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What is Lent All About

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Wednesday Ecumenical Service

Luke 4: 1-19

Deacon Larry Brockman

Lent!  It’s that time of year 40 days before Easter when some people give up chocolate or beer or any one of a number of things.  Why?  What’s it really all about?   

Well this Gospel talks very clearly about it.  You see, Jesus lived the very first Lent.  After his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, our Gospel today tells us that, filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and that he ate nothing in those days.  That means that Jesus fasted for 40 days.  And why did he go into the desert?  To pray and reflect on his life.  Jesus felt the need to go into the Wilderness and reflect on his life!   

At the end of the reading today, we see that Jesus’ entire life changed after those 40 days.  Rather than being a humble neighborhood Carpenter in the sleepy village of Nazareth in the Hill Country, as Jesus had been for some 20 years of his life- 20 years, Jesus emerged as a teacher of a new way of life.  He visited all the Synagogues in the area and preached a message of repentance and renewing one’s relationship with God.  And all who heard him were moved by his message.   

Then in his home town, he made his mission abundantly clear.  For in Nazareth, Jesus read words from the scroll of Isaiah.  Those words described his mission., the mission of the one and only Messiah- the Christ.  And Jesus boldly told his own people that he was that Messiah; that he was fulfilling the prophecy in their own hearing.  Jesus life had indeed changed forever.  

So, Jesus emerged changed from his 40-day Lenten retreat, for that 40 days prepared him for what God wanted him to do.  Jesus emerged with the understanding that he was the Son of God; and Jesus emerged with knowledge of God’s will for him as a human person.  Jesus was ready for the mission to preach, suffer, die, and be resurrected; all to bring each one of us who follow him everlasting life in the Kingdom of God.   

Lent is simply that time in the Church Calendar when each of us is called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.  We are called to prepare ourselves for the resurrection and everlasting life.  We are called to spend time “in the desert” fasting, praying, and resolving to find our mission, God’s will for us.  We are called to look forward; not backwards.  We are called to leave our sin and imperfections behind, and to be transformed by that desert experience.     

By the year 300, Lent had emerged in the Christian Church as a time of penance and reflection for the 40 days leading to Easter.  There were very strict fasting rules imposed by the early Church.  In fact, the original fast rules only allowed one meal a day at Noon, and no meat was allowed at that meal.  These rules have been greatly relaxed in virtually all the congregations that still practice Lent formally.  But the need for Lent still exists.     

Oh, before I forget it, let me mention why Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  Some of you can and probably have done the math.  If Lent is 6 weeks and 4 days long, that’s actually 46 days.  But because Sunday was always considered a day of celebration in commemoration of the Resurrection , the Church exempted the six Sundays of Lent from the Lenten fast.  Also, the word Lent is rooted in an Anglo-Saxon word that means “Spring”.  This is because Spring is the emergence of new life, a new beginning.  That is what our Lenten experience should do for us.  It should help us to leave old sinful ways behind and emerge refreshed in spirit for a new beginning.  While this is the root of the English term we use for the Season of Lent, the fact is that in most other languages, the word used for Lent is a derivative of the word 40; the emphasis is that the renewal is spread over 40 days.     

So, Lent has been part of the Church calendar since the very first centuries of the Church.  Let’s take a closer look at what happened in the Gospel this morning, and perhaps that will give us a few clues about how to spend our Lenten season.   

First, let me describe a few historical things about why Jesus did what he did.  Some of you may be familiar with the book of Jonah.  Almost everybody knows about Jonah and the whale.  But there’s more to the story than that.   

You see, Jonah tried to run away from God because he didn’t want to follow God’s orders to him to prophesy to the people of Nineveh.  Jonah had been told to march through the huge city of Nineveh and to preach a call for repentance by the people because the people of Nineveh had sinned greatly.  Jonah was afraid to march through Nineveh and make that proclamation; and what’s more, he detested the people of Nineveh over the great evil that came from within it.  So, he fled on a ship; but was thrown overboard by the crew when he revealed his secret.  You see, the crew blamed Jonah for the terrible storm that hit the ship because he had angered the Lord.  It was then that Jonah was swallowed by the whale.  From within the belly of the whale, Jonah makes a fervent cry for mercy to the Lord, and a promise to do God’s will.  After 3 days and three nights, Jonah was spat forth on dry land by the whale.   

Then Jonah did, in fact, march through the city and preach repentance.  He told the people that they had just 40 days before Nineveh would be destroyed.   But alas, what did the people do?  According to the book of Jonah, the people put on sackcloth and fasted; and the King of Nineveh arose from his throne, put on sackcloth, and urged the people to repent.  He issued a decree that all the citizens should repent of their evil fast.  And the people did precisely that. 

Meanwhile, Jonah climbed a hill overlooking the city, and awaited the destruction of Nineveh.  It never came because the people had repented; they had changed their lives and had shown humility and contrition for their offenses.   

Now I am sure the symbolism in this story hasn’t escaped you.  The people had just 40 days to repent.  They put on sackcloth, an itchy, horrible irritating self-mortifying way to walk around.  And they fasted, a common practice associated with penance.    Jonah was in the whale for 3 days and three nights.

Later in Jewish history, these elements were copied by many Jewish people who were looking to reflect on their lives.  They would dress in sackcloth, fast, and go into the wilderness for 40 days to reflect.  In fact, that is precisely what John the Baptist did before he emerged for his Baptismal ministry.  And by the way, those who were planning to enter the early Church, the Catechumenates, were required to put on sackcloth and fast beginning Ash Wednesday!  They maintained that practice during all of Lent.  

And so, it is not surprising that Jesus, who was a devout Jew, would do the same thing- go into the desert for 40 days and wear sackcloth and fast while he reflected on his life.   

Notice that the Gospel this morning mentions Jesus’ fast explicitly.  It says He ate nothing.  Why is fasting considered a requirement and what value does it have?  Well, many mystics have commented on how much fasting helps one to concentrate, to put one in the right mode for reflection.  I am sure most of you experience that mid-afternoon slumber that comes after a fine lunch.  It does make it hard to concentrate without a nap first!  Indeed, there is validity to the Mystics assertion to be sure.   

But there are symbolic reasons for fasting as well.  Consider this- Adam and Eve were asked to do a partial fast.  They were not to eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Sin came into the world as a result of the fact that Adam and Eve broke this partial fast.  And so, when we fast, we display a measure of self-discipline that is in the spirit of God’s desire for our first parents.  We are demonstrating that we will self-sacrifice something in our life as a symbol of our intent to comply with God’s will, not our own.   

Now today, I think that it is appropriate to talk about other kinds of fasting rather than just fasting from food because the reason that most of us can’t find the time to reflect on our lives during the season of Lent  Is that we are just too hung up on activities in our lives.  We get stuck in a routine that eats up all our time.  Reading fiction, surfing the internet, Facebook, checking e-mails, watching TV, playing cards, various clubs, and on and on.  These activities can sap our time so that we don’t have the time, and in some cases, we don’t have the energy to reflect and repent of our ways.  So, if you decide to make a Lenten Fast resolution, consider fasting from something that robs you of the time you really need for prayer and reflection.   

Notice that the Gospel this morning is silent on how Jesus prayed and reflected.  Only this do we know for sure:  that Jesus did his 40 days in the Wilderness or Desert; that he went there to pray; and that he was tempted by the devil.   

Now going into the wilderness is an extremely valuable tidbit of information.  You see, that means Jesus needed to go to a place where there would be no distractions.  Our desert can be the sanctity and solitude of our own homes or rooms.  But of course, that means we turn the ringers off on our phones and cell phones; we turn the radio or TV off, and truly make an effort to reflect in silence and without distractions, because distractions are a perfect way for the devil to derail us, you can be sure.  And it is best to get into a prayer routine.  Pick a time and place every day for your prayer so that you get into a routine.  

I recently conducted a Bible Study called “Lectio Prayer”.  It was based on an age-old practice called “Lectio Divina”.   This is a Latin term for prayerful reading of the holy scriptures.  The idea is that our prayer life is enhanced by using Lectio Divina.  You see, the author of that study made this interesting point.  He said that all prayer is initiated by God.  So, that means we have to listen to God initiate prayer.   

You know, we should all approach our prayer relationship with God like we approach a friendship.  A true friend listens to what we have to say; but to be a true friend, we have to listen to them as well.  And God’s agenda for us is always more perfect than anything we might conjure up for ourselves.  So, opening your prayer with a long list of requests and complaints doesn’t seem like the way to talk to a friend; and it is definitely not the way to talk to God.   We should start our prayer humbly asking God to talk to us and be prepared to listen.   

Now I am sure many of you recognize that God speaks to us in very subtle, gentle ways.  But God does speak to us through the scriptures, the word of God.  When we read scriptures, something usually leaps out at us.  That is often God’s way of asking us to reflect more on it.   

And God speaks to us in those nagging feelings you have that something is wrong in your life.  They are God calling you to reflect and change something.  Take advantage of the time and solitude you make available in Lent to ponder God’s messages for you, and then get focused for the future, focus on making your life better in God’s eyes.   

When you are done with your reflecting and prayer, hopefully you will emerge with a new Spirit of enthusiasm for life and a determination to act on God’s will for you.  In a sense, this call to action is akin to “Almsgiving”.    Any material favor done to assist the needy, and prompted by charity, is “almsgiving”.  But what is important is that we give of ourselves out of charity, whether it is time, talent, or treasure that we give.  To be sure, a generous contribution of money really helps the poor.  But our Lenten renewal is about more than that; it means giving of yourself, especially in areas that you have the time to help in; or the talent to do something that really helps someone else.  As an example, in a place like this, there can be many lonely or new people.  Extending ourselves to these people is a legitimate form of almsgiving.   

That brings us to the majority of today’s reading- the three temptations of Jesus.  Jesus’ Lenten experience was certainly not unique in that respect.  You can be sure that the devil is going to try to derail whatever progress you make in your prayer life, especially if you are resolving to make a change and improve your life.   

Notice that Jesus three temptations are at the end of the 40 days, not at the beginning or in the middle.  The devil will do or say anything to keep us from performing the will of the Father.  He wants us to focus on our own comfort and the satisfaction of our own desires above everything else.  And so, the devil attacked Jesus after he was ready to return from his Lenten experience and do his Father’s will.   

Let’s take a look at each temptation and see if they apply to us as well.  First, Jesus is prompted to turn stone into loaves of bread.  Now Jesus fast is over; the 40 days are done.  He is going to get something to eat.  But the devil is trying to test Jesus vision of what has the highest priority to him.  He is urging him to satisfy his hunger immediately by foolishly performing a miracle, as if he must have bread immediately to live.  Jesus response is clear- we do not live by earthly food alone.  This is a recognition of the fact that even before our need for food and water there is a life force that sustains us.  We need always to recognize the God given life force above our bodily needs.  We need to be in harmony with God, the provider of our life force.  That comes before any desires of the flesh- food, water, companionship, and pleasure.    

The second temptation is one of power.  The devil offers all the Kingdoms of the world- fame, power, control- all that would be given to Jesus if he would worship the devil.  Jesus response is ever so clear- “You shall worship the Lord your God; Him alone shall you serve.”    Basically, the heart of this temptation is a desire to be totally independent.  It says that we don’t need God.  Indeed, the lust for power, money, and control all indicate the desire to be self-sufficient, for security on our terms.  Our world is plagued by many people who don’t trust in the Lord; they want to be in control.  And they foolishly seek money and power and all those things the devil offered to Jesus, as a means to security.  But all these things can pass away!  

In fact, anything that serves to consume us in this way is like an idol.  It can control our lives; but it cannot give us everlasting happiness and the Kingdom of God.  But we are tempted, because we like to be in control.  

In the third temptation, Jesus is taken to the high place in the temple and is tempted to throw himself down from the heights.  The devil asserts that if Jesus is the Son of God, then the angels will come to his aid and he will not be hurt.  Jesus response is that “You shall not put the Lord your God to the Test”.   

This temptation encourages us to presume too much.  We can presume that no matter what we do, God always loves us and will save us.  We presume too much when we don’t take our sins seriously by simply saying that we believe.  Not so; for that is putting the Lord God to a test.  God gave us life, talents, and a set of rules to live life by.  He sent his son to die for us and to offer us a path to share in everlasting life.  We cannot presume that his mercy will be given to us.  It is our obligation to live our lives in such a way that we are always prepared for the day of judgment.  For after all, Faith without works is dead.   

Then, our Gospel tells us that the devil left Jesus “for a while”.   Indeed, our battle with the devil is ongoing; but it comes in increments.  It comes especially during times of weakness, like Jesus in this story.  Jesus was weak from 40 days of fasting- and weary from the harsh wilderness experience.  It is then the devil attacked him; and it is in our moments of weakness that the devil will attack us- when we are not feeling well; when we are distraught; when our defenses are down from alcohol or drugs.  In any of these or like situations, the devil will be there.  

And so, Lent is that season of the Church year in which we have the chance to follow in Jesus own footsteps in order to get ready for the Resurrection of the Lord and the Everlasting life that he offers us.  It is a time for us to practice self-discipline and self-control.  It is a time for us to break away and reflect on the meaning of our life.  It is a time for us to make a change for the better.   

We can best prepare for Easter by a regimen of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  But expect to be hounded by the devil, who is relentless in his efforts to get us to focus on self and not the Lord.   Lent can and should be a joyful experience for those who love God.  Whatever it takes to get closer to the Lord should make us joyful.  And that is what Lent is really about- a new beginning, no matter what has happened in the past.

Removing the Splinter in Our Eye

Sunday, March 3rd, 2019

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27: 4-7; 1 Cor 15:54-58; Luke 6: 39-45

Deacon Larry Brockman

So, how many of you have a splinter in your eye?  I don’t see anyone here that suffers from that problem.   

Of course, if I did, I would be guilty of exactly what Jesus is talking about- I would be guilty of concerning myself with the faults of my brothers and sisters rather than being concerned with my own actions and getting rid of my faults.   

You know, it is comforting to compare oneself with others who we perceive have greater faults, isn’t it?  It makes us feel better about ourselves.  It gives us an excuse for staying just the way we are rather than working to make ourselves the best possible person in God’s eyes.  

 I think that’s why scandal and gossip are so attractive to some folks.  It takes the heat off of them; they can consume themselves with judging and ridiculing others and divert attention from themselves.  And so, the world is quick to judge someone who is caught cheating on their spouse; stealing from the cookie jar; or acting irresponsibly in some situation.  And while everyone is busy echoing their outrage at this other person, our own faults get a free ride!  But God is not concerned with who we are relative to others. God is only concerned with who we are in relation to his will for us.   

Now, the irony is that all of us really do need to make judgments, only our judgments should not be condemnations; rather, they need to be discernments about the things that affect our own actions.   

Permit me to explain: Notice Sirach’s words of wisdom: ”When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks”.  You see it is the influence that the evil people in the world have when they speak out of authority that engenders real evil.  So, we do need to judge; particularly what people say.  We need to put their words and thoughts through a sieve to determine their real intention; to see their real effect; to assure that they don’t lead us astray.   

That’s what Jesus means when He says: “A good person out of the goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil.”  Perhaps an example would help.   

There’s a carefully crafted movement in our society that uses the term “Pro-choice”.  These people make their arguments from a positive perspective- a woman has the right to choose whether she has a baby or not.  Who can be against that- a woman’s right to choose?    But when you put that argument through the sieve, the truth surfaces very quickly.  First, a couple already has the right to choose making the baby or not.  So, they already made the choice.  Second, the sieve exposes the fact that other people’s rights are at stake- the baby’s rights.   

Now I use this example because it is just so clear.  And almost anyone can see how this evil is degrading society- making us more selfish; undermining the family and dulling our sense of guilt for murder.  The events in New York State and Virginia recently are dramatic evidence of all of that.     

But there are so many other subtle evils.  How do we assure we can discern them?   

Well, that’s why Jesus talks about the blind leading the blind.  In fact, consider these evils- euthanasia, pornography, drugs, and gangs.   Many people who sell such evils are blind; they have been seduced by evil and don’t even see it.  And some of most basic needs- food, clothing, and entertainment- are tainted by economic evils like chemical preservatives, slave labor, and cheap thrills.  Yet society buys their products because it is expedient.  And so in fact the blind are leading the blind because most people are not properly equipped to discern, to put their words through a sieve.   

And so what does Jesus say?  He says that “But when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”  And that is the secret.    We must be fully trained as disciples of Christ; trained by those we can trust.   The Church has handed down the Gospels and Scriptures as well as the traditional teachings of the great Church Doctors.  That is something we can trust; that’s how we can be prepared to make proper judgments about what we hear.   

If all there is to our lives is the world and what it has to offer, then the selfish standards of the secular world would make sense.  But that is simply not true.    As Paul says in our second reading: “When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility…”,  “…then the word that is written shall come about.”  And the word that is written is everlasting life.   

Jesus leaves us with this thought: “For from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.  So then be strong, fully devoted to the work of the Lord.”  And be able to discern what comes from a righteous heart. 

On Loving Our Enemies

Sunday, February 24th, 2019

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Sam 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Cor 15:45-49; Luke 6: 27-38
Deacon Larry Brockman

It’s a hard teaching, isn’t it?  Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.  It runs counter to our human nature; the innate tendency we have for self-preservation.  Indeed, from the very first, we all tend to think of ourselves.  So, just how do we overcome that self-centered focus and why is it so important?   

I think St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians this morning help.  Paul contrasts the first man- Adam with the last Adam, Jesus Christ.  He says the first Adam became a living being.  And what do we know about the nature of living beings?  That a living being has natural instincts.  And so, that living being strives to meet self-needs: food, water, comfort, affection, entertainment, and pleasure instinctively, and kind of in that order as one basic “need” after the other is satisfied.  Basically, our instincts for self-preservation motivate us to suppress anyone and anything that gets in the way of the satisfaction of our self needs.   

But you know what, when all of our “natural” needs are met; then we basically become bored, don’t we?  We ask inside, “what’s next”; and even, “what happens when I get old and I die”.  We begin to think about the spiritual, things that transcend our nature because all of us hope that we will live forever.   

But Paul makes it clear that the spiritual did not come first.  First, we become familiar with earthly things just like Adam.  And that is necessary for the self-preservation of life itself.    Then Paul says the last Adam came into the world.  Paul says that last Adam is spiritual.  Let me repeat precisely what he said: “The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven”.   

And so Jesus brings an answer to these nagging questions- what’s life in our natural world really all about; and what happens after we die?  Jesus tells us about the spiritual realm in which there is no time.  Jesus tells us about the Kingdom of God and that Kingdom lasts forever.  Jesus tells us that such is the destiny for all who believe in him and follow him.  There, in the kingdom of God, all who belong to it will be happy and content forever and ever.   

Yes, we believe that Jesus came amongst us- the spiritual assumed a human nature to give us a roadmap for getting to the Kingdom of God when we die.   

Jesus’ entire life was one of self-giving; not self-satisfaction.  Jesus bore hardships and a painful death at the hands of his enemies.  Jesus gave everything he had; turned the other cheek; and loved his enemies.  Jesus left us the Gospel as a way of life.   

And this part of the Gospel gets to the heart of the matter because Jesus just comes right out and tells us that we must love everyone, even our enemies.  That’s what it means for us to transcend from a creature of this earthly world and grow spiritually so we can be a citizen of the kingdom of God.   

Why this? Well first because God said so, and that should be enough.  We must all accept the fact that God’s understanding, his knowledge, his judgment, in other words, His wisdom, are far above anything we are capable of conceiving.  The Bible tells us that first and foremost God is love.  And so, we who are made in his spiritual image and likeness need to love as He loves.   

God chose to create everyone and everything out of love and God chooses to keep loving all of his created beings because God is always there to forgive them and welcome them back, no matter what they have done.  God wants all of us in the Kingdom with him.  And so, out of honor and respect for God, and in obedience to his word and commands we are called to do the same. 

That’s really why David did not take revenge on Saul when he had the chance, isn’t it?  David said as much when he recognized that God chose Saul as his anointed one.  And no matter what Saul did to David, out of honor and respect for God, and knowing God’s desire that Saul be saved, David would not kill him and interrupt that process.   

In fact, there are many stories of conversion by folks who did much harm to Christ and his Church.  St. Paul is a primary example; for he persecuted the early Christians before his Conversion.  But there are so many others, even in today’s world- like the Turkish radical who shot Pope John Paul II; like the person who accused Cardinal Bernardin of sexual misconduct.   

All of us have people in our lives who we just don’t care for.  They may gossip on us; scheme against us; rub us the wrong way; and hurt us in many, many ways.  But they are all part of God’s plan for his Kingdom.  As hard as it might be, we just have to cooperate with that plan.  We can’t always like them; but we can love them.  After all, love conquers all.

The Power of the People

Sunday, January 27th, 2019

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Cor 12: 12-30; Luke 1: 1-4, 4:14-21
Deacon Larry Brockman

It is much the same today, isn’t it.  We roll open a scroll of sorts, our Bibles or the Lectionary, and the word of the Lord is proclaimed to us, just as I have done here.  And then someone explains its meaning to the crowd- as I am trying to do right now with you.  And as a result, the people of God are energized, and rejoice.   

In Ezra’s day, the Israeli’s had gone through much.  They had been exiled from Judah and Jerusalem to Babylon; their temple had been ravaged and destroyed; and they had been taken into slavery.    

But now, decades later, they had returned to Jerusalem and were free.  Their leaders were determined to restore the temple and their Religious practice by building a new temple in Jerusalem.  And as a beginning, Ezra proclaims and explains the Word as in days of old from a makeshift platform.  The People weep- tears of happiness.  The whole scene calls for a celebration, and that is what we read.   

Notice that these people responded best to the call of the Lord when they were in adversity.  Imagine, if you will, what it took in the ancient world to return from exile, build a new temple, and restore Jewish practice.  It had to be a very hard road to hoe.  They were penniless; they were relatively few on numbers; and they had very little assets.  But they had faith and they had resolve.  They were determined.  And that is the story of the people of God throughout its history.   

Fast forward 500 years to Jesus’ time.  Jesus does the same- He enters the temple opens the scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah.  The times were bad for Jesus’ people.  They were captive to the Romans.  But Jesus explains the meaning of Isaiah’s word of God in absolutely revolutionary terms.  It was like nothing heard before or after.  Jesus claims that he is personally fulfilling the age-old prophecy of Isaiah in their presence.  Jesus is saying that he is the fulfilment of the prophecy to proclaim good tidings to the poor, liberty to the captives and cure the lame.  Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah who will save Israel, and indeed the World.   

And indeed, that is precisely what he did.  Jesus cured the lame; and set those free who thought the only life was life in this world either in captivity or poverty.   Jesus message opened up life in the Kingdom of God for all who believed.  He blazed through the Holy Land on a three-year mission, and made the ultimate sacrifice, his own life on the cross, but was risen from the dead and seen by many.  He promised believers everlasting life like his own.   

And finally, let us fast forward to today.  We too, have heard the word proclaimed.  We have heard that Jesus is the fulfilment of the prophecy.  We are challenged with keeping firm in our faith through much adversity.  There are many who attack our faith and ridicule us.  Our secular world seems to be winning the battle.  But it is in such adversity that we can rise to the occasion and renew the world.   

You see, we have also heard about the mystical body of Christ.  Yes, all of us are part of that mystical body of Christ.  All of us in some way contribute.  We are the arms, legs, hands, feet, eyes, ears, and all the other parts of the mystical body of Christ.  Even the less honorable parts of that mystical body in man’s eyes are honorable and contribute.  That includes those who are disenfranchised, lame, and infirm.   

Because all of us are made in the mage and likeness of God, God’s mystical body can radiate his love, the love of God.  When we project the love of God, then we conquer all obstacles as did the people of Ezra’s time.   

Yes, it is much the same today as it was in Ezra’s time.  It is time for us to weep tears of joy over the restoration of the promise.  For we are the people of God who do his will and have the capacity to bring all people to the one and only God of Love.

The End of Our World!

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

First Sunday of Advent

Jer 33: 14-16; 1 Thes 3: 12 – 4:2; Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today Jesus talks about “Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, and on the earth…”, and so on.   Sounds mysterious, scary, intimidating, fearful and so ominous.   It certainly gets our attention, doesn’t it?   And it begs the question, “what does it all really mean”?     

But then comes the punch line:   Because Jesus tells us that when we see these things coming, we should: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand”.      Well, rather than try to explain the end of the world with this passage, let’s narrow the scope a little, and just consider what could happen at the end of our own world.     

But first, let me tell you a little story.   I was coming home from Seattle last week and felt just fine when I got on the plane.   Shortly after the plane took off, I started to shake like a leaf, break out with a fever and sweat, and felt sore all over.   I was coming down with an infection, a UTI to be exact.   I put on my winter jacket, which had come to good use in Seattle.   But even that didn’t keep me warm.   And I was forced to make six or seven painful trips to the lavatory.   Suddenly, there it was, I was facing a miserable trip of 6 straight hours on a plane.   It felt like the sun and the moon and the stars and the whole earth were falling on me for all six hours.   I’m not sure how I ever made it through the flight.   It could well have been the end to my world.     

In fact, it has taken me almost a week of bedrest to feel better.   And I was actually checked into the hospital at one point.   It seems the infection caused me to gain massive quantities of water weight in my limbs and it was taxing my heart; a life-threatening condition.     

This incident reminded me of just how fragile life is.   At any time, everything can close in on top of you, just like the opening words in our Gospel today described.   At any time, life can be taken from us.   So, maybe these words of Jesus are a signal for all of us to consider our own journey. and to recognize when our own worlds are caving in on us, with seemingly everything going out of our control.     

So now, let us then ask the question that Jesus poses.   Will we be ready to stand erect before God when that happens?     

Jesus says we should “beware that our hearts do not become drowsy”.  I had never really thought about that before- drowsy hearts.   But our hearts, the seat of our emotions, our commitment to the Lord, and our spiritual awareness; they can become drowsy by preoccupation with the things of the world.   Things like “anxieties of daily life”- illnesses, food, our daily routine, our leisure; or “drunkenness”- really any kind of addiction, like TV or the internet, or gossip.   When our hearts are drowsy, then our sensitivity to the love of God and others becomes dulled.    

If our whole world were to fall apart suddenly then and we find ourselves face to face with God, we won’t be ready, we will be scared of standing before the Lord.   But we are the fortunate ones, aren’t we?   Because we are God’s holy people, his Church.   We have followed the advice of Paul to the Thesallonians.   We have increased and abound in the love for one another.   And we are committed to conduct ourselves in such a way to please God.   That is what is on our minds, now, and going forward; even in the midst of the “tribulations that are imminent” in each life.     

When we can do this, keep our hearts alive in Christ, then we can stand before the Lord when he comes to us no matter how suddenly or dramatically it happens because we have maintained our focus.   We know what our hearts are seeking.   They are seeking to rest forever in the Lord.  

Untangle Yourself!

Sunday, April 29th, 2018

5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15: 1-8
Dc. Larry Brockman

All that talk about vines and branches and grapes in today’s gospel reminded me of something that happened when I was in Tennessee a week or so ago.

My neighbor invited Jane and I over for dinner. They have a fantastic view of the mountains from the deck outside their home. As we looked out over that view, I spied a half dozen grape vines planted on my neighbor’s yard. They looked unkempt and dangled all over the place. So I said to my friend, “How were the grapes this past year”? “Terrible”, he replied, “There were many bunches, but they all shriveled up and there was no fruit of any kind.” Knowing the answer ahead of time, I said: “Didn’t you prune them?” “No”, he said, “I read about how to do it but just got confused”.

So I told him that when I lived in California I had had grapes. And I offered to come by during the week and show him how to prune them. “Oh, yes” he said, and I will watch what you do for next year.” And so it was that I pruned my neighbor’s grape vines. There were years of unpruned growth; long dangling branches and dead branches and all kinds of undesirable meandering growth. When I got done, there was just a tenth or so of the vines remaining.

You see, a grape vine only generates so much life giving sap. Fruit only develops on the first 2 or 3 buds of last year’s growth. If you leave most of the growth on the vines, the sap will be wasted on unproductive growth. There will be little if any fruit, and the grapes that do make it will be small and sour.

But if properly pruned, there will be a couple of long strands of old wood with short spurs of last year’s growth on them. And the sap will pour into the productive buds on last year’s growth, giving large bunches of sweet grapes! That’s the way God designed grape plants to produce fruit.

If the farmer cooperates with God’s plan, and prunes the branches properly, then he will be rewarded with lots of fruit. But if the farmer does it “his way”, whatever that is, he is bound to be disappointed.

And so it is with people as well. As Jesus remarks, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” This is precisely what I did to my neighbor’s grape vines.

People have a nasty tendency to “do it my way”, as the old Frank Sinatra song foretells. Most of the time, that involves many paths leading in all kinds of directions, paths that keep extending from year to year without bearing fruit like unpruned vines on a grape plant. These many paths are aimed at what we want to do; many of them are paths leading to self-gratification, which ends without bearing fruit. Other paths bear little if any fruit.

But God knows which paths, which urgings in life, lead us to bear fruit, that is, the kind of fruit that helps build the Kingdom of God. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit- Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control. He chastises us, that is prunes us, in an attempt to block the false paths. When we cooperate, his life giving energy can strengthen our growth along the fruitful paths. When we fight him, our energy is sapped up in the unproductive meandering paths that lead nowhere.

When a person looks down on an unpruned grape vine, he can see a mess of tangled random growth leading nowhere, and likely to continue to nowhere unless something changes. But each of us is blind to this analogy in our own lives. We get involved in too much; we become committed to multiple paths leading nowhere, and we refuse to be directed according to God’s plan. That would involve painful pruning; cutting off the known for the unknown and making a change. And like a grape vine, a lot of stuff needs to be pruned so new things, God’s ways, can be experienced and be fruitful!
John tells us in the second reading that if our hearts do not condemn us, then we can have confidence that God will give us whatever we ask him. Our hearts rest easier when things are simple.

So ask yourselves this. What can I do to get rid of those tangled branches in life that really lead nowhere? Then cut them out, and follow the urgings of the Lord instead. If you do that, God the Father will be glorified, and you will become a disciple of Christ.

Anticipating Our Resurrection

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Westminster Towers Ecumenical Service
John 11: 1-45
Dc. Larry Brockman
“Anticipating Our Resurrection”

We have just heard the story of the most dramatic and moving miracle of Jesus in the Bible- the raising of Lazarus from the dead after 4 days. It was performed in front of a large audience of family and friends, with Rabbis and Pharisees of the Jewish faith looking on. This miracle can shed light on our Resurrection, so, let us consider some details in this story that are easily overlooked.

The first thing about this miracle that helps us understand it better is to know something about first century Jewish burial customs. When a person died, it was required that they be buried within 24 hours. The body was perfumed with oils and fragrant material, and then tightly wrapped in a shroud of linen. It was paraded to the tomb in a procession. The people used group tombs with stones in front of them. The body was carried down a dozen or more stairs to a chamber and laid on a flat surface adjacent to other burial positions in the chamber. Bodies were not cremated, and they were not placed in coffins.

You can imagine that medical technology in those days was much more primitive than ours. So those who examined the body could not absolutely certify that the person was dead. And in fact, there were cases where folks were not dead; they only appeared to be dead, and once and a while someone would recover.

But this just never happened after the third day. So, the rabbinic traditions held that the spirit hovered about the body for the first three days; but by the fourth day, all hope was lost. And also, by the fourth day there would also be a pronounced stench as well as signs of decomposition would be clear. If you look at the other Resurrection miracles in the Bible, including several involving Elijah the prophet and the raising of a dead child by Jesus, all of them occurred before the fourth day.

With this background in mind, all of the bystanders were thoroughly convinced that Lazarus was dead. So, when Lazarus ascends those 24 or so steps at Jesus command, wrapped in a tight shroud of linen cloth from head to toe, you can just imagine the shock and amazement of the people. How could this be! This was completely unheard of; the resurrection of the dead; body and spirit. Clearly, this Resurrection gave credence to Jesus’ teachings about an afterlife.

Now, there are two stories of weak faith imbedded in this account that lead up to Lazarus awakening. The first relates to the Apostles and disciples of Jesus and the second has to do with Martha and Mary. Jesus is testing the faith of both the Apostles and Martha and Mary. Jesus had left Jerusalem and Bethany, having been chased away by the Jewish authorities who tried to stone him. So, when Lazarus got sick, Martha and Mary did not send for Jesus right away, knowing that he would be in danger if he returned. Rather, they waited until Lazarus was very, very ill, and then sent a messenger to Jesus, giving him the option.

Notice that the Gospel says that when Jesus was told that Lazarus was ill Jesus first says “This illness is not to end in death”, but then the Gospel says “So, when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was”.

Let me ask all of you a simple question. If you knew that someone you dearly loved was deathly ill, would you purposely hold up your departure for two days before you visited them? I don’t think so. So why did Jesus do that?

Well, notice Jesus has a little discussion with the Apostles, saying that Lazarus is asleep. In fact, Jesus knew that Lazarus was dead. The Apostles didn’t understand that and took Jesus literally. Then Jesus tells them quite plainly that Lazarus is dead. Jesus knew that it took two days to get to Bethany. So Jesus knew he would arrive at Bethany 4 days after Lazarus was dead. Jesus wanted to wait so he could be sure everyone was convinced that Lazarus was dead! Jesus clearly planned to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus plan was to perform a miracle that would prove his divinity and establish everlasting life at the same time.

Now the apostles, having been told that Lazarus is dead, are reluctant to return to Bethany because they fear the Jewish authorities will still kill Jesus. So, having been told that Lazarus was dead, it is an incredible act of faith that the Apostles agreed to return to Bethany at all. After all, what could one do? It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that Jesus would raise the man from the dead.

And yet, they went with Jesus. Their attitude is summed up well in Thomas’ comment: “Let us also go to die with him.” For although these men believed in Jesus, they just could not see the possibility that Lazarus would be raised. They had faith, strong faith, faith enough to trust Jesus’ judgment and follow after him; but not faith enough to grasp what Resurrection and everlasting life really meant.

The second story of insufficient faith is that of Martha and Mary. Both of these women knew that Jesus loved them and their brother; and that Jesus would come despite his life being in danger. Both of them separately say the same thing to Jesus after he arrives: “If you had been here our brother would not have died”. Both of them say that they believe in the Resurrection on the last day. But they also didn’t see that everlasting life had already arrived for those who believe.

Now one of the verses in this Gospel is the shortest verse in the Bible. It simply says: “And Jesus wept.” This verse is packed full of meaning. Why did Jesus weep? Jesus planned to raise Lazarus from the dead, so it is doubtful he wept over the fact that Lazarus was dead. But Jesus did have compassion; compassion for his friends Martha and Mary. It grieved Jesus to see the two of them suffering and in pain. Jesus could feel their sense of loss; but he also saw that their faith was incomplete and that saddened him.

But that is not all. Many commentators say that Jesus also wept because he was angry. Jesus was angry that the whole process of his salvation mission had to occur. Jesus was angry over the fall of Adam and Eve which ushered the advent of death itself into the world. Jesus was angry over the evil in the world and the inability of the people to embrace the faith that he had preached to them.

And so, Jesus wept in frustration and anger over the plight of the people that He was born into. Jesus knew that this was the culmination of his ministry. Jesus was taking this last opportunity before his passion to make a point: There is death, yes; but the Resurrection of the Body and everlasting Life are on the way.

Now there are other things about the Gospel of John that are unique and shed light on our Resurrection. The Gospel of John contains a number of messages which are hidden, Much like the Book of Revelation also attributed to St. John, contains hidden messages. These messages are especially hard to pick up when we read a selection out of context, as we did today. One of those messages is that John talks about “signs” that Jesus performed during Jesus’ ministry. These “signs” demonstrated Jesus divinity. It turns out that John records 7 such “signs” performed by Jesus prior to his Passion and Resurrection. These seven signs are the turning of 180 gallons of water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana; curing a royal official’s son of disease without even visiting him; cure of a blind man on the Sabbath; multiplication of the loaves and fish with the feeding of five thousand families; Jesus walking on water for miles; the curing of a man born blind from birth at the pool of Siloam; and seventh and last, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now, the number “7” has significance in several ways in the Bible. It means perfection and completeness taken together; and it also means a sort of perfect ending. There are seven days in a week; seven days of creation, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; just to mention a few examples of perfection and completeness.

However, there are two examples of the second meaning of seven as well in the Gospel of John. First, John begins his Gospel by talking about things that occurred in the “first seven days”. These are the things that occurred before Jesus ministry began. And it happens that the Wedding Feast at Cana occurred on the seventh day.

Now there are strong parallels between the wedding Feast at Cana And the Wedding Feast of the Lamb described in the last chapters of the Book of Revelation. Indeed, the Wedding at Cana points to the final resting of all believers That will take place after the Resurrection of the body at the Wedding feast of the Lamb. And so, the seventh significant sign of Jesus as recorded by St. John points to a sense of completeness of Jesus ministry.

Notice that Jesus ministry began with the wedding feast at Cana; And it all ended with the working of the seventh and last sign. In this sense, the raising of Lazarus brings to perfection the message of his entire ministry.

Now Lazarus Resurrection also points to and predicts details of Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. And it also points to the Resurrection of the body that all of us believers will experience as we enter the wedding feast of the Lamb on the last day! This miracle foreshadows and anticipates the perfection and completion of our lives. We may have to sleep after death for a while, in a state of unknown Just like Lazarus did. But all of that is in preparation for what happens on the last day- our life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

“Blessed Are Those Who Believe and Have Not Seen”

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

Second Sunday of Lent
Gen 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom 8: 31b-34; Mark 9: 2-10
Dc. Larry Brockman

Today, we hear two of the most awesome and interesting stories in the Bible. They are about Faith, strong Faith, the kind of Faith all of us must have.

First, through Faith Abraham is obedient to God’s command to sacrifice his only Son, Isaac. And second, Jesus is transfigured before three of his Apostles as he discusses the details of his passing with Moses and Elijah. These Apostles are called to believe in what they actually saw; not just what they were told.

The story of Abraham and the sacrifice of his son Isaac prefigures God the Father sacrificing his only son Jesus Christ. Let me explain: Did you know that the name Abraham means “Great Father”. Imagine how society must have viewed a childless 100 year old man whose name was “Great Father”! You can almost hear the skeptics comment about Abraham’s pronounced faith. “So, how is God going to make a great nation out of you”! Imagine Abraham’s shame and frustration as decades go by; and yet, though he remains childless, he still has faith.

But then imagine Abraham’s joy when God’s promise that he would have a son was fulfilled in Isaac. And Isaac grew to become a strong young man. Only then, the Lord unexpectedly demands that Abraham sacrifice his son as a burnt offering! Wow, what an up and down ride that must have been for Abraham.

And yet, notice how calm and trusting Abraham is through it all. Some verses were left out of our account that really demonstrate how trusting both Abraham and Isaac were. Let me give a couple of examples. First, Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. That means Isaac was no young kid; he had to be a strong young adult. Second, Isaac asks his father where the Lamb was for the sacrifice. And Abraham responds “God will provide”. What all that means is that a strong, viral, Isaac allowed his 100 year old Father to tie him down for the sacrifice! Yes, Isaac was willing to allow his Father to sacrifice him. That certainly prefigures how God the Father was willing to sacrifice his only Son, Jesus and Jesus was so obedient to the Father’s will that he was willing to give up his life.

Now we can see how Abraham acts calmly and deliberately, trusting that God’s will was the most important thing. There is no emotion or appeal by Abraham in the account. Another verse that’s missing mentions that although God the Father speaks through an Angel, He was watching very carefully everything that happened, and so at the critical moment, what did God say? “I know now how devoted you are to God since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son”. Yes, Abraham exhibits an incredible faith and trust in God. The kind of faith and trust that exists between Jesus Christ and God the Father is prefigured by the human manifestation of obedience and love shown by Abraham and Isaac. And yet, strong as it was, it was still imperfect.

The whole incident tells us just how much God loves us in not withholding the sacrifice of his only Son; And how much love the Son had for the Father and us in allowing himself to be sacrificed In order to save all of us.

And then we have the story of the Transfiguration in the Gospel. Notice that this is an out-of-the-world experience. These three Apostles witness a conversation between a dazzling Jesus Christ in a transfigured body with two dead figures from the past- Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets. Other Gospel accounts mention that they were discussing Jesus’ passing. In other words, they were discussing Jesus’ passion, death, and Resurrection and how it would fulfill both the law and the prophecies of old. These were two dead figures from 500 to 1000 years before! Just imagine how that must have dazzled Peter, James and John.

And then, God the Father speaks from the cloud. There are only two manifestations of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit simultaneously in the New Testament; and these three Apostles were witnesses to both of them. And yet, they couldn’t understand what it all meant. They didn’t appreciate the direct revelation that had been given to them. As the Gospel says, they were “questioning what rising from the dead meant.”

Today, we are made witnesses to all of this by the Word of God, the Bible. We are not first-hand witnesses; but rather, we are called to witness these truths solely through the Word of God which we have just read. We are called to believe, to have faith, under circumstances more demanding than these great Apostles. That is our calling; a calling to a Faith as strong as that of Abraham.

Blessed are those who believe and have not seen.

The Church Speaks the Truth!

Sunday, January 28th, 2018

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 18: 15-20; 1 Cor 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28
Deacon Larry Brockman

I suppose it’s just human nature, but the fact is that people just don’t like to hear the plain truth. And they especially react to the truth when it is spoken with Authority. This is typical in today’s world because many people question absolutes. And yet, the truth is in fact an absolute, isn’t it.

And so when someone comes along who speaks the truth- the plain, unfiltered truth- and that person has authority to back them up, well, that is threatening because it means no amount of, wells, yes buts, on the other hands, and the like matter. The person in authority can and will be able to counter them. Evil reacts to truth presented this way.

What is an absolute truth, for example? Well, there either is a God or not. If there is a God, then certain things are morally wrong because they go against God and his plan for creation. And so, there is such a thing as sin. That also means there are truths that flow from the basic truth. God exists, and moral right and wrong and sin flow from that basic truth as a consequence.

Now in the Old Testament, the Israelis were exposed to the plain, unfiltered truth when God spoke directly to them. They didn’t like that; it was fearful because the voice of the Lord and the fire that accompanied it terrified them. And so they pleaded with Moses to appeal to the Lord for a softer approach. Today we hear from Moses that God promised to send them prophets like himself.

Notice that God will put his words in these prophets’ mouths. So, even though the prophets were to act as a buffer, they were still speaking the truth; and God told the people to listen to them. The authority of the prophets was established by the works they performed- a series of miracles and accurate predictions of the future. But make no mistake about it their main purpose was to tell the truth, God’s truth. They did that faithfully, even though many of them suffered greatly as a consequence. For example, Jeremiah was thrown in a cistern and left to die and Isaiah was sawn in two.

Of course, Moses promise was also fulfilled by Jesus Christ as well. Jesus was the word of God incarnate, and spoke the unfiltered word of his Father.

Now the Gospel says that Jesus spoke with authority. If one has “authority”, that means they have the right to do what they are doing. In government, authority is acquired by being elected, or by designation form a higher authority. In education, authority is established through knowledge of the topic. When speaking on behalf of God, authority is established by the ability to show the works of God.

Certainly, the Old Testament prophets established their authority by working miracles and by accurately predicting the future. Jesus worked even greater miracles, and thereby established his authority. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ authority has more of the authority that comes from educational knowledge to start out with. For Jesus was teaching, and he spoke about God with the ring of truth that not even the “authorities” of the Jewish faith, the Chief Priests and Rabbis could compete with. This frightened the evil spirit in the man in the temple just as the truth always frightens those who are evil. The evil spirit basically validated Jesus’ authority by recognizing Jesus for what he is- the Son of God.

It is just as essential for us to listen to God’s prophets and to listen to Jesus today as it was for the people in Moses time and in Jesus’ time. That is the basic message in both the Gospel and our first Reading. The problem is that our world is full of authorities- people who are experts, people to whom elected officials have delegated power. Our challenge is to determine which voices out there hold legitimate authority and then to listen to the truth that is spoken by the legitimate authority.

The best place to start is with the Church. Jesus delegated his authority to his Apostles and Disciples. And this has been embellished by the great doctors of the Church and Saints over the last two thousand years. We have an obligation to listen to the Lord speak through his Church. The Church speaks the truth; and the truth will set us free- forever.

Living By Example to Combat Evil

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Westminster Tower Ecumenical Service
Ephesians 6: 10-18
Deacon Larry Brockman

We don’t hear much about the devil today, do we? In fact, evil is not something we hear a lot about either.

In our secular society, things are relativistic, because society teaches that goodness or badness depends on your point of view, your frame of reference. Nothing is absolute in today’s society. Freedom and Tolerance are what we need; we need to be free to believe our own thing; and we need to be tolerant of others beliefs and practices above all. Such freedom and tolerance are supposed to foster a peaceful and happy society.

Only they don’t and haven’t. Today’s secular world is neither peaceful nor happy. Freedom and Tolerance have not worked as they are being practiced in our society.

I believe that it is no accident that our society has evolved this way. Rather, in my opinion, the evolution of secular society is being orchestrated by the forces of evil. It is being orchestrated by the devil.

Once our society abandoned the concept that it was based on Judeo-Christian values, and adopted the idea that all value systems need to be respected, then evil crept in. And so, there was room for Satanists, Atheists, Agnostics, Wichens, and other alternate belief systems. These belief systems teach morality which is at odds with generally agreed moral positions in the main-line religions. Additionally, the traditional family system has been augmented with alternate family models like same-sex partnerships with adopted children. These alternate life styles lead us away from God’s natural law.

We gather a couple of times a week at most for a couple of hours in worship. Meanwhile, secular society broadcasts these alternate values 24-7. They permeate movies, media, TV, and live events. Is it any wonder that the new generations buy into secular values rather than traditional values?

Our local bishop gave each of the clerics in the Diocese of Orlando a book for Christmas. It’s entitled “To Light a Fire on the Earth”; and it is about Bishop Robert Barron. Some of you may have heard of him. He’s an Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles; but he is best known for his huge following on social media, including Facebook; and a raft of you-tube videos on religious topics. He has been compared to the late Bishop Fulton Sheen because he is a Catholic prelate with a wide audience that cuts across a large segment of the population. He is followed by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Bishop Barron is concerned about the statistically large part of our population who have no faith at all. He calls them “nones”. Some 56 million Americans are “nones” according to a 2015 Pew Research study. Even more alarming, 36 percent of Millennials, our young adult population, are “nones”l That means one out of every three young adults don’t believe in God or don’t integrate God in their lives. In essence, our freedom and tolerance are spawning a society that has no central beliefs at all! So rather than safeguard the many belief systems; Secular Society is fostering non-belief because of the largely hands-off, I’m OK, your OK policy. We are standing by in the face of evil.

So, Bishop Barron wants people of Faith to “Light a Fire on the Earth.” He wants people of Faith to evangelize the “Nones” out there.

I tend to agree with him; and I’ll bet that most of you do too. The big question is how? How do we evangelize the growing sea of atheists, agnostics, and new-age “nones”? Barron thinks he has an answer. He says we can effectively evangelize others by emphasizing the beauty and joy associated with what we Christians believe.

Now I thought a bit about that, and it seemed to me that us older folk have a definite roll to play in that process. You see, we have all lived 75 plus years, and have kept the faith. Just look at all of you here today- living examples of Faith. You have weathered wars, storms, disruptions, attacks, illnesses, heartbreaks, losses, and all kinds of other perils. In other words, you have seen evil, and have stood fast against it; and rather than embrace bitterness, you have held firm to your faith. You have come out of your trials with Christian joy as you await the central hope of your Christian Faith- the everlasting life in the Kingdom of God that awaits the believer. Our generation of believers and our hope are the testimony that the younger generation needs to hear.

In essence, we have done what Paul advises the Ephesians to do in the face of evil in our reading today. Going forward, we need to redouble our efforts and we need to show the strength of our faith and our conviction to it to our families, especially the younger members of our families.

You know, there was a time when people our age generally lived with their families. Young people got to know and enjoy intimacy with their grandparents, and great grandparents. And that intimacy taught some very important lessons. They can be summarized like this:

“Make no mistake about it, life is full of challenges. Nobody gets a free ride; everyone will have their fair share of suffering and discomfort just as I have. And some day, if you live a long and fruitful life, you will be right where I am- older and not so nimble. But that’s OK, because I thank the good Lord for the good times. And for the trials too, because they made me a stronger person. Not only that, the best is yet to come. Because a good life here is not the end-all that society tells you. I’ve been there and done that- but it didn’t satisfy. Our Christian Faith and Hope guarantee that we will live forever in peace and joy in God’s Kingdom. And that is something better than the good life here.”

So, let us now focus on how we all got to the place we are in now spiritually, and how we can strengthen it so we can spread that faith to others. Well, we drew our strength from the Lord, and put on the armor of God in order to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.

Paul uses a Roman soldier’s armor elements as symbols to make his point on what that armor is. First, he says we must be covered from head to foot. That means our whole person needs protecting- our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Now Paul makes no bones about it. He says our battle is not with mere flesh and blood, but with Principalities and Powers- both fallen choirs of angels; with the “world rulers of the present darkness”; and with the evil spirits in the heavens. That’s two spiritual foes, because Paul is making a distinction between the devil and the fallen angels on the one hand and the “evil spirits” in the heavens, presumably those who have died and are banished from God, on the other hand. Diabolic spirits orchestrate and coordinate; and evil spirits urge us, tempting us in every way. I am sure we can all relate to how the world has morphed and placed us in a spiritually dangerous environment.

Next, our loins must be girded with “truth”. Yes, there are absolutes; there are truths. The truths of our faith- belief in God, accepting the laws of God and nature; and recognizing the reality of sin. Nowadays, the truth seems to be watered down. But Paul first speaks of being girded with truth. We have girded ourselves with the truth of our faith.

Second, we are to be clothed with the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness means being in a right relationship with God and the breastplate protects our hearts. Wherever our hearts are, that’s where our real priorities are. If we have faith and maintain a prayer relationship with the Lord, that goes a long way towards establishing our righteousness, because we receive God’s grace in response to our prayers. We all have a prayer relationship with God, right.

Next, our feet must be shod in the readiness for the gospel of peace. The gospel is the story of how the Word of God, Jesus, came to dwell amongst us and live as we do. We must walk along the same path as Jesus did in the Gospel- a walk that includes following God’s will, no matter what the consequences.

Peace here is the inner peace of knowing that we are in a right relationship with God, not necessarily the peace that the world offers. As we walk, we offer that peace to those who we come in contact with. If we are at peace inside, that will come across. This is the kind of peace that our current generation does not have, and may not understand.

Then Paul talks about holding Faith as our shield. Faith includes all the principles of our faith. We have first of all, got to know what they are. We have to know what we believe. Then believe and accept these principles of our faith just because God has revealed them to us- not because we can prove them in a battle of wits. This is a testimony in humility- that we recognize there is a higher power, and that it is beyond our understanding. We owe our life and destiny to that higher power. And so, such faith is our motivation, because the hope we have for salvation has also been revealed to us. Indeed, many “flaming arrows” have, and will come our way in the course of life, but we have, and we will, deflect them all by the firmness and conviction of our faith.

That brings us to the helmet of Salvation. The helmet protects our head, our minds, from being misled. It helps us to fend off other priorities than our Christian hope.

Lastly, the Holy Spirit is our sword. All of us who have been Baptized are heirs to the Spirit. And the Spirit is a powerful weapon in fighting the forces of evil. It is the Spirit who gives us the strength to recall and practice the Word of God. It is the Spirit that gives us our zest and enthusiasm for life. The Spirit enables us to communicate to those around us that we still believe; that we have fought the battle; and are winning.

What the world needs now is belief in God, real love, recognition of truth, and embracing God’s will for mankind. We can all help to change the world because through the working of the Spirit we can draw in today’s skeptics, the “nones”. They will see the Spirit and Love of God working within us just as the third century pagans saw it in the early Christians. We can light a fire by showing the World real Christianity in practice. For all of us here, that is 75+ years of it, pure Christian Joy.