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!

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

This year we enter into the Great and Holy Lent on Valentine’s Day. The last time this happened was in 1945. This presents us with a whole bunch of dilemmas. Can I celebrate Valentine’s Day? Which celebration is the greater obligation? Do I have to fast and abstain from meat? The underlying question is: Does God’s love motivate us? Paul, in speaking to the Corinthians, recounts the great promises God has given us in Jesus. Among the great promises: That God will walk among us and live with us (He is not in a long distance relationship). That we are God’s people; He receives us in His fatherly love. We are His sons and daughters; co-heirs with Jesus to the resurrection and eternal life in heaven. That we have communion with Him, His protection and blessings that are absolute and unconditional. Does God’s love motivate us? Yes, if we work to improve externally and internally; to live in purity of heart and to train to avoid all sin – the killer of love. Lent is the time to discipline ourselves and cleanse ourselves so that we live up to the love we have received from God. That is what Lent is about – living up to the love and promises we own. Lent is an opportunity to live up to love – to cleanse ourselves, achieve deep-seated changes in our lives, and align ourselves with God’s love. It is a happy coincidence that Valentine’s Day marks the start of Lent because Lent is about the change real and honest love brings, the good love motivates, and the happiness and holiness love attains.

Join us in the run up to and for the start of the Lenten season. So much going on. Souper Bowl Sunday, Annual Meeting, Ash Wednesday, our Valentine’s Raffle, our Seniorate Lenten retreat. Join us – become part of a family of faith and shine forth – bringing more and more to real freedom in Jesus. We so look forward to meeting you, to working together, to being love to our world.

You may view and download a copy of our February 2018 Newsletter right here.

This week’s memory verse: Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Hebrews 4:16

Pray the week: Lord Jesus, Your mercy has enveloped and saved me. Grant that I may look away from the small and only share Your mercy.

Will we live
big?

Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd playing Jake and Elwood Blues had just been released from prison. They went back to visit the orphanage in which they were raised. They find out that creditors are about to foreclose on the orphanage. Suddenly, the understood the big thing they had to do. They were going to pay off the debt. Their oft repeated statement of purpose was: “We’re on a mission from God.”

Paul was certainly on a mission from God. Yet, he says something very odd – especially on point for us in this day and age – give no offense. Many people tend to think (by our failure to live like Jesus) that giving offense is what the Church is all about!

Paul was focusing on the difference between insignificant matters, small ‘t’ traditions and practices and the essentials of faith. Don’t quibble, don’t focus on the small things, don’t create offense for anyone over small things. Rather, come together in unity on the big things, the essentials. In doing that, show off Jesus. Set an example of humility. Shine forth like Jesus – be like Him. Open the door to all in need of the big healing, big peace, big confidence, and big security only Jesus can give.

Think of what Jesus taught about the things that are key. Two things only. Two commandments. Love God, love each other. Any minor issues there, anything insignificant? Not at all.

Paul’s experience helped him to really understand what Jesus taught. Paul often focused on the greatness of the mercy that was shown to him. Paul saw and experienced, in a flash of blinding light, what Jesus focused on. It was never the small. Paul had been focused, in his pharisaical ways, on minutia. It his encounter with Jesus, Paul saw where he fell short in understanding. He finally got God’s big mercy. What counts is that God wipes out our small and the big mess of sins – our failure to love God and to share in that love as an act of love – so we can start anew.

If barriers are raised to our neighbors, by arrogance, being bound to the small and insignificant, then the path to Jesus’ big mercy is blocked.

As we begin our Pre-Lenten preparation, let us consider how we may remove any block on the way to Jesus. Are we opening the path to mercy? How will we live? What mission from God are we on? Who will we be imitators of?

Jesus healed the leper, and he couldn’t stand not to tell of the big mercy he received. …he went out and began to talk freely about [Jesus] and the people came to Him from every quarter.

Hit the
road.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

Two weeks ago, we discussed using this Pre-Lenten season as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, to warm up and prepare for the living of God’s life. We then came face-to-face with our competitive natures and how we can turn them, use them, for God’s work, not to battle each other but to build up the Body of Christ. These are both aspects of preparation – getting us ready spiritually and mentally for our Lenten journey. Are we warmed up and ready? Are we ready to compete to build the Kingdom?

We now come to how we are to live day-to-day, the words of Jesus we need to make real going into Lent.

This is the hardest part of our preparation because it is where the fullness of the faith lived life confronts us hardest. Sure, we can warm up, we can feel our competitive instinct kicking in. I’m ready to go, but then the reality of the race confronts us head on. We begin to doubt again – but the road will be bumpy, I’ll get a pebble in my shoe, my muscles will be sore, the couch looks so much more comfortable.

The couch is that comfortable place that will eventually kill us. If we sit in our habitual sins, if we rest where we are, if our charity and love do not increase, we are just inviting that heart attack. The heart attack will be that final realization that we haven’t pushed ourselves enough, we haven’t gotten as close as we can to God’s ideal life.

Jesus illustrates the various cares and worries that keep us sitting on the couch. These are the things that weigh down on us – for His listeners it was clothing, food, drink, housing, and length of life. Some of these things may be our worry, but we can certainly substitute a lot of other stuff that bears on us while we sit on our couch.

In accepting Jesus as our salvation, we were regenerated and inherited a great promise. He now confronts us with what we have done with that salvation. Have we boxed it up, put it in our laps as we sat back down on the couch or have we put it all into action?

Warmed up and ready? Ready to compete to build the Kingdom? Sure – but ready is not enough. Now is the time to get off the couch, to take the pain, to accept it with joy. Faith in Jesus, acceptance of His promises requires us to hit the road, to go. The grace of Jesus is not a cushion for our pews but is that adrenaline we need to reject worry and do all needed to seek only the kingdom.