Monday, September 29, 2014

Call to the Vineyard

A man had two sons.  He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went.  The man came to the other son and gave the same order.  He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?  Matthew 21:28-31

In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul says something powerful, unbelievable really. He said:

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality 
with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the 
form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death.”  Phil 2:6-8

Wow, that is so incredible.  
Jesus, who is God, emptied himself to become a slave – for us! 
Why would an all-powerful God do that? 

Jesus, who was God, in complete humility, emptied himself of himself to serve us. If he is our model as Christians, what does that tell us? Our call as Christians is to like Jesus, to be humble and serve others.  But the world tells just the opposite.  The world celebrates vanity, and tells us to watch out for number one.

In the reading above from Matthew's gospel, Jesus Invites us today to come to the vineyard and do God’s work. The vineyard imagery is a place where God calls his people to labor with him in the midst of the world. It is where his sons and daughters work in order to receive the reward of his kingdom. And the values in the vineyard – in God’s kingdom – are different than that of the world.  The world tells us happiness comes from acquiring possessions, receiving praise and having more. "The one with the most toys wins."

Jesus says – that’s a lie. He told us: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; and whoever will lose his life for my sake and the Good News's will save it.”  God is calling us to live differently, to humble ourselves as he did and serve others. Jesus said in God’s world – in the vineyard – “The humble are exalted. The exalted are humbled.”

God calls us into his vineyard every day, just like he did those two sons in the parable.  And truth is most of us can find a bit of each brother in our lives. At times we say; "Yes, Sir ... I will go to work in the vineyard."  But, do we make it to the vineyard?  We say: “Yes, sir,” but then never let go of the world, never do anything to bring compassion and healing to the world. We never humble ourselves, let go of our agenda, and serve others in God’s name. We put on a good show about our faith.  We come to church regularly, but in our hearts, we never let go of the values of the world. We don't really want to change.  And in truth, this little piece of our life, the part we call "church," works just the way we want it to. One of the hardest things about writing this blog is how often I realize that I am the one who needs to hear the message most! 

The truth is we are all, also, a little bit like the son who said: “NO Lord.”  We say “no” by sinning, being selfish, and choosing the world over God’s vineyard. All of us have had those moments of selfishness and been anything but humble. Then we discover that what we thought would make us happy doesn't.

That is what happened to Saint Augustine one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.  His young adulthood was a stormy period. It included fathering a child out of wedlock. In his twenties, Augustine moved to Milan, Italy, where he became a professor of rhetoric; a very prestigious position for a young man.  His personal life, however, continued to be stormy and wayward.

While in Milan, two things happened to him. First, he became increasingly unhappy with his personal life. Second, he became attracted to Christianity. It was in this frame of mind that he sat down one day and began to ponder his life. Suddenly he broke into tears and began to cry out to God: And you, Lord! How long will you be angry with me? Forever? Why not at this very hour put an end to my evil life?

Augustine said later: I was crying out like this when, suddenly, I heard the voice of a child. It seemed to say, “Take and read! Take and read!” I stood up. For now the voice seemed like a command to read the Bible. I got a Bible and opened it. The first words my eyes fell upon were from the letter of Paul to the Romans.

They read:
“Let us stop doing the things that belong to the dark, and let us take up weapons for fighting in the light. Let us conduct ourselves properly, as people who live in the light of day—no orgies or drunkenness . . . no fighting or jealousy. But take up the weapons of the Lord Jesus Christ, and stop paying attention to your sinful nature.”  Romans 13:12–14

When Augustine read this, he stopped. There was no need to go on. He says: “My heart was suddenly flooded with a light that erased all my doubts. And my soul was filled with a deep peace.” The Confessions of Saint Augustine (condensed and adapted)

That’s what happens when we finally enter the vineyard ... we find peace.

We need to ask ourselves the same questions Augustine did:
  • How content are you with our present life?
  • Are you dissatisfied with your present relationship with God?
  • Do you wish you had a closer relationship, a closer connection, with Jesus?
  • Are we ready to work in the vineyard, ready to humble ourselves, and help     others, especially the needy?

If that’s the case, what all-important first step might we take?
  • For some of us maybe that step is the sacrament of Reconciliation. Maybe we need to go to confession.
  • Maybe it’s simply to begin tonight to spend a few minutes in prayer before going to bed.
  • Or maybe you need to begin a small bible study or faith sharing group to support you.

We are all being called to the vineyard.  Will we go is the only question.

Welcome to the vineyard Jesus says.  Let’s go be productive together.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Covenant – Margaret Halaska ... I love this !

knocks at my door 
seeking a home for his son.

Rent is cheap, I say.

I don’t want to rent. I want to buy, says God.

I’m not sure I want to sell, 
but you might come in to look around.

I think I will, says God

I might let you have a room or two.

I like it, says God. I’ll take the two. 
You might decide to give me more some day. 
I can wait, says God

I’d like to give you more, 
but it’s a bit difficult. I need some space for me.

I know, says God, but I’ll wait. I like what I see.

Hm, maybe I can let you have another room. 
I really don’t need it that much.

Thanks, says God, I’ll take it. I like what I see.

I’d like to give you the whole house 
but I’m not sure

Think on it, says God. I wouldn’t put you out. 
Your house would be mine and my son would live in it. 
You’d have more space than you’d ever had before.

I don’t understand at all.

I know, says God, but I can’t tell you about that. 
You’ll have to discover it for yourself. 
That can only happen if you let me have the whole house.

A bit risky, I say.

Yes, says God, but try me.

I’m not sure— 
I’ll let you know.

I can wait, says God. I like what I see.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Names are important ...

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” 
He said to them,
“But who do you say that I am?”  
Simon Peter said in reply, 
“You are the Christ, 
the Son of the living God.”  
Jesus said to him in reply, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 

In this reading from Matthew we hear about the power of a name. 

Jesus says to his disciples:  “Who do you say that I am?” or, what name do you give me. Simon speaking for all of them names him:  “You are the Christ.” Then Jesus gives Simon a new name – Peter – the rock.

The name "Christ" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Messiah.” The word messiah literally means "the anointed one" So why is Jesus called “the anointed one?”

At the time of Jesus and the apostles to be anointed, literally, is to have sacred oil poured on one’s head because God has chosen the person for a special task. Priests, prophets and kings were anointed. Kings were anointed during their coronation rather than receiving a crown. So the Messiah – the Christ – the anointed one – was to be the leader of the Jewish people, promised to them down through the age by their prophets

They were expecting this leader, who they believed would be  the "King of Israel." They were expecting a king who would govern the people of Israel and lead them back to greatness.They didn't understand that his kingship was not of this world.  The Christ they expected would be a powerful worldly leader.  Jesus created a new definition of the messiah.  One who took our sins away and opened for us the Kingdom of Heaven

Jesus Christ – the anointed one – in the way he  lived, died and rose again, showed that He ultimately fulfilled all of the “anointed” roles … 
priest … prophet … and … king.

And Peter that day for the first time named Jesus the messiah. Giving him this name transformed the mission of the 12 Apostles.  Jesus was no longer merely a teacher, a spiritual leader they admired.  He was the one promised by God, called to build God’s kingdom.   Calling Jesus the Christ changed everything for them.

Then Jesus then turns to Simon and does the same, he names him – Peter. The name "Peter," from the Greek petros, signifies more than simply a stone, or a rock, Its meaning is more like bedrock.  It is solid, foundational, and immovable.

Jesus' naming of Simon – Peter – is also a significant moment for the 12, and for the entire church they would found.  Peter was called to lead. He was called to be the foundation of this new church.

In calling him Peter – the "bedrock" – on which the Church was to be built Jesus gave Simon
•           a name … to live into …
•           a name … to cling to … when times get tough …
•           a name … to fulfill … for the rest of his days.

The names and the nicknames that we give one another can have great power. They can become self-fulfilling prophecies.  What names and nicknames have you been given?  What names do you claim?  And, what names do you need to discard because they do not serve you as a child of God?

There are a few names my brothers gave me growing up that I’ve had to discard. 
In anger we often call each other names,  names that harm.  We all need to learn to let go of these names – names that have damaged us.

And there are some names we need to claim. In an increasingly secular society some of us are reluctant to claim the name "Christian" because of negative associations others have given the name.  We need to be brave enough to claim the name Christian.  And then, through our actions, give it a new name in society; as Jesus did with the name Messiah. Just like Jesus, by our living unselfishly – by living for others and dying to ourselves – we can give it a new definition.  Let the world say because of us, because of you and me, " See how these who claim the name Christian love one another "

At our baptism each of us was given certain names by the Church that we need to claim.

Like Jesus,  we too have been anointed. At our baptism the priest or deacon anoints us and gives us names. When the Chrism oil is applied to our heads the following words are said over us.  Listen to these words and claim them for yourself.  After the water is poured over your heads you are anointed and these words are spoken:

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.

As a baptized person you are a member of the body of Christ.   Do you own the titles, the names, Priest – Prophet – and – King? These are the names given to YOU at your baptism.  These are names that Christ wants you to claim, just as Peter was asked to claim, and live up to, his name.

  •     A prophet is a messenger sent by God, a person who speaks for God. Someone who reveals God and communicates to people the truths that God wants them to know.  He, or she, witnesses to God, calling people to conversion.

  •     A priest is a mediator, or bridge, between God and human beings. Offering prayers and sacrifices for others. We are called by our baptism to offer prayers for our-selves, for each other and for the Church.

  •      A King is one who leads others.  Each of us is called to be a leader for Christ

How are you doing in these names –  these roles – you have been given?