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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Light we Shine

Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV): The Light we Shine
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
We are all equals in Christ. I am drawn to books that depict inspirational lives who bear glaring witness to Jesus, people who sacrifice everything for the sake of their faith. St. Teresa of Calcutta, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St. Francis of Assisi, Corrie ten Boom, David Wilkerson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and St. Thérèse of Lisieux are a few of Christ’s witnesses who offered their lives for the love of the Gospel. And their stories are inspiring to read.
Meditating upon such greatness, however, can sometimes be discouraging. There is no way that my life can compare to such devoted sacrifice and witness. Their brilliant light can make my life look dim. But St. Paul’s words reassure us that, in faith, our lives are equal in the eyes of Jesus. For St. Paul states that “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” Additionally, St. Paul reminds us that “not all the members have the same function.” Our expression of faith and role in Christ’s church varies in degree and purpose. But it is all according to God’s plan for each of us building up the one body of Christ. Our witness may be to persevere in the Sunday morning struggle to get our kids ready for church; to be a faithful, devoted partner to our spouse; to be a loving parent to our children; to be a good friend; to be honest and kind to the people we encounter, especially our families; to smile at and welcome the stranger; to say please and thank you; to avoid gossip and instead offer a positive word; and to be a loving witness in many small ways throughout our day.
We all have a brilliant light to shine for Jesus Christ, and the light we shine is neither brighter nor dimmer than anyone else's. It is the light that God gives each of us according to His grace and our abilities. “Not all of us can do great things,” St. Teresa of Calcutta says, “but we can do small things with great love.”
I pray that we use the gifts and graces God gives us to change the world through our doing “small things with great love.” Amen.

Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Our Struggles and God's Plan

Genesis 45:4-8 (NRSV): Our Struggles and God’s Plan
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
We often suffer setbacks and disappointments. And when our lives take a turn for the worse, it is hard to gain perspective. Faith is key, however. If we recall the many moments in Scripture, like this one with Joseph, we can see that God has a clear plan for all creation. Even when our lives are at their lowest, when we are feeling the deepest difficulty and cannot see past the pain, God has a plan for us.
Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob. Due to jealousy and mean-spiritedness, Joseph's brothers first plan to murder him, only later agreeing to sell him into slavery. After being bought, Joseph flourishes in the Egyptian Potiphar’s house. Soon, however, Joseph suffers hardship again through the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. Imprisonment, human trafficking, false accusations, humiliation, separation from family, and betrayal are all pains that Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers. And Joseph could have fallen into anger and rage, taking revenge on his brothers. His brothers, moreover, even expect it. Joseph, instead, sees that God has a greater plan for his suffering. Joseph says to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Our lives are no different. Not one of us can say that life has been perfect. We have all suffered at one point. And if we can predict anything about life, suffering and setback will be part of our future. How do we handle hardships when they come? Scripture poses this question. Joseph has the right answer. He sees God’s hand in the good and bad moments of his life. St. Paul, furthermore, writes in his letter to the Romans that “... all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (8:28). The greatest example of sacrifice for God's purpose is seen in Jesus offering His life on the cross. Christ’s suffering and sacrifice liberates the world from perishing in sin.
Through God’s grace, we, like Joseph, can turn away from the bitterness of our life’s breakdowns and toward the light of God’s purpose. So let’s reflect on the difficult spots in our lives -- past or present -- and see with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and in the context of faith, that those difficulties have purpose and serve a greater good for others and ourselves in Christ.
Loving God, let us see our struggles in the greater light of Your purpose. Let our lives preserve those around us in Your love. In Jesus Christ we pray, amen.  
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Giving ourselves to God

Matthew 22:19-21 (NIV): Giving ourselves to God
19[The religious leaders] brought [Jesus] a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
While my family and I were driving the other day, my daughter was curious about a song that was playing, “Love Bug” by Raffi. Her question stemmed from the following lyrics:
Everybody’s got a love bug, deep inside.
Everybody’s got a love bug for their own.
Love bug — where the hugs come from.
She asked, “What is a ‘love bug,’ Daddy?”
And I formulated an imperfect answer about God’s presence in each of us. “A ‘love bug,’ sweetie, is God’s spirit working in us. God’s spirit lives in our hearts and gives us the ability to love others,” I said.
We are made in God’s image and likeness. And it is no mystery that we were created to be vessels of God’s love. But there is a choice we must all make, and Jesus reminds us of that crucial choice in the above passage. Like the Roman denarius that bore Caesar’s image, Jesus likens us to coins of great value. The image that we bear, however, is that of God. And although it is our free choice, we are called to be ambassadors of God’s love.
In a very real way we all contain God’s “love bug” inside of us. We bear his image, and as Christians, we are privileged by grace to offer ourselves to God through the love, hope, and mercy we offer to others.
I pray that God’s holy “love bug” branches out of us to everyone with whom we come in contact. Let our lives reflect the loving image of God in all we do. Amen.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Our Need to Detach

Matthew 19: 21-22 (NRSV): Our Need to Detach
21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
The story of the rich young man is one so familiar that we often pass it by without much thought. The man is rich and wants to inherit the kingdom of heaven. He asks Jesus what, besides following the ten commandments, he needs to do. Jesus hits him where it matters, his wealth. The man is told to sell what he owns and give it away to those who have nothing. But the man, as the sacred writer points out, owns much and, grieving, refuses to give up his wealth. This parable is not only for the rich; it is a parable that points to all of us who have unnatural attachments. We should ask ourselves the following question: Do the people, possessions, and habits in our lives thwart our walk with Christ? If so, we need to detach.
Many readers take this passage to mean that we must be like the disciples and give up all of our possessions to truly follow Jesus. And that might be true for some people, but it is not the universal here. For example, one biblical scholar states the following:
Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the rich Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.
Poverty of spirit, therefore, is the matter. And this rich man lacks the spiritual emptying necessary to be fully devoted to God. His money and possessions get in the way.
In applying Jesus’ teaching to our lives, we may not see money as the false god that gets in our way. Instead, there may be something else in our lives that forms that barrier to Christ. It might be that our habits, the people with whom we associate, or the places we like to frequent form the hurdle to our own poverty of spirit. The spiritual struggle, moreover, might be our own lack of faith.
My own spiritual barriers, for instance, relate to my lack of trust and over reliance on self. People who are close to me know that I am intense when it comes to subjects that occupy my interests. This intensity quickly becomes a hurdle for me, breaking down my trust and faith in God for the things I both cannot understand or control. As he does to the rich man, Jesus poses the same maxim to me: Detach from those things that get in the way and trust in God.  
We should inventory our own lives and look for the “many possessions” that thwart our spiritual poverty. Once we identify them, let’s pray that God gives us the grace to detach from them and draw more closely to him.


Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jesus, The Model of Self-Giving

Matthew 14:13-14 (NRSV): Jesus, The Model of Self-Giving
13Now when Jesus heard [of John’s death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.
Living in the modern world is not easy, for we are stretched in many ways by busyness, stress, and exhaustion. In this context, it is challenging to help others and be supportive. Jesus experiences the same human challenges in Scripture, however. And his example is one we should notice. Christ’s moments of self-giving love shine during his most difficult human challenges.
In the above passage, Jesus receives the news that John the Baptist is dead. This is significant to Jesus on many levels -- John was Jesus’ cousin and the herald of his mission among the people. Learning about John’s senseless death at the hands of Herod would have been devastating to Jesus. So what does Jesus do? He does the same thing most of us would do in this situation, grieve and pray: “[Jesus] withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself” (13).
Throughout Scripture, however, Jesus always puts others first. And this moment is no different. Through his humanity, Jesus experiences every human emotion, even the grief and loss of a dear friend and family member.  Jesus, moreover, models what self-giving looks like. Instead of isolating himself in prayer and dealing with his grief and deep sense of loss, Jesus sees “a great crowd; and he [has] compassion for them and [cures] their sick” (14). Jesus never misses a moment to serve others, even in the depth of his human emotional weakness.
As disciples, we are to learn from and imitate Jesus’ love in the world. How does this moment prepare us to better serve others and imitate God’s love? There are times when we, too, experience trial, grief, and emotional emptiness. But the world does not stop needing our love, our healing, and our care. As educators, parents, family members, and friends, we are called to love in the midst of our personal suffering. We are called to imitate Jesus in the small things we do by putting others first.
I pray that we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ by loving others even in the depths of our own pain. And in giving ourselves away in love, we may find that our pain, too, is healed by the reciprocated love of others.
Have a blessed week!

Stan

Sunday, July 23, 2017

God is the Only Just Judge

Matthew 13: 29-30a (NRSV): God is the only Just Judge
29 But [Jesus] replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest . . .”
I am fascinated by Christian-themed tattoos, and in my recent Googling, I unearthed an interesting trend. Many Christian-themed tattoos include the following words: “Only God can judge me.” Initially, my thoughts centered on the personal baggage of the tattoo bearer. Their life struggles may invite the judgment of others. Then, however, I considered the message itself and the truth therein: We are often tempted to judge others, which is hurtful to all involved. No matter who we are, our lives are a mixture of virtue and vice.
Jesus’ parable of the weeds and wheat points to God’s mercy and gives us hope. When the sower of the seed tells the slaves to not gather the weeds and wheat until the harvest, we are reminded that God has the power to judge us at any moment. However, God gives us the chance, through grace, to choose and develop the way of self-giving love (our wheat-ness) over the way of self-serving sin (our weed-ness). As flawed humans on the path to discipleship, we are both weeds and wheat, for to uproot one is to uproot the other. To elaborate, the late Jesuit scholar Frank Doyle states:
Each one of us is a combination of wheat and weeds. In each one of us there are elements of the Kingdom and elements that are deeply opposed to it. Paul recognised that struggle within himself (cf. Romans 7:21-25). So we need to learn how to be tolerant with our own weaknesses. God told Paul that it was precisely through his weaknesses that he could reveal his glory. “My power is made perfect in [your] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We know through Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s struggle that we are given the grace to grow stronger in Christ. And God cultivates us through time to bear good fruit in his name. The temptation, however, is to pass judgment on the “weeds” of the world, and that we all harbor our own “weeds” gives us no right to judge others. Instead, we should mirror the mercy of God.
The image of the tattoo resonates: Only God can judge any one of us. And his way is that of mercy, love, forgiveness, and grace. Can we, like the loving sower, practice mercy, refusing to uproot the wheat and the weeds?
Let us pray:
Heavenly Father, we pray to choose the path of love. And in choosing that path, we pray for the grace to mercifully forgive others as you forgive us. For you, dear God, teach us that we can only receive forgiveness when we give it. Cultivate each of us to be the loving, fruit-bearing wheat in your Kingdom field. In Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

Have a blessed week,

Stan

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Conquering the Enemies of Discipleship

Matthew 13:19-23 (NRSV): Conquering the Enemies of Discipleship
19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit . . .
Jesus teaches us to beware of three common enemies that thwart our Christian living: Doubt and skepticism, trouble and persecution, and the world and lure of wealth.
The first enemy is the “evil one,” Satan himself. As much as we try to laugh off the existance of the devil, he is very real and does exist. Most of his work is done in stealth, worming his way into our subconscious by encouraging our doubt and skepticism. Skepticism and doubt, moreover, snatch away God’s truth that is sown in our hearts (19).
The second enemy is “trouble and persecution” (21). When we are threatened and made to feel uncomfortable as Christians in public, the temptation to back off, grow tepid, and fall away is very real. Many Christians living in ISIS occupied countries, for example, confront this same enemy daily. And although we hear about the martyrs who have kept their faith and paid the price with their lives, there are many who have fallen away or renounced their faith due to the threat of violence to themselves and their families.
The third enemy, “the cares of the world and lure of wealth” (22), dissolves our internal motivation toward loving God and neighbor by replacing it with a motivation for wealth, power, and notoriety. This enemy banks on our pride and ego and encourages us to build a tower of personal accomplishments that yield temporal comfort in this world. The pursuit of world and wealth, moreover, leads us into a trap of false thinking: All that truly matters is what we have and gain for ourselves in this world.
Doubt and skepticism, trouble and persecution, and the world and lure of wealth are imminent, but often ignored, threats to Christian discipleship. However, I continue to experience each one of these threats in my walk with Christ. Earlier in Matthew 13, Jesus tells his disciples that they have been given a great gift: “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear” (16). We, too, are given the gift of open eyes and ears to God’s word, but we must combat the threats to our taking in, being changed by, and acting on God’s word in love. When, through grace, we combat these enemies and cooperate with God’s will in our lives, we reach the “good soil” Jesus mentions (23), hearing and understanding God’s word. But even more than that, we bear and yield good fruit by imitating God’s love and mercy in the world.
I pray that we both recognize and combat the comfortable enemies of doubt, persecution, and worldly gain. And in that victory we stand in the light of Jesus Christ, radiating his word, mercy, and love in our world.
Have a blessed week.

Stan