Accepted and used.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

Welcome and thank you for joining us this Sunday as we testify to our faith in our Lord and Savior and join in fellowship in His Holy Name.

God gives – isn’t that a wonderful statement? God has placed gifts in us, as St. Paul tells Timothy, a spirit of power, love, and self-control.

These gifts from God are a sure antidote to the things that humans face every day – weakness, anger and hatred, and a lack of control over both ourselves and our surroundings.

The interesting thing about gifts is the choice of the one receiving them. The receiver has the choice of accepting and using the gift, accepting the gift and leaving it unused, misusing the gift, or just ignoring it.

Growing up, I, like you was trained to be thankful for gifts, and to accept them with grace. We were also taught that we must not waste what we were given. Perhaps in some ways that accounts for some of the clutter we all have – what to do with that ceramic chicken table setting someone gave us?

God only gives needful and useful gifts. No ceramic chickens from God. We have these gifts of power, love, and self-control but now we must apply them. As professing Christians, that is what we are to do.

Jesus shows us how we are to apply these gifts in everyday situations, during the ordinary of our lives. We are to use our power, love, and self-control as His servants and servants of each other. We are to see with faith, the size of a mustard seed, how God’s gifts intertwine and bind our relationships with Him, our brothers and sisters in the Kingdom, and all of God’s creation.

Jesus wants us to use these gifts in doing all He commands, that is, to walk the gospel path where we give completely of ourselves, where we clothe and feed those in need, where we visit those alone, and where the beatitudes mark our life. We can all look those up.

To those given more, Jesus calls for more. For all of us in relationship with each other, we are to be a representation of Jesus’ dwelling with us, His abiding presence. Look on each other and see Jesus abiding; His gifts ready for application.

Today, as we pause to consider the pets we love or have loved, we see in a special way the implementation of God’s gifts. We recognize a dependency in the ones given to us, for care, for companionship, for a recognition of their innocence and their sharing of unconditional love which we need to reciprocate. God thus uses creation to illustrate in the simplest of ways how the accepted gift is to be used. May we ever show how we have accepted the spirit of power, love, and self-control placed in us and how we have used them as His servants.

Where charity prevails.

between us and you a great chasm is established

Welcome and thank you for joining us this day in our worship of our Lord and fellowship in His Holy Name.

There are several things to consider today: The way we live our lives; The need for repentance i.e, change where necessary; and The reality of the Hell we build if we close or limit ourselves toward the other. All of this is summed up in the gospel as the “great chasm.”

Jesus uses the story of Lazarus and the rich man pointing to the necessity of living a life of love, for a life of love converts us fully, brings us most fully to the likeness of His Heavenly Father. This is the life we are called to, to be the model of God in the world exemplified in love.

Now, the confusing part is our perception of what love is. We mess ourselves up by quantifying and qualifying our love toward others.

The Greeks had it a bit easier for the word Agape means a love that is complete charity, total self-giving. This is the complete love Jesus speaks of and requires from His disciples. We are to live and practice, without quantifying, self-giving toward all we encounter. That powerful love, so often unseen and unexpected in our world, when shown, breaks down barriers and brings people into the Kingdom.

The rich man had none of that. Factually, his love was completely self-centered and could not even contemplate self-giving. He existed is a loveless great chasm, a place of emptiness, a hollow place. He made that chasm impenetrable, uncrossable, and a place of blindness toward anyone else. He never even saw or heard Lazarus under his window.

Could he have repented? Most certainly. The rich man could have opened his ears, eyes, and heart to Lazarus. He could have taken from himself and could have given, inviting Lazarus in to dine with him, not counting the cost. He could have offered his friendship to Lazarus and opened himself to him.

Yet, as we see in Jesus’ telling, the rich man could not even do that after death. There he was, in Hell, being tormented, crying out for pity – pity for himself. His self-centered life lived on into eternity, he remained in the chasm he built. Lazarus remained as nothing, just a potential water bearer and message carrier for the rich man’s needs. Not once does he look up to Abraham and Lazarus and beg forgiveness.

We must examine the places where we have built great chasms in our lives, where our love is less than the full giving Jesus requires. If there is a great chasm, let us work to close it. It is certainly not easy, it wasn’t easy for most of the Apostles and saints at first, but they got there. They closed the chasms of their lives and lived complete love as we must do.

In Christ.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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

Today we celebrate a very special Solemnity. If we look up the definition of liturgical solemnity, we will see the following: A solemnity is a feast day of the highest rank celebrating a mystery of faith.

From the practical side of things, we know that this Solemnity was instituted in the Church at a time when we faced persecution for our beliefs. No, this wasn’t in the first centuries, the time of the martyrs, but rather in the early 1900’s. We decided as Church, the Body of Christ, His new creation, to emphasize Christ’s teaching on love, whether it be toward one another or toward those who hated us.

It remains sad, even to this day, that those who wish to come into our Church face castigation and persecution. So, we must remain steadfast in our love of these enemies. As St. Paul tells us, our love of them will heap burning coals on their heads. In Biblical language that means that our goodness will embarrass those who hate, and who knows, may convert them to ways of love.

The scholar of the Law knew the answer when he approached Jesus. To him, there was no mystery of faith. The scholar knew he was to love his fellow Israelites. Those were his neighbors, no one else.

Now the scholar wished to justify himself. That meant that he wanted to proclaim a legal verdict (as in a courtroom) of his righteousness and faithfulness, his innocence in the way he treated his fellow countrymen. The scholar wanted to be judge and jury over himself.

Jesus was having none of that and goes on, through the parable of the Good Samaritan, to open the mystery of faith to this scholar and those around him, and in turn to us. Our love is to be unlimited in relation to God and others, and that ‘others’ includes both friend and enemy.

Our love is to be such that it makes those closest to us and enemies uncomfortable. We are to bear an overwhelming love – a love I know we practice here so beautifully – which points to the fact that we are Christ’s new creation. We are fully in Christ.

We are indeed Christ’s new creation. Our lives have been taken out of this world and have been placed in the Kingdom. We have been severed from the ways of sin and death to eternal life in the love of Christ, the Kingdom of love.

While there are many ways to shine forth in the Kingdom – through prayer, worship, and fellowship – the premier way is to shine forth love. All those others – prayer, worship, and fellowship exist in support of the building up of the love of Christ in, and out of, us. So, as people in Christ, His new creation, let us be the Kingdom’s brightness of love always and everywhere.

I say again, Rejoice!

“[The Spirit] will glorify me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Everything that the Father has is Mine; for this reason I told you that He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you.”

I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we reflect on the mystery of God.

This is one of those fun days in the life of the Church where the congregation sits back and watches the pastor as he tries to explain the unexplainable, as he invents poor analogies and repeats fanciful stories thinking they might cover his inability to really get at the core of Who God is. It is like watching a slapstick comedy, people tripping over shoelaces and tumbling about in an effort to get from one side of the stage to the other.

Besides the tumbling about, we must wonder why so many try. All of you, the members of Christ’s body, the Church, dwellers in the Kingdom, are not even looking for an explanation. You keep it simple. We adore one God in three Persons. You own this mystery. You view this mystery practically – not in its academic analysis, but in what it really is. I’ll talk about that in a moment.

First, I want us to imagine that moment we get to heaven. We’ll be standing there at the gates. We might come to the gates with an agenda – what is God like, where’s mom and dad, my best friend, those I love? Oh yes, that one thing I could never figure out… Then God will reveal Himself to us in all His majesty, His presence, as He is, and we will finally get it. Our questions and wondering will be gone. It will be so simple that a child could figure it out. It will be so beautiful we will feel its overwhelming power.

So, what is God really, what is this great but quite simple mystery? God is the totality of mutually communal love. God created us in the world to share in that communion of love.

This means that we, created in the image of God, are made to fulfill communal love in relationship one to another and to God and all His creation.

St. John captures Jesus’ intimate communion with His Father and how we would be brought into that communion, how we would share in that same relationship, through the Holy Spirit. “[The Spirit] will glorify me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you. Since Jesus dwells in the totality of mutually communal love – the Spirt Who Himself dwells there takes from that and gives it to us.

That is why the Holy Spirit dwells with us, to constantly call us into the joy of mutually communal love with God and each other – just what it means to dwell in the kingdom.

So let us not reflect so much on mystery but rather rejoice and rejoice again living filled, fulfilled, and sharing in the love of God. It is that simple.

Urgent work.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.

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

Over the last two Sundays we discussed the intensity of love Jesus requires from us and the gifts of love and peace Jesus gives us. Jesus’ love and peace gives us the privilege of the Holy Spirit with us and teaching us; eternal life; and peace that removes all fear. Now we get to the urgent work of love, peace, and invitation.

Throughout the Easter Season we have read from the Book of Acts and Revelation. 

Both Acts and Revelation are a bit removed from the first-generation Church. Acts was likely written around 80 to 90AD. Revelation was written even later, around 99AD. Both are directed to Christians as reminders of what it means to be the Body of Christ, and the urgency of the work we must engage in.

Acts gives Christians the blueprint for who we are, how we are to live, love, sacrifice and forgive – as we are reminded today by Stephen’s witness, sacrifice and plea for forgiveness of his persecutors – and how we are to evangelize.

Revelation shows forth two things – letters from the Risen Jesus to His Churches reminding them of who they are to be – i.e., the Acts Church, and a reminder of our urgency of action. We hear about that today.

Jesus says: “Behold, I am coming quickly.” We can never miss the urgency in all Jesus says. His message is to always be ready. Ready does not mean just sitting and waiting. It means hard at work loving, sacrificing, forgiving, and evangelizing. If we are ready, we will have access to the reward Jesus will give according to our work.

To further express urgency, Jesus reminds us that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Those words used earlier in Revelation applied to God and here to Jesus alone, crowning proof of Christ’s deity. If we really know and understand Who Jesus is, we will not have any trouble being urgent in our work and ready for His return.

Jesus reminds us that “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” The Spirit is in us, the Church. We are the bride of Christ. The Spirit prompts us to call for Jesus’ speedy return and to work at evangelizing those who do not know Him so they too come to Jesus in faith. 

People cannot come to Jesus unless they hear. They will only hear by our work at love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and evangelism. So let us be reminded of what urgent work we must do as we await Him. The gift of life-giving water is available. It is an open invitation we are called to urgently offer.

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.