In Christ.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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

Today we celebrate a very special Solemnity. If we look up the definition of liturgical solemnity, we will see the following: A solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank celebrating a mystery of faith.

From the practical side of things, we know that this Solemnity was instituted in the Church at a time when we faced persecution for our beliefs. No, this wasn’t in the first centuries, the time of the martyrs, but rather in the early 1900’s. We decided as Church, the Body of Christ, His new creation, to emphasize Christ’s teaching on love, whether it be toward one another or toward those who hated us.

It remains sad, even to this day, that those who wish to come into our Church face castigation and persecution. So, we must remain steadfast in our love of these enemies. As St. Paul tells us, our love of them will heap burning coals on their heads. In Biblical language that means that our goodness will embarrass those who hate, and who knows, may convert them to ways of love.

The scholar of the Law knew the answer when he approached Jesus. To him, there was no mystery of faith. The scholar knew he was to love his fellow Israelites. Those were his neighbors, no one else.

Now the scholar wished to justify himself. That meant that he wanted to proclaim a legal verdict (as in a courtroom) of his righteousness and faithfulness, his innocence in the way he treated his fellow countrymen. The scholar wanted to be judge and jury over himself.

Jesus was having none of that and goes on, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, to open the mystery of faith to this scholar and those around him, and in turn to us. Our love is to be unlimited in relation to God and others, and that ‘others’ includes both friend and enemy.

Our love is to be such that it makes those closest to us and enemies uncomfortable. We are to bear an overwhelming love – a love I know we practice here so beautifully – which points to the fact that we are Christ’s new creation. We are fully in Christ.

We are indeed Christ’s new creation. Our lives have been taken out of this world and have been placed in the Kingdom. We have been severed from the ways of sin and death to eternal life in the love of Christ, the Kingdom of love.

While there are many ways to shine forth in the Kingdom – through prayer, worship, and fellowship – the premier way is to shine forth love. All those others – prayer, worship, and fellowship exist in support of the building up of the love of Christ in, and out of, us. So, as people in Christ, His new creation, let us be the Kingdom’s brightness of love always and everywhere.

It is finished

For those familiar with the various forms of the Stations of the Cross we use here in the parish, you know that in several, after Jesus is buried in the tomb, it says: But this was not the end, it was only the beginning.

Indeed, Jesus came with the message, Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand. It is soon, it is about to be ushered in.

The Kingdom of God was ushered in today. It became a reality today. Jesus, on the cross, in His last breath declares: It is finished. The Kingdom is here and now. The sacrifice has been completed.

We, the people of God, are now alive with hope – not just living, but alive in a new hope filled life – in the Kingdom. The times and places where we fall short, where we get caught in ruts, are not our end or our staying place. They have now become experiences of healing. The times and places where we said, Away with Him, have now become a desire to grow ever closer to Him.

As Jesus’ lifeless body was removed from the cross and subsequently laid in the tomb, we were all given a new beginning in the Kingdom. The Kingdom brought our new hope filled life – life for all of us who have become one with Christ’s death in our baptism. We have hope where our times and places were formerly hopeless. We have hope forever because of today.

Made whole.

He will not break off a bent reed, nor put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph.

Jesus came to fulfill what Isaiah had written about centuries before. Isaiah writes about a ‘bruised reed.’ and a ‘smoldering wick.’ Jesus came, not to destroy the reed or put out the wick, but to take brokenness and the smoldering away. Jesus has healed and re-ignited us. Jesus has brought us into the Kingdom, into lives vastly differently.

As we journey through this Lenten season, we reflect and act on our call to be true citizens of the Kingdom, to live up to our call. We look at our inward selves and our outward actions and reform them through more ardent prayer, sacrifice, study, worship, and giving. We come to really connect with the fact that those in the Kingdom live like this year-round, not just during Lent.

Over the past two weeks we have been reminded of our healing from our bruises and how we have been re-ignited to passionately partake in God’s work. We live in the reality that we have been made new, whole, and on fire for the gospel, and to do each day all that this status entails. 

We have been called to continue to be different, to fully live the Kingdom life and call others to be saved, to share in this Kingdom life which is vastly different from that of the world.

Today, St. Paul speaks of what happened to many of the people of Israel as they journeyed to the promised land. Most were struck down because of their unfaithfulness, and that fact was written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.

Now here is the key element for us who were bruised and smoldering before our entry into the Kingdom life – do we wish to continue to live?

Jesus presents us with a stark reminder of our obligation as Kingdom people. We live to bear fruit. We have been healed, we have been re-ignited, we are whole and new, and the gospel path is before us. We must never lose the passion to live differently, to walk the gospel path in the footsteps of Jesus. We must not grow weary and say, no fruit today. Yes, God’s expectations are high because His promise for us is great.

Being committed as Kingdom people to be the difference that draws others into the Holy Church, the Kingdom life, being the change necessary to transform the world is our mission. Jesus has made us whole for a reason, and this is the reason – the bearing of abundant fruit. The consequences of being barren are a warning to us.

Let us then take advantage of Jesus’ mercy – this time of allowance, this Lent, for the change needed to bear fruit. As our Entrance Hymn taken from Isaiah says: Happy the just, for it will be well with them, the fruit of their works they will eat.

Made whole.

He will not break off a bent reed, nor put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph.

Jesus came to fulfill what Isaiah had written about centuries before. Isaiah writes about a ‘bruised reed.’ and a ‘smoldering wick.’ Jesus came, not to destroy the reed or put out the wick, but to take brokenness and the smoldering away. Jesus has healed and re-ignited us. Jesus has brought us into the Kingdom, into lives vastly different.

As we journey through this Lenten season, we reflect and act on our call to be true citizens of the Kingdom, to live up to our call. We look at our inward selves and our outward actions and reform them through more ardent prayer, sacrifice, study, worship, and giving. We come to really connect with the fact that those in the Kingdom live like that year-round, not just during Lent.

One day a Rabbi walked into a classroom full of Jewish religious students. The class was full of excitement. Rabbi, Rabbi, they said in unison, the Messiah has come. The Rabbi walked past the students and went to the window. He turned around, went to his desk, and told his students to sit. He said: The world looks no different; therefore, the Messiah has not yet come.

This is a powerful statement.  We know the Messiah; the Christ has come. We know that He is Jesus, the Son of God. Yet the world looks little different with its wars, obscenities, angers, covetousness, and all the other evils that surround us. What has changed?

One hundred twenty-five years ago a group of people looked about them and said the very same thing. They were immigrants, faithful and hardworking, but their lives were not getting any better. They were persecuted and called names. Their pastors continually castigated them. How could they have a Messiah if nothing changed?

They joined together and in a great act of faith and trust in Jesus and organized the Polish National Catholic Church. It would be faithful to the teachings and structures of the pristine undivided Church. It would have the passion of the first Christians who not only believed but acted on the fact that they had been healed and ignited by the Messiah. It would be the Kingdom Church Jesus had established, where they, their descendants, and anyone seeking the Kingdom could fully live out the Kingdom life, be the change Jesus called us to carry out, where life is indeed different, holy, loving, giving, and self-sacrificing.

So here we are in this body called the Church, with all necessary to live the Kingdom life fully, to bring about justice, to live in dignity together as Jesus’ body. So let us continue in prayer, sacrifice, study, worship, and giving. Let us continue to be different and call others to be saved, to share in life that is vastly different because of Jesus.

Made whole.

He will not break off a bent reed, nor put out a flickering lamp. He will persist until he causes justice to triumph.

Jesus came to fulfill what Isaiah had written about centuries before. Isaiah writes about a ‘bruised reed.’ and a ‘smoldering wick.’ Both analogies speak to something at the point of death, at the point of losing everything. 

We previously discussed the fact that the word bruise in Hebrew really meant a very severe injury, injury to the point of death. So too the smoldering wick. We see the light as dying, going out and away into nothingness.

As we journey through this Lenten season we will focus on aspects of our brokenness and what is smoldering within us. We will see how Jesus has taken brokenness and the smoldering away, how He has healed and re-ignited us, such that we may bear great witness; so that we fulfill His purpose every day; that we have life eternal.

It is sort of odd, the tenses of the words used here. We speak of Jesus having already healed us, having already re-ignited us. Yet, we often see ourselves as still bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. Perhaps we do not feel complete healing within ourselves nor the fire, the passion we should have for the gospel life?

It is not uncommon to feel this way. Still, we should set those thoughts aside because we already possess the healing, the re-igniting we desire. We have been mightily changed by Jesus.

As a special blessing we have the example of Kassidy Colleen before us today. Today Kassidy enters the Holy Church through the waters of regeneration. She becomes a full-fledged member of the Kingdom of God which Jesus established.

Regeneration means as it sounds, to be re-made, re-born, made whole, perfected. No matter how many years ago we were baptized, we remain in our regenerated state.

You see, Jesus did not come to leave things as they were, to just hope for some change in the world. As He faced off against Satan in the desert, He drew a clear distinction between what life in the Kingdom is and what life outside is. In the Kingdom the reborn, those with healed bruises and re-ignited flames, place their reliance on God alone. The world’s allurements are nothing to us. We have something so much better, something Kassidy owns today – life in the Kingdom.

We, healed of our bruises and re-ignited to passionately partake in God’s work, see the blessing of this day, a reminder of our own baptism, and this Lenten season. Here is our chance to realize our state as truly healed and re-ignited, to return our understanding to what it means to have been regenerated – made new, whole, and on fire for the gospel, and do each day all that this status entails.

Called to Live Anew.

Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Anew – Life Anew in Christ is exhibited especially when we live to know, love, and serve the Lord and when call people to also know, love, and serve the Lord and His Holy Church right here at this parish.

Today we enter the final half-week of this Pre-Lenten season. This season is specifically designed so we might prepare ourselves for the rigors of the Lenten season to begin in just three days. Between now and Easter we endeavor and strive at the vast changes we need in our lives.

St. Paul reminds the Church at Corinth, and us, that we have been made new, we have put on the eternal, the incorruptible. The definition of life anew. He reminds us that we are not to be those hypocrites Jesus warns against, but rather those who bear good fruit, producers of good.

In baptism we were consecrated to the Lord and that makes us different, new. We have entered the Kingdom and its life. We have victoryTherefore, we must be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord. As such, we must live as the Kingdom people we are now, not the people we were then.

Being fully devoted to the work of the Lord means calling ourselves to necessary repentance, to fasting, prayer, and charity. Being fully devoted to the Lord means constantly reaching for the next rung on the ladder to heaven and helping others up the ladder.

By growing in this new life, we show our beauty – our attractiveness – to those who do not know the Lord. Between our Kingdom life example and the gentleness of our words we call others into the Kingdom life.

Last night’s Grand Ole Opry introduced a group appearing for the first time, We The Kingdom. It was a great example of people, family and friends, living out their faith in Jesus Christ publicly, with joy, and celebration. So, we should be We The Kingdom for indeed that is what we are – as we live out our life anew in Jesus Christ publicly, with joy, and celebration. As they sang, calling others to meet Jesus by their artistic example, so must we by the means and opportunities that are in our paths.

Imagine a community of people where others are welcome without criticism and judgment, where words and music are sweet balm for the hurting, where the inhabitants are steadfast, devoted to the work of the Lord, where each person helps the other to climb the ladder to heaven. Yes, that place is here because we are the Kingdom and we grow evermore as we endeavor and strive at the changes we need in our lives – living anew each day, and welcoming others to the same.

Called to live anew!

But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

Anew – it is a word we will focus on for years to come. Now is the time for our next great step together, to call people anew to knowing, loving, and serving the Lord and His Holy Church right here at this parish.

As you may recall, last week we discussed certainty. We considered how certainty assists us in living and bearing witness to the gospel and drawing others into the life of faith, the kingdom life which Jesus has created for us.

Today we are given entrée into the things that make up the kingdom life – the things we are to share.

St. Paul reminds of the great gift that marks our lives as Christians – that of love also translated charity. This love is far more powerful than any other gift, than any intellect. It overpowers and overcomes all things. Pick a topic – something seemingly insurmountable by human standards – and know and proclaim that Kingdom love will conquer it.  Yes, we can say that.

Last week we heard Jesus read from the Isaiah in the synagogue; speaking of the things He had come to fulfill – the great gift of freedom from captivity and poverty, from blindness and oppression. He indeed had come to conquer all by His love, to invite all to repentance and membership in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the people of His hometown were not quite onboard with such an expansive view of love.

For context, the people in Nazareth had heard of all Jesus had done in Capernaum – the preaching, the healings, the freedom He was granting, though love, by inviting sinners and people who were quite different from themselves – for Capernaum was diverse and included Gentiles and Samaritans.

The Nazarenes did not want to hear that kind of good news, the gospel message and membership in the Kingdom needed to be more limited. Their wonder and amazement were not positive, rather it was negative – the way of love must be within established standards, and only for some.

Jesus shows them and us that the freedom and love of the Kingdom life is not for the expected, but rather the unexpected. Jesus’ quoting of two examples of God’s love and charity to ungodly pagans relates the expansive power of God’s love overcoming.

At the end of the gospel, Jesus walked away from those who closed themselves off – who were unwilling to share the Kingdom life and wished to deny it to others. In doing so, He invites us, those already in the Kingdom, to do as the Kingdom life requires, i.e., to share in love that overcomes all things and to offer the gifts of the Kingdom in unexpected ways and places, to unexpected people.

Called to live anew!

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

Anew – it is a word we will focus on for years to come. Now is the time for our next great step together, to call people anew to knowing, loving, and serving the Lord and His Holy Church right here at this parish.

How do you recollect time? Most people see time as a linear progression, past, present, and future. We could draw an arrow from one moment in our lives to the next, event to event. Did you know that God sees time differently, that Jesus came to change our conception of time and even place?

That is true. Jesus’ birth marked the start of a new age – the age of the Kingdom. In His Baptism, which we celebrated last week, Jesus marked out our change – how we are to enter His place and time, the Kingdom of God.

For many Christians, the Kingdom is something afar off. We have time. If we are sinning, we can go to confession tomorrow, or next Sunday. If we need to repent and live changed lives, walking the gospel path much more closely and realistically – radically, well we can work on that. That is a false notion. We have our facts wrong. The Kingdom will not come someday but is here now. We are in it, and we are called to live changed now, immediately.

What St. Paul tells us in his writing on baptism is true. We died with Christ in our baptism and so we have been raised with Him to life anew. We are no longer living according to the world’s time and priorities, stumbling from moment to moment, place to place like the lost. Rather, we are living a changed reality in which we have great work to do, Kingdom work. We must set to it now.

Kingdom work comes down to what Jesus showed us at Cana in Galilee. It is about changed perspectives and lives anew.

The changing of water into wine isn’t just a one-off miracle. It is not just a moment along a timeline. It is rather a foreshadowing of the eternal change that comes when the wine is made His blood. It is a foretelling of the way we are changed in Jesus. 

When we share in the Eucharistic moment in a short time, the changing of bread and wine into His body and blood, we literally join with Jesus in His timeless reality. the ever-present Kingdom where we also reside. We receive abundant grace for our work.

Our Kingdom reality is where the Spirit’s gifts, given to each of us in different form and measure, are to be implemented. We are residing in God’s time and place and our mission is an imperative command to declare the Kingdom and invite others into it; to live changed. 

Strength of Faith.

And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” 

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have two Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend our time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk the gospel path in Strength of Faith.

Over the past few months, we have encountered several instances of Jesus being questioned. On August 29th, we read that the Pharisees and some Scribes questioned Jesus on how his disciples ate their food – not strictly following the rules of the elders. On October 3rd, we read of Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees on the question of Divorce. Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel narrative is replete with this questioning, with challenges.

The gospel writer was using these illustrations from Jesus’ life to help the first Christians, who were predominantly Jewish converts, understand Jesus and make sense of their faith. Should Jewish people pay taxes to Rome? What should one expect to happen in the resurrection? And today, what is the most important commandment?

In most of the cases we sense conflict and challenge; it was Jesus being confronted by those trying to entrap Him. Today, something different happens. A young Scribe breaks through the conflict to have a dialog with Jesus, to understand the nature of God better. The young Scribe as fully recorded in Mark 12:28 came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well He had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

The young Scribe sees the truth, realizes where the answers are, and in Strength of Faith overcoming societal pressures, peer pressure, and the duties of position approaches Jesus. That is what Strength of Faith does, it leads us to breakthroughs.   

Jesus recognizes the breakthrough and notes that the young Scribe is “not far from the kingdom.” The Scribe understands that doing right involves a total dedication to God, a carrying out of these great commandments of love, and its value. Living in this loving relationship with God and the other replaces burnt offering for the remission of sin since love overcomes sin and draws people away from sin.

Philo, the Jewish philosopher, argues that those who only love God or only love others are “half-perfect in virtue. The perfect have a good reputation in loving God and humans”

Jesus calls us to perfection of life by breaking through whatever holds us back from fully loving God and the others we encounter. To love requires we break through to do all we can to proclaim Jesus and serve our brothers and sisters.

King of what?

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

Here we are at the end of our weeks considering Jesus’ teachings on the end time, the last things. Today, Jesus gives us a vision of what that day of days will look like.

Throughout these weeks, the Apostles in their writings, John’s letter, Paul’s letters, kept reminding us of who we are in Christ. John told us we are God’s children – we represent Him. Paul told us that we have power as imitators of Jesus and that we will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds; that we are in the light – not in darkness. We are reassured that we belong to Jesus. Belonging to Him is more than a superficial statement, it is an all-encompassing change in who we are and how we approach daily life.

In this vision of the future, a view into that day of days, we come to grips with the accountability God will demand of us. Jesus points to judgment based on our obligation to live out the commandment of love, seeing in the other the image of God. Did all-encompassing change take hold of me? Did I make Jesus happen in my life and in the world or keep Him stored away? Was I that saint of God in the world – in the smallest ways? Have I used the oil of grace given me, or toss it aside? Did I grow the kingdom one meal, one drink, one coat, one welcome, one visit at a time?

I pray to God I can answer yes and be forgiven those times I missed the chances I had to minister to the Lord in the other. I know I have tripped and fallen along the way, I have missed chances, sometimes purposefully. Forgive me those sins!

As we celebrate this Solemnity of Christ the King, Lord call us back into conformity with Your Lordship and Your Rule. Forgive us of the opportunities we have missed. When we come to that next encounter with Your image in the other, give us the grace to see in the other’s poor, hungry, naked, thirsty, lonely, and apart eyes Your Royal presence. Recall to us Your Kingship.

Some Churches have renamed today’s Solemnity to Christ the King of the Universe. I ask you to consider how limiting that is! If Jesus’s kingship is limited in any way, He is not King. Rather, let us commit to the fact that Christ is King of every universe, every dimension, things seen and unseen, of my life, heart, soul, spirit, and mind, of my home and family, of the action of my hands, and of how I see every person, the other I encounter.

In these last days Lord, recall to us the all-encompassing change You have called us to be in the world. Lord, when You come in Your glory to rule over and above all, find us having accomplished all You have called us to do and more so.