“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

We’ve seen quite a bit over August. In our gospels we experience the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed to Peter, James, and John as the Son of God. Moses and Eli’jah give witness to Him. 

The power of Jesus was further revealed as He walks on the sea, teaches Peter a lesson in faith, and calms the sea. He heals the Canaanite woman’s child after her faith is tested and she perseveres in that faith.

As we discussed last Sunday, the disciples, who would become the Apostles, debated and discussed all this. That discussion was brought to a head in a conclusionary statement by Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

An amazing revelation in the Transfiguration, amazing power at work – power over nature and illness, and then affirmation. Yet today we hear Peter advising Jesus on the future: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

I remember back in my school and early workdays hearing a very wise saying – ‘a little knowledge is dangerous.’ That was often heard when I would venture an opinion that did not take everything into account. I needed to know more before venturing an opinion. Peter fell into that trap.

What should Peter have done? Firstly, Peter should have trusted Jesus, he should have let God be God. Second, he should have realized he did not know it all, gone to humility rather than advice.

Last week Peter followed what Jeremiah spoke about – the need to confess God’s revelation – when He declared Jesus’ identity. He could not keep it shut up within himself – so it shouted out of him.

Certainly, Peter’s statement today was not God revealed, was not worthy of trust nor necessary to say. It was whispered out of him in almost secret – Then Peter took Jesus aside.

Thinking as God does requires that thing Peter fell short of; that is the faith to trust and listen. We must attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s call, His revelation. All it takes is that we listen, and when we hear Him it will burn in us. Then we will have a hard time holding it in. Then we must speak and act.

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

As we know, the disciples, who would later be Apostles, gave various answers to Jesus’ question of identity. They recounted what they heard and likely discussed among themselves. If there can be one thing said for the Jewish culture it is that it has a propensity for deep study and debate. Questions are asked to make one think. Thoughts and opinions are pondered over. 

We have that heritage within our own pristine Catholic faith. We continue in modeling the early Church. We have debate as part of our democratic decision-making process. It happens at every level within the Church from the parish annual meeting to our quadrennial Holy Synods.

Having just returned from our annual Central Diocese clergy retreat, I can report that this process of debate, discussion, and decision making is alive and active – and we are edified by it. Thinking builds one up.

We can see that Peter’s statement of faith was not a sudden one-off. He is recounting what the disciples have been discussing throughout their journey with Jesus. They thought over and considered what John the Baptist had said. They knew Jesus’ words, that He is the Son of Man, taken from the prophesies of David.

In Daniel 7:13–14 the “Ancient of Days” (God) gives dominion over the earth to “one like a son of man.” In some Jewish thought the “son of man” is interpreted as the Messiah.

What set Peter apart was this admission of faith, taking a discussion and debate to a resolution.

My dear brothers and sisters, that is what we are called to do, to reach a conclusion and resolution about Jesus. If we have resolved, within ourselves, that He is our Savior and Redeemer, that He is God among and alongside us, then we have done well.

The next step for each of us, in different ways, is to permeate our lives with Jesus. Jesus’ call to us is not a Sunday one-and-done faith, but a faith lived in real ways, prayer in each moment, confidence in public witness, and fully living the gospel.

for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

You may recall St. Paul’s famous line in his letter to the Church at Rome, If God is for us, who is against us? (Romans 8:31). It is a comforting and reassuring statement founded upon deep faith.

If we read the fuller context in Romans 8 we see an excellent description of what it means to live in Jesus. Faith frees us from condemnation, from the law of sin and death. Faith has us alive in the Spirit, no longer in the flesh. We are no longer bound or held down. We have life and peace. We are sons and daughters. Eternal life is ours. Glory awaits us.

There is so much more, I urge you to read Romans 8 this week and to read it slowly. Savor what we have and what awaits us.

The question comes down to – who is us? If God is for us, who is against us?

Our first reading from Isaiah sets forth a vision and a promise concerning The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD.

We all were strangers once, outsiders, dwelling in the realm of the world, but once we set that old way aside and step on that first rung of the ladder to heaven, when we come into the Church, we are set apart in a new life based on faith. As we enter through waters of baptism we rise to new life, Kingdom life. This is what Paul is speaking about in our Epistle from Romans 11. We have all been given an opportunity to enter. Remembering that helps us in being open to all who might enter as well.

We must be very careful, brothers and sisters, about this entering thing, about this us thing. The care we need to exercise and the inclusion we practice must be that of Jesus who includes based on faith alone.

The story of the Canaanite woman is a faith test story. Jesus’ initial rejection of her teaches a lesson about us and who is part of us. We are to welcome all into us based only on faith experienced in togetherness and fellowship. 

Our faith and likeness to Jesus is constantly tested, especially when we encounter unexpected people. The woman’s example – and the provision of Jesus’ grace depend on our having open hearts and willingness to work with all as they approach God in faith.

Lived Victory!

If you invoke as Father Him Who judges impartially according to each one’s works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct with the precious blood of Christ.

Thank you for joining today as we continue in our Easter joy. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Let’s talk about faith. It seems recently I have received a lot of questions about faith, or encountered situations in which the answer to the struggle a person is undergoing is faith.

One would think that faith is an easy endeavor. Afterall, Jesus promised that those who believe in Him would have the best gift ever – victory and eternal life, but for some reason it isn’t all that easy.

A person may have all the good things in life – I mean look at HGTV. My wife and I like to watch “Love It or List It.” In the show a family gets the flaws in their current home fixed while they tour new homes. In the end they must decide whether they will love their remodeled home or list it and buy a new one with all the bells and whistles. Simple enough premise, except the people in these situations miss what they have and don’t really appreciate how lucky they are to have it, to be blessed in the ways they are even with the few flaws they may have around them. In their arrogance they miss the fact others have little to nothing – and are yet more grateful than they are.

That’s how faith works. Some see it, understand it, perceive it, and are grateful for it despite the flaws they may have in their lives. Others completely miss it.

This was the story for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were so caught up in their own perceptions and drama they forgot to see with eyes of faith. They did not perceive their hearts burning within them. They did not hear the women’s testimony with faith. Jesus was so astounded He would say, “Oh, how foolish you are!” Exclamation mark on purpose.

Now, not to make this too distant from us, think of the tragedy, destruction, horror, pain, and sadness these disciples had gone through. Can we blame them for not seeing with eyes of faith?

We go through those things as well at different times and in different measure. Perhaps it is a situation where everything does not turn out as we planned, when we receive an impossible diagnosis, or when we see that flaw in the place we live and just wish it would get taken care of. It is indeed about how we conduct ourselves during the time of our sojourning. The lesson of Emmaus is to see with eyes of faith, that go beyond the now and focus on our life in Jesus’ victory no matter how things are going or what our worries are.

Our blessings are abundant even in times that challenge because we have victory in Jesus, and we are continually called to live that victory by faith ransomed from our futile conduct with the precious blood of Christ.

Strength of Faith.

Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you.

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. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

For weeks we have focused on Strength of Faith, and perhaps it is time to focus on its opposite, strength of despair. 

It often astounds me to see people struggling so much, to see the level of despair they are wrapped up in. I see young families struggling with schedules and financial resources. I see middle aged people trying to make sense of relationships that seem to be breaking down. I see older folks facing decline in health and vitality. At the same time, I know people who face the exact same challenges, yet persevere and come to victory.

Listen to a few words from Adam Zamoyski’s 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow: 

Although Moscow boasted a French Catholic church whose priest had remained at his post, churchgoing did not figure among the activities of the soldiers. A handful of officers, came to mass or confession, and the pastor was only asked to give Christian burial on two occasions. He went around the hospitals to talk to the wounded, but found them interested only in their physical wants, not their spiritual needs. He said: ‘They do not seem to believe in an afterlife. I baptized several infants born to soldiers, which is the only thing they still care about, and I was treated with respect.’

The difference between people who face the same challenges, and yet have different outcomes is the presence of both faith and the fellowship of Church in their lives. Zamoyski points to soldiers amid despair and on the losing side who were so self-iinvolved they refused to see God in their midst. Their strength of despair overtook faith and led them to give up, to seek no help. They were left with only despair.

You see, we have the actual answer. We have a God of love and complete forgiveness. We have a God ordained way-of-life. We have the Bread of Eternal Life and the Cup of Salvation. We have the “all” so many seek because Jesus said, ‘do this, live this way, receive My promises,’ and so we do.

I can attest this from my own life. Any time where I absented God my life became the definition of absence. It was a turning inward to despair. Yet when I turned to God and committed to live the life of the Church, I was made whole. The challenges did not end, only they were transformed by God.

I imagine the deaf man lived in despair, but then he was brought to Jesus who said: â€œEphphatha!”, “Be opened!” Once he was opened his despair was transformed and so are we.

Say what?

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “I will not believe.”

As usual, on this Low Sunday, we consider the consternation St. Thomas faced when confronted by the news of the resurrection.

The consternation St. Thomas faced is what we might call ‘say what-ed-ness.’ We all do that, don’t we? Someone tells us something and we proclaim, ‘Say what?’ We shake our heads in a state of perpetual disbelief. I don’t get it. I can’t accept it. This is too foreign to me.

If you ever want to test your own or others ‘say what-ed-ness,’ tell them what the Church teaches in truth and power. Jesus is God and man – He is not just a nice teacher. His words are the Word of God and must be obeyed. We must take up our cross and follow Him, walking the gospel path. All people are the children of God, and each of the baptized are co-heirs with Jesus to the promises of the Father. The Church’s teachings are not just an option but required belief. Say what?

Within the first three Chapters of the Book of Acts we learn that: The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

We do not even have to imagine the ‘say what’ reaction of the people who witnessed the life of the early Church. The reaction of the established leadership was negative. It is well recorded throughout Acts and the Epistles. We can hear the voices: What do you mean? They sell everything they have and share in the proceeds equally? They proclaim Christ without fear, with no apprehension, but publicly and with great power? Say what? We need to shut them up. That still rings true today.

Our ability to elicit ‘say what-ed-ness’ from the worldly is founded upon the power we have as recorded in St. John’s writings: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God… Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

As a people empowered by the salvation and inheritance we have in the risen Jesus – the God-man who overcame for us – we need to be a people of resolute faith, a people who truly believe and own, within our hearts as well as shown by our actions and words, the power of the Risen One.

We are called then to go out, dressed in Easter joy, with power, to challenge the ‘say what-ed-ness’ of the world. We are called to proclaim truth and liberty, freedom from death in sin to life in the resurrected Christ. The next time we hear ‘say what?’ let us respond with ‘Let me tell you about Jesus.’ â€œMy Lord and my God!” He lives. In Him we have life. Come and believe.

True freedom.

The sea beheld and fled; the Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs of the flock. 

This scripture, taken from today’s Alleluia verse, comes from Psalm 114. It speaks of God’s awesome power in leading the people of Israel out of Egypt to freedom. He freed His people from the bondage of slavery, and from being trapped back into it, through the parted waters of the sea.

Thus today, Jesus comes from Nazareth in Galilee with this purpose in mind. He steps into and parts the water, for a baptism He didn’t need, to save people who didn’t deserve it, so we could be truly free. 

Jesus was implementing His Father’s plan to save and free us, for each and every one of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Having no ability to save or free ourselves, Jesus steps into the waters to tie Himself, the sinless one, to the suffering state of humanity and to identify Himself with sinful mankind, “Because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.”

The scene was dramatic. Large crowds. John preaching. People confessing their sins and being baptized. Then Jesus steps into the water. He rises up, with water dripping from His body, the Spirit descends in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice is heard: â€œYou are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Today is the next step in the love story that ends our bondage to sin, frees us from ever having to go back, destroys the fear of death, and offers hope for all who chose friendship with God.

This event which we celebrate today publicly proclaims to the world that the Son of God entered the battle to save us from sin and to truly free us. We are freed from eternal death and the power of the worldly who serve the evil one.

The Bible is clear, people break God’s commandments, they serve the world, but have the option to restore their lost and broken intimacy and peace with God. We all have the chance to be free.

True freedom takes true faith. It takes a faith that says no to the world, no to those that would exploit us for their own gain, and no to those who would use the Holy Name of Jesus to further their selfish ends. The world, governments, politicians, and systems cannot give freedom. Rather, freedom comes from an act of faith, our kneeling and saying, Lord, I place my life in Your hands. I repent and desire only to return to You and Your true freedom.

The good news of the gospel is that true freedom is ours for the asking. Once we have asked, we are invited onto the gospel road where we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, proclaim His message, invite those who do not know Him, and celebrate the true freedom that has removed from us any sense of unworthiness, guilt, shame, or condemnation. True freedom!

Less God?

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is the question of the ages, Who do you say that I am? This question, to the Apostles, should not have been a surprise. It is the same question God presented to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Judges, kings, and prophets. In each instance, Who do you say that I am?

Peter answers in the same way the rest would answer. He answers in the same way the faithful have always answered. In faith (which is the rock), he clearly stated that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. You are God, my God.

As with the rest of the Apostles, and as was done before them by the prophets, judges, kings, and every person on earth, we quickly go from proclamation to a failure to follow through. We somehow lose touch with the fact that we just proclaimed God to be our God, and suddenly consider Him ‘less God.’

It happened to Peter right after this bold proclamation, He suddenly saw Jesus as ‘less God.’ He told Jesus He believed Him to be God, then told Him – You’re wrong.

This is our predicament as Christians. We are really asked to do very few things. Proclaim salvation in Jesus. Accept Him in faith, live the gospel message by doing love, and give God the worship. All Church laws and dogmas come down to that. We worship Jesus, who is God, and do what He said, for that is the perfection of truth; God’s wisdom laid out before us. All we have to do is take up and do what God said, but we don’t.

When we proclaim the creed, we will attest to the fact that Jesus is true God and true man. He is not half-and-half, more of one, less of the other. He is the fullness and completeness of both. So, His words and example are the way to live. His is the way we are to follow. Perfect instruction.

Consider the question of faith; our desire to cling to and fully believe: â€œYou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Let us ask ourselves whether our lives speak the truth of our belief. Is Jesus God for me, or is He ‘less God?’

Much seems to get in the way. What does for us? Desires, politics, personalities, angers, having it our way, hypocrisy, thinking we are right, property over people, nation over God, the need to state our opinion? It is the question of the ages. If He is nothing less than God, let us put all that aside and live like He really is our God.

I brought dinner.

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

Yesterday, after Holy Mass for the Dormition, I had the opportunity to spend time with our friend, Bishop Judy Murphy-Jack, Miss Adrienne from Team Esteem, and the Hon. Owusu Anane, a member of Albany’s Common Council. We sat on Bishop’s porch in a beautiful neighborhood on a great day and strategized ideas to address the serious matters pressing on the people of our region and the city. While weighty matter, just spending time on a porch in an old school way and talking with people of faith uplifted us and gave us renewed hope.

The Canaanite woman had serious weighty matter to discuss with Jesus. She wanted to sit on his porch and tell Him about her daughter and her needs. In hope, she sounded the age-old cry of people of faith, â€œLord, help me.”

Jesus’ response was not welcoming. He basically said, Look, I brought dinner, but it is not for you. He referred to her as a dog, a Jewish term of contempt for Gentiles. Yet, He would not concede to the disciples request to send her away. He left the door open as He had in prior encounters with the Gentiles. Jesus leaves the door open to all who want to come onto His porch, to talk with Him, and to eat at His table, but we must take action.

In Jesus’ day, Canaanite was an ancient term for a people who did not know God, worshiped false gods, and were God’s enemies. This Canaanite woman, at face value a false god worshipper, needed to show the truth of her faith; Jesus could not just snap His fingers and make her a believer. She does and hangs on through Jesus ignoring her and telling her that the dinner was not for her. She does not take silence or “no” for an answer. She takes the action necessary to show herself as God’s faithful daughter, not an enemy of God. Jesus then grants her request.

Sophia comes here today as an outsider and will leave as one who will now have the opportunity to fully grow into a person of faith, a believer. It won’t just happen, no magic finger snapping here. To help her grow and enjoy porch time with Jesus and the dinner Jesus brought will take work. Sophia, those who brought her, and we commit to taking on the work of building her into a faithful daughter. Let us all commit to helping her become that woman of wisdom who hears Jesus say: â€œO woman, great is your faith!” and whose hope is constantly renewed.

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.