Cleaning out.

  • First reading: Hosea 2:16,17,21,22
  • Psalm: 103:1-4,8,10,12-13
  • Epistle: 2 Corinthians 3:1-6
  • Gospel: Mark 2:18-22

“No, new wine is poured in new wineskins.”

We are in the final half-week of this short season dedicated to preparation for our Lenten journey. It is a season of ‘cleaning out the old’ to make room for the new thing God has waiting for us.

In the first Sunday of Pre-Lent we recognized our likeness to the leper in the Gospel. We acknowledged the fact that we need Jesus to make us clean, clean from old idols and rebellion against God. We were asked to trust that He will indeed cleanse us.

Last week we saw Jesus forgiving sin and showing forth this authority to do so through the curing of the paralytic. Jesus came to cleanse us at an entirely different level – like with the paralytic a cleansing so deep it is complete. St. Paul reminded us that God’s promises are sure and firm. He will do what He says, providing us complete cleansing, forgiveness, and healing. We need only trust.

Today we focus on the room we have made by cleaning out the old and by trusting in God to cleanse us. The room we have made prepares us for the new thing God has waiting for us.

Have you ever reflected on how amazing God is at doing something new? Who else but our God would do new amazing things like lead His people dry shod through the midst of the sea on their way to freedom? Who else would cause the walls of the world’s strongest city to fall before His people? Who would allow His servants to walk safely through the hottest oven ever built? Who would give victory to His armies in the face of overwhelming opposition? Who would send His Son to save us? Who would love a prostitute?

Wait, what? Yes, who else, beside our amazing God, would be bold enough to do what no one else would do, love a prostitute.

The story of the Prophet Hosea is exactly that, God’s next new thing. Hosea was commanded to go out, find, clean up, and marry Gomer the prostitute. Hosea was commanded to go after her, even when she chose to leave him so she could go back to prostitution. In this relationship, God shows forth the depth of His love, a love ever new and renewing. A love deep, complete, and powerful to do new for Gomer and for us.

Jesus speaks of clothes and wineskins. Imagine your oldest most threadbare clothes. God’s ever new way is not to fix up your old clothes with patches, trying to cover the holes that leave us exposed. Rather, He has prepared new brilliant white clothes for us to wear into the kingdom. He does not want to fill the old us with His new wine, His word and His very self. If He did, we would burst. Rather He makes us new, in and out, and ready to receive His next new thing this Lent. 

Cleaning out.

  • First reading: Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24-25
  • Psalm: 41:2-3,4-5,13-14
  • Epistle: 2 Corinthians 1:18-22
  • Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

We are in the second week of this short two-and-a-half-week season dedicated to preparation for our Lenten journey. It is a season of ‘cleaning out the old’ to make room for the new thing God has waiting for us.

Last Sunday we recognized our likeness to the leper in the Gospel. We acknowledged the fact that we must throw away the old idols within us and clean ourselves of the rebellion against God that is in us. We must ask Jesus to cleanse us of our ẓaraʿat, and trust that He will cleanse us.

Jesus pointedly brings that message home to us today. We must trust that He can and will cleanse us.

The story of the paralyzed man and his friends is dramatic. A crowded street and entryway to a home. People pressing in on all sides, the man and his friends unable to get to Jesus. They get up to the roof and tear it open to lower their friend to Jesus. It is miracle time. Jesus is going to cleanse him of his paralyzing condition.

Jesus had been sitting there speaking the word to them. He was proclaiming the gospel message, repent and believe, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. I have come to free you from your handicaps, from your blindness and captivity. He was alluding to the words of Isaiah: The past is forgotten; a new way is being made. No matter how obstinate you have been, no matter how sinful, for My own sake I wipe out your offenses, and remember not your sins. I have come to cleanse you at a whole different level – completely.

Some in the room were listening, others not. Along (or down) comes the paralyzed man. The room goes silent. What will happen next. Will he walk? Will Jesus fail?

Jesus looks up and says: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I am hereby cleansing you of every sin, every failing, every fault. 

The Scribes (read lawyers) were shocked. Jesus cannot cleanse that way. That is blasphemy. So, Jesus confronts them. He asks them what is harder, the cleansing of forgiveness or of healing.

Jesus shows that His cleaning is God’s cleaning and that His cleaning is at a different level – it is so deep it is complete.

St. Paul got our doubt about the completeness of Jesus’ cleansing. How could God free me, heal me, cleanse me. That is why Paul told us that Jesus is YES and AMEN. In Greek “yes” means “sure” and “amen” means “firm.” All of God’s promises are sure and firm. They are unchanging, unwavering, and unmovable. He will do what He says. He will provide us complete cleansing. Jesus has forgiveness and healing waiting for us. Yes, we can trust in Him.

Cleaning out.

  • First reading: Leviticus 13:1-2,44-46
  • Psalm: 32:1-2,5,11
  • Epistle: 1 Corinthians 10:31 – 11:1
  • Gospel: Mark 1:40-45

He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. 

Just prior to Holy Mass I noted that we enter the Pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima today.

This short two-and-a-half-week season is dedicated to preparation for our Lenten journey. It is a season of ‘cleaning out the old’ to make room for the new thing God has waiting for us.

The Hebrew term ẓaraʿat is traditionally rendered “leprosy” because of its Greek translation as “lepra.” The Greek word for leper covers a wide range of diseases that produced scales including many non-contagious types. Greek lepra may have included true leprosy but was not limited to it. It is likely that the banished, like the man who approached Jesus in today’s Gospel, were lifelong sufferers.

Leprosy was most often attributed to the sufferer’s sin. In scripture, whenever a reason is given for an attack of ẓaraʿat, it is in connection with a person challenging duly constituted authority. Miriam challenged the prophetic supremacy of Moses (Numbers 12); Gehazi disobeyed the will of his master Elisha (2 Kings 5); and King Uzziah challenged the exclusive prerogative of the priests to offer incense (2 Chronicles 26).

In this first week of Pre-Lent, let us consider our ẓaraʿat, the leprosy we carry from our challenges to God’s duly constituted authority and that imparted to His Holy Church by the Holy Spirit.

Did our spines and muscles tense just then. What do you mean I have to listen and follow, give up my way of doing things and do what God and that Church are telling me to do? Are you kidding me? I am free to decide! And there is our ẓaraʿat. It lives in our rebellious natures.

From Lucifer to Adam and Eve to the people of Babel and Abraham, to Miriam, Gehazi, and Uzziah, rebellion was the ẓaraʿat that needed to be cleansed in them. 

Rebellion is the leprosy that needs to be cleansed in us. Rebellion is bitter, angry, violent, corrupt, and stubborn. It is contention and dispute, pridefulness. Rebellion defies God’s will and is the enemy’s bad fruit. It is the refusal to turn ourselves over to God.

We choose rebellion because we fear placing our complete trust in God. To solve rebellion in us, we must be wholeheartedly His. We must take the courage to step out and hand over everything to Christ.

Like the leper in today’s Gospel, we must ask Jesus to cleanse us. We must throw away the idol within our heart that says, ‘You cannot have me.’ Yes, we must come to Him from wherever we are, with our whole being, and beg to be cleansed of our ẓaraʿat.

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 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.

Stretch
out.

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; He has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

Health and exercise experts advise us to stretch before exercising – in other words to prepare before doing.

The benefits of stretching include increased flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention. Websites and exercise books list myriad benefits derived from stretching including: Stretching encourages an optimistic outlook; Improves our posture; Enables flexibility; Increases stamina; Decreases the risk of injury; Gives us more energy; Promotes blood circulation; Improves performance; Reduced soreness; and Reduces cholesterol.

Today we enter the Pre-Lenten season of preparation – a time for stretching. The Church asks us to prepare ourselves for the Lenten journey so that our Lenten workout will pay off.

Athletes would attest that failure to stretch before getting into the game will almost certainly result in injury. So it is with our Lenten journey. Will we go into Lent without having prepared? Will we wonder somewhere around the fourth Sunday in Lent – Am I getting anything out of this? Has my prayer life, charity, evangelization, sacrifice, repentance, or forgiveness increased or am I in the same place I was on January 1st? Have I improved?

Stretching for God results in the same good that athletes get. Our outlook becomes more optimistic because we get a better picture of God’s mercy. We see the beauty of what He has done for us, of His promise, much more clearly and we become joyful in that knowledge. Our spiritual posture improves – we begin to carry ourselves as people of faith in all that we do. We become more flexible – not in terms of accepting sin or saying that it is ok, acceptable, allowable, or a choice – but in removing judgmentalism and replacing it with compassion. Our spiritual stamina increases – we can pray, read scripture, and do good works longer and without distraction. Best of all, our preparation, our stretching decreases the risk of self-injury. We learn to turn away from sin, to stop harming ourselves and others by our sinful action or inaction, by our words or by our failure to speak God’s truth.

Will our blood pressure and cholesterol improve this Lent? While scientific studies differ on the benefits of spiritual practice, we do know that if we sacrifice and avoid temptation then our spiritual and physical health will improve.

Sirach reminds us that by stretching out to God we will be saved. Now is the time to renew our stretching out to salvation.

Septuagesima / Czas Przedpoście

Pre-Lent, or Septuagesima, began with the ninth week before Easter and includes the Polish names for the weeks dating from around 1248.

The liturgical period is a prelude to Lent and a remote preparation for Easter. It serves as a time of transition from Christmas joy to Lenten sobriety. The Gloria/Chwała is omitted.

Let this time cause you to focus on your journey with Jesus.