Every taste.

Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.

I’m going to ask for some votes, those of you here, and those watching remotely: Who likes steak the best? Fish? Veggies? Cake?  Ice cream? A full-on breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, and waffles? Salads?

Now imagine I were to walk among you and offer each of you a wonderful slice of Wonder Bread. Plain, white, bland Wonder Bread. Actually, growing up, I would pass by the Wonder Bread factory in Buffalo, just off Genesee Street. It smelled wonderful each morning. So, ok, I like Wonder Bread.

Now, imagine you are holding that plain old piece of Wonder Bread. I ask you to sniff it, to taste it, and your taste buds come alive. You taste that thing you love the best. For you it is steak, fish, veggies, cake, ice cream, bacon and eggs, sausage and pancakes and waffles, that favorite salad.

Wisdom 16:20-21 speaks of the Manna that God gave to His children as they wandered through the desert: You nourished Your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready to hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste. For this substance of Yours revealed Your sweetness toward Your children, and serving the desire of the one who received it, was changed to whatever flavor each one wished.

The Manna was not simply flakes that could be made into a dough, it was real food that fulfilled the needs and desires of each of the Father’s faithful. It was an expression of God’s sweetness and care toward His children.

God’s great love is wonderfully expressed in the manner in which He feeds us, fulfills us, and brings us to completion. He feeds us in every way we need, never bland Wonder bread, but as Isaiah tells us: a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. We eat well and delight in rich fare when we partake in what God provides, His word, His way of living and interacting, in worshiping Him and living that kingdom moment out each day.

In feeding us His Body and Blood, in allowing us to be the people to Eucharist as one, Jesus renews His covenant with us forever. He feeds us. He is our waybread, the perfect food for the journey to the kingdom, the food that grows us into His image. From Jesus to us, the crowd. We have His free, rich, untoiled-for food; a pure blessing poured out on us over and over.

Let’s sell.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Three psychiatric patients are eager to be released from the hospital, but the doctor has to examine their judgment skills. One by one he takes them to the edge of an empty swimming pool and tells them they must chose to jump or not. Take the risk or don’t. It is obvious the pool has no water, but they must choose.

The first patient looks at the pool and jumps in without hesitation, hurting his ankle. The doctor tells him, “You failed the examination, and must stay another year.” The patient left sad. The second patient also jumps in and hurts his shoulder. The doctor says, “Sir, you failed the exam and must stay another year.” This patient also leaves sad and discouraged. The third patient walks up to the pool’s edge, thinks for a while, shakes his head and says, “No way!” The doctor was happy and said, “Sir, you have good judgment and you are released from the hospital.” The patient jumped for joy. Then the doctor asked the happy patient, “What made you decide not to jump into the pool?” The patient answered, “Oh, that’s easy. I don’t know how to swim!”

We all believe we have great judgment and know how to prioritize. We say things like, “My family is really important.” Yet, statistics reveal that people spend very little time on family. We might say, “Our health is really important.” Yet few commit to exercise or even eat right. More than half of all American are obese. We say we are not materialistic, yet three-quarters of Americans are in debt to credit cards alone, not counting car and house loans.

Is God important to us? “Yes! 95% of Americans in the U.S. say, “God is important to me.” Yet only 9% of Americans attend church, and only 2% are involved in any ministry.

Look, it is not about our bad choices or our sinfulness. We jump into empty pools and we injure ourselves. Christ didn’t die for us because we were perfect or committed. He didn’t wait for us to get our act sorted out; to be righteous. Rather, He searched for us, He gave His all for us. There’s no room for thinking ‘what I sell or give up will make Him love me more.’ What does give us glory is to love God, to follow His call, and to do it now, to be all in for the kingdom today, every day.

Leave the weeds.

His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest

My mom had a great bookshelf in her room. I used to sit in front of that bookshelf just pondering the titles – classics of literature, a book on the adopted family, and a set of books in a series about homes and gardens. These books had to date from the late 1950s or early 1960s. I can imagine my parents amassing this encyclopedia of home and garden just after they purchased their house.

These books were beautifully illustrated. They had architectural drawings, garden layouts, and idealized drawings and photos of beautifully manicured and cultured lawns and gardens. I wanted that! I would look out the windows of our home, holding the books, and imagined creating that look in our small back yard; its existing look not perfect enough. Oh, and there were weeds. Weeds were the enemy of perfection.

You can imagine my surprise on one of those idyllic summer Sundays as Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds was read. We had to leave the weeds. My little structured world of perfect lawns and raised flower beds had to take a back seat to Jesus’ command. Some in our congregation live this today. They allow nature to take its course, not disturbing the wheat or the weeds. I think they understand better than I did.

In its essence, Jesus’ parable is about conflict and destruction. The Jewish people would have understood that enemies sowed choking weeds in crops, a war tactic aimed at destruction. Jesus likened the sowing of weeds to the work of the enemy, Satan, who in all respects seeks to destroy us. The slaves, we who follow Jesus, have an initial reaction to destruction that itself focuses on destruction. Let’s go out and destroy the weeds. Abigail Van Buren once said, “People who fight fire with fire usually end up with ashes.” Destruction of the weeds only leads to the destruction of the good. The result of the sinful tendency in us is our giving in to destruction.

As Jesus’ people, we are called to plant, nurture, feed, grow, and also bear the weeds. We are not called to the position of harvester. That is Jesus’ job. By our action, perhaps in the weeds, we will find a new crop for the Lord. We will give all the chance and opportunity to grow. In the midst of conflict we are to reject destruction and leaven the world for growth.

Stand up.

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid”

Welcome as we once again enter the Ordinary season of the year. This is a time of growth, a time to engage in the work of standing up as God’s faithful people. As we re-enter this season, we see a very pointed story. It is the story of those who stand up, struggle, persevere, and have victory.

We start with Jeremiah. Jeremiah, sometimes called the weeping prophet for very good reason. He did not want the job, the ministry of prophet. He resisted and argued with God, providing every excuse for not doing that work. God won. Jeremiah did the right thing. He submitted himself.

Jeremiah had no happy message. Sometimes it is said that Jonah was the joyous prophet, only reinforcing the good news of God while in Israel. Jeremiah spoke only of doom – of condemnation. He spoke against greed and in opposition to false prophets. For those strong words he was beaten and imprisoned, he was laughed at and mocked. The people shut their ears to God’s truth and their accountability before God. In the end he tried peaching from exile, again to no affect.

For Jeremiah, it was not the words nor even the suffering. His mission was to stand up to wrong, to speak truth to un-listening ears, so that God’s truth would be known. God does not count success as the mark of our faith, but rather our willingness to stand up, even in the midst of the failure and to still offer the message of hope – the intervention of God in the world. That message resounds with all who are abandoned, oppressed, and outcast, who know no justice. Sin will not win.

In Psalm 69 we hear David exclaim: Because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me. In other words, he takes it standing up for God above all. David relies on God rather than the world and personally feels every sin committed against God.

Paul reminds us that sin and death are not our destiny, the intervention of God in His Son Jesus has stood us back up.

Being lifted up, relying on God, speaking the truth, having zeal for God’s way are all markers of one who stands up. We will not be able to hide any shrinking back. So, stand today, stand always, stay strong and be acknowledged before the Father.

The
realization.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the Fifth Sunday after Christmas. As we’ve been studying, Christmas is a season focused on Jesus’ revelation. 

Jesus’ revelation came first to the shepherds – the poor, lowly, and outcasts of that territory. At the arrival of the Maji, Jesus was revealed to the nations of the world. As Jesus rose up from the waters of the Jordan at His baptism the nation of Israel came to know Him as the Son of God by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father saying: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” The Baptizer finally saw clearly who Jesus is, recognizing Him as the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, and he declared it.

Recalling all this, we see the many and varied ways Jesus was revealed. As we hear today, at Capernaum, there was no heavenly choir to announce Jesus’ arrival. There were no scientists from the east with precious gifts and a mighty star to follow. There was no opening of heaven, descent of a dove, or voice of the Father as at the Jordan. All Jesus had in Capernaum was His voice, His call. 

In a season focused on revelation, Jesus comes among us saying: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus delivers His message, His gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus invites us to allow Him to be revealed within us. He invites us to realize Who He is. He invites us to get up and get out into the world in response as disciples carrying His message.

Today, the Gospel recalls Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum by the sea. In Capernaum, Jesus calls the first of His disciples, Andrew, the first called, followed by Simon, aka Peter, aka Cephas, James, and John. They respond fully to the awakening in their hearts. Jesus is revealed, not by signs and wonders, but by their response to interior awakening and revelation.

At Capernaum we find a new and ever permanent call to revelation. This revelation is in Jesus’ words and our call to respond. Like all those called before us, let us allow Jesus’ life to be awakened in us in ever new and great ways. Jesus is calling! Allow His revelation to take hold. Leave the old self behind and go out as His revelation to a searching world. Today, here in Schenectady, as in Capernaum, we hear Jesus. Allow Him to be revealed in us and by our response.

The
knowing.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

On this Fourth Sunday after Christmas we hear the testimony of John. In the gospel, John twice says: “I did not know him.

It seems odd for John to say such a thing. Afterall, John and Jesus were cousins. It is true that they lived in different towns, and transportation was hard on foot. Based on Church Tradition, John lived with his family in Ein Kerem, an eighty-mile, three-day journey on foot from Nazareth. Yet, it is highly likely they did know each other. It was common for larger Jewish family gatherings to occur, especially during festivals, as well as in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So why would John say: “I did not know him?

Remember, that this Epiphany season is about revelation, Jesus becoming known. What John experienced following Jesus’ baptism was a deeper knowing of Who Jesus is. He was no longer the cousin I knew back when. Actually, I probably knew Him better in my mother’s womb when I leapt for joy. Now, I really get it. The Holy Spirit has helped me to see; I see Jesus in fulness according to the Spirit.

Like John, seeing and experiencing the Lord in the fullness of His being and then acting upon that knowledge is the grace of God working in us. It is the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It is also a call to look beyond mere appearance and to see each and yes, every person, as the image of Emmanuel, the image of God among and with us.

John acted on his knowledge and spoke of it to the crowd. He pointed to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He spoke of what happened in his life. He is literally saying that his work, there by the river, was about making Jesus known.

As the faithful, we are called to make Jesus known. I would ask that we think about this work in a slightly different way. Christians often approach those who do not know as those who do not know, in other words, uninformed. What we might miss is in the saying of: “I did not know him,” they like John already do know. They exhibit the traits of one who knows Jesus, in their goodness and love. They are created in His image. We, in our work, just need to help them see the fulness of what they already know.

I know better
than God.

Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.

I have always wondered, really wondered about those who predict when the end will come, when the last days will arrive. More than that, I wonder why anyone would follow someone claiming to know.

As I mentioned last week, some people try to do biblical math, adding up various aspects of scripture, especially from the Books of Daniel and Revelation to reveal when the last days will come. As I also mentioned, I am not very good at regular math, and even if I were, I would not attempt it, it would be a foolish exercise. I do not know better than God. Consider also the many failed end time predictions that started with the Essenes in the 1st Century and continue through today. There are even predictions for the future stretching out as far as a googol (10100) years from now. So many think they know better than God. Don’t be fooled.

As Christians we need to act smartly, not foolishly. We need to have an understanding of last things that only comes from taking Jesus at His word – that not even He knew, and that we must be prepared. Sure, lots of things will happen as history unfolds, but those must not dissuade us. Justice and healing await us. 

As far as the end times, we cannot know it, we cannot predict it or figure it, but we have to live constantly expectantly for it is immanent. We must be Eschatologically focused. So, how do we do that?

We do that by looking to the totality of Jesus’ encounter with us and our encounter with Him. History did not start with His human birth and did not end with His Ascension. He is, after all, the Alpha and Omega. When we encounter Him in the Eucharistic celebration we are pulled into the totality of His eternity. We stand with Him from before time to beyond time. We must then stay Christ focused, following His model for life so that we are well prepared. We must live without fear, ready to give witness to Him by active ministry, mission, proclamation, and invitation. We don’t know better than God, but we know, as Jesus promised, that by our perseverance, we secure our lives.

Victory
cost.

Brothers and sisters: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.

Last week we met Zacchaeus and found in his encounter with Jesus one reborn to new life. We found great hope and promise because each person has the opportunity to be reborn into new victorious life in Jesus.

This week we meet a different group, people who at great cost kept faith, did not falter through every cruelty, and persevered in the new lives they knew they had in the Kingdom.

These last few weeks of the Church year are dedicated to contemplation of the Eschatological moment, the end times, Jesus’ victorious return and our being caught up with Him. These are topics of wonder, so the Holy Church lays before us teaching that shows us the way.

Our starting point is the encouragement of God, called to mind by St. Paul. Our hope is not temporary nor is it fleeting. What we have is everlasting. Having come to Jesus by faith and confession of sin, we have new life. We have the promise of victory and we must not take it lightly. Let us study, read, pray, mutually encourage and be steadfast in our faith and in the expectation of Jesus’ return.

You know, it isn’t easy. The world and even other churches are throwing every distraction before people. Like the mother and seven sons, we must face torments that attempt to pull us away from the Kingdom life into abandonment of God. For us, these things may not be as outright as others face, but know Christians face these sorts of things daily in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Among us, it is not so obvious, more insidious.

I encourage you to read 2nd Maccabees. In Chapter 6 we see this: The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; They also brought forbidden things into the temple so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings. This is literally happening today on the altars of St. Peter’s in Rome and other Roman churches. Where is faith being kept? It is kept here!

Keep faith in these last days where the costs are high. Keep faith here and in your hearts. Jesus reminds us not to fret over the detail or the cost but maintain the hope that is our promise of victory – everlasting life.

Worthy of the
call.

But you spare all things, because they are yours, O LORD and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Jesus’ meeting with Zacchaeus is one of the most beautiful encounters in the gospel. It is beautiful and poignant because it speaks to us in the ways we fall short of the call we have received and the hope we have for coming to worthiness.

St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to be worthy of the call. Jesus reminds Zacchaeus to live up to his call.

Let’s take apart the words here.

First, Jesus had no intention of hanging out in Jericho. The gospel tells us “[He] intended to pass through the town.”

But… there was this man Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus the short, the tiny, the little. It wasn’t so much about Zacchaeus’ physical stature, but rather his spiritual standing.

God’s only Son, Jesus, passing through the town comes across one fallen, one with great spiritual and moral shortcomings. and stopped as Wisdom says God does. The Lover of souls takes time to call Zacchaeus down from his lofty position and back to the reality of one called, a son of Israel and child of God. Jesus’ presence calls Zacchaeus to abandon his former ways … and he does.

Notice, Zacchaeus stands, stands on his own feet to be seen and heard by all. He renounces his former life and in doing so finds salvation. And not just Zacchaeus, but salvation had come to his entire house. 

There is such hope here. There is such promise!

Zacchaeus, like we, was the holder of God’s promise. He was not an outsider, not a castaway, forgotten – and Jesus did not pass him by. Jesus passes no one by. The Holy Spirit’s call to faith echoes in each person’s ears. We are all called as is every human being. There is no ‘them’ in the promise of hope. 

The call rang out in Zacchaeus’ heart, come unto Jesus. So, he climbed. It has rung out in our hearts – it is why we are here. It is ringing in ears across this city, county, state, nation, and world. We must therefore live worthy of the call, using the grace and power given us to powerfully bring to fulfillment the good God asks of us, the effort of faith. Let us bring in of the harvest through the word of hope we hold, the example we offer.

Strong in
prayer.

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.

Jesus presents us with the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, both gone to the temple to pray. He draws a distinction in the manner of prayer offered by each.

The Pharisee takes his position (his entitled place, reserved just for him) and prays to… himself.

The tax collector takes the position of everyone, of no one in particular and in great humility seeks mercy.

It is easy for us to see the difference. Bad Pharisee, presumptive and arrogant, and poor tax collector, presumptive and humble. Our hearts close to one and open to the other. Wait, did you just say both were presumptive? Factually, yes.

The Pharisee was presumptive in the most negative way possible. He judged himself to be worthy. He had no need to pray to God because all was already settled. He spent his time in temple with himself. On the other hand, the tax collector presumed to pray in the first place, that God was merciful enough not to strike him down for his sins right where he stood. He spent his time in temple with God. Presumption in and of itself was not the problem, rather it was the focus of the presumption, the expected outcome.

For the Pharisee, the expected outcome was more of the same. In the end, Jesus points out, that presumption lost him the little he had. The tax collector’s outcome was change and that presumption won mercy, salvation, and justification.

In our New Testament lives, we need to modify our presumptions. Consider what they are and adjust. Our primary presumption in prayer must be relationship with God followed by trust in His promises. Our prayer is not a mere speaking to ourselves about needs, but full knowledge that our prayers pierce the clouds; does not rest till it reaches its goal. Indeed, our presumptions must be based on what Jesus taught, and He taught the strength and power of prayer. Jesus reminds us to constantly to set our hearts on Him in faith, not to despair, and to know that our prayer reaches the throne of God and is effective. Presume that!