Gifts from heritage.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today, our Church celebrates Heritage Sunday. Scripture provides reasons to celebrate this particular aspect of God’s creation.

When our Church was organized, it took care to stress the fact that God makes Himself and His teaching manifest through the use of nations and peoples.  Each nation is given gifts, unique perspectives and charisms that, when shared, enrich our faith in Jesus and teach us more about Him. We are called to respect, cherish, and celebrate what God has created and to learn from it.

Jesus came to God’s own people, the Jewish nation, to reveal all that God is and to call them to walk in the Way of the Gospel. They were called to see kingdom already but not yet fully present. Then, they were to cooperate in bringing the Kingdom of God to completion.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Galatia, reminds the gentiles that the Gospel preached to the Children of Abraham contained within it the promise that through them, all nations would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The scriptural promise is fulfilled in that Abraham becomes the father of many nations.

While each nation has: allotted periods and boundaries, as well as the call to seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27), scripture also calls us to use great care in recognizing that we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we are never to place nation over God, or over the Holy Church, or over our call to first a foremost find our way toward God.

So, our Church set out to do exactly that. We honor heritage and all nations as a gift and as a means by which we find our way to God and build His kingdom.

Instructive in the way God works through nations is our first reading. Cyrus was called by God to free the people of Israel. Cyrus did not know God. As ruler over many nations he saw many gods and forms of worship. Cyrus himself likely worshiped Marduk. Yet, God used him and his nation to free and restore Israel.

Jesus understood that we will be established in nations as a means by which the Gospel is known and experienced. No one nation is good, and in all cases, we are to maintain perspective. Practical societal requirements (like taxes), are not what is important. Our growth in knowing God, appreciating His gits, and in building His kingdom, which has no coins, is what matters.

Let’s sell.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Three psychiatric patients are eager to be released from the hospital, but the doctor has to examine their judgment skills. One by one he takes them to the edge of an empty swimming pool and tells them they must chose to jump or not. Take the risk or don’t. It is obvious the pool has no water, but they must choose.

The first patient looks at the pool and jumps in without hesitation, hurting his ankle. The doctor tells him, “You failed the examination, and must stay another year.” The patient left sad. The second patient also jumps in and hurts his shoulder. The doctor says, “Sir, you failed the exam and must stay another year.” This patient also leaves sad and discouraged. The third patient walks up to the pool’s edge, thinks for a while, shakes his head and says, “No way!” The doctor was happy and said, “Sir, you have good judgment and you are released from the hospital.” The patient jumped for joy. Then the doctor asked the happy patient, “What made you decide not to jump into the pool?” The patient answered, “Oh, that’s easy. I don’t know how to swim!”

We all believe we have great judgment and know how to prioritize. We say things like, “My family is really important.” Yet, statistics reveal that people spend very little time on family. We might say, “Our health is really important.” Yet few commit to exercise or even eat right. More than half of all American are obese. We say we are not materialistic, yet three-quarters of Americans are in debt to credit cards alone, not counting car and house loans.

Is God important to us? “Yes! 95% of Americans in the U.S. say, “God is important to me.” Yet only 9% of Americans attend church, and only 2% are involved in any ministry.

Look, it is not about our bad choices or our sinfulness. We jump into empty pools and we injure ourselves. Christ didn’t die for us because we were perfect or committed. He didn’t wait for us to get our act sorted out; to be righteous. Rather, He searched for us, He gave His all for us. There’s no room for thinking ‘what I sell or give up will make Him love me more.’ What does give us glory is to love God, to follow His call, and to do it now, to be all in for the kingdom today, every day.

His image.

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.

Today we celebrate the ineffable nature and character of God made known to us by Jesus. That is enough for us. As the psalmist desires, we too only wish to live in the house of the LORD all the days of our lives, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.

God’s wonderful mystery will be fully revealed to us when we finally go home to Him. In the meantime, we have work to do.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians and reminds us: Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

If we can simply do that, the God of love and peace will be with us.

Mending our ways is hard work, work that requires the full-on help of God’s grace. Mending our ways takes conversion, a turning of our hearts. It takes action, a doing of the right and a rejection of the wrong, a rejection of our own sinfulness. Yes, we sin, and we sin grievously.

Each night I review my Facebook feed. I find much good there, positive words, connections, mutual support and encouragement, an ability to be with distant family and friends and a chance to keep each other informed. Unfortunately, I also see words of hate, words that come from prejudice (a pre-judging of people), words that reflect frustrations, inordinate fears, and frankly a lack of knowledge pivoted to accusation and hate. Individuals are turned into “them” and “those.” I see it when people turn away from others physically, when we see someone approaching and turn the other way. How did we forget the Gospel lesson: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. The world – all of us. Given to save, not to condemn.

If we think ourselves God’s followers, those who give God praise, glory, and honor, how can we hold any prejudice toward anyone? If we believe God, we know we are all created in His image. If we dishonor, disrespect, blame, accuse, or prejudge anyone we do so to the face of the Father. We do it to Jesus. We disrespect the Spirit. We must learn to agree, live in peace, and greet all with a holy kiss. We must mend our ways. 

Mending our ways from the overt and covert sins we engage in holds promise, not just for the moment God will be fully revealed to us, but here, today, for that is the action of kingdom builders. LORD, pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own.

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!

Fearful navel
gazing.

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days. And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours; prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!

Have you ever navel gazed? I am serious in asking. Have you spent time, standing in the bathroom, or sitting on your bed, gazing at your belly button, your navel? What did you find? Sure, fuzzies. Maybe you considered whether you liked/disliked the look. Oh, I wish I had an innie or outie!

Thinking about this, we can see why the term ‘navel gazing’ is a perfect analogy for looking inward, for a failure to look up and out.

A ‘son of David, ’ a chronicler, assembled Ecclesiastes. Throughout the book we see the term ‘vanity’ coming up again and again. It is another one of those Hebrew words that has not been translated very well. The sense the author was trying to get across was about the sense of “emptiness, futility, and absurdity” we encounter when we spend our lives navel gazing, looking inward.

If we spend our lives looking inward, rather than outward, then we fulfil the writing: All [my] days sorrow and grief are [my] occupation; even at night [my] mind is not at rest. A terrible way of existing.

St. Paul calls us to get out of ourselves, our futile cares that will amount only to sorrow and grief. He says, seek what is above. Put the navel gazing to death, and venture forth to declare the kingdom, to seek, to find, and most importantly to encounter and invite.

Jesus brings the point home. He is asking us to consider the things we dwell on, the inward looking, navel gazing futility. Is it all that important? Will it matter eternally? No! Rather, we must be ready to answer God about the treasures we have stored up: the souls brought to God, those saved and entered into the rolls of the kingdom.

If we each get out of navel gazing, if we clear out the fuzzies in our head concerning the tasks to be performed, then we will be part of the prosperity saved for those who are about kingdom work.

Let us pull our eyes out of ourselves, out of what blocks us, away from fear. Gaze on the power God has given us. Doing that we will be Filled at daybreak with His kindness. We will shout for joy and gladness all our days.

The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

As I was studying for this week’s discussion, I came across a great word: performative. The Webster type definition seems a little complex. Here it is: “Relating to or denoting an utterance by means of which the speaker performs a particular act.” This example, contained in the definition, sets it out better: “performative utterances do not merely describe what one is doing; to say the utterance is to do it”

The words Jesus gives his messengers, as He sends them out, are performative: they do, they accomplish what He says. The kingdom of God advances and draws near. Jesus seemingly gives great power. When the disciples return, they rejoice for they have seen remarkable things, miracles. Yet Jesus cautions them. Why?

Jesus cautions them, not to get caught up in the power they have (something we as Christians have completely forgotten and neglected), but to see more clearly the ends that are being achieved.

Certainly, Jesus words accomplished the power the disciples exhibited. Yet they did far more than that. Those signs and wonders were mere markers of the coming new age, the redeemed time, the advent of the kingdom. The performative word of Jesus ushers in the kingdom, invites all into that kingdom. Jesus’ presence among us and His performative words bring the kingdom. So, we must share.

We have to reconnect to the performative words of Jesus. 

We have power in faith. We have to own that power and have confidence that Jesus – GOD – provided. His is the true and performative gospel. What He said is! The enemy cannot win against us because we bring the truth.

Beyond that power, and more compelling, is the word we bring, whether accepted or not: ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ And if some do not listen, we say: Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.

Enter the
realm.

Jesus Christ is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.

All of our readings and Gospel today preach one essential lesson about our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ: He is King, Lord, and Ruler. He owns all dominion and glory. He is to be served by all, and will be lamented by those who missed the opportunity to do what we do today.

I have been in many church buildings in my life. Cathedrals, Basilicas, large imposing structures build through the hard work and sacrificial pennies of immigrant ancestors, small and humble wooden structures. No matter what kind or type, even in the most modern, blank wall, social realism inspired church buildings, or older buildings that have been wreck-o-vated, you can always find one point, one corner at least, that glorifies God and His Son Jesus. Those buildings while human built monuments, praise the only King, the only government that matters. They call us into His realm.

Those places, in their simplicity, or in their grandeur, call to us; they draw our eyes and hearts to Jesus and focus us on His realm, all the varied and wonderful aspects of Jesus as our King.

More than just the buildings, the gathering of the elect, that’s you and me, is what puts it over the top. We are here to praise, magnify, and petition. We kneel and adore. We offer and we trust. We sign and call out with joyful noise to our King. Our human action, through His grace, draws us closer into His Kingdom, his realm, and sets forth an eternal sign and action through which we meet Jesus.

Lord, how good it is for us to be Yours, to worship You, to be drawn into Your realm.

God’s eternal love, Jesus’ setting aside of heavenly glory to save us, is now owned by us. Jesus came not just to save, not just to teach, not just to open heaven to us, but all-in-all to leave us a gift. Put together, all those things are what He most intended, the things that allow us to change, to be different, to be His ministers and heirs to the Kingdom. As St. John saw, He brought us into a kingdom, and made us priests for his God and Father. Our call is to be His, accept His gift, and enter the realm of the King.

In
dialogue.

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

Today’s reading and gospel ask us to realize the power of dialogue with Jesus. The dictionary tells us that dialogue, used as a noun, is a conversation between two or more people, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem. It goes on to point out all the synonyms for dialogue: conversation, talk, discussion, interchange, discourse, debate, or consultation. As a verb, dialogue means to take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem.

Looking at these definitions, we see relationship is essential to dialogue. One must enter into dialogue with another, be part of it rather than just a subject of it – i.e., being talked at. Dialogue has an aim, it is not just entertainment – i.e., listening and speaking for the sake of words alone. Dialogue is about going deeper in learning and toward resolution of questions or problems.

Jesus enters into dialogue with the Scribe. The Scribe asks a question and he and Jesus have a back and forth exchange of ideas that leads to understanding. At the end, the Scribe gained understanding and both the Scribe and Jesus speak with joy.

The previous encounters between Jesus and the religious and political leaders were never a dialogue. Those were meant to entrap Jesus by stealth. Jesus silenced them. The one person who breaks the pattern is the Scribe. He enters genuine dialogue – he is close to the kingdom because he used the chance of dialogue to get closer to real understanding.

We have heard Jesus’ teachings. Now we too must break through and go deeper to real understanding of what it means to bring about the kingdom – the truth of God’s Law of love.

Bishop Stan entered dialog with Jesus. He went deeper with Jesus to understand the kingdom. He had questions answered. He met with Jesus, spoke regularly with Him, and came to understand the work Jesus was calling him to do to grow His kingdom. He worked diligently, taking those ongoing dialogues with Jesus and bringing them into his dialogue with us, with our Church’s youth, with our community. Let us take this time to honor him by taking his example to heart and living in dialogue toward the kingdom.

What is it
really?

“To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

There is a disconnect between what people think of the Kingdom of God, what Jesus taught about it, and the stresses that have been placed on Jesus’ words for centuries. It is like one of those jokes you see in magazines or on-line; the same sentence with two completely different meanings, depending where you put the accent. Late night television hosts have tons of fun with double entendres.

The sci-fi author Damon Knight wrote “To Serve Man” which was later adapted into a Twilight Zone episode. It is a double entendre that could mean “to perform a service for humanity” or “to serve a human as food.” Think of that next time the Church calls us to serve our fellow man!

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the many positive statements Jesus made about the Kingdom. He placed His stress on our faith and our shelter in the Kingdom. Think about all its implications. A small start in faith will grow into something awesome. Planting a small seed of faith in someone – your children, grandchildren, a friend, co-worker, or neighbor, will grow into something great. The very Kingdom, begun through the work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, twelve co-workers, and seventy-seven disciples would grow into a great protective shelter for many. We all dwell in its shade.

The fact is, Jesus provided a very positive message about our home, our destiny, joy, freedom, forgiveness, and God’s rock solid guarantees. The Kingdom is not what people suspect it is; rather it is what Jesus taught it is. St. Paul picks up on this when he says: We are always courageous. If God’s message was punishing and negative, we would not be courageous, but fearful, cowering.

We need to place the stress back where Jesus put it. His is the message of hope, the message the world cannot overcome. We must be courageous for the beauty and joy that awaits us. The Kingdom is better than anyone’s negative stress or accent point. Live in and tell what the Kingdom really is!

Radical
revolution.

“And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’”

Belonging to a Church, really belonging, being a member and letting people know that one is a part of that church community is a very radical statement. Believe it or not, that makes us revolutionaries. Why so? Because it involves doing, teaching, proclaiming, and acknowledging revolutionary things.

In part, our revolution is a doing revolution. It means carrying out the tasks our Master, Jesus gave us. It is indeed feeding, welcoming, clothing, caring for, and visiting our brothers and sisters in need. That even more so today. Do those things. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Our world certainly places a value on being generous and doing good things, but falsely claims that such works are some kind of natural instinct. Where did it come from? Who knows? People just do good, because, well they do good. They may even attribute the doing of good things to political leadership.

In part, our revolution is a teaching revolution. In rejecting such notions, we call the world to understand the source of all the good we have. Our revolution is about having a full, informed, and factual knowledge of what God has done for us. The good we do, the structures of civil society had a source, and it wasn’t people’s natural goodness. The rules of a good and generous life, the call to self-sacrifice came from the example, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ. He is the source and the fulfillment of all good. Without His life, humanity would devolve, perhaps not into complete anarchy, but into a disorder that brings us to the disaster of everlasting death. Teach that truth. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.

In part, our revolution is a proclaiming revolution. The world has its stories of the time. The world urges us to talk about certain things and to shut up about others. We must like those things the world and its talking heads approve of and keep the God stuff to ourselves. The world would say, faith is fine in the walls of your home and the walls of your church – but not in public spaces or ‘polite conversation.’ The teaching of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church to this day are anachronistic (outdated and obsolete). Yet we know that the teachings of Jesus are the only sure way to everlasting life. The guidance and laws of the Church are the living path to complete life. Proclaim the reality of God and the life of His Church in every place and time without fear. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.

Finally, and most completely, our revolution is about the Kingdom of God and Jesus as our only Lord and King. That is the most radical thing ever! It means that nothing else takes precedence, nothing else is important. The Kingdom is a sole goal and all we do, teach, and proclaim is about building the kingdom and getting to the kingdom. No other leader, no political system, no thing, no person can be our king but Jesus. To be counted among the sheep, to make it, is to seek first the kingdom of God.