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.

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

This is the Sixth and final Sunday after Christmas. 

We have reflected over these weeks on the way Jesus had made Himself known to the world: To the Jewish people; To the poor and humble; To the world; and In His call to the disciples. In these weeks we have covered thirty years of Jesus’ time on earth. Today, we take a step back. 

After Jesus’ birth, He and His mother would stay confined for forty days. She was considered ritually impure because of the blood associated with birth. This time of separation concluded with a reappearance, a revelation, at the time of ritual purification.

The Holy Family goes up to the Temple, only a few miles away from Bethlehem, to perform this ceremony. We can imagine that their thoughts were on what they had to do. We know how it is when our focus is on the things we have to accomplish. Like the Holy Family, in the midst of our focus, we are taken by surprise.

The words of surprise are summed up in this statement: The child’s father and mother were amazed. A very old and holy man sings praise to God for what he has been allowed to see – the glory of Israel, the light to the Gentiles. An elderly woman goes about speaking prophecy and praising God, talking to everyone who awaited redemption.

For us Christians, each day must be a new revelation, a new offering. Each is a chance to show who we are as a people, as a family, and as Church. Each day is a new chance to take the light of Christ that is in us, as symbolized by the candles we hold, and speak to those awaiting redemption.  Each of our homes, that hold this light, needs to be a place of refuge and safety that is in some respects apart from the world. In these places we find our refuge and offer it to those we may meet.

On this day, let us consider how we might be taken by surprise by the way Jesus might appear at any moment. It may be in any encounter we might have. Let us allow ourselves to be pulled away from our focus to a new focus, the opportunity to bring Jesus’ light to those who sit in darkness. This season of revelation was our beginning. We walk out of it holding a light and making an offering to the world.

Be a
light.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

Growing up, I had a lot of friends who were mechanically inclined. They could craft and fix things. They could make engines run better – and louder – which we all loved.

I, for my part, did not get any of those skills. My friends, being generous, asked me try a couple of times, but they soon realized I was better at dropping and breaking than fixing.

That said, they did give me a job. I got to hold the shop lamp or the flashlight.

To a young person who wanted to be cool, it was a bit of a letdown, but it did teach me several important lessons.

The foremost lesson was the importance of properly focused light. No job can get done, and mistakes happen, without light.

Think of the things we heard in the readings and gospel today. Stephen, the deacon, is being murdered by those who rejected Jesus. In the face of persecution and sure death he held out his light. He firmly declared the Divinity of Jesus, reaffirmed his faith in Jesus, and forgave those who stoned him. Certainly, this is a light for Christians to this very day. Like Stephen, we must commit to being light even in the greatest darkness.

John, exiled to Patmos, hears the testimony of Jesus Who is returning. He brings recompense according to our deeds, i.e., the amount of light we shine. We must wash our robes in His blood, be buried with Him, suffer with Him so that we may enter the city through its gates. That means we must commit to being steady lights in all situations.

Jesus prays for His disciples – and for those who would come to believe through their being His light in the world. They were to teach, preach, evangelize, baptize, and bring people to the Table of the Lord – not for numbers, or attendees, or any other reason than to know the light of true and everlasting love – love defined by God. So we are to go out as light.

Whether we are handy or not, we are called to hold up that light for nothing will happen without our being His light.

Being
prepared.

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”

As we worshiped last Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ, men, women, and children, were being killed in Texas as they came together to worship God and declare their faith in Jesus. They held their lamps up brightly, filled with the oil of faith, ready to meet the Lord.

Many of us grew up in a time when coming to church was considered a light thing. Maybe our parents or grandparents had faced persecution as faithful National Church members, but not us so much. That was in the past. But, as is said, everything old is new again…

Today’s lesson from Jesus dispels the myth of faith as a casual endeavor. Jesus tells us, ‘always be at the ready,’ with our lamps prepared and with an extra stock of oil at hand. We do not know the day or the hour.

Prepared lamps and extra stocks of oil are not just about coming to church on a chilly Sunday morning. It is not about waiting for a moment to come someday. It is about actively preparing and living out our faith. If we are not watchful, if we are not making ourselves more and more ready, if we are not becoming more and more – like unto the Lord – what use is there to even having a lamp?

Violence, tragedy, and suffering are a raw truth. This truth is visited more and more upon Christians. From martyrs in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to homegrown terrorists right here, to media, hate groups, and government casting people of faith as silly, backward, and ignorant, we might be tempted to extinguish our lamps, pour out our oil, and sit in the dark. Ssssshhhhh, be careful, snuff out the lamps, someone might see us. Is that who we are?

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians: do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. Wise words about how we are to face the challenges of our time. The followers of Jesus, the faithful, will not allow their lamps to even grow dim. Don’t tone it down! Rather, illuminate this dark time, cast a bright glow not just inside the walls of this church, neighborhood, or city – but across this world. Let our light not only glow outward, but also illumine us inwardly. Do not grieve, offer hope.

Let us picture our lamps at the ready, held up before us. Feel the warmth – it is the warmth of faith. See the glowing faces, they are the face of Jesus in the world. See the light before us, calling the people of our neighborhood, city, and the world to come to Jesus – the only way. The faithful: wise, prepared, ready.

In or out of
the cave?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you

Imagine living our lives in a cave. We can see nothing but images projected on wall in front of us. We are prevented from knowing their true nature. To us, these shadows are our reality. We may name and define the shadows. We may create and entire understanding based on these shadows. But what, if suddenly, we were able to break free from this perceived reality to see things as they really are?

On this Low Sunday let us return to the cave where Jesus had been buried.

In all the encounters in and around that cave, from the burial of Jesus to just after his resurrection, we find people deciding how they would live.

The Jewish leaders had asked for a guard for the tomb. They knew Jesus’ claims. They asked Pilate for soldiers. “You have a guard,” Pilate said. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

The guards who had been there the morning of the resurrection ran off to Jerusalem to report what had happened. A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe. They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’ If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.” So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.

The elders and the guards decided they would live in the cave, to stay there in a world of shadows, refusing to acknowledge the truth.

Peter and John went into the tomb, as did the women who arrived first. They saw the reality. Perhaps not understanding it fully, they still accepted and witnessed by leaving the cave behind.

St. Peter praises God today for a new birth to a living hope. He recognizes the fact that the tomb – Jesus’ tomb and in fact his and our tombs, those caves, are to be left behind. We have reality, understanding – and best of all an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us.

Jesus works to lift us up out of our caves. When we are stubborn like St. Thomas was, He will confront us. He will ask us to see reality and to hope – not just a hope of desire, or of wanting things to be a certain way – but hope that is evident. Let us set forth into the sunlight of Jesus, leaving caves behind.

A whole
year.

Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

Raised just as he said. Suddenly all else Jesus said, the full impact of His words, was realized. This came home to me as I prepared the foods for our Easter basket.

I had filled the salt shaker to the top and sealed it, only to realize I hadn’t placed a piece of saran wrap over the top to prevent spillage. As I unscrewed the top to apply the wrap, well there it all went. Salt all over the floor.

The immediate import of the Lord’s words came to me: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” This salt was indeed under my feet and was being trampled into the linoleum. It was useless.

Look at this beautiful drawing completed by our youth (and a few adults). It is various styles of homes. We have square, rectangular, and round homes. We have monochrome and multicolor homes. We have traditional style homes and very contemporary style homes.

If you look very closely at the very first home on the block, there is a sign in the window. Traviss placed a sign in his window that shows a wisdom beyond that of any philosopher or theologian. His house proclaims, “Easter Year.”

That is what this day is all about. This is the sudden and remarkable change this day brings to us. Today gives us Easter forever.

The world offers all sorts of alleged salt and light; none of it lasting. Its salt loses its flavor quickly and is never truly satisfying. Its light is a momentary flash quickly returning us to darkness.

On this most sacred of days it all changed. We went from living day-to-day, grasping after the limited and unfulfilling, and became people of eternal salt and light. We received the power of His eternal promise. Just as He said.

The Lord, in His rising, gives us the opportunity to not only live a year of Easter, but a lifetime of Easter. The wonder of this Easter Sunday is that it made every Sunday this Sunday. Every Sunday throughout the years, decades, and centuries are Easter. We own the perpetual Easter just as Jesus said – days filled with God ordained hope, the perpetual renewal and re-flavoring of our lives.

The sudden and remarkable begun this day has changed us. This day gives us the grace to be the real salt that never loses flavor, that never becomes worthless. The full reality of all Jesus said is real, ours, every day Easter – a sign for our homes – a sign to live by.

Stop being
bland.

Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

We all face the challenge of blandness. We get bored, complacent, and just don’t have the energy we used to. It certainly isn’t an age thing, for it happens no matter our age.

It happens in our relationship with God. A friend once told me that he gave up going to church because he’d heard it all before. There was no new sermon, was no new inspiration, the same platitudes got trotted out season after season, year after year.

We crave stimulation and newness for very healthy reasons. If we do not receive proper stimulation, boredom creeps in. When boredom is left unchecked, disgust forms and leads us into cynicism, anger, and distrust. Unchecked boredom is a red flag. This red flag can result in two outcomes.

The red flag can cause us to go off the rails; lead us to reinventing God. Boredom becomes license to add to and change God’s teaching, or to turn God from what He is into a false image created to satisfy and justify our sinful desires. This is damaging Christianity.

On the other hand, we can use this red flag as God intended. It should drive us to dig deeper, to invent anew, and to be creative. Digging deeper, creativity, and newness are hallmarks of healthy Christianity.

If we are feeling bored with the Jesus we think we know, we need to dig deeper. Read and study more – find that aspect in His eternal and infinite perfection that we haven’t plumbed yet. Learn and enter contemplative prayer. We could spend an entire lifetime and still not grasp everything in just one aspect of God’s life. We won’t get bored doing this.

If we are getting bland in our practice of Christianity, let us resolve to add something new to the life of the Church. A new ministry? An added form of prayer? Lead a bible study in our homes or at work. Gather a focused prayer circle to pray for those who have struggles in our parish family. Make it fun, interesting, and new. In the process, we share our faith with new people and expand our family.

Let us get creative. Let us work together to do exactly what God commanded through Isaiah: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Because then our light shall break forth like the dawn, and any wound shall quickly be healed.

When we end blandness, when we make a new and creative difference, the glory of the Lord dwells with us and our light shines.

Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

chase the light

What does it mean
to recognize the light?

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing

St. John the Baptist was now in prison. Jesus, fulfilling the prophesy of Isaiah, withdraws to Capernaum by the Sea – the land of the gentiles. Isaiah says of the people there, symbolizing all the gentiles: the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light.

St. John Chrysostom points out two important facts – these facts of light and darkness are not the physical properties of light and darkness – but rather spiritual light and darkness. Further, the gentiles “sat in darkness.” In other words they didn’t “walk in darkness,” but sat – they were resigned to the fact that they had no hope of being saved. They had given up. They couldn’t even put a step forward to walk because they did not know the way to go. They sat, overtaken by the darkness.

Jesus came to them to show them the light. He was the Light come into the world. From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

When Jesus began teaching in Capernaum, the crowds immediately recognized that there was something different about Him. It was the way He spoke. They were amazed because He taught them as one who had authority. They recognized the fact that He could open their eyes and their hearts to all God wanted of them. He was the one who could pull them out of darkness and into the light. He was the One who could pull them up from their sitting in darkness. Now they could walk in the light. And walk they did, the crowds grew and grew as they followed Him. They were filled with joy for being saved.

In the waters of regeneration we received the Light of the world. We were pulled up into the light so that we would never have to sit in darkness despairing that there is nothing for us but death. We accepted Him and were received into life everlasting. As we grew and studied we learned more about Him. While we may have fallen at times, we have listened to His call, have repented, and have come back to Him. We have, as we look at the trajectory of our lives, remained faithful to the Light we recognized and received into ourselves.

Recognizing the Light is exactly that – seeing that there is more to life than the place we sit. We acknowledge that there is only one way to go, one way to walk. That way is to grasp the hand of the One who speaks with authority, to stand and walk with Jesus, God who came to earth to pull us up on our feet and who shows us the way we must go each day.

Reflection for the Solemnity of the Epiphany

IMG_7238-image-extracted-small1-1024x643

Does God play…
hide and seek?

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”

Have you ever stopped for directions? The typical joke is that a man will drive around for hours, trying to find a destination, while a woman would immediately stop and ask for directions.

From our reading of the scripture we see that the Wise Men/Kings/Astrologers/Magi did stop and ask directions. They received directions, an answer in response to their search for The Answer, and made their way to Bethlehem.

It seems inconsistent doesn’t it? The Wise Men were following a star. Besides being men, why would they stop for directions if they had the star to guide them?

The lesson here is that something greater was happening. We need to unfold the map, and get our directions by reading between the lines a little.

Certainly, the gospel account is true. The Astrologers saw a sign in the skies and intuited that something wonderful had happened. That intuition isn’t just some human trait, but God’s grace at work in them, asking them to take action. They chose to believe and act on that grace. They decided to believe and follow a light – a star.

The star they followed wasn’t just something in the sky; it was the light glowing in their hearts that drove them onward toward God. That light drove them toward Jesus, the reality of God’s promise to all people.

The Wise Men received a great blessing – from outside of God’s chosen people, God called these men. With the power of His love – that is, His grace – He called Gentile leaders to come to His Son. These representatives of all nations responded. They headed toward Jesus (stopping for directions along the way).

God doesn’t play hide-and-seek. His grace is for all people in the same way as was given to the Magi. The light of His star exists in all hearts as a little flicker, an ember. If we choose to act on that grace and head toward Jesus, that ember will be fanned into a great flame, greater than any star.

When touched by the spark of grace we must not brush it off or put it out. Rather we stop and ask directions. We start in our faith community, our local church. From there, we set out and find Him as fully as we are able. Finding Him we also become His messengers (like the Magi – who as travelers were also bearers of news). With a great light in us we go out and proclaim the Good News. God is not hiding – we only need to fan His many embers into great stars revealing Jesus to all.