Pastoral Reflections

Pastoral Reflections – 2-26-17

The Gospel lessons over the past several weeks from the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ are now coming to a close. Over the recent Sundays we have been focused on appreciating the teachings, which are central to the Kingdom of Heaven; teachings Christ promulgated at the time of his earthly ministry. Matthew’s Gospel from Chapters 5 through 8, provide us with a detailed blueprint for Jesus’ way of life.

Today’s Gospel passage is likely a familiar one to many of us. Jesus reminds his followers of God’s beneficence toward all his creation. Jesus begins with, ‘Look at the birds in the sky, they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into their barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them.’ He goes on to reflect, ‘Think of the flowers in the field, they do not work or spin, but I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.’ Jesus then goes on to declare, ‘How much more will God look after you; Oh you of little faith’.

These memorable words are in danger of becoming little more than a comforting sentimentality, unless they are set within the challenging program of the entire ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Although God oversees and protects all his creation, especially humanity, it is not without the expectation that we will, in response, choose to live in accordance with the teachings set forth by his only begotten Son.

Note that the passage chosen for today’s liturgy, has as its introduction, the pithy parable about the impossibility of ‘serving two masters’. If we recall the teaching of Jesus we have considered thus far, this passage can be read as a commentary on the first Beatitude, with which the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ began: namely, ‘Happy are the poor in spirit’. As they share their journey of life with Jesus, his true followers find the joy of an undivided heart.

Jesus reminds us to, ‘Set your hearts on the Father’s kingdom first’, and on God’s saving justice and all these other things (the necessities of life) will be given to (us) as well’. In this admonition, Jesus clarifies something basic to the Christian faith. God’s ‘saving justice’, as manifest principally in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, is the divine balance, which will heal, reconcile, and restore all believers by way of an undeserved generosity. To access and benefit from this ‘saving justice’ the Christian’s undivided heart should be filled with confidence that, as much as God provides for our spiritual wellbeing, he will also ensure for our material needs and comforts.

Looking back on the New Kingdom charter outlined by Jesus, we can recognize that from its beginning to its end, the Good News of redemption is the foundational message of all of Christ’s teaching. What is the Good News? It is the assurance that God has our back if we choose to have him as our Lord and commit ourselves to the parameters of Christian living cited in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Good News is nothing less than the joy of unmerited salvation, in which the whole story of creation is indeed grounded. It continually elaborates on the absolutely gratuitous, and boundless generosity of the eternal Father.

The first reading, from Isaiah has been chosen for today’s liturgy because of its astounding declaration. Given through the prophet, it reminds us of this analogy: ‘Does a woman forget her baby at the breast? ... Yet even if she forgets, I will never forget you’. God pledges to remember us from the first moment of conception to the moment of our last breath and beyond.

The first Christians were committed to following the Savior in the same spirit as echoed in the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1, verse 3: ‘Blessed by God the Father ... Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ’.

A central message today my dear friends, is that, our God is a loyal God. He sticks with us regardless of how often we may choose to forget him or leave him behind. God does not intentionally test our faith or punish us for our indiscretions. Instead he provides an umbrella of infinite grace, if we choose to live under his shadow. If we move from under that protective shadow by electing to follow what the world has to offer, we expose ourselves to both pain and disappointment. Thus, our choices have consequences not only in the material world, but also in our spiritual life. If things are not going well in our life, we ought not to become angry with God or utter our doubt about his existence. Rather, we need to look more closely at our own choices and whether these choices are in fact separating us from God’s influence. God will not tamper with our ability to choose freely for or against him. He longs for us to choose him because it is something we recognize as essential to our physical and spiritual wellbeing.

During our worship this morning, let us affirmatively welcome the Holy Spirit, and allow that Spirit and not the secular establishment, to become our loving master. I would like to close my remarks with some expanded thoughts initially found in C.S. Lewis’ book, ‘The Screwtape Letters’.

‘Satan called a worldwide convention of demons. In his opening address he said, “We can’t keep Christians from turning away from God but we can distract them from God. Let them go to church, but let us steal their time so they don’t have time to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. This is what I want you to do,” said the devil: “Distract them from maintaining that vital connection with Jesus throughout their day!” “How shall we do this?” his demons asked. “Keep them busy in the non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to occupy their minds,” he answered. “Over-stimulate their minds so that they cannot hear the still, small voice of God. Entice them to play the radio or iPod whenever they drive, to keep the TV, DVD, CDs and their PCs going constantly in their home. This will jam their minds and break that union with Christ. Pound their minds with the news 24 hours a day. Flood their mailboxes with junk mail, mail order catalogs, and every kind of newsletter and promotion offering free products, services and false hopes. Let them stand in lines for hours for the latest cell phone or Harry Potter book, forgetting about God. Let them be seduced by glitzy advertising that will lure them away from God. Fill their world and their minds with trash so that they will not have room for God. Tempt them to spend, spend, spend, and borrow, borrow, borrow. Persuade the wives to go to work for long hours and the husbands to work 6-7 days each week, 10-12 hours a day, so they can afford their empty lifestyles. Keep wives and husbands too tired to love each other after their work. Give them headaches too! If they don’t give each other the love they need, they will begin to look elsewhere. That will fragment their families quickly! Keep them from spending time with their children. As their families fragment, soon their homes will offer no escape from the pressures of work! Keep skinny, beautiful models on the magazines and TV so they will believe that outward beauty is what’s important, and forget that loving God and neighbor is what is really beautiful. Give them Santa Clause to distract them from teaching their children the real meaning of Christmas. Give them an Easter bunny so they won’t talk about his resurrection and power over sin and death. Even in their recreation, let them be excessive. Let them think that attending a sports event is more important than keeping holy the Lord’s Day and treating the sport stars as if they were the holy saints. Keep them too busy to go out in nature and reflect on God’s creation. Keep them busy, busy, busy! It will work! It will work!”

It was quite a plan! The demons went eagerly to their assignments causing Christians everywhere to get busier and more rushed, going here and there, having little time for their God or their families. The acronym “BUSY” soon came to be can translated as: Being Under Satan’s Yoke.

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