Called to Live Anew

“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

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.

We have certainty in the gospel. We know the things we are to share – love that conquers all things and the gifts of the Kingdom life to the unexpected in unexpected ways.

You can imagine the unexpectedness of Isaiah ‘s encounter with God as he was pulled into the heavenly court to meet God face-to-face. Isaiah well knew that no one could survive such an encounter and live. Isaiah literally says: “Woe is me, I am doomed!” Yet the God of the unexpected did something – well unexpected. 

God cleansed and freed Isaiah from his unclean lips and his life in and among a people of uncleanliness – sin. God freed Isaiah from certain death. Then God sent Isaiah to proclaim His word to the people. To do all necessary to draw the people back to God.

Likewise, Jesus caused Simon and the other fishermen with him to face something unexpected, a great catch and an even greater call to evangelize the people, to make the promise of the Kingdom life known. They then did something equally unexpected – they left everything behind – their life’s work, investments, all they had to follow Jesus.

St. Paul fully realized the unexpectedness of his call. He calls himself least of the Apostles, realizing and acknowledging his sins – the very persecution of the Church and how he had been forgiven. 

 All of these lessons point to our call to live anew and to speak to others of our God, to spread the gospel, to make Jesus known.

Like Isaiah, we must recognize that the Lord God has cleansed us for the work we are to do and has sent us forth to proclaim His word. As with Paul, we have been set free from wrongdoing to be apostles in our world, to make the truth of the gospel known. Like Simon and the other fisherman, we are called to get up and go, to set aside those things we might otherwise feel important and focus our efforts on the Kingdom of God.

Today we gather in the grand tradition of our Ecclesial-democratic establishment, to reflect on the work of the year gone by and to set our eyes forward. We are, like Paul, to hand on to others as of first importance what we also received: that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried; and that he was raised on the third day. Let us set out and preach the gospel we have been given for the benefit of those who Jesus has also called. Those who would not know Him without us.

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.

Called to Live Anew

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me… He has sent me

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.

At the beginning of today’s gospel, Luke, the scientist, addresses Theophilus (translated literally as “Friend of God”), relating to him the gospel message he received.

Luke relates the gospel, not for the sake of telling a story, or even creating a documentary on the life of Jesus (he wasn’t working for the History or Discovery channels), but rather for the purpose of Theophilus’ certainty. He was sending the message so that energized with it, Theophilus would live out and proclaim the gospel message, drawing others to it.

We need the same certainty. We have the same charge.

In regrettable ways many Christians have become bystander faithful, documentary viewing devotees, and going through the motions followers, believers without passion or resolve. Many have forgotten the gospel charge – to go out and proclaim it for the gathering in of fellow disciples.

It must not be so for us. We need to feel within ourselves the Gospel’s confidence and certainty. Armed with its confidence and certainty we then walk the gospel path ever more closely. We proclaim that gospel ever more boldly. We become like Theophilus – each of us a friend of God and witness in our community.

To live life anew, life in the Kingdom already present for us, we must set confidently to work, the work shown us this very day. 

Like Ezra and Nehemiah, we are to call the people in, call them together, and place before them the glory of the gospel word and way – and then celebrate. We are to take the gifts St. Paul reminds us we have each received in different type and proportion and use them with passion for the building up of the Kingdom. By our work and word many are to know, love, and serve the Lord in His Holy Church, members of His body.

Because we are the friends of God, the Theophiloi, residents of and workers in the Kingdom, armed with the great gifts of the Holy Spirit, and charged by Jesus Himself to go out and make disciples, we must take the certainty of the gospel seriously and set to work. We must be bold in our proclamation – sometimes in subtle ways, other times ingeniously, still other times with great verve, but always confidently.

The words Jesus spoke today are not just Self-referential. They apply to us. The Spirit of the Lord is upon us. We are anointed. We are sent.

Called to live anew!

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

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.

How do you recollect time? Most people see time as a linear progression, past, present, and future. We could draw an arrow from one moment in our lives to the next, event to event. Did you know that God sees time differently, that Jesus came to change our conception of time and even place?

That is true. Jesus’ birth marked the start of a new age – the age of the Kingdom. In His Baptism, which we celebrated last week, Jesus marked out our change – how we are to enter His place and time, the Kingdom of God.

For many Christians, the Kingdom is something afar off. We have time. If we are sinning, we can go to confession tomorrow, or next Sunday. If we need to repent and live changed lives, walking the gospel path much more closely and realistically – radically, well we can work on that. That is a false notion. We have our facts wrong. The Kingdom will not come someday but is here now. We are in it, and we are called to live changed now, immediately.

What St. Paul tells us in his writing on baptism is true. We died with Christ in our baptism and so we have been raised with Him to life anew. We are no longer living according to the world’s time and priorities, stumbling from moment to moment, place to place like the lost. Rather, we are living a changed reality in which we have great work to do, Kingdom work. We must set to it now.

Kingdom work comes down to what Jesus showed us at Cana in Galilee. It is about changed perspectives and lives anew.

The changing of water into wine isn’t just a one-off miracle. It is not just a moment along a timeline. It is rather a foreshadowing of the eternal change that comes when the wine is made His blood. It is a foretelling of the way we are changed in Jesus. 

When we share in the Eucharistic moment in a short time, the changing of bread and wine into His body and blood, we literally join with Jesus in His timeless reality. the ever-present Kingdom where we also reside. We receive abundant grace for our work.

Our Kingdom reality is where the Spirit’s gifts, given to each of us in different form and measure, are to be implemented. We are residing in God’s time and place and our mission is an imperative command to declare the Kingdom and invite others into it; to live changed. 

Strength of Faith.

“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

We are at the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. Our call to growth in strength of faith is unending – we need to work at it from minute-to-minute; that must not stop. Today we focus on what comes next. What is the outcome for those who are growing ever stronger in faith?

The concept of Christ’s return, the end of the ages, the final judgment is difficult for us. It may be in part because of what we do not know (especially the where and when). The bigger difficulty is our awareness that God’s justice must be satisfied, that we will have to stand before the whole world and be judged, our sins and failings laid bare. That freaks us out!

Of course, people have been playing on the final judgment for centuries. It ranges from freaky visions of the Blessed Mother appearing over tress and hills with dire warnings to certain people who tell us they have seen visions of the end – and we are all going to hell.

Human guilt is used as a powerful motivator to instill fear and to elicit, not necessarily change of behavior, but to engage in a sort of slavery to fear itself or to those who purvey fear. Unfortunately, some churches lead their members to a rollercoaster of fear and dread.

The life for those who are strong in faith is never one of fear and dread. Certainly, we are aware of our accountability before God. We sense our guilt, confess our sin, and resolve to re-enter the path of sanctification over-and-over. When we fall, we know that Jesus is there to lift us up and we do not take His mercy and helpful grace for granted.

The outcome for those who are strong in faith is right there in scripture: the angels [will] gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Listen to the words of our prayers, the Propers of today’s Holy Mass. We hear words like incorruptibledelighthope that lies beyondeternal, and to “stand in peace and safety.” That is what awaits those strong in faith.

We see that the promise of our journey of growth in strength of faith is not fear but rather its opposite – confidence in victory. What Jesus Christ, our Lord, and very particularly our Savior has promised us will occur. We will be gathered in, we will undergo judgment, and we will rejoice in the heavenly kingdom. As Daniel heard, we will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and shall be like the stars forever.

Strength of Faith.

A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. 

We are near the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. In these last two weeks Jesus’ message focuses on the end times, the eschatological moment. Considering His immanent return, we are to offer Him our complete surrender. We are to walk the gospel path even more closely. We are to redouble our efforts in strengthening our faith by placing our full trust in our heavenly Father.

Jesus has been teaching in the Temple. His subject, in the passage from Mark today, is on strength of faith. Jesus compares the weakness of self-interested faith exhibited by Israel’s religious leaders and then points to a poor woman and her total gift, the giving of all she had.

God measures our strength of faith, not in the amount of stuff we do, not by counting, but by the totality of our spirit in doing it. We are measured by how deeply and completely dedicated we are to the gospel way.

Jesus well knew, while teaching in the Temple precincts, that He would completely surrender Himself to His Father’s will in just a few days. His all would be given through the torture of the Passion and His death on the Cross. He also knew that He had to show us the way, and He did so through the example of the widow’s absolute surrender and total trust in God.

Jesus points to the religious leaders of the day. They were honored in everyday language. They were given the head seats at the synagogue and at feasts. The people even stood as they passed by in their flowing white robes. Jesus condemns them for being self-intoxicated, men who even abused their privileges by sponging off the poorest, literally devouring them.

Here in contrast comes the devoted widow. She had nothing but her last two coins. Remember, widows depended on others for support. She had no support network, no friends to help her out. What she had she had, and… she gave it to God. That is an act of Strength. That is an act of Faith. That is trust in the heavenly Father. Her poverty exhibited in the coins she gave, the smallest minted in Palestine, a copper “lepton” worth one eighth of the smallest Roman copper coin, a “quadrans” worth a penny.

Others were literally throwing in (eballon) their gifts, like a rich man burning money. Wrapped in their security blanket, they thew in their ten percent without a thought.

The nature of the widows gift was not in its money value, it was in her total giving. Her placing it (ebalen) showed the motivation behind her gift was total commitment to and trust in God.

As we approach the last days, as we look forward to Jesus’ return, let us live like the Widow – all in.

Strength of Faith.

And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” 

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have two Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend our time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk the gospel path in Strength of Faith.

Over the past few months, we have encountered several instances of Jesus being questioned. On August 29th, we read that the Pharisees and some Scribes questioned Jesus on how his disciples ate their food – not strictly following the rules of the elders. On October 3rd, we read of Jesus being confronted by the Pharisees on the question of Divorce. Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel narrative is replete with this questioning, with challenges.

The gospel writer was using these illustrations from Jesus’ life to help the first Christians, who were predominantly Jewish converts, understand Jesus and make sense of their faith. Should Jewish people pay taxes to Rome? What should one expect to happen in the resurrection? And today, what is the most important commandment?

In most of the cases we sense conflict and challenge; it was Jesus being confronted by those trying to entrap Him. Today, something different happens. A young Scribe breaks through the conflict to have a dialog with Jesus, to understand the nature of God better. The young Scribe as fully recorded in Mark 12:28 came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well He had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?”

The young Scribe sees the truth, realizes where the answers are, and in Strength of Faith overcoming societal pressures, peer pressure, and the duties of position approaches Jesus. That is what Strength of Faith does, it leads us to breakthroughs.   

Jesus recognizes the breakthrough and notes that the young Scribe is “not far from the kingdom.” The Scribe understands that doing right involves a total dedication to God, a carrying out of these great commandments of love, and its value. Living in this loving relationship with God and the other replaces burnt offering for the remission of sin since love overcomes sin and draws people away from sin.

Philo, the Jewish philosopher, argues that those who only love God or only love others are “half-perfect in virtue. The perfect have a good reputation in loving God and humans”

Jesus calls us to perfection of life by breaking through whatever holds us back from fully loving God and the others we encounter. To love requires we break through to do all we can to proclaim Jesus and serve our brothers and sisters.

Strength of Faith

On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

Over the months of Ordinary Time, (and we only have three Ordinary Sunday’s left) we spend time dedicated to growth. We focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith.

Last night, on the Grand Ole Opry, Carrie Underwood sang “Jesus Take The Wheel.” The woman in the song had a barTimaeus experience as she shouts out in despair and hope: Jesus, take the wheel!

“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me. Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! Jesus, son of David, have pity on me!!!”

We humans by design have a natural fight or flight response. Our adrenaline kicks in and sometimes we can even accomplish superhuman feats. 

We see this as each of these people call out to Jesus. The experience of barTimaeus and the woman in the song are testimony to the coordination between our spiritual and physical lives as we hear them call out with all that they are.

In both cases these people find themselves in a very empty place. They are alone, apart, scarred, fearful, and in need of great and immediate help. In both cases they cry out to Jesus. Their bodies and spirits are united in seeking His help. In both cases, with barTimaeus the factual case, the plea is answered.

Did these people live in Strength of Faith? 

For barTimaeus, he absolutely lived by faith. He knew that Jesus could save and heal him.  It is why he called out despite being criticized. As such, once Jesus summoned him, he thew aside his cloak – which was both garment and symbol for a beggar who depended on others and went to Jesus. He knew he wouldn’t need that cloak and that he would see. He was fully trusting by the Strength of his Faith.

In the song, after the car is saved, the woman prays, first seeking forgiveness and then pledging amendment of life. She certainly had faith, but no real Strength of Faith. She had not been living faith; hers was dead and cold. She was blocking faith out until the urgency of the situation.

What comes next for each of them is what is most instructive for us and exemplary. Both barTimaeus and the woman moved forward continuing then to live in Strength of Faith. barTimaeus went on to follow Jesus. The woman, freed, recommitted to Strength of Faith.

Both had their shout of plea changed to a shout of proclamation. Both went on to witness boldly to Jesus (even when people told them not to) with all they had. So must we.

Strength of Faith.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

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.

We have talked for many weeks about Strength of Faith. We have seen the way people approached Jesus and how He told them to have faith, to not doubt. We have seen various ways we can put Strength of Faith into action and how we share our Strength of Faith with each other and the world. We have contemplated the ways we might invite others to experience God, right here, with the confidence that comes from Strength of Faith.

Today, we are presented with a reflection on the source of our Strength of Faith. Strength of Faith comes solely from Jesus, from doing what He did.

Wait a minute, you mean I can be like Jesus, I can live the way He did?

As we heard in today’s gospel, James and John got it wrong. They were looking for the sort of strength that does not come from faith, but rather comes from position and status. In short, Jesus tells them that they will also have to face what He had to face: “The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” If you want to be like Me, you must be — like Me.

The rest of the disciples become upset, not because of what James and John asked, but because they wanted the same. Jesus tells them all, you must stop thinking the way the world thinks, but rather be like Me, be humble, serve, suffer if you are called to do so, and know that your strength comes from Strength of Faith. It comes from the sort of faith that says I am less so that God can be shown to be more.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews fully understands human weakness. The writer also knew that he himself was weak, had failed, had sinned, was constantly tempted by the desire for power and status. Facing what we all face, knowing what we all know, he arrives at an answer: My Strength of Faith comes from being most like Jesus Who was like us and did not sin.

You see, Jesus was tested exactly as we are. His humanity faced all we face. In fact, He was attacked constantly – yet He did not sin. He overcame. So can we.

You mean I can be like Jesus; I can live the way He did? The answer is yes. We are called to confidence, to walk and act in the Strength of Faith that tells us we can live as Jesus did.

Strength of Faith.

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers.”

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. We are focusing on our growth in Strength of Faith.

What does God, Who is all powerful, perfectly just, Who knows everything about us, even those things we hold in the secret of our heart, do for His people?

Some might say that sits as judge. That would be correct, for He has that role. Some might say He loves, for indeed that is His attribute as well. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews asks us to consider this:

For it was fitting that He, for Whom and through Whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the Leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

The writer says that it is fitting, i.e., proper, and appropriate for God to choose the path of suffering for His Son, so that through this suffering we might be saved. Not only that, so that His Son would fully comprehend us, have the same experiences and trials as us, and walking with us show us the way to glory. By the Son’s strength of faith we are called to strength of faith.

Now we might figure, God could have done this differently, and of course He could, but then we would miss the vastness of His love, of His willingness to suffer and sacrifice all for us. His willingness to make us His brothers.

God not only loves as a concept but loves completely and sacrificially. He loves so much that He was willing to raise us up to the level of brotherhood with Him by His likeness to us.

This is an awesome and all-encompassing love. It is a compassionate love. It is a love that will not let God stand on the side as a spectator, but rather that involves Him intimately in our lives, because He humbled Himself in His sufferings to raise us higher than angels; to give us a triumph that is everlasting.

The symbols of marriage discussed in Genesis and today’s gospel mark not just a rule for life, a dictate for men and women to follow, but more so a call to be living symbols of God’s love toward us, for this is how God is, how He loves, and lives.

What God does for is people is to live a marital union of fidelity with us. Offering sacrificial love constantly, God only asks that we join ourselves to Him. Indeed, God calls us to live as one flesh with Him. He Who has so loved us that He gave His whole self for us asks us only to love Him and be joined with Him in return.