When Differences Bring Understanding

Pentecost 6-4-17 Acts 2:1-11, Ps: 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7,12-13, John 20:19-23

When Differences Bring Understanding

St. John’s description of the gift of the Holy Spirit is very different from St. Luke’s. Luke waits 50 days after Easter, until the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which celebrated God’s gift of the Law at Mt. Sinai.  John, on the other hand, tells of the gift of the Spirit occurring on the evening of Easter day.  How do we know that?  Well, verse 18 of John, Chapter 20, was Mary Magdalene coming directly to the apostles from the empty tomb, announcing that she had seen…and talked with… the Risen Christ.  Our reading today starts with verse 19, the very next verse: “On the evening of that first day of the week ( Easter)..”

John used this same expression, “that day”, when Jesus, at the Last Supper, promised the disciples, “The Father will give you another Advocate…the Spirit of Truth…On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in You.”  John’s community understood that Easter was “that day”.

Consequently, John’s community was highly centered on the Eucharist, which almost immediately became the custom of the disciples on the first day of the week.  And here in our Gospel, is the risen Jesus himself, on the first day of the week, with his disciples, just as he is with us in our Eucharist and in the Spirit.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus is seeing his disciples for the first time since they abandoned him at his arrest in Gethsemane.  They have a lot to answer for.  They deserved to be fired, have their reputations blackened for life. What does Jesus say?  “Peace to you.”  Then he reveals himself by showing his hands and his side.  He literally opens himself up to them.  It seems to be in part self-identification. We might call his wounds his “credentials” to minister to all who suffer.  Next, he repeats “Peace to you.”  Upon hearing him and seeing him, then the disciples rejoiced and believed He was risen from the dead.

“Peace to you” is a Hebrew phrase which meant that something sacred was about to be revealed.   It is not just, “Hey Guys, relax.”  No.  It is a declaration of peace, a proclamation, an announcement. The risen Jesus brings them peace, gives them peace.  (You know: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.)  Having prepared them to open themselves to the Spirit, he breathed on them.  This takes us right back to Genesis 2, where God breathed into Adam the breath of life.  It is as if the Spirit “re-creates” the disciples.

Early on, the breath of Holy people was presumed to have supernatural and healing powers. In fact, an early Patriarch of Alexandria filled a skin bag, like a balloon, with his breath, and sent it off to Ethiopia to ordain a Bishop.  Here in John, this breath, a sign of creation, is linked with the power to forgive sin, becoming a sign of restoration and fullness of life.

The differences between Luke’s and John’s Gospels can’t be reconciled. We have no chronological historical documents which focus on the exact time line. Besides, much of our scripture was written not with the intent of keeping a play-by-play, but with a much more important goal – that is- to explain the revelations of God to the generations to come.

These revelations are given in a way to help us understand, they help us make sense of what happened, in ways that are not bound by the swing of a clock pendulum, but by the movement of the Spirit in the heart and soul. Our job is to attend carefully and embrace the mystery.

Perhaps the best way for us to really enter into the revelation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is to talk about it in ways that we have experienced and with issues that we face. The Holy Spirit has been called “the love that God and Jesus have for each other”.  The Spirit brings closeness.  Think about the image found in Luke’s Pentecost of everyone in Jerusalem hearing the Good News in their own language.  We view that as being able to draw close and talk with someone we had never been able to communicate with before.  The barrier of language is removed, and we can share with a “foreigner” the truths we base our lives on.  We can listen intently to them, hearing them speak from their innermost self.  We are then drawn to love the very human-ness of each other, without stumbling over the clutter of culture or social customs.

What if this Spirit who is Love gave us the ability to listen to people we dislike, those people who drive us nuts, and the people we can’t talk to without getting into an argument. What if suddenly, with the Spirit, we could hear what they were saying, really saying, and suddenly realize that is so very much like what we, too, are really trying to say.  What if we wanted to share our time with them, what if our faith suddenly felt big enough to embrace someone else’s understanding?

This week, Trinity Episcopal Church in Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, offered the use of their chapel to a Jewish congregation who had lost their synagogue, saying, “Let’s loose the keys to the church to the community.”  Wouldn’t that be the sense of Pentecost?

In John’s Gospel, immediate after saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus brings up forgiveness. Without the Holy Spirit, the “power” to forgive sins – or not forgive – seems enticing.  But with the Holy Spirit, suddenly the thought comes – “When I offer forgiveness, the sin is gone, forgiven.  What if all the pain and hurt between me and that sibling I haven’t spoken to in years is gone?  What if my estranged friend and I could once again enjoy each other’s company?

What if then, we shed some of our defenses, let some perceived insult or meanness be forgotten, what if we felt the person who formerly had annoyed us was, in fact, really of great value. Wouldn’t that be the gift of the Holy Spirit?

Let me end by quoting Pope Francis. “Let us ask ourselves today: Are we open to ‘God’s Surprises’?  Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit?  Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness set before us?”

 

Homily the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 7th, 2017

4 easterThe readings today on the 4th Sunday of Easter seem misplace as the reading from Acts is from Pentecost Sunday and the Gospel is from the time of Christ’s ministry. However, if we step back and look at the readings from the perspective of the resurrection we can get a look at the all encompassing love of God for the world through his Son Jesus. As members of his church or flock, we have an intimate connection with him and with each other and ultimately all believers and people we care about. God’s love embraces all and 4 easte 4includes forgiveness if we open our hearts and forgive as Jesus does. Love can conquer and cover over many things and bring unbelievers and sinners closer and in some way within the circle of God’s love. Is it not so that God love every one and actually turns no one away. The interruption of a relationship with God is not the doing of God,but the rejection or walking away of someone. God is like a father who sadly accepts rejection but is always loving and ready to forgive. What more powerful proof of this could there be than the very life, death, resurrection and ascension of his Son. If this life-giving, loving act can not be accepted, then what is left? All of history seemingly revolves around that very act. 4 easter 5Humanity has been slow to believe and share and spread the word, but God still is looking out for the world in ways we don’t understand. What we need to do is to reach out and embrace others with love, as in doing so we are sharing God’s love and even spreading his forgiveness and hopefully spreading his word. It is what the Lord commanded, to love each other as he loved us.

Promises and Blessings, Now and Then

4th Sunday of Easter 5-7-17, Acts 2:14a, 36-41,  Ps: 23:1-6, 1 Peter 2:20b-45,  John 10:1-10

Promises and Blessings, Now and Then

Last Sunday we read the Emmaus story, in which Jesus walks with two disciples. They do not recognize him, but “he interpreted to them (the parts which) referred to him in all the scriptures.” Later they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” Today our situation is the similar. I cannot tell you how many years I heard Peter’s Pentecost homily with my eyes glazing over as I wondered where those scripture quotations came from, what they meant, and how they were relevant. Without interpretation, our readings do not come to us full of meaning and context.

This interpretation is complicated by our readings jumping around in the scriptures during the Easter Season. If we read the text of the New Testament book “The Acts of the Apostles” straight thru, we would have already read of the Ascension. We would have read also about the after-Easter period of prayer for apostles, Jesus’ mother Mary and his brothers, and the other women who had been part of Jesus’ ministry. Then The Spirit came at Pentecost, the very day that Peter proclaims his homily. We read part of his homily last week and part today.

When he begins, Peter quotes the Old Testament book of Joel. The prophet Joel uses a terrifying invasion of locusts as a visual starting place for his teaching. He compares the arrival of the locusts to the last days of the world, also called “the coming of the Lord”. Basically, he’s saying that the locusts will destroy all the crops and the nation will starve to death if God doesn’t save them. This could be the “end of their days”- a euphemism for death. So, says Joel, why don’t you humble yourselves before God, cast aside your senseless reliance on yourself, shed your false pride, and admit your frailty and powerlessness, for your only hope is to call out for God’s grace and mercy. And the people do just that.

God responds to them, promising to remove the locusts, restore the crops and give them all the food they can eat. In addition, (God is always lavish in blessing us) God promises to pour out his Spirit on the people, even down to the lowliest servants, and rescue (save) “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” in the last days. God says, “For on Mount Zion, (the temple hill in Jerusalem)…in Jerusalem there will be survivors- whom the Lord shall call.” This pouring out of God’s Spirit and call from God (remember Pentecost was also an auditory experience), foretold in Joel, is happening as Peter speaks from the temple hill in Jerusalem!

Peter tells the Joel story to create these parallels between Joel’s day and Pentecost. Peter began by saying, “let the whole house of Israel know for certain” (“the whole house of Israel” refers to those who are saved in the Last Days) “that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.  The people of Joel’s day were saved by humbling themselves and calling on the Lord’s mercy. Now something new has happened.   Now Jesus is “Lord”, God. In other words, the people hearing Peter must humble themselves and call on the mercy of Jesus to forgive them for their sins, including the crucifixion.   How do the people call on the Lord Jesus’ mercy? They must be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

But Peter isn’t done yet. He says, “For the Promise is made to you …and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” Who are the ones “far off”? That’s us, the Gentiles. What is “the Promise”? Think; who was the “father of faith” that God made all those promises to? You know, “as countless as the stars in the sky”. Abraham was promised in Genesis 22:18, “In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.” How do they find blessing? The blessing, according to both Luke (Acts) and Paul (in Galatians 3: 2-9), is in baptism & the gift of the Spirit.

Peter still has more to say. The passage in the 1st Letter of St. Peter, that is our 2nd reading, is a pretty clear interpretation of the “Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52 thru 53. That is obvious because Peter quotes verse 53:12 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” What is Peter’s goal here? The Jews taught that this was about the prophet Isaiah, as a witness to all the nations. Peter interprets it as about Jesus, who came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah was the warm-up band, not the main attraction. Jesus is the sinless servant, who willingly suffered for the sins of the people, who saves them – us- from just punishment for sin. This is the source of Christian teaching that the sufferings of Jesus healed us, he gave his life for us and accomplished God’s will. Jesus bore our guilt and won pardon for our offenses. Peter says, (We) “had gone astray like sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of (our) souls.”

Finally, our Gospel is primarily an interpretation of Ezekiel 34, (well worth reading, hint, hint) although there are certainly many other scriptural references to shepherds. That is too much to cover today, but I want to make just one point about shepherds. Usually, the Jewish priesthood and religious leaders are targeted as the “Bad” shepherds. But in that same 1st Peter 2:9 we find, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own, so that you may announce the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Not just priests and leaders, but each and every one of us has a responsibility to examine our words and behaviors in the light of God’s truth. Part of doing that is to take very seriously our scriptures along with our Catholic Tradition, with a capital T, so we have a fuller grasp of the gifts and grace God has lavished on us, who were once “far off”, now drawing ever nearer to the Lord of all.

Riding the Roller Coaster

2nd Sunday Easter 4-23-17 Acts 2:42-47; Ps: 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-3

I have never been on a roller coaster. I am more than willing to die having never ridden on a roller coaster.   I have ridden some emotional roller coasters though, and the period of time from Palm Sunday thru Ascension would certainly be a fine way to illustrate one of those!  Just our readings today are good examples of the valleys and peaks of the emotional roller coaster the disciples experienced.

We read from the Book of Acts, of people devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles in the Jewish Temple, living in community, praying and practicing their Jewish faith together, seeing miracles and healings, everyone sharing their wealth and possessions, eating their meals with “exultation and sincerity of hearts, praising God.” New people were daily proclaiming their faith in the Risen Christ. This was a period of time when they had the approval of the people of Jerusalem.   Clearly this was a peak emotional time.

We get confused with the language, though. Was it a social commune or the beginning of communism?  Maybe they were a community that had Communion every day.  Maybe we unthinkingly forget that they lived in reality.  All the apostles had gathered in Jerusalem.  Many other followers, referred to as “the disciples,” had joined them.  They had brought their families with them for the Passover celebration.  They were fisherman, carpenters, potters & weavers from villages throughout Judea, but there were no Bargain/ Red Roof Inns in Jerusalem.  No Red Line to make the commute home easy.

Culturally, the Judean Jews lived in a much closer community than we do.  They were accustomed to open doors and open lives. So they were taken in, room was made for them in local homes. They were living together out of necessity.  What was happening to these believers was alternately too scary, too exciting, too amazing and too powerful to just… leave.  Their shared experience of Jesus’ death and resurrection made it easier to share their lives. Was it the end of time?  They were riding a roller coaster, waiting for the world to change.

We would like to think that time was perfect and maybe even something we could re-create, but Thomas and Peter both understood this was a bubble in time. We recognize bubbles in time.  Ask anyone who deals in “retro” or “antiques” or  even politics.

In the 1st letter of St. Peter we read,  “Blessed be God… who…gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading…Even though you do not see him now -yet believe in him, rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” That is certainly peak material, befitting the Peter we recognize.  But right in the middle of that he inserts a valley.  “…although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold…may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Peter knew a lot about faith and failure, belief and betrayal, triumph and testing.  That’s how Peter learned to be The Rock.

Thomas was the holdout among the Twelve; he was a wise man and I have come to respect him. He was more than happy to be subjected to ridicule or rejection by the others.  He told them he didn’t believe everything people said; he wasn’t interested in the newest religious rumors or fads.  He needed proof, he needed to see and touch.  He was willing to risk being wrong, just as he was quick to believe when Jesus came to him.  He went from valley to peak in seconds! As I read some of the newest books out about Jesus and watch some of the more sensational “documentary re-creations” of the Crucifixion on Television these past weeks, I hear some strange mis-information – how Jesus had political motivations and so on, that directly contradict the Gospels.  We need more fact-checkers like Thomas.

Thomas reached possibly more people with the Good News than Paul did. Thomas traveled east, to the sub-continent of India, witnessing to his faith and establishing churches.  It wasn’t all good- he was martyred there, in 72 AD; he poured out his life for Jesus.  Records from the 16th century describe him as beloved by the Muslims, the Christians, and the Hindus.  In fact, at that time, a Muslim maintained his tomb.  If only we could live the faith like Thomas!  This Sunday is celebrated as the “Sunday of Thomas” by the Orthodox Catholics brothers and sisters.

Even our Psalm is a roller coaster reading, the lectionary just conveniently omits the valley part: “All the nations surrounded me on every side.  They surrounded me like bees; they blazed like fire among thorns.  I was hard pressed and falling, but the Lord came to me.”  It is a Psalm of Eucharist (thanksgiving) sung as the people processed to the temple, but it does not fail to acknowledge that life can be very hard; bee stings and thorns/ hard times and pain are part of life.  At the same time, we are reminded that God is with us always.

So today we remember that our heroes, those super-faithful followers of Jesus, were locked in a room out of fear. Thomas had serious doubts about the resurrection.  Even after a glorious Easter, our heroes were beaten and jailed and killed for their faith.  But the “inexpressible joy” is also a real part of our Faith.  We learn that goodness and love and faith are more complex than the emotion of success or fulfillment that accompanies them.  By bearing pain and sorrow, we find faith, too.  Our flaws and our wounds are refined and purified, like precious gold, in our resurrection faith.