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

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.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared.

They came, so sad, with faces stained;
Behind them the rays of a new dawn flamed.
All about them heaven with glory began to open…

The partial stanza above is from the poem The Resurrection by Fr. Walter Hyszko. This and other poems by Fr. Hyszko can be found in his book, Ode to Great Men and Great Things in Poetry and Prose.

This poem is so appropriate to us. It reflects on the early morning walkMary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women took to the tomb. They were deeply saddened, faces tear stained from prolonged crying. Their hearts were broken.

In their sadness, they set out to commit a final act of love toward Jesus, to anoint His dead body with spices. He was dead.

Fr. Hyszko paints a picture in words. They reflect what we may be experiencing Easter Sunday morning if we have walked with

Jesus throughout Lent, if we actually spent time in church from Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday. The weight of Jesus betrayal, arrest, torture, death, and the ensuing silence after burial weighs heavy on us. Our sinfulness, our failures, our unwillingness to be there for Jesus, presses on us. We feel death’s press and we miss it.

As Fr. Hyszko points out, the Marys, Joanna, and the other women missed it too: Rays of a new day flamed / heaven with glory began to open. All those things that weigh on us, all the tears and regrets in our lives have been covered in the redeeming blood of Jesus. We have been washed and made new. That day burned forth as new – a new era – rebirth into a time where heaven is open. The doors have been unbarred. Death has been crushed by death. He lives!

The last line of the poem’s first stanza says: Yet the thrall of grief remained unbroken. Do not let your grief remain unbroken this Easter for we are made new. Rejoice!!!

Join us this April for the conclusion of our Lenten and Passiontide journey. Join us in our Lenten retreat on April 6th. Join in directed giving. Palm Sunday is April 14th, then Holy Week – a full schedule of events taking us on a journey through every emotion – by which we grow so close to Jesus. In the end, grief will not win.

Read more in our April 2019 Newsletter.

God’s
got it.

For the Lord has redeemed Israel from those too strong for them. They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem. They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts

The average temperature, that night, outside Bethlehem is forty-two degrees. Not exactly summer picnic weather. Shepherds never had an easy life. The average salary of a shepherd – while in that day there wasn’t any – and I’ll get to that – is today only $26,200.  That is less than half of the median household income. It is barely enough to cover housing and a little food. It is the definition of poverty.

I mentioned that shepherds in Jesus’ day did not really make a salary. They were typically elderly or younger family members who couldn’t be trusted in any other role. So they got to watch the sheep.

Cold, in poverty, unwanted and thought useless. They are who we celebrate today. We celebrate them because they were the first to see and get the message. They were the first to tell of it, to spread the Good News. God has entered the world to bring to fulfillment what He spoke through Jeremiah: I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.

This has been a strange Advent and Christmas season for me. A movie, a song – I’d find myself getting emotional. This holds a deeper meaning and lesson. God was teaching me a lesson.

We must never let the cold of the world, the constant just above freezing forty-two degree spiritual environment around us shut down the warmth of our hearts. If the cold of the world has gotten to us – today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let the cold win.

Are we impoverished and weakened, poor for want of physical, spiritual, or intellectual gifts? Today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let poverty win.

Are we unwanted, estranged, facing deep loneliness, rarely thought of, shuffled into the elderly corner or to the kid’s table? Today we must recognize and acknowledge that God’s got it. He will not let separation win.

We long for so many gifts, as did the shepherds on that hill.  We long as individuals, a community and neighborhood, and as Church. Suddenly, life was different and it IS different now because God’s promise is fulfilled- He has us.