Be not afraid!

“I am the vine, and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”

So far in Lent we have focused on the change and reform necessary in our lives. We have been focusing on the various Lenten disciplines, the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. These disciplines help us become more ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

The subjects of fasting, sacrifice or giving, and study have been covered thus far. Next week we resume with the consideration of prayer and proclamation.

Our Holy Church pauses today to celebrate. We sense it because today we hear the Gloria and the Alleluia. Lenten purple is put away for this moment and is replaced by joyous white.

We celebrate because this Sunday, one-hundred and twenty-four years ago, a group of oppressed immigrants, people treated disrespectfully by oppressors in their home countries, right here in the United States, and even by their church, people thought little of by their neighbors, took the lessons learned from the Lenten disciplines they faithfully practiced and put them to action. 

This Sunday what they learned from fasting, sacrifice, study, prayer, and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, humanity’s Emancipator, bore fruit. They found themselves the branches of the true Vine – alive in Christ. They found themselves freed of the dead old branch pruned away because of its corruption, pruned away because it heeded deceitful spirits and followed men with seared consciences.

These heroic people stood on the side of Jesus and just as proclaimed in Wisdom, He, the Just One, confronted their oppressors with great confidence. Those oppressors stood there in awe and they still do today.

As with every true Christian. from the time of the Acts Church. those faith filled immigrant heroes stood up without fear. They heard Jesus say, Fear not little flock. They inherited and have passed on to us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

We have Christ Jesus. We are His branches. His Father strengthens us and fills us with His good grace. We can face any fear and no longer be debilitated by it. The tender love of God has freed us from terror, from being held down, and from slavery to the opinions of those who do not know the Lord. A disciplined life strengthens us for this. Faithful trust is the fruit of the reform necessary in our lives and the world. Today we celebrate those who trusted and say with them:  In You O Lord I place my trust. Boże, do Ciebie się uciekam!

Joy!

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit.

In the first week of Advent, we focused on hope; our very own kingdom task of offering hope to those we encounter. In the second week of Advent we focused on peace, both personal peace and being peace to those we encounter.

In this third week of Advent we focus on joy and rejoicing. Rejoice, the Lord is near! In reflecting on joy and rejoicing we recognize that we are asked to be bringers of joy and rejoicing. St. Paul also instructs us – Do not quench the Spirit. 

Something that rang true for most of us last week was recalling the difference between someone who walks into a room and, well, removes all peace and the person who walks in and we say, ahhhh, I feel at ease now.

Now imagine another person walks in, on fire with the Spirit. They open our eyes to possibilities and fill us with a share of that same Spirit. We feel uplifted, energized, filled with joy, and are ready to go forward with rejoicing. On the other hand, imagine that other person walking in – the quencher, the negative person who sees no joy, who refuses to allow the inspiration of the Sprit in, and wants to ensure no one else does either.

As the faithful we must be careful to be promoters and bringers of joy, to recognize where the Spirit in moving amongst us, where God is among us. Where – Emmanuel – is acting to move us forward.

Indeed, we are bearers of a joyous message – Jesus has saved us and is available to each and every person. The Holy Spirit has infused us with life and His great gifts of praise, song, wisdom, and voices that along with John can proclaim, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’”

What a wonderful message of joyous anticipation – the very heart of Advent, Jesus is near, He is ready to meet you as He has met me. Proclaim that the Spirit is in us and work to bear God’s joy by making the Lord’s way straight, by filling in where people are low and easing the jagged edges in the lives of those we know.

John was confronted by the joy removers, the naysayers, the quenchers. John bore a message of joy, the forgiveness of sin and the opportunity, soon upon the people around him, to meet the Savior, the Messiah Who now lives among us. John’s joy filled message in response to the Pharisees and Levites still rings true – in our age perhaps even more than in the Israel of John’s time – “there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” Wake up and recognize Him. Meet Him and be filled with joy.

To have the fulness of joy, to look forward, no matter what is going on about us, with joy, is to have Jesus alive in us, the Holy Spirit moving within us, and to share the message – Rejoice! 

For what
reason?

For the sake of the joy that lay before Him He endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken His seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how He endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

In this week’s Gospel we hear Jesus putting it all out there, laying it on the line. He will not offer us a placid earth, but rather one that has a cost if we hold to His truth and way. For what reason would we accept this cost?

When Jesus preaches all the truth, we get afraid. We really do not want to admit that the hard stuff is necessary. We prefer the soft Jesus of Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. We like the Jesus of peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness. He is certainly that, but that has a cost. The cost of access to Him is living faith. The fruit of faith is a new life cleansed of binds that restrict and limit us; that keep us away from real joy, even if that is others. The life of faith gives us new and perfect reason to face every challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division. Will we accept that cost?

Today we encounter the warrior Jesus. The “fire” He brings is the cleansing fire that washes us of constraints, the things that keep us back from living a life of complete faith. His fire refines us and makes us ready to witness. Paul tells us that Jesus gave His all for the sake of the joy that lay before Him. We have the promise of that joy, not something less. Is that joy sufficient reason to face challenge, disappointment, conflict, and division?

If we reason it out, the choices we have to make every day, spreading the gospel, issuing the invitation, stating the truth of the gospel, admitting that there are limits, boundaries, thoughts, words, actions, and philosophies not in accordance with God’s way is both a path to conflict and to joy. To say Jesus is the way, truth, and life will surely turn some off, yet brings us joy. 

Being all-in with Jesus, living His way, proclaiming his word – the right way – has the assurance of everlasting joy. It is the joy of heavenly peace, God’s assurance, life in the Body of Christ, and the joy of being coheirs to victory.

Jesus won His and our joy on the cross. For what reason would we do, speak, and act. For what reason must we endure, abide, and face all things? For genuine joy!

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!

Checked in and
joyful.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Last week, 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.

If indeed we plugged in and walked in the path of readiness, something wonderful happened. I know I felt it.

It was a long week for me. I left on Tuesday morning for San Diego. Everyone encouraged me, Oh, you’ll have fun, its sunny and warm. Well after about six hours of traveling, I arrived to a setting sun. Not as warm as I expected, but I packed wisely, just in case. Two days of rain and flooding later, it got sunny and warm, just as I entered the airport for the trip home on Friday.

I knew I’d be home late – actually early Saturday morning. I’d be exhausted. As you might imagine, traveling is no joy in this day and age. My trip had its share of what normally would be annoyances. There were a few additional things that go thrown on my plate mid-week as well. But something was different. Expecting Jesus really changed my days and turned annoyances into moments of prayer. Jesus turned times of dread into opportunities. I am so thankful.

Dreading being alone, eating alone, away from friends and family – a brother priest happened to be in the same city at the same time. Neither of us had to be alone. The person snoring on the plane, directly across the aisle from me, for three hours? I had the chance to pray for that person, for healing and better health. There were other moments like that too.

Like the Israelites returning to the Promised Land, we who are checked in and preparing are able to hold our heads high, to march forward with joy knowing the Lord has us in the palm of His hand; is protecting and guiding us.

Like John the Baptist, we are taking charge and doing God’s work with joy. In many ways we announce the kingdom, call sinners to a renewed and joyful life, and heal hurt. Even when the work is hard, and we are down to our last few locusts for dinner, the light of true joy doesn’t leave us.

Taking up the
yoke.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

These scriptures for Ordinary Time speak to where we are and urge us to deeper spiritual formation, authentic responses to God’s call in the midst of our challenges, and to a renewed commitment to evangelism.

Today we hear Jesus invite us to come to Him and find rest. He asks us to take up His yoke for it is easy and light.

As a young person, this verse confused me a little. Why would one come for rest only to take up a yoke? It seemed ironic at best to lay down one’s burdens just to take up another. What could this mean?

Jesus’ invitation is indeed for those who labor and are burdened down. The Greek words in original scripture speak of labor and burden as grinding toil and desperate burden. Desperate burden is that kind of weight that creates on-going weariness. It is seemingly inescapable.

As we reflect back on the lives of people at the time Jesus walked the earth we might imagine some of the burdens they carried. They had to turn over nearly everything they had to corrupt tax collectors. They had to scrape for a bit of oil and wheat to make some bread, maybe a bit of weak wine on a special occasion? On top of that there were the requirements of the old Law. Sacrifices had to be made for sin. Rules had to be obeyed diligently, often for no better reason then they were made requirements by religious leaders who enriched themselves.

Jesus invites these weary people to come to Him – He would give them true rest. The Greek word for “rest” used here suggests renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t promise that burdens will go away. It does not promise that people who receive this renewal and refreshment will never be weary again. Rather, their lives will be changed to such an extent that toil and burdens will pale in comparison to the glory they will receive.

Jesus’ invites the desperately weary to take up a new yoke – new life that brings joy – not weariness. As understood in Jewish culture, this yoke was beautiful submission and obedience to God. Jesus’ invitation was to know joy and freedom by following His path.

We too were once called to come to Jesus, to take up His yoke – to become His disciples. Perhaps some are called out of their burdens today. Inescapable weariness didn’t disappear in the year 100, 1,000, 1980, or 2016. What has changed is that we have the opportunity to say yes to a light and beautiful burden that destroys grinding toil and desperation. Take up His yoke, throw down burden, find joy.

Still on the on-time newsletter streak. How many months is it?

And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Summer is about preparation. Going on a picnic? Having a barbecue? Friends coming over to sit on the deck or hit the pool? Heading off to the beach or on vacation? Going on a summer walk?
We gather food, charcoal (if you are old school like me), sunblock, bug spray, our more colorful clothes (I’m getting my Hawaiian shirts ready). Summer joy is about two things – preparation for joy and getting to that place where we can be joyful. This summer let us reflect on our spiritual preparedness and to focus on what that preparedness will bring for us – true and eternal joy. This summer, as we gather food, let us reflect on the food of everlasting life – in Word and Communion. As we put on sunblock, let us block the evils that challenge our faith. As we spray away the bugs, let us push away the things that sting our soul. And, prepare that colorful garment for the joys of the kingdom.

Also in our newsletter, prayers for Orlando, a huge thanks to the Matsiko Orphan Choir, a Year of Reverence update, a happy summer to our youth – we are off to Kurs and Convo, our parish and community picnic on the church grounds on Sunday, August 21st, and special thanks to all those who pitched in at PolishFest. So much more too…

You may view and download a copy of our July 2016 Newsletter right here.

Who is the
shepherd?

“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.

In the Old Testament Israel is at the center of the stage. Everything we read about is focused on Israel. There is a similar focus in the New Testament. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” As he sent out the seventy-two to spread the Gospel He told them “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Yet there are examples throughout both the Old and New Testament of salvation and glory coming to those who were outside Israel. In God’s kingdom all found welcome. Those examples were given through strangers and outsiders who encountered God’s people – Israel. As such, we see Israel as being key to God’s salvific work. Israel, the nation that came from the loins of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was to be the light to the world. It was meant to show the way toward God.

John saw the great multitude that is to surround God’s throne. People from every nation, race, people, and tongue will be with God forever. How does that come about?

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” That is what He meant, that we have gifts and joy to share. Following Him does not mean that we remain mere sheep. As Israel was to step up and act as light and shepherd to the world – and fell short in doing so at Antioch – so we now have the chance and opportunity. Our destiny is laid out for us. Once we hear His voice, and allow it to touch us and change us, we follow in being His shepherds.

Jesus, of course, is our Chief Shepherd. He is the one we all follow. What we have to resolve to do is to be practical shepherds, spiritual leaders, and Christ following examples every day. We need to lead those who are lost and in need. We need to lead people to God, not by taking control from God, but by sharing His joy, the promise of eternal life.

In the Old Testament Israel was at the center of the stage. Someone still has to point people to God, has to offer them the gifts that we have been given. As New Testament people, people of the Gospel, let us be the ones to shepherd and spread His gifts around.

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

He touched me with his right hand and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”

John, Jesus’ beloved Apostle, is exiled on a Greek island. He’d been cut off from His community. They tried to kill him repeatedly without success. If they couldn’t kill him, at least they could send him far away and shut him up. That didn’t work either. While on this far away rock Jesus comes to John. He gives him a command. Write what you see so that your witness will be preserved. The words of your mouth and the writing you undertake in my Holy Name cannot be silenced. To reinforce this Jesus showed up in the fullness of heavenly glory.

For nearly eighty years, John had traveled the world, proclaiming the saving action of Jesus. He met the resurrected Jesus on that awesome Sunday. That gave him more than just power and the ability to speak and write. It gave him the gift of joy. No matter where he would end up, no matter where he would go, he had Jesus – and a clear path to eternal life.

Many heard him. He wrote his witness and sent letters. Because of his witness some believed. They came to Jesus by faith. Many others walked away or outright rejected the message.

The question of Jesus has perplexed generations. Encountering and believing in Jesus was even difficult for the Apostles. The whole group thought that they had seen a ghost. Thomas couldn’t see it. To this day Jesus is accepted by few and rejected by many.

Jesus showed forth His power over nature, sickness, and death itself. His resurrection attests to His Divinity, and we embrace Him. Yet many are like a judge in a court who has heard an open-and-shut case and then reaches a verdict exactly opposite from the facts. Everything about Jesus was astounding, astonishing, humanly inexplicable, marvelous, superhuman, supernatural, and Divine. Many saw it all and still refused Jesus. Is it any wonder then that “Jesus marveled at their unbelief?” How can one be exposed to such an infinite number of convincing credentials and witnesses and walk away?

Like John we have the gift of faith and the power of Jesus in us. We have witnessed amazing things. Hearts and lives are changed, peace comes, healing is made real, and death is no more. The tomb is empty! Joy is ours. Jesus has changed our lives as He changed Thomas’. Like the Apostles, the sent, we have these great gifts and a heart to share them. Never fear witnessing to Him and all these amazing things. Rejection cannot overcome the joy we have. Let us remain steadfast and take Jesus’ word to heart: “Do not be afraid.”

Back on the early newsletter streak (at least one day early this time).

April and we are filled with Easter joy. But what happens when life becomes challenging, when we are confronted with something really serious and maybe even dangerous? Can we find joy there? This month we reflect on the lives of martyrs – and these aren’t just people who lived in ancient times. We have a host of new martyrs all over the world. Yet they stand strong and resolute. Not fearful, not shrinking away – but joyous because nothing the world does to them or takes from them is more valuable than the joy they have in Jesus. We have that same joy. Reflect, rediscover, and be joyous!

Also in our newsletter, important news on our annual Basket Social (note the new location), CONVO 2016, Kurs, national workshops, and ways to increase reverence in your current marriage.

You may view and download a copy of our April 2016 Newsletter right here.