You have heard
it said.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life”

As we discussed over the past two weeks, this Pre-Lenten season’s readings are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching takes the Commandments of God and instruct us in the way we are to understand and live them. Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment of the old Law, His right interpretation is for us, so we can truly live.

We have been reminded, in this season of preparation, that we are to turn and focus on living in the way Jesus defines. This great opportunity moves us not just into unity with life as God designed, for unity with that way of life is not enough. Rather, we are called to dive headlong into the fulness of God’s way.

At the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands more of us than His words alone describe. He calls us to complete integrity of life. If we live His call to integrity, the reward is great. The reward is fullness of relationship and inheritance. It is a joy without compare or equal. However, if we do not surrender to Jesus’ way, if we are not all-in, the caution is, we grow ridgid and cold. Sin creeps in and puts the frost on. The cold goes deeper and deeper and we lose touch with God and with our very selves.

This season of preparation, with only today plus two more days to go, has been a wakeup call. In the Orthodox Churches the Sundays before Lent are days of clean out. The home is cleansed of earthly things like meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. This clean out symbolizes the call to detachment from distraction, from the things that may hold us back from jumping in headfirst.

Hearing Jesus’ words today remind us of this necessary detachment.

Jumping in headfirst requires an act of faith and trust, complete trust in God. It requires trust that says nothing we have, nothing we desire or value outside of God, is of any consequence. They are things here today, gone tomorrow. Seemingly beautiful in the now but only fuel for the fire, or the dumpster, or the landfill tomorrow.

Faith and trust in God, in His word: “do not worry about your life,” is a surrender. As we enter into the Great and Holy Lent this Wednesday let us recognize that proclamation is not enough, worship is not enough, setting aside food, and place, and wealth for a time not enough. Rather, we are to value God above all, setting aside what the world says for what Jesus says, and surrendering fully.

You have heard
it said.

Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

As we discussed last week, this Pre-Lenten season’s readings are taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teaching there take the Commandments of God and instruct us in the way we are to understand and live them. 

Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment of the old Law, His right interpretation is for us, so we can truly live. Yes, it is for us, as we heard last week: to make us great in the kingdom!

In this season of preparation, we are to turn and focus on living in the way Jesus defines. We are to live His way without limit and in striving to do so, wash away the ways we fall short. As we will hear in today’s closing prayer, we are to move toward committed love and faithful work for the Kingdom.

Living in a genuine way is not easy. Of course, it is easy to say we are genuine, I’m the ‘real me’ when we go about doing whatever we want, what we choose. Unfortunately, that is the power of sin, it blinds us to the way we are to strive for; the way ‘just being me’ isn’t good enough for the Kingdom. My being me should never be good enough for me. It should not be good enough for you, the people around me.

As faithful and devoted Christians, we know that we fall short in ways big, small, and perhaps in ways only known to ourselves. As such, let us take this season to evaluate where the fixes are needed, where I fall short of the Kingdom life I am to live.

God told the Israelites to: “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.” That is a super high standard, but indeed, as the lessons from the Sermon on the Mount tell us, we have a gap to cover, a ways to go, but that we can do it.

It is important that we not despair in our frequent failure to live up. Where despair is called for is in any lack of trying, and lack of self-assessment, any attempt to ignore the blindness sin instills. 

Committed love calls for faithful work. Bringing the ideals of the Kingdom life to reality in our lives will not kill us. In fact, they will inoculate us so we can enter the Kingdom with heads held high, so we can enter as the great in the kingdom!

As we enter this new week, let our self-examination focus on the ways revenge, hate, resistance, ‘opionatedness,’ or limitation exist in our lives. Let us remember that to be great we must see and rise above (recall this is a year of politics) and live the Kingdom life.

whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Welcome to the season of Pre-Lent, Septuagesima. This season is set apart as a time of reflective preparation for the upcoming Lenten season. We notice about us a penitential mood. The colors go to purple and rose. The Gloria is no longer proclaimed. The Alleluia is suppressed and is replaced by a Tract. The dismissal is “Let us bless the Lord.”

This time of preparation means we are to desire to turn to the reality of what life must be. It is the clearing away of the dust and cobwebs, the pushing out of darkness and confusion, and a realization that there is light, a way, a goodness that brings eternal life. It is a realization that life is not to be defined by what the crowds or noisemakers say, but by what Jesus defines.

Throughout this season we hear Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. In many of these teachings, Jesus draws comparisons saying: “You have heard that it was said… But I say” This helps us, in this season, to reflect on what we hear all the time, what we have heard in the past, and what we will likely hear in the future; that noise of the crowd, and to turn away from it to the clarity Jesus has given.

In preparing let us view what Jesus says through the lens Sirach focuses for us today: If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.

The noise of the age, the noise of the world past, present, and future cannot save us. That noise counts as nothing. Man’s interpretation is, at its essence, self-serving and meritless. Seek rather the music of Jesus, the beautiful call to live righteous lives. Jesus’ way is the clarity we really need. His direction is the way of life, teachings we can trust in, water for life, good, and life eternal. Now is the time to choose. Now is the time to stretch forth our hands to wipe the old away and to return to life. We must turn to Jesus’ way.

Jesus commandments, His way, His fulfillment, His right interpretation is for us. Yes, it is for us, to make us great in the kingdom! Now is the moment, now the time to turn to His definitions, now to follow His way without limit. Now.

Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

I see tons of advertising every day. Of course it comes through television and radio – old school advertising. Being so involved in life online between emails, social media, work and websites I feel inundated! Looking at something on Amazon is typically followed by months of emails and online targeted ads pushing that product I happened to stumble on. February 2nd brings the celebration of all advertising, the Super Bowl. I think more people watch for the ads than for the game. One of my clergy friends used to say that if he won the lottery we would all see an ad for our Church in the midst of the Super Bowl. I hope he wins really big because it now takes $5.6 million for a thirty second ad spot. Yesterday, I received another one of those Valentine’s Day ads coming through almost every minute. Its point: ‘It is not too late. Jim, you’ve still got time to pull off a great romantic dinner at one of the local spots that couples love.’ Well, I’m glad for that chance. We luckily already have a plan for that day. We worry about being too late all the time. Even St. Paul recalled sadly that he was one born untimely, too late, out of time as the least of the Apostles, and as one who had done wrong before that moment of conversion. He saw himself as diminutive and weakly. If St. Paul left it there, constantly worrying about being too late, we would only see a sad and pathetic figure. Instead, he finds confidence and reassures us in saying “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.” In this ‘month of love’ and month that begins this year’s Great and Holy Lent, St. John reminds us that the message and trick in advertising – you’re going to miss out – is untrue. St. James and St. Paul both tell us that we cannot be too late. Our victory is assured because we believe in Jesus, the Son of God, and because His grace is alive in us to great effect.

February starts with a celebration of Jesus, Light of the World. We then enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. The close of February takes us into the Great and Holy Lent. Light. Preparation, and reflection give us the opportunity to enter deeply into life with Jesus as His disciples.

Learn about February’s discipleship initiative. Celebrate Scout Sunday. Get together for adult religious education. Partake in our Valentine’s Raffle. Celebrate Black History Month with a special event focusing on historic Black Gospel Music on February 29th. All this and so much more!

Read about all this in our February 2020 Newsletter.

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus told his disciples a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. “

Two weeks ago, we entered into the Sermon on the Plain. We learned that this sermon was likely repeated by Jesus on many occasions – on the mount, in the dessert, in the city, by the shore. This sermon wasn’t repeated because it was necessarily popular or because Jesus didn’t have anything else to say, but because it was consistent with Who God is. Jesus was revealing what life in God is all about; how His disciples are to live.

The first part of the message from the plain was centered on blessings and curses. To live consistently in Jesus, we must be prepared to live poor, weeping, and hungry if it is necessary to witness to Him. We must be prepared to be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced if necessary, to put Him before all else. The reward, the blessing, is life eternal. To do otherwise brings curse.

Last week we returned to the plain. Jesus continued to exhort His disciples to live consistently in God, with God, and as living images of God. This part of the sermon did not so much focus on what we must do to be Jesus’ disciples. but more on how we must respond to things that may happen to us. In examples of what His disciples might experience, Jesus spoke about what our reaction is to be. How we are to deal with difficult situations, events, people, confrontations, and daily living speaks volumes about our discipleship.

Today, we remain on the plain with Jesus. He continues His serious instruction. He warns strictly against judgmentalism. He asks us to focus on our need for repentance and healing, ways we must turn from sin and live in His image. We are to be like our teacher.

Jesus calls us to bear “good fruit.” If we live as He lives, bearing good fruit, focused on building our lives into stronger and stronger images of God, then people will be drawn to us. They will come to us to receive nourishment, new life, refreshment. They will not be put off, fearful of drawing near to us – because they will find Jesus here.

St. Paul takes up Jesus’ seriousness. He tells us: be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted.Lent is here, let us commit to living seriously in Jesus and bearing Him fully in our lives, actions, and reactions. Disciples!

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus said to his disciples: “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Last week, we entered into the Sermon on the Plain. We learned that this sermon was likely repeated by Jesus on many occasions – on the mount, in the dessert, in the city, by the shore. This sermon wasn’t repeated because it was necessarily popular or because Jesus didn’t have anything else to say, but because it was consistent with Who God is. Jesus was consistent in His revelation, in His message, and in His call to His disciples to live a certain way.

Last week’s message from the plain was centered on blessings and curses. To live consistently in Jesus, we must be prepared to live poor, weeping, and hungry if it is necessary in witness to Him. We must be prepared to be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced if necessary, to put Him before all else. The reward, the blessing, is life eternal. To do otherwise brings curse.

Today, we return to the plain. Jesus continues to exhort His disciples to live consistently in God, with God, and as living images of God daily. This part of the sermon does not so much focus on what we must bear to be Jesus’ disciples. but more on how we must respond to things that may happen to us. In examples of what disciples might experience, it is about our reaction.

Our key consistent reaction to what we may face is to be mercy, non-judgmentalism, and sacrificial generosity.

Jesus remains serious in His instruction to us. As His disciples, we are to live a certain way and react in a certain way.

How we deal with difficult situations, events, people, confrontations, and daily living speaks volumes about our discipleship. We are and will be challenged. When we encounter people who may be difficult or different, does that become a block to our discipleship or an opportunity for witness? I have a neighbor who “borrowed” my best ladder, about six years ago. It has become more ‘best’ over the years. I’ve never asked for it back. It is small, and inwardly it has strengthened my discipleship because I am not using this for judging or bitterness. The rewards for being that kind of disciple are rich – good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing

Yes,
I am serious.

Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people. And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said…

Over the past several weeks, I have focused on the poignancy of the Gospel narratives. Each a very visual setting. Each a revelation of who Christ is, who the Father is – what life in God looks like. Each a call to join in the life of God as disciples.

Today, we are presented with the Sermon on the Plain. Yes, plain, not mount. While the sermons found in Matthew (mount) and Luke (plain) are similar, many biblical scholars see these as two different events. In other words, Matthew and Luke were not confused about geography. Scholars see these sermons as an indication that Jesus stayed on message throughout His teaching. This sermon may well have been delivered in the city and at the shore too.

In God, consistency is key. He is, as we say – unchanging – from eternity to eternity. Jesus was consistent in His revelation, in His message, and in His call to His disciples (yes, you and me) to live a certain way.

This call follows on the tradition God established with the people of Israel. At the giving of the Law, God laid out blessings and curses. Those who kept the Law, who lived just, holy lives in His ways would receive abundant blessing. Those who did not – curses awaited them.

Today, we learn that Jeremiah heard the same things from God. Do things that your world centered peers want, believe the things they say – your life is destroyed. Follow My way – your life is blessed. In Me you live, are protected, drink life giving water deeply, are not distressed, and bear much fruit. Today’s Psalm lays out all kinds of blessings and curses. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reminds them of the Church’s teaching. In a very blunt way, he tells them that they must remain consistent with what has been experienced, witnessed, and taught. God has no room for the inconsistent. If we are not consistent, we are the most pitiable people of all.

Yesterday, we celebrated the life and work of our organizer – he laid all aside for Jesus and stayed consistent. He followed, as all Jesus’ disciples must, Jesus’ consistent message. Jesus is serious. Be poor, weep, and hunger. Be hated, excluded, insulted and denounced. Put Him before all and be blessed eternally.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

St. Paul commends the Corinthians on maintaining the traditions he taught. I am often pleasantly surprised when a visitor to our parish (someone looking for a new church home, someone visiting for the first time) commends us: I can’t believe you still do THAT. It brings back so many memories.  Those words are never spoken in any negative way, but in admiration, real commendation. What we do in church brings back memories, family, place, belonging, and home. We make it real. Tradition, for us and for our visitors, is more than sets of actions, it is a deep connection to life in Christ’s body. It is wonderful that our connection with traditional liturgical practice, keeping the traditions delivered to us, warms hearts and makes them feel connected to something far greater and much deeper. If you study ‘church conflicts’ you would often see battle lines drawn between tradition and liberalism. The wars and conflicts typically center on things most people would consider minutia, little details that may be important on a technical level, but would not be worth dying over. Yet so much drama… We are spared because we live tradition holistically. What is commendable about what we do is that we maintain what is essentially important. It is not liturgical tradition alone, but tradition in every sense, wholly. We have a tradition of charity and openness that lives in the way we welcome. We imitate the apostles, and are willing to be disciples of Christ. That shows in the way we proclaim Him, make Him known, and invite all to join with us in knowing, loving, and serving Jesus. This year we work to grow in our discipling of Jesus. We try to be more like Him. Then let us appreciate the commendation we have received. We live the very words Paul also wrote to the Thessalonians: stand firm, hold to the traditions that you were taught.

February, and it’s not lent yet? This year Lent begins very late (HINT: Ash Wednesday is March 6th). We spend the month doing all sorts of stuff. Our annual meeting and elections (HINT: We live real democracy in this church). There’s SouperBowl Sunday, our month-long Valentine’s raffle, home blessings continue, we continue our focus on discipleship, and even talk sex and the environment.

There is much going on – and we want to make sure you are well informed and ready to get your discipleship into high gear; to live as His holistically.

What else? Get in on Music Scholarships and start getting baskets ready (HINT: Our annual Basket social will be held March 31st at the Rotterdam Senior Citizen’s Center).

Check out all this and more in our February 2019 Newsletter.

What kind of letter
am I?

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.

St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, reflects on credentials. He begins by saying: Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? Did Paul need a letter of recommendation when he came back to Corinth? After all, he had led the people there to Jesus. Yet, we infer from this passage that they were asking for exactly that; his credentials. The next time you come here, bring us some letters from John, or Peter, or James, or one of the real apostles. Paul is incredulous, “Do you really mean that? Don’t you understand? You are our letter of recommendation. Christ has written it on your hearts. He didn’t use paper or stones. He wrote it on your hearts, and the ink he used was the Holy Spirit. As for me, I’m nothing but the postman; I just delivered the letter. God did the work.”

Paul wants the Corinthians to understand that the changes that had occurred in their lives, the freedom they were experiencing, the deliverance from evil habits that were regular and destructive parts of their lives– all happened because Christ’s gospel, delivered through Paul’s work and the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what changed them and turned them into a letter to others. They were credentialed.
Think back on the early Churches. Acts and in the letters of Paul said nothing about the Church and its ministries. Those early Christians did not go around, as we do today, talking about what the church can do for a person, or about the value of becoming a member of the Church.

The members of the early Church did not mention it because they understood that they were the message, the letter. People saw that Jesus changed healed and restored them. Look at what the Lord has done in me.

Paul seeks out their understanding – their realization of the power that is in them. Christ had written the letter of recommendation in them. It shows forth in their changed lives. People are drawn to Jesus because their lives witnessed to His power. They are all the testimony needed.

As we prepare to enter Lent let us reflect on our life letter. Are we a recommending Jesus in the eyes of those who read us? Can they see that Christ has done something powerful in us? That is the point. We ought to be the visible evidence of God at work; so much so that people will say: “What’s this? What’s going on? I know your name, but somehow, I get the feeling I’m talking to Jesus.”

What is new and
the best?

Thus says the LORD: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!

Today’s gospel presents one of the most picturesque, most moving, and most dramatic events in Jesus’ ministry.

As usual, Jesus is in someone’s house. Everyone is there to see Him, to hear Him teach and proclaim the Kingdom. It is standing room only and people cannot even get inside the door. Four men decide to bring their friend, so he might be healed. The drama begins. They cannot get near Jesus. Like most guys, the devise a crazy plan. Let’s go up on the roof and break in from above.

Now imagine, they had to get ladders or ropes. They had to get up on the roof. They had to get their paralyzed friend up there too; he couldn’t move himself. That process had to take some time. They’re likely wondering if Jesus might leave in the meantime. The clock (or sundial) is ticking away.

They finally get up there. They start breaking open the roof. The people, down below had to have been – at least wondering. Pieces of the roof were falling down on the crowd.

The hole is open, the men begin to lower their friend. They are eager, working hard, trusting in a miracle. Our friend will walk, our friend will walk – almost like a Super Bowl cheer. And, Jesus says: “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

There is a mix of drama and disappointment. A moral drama is taking place between the Scribes and Jesus. All the while this man is laying there, suspended by ropes. His friends are teetering on the roof. They are teetering in their disappointment. They are on the edge of losing faith. They are looking at each other – What did we just do? This wasn’t worth it at all! How are we going to get out of here?

The focus is suddenly on Jesus’ question to the Scribes. It is phrased as: Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk?’ This is a question about the power of God and the greatness of the gifts He offers. Which is the greatest power and gift – to physically heal or to free someone from sins?

Jesus sets the record straight. Reflecting on Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus makes the paralyzed man’s past go away. I will remember not the events of the past. Jesus has freed the man from his past, his sins. He shows Himself as Master of the past, present, and future; the Master who can make everything new. Then to dramatically illustrate what He had done, He tells the man to get up and walk. The man’s life is totally new. He walks without bondage. The bonds and chains that drag us down vanish in Jesus’ words. This is for us. Jesus delivers extraordinary freedom for us, making all new and best. We will walk! We will walk!