The
realization.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the Fifth Sunday after Christmas. As we’ve been studying, Christmas is a season focused on Jesus’ revelation. 

Jesus’ revelation came first to the shepherds – the poor, lowly, and outcasts of that territory. At the arrival of the Maji, Jesus was revealed to the nations of the world. As Jesus rose up from the waters of the Jordan at His baptism the nation of Israel came to know Him as the Son of God by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father saying: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” The Baptizer finally saw clearly who Jesus is, recognizing Him as the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, and he declared it.

Recalling all this, we see the many and varied ways Jesus was revealed. As we hear today, at Capernaum, there was no heavenly choir to announce Jesus’ arrival. There were no scientists from the east with precious gifts and a mighty star to follow. There was no opening of heaven, descent of a dove, or voice of the Father as at the Jordan. All Jesus had in Capernaum was His voice, His call. 

In a season focused on revelation, Jesus comes among us saying: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus delivers His message, His gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus invites us to allow Him to be revealed within us. He invites us to realize Who He is. He invites us to get up and get out into the world in response as disciples carrying His message.

Today, the Gospel recalls Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum by the sea. In Capernaum, Jesus calls the first of His disciples, Andrew, the first called, followed by Simon, aka Peter, aka Cephas, James, and John. They respond fully to the awakening in their hearts. Jesus is revealed, not by signs and wonders, but by their response to interior awakening and revelation.

At Capernaum we find a new and ever permanent call to revelation. This revelation is in Jesus’ words and our call to respond. Like all those called before us, let us allow Jesus’ life to be awakened in us in ever new and great ways. Jesus is calling! Allow His revelation to take hold. Leave the old self behind and go out as His revelation to a searching world. Today, here in Schenectady, as in Capernaum, we hear Jesus. Allow Him to be revealed in us and by our response.

Being
shrewd.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land! “When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

The beginning of our first reading is a perfect set up for trying to understand one of Jesus’ most difficult teachings. The reading condemns those who are literally sitting around waiting for the end of the new moon (the beginning of each Hebrew month marked as a holiday much like parts of Passover would be) or the Sabbath, so they can go back to work – and not just any work – but work that defrauds their customers. How many people do we know, so anxious about tomorrow that they miss the blessings of a Sunday? So anxious, they defraud God of the worship due Him?

Much like the thieving merchants of Amos’ time, the master and his steward were both thieves. Recall that charging interest on loans was forbidden in the Bible because it exploited the vulnerable poor, yet that is what they both did. Jesus’ hearers would know that the debt contracts of the master and steward included exorbitant interest hidden from illiterate peasants – a cut for everyone rich enough to control the terms. Today’s analogies may be high-interest student loans, credit card debt, and predatory pay-day loans. Wealthy landlords and stewards in Jesus’ day created other ways to charge interest often hiding it by rolling it into the principal. Hidden interest rates up to 50 percent! The steward, once confronted, set out to shrewdly protect himself, to act smartly for his own benefit.

All this selfishness and self-preservation, and we would think Jesus would roundly condemn all the players. Yet, oddly, Jesus doesn’t. Instead, he lauds the steward for his cleverness, with an additional complement to “children of this age” (those who were not His followers), for their shrewdness.

The lesson we can take from this teaching is that being shrewd requires we know what rules our hearts, that we know Who we serve, and that we take decisive action to change our ways in light of the coming judgment. If we serve wealth and self-preservation for their own sake, we will fail. But if we shrewdly (i.e., wisely) work for God, placing Him first in all we do – on Sundays, with money, with what we have, in acting compassionately toward the poor and suffering, we will enjoy the blessings of life with God because we cannot “serve both God and mammon.

For what
reason?

For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

In this week’s Gospel we hear Jesus putting it all out there, laying it on the line. He will not offer us a placid earth, but rather one that has a cost if we hold to His truth and way. For what reason would we accept this cost?

When Jesus preaches all the truth, we get afraid. We really do not want to admit that the hard stuff is necessary. We prefer the soft Jesus of Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. We like the Jesus of peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. He is certainly that, but that has a cost. The cost of access to Him is living faith. The fruit of faith is a new life cleansed of binds that restrict and limit us; that keep us away from real joy, even if that is others. The life of faith gives us new and perfect reason to face every challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division. Will we accept that cost?

Today we encounter the warrior Jesus. The “fire” He brings is the cleansing fire that washes us of constraints, the things that keep us back from living a life of complete faith. His fire refines us and makes us ready to witness. Paul tells us that Jesus gave His all for the sake of the joy that lay before Him. We have the promise of that joy, not something less. Is that joy sufficient reason to face challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division?

If we reason it out, the choices we have to make every day, spreading the gospel, issuing the invitation, stating the truth of the gospel, admitting that there are limits, boundaries, thoughts, words, actions, and philosophies not in accordance with God’s way is both a path to conflict and to joy. To say Jesus is the way, truth, and life will surely turn some off, yet brings us joy. 

Being all-in with Jesus, living His way, proclaiming his word – the right way – has the assurance of everlasting joy. It is the joy of heavenly peace, God’s assurance, life in the Body of Christ, and the joy of being coheirs to victory.

Jesus won His and our joy on the cross. For what reason would we do, speak, and act. For what reason must we endure, abide, and face all things? For genuine joy!

Are we
hungry enough?

They all ate and were satisfied.

Last week, we discussed the hungry Jesus and His chief hunger, unity of life with the Father and Spirit and our participation in that reality, that meal where love is perfected. It is the meal to which We have gained access. We were left with the question: Are we hungry? Are we hungry enough to participate in God’s life?

Today we continue the celebration that began this past Thursday, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Holy Church sets aside special Octaves, eight days of celebration that follow special moments in our collective faith life. We celebrate Octaves after Christmas, the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. You have to love a Church that focuses on celebrating!

Today’s Gospel tells us that crowd ate and were satisfied. Now we’ve all had plenty of meals where we ate, and remained unsatisfied, perhaps even disappointed.  Yet, when Jesus feeds us we find only satisfaction. The Gospel goes on to tell us that the leftovers filled twelve baskets– in other words, Jesus feeding us leads to an overflowing abundance.

Sunday, in the Octave, is a great moment to reflect. Do we really believe this? Does receiving this bread and wine really make us whole and satisfied? Does this activity, have any real meaning and reality? Do we have any overflowing abundance coming from this feeding? Are Jesus’ promises real?

Father, what are you saying? You’re confusing me. I’ve said that myself to people who called me to express what I really believed.

That is the question, not whether I am confusing you, but taking this very important moment, this eight-day period, and the rest of our lives to come to terms with what we really believe of God’s reality. We can read words – This is my Body. This is My blood. Do this… but reading alone will not move us from disbelief and unbelief and going-through-the-motions, to full faith and overflowing abundance.

If we do anything, as we meet the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood today, as He passes us in procession, let us make an absolute affirmation of true faith and belief. Let us say and believe: He is here, and I am hungry for Him. Let us eat and be satisfied. Then with that realization of faith, come to see all His promises fulfilled in our lives to overflowing.

Jesus’ disciples gathered around him, and he taught them: I tell you not to worry…

Matthew 6:25

I believe we often wonder whether Jesus is really speaking to us. Are those particular words meant for me? The answer is always yes, and reflecting on our passage for this month, we can certainly see how it applies to us. Jesus’ friends and followers got together, and He COMMANDED them: Chill out! Indeed, Matthew 6:25, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, is a direct command from Jesus to His followers. His language was not a suggestion or a recommendation, or an option. If you are following me, you need to relax, chill out, throw out all fear and anxiety. If we experience God, church, family, and everyday life from a perspective of fear and anxiety we are missing the blessings of a true relationship with Jesus and each other. Instead of living in Jesus – life to the fullest – we are just functioning and killing ourselves. Fear, worry and anxiety are a wall, a thick, high, deep, and strong wall that blocks the way between me and Jesus. We look at those walls, and our instinct is not to break through the wall, after all. who am I? Rather, we start immediately to make the wall bigger, stronger, higher, and deeper. We forget the dynamite we really have. The power we have is faith as small as a mustard seed. Go to the local supermarket or spice store. Find a jar of mustard seed, and look how small those seeds are. Buy that jar, and then go find a big ‘ol wall – a brick or stone one, and take one of those seeds. just one, and throw it at the wall. In our minds and hearts, see that wall explode and fall. That’s the power we have in Jesus. That is the order He has given us. With the simplest of faith, the least amount of faith, the wall of fear, worry and anxiety is destroyed. When we come to church, let us use the opportunity to stand up and follow Jesus’ order. He’s speaking to us. Destroy the wall. Relax the shoulders, throw out the obligation, and step over the broken parts of that wall. See Jesus for real, no fear.

Join us in June for the fullness of the Holy Spirit experience. Confirmation and Installation, Father’s Day BBQ, all done in a chill out manner with faith in Jesus who overcomes all. Plus check out all the great upcoming national and local events now and throughout the summer.

Read more in our June 2019 Newsletter.

Expect the
amazing.

And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus appears again resurrected.  He encounters His disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. We have all the drama of the encounter with the unexpected. The disciples do not recognize Jesus. He sounds like a sideline commentator; hey you should fish over there. Peter, the nearly naked fisherman runs for cover once John recognizes Jesus.

So much of Jesus’ ministry is an encounter with the unexpected. The widow, bringing out her dead son, sees him risen. Martha and Mary, thinking Jesus too late, see their brother risen. The woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman who went from man-to-man, find the Lord full of both insight and compassionate forgiveness.

Last Sunday, we were asked to share Jesus, His resurrected life, His mercy, His central role in our life. If we did, did we experience an encounter with the unexpected? Did Jesus show up, surprisingly, and give new sight, new freedom, and forgiveness?

The disciples, the nascent Church, found Jesus with them. In spite of locked doors, unbelief, poor fishing, lack of insight, nakedness, and past. He returned and returns, feeding, instructing, forgiving.

Do we perceive or understand this resurrected Lord? Are we ready to really get what’s going on? If we truly saw, if this empty tomb, the glory of Easter morning hit us full on, life would be so different. Why?

Because we have a life of unexpected encounter in Jesus. We have been changed. Hit with this power, Revelation tells us: the elders fell down and worshiped. Knowing what we have this minute, knowing what we will receive, knowing the power of our baptism and our sealing with the Holy Spirit, we would be out those doors proclaiming like the first apostles: “We must obey God rather than men.” Jesus was killed and is raised. Jesus is exalted. Jesus offers you opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. I am His witness. We are His witnesses, here in Schenectady, and Scotia, and Glenville, Rotterdam, across New York, and everywhere we go. We would be constantly in awe. But we are afraid.

Peter was afraid, naked in his betrayal – until the unexpected. Jesus was there telling Him as He tells us: Let go. Be unafraid. Follow me. Feed and tend. Expect the amazing.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 5

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

We have to wonder if Dismas, as he was encountering Jesus on the cross, thought back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

As one who encountered death so often, and who perhaps murdered, who likely saw his criminal colleagues similarly crucified, he was certainly seeing and experiencing something new. In the midst of this horrific tortuous death, he found freedom and forgiveness. Outside himself, he saw Jesus take care of His mother and he saw the executioners also pardoned by Jesus.

Paul’s words to the Philippians would have therefore rung true for Dismas, for this is what he experienced. I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus… I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.

What happened to Dismas was beyond his comprehension. Dismas’ sinful and failed life was not his final testament. Rather, his testament is that of mercy, of a new way of life. It was something he had missed, he could not posess, yet here it was.

Dismas, just like the woman caught in adultery, was taken possession of by Jesus and was given the chance to respond. They were both set free by meeting Jesus. Neither had a claim on mercy and freedom. They had no possession they could claim. Yet, they allowed themselves to be brought into the something new Jesus provides. They both allowed Jesus to fill their lives with His newness. 

As we enter the Passiontide, the Holy Church offers us the great reassurance that is so apparent in these readings. Jesus is ever near to us, ready to take hold of us. He has new life for us – the past is no more. All we need do is respond as Dismas and the woman did. 

In these two weeks, let us reflect on how unready we are, how lacking in perfection, and despite that, how much we want to draw ever closer to Jesus. We are His possession. Because of this, let us press forward growing in our discipleship and witness to Him

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 4

Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation

Three Sundays ago, we met St. Dismas. We learned who he was. We considered what brought him to the life he led. We began considering questions about those times when we, like Dismas, turned from God, let temptation win. Then we set on the road to repentance. We set to take the same opportunity Dismas had; to ask ourselves questions and use those questions to grow into better and better images of Jesus.

We discussed the issue of equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both.

We recognize inherent equality in human dignity. The image of God is in all. Dismas, like every other person around the cross, is us. None deserves hatred. None is less than we are. In our equality we acknowledge that we are all presented with the same possibility Dismas and Gestas had. Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved.

While we have that ability to come and be saved, we tend to get caught up in our weakness and fear. Fear is compounded when we face God’s absolute honesty. Dismas wasn’t strong enough and lived a sinful and destructive life even in the face of God’s truth. Until. Like Dismas, we must have the courage to grab the chance. We must not forego the chance like Gestas did. We are called to see the full honesty of God – truth and mercy that provides each of us the chance to grow and produce even in the direst of moments.

Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him. He overcame fear without neglecting Jesus’ truth, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life.

Dismas, in his encounter with Jesus, spoke the prayer of faith. He spoke to be saved. In this short moment, Dismas acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus, admitted his sin, and asked for salvation. Dismas lived the parable of the Prodigal by coming back and received eternal life. We are called to do exactly the same. Our Lenten journey with Dismas is a model to be followed. If we follow it, take hold of Jesus’ promise, and live in Him, we are recreated as disciple ambassadors, ever new.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 3

Today I offer three scriptural quotes:

God called out to him from the bush, God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.

Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert… These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us

“Do you think that because [they] suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all [the others]? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will perish as they did!

Pretty scary stuff, because when we hear the honest word of God, the alternative to living in Him and in His way, we face eternal reality. Live in God, follow His way, be His disciple, or die. When we are clearly told to set aside sin, walk away from it, to repent and go in the opposite direction, it is frightening. We face our weakness and wonder if we are strong enough to do it. In fact, we know we are not strong enough.

Dismas wasn’t strong enough. He wallowed in a sinful and destructive life that led him to a tortuous death on a cross. As a fellow Jew he certainly heard of God’s word to Moses. He knew the commandments and the penalties, the blessings and the curses. He was dying on a cross in consequence. The curses all came home at once.

We all must face the God of consequences, the honest God Who tells it like it is, without shadow or excuse. Reflecting on this, how do we see Him?

Do we picture this God as god in a Yul Brynner disguise? Is he god as the King of Siam in the ‘King and I?” Is he in a stance of strength, bald headed, bare chested, fierce, calling for his whip so might beat his slaves?

As Dismas looked to his left, in the midst of his curses, he saw a short, bearded, dark haired Jewish man. He suddenly he saw through his sin and inability, past the curses to the reality of God. God is the Gardener Who says: “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate it and fertilize it.” Dismas saw his chance to grow and produce even in that moment where his curses were overwhelming. Let us recognize our chance, the reality of God’s truth. He seeks only our growth and production. We must be honest in the face of weakness and rely on His strength. Let us see clearly and grab His chance.

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped

Everything Jesus said and did was for us. He counted properly. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul laid out all the things Jesus gave up for us. He made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. Jesus did not give these things up to demean Himself, to become less than what He was, but rather to take all He is and all He has and offer it up before His Father in the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice sufficient to pay our debt of sin. That ultimate sacrifice was the key moment of Jesus’ doing. That act alone is so meaningful for us. We have endless thanks and praise to offer for that alone. Yet there is so much more in Jesus’ time on earth and ministry for us. He not only provided us freedom by His ultimate sacrifice, He left us a storehouse of treasure to be counted and used. This Lent, we are called upon to count, consider, and take up each and every thing Jesus taught and demonstrated for us. We are to assess His way of life, His call to follow Him, find the areas where we fall short, turn from them, and respond with concrete, doable, and practical strategies to live Jesus’ life. That’s right, live Jesus’ life. The concept of discipleship entails a turning away from ‘how we are’ to ‘how we must be.’ Lent provides the perfect opportunity for us to count up all the ways we fall short, all the ways, and to escape from sin into fuller life in Jesus. If Jesus could give it all up, then so must we. If Jesus has called us to discipleship, then so we must accept His call; His way of counting. Philippians says, everything about Jesus is to be grasped, to be counted, too be considered and thought about. But, we must not stop there. If we truly grasp and count all there is in Jesus, we realize what we must do. As Jesus lived, we must live. As Jesus did, we must do. Make Lent matter, delve into Jesus storehouse of treasure and let us make ourselves count as Jesus does.

Join us through March and into April in our Lenten and Passiontide journey. Join us in our Lenten retreat on April 6th. How about a discipleship gathering on March 22nd? Join in directed giving. Then — March 30th our Fire of the Spirit Charismatic Healing Service. March 31st — our BASKET SOCIAL!!!

The initial list of winners of our Valentine’s raffle is included in the newsletter. Information about our upcoming parish census is included.

Step up to, and join with us in, the Spiritual Buffet. Read more in our March 2019 Newsletter.