We are
among them.

Hard of face and obstinate of heart are they to whom I am sending you. But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD! And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

History is amazing study. The more we delve into history, the more we find humanity repeating it over and over.

Since Israel’s freedom from subjugation under the Pharaohs, the people began to lose faith and complain. They complained in various was over forty years of wandering. Joshua and the Judges came, they complained and began to follow gods of stone and wood. Trees and flowers held more fascination for them than the great miracles God was doing in their midst. By Ezekiel’s time, everything was god but God. He was at the end of three centuries of pagan life in the two kingdoms.

Ezekiel sums up the ways people had gone astray. Among these are a covetousness that lusted, longed, yearned, and desired each person’s own selfish ends. It is selfishness in its purest and most extreme form. Israel misread God’s love, grace, and goodness. They thought they could do whatever they wanted without consequence. Israel abused blessings on loan from God – they took the worship and gifts that were to go to Him and placed them at their own purposes. Selfish desire was more important than community, family, children, and life itself.

As we well know, greater responsibility is attached to those who own superior spiritual advantages. Israel ignored what they had, owned, possessed, held right in their hands. They wiped their memory clear of all that God had done and lived ‘for the moment.’ Today was all that mattered to them. As such, their sin demanded a more severe judgment.

Jesus faced a similar resistance in His hometown. People focused on what they thought were being said, and who was saying it (their perspective) instead of what was actually being said and what it represented. Their selfish ends were once again in front. They misread God’s love in their midst. They did not consider consequences.

Ezekiel and Jesus confronted hard hearts that would not move and selfishness. Those traits in our world today are a thousand times greater than former times. So now, today, we must stand forth. They must know that we are among them by the truth we tell.

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.”

Bewildered, convicted,
witnessing.

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

This Lent we continue our focus on the fruits of conviction. Because of our jealousies and selfishness, we face God’s conviction. In our weakness, we chose desire over faithfulness, temporary and fleeting satisfaction over eternal joy, conflict over peace, labor over work, shame, worry, cares, and threats. If we accept our conviction and plead guilty we are given access to the full treasury of God’s grace that starts with His forgiveness, the washing away of our sin.

As new people in Jesus our conviction moves from the conviction of guilt to a conviction in righteousness. We live in the assurance of God’s blessing and become all that God has called us to be.

The story of the nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of John, is a revealing one, full of many truths and powerful lessons.

This was an extraordinary woman. She was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, and she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This woman was not welcome at the well while the other women were there – she had to come alone. She was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the sixth in a series of men.

What happens with this woman is a perfect parallel to the experience of all people. Her conviction by both Jews and her own people was tough to bear. She may have felt terrible about it, yet she refused to admit – really admit – her sin. She persisted in it. Yet God waits to meet her.

Jesus waited for her. Jesus meets her at the well as He meets us when we are in sin and desperate. He is there, even if we haven’t fully accepted our conviction, waiting.

In their conversation, Jesus opens the truths of His care – these truths apply to all of us. He cares, so He encounters us and speaks to us. He has something to give us that no one else can give – living water, truth that gives life. He teaches us about right worship – stemming from Sprit and truth; not just form or function or place. He knows our reality and He holds it up to us asking us to accept conviction – because in the end, we are asked to be honest. He values us enough to not just seek us, but to give us the freedom of choice; conviction or excuse. Like us, she had a choice. Like us, the gifts awaited.

The woman came to recognize God – more than the disciples had. All from one encounter. She went from bewilderment at this encounter, to conviction, to acceptance, to finally witnessing and drawing her community to Jesus. She was saved, fruit from conviction.

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

When the captain and the court officers had brought the apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name? Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” The Sanhedrin ordered the apostles to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.

Last week we heard of John’s witness. His witness to new life in Jesus was recorded near the very end of the apostolic era. Today we see a glimpse into the beginning of that era.

The apostles had recently experienced the infusion of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They never asked – What was that? The first thing they did was to stand on a balcony and proclaim the coming, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. They spent the weeks and months ahead preaching, not to gather followers, but to share the saving work of Jesus. They wanted everyone to know about God’s wonderful gift of freedom and Jesus’s glorious gift of friendship, the very same friendship He offered to them at the seashore. The apostles did not preach themselves as some sort of new leadership. They did not point to themselves as having anything to offer – they offered what they had – their witness to Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and ascended.

Today we will welcome Vincent John into the family of Christ. What we hope and pray is that in his life he will see each of us witness strongly to Jesus crucified, raised, and ascended. Hopefully, he will never see any one of us putting ourselves before the proclamation of Jesus. Hopefully, he will see and find in the Church his new and eternal family. Hopefully, he too will take up the mantle of witness so that his children and his children’s children will know Jesus as friend and savior – the One Who offers complete freedom.

Together with Vincent we have this great opportunity, but it comes with what might be seen as a problem… Jesus’ witnesses will not go without worldly assault. There is a cost to accepting Jesus. This arrest marks the third time they had been apprehended. Soon Stephen would be chosen, would proclaim and witness, would be arrested and would be martyred. The apostles’ greatest witness is that opportunity in Jesus is greater than any challenge. It is why they lived fearless lives.

Vincent, as we have all done, takes on the opportunity and challenge. His is the call to witness to the promise of God’s friendship and freedom, which is greater than any fear. That is the real glory isn’t it? The reward is that all of us have complete power and assurance in Christ. No fear in us because of Him. Ours is fearless life forever!

Witnessing to Jesus
without fear.

He touched me with his right hand and said, “Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.”

John, Jesus’ beloved Apostle, is exiled on a Greek island. He’d been cut off from His community. They tried to kill him repeatedly without success. If they couldn’t kill him, at least they could send him far away and shut him up. That didn’t work either. While on this far away rock Jesus comes to John. He gives him a command. Write what you see so that your witness will be preserved. The words of your mouth and the writing you undertake in my Holy Name cannot be silenced. To reinforce this Jesus showed up in the fullness of heavenly glory.

For nearly eighty years, John had traveled the world, proclaiming the saving action of Jesus. He met the resurrected Jesus on that awesome Sunday. That gave him more than just power and the ability to speak and write. It gave him the gift of joy. No matter where he would end up, no matter where he would go, he had Jesus – and a clear path to eternal life.

Many heard him. He wrote his witness and sent letters. Because of his witness some believed. They came to Jesus by faith. Many others walked away or outright rejected the message.

The question of Jesus has perplexed generations. Encountering and believing in Jesus was even difficult for the Apostles. The whole group thought that they had seen a ghost. Thomas couldn’t see it. To this day Jesus is accepted by few and rejected by many.

Jesus showed forth His power over nature, sickness, and death itself. His resurrection attests to His Divinity, and we embrace Him. Yet many are like a judge in a court who has heard an open-and-shut case and then reaches a verdict exactly opposite from the facts. Everything about Jesus was astounding, astonishing, humanly inexplicable, marvelous, superhuman, supernatural, and Divine. Many saw it all and still refused Jesus. Is it any wonder then that “Jesus marveled at their unbelief?” How can one be exposed to such an infinite number of convincing credentials and witnesses and walk away?

Like John we have the gift of faith and the power of Jesus in us. We have witnessed amazing things. Hearts and lives are changed, peace comes, healing is made real, and death is no more. The tomb is empty! Joy is ours. Jesus has changed our lives as He changed Thomas’. Like the Apostles, the sent, we have these great gifts and a heart to share them. Never fear witnessing to Him and all these amazing things. Rejection cannot overcome the joy we have. Let us remain steadfast and take Jesus’ word to heart: “Do not be afraid.”

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Times of challenge
and peace

The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

Saul has been converted and because of the generosity, friendship, wholeheartedness, and witness of Barnabas is brought into the fold in Jerusalem even though the fellowship still feared him. Saul is welcomed and he sets out with zeal to proclaim the name of Jesus. The Greek Jews, having heard Saul’s witness set out to kill him and the Church spirits him away, back to his hometown of Tarsus.

The first three years since Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit had been both edifying and trying. Judas was replaced. Many believers were added. The faithful witnessed out-in-the-open. They prayed in the Temple, healed, and talked about Jesus to all who would listen. Many were added, and the Church was of one heart and soul and marked by a consistent spirit of harmony, but a price was being paid. The Apostles were hauled into court and they were whipped. Stephen was martyred.

Certainly Saul’s conversion did not end prosecution. Others likely followed in his footsteps. The Greek speaking Jews plot to kill Saul shows the hatred that existed. Yet suddenly the Church was at peace.

Some scholars point out that the Jewish leadership had to take its eyes off the Christians for a while. They were probably having bigger problems with Rome. The Governor wanted to erect a statue to Caesar in the Temple. There could be a thousand other reasons as well.

As in the early Church our faith is tested at times and at other times we find ourselves at peace. Decades ago a faith commitment was seen as a likely part of most people’s lives. Going to church and following the tenants and aims of the Christian faith were ‘normal.’ In the modern age any true witness to the reality of Jesus and commitment to following His commands would be met with laughter and mockery at a minimum. We might find ourselves thought of as old-fashioned and outdated. At the extreme we may lose friends, face ostracism at work, possible termination from jobs or clubs and organizations, and even a court appearance or two. To us these may be fates worse than death.

The common thread we hear today is that Christians must witness publicly to Jesus – to His way. We must do this whether the Church is filled with joyous zeal, is under persecution, or is living in times of peace. In all times the Church will grow in numbers by the commitment and dedication of His disciples (us) to the One who is the only truth and the true vine.

Reflection for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time 2014

Thess_2

Living the model
Church

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. And we also thank God constantly for this.

What is the model Church? Paul’s letter to the Church at Thessalonica gives us some clues of what it means to live the model Church, to be part of it, to live lives as models of Jesus’ call to discipleship.

This weekend also presents us with a vision of what will happen for those who have modeled discipleship in the model Church – they will become saints.

A model is an ideal. It may be a model practice, a model process – it is the best way of going about something so to reach success. In business we might see model sales practices or model accountability processes.

So what does it mean to be model Christians in the model Church? As mentioned, Paul gave us some clues.

To live model lives of discipleship in the model Church we must allow the Gospel to make an impact on our lives as it did on the Thessalonians. They received and lived the Gospel faithfully and Paul had praised them for it. If we take up their model practices we will live faithfully, labor diligently, and remain steadfast in the love of the Lord. We will be fully convicted of the absolute truth of Jesus’ way of life. We will imitate the lives of the saints. We will receive and proclaim God’s way of life – the Gospel – even in the face of much suffering and opposition because our true joy is in the Holy Spirit and the promise of everlasting life (something we particularly remember all of November). The model Church proclaims and teaches all these things, is godly in its conduct, and has its sole focus on leading people to God’s truth, in no way ‘watering it down.’

Paul himself lived a model life – calling non-believers to the faith, being gentle in teaching those new to the faith, working hard, not making a burden of himself, and boldly proclaiming the Gospel – never being ashamed of it; fully trusting in the Holy Spirit.

God has placed opportunity all around us. We meet people and are called to model Christ to them, to share the true faith, and to welcome them into faith. We are to work hard and even suffer by being counter-cultural – saying no to the sin of ‘everything goes.’ True and eternal freedom comes through Jesus, and faithfulness to Him. Model discipleship in the model Church, sainthood, calls us to live and work in such a way as to advance the cause of the gospel in our lives and the lives of others. We receive the word of God… accept it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God. And, we put it to work.

Reflection for the 6th Sunday of Easter 2014

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Let us see who
has given witness

Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.

Philip was one of the first seven deacons of the Church. The proto-martyr Stephen had just been executed by stoning (Acts 7). Saul and his men were going house-to-house, dragging out Christians and bringing them to trial, throwing them in prison, and killing them. By Acts 12 we see James the brother of John killed by Herod. The Church historian Eusebius tells us that James the Just, the Apostle and so-called Brother of the Lord was placed on the pinnacle of the temple, thrown down, then clubbed and stoned – for he would not forsake the Lord.

Leading him into their midst they demanded of him that he should renounce faith in Christ in the presence of all the people. But, contrary to the opinion of all, with a clear voice, and with greater boldness than they had anticipated, he spoke out before the whole multitude and confessed that our Savior and Lord Jesus is the Son of God. But they were unable to bear longer the testimony of the man… they slew him.

Philip was among those scattered in the first major persecution of the Church. Being scattered did not prevent him, or any of these others, from witnessing to the faith. Each of those we read about, and the countless number of Christians whose names we will never know, proclaimed the word and kept the faith in good times and bad.

This proclamation of the word and witness were not an accident. It was prompted by faith in the promises of Jesus. These witnesses lived in the Spirit Who had filled them with His gifts and strengthened them for the task.

Jesus promised those who would be baptized, who would come to Him in faith, would never be left orphans: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always. They would always have what is necessary to witness.

The Spirit has drawn men and women – and us – to give witness. Thus, while the Church may have been scattered in persecution (persecution that still exists in many places to this day) witness has never ceased.

As we reflect this weekend on those who have given their lives in witness to national freedom, let us also reflect on those who are giving witness to the truth that surpasses country and nation. Whether we live in relative safety or are among the persecuted – are we giving witness to the truth? Let us abide in the Spirit and ask that He give us the courage to give testimony always and everywhere.

Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent 2014

whoIsHe

May my sight
never falter

“We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.

Jesus cures a man born blind.

Rather than being thankful for this tremendous miracle, the Pharisees argue about the nature of Jesus – is He good or evil. They formed arguments to refute the goodness and holiness of Jesus, to show that He was not from God. They went so far as to summon the man’s parents, hoping they would testify that their son wasn’t really blind, or that this wasn’t their son. They testified that it is their son and he was indeed born blind.

The parents wouldn’t go so far to admit that Jesus had cured their son; they were afraid of losing their social standing.

The Pharisees were trying to disprove what had happened. The parents were trying to avoid what happened. Everyone was closing his or her eyes before the man born blind, a man who could now see.

The man born blind gives solid testimony and states the facts: I was born blind. Jesus made mud, told me to wash, and now I see. Jesus is a prophet. I will not pass judgment on Jesus, as you would have me do. All I know is that I was blind and now I see. Then he stands up and rebukes the blind Pharisees:

“This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”

Their blindness was so deep that they cursed him and threw him out.

We must take care to avoid blindness. We must not harden our hearts and shut our eyes to what is obvious. When we do falter in seeing, we must repent of our blindness.

Our Lenten journey calls us to recognize the blindness in our lives. Is it judgmentalism and legalism – living like the Pharisees and believing that we have all the right answers and everyone else is sinful and wrong? Is it fear, like the man’s parents, such fear that we hold back from bearing witness to God’s truth? Let us call upon Jesus. Jesus who said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see.” Let us ask Jesus for the ability to see and ask for His healing. Let us ask Him for courage and the grace to never falter in seeing rightly.

Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent

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What do I look like?
Jesus!

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body”

Our theme for this year is You + Jesus + Community = Success.

Today we recall Jesus’ transfiguration. In this moment we see the glory of Jesus, which is also the promise of our glory in Him.

When we join ourselves to Jesus in faith and baptism we are made part of all that He is. This includes every aspect of what Jesus is: priest, king, servant, healer, prophet, light, teacher, and so many more things. He is everything good, wonderful, and righteous.

The world looks at us and tries to discern in our words and actions what Jesus might be for the world. As such, they will only know Him, and what they can be, if they see Him in us.

It is said that six out of every ten people do not know Jesus, what He truly represents. Certainly, many might think Jesus was a nice person who gave us wise words. They may look at Him as a teacher on par with their favorite teacher or philosopher. How is He any different from those others?

They will only know His difference and the value of His promises if we proclaim and model what oneness with Him is.

We must take on all that He is and represent that before the world. We are to be Jesus as priest, king, servant, healer, prophet, light, and teacher to everyone we encounter.
In the transfiguration we see Jesus as more than just Moses – who delivered the law to the Jewish people and led them out of captivity. We see He is more than the prophets, represented by Elijah, who offered wise teachings and guidance to the Jewish people when they were going astray. He is what Moses and Elijah represent, but so much more too. He is God. We hear the Father acknowledge and state that from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!

When we join ourselves to Jesus we obtain the fullness of His promises, including the fact that we will share in His glory as citizens of heaven – the glory we observe today. As St. Paul tells the Philippians: He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.

By joining ourselves to Jesus, by being Him before the world, we proclaim His truth. He is God who has joined Himself to us, and asks us to join ourselves to Him. In union with Him we offer the truth of His promises – that by joining with Him we will achieve eternal glory and true success.