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.

Gifts from heritage.

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Today, our Church celebrates Heritage Sunday. Scripture provides reasons to celebrate this particular aspect of God’s creation.

When our Church was organized, it took care to stress the fact that God makes Himself and His teaching manifest through the use of nations and peoples.  Each nation is given gifts, unique perspectives and charisms that, when shared, enrich our faith in Jesus and teach us more about Him. We are called to respect, cherish, and celebrate what God has created and to learn from it.

Jesus came to God’s own people, the Jewish nation, to reveal all that God is and to call them to walk in the Way of the Gospel. They were called to see kingdom already but not yet fully present. Then, they were to cooperate in bringing the Kingdom of God to completion.

Paul, in writing to the Church at Galatia, reminds the gentiles that the Gospel preached to the Children of Abraham contained within it the promise that through them, all nations would be blessed (Galatians 3:8). The scriptural promise is fulfilled in that Abraham becomes the father of many nations.

While each nation has: allotted periods and boundaries, as well as the call to seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him (Acts 17:26-27), scripture also calls us to use great care in recognizing that we are citizens of heaven. Thus, we are never to place nation over God, or over the Holy Church, or over our call to first a foremost find our way toward God.

So, our Church set out to do exactly that. We honor heritage and all nations as a gift and as a means by which we find our way to God and build His kingdom.

Instructive in the way God works through nations is our first reading. Cyrus was called by God to free the people of Israel. Cyrus did not know God. As ruler over many nations he saw many gods and forms of worship. Cyrus himself likely worshiped Marduk. Yet, God used him and his nation to free and restore Israel.

Jesus understood that we will be established in nations as a means by which the Gospel is known and experienced. No one nation is good, and in all cases, we are to maintain perspective. Practical societal requirements (like taxes), are not what is important. Our growth in knowing God, appreciating His gits, and in building His kingdom, which has no coins, is what matters.

Cornerstone.

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes? Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

How does a dead son become the cornerstone of a renewed vineyard?

Today, Jesus alludes to Isaiah’s parable, a grower’s love-song for his planted vineyard that ends up disappointing him. The grower ends up turning the disappointing vineyard over to destruction. 

Jesus re-interprets the love-song about a vineyard. In Isaiah, God was the caretaker of this vineyard. Despite careful attention from the grower, the vineyard produced only worthless “wild grapes.” The vineyard’s failure forced the grower to remove his care.

In Jesus’ parable, the “produce” was fine, but the delivery system was malfunctioning. The problem was with the tenant farmers themselves. They were violent, destructive, and uncaring. Their ultimate goal was to place themselves in control, to be the cornerstone of the vineyard: “come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” 

In the honor and shame culture of Israel, the landowner’s decision to send his son as emissary, in spite of how the servants were treated, was appropriate since he could expect proper respect for his appointed heir, the cornerstone of the future.

For Matthew, the twist comes from the reality he knew. The murdered son became the cornerstone of the kingdom. The kingdom is founded upon Jesus, the Son who was sent by the Father, Who was killed, Who rose, and Who, having died, has become the cornerstone of the renewed vineyard, the new covenant.

We are now the tenant farmers, charged by God with cultivating His vineyard and with producing for Him. He loves this vineyard and has carefully established it. So, we live with the reality of this charge, and with the obligation to deliver the fruit from our effort into the hands of the Son upon whom this vineyard has been built.

How to do it? We follow Paul’s command to Philippians. We do not get anxious about the work, rather we do it with eyes of faith focused on Jesus the cornerstone. We realize His Father’s provision for us, the fact He will bring us success. We pray, we offer petition to God, we live thankful lives, and we focus on the good. Then we Keep on doing what we have learned and received.

Others.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Last week we considered the question of me, will God welcome me even if I am late in responding? We were reassured in hearing that if we have taken the opportunity to come, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even for the 23,660th time, God and His people welcome us into the kingdom.

Today, our Holy Church takes time to reflect on the work of the PNU, Spójnia – and as God provides, we are given to hear Paul’s words about others.

This is the attitude of Christ’s Church, His very body on display before the world, that we are of one mind and action in love. Love moves us to encourage each other; to compassion, mercy, and singlemindedness toward others in our work.

Spójnia was founded in 1908, 112 years ago as the Church’s love response to the persecution its members faced for their faith. We seem to think that being persecuted for the faith is something that occurred in Caesar’s Rome, or perhaps in this and the last century in Communist or other oppressive regimes. Yet, the reality is that it happened here, in Schenectady, Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Scranton and wherever we gathered to pray. Faith in Christ made us objects of derision and targets for active persecution.

As with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, the Church did not declare war, did not respond in kind toward its persecutors. Rather, when we were cast out of fraternal organizations, banks, insurance companies; when savings were lost, and tragedies came to the faithful and their families – we built regarding others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

In our day, this message resonates as perhaps it has not in years. How we live as the family of faith, how we treat others, respond, and build will be the markers by which our adherence to the gospel of Jesus is measured.

Paul goes on to illustrate the great sacrifice of Jesus for others – i.e., all of us. He laid it all down for us, to the point of death, even death on a cross

As Jesus has done, so must we for others. Therefore, let us set to work in the vineyard, for God will not regard our prior failure to act or respond, but our actual action today. 

What about me?

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call Him while He is near. Turn to the LORD for mercy; to our God, Who is generous in forgiving.

First and foremost, welcome to church on this Back to Church Sunday. Whether you are joining us for the first time, for the first time in a while, or for another week, we welcome you. Whether on-line or in-person, we welcome you. Know that God has put it on our hearts to tell you, to reassure you, and to make clear to you that you are welcomed and loved.

Over and over in scripture, God makes clear His pursuit of His people. He constantly calls after them. He runs to them, even when they are afar off.  He does not ask anything from His people other than a relationship founded in faithful love. 

God says come, no cost, nothing to pay. He says return. Call Me, turn to Me, and you have Me. Look here, I have gifts for you, My Son’s life for you. My love and grace, freedom, and everlasting life for you. Yet, we ask, ‘But what about me?’ We still ask, ‘Can it be that simple?’ 

The loving Lord is standing here, in our midst, and He says, ‘Yes! That simple.’ I am ‘near to all who call upon Me.

You see, the Lord’s creation is founded on love. God has built His kingdom on a foundation of love. He did not build His kingdom on some set of insurmountable barriers, nor upon a checklist of things we must do. This is the thing many find so difficult to believe, that an all-powerful, Almighty God would welcome me, that He would welcome me whether I come at the start of my life, in the middle, or near the end – and that He would not extract a price from me.

Brothers and sisters, perhaps you have heard someone tell you that God is vengeance, or that He punishes to force us to act. Perhaps you have heard that some formulaic process of approaching Him is needed, or that obedience to some set of man-made rules and disciplines is required, or that you must punish yourself to get to God. None of that is true!

It is as simple as love. Love me and each other Jesus taught.  Follow me, He says. From there, love motivates our footsteps, our daily doing, speaking, working, prayer, and sacrifice. It is that simple.

What about me? Jesus tells us that I, me, who I am, is welcome today. There is no, ‘Where were you?’ with God. His call is continuous, and if we have taken the opportunity to come today, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even as our 23,660th time being here, we are welcome and are in the kingdom. We have sought and found Him Who welcomes us.

What do I say?

Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen…”

Have you ever served on a Board of Directors? Certainly, our Parish Committee members do. It is an honor to serve as well as an interesting and challenging task. I have served on many Boards of Directors. Looking at my old resume, at least eight. One of the most interesting was my service with our homeowner’s association.

Some communities have a homeowner’s association. There are a set of rules and regulations you agree to when you buy your home. You pay some sort of annual dues that take care of maintenance in the neighborhood. These associations are governed by an annually elected Board of homeowners.

Being an accountant by training, I usually get selected to be the Treasurer of any Board I am on. Yep, they elected me treasurer. What did we do? We made sure common areas were mowed, our ponds were properly attended to, and that homeowners followed the rules they agreed to. If people wanted to make changes to their homes, they would have to seek approval. Generally, mundane stuff. Mundane until there was a problem.

The part that got the heads of the Board members shaking was when people would come to the Board with their little disputes. My neighbor’s grill sends smoke into my yard. You get the picture. Our general answer was – Talk to your neighbor. That never seemed to work. 

It is hard to talk with someone if they’re headed in the wrong direction. What to say? We have trouble doing it with those closest to us, and here Jesus tells us our obligation is toward the whole family of faith, to call people back to faithfulness.

There is a distinction and a caution. The distinction – our obligation is toward members of the Christian community, not to the worldly. If people are members of the Christian family, we have the same understanding of who we must be, and we can call them back. The caution – we refrain from judging. Because someone is heading in the wrong direction does not mean they are bad or evil.

What do I say when a believer goes off track? We are to seek after them like Jesus seeks after the lost sheep, with love and compassion. We are to call people back to faithfulness, remind them of what we hold in common as the regenerated. Let us make every effort in calling those who stray back to God’s standard and to live faithfully ourselves.

Trapped.

I urge you, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

It is said that a Sunday’s first reading and gospel deliver the same message. They closely follow the same theme. The Epistle however always seems to stand out as something different and apart.

The key to understanding the Epistle, the letters, is that they effectuate the Old Testament readings and gospels. Epistles are the game plan for how we are to carry out what God has given us. It is what we allow ourselves to be trapped into doing in accepting the great love of God.

Jeremiah laments the fact that God has given him a very hard message to proclaim. He has to preach the disaster that will come upon Israel if they will not turn away from their evils, their worship of false gods. 

In lamenting what he must preach, Jeremiah realizes that no matter how much he would wish it, he cannot hold it in. He has to do as God has asked. I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart. Jeremiah is trapped because the powerful love and truth of God are irrefutable.

Now, Peter thought he knew what he must say. After proclaiming Jesus to be God, Peter decides he is going to teach God. Jesus gives him a quick lesson which is also meant for us. If we wish God’s love, we must surrender. We must stop thinking our way and start thinking God’s way. We must be willing to hand it all over to God and be trapped up by and in Him.

Our instinct is to escape being trapped, to free ourselves and do as we please. Humans hate being trapped, we feel like we’re in the Poseidon, an overturned ship, trying to find a way out. Paul knew that, he realized it on the road when Jesus confronted him. His choice, allow himself to be trapped up into Jesus’ way, or get back on his donkey and live a valueless life.

Today, Paul tells us how we put those lessons from the first reading and gospel into action. We offer ourselves, our wills and ways sacrificially allowing ourselves to be trapped into the life of God. True love is to give oneself over. Once trapped in the life of God, we do His will, because like Jeremiah, we can do no other. We let our old ways dissolve as our minds are renewed. Getting rid of our ‘conformity to the as-is,’ allows us to be good and pleasing and perfect. In being trapped we are freed.

Less God?

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

It is the question of the ages, Who do you say that I am? This question, to the Apostles, should not have been a surprise. It is the same question God presented to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, the Judges, kings, and prophets. In each instance, Who do you say that I am?

Peter answers in the same way the rest would answer. He answers in the same way the faithful have always answered. In faith (which is the rock), he clearly stated that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. You are God, my God.

As with the rest of the Apostles, and as was done before them by the prophets, judges, kings, and every person on earth, we quickly go from proclamation to a failure to follow through. We somehow lose touch with the fact that we just proclaimed God to be our God, and suddenly consider Him ‘less God.’

It happened to Peter right after this bold proclamation, He suddenly saw Jesus as ‘less God.’ He told Jesus He believed Him to be God, then told Him – You’re wrong.

This is our predicament as Christians. We are really asked to do very few things. Proclaim salvation in Jesus. Accept Him in faith, live the gospel message by doing love, and give God the worship. All Church laws and dogmas come down to that. We worship Jesus, who is God, and do what He said, for that is the perfection of truth; God’s wisdom laid out before us. All we have to do is take up and do what God said, but we don’t.

When we proclaim the creed, we will attest to the fact that Jesus is true God and true man. He is not half-and-half, more of one, less of the other. He is the fullness and completeness of both. So, His words and example are the way to live. His is the way we are to follow. Perfect instruction.

Consider the question of faith; our desire to cling to and fully believe: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Let us ask ourselves whether our lives speak the truth of our belief. Is Jesus God for me, or is He ‘less God?’

Much seems to get in the way. What does for us? Desires, politics, personalities, angers, having it our way, hypocrisy, thinking we are right, property over people, nation over God, the need to state our opinion? It is the question of the ages. If He is nothing less than God, let us put all that aside and live like He really is our God.

I brought dinner.

But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 

Yesterday, after Holy Mass for the Dormition, I had the opportunity to spend time with our friend, Bishop Judy Murphy-Jack, Miss Adrienne from Team Esteem, and the Hon. Owusu Anane, a member of Albany’s Common Council. We sat on Bishop’s porch in a beautiful neighborhood on a great day and strategized ideas to address the serious matters pressing on the people of our region and the city. While weighty matter, just spending time on a porch in an old school way and talking with people of faith uplifted us and gave us renewed hope.

The Canaanite woman had serious weighty matter to discuss with Jesus. She wanted to sit on his porch and tell Him about her daughter and her needs. In hope, she sounded the age-old cry of people of faith, “Lord, help me.”

Jesus’ response was not welcoming. He basically said, Look, I brought dinner, but it is not for you. He referred to her as a dog, a Jewish term of contempt for Gentiles. Yet, He would not concede to the disciples request to send her away. He left the door open as He had in prior encounters with the Gentiles. Jesus leaves the door open to all who want to come onto His porch, to talk with Him, and to eat at His table, but we must take action.

In Jesus’ day, Canaanite was an ancient term for a people who did not know God, worshiped false gods, and were God’s enemies. This Canaanite woman, at face value a false god worshipper, needed to show the truth of her faith; Jesus could not just snap His fingers and make her a believer. She does and hangs on through Jesus ignoring her and telling her that the dinner was not for her. She does not take silence or “no” for an answer. She takes the action necessary to show herself as God’s faithful daughter, not an enemy of God. Jesus then grants her request.

Sophia comes here today as an outsider and will leave as one who will now have the opportunity to fully grow into a person of faith, a believer. It won’t just happen, no magic finger snapping here. To help her grow and enjoy porch time with Jesus and the dinner Jesus brought will take work. Sophia, those who brought her, and we commit to taking on the work of building her into a faithful daughter. Let us all commit to helping her become that woman of wisdom who hears Jesus say: “O woman, great is your faith!” and whose hope is constantly renewed.

Stand up.

“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by.”

The Lord is passing by, stand up, get ready.

As a youth, I loved the anticipation visits from family held. We had family in Hamtramck, Miami, and parts of Delaware. We also had loads of family locally in Buffalo. 

We were fortunate to have my grandmother, my Busia, living with us. She and my aunt moved in with us after my dad died. Beside just having Busia in the house, we were blessed to have in her a wonderful, from scratch cook, and someone who could garden better than anyone I have ever met.

With Busia in the house, our home became a required stop for family. Her seven surviving children (three died during the epidemics of the late nineteen-teens and early nineteen-twenties) and their children came to visit their mom and spend time.

Anticipation was always present because you never knew who would stop by, or even when. I remember a car pulling up with relatives from Hamtramck one night at about 9pm. No cell phones then, no way to text. People just came by. Hi, where are we staying? We weren’t ready!

Elijah at least knew the Lord would be passing by. The Lord gave him that message. Elijah looked and looked, exploring every event to see if it was the Lord. Like a child standing at a window, anticipating a visit, so Elijah waited at the mouth of the cave. Finally, he experienced the Lord’s presence in the most unexpected of ways, in a whisper.

The disciples in the boat did not even know the Lord was on the way. Suddenly, like relatives from Hamtramck, there He was. Sometime between 3 and 6am, Jesus came toward them. Where am I going to stay?

Yes, Jesus is passing by. We have the opportunity to enjoy His all-abiding presence. He desires to reside with us, to stay, and we miss out if we are not anticipating, if we are not standing up, waiting at the window. We miss out and sink if we take our eyes off the possibilities of Jesus’ presence.

Faith calls us to live in eager anticipation. We do that by regular focused prayer, biblical reading, Sunday worship, and contemplation of His dwelling with us. The Lord is passing by, stand up, get ready. He is right outside our window saying, ‘Where will I stay?’ It is time to invite Him in to stay. He will, and He will calm the storms, give the reassurance we so need, and save us from the troublesome depths.