Labor Day

“I will give each of you what your work deserves.”

–Revelation 2:23

We celebrate Labor Day here in the United States today. Did you know that the words liturgy and labor are akin to each other? Liturgy is multi-layered in its definition; the Greeks defined it as “the work of the people.” As Christians, we understand that the work we do is meant to be sanctified labor in our worship of the Creator in the daily round of our lives. Practicing Catholics understand another sense of liturgy; celebrating the Mass is our collected worship of the LORD through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We give God correct worship in assigning worth (worth-ship) to the celebration of the Mass. The Early Church Fathers understood and emphasized that the continuity of both senses of the word, liturgy, must be retained in our hearts and minds if we are to live the good life of our Faith. Somewhere along the way, humanity lost its sense of labor as worship of Almighty God. The Liturgy of the Church continually helps us recognize the Sacred Scripture’s emphasis of this in the last act of our worship in the celebration of the Mass, as a reminder to continue our worship of God in the labor we do.

The very last action in the celebration of the Mass is the blessing we receive from our priest. Do you remember how the liturgy unfolds in this final action? We bow our heads as we trace the sign of the cross over our mind, soul, and body while the priest asks God to pour out His blessing on us. This Sacred Tradition harkens back to the blessings that are found throughout the Scriptures. Usually, the blessing is given when someone is taking leave of another. In the liturgy of the Mass, we remember Christ’s blessing of his disciples.

“Then he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” –Luke 24:50-51

This is the intentional communication of this last action in our worship: The Lord has come into our lives, and in the same way that the Lord sent out His disciples, He is sending us out, too. The Mass ends with the Latin phrase that means “Go, you are sent.” We hear it as, “Go forth, the Mass has ended.” to which we respond, “Thanks be to God.”

Sent to do what? We are sent on the mission of all ages; we are sent in peace to bring peace into our corners of the world. We cooperate with the LORD to redeem our corner of the world through our labor. Our question today is, how will we take the good news of Christ into the quotidian labor of our lives? How can the labor of our lives bring worship to our LORD and Creator, and salvation to our corner of the world? The Daily readings this week have been drawing our minds to consider labor as worship; this is how St. Paul puts it in the letter to Colossians chapter 3:17:

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we will look at everything we do, doing it in the name of Jesus. How is your offering looking these days? Consider the most mundane and boorish part of your labor; how would it change if our mind ascended to the LORD in worship every moment of that labor?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what do our words sound like to him and to others? Do our words assign Beauty, Goodness, and Truth to the Name of Jesus? Do our words reflect his beauty, goodness, and truth to those who labor beside us?

Here’s a thought, what about those who labor before us? Do we speak our gratitude to others for their labor, as we do to our Creator? Let’s get down and dirty with this one? In your workplace, who takes care of your lawn? Who serves you in the IT department? Who serves you by keeping the bathroom clean? Who supplies the kitchen? Who serves you in making your workplace an enjoyable place? Who serves you at the window or table when you dine out? We can give thanksgiving to them through our words of gratitude thereby, we give thanks to God.

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then what should our deeds look like to him and others? Do we join in on gossip and backbiting? Or do we elevate conversations by stopping gossip and backbiting in its track by finding the good in others? Staying silent can be an act of worship to our LORD, but acting on that silence by walking away from those conversations is an act of worship that may leave a greater impact on working out salvation in our corner of the world. Someone wisely advised me to use the “3-strikes and your out” approach to circumstances like this? If after you try three times to elevate the conversation by deflection with your words, walk away. The workplace could do with a little more exercise of the “3-strikes and your out” approach, don’t you think?

If we worship the Lord through our labor, then we take our cues from the actions of Jesus. Today’s gospel account reveals his labor in healing! That is, at the very heart, what salvation is; the salve of God’s grace and mercy pours over our lives, healing us, and that healing is also for all the people we encounter; it’s intended so. Do our words pour healing salve over another’s life? Do our deeds pour healing salve into another’s brokenness?

Jesus, we offer you worship through how we labor when we reveal your goodness in our work, help us to see our labor with the eyes of worship.

Jesus, we offer our words in our labor as offerings of your beauty to others, tame our tongues, help us as we offer our worship to you in the way we speak.

Jesus, we offer the deeds of our labor in sacrifice of worship, thanking you for the ability and privilege we have to use our bodies to glorify you, sanctify every deed we do. May our every action worship you our Creator God.

May the words of our mouth and the meditation of our heart be acceptable to you, our LORD, our Rock, and Redeemer.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Glory Be

My bet is if I say, “Glory be to the Father,” to you as a practicing Catholic, the remainder of the prayer would roll off your tongue back to me, “…and to the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be world without end.” To say that the Glory Be is embedded in our Catholic identity would be an accurate conclusion. We have prayed The Gloria, and extended Glory Be, in chant or song when we celebrate the Mass since about 380 A.D. I counted up how many times we pray the Glory Be each day as a response in the Liturgy of the Hours: we pray it at least 38 times starting with Morning Prayer and concluding with Night Prayer. So, why does the liturgy of the Church train our minds to weave this sacred tradition of prayer into our daily lives?

We, in our finite existence, recognize the LORD’s infinite existence, we bow our minds to that truth when we pray the Glory Be. It takes time and not just a little bit of effort, on our part, for our hearts to believe what we pray, doesn’t it? To entirely abandon our desire for control is no small undertaking so The Church, in her wisdom, inches our minds closer and closer to detachment from the world’s ways and means through a habit of prayer.

I kindle to something St. Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive”, we can stretch that truth a bit to read, “When I live fully alive to God I give him glory.” We can conclude that when we die to the world we are more fully alive to God’s glory. Praying the truth of the Glory Be with this understanding trains us in wisdom; it becomes a prayer of detachment from the sways of the culture. We may get to the place where we appreciate the beauty of God’s creation and the goods it provides for us without depending on them for our joy and peace of mind. I can imagine the LORD smiling as we pray the Glory Be because we ascend to him each time and with baby steps, we gain his Spirit’s wisdom. That gives him glory!

So how does praying, “As it was, in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.” train us in the Spirit’s wisdom? It anchors us. I don’t know your life; however, I know mine. I NEED anchoring. Elsewise, I’m tossed to and fro by what is happening around me in the world. I remind myself through this prayer that the constancy of God from the beginning remains because He never changes. His faithfulness is new every morning, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote. When I stop my runaway thoughts to pray instead of wallow in distress, I glorify this constancy of our Triune God, and his Spirit grants me understanding and wisdom. Do you ever get carried away with angst or despair at what you see happening around you? Then pray, “Glory to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be world without end.”

Knowing and believing that the love of God that spoke this world into existence and remains faithful through all time, enfolding us here and now and into the future liberates us from counting on this life to give us a security that only comes from God alone. Praying the Glory Be is a clarifying prayer in that believing what we are praying moves our eyes off the tide of changing history. We learn to give glory to God when we enjoy his blessings, remembering that he is the Giver of all good things. And then when the tide changes and we feel unsettled, God faithfully clarifies for us the way through that tide until we gain our equilibrium once more.

Praying the Glory Be is a calming prayer in that the weight of God’s glory settles down on us, enfolding us in the secure knowledge that “All is well, and all manner of things will be well.”* Much like a weighted blanket calms anxiety for a body that is agitated, the LORD in his goodness rests down upon us the glorious weight of the splendor of his eternal presence. It is a Presence that endures through all times and events (Psalm 145). We aren’t created to be hand-wringers, tossed to and fro by every possible change that comes along. No, we are created for eternal life with God here and now, we are created for peace. When we fix our gaze on the Kingdom of God knowing that “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be world without end,” the weight of this truth presses our disordered reactions into responses secured in the knowledge and understanding that “Eternal life is [knowing God].” (St. John 17:3)

Father, you are near to all who call upon you. The more we call upon you, the more we learn to know ourselves. Transform us as we give glory to you.

Jesus, your Word tells us, “Blessed are those who are pure in heart for they shall see God.” You wouldn’t promise that if you didn’t mean it! With every upward surge of our heart, we glorify you, enlighten our darkened understanding of who you are.

Holy Spirit, foster in us a spirit of indifference toward the world. Train our desires to always give glory to you, and you alone.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Home Improvement

By wisdom a house is built,
    and by understanding it is established;
by knowledge the rooms are filled
    with all precious and pleasant riches.

Proverbs 24:3-4

Today The Church honors the parents of Our Blessed Mother, Mary. The oral tradition of the early Church conveyed their names as Joachim and Anne and they are honored by The Church for their faith in the Covenant with God. They represent the entire quiet remnant that for generations faithfully lived their lives following the Shema. We know that they practiced their faith and established in their home an atmosphere for the coming of the Messiah.

The fruit of their faithfulness to God’s Covenant was Mary then ultimately the long-awaited Messiah Jesus. What we know of Mary is her humble and obedient spirit, her knowledge of God’s promises fulfilled in the Messiah, her charity toward others and most importantly the hope she put in God’s promise fulfilled in Jesus. These I believe is what we desire for ourselves and for our families.

The Shema that Sts. Joachim and Anne surely lived by remains a map of life for us here and now as we raise our families in The Catholic Faith.

“Hear (Shema), O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The Shema is a sort of checklist for us as we live each day inclined to the LORD and listening to Him. The following quote by James Clear came to my mind as I was writing my thoughts down about the practice of the Shema. “Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.” So what is our goal as Christians that sets the direction of our lives? “To love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and might.” What is the system that will lead us to this goal? The Shema offers the atomic habits, so to say, that will compound our growth and progress in reaching our goal for ourselves and our families.

How do we then achieve our goal in our family life? The daily habit of reading the Sacred Scripture writes on our hearts the truth, goodness and, beauty of our Faith; it embeds in our mind who we are and what we are to be about. Mary knew the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah. She didn’t pick them up by accident. Her faithful parents’ practice of the daily reading of the Sacred Scripture and worship of the LORD in the synagogue formed in Mary wisdom, understanding and, knowledge.

Do we arrange the priorities of life below our priority to teach our children to love and honor God above all things? Stop and think about that. Do we consider building our family’s foundation of faith our ultimate purpose. The habit of daily prayer together and the reading of God’s Word must be the foundation of wisdom, understanding and, knowledge for our children to build their lives on.

It is our sacred responsibility and privilege to magnify the LORD before our children. Talking about our Faith when we “sit in our house” is a tall order. Fewer and fewer families have the habit of “family time” let alone “family worship”. The burden of responsibility relies on our parental stick-to-itivness. Remember the goal? It is up to us to practice atomic habits to achieve that goal. You may be thinking how can we do this? I’m glad you asked!

Incorporating our faith in God a little here and a little there as you “walk by the way…when you lie down….when you rise” wins the day. The habit of arrow prayers throughout the day can stay with a child for a lifetime. My mother would pray the psalm, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” over me when I struggled against melancholia. That prayer has come from my own lips many times for myself and as I parented our children. I now have opportunity with some of my melancholy grandchildren to pray that over them.

The priority of keeping Covenant with the LORD through the Sacraments of our Faith builds the foundation of faith in God for the next generation. Weekly worship at Mass isn’t just a duty, it’s a privilege; we, with our families, gather together to show our gratitude to God for becoming our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Foster an atmosphere of anticipation about worshipping at Mass. If we feel that way, our children will follow. Living our life of faith in the LORD is a frontlet before the eyes of our children, so to speak. Our habits imprint on the doorposts of our children’s lives. The consistency of our practice of The Faith is paramount and with the Holy Spirit’s leadership we are given the fortitude we need.

LORD, you promise us in your Word that if we raise our children up in the habits of our Faith they will not depart from them. Help us to Shema you; to hear and obey you as we strive toward the goal of our children and grandchildren knowing You and loving you with all their heart, mind, body and soul! Sts. Joachim and Anne, pray for us. Blessed Mother intercede for us.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amen


Clean

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.” –Matthew 23:25-26

As I’ve meditated this week on the gospel reading from Matthew 23 for today, I’ve been more curious about the Pharisees that seem to lurk around every encounter Jesus has with the people. They had it out for Jesus, always looking for a way to trap him or discredit him. The strong language Jesus uses against them causes me to sit up and take notice since, I’m sorry to say, there are vestiges of the pharisaical attitude in me sometimes. I like to place myself in the gospel scenes in my imagination in an effort to learn from other’s mistakes. That’s not always comforting, praying today’s passage being one example.

The scribes and Pharisees were a zealous lot; their intentions were noble. Their concern for what the Roman occupation was doing to their culture and religious beliefs propelled them in driving everyone to follow the letter of God’s law as a national agenda. Enter God, with skin on, whose law is love, peace, grace, and mercy. This Jesus, who emphasizes the spirit of the law with unmatched zeal, is a threat to the rigid beliefs of the scribes and Pharisees.

Jesus speaks to us today.

Like the Pharisees, when we pretend to be someone or something we aren’t and become obsessed with how we appear to others, we crowd our minds and heart with thoughts of comparison and competition, and even resentment. You say to us: you’ve missed the simplicity of my love for you with your thousand qualifications. You trouble your soul at the expense of those from whom you seek approval. Be the beautiful human I’ve created you to be. Stand down from proving yourself, dear one, become as a servant whose only thought is to keep your eyes on your Master.

Like the Pharisees, when we hide our insecurities behind our hubris, more concerned with what don’t do, we lose focus on what matters. Jesus says to us, don’t block the road of holiness with the debris of your shoulds and musts. Take my hand and allow me to lead you with love and understanding, learn to walk my way.

Like the Pharisees, when we keep a tight grip on our possessions and time, parsimoniously extending ourselves for others by measuring out just enough to appear holy before others. Jesus says to us, don’t nickel and dime your way before others and stop nitpicking other’s acts of generosity. Do you remember how I generously gave my life up for you? It never occurred to me to keep score because it is not in me. I’m the Eternal Giver of all good things you do likewise.

Like the Pharisees, when we strive to appear squeaky clean to others yet practice secret vices and sins, Jesus says to us you forget that I’m more concerned about what you look like on the inside so let’s do some heart-cleaning. Unlock and open wide to me the closets you think I can’t see. Allow my Holy Spirit to light your darkness and sweep away those tattered rags you like to wear when you are alone.

Like the Pharisees, when we attempt to look good by making others look bad, it always comes back to bite us. When we shove our sense of what’s right and wrong with no regard for love, peace, mercy, and grace, we cut ourselves off from the LORD’s presence in our lives. Jesus says to us, come to me, lay down your arms, and allow me to enfold you in my goodness, you’ll start seeing others differently the closer to me you stay.

LORD Jesus Christ, your Law is love, and your gospel is peace. You created us to live and move and have our being in your reality, not the ones we conjure out of our pharisaical motivations. Holy Spirit, grant us the understanding we each need to reflect your love and peace in all we think, say, and do.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

Amen

I’ll Be Happy When….

I chuckled this week when a podcaster described a “new” problem referred to as the “I’ll be Happy When…” syndrome. The podcaster must not realize that it’s the human condition that has been with us from the beginning: always striving after the world’s empty promises only to be left empty and wanting more. What began with Adam and Eve’s deceived assumption that they would be happy when they tasted the forbidden fruit continues to this day with our preoccupation with what we can acquire through our efforts. Just like our ancestors we discover that happiness eludes us because it is always moving according to the measure of our dissatisfaction. This dissatisfaction with the present drives our striving after new ideas, new concepts, new things, new remedies. Granted it is within us to discover and innovate but when it is disordered it can consume us and suck the life out of us.

Consider today’s reading from Psalm 13 which begins with a question we may often find ourselves asking if we suffer from the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. The psalmist pleads, “How long, O LORD?” and then proceeds to reveal his heart to the LORD, eventually concluding by remembering:

…I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The psalmist offers us a remedy for our discontent; when we recollect the LORD’s sufficiency, our minds shift our attention to our generous LORD. I, like the psalmist, sometimes find myself thinking about all the ifs and buts we are prone to place upon the LORD, ourselves, and those around us; it can take a lifetime to release our will to God. I grew up in an environment that inadvertently fostered a discontent with the present moment. The drive for the next thing to look forward to was consuming in those who influenced my life; it was an ill-fit for me. Happiness seemed to need to be scheduled with a whole lot of contingencies that drove contentment and peace into the future. The result was the restlessness that discontent fosters. Over the years I’ve witnessed up close the side-effects of the “I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome. Have you? Perhaps you even suffer from it yourself? Let’s consider today’s Gospel reading from Matthew and the other readings from Sacred Scripture and look for the remedy the LORD offers for this human condition we fight against.

The account of an altercation the temple tax collectors had with Christ’s disciples recorded in St. Matthew 17 is almost humorous to me. I kindle to the way Jesus flippantly instructs Peter to “go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and you.” There was a duty that needed attention, instead of Christ allowing the disciples to fret about it, he gave an off-handed instruction as if to say “Meh, it’s not a problem, I got this.” Those twelve men suffered in varying degrees from the “I’ll be happy when…” syndrome just like we do.

What about you, friend? Do you wring your hands and murmur, “I will be happy when” I can get my taxes paid? I’ll be happy when life goes how I’ve scheduled it? I’ll be happy when this pandemic is over? I’ll be happy when all my social media friends press “like” on my posts? I’ll be happy when I make more money? Ohhh….there are so many ways that we undermine our peace in Christ by our thoughts and motivations, isn’t there? Mine is unique to me, yours are unique to you, but we both have the same problem. We do not trust God’s word to us just like Adam and Eve did not trust God’s word to them. We like to say we do, but when it comes down to it, do we? Can we release the death grip we have on our expectations? More often than not, I think we entrust ourselves to ourselves, pursuing ways to satisfy our own fearful and prideful pursuit of happiness.

Despite our disordered thinking, Jesus still says to us, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.” (John 7:37) He is the definition of true happiness. As the Psalms declare in varying ways, God is the fulfillment of all our longings. He is what the prophets refer to when they say, “On that day….” Now, there’s the only contingency we should focus on because that day the prophets refer to is the beautiful realization that God is present here and now, in the only moment we are promised. How he must laugh at our striving! How he must grieve over our useless pursuits. Isaiah prophesies, I am paraphrasing a bit:

“I will lead those who are blinded by pride, fear, anger in a way that they do not know, in paths they have not known. I will guide them. I will turn the darkness of their “I’ll Be Happy When” thinking into light, I will make their rough paths that they think leads to happiness into level ground. These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”

–Isaiah 42

As for me, I find it helpful to prayerfully my disordered “I’ll be happy when…” drives. Sitting with the LORD and allowing him to light my darkened thinking always brings light. I ask our Blessed Mother to intercede for me as I unpack the motivations behind each statement. She is the perfect example of contentment. I ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with His wisdom and discernment.

Making a habit of reading through the anthologies of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, and Ben Sira in the Old Testament exposes us to all the human struggle to relinquish control to the LORD. What we discover are treasures that satisfy every longing of our hearts. They do not fade or become stale; in fact, they increase in satisfaction the more we pursue them. To get a foretaste of the books, I encourage you to read Proverbs 2.

LORD Jesus, You are our Alpha and Omega. You are our Sufficiency. You are our Happiness. Holy Spirit, help us to order our thoughts and actions as we pursue the treasures that give abundant life. Holy God, may we live and move and have our being in You!

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

In A Word….”Selah”

Today’s readings from the psalms and oracles of the prophets serve as a soundtrack, as it were, for us as we have been considering the beginnings of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, recorded in Genesis. It’s not hard to recognize the same soundtrack plays as a backdrop for our own lives as we grow into our identity as God’s child. In fact, I believe that is why the psalms and oracles are so prevalent in The Liturgy of the Church, the words unite our spirit with the Spirit of God’s voice throughout the ages.

There is a certain word that is often sung or implied as a theme and by heeding it I may receive the LORD’s help as I walk the path of salvation. The word acts as a pop-up reminder to us to remember who we are and to whom we belong as we tread our own way through the high and low places of our journey of salvation. Consider this paraphrase of Psalm 46.

God is [my] refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.  Therefore [I] will not fear …… Selah

…God is in [my] midst; [I] shall not be moved;
God will help ….
 Selah

….“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”….
 Selah

The words of the psalmist convey the ever-present help of the LORD to us as the way to mindfulness of the LORD’s quiet presence to us. The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, it’s presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth. Within this particular psalm there is the implication of the “if/then” of the fullness of God’s Covenant with us. He calls the people to “Be still and know that I am God,” to consider what the LORD in his mercy is trying to teach us as we live out our salvation: If you will remain silent, listen and linger with me, then you will know I am your fortress; I will be your salvation! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet in practice it can take a colossal effort to remain silent. I am sometimes tempted to rely on my own judgment to quickly plow through the interruptions of life or become so enamored by the shiny parts of life that I’m distracted from the reality of the LORD’s Covenant with me.

We see this evidenced in what we’ve been reading about the history of God’s people; how fear and pride dogged their path, how they allowed the so-called gods of the culture around them to lose sight of the LORD’s Covenant. Eventually fatigue from their striving to fit in with the culture wears them down. What I have observed in my own life is that if fear and pride doesn’t drive me to my knees before the LORD, fatigue certainly will. I need “Selah” for I weary of the tug of war between my own will and the LORD’s will…..that’s just like him, isn’t it? He allows us to come to the end of ourselves where we finally cease striving. It’s as if the LORD says, “Lois, I finally have you where I need you…..now, let’s consider how you are striving to achieve and acquire what comes from Me alone.”

Two other passages from the psalms and the prophet are included in the Liturgy today that draws our spirit into a “Selah”. From Isaiah 30:15, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.” And again in Psalm 124 we can imagine the psalmist seated on a mountainside of the rugged terrain of Israel. As he sits there, he is pondering all the “what ifs” of life and remembers the faithfulness of the LORD as his rock and refuge. In that “Selah” a song formulates in his mind and he begins to sing,

If it had not been the Lord who was on my side
    when people rose up against me,
then they would have swallowed me up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against me;
then the flood would have swept me away,
    the torrent would have gone over me;
then over me would have gone
    the raging waters.”

Friend, are there “what ifs” in your life? Do you sit still before the LORD as you ponder them?….Selah

Have you come through a time of celebration and are left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude?… Selah

Were you following a path set before you when circumstances went sideways for you? …Selah

Has someone you trusted betrayed you? ….Selah

Has the pandemic brought about financial reversal in your life?… Selah

Do you tend to focus on what the LORD hasn’t done for you?… Selah

When you scurry after pleasures that are passing, do you….Selah?

The joy of our salvation comes through our own willingness to Selah; to be still and know that the LORD is forever faithful and true. Only He can truly satisfy.

LORD God, remind us that nothing is new under the sun. You never change and your responses to our own choices are the same as they were to our ancestors in the faith. LORD, you are faithful and true even when we are not. Slow us down, train us to embrace “Selah” in our posture before you.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

God or God and…..

Awhile back I was actively involved with mentoring refugees who had been resettled here in Sioux Falls by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It was a privilege to walk alongside an individual or a family as they negotiated the very hard transition from a war-torn nation where genocide was destroying tribes because of long-held resentments that reached back hundreds of years. In my training for the ministry I learned that even though a refugee is freed from the impending threat to their life with their refugee status, they were now in a new kind of refugee status: a stranger who had lost everything–land, culture, family–they held dear to them to live in a new land with a culture and language that is vastly different from what they had escaped. I could spend much more time addressing what I observed over those years, but I would like to share what came back to mind as I read today’s Office of Readings.

In reality we are all refugees to some degree because we are not at home in this world’s culture, or at least we should not feel at home. The language and the mind-set of the culture should feel foreign to us. The values of the culture should feel odd when we try to fully embrace them. We should feel like sojourners rather than denizens. The LORD Jesus Christ emphasized this in so many ways as he taught His disciples and the wanna-be followers who tagged along during his earthly ministry. Today’s passage from Matthew 8 is just one exchange he had that reveals to us how we should then live:

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wasn’t conveying to his followers that a home or a dead relative wasn’t important, he knew the heart of the men who were asking the questions and could see the reasons for not following him were excuses to stay in their comfort zone. As I read the passaged I recalled a conversation I had with one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who I was helping tutor in order to get his GED. During that conversation, I asked him how had he and the other Lost Boys had survived as orphans during the years of wandering further and further away from their destroyed villages. He replied with words that are forever etched in my memory. We had God. The gaze of his eyes were set on the horizon and I imagined all the moments of despair and hopelessness he must have felt as he literally ran for his life and how God revealed himself to him. After a few moments of silence I asked Deng if he still held to that truth now as a refugee in America, his answer stunned me. “In Sudan we knew God was all we had and all we needed. Here in America I notice that people have ‘God and…,’ I am afraid I will forget God when I get what you American’s have.” We talked about that for quite a bit because I was the one who needed to learn to live as a refugee in this world and Deng was my sage. I am a better person because of Deng’s influence on my life.

Like the men in today’s gospel I was prone to be more concerned about where I lay my head rather than Who I can rest in. I was prone to allow earthly obligations and societal norms to cloud my eyes and detract me from the values of God’s Kingdom. My “God and….” included loop-holes and self-justification. My “God and….” had the disturbingly familiar image of my SELF. My “God and….” was a trinity of me, myself, and I. I would spend hours fretting over what people thought of me or all the ifs and buts that I used to qualify my faith in God.

I am sure that it is not an accident that The Church offers up an example from Abraham’s life in today’s reading. We do well to remember what the God of the Old Testament required of the great heroes of our Faith. Abraham lived much of his life as a refugee, the LORD intended it so. “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you…I will bless you…All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” We will never know how Salvation History would have looked if all God’s people put their faith in what God said and obeyed accordingly. Because of Abraham’s obedience to the LORD we can see how the Story of Salvation did unfold to reveal what LORD intended through His people: Abraham and his descendants. Like us, the people of God got into a lot of trouble when they chose to worship “God and….” and over and over the LORD drew them back by reminding them of their ultimate purpose. Prophets would regularly hand down a message from God to His people that usually began with, “On that day…..” A vision of the “promised land” would then be told where justice and mercy ruled the day. And then God’s people would forget Him because the distractions of what the culture offered up was seemingly more attractive.

It’s the human condition, we forget to remember who we are, where our true home is and what we are to be about. The LORD, ever-patient, allows history to unfold but He is always calling us back to where we belong. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament is the handbook for refugees! The exhortation to remain faithful to what we have seen and heard about our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God is strong. Abraham is recalled as the example for us as we sojourn in the kingdom of this world: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God….” Abraham had struggled with trying to serve “God and….” It didn’t go well for him, but in the end he lived his life worshipping God, life improved! The key to the map of faith was this: “…he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,…”

How about you, friend? Do you see this world as a foreign country? Does your faith in God include an “and”? What does your “God and….” look like? Perhaps you worship God and…political party or position or reputation or family obligations, or stuff. “God and….” has many faces!

Heavenly Father, remind us again that your Kingdom is not of this world. In you alone we are truly at home, draw us back to You.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Jacob, Part I

“Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This in nothing else than the house of God, the gateway to heaven.”

Genesis 28:16-17

The Church offers up a template for transformation that the LORD desires for all his creation in today’s reading from the Old Testament. In Genesis 28: 11-22, we find Jacob in a place that the LORD will use to initiate His transformation. What is behind him is an angry brother and a disappointed father whom he had deceived. What is before him is a path that will includes pitfalls and pratfalls and the formation of a dysfunctional family that eclipses any reality television. The journey will include deception handed back to him many times over, but in the end Jacob will deserve the title “Patriarch of the Faith” that he is remembered for. The first place of his transformation is at Bethel, a sacred place for his grandfather Abraham. Apparently this knowledge had not been passed down to Jacob. This is a clue about his upbringing and it’s a cautionary tale for us. Moses later records the LORD’s instruction to the people of Israel that was woven into the culture of family life.

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The culture relied on oral tradition and the passing on of the truth depended upon the parents fidelity to this understanding. Perhaps Jacob was forgetful about his family history and the stories that conveyed their faith in God or Isaac had neglected the passing of the baton of faith which included the stories of Abraham’s exemplar trust in the LORD. What we can learn from this is how foundational to a child’s life is the example of faith in the LORD that can be observed in our own lives and in giving examples of the LORD’s faithfulness through the twists and turns of life.

“… And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:11-22

The encounter that ensues between Jacob and the LORD begins with that “certain place” where decades earlier his grandfather, Abraham encountered the LORD (see Genesis 12) and though Jacob seemed to be unaware of that fact, the LORD chose that place to initiate Jacob into the reality of the LORD’S presence. Jacob was between a rock and a hard place, pun intended, and the sooner he recognized the omnipresent God, the sooner his spirit would be reordered into the man God desired him to be. I believe it is the same for us. The LORD is hounding our tracks as the psalmist puts it, the “greyhound of heaven” who is waiting for us to stop ignoring him and see life as it is, not what we delude our minds into believing.

A stone becomes his pillow and then a memorial. Here is another clue for our own transformation–the needed the rest that we often plow past in our striving as human-doings. The prophet Isaiah puts this truth like this, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Jacob was on his way toward the humility required for transformation, and rest is what ushered him into the awareness of God’s presence, a dream follows.

The dream that fills his sleep is a magnificent theophany where the divine touches the temporal; where the veil between earth and heaven is pulled back and Jacob’s eyes are opened to the presence of the tremendous Lover of his soul. His response, “Truly the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” What the LORD did to remind Jacob of who he was, where he was going, and what he was to be about is exactly what our transformational moments are like when we recognize the presence of the LORD; when we are humbled by the reminder that God is God and we are not! Jacob exclaimed that that place was the house of God (Bethel); “the gateway to heaven“. I wonder how many gateways to heaven are never opened by us because we are too busy running away from something or running to something or because our fear and pride saturate our life with busy-ness or self-delusion.

Jacob’s response upon waking from that dream brings to mind the experience of getting my first pair of glasses when I was about 11 years old. I was having trouble in school because of the nearsightedness we soon found out that I had. The optometrist’s office was on the 5th floor of the tallest building on our town square. When the time came for me to put on my new glasses, the wise optometrist led me to the window and instructed me to look down on a very familiar street. He placed my glasses on my head, and my 11 year-old brain was blown away by what I could now see that I could not see before It was the autumn of the year and the maple trees were displaying their brilliance, I had always enjoyed observing the change of seasons but now my joy had been increased because of the detail I could see. What before were watercolor images to me became pristine in their texture and detail!

Jacob’s eye-opening encounter with God at Bethel blew his mind. Jacob, who had seen his world with the distortion of greed and deception, had been taken to the window of reality where God corrected his sight to the beatific vision that is forever at play before the eyes of those who trust in the LORD and by faith realize that “Surely, the LORD is in this place“.

How’s it with you, friend? Are you running from something you regret or running to something you dread? Perhaps running isn’t even involved and it’s more like sloth; the insipid spiritual laziness that mires us in the rut of self-preservation. Either way, the LORD is purposefully hounding our tracks desiring to lead us into the divine life that is ours when we are completely abandoned to His sovereignty in our lives.

Do you rest in the LORD? Do you allow yourself to receive His peace by simply stopping in a cease-fire from the striving and dis-ease that pervades our culture. I’m a strong advocate for purposeful silence where we refuse the distractions of what is happening around us so that we may be fully present to the LORD.

Father, teach us to trust in you by choosing to rest in you. Help us to close our ears and eyes to the clamor of the culture. Lead us through our pitfalls and pratfalls into the confidence of knowing who we are and what we are about as a child of God.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“You Act Just Like your Father!”

Saints Philip and James, Martyrs

Have you ever been told that you act just like your father? What’s it like to hear that? I imagine it is a good thing to hear if you value the attributes passed on to you. A grateful child will often strive to reflect their father values as a way to honor their lives. This thought came to me today as I contemplated the Scripture passages in today’s readings (May 3, 2021) as The Church remembers and celebrates the lives of Saints Philip and James (The Lesser). These early Saints not only acted like Jesus, the Incarnate Father, they gave their lives in honor of Him. They stand with the other 12 pillars of the early Church as inspiration and encouragement for us as we, too, endeavor to act just like our Father in heaven.

Saint Paul writes to the believers in Corinth an admonition to remember that they have received the Gospel because there were men and women willing to reflect the image of Christ to the world and proclaim His Good News. He writes a mini-lesson on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ emphasizing that the resurrected Christ appeared to the faithful before his ascension into heaven. The passage ends, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” I wonder why St. Paul makes a point of mentioning the appearance to the apostle St. James. Perhaps St. James had an impact on St. Paul in his early days as a Christian, who knows!

Saint John records in his gospel an encounter St. Philip had with Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...” We see here that St. Philip is remembered for his desire to SEE the Father. There’s a theme in these two apostles lives that we can learn from as we live in what we know now as the Apostolic Mission of the Church. The age of Christendom that the apostles gave their lives to establish has eroded under the tide of societal ideologies where the Truth of Christ’s Gospel has “died the death of a thousand qualifications” as Antony Flew once concluded. And now, you and I are called to be the saints-in-the-making for such a time as this, this Apostolic Age version 2 so to speak? How can we, as Saints James and Philip impact society with the Truth of the Gospel?

Recently I came across something what Pope Francis said about the the necessity of “white martyrdom” of those living in countries where freedom of religion is restricted. As we consider our own country and the growing restrictions on religious expression and freedom of speech, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep our head down and continue to be a good neighbor, it will be enough to turn the tide against the escalating hatred of The Faith and the freedom to express that Faith here in the United States. Our white martyrdom is upon us, some of us on the frontline of public debate endure the “cancel culture” mindset every time they speak up for the Truth of Christ. They join the martyrs in this Apostolic Mission we are in now in the 21st century. The bloody martyrdom of Saints James and Philip came about because they did not waver in bearing witness to the Truth of the Gospel. Currently white martyrs are being marginalized, slandered and maligned, even imprisoned. Are they losing relationships because of their stand for the Truth of the Gospel? Probably. Does everyone around them cheer them on in their faithfulness to Christ and His Church? Certainly not! Will their lives end in a bloody death? I hope not!

I believe what Pope Francis was getting at in his reference to white martyrdom is a clarion call for you and me. We may not be a well-known apologists or public figure; however, we live our lives alongside neighbors, fellow employees, even family members that would allow the Truth of the Gospel to “die through a thousand qualifications.” If we are going to “look just like our Father” by being transformed into the image of Christ we are going to be confronted with choices every day that require a dying to our sense of self-protection. Do those around us know us for our faithfulness to the social teachings of Christ’s Church? Do we have the moral backbone to honor Christ’s image in us if we are threatened by their rejection or marginalization?

The white martyrdom of believers who face repeated trials in bearing witness to Christ, can be terrifying. When we are tempted to despair over the isolation we may have to endure, we need to remember that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of The Church, and now we must stand up for the Truth they died to protect. We join the company of believers around the world as we stand for this Truth, in doing so we can water The Church with our faithfulness and courage.

Father, grant us the courage of Saints Philip and James. May we make our own white martyrdom as a total offering to You where we not only die to ourselves, the world, and its allurements, but we stand against the tide of our culture’s denial of You.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

“Lord Jesus, Receive my Spirit.”

The seventh chapter of the Book of Acts is a nail biter–the first recorded martyrdom of the early Church. St. Stephen was chosen to be the go-to-apostle for that moment in the Church’s history. Why St. Stephen? We understand from the chapter proceeding today’s reading that St. Stephen was a deacon of the infant Church and he was known for being wise, full of faith and the Holy Spirit. It was written of him that he was full of grace and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people. In short, a holy man who knew who he was, to Whom he belonged and what he was about. St. Stephen inspires me!

As I considered the reading for today there were some take-aways that I help to increase my own faith as I strive for fidelity to my Saviour. Here are just a few. The interchange between the unbelieving countrymen and Stephen begins with some harsh words:

Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes:
“You stiff-necked people
….”

Not the best way to make friends and influence enemies, right? The problem for the people was what he was declaring about them was not new to their ears, throughout the Old Testament the LORD often referred to Israel as stiff-necked because of their constant forgetting to remember who they were–the Chosen People of God. No wonder these first century Jews were infuriated with St. Stephen’s summation of their actions.

As I think of my life, regretfully, I’m uncomfortably aware of some of my own stiff-necked leanings. There have been times when I’ve been seized by rigid stiff-necked stubbornness; convinced of my own perspective or by hard-heartedness against someone who didn’t align with my way of thinking. I’m not proud of those moments. More bothersome is when I am more often seized by my own posture; when I spend too much effort on looking to the right and to the left, looking behind me–keeping my head down to look at what’s around me. When I choose only to see the distractions around me, I’m too easily flummoxed into inertia and doubt. And what does the LORD whisper to me when I’m stuck in that posture?

” [Lois] Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life…. Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Make a level path for your feet, and all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your feet away from evil.”

We also see in St. Stephen’s response to the mis-guided accusations of the crowd surrounding him an example for us all when we are locked in our regrets about the past or our fears of rejection or when we are too prideful to change our mind. What did Stephen choose to do? He looked up!

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and Stephen said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened
and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

St. Stephen was so convinced that the LORD’s presence surrounded him that his natural response to the fray around him was to look into the eyes of his Saviour. St. Stephen’s vision beyond the perilous reality led him to where he was headed, and he stayed the course! LORD, help us all!

We know that St. Stephen’s life did not end well by man’s standards; some would even surmise that he failed. However, we know the rest of the story. He joined the many martyred saints because he stood firm on the Truth of history and refused to allow what was happening to him in his persecutions to detract him from that Truth. At the end, St. Stephen’s words live on as a response for the Church as we live in a society that grinds its teeth at Truth with a stiff-necked anti-christ assumption on how life works. In spite of the fear and anger we may feel as we, too, are surrounded by a mad crowd, we must persevere! Is courage to do what is right a challenge for you? St. Stephen’s last plea to the LORD infused him with courage to endure. He had already been filled with the spirit of LORD and he knew his destination was not determined by the crowd. No, Jesus was standing, ready, arms open to receive his spirit!

“LORD Jesus, receive my spirit.”

LORD Jesus, transform our spirits with confidence in the truth that you are waiting to receive our spirits in every moment! We only have to let go of our grip on self-preservation.

LORD Jesus, we desire the faith, wisdom, and integrity of St. Stephen, but you know how stiff-necked we can be about our own ideas, rights and privileges. Forgive us when we’d rather tune into the voices of our society than listen to your Truth, Beauty and Goodness. Would you restore a right spirit within us?

LORD Jesus, when we walk the life of Faith with a wobble from always looking back to what has happened rather than looking forward into Your eyes, help us to fix the gaze of our eyes upon you.

St. Stephen, pray for us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen