June 2020

As with all Americans, the events of the past week have been much on my mind. It has been an emotional time, bringing even greater heartbreak to a nation already hurting from a pandemic we could not have anticipated nor avoided.

So much has already been said–some of it helpful in finding a pathway forward toward peace and justice, some of it angry rhetoric that is meant to incite rather than heal. I thought long and hard about what I could, or should, add that would help at all. Perhaps getting to the heart of the matter, at least from my own perspective is a good start.

Jesus warns us not to judge lest we ourselves be judged. But at some time or another we are all put in a situation where we are called upon to render judgment. For instance, when I owned a small business, I was in a position to hire employees. In doing so I had to evaluate their qualifications and character and decide who would be best for the job. I tried to do so fairly and objectively. Judges, teachers, producers, and yes, parents, are all called upon to pass judgment over and over again. That is their job…and their responsibility.

However, there is another type of judgment that is never okay. And it has been prevalent from the beginning of time. That is prejudgment, when we judge someone without even knowing them or anything about them as an individual. We look at where they work, the neighborhood in which they live, the clothes they wear (a uniform perhaps), the color of their skin, the way they speak. And we render judgment. We assume something we have no right to assume, no way of knowing…their background, character, intentions, thoughts and what is in their hearts.

Assigning characteristics to any group of individuals is not only wrong, it is totally inaccurate–and extremely dangerous to us as a society. We have seen that played out over and over again, not just in America but in countries all over the globe. Until we learn to let go of preconceived notions of how another person may act, we will never get passed this problem and move on to a lasting peace where justice, not prejudgment can prevail.

We can’t like everybody…but before we decide we do not, let’s take the time to get to know them first. That’s fair enough, don’t you think?

Unintended Consequence?

Although we have concluded this year’s commemoration of Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection, I spent a good deal of time thinking about the reason for it all during Lent.

We learn from the scriptures and from Mother Church that God sent His only Son to become human and be put to death because  that was the only way our sins could be expiated and the gates of heaven open so we could spend eternity in God’s presence.

Now, I believe Christ’s suffering and death was necessary for this to be accomplished because my belief in God’s Word is absolute. But do I understand precisely why it was necessary? I confess I do not. It’s such an astounding concept that my finite brain cannot fully comprehend it. We are not able, nor were we meant,  to “figure out” the ways of God. He told us that Himself. And so, like many things, I take it on faith.

During my mental meanderings on the subject, however, I came upon a realization I had not previously thought about. Stephen, the first martyr after Jesus’s crucifixion, was stoned to death for the grave offense of blasphemy. This was the same crime of which the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty after interrogating Him when He was arrested. Why did He not then suffer the same consequence? Why did the Jewish leaders find it necessary to haul Him off to Pilate and demand that Christ be crucified? Perhaps because they thought Him so great a threat to the status quo which kept them comfortably in power and public esteem that they wanted everyone to perceive Him a danger not only to the Jewish faith tradition, but to the realm of Caesar as well. For this indictment and the punishment of crucifixion they needed the governor of Rome.

Now Pilate was a cruel governor–ambitious, self-seeking and expedient. But in his dealings with Jesus one almost feels sorry for him. He knew Christ to be innocent and wanted to release Him. Much unlike the average criminal on trial, Pilate perceived a regal quality about the man. Someone who spoke with quiet authority, yet with deep humility. In the end, of course, Pilate yields to fear of a riot breaking out among the crowds and repercussions from Caesar and eventually condemns Jesus to death.

So let’s review all that Jesus suffered during His last twenty-four hours on earth. He is betrayed by one of His inner circle, arrested and dragged off in chains, abandoned by His chosen twelve, and denied three times by the rock upon which He chose to build His church. He is then interrogated and denounced by the Jewish authorities, scourged till bloody and weak, mocked and spit upon by those who tortured Him, then sent off to endure three hours of agony nailed to a cross He has been made to carry before a jeering crowd.

Why did God the Father allow His Son to be sacrificed in the cruelest and most humiliating of ways? I ask myself this question, but I already know the answer. Because this was God’s plan. And in the end that’s all I need to know, even if I don’t understand it. There is one aspect of the horrific suffering and manner of Jesus’s death I did come to understand, however. In the complicity of Gentile and Jew in this whole affair, and in the scope of the stage upon which this was executed, the entire world would come to know what happened. All people, then down to now, would come to realize through the retelling of this incredible event, the extent of God’s love for man. That the Father would send His Son to endure so much torture, pain, betrayal and rejection–for us, and that the Son would do it…willing and with mercy and abundant love is the unmistakable message we learn from the Passion of Christ.

Yes, the Word of God tells us that Jesus’s death was necessary for our redemption, but the manner in which it was accomplished tells us more than that. Unintended consequence? You decide.

Holy Week 2020

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and now we are smack dab in the middle of Holy Week, leading up to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter itself. I don’t know about you, but this week does not feel like Holy Week to me. It has always had a very solemn mood about it, but now there is a sadness that is hard to shake. Not coming together in church to commemorate Christ’s passion, death and resurrection detracts in no small way from the emotional connection we have to all of it. Many of us will not be gathering with family to celebrate the joy of Easter and all the traditions that go along with it.

But then I thought about what Christ said in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” And then from Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The world is a difficult and challenging place right now. Thinking back in the course of history, this is nothing new: wars, natural disasters, plagues, terrorists attacks. However what we are all going through, living the “new normal” resulting from COVID 19, is so different from anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Let’s face it. It’s difficult to adjust to say the least.

But perhaps we can put a different perspective on it this week. Holy week won’t be the same, but it can be meaningful in a very special way. As we meditate on Christ’s journey to Calvary under the weight of His heavy cross, let us affix the cross we bear right now to His. Let us offer our hardships as penance for the sins that put Him there, and ask His forgiveness and His abounding grace in shouldering them.

Think of this as a joint effort. Shouldering Christ’s load with Him, and Jesus shouldering our load for us, together on the road to Calvary, there to die to the burdens we carry and rise another day–healed, renewed and jubilant.

“This too shall pass” And when it does, with God’s grace, we will emerge stronger, more united and appreciative of everyday blessings we so often take for granted.

I pray for all of you and wish you and your families a safe, healthy and blessed Easter.

Horse and Carriage

Way back when we still played records, before Pandora and playlists, Frank Sinatra recorded a hit song entitled “Love and Marriage”. For those of you who never heard it, the basic concept is that love and marriage go together…well, “like a horse and carriage”. For many growing up today that is as old-fashioned as the 45 vinyl it was recorded on. But that’s not the point right now.

We’re in the beginning weeks of Lent and it occurred to me that two main themes that Jesus preached about go together too–love and forgiveness. Love was big thing with Him. Love of the Father, love of neighbor, love of family, and the toughest of all, love of enemies. And, yes, love of self falls in there too because as we know, self-loathing is often projected outward.

I once heard someone say that the real test of love is the level of sacrifice we are willing to make for the ones we love. Certainly Jesus is the ultimate example of perfect love. He denied Himself everything–even sacrificing His very life–for those He loved. And He excluded no one.

Because we are in the midst of the Lenten season, forgiveness should be a big part of our concentration. Christ’s passion and death are all about forgiveness, i.e., redemption. Because after all, if we really forgive someone, we are in essence redeeming them in our sight. Their transgressions are wiped away…forever. That is if we truly do forgive as God forgives. Because when He forgives us, we are a clean slate, pure and new with a fresh start.

It’s not easy to forgive that way. Seven times might be pushing it, but “seventy times seven”? That’s asking a lot. It may even seem boundless. But that’s the extent of God’s love–boundless. Boundless for each and every one of us. Just as God commands us to “judge not lest ye be judged”, He commands us to forgive others their wrongdoings against us in order to obtain forgiveness from Him. And only one force in the universe can enable us to do that–and that force of course is love. Forgiveness and love, just like the horse and carriage, are coupled together. And just like love and marriage, each is strengthened by the other.

Have a blessed and productive Lenten season. God’s strength and peace to all of you.

My Walks with God

When we hear people speak of their “walk with God”, they usually mean their journey of faith–their path on earth, sometimes smooth, at others rocky and uphill. I have that personal pathway too. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

This past year, I’ve committed to walking two miles every other day. When the weather permits, I have a route I walk, one mile to 47th street, one block over, and then back home again. Two miles exactly. Now that winter has settled in for good, I walk that two miles on my treadmill in the basement, staring out a small window at my neighbor’s privacy fence.

Recently I decided to make use of that half hour by having conversations with our Lord. I alternate. Some days I concentrate on the many blessings He’s sent my way and prayers He’s answered. Over the period of a lifetime there are too many to count, but I try. Other days I’ll think about ways I’ve sinned and hurt our Lord, the people I love…and those I don’t. I say I’m sorry and think of ways to make amends.

And then there are my supplication days. There are many intentions I pray for. Some are very specific, often for the well-being of those I love. Others are quite general and include our country and our planet. Because we are all connected to so many people and share common problems and concerns, this list can easily fill a half hour. And it’s okay to be a little selfish in some prayer requests. God understands our human nature. He created it.

The new addition to my prayer life is a little routine I read about. Each morning before rising it said, thank God for three blessings in your life. The older you are the easier this is. Trust me. And then each night before closing your eyes, thank Him for three blessings you received that day. God appreciates being appreciated, acknowledged and thanked for things. In that, I believe we do have something in common. And focusing on the good stuff in our lives promotes more positivity of spirit. It’s like taking a vitamin pill each day for a healthy mind and heart.

So I just thought I’d share my new habits with you…and thank you for reading my posts. That’s another thing I’m thankful for. May you and all you love have a blessed, safe and happy Thanksgiving.

One Act at a Time

I had the honor of speaking recently to a wonderful group of women at a mini-retreat in a local church. It was an enriching experience I will long remember. We spoke about the diminishing number of people attending services regularly and what an erosion of faith would mean to the future of our world.

If the Christian faith is to survive, I believe we lay men and women, the foot soldiers of the church, so to speak, need to play a larger part in the propagation of our faith. How can we best accomplish this? I think the answer lies in the way we perceive others. If we can begin to see people through the eyes of Christ and re-program ourselves to feel about others the way He did, we can carry forward His ministry of love, mercy and acceptance.

There is so much divisiveness in today’s world. People are put into neat little categories based on race, religion, politics, orientations and socio-economic status. We are ranked, judged and scrutinized without knowing much about the person we are. It takes time, effort and caring to get to know someone–with an open mind and without prejudice.

Jesus kept company with the outcasts, the shunned and dregs of society, those the leaders of the day considered unworthy of notice, much less respect and support. He hated the sin, but never the sinner. Most of all He hated hypocrisy.

If we can begin to accept others–not just tolerate but accept–to act out of empathy, kindness and love, then I believe we will have a ripple effect in this stormy sea of turmoil. An act of courtesy and respect can impact the life of another as much as a slur or slight. And it’s only human nature to react in kind.

It won’t happen overnight, but we CAN make a difference in this world–one act, one person, one day at a time. We have to start someplace….don’t we?

And God Said No

There are many reasons people walk away from faith or even deny the existence of God. One of the most common is that they can’t come to terms with the idea that a good and loving Lord would allow the violence, cruelty, and injustice that flash across every day’s headlines. Some think our earth has only gotten worse since Jesus walked it, but of course, the lust for power, wealth, and favor has always driven men to such behaviors. The question is why does God allow it?

The answer is really very simple. God created man with free will. From the start He gave direction, commandments…rules. But He never forced the choice. The choice has always been and always will be ours to make. And we, and those whose lives we touch, reap the consequences–good or bad.

Another reason people turn away from God is that they can’t understand why He would allow the awful pain and suffering that comes through illness or natural disasters–circumstances not caused by human hands. Why do a desperate parent’s prayers for a child’s healing go unanswered? This is much more challenging to explain. Truthfully, I can’t supply an answer that would satisfy everyone, because I don’t believe any human can. There are many things about life we mortals simply can’t understand.

But I can offer the following: I don’t think there is any time that speaks to Christ’s humanness more than when He was on His knees in the garden of Gethsemane asking His Father to let all the agony, pain, and betrayal He was about to endure, just go away. He asked this not once but twice, saying He was “sorrowful unto death”. He knew in every horrific detail what He was about to face. He’d come to earth for it. He’d told His disciples about it, even though they couldn’t understand or accept it. And still at the last hour, He wanted out. Although He truly was God the Son, how totally and completely human He was as well! But each time He prayed, He told His Father that He would do whatever His Father wanted:  “…yet not my will, but yours be done”.

Now there can be no doubt how deeply the Father loved the Son. The bond between them was like no other. They were, and are, indivisibly connected, one part of the other for all eternity. And yet when the Son prayed to the Father, on His knees, on the eve of His crucifixion, and asked that the cup of agony and death pass from His lips…His Father said no.

Why? Because of His love for us. He asked His Son to do the unthinkable…for us. And because Jesus loved His Father, and because He loved us too, He did what only He could do…give up His life for our eternity.

A Matter of Death and Life

No, I didn’t get it backwards. Every Easter we celebrate Our Lord’s triumph over death–not just for Himself, but for all of us. The life I was referring to comes after death…life eternal.

Jesus told the apostles that He would be put to death, and then on the third day He would rise again. This was tragic and unbelievable news to the chosen twelve. Their beloved Messiah, the Savior they’d been awaiting for so long, arrested and executed like a common criminal? How could this be? And what could He mean, rising again in three days? It’s no wonder they didn’t understand.

How confused and bewildered they must’ve been when they went to the tomb and found the stone rolled away and their Blessed Lord missing. But then imagine their joy when He appeared to them alive and well, and they were reunited once again.

That’s what Jesus promises each one of us, only something even better. Because for us it will be the first time we get to experience a personal encounter with our glorified Savior. The apostles spent three years with Jesus…in His presence, listening to Him, communing with Him, being witness to His miracles and divine nature. Now, we can only imagine what that was like.

What Jesus gave us that first Easter Day was a promise and a possibility to come before Him for the first time. Into His glorious presence, the recipient of His incomparable love…for a life that is perfect and eternal. Let us celebrate and be thankful, not only this Easter, but every day.

A Perfect Love

As if Easter falling on April Fool’s Day isn’t enough, this year Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday also share the same date. For some will-powered people, that heart-shaped box of chocolates may find itself on a shelf at the back of the freezer for a while.

Let’s reflect a moment though–are the sobriety of lent and the joy of honoring those we love so diametrically opposed? Actually, I don’t think so. They really fit together perfectly.

The reason is simple. The greatest love story of all is the story of Jesus and His mission on earth. He came to earth so we could go to heaven. To accomplish that, He had to perform the ultimate act of love: He laid down His earthly life so we could have life eternal.

Before He allowed Himself to be put to death to gain our redemption, however, He had a New Covenant to establish–and a ministry to carry out. And He did so relentlessly. For three years He traveled, taught, healed, preached, and forgave. His mercy knew no bounds, and His love had no limits. He stood up to authority figures in religion and government and bent down to heal the sick and forgive the sinner.

His love was a perfect love. One to celebrate and be grateful for, not just on Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, but every day.

Peace on Earth: A Perspective

“Peace on earth, good will toward men.” We find that sentiment echoed in song and scripture often at this time of year. But how do we reconcile that with what we see and hear going on in the world today? In our own country? Too often in our own neighborhoods? How can we wrap our brains around what Our Lord came to do and what we see going on around us?

We’re not the only ones that find this task a challenge. Jesus’s own followers expected the Messiah would come raging into this world prepared to free them not from sin, but from oppression–by force if necessary. But Our Savior preached only peace and love; mercy and forgiveness.

In the 2000 years since His death, this message has been preached all over the world. But is our world any better than it was before or during Jesus’s time? Is there more love  and mercy in it? The news headlines would lead anyone to believe things have only gotten worse. However, I choose to believe otherwise. Oh, I don’t deny there are those whose hearts are corrupted by hate, bitterness, and greed for wealth, power or pleasure. But I have known and seen so many instances of self-sacrifice, charity, acts of mercy and love that I still hold out great hope for the human race.

Sometimes I just look for heartwarming stories of selfless giving. Today I read about a man who carried with him the tools to give haircuts to homeless people he would encounter. Eventually a benefactor set him up with his own barber shop in which he could earn a living and continue his tonsorial philanthropy.

All one has to do is look to the response of ordinary people after one of nature’s onslaughts. Thousands of people reach out to help others they don’t know oceans away, just because they care and feel compassion. When they do that–when we do that–we are being Christ to others. And that is what He instructed us to do.

It is in doing so that we find true peace. A peace that comes from the inside outward. Peace that warms the heart and nourishes the soul. Through us and in this way, His message lives on, and the world becomes just a little bit better. This is still a season of peace, of love…and I believe, most of all, a season of hope.

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