The Gospel of today might come to us as a difficult, if we don’t put it in the right context. It is a difficult teaching, especially if not read in the right way. We have to understand that Jesus doesn’t say that relationships or family are not important. He doesn’t say that we should not love those that are close to us. He does not abolish the fourth commandment or any other commandment. He only says we should give Him our everything.
Today Jesus remind us what the consequences are if we follow Jesus and his true Gospel. Not a cultural adapted Gospel or nationalistic Gospel but the True Gospel of Jesus Christ. When are following Jesus truly then that comes with a price. Jesus tells us that “those that love father or mother, son or daughter more than Him are not worthy of Him”. By saying that he is not telling that we should not love them. Contrary to how many people read that verse, the Gospel does not tone down the importance of God’s commandments. It rather fulfills these things. We know for sure that Jesus was not saying that children should ignore the wishes of their parents and justify it with the Gospel. Jesus was making very clear that if we are going to live the Gospel it will collide with the world. It will conflict with the ways of the world and cause tension with others.
Scholars are generally in agreement of the meaning when Jesus uses the phrase “he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” They agree that sacrificing their lives for the sake of the Gospel will give them the eternal reward. Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that he asks nothing less than total commitment. He repeats it in other parts of the Gospel.
We cannot be His disciple if we put other things before Him. Be it family, children, country, flag, celebrities, politicians or anything else. That goes against the first commandment. Christ’s call to discipleship, and to a life of complete submission to Him still rings just as true and just as real as it did when he said the words of the Gospel two millennia ago. In America we hear a lot about people claiming having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” But is that really true? We absolutely believe that our God is real. But do we really sacrifice everything for God. Or is it some kind of Nationalistic or Cultural Christianity where we believe that God is with us and against everybody else? There are a lot of people who believe that. But there are also people show their Christianity through their way of life. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus’ message of total commitment to Him is not exactly one we hear often in our modern culture. Far too many people are totally committed to their own advancement, their own enrichment, their own nation with their own false Gods. Many Christians think it is enough to go to Church, to quote Bible verses and to pray…. but it is not.
If we think that is what it means to live the Gospel, we have missed the point. In order to receive the sanctifying Grace of Christ, we need to be committed to Jesus Christ all the way. The ultimate reward for this kind of complete embrace of Jesus Christ and His message is that we will spend eternity in Heaven. Living a committed Gospel life may be a daily struggle for many of us. It might be difficult, but we have to remember that Christ is with us all the way. He is committed to us always, so is too much asked that we are committed to Him? The Gospel is not for the faint-hearted. Or like Mother Angelica said: “Holiness is not for wimps and the cross is not negotiable”. It is true because we need to be strong. Jesus told us that difficulties come our way when we choose the Gospel. Every Theology that tells you differently is a false theology. He also said, “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus wants us to give him everything because we love Him. And if we do it is not a burden but a joy. Let us give ourselves to Jesus Christ and his Gospel so we might have life in abundance. Amen.
Today we have to cut into a difficult but necessary subject: Slavery! There are various forms of slavery and discrimination among different groups of people. But we have to determine if the Bible has the same perspective on slavery as we have. Both the first reading and the Gospel talk about Slavery. It is import for us to determine whether the Bible approves of Slavery? The short answer is NO! And neither should we! We should do everything in our power to overcome it. But we have to fair. There seem to be verses in the Bible that talk about slaves and slavery. For instance today we hear about Sarah who sends Hagar “the slave woman” away. So we have to ask that one question on one point: “what does the Bible mean with slavery and also does the Bible actually condone slavery?”.
The New Testament improves when it comes to Slavery but it still seems to fall far short of that which twenty-first century human rights would expect. But we cannot just pluck the Biblical narrative written in that time and culture and add it into our time and age. That would be exegetical wrong. We need to step back and ask ourselves what are the theological, political, and cultural contexts in which the Old Testament narrative unfolds. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words used to denote slaves did not necessarily carry the same connotations that we associate with slavery today. Only by understanding the biblical texts and the cultures that produced them can we understand what is being referred to in the Bible. Early Christians had to work out their treatment of one another under Roman law. And that law was not like “the land of the free” where you could call out things, let even alone change it. The Christian community was a counter-cultural movement in which social distinctions were overcome by treating each other decently. Jesus is Lord, and masters and slaves were expected to treat each other as beloved brothers and sisters and equal members of the body of Christ.
So just how similar was Israelite slavery to our conception of the institution that bears the same name? Not much. Consider first that Israelite slavery was voluntary. Exodus 21:16 tells us that "Whoever steals a slave and sells the slave, and anyone found in possession of the slave, shall be put to death.” To begin with, it should not be forgotten that the Old Testament has ethical, ceremonial, and social codes for that time and place. Therefore, their application to the present day should not always be considered in literal terms. The social elements of those narratives need not apply to us, and the ceremonial ones are largely fulfilled in the completed work of Christ. We see the first statement on human rights: the alien was to be treated as a citizen. More even, the alien should be loved as one of their own (Leviticus 19:33-34). Even when Hebrew law and custom shared in the common heritage of the ancient world, there is a unique care in God’s Name for those people who by status were not considered people.
The regulation of slavery should therefore be seen as a practical step to deal with the realities of the day resulting from human fall. The situations that lead to alienation among individuals, races, and nations are the result of a fundamental broken relationship between humankind and God. Scripture does reveal that slavery is not ideal, both in Old Testament laws forbidding the enslavement of fellow Israelites. The Bible teaches that the feeling of superiority in general is sin (Philippians 2:1-8)! The abolition of slavery is thus not only permissible by biblical standards, but demanded by biblical principles. Practices like slavery should be abolished because all humans beings are made in the image of God. Paul summons it all up in his letter to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. On this principle, the Bible addresses the very economic discrimination and favouritism of which slavery is the worst expression. St. James writes: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism”. He puts it more specifically: " for if you have done son, have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
In both the first and second reading it seems that scripture points to another way! Namely that of overcoming these boundaries and strive for equality. It seems that the Bible take an approach that seems to encourage equality while on the same time not make a moral judgement itself. When Sara wants to send Hagar away for selfish reasons it grieves Abraham. But God tells him to let it be, because he will make a great nation out of Ismael as well. This shows that God doesn’t discriminate and it might even be his purpose that Sara sends Hagar her away, to set her free. “What the devils means for evil, God uses for good”. In the Gospel Jesus tells us that “a slave cannot be above his master, but can be like the teacher’. Again we see that same equality. God want us to treat people equally, even if the society has another take on that. We Christians have to raise our level of awareness and involvement when it comes to social issues. If we fail to do so, we pass these issues into the hands of non-Christians. Many times these non-Christians perform better on issues of social injustice then we as Christians do. And that is not right.
While they have no theological reason to do so, the real tragedy is that we who do have that basis fail to address these issues. We remain largely indifferent and weak. We talk about love and kindness as if that was the only characteristics of God! But God is also justice and righteousness. He wants to love but real love asks sometimes to be tough and confronting as well. May the Lord of Scripture open our eyes to see that God is interested in the redemption of the whole of creation and not just that of some. It is as Paul summons it all up in his letter to the Galatians, namely that there should be no division int he Body of Christ: "for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. In that spirit let us pray that the Holy Spirit enlightens us to transform social inequality to Biblical equality. Amen.
Jesus feels sorry when he sees all the people that need help. He first asks his disciples to pray and then sends them out. Praying is always the first things that we should do
Even if we are listening to Gods call to send us. The Gospel tells us that after he asks them to pray he sends them out. "Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. And these are the names of the twelve apostles..." If you look carefully at that verse in the Gospel you notice a change. It goes so fast that you might have missed it. In the first sentence it says "disciples." Then it suddenly changes to "apostles." What's the difference? It are just interchangeable names for the twelve right? Let's compare it with ourselves. When we are in the last stage of being a student. We all made or make the same kind of transition. One minute you are a student, still in training to learn to do the job. Then comes the moment of graduation. They are no longer students but graduates, ready to go out into the world to practice what they've been learning for so many years. The word disciples means a person who believes in the ideas and principles of someone else and tries to live the way that person does or did. Basically a student that is being taught by that person or someone else to follow the principles as laid out. The Greek word apostle refers to somebody that is being send out on a mission. So there is a difference. A Disciple is someone being taught, while a apostle is someone that is going to practice what he learned. It is a important distinction. In a way we are all first disciples of Christ and then, some more then others, become apostles and go into the world on a mission for Christ.
And that mission is more then going to church on Sunday, to say that you have Jesus in your heart or you are able to quote scripture verses. NO! It is to put into action what you have heard and experienced from your teacher. It is to go on that mission and love your neighbor all the way. It is to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons. And we can see that both in a literal our symbolically way. The world needs these works of mercy above all We have to show that we are followers of Jesus. We need to be Jesus Apostle’s every day again. Things didn’t changed that much. In our world it is still the case that we are first a student and then comes the moment of graduation. We are no longer students but graduates. We go into the world and practice what we have learned in all these years. And what learned is not staying in the books and make it too theoretical…no we have to practice it as the situation requires. But of course with that what we learned in the back of our minds. We are no longer disciples but ready to for the professional world. We are, in effect, "apostles," people being "sent out" into the world to do what we have been taught to do. That is what an "apostle" does. This passage from Matthew shows us the moment of “graduation”. When Jesus decided that they were ready to be sent out to share in his mission. Jesus saw he could not do it alone so he sends his disciples out. He also ask them to pray that God may send more “workers into his harvest”. Jesus needs more workers to spread the message. He needs you and he needs me and we should go wherever he sends us. Unlike graduates in our world they did not had a completed amount of courses or credit hours. Discipleship isn't that easy. It was more a matter of Jesus deciding that they were ready. And he knew that the world needed them. Jesus had been travelling around for a while and noticed that they were "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd". As he looks at them, he sees the need. Much more then he can reach on his own. And so the time has come to add helpers to his mission. So he "sends out laborers into the Lord's harvest..."
So Jesus called to him his closest followers, and passes on the power to name and overcome evil, the power to heal and reconcile, power granted to him by the holy and living God. And then he sent them out as apostles with some guidelines. Were they perfect in everything they did? Most likely not. The New Testament tells us over and over again of the ways they missed the dropped the ball and missed the point. They missed the point of what Jesus was telling them. They slept when they should stay awake, deserted him, barely recognized him as the risen Christ and had no clue what to do when he ascended into heaven. One of them even sold him to the enemy authorities. But still…but still.... There is a church in the world today that witnesses to every nation about the Gospel of Christ. Are we perfect? Most certainly not. But still we go out and try to do our best to be faithful witnesses of Christ. Just like the Apostles, imperfect as they were, answered the call of Jesus to be sent out to proclaim the good news. Sometimes we're tempted to see the church as an end in itself. We're happy to gather within our buildings and our communities (again). Just to be in the presence of the Lord. We are content to gather and shut the world out. But that is not what Jesus asked us to do or to be. Being an apostle is a risk. It means we have to step outside the walls of the Church and go into a world of people. A world that is caught in suffering, fear and illusions. God knows that this world needs the Gospel of Christ more then ever. It takes courage to be an apostle. The disciples that gathered around Jesus weren't much different. They most likely didn’t want to go out there, outside the comfort of the close circle. No they needed to go out where they had to be "wise as serpents" and "innocent as doves." But Jesus saw the world, grieving and wounded, and knew they needed his message desperately, then and know. He sent out his first apostles to bear the power of God into the struggle with evil, to heal the sick, to bring the reconciliation of love. And he sends us still, to do the same. As apostles of Christ, we are called to that difficult mission. To bring healing, reconciliation, and love to the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to different places and different cultures but we are called to go wherever there are people hurting and looking for salvation. Our world is still full of people who are "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Like the first apostles, we won't be perfect. We will make mistakes, miss opportunities, miss the point and betray our Lord. But our God is a God of Mercy. And he keeps sending us back out into the world, to be his apostles. The first apostles are our forebears on the journey of faith. They turned the world upside down, in the power of the Spirit. And we should do the same. We are called to go out to the world we live in and don’t stay behind the closed doors of “the upper room”. We are called to go out a call out the evil and injustice we see. We need to disclose these practices and try to change them in the Spirit of the Gospel. We need to touch the sicknesses of the world -- fear, exclusion, racism, violence, hopelessness, despair, pain and heal it. Say to the world, "The Kingdom of God has come near." And don't worry or be afraid. God knows how to accomplish it. God’s Spirit will be moving through you. God’s purpose will be accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the mission we are called to and so we go. Amen.
Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, One God. The father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, The Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Three individual persons and still the same God. It is hard to grasp that is why we call it a Divine Mystery. We should not try to grasp it with our minds but with our hearts. We are called into unity with the Most Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you do nothing”. Just as Jesus does his works through his unity with the Trinity, so we can share in that Divine Unity through Christ himself.
The first reading tells us how the Spirit of God created everything in the beginning. He controls the chaos and brings order into existence. Nothing is too big for our God to bring in control, even not the chaos in our world. God created a perfect world but mankind ruined it. Nevertheless God never abandons us and goes with us through history. “I am who I am”. God is the essence of life itself and he could not abandon us even he would want to. He might let us for a moment because we step back from him, but if we return to Him he will always return to us. Without Him we simply cannot exist. The Holy Trinity is a relational God. They are not just two males and a dove. NO! They are a perfect unity in communion with each other. The Holy Trinity does not practice social distancing or the 6 feet rule towards each other and neither to us. They are knit together and with us from the beginning. As they are in relation with each other so they want to be in relation with us. The trinity is all about relations and communion. As they are in communion with each other so should we be in communion with the trinity…and with each other. There is only one human race and we are supposed to be all brothers and sisters….equal to each other. No one is more important then the other.
This communion within God’s own self gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God – and, knowing that a deeper communion describes very well the universe in which we live, speaks to the longings in our own hearts as we are separated from others. We find that the first Christians were less concerned about doctrinal formulation than in following the way of Jesus. They patterned their daily lives in prayer and fasting, in service to others, and gathering for worship. Into that community, they baptized new followers using that same Trinitarian formula. In time, they came to think through what it meant to speak of a God who is both one and three. The analogies used to describe what we mean fall short. Saint Patrick’s three petals forming a single shamrock. John Wesley’s example of three candles in a room, yet one light by which to read. We could speak of other analogies for the Trinity, like Father, Mother and child yet one family. Another analogy lies in our human existence. As we are created in the image and likeness of God, we can speak of human beings as a kind of trinity: Body (the Son), mind (the Father) and soul (the Holy Spirit). The Spirit of God resides in us and so we should seek unity with the Triune God. At the end the Trinity remains a mystery, a mystery of Love. Just like love among humans or even humans and pets. We know so much about those we love most of the time, but at other moments we don’t. We can know a lot about God but he still is in many ways incomprehensible for us. A mystery that is deeper than our minds can grasp.
Humans have a deep need of other people. We cannot just stay alone and come together to procreate like some animals. We learned this during this pandemic. We need communion with others, even if we feel not for it very much. Being separated by the coronavirus has not broken that sense of communion. We found other ways to stay connect how imperfect they may seem. Our news ways of connection comes from that deep longing which is the heart of the Holy Trinity. Loving other people more helps us to see them as God sees them. Loving people helps us to draw us closer to God. That is the communion we were called to. We are not called to cause division…that is the territority of Gods enemy. He wants to divide and to destroy. God wants to unite and to heal. The love we are created to show gives us the opportunity to unite and reach out to those that need us. Not to earn the favor of God but because we want to. Connection with others makes us more connected to God. Early Christians put the practices of faith ahead of trying to figure everything out and put it in dogma’s and doctrines.
That is what through the ages went wrong with Christianity. We need to go back to the basic, hold on to the practices of Early Christians. We can also prioritize our practices of faith, instead of being too dogmatic and legalistic. Nothing what we do relies on us alone but on the grace of God. He will work through the imperfect words and actions from us and others to connect us deeper to each other and to God. Let us ask the Most Holy Trinity to guide us on our way to Oneness with each other and with the ONE TRUE GOD! Amen.
In all the turmoil going on In the world right now we need Gods spirit more then ever. Only God is able to control the chaos that surrounds us. As the Spirit of God hovers over the water of the chaos and created order. So now he can create order in our self created chaos. In life itself we are confronted with situations which seem confusing and contradictory. We wonder where we are going and what the outcome might be. At times we may feel quite helpless in these kinds of circumstances.
But Gods Spirit is always there to guide us through these situations. And to stay in the Pentecost tradition let use the word in some other languages: The Holy Ghost or 'der heilige Geist' in German, 'de heilige Geest' in Dutch and 'lo spirito Santo' in Italian. This Holy Spirit is a kind of being the forgotten person of the Trinity. Perhaps from being a spirit, since for many people today, only tangible, material things are the whole of reality. The Father and Son could be imaged as tangible because one took flesh and the other was portrayed with a venerable beard, reflecting the vision about “the Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:9). Whatever the reason, even among devout Christians the Holy Spirit is often overlooked. But there are good reasons not to neglect the Spirit. The first is the promise of Jesus. At the Last Supper, he promised to send the Spirit, to be an ever-reliable helper, advocate, counselor, teacher, a replacement for Christ himself.
“Unless I go, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” For the earliest Christians, the Spirit sent by Jesus a vital source of energy and missionary spirit. They never forgot his first coming. Beforehand, they were timid and afraid. When the Spirit came over them in a whirling wind, fire and speech, they were transformed. Some bystanders were less poetic in their reaction and sneered, “They’re drunk” (Acts 2:13). In a sense they were right, for drunk they were, spiritually, intoxicated with the Spirit of Christ’s love and eagerness to proclaim his message. The Spirit was breathing among them, and from now on the prayer “Jesus is Lord” would be their motto. They stayed spiritually drunk for as long as they lived, the Spirit coursed in their bloodstream.
We have the gifts of the Spirit, given for service in the Church, unusual gifts like healing or prophecy, designed to meet the needs of an infant Church, and ordinary gifts too, that helped to build up the community: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self control” (Ga 5:22). Whenever we exercise our charisms we honor the Spirit. When we are loyal, console the bereaved, support the old or encourage the young, we are being led by the Spirit. When we resist temptation, we honor the Spirit. When we respond to our better impulses, the Spirit is working in us. The Spirit of God is the rising sap moving all that is best in us. It is through our better instincts that the Spirit works. Our part is to work with him to reach our fullest selves.
Joys and troubles, successes and failures, are woven into daily life, animating or weighing us down. But often we are hardly aware of what’s deepest in ourselves. What we grasp clearly is just a small island amid the wide and deep sea that is life. Sometimes, even what’s most essential and decisive eludes us. The theologian Karl Rahner reminds of this living presence of God’s Spirit working within our own spirit. This can easily be smothered by other things. Mostly, we seem to think that what is wonderful must be very rare, but God’s grace is not like that. There’s a widespread tendency to consider the living presence of the Spirit as reserved to chosen and select people. But Rahner reminds us that God’s Spirit lives in the human heart, since the Spirit is God’s way of sustaining our existence.
The Spirit of God is present even where apparently nothing is happening. The Spirit is there, wherever life is lived and our daily duties are carried out. God’s Spirit works silently in the heart of regular and simple people, in contrast to the pretension of those who think themselves the sole possessors of the Spirit. Pentecost invites us to seek that Spirit in our own selves. It is not a trophy granted only to the elite. We need to welcome the Spirit of God who is the font of all life. This Spirit is for everyone, because the immense Love of God is present to all the efforts and yearnings that spring from the heart of all God’s children. The Bible says that "all who gathered in one room heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven" and also "that something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire".
The Holy Spirit is impossible to visualize, because the Spirit cannot be seen as such. Yet the Holy Spirit is profoundly real. Many things in our universe are real even though invisible to the naked eye. The Holy Spirit belongs to the spiritual world, and it naturally cannot see the Spirit with our eyes. Yet, there are helpful ways of imagining the Holy Spirit. St Paul uses an image drawn nature when he says that the Spirit bears fruit. He means the visible effect of the Spirit on one’s life. We may not be able to see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the effect of the Spirit in our life, just as we cannot see the wind but can see the effect of the wind. Paul is saying that wherever we find love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control, the Spirit is there at work. The Spirit becomes visible in and through these qualities and virtues. The person who most of all had those qualities was Jesus because he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of the life of God.
In Pentecost, humanity appears at its best, united and sharing in wisdom. Pentecost brought about a wonderful bonding of people from all over the Roman Empire. They were united in admiring and praising the marvels of God. In spite of differences of language and culture there was a real communion among them. Wherever communion of heart and mind exist among people of different backgrounds, the Holy Spirit is at work.
Unity in diversity is the mark of the Spirit. It can be like that again if we will let the Spirit work through us. May God grant us such a Spirit to guide us on our way to Him. Amen.
Today on Memorial day we’ve come together to remember with thanksgiving for all the men and women who gave their life for our freedom. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” said the Lord.
War reminds us to be people who work for peace. Today, as we gather to honor our dead, we are reminded of the gift of eternal life that our God has promised to us, His people. He gives to us the promise in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s intent for all of us is to live with Him forever in heaven. That is His divine will and we are free to choose and to embrace His will, to say "yes" to it or to say "no" to it. We on our part need to do everything within our possibility to strive for holiness. As St. Paul says: " Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". This must learn us that the powers of the world can be evil and so can those in authority be.
We especially honor today those who have died in war, those who have fought for our freedoms as Americans. We know, too, that war is never pleasant, that in the midst of war, even when it is a just war, evil is present. I recall that talk that I had with my uncle about WWII and the role of America in it. One day I can remember speaking with one of my uncles. He said: “Ronnie, if it was not for the Americans we would not be here”. And every time there was a war going on when I grew up and America was involved he used to ask me: “And Ronnie what you think about it?” He loved to talk about things going on in the world. A great man. My family experienced the war in all it’s aspect. Another uncle died in a German prison camp as a member of the resistance. There are all sorts of questions around that war, so it is always good to talk about these things.
The bottomline is: "There is no glory in war. No matter how just the cause may be, war is always horrific, even when you are trying to battle evil and you are on the side of good. To kill another human being is never easy. To hold a fallen comrade in your arms is never easy. To experience the killing of innocent people, which unfortunately happens is never easy. There is always a darkness to war." War should always remind us of the call the Lord gives to us, , to be people who work for peace. The only way that there will ever be peace within our world is if all peoples are converted to the message of Jesus Christ, if our hearts and minds are transformed to live our lives according to God’s plan and not our plans. When we honor the dead and those who have gone before us, we, too, remember the tremendous sacrifices they have made. They We believe, as written in the book of wisdom, that the righteous are in the hand of God. Not that nothing will harm them in this life, but they have a place in Gods everlasting glory. Because there is ‘no greater love that give your life for others’ as the Lord tells us today.
In any war, the Evil One always has a field day. You can see that even in the war in Iraq. The Evil One is the winner in any war, even when good succeeds. We, as a people, are called to conversion. We are called to recognize the presence of Jesus Christ in our midst even in the dark times of war. We are called to reconciliation after war so that the grace of Jesus Christ may bring true healing and peace. As we remember our dead and hold them up to the Lord, let us ask the Lord to give us a deeper faith in the truth that has been proclaimed in His Son, Jesus Christ. May we, recognize the presence of our Lord in our midst and may our lives be conformed to His truth. Amen.
This is a turbulent year with everything going on in the world. Though the Church year remains the same. Next week we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and today the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. And Jesus has a fierce lesson for us today. Namely, that we should be concerned with the task that he has given us and nothing else. He tells his disciples: "It is not up to you to know time or seasons". And what he says to his disciples he says to us. It is not up to us to know the time of his return. That is up to God the Father! Though many Christians seem that Jesus comes soon or even when Jesus comes back, Jesus says that it is not our “problem”. We don’t need to know. We only have one task: to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and until the ends of the earth. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus says: “He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. We should not keep on staring unto heaven but continue with the great commission that Jesus give us. That is what we should worry about and what our lives should be focused on. That, and the great commandment of Love that Jesus gives us in the Gospel.
There will be trials our way, as St. Peter tells us but we have to keep on going forward and look unto heaven for our salvation. Not keep on staring for Jesus’s return but looking up for that is what our salvation comes from. We need to pray and to ask God to help and comfort us in our trials. We can be assured that Jesus prays for us as he prays for his disciples in the Gospel. He is not praying for the world but for his disciples and so for us. He does not pray for the world because the world back then was hostile to Jesus and his teachings, both the Jewish and Roman world. And as it was then it is often now. The world is hostile to Christians. There is often a different attitude to Christianity in an effort to silence the teachings of Jesus. But i have news for them...you have not the power to silence Jesus. Ultimately He has the last word.
Jesus wants us to be One as He and the Father are one. That is what we should strive for always. We as Christians should be one with each other, despite our differences. We should be a Shepherd to each other as Jesus is a Shepherd to us. Just before leaving them, he reminds them of what he expects of them. Earlier he had sent them out to spread the Kingdom of God. Those who go in his name, do so with his authority. In Matthew’s version he now adds this great promise, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Mark says that the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it”. And Luke emphasizes that they will receive “power from on high”. The mission will be both easy and hard for the disciples. It was to teach others but they will receive rejection and persecution. They were called “followers of the way”. And as they were followers so they were called to inspire others to do so. a followers doesn’t mean giving lip service but to act and believe like Jesus and his disciples did. Maybe a hard task but He is with us always. It doesn’t mean we we always hear or see him. We just have to be open to His presence in our heart, and cherish it. Then we can experience the “Joy of the Gospel”. As we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, let us ask us the Holy Spirit to come upon us and make us true “followers of the way” of Christ.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.
by the light of the Holy Spirit
you have taught the hearts of your faithful.
In the same Spirit
help us to relish what is right
and always rejoice in your consolation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Today we celebrate the 6th Sunday of Easter. We also celebrate Rogation Sunday, so we pray for the fruits of the earth and for our farmers. The Gospel reading about the Vine and the branches is a very good one. Later on, I will say a few things about it but let us first go to the first reading where St. Paul is talking about the “Unknown God”. What does he mean with that? If you know a little bit about the Greek mythology, then you know that they worshipped a whole bunch of different Gods. But obviously they were aware of an “unknown” deity as well. Ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called "Agnostos Theos", that is: "Unknown God". In Athens, there was a temple specifically dedicated to that god and very often Athenians would swear "in the name of the Unknown God" Paul heightens the tension between the immanence and transcendence of God. Maybe were a bit like the Greeks. We like God to sponsor our political ideologies and patriotic projects. And so, today’s lesson from Paul is to move away from our “false Gods” and turn toward the “unknown” God from Jesus Christ. We must join with the Apostle Paul in proclaiming the unknown God.
Cutting across our speculation and superstition, this God punctures our comfortable idolatries and calls us all to give account. Paul ‘was deeply distressed’ at the abundance of idols and images within the city. This reaction is a characteristically Jewish one as a common Jewish polemic against idolatry. The manner of Paul’s speech provides evidence of his scholarly training. His opening reference to the extreme religiousness of the Athenians has an ambiguity that he will proceed to exploit. However, through his reference to the altar of the unknown God, Paul paints a picture of an excessive, superstitious piety. In the saturated market of Athenian idolatry. Paul declares the transcendence and sovereignty of God as the Creator of all things. This deity is related to all human beings and is involved in the life and destiny of the race. God’s engagement in life occurs in order that humanity might ‘grope for him and find him.’ Such a transcendent deity, who is reflected in humanity as his offspring, cannot appropriately be represented by inanimate idols of our own creation. Having introduced this transcendent and personal deity, Paul proclaims the end of ignorance, with the revelation of Jesus as the bearer of God’s salvation.
The thoroughly “known God” underwrites the national project and identity. This is the God who stands with us against all that is foreign and unsettling. That deity is being used to our cultural identities. So, we must join with Paul in proclaiming the transcendent God, who stands above and orders all human affairs. Sustaining and upholding us in existence, closer to us than our own heart, this God eludes all attempts to reduce him to an object of our mastery. Like Paul, we must identify our cultural idolatries and declaring the identity of our God. Paul’s message at the Areopagus received a lukewarm response. His declaration of a God who lays claim to us in Jesus Christ, goes against the speculative and superstitious religion. And maybe that is a message that our country and our world does not want to hear either. The darkness of superstition was scattered by the dazzling light of divine revelation. It is this same message that we are called to declare to the powers of our own age. Paul says that God does not reside in Temples made by human hands. We will find God everywhere. He is transcendent and immanent. But above all he resides in Jesus Christ our Lord and savior.
Just last week we heard Jesus say: “I am so long with you, how can you say show us the father? Don’t you know that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” That God is the very definition of Love. He is love not because he was cosmically lonely and decided he just had to have some human beings to talk to. He is love because his essence is love. He is the essence of life itself. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have forever been in a relationship of pure, intense, joyous love. God loves before he creates anything. We cannot fully understand the mystery of this love in the Godhead. A God, that creates humans in his own image and then becomes a man, taking on human flesh. We can never finish “counting the ways” that God loves us. In a way God is incomprehensible. That is what Paul tells us today when he refers to the “unknown God”. We only can know him through Jesus Christ.
And when we turn to the Gospel that love of God becomes immanent in Jesus Christ. This Jesus tells us today that he is the Vine, the true Vine. The union of the human and Divine natures, and the fullness of the Spirit that is in him, resemble the root of the vine made fruitful. What a wonderful message on Rogation Sunday. Every wine or grape builder knows what it takes to let the grape tree be fruitful. You cut out the bad and cherish the good. The Father is the Husbandman. Never was any husbandman so wise, so watchful, about his vineyard, as God is about his church, his world and all of his people. We therefore must prosper and must be fruitful.
We must honor God and do good; this is bearing fruit. The unfruitful are taken away. The word of Christ is spoken to all believers; and there is a cleansing virtue in that word, as it works grace, and works out corruption. And the more fruit we bring forth, the more we abound in what is good, the more our Lord is glorified. In order to fruitfulness, we must abide in Christ, must have union with him by faith. Let us seek to live more simply on the fullness of Christ, and to grow more fruitful in every good word and work, so may our joy in Him and in his salvation be full. Amen!
Today we are talking about knowing someone. And who does know us better than our beloved mother. Today we celebrate our mothers! Maybe she is still with you, maybe she is not but for most of us a valuable part of our lives. She gave us life! The bible stresses the vital role of women in the transmission of the faith. Not only is motherhood vital in the Old Testament, Paul calls out the mother of Timothy and his grandmother. He honors them for being the ones who gave Timothy a vision of what to believe. “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well". If Paul honored mothers and grandmothers, we should too!
There is a great verse in Paul's letter to the Romans, where Paul is sending his personal greeting to his friends in Rome. He says, effectively, “Say hi to Rufus…and to his mother who was a mother to me.” We know that Rufus is the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross of Christ on Good Friday. But imagine this: she was like a mother to the Apostle Paul. Paul may have learned a lot of the final moments of Jesus's life from the wife of the man who carried the Lord’s cross. She was like a mother to him. Whatever that meant for Paul, we should be thankful for her.
The womb is God’s great tool for the salvation of the human race. God had to ‘borrow’ one to accomplish his plan. He did honor motherhood in a way that our culture does not today. Moms should be honored by us…God honored them all with the Incarnation.
Of course, there are women who do not have children or who cannot have children. maybe they had a mother that was not loving and caring. But, we all have needed mothers in our own lives. And those moms, foster moms, adoption moms or stepmoms, whether living or dead, deserve our thanks. So today we thank God for all our mothers!
Remember that if our moms would go out we would always have all kinds of questions? We wanted to know where she would go and when she would return. And above all who it was that would watch over us. In a similar way we hear the disciples to the same with Jesus in the Gospel. They did not ask what is going to happen to Jesus? They ask only what is going to happen to them! So self-centeredness did exist back then! Most of the disciples are even silent. Only Thomas and Phillip show what it means to be close to Jesus. From Thomas we know that he always asked questions or made statement. He was a logical thinker, something that is very important in our faith as well. Don’t just blindly follow but ask if something is not clear. And today we also hear Philip doing the same.
Today it is all about knowing Jesus. And to know Jesus we have to understand that he is going to prepare a place for us. And Jesus showed us the way. If we don’t understand that way Jesus is very willing to clarify it to us: “I am the way, the truth and the life”. Jesus is talking about relationship today. A relationship with His father. We can compare it to the relationship with our mothers. Jesus knows his father through and through, like we do our mothers. Through faith, the disciples will be able to recognize the relationship that already exists between Jesus and his father. Ultimately, faith in God, will allow his followers to enter fully into that divine relationship.
Jesus assures his listeners that they who believe in him will do the works he does—and even greater works. The list is long: caring for the sick, comforting those in pain, protecting the weak and vulnerable, defending the victimized and denouncing injustice.
As the early church was open to the work of the spirit, so should we. We pray that we, the church of the 21st century will do no less. The church stands with each other and those that need us. We now share in Jesus’ ministry and each time we demonstrate our faith by living in the spirit of Jesus. We take another step and create a little bit of a better world. Amen
Today the scriptures teach us about the real meaning of unity. We need to be one with Our Good Shepherd and with each other. And that means with all, whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not. Unity is not a matter of agreeing with each other but of the heart, caring for each other. The Acts of the apostles doesn’t tell us that they didn’t had disagreements. It does tell us: “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers’. I bet the Early Christians had a busy schedule too, but yet do care for each other. The lack of care concerns me in the modern day Church. And I am not talking about the laity only. When was the last time you asked your brother or sister in Christ how he or she was doing? I mean in a genuine way not just as a standard question as so often in our American culture. But your not waiting to hear or are interested in the answer.
Today we talk about the Good Shepherd. As Clergy we are called to Shepherd the flock, to Shepherd each other. It is not only about Shepherding your congregation but about shepherding all people and that includes your fellow clergy. I hear a lot of clergy talking a lot about themselves: their parish, their schedule and their burdens, but not so much about the burdens and struggles of your co-workers "in the vineyard of the Lord: That person can also struggle, fall, be lonely, be depressed, discouraged or go astray. Keep that in mind and don’t abandon each other. Don’t make it all about yourself and your ministry. It is not all about you. Every single soul is important to the Lord. Luckily there are good exceptions. But in general it has to be said that your fellow worker in the “vineyard of the Lord” is also one of your sheep. Keep each other in mind the next time you talk about love, care and unity. Do like Jesus and be “a gate” of protection and care for each other as well.
That being said, I want to look a little deeper into the Shepherd metaphor. We’re so familiar with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we forget what a kind of an amazing image it is for the Son of Man to take to himself. And, because of that, we have to look at little bit back into the history of shepherds. In my life I think I saw twice a shepherd. One time I was drinking a coffee in a bistro in my homeland. The other time was in Ireland, out in the country, where shepherds still guide their flock. And yet the image of shepherds and sheep is very familiar to me. After all the Latin word pastor means Shepherd. We, pastors especially, are called to shepherd people, all people. They might not be like us, they might not believe like us, they might not vote like us…but we give them the best we got.
Today, on Good Shepherd Sunday, it is all about the, Pastor Bonus, the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. When we think of a shepherd, we can think of a lot of things but in a religious sense, it is all about care. The Prophet Ezekiel tells us all about true shepherding. And that is a lesson for all shepherd that think they speak on behalf of God. God tells Ezekiel that he takes away the sheep from the shepherd that only take care of themselves. The ones that did not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured and brought back the strayed and the lost. God says plainly that he is against these kind of shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. He will remove them from tending the flock and Shepherd the flock himself. And will do everything these shepherd didn’t do.
That is not only a reminder the shepherds of Israel back then, but also to the moderen day Church. These words are for all times. In the Church there are shepherds who think know what is in Gods mind. They judge, they condemn, they prey but they don’t Shepherd. We should not be like that. Many inspiring people in the Bible are Shepherds. Abraham was a shepherd, his son was, Moses was and David was. The shepherd metaphor has a very unique and important meaning in scripture. But the idea of a shepherd comes to a new understanding when God stands before His people and when Jesus says these sacred words: “I am the Good shepherd.” Not a shepherd but “I am the Good shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep”. There are times in our lives that we cannot do it by ourselves and need someone that leads us on the way through life.
We need the Good Shepherd to lead us, especially when we are discouraged. He is always with us and never leaves his sheep. You know, the Jewish shepherd of old were not educated men. They were looked down upon. They were never allowed to give witness in a court case because they weren’t smart enough. That is why God gives them a prominent place in the birth story of Jesus. The shepherd would often be away from home for a long time. And when the Gospel speaks about the sheep fold, we have to understand that is was not always a closed of area. Sometimes it was just closed of by rocks or stones. The shepherd would make a little sheep area for them, a little protection against the wild animals. And he would leave the gate. He would leave it to a designated person, the gate keeper. This gate keeper knew who the shepherd was and would recognize his voice. The Holy Spirit is the gate keeper and he recognizes the voice of Jesus. That is what Jesus is saying.
Second, if Jesus is talking about the gate we, in our modern day thinking, might think that it was a wooden or iron gate. But it was not like that at all back then. The gate was just an opening among the rocks that he had piled up all around to protect the sheep. And that’s why Jesus can say, “I am the gate,” because the gate isn’t a thing, the gate is an opening into the sheep fold. And the sheep when they’re inside the gate feel secure and feel happy and feel content. Jesus is the gate, because he opens for us the way to God. The gate was about five or six feet, just enough to get the sheep through. When the shepherd got them all in, he might still worry that some might be late. So the shepherd would lay down in the space and sleep at the gate. In that way the late sheep can kind of nudge him to get into the sheep fold. He did it also so the wild animals, that prey on the sheep, would have to step over him. So he literally lies before the sheep in order to protect them. Very courageous. What a wonderful metaphor that Jesus puts on himself. He literally lies before everything that can harm us, to protect and safeguard us.
When David volunteered to fight Goliath, He said that he defended the sheep gate against lions and tigers and leopards and wild dogs and thieves, and that he drove them all away and the sheep knew they were safe with him. So now when Jesus says, “I am the gate,” he is saying more, “I am the Good Shepherd, the one who defends and takes care of and makes his sheep feel secure, and never loses them and lays his life down for them,” which Jesus does. Another metaphor is a goal keeper in soccer. He would defend his goal and throws himself in front of the ball, the opponent, even risking his own welfare. He does not care if it harms him, as long as his “team” is safe. We are on Jesus team and he will plunges himself before everything that can possible harm us.
So,” and here’s the point, “if you wish to recognize the Savior,” the one who is among you, you have to look for the one that protects the sheep gate. The one that gives everything for his sheep. He can be that stranger that we might not recognize, like the Emmaus disciples. But we will recognize him when he is breaking the bread and says: “ I am the Good Shepherd that gives his life for the Sheep”. We need to do just like the disciples, and take in the stranger and the lost. We “Seek the Lord in the sharing of the bread.” and in sharing the bread with each other, we will find the Good Shepherd. Amen