Accepted and used.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

Welcome and thank you for joining us this Sunday as we testify to our faith in our Lord and Savior and join in fellowship in His Holy Name.

God gives – isn’t that a wonderful statement? God has placed gifts in us, as St. Paul tells Timothy, a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

These gifts from God are a sure antidote to the things that humans face every day – weakness, anger and hatred, and a lack of control over both ourselves and our surroundings.

The interesting thing about gifts is the choice of the one receiving them. The receiver has the choice of accepting and using the gift, accepting the gift and leaving it unused, misusing the gift, or just ignoring it.

Growing up, I, like you was trained to be thankful for gifts, and to accept them with grace. We were also taught that we must not waste what we were given. Perhaps in some ways that accounts for some of the clutter we all have – what to do with that ceramic chicken table setting someone gave us?

God only gives needful and useful gifts. No ceramic chickens from God. We have these gifts of power, love, and self-control but now we must apply them. As professing Christians, that is what we are to do.

Jesus shows us how we are to apply these gifts in everyday situations, during the ordinary of our lives. We are to use our power, love, and self-control as His servants and servants of each other. We are to see with faith, the size of a mustard seed, how God’s gifts intertwine and bind our relationships with Him, our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom, and all of God’s creation.

Jesus wants us to use these gifts in doing all He commands, that is, to walk the gospel path where we give completely of ourselves, where we clothe and feed those in need, where we visit those alone, and where the beatitudes mark our life. We can all look those up.

To those given more, Jesus calls for more. For all of us in relationship with each other, we are to be a representation of Jesus’ dwelling with us, His abiding presence. Look on each other and see Jesus abiding; His gifts ready for application.

Today, as we pause to consider the pets we love or have loved, we see in a special way the implementation of God’s gifts. We recognize a dependency in the ones given to us, for care, for companionship, for a recognition of their innocence and their sharing of unconditional love which we need to reciprocate. God thus uses creation to illustrate in the simplest of ways how the accepted gift is to be used. May we ever show how we have accepted the spirit of power, love, and self-control placed in us and how we have used them as His servants.

Be Humble.

“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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

Last week we spoke of the distinction between listening and hearing. We heard Jesus tell us that the one who listens and walks the gospel way, i.e., does the work Jesus speaks of, will recline at table in the kingdom of God. Today we hear Jesus referencing another table, the one that was in front of Him in the home of one of the leading Pharisees.

We are introduced to the scene hearing that Jesus was being observed closely and carefully.

The ironic part of Jesus being observed carefully was that it had nothing to do with respect or honor. Rather, it was people lying in wait for a mistake, so they could take charge and destroy Jesus.

Jesus confronts this situation by speaking of humility. How can one rightly order their lives in relation to God and other people?

We all have that automatic detection system, the red light that goes on when someone with false humility starts talking about – themselves. We know how hard our own humility can be. Even stating that one is humble calls attention to oneself, magnifies oneself.

The temptation as I prepared this homily was to use examples from my life – oh how humble I was – and speak about how we can all effectuate humility in our lives – by following the thing Fr. Jim does. Yikes, humility is hard. That was a lesson for me.

For us, humility is the way we follow Jesus, how we walk in His gospel way. Jesus lays out examples for us today.

It starts with showing up when invited, making the effort, then placing oneself in the lowest position, doing the things that need doing while not calling attention to oneself. Then when the party begins, taking the lowest place.

Jesus also instructs us to avoid doing anything for self-gain. If we are throwing the party, invite those who never get invited. If we are playing a sport or game, pick those who never get picked.

Those are practical examples of humility in action. Doing those things helps us to live humble lives, to exemplify Christ. The truly humble person is not only a listener and doer of Jesus’ gospel but more-so a person totally committed to emptying oneself for Jesus Christ.

What this means is to finally extricate ourselves from God’s throne, to stop pushing Him aside so we can decide. It is about living up to all those commitments we made before God at our baptism and confirmation, in marriage, and in every other way – living only for God and others so to be exalted in heaven at God’s table.

Working to change.

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

On Ash Wednesday we heard that Lent calls us to change, to reform. 

Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform at different levels. Perhaps we need to reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call. Perhaps our religious practice has become habit rather than challenge. Perhaps we are still doing things because mom or dad said so. Maybe, just maybe, we are comfortable and just do not want to change and reform.

Here we are and now is the time to convert, to change and reform. But how do I get there and do it?

Throughout the Lenten journey we are sharing together we will study the means and methods by which we will achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to 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.

Here is what we will study – the disciplines of the season: fasting, giving (sacrifice), praying, study, and proclamation – and how though these disciplines we come to conversion, change and reform.

Each of the Lenten disciplines are work. If any were easy to us, we need to find a way to make them a challenge. It may not be just in doing more of x, but in doing x in a different way.

Let’s say we love fasting; it is never that hard. Well, let’s fast in a different way, from a thing other than food, from a thing that pulls us away from living the gospel way.

Today we focus on the fast. As the hymn proclaims, these forty days of Lent O Lord, with You we fast (and pray).

Fasting is a means by which we rend (i.e., break) our hearts, tearing them away from the attractions that trap us and hold us back and refocusing our time and attention on Jesus’ gospel path. In fasting we separate ourselves from the things that distract us from the gospel cause.

There is so much that tries to distract us, pull us away from the gospel way. Here is a great question to ask ourselves in relation to our fasting: I would be sitting here reading scripture or praying or doing good works except that I am _______. I would be reading scripture or praying or doing good works far more often if I wasn’t _______. There is our stop doing that.

As we fast from what distracts and pulls us away from the gospel way, we will feel Jesus filling that cleared space with new longing to live the gospel and the power to do so.