Strength of Faith.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith.

We have talked for many weeks about Strength of Faith. We have seen the way people approached Jesus and how He told them to have faith, to not doubt. We have seen various ways we can put Strength of Faith into action and how we share our Strength of Faith with each other and the world. We have contemplated the ways we might invite others to experience God, right here, with the confidence that comes from Strength of Faith.

Today, we are presented with a reflection on the source of our Strength of Faith. Strength of Faith comes solely from Jesus, from doing what He did.

Wait a minute, you mean I can be like Jesus, I can live the way He did?

As we heard in today’s gospel, James and John got it wrong. They were looking for the sort of strength that does not come from faith, but rather comes from position and status. In short, Jesus tells them that they will also have to face what He had to face: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” If you want to be like Me, you must be — like Me.

The rest of the disciples become upset, not because of what James and John asked, but because they wanted the same. Jesus tells them all, you must stop thinking the way the world thinks, but rather be like Me, be humble, serve, suffer if you are called to do so, and know that your strength comes from Strength of Faith. It comes from the sort of faith that says I am less so that God can be shown to be more.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews fully understands human weakness. The writer also knew that he himself was weak, had failed, had sinned, was constantly tempted by the desire for power and status. Facing what we all face, knowing what we all know, he arrives at an answer: My Strength of Faith comes from being most like Jesus Who was like us and did not sin.

You see, Jesus was tested exactly as we are. His humanity faced all we face. In fact, He was attacked constantly – yet He did not sin. He overcame. So can we.

You mean I can be like Jesus; I can live the way He did? The answer is yes. We are called to confidence, to walk and act in the Strength of Faith that tells us we can live as Jesus did.

Be not afraid!

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”

So far in Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We have been focusing on the various Lenten disciplines, the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. These disciplines help us become more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

The subjects of fasting, sacrifice or giving, and study have been covered thus far. Next week we resume with the consideration of prayer and proclamation.

Our Holy Church pauses today to celebrate. We sense it because today we hear the Gloria and the Alleluia. Lenten purple is put away for this moment and is replaced by joyous white.

We celebrate because this Sunday, one-hundred and twenty-four years ago, a group of oppressed immigrants, people treated disrespectfully by oppressors in their home countries, right here in the United States, and even by their church, people thought little of by their neighbors, took the lessons learned from the Lenten disciplines they faithfully practiced and put them to action. 

This Sunday what they learned from fasting, sacrifice, study, prayer, and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, humanity’s Emancipator, bore fruit. They found themselves the branches of the true Vine – alive in Christ. They found themselves freed of the dead old branch pruned away because of its corruption, pruned away because it heeded deceitful spirits and followed men with seared consciences.

These heroic people stood on the side of Jesus and just as proclaimed in Wisdom, He, the Just One, confronted their oppressors with great confidence. Those oppressors stood there in awe and they still do today.

As with every true Christian. from the time of the Acts Church. those faith filled immigrant heroes stood up without fear. They heard Jesus say, Fear not little flock. They inherited and have passed on to us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

We have Christ Jesus. We are His branches. His Father strengthens us and fills us with His good grace. We can face any fear and no longer be debilitated by it. The tender love of God has freed us from terror, from being held down, and from slavery to the opinions of those who do not know the Lord. A disciplined life strengthens us for this. Faithful trust is the fruit of the reform necessary in our lives and the world. Today we celebrate those who trusted and say with them:  In You O Lord I place my trust. Boże, do Ciebie się uciekam!

Eat and
run.

“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.

Elijah is both literally and spiritually in the wilderness in today’s first reading. He is so despondent that he asks the Lord to take his life.

Elijah had engaged with the worldly prophets of Baal and Asherah, the false gods that the people of Israel had come to adore. With God’s power he destroyed those prophets and any hope their false gods could deliver. We would think that he would have had a new found confidence, obviously, look at what the One and true God had done. But something is wrong. Elijah experiences a sense of failure, some kind of downer emotion that is not at all obvious to anyone. It is inside him, a nagging evil that leaves him deflated, despondent, depressed, and ready to die. He sits under the Broom tree; the end has to be now.

Most of us have experienced hard situations like Elijah did. We may feel down even though all around us seems great. There may be true miracles in our lives, but we take a different message from them. We grow sad or even despondent.

This story is repeated many times in scripture. Hagar lays Ishmael under a bush and waits to die. Jonah sits under the Castor Bean tree and is angry and despondent.

Some people calls these times ‘bumps in the road,’ but they are more than that to us when we are in the middle. Previously, Elijah was seen as assured and triumphant. He seemed to have no problem finding his way, yet now we see a very different Elijah, an Elijah sharing more in common with Hagar and Jonah. All were, at one time, seen as the blessed of God. Yet they came to ask: ‘Where is the blessing?’

The answer and blessing, as always, comes from God. While we meet a very different Elijah, we meet the same Lord who ministered to Hagar and Jonah. We meet the true God who feeds us, provides drink, gives strength, and shows the way. Elijah’s story, that of Jonah and Hagar, invite us to get up, to eat and continue moving forward. Just as God stays close to Elijah in order to help him overcome his travails, we must have the same confidence that God is present and will be present in our lives; He stays close to us. It is always down to Jesus’ promise: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever”

No
fear!

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.

One hundred ten years ago our Church gathered in Holy Synod. As a fledgling organization its members had faced persecution. Real persecution based on faith right here in the United States. Our members were cast out of social clubs. Jobs were lost. Families were split. There was hurt and sadness. The reaction of those Synod attendees was to focus on the words of Jesus – what one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. They instituted this Solemnity with its special focus on brotherly love; the only Church that has such a day. They cast out fear with love.

St. John, the disciple Jesus loved could have stood on those credentials – hey look at me, I’m the one He loved. He could have offered words, gave speeches. Instead he focused on putting Jesus’ love for us into action in his life and in our lives. He tells us: The commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. What one does speaks far louder than abiding by rules, then holy words and prayers. St. John and his church communities cast out the fear of persecution and stood above it in Jesus’ love.

As we gather today for worship we are reminded that coming here once a week is not enough. This place, this worship, the words we hear, and the prayers we offer are a capstone for what we have done right in our loving others over the past week. We should rightly be thankful for the graces we received that helped us do that. We should be proud of the ways we cast out fear and responded in love.

So too our gathering today is a recollection of where we have fallen short with a plea for forgiveness. While falling short is painful, we can find joy in knowing that our consciences are well formed enough to know we failed. In acknowledging our sin we find the pain it has imprinted lifted by God’s healing touch. We see our fears and pain relieved in God’s love.

Our gathering today is moreover a new start. A new week ahead and we hear: there is no fear in love. Next week we will gather again to be thankful, to recollect, and to start anew. Through all of it what is reinforced is fear removed, love triumphant.

In writing to the Romans, Paul asks: what will separate us from the love of Christ? He lists many things – but no fear will do it. On this Solemnity of Love, on this anniversary of a tragedy meant to instill fear, remember that nothing is more powerful than love. Destroy fear. Our members did it 110 years ago. St. John did it. We get to do it every week – no fear because in Him there is no fear.

What will stop
Jesus?

At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”

Thirty-six, what can we do with thirty-six? With thirty-six dollars we could hire an actuary, a Sports Agent, or a Nuclear Power Reactor Operator for an hour. We could hire a Physical Therapist for an hour’s treatment. We could buy a fairly good meal at a good restaurant. We could get three drinks at the Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa. We could get a whole mess of stuff at our local dollar store. The point is that with thirty-six dollars we couldn’t do a lot. We would be limited. Thirty-six isn’t a lot.

What could Jesus accomplish with only a few? This is a powerful moment. Jesus cuts His first followers loose on the world. He sends them out. There are only seventy-two. Thirty-six pairs of disciples who go out to witness and proclaim the kingdom.

What was it about these thirty-six ordinary pairs of people? They’d listened to Jesus for a while. Not exactly like going to college or a long-term course of study. Jesus’ instructions aren’t even that detailed. So what would these thirty-six be able to do?

Jesus gave them an essential mission. Tell people who receive you: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ They went and they did it – then came back rejoicing. They were successful. They focused on one thing that Jesus asked and that was all that was needed. The word was spread. By this proclaiming people came to know about the kingdom. A kingdom they had part of by their faith.

We might now think, wow, with only thirty-six pairs of people so much seems to have been done. Unfortunately things did not get great immediately. Things went backwards. Once the Great Preacher and Teacher was arrested, tried, and killed many ran away. Was it fear or no earthly kingdom? We cannot say for sure, but in the end twelve counting Judas’ replacement and a handful of supporters were left in the upper room.

We know the story – they were filled by the Holy Spirit and preached the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. Yet they were only twelve. They were small, uneducated, and unpopular. They went out like lambs among wolves. Within days some would be arrested. One was already dead. But nothing stopped them. Nothing was more powerful than their faith. They were victorious because regardless of obstacles faith overcame. And their names are written in heaven.

About-the-Trinity1

I believe in
— —.

Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

Jesus’s words found at the very end of Matthew’s Gospel account give us great comfort. He is ascending, but will remain with us always.

But, why should His words give us comfort? Even those we consider close friends can sometimes offer words, but fail to follow-through. Why are Jesus’ words supposed to give us any more comfort than any other person’s words?

This is where we get down to brass tacks as Christians. What is at the center of our faith? From where do we derive our confidence? How can we prepare ourselves to do what St. Peter asks of us when he says: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you”?

Standing where we are today, and having recited the creeds of the faith as our parents, grandparents, and ancestors have through the centuries it is easy enough to say – God. God is the reason for our hope. We are confident in Jesus’ words because Jesus is God and God cannot speak falsehood. If He said He would be with us always it is obviously and categorically true.

It wasn’t always that way. The Church had to work and fight long and hard, for centuries, to proclaim the truth about God, to settle it all based on what Jesus taught and the Apostles witnessed firsthand. Others came along with theories and opinions – Jesus was not really a man, He was not really God, the Holy Spirit wasn’t a person. These were called heresies – untruths – falsehoods.

The various creeds were written to clearly covey the truth of Who and What God is in opposition to those heresies. What we believe, as is stated in the Athanasian Creed, is the baseline necessary belief for every Christian. God is Three Co-eternal, Uncreated, and Almighty Persons of One Substance.

We have to be very careful to proclaim this truth. If we do not, our baptism in the name of the Trinity is worthless, our prayer is useless, and our hope is baseless. Jesus words are just the words of another faulty human. The Holy Spirit is just a breeze or a warm fuzzy feeling, He has no personhood. The Father – who knows?

Our task this Trinity Sunday is to reconnect ourselves to the truth of God and in doing so recognize the great promise and power that is ours.