June 6, 2023
Priest, preacher, pastor: what's the difference? As I celebrated my fiftieth anniversary the other day as a priest someone asked me that. What's the difference? By the way, I remember as a child in fourth grade in a public school in Virginia a teacher called on me to spell priest. When I failed to she pointed out that I was Catholic and should have been able to do so. In any case priest, by definition is one who offers sacrifice. Sacrifice is one way throughout all cultures whereby one demonstrates physically that the recepient is god. This applies whether one is looking at the sacrifice of lambs, bulls, or even a grain of incense before the emperor. No other human act accomplishes as much. We might sing praise to God but we can legitimately sing the praise of our love one. We can give money to God with no expectation of return. But we do the same with our children. We might ask forgiveness from Him. But we do the same with one another. We give thanks to him and we do so daily to others. We petition for our needs and again we do so with others. Then there are two different kinds of sacrifice. There are those that are totally immolated, burned up with no benefit and those where the priest and others can share in it as a sign of communion with the god. This was the case of the Passover where it was to all be eaten or burned up. It is also the reason some early Christians had a problem buying meat which had been sacrificed to the pagan gods. In Hebews Jesus is referred to as 'the apostle and high priest of our confession.' , 'designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizadek', 'a high priest forever', 'e entered once for all into the holy place, taking not the blood of goats and calves bt his own blood', 'he is the mediator of a new covenant' and so, at the Last Supper He said 'this is the new and everlasting covenant, do this as my memorial'. With this the apostles and those they laid hands on to make presbyters have always understood their call to be priests offering Jesus' now unbloody sacrifice in a memorial. Acts 14 'in each church they installed presbyters'; Ti: 'appoint presbyters in every town' , Tim: 'the presbyters laid hands on you.' and so it has been throughout the centuries with the unbroken line of 'laying on of hands'. Priests of the Anglican, Orthodox and Catholic churches continue to offer the one sacrifice of Jesus' memorial at the last supper. You might read Hebrews and Revelation straight through to get a better feel for this phenomenon. So, yes, priests are different. And, they are also preachers and pastors. 'from the rising of the sun till its setting my name shall be praised.' there are over, on average, somewhere in the world, 17,000 masses going on every minute of the day, reading and proclaiming the entire scripture in every language over 3 year cycles.
May 30, 2023
This Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost. For the Jews it was 50 days after Passover to celebrate the harvest, also called the week of weeks. It was one of the three most important celebrations. For Christians it took on a new meaning with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We had just heard Jesus in his final command before ascending to heaven that we are to go out into the whole world and “baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Now is the time for the harvest that really matters. Jesus had said that the harvest was great but that the laborers were few. Certainly a daunting task for eleven men who had been walking with him for three years. Little were they really prepared for how He would accomplish that. The book of Acts tells us: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem. At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd, but they were confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.” They discovered that it was not by their own power but but the power of God within them. Isn't that the way it always is when we think we can do something of our own power. It is the power of God that gives the inspiration as well as the gifts that are needed for the task. That is why we hear in 1 Cor. “No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; There are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” And later on, it would be Paul who would remind us that if we were to boast it must be in the Lord. What can we really take credit for? On the other hand we are called to step out in faith, knowing there are many different gifts, and knowing we won't know what gift we have unless we do step out. What gift do you think you might have for building up the body of Christ. Don't be afraid to try it, knowing that some plant and others harvest, don't be discouraged if you don't see results. That is not necessarily our business. Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. Celebrate that we may be yet among the little ones with a lot of growing to do. But, if we don't exercise those muscles of faith we will never see any growth, or harvest. Happy birthday.
May 22, 2023
Resurrection or Ascension: What's the difference? How many wonder about that. We celebrated the Resurrection on Easter Sunday and the Ascension, technically this past Thursday, but liturgically we celebrate it this past Sunday. Is it just to mark the 40 days which is a time of preparation. Think of 40 years in the desert, 40 days of rain for Norah, 40 days of Jesus in the desert. We had 40 days of Lent to prepare for Easter so we might think of this as just a description of Jesus spending 40 days getting the apostles ready to be church. This all might be true, but still, what is the difference? One thing you will notice is that during these 40 days Jesus appeared in a very physical form. 'Touch me and see that I am real', 'Have you got something to eat.' Contrary to what some believed, if they believed in eternal life, is that Jesus wanted to show that he rose body, soul, and spirit. God took on human flesh so it is not something to see as a bad thing to get free of but rather that human beings will be body, soul, and spirit forever. In the ascension the angels, according to Acts, the Scripture says “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight....this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” What about in the meantime? Apparently we will not be seeing him in the same physical way and yet he has seemingly appeared to different people through the centuries in His glorified body. Remember, His glorified body was able to not only eat fish but could go through closed doors, and, appear with different features than what his friends knew. It is with that in mind that Jesus is able to tell us he would be with us throughout the ages. If He remained present in His physical form He would have needed to set up office and direct His apostles from there. Rather He enters the heavenly dimension, co-existent with the physical earth. He says 'Where two our three are gathered in my name I am there.' To Saul he said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, “What you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.”, “This is my flesh given up for you.” In taking on His Glorified body Jesus made it possible to be present always throughout the world at the same time. Can we not see why it is so important to care for those in greatest need seeing in them Jesus himself? Until the end of time that is where we are to find Him. That is one reason I really admire all those who help out in the Outreach Building; or those who help with food distribution. They are serving Jesus in a very physical way. That is why Mother Teresa is such a powerful witness to us all; she saw Jesus in each dying person she picked up in the streets to clean and allow them to die as a dignified human being. Yes, Jesus will be with us until the end of time when we will all share with Him in our own Glorified bodies.
April 18, 2023
“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” is what all Christians profess in the Creed.
Now, does that mean, in some ethereal sense, or with a real body and soul? While there were a number of different heresies and Gnostic groups in the early centuries of Christianity that looked upon the physical body as something to escape from that has never been what Christians hold on to. The Greeks at that time did believe in the possibility of some life after death freed from the body. That is why the Gospel was a stumbling block for them. Christians have always viewed the body as good. When God made Adam and Eve He saw it was very good. God chose to become a human being, to take on this physical human flesh. And then, then, the big clincher, the scriptures make sure we knew he rose physically from the dead. In Luke 24:35 we read 'He stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, 'why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” ...”have you anything here to eat?” they gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” That's pretty physical, to say nothing of His appearance to Thomas and asking him to touch him. No, the gospels would not be quiet until we thoroughly accepted that Jesus lives, body, soul, and spirit; and so will we. And then, how about the Shroud, the empty tomb? That's the Good News. Consequently it says something about how we are to treat these bodies. Jesus said: 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it.” In other words, He saw His body as the new temple. Scriptures tell us that our bodies are also temples of the Holy Spirit. As such we don't want to be misusing them for immorality in this life. And, when this life is over we should want to treat them with greater respect than what the Jews, or any other culture showed them. We should still want to lay them to rest. Even if one is cremated it is still the same total body and should be respected for itself; not scattered to the four winds; not turned into jewelry as if it were a thing. It makes you wonder about some of the newer concepts for disposing of the body, and that's just what it is, disposing of the body. How is turning it into compost respecting the body in it's own integrity? How is turning it into a liquified mulch doing any different. No, just as Joseph asked that his body be brought with the Jews out of Egypt, even though some four hundred years later, he wanted to be with his people. We need that connection. A loved one may go to the grave, knowing that the person is not really there, but still they go and share their concerns and somehow hear what that person would have been saying to them and how they are to go on living. Death is real, but so is the resurrection of the body. Let us truly respect these bodies until the Lord gives us our new and eternal body. We will be body, soul, and spirit forever. Alleluia.
April 11, 2023
Aliens: can a Christian believe?
That is a question which comes up every once in a while. It looks like a good time to address such a possibility. How many like to think of Ezekiel's encounter with God as he describes in 1:4 'As I looked, behold a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men, but each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf's foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. .. over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads....when they stood still, they let down their wings...over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form. ...I saw as it were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about.' the description goes on and on. Were these angels, or aliens or a spaceship? When you think about it, angels are aliens. There are certainly many accounts in both the Old Testament and the New concerning the reality of another form of intelligent life besides mankind; and it's questionable how intelligent we are. So, anyway, yes, there are other beings besides human beings. But, are there other physical beings? We really don't know. One thing we do know is that we still can't fathom how big this physical universe is. Could this God of ours who seems to take delight in absolute diversity and multiplicity have created other beings. I mean, look at all the different plants and animals there are and how many different species within each of these. It would not be beyond reason to think God could have other friends on some physical planet light years away who have the capability of traveling at warp speed and interacting with our measly little planet. Where did the pyramids really come from? What about the 12 point rock structure I saw in Cusco, Peru? There would seem to be no way we, with all our technology would be able to so precisely cut these giant boulders to where not even a piece of paper could be slipped into any of the joints; not like the weeping wall of Jerusalem. Or, what about the Nazra lines in Peru? I mean, these large petroglyph pictures would seem to be impossible when you realize that one needs to be miles up in order to appreciate the designs. Did some outside beings help create all these wonders we look upon today? What of all the monolithic stone structures throughout the world, or the giants on Easter Island? And finally, whatever the reality, what will be our welcome? Do we automatically shoot down anything within our airspace? Is every being who is different from us automatically an enemy? Is that the way Abraham greeted the three beings who appeared to tell him he would have a son? After all, he had never encountered their kind before. Even with caution, let us be welcoming, as scripture says, 'many have entertained angels unaware'. Heb. 13:2.
March 28, 2023
Is Jesus Who He Says He Is
This Sunday we continue to read from the Gospel of John, Jn 11ff. As we do so we can't help but be aware that this Person Jesus in whose name more hospitals, schools, churches, countries, streets, cities, art, plants have gotten their name and beginnings than anyone else in history. Being aware of that we are actually being forced to decide whether we are going to write him off as simply a great teacher offering another philosophy for life or He is who He says He is: the son of God, equal to the Father.
If He is simply a great teacher then the billions who have followed him are themselves crazy for following someone who himself must be crazy, for claiming to be God, thus a great liar. If He is who He says He is: the 'I Am', 'the light of the world', 'the one offering a living spring', and this week: 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.' then we simply cannot straddle the fence. He is either crazy, therefore to be dismissed or He is God. If he is God, who offers eternal life then how can we not want to do everything in our power to do as He asks? Jesus Himself said that if we cannot accept Him for what He says then we should come to believe in Him for His many miracles. Last week He gave sight to a man born blind. He cured leprosy; restored the crippled; forgave sins; and in this the 11th chapter of John He raises one who is undeniably dead. He was dead for 4 days, and surely stinks Martha says.
So, yes, Jesus is more than a great teacher preaching a way of life that gives life because He is the source and giver of life itself. Is that what you want? Are you still just looking at the scriptures and saying: 'That was 2000 years ago.'? 'How much of it was fabricated'? 'Did Jesus really do all those miracles.'? Of course you are free to deny the obvious. That's what we do when we don't want to believe something and feel obligated because of it. Some will tell you that miracles are still happening today. Like, last week some minister in the news reported that a lady's toes that had been amputated were restored. Can it happen? Does it happen? Be willing to investigate on your own but God still does miracles beyond the ordinary miracle of life around us. Check out Lourdes and what is required for accepting a miracle there. Yes, God does continue to act in our world. You may not get the miracle you want but He is performing miracles for His own purpose. Was Jesus just a great teacher; or is He the God He claims He is and therefore demanding our response. It can only be 'yes' or 'no'. Your eternal life rests on that.
March 21, 2023
How many ways can you say 'God is the light of the world'? God is light. In Genesis we read of how God separated light from darkness and we realize that even in that caveat He gives us the moon and stars to help guide us at night. Then we get into John's Gospel as we did this weekend and we think of how John begins his gospel describing Jn. 1:4 'In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it...the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.' We listened to John's second sign where Jesus cures the man born blind. While he does not here refer to light the whole story with all its repetitions is about how he brought light into the blind man's life. The blind man even says that this kind of thing has never happened. No one can bring someone into the light unless they are the light. So John brings us into this dialogue where the blind man comes to the light in coming to know Christ as the Lord while those who have physical light are going deeper and deeper into darkness. In this story we find a great parallel to last week's story about the woman at the well. Jesus reveals himself as living water, as prophet, as mercy and finally as Son of God. She comes to have faith in him through these series of steps. With the man born blind we hear him also go through a series of steps. He receives his physical sight; then he comes to acknowledge Jesus as prophet and finally fully proclaims Him as the Lord to be worshiped. With both of these events we hear of one other common feature. The woman at the well had to go and proclaim to the whole town that she may have met the messiah. The man born blind is defined by John as one who went to the pool of Siloam, meaning 'sent' indicating that he too, having fully experienced Jesus, can't help but proclaim to others this source of light. What does that say to us? First of all that we may come to know Jesus through a series of steps; not just a once and done event. Second, that we too are called to share what we have come to know. For each of us it may become an aha moment. We can begin to evaluate everything by Jesus, the light of the world. Did his healing of the man born blind bring light into the world? If it did then it is of God. So each one of us must examine all that we do by that same criteria. Does this action, this thought I am involved in bring light into the world? Does it bring greater clarity to truth? Or does it lead to darkness following the ways of the world? Isn't it strange, the very ones who say they believe everything must be based on science and since in their mind you can't prove God exists they reason God must not exist and therefore they are free to do whatever they will. Then, on the other hand when Christians show that they also believe in science, that there is only one truth, they are ridiculed for pointing out the fact that God made them male and female. They are criticized for pointing out the science which unquestionably affirms human life begins at conception. In essence Christians are criticized for proclaiming truths thoroughly based on science. Do Christians have a choice? Not really, if they would be a disciple of the light. Did not Jesus say, 'you are the light of the world.'? Did He not say, “If they persecuted me they will persecute you as well.”? It might be a sign you are in the LIGHT.
March 7, 2023
Hey, how would you feel if you had been part of this tight band of buddies for a couple years and the leader asks just a couple of you to go somewhere special with him? Depends on whether it was the wedding feast, right? I suspect that you, like most of us, would feel a little neglected, right? Like me, you probably think there had better be a good reason. This week in Mt. 17:1ff we hear Jesus inviting Peter, James and John to climb this big hill to pray. I mean, there is a good possibility Jesus had invited them all to join him but only a few responded. I could hear them saying: 'I'm good, it's been a long day' 'It's okay, I've been there before', 'I'll start working on supper.' 'I'll go next time.' There are all kinds of excuses, and, after all, it's not an obligation. I mean, it's a high mountain. We would do well to be gentle with our accusation. At the same time though, look at what they missed out on, seeing Jesus in His glory and Moses and Elijah. That may have been the impetus Peter, James and John would need to face the challenges that would come upon them. It makes me wonder how many opportunities I have turned down. Each time Jesus gives me a little nudge to seriously fast, as we try to do during Lent; every time I turn down an inclination to stop and visit one of the elderly; every time I pass up that temptation to call so and so I might be passing up the opportunity to climb that mountain. Then there is the other side of that coin. They were told to share this with no one until after the resurrection. Do you know how difficult it is not to share the blessings God has bestowed upon you? In other words, there might be times when God doesn't want you to share right away. There is a time and a place. That takes real discernment to determine when. If we feel like we have to share right away it might be that we just want recognition that we are special. It might be about yourself, not God. We want accolades bestowed upon us and are not thinking about the glory of God. Then too do you realize that you might be giving the other person the wrong motive for responding to Jesus' invitation to climb the mountain? If we begin to think that there will be special blessings for responding, even on this earth. To be in love with Jesus and respond to His invite it must be simply because He invited and not because of what He might give. So, the next time Jesus invites you to climb a mountain do what He wants, when He wants and as He wants. To be in love with Jesus is to do whatever He wants simply because He asks, not because of some reward, not even heaven.
February 28, 2023
Passion and Death
Last week we talked about that smudge many Christians start Lent with on their head. As we begin these 40 days we recognize our effort to remember the 40 years of the Jews wandering in the desert. God was purifying them to be ready to enter the promised land. We think of Jesus beginning His public ministry with a 40 day fast in the desert where he used scripture to overcome all of Satan's temptations. Even Satan knows scripture and can use it to lead people astray. So we realize it is important to thoroughly know scripture in order to be able to recognize when someone is taking it out of context to lead us in a different direction. In the beginning of his public ministry Jesus again and again acknowledged that all of his good works might bring fame but ultimately he knew they would also lead to his persecution and suffering. That suffering became documented not only in the pages of the Gospels but, as I believe, in His resurrection signature in what we call the Shroud and the Sudarium. We have, through these 2000 years, two precious cloths, following different histories of survival, giving witness to every blow, wound, fall of Jesus' final sacrifice for us on the cross. John, who was not only a witness at the foot of the cross, but also the second, after Peter, to enter the tomb and discover. Jn 20:8ff 'Then Simon Peter came following him and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.' Twice, there and in Jn. 19:40 the scriptures record 'linen cloths'. What were these linen cloths? What happened to them? Many Christians have always believed that they would have, of necessity, been preserved. So, through the centuries there have been records of one going north, having shown up in Constantinople. Through that time it was almost always folded so that one might see only what appeared to be a face. Only later was it again shown in its full 14' length. It was only a faint image that one could not make much of unless you stepped back at a distance. This one ended up in France and then finally in Turin Italy where it is today. Only with the invention of photography and someone making an effort to take a picture of something one could hardly appreciate did the image pop out in all it's gory detail. Since then it has become the most studied image in history as many different scientific disciplines have sought to decipher it. The other cloth was recognized from the beginning as a head rag, a cloth which was immediately put on the head of the dead person to catch his blood. Blood was considered part of the person and something to be saved with the body. That was taken off Jesus' head once laid in the tomb and put to the side while a shroud covered the whole body for burial. This cloth, in order to be preserved from many attacks, found its way to Egypt and finally to Oliviedo, Spain. I believe so much in the Shroud that this year I invested a great deal to make a replica available and create an easily understandable museum display describing the many different scientific studies. I invite you to come and decide for yourself, is the Shroud of Turin indeed the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
February 21, 2023
If you see people walking around with some black smudge on their forehead. No, they're not Hindu. They are not necessarily Catholic either. Several mainline churches maintain this tradition. That black smudge is supposed to be a cross reminding us that with Lent we try to make a special effort to take on the Cross of Jesus and 'Take up your cross and follow me.' as He says. It is a reminder that what they hear while the ashes are being put on, 'Remember man that you are dust and to dust you shall return.' calls us to address the reality that life is terminal; it's short no matter how many years we live. It's short, that is, compared to eternity. Now, those ashes are traditionally made from palms used the previous year at Palm Sunday reminding us that we might proclaim Jesus lord of lords and king of kings in one minute and then just as easily as the populace did, deny him in the next. How do we prevent that? Certainly by depending on the grace of God. But beyond that we must be a people of prayer maintaining our union with the Father. As we do so we remember the words of Christ when He said certain things can only be achieved by prayer and fasting. He said the time would come when his disciples would fast. So, we have to do something on our own to 'work out our salvation.' The basic ingredients then are prayer, fasting and finally, almsgiving. We hear the scriptures say 'a little charity atones for many sins.' With that we realize that our fasting is not just a matter of losing weight, although we might need to. It is a matter of finding ways to deny ourselves that others may have what they need in justice. Then, Catholics are asked to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. That's where you get the idea of so many great fish frys on Fridays. Actually the church never says that we are to eat fish, just not meat. And when you think of it that too is just a reminder that we can do something more. I mean, get real, in even the middle ages how many people do you really think had meat very regularly. You hear in the American tradition the campaign to have 'two chickens in every pot' or the 'Sunday chicken dinner.' Along with abstaining, Catholics are asked to fast. The rule is: the one main meal is to be greater than the other two, with no snacks. Again it is just a reminder to do more. As the rule just advocates sensible eating. Then some wonder where did Shrove Tuesday or pancake Tuesday come from. Well if you have to make a special effort to fast then let's use up the eggs and make pancakes, or in France, crepes and other delicacies. And of course, like so many other religious holidays, let's add a little partying and so we have Madi-Gras. Most of these add on events tend to take away from the main event, in this case, prayer and fasting. Jesus said his disciples would fast when he was gone and you have to admit, it's a lot easier when we do it together. Like they say: 'if momma's on a diet everyone is on a diet.' Have a great Lent.
February 14, 2023
I just got back from a trip after burying someone I felt very close to. Why am I telling you this? Suicide is a particularly sad form of death. It is too often a judgment on us all that we have somehow failed. While I may never have children of my own, like St. Paul, I know what it is to love my children in the faith. If it is difficult for me I can't help but wonder; how does a parent live with that? For centuries Christians lived with the thought, based on what Jesus said of Judas: 'This one would be better had he never been born. Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, took his own life. At one time the church did not bury suicide victims in the church cemetery; not as a judgment but as an added pressure to help them not think of doing such. After all, the motivation of being buried next to one's parents may have been a strong incentive not to. Fortunately we know today that Jesus' judgment of Judas was not meant for all suicides. No one really wants to end their life. Of the 1400 who jumped from the Golden Gate bridge there were only 34 survivors. These would later tell the story of how, after they jumped, they changed their mind. Even though there has been a great push to offer many alternatives, many sources of information and help, the number seems to keep growing. Seemingly there have been about 110 veterans a week since 2020 ending their lives. For many, it is a desperate cry for help, and so many do fail at the attempt. But for all, it is a tragedy; for them, for their families, for society. God's commandment says: 'Thou shalt not kill.' That includes oneself. It is a serious business to take any life, as human life was God's greatest creation. He didn't just say, in Genesis, 'It is good' but He said 'It is very good.' We are made in His own image and likeness. We read in Matthew's Gospel of Jesus telling us that His followers are salt, they are light. In the beatitudes we hear Him say eight times you are 'blessed', a saint. The fact that He says it eight times is an indication of a new creation. So, what goes wrong. For many it is an addiction they don't ever seem to get free from and they get tired of trying. For others it's isolation, a feeling of not being connected, important, no one cares. And certainly for some, as with the stock market crash, it is having seriously failed morally, thinking they can never be forgiven, or having failed materially and enduring a great loss. Whatever the cause you and I do well to always be ready to listen; to let them know there is hope, something to look forward to. How many were coaxed to not make that fatal step and are so grateful afterwards. If you know someone struggling; pray for them, let them know you will listen; let them know there is hope.
February 7, 2023
YOU ARE THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD
Do you realize, as a Christian, you are greater than the greatest star at the SuperBowl. This last Sunday we listened to Our Lord's commandments. Remember how the 10 Commandments were mostly no, no, no; like you would do for a child. They learn that word fast. Now Jesus, who came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it, says that you are blessed, holy, a saint. The only thing is, in the Beatitudes we need to read that word 'if' in them. Being a Christian is not a free ride. As Dietrich Bonhoffer, a Lutheran pastor who was killed in WWII, wrote about cheap grace, people want to just carry the name Christian when it's suitable. When we hear Jesus' calling us blessed He also calls us to go through varying degrees of growth. We begin by acknowledging our sins; how we can't do it; how only God can forgive us and heal us. We must be humble recognizing that God is God and we are not. Once we do that we really do mourn for our sinfulness and the sinfulness in the world. Then and only then do we cry for justice, for right, for righteousness. As we see the various injustices in the world we begin to realize that God has called me to do something about it. We are called to pray, see, judge, and then act. It's when we say something about the injustices or do something about them that we discover we are a disciple of Jesus and as Jesus warned 'What they do to me they will do to you.' and what does Jesus say about all that 'Rejoice and be glad, your reward will be great in heaven.' then He goes on to say that you are a light in the world, you are salt. Salt preserves and light shows imperfections. We are first called to remove the imperfections, sins in our own life because we have seen the light of Christ. You know how you seem to drive for weeks and see everything fine but then one day you drive into the sun and so see all the distractions on the windshield. That's what Christ does for us. That's what we are called to do for others. By the beauty and change, the genuine living with trust in God, in our own lives others will see it and either want what you have or will hate you for making them aware of it in their own lives. Because of that they will want to drive away from the light and pretend their windshield is clean. They will even try to reverse the table and brand what you stand for as evil and what you see as evil is good. If so, 'rejoice and be glad that your name is written in the book of life.'
January 31, 2023
Still Christmas? We leave His infancy. This week we celebrate 40days after Jesus was presented in the temple. Luke 2:22ff 'When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord. ...Simeon said 'now, master, you may let our servant go in peace, according to your word, my eyes have seen your salvation...a light of revelation to the gentiles and glory for your people Israel. … Simeon said to his mother, 'behold this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel...and you yourself a sword shall pierce.' ...there was also Anna..advanced in years . ..and then lived as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day' There are so many things here to ponder. First of all some would say that Joseph and Mary could not have gotten to Jerusalem for the 40th day. Actually it is quite possible. Herod had killed all boys two and younger on the information from the wisemen saying they followed the star for two years. The star was most likely an angel getting them there at the time of the birth just as angels led the shepherds. They were told to return home another way so it is mostly likely when Joseph heard in a dream to head for Egypt he would have hit the trail the next day. It would only take 3 or 4 days to get to the edge of Egypt 70 miles from Bethlehem. Then retrace those miles after 20 days and be back in Jerusalem before heading another 70 miles to Nazareth. In this Gospel Luke is making a point that Jesus is a first-born son that opened the womb. Some think that means there was a second and so on. Does that really mean so any more than saying she remained a widow until she was 84 doesn't mean she got married then. Nor does saying she never left the temple, but worshiped day and night, mean she never took a bathroom break or got some food. One has to be careful how they read some words like 'before, until, first' without taking into context the entire Gospel. Did you also notice that in a patriarchal society Luke points out “Mary and Joseph took Jesus” or Simeon addressing Mary and not Joseph. Did you ever notice too how Joseph never says a word in Scripture while Mary begins “Be it done to me according to Thy word” and ends with “Do whatever He tells you.” As we come to the end of the infancy narratives we do well to heed those statements.” We will look forward to Jesus being lost in the temple for the next episode.
January 24, 2023
'I knit you in your mothers womb': Ps 119 While I am writing this I would normally have been in Washington DC for the National March for Life. I need a new hip. Even though the Supreme Court nullified the horrendous Roe vs. Wade decision just before this 50th anniversary; it does not mean it is over. As we have already seen, some seem determined to kill every innocent child possible with a number of new national laws being proposed. There are certainly some who advocate that the earth would be better off if we could eliminate every human who is seen as a scourge to greening the earth. Even without Roe vs Wade there is still a tremendous battle for the soul of each state. Mother Theresa of Calcutta years ago said that abortion is the greatest enemy of peace. If we want peace in the world we have to learn to love every human being as Jesus said 'what you do to the least you do to me.' So, if we can't love the most innocent and defenseless, how are going to pretend to love others? All lives become dispensable; just decide which category is most inconvenient for our prosperity. The truth is, that contrary to Malthus' evolutionary theory about the human race growing beyond our ability to feed itself, we have discovered many ways in agriculture to far surpass our needs. The greatest problem is still in getting the product to where the need is. Right now, the Ukraine, which is the bread basket in Europe, is unable to ship to countries which have been dependent on it. And it will most likely be worse this year as they are able to grow less with the war. Other countries experience starvation not because the food is not available but because the powers that be use food as a political tool. What about housing? This past week Elon Musk demonstrated that he can build a house for $15,000 with modern manufacturing techniques. As Christians you and I are challenged to listen to Jesus' words identifying with the most vulnerable and ask ourselves how we can help others meet their needs. Certainly your contributions to the Outreach speaks volumes. How much do we hoard that we will never use? The unborn, of course, are not able to do anything to meet their needs and therefore it becomes incumbent for us to find ways to help them; beginning with saving their lives. I pray God gives each of you the grace to welcome every child that is conceived and help show them a caring world. How can we help? There is a fairly new Birthright center in Marble Hill that accepts donations for bassinets. We could do the same more locally. We can show the world that there are more couples desiring to adopt than children available. We can, as foster-parents, show that every child who no longer has a home for one reason or another is welcome to the table. Or, we can support one of the many organizations working to end abortion. Let us all love these children whom God already loves.
January 10, 2023
Last week was a profound experience for me, in ways I didn't expect. I went to a conference in St Louis which had a couple keynote speakers I wanted to hear but it was something else which touched me profoundly. There were 17,000 people at the Dome for conferences on Evangelization. Of those, 15,000 were college youth, 15,000. wow. In an age when we think young people are leaving the church it was amazing to see this many committed youth taking their Christmas vacation to come together and hear about Jesus and the Good News. To think, that many people have an awareness of their responsibility of sharing the faith. Yes, responsibility. In Luke 10:1 we hear “the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, 'the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. God! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. '” now, the disciples were not the apostles. That reminds us that we are all disciples, one who takes on the discipline of the master. When you and I were baptized we became disciples and consequently have a responsibility to share the Gospel. I say responsibility not in a negative way as something we got to do but rather as the natural consequence of being in love with the Lord. When one is in love one has to share it, let others know. Is there anything you really love, baseball, football, hockey, hunting, or people that you don't tell others about? You learn something new, you share it. You hear of something exciting that is going to happen, you share it. How much more so the gift of faith. If you love Jesus you want to share Him with others. You don't lose anything. It's not like in the song the Tennessee Waltz where it says 'I introduced him to my loved one … and my friend stole my sweetheart from me.' when you share Jesus you not only gain a better friend but you come closer to Jesus as well. You can't lose. And if you do, what kind of friendship was it? Besides your eternal salvation what has Jesus done for you that you would like to share? Take time to really know the scriptures, God's love letter to you. Take time in prayer to know Him better so that you are not just sharing things about Jesus but sharing someone who is important to you. What better way to make this 2023 Anno Domine than to be willing to share what the Lord has done.
January 3, 2023
Last year I said we would look at the 12 days of Christmas another time. This covers from Christmas to January 6 with the Three Kings. This summary is from Christianity Editorial staff.
1. On the First Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: A Partridge in a Pear Tree.
The partridge in a pear tree represents Jesus, the Son of God,
whose birthday we celebrate on the first day of Christmas. Christ is
symbolically presented as a mother partridge, the only bird that will die to
protect its young.
2. On the Second Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Two Turtledoves. These twin birds represent the Old and New Testaments. So in this gift, the singer finds the complete story of the Christian faith and God’s plan for the world. The doves are the biblical roadmap that is available to everyone. 3. On the Third Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me:
Three French Hens. These birds represent faith, hope, and love. This gift hearkens back to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter written by the Apostle Paul. 4. On the Fourth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Four Calling Birds. One of the easiest facets of the song’s code to figure out, these fowl are the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
5. On the Fifth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Five Gold Rings. The gift of the rings represents the first five books of the Old Testament, known as the Torah or the Pentateuch 6. On the Sixth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Six Geese a-Laying. These lyrics can be traced back to the first story found in the Bible. Each egg is a day in creation, a time when the world was “hatched” or formed by God. 7. On the Seventh Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me:Seven Swans a-Swimming. It would take someone quite familiar with the Bible to identify this gift. Hidden in the code are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and compassion. As swans are one of the most beautiful and graceful creatures on earth, they would seem to be a perfect symbol for the spiritual gifts.8. On the Eighth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Eight Maids-a-Milking. As Christ came to save even the lowest of the low, this gift represents the ones who would receive his word and accept his grace. Being a milkmaid was about the worst job one could have in England during this period; this code conveyed that Jesus cared as much about servants as he did those of royal blood. The eight who were blessed included the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. 9. On the Ninth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Nine Ladies Dancing. These nine dancers were really the gifts known as the fruit of the Spirit. The fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 10. On the Tenth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Ten Lords a-leaping. This is probably the easiest gift to understand. As lords were judges and in charge of the law, this code for the Ten Commandments was fairly straightforward to Catholics. 11. On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Eleven Pipers Piping. This is almost a trick question, as most think of the disciples in terms of the dozen. But when Judas betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, there were only eleven men who carried out the gospel message.12. On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Drummers Drumming.The final gift is tied directly to the Catholic Church. The drummers are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day, he rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.
December 27, 2022
Fascinating gospel this week . In the first chapter of Matthew he makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is descendant of David. We have the 14, 14, 14 generations, literally David's name 6 times. Jesus will be the seventh. This Sunday's Gospel seeks to make it clear that Mary was ever virgin. She did not know man and before they came together. That itself has to be made clear for English hearers 'before or until' does not signify the opposite is true afterwards. If I say 'I'll wait here until you get home does not mean I'll will leave immediately, I may be waiting to visit.' 'she did not have a child before she was 80 does not mean she had one after.' Matthews only intention is to make one know Jesus is in fact the first born, born of a virgin. Tradition has held that Mary was vowed to virginity. It never made sense to me knowing the emphasis Jews have on having children, 'may your quiver be filled with them.' but then, recent studies into the Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in 1948 have revealed much. From the New Testament we hear much about the Sadducees and the Pharisees because they were always trying to trip Jesus up. We don't hear much about the Essenes about whom Josephus, the historian wrote a great deal. We know John the Baptist belonged to this strange group. And the Qumran group was strange in that it was more like a Christian monastery with its members being pledged to celibacy. Why? Because sexual relations made one impure for offering sacrifice; not immoral, but undisciplined enough. And so we see David attesting to his men having abstained for three days before battle and Zachariah taking a turn at the temple (staying abstinate to offer daily sacrifice). With John we also know Andrew and others were his followers. After all the grounds for a new apostle was that it would be someone who had been with them from the baptism of Jesus. Since John was a cousin how possible is it that Mary and Joseph were also extended members of the Essenes? One of their rules was that every community, made up of celibate and married had to have guest quarters available for traveling members. Is that what Mary and Joseph were expecting to find when there was no room at the inn? Is that why Jesus assumed the ability to use a large guest room in Jerusalem for the Last Supper? In any case Mary may well have been committed to celibacy, and Joseph as well. If the average person getting married today would have enough integrity to let their intended know of serious circumstances which might affect their marriage you know Mary had to have much greater integrity and make sure she told Joseph right away before going to see Elizabeth. Joseph's fear then in Mary having a child whether his or not would have been the embarrassment of failing to live celibate. By divorcing Mary he would have been proving he was willing to try again. Can you identify with Joseph? Have you ever been falsely judged even for something you knew was good? Turn to Joseph when others judge you. And by the way: you see where the Roman church gets having its priests celibate and why the Orthodox may still require three days abstinence and consequently have mass twice a week?
December 20, 2022
In Luke we read the beautiful words that most quickly get us in touch with the birth of our savior. First of all it is hard to wrap one's mind around the fact that the almighty God would want to or even could, take on human flesh. And if so, why not come fully grown in full power? But he didn't, he came in as a kid as the song Violet in Snow says: 'wrinkly and pink and crying just like you and I.” And then, He chooses to be born in a place where animals dwell, a stable. Here's what St. Luke says: “And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn...and in the region there were shepherds...and he will be lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying 'Glory to God in the highest.' “ What an introduction! How does it affect me? I don't remember my first Midnight Mass 76 years ago but I know my parents were in the choir and would take me to the loft with them. By the time I was 5 Midnight Mass was already a tradition for me. I'm still grateful to St. Francis of Assisi for coming up with the idea of a manger scene because that manger in church helped make it so visible what Luke was saying. I can still see the way the different pieces were arranged. And there would be many more creches after that in different churches all calling me to sing with the angels 'glory to God in the highest.' By 7 I was helping at the altar with the bells (voice of angels), the incense (prayers of the people), the many candles (the stars of the night). Only after the Midnight mass did we return home to open what presents there might be. This Sunday will be the 50th time for me to lead as the priest this wonderful event which I pray leaves lasting memories for others. Even though I don't feel able to celebrate at midnight anymore we still call it Midnight Mass and it will be the new day by the time it is over. Why do we focus on Midnight? I think one reason is because children always seem to come at an inconvenient time. What time were you born? But mainly, I think, when we celebrate something special we can't seem to wait for it to get here so we want to welcome this special day in. Of course, now-a-days Christmas is preempted by all the trappings including Christmas parties, dinners, and present giving days before Christmas itself. In some way I feel sorry for those who will not have memories of a special Christmas Day tradition. But, on the other hand I pray it means they will spend more time reflecting, consciously or otherwise, on this sacred event and maybe on Christmas Day itself they will be more free to just be, in the presence of this Christ Child, Son of God and Mary.
December 13, 2022
the Child with a hand on the adder's lair
Do you have your creche up yet? Ever since St. Francis came up with the idea of replicating what one envisioned the circumstances of Jesus' birth to be, people have been fascinated, even nostalgic as they meditated on what it was to have been turned away from decent housing and given a cave barn to be born in. Was it clean, now that the animals were supposedly back out in the pasture? Was it loaded with manure after the animals had been pent up for some time? What animals might have been there? What was it like for the shepherds to have been directed to go there and discover myriads of angels singing 'Glory to God'? It leaves so much room for the imagination. So, what animals do you have in your creche? How about a lion, a wolf, an adder? What? Many have envisioned the birth of Jesus among animals as symbolic of Isaiah's prophecy; and for Christians all the Old Testament is revealing of Christ who was to come. So, what did Isaiah say? Is. 11:5 “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hold of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den … on that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.” Jesus was born during a time we call the Pax Romana, a time when no country was fighting another. And just as we still have mascots today for teams, for countries, animals have always been an identity for different nations. So Isaiah describes a time when all nations shall be at peace with one another. Not only that but the child shall have his hand on the adder's lair. Jesus could have been born in Nazareth which was some distance from Herod but he was born in Bethlehem, right under Herod's hand so to speak. So, if you wonder why I sometimes will have a lion in my creche, now you know. Some even include fish and birds as I discovered on my first trip to Mexico during a Christmas season. Maybe you could include other things in your creche and then be ready to share the why with others. What Old Testament prophecies do you see as making a reference to Christ?
December 6, 2022
Eighty-one years ago this December 7th 2,403 people lost their lives; 1,246 were injured. Were they prepared? All branches of the military were included. Unlike the 2,700 who were suddenly killed in the World Towers in a matter of minutes. Unlike the lost lives with the eruption of the volcano at Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD buried two cities of 25,000 population, those at Pearl Harbor were called to always be alert. Whether some in government were aware or not of the possibility some country 4,000 miles away might strike is not the issue here. The issue here; the point here, is that we all get caught off guard in so many different things. The real tragedy of life will be if we get caught off guard in regard to our spiritual lives. This Sunday we will hear the Gospel from Mt. 3: John the Baptist says: 'you brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit...every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.....one coming after me has a winnowing fan in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn.” John warns not to be comfortable thinking that you are children of Abraham. Jesus warns that not everyone who says “lord, lord”. It is all too easy to get comfortable. The Vesuvians were comfortable in living in some of the richest land in Italy. Those in the World Towers were comfortable in knowing they were working within the most powerful money structure perhaps in the world. Those in Pearl Harbor knew they were in paradise; they had a cush assignment; there was no need to fear unknown enemies thousands of miles away. No, the reality is; it is too easy to get comfortable, physically, socially, spiritually. How many get comfortable in their married relationship and begin taking it for granted thinking it doesn't need any work. And then, find themselves facing a seemingly sudden divorce. How many take their relationship with the Lord for granted and see no need to do as St. Paul says: 'stir up the flame of faith within you.' We get comfortable thinking 'I'm not all that bad' and then invest nothing in our prayer life or in our need to bear fruit as a sign of our love for the Lord. All love demands bearing fruit. For us as Christians that involves serving the less fortunate and when we fail to be all God has called us to be we are called to repentance. Again, the same thing applies to marriage. When a couple's love fails to bear fruit they are called to repent to one another. One thing, and only one thing, is a given. Our lives will come to an end and we will each hear the words of our Lord in Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me to drink....' Will you hear those words or the others: 'I was hungry and you did not give me to eat. I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink.'? My prayer is that each of you find yourself prepared each day. Even in the midst of Christmas don't lose sight of the fact that we are looking to Jesus' second coming. The first coming which we celebrate right now is a historical event. The second is yet to come.
November 29, 2022
Are You Prepared
Mt. 24:37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark...so too you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the son of Man will come.`` That's the scripture all Catholics and mainline churches heard this past Sunday. You don't think it didn't grab my attention after having celebrated Thanksgiving a couple times and still dealing with leftovers. Then I had a wedding for Jean Boldreghini and Roy Boyer. Jean has been our secretary here for over 40 years so it was a special celebration for me. We keep living day to day as if there will always be another day. It is a reality though that all things will come to an end, including the sun and the earth. Certainly, as individuals we can guarantee we will all die. The big question is when. And so, Jesus warns us to be prepared. He doesn't do so as a threat but because he wants us to spend eternity with Him and nothing sinful can enter heaven. That would be the antithesis of God's love. One of the most beautiful ways scripture describes our relationship with God is by the analogy of a marriage. The Church is the bride of the Lamb who laid down his life for us. If we are the bride, then like any bride we need to be prepared. An example I sometimes think of is the kind of incident which happened a number of times when there was a draft and guys were quickly being shipped out. Sometimes the couple would hastily get married before shipping out; others would make promises to wait until the loved one returned. How many relationships were tested in that kind of scenario. The war would drag on and on and perhaps the bride would begin to see no problem just going out with a male friend; after all, her loved one wouldn't want her to be lonely or never have any fun. Maybe she would even go out with a number of different guys. So one day her loved one is discharged and wants to surprise her in coming home unannounced, only to be surprised himself that she is with someone else. So much for, 'I'll wait for you always.' So Jesus expects us to be prepared always and not have any strange gods, any values which would conflict with His. We are the bride of the Lamb and are called to be faithful to Him throughout this life so we can know His love throughout eternity. Are you prepared?
November 8, 2022
To lay down one's life for one's friend
Last week we spoke of saints. All of us are called to be saints, to reflect Jesus by our lives. This week we celebrate, or remember a particular group of people who have heard the call: 'there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friend.' with Veterans Day I can't help but think of my dad who survived a plane crash in France during WWII. He never talked about his experience and suffered a lot so you know I will stop at the Veteran's Memorial. By the way, if you have never seen it you might stop at the Vietnam Memorial in Perryville. Today we might reflect on the scripture that says if you are drafted to go one mile, go two, as an indicator that one must serve with all one's heart. Isn't there a contradiction though in 'loving one's neighbor; turning the other cheek' and 'going two miles'. That's the tension. One may certainly defend their loved ones and by extension, their country. When a person encounters a brick wall, a command to do something which goes against their conscience, then, like anyone else, they have an obligation to be true to their conscience regardless of the consequences. Such was the case in the first couple centuries when soldiers were called to offer sacrifice to false gods. The refusal to do so could mean their lives and then like St. Thomas More they might say “I am the good kings servant, but God's first.” the willingness to give one's life does not then take away the responsibility and accountability that go with. Such was the experience of many who were convicted in the Nuremberg Trial and said 'they were simply following orders. One might pray that they are never be put in such a situation but it can occur in all walks of life; as for instance when medical personnel are called upon to assist in any way with abortion. Today though, let us honor our Veterans, and, as with others, trust that they served in good conscience. They need not have served in a war but showed that they were ready. Stop by a Veterans Memorial and show your honor. Be sure to keep all our service people in prayer as they make great sacrifices of separation from family; and the responsibility of making more difficult judgments concerning what is right and just. And pray, pray that we have honorable men and women who are willing to serve.
November 1, 2022
Holloween! How was it? I am always amazed at how generous people are around here. I mean, we just finished having the Festival where tons of candy were thrown out to children and follow it up with treats for them demonstrating their costumes. In one those in the parade dressed up and brought the candy to the children; in the other the children dress up to go and get candy from the adults. What's it all about? Obviously, we want to be givers; we want to imitate those we celebrate this day. After all Holloween is 'hollowed evening' or holy evening looking forward to the day we celebrate today, All Saints day. Many saints are recognized on individual days but in 607 when Emperor Phocas donated the Pantheon (many gods) to the church the church blessed what had been a pagan temple and used it to remember the thousands of martyrs who had died in the first several centuries. The bones of many martyrs where brought to this building when it was rededicated. And, what a building it is. I remember being astounded at the quality of the architecture that allowed it to stand all these centuries. Anyway, what are saints except those who have given it all to Christ. In doing so they became models for us to find ways of giving of ourselves so our giving out of candy is a nice little reminder of how we are, or can, give of ourselves in many little acts. It is well for us then to not think of it as a , one and done, kind of experience but rather challenge us to think of the many ways we can give of ourselves to our families, our churches, and our community. As a matter of fact, next Tuesday is a time of elections. Taking time to vote is certainly a way of giving of our self. What little ways can you think of adding to your life in serving the above three important support systems in your life?
October 18, 2022
This is the third week in a row where Jesus has addressed ‘faith’; he says that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed we could tell this bush to be transplanted into the sea and it would do so. Who has that kind of faith? In other words in his normal hyperbole Jesus is saying don’t be afraid to ask impossible things. We have a God of the impossible. Then last week I shared on Luke's story of the 10 lepers who were healed and of the Samaritan one who returns to Jesus acknowledging Him as God and Jesus says his faith has saved him. He was not only healed by faith but even as a Samaritan he was saved by faith. Then this week we hear another parable from Jesus where he speaks of an unjust judge being moved by a woman’s persistence. Lk. 18:1 Jesus calls on us to ‘pray always’ and not give up, for God will secure justice for his chosen ones.Then he says ‘will he find such faith?’ Wouldn’t it seem that if you had to pray constantly about something it would indicate you didn’t have faith. If you had faith you would think that you could mention it once; leave it in God’s hands and be confident about that like the example I used last week: if you’re going to pray for rain carry an umbrella. It seems therefore that in asking us to pray day and night he is not telling us that we can force God’s hands but rather we are living in God’s presence and whatever the need is we are praying about is just the way of helping us to focus on such. The bottom line seems to be: if you have faith, pray all the time and don’t think that just going to church Sunday morning suffices. A Christian needs to have a disciplined prayer life to help be aware of God’s presence at all times. How is your prayer life? Does it witness to your praying always; always living with an awareness that the Lord is truly with you. He is. So, as a child of God, don't be afraid to ask for great things, for miracles. Then, in doing so trust that God truly knows what is best and thank Him for whatever the outcome. If it's not what you wanted, remember the words of St. Paul: 'we continue to bear within ourselves the completion of the sufferings of Christ.' After all, Jesus himself prayed 'Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.' Trust God, He still knows what He is doing.
October 11, 2022
As I was preparing for this week's sermon I thought it might be a good idea to share with you. It's an interesting story in several ways that appears only in Luke. It's Luke 17:11. Luke has already been narrating his gospel as Jesus on his way to Jerusalem for crucifixion. He is the only evangelist that tells the story of 10 lepers which includes 1 Samaritan. Luke describes Jesus as going through Samaria and Galilee which doesn't work out in that order but he really has a love for Samaritans and wants to highlight this one. First off the fact that this Samaritan is with the 9 Jews is a sign that misery loves company. The lepers are already at the bottom of the totem pole. Being lepers they are outcasts; they must live outside of town; could not participate even in worship; they had to say 'unclean, unclean' if anyone approached them as to have contact with them was to make that person unclean. Samaritans are disdained by the Jews so it doesn't make much difference to these lepers that the Samaritan hangs out with them. By saying that there were 10 Luke is indicating a gathering of believers as it took 10 men to establish a synagogue. Now, at a distance, they proclaim loudly that they want mercy; they want to be healed. They must have heard of what Jesus could do and so they call Him, Master, demonstrating a real faith. Jesus doesn't heal them on the spot as he would normally do but has them to step out in faith and go to the priests. When they did so it showed they had real faith. There is no way they were going to get near a priest if they weren't healed. But, the Samaritan, even though he was also healed he knew good and well he wasn't going to get near the priests so he goes back to Jesus to give praise and thanks to God and getting on his knees showed that he believed Jesus was God and the true high priest. Now, what has it got to do with us? Are you one of those people who, when you pray asking for rain, carry an umbrella? Do you act as if your prayer will be answered affirmatively? When you read God's word and hear Him calling you to step out in faith and do something do you do so? Just as your father used to have you jump off a cabinet into his arms as a sign of faith in him so your heavenly Father calls you to step out in faith and trust Him. We really never know if we have faith until we do so. This past week we celebrated St. Francis of Assisi who when he saw the words in scripture: 'go sell all you have and give to the poor and come follow me' became one of the most remembered saints in history. Now, God is not asking that of everyone but He is asking that you trust him as when God calls us to tithe and then says: 'trust me in this.' What has He asked of you lately? How have you responded? Are you still wondering, waiting? Check it out with a trusted Christian friend and be amazed what God does in your life.
September 27, 2022
The Rich man and Lazarus
Have you noticed the phenomena that seems to be increasing in our area? It used to be pretty normal to go to Memphis or another big city and find people sitting at stop lights hoping to receive a handout. Now you experience it every time you go to Walmart in the Bluff or Cape. How does it affect you? If you see a sign saying: 'work for food.' Does it have more effect than one which says: 'I'm hungry.' Chances are you hope the light is green by the time you get there. Still, those who beg certainly do better than they would by trying to find a food pantry or Rescue Mission or Salvation Army. In Mexico we were always told not to give to panhandlers because it creates greater problems at major intersections. We were told to have them go to the agencies which we supported with our benevolence funds. Does that apply here? Whatever the situation, the reality is here and we each have to make decisions. Should I? Could I? This week we heard the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19ff) where the rich man dined sumptuously each day and Lazarus simply wanted the bread the rich man would wipe his greasy fingers on and throw on the floor for the dogs. (the original hush puppies) Jesus tells us what kind of man the rich man was when he says he had five brothers. He made number six; always an evil number. He and his brothers had the same life view: what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine. The great sin then becomes not being rich but not even noticing that Lazarus exists. This is why it is so important that even when we have nothing to offer we have an obligation to acknowledge the other person's presence, their dignity. The rich man is not even given a name whereas the poor man, Lazarus, one who trusts in God, is given a recognition not only in heaven but even on earth as long as earth exists. This lesson really came home for me this week when I heard a song played by John McCutcheon. I used to go to the world flat-picking contests in Wakefield, Kansas to hear him. Anyway he played 'Deportee' by Woody Gutherie. It's a song about 28 Mexican nationals whose green cards had expired. They were to be deported; flown on a plane with the immigration services agent and three others. The plane went down in California killing everyone. The saddest thing was not that they were being deported but that the four Americans were recognized and had graves while all 28 Mexicans were put in a mass grave; no markers, no names. They were to be forgotten as if they didn't exist. Every human being has a dignity which demands to be recognized. How will we recognize the more unfortunate around us? Many of us feel like the abortion tragedy was taken care of by the reversal of Roe vs. Wade this year. That is not the case, as millions of dollars are being funneled into Missouri by the rich to mislead us through attractive advertising so that we will ensconce abortion rights into the Missouri constitution as Kansas surprisingly did recently. Even the unborn have a dignity, a right to a name. This coming Sunday there will be the annual Life-Chain witness outside the courthouse in Poplar Bluff. Meet me there at 2:00 Sunday.
September 20, 2022
'You shall have no strange God before me.' 'You cannot serve two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other.' 'Husbands, love your wives as God loves his church.' 'This is why a man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife.' For the last couple weeks we have been considering how God desires the most intimate of relationships with us. This is why He created marriage to be a witness of that love. A person is to forsake all other relationships in order to build the oneness of marriage. Just so, one must subjugate all other things and relations, including spouse, in putting God first. Scripture even goes so far as to say: 'Woman, if your husband will keep you, remain with him; if not, you may leave him and be as if you have never been married.' in referring to a marriage where the man might not allow wife to be a Christian. Our relationship with God is simply not to be compromised with any other relationship. And yet, and yet, how often do we put almost anything and anybody above that relationship? For example, someone the other day said they could not make it to church a couple Sundays ago because they didn't know where church was. Really? This person was smart enough to be able to schedule a tournament in another town, arrange transportation for the team, find accommodations for the team and arrange all the meals but could not simply pick up the phone and say: 'Google, where is the closest ? Church to such and such stadium.' Christians are called to worship God every Sunday as a way of proclaiming to the world that He comes first. Scripture says: 'Do not forsake the gathering of the assembly on the day of the Resurrection.' And yet, how many times do I hear someone say: 'Oh, we had company and they were going to be leaving about the time we would leave for church.' Really? If you had something else of importance you wanted to do on that day, like tickets to a special ball game or a shower would you not have talked with them about that before they ever came? Just think of the witness you could be giving if you unequivocally shared with them that you find taking time for public worship a priority. How many times in the past I heard the testimony of a man who said when asked why they came into the church: 'you know when I was on ship or in college we used to go out partying late into the night but I noticed so and so always made it a point to get up and go to church; that said something to me.' Your example can be powerful without flaunting your religion. The simple fact is God more than deserves the little time we give him. When Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters as He does in this week's scripture He is asking us to make it clear in our lives that He does come before 'mother or father, brother or sister and all things for His sake and the Gospel.' Make it a habit to join public worship, even when you are out of town or have company.
September 19, 2022
When was the last time you sinned? Did you ask God for forgiveness? When was the last time you hurt someone else and asked them for forgiveness? Has anyone asked you for forgiveness lately? I bet it has been awhile in each of these situations. What has happened? Is nothing a sin any more? In each of these situations we seem to have forgotten who decides what is hurtful, what is a sin? Is it the do-er or the do-ee? Scripture tells us that a time would come when good would be deemed evil and evil good. Have we reached that point? Today it seems sin is never recognized, simply because we have deemed ourselves the judge of what is right or wrong. The Ten Commandments are only seen as wrong if I say so; if it meets my interpretation. Otherwise they are just God's helpful suggestions. Really? Again, who should decide? If someone steps on my toes is it okay for me to mention it and expect an apology? If the owner of a car or some other thing, or the CEO of a company says they do not want their property or business used in a certain way do they have a right of an apology or the right to prevent its further misuse? Surely a sane, normal, rational person would say 'of course.' Well then; does God, the creator and designer of all, not have a right to have certain stipulations in how we relate to Him, or others, or other of His creation? If so, then how are we so readily blowing off what He asks of us in terms of not using His name in vain or keeping holy the Lord's day which in the New Testament was clarified in saying 'do not forsake the gathering of the assembly on the day of the Resurrection.' How do we dismiss the sixth commandment, yes, the sex commandment with every form of aberration against it? How do we think nothing of bearing false witness against our neighbor? Are there any of His commandments, which He gave us for our own good, that you think ought to be held on to yet? If you have found yourself buying into the values of modern society and becoming lackadaisical about their value; or have even gone against them; even all of them, don't be afraid to truly come before the Lord in repentance and discover how ready He is to forgive. When Jesus gave us the story of the prodigal son He described the love of a father unlike any human you can imagine. Trust Him and say 'I'm sorry' and fully embrace ALL His commandments again. Know that He does love you; that He knows better the order in which things should go; for our happiness here on earth and our ability to be happy forever.
August 23, 2022
What would you rate as the greatest value? Your car, or someone else's baby playing in the street? Would you rescue your child from a burning house first or take time to find a fire extinguisher? Your own life or freedom for all? Inherently I think most people do value human life over things even though they don't sometimes seem to express it that way as was exemplified by a letter to the editor last week. This past week I had the opportunity to watch a recent movie produced by Ron Howard called '13 Lives'. It was not a Christian movie but it demonstrated the extent people will go to save the lives of others. It seems there were 13 young people caught in a cave in Thailand by an early Monsoon season which flooded the mine. The monsoon season would last a couple months so there was no hope of just waiting for the rain to stop. Word got out and a couple volunteer scuba rescue workers from England immediately left the comfort of their home and family to fly around the world in hopes of saving these young boys. The boys had already been 10 days in the cave. Do you give them up for dead or at least try? It took them 5 hours of difficult swimming to find them safe deep in the cave. Being they could not take them out it took another 5 hours to get out and let everyone know they were okay even though the oxygen level was going down in the cave. The local Navy Seals were ready then to go in with food while they tried to figure a way to retrieve them. In the process one of the Seals died. Alongside this was another great story of sacrifice. Efforts were being made to divert the rain on the mountain from going into the many shafts feeding the cave. To do this they would need to destroy a local rice harvest. In meeting with the owners of the rice paddies to seek their permission to do such a thing they told them that even with the loss of their crop they could not guarantee saving the boys. The farmers met and agreed to the loss of their crop even though it could mean a meager year and perhaps starvation. There was no government program promising support. What would you have done? At what point do you say that human life is not worth saving? 90 year olds; how about 60; or 12; or 2; or 1; or 9 months in the womb; 6 months; how about 3 months? To save any of these different lives it is only a matter of a trade off of things or inconveniences, or both, or our own life. 'There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for another'. Why is it so difficult for some to see the inherent value of every human life from that person's earliest moment until their natural end?