Love understood.

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we declare: Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

My dearest friends, I don’t have to tell you that love is hard, complex, difficult to grasp, and every so often so overpowering that it leaves us standing in awe. At times love is so powerful that it changes the direction of our lives.

Jesus speaks to us of that kind of love today. It is His call to us to engage in overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love, in the model He left us, a model of complete self-giving one-for-another.

Jesus wants us to be overpowered by His love, a love so intense, so powerful, so strong and dedicated that He offered His life for it. Jesus wants His love offering to change our life direction. He wants the intensity of His love to move us to the self-same way of loving.

His love took the weight of all our shortcomings and failings and placed it on His shoulders. He bore us broken so that we could rise with Him perfected in the happiness of freedom forever. So just as Jesus did, our love must raise others up.

Jesus calls to us to engage in overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love. We are to live in active love, to give our all, to sacrifice everything for love of each other.

We have much to face in the world. Hatred and antagonism are rampant. Fortresses of one against another are being built. The worldly are in love with death – the kind of death that negates sacrificial love – and calls for an end to love. We cannot let this just be, standing in silence, gathering in our little possessions, and think it cannot or will not touch me. It will. Instead, we must do as Christ’s disciples do – witness to the overpowering, awe inspiring, imitation calling, changing love of Jesus by doing as He did. It is the only antidote.

We must be those couples that love each other – not because of infatuation or for reasons of beauty – but because love calls us to give ourselves for the other – even if we get nothing in return. We must be those parents that love their children – not with stuff, or the adding up of cost, or giving in to cultural whims or the latest you must do this and that – but with an abiding love that says I am here and always will be no matter when, no matter what, for your good, so you know God and His love by my example. Similarly, we must be brother and sister and minister to each other and our community, giving our hearts and time. Standing at a distance and being lukewarm is not sufficient (cf. Rev. 3:14-21).

Jesus is the ultimate model of overwhelming love. We must love as He did for doing so will make the true meaning of love understood to us and in understanding we will have joy.

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.

Love.

Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.

This Advent we focus on the promises of God. We have provided a handy follow along book of reflections and devotions covering thirty promises of God broken down under the categories of hope, peace, joy, and love. This final week we reflect on God’s promise of love.

Remember that promises from God are things we can absolutely count on. We have perfect assurance that God’s promise of love will be fulfilled. We know this more so because God has shown us by His outward action that His love is perfect and all giving.

St. Paul is reflecting on that very fact in today’s Epistle. He calls our attention, once again, to the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, came to once and for all consecrate us – that is to make us holy and pleasing to His Father. He would do this, not through the sin offerings of people, which God did not delight in, but through the love offering of Himself, the perfect sacrifice as willed by the Father.

It is key for us to focus on the value of offerings. You see, the sin sacrifices of people could never compensate God for what they had done. Rather, its key metric was in the way it forced people to evaluate, in a tangible way, the cost of what they had done. 

Now if a person were really dedicated to loving God, they would say the cost is too high. I must rather turn away from sin and by doing so, not suffer the cost consequences. But the people never did change, they got caught up in paying to play. Their hearts remained hard, not like the hearts of flesh God wished them to have. For them, it boiled down to an equation in the Law.

To change the equation, to fully carry out the will of the Father, His Son, Jesus, had to step up and say yes. He had to give His love totally to the Father in sacrifice. By doing so He carried out the Father’s will for us. 

Jesus carried out the Father’s love mission. He destroyed the old equation of cost sacrifices and says to us, come, live in my love. St. John’s repeats Jesus’ words: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

The choice is clear. We have met our God Who gave Himself as sacrifice. We cannot pay, there is no option for that, so we must choose to dedicate ourselves to Him, to live in His love. If we make that choice, we are among those made holy by God’s perfect love gift.

In the face of God’s love, Mary served, Elizabeth proclaimed, and John leapt. In the face of God’s love, we must also serve, proclaim, and leap, not to pay, but as sign of love in our consecrated lives.

Strength of Faith

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Over the months of Ordinary Time, a time dedicated to growth, we focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember to focus on our Strength of Faith.

Today we again take a brief break from Mark’s gospel account and this time venture into Luke’s account of the challenge Jesus faced from the lawyer. How do I get to eternal life? What must I do?

The Jewish faith, from outward appearance, even to this day, has a very strong emphasis on doing. Wear this, wash this way, cook this way, spend the Sabbath like this. Pray this way. Responding to Jesus, the lawyer could have just quoted every one of the 613 commandments and all the rabbinical commentary on them. If you do all this, you shall live.

Perhaps the lawyer was just a bit wiser than that. For him, it came down to the two core commandments of love, love of God, love of neighbor.

Then confusion set in, for the 613 commandments make very clear distinction between insiders and outsiders. Commandment 166 and 167: A bastard child cannot become an Israelite. A eunuch or sexually mutilated man may not enter the community. Or 596 and 597: Destroy the seven Canaanite nations. Not to let any of them remain alive. Then there is always 449: A skin-diseased person will tear his clothes, grow his hair long, and cry out, “unclean, unclean.”

Could these people possibly be my neighbors? Do I have to love them? They are outside the community.

We all know that Jesus takes the Samaritan businessman, and uses him as the example of right behavior, for proper brotherly love, for strength of faith. Jesus is being totally politically incorrect and inappropriate for the Samaritans were more despised than the gentiles. A Samaritan woman was always considered “unclean.” Jews and Samarians hated each other. Some Pharisees even accused Jesus of having a demon and being a Samaritan Himself, as insulting as one could get.

This detour into Luke tells us two things. The first is that our studies on strength of faith cannot be just studies. Faith does not live if it is on a bookshelf. We are to live out our strength of faith. We must move from discipleship to apostleship, from students to doers of love.

The second lesson is that strength of faith calls us to the harder work. Ever meet one of those people who when presented with a challenge are already underway in taking it on; before the question is even over? Yes, that is how we are to be. Strength of Faith must be translated not only into doing, but into heroic doing. We are called to love in great self-sacrificing ways, to conquer even the most challenging call to love in Jesus’ name. That is what we must do.

What’s next?

“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,”

We are now celebrating the Sixth Sunday and the start of the Sixth Week of the Easter Season. Is the thrill gone?

In the first few weeks of the Easter Season, we stood in awe with the apostles and disciples as they continually encountered the Risen Lord. We could sense their joy, the celebration and thrill that lifted their hearts and opened their minds to the truth of Jesus’ claims. He was indeed the fulfillment of all contained in the Law and the prophets.

Jesus had spent this time connecting the dots for His followers and so armed them to bear fruit by lived faith, to continue the message of freedom that is the gospel, and to bring people to repentance and membership in His body, the Church. As we heard last week, to graft people onto the True Vine.

We all know how it is. We spent time celebrating, thrilled, but now we have to turn what we learned in the celebration into physical action. We have to move the trill to lived witness to the risen Lord. Today, next Sunday, and for the rest of the year, we reinforce how we should be living.

Looking forward, we know what Jesus’ followers did not quite grasp, that Pentecost was coming, that Jesus’ instruction we will hear this Thursday, to remain and pray, would situate them for the awesomeness and trill of that day. Everything He had been teaching them, all the dots He connected, would in a flash of the Holy Spirit’s coming. pour out of them and into the whole world. Is that power pouring out of us? Is that trill with us or are we bored by Jesus?

In today’s readings and gospel, we see Jesus’s direction, how His followers carried it out, and how we should be doing it; what should be pouring out of us as we remain thrilled to be His followers.

It starts in the great commandment – restated today, This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.

Peter understood it in the house of Cornelius where people he would never associate with became his brothers and sisters in the Lord, who also received the Holy Spirit. He saw the trill they encountered, knowing Jesus changed them completely, and he was again renewed.

John, the disciple Jesus loved, went on to continually proclaim the power of love – for love is a thrill when it is lived genuinely, honestly, and effectively.

We live in the trill of being chosen, being free because of Jesus’ resurrection, sharing in His love for us, and our mutual friendship. We are so free, and love filled, that if called upon we will give our lives for Him and each other.

What’s next for us is what was next for the disciples, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, strong proclamation, a life defined by the gospel. And the everlasting trill of Jesus risen.

By what standard?

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.

Straight to the point. I ought to start this by saying that today’s Epistle, as outlined in the Lectionary gives us two choices. We can read all of Paul’s admonitions in Colossians 3:12-21 or we can skip over the hard parts, things that make us uncomfortable.

We all know what God wants, right – to skip over the hard parts? 

We can certainly agree that God never wants us to skip over the hard parts of His instruction. Jesus told us: “In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

What disturbs us about Paul’s words is that we read them from a perspective that the godless world pushes on us. That perspective is one in which there is no analysis, there is no search for deeper understanding. We somehow believe that English is the anointed language by which all must be understood, and heaven forbid that anyone use the word subordinate. Obviously, I, me, comes first.

I, me first, is not of Christ.

In Genesis, God creates a model of family and as we heard in today’s gospel, His very Son, Jesus, lived within that model. But let’s not just stop at the outward appearance of that model, because the inward nature of the family model is brought to the fore by St. Paul in his writing to the Colossians.

Paul is discussing an inter-relationship among the faithful. We are first and foremost a community that practices mutual love and respect. We offer each other heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We bear with each other and forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven us (catch that – live as the Lord lived). Above all we put on love as our mutual bond of perfection. Is that hard?

Jesus was born into a family that lived all that, and one in which each person lived a sacrificial existence, where the good of the other came before their own good. That is what being subordinate is. That is what love and obedience are. That is what total giving is.  In family we must be willing to decrease so that our wives, husbands, and children may increase. That is love in mutuality. Is that hard?

Never mistake this direction as having to do with being a slave. A slave does not have a choice in the giving of self. We do. 

The bottom line – How are we to live together? What do we consider hard? For us the standard within family and community is God’s standard. A life of total self-giving should not be hard for Christians.

Love!

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

In the first three weeks of Advent we focused on hope, peace, and joy and how those key elements of God’s Kingdom life must be shown in our lives and conveyed by us who are His people, the brothers and sisters of His Divine Son, Jesus.

Our kingdom tasks – what we are to convey – is:

  • An offer of hope to those we encounter;
  • To be peace in the midst of the communities we are involved in – our neighborhoods, workplaces, social groups, and families; and
  • To be promoters and bringers of joy, bearers of a joyous message – Jesus has saved us and is available to each and every person. Come meet Him.

In this final week of Advent (lasting less than a full week), we focus on our responsibility to love.

The Alan Jackson’s song, ‘I Need A Love Like That,’ as certain songs do, conveys what we seek, our need for a love that surpasses time and space, a love that takes hold of us, completes us, and makes us whole. We all need a love like that.

God understands that need, for He Himself is love. So, God determined to act and give His all, His very Son to us. He carried out His plan to show us the immensity of His love by engaging people who would respond in love. We know their names: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah, Simeon, Anna, and John. We know their occupations: shepherds and Maji, Levites and prophets.

By the giving of God’s greatest gift, and our acceptance of that gift, we follow in the footsteps of love. We become bearers of the central element of God’s Kingdom – love. 

As with those who responded to God’s plan with love, we respond in love. We show forth the all-encompassing love that surpasses time and space. We bear that love which has taken hold of us, that has completed us, and that has made us whole.

Indeed, God has engaged us because He knows we are people who will respond in love. We know our responsibility is to love and by love to draw people to Jesus. 

Our names inscribed in the Book of Life are known to God. Our professions, whether accountants, civil servants, service workers, business owners, healthcare workers, or even priests give us the opportunity to show love. Our times and circumstances allow us to hear those who say, ‘I need love’ and answer with Jesus, the love that will take hold of, complete, and make them whole.

Charity = Love

He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. As Christians we are to always be prepared for the end times, for the last things, for we will be called to account for how we have carried out our lives, how totally on-board with Jesus we were. So, let us begin again today.

The scriptures for today introduce us to the beginning of Jesus’ teaching on the end times. In the end it is how we live the commandment of love. The first reading from Exodus calls us to awareness of our obligation to others. It opens us to the idea that how we encounter others must be in line with God’s way of love. If it is not, the consequences. We will be killed with the sword; the voices of our accusers painting us with the blood from their suffering. 

Wow, that’s dark – but yes, it is that serious. In the language of scripture, particularly the New Testament, the word for love is the same word used for charity. That favorite wedding reading, and the greatest of these is love, is also translated, and the greatest of these is charity.

Our loving, our charity must be complete and other directed. In Exodus, God calls His people to account for how they actually live. Don’t just say it, don’t just pray it, don’t just speak it, live it. He reminds us that He hears of our actions, He sees what we do. We cannot hide.

Each day we walk the road to the end. Where we end up, how we are recompensed, is totally dependent on whether we are, as St. Paul says, a model for all the believers. Their testament in the end times: in every place [their] faith in God has gone forth. God grant that this be said of us.

The end is near! Well, the beginning of the end. We begin again today to approach the moment of accountability.

Jesus sets the ultimate standard of love and charity for which we are accountable. He stresses the interconnectedness of love for God and others. As St. John would later write: Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. Now it is up to us.

The reality goes beyond our usual ideas of what love/charity are. For God, our love is shown by our dedication, worship, and communication with Him, not forgetting Him. For others, it is more than dropping a few bucks. It is looking in their eyes and gaining an understanding of the truth of their pain – then showing love in working to relieve that pain. The end – let us not show up empty.

Deciding…

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

We live in a time of decision, a time marked by outpourings of incredible passion focused on issues pressing on all of our hearts. It is an opportune time to hear Jesus ask us: ‘What and who do you love?’

Jesus defined love as only God can, perfectly. His love is a love open to everyone who will accept Him. His love is for those who come to Him when facing hopelessness or fear, or when they are just in search of understanding. His love is there for doubters and the even the angry.

Jesus’ definition of love calls us to be God directed and other directed. He calls us to an all-consuming and selfless expression of love each and every day. His definition of love requires us to acknowledge what we know inwardly and to express it outwardly. We are required to share His love, invite all to this love, and to avoid all hypocrisy. This is why the Pharisees and Sadducees and lawyers failed, they lived in hypocrisy and refused to acknowledge what they knew.

We are to love with right passion. What kind of passion is that? It is one that places Jesus and His kingdom front and center as our sole focus. It is passion for the gospel message and the great commandment. It is a passion for evangelism, to baptize the world in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It is often said (going back to college Latin), ‘O tempora, o mores!’ ‘O the times, o the customs!’ We have this knack of looking at our times and thinking them the worst, the verge of disaster. That phrase goes back to 70 B.C. This time is indeed a time of decision, and passion. We face the same decision we have faced from time immemorial: Will I receive Jesus, or will I let misplaced passion block me from Him? Will I love like Jesus and lose my life, or will personal passions block by heart?

What and Who do we love? If our love is formed and conducted in the way of Jesus and our passions are for all that is His, we live properly. Our passions are rightly focused. If our passions and love are for anything else, for just having our way (i.e., not losing our life), it is the time to re-evaluate and find true life, to decide to live and spread Jesus’ way of love.

In
advance.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Three weeks ago, we reflected on God’s wake-up calls delivered through the prophets so we might be found awake and ready. 

Two weeks ago, we focused on God’s proclamation of His truth as revelation for us. We understand that to be part of God is to be part of His extraordinarily different way, and to live up to it. 

Last week we considered the rejoicing ready for us right now and to come upon Jesus’ return.

In a few days, this will all come together in our Christmas celebration. To prepare, God asks us to consider the depth of His love and how we live it.

We know the Spirit stirred life in the womb of a peasant girl – God’s proclamation through prophets and angels comes to reality in Mary’s womb by her loving acceptance. God is engaged in His extraordinarily different way.

Mary and Joseph betrothed, not yet married, were expected to remain chaste. Mary’s pregnancy catches Joseph by surprise, more literally he was shocked and dismayed. Joseph seeks to avoid humiliation (for him) while also fulfilling the law. He is not yet connected to God’s different way of love or His proclamation. The angel sets that straight. The angel admonishes Joseph to embrace his role and Joseph responded lovingly. Joseph then becomes model for all who encounter the message of Jesus – God’s proclamation made real in vastly different ways and to be accepted in love.

God’s realm is becoming manifest among us at the near conclusion of this Advent season. If we have taken wake-up calls and proclamation seriously, we are awake, ready, listening, prepared, and knowledgeable. God calls us to act so vastly different in advance of His son’s glorious return. We are called to be part of His necessary work at this end-time, i.e., to becoming deeply faithful to love. Love must overcome disbelief. Love must overcome labeling (imagine what people called Mary and Joseph). Love must overcome conflict and chaos, eliciting peaceful hearts. Love must overcome complacency. Jesus’ way of love must rule our heart and way to the core of our being.