Peace!

Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

In the first week of Advent, we focused on hope. We learned that we stand in charge, each with our own kingdom task – to offer hope. We asked that on Jesus’ return He would find us expectantly waiting and offering the hope found in His name.

This week we focus on peace, both personal peace and being peace.

In Isaiah we hear of God setting things right by freeing His people from sin. The herald is to come and prepare the landscape for the arrival of the Messiah. All is to be leveled, i.e., brought back to balance in preparation. For His arrival. The herald proclaims the good news – the Savior is near!

So, that is exactly what happens. John the Baptist, the herald arrives to cry out the good news. Through a baptism of repentance, people are forgiven and re-leveled. The valleys and hills in their personalities are leveled out so that they might have peace. The tensions, sorrows, weights and chains, frenzy that urges us to sin is cleared and we are brought back to peace. Our paths are cleared of sin so we may approach and meet the Savior.

Indeed, the Lord is returning, so as St. Paul teaches, we are to be the sort of people who conduct themselves in holiness and devotion so we may be found without spot or blemish. Paul wraps this all up and says we are to be found at peace.

This is a good time, and indeed the right time to consider our own hills and valleys, the obstacles between me and Jesus. What barriers am I putting in the way? What trenches am I digging? Is it anger and pride, my convincing myself I am right over all? Is it placing my trust in people or believing whatever self-serving truths are handed to me? Is it habitual sin or attractions that are unhealthy? There is a lot we can do to destroy peace and accord between each other and in the world and to mess up the straight path between ourselves and God.

Our first step is to get to personal peace with God through proper confession of sin, resolution to resist sin, penance for sins committed, repentance and reconciliation, and prayers for the grace necessary to stay on the level and straight peace-filled path to God. Once our valleys are filled in and our hills are leveled, we are to move to the next step, being God’s heralds of peace.

See, we could live in conflict. We could continue to toss Molotov cocktails in our words and actions, but doing so only burns us, for as St. Paul recounts: the earth and everything done on it will be found out. We will be accountable for our spiritual state and what we bring, and let it always be God’s peace.

Do not weep.
Be comforted.

As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

Both the Old and New Testament lay out a scenes we see all too often in our city and country. A young man has died. His friends bear his body away. The mourners are there. The mother is weeping. In both scenes there is a powerful encounter with God who comforts and changes things, a glimpse of the after Jesus time. All that is now ours since His redemption.

Elijah seems mad at God – here I am, staying with this woman who is sheltering me, and You let her son die? Fix this. God listens and really does intervene. He raises the young man and Elijah returns him to his mother.

In our Gospel story we see the only son of a widow, her sole support, has died. He is carried out and the procession encounters Jesus. He will not let this situation stand. He intervenes and raises the widow’s son.

These are happy endings to very sad stories. We can relate to these situations. We, who are faithful, are not able to escape tragedy. We ask God – why do You let these things happen? Let us recognize our new truth.

This new after Jesus truth is powerful. It comes in understanding what we have in these after Jesus times – the promise we now hold. That truth is illustrated for us by St. Paul.

In Galatians, Paul recounts the fact that while he was smart, knowledgeable, powerful even – he was a jerk. Yet God would not let that stand. God intervenes and introduces Paul to Jesus. He took what was broken and wrong in Paul and redeemed it. He took Paul and showed him the power of this new day, this new after Jesus time, this time of grace.

If we see difficulty, death, and sorrows in our old ways, in unredeemed ways, we are left with weeping. If we see difficulty, death, and sorrows in after Jesus ways we have powerful comfort, we find the depth of the peace we own. We can think like Paul. For all the bad we encounter in our lives, we have been changed by faith in Jesus. We have a new power and comfort.

Paul saw with new eyes, eyes focused on God’s grace. The old ways of life, the old sorrows no longer mattered. In the after Jesus time we have become truly invincible, saved, redeemed – we are made new by faith. We have God with us, His promise is ours. What we have is incomparable joy and assurance – we own heaven as our inheritance and no difficulty, death, or sorrow can take that from us. We live in the after Jesus time. He changed life for us. This is the after Jesus time. Do not weep.

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Times of challenge
and peace

The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

Saul has been converted and because of the generosity, friendship, wholeheartedness, and witness of Barnabas is brought into the fold in Jerusalem even though the fellowship still feared him. Saul is welcomed and he sets out with zeal to proclaim the name of Jesus. The Greek Jews, having heard Saul’s witness set out to kill him and the Church spirits him away, back to his hometown of Tarsus.

The first three years since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit had been both edifying and trying. Judas was replaced. Many believers were added. The faithful witnessed out-in-the-open. They prayed in the Temple, healed, and talked about Jesus to all who would listen. Many were added, and the Church was of one heart and soul and marked by a consistent spirit of harmony, but a price was being paid. The Apostles were hauled into court and they were whipped. Stephen was martyred.

Certainly Saul’s conversion did not end prosecution. Others likely followed in his footsteps. The Greek speaking Jews plot to kill Saul shows the hatred that existed. Yet suddenly the Church was at peace.

Some scholars point out that the Jewish leadership had to take its eyes off the Christians for a while. They were probably having bigger problems with Rome. The Governor wanted to erect a statue to Caesar in the Temple. There could be a thousand other reasons as well.

As in the early Church our faith is tested at times and at other times we find ourselves at peace. Decades ago a faith commitment was seen as a likely part of most people’s lives. Going to church and following the tenants and aims of the Christian faith were ‘normal.’ In the modern age any true witness to the reality of Jesus and commitment to following His commands would be met with laughter and mockery at a minimum. We might find ourselves thought of as old-fashioned and outdated. At the extreme we may lose friends, face ostracism at work, possible termination from jobs or clubs and organizations, and even a court appearance or two. To us these may be fates worse than death.

The common thread we hear today is that Christians must witness publicly to Jesus – to His way. We must do this whether the Church is filled with joyous zeal, is under persecution, or is living in times of peace. In all times the Church will grow in numbers by the commitment and dedication of His disciples (us) to the One who is the only truth and the true vine.

Reflection for Low Sunday 2014

Remove Doubt

Jesus, help me to
see!

Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Jesus is here; right now saying, “Peace be with you.”

The world challenges our faith constantly. As we discussed on Easter, the guards at the tomb had a choice. Would they declare the truth or take the bribe and ignore what really happened? We can imagine that having seen what had happened, taking the bribe was not going to be quite satisfactory. Truth has a way of pushing against our consciences – prompting us to moments where we cannot be peaceful.

Jesus is the reality of heavenly perfection, grace, and truth intersecting with earth. In saying, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is giving a blessing, reassurance, and an instruction to His followers.

The blessing of peace is not a blessing that protects us from all earthly harm or sadness – after all, the apostles all faced struggles, imprisonment, and almost all were martyred for the faith. Jesus’ peace overcame the apostles’ post-crucifixion sadness and remained with them. For us, His blessing of peace surpasses understanding. It is greater than anything we might face. His peace is given to us and is something we own; it is ours forever. His peace is constant and remains with us regardless of what we have faced, have done, will face, or will do. Not even the very depths of pain and sadness can overcome His peace if we believe.

Jesus’ peace is reassuring. The apostles did some pretty horrible things – they abandoned Him, denied Him, were unsure of Him, and may have very well lost all faith in Him. They sit in a locked room, afraid. His peace is their reassurance of forgiveness. We sin in big and small ways – yet Jesus is always prepared to welcome us back and impart His peace if we believe.

The instruction is that His peace will be with us if we acknowledge the truth – the truth of that intersection between heaven and earth. The truth that God sacrificed His Son for us and because of His obedience raised Him from the dead. The truth that, by an act of faith, those regenerated in the waters of baptism were buried with Christ so that they may rise with Him.

When we are faced with challenges, when we fail in sin and error, when we are confronted by the doubt and denial so active in the world, let us recognize the gift of peace Jesus gave us. If we, like the guards, do not feel peaceful then something is wrong in our belief and how we see. Let us “not be unbelieving, but believe” and have His peace.

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

I can’t believe it!
I guess you didn’t not see it…

A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

If we read the caption above, we note the double negative: “didn’t not.” Writing this, my word-processing program kept pointing to my error.

Word-processing programs are a wonderful invention for someone like me who has terrible spelling skills. Either a red or green underline shows up. Red if the word appears to be misspelled, green if the grammar is incorrect.

Let’s think of John the Baptist as God’s word-processor. He went out to proclaim a wonderful gift, that people could renew their lives if they would only repent, make straight their ways. Salvation was theirs if they would take the steps to correct themselves.

Like my word-processing program, John pointed out serious errors, especially of the so-called “leaders” of the day. He put really big red underlines under all sinfulness.

His call to repentance was just like that of the word-processor. The error is obvious, its been pointed out. But now what? We have to recognize that red underline; we have to see it. Then, we have to take action to fix it. We have to correct the spelling and grammar of our lives, bringing them into alignment with God’s way.

Whenever we hear John’s cry “Prepare the way… make straight the paths… fill-in the valleys… make low the mountains and hills…make the winding roads straight… the rough ways smooth” we also begin to think like construction workers. We laugh, get me a bulldozer and a big crew and we can do it. Construction takes engineering, study, process, and hard work. John wasn’t talking about construction! He was shouting about the engineering, study, process, and hard work we have to do to make our lives right before God.

Let us be dedicated to making our lives straight, smooth, and level; getting rid of the red underlines, living lives based on God’s desires for us. Doing so, we have the guarantee of finding peace, renewal, and seeing His salvation.

The Jewish people were carried away to captivity and spent generations there. When they were freed they didn’t see it coming. We already know Jesus is returning. We do not need to foresee the moment for we know we must prepare. Prepare His way and be ready to rejoice. Stand ready to share in peace and great joy at His Salvation. Come Lord Jesus!