Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 3rd, 2016)

This morning’s scripture from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah presents the city of Jerusalem personified as mother, feeding and nurturing her children. Remember, Jerusalem was not just a city, but instead it is a representation of the spiritual heart of the Israelites. It was in the temple of Jerusalem that the one, true and living God made his home and shared his life and presence with Israel, and through Israel, with the world. Isaiah imagines Jerusalem as the mother of all the Israelites.

This imagery is understood by Christians as now an image of the Church, which is not merely an institution, but is properly likened to be our mother, for it is from the Church that we are reborn in Christ through Baptism, fed and nurtured with Christ’s Word and Sacraments, and when mature in our faith, sent out as witnesses into the world.

Many Christians have sadly come to have an impersonal, institutional understanding of the Church- she is no longer a nurturing mother, but an “it”- a non profit corporation whose resources are meant to be leveraged on behalf of our causes. The “it” Church produces little in terms of life, if any life at all and cannot nurture us as no one is ever nurtured by balance sheets, actuarial tables and procedural manuals. Some prefer the “it” Church because, unlike a mother, there is no moral demand placed on us to love her in return and no reason to care for her as one would care for one’s own mother.

Instead, the Church as an “it” or as a corporation is a thing to be used, and if no longer useful, cast aside. This would not be as easy if one considered the Church to be one’s mother.

But the Church is our mother. And we are diminished when we try to make the Church into in “it” rather than accept her for who she really and truly is.

Our second scripture for today is an excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

In this text, the Apostle Paul testifies that he boasts (celebrates) in the cross of Jesus Christ. To us, Christians, perhaps over familiar with the cross of Jesus Christ, and so often accustomed to the cross as merely a vague religious symbol or as a religious trinket, it might seem that the Apostle Paul’s boast is unintelligible. What does he mean? Why does he boast in the cross?

Remember, for St. Paul, the cross was not a universally recognized symbol of Christianity, it was an instrument of torture upon which human beings were killed in the most shaming and brutal way possible. Nothing was worse than the cross and no one in their right mind would boast in the cross- the cross provoked only derision and fear.

Not for St. Paul. And not for us. Why?

For St. Paul, the cross represents the unimaginable- God in Christ descends into shame, into suffering, into death. The cross is not simply the occasion in which Christ dies heroically, merely as a martyr for a cause, but it is a startling revelation that illuminates God’s willingness to identify himself with humanity, not just in some things, but in the midst of all the events and circumstances of life- even shame, even suffering, even death.

The entry of God into our shame, our suffering, our death, transforms the reality of these experiences forever. However these things might feel or seem, God is with us in the midst of them, and he is there with all his power to save, to transform and redeem. We may not be exempt from the experience of the hard facts of being human, but we are not alone as we make our way through them- God is with us. How do we know?

The cross. Christ’s cross.

If God can transform his cross into an occasion for hope and resurrection, we can trust in his promise, that he will not allow our shame to be without vindication, our suffering to be devoid of meaning and our death to be our final end. The Christian does not believe in a God who remains aloof and distant from the world or who engages with us as some vague cosmic force.

The Christian believes in God in our flesh, God in Christ, the one, true God who accepts a human nature and lives a real human life. The God who unites his divine nature to our own nature, and through the power of that divine nature, penetrates to the depths of all that it means to be human- even the experiences of shame, suffering and death. And because of the God in whom we believe, do we Christians, along with St. Paul, boast in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Christ presents Christ the Lord appointing seventy two disciples to go out on mission, sharing with others what they have received from Christ.

This Gospel passage mirrors Moses appointing elders for the Israelites in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Numbers (Numbers 11:16 and Exodus 18:25). In other words, we are to understand Christ as acting as a new Moses, having founded a new kind of Israel, he calls forth from this new Israel, servants for the mission of the new Israel.

The new Israel is the Church.

Pope Francis aptly refers to Christians who are mature in their faith as being missionary disciples. We are as disciples the servants of the Lord Jesus and our service to the Lord Jesus takes the shape or form as a very specific mission.

This mission is to introduce others to the Lord Jesus and invite people to share a relationship with Christ in the Church. In other words, our mission is to increase the numbers of the new Israelites, going out, as these first 72 disciples, as missionaries.

To be a missionary seems to many Christians to indicate oversees social work in third world countries, but this is really the wrong way to think about what it means to be a missionary. Christ calls people into relationship with him in the Church so that they can be his missionaries. Which means, missionary is not the work of a privileged few in the Church, but all the baptized. Missionary is to happen, not just as social work in countries far away, but in our own neighborhoods.

The public (and private) spaces right outside the doors of this church, indeed, right outside the doors of your own home, (including the family that dwells within your home) are the people that every baptized Christian has a responsibility to introduce to Jesus Christ. This missionary task is not a job for someone else- it is your responsibility and it is Jesus Christ himself who has asked you to do it.

Are you ready for this mission?

For many years, parishes, have been considered by many Christians, as branch offices of a corporation church from which a person can receive faith based services if the requisite fees are paid and the correct procedures are followed. This understanding of the parish has dominated people’s perceptions and the spiritual poverty it has inflicted on people has left the Church in a state of precipitous decline.

The work of the Church was limited to paid professionals and the mission of the Church reduced to matriculating through institutions and programs.

All this has been contrary to the nature of the Church as presented in the great Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) and the modern popes from Pius XII to Pope Francis (and most importantly, but the Lord Jesus himself). The Church is not merely an institution, but a mission, and a parish is not merely a branch office of a faith based corporation, but it is mission territory- it is the area that a community of missionary disciples has been assigned in which they work to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite them to share a relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church.

Is this how you understand what a parish is and does? Is this how you understand who you are and what Christ wants you to do?

To be a Christian is to be a missionary disciple- and unless this is who you are and what you aspire to be, the Church will falter and fail.

But if you will to become the missionary disciples Christ desires you to be, that like the 72 chosen to be missionaries in today’s Gospel, you will witness a Church that flourishes and grows!

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Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 21st, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the Book of Kings. As I have mentioned, the Book of Kings, along with the books of Samuel and Chronicles detail the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David was the means that God used to unite the disparate and fractious tribes of the Israelites into one people. The purpose of this unity was so that the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to bear witness to the world the reality of the one, true God and show forth their relationship with the one, true God through the unique way of life.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from the beginning by irascible and wicked desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors. These things were elevated to divine status, becoming the ultimate concern of the Israelites. While the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power and honors are considered by the worldly to be what it means to be successful, the rapacious desire for these things and the elevation of these things to be gods brought about the destruction of the Kingdom of David.

Most of the kings and queens remembered in the historical books of the Bible were mediocre or wicked. Few were faithful to God. Hezekiah, the king mentioned today, was one of the few rulers of the Israelites who was a rare example of fidelity and virtue amongst the mediocre and wicked.

Hezekiah is facing the imminent invasion what was one of the most brutal armies of the ancient world- the armies of Assyria. He turns to the prophets for counsel, and they assure him that the armies of Assyria will be defeated, not by the armies of the Israelites, but through divine intervention. The Israelites cannot save themselves. God will save his people.

The Israelites would be rescued and the Kingdom of David would receive a reprieve from destruction. The people would have the opportunity to repent, but would they?

The words of the prophets to Hezekiah are ominous in this regard. Eventually, only a remnant of the Kingdom of David would remain. The Kingdom of David would fall and the Israelites would be driven from the lands of their ancestors.

Yet, from this remnant, a new hope and new possibilities would arise for the Israelites. God will use what is small to create something great.

Hezekiah is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as one of the ancestors of the Lord Jesus. It is Christ who is the new hope who would arise from the tiny remains of the once great Kingdom of David. In appearance, Christ seems to be only one man, a small thing, but it is Christ, who to the world appeared to be insignificant, who will re-create Israel and enliven the Israelites with new possibilities.

Christ the Lord has three pieces of advice for us today. The first is to be careful about our presentation of the faith to others, especially the great mysteries of our Faith- the Sacraments. Many will not be prepared to receive the faith in its fullness and if our efforts to share the faith with others are not prudent and carefully measured by what an individual can and is willing to receive, the end result can be disastrous. If we are imprudent in our intentions and methods, it would be like throwing sacraments to dogs, or valuable treasures to swine. Nothing good will come of it.

The second piece of advice is to treat others as we would like to be treated. If we want to be forgiven, we should forgive. If we desire mercy, we should be merciful. If we want to be cared for, we should care for others. If we want justice, then we have to be just ourselves. How we treat others returns to us. We should not expect kindness if we are ourselves unkind.

Finally, Christ insists we seek the mysterious “narrow gate” as our route of access to God. This gate is Christ himself and the way of life that he gives to us.

The way to God is not something that we make up out of our ideas or opinions or feelings, this would be the wide and broad way that Christ insists leads only to destruction. It would also seem to us to be an easier way and it is- but it cannot save and it cannot redeem. Rather than taking us to God it traps us in our own ego, and once imprisoned in the ego, the route of access to God is blocked, obstructed.

Christ and his way of life are more difficult, but he takes us where we need to go. He is the privileged route of access to God and his way sanctifies, heals and redeems.

We could choose another way other than Christ, but Christ the Lord insists that we should not have any illusions about the end result of such a decision. Christ wants us to flourish. He wants us to share his divine life. He wants us all to be saved. But is this what we want? We must make a decision.

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Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 19th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Zechariah. The prophet Zechariah proclaimed God’s truth during a time of restoration and renewal for the Israelites. A time of great trial and tribulation was coming to an end, as the Israelites were freed to return to their ancestral lands after a long and painful exile in Babylon. The Israelites had languished in Babylon as captives after the catastrophic events of 587 BC, when the Kingdom of David came to a violent end, conquered by the armies of Babylon.

The Israelites had literally lost everything in 587 BC, but during the ministry of the Prophet Zechariah, things changed in favor of the Israelites. The Israelites were going home. Thus the prophet Zechariah proclaims that God has given the Israelites a second chance and new opportunities.

 

The specific passage from the Prophet Zechariah you heard today is very mysterious. He foresees that one day the Israelites will look upon a man who is pierced, and in their grief they will recognize that God has visited his people in an extraordinary way, and from this pierced man will come forth an opportunity for communion with God.

Christians have understood the Zechariah’s words as referring to Christ. Christ is the pieced one of Zechariah’s vision, a vision that becomes reality in his cross, which is contrary to all appearances, God’s means of offering us communion with his divine life.

This might seem hard to understand, but here in your sanctuary is a monumental representation of Zechariah’s vision- the image of the crucified Savior, the pierced and wounded Christ. This image of Christ crucified is not merely a decoration, but a point of reference that helps you to understand what is happening in this place, in the Holy Communion of the Mass. It is always in relationship, in communion with the Pierced Christ that God reveals himself to us.

For it is the cross that God’s identification, his relationship with us is most profound and deep- God experiences for himself the pain of suffering and the loneliness of death. God is with us, and he is with us, not just in some things, or in pleasant things, but in all things, all the events and circumstances of life. This is the covenant of his Body and his Blood (the Pierced Christ)- it is his promise that he keeps and it is the promise that he renews each time the Mass is offered and the Blessed Sacrament is adored and received.

The Church’s second scripture is an excerpt from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In his testimony, St. Paul makes it very clear that the categories of identity that the world considers important- political, ethnic, familial, economic, cultural are not as important as the identity that is given to us through our Baptism, the identity that comes from being in relationship with Christ.

All the worldly categories that we prize and deem so important will all one day fall away. When we meet the Lord Jesus face to face, all the worldly markers of identity that we cherish and value will merit barely a fraction of a second of the Lord’s attention. He will not see us in accord with the identities that we construct out of our worldly categories, but will know us and measure us and judge us only in reference to the identity that he has given us- that being a son and daughter of God.

This is not pious boilerplate. It is a revelation. In the end, when each of us comes to meet Christ face to face, he will not ask us what political party we belonged to, or what university we attended, or what degrees we attained. He will not ask us how much wealth we created or the status of the corporations we owned or worked for. Christ will not ask us our nationality or ethnicity or our family name. What he will be interested in is what we did with the gifts he bestowed on us, the opportunities he placed before us to love and to serve- and most importantly he will demand to know whether or not the Baptism he gave us was appreciated and taken seriously.

We might not take our Baptism seriously, reducing it to merely a quaint custom, convince ourselves nothing much is at stake in our Baptism, but God in Christ takes it very seriously, because it is the only identity we take with us from this life to the next. Any identity that we have in this world passes away in the world to come- except that identity that comes from our Baptism.

The Christian knows this, and for this reason, the Christian does not cling to worldly identities that are passing away, but holds fast to the identity Christ gives to us in Baptism- the identity of being a beloved member of God’s household, a member of his family, a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus- a son or daughter of God.

This is the meaning of the Apostle Paul’s testimony, his insistence that for those who are baptized in Christ, all are one, and the worldly distinctions we make absolute and cling to, are all just passing away.

Much of the hard work of being a disciple is letting go of worldly identities and coming to fully accept our Baptismal identity, our relationship with Christ.

Christ begs a question of his disciples in his Gospel, and in begging a question of his first disciples- he begs the same question of us- who do you say that I am?

Note that Christ has only cursory interest in what others have to say about him. He is not interested in a disinterested answer, the kind of answer a journalist or historian or biographer would contrive.

Instead he insists that each of his disciples answer the question personally- and further, he indicates that there are many wrong answers and only one answer that is really and truly right. Our idea about him, or our opinions or our feelings do not make him who he is. He is always boldly and serenely himself. Christ is asking us to profess our faith and to tell the truth. Who do we think that he is- and in terms of what we think, are we getting him right or just making things up, or worse, remaining passive and indifferent.

Do we know who the Lord Jesus really and truly is?

Now mind you, the question is not what we know ABOUT the Lord Jesus, but whether or not we know him personally- as one knows a friend. To be in relationship with Jesus Christ is to be a friend of God. It is only in this relationship of friendship that the fullness, the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus is revealed.

If we truly know Christ as a friend, then we can introduce him to others, and in our willingness to introduce others to Christ, the Church can flourish and grow.

But if we do not know Christ as one knows a friend, then the Church will falter and fail, for the purpose of the Church is to serve as a means of introducing people to Jesus Christ.

You see, the Church is not merely an institution we fund with our surplus wealth or a private religious club of our own making. The Church is the means that God in Christ has chosen to make himself known. The Church is first and foremost, the way Christ chooses to introduce himself to people. It is through the Church that a relationship with Jesus Christ happens and it is relationship to Christ and the Church that one becomes a Christian.

Therefore, being a Christian, is not about being a privileged recipient of faith based services or matriculating through Catholic-themed institutions. You can do these things and still not be a Christian- or worse, be a bad Christian.

Being a Christian, in faith and in truth, is about knowing Jesus Christ as one knows a friend and inviting others to know him too!

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Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time (June 16th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Sirach. This particular passage is a hymn of praise to the prophet Elijah, the mighty wonderworker, who spoke God’s word of truth in his defiance of wicked men and women of power and worldliness.

Elijah was one of the greatest of the Israelite prophets, but he was not the last. God continued to speak through the prophets, but his word of truth spoken through the prophets was preparing Israel and the world for Christ. Christ is not just a prophet, but he is God. At one time, God’s word, was mediated by the prophets, but in Christ, God speaks for himself- and he speaks to us.

Christ is not silent, his word speaks to us in the Church, and like the word of the prophets, what Christ tells us is the truth.

The prophets were opposed because they spoke God’s truth, and Christ was opposed, so to the Church. God’s truth is more often than not precisely what we do not want to hear, and it often insists that we change and asks that we do what we find to be difficult. For these reasons, we tend to resist God’s word. Our resistance cannot bend God’s truth to our will, no matter how hard we try. God will not compromise in a matter as important as our salvation. He wants to save us, redeem us, deliver us, free us- but will we let him? His word of truth is always a lure, an invitation, to receive from God what we need the most, but will we accept what he wants us receive?

The Bible reveals that there are true prophets and false prophets, and in every age, both true and false prophets will be revealed. This is as true for now as it was in the days of Elijah.

True prophets are witnesses to Christ and inasmuch as their word is an invitation to know, to love and to serve Christ, their word is true. The false prophets of our time are cunning with their flattery, insisting that Christ’s Gospel is about affirming us as we are, rather than transforming us into saints.

False prophets have little use for Christ, except to use him as a means to advance political causes and ideological agendas. For the true prophet, Christ is the way, the truth and the life. For the false prophet, Christ is merely a slogan.

The Church must resist false prophets, with the same courage and tenacity with which Elijah resisted the false prophets and worldly powers of his own day.

The story of Elijah makes it clear that the Church’s resistance will not come without cost, but if we acquiesce to false prophets, we risk betraying Christ.

Christ the Lord encourage us to pray, and to pray in the words that he gives to us. His prayer is revered by Christians, and rightly so, but Christ does not give us in his prayer simply words that we are to reverence, but a way of life.

The way of life that Christ offers us acknowledges that God is foremost our Father, which means that we are his sons and daughters. And further, that we pray for the coming of his kingdom, not merely for the success of worldly kingdoms of wealth and power. The kingdom of God is revealed inasmuch as we adhere to God’s will, which happens when we keep the commandments that God gives to us.

We are to beg God each day for his bread. The clumsy, English translation of this text conceals that kind of bread Christ asks that we pray for- it is not merely earthly bread, but heavenly bread- the food that is Christ’s own Body and Blood. And we ask that we have the opportunity to forgive those who have wronged us, for in our willingness to forgive, we become like Christ who forgave those who hurt him, and he forgave them even when those who harmed him did not deserve to be forgiven.

We pray also to be delivered from temptation and evil, which means from the lure of worldliness, from the desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, from the false security of self interest and the tyranny of ego-centric desire.

Christ’s prayer, the prayer he insists we pray, is all about asking God to help us to live a different, a unique way of life- the life of a disciple, the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (May 29th, 2016)

Today the Church in the United States commemorates with great care and solemnity, the gift of the life and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, what we know as the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Communion, is not for us Christians merely a symbol of Christ, or an expression of community fellowship, or a metaphor, but it is the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself. God in Christ makes himself food and drink, so that, taking him into our bodies as nourishment, we can become like him. Adoring and Receiving the Blessed Sacrament we adore and receive Christ.

This is all very mysterious and mystical, and what else could it be? All actions of the God to reveal himself to us are mysterious and mystical, the breakthrough of God into this world is always confounding and never fits easily into worldly categories of experience and understanding.

The Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, is the breakthrough of God’s life and presence into our lives and into this world. It might seem easier and safer for us to construe the mystery and mysticism of Holy Communion into a symbol or a metaphor, but this construal, is not what the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is.

We don’t make the Eucharist what it really and truly is, God makes the Eucharist what it really and truly is- and what God in Christ makes the Eucharist is the gift of his very life.

The scriptures for today are all evocations of the mystery and mysticism of the Blessed Sacrament.

The first scripture, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Genesis, recalls the ancient patriarch’s Abraham’s encounter with the priest and king Melchizedek, who offers bread and wine to God as an affirmation of his covenant, that is, his relationship with Abraham. In response to the bread and wine offered by Melchizedek, Abraham makes his own offering “a tenth of his possessions”.

The story of this encounter and offering is presented to as a foreshadowing of the Blessed Sacrament we receive from the priest and king Jesus Christ. The Blessed Sacrament establishes us in relationship with God in Christ and our response to the offering of the priest and king Jesus Christ is that we offer him our very lives.

The second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which contains one of the earliest descriptions of the mystery of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is not an invention of the Church, but a reality that Christ’s first disciples received from him. It is Christ who declares the Eucharist to be his Body and his Blood and it is Christ who makes the Eucharist the sacrifice of his new worship.

The Eucharist is the worship that God wants for it is the worship that God in Christ gives.

We might desire a different kind of worship and even invent forms of worship to satisfy our desires and needs. These invented forms of worship might even appear to us to be more appealing and entertaining than the worship God in Christ gives to us, but they are not what God wants and they will never give to us what the worship that is faithful to Christ gives. The worship we create may provide us with ideas and feelings and experiences that we associate with God. The worship of the Mass is different.

We do not receive in Christ’s worship, the Eucharist, merely an idea or feeling or experience, but Christ himself. No form of worship, except the form of worship Christ gives to us, can give us the life and presence of Christ himself.

The meaning of our scripture from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians should be taken as this: From the time of the Apostles, the Church has offered the worship that we know as the Mass. It is not just a matter of human custom, but fidelity to Christ, and receiving from Christ, the gift that he wants to give. This gift is his life and his presence, given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

Finally, the Gospel of Luke testifies to the great miracle, a display of Christ’s divine power. He feeds a vast crowd with only a few morsels of food.

There is no natural explanation to what is described in this account from Luke’s Gospel. The people cannot give to one another what they do not have. The disciples cannot give to the people what they do not possess. There is nothing to share, for there is nothing at all to share.

God in Christ provides for the people what they cannot provide for themselves. They can only eat and be satisfied because Christ gives them food that he through his divine power creates.

This miracle foreshadows or anticipates the gift of the Blessed Sacrament, heavenly food that God in Christ gives to us, a food we cannot create or provide for ourselves. Christ accomplishes a miracle to suggest to his followers an even greater revelation that is to come- the gift of his life and presence, given to his disciples as food and drink, given to us as a meal, given to us as the Blessed Sacrament.

A greater gift than the food that fed the multitude is the food that Christ makes of his Body and Blood. Greater than the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is the revelation of the Eucharistic mystery.

Throughout the Church’s year of worship, there are reminders to us of what we believe. Knowing what we believe, we know who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Knowing who we are as disciples of the Lord Jesus we can also know what God in Christ wants us to do.

If we forget what we believe, we will inevitably forget what Christ wants us to do, and then we will no longer be Christ’s disciples.

The stakes are high when we forget what we believe and what we are supposed to do.

For this reason, the Church reminds us, and today the Church reminds us yet again what we believe the Blessed Sacrament really and truly is- the life and presence of the Lord Jesus himself.

We remember what we believe about the Body and Blood of Christ so that we might be made worthy to receive what we believe.

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Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time (May 21st, 2016)

Today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Mark, presents the Lord Jesus in the company of children.

Christ indicates that children are the heirs to the Kingdom of God, and that it is the childlike receptivity that they manifest towards Christ that should be characteristic of all disciples.

Most Christians find this all comforting, and it is a comfort, but it is also revolutionary. How so?

Children were literally the least in terms of the society and culture that received Christ’s revelation. Children, though greatly valued in ancient societies cultures, for the most part, had no real rights, and while many were loved and appreciated, many were used and abused, treated as little more than property.

Therefore, when Christ indicates that it is children who will have privileged status in his Kingdom, he is indicating that his Kingdom will not be like the kingdoms of the world, which privileges the powerful, and esteems the greatest, rather than the least. He does not privilege, as our culture does, the politician, the celebrity or the financier, but he esteems the poor and lowly. Christ the Lord insists that the poor and lowly are not here simply as servants for the mighty, but are the ones who the mighty of the world are called to serve.

Christ’s gesture to welcome children into his company and his insistence that his Kingdom would be for them, is a taunt to men and women of power and influence, who wielded that power and influence to serve their own ego driven desires.

Christ’s Kingdom is not merely an otherworldly reality into which we pass after death, but it is re-ordering of the priorities of society and culture. It is a new way of life, through which, the world in which we live is changed so as to conform, to God’s expectations, rather than the expectations of the world.

Christ’s Kingdom overturns worldly expectations. He does not come simply to affirm, but the transform, and it is not only the individual soul that he intends to change, but the societies and cultures in which the individual is immersed.

The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse whose concerns are limited to worship and theological discussion. The Church is the means by which, even right now, Christ is acting to transform the world, upsetting worldly expectations and overcoming our Kingdoms of worldliness with his revelation of the Kingdom of God.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 1st, 2016)

Our first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament book entitled Acts of the Apostles. Remember, the Church presents select passages from the Acts of the Apostles at Sunday and daily Masses throughout the season of Easter. Whereas the Gospels present the one, true God, who reveals himself in the human body of the Lord Jesus, the Book of Acts presents the revelation of the God in Christ in a new and surprising kind of body- a body called the Church.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Acts presents the early Church as beset by a conflict. The earliest disciples are struggling to understand the criteria by which one knows a person to be a Christian. Was it criteria established by worldly custom and culture or something deeper or more significant? Is the Church meant to impose on all Christians the dictates the of the Law of Moses, for it was that Law that established the criteria by which people could be identified as Israelites, and, if the Church is the new Israel, might those criteria also apply to Christians?

If the Church imposed the Law of Moses, then all male Christians would have to undergo circumcision and all Christians would have to observe the details of the Law, particularly in regards to which foods were acceptable to eat and which foods were not.

Why was circumcision important for Israelites? Because it literally marked one’s identity as an Israelite in a man’s flesh and indicated that being an Israelite was linked to the very act of procreation- one became an Israelite by being a physical descendent of an Israelite.

The Laws regarding foods were important as they pertained to a reality basic and essential to life and human association. Meals are often in our culture solitary affairs, but in the ancient world, meals were familial, cultural, and public acts. Through the associations of whom one ate with and what kinds of foods you ate with others, you demonstrated who you are. This perspective gives further insight into the popular maxim- “you are what you eat” and extends it further to say “you are whom you eat with”.

The Apostles understood that God in Christ has reconstituted Israel, changed and transformed it, and in doing so opened up Israel to those who were not born as Israelites and did not share their basic customs, like the dietary requirements of the Law of Moses. One could become as Israelite without as a pre-condition, that one would have to have been raised from birth within Israelite culture.

Identity, therefore, would be established, not by circumcision, but by Baptism, and the essential dietary requirement would not be what foods and with whom one ate dinner with, but the sacred meal of the Eucharist.

This makes sense to us because it is the reality we have always known, but it was a reality that was absolutely new to the earliest disciples.

The early Church was comprised mostly of cultural Israelites, men who had been circumcised and men and women who had been raised from birth in the particular culture of the Israelites. These Israelite disciples of the Lord Jesus, many of whom who had likely known the Lord Jesus personally, found this identity question to be vexing- hard to understand and difficult to believe. The Apostles had to help the early Church understand that the criteria for understanding Christian identity were Christ the Lord’s criteria- not culture or custom, no matter how ancient or revered.

For Christ the Lord, one’s identity as a Christian “happens” through Baptism, through a profession in faith and Christ and willingness to serve him… Identity as a Christian “happens” through our participation in the Eucharist. Sacraments are essentials to Christian identity, not customs. The Christian makes an act of faith in Christ, not an act of faith in culture.

The lesson here is that while culture and custom are significant and helpful, and that while both can work to advance the mission of the Church, neither custom or culture has the power to make us Christians.

Christ makes Christians. A Christian is chosen by Christ and the sign of Christ’s election is Baptism. No one becomes a Christian simply because of a historical association of one’s ethnicity or family or nation with the Church. As I said, it is Christ who makes Christians, not custom or culture.

The second scripture for today is an excerpt from the Book of Revelation. We have been privileged to hear select passages from the Book of Revelation throughout the Easter season. The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible and it is certainly one of the strangest and most controversial.

I have been presenting these excerpts from the Book of Revelation to you as providing a view of both worldly and heavenly realities from the perspective of God. We are seeing things as God sees things, and this is why what the author of the Book of Revelation describes seems so fantastic and incredible. How things look from our perspective is extremely narrow. God sees so much more than what we can see.

Last week we heard from the Book of Revelation about how God in Christ understands his relationship with the Church- likening it to the relationship of a bridegroom and bride, of husband and wife. This week, God’s perspective shifts and we see another vision of the Church- in this vision the Church is likened to a city.

What are the characteristics of a city? Cities are about relationships, teeming with different people and interests. Cities are full of politics, culture, art, architecture,religion, economics and law. Cities are full of ingenuity, creativity, and all sorts of activities. All these characteristics of cities are also divinely ordained characteristics of the Church.

You see, the Church is not an escape from all those elements through which humanity expresses itself, all those elements that constitute human experience, but instead, the Church is the elevation, the sanctification of all what makes us human.

The vision of the Church as city means that the Church cannot simply be a private club, theological debating society, or spiritual discussion group. Nor can the interests of the Church be limited to only the parochial or the diocesan.

The Church is public, not private and the reality of the Church is divinely ordained to impact all human endeavors and relationships. The Church is, from God in Christ’s perspective, a city, and when we try to reduce God’s vision of the Church and seek to accommodate God’s perspective to our own narrowness, then the Church falters and fails.

Finally, the Gospel for today…

Christ the Lord testifies that his disciples will receive the Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit is the love that is shared between the Father and the Son, and by love, what is meant is the relationship of the Father and the Son.

So what Christ testifies that his disciples will receive is his own relationship with his Heavenly Father. Christ intends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to make us the children of God!

The lesson? Your dignity as a person does not come from the worldly attainments of wealth, pleasure, power and honor. Your dignity as a person does not come from citizenship, political affiliation, race or ethnicity. Your dignity as a human person does not come from the law.

Your dignity as a person comes from the Holy Spirit- that relationship that makes you God’s son or daughter.

Also, Christ testifies that his disciples will have peace. What does he mean by this?

The peace that Christ gives is confidence in his power to overcome sin, death and the devil.

Sin, death and the devil have power over us inasmuch as we fear all three. This fear can paralyze us and tempt us to believe they are more powerful than God. Christ the Lord reveals in his resurrection that God is more powerful that sin, death and the devil, and they only power they have over us is the power we surrender to them.

Christ is God. God proves to us in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that his power infinitely exceeds that of sin, death and the devil and he promises that those who follow him, he will make available a gift of an uncanny and overwhelming peace, a confidence that comes from the act of faith that sin can be forgiven, death can be overcome and the devil can be defeated.

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