Sunday, December 10, 2017

God’s Patient Forgiveness

2 Peter 3:9 (NLT): God’s Patient Forgiveness
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise [to come again], as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
Nearly six years ago, when I was thirty-nine, my wife posed an important question: “Why don’t we go to church for Easter?” And my response was immediate: “Are you kidding me?” I said, “What am I some kind of hypocrite?” At that point in my life, church was the farthest thing from my mind. A relationship with Christ meant nothing more than a faint belief buried deep down inside of me, and even that was distorted and tuned out. Going to church, I thought, was going through the motions -- it meant nothing and seemed a waste of time. But God’s grace is amazing, and my life would soon begin a drastic change.
There was no near-death experience, no psychological meltdown, and I did not fall from a horse to the shock of a blinding light. God’s grace simply fell upon me, and I had enough sense to cooperate. And in that time, I began reading the New Testament, starting with Matthew’s Gospel. It is impossible to articulate the power of the holy Spirit and the voice of Christ that I heard in that reading. But something inside of me finally ignited. Reading the Gospel for the first time literally changed my life! This initial conversion experience would be the catalyst for repentance and a new life of faith. And as soon as I shared this joy with my wife, she immediately joined me in what became “our” walk of faith.
St. Peter reminds the Christian community that God is ever patient, not wanting anyone to be destroyed, but wanting everyone to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Peter gives this early Christian community hope, the same hope we experience today.
The second coming of Christ is a staple of basic Christian understanding. This can happen ten minutes or ten millennia from now. Scripture, however, poses this question: Are we ready? This week’s readings point us to the love of our God who patiently waits. He waits for us to turn to his love, despite our imperfections and blindness. I am a living testament to this.
As we walk together this Advent, let us pray that we experience the loving grace of God in our lives as we, too, wait in expectation of Christ’s coming. And let us share that love with those we encounter.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Are We Alert to Jesus All Around Us?

Mark 13:33 (GNT): Are we Alert to Jesus all Around Us?
Jesus said to them, “Be on watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will come.”
I was recently reminded about the fragility of life. As I read the latest postings in the Google News feed, I am reminded of human vulnerability. Tragedy, scandal, lies, corruption, and advantage-taking comprise a dark theme of living life in our modern world. But it need not be this way.
Life, as many loving people exemplify, is worth living. When we live our lives in anticipation of the good, each moment we face carries the promise of a new joy. A question I often ask myself is as follows: “How does this experience draw me to love more authentically in Christ?” Yes, even the many times when I fail, that question surfaces. To God, our lives are like a beautiful chapter written in his book, but we are a living chapter empowered with free will. We choose whether to turn toward God or not. And it is clear throughout Scripture that God waits and yearns for our turning toward him. This is where, in the above passage, Jesus reminds us to be ready for his return. Our alertness -- our watchfulness -- manifests in our love for those around us.
Does my life reflect a sense of watchfulness for the coming of Christ? It is not a trick question: Jesus is among us as we live and breathe. He is in the voice of a child as they reach out for a consoling hug. He is in the despondent look of a friend who tries to bury their pain but really needs to open up to us. He is in the guise of our spouse who yearns for affection even when we are wiped out after a long day. He is in our memory when we know there is something we need to do to set a relationship right.
Jesus is all around us if we open our eyes and ears to see and hear him. I admit it; watchfulness is a struggle. However, through God’s grace we can choose the path of love. In Christ, let’s do it together!
Let us Pray: Week one of Advent

Lord God, only you can see into my heart and know that under all the busyness of my life, there is a deep longing to make this Advent one that welcomes you more deeply into my own life. My heart desires the warmth of your love and my mind searches for your light in the midst of the darkness. Help me to be a peacemaker this Advent and to give special love to those whom I encounter. We pray in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen. (“One Prayer a Day for Advent”)

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Loving Others is Loving God

Matthew 25:40 (NRSV): Loving Others is Loving God
And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
“Daddy, do you love God more than me?” my daughter asked one night when I tucked her into bed. She got quiet and waited for my honest answer.
“Honey, Daddy loves you more than anything in this world. You are my sweetheart, and I don’t know of anyone I could love more than you, your brothers, and your mother,” I said with a short pause. Then nervously, I continued, “But, Honey, there is no way that I could love you this much if God did not first love us. You see, God gives us the special gift to love because He is Love Itself. So in a way, Sweetie, I have to love God first, so that I am made strong enough to love you as much as I do, which is more than anything ever.”
“I love you, too, Daddy. Goodnight,” she replied through a half-yawn as she drifted off to sleep satisfied with my answer.
How do we explain our love for God to the ones we love the most? Children have a natural curiosity. As a result, they ask probing questions. And although we try to be honest, sometimes words fall short.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story about the final judgment. And it is clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that we will be judged based on our love for others. Jesus asks a life-changing question: How do we treat the “least of these”? Historically, the Matthean community was concerned with suffering Christians, but today this text points to all of God’s children. How do we love those we encounter, especially those we serve in our most intimate relationships? The degree to which we love those around us is the degree to which we love God. In giving ourselves away to others, therefore, we give ourselves to God. And to define who “others” are, we need only to begin looking in our closest circles. For me, it starts with my wife and children. Who is it for you?


Heavenly Father, please let us love others as You love us. Grant us the grace to love those closest to us with an unending, unbridled love and to radiate Your love to all we encounter. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Investing God's Love in All We Do

Matthew 25:21 (GNT): Investing God’s Love in All We Do
“Well done, you good and faithful servant!” said his master. “You have been faithful in managing small amounts, so I will put you in charge of large amounts. Come on in and share my happiness!”
How do we manage the blessings that God gives us? In each of our lives, we are given many representative “talents.” In first-century Palestine, “talents” were coins of precious metal that carried great value. Our “talents,” however, come in many different forms. Some examples are as follows: our spouse and children, our vocation at work, our position in the community, our role as friend and family member, and our role as neighbor to everyone we meet. A “talent” can be any blessing we are given in our lives, and those blessings carry responsibility.
Jesus calls us to be “faithful in managing small amounts.” And this faithfulness is measured by how we invest those talents in our lives. And no, Jesus is not just talking about how we invest our money. Instead, He emphasizes an investment of love. How are we loving others through our blessings? In everything Jesus teaches throughout Scripture, the core truth is that of love, which is the principle investment of the Christian disciple: “If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35).
Let each of us, therefore, take up this call to be faithful servants of God’s love, investing His love through the many blessings we are given in life.
Heavenly Father,
You give us many talents in our lives for which we are thankful. Please grant us the grace to reciprocate that love to others, investing Your love in all we do. In Jesus Christ we pray.
Amen.
Have a blessed week and Happy Thanksgiving!

Stan

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Am I a True Servant?

Luke 17:9-10 (GNT): Am I a True Servant?
Jesus said, “The servant does not deserve thanks for obeying orders, does he? It is the same with you; when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty.’”
It is a challenge to put our heart and soul into something only to be ignored or forgotten. It is easy for the good in the world to go unacknowledged. Service to others, kindness, love, reconciliation, and peace are the essential elements of what makes our world and our lives worth living. But those responsible for perpetuating these virtues are often unsung, ignored, or distanced from the good they do. Should the servants of peace be recognized and held up, entitled and enshrined as purveyors of greatness? Jesus instructs that a servant simply does their duty, expecting no privilege, public acclaim, or payback.
As Christ’s disciples, we are purveyors of peace, missionaries of mercy, heralds of hope. And in our service to God and humanity, we toil and labor for love, peace, pardon, and justice. Our expectation is only that we have done our duty, no matter who sees or recognizes it.
Therefore, when we prepare the family meal, listen to the frustration of a friend, console a sick child, give to a needy cause, devote our time to a project, stay up late to make sure something is done right, or wake up early to ensure our spouse and children have what they need, we are being true servants, often ignored but rewarded in our duty to God and those we love.
Henri Nouwen, the ivy-league professor, priest, writer, and caretaker of the multiply disabled, stated, “The fruits of your labors may be reaped two generations from now. Trust, even when you don't see the results.” Sometimes we only see the furrowed field or the barren tree; however, perseverance and faith ensure that our service in Christ matters. In our faithful duty, we are to “trust, even when you don't see the results.”
Loving God, please grant us the grace of humble service to You and our neighbor. Let our duty, even when it is unacknowledged, yield good fruit in this world. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Your Son. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Example We Follow

Matthew 23:11-12 (NRSV): The Example We Follow
The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
There are three instances other than this moment in Matthew 23 where Jesus teaches the importance of humility over exaltation. We see it in Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14, and Matthew 20:26. In each context, Jesus addresses people who are misguided about the role of human interaction and service, people who feel that rank and position offer privilege and exaltation above others. Jesus, however, both teaches and exemplifies the opposite.  
Jesus teaches that in the kingdom of God, service is foremost. In Christ, we live to offer our talents and strengths in service to others. And at first glance, this may seem like we are to spend our lives serving others in a soup kitchen or deploying to a foreign country where communities are in need of basic necessities such as food, water, and education. This line of service may be the case for some people, but not for the majority of us. So how do we discern our role in the Body of Christ as humble servants?
We are to abandon the attitude of rank and privilege. All of life’s achievements equip us to better serve others; they do not serve to exempt us from or exalt us above anyone or anything.
We are to abandon the attitude of entitlement. Nothing we do in this world makes us deserving of the blessings we receive. All the gifts we are given are products of God’s grace and goodness. We are called to cooperate with God’s love and radiate it out to those we meet day-to-day. Entitlement opposes humility.
We are to embrace the living example of God who became human because of his eternal love for each one of us. This same God lit the dark sky with the brilliance of stars, planets, and galaxies. This same God created the canyons, seas, and sunsets of our world. This same God wove humanity in his image and likeness, to love and care for the other no matter who they are. This same God willingly carried his own instrument of execution to a hilltop where he would suffer public torture, insult, defamation, nakedness, and death. It was this same God, Jesus Christ, who cried out to his father in tears of abandonment as he asphyxiated on the cross, dying among criminals, so that we could live.
Love counters rank and entitlement, for “all who humble themselves will be exalted.” We are called to live each day offering our best to the person in front of us. So let’s smile more, laugh often, share with abandon, help without hesitation, express joy, and be kind and forgiving.
Loving God, please grant us the grace to be humble, allowing us to serve and love our neighbor as ourselves for the love of you. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Humility Leads to True Wisdom

Luke 10:21-24: Humility Leads to True Wisdom


At that very moment Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. . .
Turning to the disciples in private, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. . .”
I enjoy studying theology and church history. Now at first glance, most would say this is a healthy interest that would lead me to deeper satisfaction and happiness in my life. And in the beginning, this proved true. Everything I read drew me closer to knowledge about God and the church. Knowledge, at first, was attractive and renewing. But as I soon discovered, “knowledge” and “knowing” are oppositional.
Knowledge of religious practice and theology are helpful. But when we seek to satiate ourselves with this knowledge, it dominates our thinking and clouds the promptings of the Holy Spirit in us toward love of God and neighbor. Throughout Scripture, Jesus warns us of this. And in this section of Luke’s gospel, Jesus points out that too much self-serving knowledge blinds us to the mysteries of God’s love. Not only does Jesus address this to the disciples, but he also teaches it to the religious leaders that try to trap him in Luke 10:25-37. To illustrate this, Jesus tells the parable of the good Samaritan. It is through this parable, moreover, that we learn the true meaning of loving your neighbor, for it is the “enemy” Samaritan who comes to the aid of the victimized, half-dead Jewish man, a man left to perish on the side of the road by the legalistic priest and Levite. Too much “knowledge” jams up the mechanism of love inside of us.
Knowing someone is intimate and personal. We spend time with that person, intently listen to them, and open our deepest self to them. Knowing is about loving, caring, giving, nurturing, and receiving. To know Jesus and his church is to spend time with him in prayer, the sacraments, liturgy, community, service to others, and family. Knowing someone is to shun our arrogance in place of humility. Knowing is about love of the other. Knowledge, on the other hand, often leads to the love of self.
There is a beautiful passage in a favorite book of mine in which the author beautifully sums up Christ’s teaching on humility. And in this passage, the author echoes Jesus in Luke 10:22: “Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” Thomas á Kempis writes:
Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise.
Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God. (The Imitation of Christ)
In my arrogant quest for “knowledge” of God, I fall short every time. I get discouraged. I lack trust. I lack faith. My quest to know Jesus, however, humbly leads to a “good life,” a life with a mind at ease in the comfort of God’s grace and love.
Heavenly Father, we pray for to gift of knowing you through the life, love, suffering, death, and resurrection of your son, Jesus Christ. Please grant us the grace of being childlike in our approach to faith in you so that we can be vessels of your love in this world. And we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, October 22, 2017

We are Made in God’s Image and Likeness

Matthew 22: 20-21 (NRSV): We are Made in God’s Image and Likeness
Then [Jesus] said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” [The Pharisees] answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Although originally intended for a group of self-righteous religious leaders, Jesus' message applies to each of us today. In a world driven by politics, economics, and technology, it is easy to forget who we are as children of God. Society too often equates a person’s worth with their status, the amount of zeros in their salary, the size of their house, the car they drive . . . and the list continues. In this passage, however, Jesus reminds us who we truly are by alluding to Genesis 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
We are made in God’s image and likeness. And since God is love (1 John 4:8), we are created for love. The coin, therefore, is a symbol of what we are not. Why, then, do people blindly step on others in order to accumulate more “coins”? Jesus implies the question and presents the following answer: We are children of God, and human life is a precious gift that belongs to God, not any institution or ideology.
Let us choose to live lives of love for one another, imitating the life Jesus models for us in his self-emptying example. St. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich." It isn't about our wallets; it's about our hearts. Let us love others with the love we were given in our creation.
Heavenly Father, we offer ourselves to you and no other. You are the author of life and have made us in your image and likeness. Please grant us the grace to both recognize this in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters as we go out into the world to live the love you gave us. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week.
Stan

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When Listening is Not Enough

Luke 6:46-49 (NRSV): When Listening is Not Enough
[Jesus said,] “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.”
Some proclaim Jesus as Lord but do not act on His teachings. It is an easy thing to do. We can profess ourselves as followers of Christ, but when it comes time to love -- that which Jesus says is our identifier in the world -- we gossip, judge, and ostracize. But Jesus calls us to something much greater than the habits of sin. He calls us to Himself, to follow His way, and to build the foundation of our character on Him.
To illustrate true faith, a faith that is lived out in Christian love, Jesus presents the parable of a house builder. The builder who digs deeply and constructs his house on a foundation of solid rock -- Jesus and His teachings -- builds a house that is unshakable against the floods of hardship. But Jesus warns His would-be followers who live lives of inaction:
But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.
Being a Christian means putting Jesus at the center, heart, and foundation of our lives. More than this, however, Jesus calls us to not only listen but act. For disciples are agents of loving action in the world. Our discipleship is to follow the way of the Master, the way of love and mercy toward all people.
Heavenly Father, please give us the grace to place Your Son at the foundation of our lives. In doing this, strengthen us to become agents of Christ’s love in the world. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.  
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, October 8, 2017

When we Persist in Prayer

Luke 18:1-8 (CEV): When we Persist in Prayer
1 Jesus told his disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up . . . The Lord said: “Won’t God protect his chosen ones who pray to him day and night? Won’t he be concerned for them? He will surely hurry and help them. . .”
I find comfort in prayer. Peace and calm accompany calling God to mind and offering myself to Him -- my celebrations, my struggles, my faults. But often, I wonder if my prayers are heard. This happens especially when I struggle with a decision or problem. Trust in God and persistence, however, are key when it comes to prayer.
In commenting on the above passage, the writer David McCasland reminds us what prayer is and is not:
Prayer is not a means of coercing God to do what we want. It is a process of recognizing His power and plan for our lives. In prayer we yield our lives and circumstances to the Lord and trust Him to act in His time and in His way.
The lesson Jesus teaches us in this parable is to keep at it. Prayer requires tenacity and trust. We are to abandon ourselves to God’s will and care, knowing that His time and ours are not the same.
O God, may we all feel Your presence and blessings in our lives, knowing that in our persistent prayer we are to trust and yield, not coerce. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Happiness Comes From the Joy of Others

Philippians 2:3-8 (CEB): Happiness Comes From the Joy of Others
Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
. . .  he emptied himself
. . .  he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Being others-focused brings me peace. Focusing on myself, however, does the opposite. As a husband and father, I confront my own selfish behavior on a daily basis. Both Paul’s advice and Jesus’ example are perfect reminders for us all -- “Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.”
As Paul points out in his letter to the church at Philippi, there has been disunity among the early Christian faithful. Why? Because people have been putting themselves first. As a prescribed antidote, Paul points to the humility and self giving of Jesus: “[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
As twenty-first century Americans, we are programmed to self satisfy. And when we look around our culture, more people are dissatisfied than ever. Therefore, let’s take Paul’s advice to “watch out for what is better for others” and “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus.”
Heavenly Father, guide us to live lives of humility and love for others. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray, amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, September 24, 2017

God's Generosity and a Man with an Umbrella

Matthew 20:10-12 (NLT): God’s Generosity and a Man with an Umbrella
When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’
The rain came down in torrents as I crossed the parking lot. I was walking fast and holding a red umbrella, one I kept packed in my trunk. Along the way, a ragged homeless man flanked me.
“You found my umbrella,” he stated as a matter-of-fact. His hair and beard were long, gray, and matted. And his tattered clothes were soaked.
I was irritated and in a hurry to get to class, so I said, “It’s not your’s.” And I continued my power walk.
But something deep inside stopped me in my selfish tracks. An overwhelming impulse flooded me, so I turned around, jogged back, and handed him the red umbrella.
“Here is your umbrella, Sir,” I apologized. And the man skittered off, never to be seen again.
As I turned to run toward class, a fellow student stopped me. She gave me a hug and said, “I love what you just did.” Little did she know that my initial instinct was to take the umbrella, ignore the homeless man, and get to class. Little did I know that God reaches out to us in small ways that may only make sense to us years later.
I was 21-years-old and far from Christ at the time, with little or no faith. The homeless man moment was both a foreshadowing of God’s immeasurable generosity and a reminder of his omnipotent love. In that moment, God reached out to me. And there was a conflict that took place within me: My self-centeredness collided with the Holy Spirit’s prompt to put someone else first. Through God’s grace, I choose love. If I look carefully at the incident, my choice had nothing to do with my own work. I was set on passing by the needy man, for my instinct was to leave him cold and wet. It was grace that moved me to stop and give. It was grace that planted a seed of hope deep within me.
Why was my classmate in that parking lot? Why the immediate hug and recognition of love? God, in his generous love, uses us in our common contexts to be agents of his will.
In today’s Gospel, the laborers who toiled all day get miffed by the vineyard owners’ “unjust” wages. How dare the owner pay the latecomers the same wage? Jesus, moreover, narrates the long-standing laborers’ grievances: “‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us.” But God, like the vineyard owner, is patient and generous. It is not about the work we do but about his grace, unconditional love, generosity, and mercy -- the work he does through us, even when we may not be not mindful. God is equally generous to all who are in his vineyard.
It took me 18 more years before I entered the vineyard. God is so generous!
I pray that we all look for the moments that God both uses and reaches out to us in his endless generosity.


Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What is True Forgiveness?

Matthew 18:33-35 (NRSV): True Forgiveness
“‘Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
As Christians, it is often easy to mouth the words, ”I forgive you.” After all, it is the Christ-like thing to do when we are wronged. The question, however, is this: Does true forgiveness stop at the words we speak, or does it go beyond that to something greater?
According to Frank Doyle SJ, forgiveness is something far more involved than the words we speak:
The problem is not just one of ‘forgiveness’ but also of ‘reconciliation’. And where there is no reconciliation, or at least hope of reconciliation, there cannot be forgiveness in the full sense. . . Ultimately, reconciliation is a personal decision on each side. Forgiving in the full Christian sense is a form of loving and caring.
True forgiveness, in the sense that God forgives us, is an act of love and reconciliation. God doesn’t just say it; he gives us new life, blesses us with his love, and showers us with his grace. God forgives in the most perfect way, by loving and caring for us. Jesus, therefore, teaches this complete forgiveness to Peter and the disciples, and he teaches it to us, too: True forgiveness is an act of the heart; it is not just an act of words.
What happens when the other’s offense is so deep and the wound so painful that we cannot bring ourselves to forgiveness, let alone loving reconciliation? We pray to God that he do the forgiving for us. We offer the pain to God and let go of it. When we offer up our pain and struggle in prayer, it no longer owns us. This act of prayer and surrender is our loving action; it is our attempt to reconcile with something that is irreconcilable. God does the work when we lack the strength. But we must surrender our pain, resentment, and ill-feelings.
God’s love for us is unconditional, and his mercy is without measure. But we are created as people of free will. And we are given a choice in the way we forgive others. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus teaches that God’s mercy is only limited by the mercy we show to others -- “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The “as we forgive those” part is the self-imposed condition of our own forgiveness. It is our choice. Do we choose forgiveness from our lips or forgiveness from our hearts? Do we choose to be owned by our past pain, or do we give it all to God as a loving act toward reconciliation?

Heavenly Father, we pray for the grace to forgive -- that we can forgive as you have forgiven us. And in those moments when we have been hurt beyond words, I pray that your loving spirit guide us to moments of surrender. Free us, Lord, from the burdens of resentment by working in us to truly forgive and reconcile with others. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Put on the Love of Jesus

Romans 13: 9-10 (NRSV): Put on the Love of Jesus
[All of] the commandments . . . are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Social media is a platform that fosters the ruthless treatment of others. We do not have to browse far to see political, religious, celebrity, and personal targeting. And when the targeting occurs, it is so easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation. The anonymity and distance of the internet can bring out the worst in people. But what if we reversed this trend? What if we limited our online  engagement to ways that were positive, peaceful, and constructive? The world would be different.
As the body of Christ, we are called to be a loving, merciful, kind people. Why, then, am I tempted to add to a condemning comment or put a negative spin on a “typical” news story? In Romans 7:15, Paul addresses this same problem: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Our battle is to overcome this compulsion to hate by acting, instead, in love. For Paul states that “love does no wrong to a neighbor.”
Let us put on, as Paul says in Romans 13:14, the love of Jesus Christ. When we do this, we harness the grace to be kind and loving, to act mercifully and forgive. As a result, our world and our lives will be transformed.

Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, September 3, 2017

We Will be Known by Our Love

Romans 12: 9-10, 21 (NRSV): We Will be Known by Our Love
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection  . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our world is in turmoil. Nuclear threats, hate speech, racism, misogyny, political unrest, and injustice alarm us through recent news feeds and Twitter trends. This context can create chaos and unrest in and among us. Panic, fear, and anxiety thrive when we focus on the heartbreak of the world. But as Christians, our focus is different.
In chapter 12 of Romans, Paul discusses the beauty of living a new life in Jesus Christ and the true marks of a Christian: We are people given the grace to love others beyond our human capacity. Humanity loves with conditions and a tendency toward self-interest. God, on the other hand, loves without condition; He loves with the outpouring of self for the sake of others. The best example is the cross: Jesus willingly took on the scourge, humiliation, torture, crucifixion, abandonment, ridicule, and, finally, agonizing death. This amazing love -- a love we cannot conceive without the Holy Spirit -- is the love of God.
Jesus’ love is genuine, rejects evil, holds fast to the good, loves all mutually, and defeats evil with good. We are all called to the same kind of love. The Greek word for this love is agápē: It is the highest form of love exemplified by Jesus on the cross. And as Jesus states in Matthew 16:24, being His disciple entails the cross: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But it is a cross of love in the midst of a troubling world. Through our witness to the love of Jesus Christ, we can overcome the hate, meanness, self-centeredness, and insensitivity of the present world.  The Rev. Bishop Michael B. Curry gives a beautiful summary of this same point:
“This [is the] way of love that we as followers of Jesus . . . must never be ashamed of, must never be afraid of, must dare to be evangelists of. . . We need a brand of Christianity that is not hate filled, that is not mean, that is not insensitive, that is not self centered. We need a brand of Christianity that looks something like Jesus, that’s about love.” (Sermon to the 232nd Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut)
As we begin our new journey this September, I pray that we keep Paul’s words close to our hearts. They remind us of what Jesus taught His first disciples on the night of Holy Thursday: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
Have a blessed week!

Stan