The
knowing.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

On this Fourth Sunday after Christmas we hear the testimony of John. In the gospel, John twice says: “I did not know him.

It seems odd for John to say such a thing. Afterall, John and Jesus were cousins. It is true that they lived in different towns, and transportation was hard on foot. Based on Church Tradition, John lived with his family in Ein Kerem, an eighty-mile, three-day journey on foot from Nazareth. Yet, it is highly likely they did know each other. It was common for larger Jewish family gatherings to occur, especially during festivals, as well as in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So why would John say: “I did not know him?

Remember, that this Epiphany season is about revelation, Jesus becoming known. What John experienced following Jesus’ baptism was a deeper knowing of Who Jesus is. He was no longer the cousin I knew back when. Actually, I probably knew Him better in my mother’s womb when I leapt for joy. Now, I really get it. The Holy Spirit has helped me to see; I see Jesus in fulness according to the Spirit.

Like John, seeing and experiencing the Lord in the fullness of His being and then acting upon that knowledge is the grace of God working in us. It is the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It is also a call to look beyond mere appearance and to see each and yes, every person, as the image of Emmanuel, the image of God among and with us.

John acted on his knowledge and spoke of it to the crowd. He pointed to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He spoke of what happened in his life. He is literally saying that his work, there by the river, was about making Jesus known.

As the faithful, we are called to make Jesus known. I would ask that we think about this work in a slightly different way. Christians often approach those who do not know as those who do not know, in other words, uninformed. What we might miss is in the saying of: “I did not know him,” they like John already do know. They exhibit the traits of one who knows Jesus, in their goodness and love. They are created in His image. We, in our work, just need to help them see the fulness of what they already know.

Discount
entry fee?

I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them

Our first reading starts out and ends so hopeful. God is going to gather together many nations and peoples. There is to be no exclusivity in His kingdom. God’s glory will be proclaimed by these many peoples, and they shall gather others into the family of God. From among all these people, God will raise up priests and Levites from all people, not from some families.

Indeed, this hopeful message is what has been proclaimed by our Holy Church from its first days on Pentecost, when people of many nations and languages came to faith in Jesus Christ. This hope filled message was music to the ears of the downcast, the poor, widows, orphans, slaves, anyone in any sort of bondage, particularly sin bondage. The Church thrived amidst persecution, with people entering each week, to learn about the message of Jesus (and study over 3 years before being allowed full participation).

People heard the hopeful message of Jesus in the streets, in homes, from the mouths of His followers. Jesus’ followers could not help but speak of Him and what He offered. By their work and words, people came to be saved.

What does Jesus offer? He offers inclusivity for those who come to Him in faith, who believe on Him with their entire being. He includes those who seek freedom by confession. He offers eternal promise and inheritance. The things and ways of the world are broken and without value. God came Himself, for them, to set them free. They were worthwhile children and coheirs.

We have to ask ourselves: In the midst of torture, prosecution, potential loss of life (and long study), in the midst of an everything and anything goes pagan culture, where I can have whatever I desire, why did the hope of Jesus, the Messiah, resonate so deeply. Why were people willing to sacrifice all to have Jesus? This was the way it was for nearly 500 years! And more came to Jesus every week. More and more sought His community – the Church.

Today, we live in a neo-pagan culture. The old ways are back. What we forgot for 1500 years is real again. We are called to reassess, to see there is no cheap entry fee. We will not just get by. We are the sign among them– the world. We are therefore called to live faithfully, speak boldly, and offer what is priceless to all.

And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh He brought you to life along with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, He also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Last week we found Abraham sitting in the entrance of his test on a hot summer day. Today, his three visitors walked on toward Sodom, intent on destroying the city for its sinfulness, while the Spirit of God remained with Abraham. In one of the most classic dialogs in scripture, Abraham presumes to bargain with God. He wonders, can God forget the serious sinfulness of Sodom for the sake of those who try to live justly? Not once, but three times, he sets a challenge to God – can He look past the sins of so many for the sake of the few innocents. Perhaps it is a bit too far to say, at least at that stage of salvation history, that God would forget the sins of so many. Yet, He could look past their serious sinfulness so that that those, innocent of those serious sins, might not perish. God shows forth His mercy. God previews His approachability.

St. Paul brings our new reality in Jesus to the fore. We are all guilty, all liable, yet God mercifully sent His Son to free us, literally to obliterate every sin (every failing, serious and minor, big and small) that held us captive. Paul tells us that we have been buried with Jesus by our baptism. In those waters we, by God’s grace, the cross of Jesus, and the working of the Holy Spirit, leave sin behind. Uncleanness is abandoned, and we come alive – alive for ever. In that moment, we were raised.

The question before us, what do we do with this new freedom? What are the next steps? How should we act?

Remember that Paul refers to when we were dead. It is past tense, it was before. It is addressed to every one of us, Gentiles in the old order and the new Israel in our rebirth. Freed from our sin, we must respect and honor the fact of our freedom. Again, but how?

Respect and honor our position of freedom in the kingdom. Stand tall, look straight ahead, and pray to the Father looking Him in the eye. Ask in faith. Believe that we will receive. Give praise and thanks. The Lord has forgotten our sin and invites us to approach Him right now.

He’s
everywhere!

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Happy Birthday Church!!!

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. The Holy Spirit is central to every act of creation. Genesis tells us at creation the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. He was there as all that was created for us came into being. How much more would He be there as we were returned to the fullness of creation. His work in us was and is focused on bringing the word to the world, on proclaiming and spreading the Good News of repentance for salvation in Jesus so all might be re-created, might be re-born, might be regenerated.

St. Paul says: But how can people call on him if they have not believed in him? How can they believe in him if they have not heard his message? How can they hear if no one tells the Good News? Exactly! So, the Spirit was there to call us, to motivate us, to infuse us with the gifts necessary to spread the word.

In Jerusalem, tongues of fire were created into tongues of proclamation. It is not lost on us that these tongues were world-wide tongues. Every nation heard. Jews, Arabs, Romans heard. The Holy Spirit is with us everywhere. In every corner, to every place needing re-creation, He accompanies us and gives us all necessary to get the job done.

St. Paul expounds on the gifts: There are different kinds of spiritual gifts. There are different forms of service. There are different workings. The Spirit produces all of them in everyone (who is in the Spirit) for some benefit.

Notice, there is no delay. There is no questioning. There is no debate. The Spirit floods and fills us. He empowers us to get the job done. Feeling lazy? Feeling unable? Feeling afraid of this God stuff? Call on the Holy Spirit and the job will be done (by you and me) before we even realize it. That’s how we know. That’s how we are sure of the Spirit’s presence, the reality of God and heaven. It is when we are amazed that it got done. Then we know He is everywhere in our proclamation of salvation.

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.

Our
travelogue.

After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… They appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord.

Today’s first reading from Acts presents quite the travelogue. Paul and Barnabas had been getting around and welcomed the Gentiles into the Holy Church. In fact, Chapter 14 of Acts covers eight cities where the leather of their sandals really got a workout. The road wasn’t easy. At Iconium they were nearly stoned. At Lystra, Paul was stoned.

Those things are facts. Cities, miles, shoe leather, the number who came to the Lord, the number who turned away. Above the facts of the trip and the numbers in and outside the Holy Church, Paul and Barnabas were carefully laying out a model of behavior. Through teaching and example, they present us with a measuring stick, a barometer, a gauge, standard, and frame of reference by which we may determine how committed we are to travel Christ’s way.

The Gospel and Revelation speak of newness. A new way of life – founded on love, but not any old love. It is the love Jesus walked. A new heaven and earth unknown to anyone before and unachievable except by traveling with Jesus.

This newness is Jesus way of life. He makes all things new, doesn’t He? But to have part of that newness, to be welcomed into the new Jerusalem we have to walk the same travelogue Paul and Barnabas walked.

Jesus is the steps, the map. Paul and Barnabas proclaimed Jesus, the truth of the Gospel told plainly in the face of rejection – because there was those who did come to believe and were saved. They stayed strong! So must we with truth to turn souls to Jesus. They made disciples – we must tell and invite. They lived community by strengthening, encouraging – It is what our community in Mont Pleasant is about. They exhorted – called people to faithfulness, didn’t let people slack – Call that person who has been away. They shared the ministry. Call men to take up the challenge. It is time to hit the road on Jesus’ travelogue.

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.

We
share.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

On the Sunday following His resurrection, in the evening, Jesus appears once again. These appearances of Jesus fulfill many purposes. They perpetuate and reinforce the teachings He had provided over the course of His ministry. They obviously show His resurrected body and its physicality (He eats and drinks with them) – the promise for our resurrection in the body. Today, we see Him also strengthening the faith of Thomas and leaving direction for all who doubt (doubt is never wrong, rather it is the outcome, how we overcome our doubt that matters). We also see a commissioning of the disciples with power, sending with the right to loose and to bind.

In jumping between Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples and the encounter with Thomas, we tend to miss a nuance. The nuance is that we share. As disciples, we share. Christianity is about sharing.

This sharing begins with the fact that we are sent. Consider that Jesus had no reason to send us, nor do we have any reason to go, unless we have something to share. 

He asked that we go and share His word, we share His life-giving sacrifice, we share the promise of this – His empty tomb. We share both as empowered individuals and as a community.

It is so nice to share – great to share but sharing also has a cost. We have to be ready to accept the cost. What would we give up to share Jesus today? Tomorrow? 

St. John the Evangelist declared in Revelation: I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance we have in Jesus. That captures it so well. John starts introducing himself, calls himself our brother, and starts sharing. He sees that he shares in all things – the good and the bad. What a perfect model of what Jesus wanted of us told through the disciple He loved. What a perfect model for us.

The week ahead – share. Let us introduce ourselves, be a brother or sister, share with each person so they may share also in the distress, the kingdom, and the endurance. Share to grow the community. Share Jesus because we share.

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.