Division and conflict?

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus

Welcome and thank you for joining us this day in our worship of, and dedication to, the Lord.

Today we face one of Jesus’s stronger instructions to His followers (that includes us). He said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.

The question for us is how do we deal with this? How does this make sense for us who work very hard to walk Jesus’ gospel path?

We could start by reading Jesus’ message backward. He says there will be division and conflict, so let’s be all about that. Let’s foment division and conflict especially by being self-righteous and judgy. See someone, especially a family member, doing something inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching – let them know all about it, how wrong they are, and in the process send both them and us to hell.

No, that makes no sense. Factually that is inconsistent with Jesus’ gospel way just as much as any other sin is.

Perhaps we should start by just accepting every sin, or at least looking the other way. Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Everyone is free to just be themselves. Live and let live. Anyway, I don’t want anyone to dislike me.

No, that makes no sense. Factually that is also inconsistent with Jesus’ gospel way just as much as any other sin is. It is just another kind of division and conflict.

Jesus does not want us to be indifferent or generators of conflict. The lesson from Jeremiah and from Jesus is that our agreement with God’s truth may cause us to suffer. We need to accept that fact and be willing to offer ourselves if called upon to do so.

The writer to the Hebrews gives us the solution – the key to how we are to live the gospel life.

We are to look to the great cloud of witnesses, both those like today’s martyrs in the Middle East and Africa, particularly right now in Nigeria, as well as those who came before us. Model their lives and their all for Christ.

We are to set aside sin, freeing ourselves therefrom with the help and guidance of the Church.

Willingness to witness and walking away from sin we are to be people who persevere, look constantly to Jesus, and live out His gospel way, unashamed, uncompromising, and resolute recalling He sees all we do.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, Who will judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

Paul is once again charging Timothy to remain strong and faithful in his ministry to his people. Paul reminds Timothy, as he has been doing, of what he learned. Paul does these recaps before he enters into the strong charge his listeners are called and recalled to.

Paul tells Timothy: Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it

Now Paul was not necessarily referring to himself – you’ve got to get this, believe it, and live it just because I took the time to teach you. Paul never stood on his own words. Rather, Paul is helping Timothy to remember that his heart was touched, his soul was moved, by the Holy Spirit who imparted God’s word to him. This word – the Gospel of Jesus – has affected your life from the beginning. It has changed the course of your life and outcomes you would have otherwise been destined for.

Because God’s word comes to us by proclamation, through the insistence of faithful teachers, by the example of mentors, in ways that are ever human and ordinary, we can easily miss Who it is that is imparting the word. Paul reminds Timothy and us - you know from whom you learned it.

If we realize the source, the rest of Paul’s set of directives becomes easy: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. If this thing I have, that we have, is from God it will prosper by our persistence and dedication, by our patience and teaching.

Jesus brings this all home. He uses the example of the worst of the worst doing right to show us how much more our great, powerful, all just, all merciful God will do for His faithful. He will prosper our proclamation, teaching, persistence, in good times or bad, work. All we need do is ask with faith.

What we ask in faith is not just some poor request from an underling – please support me if You get a moment God. No, it is a word of power from us who remain in Jesus. Jesus guarantees we will see it done speedily. Believe that!  

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.

Just before deadline - time, stress, rush, faith.

I hope You’re running
on time.

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

There’ a little poem that goes:

God has perfect timing;
Never early, never late.
It takes a little
Patience and faith,
But it’s worth the wait.

Our readings and gospel point to God’s perfect timing. In our Epistle from Second Corinthians, Paul appeals for charity toward the Church in Jerusalem.

The Christians at Jerusalem referred to themselves as “the poor.” They were completely dependent on God’s provision. Several factors may account for their poverty: After conversion to Christianity they would have been ostracized socially and economically; Persistent food shortages in Palestine culminated in the famine of A.D. 46; As the mother-church of Christendom, the Jerusalem church was obliged to support a large number of teachers and provided hospitality for Christian visitors; and Christians in Palestine were subject to a crippling Jewish and Roman taxation.

Yet, in the midst of all these factors, the Church faithful in Jerusalem acted in complete faith. They sold everything they had and gave to each other. They trusted in God’s timing, God’s provision. Their patience and faith were rewarded because Paul was out there raising funds. The Churches of Macedonia, Galatia, Asia, and Achaia contributed and sent delegations to bring their offerings.

The first woman we meet in the Gospel was afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years and suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors. Talk about patience. Yet despite all those trials and all that time, she approached Jesus with simple faith and was healed. Indeed, Jesus confirms: “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”

The great culmination of this teaching on patience and trust comes when a father, Jairus, is presented with news that his daughter had died. He could have broken down, given up immediately – ‘Thanks Jesus, but You were too late.’ Rather, he listened to Jesus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

Jesus’ timing is perfect. We know the rest, He arrives at the home and raises Jairus’ daughter.

Remember that Jarius was ‘running late.’ His daughter was at the point-of-death. We must remember this when we’ve almost missed our proverbial flight/train/boat. Is it too late? Has God abandoned me and let all trouble fall upon me? No, He is faithful and always on-time.

Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Isaiah 5 1-7

Help me to remain

Let me now sing of my friend, my friend’s song concerning his vineyard. My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press. Then he looked for the crop of grapes, but what it yielded was wild grapes.

Today’s readings from Isaiah and from the gospel are cautionary. We need to take heed of their many lessons, but most especially the need to remain faithful to God’s call to live His way of life, to become more and more like Him, and to bear good fruit.

Both Isaiah and the gospel use analogy and parable to show what God had done for Israel. They also show that rejecting faithfulness will never lead to triumph.

The vineyard, hedge, wall, tower, and winepress represent God’s work at building Israel. He brought it all it needed to be beautiful, sweet, and successful. He protected it by His strong arm. He gave it kings to lead it, and prophets to reform it. He looked for its people to live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness.

Jesus makes plain that the landowner, that is God, in His care for us does not require any works on our part to come to faithfulness. He does all the work (plants, hedges, digs, and builds) so that we might freely give ourselves over to Him in an act of faith. He wants us to take up His work in the world and asks us to commit to it. If we live faithfully, we will build upon what Jesus has taught. He will be the true cornerstone for our lives.

The importance of faithfulness is made clear by the absence of that faithfulness in Israel despite God continued call and presence. God’s first chosen refused to be faithful. They brought forth “wild grapes.” This doesn’t just mean sour grapes – but grapes that are poisonous, offensive, noxious, and deadly. A life without faithfulness is empty and spiritually dead.

So, we see the two extremes. One is total faithlessness, the other faithfulness. We know that our life is a mix of the two. We fall from time to time in sin. The key aspect is that we recognize what Jesus calls us to do. When we loose our faithfulness, we must re-recognize His generosity towards us. We must recall that God never abandons us, but rather continuously offers us another chance. As God did for Israel He does for us. He calls us back, to recognize His faithfulness towards us. He helps us, by His grace to be faithful. Will we live real, genuine, and pious lives filled with virtue, godliness and righteousness, or will we reject Him completely and end up spiritually dead?

We must continue to work at our faithfulness, to recall our commitment to Him.