Every taste.

Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.

I’m going to ask for some votes, those of you here, and those watching remotely: Who likes steak the best? Fish? Veggies? Cake?  Ice cream? A full-on breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, and waffles? Salads?

Now imagine I were to walk among you and offer each of you a wonderful slice of Wonder Bread. Plain, white, bland Wonder Bread. Actually, growing up, I would pass by the Wonder Bread factory in Buffalo, just off Genesee Street. It smelled wonderful each morning. So, ok, I like Wonder Bread.

Now, imagine you are holding that plain old piece of Wonder Bread. I ask you to sniff it, to taste it, and your taste buds come alive. You taste that thing you love the best. For you it is steak, fish, veggies, cake, ice cream, bacon and eggs, sausage and pancakes and waffles, that favorite salad.

Wisdom 16:20-21 speaks of the Manna that God gave to His children as they wandered through the desert: You nourished Your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready to hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste. For this substance of Yours revealed Your sweetness toward Your children, and serving the desire of the one who received it, was changed to whatever flavor each one wished.

The Manna was not simply flakes that could be made into a dough, it was real food that fulfilled the needs and desires of each of the Father’s faithful. It was an expression of God’s sweetness and care toward His children.

God’s great love is wonderfully expressed in the manner in which He feeds us, fulfills us, and brings us to completion. He feeds us in every way we need, never bland Wonder bread, but as Isaiah tells us: a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. We eat well and delight in rich fare when we partake in what God provides, His word, His way of living and interacting, in worshiping Him and living that kingdom moment out each day.

In feeding us His Body and Blood, in allowing us to be the people to Eucharist as one, Jesus renews His covenant with us forever. He feeds us. He is our waybread, the perfect food for the journey to the kingdom, the food that grows us into His image. From Jesus to us, the crowd. We have His free, rich, untoiled-for food; a pure blessing poured out on us over and over.

Let’s sell.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Three psychiatric patients are eager to be released from the hospital, but the doctor has to examine their judgment skills. One by one he takes them to the edge of an empty swimming pool and tells them they must chose to jump or not. Take the risk or don’t. It is obvious the pool has no water, but they must choose.

The first patient looks at the pool and jumps in without hesitation, hurting his ankle. The doctor tells him, “You failed the examination, and must stay another year.” The patient left sad. The second patient also jumps in and hurts his shoulder. The doctor says, “Sir, you failed the exam and must stay another year.” This patient also leaves sad and discouraged. The third patient walks up to the pool’s edge, thinks for a while, shakes his head and says, “No way!” The doctor was happy and said, “Sir, you have good judgment and you are released from the hospital.” The patient jumped for joy. Then the doctor asked the happy patient, “What made you decide not to jump into the pool?” The patient answered, “Oh, that’s easy. I don’t know how to swim!”

We all believe we have great judgment and know how to prioritize. We say things like, “My family is really important.” Yet, statistics reveal that people spend very little time on family. We might say, “Our health is really important.” Yet few commit to exercise or even eat right. More than half of all American are obese. We say we are not materialistic, yet three-quarters of Americans are in debt to credit cards alone, not counting car and house loans.

Is God important to us? “Yes! 95% of Americans in the U.S. say, “God is important to me.” Yet only 9% of Americans attend church, and only 2% are involved in any ministry.

Look, it is not about our bad choices or our sinfulness. We jump into empty pools and we injure ourselves. Christ didn’t die for us because we were perfect or committed. He didn’t wait for us to get our act sorted out; to be righteous. Rather, He searched for us, He gave His all for us. There’s no room for thinking ‘what I sell or give up will make Him love me more.’ What does give us glory is to love God, to follow His call, and to do it now, to be all in for the kingdom today, every day.

Leave the weeds.

His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest

My mom had a great bookshelf in her room. I used to sit in front of that bookshelf just pondering the titles – classics of literature, a book on the adopted family, and a set of books in a series about homes and gardens. These books had to date from the late 1950s or early 1960s. I can imagine my parents amassing this encyclopedia of home and garden just after they purchased their house.

These books were beautifully illustrated. They had architectural drawings, garden layouts, and idealized drawings and photos of beautifully manicured and cultured lawns and gardens. I wanted that! I would look out the windows of our home, holding the books, and imagined creating that look in our small back yard; its existing look not perfect enough. Oh, and there were weeds. Weeds were the enemy of perfection.

You can imagine my surprise on one of those idyllic summer Sundays as Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds was read. We had to leave the weeds. My little structured world of perfect lawns and raised flower beds had to take a back seat to Jesus’ command. Some in our congregation live this today. They allow nature to take its course, not disturbing the wheat or the weeds. I think they understand better than I did.

In its essence, Jesus’ parable is about conflict and destruction. The Jewish people would have understood that enemies sowed choking weeds in crops, a war tactic aimed at destruction. Jesus likened the sowing of weeds to the work of the enemy, Satan, who in all respects seeks to destroy us. The slaves, we who follow Jesus, have an initial reaction to destruction that itself focuses on destruction. Let’s go out and destroy the weeds. Abigail Van Buren once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” Destruction of the weeds only leads to the destruction of the good. The result of the sinful tendency in us is our giving in to destruction.

As Jesus’ people, we are called to plant, nurture, feed, grow, and also bear the weeds. We are not called to the position of harvester. That is Jesus’ job. By our action, perhaps in the weeds, we will find a new crop for the Lord. We will give all the chance and opportunity to grow. In the midst of conflict we are to reject destruction and leaven the world for growth.

Blessed those.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

One of the wonderful things about our Holy Church is the great emphasis it places on the Word of God. 

In September 1909 the Holy Synod of the Church developed an understanding of the preaching and teaching of the Word of God as having sacramental action. A later report of the Synod, printed in 1913 said: “Hearing of the Word of God preached according to the teachings of Christ the Lord and the Apostles, has sacramental force, that is, it causes in us the same effects as does the receiving of the other sacraments.”

The sacramental effect of the Word is included in the Church’s Confession of Faith (Article 7).

This understanding is based on the many references throughout Scripture, spoken by Jesus, relating the power of the Word. In fact, Jesus, as the Word of God Himself, comes to us in our hearing of the Word.

That union with Jesus in the Word is the very definition of sacrament, for a sacrament is an encounter with the sacred in a physical way. In baptism, it is washing with water, in communion the reception of the Bread and Blood of Life, in marriage the binding of the couple by the priest, in Unction the anointing and laying on of hands. In the Word it is the speaking and hearing. Each of these a physical manifestation of the encounter with God.

In our Church, our clergy are admonished to have proper preparation, intention, and conformity with the Gospel. Listeners too must be prepared and open to reception.

Today, Jesus speaks of the power of the Word and its effect on those who are properly prepared to receive.

If we receive without the intention of understanding, just frittering off the Word, we lose the grace provided to our condemnation. If we receive the Word with joy, and then walk away ignoring it soon after the hearing, or when confronted, set it aside, grace is lost, and we again fall to condemnation. But if we prepare, provide rich soil for the Word, and allow it to grow and prosper in us, then we have the fullness of grace that makes us effective Christians, bearers of the Word. We are fruitful carriers of Jesus. Blessed we are.

The Show Must Go On!

you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him

Welcome Kurs campers, my parishioners from Holy Name of Jesus in Schenectady, and faithful from throughout our Church. Welcome to the Bishop Hodur Retreat and Recreation Center, this place of growth and renewal.

You are the little ones that Jesus speak of. What is hidden, what is mysterious, what is impossible for so many people, is obvious to you. 

What do you get that others don’t get?  You get the fact that Jesus has made the way we must go plain, the way we are to live. Those instructions are in the gospels and the writings of the Apostles. Since we get that, that is what we do. Do we get it perfect all the time? No. Are we trying and constantly working at it? Yes.

God has revealed His great plan to us and has told us that His plan relies and depends on us. 

Because we belong to Jesus, He helps us in making His plan work. Jesus does that by taking care of us, by joining us in our work, and most of all by giving us the gift of faith – the faith we hear and feel in our hearts and minds – I hear Him and I respond: I can do it. I can and will get the job done for You, Jesus.

We have strength, understanding, and wisdom not apparent to the world. That strength, understanding, and wisdom gives us confidence to get God’s plan done even when things seem tough. Our vision goes beyond what everyone else sees to what God sees for us and has planned for us.

St. Paul tells us that we can and will carry out God’s plan because we are something different, something out of the ordinary. We could easily say that we are something else! We are extraordinary. All – because we carry His spirit. As Paul clearly states, if we don’t, well what do we have then?

This week our campers will be focusing on the theme: ‘The Show Must Go On.’ Whose show? God’s. Whose work to be done? Jesus’

My dear youth, brothers and sisters, you are in the best position. The spirit of God dwells in you. Don’t forget that. You belong to Jesus. Because of that, the struggles and challenges we all face, the fears we have, although very real to us, are not roadblocks or speedbumps in the way of getting God’s plan done.

Solomon was very young and his father, David handed him the throne and a charge, to build the Temple of God.  The show had to go on. Today, we are charged with carrying out the plan, building the kingdom. The show must go on.

When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

Proverbs 21:15

I remember those hot summers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. They were marked by an unease due to the social unrest around me. I used to be a real news junkie and would watch the process of protest unfold each night. Between the ages of 6 and 9 it scared me, and it also marked my psyche and life. Those hot summers of protest did engender change. Voices that needed to be heard were heard. Now they are back. They are needed to make a difference now. The promise of past decades slowed to a crawl and needs to be bought closer to completion. Perhaps it is our general comfort with the way things are. We get used to the status quo. No matter how much we say we like excitement, and things to be different, we don’t. This is why scripture is important. This is why we must study what God has said on the subject, look to God’s design, and then set to work to close the gap between God’s way and what is. Jesus tells us: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” We must live that. We need to ensure action for justice and dignity.

Summer and we have plans to re-open for public worship in our parish on Sunday, July 19th at 10am. Take a look at the required guidelines. We can do this by working together. 

We had a busy June and July/August look to be just as busy. We are looking forward to Virtual Kurs and to re-opening for public worship. We look forward with hope and continue to be the faithful church at home and together.

Read about all it in our July/August 2020 Newsletter.

Deciding…

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We live in a time of decision, a time marked by outpourings of incredible passion focused on issues pressing on all of our hearts. It is an opportune time to hear Jesus ask us: ‘What and who do you love?’

Jesus defined love as only God can, perfectly. His love is a love open to everyone who will accept Him. His love is for those who come to Him when facing hopelessness or fear, or when they are just in search of understanding. His love is there for doubters and the even the angry.

Jesus’ definition of love calls us to be God directed and other directed. He calls us to an all-consuming and selfless expression of love each and every day. His definition of love requires us to acknowledge what we know inwardly and to express it outwardly. We are required to share His love, invite all to this love, and to avoid all hypocrisy. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees and lawyers failed, they lived in hypocrisy and refused to acknowledge what they knew.

We are to love with right passion. What kind of passion is that? It is one that places Jesus and His kingdom front and center as our sole focus. It is passion for the gospel message and the great commandment. It is a passion for evangelism, to baptize the world in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is often said (going back to college Latin), ‘O tempora, o mores!’ ‘O the times, o the customs!’ We have this knack of looking at our times and thinking them the worst, the verge of disaster. That phrase goes back to 70 B.C. This time is indeed a time of decision, and passion. We face the same decision we have faced from time immemorial: Will I receive Jesus, or will I let misplaced passion block me from Him? Will I love like Jesus and lose my life, or will personal passions block by heart?

What and Who do we love? If our love is formed and conducted in the way of Jesus and our passions are for all that is His, we live properly. Our passions are rightly focused. If our passions and love are for anything else, for just having our way (i.e., not losing our life), it is the time to re-evaluate and find true life, to decide to live and spread Jesus’ way of love.

Stand up.

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid”

Welcome as we once again enter the Ordinary season of the year. This is a time of growth, a time to engage in the work of standing up as God’s faithful people. As we re-enter this season, we see a very pointed story. It is the story of those who stand up, struggle, persevere, and have victory.

We start with Jeremiah. Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet for very good reason. He did not want the job, the ministry of prophet. He resisted and argued with God, providing every excuse for not doing that work. God won. Jeremiah did the right thing. He submitted himself.

Jeremiah had no happy message. Sometimes it is said that Jonah was the joyous prophet, only reinforcing the good news of God while in Israel. Jeremiah spoke only of doom – of condemnation. He spoke against greed and in opposition to false prophets. For those strong words he was beaten and imprisoned, he was laughed at and mocked. The people shut their ears to God’s truth and their accountability before God. In the end he tried peaching from exile, again to no affect.

For Jeremiah, it was not the words nor even the suffering. His mission was to stand up to wrong, to speak truth to un-listening ears, so that God’s truth would be known. God does not count success as the mark of our faith, but rather our willingness to stand up, even in the midst of the failure and to still offer the message of hope – the intervention of God in the world. That message resounds with all who are abandoned, oppressed, and outcast, who know no justice. Sin will not win.

In Psalm 69 we hear David exclaim: Because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. In other words, he takes it standing up for God above all. David relies on God rather than the world and personally feels every sin committed against God.

Paul reminds us that sin and death are not our destiny, the intervention of God in His Son Jesus has stood us back up.

Being lifted up, relying on God, speaking the truth, having zeal for God’s way are all markers of one who stands up. We will not be able to hide any shrinking back. So, stand today, stand always, stay strong and be acknowledged before the Father.

Enough for me.

“Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.”

Thursday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Today is the Sunday within the Octave, the eight-day period that began Thursday which we spend in celebration of Jesus’ wonderful gift to us. 

Is Jesus’ gift enough?

The Russian poet and singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava  wrote ‘The Prayer of François Villon,’ in Polish, Modlitwa François Villona. Its words are those of a person who prays that the Lord will grant gifts to all who ask, and after doing so would leave just a little for him. Its first stanza:

“As long as the world’s still turning, As long as the air’s still sweet, Lord, won’t you give to all of us Whatever it is we need. Give a mind to the wise one, To the coward a swift horse, Give some gold to the happy man, And don’t forget about me.” As the song ends, he repeats “Give a little to everyone, And don’t forget about me. Dajże nam wszystkim po trochu. I mnie w opiece swej miej.”

Is Jesus’ gift enough?

This song strikes home in its melancholy. Is God generous enough to leave just a little for me? Will He remember me in the midst of all the woe and strife in the world? Will my prayer rise up before Him? Will He reach out to me?

St. Thomas Aquinas answered that question as he contemplated the great gift of the Eucharist and our sharing in it. The bread, broken, fractured for us. The wine poured out. In each particle, in each droplet, the fulness of Jesus resides. No person receives more or less of Jesus. All receive equally. There is enough for all. Aquinas also echoes St. Paul in pointing out that while all receive the fulness of Jesus, it is the state of our heart that matters most.

Is Jesus’ gift enough? Yes. Is it enough for me? That is the real question. The state of our hearts in their attitude toward God, the state of our lives in their imaging of Jesus’ way, and our relationship to others shows whether what we have received is enough for us. It is not a question of God’s giving, but our receiving. If we have taken the gift seriously it has changed our hearts. The state of our heart matters most.

Let us, as we fall in worship before this great gift, receive Jesus as enough for me and live in Him. Let us then carry His fulness into the world and to our eternal reward.

His image.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Today we celebrate the ineffable nature and character of God made known to us by Jesus. That is enough for us. As the psalmist desires, we too only wish to live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

God’s wonderful mystery will be fully revealed to us when we finally go home to Him. In the meantime, we have work to do.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians and reminds us: Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

If we can simply do that, the God of love and peace will be with us.

Mending our ways is hard work, work that requires the full-on help of God’s grace. Mending our ways takes conversion, a turning of our hearts. It takes action, a doing of the right and a rejection of the wrong, a rejection of our own sinfulness. Yes, we sin, and we sin grievously.

Each night I review my Facebook feed. I find much good there, positive words, connections, mutual support and encouragement, an ability to be with distant family and friends and a chance to keep each other informed. Unfortunately, I also see words of hate, words that come from prejudice (a pre-judging of people), words that reflect frustrations, inordinate fears, and frankly a lack of knowledge pivoted to accusation and hate. Individuals are turned into “them” and “those.” I see it when people turn away from others physically, when we see someone approaching and turn the other way. How did we forget the Gospel lesson: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The world – all of us. Given to save, not to condemn.

If we think ourselves God’s followers, those who give God praise, glory, and honor, how can we hold any prejudice toward anyone? If we believe God, we know we are all created in His image. If we dishonor, disrespect, blame, accuse, or prejudge anyone we do so to the face of the Father. We do it to Jesus. We disrespect the Spirit. We must learn to agree, live in peace, and greet all with a holy kiss. We must mend our ways. 

Mending our ways from the overt and covert sins we engage in holds promise, not just for the moment God will be fully revealed to us, but here, today, for that is the action of kingdom builders. LORD, pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.