Strength of Faith.

“Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

In Exodus 16 we join the children of Israel just six weeks into their wilderness journey. They witnessed the ten plagues visited on Egypt for her disobedience. They experienced the first Passover, the deliverance out of literal death and out of Egypt. They walked dry shod through parted sea. Yet now, here in the wilderness, they allowed fear and doubt take over. They grumble against Moses and through him at God. God is not a saving god; we’d rather go back to Egypt. We would rather sell ourselves back into slavery over trusting in God, over living in strength of faith.

God, in His mercy, responds to their grumbling by giving them food. If we were to read on to Exodus 17, we would find them grumbling again, this time about water.  That event was at Meribah and Massah, names which mean “testing,” and “quarrelling.” The people when tested, quarreled with God.

For the people of Israel, immediate need, and in the face of that need, doubt and worry, won over strength of faith and complete reliance on God. How could one see the great works of God and doubt? How could one worry when God has them in His hand? Yet we do too.

The model for what Jesus would face is right there – the people are fed in the wilderness and yet they ask: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?” They saw a great work of God, yet still doubt and question. They still quarrel when tested. 

God sent His Son to once and finally free us from all captivity. He gave us an eternal Passover from death. He gave us bread that lasts forever, the food of eternal life. All we need to do is “believe in the One.

Jesus told us that He is “the bread of life;” and He added: “whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

God knows our needs. He knows them before we even realize them. He also knows that we need a provision that is complete and whole – so in Jesus we have assurance of a life that is eternal and perfect. We who believe in strength of faith receive not only food for today, but food everlasting!

As St. Paul states, we must live and think differently, no longer in the futility of our minds. The Galileans were thinking in earthy terms when they confronted and quarreled with Jesus. Let us not sell ourselves back into slavery over trusting in God, over living in strength of faith as we continue to become new selves.

Strength of Faith.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted.

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

Today we encounter another of Jesus’ most well-known and amazing miracles, the multiplication of loaves and fish. A few weeks ago, recall we encountered Jesus calming the sea. Powerful miracles!

On this occasion we see Jesus once again testing His disciple’s faith. He is taking a measure of their store of faith, how full was their faith tank? [Jesus] said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because He Himself knew what he was going to do.

He is testing our level of faith as well. How strong is our faith? Is this a true miracle or a nice story? Do we believe or not?

I remember a few Biblical Studies courses where the professors would posit that there was no direct miracle from heaven. They would say that people in those days never traveled without food. When they saw the strength of Jesus’ faith, they pulled out the food they had hidden away and shared it, thus creating a surplus of food, i.e., the miracle was the opening of people’s hearts. I was shocked. What, Jesus did nothing!?!

Perhaps such a thought gives some people a nice feeling. They can discount heavenly stuff and remain fixed on themselves. Jesus doesn’t do much, He just inspires good actions. How wonderful.

If, however, we confront the reality of the miracle Jesus performed in the multiplication of five loaves and two fish, we must recognize Who and What Jesus is. He is God Who works great things from the smallest of gifts for those who come to Him. He is the God of amazing works and of everlasting care. 

Jesus’ care is directed at us and is a sign of heavenly power and favor for believers. His care is for the strengthening of our bodies and souls. He builds us up so, as St. Paul says, we may live in a manner worthy of the call we have received; to live in strength of faith.

God’s call is never to focus inward, but first upward to heaven, the source of all good, and then to take that experience outward to others. 

In our heavenward focus, let us realize that the Holy Spirit in and among us continues to take the smallest of things in and about us and makes them massively wonderful. Let us consider then the small gifts we each have, our skills, knowledge, and abilities, and let us pray that God take the loaves we have to offer and through His miraculous power accomplish great things. In strength of faith trust and it will happen!

Strength of Faith

In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ.

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith. 

So far, we have considered our “transformation” into Christ’s image here and now. How we must say no to fear and stand in strength of faith. How we must disregard ridicule, naysayers, and panic relying on Jesus as we work to overcome all things in the strength that is ours. How the reaction of others must not define what we do, but rather how we remain faithful to our mission and decision to follow Jesus. And, last week, how we express our faith in action.

This week we focus on the presence of Church and the identity of the Shepherd; how in Jesus, we who were far off have become near and the model we are to live.

Jeremiah begins with a lamentation aimed at those who do not live up to God’s standard. The rest of this Sunday’s scriptures walk us through to the recognition of the One Shepherd, and the model He has left us. A model we are to live in strength of faith living up to His standard.

St. Paul tells us that we were far off, living in enmity, in separation from God. But now, those who believe by faith in Christ, have become near to God. We now have one Shepherd, Jesus Who has broken the wall of partition, reconciling us to God and making us one, His Church.

Jesus broke down all barriers and partitions between us and God for this exact reason, so that His followers as Church might live as a new creation and work to establish His kingdom.

The model is this: That we proclaim the Gospel of peace near and far. That we summon people who remain afar off so that they too might have access by one Spirit to the Father.

We, as Church, are the model household of God, a holy people, people who are the building of the Church ourselves, a habitation for the Lord. Bottom line, we are to live in the world ministering to it in strength of faith because Jesus lives in us.

In Old Testament times mere men offered sacrifice to God on behalf of people. They offered sacrifice for sin and for thanksgiving. Yet that sacrifice was imperfect, and we remained separated from God. Jesus changed all that and offered the one perfect sacrifice of Himself to make us holy and near. He also instituted the eternal re-presentation of His sacrifice which we celebrate here so that all who gather as His body might be strengthened, renewed, and revitalized in living out the model He set for us. 

Let us not confuse ourselves over the identity of the Chief Shepherd and let us recognize His eternal presence in us who are Church, and our duty to live His model in strength of faith all the time.

Strength of Faith

The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith. 

This week we consider the fact that strength of faith must be expressed in action.

Faith is not just an interior journey, nor as the worldly would have us think, a private matter. People who are or wish to be strong in their faith must cultivate both an interior life of faith and an expressive life of faith.

Last week we considered Ezekiel’s call to go and prophesy. Whether the message he spoke was accepted or rejected, the people would know a prophet had been among them. God’s word was proclaimed, and people knew where Ezekiel stood. Similarly, today where we read of Amos’ experience as a prophet. He is told to get out, to go away. Speak your word somewhere else, but not here. Amos would not budge, for he knew he was on God’s mission. God took Amos from his ordinary everyday life and transformed him to a person of expressive action by His word.

So, it must be for us. People strong in faith cannot just rest in the ordinary. We cannot shrink back or go away. We must, as an expression of our belief in Christ, transform every ordinary moment into an extraordinary one for God. We do that by our words (evangelism), the example we set, and the service we perform.

Like Amos, the word we speak, and work we do, draws people to God and into His Church. The fastest growing parishes are ones that in big and small ways disciple though word and action. People see it and respond. It takes all of us, who together, must express our strength of faith.

St. Paul tells the Ephesians: In him we were also chosen…so that we might exist for the praise of his glory. We cannot exist for praise of Jesus’ glory without action. We cannot exist for the praise of Jesus’ glory if we lean on excuses for inaction.

Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. In other words, the disciples were to spring into immediate action. Notice that the things they were to take they already had on them. They were not to wait, to go to the bank to get money, to go and buy another coat or a suitcase, or stop at the grocery. Action could not wait.

The urgency of the disciples’ action is the same urgency with which Jesus sends us out today. There are people who need healing. There are evils that need to be driven out. Repentance and the kingdom need to be proclaimed for the world does not know Jesus. In strength of faith let us step into action now. 

Strength of Faith

They said, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith. 

Today, the scriptures and gospel present three examples of strength of faith. I’d label them: Shut up; Ouch, it hurts; and Get out of here. How should we stay strong when we encounter those?

In the Old Testament reading we hear God’s instruction to Ezekiel. He must go to the house of Israel to prophesy against it. God would not let them get off so easy, ignorant of what He wants. God knows that Ezekiel would not have it easy, but God knew the people had to hear His voice; the word spoken so that they might correct their behaviors. The result would be what it would be, but whether they heed or resist—they shall know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel certainly heard the words, Shut up. Even so, he prophesied in strength of faith, in accord with God’s instruction.

So too today. Those hearing God’s word have a choice, to heed or resist, to have a full life in God, or to lack. We, like Ezekiel, must proclaim the word, speak the truth, share the gospel, and remain strong in faith even if we hear: Shut up!

In our Epistle, St. Paul discusses the thorn of Satan he received. Whatever the set of temptations he was subject to, no matter how strong the enemy, he recognized that the grace of God was stronger. He knew that the grace of God amid weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints built up his strength of faith.

We have thorns of Satan as well. Yes, ouch, temptations big and small hurt. That does not mean we are defeated. It does not mean stop, but rather like Paul we need to press forward in strength of faith relying on God’s grace, so we get to the fullness of life promised for those who follow God’s path.

So too Jesus. He did nothing other than to proceed in strength of faith. That did not mean He was without challenge. Imagine going back home and having everyone tell you, Get out of here! They took offense at Him.

The reaction of others back then or today was and is not important, but rather that we follow the example of Jesus Who always walked in strength of faith. We are called to be strong.

Following Jesus did not and will not mean that we do not face: Shut up; Ouch, it hurts; or Get out of here. What really matters is our decision to walk in strength of faith, relying on God’s grace, and if we do, we receive fullness of life eternal.

Strength of Faith

She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

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. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

Today we experience two examples of strength of faith, that of Jarius whose daughter was at the point of death, and the woman afflicted with hemorrhages over many years.

Notice in these two examples, Jesus was not the first one either of these people turned to. 

The Gospel recounts that the woman had suffered for years and suffered even further under the hands of many doctors, even spending all she had looking for a cure. Jarius’ daughter certainly grew sicker and sicker, and it wasn’t until she was a death’s door that her father pled with Jesus.

These examples are instructive for us at two levels. The first is that we tend to search for our own solutions. Money can solve it. Experts and consultants can get the job done. If only I do this or that. Then we reach the end of all our efforts and finally turn to Jesus. Perhaps we even fear turning to Him and must sneak up on Him for that which we need. We need to change that. The second instruction, even though these people waited and tried relying on themselves, once they approached Jesus in faith, Jesus answered them. He did not rebuke or turn them away.

The overriding lesson, why wait? Why delay? As Jesus asked the disciples in the boat last week, Where’s your faith.

As we focus our efforts on our strength of faith, let us practice turning to Jesus first. Before we ring the alarm bell, before we invite the consultants and spend the dollars, let us place faith and trust in Him. He will see us through our troubles and struggles, He will guide the hands of the doctors, He will break the chains and snares of the evil one who seeks our destruction. Faith indeed works tremendous miracles.

Also notice Jesus Himself acts in strength of faith.

People came and said: “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” In great faith what did Jesus do? He disregarded the message that was reported. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”  Once they arrived, they found commotion, weeping, and wailing. Jesus responded by speaking truth and received nothing but ridicule. Yet, He proceeded in strength of faith.

As we work on growing in our strength of faith, as we live out our Christian lives, let us also disregard ridicule, naysayers, and those who wail in panic searching for answers. Living the gospel faith, relying on Jesus, we will overcome all things in the strength that is eternally ours.

Strength of Faith

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him

As mentioned last week, over the months of Ordinary Time ahead, a time dedicated to growth, we will focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we walk in Strength of Faith. Remember, we are focusing on our Strength of Faith.

The disciples are in the boat, we all know the story, they are afraid in the storm and Jesus wakes up, calms the storm, and asks them about the strength of their faith.

Obviously, Jesus, perfect God and man had faith, He was sleeping through the storm. He was confident that amid the storm, faith, and His Father, would see Him through. He had the same faith confronting torture, the cross, death, and the grave.

It does not really surprise us does it? Jesus lived in strength of faith, the disciples questioned and feared, they were at least, at that time, weak in their faith. 

But, what about us now? How does this storm experience relate to us, here in the 21st Century, not crossing many lakes or rivers in a boat? How about us in secure homes with GFI plugs and grounded electrical systems, and other safety and security measures?

Perhaps we do not fear storms, but the analogy of storms works because is speaks about all the other stresses we face. We can go to Jesus about those. We can say, Lord, don’t You care that I am perishing? But, that is not really the point Jesus is making in His gospel. It is not the lesson the Lord is impressing on us. Rather, bottom line, it is about strength of faith. It is Jesus asking us: Where’s your faith. “Why are you terrified?”

The question before us is whether we have the strength of faith to stand in the storm, to be the leader when others are running and hiding, to live the gospel in the face of evil and persecution. To hope when all is hopeless.

We have examples around us. Those men in the boat went on profess Jesus with strength and power across the world. We have the examples of our own fathers, godfathers, grandfathers, uncles, and the other special men in our lives who not only protected us but longed for us to learn the lessons necessary to be strong.

We have the example of all those who with strong faith fought the evil of slavery, who prayed in watch parties for freedom and who with us continue to this very day to stand up to inequality, the endemic sin of prejudice, and the inherent inequality still plaguing us.

We are called upon this very day to come forward, to walk through those doors, to appear here in this church, to say no to fear and raise up the holy and awesome name of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are called to grow in faith, hope, and love so that fear may be removed from us and so we may stand in strength of faith! With strong faith, the power of our Father will see us through.

Strength of Faith

Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away.

Over the next twenty-six weeks we are going to focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we can walk in Strength of Faith.

In the text of today’s Epistle, we hear Paul say that we aspire to please him [i.e., God], whether we are at home or away. Hearing that immediately took me back to the days of family vacations. At home or away.

The first family vacation I remember was to Florida, Coral Gables, and my Uncle Frank’s house. Both of our families had been touched by tragedy, the loss of my dad and Frank’s loss of his wife, his children’s mom. This was still a pretty fresh memory for all of us.

This time gave us some freedom from those thoughts. I recall each thing we did, the visit to the breach, the salt water of the ocean, shells, going to the Venetian Gardens and its beautiful pools, running away after taking a wedge out of the green on a very nice golf course (I think they’re still looking for me). Being with my cousins. Visiting Ma Easter, an in-law to Uncle Frank, a great, very funny, and vivacious southern woman. Going to the planetarium and seeing moon rocks.

Some of this was culture shock, most just plan fun, and parts even scary. Life is like that, and the overriding question is: How do we approach life? Paul was writing about how we are to live. He boils it down to living in the strength of faith.

The love of God encompasses everything. Grounded in God’s love through Christ’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s communion, we can be what we have been called to be; commending ourselves with confidence to everyone regardless of circumstances, regardless of where we are.

In fact, all that we do while we are in our bodies will be manifest before “the judgment seat of Christ” – the moment when Christ, coming in power, will judge all. This reference to Christ’s “judgment seat” and how we are to live is not a threat or something we should fear, but rather a promise and an expectation of the fullness of the kingdom for those who live in strength of faith.

Although we live in a world where tech savvy, wealth, power, and the call to constant conflict with neighbors seem to override and even wipe out thoughts of God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, we can be confident that God, and we who live His way, will prevail in the end. 

Our “transformation” into Christ’s image takes place not in some otherworldly place, only at the end, but here and now in how we live. Here is where we need to live and act in strength of faith, to go the way of Christ when we feel the pull to conflict, greed, the need to repost criticisms, to finger-point, to REACT. God’s grace is sufficient power to overcome, to live in strength of faith and to be truly Christian.

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.