Listen, Obey, Witness

“But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

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

This is a perfect time of year for the parable Jesus offers us today, the parable of the sower and the seed.

Top level, this is a growth parable. The sower represents God, and the seed is His message. Just as a planted seed starts to grow, the word of God starts to deepen and grow within a person who is open to it, that is the person who is made up of good soil.

Considering growth, let’s think of our own gardens. Some of us have significant fruit and vegetable gardens, others smaller ones. Some have beautiful flower gardens, others a few evergreen bushes put in years ago which haven’t really been addressed since. Maybe we grow a tomato plant or two in a pot on our deck.

Regardless of situation we know the things we face. Maybe, like me, we have very rocky soil – shale about an inch or two under the soil. Maybe we have a proliferation of thorn bushes, thorny weeds, and brambles. Maybe we drop some seed on the driveway or walkway. 

Nearly every person faces situations. It is rare to find a person who meets God with readied good soil. His word is sprinkled over us as we listen and learn in church. We may even pick up scripture references in TV shows and movies. Yet, that word will have no effect, will bring about no bounty, unless we set to work preparing our soil.

Everyone can listen, or at least hear the word, but we must work to gain understanding by reading and studying the word as well as praying it. Almost anyone can receive the word with joy – be ecstatic about it – but we must keep our focus and concentration on it by placing it into action, living Jesus’ gospel. All of us have rocks and thorns and no, our soil will not be good and ready and productive without hard work.

To be the good soil God needs us to be we must first trust in Him and readily accept His grace. We cannot prepare ourselves in a vacuum. We cannot ask God to wait outside while we tidy up. We need His help and the humility of asking is a necessary step.

Then there is the work we must set to. We cannot just cut back the thorns and brambles that choke God out, we must dig down and pull them out by the root, so they never get in the way – that is repentance from our sins. We cannot just shovel topsoil over the rocks and stones in us, because their exitance will block God’s word from taking full root. We need to get rid of obstacles to God by placing Him first, above all other things and events – really.

God’s word is the seed that contains all life and goodness, peace and joy, comfort, gentleness, and love. We are called to diligence in preparing our good soil to receive life and produce good fruit in the kingdom.

Working to change.

But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. We study to help us reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

In the first week of Lent, we focused on fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling the space we cleared with new longing to live the gospel.

Last week we studied giving. Giving or sacrifice is a call from God that awaits a response. If we respond without holding back and grumbling, God recognizes our devotion. He not only sees it, but also blesses us more than we could ever imagine.

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer and proclamation. Today we focus on study.

Study is a long-valued Lenten tradition. In these forty days we are called to increase our study of the bible, and beyond that to find worthy reading materials that help us to understand God better. That reading may be a work by a Church Father, a study on the life of a saint, strategies for growing the kingdom through evangelism (i.e., how to talk to others about Jesus), or perhaps a book on how a person overcame a struggle we may face to become a more faithful follower of Jesus.

God had commanded the Jewish people to keep His word ever in their thoughts and before them. That is why faithful Jewish people recite the Sh’ma Yisrael twice a day: â€œHear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” which references to the Ten Commandments we heard today. They place the Sh’ma on the doorpost of their homes fulfilling the command to, â€œwrite the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house.” The Orthodox wear Tefillin on their heads and arms, containing verses from the Torah.

Faithfulness requires us to do more than recite words or place them in our homes. We are called to go deeper into God’s word, His direction for our lives, to cherish His word and to put it into action. Let us resolve to do so by our study this Lent, and by study know God’s nature even better.

Blessed those.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

One of the wonderful things about our Holy Church is the great emphasis it places on the Word of God. 

In September 1909 the Holy Synod of the Church developed an understanding of the preaching and teaching of the Word of God as having sacramental action. A later report of the Synod, printed in 1913 said: “Hearing of the Word of God preached according to the teachings of Christ the Lord and the Apostles, has sacramental force, that is, it causes in us the same effects as does the receiving of the other sacraments.”

The sacramental effect of the Word is included in the Church’s Confession of Faith (Article 7).

This understanding is based on the many references throughout Scripture, spoken by Jesus, relating the power of the Word. In fact, Jesus, as the Word of God Himself, comes to us in our hearing of the Word.

That union with Jesus in the Word is the very definition of sacrament, for a sacrament is an encounter with the sacred in a physical way. In baptism, it is washing with water, in communion the reception of the Bread and Blood of Life, in marriage the binding of the couple by the priest, in Unction the anointing and laying on of hands. In the Word it is the speaking and hearing. Each of these a physical manifestation of the encounter with God.

In our Church, our clergy are admonished to have proper preparation, intention, and conformity with the Gospel. Listeners too must be prepared and open to reception.

Today, Jesus speaks of the power of the Word and its effect on those who are properly prepared to receive.

If we receive without the intention of understanding, just frittering off the Word, we lose the grace provided to our condemnation. If we receive the Word with joy, and then walk away ignoring it soon after the hearing, or when confronted, set it aside, grace is lost, and we again fall to condemnation. But if we prepare, provide rich soil for the Word, and allow it to grow and prosper in us, then we have the fullness of grace that makes us effective Christians, bearers of the Word. We are fruitful carriers of Jesus. Blessed we are.

Why so

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Father, why is he gospel so long?

Jesus was sent to earth as a man. As the Gospel of St. John tells us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word dwelt among us. The Word lives with us. Jesus, who is God’s Word came to preach the Gospel, the Good News.

God had news for us. It is Good News and was delivered by Jesus as the prophets foretold: Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1); or the “good news of God” (see Mark 1:14-15). Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom. The whole point of Jesus’ saving mission is in His words of life.

Today we read of the accomplishment, the completion of the Father’s work. The Good News of Jesus is that the barrier is broken. The curtain is torn. The graves have been opened. Curse and separation have ended. Reconciliation is here. What is in heaven is for us on earth. We have full access to the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God we have these words in all their fullness.

Today, we pause to hear the Good News in full. No shortcuts. Nothing – no concerns or worries about our time – getting in the way of God’s time. Like John, the faithful disciple, and the women, we walk through all the words, from Bethany to the cross and to the tomb.

We don’t look for a shortcut – like Judas did, trying to bring on the kingdom through treachery and betrayal. We stand unafraid before God’s word and accept it and Him in full. We do not walk away, denying Him like Peter did.

In my years of ministry and proclaiming the word, I have immersed myself in the Gospel. This is the good news, given for us who are weary. I, and I know you; have said, even in our weariness, this is the word that rouses us.

Again, Father, why is the gospel so long?

It is so we may wallow in it, swim in it, live in it. We are here to live in the moment. From the spectacle of Palm Sunday to the mystery of the Eucharist, to the foot of the cross, to the tomb; every nuance, every emotion, every tear is ours to own.

We are people of the word who center our lives on Jesus, the Word. There can be no compromise in that. We don’t want the watered down version. So today we stood, stood with Jesus, loyal to His word. Roused, energized, ready, we live faithful to His command: to proclaim the kingdom of God, and they went out and traveled from place to place, proclaiming the good news.

Reflection for Back to Church Sunday

I am listening.
What should I say?

“The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.”

Did you ever wonder what the Word of God is all about? Scripture, the Bible, whatever term we use, what is its purpose, why should we read it, study it, reflect on it, or even act on it?

For many people, the bible might be something handed down from parents and grandparents, a cherished memento. For some it may have been a gift they received for their first communion, baptism, on their wedding day. Certainly, most people have access to a bible in their home, and even if they do not, it is easily accessed via the Internet, on your iPod or iPad.

It comes in handy. We tend to reach for that bible when an issue or problem confronts us, when we are not well or when someone we love is sick. We look for those words of comfort and guidance.

Some people really focus on scripture and use the bible as their guide for life. It becomes a procedure manual and a guide for everyday living. I need to go to the store – what does the bible have to say? I dropped my groceries, my car is making an odd noise, and my husband or wife isn’t talking to me — what does God have to say on the issue?

That is all well and good and has merit. Anytime someone picks up that bible God’s word goes to work in his or her life, but the Word is not really about us.

If God’s word, His revelation is not a revelation about our lives, what does it reveal?

Scripture is this – it is God’s revelation about Himself, His self-revelation. Everything in scripture points out something about God’s personality, His thoughts, His power, His mercy, His Fatherhood, and His love.

The single most important thread in God’s self-revelation is that He wants to live with us, in relationship with us. This is so important that He sent His only Son Jesus to break down the barrier of sin that separated us from God. He broke down that wall; He wiped away sin and the consequence of sin – death. He offered His life to accomplish this mission.

God wants to be in a relationship with us that much. We are that important to Him. Because of that He is with us every minute, listening to us. So when problems or issues confront us, and we reach for that bible, God opens Himself to us. He says, here I am, for you, for whatever you need, even if it is only comfort. This is who I AM. I am listening to you. Say or ask for anything because you are that important to me.

Reflection for the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Can I have my zebra? Ummmm, ooops!

“Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Moriah was two and was on a cross-country flight home. She wanted her zebra, her favorite stuffed animal and comfort. Mom and dad packed it away. It was in the cargo hold of the plane, unreachable. Moriah cried and complained. Dad explained and explained. No use, the crying got worse. Everyone was looking. Then dad listened. He couldn’t get zebra, but could offer her the next best thing — a father’s comfort. “You wish you had zebra now,” he said to her. “Yeah,” she said sadly.

Moraish’s dad was able, in the midst of all the turmoil, with all the passengers looking at his crying child, to do something very important. He stopped, took a breath, and listened to his child. Listening, he understood what she needed.

Like Samuel, like Moriah’s dad, we need to stop, take a breath, and listen to God who speaks to us daily.

For our part, we need to — as is commonly said to young people — put on our listening ears. God has been speaking to us for eons. Centuries of His word are with us. When we are fearful or confronted by difficult decisions we need to know that we are not alone. God knows us and is with us. He is not an absent, far away father. He is our Father, and He is present to us. He knows the deepest desires we carry within us, as individuals and as a parish community. All we need to do is listen.

His words give us the keys to successful Christianity: Live as a community. Love one another. Don’t be the boss; rather serve all. Welcome the stranger. Speak His word. Offer Jesus to all who seek Him.

We cannot do any of this alone. That is what the Holy Polish National Catholic Church is about. It is ultimately about building a community in each place to listen to Jesus and follow Him.