Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What is love?

What is love?  When I had my interview with the pastor of my parish to come into the church we got to talking about love.  I remember saying it was a shame that the English language only has one word for love.  I can love chocolate and love God, and there is no distinction.  As I said that though, there is an understanding that I have that there is really only one love, one REAL love.  I do not love chocolate, as much as I admire the flavor. I cannot “love” things, not really.  I can have a fondness for them, enjoy having them in my life, own them, partake in them, but I cannot love them as they are things.  Well, I suppose I could love (in the sense of great desire) them, but there are many warnings in our sacred scripture about placing things over people and over the Almighty. 

There were four Greek words that meant love of one kind or another.  Eros, probably named after the god of the same name, which is sexual love.  Storg, which is familial love.  Phileo, which is more in tune with our modern English word love since it has more to do with feelings than it does action or thought.  Kind of like spontaneous crushes, or like I said earlier, chocolate, but it always also receives something if it’s going to give.  Then there is the big word.  Agape, which is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love, the highest form of love, and I would argue the only real form of love that exists as Agape is (should be) the foundation from which all other love and desire springs so it will be right love in actions, thoughts, and deeds. 

If we are in agape, then we aren’t using people (eros) for our selfish pleasure and when we “feel” it isn’t convenient for us throwing them away.  We are wholly dedicated to the other in agape, by first doing what is Godly (for ourselves and them), and then by giving without reserve or expectation. Which means no matter how much eros desire we have for them, we are always doing the next right thing for them.  It’s the same if the relationship is storg. By this understanding, phileo would be relegated to that wonderful ‘love’ of chocolate and what not, and have no place in human to human relationships. 

In other words, love, real agape, is agape love, which cannot be compartmentalized, detached from, quantified, limited, or lost.  Agape is God’s kind of love, in the pale way we humans can express and experience.  I write a lot about love, and some people perceive that it’s some vanilla marshmallow hippy abstract human idea I talk about.  It’s not, and if we explore some of the scripture where agape is used we begin to see what we are truly called to do.  It’s frightening, honestly it is, because it’s the abandonment of the ego and the self-centered nature, it is always sacrifice. 

John 15: 13

13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Romans 13: 10

10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

John 15:9-10

9 "Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.

1 Corinthians 16:14

14 Let all that you do be done in love.  

1 Peter 4: 8

8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

And to my mind the greatest of these:

John 13:34-35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is what we are all called to.  We are given the command (not suggestion) to love each other as He loved us, as God loves us.  What keeps us from that? Fear, and fear does not come from God fear comes from darkness.  We cannot be saints in training, if we allow fear to compartmentalize love, because fear has walls, and love is boundless.  This is not some hippy-dippy concept but the most radical, truly anti-establishment, extreme act of God we can live within.  It’s not emotional band standing, it’s an active choice and action.  When we actually get this, and we begin to live with this in our minds as well as our hearts, then we truly find the narrow path.  

Just some food for thought and prayer….

Heavenly Father, place within me a heart of agape love, let it burn all fear away so I may be transformed into Your love in this world.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Going to church or dwelling in Truth?

Matt 7: 21, 21-24

Matthew chapter 7 is a very interesting chapter.  It’s kind of a “Cliff notes” of the Christian walk.  We start the chapter with an important directive, “Don’t judge people or you will have judgment heaped on you.”  Then we go into, “Don’t cast pearls before swine.”  We are told to ask, knock and seek.  We are reminded that the path to holiness is a narrow one.  Then we are told how to spot false prophets (fake people in general.) All that brings us to today’s readings in which we are told about self-deception, and the difference between someone really walking with Him and doing what he asks, and those who pay only lip-service.  This is how we wrap up chapter 7.  Jesus tells us, time and time again, that among the church there will be tares among the wheat and this is another of those times.  He straight says to the people in verse 21: "Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  If that isn’t intimidating enough he goes on to say in 22 and 23  22Many will say to me on that day, 'LORD, LORD, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'  

I’ve read that verse dozens of times, and if you are paying attention, that’s pretty sobering stuff.  When I meditate on it, in connection with the previous verses in chapter 7, we begin to see this person/these people as people who took the title of Catholic or Christian as a life style, like cultural clothes.  They sang in the choir, or they were priests, nuns, sacristans, whatever you like….but they didn’t do any of the things asked of us in earlier in the chapter.  Jesus even tells us earlier in the chapter how to discern between this kind of walk, and the true walk of the righteous.  Look at the fruit we bear verse 15:  “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  Now, there we are talking about prophets, but for two reasons I don’t think it’s a huge leap if we apply this as a barometer for what a ‘good’ Christian walk looks like. 

The first reason I think this is applicable to the walk in general is because of what a prophet truly is.   A prophet is a truth teller.  In the modern context we tend to see a prophet as a teller of the future.  That can be true, but if you look at what the prophets of the old testament did most it was tell the truth when lies were societies paradigm.  If you know the truth, then you see the lie for what it is, and in seeing the lie you know (can extrapolate) the outcome.  The outcome of lie is usually destruction of some kind.  People caught in the amber of lie see the truth teller as having some mystical knowledge of the future, because they have been blinded to the outcome of living the lie.  The prophet has grace given wisdom about the lie because they live outside of it inside the truth, so it’s really not a huge leap of understanding to see the outcome.  (If you ever wondered why the prophets of old seem to be a grumpy lot, this would do it.  When the truth seems like common sense to you, and everyone around you is being a jerk and not listening to the truth you have that would save them…that, I think would tend to make one grumpy.)  So, the fruit of the good prophet is truth, which spares us from destruction.  At the same time, the fruit of a true Christian walk is walking in truth, which spares us from destruction.  If we are on a self-destructive path, and bringing people down around us, then we aren’t walking in truth. 

The second reason I think this connects to the walk is because Jesus say in John 15 of a vine grafted onto the true vine, that apart from Him we cannot bear fruit.  So, I think there is a strong case for us seeing not only a prophet but all of us in that context. If Jesus is truth, are we connected to that truth, and if we are we cannot help but bear good fruit. 

And here is the thing, in verse 24-27, Jesus tells us the difference between the two.  It’s a foundational point on which the whole of our walk is based.  24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

He tells us very plainly the difference between those who are in church, and those who dwell in truth.  The people who simply go to church and do the church thing as a cultural part of their life, hear but do not do.  The people who are dwelling in truth, hear and then act on what they hear.  The difference is being around the truth, and living the truth in act and deed.  Those trying to live the truth, even though the storms of life come their faith will sustain them. 

Dr. Kreeft is quoted as saying, “If anyone claims to have met Jesus without being changed, he has not met Him at all.  When you touch Him, you touch lightening.”  I believe this is truth, because I cannot now dwell in a lie and be satisfied.  I cannot be satisfied by simply going to church, as I desire to embody the truth.  In reading today’s Gospel, I can’t help but believe when we have that desire we are on the right path. 

Just some food for thought and prayer….

Heavenly Father, grant me a heart that wishes to dwell and act in Your truth.  Let me hear obey with my words and actions. Let your will and word dwell in me so I do not deceive myself and others, but bear sweet fruit for the Kingdom.  In Jesus name, Amen!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

It's the end of the world as we know it

Lk 21:29-33, Lk 21:34-36, Mk 13:33-37

I’ve lost count now about how many ‘ends of the world’ I’ve lived through, but I can tell you I have never lost even a moment’s sleep thinking about any of them.  Since I came to faith in the Almighty at age 17 I can remember “learned” men telling me from the television that the end is nigh.  And so far our record for living through the end is 100%.  I just shake my head and pray, not only for them, but the people who follow them, who due to their errant doctrines, teachings, and words will lose faith.  I don’t think the people who preach/ teach this are bad people.  I think they have fallen prey to other misinformed teachers, all of which are trying hard and teaching passionately, but who also mistake their portion of truth for fullness.  Because of that, thousands upon thousands are being led astray.  Jesus himself prophesied that this would happen: Luke 17: 23, Matt 24:23, Mark 13: 21, Luke 17: 21, Luke 21: 8.  It has, and for 19.99 they will gladly sell you a book telling you the theories they pass for fact. 

For the price of free, let’s now explore what Jesus has to say about end times.

Luke 21: 29-33

Jesus told his disciples a parable.

"Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.

When their buds burst open,

you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;

in the same way, when you see these things happening,

know that the Kingdom of God is near.

Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away

until all these things have taken place.

Heaven and earth will pass away,

but my words will not pass away."

In Friday’s reading we begin with the parable of the fig tree.  Luke 21 is chocked full of times to come prophecy.  In 25-28 He talks about the signs that make men weak fainting with fear which warms us up for 29-33, where He basically equates it with watching for it like we watch for the changing of the season on a tree.  He goes on in the next reading….

Luke 21: 34-36

Jesus said to his disciples:

"Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy

from carousing and drunkenness

and the anxieties of daily life,

and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.

For that day will assault everyone

who lives on the face of the earth.

Be vigilant at all times

and pray that you have the strength

to escape the tribulations that are imminent

and to stand before the Son of Man."

Here I believe He is speaking through time to us and all future generations.  It was and is important, no matter now imminent or not, His return is that we remain non-complacent with our walk with the Father.  In our modern time, as it always has been, it’s easy to become distracted from our walk by the stress, worry, busy, of our daily lives and allow our walks to take the back seat.  We get focused on how we are going to pay our utility bill this month for the massive amounts of Christmas lights we have going, on top of the ton of gifts we have to buy which pulls our budgets well out of the comfort zone.  We allow ourselves to become distracted by that to the point that we literally miss why we are doing any of it at all.  Jesus warns us about this kind of behavior, and I take it a little bit more personally here.  I may not live to see the actual end of the literal world, but one day my world will end as it will for everyone drawing breath right now.  Death comes as suddenly as the end times will eventually come.  Frankly, that’s the end time we need to be most focused on preparing for by not allowing ourselves to become numb by carousing, drunkenness (whether we are drunk by alcohol or some other “comforting” agent), and distracted by anxiety.  He asks us to be vigilant at all times, and pray we have the strength to make it through the worst of any time we as the world, or we personally face. 

Mark 13: 33-37

Jesus said to his disciples:

"Be watchful! Be alert!

You do not know when the time will come.

It is like a man traveling abroad.

He leaves home and places his servants in charge,

each with his own work,

and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.

Watch, therefore;

you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,

whether in the evening, or at midnight,

or at cockcrow, or in the morning.

May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.

What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

Mark 13, like our previous chapter in Luke speaks a lot of the end times as well.  Our reading from Mark, again, asks us to be mindful, pray, and watch because it could happen at any time and will be completely unexpected.  We are to watch without expectation of knowing.  As I said in the earlier paragraph, while this applies to the end of days, it most certainly applies to our personal end day too.  We all must watch and be ready, anytime, anywhere, to meet our Divine Maker. Whether it happens globally, or personally, the point of Jesus warning us is to keep us focused on the fact this is all temporary.  He said in the first reading this very thing.  Everything will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will be forever.  That should be our comfort, and a constant companion in our minds as we wait, not only for His return, but for our return to Him.  Both things promise one thing: It will be the end of the world as we know it, and if we have kept our focus where it needs to be: we will be fine.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, please grant me the grace not to be deceived by distracted. Grant me the strength and wisdom to keep my focus on the Eternal and real so that when the end comes I have walked the narrow path back to You.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

lisa brandel

Sunday, November 26, 2017

On what side do you stand?

Matthew 25: 31-46

If today’s gospel doesn’t sober you up, you aren’t paying attention.  It does many things, including putting a pin in the balloon of the grace alone path of salvation.  Yes, we are save by grace given to us through Jesus, but He Himself tells us in this passage that we must cooperate with that by being servants to one another.  All too often we get caught up in the free gifts idea of what it means to be a Christian: Grant me grace, salvation, forgiveness, gifts of the spirit, understanding, and so on and so forth.  Yet, with privileges like that, there comes great responsibility.  A “ME” centric Christianity just doesn’t work.  We had two readings earlier in the week about the master giving his servants talents and how when returned he rewarded those servants who used the money to multiply his kingdom.  The one who hid what he was given was cast away.  We culminate those readings in today’s reading.  Let’s explore this together.

Mt: 25: 31

Jesus said to his disciples:"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,

he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him.

And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left”.

This isn’t the first time this kind of divine shuffling is mentioned.  Matthew 3:12, Matthew 13: 30, Luke 3:17, John 15:2, all of these places in scripture just off the top of my head give us the same allusion.  The divine separating.  In this verse I practice my Ignation meditation skills by closing my eyes and attempting to place myself in this throng of people.  All nations through out all time standing before the majestic throne.  My limited human mind, I am sure, can’t conceive of such a splendorous thing, but even what I can come up with overwhelms me.  If you haven’t tried this kind of scriptural meditation before I suggest this beginning verse as it definitely leaves an impression on just how powerful and motivating it really is.  Then we go on to the next verses.

Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?' And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

This is yet again another sobering verse and when you read this and think on your life I want you to realize something very special and important.  All the people around you that are hurting, lonely, in need, or ill….they are the face of the Almighty himself.  Your friends, enemies, family, and strangers, everyone who has need…they are the Jesus himself.  Obviously, not literally, but in the same breath literally.   I am me, but if you have helped me in my time of need you literally have helped Jesus.  If your mind isn’t blown by that you aren’t paying attention.  I would dare to say that if we could embrace that, really truly embrace and understand that, how we treated EVERYONE would so drastically change the world would transform into something so beautiful and kind that joy would be found everywhere.  I would wager money that the anti-depressant industry would fold overnight, along with half the prisons, illicit drug use, and all the other slave to sin industries that thrive because we constantly hurt and ignore each other.  Jesus is telling us that not only is how we treat each other powerful here on earth it holds ETERNAL power as well.  He is saying that how we treat others is how we have treated HIM.  Let that soak in for a moment before you move to the next verse that makes me ill to dwell in it too long. 

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.' Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.' And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

This verse tells me that a Me-centric Christianity doesn’t work.  We are called to be about each other.  We are called to be His hands in the world, and care for one another as we would care for Him.  In our minds, and actions, we often try to separate the wheat from the chaff by deciding who is worthy of help and who is not, but that isn’t our job.  Our job is to care for those around us without trying to decide if they are worthy of the care, because what we are doing is ultimately for God himself.  Life-style and nominal Christianity doesn’t exist, we are either living this truth, or we are goats.  By our own merit and works we are not saved, only grace does that, but faith without works is dead.  (James 2: 14-26)

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Heavenly Father, allow me to see Jesus and You in those people in need so I may be moved to action by love to serve them as I desire to serve You.  Let my work be about the importance of this, and not about my reward.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What we do versus who we are

Matthew 23: 1-12

I know this is a gospel reading from ten days ago, but through all the readings this is the one that was on my heart to write about today.  When I was brought into the church I nearly wore a mantilla at my confirmation, but then didn’t, because of this scripture.  I had to examine my heart, pray, and humble myself before I began wearing the head covering to church due to this scripture.  I had to make sure that I was doing the right thing, for the right reasons.  In this instance, for me, I was. I wanted to show humility before the Lord, it was scriptural to do, and it wasn’t to show anyone else that “Me-so-holy.”  That was important.

The human ego hasn’t changed much since the time of Jesus, believe it or not, and the behavior of the Pharisees can be found in the church today.  Let’s explore what Jesus said, what it might mean for us, and how we can mindfully apply it to our walk.  It also may help us reveal who our true teachers are, which is also important. 

Matthew 23: 1-4

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,

"The scribes and the Pharisees

have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,

but do not follow their example.

For they preach but they do not practice.

They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry

and lay them on people's shoulders,

but they will not lift a finger to move them.

This, of course, is the essence of hypocrisy that Jesus is describing.  The people he is describing seek titles for power over other people.  They seek control for the sake of control, and do not aid those people they seek to control.  It’s here we get the old saying, “Practice what you preach.”  It’s important that we consider this scripture mindfully for a couple reasons.  If we are in a position of power, in the church or even in the world, it is important that we consider a few things.  The first being, are we in this position because this is God’s will, and what he truly called us to, or alternatively-is this the title we chased for our own glory.  That understanding is the foundation of the rest.  If we can answer that question honestly then we know how the rest is going to pan out for us.  If we sought the title for ourselves then I can almost promise you the rest of our behaviors are going to fall in line with what Jesus describes the Pharisees with, because we aren’t serving the Almighty, we are serving our own ego.  That is not a promise God wants from us.  If we place ourselves high when it’s not truly our place to be then we feel the need/desire to prove we belong there and that is how we become Pharisaical in nature.  Other people won’t notice we are frauds, if we assert our might on them keeping them in bondage to impossible standards.  If we are truly leaders, then we are as Jesus was, servant leaders helping reveal truth and also helping people live the truth.  We can, with examination, discern for ourselves and to a degree those who would teach and lead us, with this scripture what the is truth.  Beware, it is paradigm shifting.  It may mean we have to back away from things or people.  It may mean we have to step down and humble ourselves to release the human glory to obtain true obedience.

Matthew 23: 5-12

All their works are performed to be seen.

They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,

greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'

As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'

You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.

Call no one on earth your father;

you have but one Father in heaven.

Do not be called 'Master';

you have but one master, the Christ.

The greatest among you must be your servant.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;

but whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Before I go on about this, I want to clarify what a phylactery is and why widening it or lengthening tassels is an important picture to understand.  A phylactery (called a tefillin which is still in use in the Jewish religion) is a small leather container worn on the forehead connected to a leather strap which is wrapped around the arm.  It contains a bit of scripture.  It’s worn in morning prayer through the week day and was created as a sign that the Almighty brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt.  ( Exodus 13: 16 and 19, and Deut 6:9 Deut 11:18) The prayer tassels He is referring to are called Tzitzit (Numbers 15:38 and Deut 22:12) They are specially knotted fringes on a prayer shawl.  Each knot is symbolic of something important, and so an extra-long tassel might be to show just how much more observant the wearer happens to be.  If you want to translate this understanding into Catholic, Gentile/Goy, terms you might imagine someone carrying a massive rosary around to show how very prayerful they are.  You may also consider a priest who wears a bit extra for the glamor.  Even as I described in the beginning, a woman who wears head covering for the reason of showing off the humility. 

Jesus puts it plainly.  What they do is not done for the humble reason of obedience to the Lord, but for people to look at them in awe for how ‘holy’ they appear to be.  It’s not just what they/we do it’s why we do it that matters. 

If we want to be a priest, nun, brother, some kind of minister, for the title and honor we think it bestows on us, then we are calling ourselves to temporary glory.  The Lord does not honor that as Jesus explains in this passage.  Whatever we do, we should do it humbly as servants, for nothing other than the peace obedience brings. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Heavenly Father, show me where I work for my own glory so I may rectify my actions and make of myself an obedient servant that pleases you.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me,

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Turning down a free banquet

Luke 14:15-24 and Rom 12:5-16ab
I have to admit I got a little chuckle out of today’s Gospel reading because I applied it to the modern mindset. 

Jesus is using something very primal to describe the invitation to Him, the Father, and Heaven.  It’s not something we even have to put into historical context, we can wrap our minds around it in completely modern understanding.  A rich man throws a feast and then invites everyone to come for free food.  Let’s pause for a moment.  Free. Food.  Literally a banquet.  Food all prepped up, probably some entertainment, wine…an absolutely free party.  All you have to do is come.  So, what happens….

Well, we see as the gospel unfolds, that the people invited give a list of excuses.  They purchased property, they got oxen, they got married.  All of which, if the person who had been invited had been truly committed and dedicated to going to the party, could have gone and tended to the other things later.  The newly married man could have brought his new wife to meet the host and dine with them.  The other two excuses, well, the property and oxen would still be there after the banquet had they truly wanted to come.  The rich man knows this and that is what/why enrages him.  He sees that these friends disregard the sacrifice and effort he put into the gift of his hospitality and he sees that none of that matters to the people he has invited.  It’s insult and injury, they wounded the master’s heart.

What happens next is allegory for how the goy (gentiles) were invited to share in the Kingdom.  The master calls for the lame, poor, sick, feeble, and stranger so that his house may be filled.  While this is/can be a picture of the evangelization of the pagan nations, we can also apply this to our own personal holiness and walk with the Almighty Father.  We are all called to his Kingdom, because it’s an individual invitation, not a corporate movement. When we do feel that call to follow and obey- how many of us have used some of those very lame justifications to excuse ourselves from going?  Too busy to pray? Too busy for church? Too busy to help your neighbor? Too busy, toobusy,tobizzy,cantdietoobusy.  So, we end up doing our will, and what we think can’t wait, and we miss out on the blessing of the free banquet.  That takes many forms too, not just the eternal.  How many blessings have we missed here on this earth because we were too busy to be obedient?   That’s why it made me chuckle.  We’ll break our necks to get to the breakroom for some store-bought cupcakes, but when the Maker of all things calls us to the eternal banquet suddenly we have to get our “to do list” done right this second.  As a people, we have not changed from that time to this. 

Now, what happens and how should we be if we do accept the Master’s invitation? Glad you asked, because our reading today in Romans helps us with that. 

We accept the invitation to the party and we get the image that there is one party and many partiers.  The party is the body of Christ, the Church, and within the church there are many parts.  (Hint, we are those parts.)  Each part, for coming to the party, has been given gifts by grace. Here is the catch, yes there is a catch, we are supposed to actually use these gifts at the party to make the party better. 

Romans talks about the Church body and gives us, once again, the charge to love and take care of each other, not by our own power, but using the gifts of the Almighty. 

Romans 12: 5-16

Brothers and sisters:

We, though many, are one Body in Christ

and individually parts of one another.

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,

let us exercise them:

if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;

if ministry, in ministering;

if one is a teacher, in teaching;

if one exhorts, in exhortation;

if one contributes, in generosity;

if one is over others, with diligence;

if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be sincere;

hate what is evil,

hold on to what is good;

love one another with mutual affection;

anticipate one another in showing honor.

Do not grow slack in zeal,

be fervent in spirit,

serve the Lord.

Rejoice in hope,

endure in affliction,

persevere in prayer.

Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,

exercise hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you,

bless and do not curse them.

Rejoice with those who rejoice,

weep with those who weep.

Have the same regard for one another;

do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.

Boiling that down to the most basic understanding here is what we are to do and be:  Obedience, love, blessings, serving, equality.  If your gift is to teach, then teach, and don’t see yourself as superior or more important than those whose gifts are different.  Instead, find a way to teach them so they can learn to use their gift more effectively.  Be who you are, who God made you to be, in his Kingdom and that edifies those who need to be who they are as well and trust that their gifts and service will lift you up too. 

We are one.  Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  This is the party we are called to attend and the favor we are given. 

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Heavenly Father, I have heard the invitation of your call and I am coming to you!  Show me who I am in the body of your Church and guide me to use these gifts to glorify You and edify your people. Let me not be haughty, but always humbly obedient to your will.  In Jesus name, AMEN!

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Forsaken, unharmed, sacrificed- What a difference a word makes.

I was reading the Psalms the other day and came upon Psalm 22 when I had an “AH-HA” moment.  For years, I’ve contemplated the meaning of what the Messiahs words on the cross were, including “Eli Eli lama sabachthani.”  When I was a protestant, it was explained to me that in that moment, with that cry, that the Almighty had turned his back on Jesus so He would never have to turn His back on us.  As poetic and profound as that sounds my mental reply was, “Meh, mebbe.”  It wasn’t satisfying to me at all, since, to me, it implies disunity in the trinity.  Something just didn’t jive.  When I read Psalm 22, I thought I had finally figured it out: Jesus was praying the Psalm of David.  The opening line of Psalm 22 is “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.”  It’s the same, right?  No, no, it isn’t.  The Hebrew here is: Eli Eli lama azavthani. 

The suffix of both words are thani, which means “To do this to me”.  Azavthani literally means forsaken me, while sabachthani means sacrificed me.  So, why did we end up saying “Forsaken”.  Get ready for this: Luther changed it for azavthani or interchangeably shebakthani (Shebak appears several times in scripture Ezra 6:7 and in Daniel, and means to leave unharmed and is also a Chaldean word.) While Zabach or Sabach is well known in Hebrew scripture as sacrifice. 

None of those words are interchangeable.  We literally have: forsaken me, leave me unharmed, and sacrificed me.   We also can’t pick, choose, and change what Jesus said.  Putting words into His mouth to fit our belief makes our belief based in a lie.  The funny thing is, Luther changed it and then tried to explain the cognitive and spiritual dissonance the change caused.  So did Calvin.  The truth is that none of the prophecies point to the Messiah being forsaken by God.  They do point to His being sacrificed.  All of the animal sacrifices made in atonement throughout the temple age pointed to the act of the Messiah for ultimate atonement.  Nothing about the prophecies of the Old Testament (Tanach) indicate that the Messiah would be abandoned.  In fact, St. Paul in our scripture points out in Acts 2: 31 that he was not abandoned in death. 

Matthew 27:26 About three in the afternoon ( the 9th hour) Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"  Understanding that at the 9th hour the second Tamid lamb was sacrificed, this is also called the hour of confession, and connecting that with Jesus’s cry makes a lot more spiritual sense than saying forsaken.  As far as why he cried out that particular thing, well, it only took me 20 or so years to really begin to understand what it said.  I don’t know if I have twenty more to understand the complexity of what he was actually crying out, but I know the answer I will give to his cry.  “So all who are lost may be reconciled, washed, made clean, and adopted into the Kingdom, which will have no end.” 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Don't trust yourself until the day you die

Mt 22:34-40, Ex 22:20-26

The Almighty Father has been saying the same thing to us since the dawn of time, and Sunday’s readings reminded me of this again.  As for the title of this blog, well, as much as I’d like to take credit, it comes from-in my opinion-one of the greatest Jewish Rabbis, Rabbi Hillel (Hillel HaGadol, Hillel the Elder). Who also is famously quoted as saying, “"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."  Which, if we are paying attention, is the sum up and call to action, of both our Exodus and Matthew readings.

Exodus 22: 20 begins thusly: "Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”  It almost always amuses me that God must remind us to be people we needed when we were in hardship.  In fact, all the angst that people have about why bad things happen to good people should be answered right there in this understanding.  Even when we have endured some suffering, after the suffering is over we have to be reminded to treat other people who still are suffering nicely.  Can you imagine how heartless we might be, if we had never suffered at all?  So, I would think that sometimes we endure suffering just so we aren’t insufferable.  Small price, really.  As Catholics, we are taught that there is a redemptive quality to suffering which also makes sense in this context since it seems we need to be reminded not to be neglective jerks to people in pain, which leads us to acting in the obedience of loving one another, and obedience brings us closer to holiness.  Make sense?  I hope so, but I tend to doubt it because people far better and smarter than me have been saying the same things for thousands of years and we still don’t seem to be able to get a hold on this. 

As the Exodus verses go on God gets more detailed and levels more than a couple parental threats, along with trying to make us think about our actions as they could relate to our own lives.  You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your  children orphans.  If we pay attention God is asking for us to protect the most vulnerable people of society at the start of this verse.  He then promises He will intercede if we do.  Then he says there will be consequences if we disobey, and tries to evoke compassion/fear by making us think about our own loved ones in the same situation. 

Continuing in Exodus: "If you lend money to one of your poor neighbors among my people, you shall not act like an extortioner toward him by demanding interest from him. If you take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this cloak of his is the only covering he has for his body. What else has he to sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will hear him; for I am compassionate."  The same pattern  as the beginning of our reading.  We are told not to do this thing, reminded of compassion and holy fear, told there are potential consequences if we don’t act accordingly. It’s not nuclear-rocket-brain surgery-science, it’s very simple.  Hillel sums it up eloquently in the quote attributed to him at the beginning of my writing, which ties together with our Gospel reading.

The Pharisees (the people who are supposed to know the Torah and Law better than anyone) ask: When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

Jesus replies: He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything that the Torah had been trying to teach is summed up in that, in the order it needed to happen.  God is love and the origin of love, if we do not place him first then we fail from the start.  We cannot begin to do the second without doing the first, it’s impossible.  The foundation of the second part must come from first loving God.  At the same time, we cannot claim we do the first thing without then doing the second.  That too is impossible.  Loving each other is/should be a natural consequence of first loving God in the way Jesus describes in his answer.  This is why they are the two greatest commandments.  Without these two things everything else is the beating of a hollow gong. 

To sum it up, and explain at last why I titled this writing the way I did, we cannot trust that we will do that every day until our very last, because that’s what it is..a daily choice.  The devil may be in the details, but God is found in this simplicity.  We cannot, apparently, learn once to love God and each other, or our scripture would be just one page with that written boldly in the center.  That’s all we’d need.  Instead, we have the whole of scripture, thousands of books of apologetics, and billions of words detailing it all out so we can make the minute by minute, action by action choice to do those two things.  And we can’t trust that we will or have until we are dead, because that is the living dynamic act of being a saint in training. 

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel

Friday, October 27, 2017

The beatings will continue until moral improves-Reformation

Mark 9: 38-40

38John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40“For he who is not against us is for us. 41“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

 The reformation is a personal topic to me, for several reasons.  The first of which is because I am a convert, and if you trace my lineage back you’ll find on one side of my family that we came to America as Quakers and our names can be found on the first Quaker church in Philadelphia. My family was a small part of the reformation.   The second is that because I have converted, people who loved me now shun me as they believe I have gone in league with the literal devil.  Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but it’s caused me to have to love God and be more obedient to him than I am to those people who shun me.  It’s not as easy as it sounds when you don’t have much in the way of a family or support system, but obedience to my call-comfortable or not-has to be more important because Jesus said in Matthew 10: 36-38 that we are to love God more than we love the members of our own house.  That means we need to be obedient to His call more than the opinions of others.  Not always easy or comfortable, but needed if we are to live a Holy life.  All that in mind, the reformation and church divides are deeply personal to me. 

As I contemplated writing this, the above bible verse came to mind.  Before we explore it let’s talk numbers.  Right now, as you read this there are at least 50 types of “Independent Catholic” sects.  Those are groups that identify themselves as Catholic, with some kind of twist.  These are not recognized as Catholics by the Catholic church but they consider themselves practicing Catholics.  There are twenty four Eastern Rite Catholic churches, who are recognized by the Pope, but have their own leader.  They are in communion with the Roman Church, but that hasn’t always been the case.  There has been schism between the Roman and Eastern Churches before.   There are 22,000 independent Christian sects and 9,000 protestant sects give or take.  In other words, the church is shattered.  But it’s not enough that it’s shattered, we have to fight and judge each other and keep shattering.  It’s happening now even in the Roman church, where people are infighting and talking of schism.  All of it reminds me of the few concise words the Apostles speak in the first verse of my scripture reading, “There are people preaching in your name and we tried to stop them.”  The tremendous ego of the apostles cracks me up in that simple phrase.  I imagine a bunch of ticked off men pouting that only they were allowed to talk about Jesus.  It’s one of those moments that if you read it you can’t doubt that scripture was written by men with divine inspiration, because if I was an apostle I’d have been tempted to write myself a little less arrogant in that moment, but no they are Adam naked and very real. 

The problem with the shattering is that as Jesus said in Mark 3:24-25 that a house divided against itself cannot stand.  We have seen 500 years of that proof as a few factions became many became what we have today in the tens of thousands of shattered pieces.  I’ve seen and experienced a protestant church split over some problem or what amounts to a tiny doctrinal issue.  Half the church goes one way, the other founds another kind of church.  We are straining gnats out of the milk of the Gospel and swallowing entire herds of camels, and if we boil it down to the most essential reason it happens because we (individual or in small collectives) can’t imagine that anyone else might be more knowledgeable or authority than we are/do.  We are the ultimate authority over whatever matter we are wrapped around the axel about, which can be categorized as….rebellion.  Rebellion is an insidious sin, because we oft times don’t see it as that, we merely see ourselves as invincibly correct. 

Scary stuff, especially if you consider that Mark 9: 42 Jesus says, 42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”  So if we think we are right, and convince others we are too and they follow us we are going to be held accountable. 

I imagine Jesus knew this time was coming though because we are human, and even the men who got to walk with him directly did the same thing we are doing to each other today.  He tells us in Mark 9: 39-41 how to handle it all, and it’s no different than he tells us how to handle each other in general, because He understands something we humans don’t seem to be able to grasp-that is that you can’t fix a glass with a hammer.  So the truth is, if they are for Jesus then they are not against us, and if they aren’t against us why are we fighting them?  When we live our faith, our truth, and do so in love of God first and to act as God’s hands in the world as we are supposed to, then the truth of God attends to itself.  It is then we become obedient witnesses to others, whether they are believers or not.  We can’t keep living the “Beatings will continue until moral improves” philosophy and expect to put the glass back together. 

Now, for my protestant brothers and sisters, who believe church unity, or one unified Christian church is the vehicle for the apocalypse and the beasts religion, let me explain something.  The enemies church isn’t going to talk about Jesus, or contrition, or grace, or agape love, or serving God by serving one another.  That church is going to preach the gospel of self, of us not needing God, of pleasure above servitude, of self-determination, and that there is no truth beyond what we create.    Summed up the foundation of that “church” system will be laid on the concept of “Do as thou wilt.”  That should sound familiar to everyone with an eye to see, as it is the pervading darkness that is creeping over the world as we waste time fighting each other. 

It’s time to call for healing.  It’s time to draw together as the Bride we are meant to be.  We cannot change what happened 500 years ago, and we can’t fix it with the same thinking we used to create the fracture.  It’s time to pray for a renewal of unity to drive out the encroaching darkness.

Just some food for thought and prayer…

Heavenly Father, you asked us to Love each other as you loved us, and we have failed.  I ask for your forgiveness for my part in that, and guidance in how to be the light the world needs for your glory and the good of all your Holy Church.  In Jesus name, Amen! 

Here I am, Lord, send me!

Lisa Brandel