Strength of Faith

In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.

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, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith. 

So far, we have considered our “transformation” into Christ’s image here and now. How we must say no to fear and stand in strength of faith. How we must disregard ridicule, naysayers, and panic relying on Jesus as we work to overcome all things in the strength that is ours. How the reaction of others must not define what we do, but rather how we remain faithful to our mission and decision to follow Jesus. And, last week, how we express our faith in action.

This week we focus on the presence of Church and the identity of the Shepherd; how in Jesus, we who were far off have become near and the model we are to live.

Jeremiah begins with a lamentation aimed at those who do not live up to God’s standard. The rest of this Sunday’s scriptures walk us through to the recognition of the One Shepherd, and the model He has left us. A model we are to live in strength of faith living up to His standard.

St. Paul tells us that we were far off, living in enmity, in separation from God. But now, those who believe by faith in Christ, have become near to God. We now have one Shepherd, Jesus Who has broken the wall of partition, reconciling us to God and making us one, His Church.

Jesus broke down all barriers and partitions between us and God for this exact reason, so that His followers as Church might live as a new creation and work to establish His kingdom.

The model is this: That we proclaim the Gospel of peace near and far. That we summon people who remain afar off so that they too might have access by one Spirit to the Father.

We, as Church, are the model household of God, a holy people, people who are the building of the Church ourselves, a habitation for the Lord. Bottom line, we are to live in the world ministering to it in strength of faith because Jesus lives in us.

In Old Testament times mere men offered sacrifice to God on behalf of people. They offered sacrifice for sin and for thanksgiving. Yet that sacrifice was imperfect, and we remained separated from God. Jesus changed all that and offered the one perfect sacrifice of Himself to make us holy and near. He also instituted the eternal re-presentation of His sacrifice which we celebrate here so that all who gather as His body might be strengthened, renewed, and revitalized in living out the model He set for us. 

Let us not confuse ourselves over the identity of the Chief Shepherd and let us recognize His eternal presence in us who are Church, and our duty to live His model in strength of faith all the time.

I am a ________ branch

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit”

Years ago, we added a new deck to our house and on one end of the deck we added a very tall wood slat screen. Now some might think it was for privacy. In fact, it was meant to be a support for growing grape vines. The vine would be an ever-present reminder of our True Vine and our life as His branches. The vine also would be the source of the grapes used to make the wine for the sacrifice. That little project still needs to be started. Perhaps it is that wooden screen, absent the vine, that starkly recalls what life would be like without Jesus, the True Vine. It would resemble those barren wood slats that are no more than dead wood and yield nothing.

Our gospel this morning calls to mind what we have by our union with the True Vine. In Jesus we are nourished, we prosper, we live. We are strengthened and disciplined through the Father’s pruning of our lives which makes us better able to provide the abundant food the world needs – Jesus’ gospel and sacraments.

Jesus uses the analogy of a vine to give us the opportunity to think about where we are and what we are a part of. We know that the vine, Jesus, is strong and capable of sustaining and nurturing all the branches. But to receive His nourishment we need to not just be attached to the vine; we need to live in it. 

As with any plant, some branches are fully alive – green and fruitful. Some may be in need of correction and pruning to return to full life. Some may be attached but in actuality are dead, their veins separated from the life of the vine. Jesus’ word calls us to look at ourselves. It gives us the chance to consider, ‘What kind of branch am I?’

Perhaps I am that fruitful living branch, strongly attached to the vine. I remain fervent in prayer, spending time in His presence and allowing Him to speak to me. I receive the sacraments, almost as if it were the very first time, I give thanks for the way His sacramental grace renews and sustains my soul. I strive to use all of my gifts and talents to build up and encourage; I also challenge things have gone wrong in my life and in the world. I demonstrate through my actions that I am willing and eager to help others in and outside of my circle. I let my light shine brightly from the hilltop and call people to Christ. I know that this describes each of you because I see it in you.

Perhaps, however, I am the pruned branch, waiting for renewed growth, ready to leave failings behind and prepared by God for the next part of my Christian mission journey.

Perhaps, I am the dead branch, and if I am, it is time to trust in the God of life who can restore me. I just need to want it.

Our call today is to look deep within and honestly ask, which branch am I and then to set forth by the grace of God to fully live as or become that fruitful branch.

Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being “witnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

The Show Must Go On!

you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him

Welcome Kurs campers, my parishioners from Holy Name of Jesus in Schenectady, and faithful from throughout our Church. Welcome to the Bishop Hodur Retreat and Recreation Center, this place of growth and renewal.

You are the little ones that Jesus speak of. What is hidden, what is mysterious, what is impossible for so many people, is obvious to you. 

What do you get that others don’t get?  You get the fact that Jesus has made the way we must go plain, the way we are to live. Those instructions are in the gospels and the writings of the Apostles. Since we get that, that is what we do. Do we get it perfect all the time? No. Are we trying and constantly working at it? Yes.

God has revealed His great plan to us and has told us that His plan relies and depends on us. 

Because we belong to Jesus, He helps us in making His plan work. Jesus does that by taking care of us, by joining us in our work, and most of all by giving us the gift of faith – the faith we hear and feel in our hearts and minds – I hear Him and I respond: I can do it. I can and will get the job done for You, Jesus.

We have strength, understanding, and wisdom not apparent to the world. That strength, understanding, and wisdom gives us confidence to get God’s plan done even when things seem tough. Our vision goes beyond what everyone else sees to what God sees for us and has planned for us.

St. Paul tells us that we can and will carry out God’s plan because we are something different, something out of the ordinary. We could easily say that we are something else! We are extraordinary. All – because we carry His spirit. As Paul clearly states, if we don’t, well what do we have then?

This week our campers will be focusing on the theme: ‘The Show Must Go On.’ Whose show? God’s. Whose work to be done? Jesus’

My dear youth, brothers and sisters, you are in the best position. The spirit of God dwells in you. Don’t forget that. You belong to Jesus. Because of that, the struggles and challenges we all face, the fears we have, although very real to us, are not roadblocks or speedbumps in the way of getting God’s plan done.

Solomon was very young and his father, David handed him the throne and a charge, to build the Temple of God.  The show had to go on. Today, we are charged with carrying out the plan, building the kingdom. The show must go on.