“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

We’ve seen quite a bit over August. In our gospels we experience the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed to Peter, James, and John as the Son of God. Moses and Eli’jah give witness to Him. 

The power of Jesus was further revealed as He walks on the sea, teaches Peter a lesson in faith, and calms the sea. He heals the Canaanite woman’s child after her faith is tested and she perseveres in that faith.

As we discussed last Sunday, the disciples, who would become the Apostles, debated and discussed all this. That discussion was brought to a head in a conclusionary statement by Peter: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

An amazing revelation in the Transfiguration, amazing power at work – power over nature and illness, and then affirmation. Yet today we hear Peter advising Jesus on the future: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

I remember back in my school and early workdays hearing a very wise saying – ‘a little knowledge is dangerous.’ That was often heard when I would venture an opinion that did not take everything into account. I needed to know more before venturing an opinion. Peter fell into that trap.

What should Peter have done? Firstly, Peter should have trusted Jesus, he should have let God be God. Second, he should have realized he did not know it all, gone to humility rather than advice.

Last week Peter followed what Jeremiah spoke about – the need to confess God’s revelation – when He declared Jesus’ identity. He could not keep it shut up within himself – so it shouted out of him.

Certainly, Peter’s statement today was not God revealed, was not worthy of trust nor necessary to say. It was whispered out of him in almost secret – Then Peter took Jesus aside.

Thinking as God does requires that thing Peter fell short of; that is the faith to trust and listen. We must attune ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s call, His revelation. All it takes is that we listen, and when we hear Him it will burn in us. Then we will have a hard time holding it in. Then we must speak and act.

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Whoever receives you receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent me.”

Thank you for joining today as we continue our Ordinary Time journey focused on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Why does Jesus say such difficult things? It is a common question and a very popular question in our day and age. People pick up the tough sayings of Jesus and say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. He doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling.’

Indeed, Jesus does ask much of us. He wants us all-in, completely dedicated to listening to His commands and His way (not my way), to obedience (not going my own way), and to witness to His tough call (do I really have to?). He tells us that this priority is first, even before family. 

We cringe, don’t we, when we hear words like obligation, obedience, duty, sacrifice, submission, requirement, restraint, perseverance, follow, and commandment. I am sure you could think of others. But those are the all-in things Jesus asks of us, to put Him and the Kingdom first.

Jesus asks us to put our old selfish selves and self-interest away and allow ourselves to listen to, obey, and witness to Him above all things.

What does it mean to carry out Jesus’ work, to fulfill our obligation for His having saved and reconciled us and for forever ending death so we might have eternal life? It means that we must level-up our faith. We must work hard to overcome the things that are broken in us and the obstacles and enemies in our way with the help of His grace. We must endeavor to be not just different, but different and ever better.

If we were to draw a map from where we were just a few years earlier, and for older folks perhaps decades earlier, would we be on the same level or have we leveled up?

You may remember the picture of Jesus standing outside a door. If you observe closely, He is knocking but cannot enter on His own. The door on the outside has no doorknob. We must open the door for Jesus. That is where we start leveling up, by letting Jesus in. Unfortunately, too many think they are being progressive, by not only refusing to open the door, but by locking it and barring it. Don’t let Jesus in. I’ll stay where I am. It looks like I am moving, but I’m just falling. Waaaaaaaa…

As we set forth into the days and decades ahead let us resolve to level up. Let us level up our faith, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and our love. Let us let Jesus in and accept His grace and His tough sayings which will make us better than we are today.

To those who say: ‘Look at this – how stupid. Jesus doesn’t’ want me or us to be free. God is not worth believing in because He is mean and controlling,’ we can say: ‘God wants me to succeed, to level up, to listen, obey, and witness and to obtain all His glory.’

Listen, Obey, Witness

“Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

Thank you for joining today as we begin our Ordinary Time journey and place our focus on listening to, obeying, and witnessing to Jesus.

Today we begin in Jeremiah. When we hear the phrase ‘the Lamentations of Jeremiah’ we are reminded of the difficult message he had to bring to a people who would not listen, and the cost he faced for bringing that message.

Let’s set this up a little bit. Just before the opening verse “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’Jeremiah had been in the public stocks outside the Temple. The Chief of the Temple police, Pashhur (whose name means freedom and peacefulness) had arrested him, whipped him with thirty-nine lashes, and put him in the stocks. He then let Jeremiah out early. Jeremiah immediately called Pashhur a name: Magor-Missabib, literally ‘Terror on Every Side.’  Jeremiah had no intention of moderating or covering over God’s message. He boldly told the priest and chief of police that destruction was sure to come, and they would be at the center of it. They would be ‘terror on every side.’

Now we hear Jeremiah quoting the people. In mockery they call him Magor-Missabib, ‘Terror on Every Side.’ They try to use God’s words against him. They will watch for any misstep and use it as pretext for destroying Jeremiah and as an excuse for ignoring God. Knowing this Jeremiah again proclaims his faithfulness to God’s message and work.

Jesus tells his disciples that their listening to Him, obeying and carrying out the work of witness He has given them will, just like Jeremiah, not be easy. He also reassures them of God’s attention to and protection of their work. They are valued by God for listening, obeying, and witnessing. To drive the point home, he repeats “do not be afraid” three times.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to an incredible and glorious task. We are asked to listen to, obey, and witness to Jesus and His gospel teaching. We are called to the discipline of the Holy Church and her teachings which are the Holy Spirit’s proclamation to us of all He heard the Son teach (cf. John 14:26, 16:13).

We have choices. Listen, obey, and witness are three components in which we must choose to follow God’s way or go our own way. Choosing God in everyday life and daily encounters has consequences and sometimes they are unpleasant. However, choosing our comfort, convenience, our own way has consequences as well. Jesus – God Himself told us: be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. The evil one leads us in our own ways, in a mirage of freedom which is not freedom at all. Let us choose rightly so Jesus acknowledges us before the Father and does not see us as ‘terror on every side.’

Lived Victory!

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear

Thank you for joining today as we continue in our Easter joy. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Scripture tells us of Peter’s mother-in-law, how Jesus healed her, and how she took care of Jesus and His disciples. Certainly, one of the many amazing, devoted women in Holy Scripture. I must imagine that Peter also had an amazing mom considering the letter that he wrote which we are reflecting on: Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear.

That is a mom statement if I ever heard one. I can hear my mom saying similar things. You know, those occasions when we are upset, feel misunderstood, or are angry and want to run off and do something not quite smart. Maybe the words were slightly different, yet they were the same: ‘Explain yourself clearly. Use your words. Do things with gentleness and reverence. Honor those you encounter. Do not sin. Act with integrity. Just because someone wronged you does not mean you should do wrong. Have a clear conscience.’

Consider some of the other moms of the Bible. Like our moms they were wonderful examples of devotion to God, His people, and their families.

Jochebed was the mother of Moses and would not let the commands of government overcome her love for her son. She refused to allow him to be killed, hid him, and saved him. Not only did she protect Moses, but she reverently placed his fate in the hands of God when she placed him in the basket in the Nile. Our moms have confidently placed us in the hands of God. They taught us to trust in God over all things.

Hannah was in despair because she was unable to have a child. She was deeply loved by her husband Elkanah, but still longed for a child of her own. Every time Hannah went to the Temple, she poured her heart out to God. God heard her, and she bore a son. Out of gratitude to the Lord, she surrendered her son back to God. Hannah gave her child to God because she knew it was the best she could do for him. Releasing control opened the door for God to do amazing things for Samuel, one of the greatest prophets. Our moms have prayed for us and have given us to God in baptism so that He bless us as well.

The Widow of Zarephath gave what little she had to feed the prophet Elijah. Amid famine and desperation, her reverent faith and trust in God was essential to her and her son’s survival. Later when her son died, she went to Elijah for help, and her son was saved. Our moms have had “famine” seasons where things seemed bleak and hopeless. During those times, they taught us that reverent trust and faith in God overcome even when things don’t make sense.

Elizabeth and Mary reverently surrendered themselves to God’s will even though His way seemed impossible from a human perspective. They act as the premier example of moms who allowed God’s will to be done.

If we have learned from our moms and the moms of the Bible, our ears are opened to what Jesus asks and promises: “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” Let us honor the special women of our lives by our reverence to God and by living His gospel way of life.

Lived Victory!

When He has driven out all His own, He walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow Him, because they recognize His voice.

Thank you for joining today as we continue in our Easter joy. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lost, wandering, confused, despairing, angry, tired.

Considering our Good Shepherd, Jesus, has caused me to reflect on all those times in my life where I was lost and wandering. In different measure we all live through being lost, wandering, confusion, despair, anger, and tiredness.

One night of my life jumps right out at me. I was literally awake all night, that kind of awake where you know sleep will not come, that kind of awake where you cannot even close your eyes. My eyes were wide open, starring at the ceiling.

A lot had gone on – broken relationships, financial difficulties, job worries, my diabetes not in good control at all, a doctor who could only lecture – no help there. It all rushed through my mind, and it did not seem solutions were forthcoming. I couldn’t even despair.

As I mentioned, people go through times like that and if they have even an inkling of hope to overcome it, they start to actively seek a solution.

Now you might ask: ‘Where was your faith?’ On that, there was little of that left. I was away from the Church. I never rejected Jesus – but as I’ve told many people, that was a constant temptation.

So, what happened, how did I overcome? I’ll start with the fact that there was no miracle or amazing revelation. One day, thinking about my faith, I realized I never took it seriously. I never even memorized some of the most basic prayers beyond the Our Faith and Hail Mary.

I will ask you to consider this – that for the first time in my life I really heard the Good Shepherd’s voice and the message – Get serious! That’s what I did, I got serious.

Did my problems go away magically? No. Did I have to work hard? Yes. As I studied my faith, as I memorized those prayers, as I did the work necessary to overcome my troubles, as I went to church each week my life normalized. My week started right, and it made a huge difference to not just have God as an active part of my life, but to truly listen to His voice, to work at walking His path. To seat Him on the throne as God in my life.

Brothers and Sisters, is all solved? Of course not. What has changed is that I am no longer lost, wandering, confused, or despairing. Angry and tired – sometimes – must work more at that, but I know with absolute assurance that when I was at my lowest the Good Shepherd sought me out. He seeks all of us, calls to us, and we innately know His voice.

Wherever we are on the journey of life, wherever we came from, the Shepherd calls to us. Let us listen, not just to listen, but actively engage and follow for a real overcoming.

Hear and Listen.

So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.

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

I’m sure that at one time or another we have all heard the comparison between hearing and listening. We hear parents tell their children: ‘You’re hearing me, but you’re not listening.’ Or ‘I’m making sounds, but nothing is happening.’ It is a frustration employers, workers, parents and children, friends, and nations all have.

Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound; specifically: the special sense by which noises and tones are received as stimuli.” Listening, on the other hand, means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.”

Today, God speaks to us about hearing and listening

God confronts the people of Israel in Isaiah 66, who having returned from exile and having rebuilt the Temple are being warned against a materialistic view of worship. We know the system of sacrifices and offering at the Temple. In the past, Israel had profaned their own sacrifices by doing evil, making a sacrifice to allegedly clear the evil, and then going right back to doing evil. God rather wants a people with true hearts. God knows the people’s works and thoughts and they must listen and be clean. So, to prove His goodness, God says He will gather in the nations, the Gentiles, us – and He will even make some of us priests. He will raise up our dignity, for we will listen, astounded by God’s great mercy toward us.

God asks all He calls to stay on message, to truly hear what He says and to follow it. Jesus shows the leaders of Israel that they will end up as outsiders if they do not listen and stay true to God’s Word, if they would not recognize Who was before them and among them.

The writer to the Hebrews, specifically addressing Jewish believers, once again reminds them that they must stay true to the salvation they received in Jesus, that they should not backslide – that what they heard and received, i.e., listened to, is the way to go. Do not forget or you will be counted as only hearers, not doers, the doers James 1:22 reminds us we must all be.

It comes down to us whom God has included. We are called to listen – to hear with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.

We have already been called into the Kingdom. We have that privilege. Listening and walking the gospel way is the work Jesus speaks of – entering through the narrow gate. It takes strength and endurance. If we indeed listen and do, we shall recline at table in the kingdom of God.