Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 3rd, 2017)

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s word of truth during the terrifying time of the total and complete collapse of what had once been the mighty kingdom of David. The armies of Babylon were poised and ready to strike. The Babylonians would unleash a destructive power upon the Israelites that haunts the people of God to this very day. In 587 BC the armies of Babylon laid siege the city of Jerusalem and with lightning speed conquered the mighty city of David.

Jeremiah saw all this coming. He repeatedly warned the Israelites, but the distractions of wealth, pleasure, power and honors made them indifferent or hostile to the Lord’s prophet. When the end finally came, and the Babylonians had destroyed everything that the Israelites held dear, the Israelites turned on Jeremiah and killed him. Thus are the rewards of the prophets.

In today’s scripture, the prophet Jeremiah laments that his mission as a prophet has brought him nothing but suffering. He told the people the truth, but the people did not want the truth- what they wanted was affirmation. What the people wanted was for the prophet Jeremiah to tell them what they wanted to hear, to confirm them in their opinions and their prejudices.

And so the prophet Jeremiah is tempted- he could alleviate his suffering. He could profit from his prophecy, all he had to do was accommodate his message to his audience and tell the people what they wanted to hear.

All he had to do was lie.

But he cannot. The Lord’s word of truth is like a fire burning within him and when he speaks it is as if he is breathing that fire.

What is the lesson?

The mission of prophecy now resides by Christ’s will in his Church. And so it is that the Church must, like the prophet Jeremiah, tell us, not what we want to hear, but what the Lord commands his Church to preach. The Church is not ours, it is Christ’s, and the voice with which the Church is compelled by Christ to speak is Christ’s voice, not our own.

If it is not Christ’s voice with which the Church is speaking then the Church is faltering and failing in her mission.

The word of the Lord is as uncanny and off putting now as it was in the days of the prophet Jeremiah. In a world that prefers as its gods, the idols of wealth, pleasure, power and honor, the words of one true God, Jesus Christ, will always incite opposition. A world enamored by idols will tempt the Church to be silent or insist that it will reward the Church if her words simply sanction the opinions and prejudices of the people. Some in the Church will acquiesce to all this. Others, like the prophet Jeremiah, will breathe fire.

Our second scripture for today, an excerpt from the New Testament Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, insists that Christians not be conformed to the times in which they live, but rather offer to the times (to the world) an alternative, a different way of life. This unique way of life is one which has been transformed by one’s relationship with Christ in his Church.

This does not mean that one lives as if one’s way of life is merely a screed against the world, but instead as an invitation to a different way, one that is ordered by love of Christ and in his name, love of neighbor, a way of life that entails sacrifice, but that ultimately makes the world a better and more hopeful place.

The Church has as its mission to bear the power and presence of Jesus Christ into the world it does this through word and sacrament, but also through a way of life. Christian faith is not something that can only be preached, it must also be practiced if it is to deliver its true meaning and purpose.

The Church is attractive in every age of its long life, not because it accommodates or imitates the values of a given time, but because her way of life is unusual, different, and unique- like the Lord Jesus.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus testifies that his mission is to be publicly humiliated, to suffer and to die, and in doing so reveal God’s power in an extraordinary and unexpected way.

Peter will have none of this. His opposition to Christ may rise out of concern for his friend, but it more likely arises out of his expectation that Christ would reveal himself as a mighty conqueror and worldly king, who would crush his enemies with violence and rule through the force of his will. In the distortions of his spiritual vision, divine power is equated with worldly power- he doesn’t understand the difference. And so he misses the revelation.

Christ’s rebuke of Peter is brutal. He chastises him not just for missing the point, but for acting like the worst creature in the universe- Satan. What Christ is saying is that Peter doesn’t just want what he wants; Peter wants what the devil wants.

And lest his disciples think they are off the hook, he turns to them and informs them that everything he said would happen to him will likely happen to them as well. God in Christ means to transform the world through the power of love and true love manifests itself in suffering and in sacrifice.

And there is the harsh lesson- not just for Peter, but for all of us.

Most of us think at some point in our lives that we have God all figured out and the universe would be a far better one if only God would do what we want him to do and place his power at our disposal. Of course, in all this egoism and posturing, we are both flattering and fooling ourselves. Be honest: what would most of us do with God’s power?

That God’s ways are not our ways seems to many to be merely a cliché, but it is also true. And this truth is revealed in the most extraordinary way in the unusual, and at times disconcerting, revelation of Jesus Christ.

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Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings is one of the historical books of the Bible, describing people, events and circumstances that contributed to the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David is important because it was the means that God used to unite the tribes of the Israelites into a single people. Strengthened by their unity, the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to invite the world into a relationship with the one, true God.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from its beginning by pride and idolatry, yet despite human folly, God’s plan would be accomplished. God’s plan was fulfilled when the Christ-child was born into a remnant of the family of King David. Thus God came into the world. The Kingdom of David would fail to bring the world to God and so God would come into the world in Christ.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of David, God would send prophets to the Israelites to remind them of their unique mission. Two of the greatest of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Both men were forces to be reckoned with, great wonderworkers and today’s scripture details how the prophet Elisha was summoned by God to mission.

Elisha abandons everything the world considers to be important- his family and wealth- for the sake of his mission. His focus on what the Lord wants him to do will be singular. He risks poverty and loneliness, trusting that God will provide for what he lacks. Heroic efforts always necessitate heroic commitment and true prophets are God’s heroes and no one becomes a hero without risk and sacrifice. Where an act of faith in God is accompanied by risk and sacrifice you have the possibility of a hero and the potential for a saint.

The heroism of Elijah and Elisha, indeed of all the biblical prophets endures in the Church in those men and women who eschew family and wealth for the sake of the Church’s mission. These men and women can be found in what are called religious orders, communities like the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. Without the witness of the prophets, the Israelites languished in mediocrity and lost a sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Without the witness of men and women religious, the Church falters and fails in its mission.

The Church is not merely a secular corporation or a nation state, whose goals can be accomplished by only by salaried employees and bureaucrats. God advances the mission of the Church through the efforts of men and women willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices. Inasmuch as the Church’s communities of prophets, men and women who accept a religious life of risk and sacrifice, fade and diminish, so also will the Church. As the Church fades and diminishes, so also does the love of Christ that the Church bears into a loveless world.

The mission of the Church by necessity requires heroes- men and women of risk and sacrifice. The age of God’s heroes did not end with Elijah or Elisha, but even now is the age of heroes. Who are God’s heroes right now? Who will be God’s heroes for his Church? Who is God calling into mission- into risk and sacrifice? Is it you? Remember: It is not just you who choose your mission- it is God who has chosen a mission for you.

In the Church’s second reading for today the Apostle Paul offers a distinction between a way of life which is given direction by the flesh in contrast with a way of life given direction by the spirit.

This might seem confusing. St. Paul is using the categories of “flesh” and “spirit” to indicate the difference between a way of life that is directed by God’s purpose as contrasted with a way of life that is directed by self-interested or self-indulgent purposes.

A self-interested or self-indulgent way of life tends towards conflict, antagonism and violence, whereas a truly spiritual life, one that is intentionally directed towards God’s purpose tends toward love- and by love St. Paul means willing, or desiring, the greatest good for other people.

St. Paul muses that if only we could love one another as Christ has commanded us to love, then most of the laws that become so necessary to reign in our selfish ambitions and desires, laws that can so quickly become stifling and oppressive would fall away. Loving as Christ loves opens up for us the possibility of true freedom, for freedom is not getting to do what we want, but doing what is good.

Love for the Christian is not merely an emotional experience or the fulfillment of a personal desire. Love is an act of the will, and it is willing for another person what is really and truly good. This good is not by necessity what the person wants, or even what you prefer to give, but it is what is good, it is the good that God wants.

Love reduced to emotional need or affectation will inevitably lead to antagonism and conflict. It becomes an exercise in self-interest and self indulgence. Love expressed as willing what it is truly good for other people is the manner in which God in Christ loves us and it is the way in which Christ commands us to love one another.

Christ the Lord has some words of advice for his disciples as they go out into a culture on mission. Remember, the purpose of the Church is missionary. The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse or an institution that we matriculate through and use to fulfill our personal goals. The Church is a missionary endeavor. The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share his unique way of life. Through the Church people meet the Lord Jesus and from the Church people receive from him the gifts he wants people to enjoy.

Christ’s advice to us as we go out into our neighborhood and introduce people to Christ is this:

Number One: Accept people’s hesitancy, even opposition, with an attitude of kindness. Do not threaten those who refuse our invitation. As Pope Benedict aptly said the Church proposes, it does not impose. We seek freedom to live our unique way of life, but our way of life must be freely chosen, it cannot be imposed on people by force or threats.

Number Two: Mission will always entail sacrifice and risk as well as an attitude of trust in God to provide what we need. You cannot, as a disciple, postpone your mission until you have everything figured out. We might have plans, but Christ’s plan takes precedence. What Christ asks of us is never all that easy, and at times outcomes may be uncertain, but as I said earlier, without risk and sacrifice there cannot be heroes and Christ wants us to be his heroes- he wants us to be his saints.

Number Three: Mission necessitates that we have a broader understanding of family than one that is limited to merely our own relatives. The Gospel expands our sense of family to include people in our lives who are not related to us, different than us, and people who we may not of our own desire want to know or become friends with.

The Church cannot by her essential nature simply be limited to those people with whom we are related, or those people whom we feel comfortable with, or those people that we prefer to associate with. Christ makes the Church his family and chooses those whom he wants to be in his household. The Church is not a sect or a club. The Church is not simply an expression of nationality or ethnicity. The Church is the people Christ has chosen, not only those people that we have chosen.

The Church is not just ours to make into whatever we want, it is a gift that we receive from Christ and this gift is a mission- a mission to introduce people to Jesus Christ and share with people the gifts that Christ wants all people to enjoy!

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Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 5th, 2016)

For many Christians, the primary purpose of the Gospel is to impart a particular kind of ethic, that is, a way of being moral. The particular emphasis of this ethic or morality might be different, but what is held in common is that the Gospel provides a distinction between what is right and what is wrong- it is fundamentally about how to behave.

While it is true that Christ the Lord clarifies for us what God wants us to understand about right and wrong, it is not just the purpose of his revelation to tell us how to behave. As if only if we were polite and nice all our problems would be solved. We are rightly interested in ethics and morality and Christ has very clear teaching in regards to both. However, it was not for the sake of teaching us about ethics and morality that God in Christ accepted a human nature and revealed himself to us as man. Christ had a greater purpose.

The overarching purpose of Christ’s revelation is deal with a predicament that traps human beings in conditions that inevitably tend towards despair. Human beings are afflicted, and God in Christ comes to deal with our affliction.

The Gospel reveals that our afflictions originate, not just in poor ethical decisions or moral choices, (our poor ethical decisions and moral choices are symptomatic of a greater predicament). Our affliction resides in three great powers that are beyond our ability to circumvent or control. These three great powers are sin, the devil and death, and everything that afflicts us, everything that is wrong with us, has its origins in these three great powers.

Sin is, simply put, a failure to love what God loves, and in our failure to love, we make not only ourselves, but also make others miserable. In breaking a commandment or disobeying God, we are not just defying rules and regulations, but we are refusing to love, and this refusal is what makes sin so miserable for ourselves and for others.

Love is willing what is truly and really good for others, and it is our failure to do this that is inhibits our ability to flourish and often makes us cruel. The good we should will, we don’t and the evil that we shouldn’t will we do.

And worse, we don’t often know what love is because we don’t know what the really and truly good is. We think what is good are things, like wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but while these things can make our lives easier in this world, they can also make us miserable. There has to be a greater and more important good than wealth, pleasure, power and honors. God in Christ reveals what this good actually is.

Sin has power over us, and so does the devil.

The devil is fallen creature of great power, what the Church describes as an angel, that in his own resistance to God’s love, lashes out in anger and fear at anything or anyone that God loves- that means us. Because

the devil is so much smarter and stronger than us, and because, often times his deceptions seem so charming to us, we need a power stronger than him to wrest us free from his influence. The devil is not a fictional character, but a mysterious kind of creature that makes his presence known to us through insinuation and accusation. The devil is powerful, but God in Christ is even more powerful.

Then there is the power of death. We have a tendency to fear death perhaps more than anything else, and if we are not afraid of it, we are in denial of it’s reality. Our fear and denial of death creates the conditions for a lot of misery, as when we act out of our fear or denial we more often than not make the kinds of decisions that hurt others. Further, death seems to us to be the end of everything that we consider to be good and worthwhile and if death is really and truly the end of everything, then what meaning or real purpose does our existence have? Without meaning and purpose our lives drift towards despair.

The Gospel testifies to Christ’s power over sin, the devil and death. All the testimony of the Gospel stories that you read or hear proclaimed at Mass are about how Christ has or will overcome the three great powers that are the source of our afflictions.

What Christ has to say about ethics or morality is always within the context of his greater purpose, which is to deal with the three powers that are making us miserable- sin, death and the devil.

Sin, death and the devil make people upset. We don’t like to talk about them, let alone think about them, and so many preachers find a way around talking about them at all. One way to do that is over emphasize ethics and morality as if that’s all the Gospel is about. Preaching becomes a lecture about how we are to behave.

Today’s Gospel, an excerpt from the testimony of the evangelist Luke, is indicating to us that the power of God in Christ is more powerful than death. Christ restores life to a dead man. Our first scripture for today, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings, gestures towards or foreshadows what Christ accomplishes in the Gospel, and what Christ accomplishes indicates, who he is and what he is all about is not, in the words of St. Paul in our second reading, merely of “human origin”.

Christ is God, and he reveals himself in power. This power, unlike worldly power is not wielded as we would wield power, for the sake of our own selfish purposes. Instead, Christ reveals that his power is for us, to rescue us, to save us, and to save us from that which afflicts us- the power of sin, the devil and death.

God in Christ reveals that he is more powerful than death and it is our faith that as he enters into death itself on the cross, he transforms it forever. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a new kind of beginning. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a route of access to God. Christ’s power has made this possible- a power, his power, that is greater than death.

Sin- a failure to love. The Devil- a dark power that hates everything God loves. Death- the fear and denial of which robs our lives of meaning and purpose.

These powers remain very real in all of our lives, as do the afflictions that they create.

Yes, sin, the devil and death are very real and very powerful. But not more powerful than Christ!

And Christ has the power to defeat them.

This revelation is what the Gospel is about.

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday (February 11th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. The Book of Deuteronomy helps us to understand how the Israelites came to understand that God had chosen them for a mission in the world, a mission that would necessitate a new way of life.

Through this way of life, the Israelites would demonstrate their relationship with God, but also, they would, through their way of life, evoke curiosity about the God they worshipped and serve as an invitation to know the one, true God.

God will not coerce the Israelites to accept this way of life, they must choose it freely, but once they have made this decision, their bond to God would be as unbreakable as the bond of husband and wife. The Israelites must decide. They must choose.

So also is it for the Church.

As Christians, our faith necessitates a decision. God in Christ has chosen us, a fact that is evident to us in our Baptism, but have we chosen Christ?

The decision for Christ means accepting the unique way of life that is revealed to us in the Church. It is from the Church that we receive the way of life that Christ asks that we accept.

Lent is a privileged time when we are compelled to consider our decision for Christ and whether or not we are fully engaged in the way of life that Christ has given to us. The practices of Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not meant simply as seasonal observances, but are integral to the Church’s way of life. They are not held in suspense prior to Lent or discarded when Lent is completed. Instead, they are the ordinary expectations of the Christian way of life.

They also manifest whether or not our decision for Christ is real, or if just a matter of a superficial appearance.

Christ the Lord speaks of his own passion, death and resurrection in his Gospel, highlighting the “end” towards which our Lenten observances are directed.

As I mentioned yesterday, Lent comes to its proper end, to its fulfillment in the great events and mysteries of Holy Week. It is during Holy Week that the Church participates in the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In ritual we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and in Sacrament we receive what we have remembered.

The worship of the Church, which reaches its apex, its height, its fever pitch during Holy Week is not merely a perfunctory gesture, a mere artifact of human culture. Instead, it is always an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself.

The sacred center of the Church’s worship is always Christ and the revelation of Christ must always present his cross to us, for it is in the cross that the fullness of who he is and what he asks of us is vividly displayed.

All disciples bear their own share in the cross of Christ by this is meant that our love for Christ will always necessitate some kind of sacrifice. The specifics of our sacrifice will be different for each person, but all who love and serve Christ will be asked to make a sacrifice, and it is through our sacrifice that depth of our faith, the endurance of our hope, and the truth of our love will be revealed.

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Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time (February 4th, 2016)

The Book of Kings provides details about the rise and eventual decline of the Kingdom of David. Remember, the Book of Samuel described the people and circumstances that led to the tribes of the Israelites being united as a Kingdom, and through this unity, becoming a great civilization. The culmination of this accomplishment was the rise of the House of David, (David) who became the greatest of all the Israelites kings.

Today, the story of King David comes to an end. He is presented to us as an old man, who must now relinquish the power that he spent a lifetime achieving. He designates his son Solomon as his heir and he dies.

Death is the way of all things in this world, a raw and unavoidable fact of our existence from which no one is exempt. Death comes for the greatest and the least. And yet there is not only death in this world, but also life. Each generation of humanity has as its mission to create the conditions for the possibility for the next generation. Our lives are not our own, we have been created by God to share our lives with others and this creative possibility expresses itself in openness to life, which is itself expressed in receptivity to having children and accepting all children (not just our own) as God’s most precious gift.

David’s legacy will continue in his son, Solomon, and eventually, when the long line of David’s ancestors reaches it’s fulfillment, and all the wealth and glory and power of the House of David had been lost, it was an ancestor of David, Joseph, the husband of Mary, who would accept and love as his own son a child that was not his own, the Son of Mary, the Lord Jesus, who is God the Messiah.

It is from the Lord Jesus that humanity will receive the promise of heavenly life beyond death. For it is God in Christ who will, in his own acceptance of death, transform its power forever, making of death, not an end, but a route of access to communion with God.

The greatest of human legacies is not wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but family, which is the non-negotiable necessity for civilization to endure. Family happens when men and women accept their mission to become parents and to have children and when the society is structured towards assisting men and women to become parents and have families then the society will thrive.

A society that thinks of family as something dispensible or of children as a hindrance, or worse, as a kind of consumer accessory, will not endure.

Becoming a parent is a risk.   Accepting a family is not easy. Structuring a society to serve the needs of families means sacrifices. But to not to do these things entails bitter consequences.

In order to men and women to be open to becoming parents and welcoming children there must be faith, and hope and love in their lives. The faith, hope and love that is necessary is not just faith in themselves or hope in ideologies or love for worldly attainments, but the faith, hope and love that we receive as a gift from entering into a relationship with the Lord Jesus.

Our relationship with the Lord Jesus invites us to become members of his household, of his own family. It is from the household or family of the Lord Jesus that we receive the gifts of faith, hope and love. The expression of Christ’s family in the world is the Church, which is not just an institution or an ethnic identity or ideological cause, but the family of the living and true God.

In his Gospel for today, the Lord Jesus sends the twelve men he chose to be his Apostles, the men who would become the progenitors of his household, the Church, out on mission.

We are meant to note that the Apostles are given a mission that is identical to the Lord Jesus’ own mission. The Apostles do what the Lord Jesus does. Their message is Christ’s message. Their work is Christ’s work. Their mission is Christ’s mission.

It is in their willing acceptance of a mission that belongs to Christ that casts out the dark powers from the world and offers to men and women healing and hope.

The mission of the Church is not something that we create for ourselves. Instead, the mission of the Church is determined by Christ and given to us by him. It is when in our pride we conceive of the mission of the Church as our own personal project or as something meant to be leveraged for our causes or ideologies, it is then that the Church suffers corruption and falters and fails.

The Gospel presents testimony to us as to what precisely it is that Christ has determined the mission of his Church to be. Christ does not negotiate with us about the Church’s mission, he presents it to us and asks us to decide whether we will accept it or not. If we accept his mission, then we can become like him, and if we become like him, we then become the Church he desires for us to be.

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Thursday after Epiphany (January 7th, 2016)

The Church presents yet another excerpt from the First Letter of John as our first scripture for Mass, and this particular text emphasizes the integral relationship between our profession of Faith that God is Love and our way of life. If you profess in Faith that Jesus Christ is God then you are also professing in Faith that God is the Trinity and to profess in faith that God is the Trinity is to profess in faith that God is love.

If we believe that God is Love then we will live in ways that manifest God’s love for others. If we do not, we make our profession of Faith a lie.

The First Letter of John then goes on to testify that love expresses itself in fidelity to God’s commandments. If we want to know what love looks like in actual practice, our guide is not merely ideas or feelings or intuitions or ideologies or political platforms or culture, but the commandments of God.

The emphasis on the relationship of love to the commandments rescues love from abstraction, a means that we often use to evade the demand of love. The commandments of God are clear, concise, and specific- they are also the means by which true love, authentic love happens.

Love is not, as many might prefer, merely an idea or a feeling. Instead, love is an act of the will. Love means that we will the good of another person, often placing their good above our own, and willing their good even if our love is not reciprocated, even if our love is not deserved. It is in these rare, radiant and beautiful opportunities that our love manifests itself most intensely to be like God’s love.

Love is therefore, greater than mere affection and its motivation is greater than self, or even mutual interest. Love always expresses itself in sacrifice, and it is through that sacrifice, that the true depth, and intention of our love is revealed.

As such, the demand of love is great (mere ideas and feelings are not, which is why they are so often preferred). We also do not have to go far to encounter love’s demand, as it most often presents itself in the immediacy of our circumstances. It is in the fulfillment of the demand of love that we keep God’s commandments and prove ourselves to be people of integrity in terms of our profession of Faith.

Today’s Gospel presents a dramatic scene in which the Lord Jesus announces the beginning of his public mission as the Messiah of not only the Israelites, but of the whole world. He cites the prophet Isaiah as the reference point for what his mission will be and as such, what he will do.

The testimony of the Gospels is for the most part unintelligible if we do not understand how it is presenting Christ as the Messiah. Folks have tried to bracket this for the purposes of reducing Christ’s identity to being that of merely a prophet or teacher or guru or even worse than these, a vague idea or feeling. Usually these reductions are presented to serve some ideological purpose or because a person cannot bring themselves to make an act of faith that what the testimony of the Gospels has to say about the Lord Jesus is actually the truth. The result is that the Gospels make little if any sense and the Jesus who is presented as merely a prophet or teacher or guru is hardly worthy of belief and his way of life even less worthy of commitment (and worse than even this- the Jesus presented is a lie).

A willingness to learn about and understand what the Gospels have to say about Christ’s identity as Messiah is essential to knowing Christ himself. If we do not know him, we will not be able to serve him, and if we do not know him and cannot serve him, we cannot truly be his disciples.

And if we cannot be his disciples, then the meaning and purpose for which God has created us will forever remain elusive…

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Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 10th, 2015)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from a New Testament book called Acts of the Apostles. The Church proclaims texts from the Acts of the Apostles through the season of Easter. The purpose of this book is to give testimony to the extraordinary ways Christ acts in the lives of his disciples and in the real world through his Church. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles goes so far as to insist that while at one time in history, God in Christ acted through the body of the Lord Jesus’ human nature, so now the same God in Christ acts through the Church. This means that in the Church we meet the same Lord Jesus who revealed himself to the world centuries ago. The means of his self-presentation (his revelation) is different, but in the Church, it is the same Christ who was incarnate in the womb of his mother, born into this world, lived a real, human life, suffered, died and rose from the dead.

Specifically, today’s scripture describes an extraordinary encounter between the apostle Peter and a Roman soldier by the name of Cornelius. This encounter is described in detail in the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles and it really is remarkable.

Cornelius, is a Roman centurion, a soldier, who knows of and reveres the God of the Israelites, and he has a vision of an angel, who tells him to seek out a man by the name of Peter. Cornelius finds out where Peter is and tells the apostle about his vision and then Peter delivers a speech or sermon about the revelation of God in Christ. At that moment, as the excerpt from Acts of the Apostles described today, the Holy Spirit overtakes those gathered and manifests his presence in signs and wonders. Peter instructs that Cornelius and his household are to be baptized. Cornelius and his household are the first of the Gentiles to be baptized and received into the Church.

The companions of Peter are astonished because Cornelius and his household are Gentiles, not Israelites, and yet they receive gifts from God in Christ (who is the God of the Israelites).

What’s this all about?

This particular scripture is about a controversy that beset the early Church. This controversy was about the apostles conviction that God in Christ had transformed Israel and in this transformation revealed that the new Israel would include people who were not physical descendents of Abraham. As such, being an Israelite was no longer a matter of blood, being born into an Israelite family, but of a relationship with Jesus Christ, which brought one into communion with his Church through Baptism.

The Church is a new kind of Israel or Israel transformed and this new, transformed Israel is going to open up the possibility of being an Israelite to the whole world.

Not everyone was happy about this. For many Israelites and Gentiles this new kind of Israel called the Church would confuse important cultural, political, economic distinctions and upset customary ways that had been established to maintain the status quo. This new Israel, this Church, threatened that status quo, and to this accusation the apostles and early Christians said- “absolutely right”. The revelation of God in Christ was not about affirming people as they are, but opening up new possibilities. The revelation of God in Christ was not about accommodating the world as it is, but bringing about a new world.

These new possibilities and new world would happen through a strange reality the apostles called the Holy Spirit. What this strange reality called the Holy Spirit does is unleash the love of God in Christ into people’s lives and through those people, out into the world. The Holy Spirit is not magic. The Holy Spirit is the love of Jesus, that changes peoples lives- it is through this love, manifest in the words and deeds of those who have the love of Jesus in their lives, that is the power God intends to use to change the world.

The Acts of the Apostles testifies that the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus, brought together a lot of people who never should have known one another or given one another the time of day. Cornelius, a Roman soldier, an agent of Caesar, who is the enemy of both Israelites and Christians, becomes a friend of Christ and the Church (and a member of the new Israel). An Israelite like Peter, shares table with a Gentile like Cornelius. The Holy Spirit chooses Gentiles to be share communion with God in Christ in the Church, and makes these Gentiles equal in identity and mission to the children of Abraham.

In all this, the world as the Israelites and the Gentiles knew it was being turned upside down.

What does this mean for us?

The challenge in all this for us is that for many Christians the Church has become little more than a quaint ethnic identity, a useful non for profit corporation, a diversion for a settled middle class Americans. (And, if anything is going to change in regards to the Church, it’s not us, but the Church, that should be transformed to better serve my particular needs). But none of this is really true. What the Church really is- is a revolution.

The Church is the means that God in Christ intends to use to change us and change the world.

This revolution is not like the revolutions of the world that use terror and violence and force of will and law to compel people to change. This is how worldly power works, but God subverts all this through the witness of Christian love, which our second scripture, an excerpt from the First Letter of John speaks about so eloquently.

Christian love is not an ideal or a feeling, but it is something very strange that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. What we see in Christ is God showing us what real love, what true love is all about. As I said, real love, true love is not about an idea or a feeling, but about willing for another person what is really and truly good for them, even if that person doesn’t deserve or even want the good that we give.

We see this in Christ, who gives us his life and love, even though we don’t deserve those good gifts and despite the fact that those good gifts Christ gives are so often cruelly refused.

When St. John testifies today that “God is love” and “the way of the love of God was revealed to us when God sent his only Son into the world” and “in this is love, not that we have loved God, but God has loved us” this is precisely what he means- love looks like what God reveals in Christ. What God reveals in Christ is that love is willing for another person what is really and truly good, even if that person doesn’t deserve or even want the good that we give.

Unlike worldly love, the love of God in Christ does not calculate value through cost/benefit analysis or personal advantage. The love of Christ wills what is good for others even if that love is undeserved, refused, or is never reciprocated. When Christians love others with this kind of love we are participating in God’s strategy to change the world.

When you see the kind of love that Christ reveals, you are seeing the work of the Holy Spirit!

The revelation of true love, real love, in Christ, is further illuminated by the Lord Jesus himself in his Gospel for today.

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus identifies one of the necessary characteristic of love which is relationship. Without relationship there cannot be love, at least not a love that will be deep and enduring. Without relationship all our love amounts to is ideas or feelings, and that doesn’t amount to much at all!

What kind of relationship does God in Christ want with us?

In terms of his relationship with us, Christ tells us what he wants that relationship to be- he wants us to be his friends.

What does it mean to be someone’s friend? To be someone’s friend means that you want to be with that person and that you have common interests that you share. A friend is not someone that you associate with for an ulterior motive, like advancing one’s career or supporting a cause. What kind of friendship do you have with the Lord Jesus? In what ways do you share your life with him? What interests do you have in common? Do you love what he loves? Do you serve what he serves?

Or are you simply using him to get something that you want for yourself? God in Christ wants to be your friend. Is that what you want from him?

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