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. 

The
Goal.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

The age-old question, ‘How do I get to heaven?’ A young man, a legal scholar, approaches Jesus to ask exactly that. How do I receive a share of heaven, how do I inherit a place there?

Of course, the scholar came to the right person. Who better to ask than the King of heaven and earth, who dwelt in heaven from eternity? We will cover Jesus’ answer later.

For now, let us focus on the various attempts at human answers to the heaven question.

For some, heaven is an impossibility, a fantasy. It is something made up by primitive people who needed answers to the world’s mysteries. They have no need for an answer on how to get there because no one gets to heaven. Rather, they are readying themselves to flash out of existence.

On the opposite end are people with vague notions of spirituality. They have squishy notions of what heaven is, an indeterminant place of peace and contentment, the fulfillment of whoever conjures a fantasy of what it will be. In their estimation, everybody (except the usual suspects) gets to heaven.

The other major religions of the world have amazingly similar perspectives on how to get to heaven. It is as simple as checking off items from a to do list. For the Jewish people, it is the keeping of the Law. For Muslims, at a basic level, the following of the five pillars, righteous actions, and striving will lead to heaven.

God instructs us differently. Our call is to get to the core of all lists, laws, and rules. God’s way is love. So, how do we achieve our inheritance and get to heaven? It is faith based devotion of our our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds on the Lord. Love of God, in and of itself, is the first commandment. This love extends through and beyond God – and must also be focused on each person we encounter. With faith in Jesus as the way, we are to love, get to building the kingdom here and now, and thus gain the inheritance.

I adore
You.

on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

It has been a quick two years. Mary and Joseph have established a home in Bethlehem and are now taking care of a toddler. Suddenly, the door bursts open and three men, with their entourage, burst through the door, dressed in the regalia of the wealthy and honored. They look, they see, and they “fell down” and “did obeisance.” 

Obeisance – a very old and very cool word. It means they gave deference to Jesus. They showed respect, homage, worship, adoration, reverence, veneration, honor, and submission. They paid what was owed in obedience to the King of kings. Their gesture was elaborate, even extreme.

These wise men are called that for a reason, they wisely paid obeisance to a Baby. They wisely saw, in the midst of a poor house, with its few meager sticks of furniture, the truth. The Eternal King had come into the world.

The path, first tread by the expectant family, followed on by poor shepherds, and now tread by foreigners, outsiders is come to completion. In a few short days the gifts fit for a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, would fund the escape of the refugee Holy Family as they fled into Egypt.

Have we ever done true obeisance? I was listening to the Sinatra channel as I ran errands the other day. I enjoy those mellow songs so replete with love, longing, and adoration. A guy meets a girl: Flash! Bang! Alakazam! Wonderful you came by… at least according to Nat King Cole.

They adore each other. That is until they get deeper into their relationship and suddenly the object of the adoration begins to feel self-conscious – It’s too much! I don’t deserve it. Somehow, for some reason, we humans struggle with adoring love like that. 

We should get over it! Why? Because Jesus says we are worthy of that kind of love.

There is the hidden mystery. He, who is to be adored and paid obeisance in turn loves and adores us.

As Jesus’ disciples, His students, we are to learn from Him. As He accepted obeisance, we are to accept His extravagant and extreme love. As He accepted gifts, so we must accept the gifts He provides – using them to make Him known. As He accepted the poor, the outsider, so must we, loving like Him always.

Love filled
results.

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

We have focused on being checked in and its results from three perspectives. Those are: The peace that comes from being prepared, ready and refusing to give up; Stepping out into the world to announce the kingdom, to proclaim a renewed and joyful life in Jesus. Plugged in people have God’s true joy, a joy that doesn’t leave us; and Hope lived everyday, in every moment – Jesus is near! Peace, joy, and hope, three hallmarks of being checked-in with Jesus.

Peace, joy, and hope – wonderful gifts that are essential elements of our checked-in lives, essential elements of the one thing that wraps them all up together – love.

As we prepare to enter into the Season of Christmas, we are called to take the gifts of peace, joy, and hope and to wrap them together in love and deliver them to the world. This is our charge from Jesus, to take what most consider conceptual and out-of-reach and make it real. More than make it real, show it forth, we are to use God’s grace to get results with those gifts.

Getting real results, love filled results – that is the message of today’s Gospel, that is the message of Jesus first coming, and His anticipated return.

An angel visits Mary, ensconced in her home. She is asked to literally give up everything for love, for the love necessary to bring a child into the world. She is asked to show forth love, and to get real results with her love. Showing forth that love would not gain Mary any love. Her espoused was ready to abandon her. Her community rejected her. Making love real meant ridicule and abandon, yet Mary did it and topped it off with service to her cousin Elizabeth in her need. Mary wrapped the peace of God, joy and hope, in love, stayed checked-in. She made it real to her expected Son and her cousin.

We are recipients of Jesus’ showing forth the fullness of God’s love, and its reality. The results are within us – our sins washed away, our hearts and minds fed by His word, and ready to receive Him. We march forth into the world like Mary with a gift wrapped in love, not to be stored under a tree or on a shelf. Let us never shy away from opening God’s gifts of peace, joy, and hope in love, putting them to work for real love filled results.

He stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

We have been through a lot. The stresses and strains in our country, the sins in a particular Church, the judgyness of some church people, upcoming elections, old and upcoming investigations, and even family drama. It is all terrible. It all seems inconsistent with our ideals, with everything we have learned is right and good. As a pastor, I have been asked all kinds of issue questions, anything that would seem to press a reverend’s hot-button and provoke an extremist reaction. Let’s see if Jesus’ representatives blow a fuse over this or that. Jesus’ words to the crowd ready to stone the prostitute tell us two things. The first thing is that sin is real. Let him who is without… Jesus knows our reality. He Himself had to fight against it in the dessert after fasting for forty days. The second thing is the possibility of forgiveness and a road out – to salvation that Jesus conveyed to the prostitute. Both parties had a choice to make. The crowd could have rejected Jesus’ truth and could have thrown the stones. The prostitute could have also walked away and could have gone back to her ‘profession.’ One of the Church’s earliest thinkers, St. John Climacus, in his writing used the example of a ladder. He noted that when we chose Jesus, when we enter the life of the Church, we get on the first step of the ladder to heaven. The key to all of this is not Jesus’ tolerance, nor the rightness of the Church’s teaching. Jesus is indeed tolerant and the Church, by the light of the Holy Spirit, teaches the truth. Rather, the key is the light we need to see, the right we need to do. In the end, it is about our tolerance. None of us should have a ‘hot button’ that sets us off to judge, and if we do, we must get it in check. As followers of Jesus, we are called to the ultimate in tolerance. We are to see the person next to us, the person with the ‘hot button’ issue, and support them on their climb on the ladder to heaven.

Our October newsletter goes along side the season of change – and calls us to remember unchangeable things – love of family, acceptance and tolerance, lending a hand up the ladder. We celebrate family and heritage. We have a full calendar of events, Holy Synod, a rummage sale, and so much more. Check out all the activities coming up in November too. Find out why it is better to climb…

Check out all this and more in our October 2018 Newsletter.