King of what?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

Here we are at the end of our weeks considering Jesus’ teachings on the end time, the last things. Today, Jesus gives us a vision of what that day of days will look like.

Throughout these weeks, the Apostles in their writings, John’s letter, Paul’s letters, kept reminding us of who we are in Christ. John told us we are God’s children – we represent Him. Paul told us that we have power as imitators of Jesus and that we will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds; that we are in the light – not in darkness. We are reassured that we belong to Jesus. Belonging to Him is more than a superficial statement, it is an all-encompassing change in who we are and how we approach daily life.

In this vision of the future, a view into that day of days, we come to grips with the accountability God will demand of us. Jesus points to judgment based on our obligation to live out the commandment of love, seeing in the other the image of God. Did all-encompassing change take hold of me? Did I make Jesus happen in my life and in the world or keep Him stored away? Was I that saint of God in the world – in the smallest ways? Have I used the oil of grace given me, or toss it aside? Did I grow the kingdom one meal, one drink, one coat, one welcome, one visit at a time?

I pray to God I can answer yes and be forgiven those times I missed the chances I had to minister to the Lord in the other. I know I have tripped and fallen along the way, I have missed chances, sometimes purposefully. Forgive me those sins!

As we celebrate this Solemnity of Christ the King, Lord call us back into conformity with Your Lordship and Your Rule. Forgive us of the opportunities we have missed. When we come to that next encounter with Your image in the other, give us the grace to see in the other’s poor, hungry, naked, thirsty, lonely, and apart eyes Your Royal presence. Recall to us Your Kingship.

Some Churches have renamed today’s Solemnity to Christ the King of the Universe. I ask you to consider how limiting that is! If Jesus’s kingship is limited in any way, He is not King. Rather, let us commit to the fact that Christ is King of every universe, every dimension, things seen and unseen, of my life, heart, soul, spirit, and mind, of my home and family, of the action of my hands, and of how I see every person, the other I encounter.

In these last days Lord, recall to us the all-encompassing change You have called us to be in the world. Lord, when You come in Your glory to rule over and above all, find us having accomplished all You have called us to do and more so.

To…

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’

We have spent several weeks focusing on Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times. These teachings all point to what we are called to… to liveto beto use, and to grow.

We can see the pattern that developed over these weeks. The central message is about the ‘obligation to’ that comes from our baptism, our acceptance in faith of Jesus as Lord.

October 25th – we are called to live the great commandment – committed love of God and for each other.

November 1st – we are reminded of our call to be the saints of God in the world.

November 8th – we are told to use the oil, constantly provided by God, to build His kingdom and to be ready to enter eternity carrying the light we have provided to the world.

Today, Jesus reminds us of the treasure we have been given. Having faith is the receipt of treasure and the obligation to take that treasure and to grow it.

The talent given, in Jesus’ day, was worth about fifteen years of wages. It was a lot. Even the person who received only one talent received a massive treasure.

Being given treasure like that is a great thing. It is like finding big sacks of money. Rejoicing, we would perhaps throw the treasure in the air, roll around in it, but then – What’s next? The treasure of faith is a call to rejoice in what we have been given and an obligation to work investing it for growth.

The gospel shows us three people who received treasure. Two spend a second saying: ‘Wow, I have treasure!’ and then got to work with it. The other person gets treasure but doesn’t even rejoice in it. The treasure is an instant turn-off to them. Factually, this person doesn’t throw it in the air, or roll around in it, or rejoice at all. They don’t want to see it, so they bury it; get it out of sight.

The massive amount we are given calls us to live God’s treasure – attracting others to it, to be God’s treasure in the world, to use His treasure to call others by the light burning in us, and finally to grow His treasure by our work so we may return to Him with results.

The wicked and lazy find no joy in the gift, so they bury it. It is not because they are risk averse – like someone who prefers certificates of deposit in a bank to playing the stock market or starting a business – it is because they reject the gift completely. For us, how we rejoice in the gift, and whether we do all we are called to, quietly and slowly, or quick and dynamic, let us live the gospel, be Jesus to the world, and use His gifts to grow His kingdom returning to Him, on the last day, with what we have done.

Oil, oil, and more oil.

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

For a few weeks we have been considering Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times, and our preparedness for that blessed day. Today’s gospel brings the reality of God’s expectation home to us.

Oil was a primary product in biblical times, somewhat like today, but much more widespread in its application. It was a food product, was necessary to cooking and baking, kept the lights kit, was a cosmetic, and was used to make soap. When important guests arrived, they were honored by being anointed with oil.

Throughout Scripture, the symbol of oil was used to represent God’s anointing in both power and healing for both animals and people, His generous provision for the faithful, and the readiness of His people. We see kings, priests, and prophets anointed with oil. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with aromatic oil at the banquet in Lazarus’ house just prior to His suffering and death.

The question seemingly before us today – when the end comes, will I have enough oil? But that’s not the real question. If we thought of it that way, we’d be saving up oil, hiding it away. The real question before us: Am I using the supply I have been given to prepare for the kingdom and do I trust God to keep my supply full, or am I unwisely sitting on what God has given, wasting it?

As the faithful, we should never worry about our spare supply. Our supply comes from our lived faith. It is constantly refreshed and restored by the grace of God. With faith and dedication to God’s gospel way, our lamps will never run dry. Take the lesson of the lamps that never went dry.

Maccabees, and the Talmud commentary on it, says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered only enough pure oil to light the menorah for a single day, yet it burned for eight days. Elijah assured the Widow of Zarephath that her jug of oil would not run dry during a multi-year drought. These examples point to God continuing to fill His faithful, to His restoring our supply of oil. We can and must burn and burn our lamps, showing the light of Christ, doing His work, preparing for His arrival, and trusting that we will never run dry. For the faithful, there will be oil, oil, and more oil.

God expects us to trust in His provision for our work for the kingdom. Let us set to work, never worrying about running out, and confident in what we will have to show for our work when Jesus returns. The light we carry and show each day and the lamps we hold when the end comes, when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is at the doorstep, will be our testimony for entry into the kingdom.

Charity = Love

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to always be prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today.

The scriptures for today introduce us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. In the end it is how we live the commandment of love. The first reading from Exodus calls us to awareness of our obligation to others. It opens us to the idea that how we encounter others must be in line with God’s way of love. If it is not, the consequences. We will be killed with the sword; the voices of our accusers painting us with the blood from their suffering. 

Wow, that’s dark – but yes, it is that serious. In the language of scripture, particularly the New Testament, the word for love is the same word used for charity. That favorite wedding reading, and the greatest of these is love, is also translated, and the greatest of these is charity.

Our loving, our charity must be complete and other directed. In Exodus, God calls His people to account for how they actually live. Don’t just say it, don’t just pray it, don’t just speak it, live it. He reminds us that He hears of our actions, He sees what we do. We cannot hide.

Each day we walk the road to the end. Where we end up, how we are recompensed, is totally dependent on whether we are, as St. Paul says, a model for all the believers. Their testament in the end times: in every place [their] faith in God has gone forth. God grant that this be said of us.

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. We begin again today to approach the moment of accountability.

Jesus sets the ultimate standard of love and charity for which we are accountable. He stresses the interconnectedness of love for God and others. As St. John would later write: Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. Now it is up to us.

The reality goes beyond our usual ideas of what love/charity are. For God, our love is shown by our dedication, worship, and communication with Him, not forgetting Him. For others, it is more than dropping a few bucks. It is looking in their eyes and gaining an understanding of the truth of their pain – then showing love in working to relieve that pain. The end – let us not show up empty.

I know better
than God.

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

I have always wondered, really wondered about those who predict when the end will come, when the last days will arrive. More than that, I wonder why anyone would follow someone claiming to know.

As I mentioned last week, some people try to do biblical math, adding up various aspects of scripture, especially from the Books of Daniel and Revelation to reveal when the last days will come. As I also mentioned, I am not very good at regular math, and even if I were, I would not attempt it, it would be a foolish exercise. I do not know better than God. Consider also the many failed end time predictions that started with the Essenes in the 1st Century and continue through today. There are even predictions for the future stretching out as far as a googol (10100) years from now. So many think they know better than God. Don’t be fooled.

As Christians we need to act smartly, not foolishly. We need to have an understanding of last things that only comes from taking Jesus at His word – that not even He knew, and that we must be prepared. Sure, lots of things will happen as history unfolds, but those must not dissuade us. Justice and healing await us. 

As far as the end times, we cannot know it, we cannot predict it or figure it, but we have to live constantly expectantly for it is immanent. We must be Eschatologically focused. So, how do we do that?

We do that by looking to the totality of Jesus’ encounter with us and our encounter with Him. History did not start with His human birth and did not end with His Ascension. He is, after all, the Alpha and Omega. When we encounter Him in the Eucharistic celebration we are pulled into the totality of His eternity. We stand with Him from before time to beyond time. We must then stay Christ focused, following His model for life so that we are well prepared. We must live without fear, ready to give witness to Him by active ministry, mission, proclamation, and invitation. We don’t know better than God, but we know, as Jesus promised, that by our perseverance, we secure our lives.

Victory
cost.

Brothers and sisters: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

Last week we met Zacchaeus and found in his encounter with Jesus one reborn to new life. We found great hope and promise because each person has the opportunity to be reborn into new victorious life in Jesus.

This week we meet a different group, people who at great cost kept faith, did not falter through every cruelty, and persevered in the new lives they knew they had in the Kingdom.

These last few weeks of the Church year are dedicated to contemplation of the Eschatological moment, the end times, Jesus’ victorious return and our being caught up with Him. These are topics of wonder, so the Holy Church lays before us teaching that shows us the way.

Our starting point is the encouragement of God, called to mind by St. Paul. Our hope is not temporary nor is it fleeting. What we have is everlasting. Having come to Jesus by faith and confession of sin, we have new life. We have the promise of victory and we must not take it lightly. Let us study, read, pray, mutually encourage and be steadfast in our faith and in the expectation of Jesus’ return.

You know, it isn’t easy. The world and even other churches are throwing every distraction before people. Like the mother and seven sons, we must face torments that attempt to pull us away from the Kingdom life into abandonment of God. For us, these things may not be as outright as others face, but know Christians face these sorts of things daily in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Among us, it is not so obvious, more insidious.

I encourage you to read 2nd Maccabees. In Chapter 6 we see this: The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; They also brought forbidden things into the temple so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings. This is literally happening today on the altars of St. Peter’s in Rome and other Roman churches. Where is faith being kept? It is kept here!

Keep faith in these last days where the costs are high. Keep faith here and in your hearts. Jesus reminds us not to fret over the detail or the cost but maintain the hope that is our promise of victory – everlasting life.

Investing
rightly.

“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one– to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

In case anyone might have missed it, the past two weeks have focused on getting ready and being prepared. Prepared for what? It is about preparing for wise investing, that is that carrying out of the obligations God has entrusted to us.

Given the time of year and the immanent celebration of Thanksgiving, we might take Jesus teaching on talents as a time to discuss investing in our church. We could turn this day into a discussion of money stewardship and emphasize generosity. While Jesus’ parable deals with stewardship, it is about a different kind of investing.

For the past few weeks we have heard Jesus talk about the end times. Jesus has been encouraging us to prepare for his Second Coming. Today, we do not hear a ‘Let’s get ready for Jesus’ coming parable, but are asked to look back – what have we accomplished after we had prepared.

St. Matthew’s is writing in the late first century when the church was struggling with Jesus’ delayed return. This retelling of Jesus’ parable reminded his people and us that we have been entrusted with great treasure, we have been prepared, and that we will now be held accountable for how we have invested.

In this parable, the man going on a journey represents Jesus. His going on a journey represents His ascension. The servants represent Christians who are awaiting Jesus’ Second Coming. The talents represent the blessings God has bestowed on us. The man’s return represents Jesus’ Second Coming. The master’s assessment of the faithfulness – the investment of the servants – represents Jesus’ assessment of us at the end of time.

Jesus has entrusted His property to us – His word and the building of His kingdom. He has treated us as individuals, allocating resources in accord with each of our abilities. He neither insults the most able servant among us with trivial responsibilities nor overwhelms the least able servant in the community with impossible tasks.

The parable indeed celebrates active, forward-leaning, risk-taking, involved-in-the-world, where-the-rubber-hits-the-road investment of our preparation.

The master does return, and will settle accounts with us. This will be the time for accountability. Jesus will ask us to show what we have done for Him, for the kingdom. If we have taken our church time, our prayer time, our scripture time, and our fellowship, all in preparation, and have invested it wisely, if we have taken risks, sweated the details, and have remained while others have hidden, we will be rewarded greatly.

As in the parable, the Lord rewards the servants who have invested in four ways: He gives each investing servant equal treatment even though each servant returns different amounts; He will pronounce us as ‘good and faithful.’ Nothing feels better than words of praise given by God; He will give us increased responsibility—a promotion; and He will say, “Enter into My joy.” This is what the faithful Christian can expect to hear when Christ comes again.

As John Shedd observed, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” So, we must not live in fear, prepare and bury what we have learned. We must invest rightly and build for His return.

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Advent 2014

Countdown

What’s on your
clock?

Jesus said to his disciples: “Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Many of us have heard of some of the most well know timekeepers. There is Big Ben in London and the ball that drops at Times Square on New Year’s Eve in New York City. Both are symbols of the passing of time. The United States Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. operates the master atomic clock ensemble which provides the time standard for the Department of Defense. FOCS 1, an atomic clock in Switzerland, started operating in 2004. It looses only one second every 30 million years. The Doomsday Clock at the University of Chicago is a symbolic clock face that represents a countdown to possible political related global catastrophe (a nuclear war or irreversible climate change). The closer the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the Doomsday Clock to midnight, the closer the scientists believe the world is to global disaster. We are also in the midst of a whole group of sports seasons – football, basketball, and hockey. The clock at the top of our bulletin represents the last ten minutes of the game.

What’s missing? Of course, the score! Who’s winning? That is a question we tend to ask as time draws down. Who is winning, we even ask that in our lives as time draws down. Have I won, am I winning?

That should be a question Christians avoid. If we are focused on our successes and failures, the winning and losing of everyday life, we aren’t responding to Jesus’ call, we missed His request of us. If we aren’t much concerned with success, but are just allowing time to pass, biding our time in quiet, waiting for time to run out, we aren’t responding to Jesus’ call, we missed His request of us. Jesus tells us: He has placed His servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.

Advent is the season of the year that we should be taking account of our watchfulness, how we have responded to the Lord’s call. Are we at work for Him? We should use this time to redouble our efforts to be about our Master’s work, not our personal wins and losses.

All of the world’s timekeepers keep running, whether they are symbolic of the passing of time, predictive of the end of our times, or scientific instruments measuring its passage. We are always in the countdown period and our Lord’s return is near. What ends up on our clock will not be wins or losses, but how well we have responded to Him.

November 2013 Newsletter

It’s so scary… One day before November begins and the parish newsletter is complete, mailed, and posted. Our newsletter for November reflects on the end times (should we be scared?), remembering our dearly departed, the great saints who gave us strong examples of faith, thanks-giving — that and more all in our new newsletter. Check it out, stay informed and see our action packed schedule. You may view and download a copy right here — November 2013 Newsletter.

thats-all-folks-cartoon

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

heaven and earth proclaim

A new heaven and earth?
What’s wrong with this one?

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Change is a challenge to us in some of its forms.

Of course we tend to ignore the small or insignificant changes around us because we might not even notice them. The grass grew a few millimeters – we wouldn’t see it, but eventually we notice that its time to mow. Bigger changes confront us and we have to deal with them. It may be a move, new job, a pending graduation, retirement, or a decline in health. These changes unsettle us and may cause us stress.

Today we are confronted with God’s ultimate change – the dissolution of EVERYTHING and the coming of a new heaven and earth.

St. John paints this beautifully in the poetry of Revelation. We see the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. The city is prepared as the new home where God and His people dwell together. God comes to us to live in this new place – talk about a big move. There we are joined with Him in a joy that knows no bounds. All that hinders and hurts us is cast off and there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying, or pain.

We, as Christians, are called to be an eschatological people. It is a big word, but means that we are a people in touch with this new heaven and earth. We are a people who live in the present, but also live in this time-to-come. We are a people that cannot wait for this change.

When we gather, particularly at Holy Mass, and in the sharing of the Holy Eucharist in communion, we are at once in many places. Instantly we are at the Last Supper, the foot of the cross, the Resurrection, the Ascension, and at the new heaven and earth.

Because we live in all of these places when we “Do this in remembrance” of Him, we are to have no fear, no stress over this coming change. In fact, we are to rejoice in it and pray unceasingly for its coming. We already live there and want to see its fulfillment.

There are many who wish to paint horrific pictures and stories about this moment to come, to instill fear, to make it stressful. Don’t be fooled. We who are His people need only have confidence that all the wrongs, tears, and pains of what we have are nothing compared to the joy to come. Come Lord Jesus!