Perfection among us.

But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.

The perfect King of Kings enters His holy city. As you may remember from past homilies of this day, the arrival of a king on a donkey was the sign of a king’s arrival in peace. And so, the Savior of the world enters in peace to shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David.

Jesus, God made man, the perfect Son, enters into a city far from perfect. In fact, it was a broken city. 

In one corner the Chief Priest and his council were planning to kill Jesus and were not too shy to use bribery to accomplish their ends. They were not afraid of soliciting false testimony or engaging their enemy to accomplish their ends.

The Temple was filled with salesmen and money changers. The House of God was turned into Crossgates Mall. The worship of God was nothing more than a reason for commerce.

There were revolutionaries in the street. There was the persecution of the Roman overlords who took advantage of the people. The Roman governor set up his palace opposite the Temple for all too see, so they would know who was really in charge.

The once great city of David had become a city without God. In fact, God had not spoken to His people for several hundred years. Malachi, the last prophet before the Baptist, pointed out that God loves Israel, but that the people do not return His love. The people withhold what is due to God, and if they do give, give only what is defective. People divorce their spouses to marry worshipers of other gods. Sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and people who take advantage of workers and the needy abound. Priests tell people whatever they want to hear, suppressing God’s word. Things had not changed in the 478 years since Malachi! Talk about a losing streak! Things were far from perfect. 

The perfect Lamb enters breaking through people’s focus on everything wrong, calling their attention to Him. But it would not end there. Again, and again, Jesus broke through the whispers and silence of corruption. The Son of God broke through just as the sun breaks darkness.

Jesus, the perfect Savior, is finally lifted up over the city, and in that moment of salvation He changed the world. He crushed death and its fear and made us new FOREVER. Amidst our imperfection let us set fear aside and rejoice in the King’s power to destroy every imperfection and redeem what is broken.

Seven.

“I am going to awaken him.”
“Let us go to him.”
So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go”
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him
[Martha] went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.” As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.

Throughout this Lent we delved into the problem of sin and have used our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we have found what is required of us. In doing what is required we took the time to grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, and greed. Today we tackle the last, Sloth.

Being cooped up at home these days, it might be easy to let sloth creep in. We may have cleaned everything there is to clean, have organized everything there is to organize — Right? Perhaps we are working or studying from home? Being active in those pursuits?

Getting things done may seem less of an activity and more sedentary now. Keeping that in mind, it is vitally important that we keep busy, not just doing whatever, but active in organizing our prayer and scriptural reading, in reaching out with cards, letters, and calls; in making good use of this time to grow deeper in relationship with Jesus and each other. Let us not be slothful – another term for wastefully lazy. Let’s not be Gilligan or Patrick.

It is said that there are special punishments in Hell for the slothful. This one is very apropos: You’ll be thrown into snake pits. Dance, sinner, dance!

Jesus, and those closest to Him, loved by Him, did not avoid physical and spiritual action. Even when Jesus told His disciples to come away and rest – it was to rest in prayer.

Our contrary virtue, our call in these extraordinary times, is a call to diligence, to doing the physical and spiritual work necessary for our sanctification and that of the world. We are called every day, and most poignantly in these times, to redouble our efforts so that walking out of Lent, out of crises, we enter Easter strong in faithful diligence across the board.

Seven.

Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride, envy, gluttony, and lust. This week we tackle Anger and Greed.

These two deadly sins are the ‘nothing else matters’ sins. They are the, ‘I’m going to take over your life sins.’ We see in these sins the surest way for people to break relationship with each other. They are the nuclear options of sins for they leave nothing but devastation.

Anger spurns all love. Personal fury, the desire to hurt, the pull of hate drives love out. The hate that comes with anger is nothing more than a deep desire, wish even, for another’s death. The contrary virtue is patience. Love requires, as St. Paul would say, that we bear all things. Phyllis Diller said: ‘Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.’ In that we see, with some humor, how we should live. Let us not destroy ourselves in anger, especially in the midst of crises, but fill ourselves with the virtue of patience.

Greed too breaks relationship. Our desire for stuff, for gain or wealth, causes us to ignore both God and each other. It too is in plain evidence in times of crises. Its antidote is liberality, a generosity that is free and without limit.

Today we hear of the man born blind whose sight was restored by Jesus. He helped that man to see anew, to see differently. After the healing, we hear of a long ordeal. People reacted in different ways – all of which were sinful. The neighbors in their confusion brought the man to the Pharisees. There he was questioned, abused, and when he spoke the truth, they threw him out. They reacted out of anger and greed; anger at the man and greed for power and position now being questioned by the man and Jesus. I love how the man pointed to the amazing nature of their reactions.

Jesus’ life, His teaching, His judgment helps us to see, to clearly see, how sin destroys, kills, and takes, and how His light gives life, renews, frees, and generously makes us whole.

Seven

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from hard-hearted self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus. Walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

We have covered pride and envy. Today we will focus on gluttony and lust, two closely related deadly sins. Both have to do with inordinate desire – for more than we require and for the pleasures of the body.

Look at our world right now, right here, locally. Gluttony and lust have taken hold – just look at the paper products, hand sanitizer, or the bread aisle in stores. We need to practice the contrary virtues of abstinence and chastity, a self-denial that raises Christ above all things. Putting Jesus first and trusting in Him shows the world where our great love lives.

Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at a well. Through their talk Jesus draws out her confession. He presents her with the chance for living water – His baptism, word, and forgiveness. She is shocked, for Jesus tells her everything she had done. Those tough sins of gluttony and lust that had controlled her life were laid bare. Her encounter with Jesus bore fruit, for people came to encounter Jesus through her testimony – and they evolved in their faith. Now, no longer reliant on her word alone, they came to know Jesus personally and to personally experience His living water.

Now is the time to witness. It must not be a witness of sin, but of virtue. We need to show our reliance on and faith in God, the truth of His word, sacraments, and His living water. We need to offer His living water to a scared and sinful world. We need to be truthful, that we are not in control. We can and should take steps, but none of that puts us in charge. God is in control regardless of whether we see it or not. We need to pray for non-believers around the world. Pray that in this time they be protected and that they come to know Jesus’ living water by our faith witness. Fear and worry are not the mark of a true Christian. Instead, let us have a faith that conquers worry and a peace beyond understanding. If Lent is about living our faith more truly, then this is the test. Now is the time to get it right and to be right with God. Like the Samaritan woman, let us hear His voice and open our hearts, let us tell of our encounter with the living water, for that will lead others to Jesus, and in the end, will be what saves us.

Seven

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Throughout this Lent we are delving into the problem of sin and are using our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we are walking through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We are studying contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we find what is required of us. In doing what is required we grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Last week we covered pride, the first and core deadly sin. As we said, that sin is foundational to all the others. Today we cover Envy.

Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, or situation. We engage in envy because we see others as so much luckier, smarter, more attractive, and better than we are. Of course, this stems from the pride we take in our own perceptions rather than the reality of others’ lives. If we take the time to set envy aside and learn about, empathize with, and care for others we will quickly learn that our envy is unfounded. By way of example, we have all heard that talented handsome actor or beautiful actress tell someone, much later in their career, ‘I thought I was ugly and untalented.’

Looking to television, in Gilligan’s Island, Mary Ann was the symbol of envy. She felt – and key on felt – that she could never achieve Ginger’s glamour. The interesting fact is that those characters, those sins, were portrayed on a castaway island. Sin indeed separates us and keeps us apart, abandoned, and lonely. In that, we nurse our envy.

Ok, I have to throw in SpongeBob – where envy is perfectly exemplified by Plankton. He was so envious of others that he never saw their struggle, he never came into relationship with anyone else.

The cure for envy is charity and kindness. We see in Jesus’ instruction on the vine that we are all part of Him, that His father cares for each of us, and that we need to be pruned from time-to-time. In pruning we feel some pain and that is our tool to overcome envy – to take the time to really know our neighbor, understand them, and support them in their struggles, to feel their pain. To do so with kindness and in the end to be truly fruitful

Seven

For if by the transgression of the one, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

For those many who joined us on Ash Wednesday, you heard me speak of our reflection for this Season of Lent. Throughout this Lent we will delve into the problem of sin and use our study to set strategies that move us from self-centeredness and spiritual shortcoming to a life deep in line with the life of Jesus.

Throughout this Lent we will walk through the seven deadly sins and their antidote, the seven contrary virtues. We will study contemporary examples of sin in TV, film and literature. In studying, we will find what is required of us. In doing what is required we will grow stronger. Having grown stronger, we will walk out of Lent armed with God’s grace and we will overcome!

Pride. That word stands on its own as the first of the seven deadly sins. Indeed, pride alone is the root sin cause of all other sins. We see it in Genesis. Pride took hold of Adam and Eve and they decided they could do what they please without regard to God’s instruction. I am smarter than God, I am more powerful than God. I stand on my own, full of myself, believing only in my own abilities, and say thanks/no thanks to God’s grace.

Pride. Why do we do it. Why are we so full of ourselves? One individual wrote: ‘We do it because our well-meaning elementary school teachers told us to believe in ourselves.’

If you have ever watched Gilligan’s Island, pride was portrayed as the Professor – smarter than all and the source of all solutions. He didn’t need anyone else. If you like SpongeBob, pride is Sandy the Squirrel. Sandy, from the Big State of Texas. She believes herself to be the best at everything from karate to extreme sports, and she boasts about it all.

St. Augustine wrote that pride changed angels into devils; and it is humility that makes men as angels. As we take inventory this first full week of Lent, let us consider the parts of our life where pride has taken root. The strategy is to chop at those roots with increased humility, to be other focused, to consider the other more important than myself, to do without seeking recognition, when recognized to be gracious, and to follow the example of Jesus who left the glory of heaven to teach us and die for us. Let us be genuine in humility and ask God to humble us all the more.

Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

I see tons of advertising every day. Of course it comes through television and radio – old school advertising. Being so involved in life online between emails, social media, work and websites I feel inundated! Looking at something on Amazon is typically followed by months of emails and online targeted ads pushing that product I happened to stumble on. February 2nd brings the celebration of all advertising, the Super Bowl. I think more people watch for the ads than for the game. One of my clergy friends used to say that if he won the lottery we would all see an ad for our Church in the midst of the Super Bowl. I hope he wins really big because it now takes $5.6 million for a thirty second ad spot. Yesterday, I received another one of those Valentine’s Day ads coming through almost every minute. Its point: ‘It is not too late. Jim, you’ve still got time to pull off a great romantic dinner at one of the local spots that couples love.’ Well, I’m glad for that chance. We luckily already have a plan for that day. We worry about being too late all the time. Even St. Paul recalled sadly that he was one born untimely, too late, out of time as the least of the Apostles, and as one who had done wrong before that moment of conversion. He saw himself as diminutive and weakly. If St. Paul left it there, constantly worrying about being too late, we would only see a sad and pathetic figure. Instead, he finds confidence and reassures us in saying “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.” In this ‘month of love’ and month that begins this year’s Great and Holy Lent, St. John reminds us that the message and trick in advertising – you’re going to miss out – is untrue. St. James and St. Paul both tell us that we cannot be too late. Our victory is assured because we believe in Jesus, the Son of God, and because His grace is alive in us to great effect.

February starts with a celebration of Jesus, Light of the World. We then enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. The close of February takes us into the Great and Holy Lent. Light. Preparation, and reflection give us the opportunity to enter deeply into life with Jesus as His disciples.

Learn about February’s discipleship initiative. Celebrate Scout Sunday. Get together for adult religious education. Partake in our Valentine’s Raffle. Celebrate Black History Month with a special event focusing on historic Black Gospel Music on February 29th. All this and so much more!

Read about all this in our February 2020 Newsletter.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Not the
Conclusion

The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Through Lent we encountered Dismas. We learned who he was and what brought him to the life he led.  

We discussed the issue of his equality and possibility; our call to rightly measure both; to recognize inherent human dignity. The image of God is in all. We are all provided the same possibility all those around Jesus have. 

Like Dismas, we are called to come to Jesus and be saved. We, like Dismas, must set aside the fear we have in the face of God’s honesty. 

As we heard today, Dismas, on the cross, examined his life, asked questions, saw his innate dignity, the possibility before him, overcame fear, and grabbed the chance to grow and become, even in the last moment of his life. 

From the cross, Dismas proclaimed his faith in Jesus, confessed his sin, and allowed Jesus to take hold of him.

Today, we walked with Jesus, from the supper table, to the garden, through arrest, questioning and torture, prison, conviction, the journey to Calvary, crucifixion, and this encounter with Dismas and Gestas. Seemingly the end.

There is so much here but reflect on the words of Dismas: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Isn’t that what we all want. Isn’t that what touches us so deeply.

We, who await the supper of the Lord, who have joined ourselves to Him, who are dedicated to Him, have come to realize that all He did, His finishing of the work the Father sent Him to accomplish, was exactly for this reason. God remembered us.

As we reflect on what Dismas asked and what Jesus did, what His sacrifice promises us, let us give thanks. Jesus indeed remembers us eternally. Our life is now, like Dismas, without conclusion.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.

They came, so sad, with faces stained;
Behind them the rays of a new dawn flamed.
All about them heaven with glory began to open…

The partial stanza above is from the poem The Resurrection by Fr. Walter Hyszko. This and other poems by Fr. Hyszko can be found in his book, Ode to Great Men and Great Things in Poetry and Prose.

This poem is so appropriate to us. It reflects on the early morning walkMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women took to the tomb. They were deeply saddened, faces tear stained from prolonged crying. Their hearts were broken.

In their sadness, they set out to commit a final act of love toward Jesus, to anoint His dead body with spices. He was dead.

Fr. Hyszko paints a picture in words. They reflect what we may be experiencing Easter Sunday morning if we have walked with

Jesus throughout Lent, if we actually spent time in church from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. The weight of Jesus betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and the ensuing silence after burial weighs heavy on us. Our sinfulness, our failures, our unwillingness to be there for Jesus, presses on us. We feel death’s press and we miss it.

As Fr. Hyszko points out, the Marys, Joanna, and the other women missed it too: Rays of a new day flamed / heaven with glory began to open. All those things that weigh on us, all the tears and regrets in our lives have been covered in the redeeming blood of Jesus. We have been washed and made new. That day burned forth as new – a new era – rebirth into a time where heaven is open. The doors have been unbarred. Death has been crushed by death. He lives!

The last line of the poem’s first stanza says: Yet the thrall of grief remained unbroken. Do not let your grief remain unbroken this Easter for we are made new. Rejoice!!!

Join us this April for the conclusion of our Lenten and Passiontide journey. Join us in our Lenten retreat on April 6th. Join in directed giving. Palm Sunday is April 14th, then Holy Week – a full schedule of events taking us on a journey through every emotion – by which we grow so close to Jesus. In the end, grief will not win.

Read more in our April 2019 Newsletter.

Our Lenten Journey
with Dismas – Part 5

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

We have to wonder if Dismas, as he was encountering Jesus on the cross, thought back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

As one who encountered death so often, and who perhaps murdered, who likely saw his criminal colleagues similarly crucified, he was certainly seeing and experiencing something new. In the midst of this horrific tortuous death, he found freedom and forgiveness. Outside himself, he saw Jesus take care of His mother and he saw the executioners also pardoned by Jesus.

Paul’s words to the Philippians would have therefore rung true for Dismas, for this is what he experienced. I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ Jesus… I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession.

What happened to Dismas was beyond his comprehension. Dismas’ sinful and failed life was not his final testament. Rather, his testament is that of mercy, of a new way of life. It was something he had missed, he could not posess, yet here it was.

Dismas, just like the woman caught in adultery, was taken possession of by Jesus and was given the chance to respond. They were both set free by meeting Jesus. Neither had a claim on mercy and freedom. They had no possession they could claim. Yet, they allowed themselves to be brought into the something new Jesus provides. They both allowed Jesus to fill their lives with His newness. 

As we enter the Passiontide, the Holy Church offers us the great reassurance that is so apparent in these readings. Jesus is ever near to us, ready to take hold of us. He has new life for us – the past is no more. All we need do is respond as Dismas and the woman did. 

In these two weeks, let us reflect on how unready we are, how lacking in perfection, and despite that, how much we want to draw ever closer to Jesus. We are His possession. Because of this, let us press forward growing in our discipleship and witness to Him