Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Absolute Minimum...

Throughout school, from high school and beyond, there always seemed to be someone who raised their hand and asked, ‘Will this be on the test?’  Students often begin a semester by glancing through the syllabus to discover what they’ll have to do in order to pass the course with a decent grade.  In a busy world, with so many obligations and responsibilities, folks often find themselves asking, ‘What is the bare minimum I can do and get by?’  What’s the minimum credit card or mortgage payment I can make?  How many days of work can I miss without getting in trouble?  This is a somewhat common way of thinking these days.

Of course, this is never the best approach to anything – just getting by won’t really let us grow or accomplish much of anything.  But it can be helpful to know what the absolute minimum is so we can be sure to never fall below those basic expectations; and when times are tough and things are especially busy, we can plan to always at least accomplish the basics.

The Church outlines something very much like the bare minimum for us in something called the Precepts of the Church.  These summarize the absolute minimum of what it means to live the Christian life as a member of the Catholic Church.  People are sometimes surprised to discover they may not be even meeting the minimum expectations of being a good Catholic – often that can help explain why their spiritual life is suffering, or why they don’t feel fulfilled in their parishes.

How are you doing at meeting (and hopefully exceeding) these bare minimums of being a practicing Catholic?  If you find your faith stale or stalling, check to see if you’re investing in the life of faith at least enough to prioritize meeting these ‘minimums’; we can’t expect faith to be alive in our lives, transforming our hearts, and leading us on the path of authentic discipleship if we’re not at least hitting these basic targets.

1 – Attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; and refrain from servile labor on those days.
2 – Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) at least once a year.
3 – Receive Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
4 – Observe days of fasting & abstinence established by the Church.
5 – Provide for the needs of the Church by sharing your time, talent, and treasure.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Preaching Jesus Christ - and Sharing the Broader Ministry

4th Sunday Easter - Year B - 2015

I love the stories of the Apostolic Age that we hear in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles.  They read like Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the Star Wars saga – telling the story of Christianity as if it were a great adventure.  And why not?  If we reflect on our own journeys, the twists and turns, the obstacles we navigate, the tough lessons we learn and seemingly impossible situations we survive, the Christian life truly is an adventure.

That’s why I love these stories from the Acts of the Apostles as we bask in the glory of Easter.  We see the adventures our early fathers in faith to carry the Gospel throughout the world.  Think about it – standing up like Peter did in today’s reading to preach the Gospel boldly, without fear – calling a spade a spade, challenging the culture and society, challenging leaders and followers alike, all for the purpose of preaching one message:  ‘Our good works or morality can’t save us – there is nothing under heaven that can save us except the name of Jesus Christ.’

How cool to be a part of that!!  Smack dab in the middle of Christianity’s spread to the ends of the Earth.  How awesome to be a real, substantive part of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ!  What a privilege that would be!

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Last week we began by reflecting how awesome it would have been to actually be witnesses to these things – and we realized that, indeed, we are witnesses to the life, death, resurrection and saving power of Jesus Christ.  In fact, if there are to be any witnesses to these things today, we are the witnesses.  Like those early disciples, we can only recognize Jesus in the breaking of the break – and when we recognize Him, we depart from the Mass with the command to Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord as witnesses to these things. 

We also need to see that the great Acts of the Apostles aren’t merely stories of the past, but models for our continuation of the Christian saga.  You and I are called to stand up just as courageously in the world and proclaim to the whole human race that there is only one way to be saved – the stone so often rejected in the living of our lives must become the cornerstone – we must preach with Peter that salvation comes only though the name of Jesus.

The Church often invites us to recognize a second and just as important way that we’re called to participate in the continued unfolding of the Christian story.  It was part of how the whole growing Christian community shared in the mission in those first centuries as well, how the whole community shared in spreading the Gospel and caring for the sick and needy and marginalized of those times.  It was part of how they practiced loving their neighbors as Christ taught them.  They followed the example of Peter and Paul and others who preached and stood up for the Gospel wherever they went, and they shared from everything they had with the whole community of faith for the good of the Gospel.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute their proceeds to all, as any had need…And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”  It seems that the Apostle Paul conducted what might be called an early ‘Diocesan Annual Appeal’ to gather the funds needed to support the work of the Church throughout the region. 

The testimony of the Apostolic Age is simple and clear:  spreading the Gospel – doing our part in carrying out the Great Commission left to us by Christ Himself – requires each and every one of us to do two things.  First, we have to carry the Gospel message with us wherever we go, preaching loud and clear with our words and our actions the firm belief that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.  Secondly, and just as importantly, we have to share from our goods for the support of the Church in a way that seems like we live as if we have all things in common.

Our parish is a perfect example of why this kind of giving is so important.  Something approaching half of our annual operating budget comes to us from the Diocese of Lexington.  Half!  Quite simply, without the success of collective giving efforts like Diocesan Annual Appeals, there are many parishes throughout the country that quite simply wouldn’t exist – there would be entire counties of people with no living, active presence of the Catholic Church in their midst.  We’re all called to play a part in the ministry and mission of Christ in these ‘mission areas’ by our participation in these broad giving opportunities.  

I’m making my own gift to our diocese’s Annual Appeal this weekend – actually, I’m making two gifts, one in common with each of the parishes I’m privileged to Shepherd.  And I’m asking each of you to do the same.  Maybe your diocesan appeal has already happened or hasn’t yet started – make a decision now to be a part of that effort.  Maybe your diocesean program is based around the occasional opportunity to support specific missions when their representatives are among you for appeal weekends – you can decide now that you’ll participate in some way in those efforts.  These are important ways to join together with our brothers and sisters throughout the world to preach salvation in the name of Jesus Christ. 

As it was in the days of the Apostles, so it is today.  This only works if we each do our part.  We must join our lives to the unbroken tradition of preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified in the home, the workplace and marketplace and public square.  And we must share our piece in supporting the work of the whole church.

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If you’re interested in supporting the work of the Mission Diocese of Lexington which serves 50 counties in southeastern Kentucky, approximately 40 of which are not financially self-supporting but work diligently year after year to make the ministry of the Catholic Church present to all in their communities, please visit http://www.cdlex.org/AnnualAppeal and help us with your gift.  The parish communities of Sts. John & Elizabeth in Grayson, KY and Prince of Peace in West Liberty, KY thank you – and so do I.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reconciliation as an EASTER Celebration

Most of us think of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as an ‘Advent’ or ‘Lent’ thing (if we think of sacramental confession at all.)  Examining our conscience, becoming mindful of our sins, humbling ourselves to confess those sins in the presence of the priest, receiving absolution and doing our penance to cooperate in God’s healing work within us – these are things that seem to us as the proper ‘housecleaning’ to help us get ready for the joyful, holy seasons of the year.  And there is some truth to that. 

But that understanding of the Sacrament of Reconciliation can leave us thinking that we only need to go to confession a couple of times each year.  The Church is clear, however – we’re required to receive sacramental reconciliation any time we’ve committed mortal sin before we receive Holy Communion again.  And while the Church teaches we must go to confession at least once each year, the witness of the saints through the ages has been that the healing, grace, and freedom that comes from the sacrament should be frequently received to help us grow in living the Christian life.

Our children preparing for First Communion in May celebrated their First Reconciliation this past Saturday afternoon within the Easter season.  This was partly to help them build a connection between being reconciled with God and receiving Holy Communion; but it was also a chance to help them see that approaching God’s love, forgiveness, help, and healing is an act of hope, an exercise in trust, and practicing faith in the great work of the Resurrection.  Each and every time we approach Jesus in the confessional, we’re celebrating His Easter triumph over sin and death!

Why not enter more deeply into the light, life, and re-birth of this Easter season by making time to visit the resurrected Lord in the confessional and receive His powerful healing and forgiveness in this beautiful sacrament?


There is no better way that you can pray for and support our children preparing for their First Communion than joining them in the joy and hope of the saving work of confession.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

You are witnesses of these things...

3rd Sun Easter – Yr B  2015

‘You are witnesses of these things…’

What would it have been like, to have seen and heard first hand all the events that we've been celebrating these last weeks?  Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with great fanfare.  The intimate meal in the upper room.  The great betrayal in the garden and in the courtyard – one marked by the traitor’s quiet kiss, the other by the piercing cry of the rooster shattering the darkness of fear and uncertainty that had settled over Peter’s mind.  The crowd chanting for Barabbas – the whiplash of the scourging post – the dull thud of Calvary’s nails, the Lord crying out in a loud voice: It is finished!

How wonderful it would have been to have felt the refreshing coolness of that wonderfully empty tomb that first Easter morning, to stand in the bright glow of the angel declaring that Jesus can’t be found in the darkness of death, but only in the warm glow of light and life.  How amazing it would have been to have been crammed in that stuffy, stale room where the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews…filled with the sweaty stench of fear, the awkward jittery energy of uncertainty – and to feel the refreshing whisper of calmness and excitement when, all of a sudden, the Lord stood in their presence, washing the air and their hearts and minds clean with the simple greeting, ‘Peace be with you.’

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Wouldn't it have been wonderful to be witnesses to these things?  The amazing thing about our faith is this:  Even though you and I weren't there in these moments, each one of us is called to stand as witness in the here and how to the reality of all these things.  Truly – you are witnesses of these things.  We are, in fact, the only remaining witnesses.  Peter and Paul have gone from this life to the next; Mary Magdalene and Blessed Mother Mary are with the Lord in heaven.  The great Fathers and Mothers of the faith in 20 ages past are gone from among us.  If there are to be any witnesses to Easter joy, hope, and resurrection – if there are to be any witnesses to the living Christ and His desire and ability to save us, set us free from sin and death, and call us into eternity – if there are to be any witnesses today, we are the witnesses to these things!

But, how can that be?  We weren't there! 

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I’m always struck by a detail in the post-resurrection accounts of Jesus: even those folks who were historically present for these events weren't able to grasp them at first –not even when the resurrected Lord appeared to them.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with Jesus for quite some time without even knowing who He was.  In today’s Gospel, the Christians Jesus appeared to didn't recognize Him when H appeared even when that’s what they were talking about!  They thought He was a ghost!

But notice when they do recognize Him, understand all that had come before – notice when His teaching begins to click into place and things start to make sense – notice when the fear is dispelled, and the mission gets clarified, and the Lord Jesus is recognized for Who He is:  they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread; their minds are opened to understand Scripture in the breaking of the bread.  We have no hope of recognizing the Lord Jesus active and present in our lives, understanding His Word, living a life of faith, or having a relationship with Him apart from the breaking of the bread.

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That’s why the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church refer to the Eucharist as the source and summit of our faith.  That’s why our Catholic discipline draws us into the frequent and at least weekly gathering at this altar.  That’s why priests try so hard to celebrate the liturgies well and try our best to be reverent to the mystery and reality of the Eucharist whenever we go up to the altar of God in the presence of the people.  Because – just like the first century Christians who knew what Jesus looked and smelled like, who knew what His voice sounded like – just like them, we've no chance of recognizing Him except in the breaking of the bread.

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We’re His witnesses in the world – in our parishes and our workplaces – in our families and in our communities.  We’re His witnesses to one another in our darkest, loneliest, most doubting, fearful, and troubled moments.  We need to recognize Him at work in the tombs of our life, resurrecting us into newness and freedom – we need to recognize Him walking beside us on the road into tomorrow – we need to recognize Him in order to live this Christian life with faith, hope, love, and joy.  And that’s only possible if we encounter Him in the breaking of the bread on this altar…

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What will you see and hear and experience today in our breaking of the bread that will reveal the Lord among us?  Will you look for it here today?  Will you share it with others when you encounter it – when you encounter Him

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‘You are witnesses of these things…’

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jesus, I trust in You!

Almost a hundred years ago, an uneducated Polish nun who had been raised on a farm and was assigned to only the humblest of tasks in her religious community (gardening, cooking, and cleaning) had a powerful experience.  She saw Jesus!  He appeared to her wearing a simple garment with two brilliant rays emanating from His soul that (He told her) represents the water which makes souls righteous and the blood which gives eternal life to our souls – the water and blood that “issued forth from the depths of My most tender Mercy at that time when My agonizing Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross” Jesus told her.

Sr. Faustina was told in other visions that trusting in God’s Divine Mercy had the power to overcome the wrath and destruction our sin has earned.  She saw an Angel of Wrath intent on destroying the world because of sin.  She began to pray to Jesus, trusting His mercy – that same mercy made so clear on the Cross – knowing that His mercy was our only hope.  In her vision, as she prayed trusting in Jesus and His Mercy, the Angel of Wrath was powerless!!! Pope Saint John Paul II established the Feast of Divine Mercy to be celebrated on the Sunday following Easter as a way for the universal Church to fix firmly in our sight how lovingly and mercifully Jesus takes care of us, in eternal and present matters.

The point of our devotion to The Divine Mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ is to help us practice complete trust in the love and care of Jesus.  Whatever our burden, however deep our hurt, however great our sin or our need – trusting in Jesus is the answer!

We will be using a Divine Mercy prayer to prepare ourselves for Mass throughout the Easter Season.  And I want to encourage each of us to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet in our homes, at work, in the car, wherever we may be throughout the week.  (You can find pamphlets to help at the entrance to the Church.)  But most of all, my prayerful desire is that we, as a family of faith, learn to ever more deeply trust together in Jesus.

As we do this together, ask yourself:  in what areas of my life can I trust Jesus more?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Trusting Jesus

2nd Sun Easter (Divine Mercy) - Yr B - 2015

Today, we conclude the ‘octave’ of Easter – the eight days of Easter – by celebrating God’s Divine Mercy; God’s love in action; the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that won for us healing for our sinfulness, forgiveness for our sins, the grace of being formed in the here and now more perfectly for the fullness of life here and hereafter. 

At the Easter Vigil last week, we considered that God’s Divine Mercy – His great loved lived out in this world for our sake – demands a response.  Not like a boss demanding more work, but the way that true generosity demands heartfelt gratitude.  A response of love to Love Himself in the way we live our lives:  The great love Jesus has shown for us calls forth a new way of living – empowered by the Holy Spirit, we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again for us – and living for Christ means loving God and one another, serving God and one another the way Jesus did.  In doing so, we participate in the redemption of the whole world.

On Easter Sunday morning, we reflected that this great gift can’t really come crashing into our lives to transform us unless we go all in – unless we get up close and personal with the risen Lord.  Arm’s length isn't close enough –like John and Peter and Mary Magdalene, we have to get all up inside of that empty tomb for Easter glory to set us on fire. 

By living life ‘as if’ all we know about Jesus is actually true we get up close and personal.  We pray as if God really were our Daddy, just as Jesus taught us.  We try to have a relationship with Jesus as if He were alive, and our brother, and our friend, just like He said He was.  We talk to Him as if He knows how to help us have that kind of relationship, just like He did with the apostles.  We worship Him as if He were king of all creation, just like the angels and saints do. 

And when we do that, Love will be so alive in our hearts and coursing through our veins and our hearts and minds and spirits that we’ll never be the same, and living life for Him who died and rose again for us will begin to take over.  Our whole lives will become a response of love to Love Himself!!

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What about today – Divine Mercy Sunday?  As we round out our celebration of Easter Sunday on this Octave, what can we learn about how to abandon ourselves to Love so that Easter will take over our lives? 

There’s a simple message in Divine Mercy:  TRUST JESUS.  I’ll not recount Sr. Faustina’s visions where the Lord gave her this beautiful devotion to share with the world – I hope you’ll go in search of that yourselves to encounter the beauty of it.  But it all boils down to this:  faced with all that Jesus has given and is giving us that we've been celebrating for 8 days now, the true and proper way to celebrate that Divine Mercy is to say with all our heart and mind and soul:  Jesus, I trust in You!

Jesus, I trust in You!  I trust that You love me – that you lived and died and rose again to save me.  Jesus, I trust in You!  I trust that You truly worked the miracle of winning me back for the Kingdom of Heaven, undoing the mess of sin and sinfulness in this world and in my life.  Jesus, I trust in You!  I trust that somehow You’ll help me find a way to experience relationship with you as a living, actual, tangible thing in my life – and I’ll go about my days looking for You, listening for You, trusting you’ll show me how to be your friend, your disciple, your brother.  Jesus, I trust in You!  I trust that You’re there to chase away the sin in my life when I come to meet your healing presence in the confessional – and I trust that when I’m too scared or afraid or embarrassed or ashamed to meet you there, you’ll find some way to get me there (even if its this stubborn ole’ priest who won’t seem to shut up ever about the beauty and power of sacramental reconciliation.)  Jesus, I trust in You!  With all the things in my life that scare me right now, that worry me, cause me to lose sleep, leave me hurting or feeling alone or wondering where you are – I’ll trust you with it all. 

When I am most worried about those I love, I’ll say it out loudJesus, I trust in You!  When I am most puzzled by what is changing around me, or what just won’t seem to get any different or better, I’ll say it out loudJesus, I trust in You!  And when I have no idea what it means, and feel like I want to give up because it all just doesn't seem to make any sense, I’ll say it out loudJesus, I trust in You!

And then – well friends, then we take another breath, we remember the truth of Easter glory and all that it is accomplishing in our lives…and then, well – and then…well, then we actually, truly trust Jesus

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Easter has come crashing in, dispelling our darkness, quenching our thirst, killing our death with eternal life.  Our great response of love to such Love is to do our best to live life not for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us, seeking each and every day to get up close and personal with Jesus, our brother and Lord and friend, and every step of the way, trusting Him to call, heal, love, and radically change our lives in the bright light of Easter glory. 

Standing in the amazing miracle of God’s Divine Mercy made tangible and visible to us in the life, death, and glorious Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ Our Lord, we raise our voices together this morning – we say it together and we mean it – Jesus, I trust in You!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Water, Light & Life...AMONG US!

Alleluia!  He is Risen!  Sisters and Brothers, today we celebrate a great truth: the Lord of Heaven and Earth loves us so much He came to set us free of everything that could destroy our friendship with Him.  Sin is overcome!  Death has no lasting power to destroy!  We have an eternal home in heaven!  And we have the abiding presence of The Greatest Friend the human heart could ever encounter.

During Lent, we reflected on our THIRST, our BLINDNESS, and the DEATH that we carry around with us, pointing out that Jesus has come and remains with us to quench our thirst, cure our spiritual blindness, and call us out of death’s tomb into everlasting life now and for eternity.  Today we bask in the JOY of that reality!  Jesus is risen – He is risen INDEED!   What an amazing and awesome reality!

At the Easter Vigil, we were there to see and experience that water, light, and life pouring into our lives.  At the Easter Fire we lit the Paschal Candle to dispel the darkness with the Light of Christ – that light spread to each of us within the body of the Church – and we were there as that light spread to our new brothers & sisters whose Baptismal Candles were lit from that same flame: the Light of Christ stands as a reminder at the Ambo throughout the Easter Season.

The Light of Christ unsealed the waters of baptism for our newly baptized as we witnessed yet again the glory of New Life in baptism; that eternal fountain of water that quenches our every true thirst remains alive in our presence and refreshes each of us as we renew our baptismal promises and remember our baptism throughout the Easter Season.

And for the first time, those initiated into the Sacred Mysteries joined us at the table of the Eucharist to receive into themselves the power and grace of new and everlasting life in the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ offered for us all whenever we gather in worship and praise.

The signs remain throughout the Easter season to remind us of the great joy we have in Christ. Alleluia!  Water, Light, and Life – among us – forever!  #TooBlessedToBeStressed

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Nothing Happened until they went inside...

Easter Sunday – Yr B - 2015

Did you ever notice that nothing really seemed to happen until they went inside?  Peeking into the empty tomb wasn't enough

Mary Magdalene was a faithful follower of the Lord.  She had been with Him through thick and thin, and her love for Him led her to the tomb early that Easter morning.  Her love for Jesus overcame the fear and loathing that scattered the other disciples.  Her affection for Jesus brought her there, her respect for Jesus brought her there, hearing all that Jesus taught brought her there.  But it wasn't enough…

She saw that the tomb was empty…but she didn't understand.  Her love of Jesus brought her within arm’s reach, but that wasn't close enough.  Arm’s length was not close enough to be transformed by the miracle of Easter.  She saw the tomb was empty…but had no clue that Jesus was alive again!

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We’re like that sometimes, aren't we?  Whether we’re here faithfully every Sunday, or only make it at Christmas and Easter – we’re sometimes like Mary Magdalene.  Standing an arm’s length away…peering into the mystery of the Christian life without getting up close and personal. 

We have an affection for Jesus like Mary did…and just like it brought Mary to the tomb, our affection for Jesus has brought us here today.  A lot or a little – however much affection – its enough to get us here this Easter like it got Mary to the tomb that first Easter.  We respect Jesus like she did…We respect his social commentary – we respect the idea of Jesus even if we’re not sure about the rest.  And I’m certain that everyone here has heard at least the basic teaching of Jesus, and we’re at least willing to consider it, or we wouldn't be here.  Love one another.  Serve one another.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The problem is…if our love & respect & hearing Jesus leaves us at arm’s length then we’ll be just as confused as Mary Magdalene was.  Arm’s length isn't close enough – it wasn't then, and its not now.  Being in the Church building on Easter Sunday isn't enough –being in Church every Sunday is not enough.  It’s not about how often we’re here, or how big our check is, or how many ministries we’re a part of.  Arm’s length from the mystery of the resurrection is not close enough to be transformed by the miracle of Easter…   Arm’s length will never bring us into the crazy, life-changing adventure and joy of Easter.

We have to go inside…we have to encounter Easter up close and personal for any of this to make sense…we have to go all in – all in – heart, mind, soul, emotions – all in to the empty tomb of Easter to understand what’s going on!  John the beloved didn't get it until he went in!  It wasn't until Peter arrived – and went in – that he believed.  And when John followed Him into the tomb…he believed too

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All of us in some way or another are like Mary Magdalene, peering in at arm’s length on Easter Sunday.  For some of us, the practice of the faith – the things we’re told by the Church to do – we've let doing all those things keep us at a safe distance.  All that doing has become a buffer – a way of standing at arm’s length and not letting the truth of the resurrection come crashing into our reality in a way that changes us on the inside

Some of us have abandoned the practice of the faith nearly all together, and the world, and family, and career, and just ‘living life’ is the arm’s length distance we stand from the empty tomb – the distance that keeps us from touching the reality of Easter in any real way.

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My dear friends – Jesus Christ is a person – He is alive – He died, was buried, and rose again just like He said He would.  It’s not just an idea – it’s not just a legend or a myth.  It is a truth that we cannot understand until we follow Peter and John into the empty tomb and see for ourselves!

How can we do that?  Sometimes we just have to begin to think and act ‘as if’.  As if what Jesus said about Himself is true.  What would it mean to live as if Jesus Christ really was the Way, the Truth, and the Life?  What if God really is Father to us like Jesus taught – not just Father, actually – but Daddy?  What if we talked to God as if He were our Daddy?  What if we really began to live life as if there is a person alive today – through the resurrection – a man, who is also the Son of God – who truly exists to have a relationship with us!  What if you tried talking to Jesus…what if you tried reaching out to Him in any way you know how…what if you asked Him to teach you how to have a relationship with Him?  What if it is true…all of it… what if all of it really is true?

What if you risked doing any one of these things just for a week – what then?  Well – brothers and sisters – I’ll tell you what then.  ‘When Simon Peter arrived after John, he went into the tomb…’ he stepped closer than arm’s length…he got up close and personal, and ’he saw the burial cloths there’…he saw and he believed.   Will you give it a shot? 

You've come this far on Easter morning – you’re here, peering into the tomb.  But arm’s length is never enough…peeking in arm’s length away didn't work for Mary Magdalene, or John or Peter – and it won’t work for us.  But if we go inside – if we climb inside the beautiful reality and get up close and personal with the Risen Lord …then I know this – you’ll never be the same – Easter will claim your life – and you’ll live like you've never lived before. 


And you want to know why?  Because He lived for you – and after He died for you, He rose again for you – and He will change your life forever.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

That We Might Live No Longer For Ourselves...

Easter Vigil - Year B - 2015

I love the Easter Vigil!  On this holy night, we celebrate the entirety of all that matters in human history – from beginning to end.  We started with God’s plan for us – walked all the way through how humanity messed that up – and saw how God worked over and over again to find a lasting remedy.  We started outside in the dark night of sin and despair…and were there as the light of Christ pierced the darkness forever and led us home.  And here we sit on the shores of the eternal waters of life ready to be unsealed and win new souls for the Lord Jesus.  When we turned toward Easter in our Lenten journey, we pondered together the great images we experience tonight – water, light and life that cure the thirst, blindness, and death we had won for ourselves.

I wish Eucharistic Prayer IV was an option for the Easter Vigil, because it captures what we’re celebrating so well:  We give you praise, Father most holy…You formed us in your own image…And when through disobedience we had lost your friendship, you did not abandon us to the domain of death…Time and again you offered us covenants, and through the prophets taught us to look forward to salvation.  And you so loved the world, Father most holy, that in the fullness of time you sent your Only Begotten Son to be our Savior… To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death…

In just those few sentences we travel the distance from the beginning of time – and the beginning of each of our lives – right up to this night.  ‘To accomplish your plan, he gave himself up to death…and rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life!’  God created us for life and for love – and we messed it up.  But His life and love are so perfect and generous that God provides a way to un-mess-it-up!  That’s the Easter message!  That’s our Easter Joy!  In the darkness of this night, that is what we come to celebrate.  

Friends – this isn’t some lofty concept – some high-minded theory – this is reality!  This isn’t a myth, its history.  This isn’t in the past – it is our present.  And it isn’t just the story of ‘humanity’ – it is our story – your story and my story.  God created me for life and love; and as soon as I had use of my will I wrecked that plan.  And in my brokenness and weakness, I keep wrecking it – or trying to.  But Jesus came!  He lived and died to fix what our weakness tries over and over to break – and when he rolled that stone away and stepped out of death and darkness into the life and light of eternity, He overcame our weakness one and for all, called us back to His side, looked us in the eye, and called us friend… HE CALLS US FRIEND!!

How can we not stand on our feet and shout Alleluia!  Thank you Jesus – THANK YOU!!!  Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!  

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In our celebration, we are also reminded that such love demands a response.  I don’t mean the way a boss demands a full day’s work, or a bill collector demands payment.  What I mean is that once the reality of that amazing love enters our hearts, it demands a response of love the same way that grief demands a tear, kindness demands gratitude.  When we look into the eyes of Jesus on His knees to wash our feet so that we can see Him on our level – when we look into the lifeless eyes of Jesus dead on the cross – when we look into the sparkling eyes of the risen Lord who rolled away the stone – when we look into His eyes and realize deep inside that He did it all for us – it demands a response of love!  And we too tie the towel around our waist to serve those around us; we too learn to die to self and desire and preference and sinfulness, so that we too learn to rise and live life free from the power of death!

We who come to celebrate Easter this night – we who are received into the one family of faith this evening and are commissioned in our confirmation to be priest, prophet and king in this world – we who gather to receive the sacred body and blood of the Lord for the first or ten thousandth time – we are all commissioned tonight by Love Himself to go and be Love in this world.  The Eucharistic Prayer I mentioned sums it up this way:  ‘And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us, he send the Holy Spirit…so that, bringing to perfection his work in the world, he might sanctify creation to the full.’

That’s the work He’s left us.  That’s the response of gratitude we are freely compelled to offer once Love Himself comes crashing into our hearts and fills us with the Light and Life of Easter Joy!  A response of Love to Love to carry Love and Life into the whole world – no longer living for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us – playing our part in sanctifying the whole world.  So that the light of this Easter candle might pierce all remaining darkness through us; so that the waters of eternal life might quench the thirst of all as Jesus works in and through us in this world…we who are called to go forth from this place no longer living for ourselves but for Him who died and rose again for us.

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Whoever you are this holy night – if you’re gathered here in this place, a share in that work has been assigned to you.  Some of you will be assigned that work officially tonight for the first time – but all of us have that charge.  

So tonight we celebrate!  Jesus is Lord!! He has risen!  He is alive!!  And He has called us to join Him forever in light and life and love!

And tomorrow…tomorrow we get busy:  no longer living for ourselves but for him who died and rose again for us…so that he might sanctify creation to the full.

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's Friday...But Sunday's Comin'!

Good Friday – Yr B - 2015

I’ll never forget the first Good Friday service I attended.  I sat in the back so no one could spot the ‘Johnny come lately’ who was trying to do something with his life; trying to get past going through the motions and recapture the authentic Christian discipleship of my youth.

I heard the story told again – the same story I had known by heart most of my life, but that had faded into something less and less significant in how I was living my life.  The story that reminded me:  He was tortured and mocked for me.  He was betrayed, and abandoned and nailed to a tree for me.  He accepted His Father’s plan and was forsaken for me.  He remained silent at his slaughter for me.  He gave His Mother away for me.  He screamed out the quiet, painful whisper for me – ‘It is finished’ for me – He bowed his precious head for me – He handed over His spirit…for me.  He died for me


And I wept.  I wept openly.  I wept like a man confronted with the reality that my sins crucified the Lord, that my failures even still often betray and deny Jesus Christ, and the reality that I could never be worth all that the Lord’s passion had won for me…  The tears were strange – like an oil and water mixture of sadness and joy; I was overwhelmed by the hopelessness of my sin while at the same time overcome by the hope of His sacrifice; grieving the millions of ways my life and sin scream ‘Crucify Him! Crucify Him!while at the same time celebrating the victory of love and forgiveness I heard in His precious voice saying gently, yet persistently and convincingly to the Father:  Forgive them… for the know not what they do.’  

I felt like I was standing in-between ‘It is finished’ and ‘The tomb is empty.’  It was Friday…but somehow I knew that Sunday was comin’.

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The tears just wouldn’t stop – though the sobbing came under control… at least until I walked with a room full of strangers to the altar to venerate the Holy Cross.  There, I just couldn’t hold it back as my tears stained the place on the cross where His precious feet would have been nailed straight into the wood…He did this for me!

The pain seemed too much to bare – the pain of confronting that His pain was – and is – my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault!  And then … and then this one sparkle of a thought began to break through to remind me why I was there that Friday night all those years ago – the same reason you and I are here tonight:  He did this for me!

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You see, brothers and sisters…it worked!  He did this for us – He did this for you and for me…but ‘this’ – this death and burial – is not the whole story.  It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin.  Good Friday is only possible because Easter Sunday’s comin.  We stand in the pain and sorrow and guilt and shame of the crucifixion on Good Friday only because He calls us to stand in the glorious sunlight of the stone rolled away.  It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin

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but have we accepted that?  Have we received that?  Have we let the reality that it worked – that all this worked – and that you and I are redeemed?  We are, truly, redeemed?  Have we let it sink in?  That’s how we truly honor the agony of the cross – we let it sink into our lives, our days, all of our days, that His death successfully bought our salvation!

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What’s the Good Friday message?  It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.  You and I are redeemed.  Nothing united to Christ ends in the torture and death of Good Friday – if we accept all that the Passion won for us, whenever it’s Friday in our life and in our journey…we can always remember…Sunday’s comin.  We have been redeemed!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Master, are you going to wash MY feet?"

Holy Thursday - Yr B - 2015

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”

“You will never wash my feet!”

This Mass of the Lord’s Supper is rich with meaning, ripe with blessings and packed full of gifts to talk about.  But above them all I hear the voice of Peter ringing in my ears, ‘Jesus, you will never wash my feet.  I am creature, you are Creator.  I am slave, you are Master.  I am poor and sinful and imperfect, You are Divine and Holy and Perfection.  If there is service to be done, if there is homage to be paid, I must do this for you!’

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We relate to that, don’t we?  Thinking we’ve understood who Jesus is and who we are in relation to God – the idea of Jesus serving us in such a lowly way is preposterous.  Lord Jesus – it is I who must serve You!  You cannot serve me!’

But our reaction shows we’re as confused as Peter!  The Lord of the Universe, the Word of God through whom all things were made, had already emptied Himself completely, taking on the form of a slave.  Stooping to wash human feet is nothing compared emptying Himself of glory to become one of us.  Are we to reject that?  Protest that?
Just as Peter had no clear understanding of what Jesus was about to do all those lifetimes ago, I think we sometimes lack an understanding of what we are about to celebrate together in these most Holy Days.  Tying the towel around the waist is not all that spectacular compared to the humiliation of being judged and mutilated and executed at the hands of the people He himself had created.

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Peter’s protest is a rejection of the extent of Christ’s love for humanity already present in the Incarnation and soon to be made fully and perfectly clear on the cross.  But we’re right there with Peter in misunderstanding most of the time.  Whatever keeps us from the confessional ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion.  Whatever locks us into attending Mass out of a sense of obligation and duty ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion.  Whatever keeps us from serving the poor and outcast, loving one another, accepting and caring for one another the way Christ asks us to ultimately boils down to Peter’s confusion.

How is it possible that God could love us enough to humble himself so completely as to become a servant to us“Lord, you will never wash my feet,” is a way of saying, “Lord – there’s no way you can love me as much as that.”

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It is when I begin to see Peter’s faulty thinking – and my own – that I begin to understand the lesson Jesus teaches us tonight before we can receive what He gives us in the Eucharist; I begin to understand why we need to be reminded of this lesson before we can stand at the foot of that Old Rugged Cross tomorrow; before we can run full force, tears streaming from our eyes and our hearts aflutter with anticipation toward the empty tomb of Easter.

Do you see?  Jesus wanted Peter – Jesus wants us – to see that He really does love us enough to stoop completely down to our level, even lower, so that we might look clearly, directly into His loving eyes brother to brother, not servant to Master; so that we might look back, broken hearted and begin to give God the fullness and perfection of worship and work and relationship that is an overwhelming response of love to love – something far beyond what is due Him, something much more pure, more free, more profound.

Peter’s rejection of Christ’s humility is a response of JUSTICE.  That is what is DUE Him.  The Prince of Heaven did not need empty himself to live and die for that kind of response!  That would have been His for all eternity without the need for God to do anything.

But to invite us to run with our whole being, our whole lives, our whole mind and heart full speed into the loving arms of God every moment for the rest of our lives – that can only happen as a response to LOVE!  Jesus came to win more for God than justice – only His amazing LOVE can turn us also to the rest of our brothers and sisters in humanity, to love them just as wholly, just as completely, just as ridiculously.  That’s the honor and glory and worship our God desires – that’s what our Lord’s humility and obedience and LOVE invites!

What Jesus did for us that night was love us beyond any possible loving so that when we truly see and understand and accept such a wonderful love there is only one response, and that is to love in return.  And He showed us what it means to love like that.  It means to empty ourselves completely, tie the towel around our own waist, and serve others – love others – just as profoundly, just as completely, just as humbly.  Why?  So that they, too, having been loved beyond imagining; so that they too, having been touched by the love of the Savior through us; so that they too, having been so divinely loved might do the only possible thing one can do in response so such powerful lovelove God and others in return.

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“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”

Brothers and sisters, here we are – on the threshold of all that matters in eternity.  Here we are, on the brink of what changes everything in human history.  Here we are, gathered around that table where the first Eucharist was celebrated.  Do you see why Jesus ties the towel around his waist to wash our feet?  Do you understand why you and I must learn the lesson Peter and the apostles learned that night?  Why we must accept the enormity of Christ’s love before we can truly receive the gift of the Eucharist?  Only in seeing, accepting, believing, and welcoming Christ’s willing humility before us can love burst our heart open enough that we will love in response!

The only way to see the reality of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus actually present for us in these little pieces of bread and this cup of cheap wine; the only way to ‘get’ what is about to happen on this altar; is to first really see how totally and completely the Lord Jesus LOVES us – emptying Himself for our sake – taking the form of a slave – washing the dirt and grime and stench of our fallen humanity like a lowly slave – and humbling himself to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Oh my brothers and sisters, see – open your eyes and your heart tonight and see – see so great a LOVE, learn the lesson that Peter had to learn, see the love of Jesus for the amazing inconceivable reality that it is, so that you might be blown over beyond any ability to make sense of it and become so totally heartbroken at such love poured out for you that you cannot stand it but to live life loving God and His children in response.