Good, but for time.

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.

Last week we encountered the first disciples and Jesus’ call to come follow Him. We heard Nathaniel wonder, like we may from time to time, if anything good could come from him and Jesus’ answer to all of us.

Jesus saw something in the disciples that surprised them. Instead of seeing rotten, no good sinners, people out of whom nothing good could come, Jesus saw people He loved and with a great future. Jesus knows the good that can come from people who follow Him and invites us.

Reassured that we are loved, and with expectations of greatness set for us by Jesus, what stops us from following Jesus more closely, from being that disciple who proclaims the closeness of the kingdom, of giving others the opportunity to repent and know that they are loved and also have a great future?

The common response, Good can come from me, but for time. Good can come from me, Jesus says so, but for time…

The answer is not to ‘make time.’ It is not that easy. We are pulled in many directions with varied responsibilities, so trite statements about making time are unhelpful. We could call in a time management consultant, but who has time to do that?

The answer to the time problem is exactly the lack of time. It is the urgency of the current moment. When something becomes pressing, urgent, we automatically reprioritize what we are doing. In life threatening moments we stop worrying about the laundry, making dinner, browsing Twitter or Snap Chat, or Facebook.

What we may be failing to recognize is that this is a life-threatening moment. Each moment is life threatening for those who fail to repent, to turn back to God and for those who fail to call them to repentance. 

We saw it with Jonah. Jonah didn’t have the time to go and do God’s work, he ran away, he was unpersuaded by God’s urgency and if God had not persuaded him otherwise, the people of Nineveh might have been destroyed in their sin. Yet they were saved due to Jonah’s call, their repentance, and God’s mercy.

As Paul tells the Corinthians, time is running out. We need to take that seriously and understand how dependent others access to eternal life in heaven is on us. Yes, Jesus loves us and confirms us in goodness, the good that can come from us, but we have to get up and proclaim that powerful message: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Yes, we have a time problem. There is a lack of time and the moment is urgent. Now is the time for goodness to flow from our following Jesus.

Any good?

He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —. Then he brought him to Jesus.

This scripture, taken from the first chapter of John’s gospel, concerns the gathering of the first disciples. The next verses following today’s gospel concern the calling of Phillip and his friend Nathanael. We all recall their exchange: Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nathanael isn’t buying it. After all, can anything worthwhile come out of that place? Nathanial saw Nazareth as a downer, no good. We encounter people like that. We say something, and they naysay it. It may seem to us that they are glass half-empty people, yet there is something more there. Perhaps they are projecting their own sense of personal worthlessness in their reaction.

In our sinful and broken world, we ask the same question about ourselves. Can anything good come from my life, my family situation, my personality, from someone who looks like me, is as old or young as me, or who has made mistakes like I have?

How about you? How are you feeling this morning? What motivated you to come here this morning or to join us virtually? Are we all feeling good and inspired, or has the past week taken its toll on us and put us at the end of our ropes?

Perhaps this is how Nathanael was feeling as he listened to Phillip’s words. Perhaps, rather than Nazareth, he was thinking, “Nathanael! Can anything good come from me?”

There are times when we look at ourselves like that, perhaps because of a secret, an illness, trial, hurt, grief, or loneliness. Perhaps it is the state of our country, and we say it will never get any better. Nazareth, everything else, and me – Nothing is good!

When Jesus met the disciples, He met men who all felt small and were caught up in their own pasts. As with Nathanial, Jesus saw through that and said, “I see you and I know what you are like. I’ve got you all figured out. I know you better than you know yourself. Come follow Me.”

When someone sees you, welcomes you and believes in you, it is powerful, freeing, life-giving, and transformative.

Jesus knows us completely and all that troubles us. He understands our faults, failures and insecurities. He knows the things we’ve kept secret. Jesus isn’t shocked by anything about us and loves us no matter what. He died to set us free from all that and He has great plans for us. He says, Come, follow Me.

When we get up and go like those disciples we come to not only understanding and acceptance, but to love God and to a whole new way of seeing ourselves, everybody, and everything. We set aside the traps of anger, fear, prejudice, and self-centeredness.

Jesus saw something in the disciples that surprised them.  Instead of seeing rotten, no good sinners, people out of whom nothing good can come, Jesus saw people He loved and with a great future. Can anything good come from me? Yes! God has seen it and has said so. He has asked us in. Come, follow Me.

To…

His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!’

We have spent several weeks focusing on Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times. These teachings all point to what we are called to… to liveto beto use, and to grow.

We can see the pattern that developed over these weeks. The central message is about the ‘obligation to’ that comes from our baptism, our acceptance in faith of Jesus as Lord.

October 25th – we are called to live the great commandment – committed love of God and for each other.

November 1st – we are reminded of our call to be the saints of God in the world.

November 8th – we are told to use the oil, constantly provided by God, to build His kingdom and to be ready to enter eternity carrying the light we have provided to the world.

Today, Jesus reminds us of the treasure we have been given. Having faith is the receipt of treasure and the obligation to take that treasure and to grow it.

The talent given, in Jesus’ day, was worth about fifteen years of wages. It was a lot. Even the person who received only one talent received a massive treasure.

Being given treasure like that is a great thing. It is like finding big sacks of money. Rejoicing, we would perhaps throw the treasure in the air, roll around in it, but then – What’s next? The treasure of faith is a call to rejoice in what we have been given and an obligation to work investing it for growth.

The gospel shows us three people who received treasure. Two spend a second saying: ‘Wow, I have treasure!’ and then got to work with it. The other person gets treasure but doesn’t even rejoice in it. The treasure is an instant turn-off to them. Factually, this person doesn’t throw it in the air, or roll around in it, or rejoice at all. They don’t want to see it, so they bury it; get it out of sight.

The massive amount we are given calls us to live God’s treasure – attracting others to it, to be God’s treasure in the world, to use His treasure to call others by the light burning in us, and finally to grow His treasure by our work so we may return to Him with results.

The wicked and lazy find no joy in the gift, so they bury it. It is not because they are risk averse – like someone who prefers certificates of deposit in a bank to playing the stock market or starting a business – it is because they reject the gift completely. For us, how we rejoice in the gift, and whether we do all we are called to, quietly and slowly, or quick and dynamic, let us live the gospel, be Jesus to the world, and use His gifts to grow His kingdom returning to Him, on the last day, with what we have done.

Oil, oil, and more oil.

“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.

For a few weeks we have been considering Jesus’ teaching on the last things, the end times, and our preparedness for that blessed day. Today’s gospel brings the reality of God’s expectation home to us.

Oil was a primary product in biblical times, somewhat like today, but much more widespread in its application. It was a food product, was necessary to cooking and baking, kept the lights kit, was a cosmetic, and was used to make soap. When important guests arrived, they were honored by being anointed with oil.

Throughout Scripture, the symbol of oil was used to represent God’s anointing in both power and healing for both animals and people, His generous provision for the faithful, and the readiness of His people. We see kings, priests, and prophets anointed with oil. Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with aromatic oil at the banquet in Lazarus’ house just prior to His suffering and death.

The question seemingly before us today – when the end comes, will I have enough oil? But that’s not the real question. If we thought of it that way, we’d be saving up oil, hiding it away. The real question before us: Am I using the supply I have been given to prepare for the kingdom and do I trust God to keep my supply full, or am I unwisely sitting on what God has given, wasting it?

As the faithful, we should never worry about our spare supply. Our supply comes from our lived faith. It is constantly refreshed and restored by the grace of God. With faith and dedication to God’s gospel way, our lamps will never run dry. Take the lesson of the lamps that never went dry.

Maccabees, and the Talmud commentary on it, says that after the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered only enough pure oil to light the menorah for a single day, yet it burned for eight days. Elijah assured the Widow of Zarephath that her jug of oil would not run dry during a multi-year drought. These examples point to God continuing to fill His faithful, to His restoring our supply of oil. We can and must burn and burn our lamps, showing the light of Christ, doing His work, preparing for His arrival, and trusting that we will never run dry. For the faithful, there will be oil, oil, and more oil.

God expects us to trust in His provision for our work for the kingdom. Let us set to work, never worrying about running out, and confident in what we will have to show for our work when Jesus returns. The light we carry and show each day and the lamps we hold when the end comes, when Jesus, the Bridegroom, is at the doorstep, will be our testimony for entry into the kingdom.

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.