Ready for hope?

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime.

Thank you for joining as we begin this new liturgical year, a time of expectation as we await the Lord’s return.

The sort of standardized theme for the First Sunday of Advent is that of hope. Of course, that causes us to pause and perhaps think about what hope means, where we might find it, and when we might add hope’s arrival to our calendars.

Put simply, hope is having confidence in God’s faithfulness, that He will complete what He has begun. It is also the surety that all God’s promises will be fulfilled – 100% delivered.

Well, that defines hope, and where we might find it – in Christ Jesus of course – but when will its fulfillment arrive, where should I pencil it in? That is the tough part, isn’t it?

St. Paul is reminding us that time is growing short, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. We can certainly agree, based on our life experience, that time does grow shorter by the day. Life is not stagnant nor is the time till Jesus’ return getting longer. But where to pencil it in?

Paul wasn’t making this all up. He is merely repeating the words of Jesus, the gospel of Jesus wherein Jesus says over and over: the Kingdom is at hand. We hear Jesus speak on this very subject in today’s gospel: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. So, you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” But where to pencil it in?

Brothers and sisters, Isaiah’s message is so very hopeful, the source of our theme. We love to hear those words about swords and spears being turned into tools of life. We enjoy getting to those few lines about peace and no more war. We like it so much that we miss our obligation, what it takes to get there: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

So, we are called, at the start of the liturgical year, to refocus, re-commit, renew, and set to work in living out our faith. We must live up to our baptismal pledge. We must live as citizens of the Kingdom. The gospel path must be our daily walk. We must not sit on our hands, for our connection to hope is in how we live right now.

Our duty right now is the making of hard choices between the world’s way, society’s way, our own way, and God’s way. Only one of those ways leads to life, the rest to death.

God’s promise of help is ours so we may live out the gospel. Let us do it, and pencil in Christ’s return everyday living ready for Him.

HOPE!

Who is like the LORD, our God, who is enthroned on high and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? He raises up the lowly from the dust; he lifts up the poor to seat them with princes, with the princes of his own people.

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

Thank you for joining for this celebration – a day in which the door to the reception of Jesus’ body and blood is opened to Karina and Marianna – a time in which the hope unity with Jesus offers – is made very real to them.

Thank you for joining us on this Back to Church Sunday, a moment in which we revitalize the hope we all have in Jesus.

The Church offers some tough readings and a difficult to understand gospel today. We may puzzle and wonder what that is all about. Recall, we read a gospel about a cheating steward who is getting fired and who then gets commended for more cheating.

Jesus was using a negative example to show that the businessmen of His day were more wise, bold, and forward-thinking in the management of what they had than the people of God were in managing what they had – their hope. Jesus calls on us to pursue the Kingdom of God and its hope with at least the same vigor and zeal that the worldly pursue their profits.

On special days like today we tend to look back at our first communion, our innocence, the joys of the day that perhaps we could not fully comprehend. When I made my first communion it was with a certain fear and trembling made more so by hair that had to be perfect, a back straight, kneeling stiff and straight through the whole Mass, and the thought drummed into my head of the power and glory I was entering into as Christ entered into me. I did not understand until much later the hope I now owned.

Today Karina and Marianna are surrounded by their closest family and friends and the entire family of the Holy Church worldwide. They are made one with all of us in the body and blood of Christ. Most importantly, they share in the hope we have. Know that as you are surrounded today in love, so in receiving Jesus you will always be filled and surrounded by Jesus’ loving presence

By the Eucharist we live in Jesus’ eternal presence. Our, and your hope is in the assurance of Jesus fully present and real to us. We look steadfastly at Jesus and understand inside and out that living in Him gives us forever hope – a confidence that nothing can get in the way; nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus fully in and surrounding us.

Karina, Marianna, all of us receiving Jesus grow here and now in wisdom, boldness, vigor, and zeal for the Kingdom. In receiving Him we are lifted to heaven, seated with the hope filled royalty of the Kingdom.

Measuring Home.

They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.

As you are all aware I have been on the road a lot this summer with more to come. I remember the old days of traveling with my family to various locales whether to visit extended family or to go to some great park like Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

Back in those days we measured the distance from our home to where we were going and back in both time (are we there yet) and AAA TripTik pages. It is much like that today. On an airplane you can bring up the flight’s website and see how far you’ve gone and have left to go. Our phones and GPSs tell us much the same thing – and even give us expected arrival times.

The writer to the Hebrews talks about distance and time today. Abraham and the Prophets saw the coming of the Messiah and the ushering in of the Kingdom from afar. Over the span of thousands of years, they likely would have used up all the TripTik pages ever printed and would have worn out technology. The key learning for us is that those afar off did not lose faith nor hope, but rather invested their entire lives in the hope that was pointed to in faith.

Abraham’s journey is used as a prime example. Abraham knew where he came from, Ur of the Chaldeans. In fact, at an absolute minimum, Abraham, his family, and all their herds, livestock, and servants walked 1,551 miles in straight line distances to get to where God directed them. Because there were no straight roads from place-to-place it was much further than that! Knowing where he came from, Abraham could have opted to go back, yet his faith kept leading him forward. He never quit.

Abraham’s faith and hope were focused on the better homeland, God’s promise of heaven to His faithful who stick to His will and carry out His plan.

Jesus encourages us to be like Abraham, resolute in faith and hope. We have the Kingdom present among us. We are its citizens. Jesus asks us to keep our eyes focused on the road ahead. We are to see what is promised to us and await it with hard work and constant expectation.

A great self-check this week is to ask ourselves: Where is my home and my focus? Will I live as a stranger and alien or be at home with how things are? Am I using all given me to be the image of God and a bearer the Kingdom to those who are outside of it? Much is indeed required of us.

Hope forever.

For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Good morning, Church! I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Easter. Today we are filled with a renewed hope because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is risen! Church declare: He is risen indeed!

Early in the morning on the third day after Jesus’ death, a woman named Mary Magdalene made her way to the tomb. Other places in the scriptures tell us that she had gone to anoint His body for burial. When she arrives, she finds the tomb empty. She saw insult added to the pain of the injury she was already feeling. Mary concludes that someone must have come and taken Him away. She is devastated. She runs to tell the others. She needs to share her hurt with those closest to her crucified Lord. They run to the tomb and find it empty except for Jesus’ burial cloths.

They didn’t quite get it yet. The shock of the past days and their fears got in the way for a moment. They forgot the lessons Jesus taught about His death and resurrection; the way He prepared them for all these events. 

They were like children searching for eggs in the yard, searching the horizon for God’s subtle signs of hope, and all still a mystery to them.

Jesus would not leave them there in pain and sorrow, in confusion, just searching without finding. Soon the rollercoaster of reports and experiences of the risen Lord would bring the reality of the resurrection home to them. Soon, fear would be replaced by hope and the hope flowing from the resurrection would set them free. 

Easter is a permanent reminder that God is in the business of awakening hope within us, that He brings life out of death, and that He offers us a future filled with assurance. In Him we are assured of finding, of not being left in pain and sadness. 

We now, because of the ministry of those who firsthand experienced the resurrected Lord, know much more fully the hope we own. Their hope inspired freedom would move them to draw many into the Kingdom life. We are the beneficiaries of their witness, and we too are now witnesses before the world. 

Our hope is in this: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross set us free from captivity to sin. Our hope is in this: We will be resurrected as Jesus was. We will be glorified in our bodies and enter the great joy that is heaven, live life with God forever in the very same glorified way Jesus showed forth.

What Mary, Peter, and John did not immediately get is the powerful revelation that is our hope, that if Jesus can overcome death, there is nothing in our lives that He cannot defeat and overcome.

Hope.

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.

This Advent we focus on the promises of God. We have provided a handy follow along book of reflections and devotions covering thirty promises of God broken down under the categories of hope, peace, joy, and love. This week we reflect on God’s promise of hope.

First, let us cover what a promise is. A promise is an assurance that what is said will come to be. I am sure we have been assaulted in our lives by unkept promises, whether the kids forgot to clean up or take out the trash, a seller reneges on a guarantee, or more seriously a promise is broken at a level affecting our relationships.

Every broken promise hurts. Each affects our trust relationships. Assurance seems not so assured. But thanks be, we have a God Who provides promises we can absolutely count on. You see, God cannot lie. God, in His perfection, can only utter truth. As such, when God makes a promise, we have absolute and perfect assurance that His promise will be fulfilled.

God promised to give us hope. But what is hope? Hope is not the kind of wishy-washy thing we engage in day-to-day – I hope I win the lottery, I hope my ship comes in, I hope it doesn’t rain or snow. No, the hope God offers is a certainty about the future. In God’s promises of hope we have certainty that the things He said will come to pass and that impacts our lives in the present. If we know our future, how we live today changes.

Our study guide covers seven areas of hope promised by God. It helps us inspect our lives and see if we are living today as our future portends. The hope promises are these:

Light in the Darkness – Jesus is the Light. He helps us inspect those areas of darkness in us that need His cleansing light.

Renewed Strength – we do not have to struggle – God will come through on our behalf no matter the circumstance.

Hope and a Future – for those loyal to God, who follow His gospel way – our current situations are not our always situation. God has a plan and future waiting for us.

A Full Life and Eternal Life – It is life that is a gift now/today and awaits us eternally. This life cannot be taken away from us unless we allow it. This life was won for us in the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Anything is Possible with God – yes, God has no barriers unless we erect them through unbelief.

God Is Our Firm Anchor – He cannot be moved, and He gives us assurance. Let us be confident in our hope.

This week let us focus on our assured hope.

Hope!

Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.

We begin the season of Advent with this prayer from Isaiah. 

Isaiah’s prayer begs for the Lord’s return. In his prayer, even as our prayers often go, he wonders about the wrong in the world, the failure of God’s people to listen. He recounts the corruption that has made them unworthy, perhaps only worthy of abandonment, carried away like the wind. He recognizes that God was right to turn His face away from them. Just before getting to final despair, Isaiah recalls God’s Fatherhood to Him. Isaiah reminds God that we are the work of His hands and ends his prayer with hope.

The Corinthian Church was called to be the redemptive fellowship known as Church – the body of the saved offering hope to the world while expecting Jesus’ return. This is who we are too. We are to recognize our changed focus, from eyes cast down and living a hopeless existence to eyes looking up, preparing by building the kingdom, calling the unsaved, and offering Jesus’ hope as we expect His return.

Paul reminds us that Jesus has enriched us in every way, that we are not lacking in any spiritual gift and that as we expectantly wait, He will keep us firm to the end.

Isaiah’s pre-Jesus prayer is hopeful for overcoming. Paul, living in Jesus’ reality, reminds us that we hold the hope that overcomes all things.

Advent is the message of hope needed right now. We are reminded of that hope and our duty to offer it. The darkness, despair, and abandonment felt throughout these many months, the feeling that we are being carried away like the wind, is strong in many hearts and minds. As such, we must offer each other the reassurance of the hope we have and teach the worldly that there is a hope that overcomes. All need that reassurance of hope.

Today we move from the contemplation of the last things, the end times, to hope filled expectation. Indeed, the Lord has told us to be ready for His return looking forward to that moment when He will break through.

The answer to Isaiah’s prayer came in Jesus and continues in our redemptive fellowship, our being Church. We are Jesus’ breaking through and offering of hope to the world. For that purpose we have been changed. We stand in charge, each with our own kingdom task – to offer hope, for soon the Lord will break through in power and glory, light, and peace. May He find us expectantly waiting and offering the hope found in His name alone.

Seek! Encounter!

Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.

Early in the morning Mary’s heart would not let her sleep. Her heart broken in the experience of witnessing her beloved Lord and Master’s cruel death called out to her – Go, be with Him. Still dark, she ventured out. Wending her way through the city in the early morning, avoiding the Roman soldiers, Temple guards, and other ne’er-do-wells she headed out to the tomb. On her way there she would look up and see the hill on which He was crucified, the crosses still standing in the dawn’s rising sun. Arriving in the garden near the hill she found the stone removed. Shocked she runs off to tell the apostles. St. Matthew tells us that she saw the angel descend to roll away the stone. He told her to run to the apostles. On the way to the apostles, she encounters Jesus.

We have been called into our own monasteries, our convents, our Sketes. We have been, in a way, in this time of confinement and separation, been called apart from the world and are being asked to encounter Jesus. In the silence of this time, let us anew seek what is above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Let us think, ponder, reflect, and lift ourselves up with a focus on what is above. Lifting ourselves to Jesus, let us find hope and more than that – assurance in our encounter with Him.

In facing our current fears, we are closely aligned with how the apostles and Mary felt that morning. Their hearts were broken, and their bodies worn out from grief. And Jesus broke through! He said, I am going before you to Galilee where you will encounter me once again.

Early each morning let us too venture out, out of the things that confine our hope, that break our hearts, that keep our eyes pointed low and down. Let us go to be with our Lord and Master, to sit with Him in prayer. Let us look up to the hill where the cross stands and encounter in it the tree of salvation and freedom. Let us see the tomb empty, knowing that He has risen, knowing that we too are inheritors of that glorious resurrection.

St. Paul calls the people of Colossae and us to a key truth. If we have encountered Christ’s resurrection let us keep our eyes, hearts, thoughts, and spirits focused on Him. The joy of this day is ours forever and nothing can take it from us. It is ours!

Worthy of the
call.

But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus is one of the most beautiful encounters in the gospel. It is beautiful and poignant because it speaks to us in the ways we fall short of the call we have received and the hope we have for coming to worthiness.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to be worthy of the call. Jesus reminds Zacchaeus to live up to his call.

Let’s take apart the words here.

First, Jesus had no intention of hanging out in Jericho. The gospel tells us “[He] intended to pass through the town.”

But… there was this man Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the short, the tiny, the little. It wasn’t so much about Zacchaeus’ physical stature, but rather his spiritual standing.

God’s only Son, Jesus, passing through the town comes across one fallen, one with great spiritual and moral shortcomings. and stopped as Wisdom says God does. The Lover of souls takes time to call Zacchaeus down from his lofty position and back to the reality of one called, a son of Israel and child of God. Jesus’ presence calls Zacchaeus to abandon his former ways … and he does.

Notice, Zacchaeus stands, stands on his own feet to be seen and heard by all. He renounces his former life and in doing so finds salvation. And not just Zacchaeus, but salvation had come to his entire house. 

There is such hope here. There is such promise!

Zacchaeus, like we, was the holder of God’s promise. He was not an outsider, not a castaway, forgotten – and Jesus did not pass him by. Jesus passes no one by. The Holy Spirit’s call to faith echoes in each person’s ears. We are all called as is every human being. There is no ‘them’ in the promise of hope. 

The call rang out in Zacchaeus’ heart, come unto Jesus. So, he climbed. It has rung out in our hearts – it is why we are here. It is ringing in ears across this city, county, state, nation, and world. We must therefore live worthy of the call, using the grace and power given us to powerfully bring to fulfillment the good God asks of us, the effort of faith. Let us bring in of the harvest through the word of hope we hold, the example we offer.

The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Two weeks ago we discussed our call to stand up, to hold our heads high for the Day of the Lord, our hearts focused on plugging in and being ready, rather than on giving up and checking out. Last week we took that message a step further. When we are plugged in and prepared we are able to step out into the world announce the kingdom, calling sinners to a renewed and joyful life. Plugged in people have God’s true joy, a joy that doesn’t leave us.

The faithful, truly plugged in and ready for the Lord’s return, filled with joy, have a unique gift. It is the gift of hope bringing awareness.

Awareness is a unique gift. It is a gift that implies knowledge and insight giving us hope. Look at the awareness and hope evident in today’s readings and Gospel.

Zephaniah was a prophet living in very dark times. Most of his message was dark. People had closed their hearts and minds to an awareness of God. They unplugged, and lived in unjust and abusive times. They pursued what they thought would buy them happiness. Zephaniah spoke of devastation and death, Divine judgment on the “day of the Lord.” Yet, in his plugged-in-ness, Zephaniah stayed aware – This is not the real end. He acclaims with great hope: Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult, the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.

Similarly, St. Paul reminds us that our awareness leads to the same joy and that joy provides us with steadfast hope. He says: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all.

John went out with joy and hope. Because of that, he did amazing things. He provided sinners with a taste of that hope and joy, the removal of anxiety, freedom from desolation in promise of the Messiah Who was on the horizon.

The promise of Jesus is on the horizon. Set aside anxiety. See the peace and hope that is ours, not just on Sunday, or in Advent, or in the coming of Christmas, but everyday, every moment. Let us stay hopefully aware, on top of Jesus’ closeness. He is near!

Getting out of
the fire.

Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

As I was listening to the radio the other day, the song: ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ by Billy Joel came on. Throughout the song he provides a retrospective on the past seventy-eight years. That story is retold in the hearing of names and events that range from Nazis to modern terrorism. He explains that the bad (mostly) has been with us since the world began. The song sets a somewhat hopeless perspective on the state of the world. We didn’t start the fire, but it was always like this. It will still be like this after we are gone. We tried to fight against it, but lost because nothing will change. The flood of people and events leaves the singer crying out – I can’t take it anymore.

As we walk through our readings we get the same sort of narrative. Wisdom foretells the way the Son of God would be treated in the fire of evil. Let’s attack Him, He is obnoxious, He shows the world our horrible truth, our hypocrisy. Let’s deliver Him to His enemies. Let them mock and torture Him. Mockingly they say – Let’s see what He will do. Let’s see if God defends Him. The writer of Wisdom was not making this up out of whole cloth. He knew what people, particularly powerful people, were like – the hypocrisy, arrogance – the fire of evil they burned with.

Similarly James was pointing out how the people of earliest Church – his was probably the first letter written – were already at each other’s throats. They had the evil fires of jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, foul practice, wars, conflicts, and covetousness. They had already lost sight of Jesus.

Jesus is explaining what will happen to Him in the fire of worldly evil as He and His disciples walk along. They paid no attention; they were fighting over which one of them was the best, the greatest, the most important. They were in the midst of the fire of evil ambition.

Jesus puts out the fire of evil this way. He places a child, a symbol of innocence in their midst. He wraps the child in His arms – the perfect absence of evil. He says that we have the answer, the antidote to the fire of evil. Receive and live in Jesus – free and out of the fire.