Archive for March, 2019

We Are a Little of Both Sons in the Prodigal Son Story

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

4th Sunday of Lent

Josh 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Cor 5: 17-21; Lk 15: 1-3, 11-32

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today Paul tells us “The old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”    Yes, Christ brought with him a new way; a new approach.  Gone are the days of a strict accounting according to the letter of the Law; gone are the days of atonement for sin with animal sacrifices and cereal offerings; gone are the days when we believed that we were right with God by virtue of our own works, as if these earthly offerings, symbolic of the work of our hands, could atone to almighty God for our misuse of his gifts to us.   

This old way has been replaced by the ministry of reconciliation that Christ lived on our behalf.  What matters now is not atonement with external sacrifices.  What matters is our belief that God sent his only son to suffer and die for our offenses; and that this is the only acceptable sacrifice in God’s eyes.  What matters is acceptance of God’s message of repentance in our hearts, and a spirit of humble contrition for our past offenses.  What matters to God is that we have turned away from all of our previous selfishness and independence.  What matters most to God is that we live in his Love and obedience from this moment on and stick to that.  And that is what the parable of the prodigal son is all about.  

If we are honest, there is a some of both of the sons in this story in each of us.  Which of us can say that we have never walked away from God’s law, and in the process, walked away from his protection as well?  Which of us can deny that we have tried to have it our way, tried to call all the shots in our lives?  It happens to almost all of us in the prime of life when everything seems to be going our way.  Prosperity and independence of means foster that kind of self-centeredness.  When we feel we are on the top of the world, comfortable, making lots of money, enjoying success, and in control; well, it is then that we mostly just pay lip service to God.  It’s as if we don’t need Him.  

The younger son wanted to be in control; he wanted to do things his way; he didn’t think he needed the Father.  And so, he had it his way.  But it didn’t last long, did it?  His assets and resources were limited; and he squandered them because he lacked wisdom.  So, then came the reality of life; the consequences for living according to his own will.  For the younger son, this meant utter poverty and hunger.  Fortunately, he came to his senses and went back to the Father with humility and contrition.   

Something always goes wrong for us too- the loss of our job, some great financial loss, a personal betrayal, an illness.  And all of a sudden, we are reminded that we really are out of control.  And in fact, we recognize that we never ever were in control.    Just like the prodigal son, the sensible ones amongst us come crawling back to God, recognizing that all that we are and all that we have were gifts from God.  And in all humility, we ask Him for forgiveness and another chance just as the prodigal son did with his Father.   

God loves all of us so much, that he is constantly waiting for our return to him.  He is waiting there with an offer of sonship- signified by the ring the Father places on the son’s finger; with a robe that signifies his willingness to offer us protection against future temptation; and with a special food, the Eucharist, which is the best God can give us- a bit of himself, just like the fatted calf was the best the Father had to offer his son in a feast.   

But there is also a little bit of the older son in each of us too.  Through it all, we often view that we have been faithful compared to others.  We neither have compassion for the failings of others; nor do we feel joy when they repent.  Rather, we are comparing our righteousness to their sinfulness, and we can be upset over the prospect that someone else with their great sin might be rewarded by God more than us.  How quickly do we forget how perilous our own relationship with God is.  Rather, we should recognize that the only thing that should matter to us is whether we are in a right relationship with God. 

Lent is our opportunity to change ourselves for the better.  It is a time to recognize that the old ways must pass away, and the new ways must be embraced.  Lent is a time for us to focus on ourselves and our relationship with God.  Lent is a time for us to be the best of who we can be no matter what our neighbor is doing. 

Following the Law With Our Hearts (U)

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

Thursday of Second Week in Lent

Jer 17:5-10; Lk 16: 19-31

Deacon Larry Brockman

So, the Lord rewards everyone according to the merits of his deeds.  Such are Jeremiah’s words today.   

And Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man seems to echo that promise by the Lord.  Did you notice that the rich man knows who Lazarus is?  That tells us that although the rich man saw Lazarus during his lifetime, he did nothing to help him.  But he felt familiar enough with Lazarus to ask the favor of a drop of water. 

How’s that for indifference!  After his passing from this world, and finding himself in a tormented state, he still regards himself as superior to Lazarus.  So, he has the boldness to ask Lazarus to do him a favor.  This rich man is oblivious to the reality of his situation.   

Now, there’s no mention of any deeds by the rich man at all.  He doesn’t present any defense for the charge against him- he just asks for relief of his pain.  Rather, the rich man just enjoyed the gifts that God gave him in life, dining sumptuously each day.  His wealth was his security; it allowed him to comfortably practice his faith.  He probably considered himself a good practicing Jew- keeping all the ritual laws; avoiding the unclean like Lazarus with those dreadful sores; tithing comfortably from his wealth; following the rules for the Passover explicitly.  He just was living life happily, just enjoying the gifts God gave him; perhaps he regarded his good station in life as a reward for his literal compliance to the law.   

But Jesus makes it clear that because he was indifferent to the suffering that was going on around him; unwilling to share what he had, and perhaps even unaware that anything else was expected of him, his life after death was going to be a miserable one.   

You know, we all learn that the core of our faith is the belief that Jesus Christ is our Lord and savior, and that he sacrificed himself for our sins.  We are told that if we believe, and follow his commandments, we will be saved.  We are told that we cannot gain our place in the heavenly Kingdom by our good works.  I am certain the rich man thought he was doing that.   

And yet, this parable sheds a unique light on the salvation process, doesn’t it?  You see, we have been saved by Christ- salvation is there for all of us.  But it is there to lose if…    In fact, it’s there to lose If a whole lot of things, isn’t it?  If we don’t love God with our whole heart; if we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves; if we are not meek and humble of heart; if we don’t follow the rest of the beatitudes; if we don’t follow his law with our heart.   

Jeremiah says it best.  “Cursed is the man who… seeks his strength in the flesh, …whose heart turns away from the Lord.”  It is the heart that the Lord looks to in order to determine if we really believe.  And all of us only reflect the image and likeness of God if our hearts all full of love for all of God’s people, even the unclean person in the street covered with sores.   

These readings are presented in Lent for a good reason.  They challenge us to reflect on our own lives.  Do we follow the law to the letter of the law only?  Do we follow the law only as long as it is comfortable for us?  Or do we follow the law in our Hearts?   

Listening to the Inconvenient Truth

Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Wednesday of Second Week in Lent

Jer 18:18-20; Mt 20:17-28

Deacon Larry Brockman

I suppose all of us have had it happen to us.  We confide something really important and personal to our closest family members or friends, and they just seem to ignore what we say.  They move on, and even change the topic.   

This is what happened to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel.  Jesus tells his closest disciples what is going to happen to him in no uncertain terms: suffering, death on a cross, and resurrection after three days.  And what happens next?  Jesus is lobbied by two of his disciples Mother for the top places in the Kingdom of God for her sons.  You would think these disciples would have shown some concern, some empathy, even some curiosity after hearing what Jesus predicted would happen to him.  But instead Matthew tells us they were completely derailed by the request of the two brothers. 

Matthew says “When the ten heard this they became indignant at the two brothers”.  And Jesus had to set them straight.  He tells them such an honor is not his to give.  He tells them they must become servants of others just as he had become.  He tells them they will drink of the same cup that he will drink.  That would mean to me that they were going to have to suffer just like Jesus predicted he would.  It would seem that Jesus had returned to his original topic- suffering.  But it doesn’t seem to have phased the disciples in the least.   

And then there is the story of Jeremiah.  Jeremiah prophesied fearlessly in the name of the Lord.  It was a prophecy of suffering and exile.  It wasn’t what the people wanted to hear- in fact, it ran counter to what the priests and other prophets were saying at the time.  So, it was a source of irritation to them.  The Israeli society just didn’t want to face the reality of an impending woe.  So, the people decided to scheme against Jeremiah; try to get some argument against him using his own words.  They planned to throw him into a pit and leave him; and he says as much.   

I think Jesus disciples ignored his prophecy of suffering for the same reason the Israelis rejected Jeremiah’s prophesy of suffering and exile.  It’s the same reason that most of us avoid talking about pain and suffering.  We just don’t want to hear about it, even when it is the truth.   

And it is much more certain to be avoided when it is a societal woe rather than an individual one.  In many cases, we will show empathy and concern for a loved one who wants to talk about their suffering, like when someone is suffering from a terminal illness; or someone has lost a loved one because it is the others who are suffering, not us.   

But it is quite another thing when some woe is predicted on someone that is going to affect us as well.  That was the case with the Apostles.  Certainly, if all of what Jesus predicted would happen to him came to pass, the Apostles would all be sure to suffer as well.  And if the Israeli nation in Jeremiah’s day were conquered and sent into exile; well everyone would be affected and suffer.   

It is no different today; prophets of doom are rejected when they speak.  Think about some of the modern-day prophecies of doom that all of us are hearing about:  climate change; runaway debt; Immigration; moral decay; terrorism; abortion; socialism; you get the point.  Which of these are real and which are not?   

Real prophets are humble servants, they do not gain from their prophesies.  Real prophets speak in the name of God, not in the name of man.  The prophesies of real prophets come true, as did all of Jeremiah’s prophecies, as did everything Jesus told his disciples.   

The fact is that there are success stories about prophesies of doom that were averted by sincere people.. There are times when prophets have been listened to, and people have responded rather than rejected them.  The book of Jonah tells one such success story.  The people of Nineveh repented of their sin after Jonah prophesied their doom.   

Lent is a time for us to repent and change our way.  Part of our Lenten practice should be listening to modern day prophets.  They are our collective conscience; they are awakening us to important truths we don’t want to hear. 

We can make important changes in our lives that respond to the truth they predict even if the prophecies are inconvenient truths.  It’s been done before; and it is done one person at a time. 

Ask and It Will Be Given to You

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Thursday of First Week of Lent

Es C: 12, 14-16, 23-25; Mt 7: 7-12

Dc. Larry Brockman

So, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.   For everyone that asks will receive.”    That sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? And perhaps some of you may even be skeptical from your own previous experience.  But Jesus always speaks the truth.  So, how do we resolve our experience with Jesus words?  How can we be sure our prayers will be answered in the future?   

You know, I recently led 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.  That’s right, all prayer is initiated by God!  So, that means we have to listen to God first to engage in prayer.    

When you think about it, 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, we should be open above all to what God has to say.

God sincerely wants to help us with our needs.  But there is a difference between our needs and our wants.  Take a lesson from Queen Esther in our first reading.  She is not praying for her wants, is she?  Rather, she is sincerely concerned and troubled by the terrible cunning and guile of the King’s assistant, who has tricked the King into a decree to kill all of the Jews.   

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, and mysterious ways.  So, it may be easy to miss how God is calling you to pray.  But God certainly does speak to us through the scriptures, the word of God.  When we read scriptures, something usually leaps out at us too.  That is often God’s way of asking us to reflect more on it.  It may hold the key to our path forward.    

And God speaks to us in those nagging feelings we have that something is wrong in our lives or the lives of our loved ones.  Those feelings are God calling you to reflect and change something.  They are moments which are calling out for you to get into a quiet, undisturbed environment, and humbly open yourself up to what God has to say.  After you have listened to God, then it is time to share your concerns and feelings.   

But be careful of what you ask for.  We can all take a lesson from Queen Esther.  As I said before, she was not praying for her wants; but rather for an urgent need.  And Esther was asking for help- not intervention.  She wants God to put the right words in her mouth to persuade her husband.  Esther is concerned about a true need- and is only asking for the grace to act effectively. 

That’s what we should ask for.  Ask for strength, for the right words, for the wisdom to deal with the need that we have.   

There are many times that good people have been soured by what appears to be a rejection by God of their prayer- a sick friend or relative does not pull through; the job you sought did not come through; some immanent natural disaster like a hurricane sweeps over us despite our prayers.   

Well, God can work miracles; but usually God works in natural ways.  And we are part of that solution.  God works through us, as he used Esther to persuade the King.     

Sometimes God’s wisdom is mysterious and seems like out-of-the-box thinking.  Is that really so surprising?  God is so far beyond us that we cannot possibly see his plan or know his ways.  We need to trust God and hope that our prayers will be answered for our ultimate good.   

Perhaps it was that friend or relative’s time; perhaps there’s a better job for you; perhaps the natural disaster will put you in a place that’s far better in the eyes of God.  Perhaps God wants to close one door and open another in your life.   

We are God’s children now.  We always have the best interests in mind for our children when they ask for something, don’t we?  And sometimes they ask for something and the best answer is “no” or “not right now”.   God does the same with us.   

So “ask” but ask with all humility and sincerity, “And it will be given to you”. 

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.

What the World Needs Now is Prayer!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Tuesday Benediction

2 Chron 7:14

Dc. Larry Brockman

Reparation!  This holy hour is about reparation. 

And for sure, each of us has come here tonight in all humility to seek the forgiveness of the Lord for our personal shortcomings.   

But the fact is that we are a fractured, divided people.   Political acrimony and divisiveness permeate our country.  Our congress seems stalemated, and unable to get anything meaningful done.  Some people are so focused on the acrimony that they are actually hindering efforts to solve our problems.   

And you know what?  This environment is kind of like what the Israeli people faced at the time Chronicles was written.  But the people came together collectively in all humility to ask for God’s help- His help to heal their land.   

We need that too, we need to heal our Land.  And to do that, we need to turn from our evil ways, pray to God for forgiveness, and make reparation for our collective sins.   

When I was young, each Sunday we would pray at the foot of the altar for the conversion of Russia.  And guess what?  The communist regime fell, and now Russia’s Eastern Orthodox faith is alive and well.  True, they have a long way to go.  But our prayers worked- our collective prayers.   

We have a long way to go in this country now as well.  Much of our country has lost its faith and moral anchor.  That’s why there is so much acrimony.  So, we need to humbly come before the Lord as we have ask for God’s forgiveness and help.  And our reparation consists of the shining example of a believing, faith filled community.  A community that believes that this kind of group prayer does work.  Amen. 

It’s Ash Wednesday Again!

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Health Central Ash Wednesday Service

Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2; Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18

Deacon Larry Brockman

Well, here we all are again for Ash Wednesday.  Another year has passed, and Lent begins today.   

A good question for you to ask today is this:  Has anything changed in your life in the last year?  Or are you still living pretty much the way you lived last year?  Are you bogged down in a busy routine, and don’t seem to have the time to break out of it?  Do you sense a growing distance with someone important to you; or are you having problems with someone close to you but don’t seem to ever be able to address them; or maybe you are losing control of something in your life?  Do you have a sense of guilt or concern about any of that?  Do you sense that your relationship with God is suffering?

Because if any of those things resonate with you, now is the time for renewal.  Lent is the classical time on the Church calendar for folks to make some time to reflect on where there are going and what they are doing and to then make a change for the better.  To quote St. Paul:  Now is the acceptable time.

You see, change is absolutely inevitable.    If you wait long enough then something will happen and there will be change- an illness, the loss of a loved one, a betrayal by someone we love.   Any of number of things are percolating around us and can suddenly change our lives forever, even rob us of the chance of healing things because the opportunity is gone.     

The church recommends the three pillars of Lent as a process for renewal.  They are:  Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving.   

You know, fasting has been proven by the great mystics to be an effective way to clear our minds so we can come to grips with what’s going on in our lives.  In fact, that’s what John the Baptist and Jesus both did.  They went into the desert, fasted, and reflected on their lives and where they were headed.  The Gospels tell us that Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, and that he survived temptations of the flesh, power, and pride.  But when he emerged, he could see his three-year mission clearly.  And he also saw that he would suffer, die, and be resurrected.  That 40 days is the origin of Lent.  The Church encourages each of us to do as Jesus did.   

Now you don’t have to fast from food any more- just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  You can, if that is what is getting in the way of your need to pray and reflect.  Indeed, we probably all eat too much.    That can bog us down, even make us sleepy and listless.  Chances are that most of us could free some time up by fasting in other areas though.  Too much Facebook; too much TV; too many sporting events, too many lunches; you get the idea.    But whatever you need to fast from, use the time that you break free in a productive way. 

In fact, that would be a good time for the second pillar- Prayer and Reflection on what’s nagging you inside, whether it’s any of the things I mentioned or something else.   You know, some of the experts claim that it is God who initiates all prayer.  So, that little voice inside of you that nags you about something, may just be God calling you to share it with Him.  If you can find a quiet place and some free time, spend that time in prayer.  And that doesn’t just mean reciting a prayer, and you talking to God.  God wants a relationship with each and every one of us- a two-way relationship.  So, we have got to listen to God as well as talk to him.   

God speaks to us in varied and strange ways- but often directly through His word.  So, pray over the Sunday or weekday readings.  There‘s a little “Daily Bread” pamphlet covering the next three months available from the Chaplain.  That would be a good way to start.  And you may be surprised how your needs may be met when you listen to those little prompts that God gives you.   

The last Pillar is “Almsgiving”.  That doesn’t just mean dropping a few bucks in the collection plate; or even giving a little extra to your favorite charity.  In recent years, the Church asks for us to contribute our time, our talent, and our treasure.  Almsgiving can be from any of those three.  Almsgiving is a measure of how well our Fasting and Prayerful meditation worked.  We are giving back to God.   

You see, God has an agenda for each of us.  And a part of that agenda is giving of ourselves.  Whatever time, talent, and treasure we have, it all comes from God anyway.  And when we make our time or our talent or our treasure available to others in response to Him, we are showing God that we trust that he has our best interests in mind.  We might even find that he answers our requests in the process.   

So, after we receive our ashes today, rather than walking around with long faces and gloomy hearts because Lent is upon us today, let us be happy instead; let us surrender to our basic need to make positive changes in our lives.  Now is the acceptable time!   

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.