Urgent work.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the hearer say, “Come.” Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water.

I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we declare: Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Over the last two Sundays we discussed the intensity of love Jesus requires from us and the gifts of love and peace Jesus gives us. Jesus’ love and peace gives us the privilege of the Holy Spirit with us and teaching us; eternal life; and peace that removes all fear. Now we get to the urgent work of love, peace, and invitation.

Throughout the Easter Season we have read from the Book of Acts and Revelation. 

Both Acts and Revelation are a bit removed from the first-generation Church. Acts was likely written around 80 to 90AD. Revelation was written even later, around 99AD. Both are directed to Christians as reminders of what it means to be the Body of Christ, and the urgency of the work we must engage in.

Acts gives Christians the blueprint for who we are, how we are to live, love, sacrifice and forgive – as we are reminded today by Stephen’s witness, sacrifice and plea for forgiveness of his persecutors – and how we are to evangelize.

Revelation shows forth two things – letters from the Risen Jesus to His Churches reminding them of who they are to be – i.e., the Acts Church, and a reminder of our urgency of action. We hear about that today.

Jesus says: “Behold, I am coming quickly.” We can never miss the urgency in all Jesus says. His message is to always be ready. Ready does not mean just sitting and waiting. It means hard at work loving, sacrificing, forgiving, and evangelizing. If we are ready, we will have access to the reward Jesus will give according to our work.

To further express urgency, Jesus reminds us that He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Those words used earlier in Revelation applied to God and here to Jesus alone, crowning proof of Christ’s deity. If we really know and understand Who Jesus is, we will not have any trouble being urgent in our work and ready for His return.

Jesus reminds us that “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” The Spirit is in us, the Church. We are the bride of Christ. The Spirit prompts us to call for Jesus’ speedy return and to work at evangelizing those who do not know Him so they too come to Jesus in faith. 

People cannot come to Jesus unless they hear. They will only hear by our work at love, sacrifice, forgiveness, and evangelism. So let us be reminded of what urgent work we must do as we await Him. The gift of life-giving water is available. It is an open invitation we are called to urgently offer.

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.

Perfect

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Jesus, the perfect Son of God, the perfect advocate, the perfectly blameless and sinless one, the perfect high priest, the perfect lamb was sent by God the Father to save the imperfect.

The testimony of the Scriptures insists upon Jesus’ perfection. In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we read: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

What is so amazing is that God would self-sacrifice perfection for the likes of us. He gave perfection so those who hate, the violent, the prejudiced, the deniers, the betrayers, the unfaithful, the cheaters and liars, those who place politics above truth, the thieves, and the man or woman who just cut you off or slammed a door in your face, can confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

The Father instructed His perfect Son to be the perfect sacrifice, to take upon Himself the sin we live in, because only by the offering up of perfection taking on our sin could we be saved.

Throughout the history of the Jewish people, we see time and time again God taking action to save, not because of some imperfect offering from imperfect people, or because of some human plea, but by His own perfect will; by His choice and interior self-agreement. God chooses, God agrees, God brings about. 

In the end God brought about perfect forgiveness of sin, fellowship with the imperfect, and adoption of the imperfect through the offering of the Perfect one, Jesus. All we need to do is accept that gift. Can we in our imperfection grasp this and say yes? Assuredly so! Now is the time.

Therefore, on this Good Friday, and in each of our days, let us take account of where we fall short, let us then give thanks for the timely helpavailable to us because we have approached the throne of grace and have said, ‘Yes Lord, I believe.’ Let us take every opportunity to let all we encounter know what God has done for us. Then, with deep humility, rest in God’s perfect love.

Working to change.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Lent calls us to change, to reform. Lenten discipline presupposes that we need reform. We may need reform because we lack an understanding of God’s call, or our religious practice has become just habit, or we are just going through the motions without knowing why, or just maybe, we are comfortable and do not want to change or reform.

Throughout our shared Lenten journey, we are studying the means and methods by which we achieve conversion, change and reform. This study will help us to reset our lives, right set our expectations, and get to the change and reform necessary to be ardent and faithful livers of Jesus’s gospel way.

Last week we studied the discipline of fasting. We learned that as we fast from what pulls us away from the gospel, we feel Jesus filling that space with new longing to live the gospel as well as His grace power to do so. 

In the coming weeks we will continue with the subjects of prayer, study, and proclamation. Today we focus on giving, also known as sacrifice.

There is no more poignant call and answer to giving than Abraham’s. As the Passover sacrifice of a lamb prefigures Jesus, so Abraham’s offering of his son prefigures God’s giving of His Son Jesus.

Sacrifice is a call and a response. Abraham could have easily said: No, I’m too busy, I don’t feel like it, Your request goes too far, Moriah is too far. Yet, no matter how impossibly difficult it was for Abraham he answered yes, “Here I am!” In Lent we are called to answer yes to sacrifice and giving more than we normally would, to doing the harder things, and to permanently change the way we answer.

In our sacrifice and giving, God recognizes our devotion. As He said to Abraham: I see how devoted you are. God recognized that Abraham did not quit or hold back. Even more, God recognizes the fact that Abraham did not grumble afterward, but rather saw the gifts around him and he gave them to God. Because of that, God promised His abundant blessing in terms of descendants, victory, and that others will find blessing because of Abraham’s giving.

In Jesus dying and rising those gifts are carried forward for us. Because of Jesus’ devotion to His Father’s call and His giving response, we can call ourselves His descendants. We have the only victory that matters, and others find blessing in us. 

Lent calls us to give and sacrifice. Let us respond recognizing that we are doing so from the storehouse of abundant blessings He gives us and as the legacy Jesus left.

Trapped.

I urge you, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.

It is said that a Sunday’s first reading and gospel deliver the same message. They closely follow the same theme. The Epistle however always seems to stand out as something different and apart.

The key to understanding the Epistle, the letters, is that they effectuate the Old Testament readings and gospels. Epistles are the game plan for how we are to carry out what God has given us. It is what we allow ourselves to be trapped into doing in accepting the great love of God.

Jeremiah laments the fact that God has given him a very hard message to proclaim. He has to preach the disaster that will come upon Israel if they will not turn away from their evils, their worship of false gods. 

In lamenting what he must preach, Jeremiah realizes that no matter how much he would wish it, he cannot hold it in. He has to do as God has asked. I will not mention Him, I will speak in His name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart. Jeremiah is trapped because the powerful love and truth of God are irrefutable.

Now, Peter thought he knew what he must say. After proclaiming Jesus to be God, Peter decides he is going to teach God. Jesus gives him a quick lesson which is also meant for us. If we wish God’s love, we must surrender. We must stop thinking our way and start thinking God’s way. We must be willing to hand it all over to God and be trapped up by and in Him.

Our instinct is to escape being trapped, to free ourselves and do as we please. Humans hate being trapped, we feel like we’re in the Poseidon, an overturned ship, trying to find a way out. Paul knew that, he realized it on the road when Jesus confronted him. His choice, allow himself to be trapped up into Jesus’ way, or get back on his donkey and live a valueless life.

Today, Paul tells us how we put those lessons from the first reading and gospel into action. We offer ourselves, our wills and ways sacrificially allowing ourselves to be trapped into the life of God. True love is to give oneself over. Once trapped in the life of God, we do His will, because like Jeremiah, we can do no other. We let our old ways dissolve as our minds are renewed. Getting rid of our ‘conformity to the as-is,’ allows us to be good and pleasing and perfect. In being trapped we are freed.

Say what?

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord… As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word… So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.

Modern sensibilities are often troubled when we get to these passages in Paul’s letters, today from his letter to the Church at Ephesus. Paul seems to pick at sensibilities all the time, and I imagine it felt that way, even in his allegedly unenlightened time. The Church, in picking readings for today, offers an alternative, a shorter Epistle without all that nasty ‘wives should be subordinate’ stuff. I guess sensibilities were upset.

One of the problems we face in understanding Paul, his text, and the communities he preached to, is that we layer our sensibilities, based on our experience, over what Paul was trying to say. For instance, a little study of the economic realities and relationships of Paul’s day would help us understand that when Paul spoke of slaves he was not referring to a slavery of horrors as was lived in America. There were different forms of slavery in that time, and in certain instances it was no more than an economic relationship between a worker and boss. More important than the form of slavery was how Christians were to treat each other.

Paul’s message was always countercultural. Slaves and masters were to treat each other differently because they had to live a new life in Christ. Both the slave/worker and master/employer were to act in accordance with their new life in Christ.

Today, Paul speaks of subordination and love. These are not to be mutually exclusive things, but in fact a unified whole. Wives and husbands, as with masters and slaves, are to live differently because of Jesus. The complete subordination, an emptying of oneself for the other, is key to life in Jesus. Give up to each other, don’t give in to evil.

This self-subordination, self-sacrificial love, is to mark the lives of Christ followers. Today’s Gospel clearly illustrates that. Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Exactly! Say what? Self-sacrifice, subordination, handing over one’s life to the community of faith offends modern sensibility. Let’s show today how wrong it is.

accc

Our Holy Church sets the month of June aside and encourages the faithful to pray for the clergy of our Holy Church and for an increase of vocations. We also remember those who spent their lives serving God and His people, being now retired and in need of our financial support.

The life of service within the Church is not without its occasional difficulties, but instead of focusing on temporary and occasional drawbacks, men who respond to Jesus’ call are strong, determined, brave, and faithful.

Are you ready to respond to God’s call, do you feel the support of family, friends, and a community praying for you? Now is the time to explore the possibilities of a life in the ministry of the Church. Whether you are married or single, a recent graduate, or on your second or third career, the Church encourages you to “Come and See”.

To find out more about vocations to the diaconate and the priesthood, please contact the Savonarola Theological Seminary of the Polish National Catholic Church, 1031 Cedar Ave, Scranton, PA 18505. School, (570) 961-9288, Office, (570) 343-0100.

Are You Observing Lent in Schenectady?

If you are, come and join with us and we can increase our Lenten prayer, sacrifice, fasting, charity, and forgiveness together.

ash_wednesdayThe season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 5th with our Service of Worship at 7:30pm at which ashes will be blessed and distributed. On this day we consciously receive ashes on our heads to symbolize penitence, humility and mortality. The powerful reminder in these ashes calls us into a Lent filled with sacred opportunities to return to a right relationship with Jesus.

We offer the Lenten Devotion of Stations of the Cross every Friday at 7:30pm – a great opportunity to add to your prayer life this Lent.

During Lent our Directed Giving program helps us to focus on sacrifice and charity as we gather food for those in need locally. Bring canned and dry goods each Sunday as an offering for those in need.

We also fast and abstain from meat every Wednesday and Friday in Lent and from Holy Wednesday through Holy Saturday. This practice helps us to remember Jesus’ sacrifice every time we sit down to eat a meal. By this small sacrifice we train with the easy stuff (but it seems so hard) so we can better fight the really tough things that try to draw us away from Jesus.

We hope and pray that you will join with us as we use these 40 very special days to the greatest possible good.