiritual strength, and to put into practice those virtues that countermand sin. Lent is our opportunity to return, to do the necessary workout, and to resolve not to fall again.

Lent calls us to a discipline of action and thought. It calls us to fortify our practice of faith so that what we have done weakly – and that weak and undetermined action insufficient to the challenges of the past – we may now and heretofore do with strength. 

  • If our prayer was occasional and weak, it is now to be a continuous action – life lived as prayer. 
  • If our charity was trifling, it is now to be sacrificial. 
  • If our fasting and abstinence were an afterthought once we were full, it is now to be dedicated sacrifice that causes us to feel hunger and to recall our real hungering is after Christ.

We stand here at the foot of a steep hill. At the top of the hill – the cross. On the other side of the hill the glory of God, a clean heart and conscience. Here at the foot of the hill – well – just where we are. It is time to climb. Now!

Let us together ascend to the cross. Let us linger there and shed tears for what we have said, done, thought, and left undone. Let us – marked with ash – look to the suffering Jesus, His wounds, knowing that a piece of me is in there, and then rush headlong downhill from the cross into the arms of our waiting, forgiving, and loving God.

Throughout this Lent we will delve into the problem of sin and set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming, through the struggle to operationalize a life deep in Christ. We will meet the challenge with Christian excellence, an excellence that must permeate our individual and communal life.

Throughout this Lent we will walk through the seven deadly sins (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues (humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, liberality, diligence). We will study contemporary examples of sin in film and literature. In studying, we will find what is required of us. In doing what is required we will grow stronger. Armed with God’s gift of grace freedom freely offered we will overcome! Let us begin.

You have heard
it said.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life”

As we discussed over the past two weeks, this Pre-Lenten season’s readings are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching takes the Commandments of God and instruct us in the way we are to understand and live them. Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment of the old Law, His right interpretation is for us, so we can truly live.

We have been reminded, in this season of preparation, that we are to turn and focus on living in the way Jesus defines. This great opportunity moves us not just into unity with life as God designed, for unity with that way of life is not enough. Rather, we are called to dive headlong into the fulness of God’s way.

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands more of us than His words alone describe. He calls us to complete integrity of life. If we live His call to integrity, the reward is great. The reward is fullness of relationship and inheritance. It is a joy without compare or equal. However, if we do not surrender to Jesus’ way, if we are not all-in, the caution is, we grow ridgid and cold. Sin creeps in and puts the frost on. The cold goes deeper and deeper and we lose touch with God and with our very selves.

This season of preparation, with only today plus two more days to go, has been a wakeup call. In the Orthodox Churches the Sundays before Lent are days of clean out. The home is cleansed of earthly things like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. This clean out symbolizes the call to detachment from distraction, from the things that may hold us back from jumping in headfirst.

Hearing Jesus’ words today remind us of this necessary detachment.

Jumping in headfirst requires an act of faith and trust, complete trust in God. It requires trust that says nothing we have, nothing we desire or value outside of God, is of any consequence. They are things here today, gone tomorrow. Seemingly beautiful in the now but only fuel for the fire, or the dumpster, or the landfill tomorrow.

Faith and trust in God, in His word: “do not worry about your life,” is a surrender. As we enter into the Great and Holy Lent this Wednesday let us recognize that proclamation is not enough, worship is not enough, setting aside food, and place, and wealth for a time not enough. Rather, we are to value God above all, setting aside what the world says for what Jesus says, and surrendering fully.