Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011: "The Light's in our eyes"

Isaiah 52:7-10
John 1:1-14

Merry Christmas!  Your presence in worship on this holy of Holy Days, Christmas on a Sunday, is a testament to that which you know to be true.  You have seen the Light, and you have rejected the darkness of the world to come into that Light for all to see.  You have rejected the temporary, yet constantly changing and exhausting demands of the world and have sought sanctuary in the reality of the eternal Holy.  You have defied the will of the dominant culture and have ascended to something greater and longer lasting.  By choosing to worship our Lord today, you have made your God and Father primary rather than incidental because you have come to realize our Holy Father really does not ask much of us; and you have taught your children a valuable lesson.

Christmas is old news to the world that has over the years come to be taken for granted, but we notice that in the last few years an unbelieving world seems to be pushing back in resistance.  By the looks of it, it would appear the pagans are trying to reclaim a solstice that once was theirs and into which the early Church inserted the Mass of the Christ in an effort to reach them, in an effort to SHARE THIS GOOD NEWS of the birth of Messiah to a new generation and culture!  It is the same glorious story told over and over to every generation, and yet it is a story that should not get old.  It is that time of year almost everyone looks forward to because there is something magical about the whole thing.

Why, then, does it have to end?  I think it is because the Light begins to reveal something we would prefer to stay in the dark and hidden away.

Christmas is the season of revelation when we celebrate something we cannot begin to imagine but have spent the past 2000 years trying to explain: the Holy God of all creation revealing Himself in the perfection of humanity by coming to us as a Child into the very world spoken into existence by His Word; yet being revealed as that same "Word made Flesh", He found Himself rejected by His own creation.  This was expressed by St. John some 2000 years ago and is strangely and sadly relevant and equally true even today.  Only this time it is not the Jews to whom John refers.

I remember a funny story (written by Paul Lee Tan, "Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations") in which the late president Calvin Coolidge had returned home from worship early one Sunday afternoon.  His wife had been sick and unable to attend, but she wanted to know what the pastor had spoken about in his sermon.  Mr. Coolidge responded, "He talked about sin".  His wife pressed him for more details, so Mr. Coolidge was said to have responded: "I think he was against it."

The Church does not seem to like talking about "sin" much anymore (it's so negative and somewhat "offensive"); some traditions come dangerously close to suggesting that sin no longer exists for the Christian.  We are a nation - and even a Church - fixated on being "politically correct" so as to be as inoffensive as possible.  I agree to a certain extent because there is no good to come from inflicting harm or being offensive just because we can, and I think St. Paul would agree as well that it is preferable we at least show some common courtesy and basic respect toward one another even as it pertains to religious beliefs: "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with everyone" (Romans 12:18).  St. Paul further states, "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.  [So] if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love.  Do not destroy with food the one for whom Christ [also] died" (Romans 14:14-15).

Let us be clear, however.  St. Paul is not talking about "food"; he is talking about something much more profound, of much greater substance and consequence.  There is a practicality to our faith and the practice of our religion that demands daily acquiescence to the certain knowledge that we do not have to be "right" in order to be "righteous", but we must act within a certain level of consciousness that demands attention to be paid to others besides ourselves.  For instance, we are aware of the so-called "seven deadly sins".  Mahatma Gandhi, however, had his own list of "deadly sins" that should pique the conscience of every right-thinking human person regardless of religious affiliation: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, politics without principle, and worship without sacrifice.

It has been said so many times and in so many ways that we cannot appreciate the power of - or even the "need" for - a Savior until we can appreciate the power of sin itself; for if sin does not exist or is just not that big of a deal, there is no need of the Savior and Jesus is nothing more than a philosopher.  It has been said that "because of sin man has taken the deity out of religion, the supernatural out of Christianity, the authority from the Bible, the Lord out of education, morality and virtue out of literature, beauty and truth out of art, ethics out of business, and fidelity out of marriage" (author unknown).  So if there is no sin for which atonement is required, Jesus was just a prophet; just a teacher.  And His painful death little more than an act of injustice and mob violence - which is nothing new or special.

One need only to have an honest look around - in and outside the Church - to know this all to be painfully true.  And if such things can be said to be "going a bit too far", for instance toward censorship, then we understand - or should understand - that the birth of the Christ is overblown and that Jesus was nothing more than another preacher in a long line of preachers who was murdered for calling people of faith back into the fold of that faith - AND - calling "sin" out for what it really is.    

When we allow this profound disconnect between "sin" and "salvation", we diminish - or eliminate altogether - the role of the Holy Son in the Holy Trinity.  It is a falsehood to suggest that Christmas means different things to different people; this is perhaps the single, greatest deception of all time!  It is not unlike Jesus speaking to His disciples about false prophets and false messiahs in Matthew 24.  There have been many before, and there will be many more to come.  People have been and will continue to be willingly misled by such false promises as "worship without sacrifice" because such reasoning gives us an excuse to step away.  It denies that Ultimate Sacrifice made with Christ's own Blood and simply says Jesus died in vain; for there was no sin for which to atone.

Whether the unbelieving world will admit it or not, we all have a desperate need to know what Christmas really means.  And it can only mean ONE THING: "The Lord so loved the world that He gave His only Son ..."  And my guess is that if we knew - REALLY KNEW - what the birth of Messiah means to the entire world, there would be NO CHURCHES CLOSED ON CHRISTMAS DAY regardless of what day of the week Christmas falls on!  If we really could understand and appreciate our desperate need for a Savior, churches would be open each morning so the faithful could prepare themselves AND ONE ANOTHER for the day ahead - AND - the churches would reopen at noon for the faithful to recharge for the afternoon - AND - reopen again in the late afternoon so the faithful could prepare for the evening's challenges and give thanks for all that day brought forth.

But we don't.  We don't because we have mistakenly pushed aside the "Word made Flesh" in favor of the world of flesh.  We have chosen not "two sides of the same coin" in works of piety and works of mercy; we have chosen another coin altogether.  We have decided against following the Light of Christ and have chosen instead to turn in another direction - because that "Light" is just getting in our eyes.

In the name of the Holy Father, the Holy Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Thought

“We have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first; that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  2 Peter 1:19-21

I am more and more convinced that part of the mystery of Scripture, those parts most of us find difficult to understand, is in reminding us of our need for the Lord.  After all, how much need for the Lord could there be if we could figure out all things, all mysteries, for ourselves?  But we must also be very careful in that familiar saying, “The Bible means different things to different people”.  I would agree that the Bible in general is either important for some people or it is not, but to suggest the Lord says one thing to person A but a whole different thing to person B from the same biblical passage can be dangerous. 

To be sure, we will interpret what we read according to many factors; among these being our level of spiritual development as well as where we happen to be in our lives at any given time.  This is also why group Bible studies are so important to the disciple.  We often need to be brought back to earth by the perspectives of other believers lest we take something entirely off the wall from Scripture that can lead us far off the path of righteousness.

In the end it is about “reverence”, not “scholarship”; it is about “righteousness”, not being “right”.  Some of the most educated atheists and agnostics I know are as well versed in Scripture as they are in classical literature or poetry; they know well what they have read, but it has no real meaning for them.

Consider the difficult passages of Scripture to be divine “whispers” by which we are compelled to draw closer to the Lord so that we may hear Him more clearly, for it is this intimate encounter that makes our Lord real.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Thought

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  G.K. Chesterton

Jesus never promised us an easy path; in fact He taught that the difficult and dangerous path was the road less traveled but the one that would lead us where we need to go.  Too many, however, believe they have found an alternate path that is much easier and less challenging and have therefore scoffed at Jesus’ very words. 

The Holy Day season is no less the challenge especially for the Church.  To stay focused on what is really important with all the commercial distractions is probably what makes Christmas much more the challenge than Easter!  We must stay tuned into the only Promise we can count on, the only Promise that actually came to fruition, the only Promise that committed to showing us the way Home – before that Promise was destroyed by those who chose an alternate route. 

Our Lord has been given the “keys” to every door we need to enter through.  Only those who are committed to His path will find the way home.  We must not allow the world to distract us, and we must NEVER allow anyone or anything to convince us an easier way has been discoverd.  That way simply does not lead to the Promised Land.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

3rd Sunday of Advent: Beyond the End of the Nose

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
John 1:6-8, 19-28

"Among you stands One whom you do not know, the One who is coming after me."                   - St. John the Baptist, John 1:26b, 27a

"Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me ... [yet] truly do I [also] tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me." Jesus the Christ, Matthew 25:40, 45

"Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  Jesus the Christ, Matthew 28:20

So the big question is this: Is the Christ to "return", or can it be equally stated that He never really left?  There is no denying the Resurrection just as there can be no reasonable denial of the Ascension when the apostles witnessed for themselves the Lord being "carried up into heaven" (Luke 24:51b).  But we also remember that awesome Day of Pentecost when the promised "Helper", the Holy Spirit came down and the Church born; when "there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind [that] filled the entire house where [the apostles] were sitting.  Divided tongues as of fire appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them" (Acts 2:2-4).

We continue the spiritual journey begun that day through Advent not as a countdown to a Holy Day commemorating what has already taken place, but rather as a continuing spiritual assessment of whether we the Church have properly maintained and defended the fine tradition of St. John the Baptist in having adequately "prepared the way of the Lord" - OR - if not, what we must be prepared to do as we remember not only to celebrate that great and awesome day when Heaven touched the Earth but to remember that the Promised Land of the Kingdom which is to come is still just beyond the horizon.  If we are to continue to be the Body of Christ redeemed by His blood, it is necessary that we continue the spiritual journey and resist the temptation to call it "good" and "done" come December 26.     

Yet this is exactly what will happen for many because fatigue will finally settle in.  We have all seen the energy so many put into preparations for the coming Holy Day, and I honestly cannot think of a better time than for Christmas to fall on Sunday because, quite frankly, a good Sabbath rest will be in order.  There is also no more appropriate thing to do than to worship the Lord on His very special day which, if we think about it, is truly a marvelous day for all of humanity.  As we are reminded in the lighting of today's candle, we anticipate with great JOY that something wonderful is upon us!  And we look forward in joyful anticipation because everything we are excited about and can be excited about is that which has yet to be revealed - just like an unwrapped Christmas gift!

The question remains, however.  Did the Lord ever really "leave" so much so that His return is something we anticipate, especially when while He walked among us He taught us such profound lessons - AND - gave His Church the certain Promise that He will "always" be with us?  When we are baptized, when we make a profession of faith, when we are confirmed in the Church, and when we repent of our sinful ways and obvious mistakes; we are aligning ourselves with Christ and are making that public confession so that we speak in His behalf, we act in His behalf, and we bear witness to that which we know to be true.  This, my dear friends, is the Church, the Body of Christ.  

The Spirit of the Lord continues to teach us and to guide us, that very essence of the Holy God and Father who reassures us when we doubt, who comforts us when we are afraid, and even jerks a little knot in our spiritual tails when we get a little too full of ourselves or stray too far off the path of the righteous journey.  The Holy Lord promised Joshua that as long as he remained faithful to the Law which had been imparted to Moses, as long as he "meditated on the Law day and night", as long as he did not add to or take away from that which has been written, the Lord promised that "I will not fail you nor forsake you" ... and ... "I am with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:5-9).

I think it is safe and a faithful thing to be able to say with confidence that the Lord is with His beloved Church.  It is a wonderful and reassuring comfort to know with certainty that as long as we follow the Lord faithfully and "meditate on His word day and night", and as long as we do not "add to or take away from" the Word of the Lord, He "will not fail [us] nor forsake [us]".  And let's face it: there are many days when so many of us have our doubts for this one simple reason: we see with our eyes and hear with our ears that evil appears to flourish - in and outside the Church.  Even the so-called "Occupy" movement has captured the attention and imagination of many because whether we agree with these people or not, we can see how excess wealth can so easily corrupt. 

We've known it all along, but we have been conditioned to turn a blind eye to it because it no longer shocks us.  We've just learned to work around it.  And if we are to be honest with ourselves; as long as we are doing ok personally, we just don't get that fired up.  It is not until we lose our own jobs or our own homes or when our own investment portfolios begin to shrivel that we finally appreciate the gravity of the situation.  It is like the saying that came from Nazi Germany attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller: "When the Nazis came for the communists I remained silent, for I was not a communist.  When the Nazis came for the social democrats I remained silent, for I was not a social democrat.  When they came for the trade unions I did not speak out, for I was not a trade unionist.  When the Nazis came for the Jews I remained silent, for I was not a Jew.  When they finally came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

Pastor Niemoller took a lot of heat from German citizens - and ended up imprisoned by the Nazis - because he refused to let himself or the nation of German citizens and especially Christians off the hook who had turned a blind eye to the atrocities of their day.  They knew what was going on, but it was safer for them to pay homage to the Fuhrer than to admit that evil flourishes when decent people remain silent.  As long as the Nazis were not coming for them, as long as they had jobs and money, there was no problem.  This narrow mindset is called "not looking beyond the end of your own nose", and it is a travesty when Christians allow themselves to get so caught up in such narrow visions without remembering Christ's own words: "Whatever you do (or don't do) for the least of these, you do (or don't do) for Me."

The magnitude of evil, however, is overwhelming.  It is not until we are actively engaged in such spiritual warfare that we can finally and completely appreciate the raw power of evil, and then finally realize our own limitations in the face of such evil.  Yet even when evil seems to triumph, when evil seems to get its own way, and when we finally realize that evil itself cannot be stopped by humans alone; we remember the Lord's assurance to the prophet Isaiah that the coming Day of the Lord will be "the DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD" (Isaiah 61:2).  Evil will finally have its comeuppance and will face the full fury and wrath of our Holy Father.

Until that glorious Day, then, the faithful Church waits; but we wait with the joyful knowledge and assurance of faith that until that time when the Trumpet shall sound, our Lord has assured us that He will not "fail nor forsake" those who pursue Him relentlessly and follow Him faithfully.  Yet until that Day is upon us, the Church must tirelessly announce the coming of the One "whose sandal thong we are not worthy to untie"; the One who did come, the One who was crucified for our sins, the One who will come again.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A Thought

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the House of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”  Luke 1:30-33

There is great anticipation this time of year because we have seen the Light of Gabriel’s witness to Mary.  We also look forward to the family gatherings, the church programs and cantata presentations, and “feel good” Christmas movies.  It is a wonderful time of year when, as stated in a Christmas movie, “We become the kind of person we always hoped we would be.”

We can never get so caught up in our revelry, however, that we forget that this time of year is also one of profound loneliness and depression for those who have lost loved ones, for those who have no family to speak of, for those who continue to struggle in this challenging economy and – above all else – those who do not yet believe that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son …”

Let the Light of Christ shine forth in all we do this Holy Day season.  Let us be the messengers of Glad Tidings as Gabriel was to Mary, and let us receive this Good News as joyously and as reverently as Mary did.  This is the true witness of the Church.

Monday, December 05, 2011

2nd Sunday of Advent - Striving to be found

2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

It has often been said that the apostles seemed to believe the Lord would return to establish His Kingdom during their lifetimes.  It would likely have been incomprehensible for them to think that some 2000 years later, the Church would still be found waiting (can we think 2000 years ahead??).  I think, then, they would have appreciated that the Church sometime in the 5th-6th century would move to establish the practice and season of Advent as a means to help the Church to not take the coming Day of the Lord for granted and to help the faithful to "prepare the way of the Lord [and] make His paths straight."

Yet here we are some 2000 years later talking about something that is as inconceivable to us as any other thing we can imagine; the End of the World, the End of Days, the End of Time, the Day of the Lord.  Advent was much simpler when we were children because it was merely a countdown to Christmas and Santa Claus.  Once December 26 hit the mark, it was all over.  No more fuss, no more muss, no more PRESSURE!  Put everything away, give it not another thought, and wait until next year.  As adults and mature Christians, however, we can no longer do this, of course, because even though we appropriately celebrate and commemorate the birth of the Christ Child we cannot rest on our laurels because the Day of the Lord - His imminent return - is still upon us.  Our Lord compels us to never, ever take Him for granted. And yet we do.

It is fascinating to read the account of John's ministry as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy because of the way the acclamation and public response are portrayed.  "John ... appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And the people from the WHOLE JUDEAN COUNTRYSIDE and ALL THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM were going out to him ..."  The accounts make it sound like the entire nation all but shut down so everyone could go to the river to repent, be baptized, and thus "flee from the wrath to come" (Luke 3:7).    

Advent makes this same proclamation and call to repentance as the means by which to "prepare the way of the Lord" who, according to our doctrine and theology, will certainly return; but the response even within the Church is tepid and lukewarm at best.  It's just another mark on the calendar that ends December 25 after the last package from under the tree is unwrapped and tossed aside.  We are unable and sometimes perhaps unwilling to see beyond that calendar date.  Besides, we're already baptized in a tradition that also states "we believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins", and the contemporary Church is being virtually overrun by the notion that there is nothing left to do except "get saved"; and once "saved", the journey is complete.  Oh, there will be the so-called "C & E" Christians who will faithfully show up for Christmas and Easter Sunday services whether they want to or not, but there is no general spike in worship attendance and participation during Advent.  So why the urgency now?  What else is there to do?  Where is the sense of urgency and anticipation which seemed to have existed during the time of John the baptizer?  Has the Return of the Lord somehow become "old news"?

Maybe we would do well to consider Advent in the same way we consider a prior notice of guests coming to our homes.  Who does not jump through hoops to make sure everything is "just so" before guests arrive?  Or better yet: how do you prepare your home when you know your MOTHER-IN-LAW is coming?!?!  Well, this changes everything!  And while we can certainly believe the Lord will be far more merciful than mothers-in-law during the "inspection tour", would it not do well for us to put at least as much attention on "preparation" for the Lord's arrival as we would for some other guest - or our MOTHERS-IN-LAW??

St. Peter urges the faithful to "strive to be found by Him".  The psalmist says the Lord "will speak peace ... to those who turn to Him in their hearts" (Psalm 85:8).  So it seems to me the Scriptures indicate that the ones who will be "found" by the Lord are those who are found in the Last Day engaged in those means of grace by which we are actively - and not incidentally -"striving to be found" (rather than striving against one another) and "turning to Him" (rather than turning away those who need our help or those who disagree with us).  We would be ill-advised to disregard the judgment of the "sheep" and the "goats" from Matthew 25:31-46, for the journey is far over.

Yet the Church universal is in a state of decline and has been for two generations.  We can blame this faction or that element or this doctrinal dispute or that political issue for the decline, but if one denomination is having a problem - and they all are to one extent or another - then the Church herself is having a problem.  Each is striving in its own way and within its own understanding of what it means to be actively engaged in the struggle to complete the Journey as faithfully as possible, and many within every denomination are stumbling. 

Some have chosen to strike out on their own, believing (or claiming to believe) that the Church is only impeding their personal spiritual growth - or that the Church has done far more harm than good.  In the end, then, it seems they do not want to be found "striving"; they only want to be found in the Last Day having been "saved" at some point in the past.  It is incumbent upon the Church - that's you and me - to faithfully fulfill the Church's mission and help these many back into the sheepfold, back into the flock and away from the many "goats".  It is necessary for the Church to continue to proclaim the Gospel that invites - rather than judges - and it is necessary for the Church to remind these many who have pulled away by "blaming" someone or something that the Church is weakened by their absence and the journey made much more burdensome for the many who need genuine spiritual help.

It is easy to see that patience for this coming Day of the Lord is wearing thin and the Church is losing - or has already lost - her focus by paying more attention to political issues than spiritual ones.  The Church seems more intent on being socially respectable rather than doctrinally faithful and if this is so, then perhaps what Peter is challenging the Church to do is to shift her focus from the here-and-now and put the spiritual spotlight back where it belongs: on what is to come.  "Regarding the patience of our Lord as salvation", according to what Peter wrote, could be construed as suggesting the Lord will NOT return to rescue His faithful or establish His Kingdom until the faithful get it right; until we prove to the Lord that HE alone is our focus, that HE alone is our salvation, that HE alone is our prayer.  Until we make this choice, until we make this our priority, perhaps it is He will leave us to languish, watch, and wait for yet another 2000 years.

It is impossible and counterproductive, of course, to try and outthink the Lord and His Coming Day especially when Jesus Himself makes it clear that even HE is not privy to when this Day will occur.  It is also a dangerous and spiritually disingenuous thing to proclaim or use the Last Day as a spiritual threat in any way, remembering that it is the LORD'S DAY and not our weapon of choice; much in the same way we should view and embrace the Sabbath itself as a PROMISE of spiritual restoration.  This, my dear friends, is what we are waiting for.  And for those "striving to be found"?  This they will find - and in abundance.  To His Eternal Glory, and in the Eternity of His Kingdom to Come.  Amen.     

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Faith, football, the Media, and Tim Tebow

"The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God; for it is written, 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.'  ... For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."  1 Corinthians 1:18-19, 21

As a church pastor and lifelong Christian (and, sad to say, part-time disciple), I must freely admit that Tim Tebow's public displays of his affection for our Lord both inspire me and make me a little uncomfortable.  Tebow inspires me to be more vocal and more intentional about the faith that informs my actions and guides my thoughts.  At the same time, my cynical heart is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  You see, I grew up Roman Catholic.  Mine was a very small parish that shared a priest with two other area parishes, and one of the other parishes provided the housing for the pastor.  Needless to say, we did not see him quite as often as that one parish did.  One priest did try to generate interest in a youth group in my home parish, but I do not recall that it lasted long or even went beyond boxing.  And I never - NEVER - was made to feel uncomfortable in any way nor did our parish priests ever try to be alone with any of us kids.  They all did their priestly duties openly and faithfully.

Imagine, then, my utter disappointment when the scandals hit the media so many years later.  Imagine my extreme distress when these scandals were made public at about the time I was trying to reconcile myself with the Church after a long absence.  Imagine my broken heart and utter disgust when while attending Mass at a parish in New Mexico, the parish priest had announced to the congregation that their "portion" of a settlement made in one of the abuse cases came to $$$$ (I don't recall the exact amount - in fact, I think I had an out-of-body experience while this was being announced).  Though I have attended Mass here and there since that time, I had long ago aligned myself with another denomination and eventually became a pastor.

It is not for me to question Mr. Tebow's faith, and it is certainly not for me to decide whether his public displays are appropriate or genuine.  In fact, a recent response Mr. Tebow made to yet another critic drove home his very point: public people don't hesitate to pay homage to spouses, parents, or other men and women who have influenced them and continue to do so.  Why is it so strange to us for Tebow to devote such attention to his relationship with Lord of the Sabbath, the Savior of the world, the "Word made flesh"? Why do even church folk (or maybe it's just me) squirm a little when he makes such a public show of his faith?

Clearly the secular media do not get it.  Tebow gets headlines because he is also a talented athlete in addition to being a faithful Christian.  Listening to some "talking head" news show this morning, they were actually debating about whether Tebow needs to tone down his "religious rhetoric".  What they obviously cannot see - or will not see, according to St. Paul's words to the Corinthians - is that there is nothing rhetorical about what Tebow does and what he believes.  Thus is it not for us, the media, the NFL, or anyone else to decide whether he should "tone it down" anymore than it is anyone's business whether or not the Duggars should maybe tie some tubes and stop making babies.  Isn't it funny that such matters of faith are debated by persons who do not have such a dog in the fight?  Indeed are these really "issues" at all worthy of public debate?

We have to remember this is the same secular media which celebrates its freedom to slander public figures by quoting "unnamed" sources, thus avoiding the scrutiny that may likely bring them very close to charges of libel.  This is the same secular media that will violate your freedoms and mine in pursuit of their freedom of press by camping out on your front lawns and harassing you and your family for a headline or a sound bite, driving you to the point of insanity (ask any celebrity).  This is the same secular media which wants the world to know that a US senator might have been acting inappropriately in a men's room in an airport, but they want to make light of a professional athlete giving glory to the Lord for the success in his life.   

We should expect no less from the secular world.  The Cross is "foolishness", the birth of Jesus is a mythical "fairy tale", and the Day of the Lord when Christ will return is a means by which to keep the "sheeple" in line.  So says a world which lives in utter darkness and celebrates chaos as order.  The people of the Church, however, may look to Tebow not as a point of curiosity but as a man of faith who is excited about his love for our Lord!  The faith of the contemporary Church is tepid and lukewarm at best because church membership (in very general terms, of course) has more to do with hanging out with like-minded people in a common setting.  Genuine, heart-felt worship of the Lord is merely incidental to the gathering. 

This is why so many Christians feel free NOT to attend worship.  There is no spiritually compelling reason to be there.  It is socially respectable to be a member of a local church, but it is a social curiosity to actually put all else aside in favor of every opportunity to worship in community formally and with other believers.  Society would better understand our desire to fish, hunt, play golf, or watch a ball game rather than attend Sabbath worship.  Society, for too many of us, makes the rules and sets the standards; and people of faith fall within those standards and willingly abides by those rules, ironically, in the name of the very grace by which they claim to have been "saved".

The other shoe may well drop on Tebow sooner or later (he is still human, after all), and the "dark world" will only celebrate the hypocrisy of faith.  The people of the Church, however, would do well to remind one another that there is only One who is "good" (Matthew 19:17); and Goodness will always prevail for those who strive for it, embrace it, and actively engage in the relationship to which we are all called.  We are not perfect by any means and we should not try to convince the world of darkness that we are somehow better than they who play in their own waste; we need only remind them of where our hope comes from and why we continue to look heavenward.

A Thought

“He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and yet the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.”                   - John 1:10-11

The visions we have of the Day of the Lord, that Day when He will return to judge the world and call His own home, are big and grand and cataclysmic.  “Coming in clouds”, sending out the angels, and the other apocalyptic visions from The Revelation, Daniel, and Ezekiel seem to make it clear that those who did not believe will be fully, completely, and suddenly convinced; and those who believed in a concept but never fully embraced the Lord as Savior of the World will discover the Truth.  Advent teaches us to prepare always for that Day.

Yet Jesus also reminds us that He is already among us, and He very clearly tells us where He is and who best represents Him in the world even now: those who hunger, those who thirst, those who are naked, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36).  These will be the manner by which the faithful will be judged as “sheep” who followed the Great Shepherd, or “goats” who made their own way.  The Day of the Lord will finally and completely declare to the world those who did and did not receive Him not in a single moment but throughout our entire lives.

Remember today Whose you are.  You have been claimed, and a colossal price was paid for your redemption.  We must live to expect Him and so expect to live in Him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Thought

“’Comfort, O comfort My people’, says your God.  ‘Speak tenderly to [My people], and cry to [them] that [they] have served [their] term, that [their] penalty is paid, that [they] have received from the Lord’s hand double for all [their] sins.’”  Isaiah 40:1-2

This was a message to the people who had endured the pain and humiliation of the Exile, that period when the people of Israel had been driven from their homeland, that period during which the Holy God had turned His back on His people after they had refused to live like His people but had chosen instead to live only for themselves.  They had been punished, they had repented of their rebellion against the Lord, and so they were being sent back home according to the Lord’s Covenant.

We are reminded of the weakness of our humanity and the strength of our desires according to the flesh in such passages, but we are also reminded of the Lord’s enduring affection for His people and – most importantly – His affection for His Covenant, the Lord’s intent to see His Word endure throughout the ages.  Many died in their sin, in their rebellion against the Lord.  That “remnant” of the faithful which was left after the period of the Exile were the penitent few who were allowed to return home and rebuild.

We must remember that the Lord is patient with us as we are with our own children, but even His patience has limits.  More than this, however, is the certain promise that His Word will endure.  Those who embrace this Eternal Word will live for as long as the Word endures!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Breaking Dawn, Part 1: Team Charlie - father of the bride

When the "Twilight" series hit the public by way of the books, my wife jumped in with both feet and has thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  The movies which came later she also enjoyed but like almost every movie based on a book, the movie is usually somewhat of a let-down because there is nuance in the written word that cannot always be adequately expressed otherwise.  This is not to say that all movies based on books are always bad, but it does usually seem to be the case that if the book really was so good the reader should not be in a big state of anticipation for the movie to "finally" come out.  No matter how you slice it, it just will not be the same.  The movie will never - NEVER - be better than the original book.

I have seen all the "Twilight" movies so far because my wife so enjoys them, but I am of the "old school" when it comes to vampires and werewolves.  You know the old vampire: fangs, sleeping during the day in coffins, and turning into bats as the preferred means of travel (rather than running at the speed of light).  And werewolves walked on their hind legs and did not completely take on the appearance of a dog; there was some element of humanness still left in them.  They also did not communicate telepathically nor did they run in packs.  Maybe it's evolution, maybe it's regional.  Who knows?  Just grant to the "Twilight" author a great deal of poetic license and latitude to tell her stories as she wishes.  Who can argue with success??

I believe it was the second installment of the movie series when "Team Edward" (the vampire) and "Team Jacob" (the werewolf) came into being since "Bella" was compelled to choose between the two as her love interest.  Personally I was signed on to "Team Alice" because she's cute, perky, and much friendlier than "Rosalie" (but I never got a t-shirt or a coffee mug to state my preference).  All this changed, however, when the latest movie installment in the series came out and I took my wife to see it.  I have since had a change of heart.  I'm still a fan of "Alice" (though "Rosalie" softened up quite a bit and is clearly pro-life!) but as the father of a bride myself, I am now more appropriately aligned with "Team Charlie".

Nearly every father sooner or later will be forced to let go of his daughter.  I have once and will again.  Some will give their daughters over to be brides of Christ through service in the Church as nuns.  Others may see their daughters hand their lives over to the Lord through missionary work as lay persons in dangerous parts of the world.  Still others, most perhaps, will hand their daughters over to husbands as both will vow in the presence of the Almighty and witnesses to "forsake all others".  Though they do not cease to be sons and daughters, the primary relationship necessarily shifts from parents to spouse.  Mothers usually have a hard time surrendering their sons, but I think fathers have a more difficult time handing over their daughters.  The reasons are many and are as specific and as coherent as the Occupy movement's beef with the 1-percenters (yes, you read sarcasm); we fathers cannot quite put our fingers on the objections, but we know they are there ... and they are real.  We fathers never quite expect, as our daughters enter into this new covenant, that they will be taken completely from us.  They are, though - and perhaps necessarily so.

"Charlie's" frustration in the latest movie installment was as palpable as any emotion I have ever felt.  "Bella", as far as "Charlie" knew, had fallen ill on her honeymoon, and this illness had delayed her return because flying was not a good idea while "Bella" was sick.  So "Charlie" only knew his beloved daughter was not well.  Frustration #1: not being able to "rescue" his daughter in her time of need and being forced to trust the new husband to give her the care and consideration she requires.  However, complications set in for "Charlie" when "Bella" later called to inform him that she would be going to Switzerland to a clinic.  When "Charlie" blew a gasket and insisted on going to Switzerland to see about his child, "Bella" then told him it was more like a "spa" than a clinic in a vain effort to calm him down.  When that did not work, she then told her dad explicitly not to meet her in Switzerland.  Frustration #2 = heartbreak: daddy, you're out.

I am going to try to finish my thoughts without giving away too much of the movie (which I did NOT enjoy after that moment!).  Needless to say, it was in that moment when I became aligned by no choice of my own to Team Charlie; the father of the bride who was told in no uncertain terms that he was then, and would forevermore be, a secondary figure in the new family dynamic. 

It is a harsh fact of life that there can only be one primary relationship especially when it comes to married couples.  Even when children come into the picture, husband and wife must tend to their own relationship intentionally and purposefully even as the new and very dependent little ones vie for attention and much-needed care.  It is sad to say that if children (or any others) do become primary, the relationship between husband and wife is at risk.  Early on, such relationships become even more twisted, convoluted, and challenging when parents and in-laws become overly aggressive in inserting themselves into the married relationship of their children regardless of their noble intentions.  I allowed such an insertion early in my marriage almost to its detriment.  Once a line had been crossed, however, I was left with only one choice: my wife; "forsaking all others".  That is, if I intended to stay married to her. 

So I had been forced to tell my own mother where and when to step off, but the force did not come from my wife; it was the right thing to do.  It came from a situation that began to spin out of control because I tried to maintain two primary relationships.  It should not have come to that, but it did because I did not take my stand early on; and like most parents, my mom did not realize she was injecting herself into the relationship inappropriately.  Worse still, it was I who had allowed my mother so far into the relationship because perhaps I divulged much more information than she was entitled to.  After all, I was a married man who had freely entered into a new covenant of my own, and that life was entitled to substantial privacy.  I was the one compelled by Scripture to "leave father and mother and cling ONLY to his wife".  I had miserably failed at that but because I lacked the sufficient maturity to do the right thing at the time, I very nearly damaged not one but TWO relationships because I failed to embrace my wife as my life.  I failed to realize that two primary relationships are not possible just as Jesus teaches that it is not possible to serve two masters.  

To my knowledge, my married daughter has not become a vampire (I've seen her in sun light; she does not sparkle).  What I do know is that she has entered into a covenant with her husband - a covenant in which no parent is allowed.  So daddy's out.  I will always be the first man in her life who gave her a diamond, but I sincerely hope that in spite of all the mistakes I made that I managed to give her something much more enduring.  It is not easy to let go but as much as her mother and I were trying to prepare her to be an independent and self-sufficient woman, it surely must be that the Lord was also preparing me for the inevitable - that one day she would in some tangible and decisive way actually declare her independence and move on.   

So for as much as I thought I was backing out, apparently I was asserting too much.  So now, like "Charlie", I'll sit by the phone, take what I can get, and be happy with it.  Even when I know something may not be quite right, I have to fight the impulse to correct it for my daughter's sake because she is no longer daddy's girl; she is someone's wife.  Daddy's out.

A Thought

“In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.”  Ecclesiastes 7:14

Each day, whether good or bad, is appointed by the Lord Himself for the Lord’s own purposes.  The author seems to suggest the days we are confronted with are intentionally designed with an element of divine mystery so that rather than getting caught up in trying to control our environments and our days as pleasing to ourselves, we might surrender a significant element of our lives and depend on the Lord for our tomorrow.

Does this mean the Lord micromanages our day-to-day, hour-to-hour activity?  I don’t think so because if this were true, hunger would not exist as the Lord would “force” those with abundance to share abundantly.  There would be no homelessness as the Lord would “force” the faithful to open our homes to strangers.  No, there is something bigger at stake, and it is our willingness to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Lord in our daily living and our day-to-day and hour-to-hour decision-making processes. 

Maybe there would be less hunger and less homelessness and fuller pews on days of worship if the people of the Lord were to truly and fully trust each day as “appointed” by the Lord, good or bad, for the Lord’s own purposes; “prosperity” so that we may have more to share rather than more to hoard or to spend for ourselves on things we do not need, and “adversity” when we get a little too full our ourselves so that we may be humbled back into the Lord’s own purposes.

Let the Lord have this day.  There is something powerful in surrender especially when we realize the Lord truly wants what is best not for “me” personally or “you” personally but for all His beloved, His Holy Church.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

1st Sunday of Advent - 2011

Mark 13:24-37

Advent, from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming”, can be an awkward time for worship planning because many of the Christmas hymns and songs we are familiar with and love to sing speak of the "baby" Jesus, His birth, and all the joyous and hopeful emotions that wondrous event should bring.  The Incarnation of the Christ is among the holiest of Holy Days on the Church's calendar - and rightly so.  We think of the Almighty God, King of all creation whose face even Moses was not allowed to see, and yet this same Almighty God humbled Himself to share in our humanity through Christ so that we may dare hope to one day share in His divinity.  Our journey of faith leads us to that Day.

That Day has yet to be, however.  That is the Day Advent calls us to prepare for.  Indeed, how much preparation do any of us put into getting ready for an event that has already taken place?  How much preparation is required, for instance, in getting ready for a junior prom when one is a senior in college?  How much preparation is necessary for a parade that has already passed by?  How much preparation does it take to get ready for a "sweet 16" birthday party for a child who is about to turn 25?  Advent compels us to remember a glorious past, of course, but Advent also calls us to something wonderful which is still ahead - and THIS, my dear friends, is what Advent calls us to prepare for - not only for the Holy Day of Christmas but far beyond! 

So none of this is to say we should not always - ALWAYS - be mindful of that Glorious Day of Incarnation when the Lord was revealed to us in such a humble way, but that event will not repeat itself except by how we reveal our own faith and joy to the world by what we do as a testament of what He did. 

So - we are called to look ahead for what is to come. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "... in every way you have been enriched in Him, in speech and knowledge of every kind - just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you - so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:5-8). 

The "Day of the Lord", clearly beyond the birth of the Holy Child, the Day which has yet to be revealed but is just beyond the horizon of our journey, an "end" we cannot see and cannot know - and yet we dare to hope as we are commanded by Christ to that "End" to "keep awake!"  In other words, WATCH FOR IT and EXPECT IT as if it will be tomorrow – because that time is imminent!

The speech Mark shares with us follows Jesus' departure from the Temple.  As Jesus and His disciples were leaving the Temple, we are told that "one of His disciples said to Him, 'Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!'  [This disciple was surely amazed at the sheer size of the stones themselves, not to mention the structures these stones created!  That, or he was trying to see how impressed Jesus might be.]  And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down" (Mark 13:1b-2).  In other words, as great and as magnificent as they were they would not last, so don’t get too attached – and don’t be too impressed.  But the Temple must also not be left standing as if it were a meaningless monument.  

It occurs to me that even as we look at what is right in front of us, we can often be trapped in the past by the accomplishment of what we see.  This particular disciple was awed by an accomplishment of man, but he seemed to be confused with the difference between “the end” and “the means” to an end.  We can only imagine the colossal structure the Temple must have been just as we see great buildings even today, including some really magnificent churches.  Sometimes when passing through Little Rock, I take a gander at that great, big, impressive Immanuel Baptist Church which sits right off the interstate in Little Rock or the equally impressive Pentecostal Church that sits right off the interstate in North Little Rock and wonder at the resources spent to make those churches possible as I marvel at the structures.  And yet “not one stone will be left upon another”. 

Like many who have expressed such sentiments, I also cannot help but to think of the hunger and homeless issues that could have been addressed with what was spent - and continues to be spent - for maintenance and utilities alone!  At the same time, our human minds can think of no better way to show the world the majesty of our Lord and create a place worthy of Him because when we enter into the sanctuary of the Lord, "awe" should be foremost in our minds and hearts.  Nothing less will do.

Yet Jesus seems to indicate there is a risk for us with such structures, these man-made monuments to our own desires and visions even if the intentions are noble; just as there is great risk when we continue to engage in such things and practices that celebrate the past instead of anticipating the future; seeing the past as “the end” rather than as a “means” to our future – learning from history so that we may continue to journey forward.  It is as Helen Keller once expressed so well: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look back so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened [ahead of] us."   

We tend to get stuck in “remembrance” in spite of Jesus Himself calling us forward into an active state of "anticipation"!  But how can we see and actively anticipate the future if we are stuck in the present?  Or worse - in the past?  How can we actively anticipate and celebrate the coming of the Lord - that Day which has yet to be - if we do nothing in preparation for that Great Day but instead choose to spend time in the moment, in the present while remembering the past?  How do we give due diligence to all that Advent calls us into if we allow it to end according to a date on a calendar? 

Throughout this great lesson Mark records for us, Jesus does nothing to glorify the past – but He does use the past to challenge us to move forward!  And it should not escape our notice that He does not mention His birth as a festival of any kind - OR - an event to be embraced!  Yet we do celebrate that Glorious Day because we recognize the HOPE that has been given to all of humanity in His birth: "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).  So we were given that great gift of HOPE by the Incarnation, that time when we would actually come face-to-face with Heaven's Glorious Prince.  And as He walked among us and taught us and healed us and blessed us and fed us, He did so to strengthen and equip us for the Journey which is ahead – not exclusively as a remembrance or celebration of the past. 

If the theme of the first Sunday of Advent is “hope”, then our hope must extend beyond “hoping” this Christmas will be better than the last one.  Our “hope” must carry us beyond December 25 because Christ our Hope calls and leads us beyond December 25.  Our “hope”, dear friends”, is the “hope” of that which is yet to be revealed.  It is the “hope” that heals and encourages and feeds and teaches and motivates.  The Hope of the Holy Church is not behind us – God save us from our past!  He is ahead of us, leading the faithful to His Glorious Future … into Eternal Life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Thought

“I wept because no one was found worthy to open and read the scroll, or to look at it.  But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep.  Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’” Revelation 5:4-5

Maybe it is that the vision of St. John serves to remind us not only that “these things must come to pass” but to also help us to remember where our hope truly is; that in spite of the world around us that seems to be coming apart at the seams as more and more people – perhaps including our own children – are walking away from the Lord and His Church, He alone is still the only One worthy to reveal the Last Day … and by His decree and His unwavering and uncompromising love for us will still step up in our place and do what we were – and are – unable to do for ourselves.

Our absence is not excused by any means!  Rather, we are shown that the Lord’s own purposes will prevail in spite of us … or perhaps because of us.  Make no mistake, however; the Lord will overcome and those who endure to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fear, Love, and Faith

Matthew 25:14-30

 John Wesley, in his sermon "The Nature of Enthusiasm", had this to say: "Beware of imagining you shall obtain the end without using the means conducive to it.  God can give the end without any means at all; but you have no reason to think He will.  Therefore constantly and carefully use all those means which he has appointed to be the ordinary channels of His grace.  Use every means which either reason or Scripture recommends, as conducive ... to the obtaining or the increasing any of the gifts of God.  Thus expect a daily growth in that pure and holy religion which is ... the 'wisdom' of God and the 'power' of God."

In patriotic American language, then, the saying is sure: "Freedom is not free".  There is always a 'cost' related to that which we receive whether it is the "blessings of liberty", "free" health care, or "free" samples of a particular product; there is always a 'price' to be paid - it is only a matter of who actually pays the price.  More than this, however, is the word "free" in absolute terms: we are a freed people, but I don't think we really understand what that means - AND - how it relates to our connection to our God.  I also think we are never truly "free" - I submit that we are now, always have been, and always will be beholden to something either imposed or freely - if absent-mindedly - entered into.

When John Wesley relates to the "wisdom of God" and the "power of God", he must surely use these terms in their appropriate biblical context: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”  Psalm 111:10 ... and ... “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).  Everything we have and everything we are is devoted to that love - OR - it is not.  There is no gray area, and there is no in-between.

In the 16th century Machiavelli asked this question in a piece he wrote that still is looked upon today in political philosophy and governing a people: "Is it better to be feared ... or to be loved?"  He was asking the question in terms of what it would take for a prince to govern effectively.  Italy was being overrun by barbarians; and popes, kings, and queens were battling for supremacy in the various regions.  Based on his political and military experiences and observations, he was writing about what it would take in order for a prince to gain control - AND - maintain control.  “A prince should wish for both [fear and love]”, he says, “but because it is difficult to reconcile [the two], I hold that it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved if one of them must be given up.”

This leads us to the Parable of the Talents ... and particularly the third slave who had what seemed to be the appropriate level of "fear".  In fact he says so: "I was afraid".  But what we can also see as clearly is that the third slave's "fear" of his lord all but paralyzed him so much so that he was unable to fully engage in a relationship with his master.  There was only one element of his master's being that he was familiar with: "Master, I knew you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed ..."  So because of his ignorance of his master's overall being, he failed to do with what little had been entrusted to his care what his master would have expected from him.

The first two slaves did not have that problem.  They took what was given to them - "each according to his ability" - and they made the most of it.  It should be notable, as well, that the second slave did not begrudge the reality that the first slave had been given more.  The second slave did not look around to see who had what or who had more; he was, like the first slave, entirely about the business of his master as it pertained to him and the master's expectations from him.  Because of his faithfulness, then, his reward was equal to that of the first slave: "Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, so I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master."

So what?  We are not 'slaves'.  We are not 'owned' by anyone or anything.  Or are we?  Is the 'freedom' we perceive to be our own for real, or is it only a self-indulgent illusion?  And within this concept of 'freedom', be it spiritual or "Amur-kin", can we really appreciate "fear" in its truest sense - AND - can we embrace "love" in the fullness of its terms?  The short answer is - NO, we cannot; and the reason we cannot is because our knowledge of our Master tends to be one-dimensional.  That is to say, we can more reasonably appreciate only one attribute of the Master's being because we pick and choose what we will and will not do, think, or believe.  It doesn't seem to matter that it is written right before us in Scripture.  If "it" does not fit into our lives, personal preferences, and conditions of culture, we dismiss it in the name of "grace".

The same cannot be said of the Master's knowledge of us, and Jesus seems to make this point as well when He points out that before the master left on his journey he entrusted to his slaves what was precious to him - the talents - "to each according to his ability".  So the master knew these slaves well enough that he knew who could be entrusted with more and who should not be so overburdened.  There is no indication the master thought less of the slave who received only one talent; he only gave him what he was confident the third slave could handle.

Now in order to fully appreciate the utter failure of the third slave, we should understand the "talent" as a unit of currency.  It was said to be equal to roughly 6000 denarii; a single denarius was about equal to a day's wage for the typical worker.  So even though the third slave got only "one" talent, we need to appreciate the contextual reality of the enormous sum he had been entrusted with.  Though it was less than the others, the one talent nevertheless required the utmost "respect".

How does this translate to us?  Clearly we can see that Jesus is referring to His eventual Ascension into Heaven - and inevitable return.  Once He was to leave this earth, He would entrust to His followers - those who claimed to "love" Him - something of immeasurable value; something from which the Lord will expect a reasonable return ... and notice this in today's monetary terms.  If we could not somehow double our Master's investment according to what has been entrusted to our care, He would be ok with our handing it over to the bank where it would draw "interest".  Not much in terms of what we know today of a simple savings account return, but it is a return nonetheless.  It is certainly better than nothing!

We cannot forget Jesus' restoration of Peter as recorded in John 21.  Recall that Peter had failed Jesus in His final hours on this earth.  The last Jesus had seen of Peter involved Peter cursing and denying his relationship with Jesus, and the last Peter had seen of Jesus was His being handed over in shackles like a common criminal.  When perhaps Jesus needed Peter the most, Peter failed.  And then he fled.

So the Resurrected Christ is sitting on the shore after Peter and the others had had a bad night of fishing.  Jesus instructed them to cast the net on the "right side" of the boat, "and they were not able to draw the net in because of the multitude of fish".  Once they all realized Who this was standing on the shore, Peter jumped into the sea in his haste to hurry and get to Jesus!  The others, of course, brought the boat and the net full of fish in. 

After they ate, Jesus then posed His question to Peter: "Do you love Me?"  Peter says yes, of course, and Jesus instructs him to "feed My lambs", "tend My sheep", and the third time Jesus asks Peter if he loves the Lord, Jesus says, "feed My sheep".  Through this we can see the "rubber meeting the road"; that is, Peter is being handed his measure of "talent".  He is being told specifically - and yet in non-specific terms - what is to be expected of him in the Lord's absence. 

So it is not enough to merely say "I love you, Lord" and feel that love only in terms of what we can expect in return - Peter obviously needed to be absolved of his failure during Jesus' trial and was willing to do anything to assuage his guilt.  There is a necessary element of "fear" involved - by what "fear" compels us to do in terms of "respect".  He is the Lord, the Almighty.  He is the Prince of Heaven itself, and He will return one day to claim His own.  And when that Day comes - not "if" - there will be a reckoning.  And the simple account is going to be in terms of whether we "loved" the Lord enough to "respect" His command to "feed" and "tend" His sheep, His flock with the "talents" entrusted to our care.

Peter's accounting of what had been entrusted to him will be the Church itself.  What will be ours?