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.

Lift up
family.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”

At the Third Holy Synod of the Polish National Catholic Church, held in Chicago in December 1914 the Synod delegates resolved that the Second Sunday of October be dedicated as the Solemnity of the Christian Family. This Solemnity was meant as an opportunity for the Church to pray for the consolidation and strengthening of families. On this day we pray for all families; that they be strengthened and blessed.

It is great to have an idea, but as is said, we have to get the rubber to hit the road. So, how do we get there; how do we get families strengthened, blessed, and consolidated.

If you looked at our parish sign on the way in, you’d have noticed it now says “Rise Up With Jesus & Lift Others Here.”

This is how we get the rubber to hit the road.

We start by not ignoring our motivation. God’s entire creative effort was spurred by a desire to expand and build relationship. Since God had and has this desire for relationship within Himself, and since He made us in His relational image (Let us…), so we too desire relationship. We are motivated by relationship.

Relationship, of course, cannot be realized in motivation alone. That’s just frustrating and unproductive. So we take steps. We build friendships; we enter into relationships at many levels. Some are very close, some are more casual, but none are unimportant.

So we are motivated and so we try. But, being human as we are, we occasionally loose sight of what we must do to take relationship to the next level.

To get to the next level we must stay on message, we must build deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Of course the best proving ground for living our motivation, staying true to God’s relational life, is in our families. That is where we most intently and proactively rise with Jesus and lift each other up. In the microcosm of family relationship we motivate, comfort, provide love that is beyond reason, discipline, and sacrifice.

Now, from that microcosm, we are to expand the best of what we learn and do, rising with Jesus, raising up others, right here: consolidating, strengthening, blessing.

Say what?

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord… As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word… So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

Modern sensibilities are often troubled when we get to these passages in Paul’s letters, today from his letter to the Church at Ephesus. Paul seems to pick at sensibilities all the time, and I imagine it felt that way, even in his allegedly unenlightened time. The Church, in picking readings for today, offers an alternative, a shorter Epistle without all that nasty ‘wives should be subordinate’ stuff. I guess sensibilities were upset.

One of the problems we face in understanding Paul, his text, and the communities he preached to, is that we layer our sensibilities, based on our experience, over what Paul was trying to say. For instance, a little study of the economic realities and relationships of Paul’s day would help us understand that when Paul spoke of slaves he was not referring to a slavery of horrors as was lived in America. There were different forms of slavery in that time, and in certain instances it was no more than an economic relationship between a worker and boss. More important than the form of slavery was how Christians were to treat each other.

Paul’s message was always countercultural. Slaves and masters were to treat each other differently because they had to live a new life in Christ. Both the slave/worker and master/employer were to act in accordance with their new life in Christ.

Today, Paul speaks of subordination and love. These are not to be mutually exclusive things, but in fact a unified whole. Wives and husbands, as with masters and slaves, are to live differently because of Jesus. The complete subordination, an emptying of oneself for the other, is key to life in Jesus. Give up to each other, don’t give in to evil.

This self-subordination, self-sacrificial love, is to mark the lives of Christ followers. Today’s Gospel clearly illustrates that. Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Exactly! Say what? Self-sacrifice, subordination, handing over one’s life to the community of faith offends modern sensibility. Let’s show today how wrong it is.

Teaching love for
me too.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

Are ways of behaving learned or innate (i.e., natural)? A bit of research will show that behavioral scientists have opinions on both sides. This question seems to puzzle us more than in the past. Is parenting natural or learned? Is love natural or learned?

One of the best reflections on this subject states that it is a little of both. The Natural Law tells us that there are certain aspects of every person that are God created. We have built in tendencies to do right, moral, good things. We are naturally drawn to God. We have the call to love within us. Of course, those things can be thwarted by experience or by choice to sin.

Yet, one of the most wonderful aspects of the human person is an individual’s ability to overcome. A great illustration of the ability to overcome is “The Other Wes Moore.” Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?

The Christian community faced a very hostile world. They were all Wes Moore. Life was cheap. The haves had, the have-nots were slaves. Women and children had no value – were no more than property. Power ruled all, all else bowed. Nevertheless, the natural call remained, the ability to overcome existed.

The love of Christ overcame for that very reason. The message of the gospel and the example of Jesus allow us to overcome and win. Jesus took what is innate in us and said follow me – and you will flourish. God so loved us – and we can be just like Him. People heard of the power of God’s love and said – me too!

So we must put message of the Gospel first. We must love, value, and break down barriers and obstacles like God. The world needed this then, the world needs this now. The old ways have re-emerged, so the triumph of God’s love must once again offer ‘me too’ to everyone through us.

What?
Who?

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.

Today we hear a wonderful testament to what God’s love does when, through the Holy Spirit, He opens Himself to us and calls us into fellowship with Him.

Cornelius was a Roman Centurion – Centurion, like century, meaning one hundred. He had command of at least one hundred soldiers. That means that his commanders held him in some esteem. He was promotable. Acts attests that Cornelius was also a God fearing and generous man: a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. He didn’t just do these things on his own, he led others to God, his family and friends. An angel tells him to send for Simon Peter, so he sends messengers to get him.

In the mean time… Peter was praying at home, and was hungry too. God sent him a vision of a cloth full of food – all kinds of foods considered unclean and impure by the Jewish people. God tells him to slaughter and eat. Peter, of course, objects: “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” This happens three times and God clearly states: “What I have cleansed, you must not call common.”

Peter, perplexed by all this, is then visited by a delegation from a Centurion. Uh oh… The Romans were here to get him. God reassures Peter, and Peter sets off for Cornelius’ house. We heard the rest today.

The call to Christian love is to love like God, surpassing boundaries, growing fellowship, participating in the communal life of the Body.

This is a testament to the powerful work of God who accepts us and brings us into His Church. He takes what is unclean and common and makes it beautiful and acceptable before Him. He sends forth His Spirit, not as man expects or wills, but as He deems fit and proper. He sees what we do; even small acts of faithfulness and charity, and pours out His graces on us all the more. He sets the ultimate example of love – and if we listen to Jesus, we love one another exactly as He loves us.