For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love… I say, then: live by the Spirit

This week we approach the Fourth of July, and coincidentally, St. Paul is talking about freedom. 

We are, after all, pretty blessed by the freedoms we enjoy. Bishop Hodur and the organizers of our Holy Church made a big deal over the freedom this country espoused. After all, they were able, with only some opposition and persecution, able to organize a democratic Catholic Church without bowing to the money, political power, and influence of the Roman Church in areas of the country where they were they were the definition of “Church.” Hodur and the faithful were able to buy property, publish newspapers and pamphlets, build, educate, exercise support of Union membership, and advocate for the power of collective ownership. Pretty strong ideas and ideals, even today.

That kind of radical freedom was successful and blessed not because of actions, advocacy, or loud voices among a group of people. Rather it was from the fact that this group of people recognized and truly believed in the true freedom found only Christ Jesus. Christ set us free, and with His freedom came their and our ability and power.

Freedom means we no longer bow to any slavery. There is no slavery to politics and power. There is no slavery to money. There is no slavery to calls from the worldly – do this and that and you’ll find happiness. We clearly see that those alleged happiness’s come at the cost of a yoke and chains, bondage – slavery. In Christ we have power and ability to say no to slavery.

Freedom means power to use what we have been given for good that goes beyond simple measurement and scales. It is a freedom and power to be self-sacrificial, to go the extra mile, to go beyond even the extra.

The philosopher Jean Paul Sartre wrote on ‘radical freedom.’ Along our faith lines he posited that everyone always has a choice, and every act is a free act. He noted that those who say, ‘they had no choice,’ are lying. In Christ we have a call to freedom and honesty. So then, with St. Paul let us say I am free, and I live by the Spirit.

Convicted and
choosing freedom.

“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”

God set forth very clear directions for the young couple in the garden, the archetype (i.e., model) for all of mankind. Through them a state of sinfulness entered the world. This is not to say that we are born evil or full of sin, but like that couple, we easily fall into sin because of its allure; because we follow their model.

If we take apart the story of that couple, we see the draw of evil played out in its essence. They had everything – all of God’s gifts – food, peace, work, nothing to be ashamed of, no worries or cares, no threats. But there was that one thing, out of reach, like an apple high up in a tree.

Mmmmm, look at that, just out of reach and something to be jealous of. Why can’t I have it? Who is God to put obstacles or limitations in my way? Who is God to keep the tasty treat of full knowledge away from me? Who is God to be God – I should be god!

The young couple’s choice born of jealousy became the model for the worldly. We now have desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats.

Because of their choice, they had to face conviction. God enters the garden, to walk with them, and finds them guilty. Judgment falls upon them as it does on all of us – because of choices. Convicted because we, like they, fail to say, to proclaim: I will obey. I will rely.

Jesus comes into the world, as the Father did, to walk with us. He brings a new example, a new archetype, a new model for our lives. Fasting, tired, hungry, weather beaten – there it was – all power, all the food and power one might enjoy, and the fleeting promise that He could do it all without facing any consequences. Facing the same temptations that young couple faced, He chose differently. He said, I will obey. I will rely on the Father alone.

We certainly stand convicted because of our choices. The natural outcome of our choices is a judgment of guilty. It is certain death. Yet the new model, Jesus, because of His choices, because of His obedience brings us the grace of God, acquittal, the abundance of grace, and the gift of justification.

These things come to reign in our lives when we chose differently as Jesus did – You, Father, are God. I will obey. I will rely on You alone. I choose Your freedom.

What kind of
Amazing Grace?

Brothers and sisters: You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them. No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is asking his Jewish listeners to fully perceive the fork in the road they had come to.

The Children of Israel once stood at the foot of Mount Sinai as Moses ascended the mountain. The mountain was covered in cloud, with lightning, fire, and various terrors. The earth quaked, and the trumpet of heaven sounded The Law was given. The people stood in terror and covered their ears.

Facing God, the people understood their own limitations. They knew they were sinful and unworthy. Isaiah had a similar experience. In meeting God, Isaiah says: “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah didn’t know that he was such a bad guy and had a dirty mouth, but then he saw God in all His holiness. The instant he saw God’s holiness, he was aware of his own sinfulness. Even his smallest sin was terrifying.

God’s plan was that we should not live in fear and dread forever. Those moments, however, are instructive to us for we do not realize the extent of our sin before a holy God. The journey of Israel is meant to teach us the vast difference that Jesus has made. Thus the writer shows the Jewish people and us our choice. Do we chose to live back there, in fear and dread, under the Law, only recognizing that Amazing Grace has taught my heart to fear or instead that Amazing Grace my fears relieved.

God’s Law was His first offer of grace and His Son’s coming was the fulfillment of all grace. Jesus has changed all and now we stand in a new place. Yes, recognizing our utter lack of worthiness before the Father but also recognizing that when the Father looks at us He sees Jesus salvation. We stand in a new place, on Mount Zion.

We honor this day as Youth Sunday in our Church. We all face choices. Do I live in fear and dread every day of my life or do I live in joy and the glory of Zion. The world or law cannot offer this joy, only Jesus can. Let us stand together choosing to accept Jesus’ amazing grace, knowing His joy.

Making
choices.

And they began to debate among themselves who among them would do such a deed.

Palm Sunday marks the start of Holy Week. Palm Sunday marks the start of a week in which tremendous, world-changing choices would be made and would be followed up on.

Choices big and small confronted the people we meet today. Would the disciples go and get the colt? Would the owner of the colt let them take it? Small matters, but unless Jesus arrived on that colt He could not be proclaimed the peace bringing King and Messiah of Israel.

There are those in the party of Jesus. They had made or were making choices. Peter would choose to react without thinking. Thomas would choose to doubt. John chose to stand by Jesus. After Jesus fed the multitudes Judas heard and saw Him refuse political power. Judas heard Jesus tell the crowds that He must be betrayed and must die. Judas chose to follow Jesus to Jerusalem so me might destroy Him. Jesus was not living up to the choices Judas made for Him.

The crowds appeared after they had all made their choice. They chose to cut branches and lay their cloaks on the road – honoring the King of kings. They shook their fists in the air proclaiming, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” They did this right under the nose of the Roman governor and his troops. Important stuff.

St. Paul tells us “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Yet so many choose to walk away from the Name of Jesus or even to step all over it.

Jesus had to choose. We think He was on autopilot and that everything He did was pre-arranged. Not so. At the supper He had to chose to leave us a lasting memorial, His body and blood to be real and present to us so we might partake of Him. In the garden He prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” He struggled and chose to accept and follow the Father’s will. He did so, not because it was easy, but because it was the ultimate act of love and surrender. Love freely given.

Each day we make good and bad choices. We live our Christian virtues and rejoice in doing so. We confront the ease with which we fall in our day-to-day choices. Who among them would do such a deed? We are weak Lord. Our deeds not yet one with You, not completely loving. Yet Your cross lifts us up when our choices fail You. Help us to choose You, Your way, Your love. “Jesus, remember me.

rs-wonder-bread-of-life

The slow, long
slide.

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

We have reached the mid-point of summer vacation – at least for our youth. As they and their brave parent rush down rollercoasters and waterslides, we have to wonder if they wish it might slow down – slow down so it might last longer.

Two opposing forces become more and more evident in our gospel messages. This gets to the message St. Paul is trying to convey in his letter telling the people to put away the futility of your minds; remember how you learned Christ. Put away the old self, your former way of life, and put on the new self, created in God’s way.

The people came searching for Jesus because they were fed and had seen a great miracle. They had wanted to proclaim Him King of Israel right there in the wilderness. Now they wanted more bread and circuses – show us another miracle. They were thinking in purely human terms and from worldly desires. They were caught up in the futility of their minds.

Jesus does not change His message – but now makes it much more evident. The Kingdom of God is not a kingdom focused on fulfilling whatever the world may wish – but rather a kingdom where God and His faithful live in joyful union – focused on fulfilling the entirety of His potential that is already in us. We are renewed in Him, made new, to live in righteousness and holiness of truth.

Over the next few weeks we see the slow, long slide toward the cross. The people caught up in the futile desires of their minds – power, success, and greed become more and more aware that Jesus has come to call them to a completely new and greatly different life. It is a life that eschews the former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. It is a life that offers the ultimate in rewards – eternal life with God in perpetual bliss and joy.

The people trapped in the futile desires of their minds wished that their “summer” would last forever. Jesus would feed, entertain, heal – give them all that the moment desired. Jesus offers the better alternative, the more perfect gift when He says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Lord, I choose this bread! It lasts forever and will not slide away!

Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent

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Choices, choices…
Decisions, decisions…

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”
“I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.”
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here”

Lent is a time for choices. What will we do to discipline our lives, to follow Jesus more closely, to reach for perfection in the Christian way of life? More than those choices, we face the choice of how hard we will work at what we choose. How will our choices affect our decisions?

Jesus was drawn into the desert to undergo the discipline of fasting and prayer and in doing so to draw closer to His Father. He chose to follow His Father’s will and decided to do all the things His Father required.

The desert or wilderness was the place in which the Prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, Moses, and John the Baptist, as well as Jesus, the Son of God, lived for at least a time, if not most of their lives. The rugged, arid conditions of the wilderness became their molding ground. Alone, they wandered through deserts, forests and mountains, awaiting God’s command. In the rugged desolate country they were set apart for God’s special work. In the wilderness God fashioned their character, making them obedient vessels, who then went forth to carry out God’s will.

For most of us the wilderness (dense forests, deserts and mountains) are only for the adventurous in spirit. It can be vicious to all forms of life – human, animal and plant. Only the most hardy can survive. No soft disguises of civilization can survive here. Wilderness life hones the nature of those who venture there. In the wilderness our true substance is exposed, and we are purified to do God’s will. It is not a place for the foolhardy, or the faint-hearted.

At the end of Jesus’ desert time He was tempted, put to the test in a very severe way. He is offered everything the world might think would fill a person after forty days of fasting and loneliness – food, power, and security. Having been purified and made one with His Father through the desert experience He was able to make the right decisions in the face of these very strong temptations.

Our Lent is a time in the wilderness, to withdraw a bit and draw closer to God. Our Lenten choices and practices, and our choice of how hard we work at them, prepare us to make right decisions when faced with temptation. They mold us, set us apart, and make us obedient servants who decide for God’s way.