Prayer answered? Yes!

“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.. If you then … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we once again celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We can have confidence in the following things: Take the risks Jesus prompts us to venture and all turns out well. Know that Jesus is constantly seeking and looking for us, so we are safe in Him. Take up and accept Jesus’ call to service and learning from the word with great care and God’s promise will be alive in us.

Today we explore confidence in prayer; the fact that God responds to prayer and sees to our need.

How do you imagine prayer working, the mechanics of prayer? 

In today’s reading from Genesis, we see Abraham once again with God. This is a sort of part two after last week’s encounter between God and Abraham. Remember that God had promised a child to Abraham and Sarah. Now God was traveling on to Sodom and Gomor’rah to destroy them. Abraham pleads with the Lord over and over (as Jesus would say, knocking and pleading) because his nephew Lot and his family lived there.

This plea by Abraham, that Sodom and Gomor’rah be spared if any righteous people are found there, goes on and on, a sort of countdown of the righteous from fifty to ten. In the end not even ten are found, only four, and if you go on reading in Genesis Chapters 18 and 19 you will see that Lot and his family were barely righteous.

All of this makes prayer seem rather linear and time constrained, God hearing one man’s prayer over a series of hours. Seeing that, how could God possibly have time for my little prayers in the face of so many others?

Prayer does not work that way. This is because God is eternally present and not time bound. God is outside and beyond time, so our prayers are always in the present. Even if all the people of the world were to pray at once, each would be before God in His ever present now.

When we pray, we must always do so in confidence. Ask and receive – and be sure of this – what we receive is the gift of the Spirit alive in us: “the Father in heaven [will] give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” God responds to prayer and sees to our need by the Spirit’s presence in and with us. With God’s presence, the power of the Holy Spirit, we have power and can face all with courage, confidence, and trust.

Trust in Jesus.

Jesus said, “I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

I am so thankful that we have joined together in worship this Sunday as we celebrate the confidence we have in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Confidence is so important to us. We think of confidence in many ways – being sure of what we are doing, choosing our words carefully, and studying various approaches so to choose the best one for the most positive outcome. We don’t like making mistakes. We don’t like being embarrassed in our interactions with others or by our decisions.

Jesus sends His seventy-two disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, to evangelize talking about God and the way God wants us to live. They were people just like us with the same worries, the same need for confidence. Unlike us, they had not yet seen the resurrection of Jesus in power and glory, nor had they experienced the descent of the Holy Spirit.

They were to go in trust, asking people to change their lives completely – to prepare themselves because the Messiah was about to come into their town. The Kingdom was at hand for them.

Jesus prepares the seventy-two with certain instructions, how they were to travel, where they were to lodge. In these first few instructions Jesus asks them to make a leap of faith, to put their trust in Him. He even insisted they trust so far as to leave their money, their bags, and sandals behind. They were to trust that they would be fed and housed – it was all about trust.

He also gives them the words and authority they are to use: “cure the sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”

Those seventy-two went out and did as Jesus asked in complete trust. Because they did that, they were able to come back rejoicing. The rejoiced not because of who they were, nor because of their sneakers, backpacks, or money, nor because they had confidence. It was because they learned that trusting in Jesus gave them real victory over fear, doubt, hesitation, and being timid.

I began saying that we celebrate the confidence we have in Jesus today. You see, Jesus fully understands what we face if we do all He asks us to do. So, Jesus shows us that trust is enough. We don’t have to be sure of what we are doing because Jesus oversees the accomplishment. We don’t need to choose our words carefully. We have Jesus’ gospel. We don’t have to study various approaches to get the most positive outcome. All outcomes in Jesus are the best. Trusting in Jesus gives us ultimate victory, names inscribed in heaven.

Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention…

Joseph, the man, the myth, the legend, the reality.

There is so much tradition around St. Joseph, whether it be his particular patronages, to the myths that surround his intercession, that we tend to lose the reality of the man. The myth and legend sort of push out Joseph’s reality. So today, on the Solemnity dedicated to his role as the spouse of the Blessed Virgin, let us focus on his reality. That is where we, as followers of Jesus, can take instruction and improve in our discipleship. 

Let us look at those words found in today’s Gospel which focus on Joseph’s reality.

He decided.
He intended.

Don’t we all do that. The old saying, ‘The best laid plans…’ Like St. Joseph, we decide things, we intend things, yet in all those thoughts and plans we often find God taking us by surprise. St. Joseph certainly did. He found himself with a wife, and a soon to be born child. He found his life trajectory now subject to change.

His trajectory would be affected not just by God, but also by the political machinations of his day. Suddenly, off to Bethlehem of Judea for a census ordered by Caesar since he was of the house and lineage of David. Nathan’s communication of God’s promise to David would be fulfilled in that. David’s throne is now forever since his descendant, Jesus, the Christ, sits upon it and reigns from it.

From there, Joseph is to be affected by the murderous intents of Herod. Joseph, take your wife and the Child and go into Egypt. Well, that’s new. Then, Herod dies. Joseph, go back, but not to Judah, you have to move to Nazareth in Galilee. 

I do not think many of Joseph’s plans, aspirations, decisions, or intentions worked out the way he planned. On top of all that, he and Mary sort of existed in a constant state of wonderment – What did Simeon’s statement about Jesus mean? Why did Jesus say what He did after remaining behind in the temple?

In our discipleship journey, the best lesson we can take from St. Joseph is his complete trust in God’s plan, ears that listened to and accepted God’s word, and a willingness to go in a direction that was not in his personal game plan. St. Joseph teaches us to accept God’s plan with great patience and trust. His example calls us to live that patience and trust, to go God’s way, in an upright, virtuous, and moral manner.

One hundred years ago a group of people, right here in Schenectady, got thrown off kilter. Everything they thought would happen, everything they had planned for went away. They had already faced changes they might not have otherwise imagined, crossing the ocean, third-class steerage, and arriving in a new country, often without any resources other than hope. Once relatively established and in place the next challenge arose. They had to set off in a different direction so to honestly and forthrightly follow God’s Holy Word, the Gospel way. They had to trust in God Who was showing them the path to faithfulness. This they did, taking St. Joseph as the patron for this journey. How apropos! How right they were.

Like Joseph, the surprises kept coming, and the road was not easy or smooth for those people, yet they prevailed, and today we walk in the footsteps they first trod. How blessed we are to be Jesus’ disciples and heirs to holy St. Joseph’s beautiful legacy right here in Schenectady.

Certainly, St. Joseph will continue to intercede for each of us, as immigrants, caretakers, husbands, fathers, foster parents, expectant mothers, workers, and for a peaceful falling asleep in the Lord. Who knows, he may even intercede for the sale of our homes…

More importantly, as we continue our journey, let us be imitators of St. Joseph’s reality, ever ready to say yes to God’s promptings; to go in a direction we otherwise would not. Let us be ready to go and to build. May we trust in God’s way. So too, let us remain loyal to the Blessed Mother Mary by properly honoring her and most of all, let us love Jesus above all by walking as Joseph did. Amen.

O Jesus Christ, my Savior and healer, You traveled through towns and villages “curing every disease and illness.” At Your command, the sick were made well. Come to our aid now, in the midst of the global spread of the coronavirus, that we may experience Your protection, providence, and healing.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Renew faith in our people so that they may come to truly know You as Savior and Redeemer, acknowledge You as the source of every good gift, and live as witnesses to Your power and glory as You overcome all things.

Show forth Your mighty hand! 

Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health and return to Your Holy Church to give thanks and take up anew witness to You.  Heal us also from our fear and from all panic.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus Christ, healer of all, stay by our side in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.  Welcome those who have died from the virus into Your heavenly kingdom.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your peace.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help, who put themselves at risk in the process. May they be enlightened by the power and outpouring of Your Holy Spirit so as to find a treatment and a vaccine and to stay strong in the battle.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Be with the leaders of all nations. Give them the foresight to act with charity and true concern for the well-being of the people they serve. Give them the wisdom to invest in long-term solutions. May they know your peace, as they work together to achieve it on earth.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your peace.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Jesus Christ, heal us.

Show forth Your mighty hand!

Amen! Amen!

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.

Getting to
work.

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”

One more week has gone by, and how many years have passed in Jesus’ life? Twenty-eight more!

Jesus, having been baptized by John, is praying alongside the Jordan, and the Father and the Holy Spirit reveal him. In other gospel accounts, we find John pointing to Jesus and telling His disciples: “Look, the Lamb of God!” This is similarly a form of revealing, of pointing out and pointing to Jesus. The next sentence after that pointing out tells us what happened: When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

This year, we are asked to dedicate ourselves to discipleship, to set to work in better following Jesus: To trust, to be willing, and to get to work following Jesus.

If you read our Bishop’s Pastoral Letter, you will see, simply explained, the ways we can do that. If you have looked at our parish newsletter, you read about the parallels between discipleship and apprenticeship. Are we ready to sign our Jesus Union Card and get to learning and working?

Whoa Pastor, what do you mean? I have to do what?

That shock might come from some sort of self-assessment – I am not strong enough, willing enough, I don’t have the skill for, or I am simply unwilling to set to that kind of work. Others could then turn around and comment, judging from afar – oh, look at them – they do so little. What we do not do is scrape away the top layer; we don’t look deeper. Underneath that attitude we may very well find poor self-opinion, a belief in one’s unworthiness or fear of disappointing God; guilt, past error, or fear weighing people down. If that is the case in your life, and it certainly has been in mine, then look at what Peter said in the house of Cornelius – “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Serious words – God chose us, allowed us to be baptized into His family, His Union, His discipleship. God does not choose stupidly. Trust that.

When John’s disciples (learners) ran up to Jesus to be His learners, Jesus didn’t ask for an application or a resume. There was no test – only willingness. Be willing.

Jesus has been revealed. With trust and willingness, we must take the first step – and the next – learning from Him, modeling His life, getting to work. Not stopping. Following Him.

Lord, save your
servants.

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!

Ahaz was the King of Judah, a king in the line of David. He was a man without faith and he refused to follow the guidance of Isaiah. The prior king, Hezekiah, was a man of trusting faith and he followed Isaiah’s guidance.

Now Ahaz was in trouble. King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had joined together to attack Ahaz’s capital, Jerusalem. Isaiah steps forward to assure Ahaz that they will not be successful, yet Ahaz will not believe. Rather than placing his confidence in God’s word, he takes the treasures he has stolen from the temple and sends them to the king of Assyria.

Ahaz goes even further. In sending this “gift” to the king of Assyria he says: “I am your servant and your son. Come up, and rescue me.” He effectively rejects God’s help and chooses a pagan king instead.

Through Isaiah, God speaks to the urgent need of trusting in His promises by issuing a threat: “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Isaiah’s words speak to us too. We need to trust God, and there is inherent danger in failing to do so. Whether Ahaz stands or falls, whether we stand or fall, depends entirely on trust in God’s word.

In the face of Ahaz’s unbelief, his rejection, and his failure to trust, God tries one more time. He tells Ahaz – ask for anything, anything at all. God makes His divine power available to Ahaz in a limitless manner. Ahaz, however, refuses this opportunity. His unbelief is complete. His refusal to trust finally wears down God’s patience. So, God gives His sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.

At the start of Holy Mass we placed a special focus on examining our conscience and asking God for His forgiveness. In doing so we take seriously the prophecy of Isaiah. This is a text that points to God’s saving power and the surety of condemnation for unbelief. Where do we place ourselves, standing at the manger? Will we trust God and ask for the sky, or shrink away?

Today’s gospel reminds us – the Messiah’s coming is immanent! It is almost here!

Jesus is messianic in the fullest sense of the word – He saves, teaches, blesses, forgives, and judges. In this Advent season, we must remember that the King whose return we long for, Who we are preparing for, will return in full apocalyptic glory, as both Judge and Savior. In these last few days of Advent we are invited to hope, pray, and long for this revelation. We are invited most of all to prepare by increasing our trust in the Lord’s power to save. Trust and say: Lord, save me, Your servant!

Where is
God?

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

This week we experienced great joys at the annual Kurs encampment for the Church’s youth and children. We grew in faith and knowledge of the Lord. We focused our reverence on God alone.

This week we experienced great sadness at the prejudice that still exists in our country – the great American sin or as author and Christian activist Jim Wallis titles his book – America’s Original Sin. This week we also experienced great shock as one man decided to fight violence with violence, who took up the cause of hatred and wrought death instead of peace, reconciliation and life.

It is easy to see God at work when young hearts are opened, when barriers are broken down, when a person comes to the realization that God is with them. But, when we look at divided cultures and gridlocked power structures that fail to end systemic sin or worse yet, encourage sin and death, we feel that God is far from us.

That is the problem with expecting that we can “feel” God’s intervention. Sure, it is easy in good or joyous times to feel God. It might even be possible in times of tragedy; we run to the Lord to feel His comfort. But what about times such as these where we are hammered day-by-day with evil? What about times when our leaders and those with responsibility fail to stop and root out evil, or worse yet, condone it?

If we were to rely on feelings we would be tossed about like little boats on the sea. Up and down, He’s there; He’s not there. I don’t know. Moses got that. He knew that God had been with Israel through their exodus, before the enemy, in time of famine, thirst, sickness, and death. He had been there when Israel turned its back and ran away, even when they completely failed to trust in the Lord. Moses saw with eyes that had been taught by faith. It took him awhile, but he finally got it.

Like Moses we must build and renew our faith trust. Faith trust tells us that God is with us, not up in the sky, nor across the sea. No, very near to us. Faith trust tells us that He will answer us. With faith trust we will not loose heart in confronting evil. With faith trust we are secure even in the face of certain death. With faith trust we will see God act mightily in our life. Don’t just hope that we might feel His presence. Know He is here.

Are our hearts
hard?

The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him. He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.” But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment.

This is the day – the set of readings and gospel – we dread to hear. God is laying out His plan for our lives, how we are to act, what we must believe, and the fact that we just cannot make our own rules. These things are difficult for us to hear. As with Israel, we want things our own way.

God is great when He blesses us, but when He tells us the way we must go, the narrow road we must tread, then we balk. We fear the hard questions because the answers are not easy to hear and are even harder to carry out. We often ask – well why can’t..? Why can’t those two people marry? Why can’t we just live together? Why are you getting in the way of my good time?

These and other questions are certainly with us. To get to the answers we must start with a more basic question: Who am I?

As humans we are both honorable and shameful. We are God’s glorious creation, made in His image. We are also fallen from innocence and marred by the sin that pushes us further and further away from the image of God in us. Great evil occurs most readily where the answer to ‘Who am I?’ gives way to hard-hearted, egotistical, and self-centered answers. These offer the wrong answers to the question of who we are.

At an even more fundamental level, we must ask the most important question anyone could ever ask. This is, of course, the question of who God is. Who is this god – the God revealed to us by our Lord and Savior or another deity? Is God pure truth, without lie or deceit, or just a great bunch of suggestions?

In order to understand the image of God within us, we must first decide Who He is. To find the answer to all questions we must fix our eyes on life according to God who does not lie. Otherwise we end up with nothing more than a take-it-or-leave-it menu god, a set of options that offer no real path to life. We end up with ourselves, life according to us. Then we remain with hard hearts because there is nothing else. I am all I have.

Jesus understands our struggle in answering hard questions – finding Him and ourselves. To cure our hard-heartedness He told us to have the faith of a child: “for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” That kind of trust, unquestioning and unrestrained, will melt our hearts and give us every answer.

Reflection for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

16809

Your directions are
…hard to follow.

“Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.”

We know this story. Having spent the month of June reflecting on and praying for the gift of vocations to the Diaconate and Holy Priesthood we hear Jesus’ words echoing, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

There are several ways we might reflect on today’s gospel.

There is the obvious – we need to listen for God’s call and go out to do His work. God’s field awaits workers. We have to be the ones who listen to Him and set out to do His work, to bring His good news to those who are unaware of His marvelous promises. We have to be the ones willing to sacrifice what everyone else thinks is “normal” to follow His call to serve our brothers and sisters.

The other part, the less obvious, is the aspect of trust we must exhibit in following Jesus.

The seventy-two who were called to go out and spread the good news might well have been shocked by Jesus’ directions: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Think how those words might sound to us today: “Carry no cell phone, suitcase, wallet, purse, shoes or sneakers.” Just go out, march down the road to the next suburb, knock on a door, and see if you are welcome. Whatever house you go to, say “Peace to this household.

If we reflect on the picture at the top of today’s bulletin, this is what Jesus asks us to do, to first love. Wish peace upon everyone, in every encounter, at every doorstep. Place our trust that Jesus will fulfill our wish for peace and give that peace to those who accept Him.

Next, live. We cannot just exist. With Jesus in our lives we have purpose and reason – a beautiful existence, a wonderful life, and most importantly a life that will never end.

Finally, lead. Knock on those doors and live life based on trust in Jesus. The cell phone, suitcase, wallet, purse, shoes or sneakers are just things. We have to show what we truly value by our example. We have to show others that our trust is in the One who makes money bags, sacks, and sandals of far lesser importance. Then we have to lead by loving, living, and speaking that trust, helping them to see beyond perceived importance to true importance, true vitality, change we can believe in: true life with Jesus.