4 gifts from John the Baptist

Feast of St. John the Baptist 6-24-18

This is the last Sunday in our old location.  Next Sunday, we will have Mass at 11:30 at St. Timothy Episcopal Church, 432 Van Buren St., Herndon, VA 20170

Isaiah 49:1-6; Palm139: 1-3,13-15; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66,80

 

Today I would like to look at 4 aspects from John the Baptist’s life which should be familiar and which are relevant to us as we leave this space and face new beginnings for Holy Trinity.

#1 Luke  1: 39-44 (John leaps for joy when The Blessed Virgin met her cousin Elizabeth)

“Elizabeth exclaimed to Mary, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! For…when (your) voice…came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.’”

John is a reminder to us that having Jesus in our lives is a great and wonderful gift – so great that the yet unborn John leaped for joy. When is the last time you felt the urge to leap for joy?  When were you last so filled with the Holy Spirit that you were moved to act out your faith in a new way?

John was the one who bridged the old and the new periods in human history – before and after Christ. John is the icon of new beginnings.  Holy Trinity is in a wonderful God-given period of new beginnings.  Let us feel the joy of a fresh start, a new chance to grow in love of the scriptures, and love of our neighbors.  Let us grow in the ability to share our faith.  Let us become people that are recognized as Christians because of our love.  May God bless us with the ability to grasp new ways to be church, in leadership, in outreach, and in worship. May we find joy in creativity and change as we are moved by the Holy Spirit.

#2 Acts 13: 22-26  (John’s humility, self knowledge & recognition of who Jesus was)

“One is coming after me; I am not worth to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”

I find John’s confession that he was not worthy to kneel down and untie Jesus’ sandal one of the great realizations of human history. Do you realize the implications?  If we understand what John said, it would be impossible to pollute or waste our natural resources because of the profound respect we would have for God and God’s creation.  There would never be wars, for we would obey God’s word – we would not kill or covet or steal; for wars are really fought over wealth and land and resources.

What if we admit our vulnerability and dependency on each other? Then we would know how necessary our neighbor is to us, and really value children, immigrants, and the elderly.

What if we knew Jesus when he came to us sick or hungry or a victim of violence? I can hardly image the change in our society if we knew ourselves and Jesus.  Humility, self-knowledge and recognition of Jesus are the keys to being true church where no one is greater than the other.  Everyone who comes in our door is seeking God at some level.  Our attention must always focus on the Divine in each person.  Outward focus on others can make our problems fade in importance.  Focusing inward, on ourselves, make us a barrier to God’s love.

#3 John 1: 35-42 John directs his disciples to follow Jesus

“(The day after John baptized Jesus) John was standing with 2 of his disciples, and as he looked, Jesus walked by; he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples, Andrew and John the son of Zebedee, heard him…and they followed Jesus.”

John was an extraordinary man. He was not owned by his possessions or his prestige.  When Andrew followed Jesus, he also brought his brother, Simon Peter.  So John deliberately sent his followers to Jesus.  John was not concerned about counting his followers.  He was concerned with freeing people from their sins, with baptism as the symbol of their forgiveness and fresh start on life.  He knew his job was not the main event, but rather he was a messenger, to prepare the way of the Lord.  He taught that we are to “bear fruit that befits repentance.”  John reminds me of the old Methodist preacher who told me, “I’m not in administration, I’m just in sales.”  John knew that he was just bringing the faith to people, and was not in charge.

Most churches need fewer people who think they are in charge and many more that are out in the trenches of life, knowledgeable about their faith, focusing on love and the Good News of Jesus. We need to act like Christians!  John was working for God, and everything he said and did was for the glory of God, and not his own glory. The Holy Spirit is not bound by rite or ritual or human doctrine, and the church is not ours, nor is the space nor the possessions, nor the people, nor the future. It all belongs to God.

#4 Matthew 11:2-19  When John was imprisoned by King Herod & sent his disciples to Jesus

“John sent word by his disciples (to ask Jesus) ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

John was in prison for nothing more than telling King Herod that he should not have married his brother’s wife – he confronted immorality of the kind that tears the fabric of society. The letter that Bishop Ron has issued about asylum seekers coming into the US over the Mexican border is a present day example of how the Church must confront injustice and evil. John is our model for speaking out when leaders overstep their authority and damage the church or nation.  For that, John died a martyr’s death.

Consider that John, the last prophet of the old age and Jesus, the one who began the new age, both preached repentance and God’s love, and both died fulfilling their rightful place in God’s Kingdom.   John knew that Herod murdering people on a whim, and John had every reason to be fearful.  He had put his faith in Jesus, witnessed to his divinity, and, in a moment of despair, he needed reassurance that he had chosen well.  He had not lost his faith, but had serious questions, and he turned to Jesus for answers.

How do we respond when life is hard, when we are fearful and losing hope? Let us be a church where people can express doubt and fear.  Let us be a place where people are never silenced, but where people can express themselves and their opinions; a place where we can learn together and support each other, where we take care to listen before speaking and when we speak, we tell the truth.

John the Baptist has a great deal to teach us. John would be a good patron saint for this time of transition.  The real questions that face us are not Mass times or attendance.  John gives us the real questions: “How do we bring the message of love and forgiveness to our neighbors so that we all experience the joy of knowing Jesus?”  “How do we know ourselves so that we bring God’s Word to others with the gentle humility that comes from knowing God?”  “Have we identified what is really important instead of being stuck in the past or pretending ownership of that which belongs to God?” Finally, “Can we grow past fear and doubt by learning from and supporting each other with the truth Jesus gave us?”  I believe we can do these things, and we must, to fulfill the role we have in God’s kingdom.

Advertisements

Big Bucks and a Great Big Job

33rd Sunday Ordinary time 11-19-17

Proverbs 31:10-13; 19-20, 30-31, Ps: 128:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6;

Matthew 25:14-30

We begin our Gospel reading with the verse immediately after where we left off last week after the parable about the ten young women waiting for a bridegroom. 5 women ran out of oil for their lamps. While they were away buying oil, the bridegroom came and locked them out of the wedding celebration. They failed to be prepared.

As Fr. Joe told us, this parable was not about weddings, but about the last days, the end times, the 2nd coming of Jesus. And the lamps are not about oil or energizer bunny batteries, but about being prepared for the inevitable judgment that is part of the end times. We’re more apt to say something like, “Get your lights on”, meaning to understand what needs to be done, and to make sure our faith and our behavior line up. We are talking about being tuned into God (prayer), staying tight with our faith (worship), and using the life teaching app Jesus left us (the Bible).

So we must again look at today’s Gospel and interpret it through the lens of last days and end times. This is again not about money, or interest rates. The Greek talanton was a huge monetary unit of silver coinage worth about the same as the lifetime earnings of a Palestinian laborer. Parables often use exaggeration to make the lesson more obvious, but the fact that the first servant was given 5 talantons should tip you off right away that whatever we are talking about is of great value, perhaps even something that cannot be bought or sold. Also notice the master is entrusting his property to the servants, very valuable property. The master is taking great risk and his high expectations are clear.

The other important piece is the setting of this parable. This takes place after Palm Sunday. It is two days before Passover. Judas is about to begin his negotiations with the Chief priests to betray Jesus. This is Jesus’ last major teaching to his followers. He has already told them that he will be crucified. He, like the master in the parable, is going away, for a long time. What valuable property is Jesus entrusting to his disciples? He’s given them the message of the kingdom. What a privilege it must have been to hear it from Jesus, yet it also was a great responsibility. Those who hear it are accountable for continuing to share the message as Jesus gave it to them. It is a message that makes any amount of money seem insignificant, and the expectation is enormous.

So what does Jesus give each one of us? Breath, life itself, forgiveness, love, mercy, grace, unselfish love; companionship, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, free will, birds, flowers, our food growing in the fields, and the riches of the earth! We could continue to add to the list all day. And what does he ask us, his servants, to do? Well, we are to be responsible for the church, for living and sharing the Good News we have heard. We are to join together in community, encouraging one another and embracing the needy, the hopeless, the sick, and those imprisoned in bad choices. We are to “handle these accounts” for him until he returns. It is a huge responsibility, even more than those large sums of money. The servants who doubled the master’s money were praised. The master says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come share your master’s joy.”

What will earn us praise? What is it like to be responsible for the church? Jesus is not suggesting the church should remain as it was. Pope John XXIII said: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.” The apostles knew that the church was not to be buried in a “safe” place.
That sounds like what the 3rd servant did, who just kept the money he was given safe. It did not grow. He did it alone, without going to any bankers or fellow servants to guide him. He just, well, did nothing; life as usual. But his response to the master gives him away. He says he knew his master’s expectations and he was afraid. Given the master’s reaction to the other 2 servants, I have to question if he really knew his master at all.

He reminds me of people I meet. They say they know what Jesus taught, that they understand the expectations of love and generosity, yet somehow they remain unmotivated to be productive or get help changing their life, and they continue on, disobeying the master, somehow thinking that handing back the money would be enough. Did your math teacher give you a passing grade when you had not learned anything? Does the mortgage get paid when you have not earned anything? No; and there are consequences. The 3rd servant found this out. He lost his job and his home, and suffered in remorse. He was bound by fear of loss, and loss was the result.

But we just talked about St. Paul’s 2nd missionary journey; that demonstrated that Paul was often not safe, worked hard sometimes for little gain, but always rebounded to move on and share the Good News of Jesus and the resurrection. He taught the scriptures unceasingly, he created faith communities all over Asia Minor, and his letters created a network of Christians. He took enormous risks, with no regrets. He wrote, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time, we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

Are you willing to take risks for the Gospel, or are you paralyzed by fear? If you were a leader in the Church, what kind of risks would you take to insure growth of the faithful? Let those questions perk in your mind, for we will come back to them another day. The intent of this parable is to urge us to be faithful in our obedience to the Gospel until Jesus returns. The idea of stewardship derives its importance from the importance of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom. The parable’s harsh ending of judgment and punishment is not necessarily a realistic description of divine judgment, but it serves to warn us and shock us into thoughtfully considering how we invest ourselves in the growth of the Kingdom.

Stay tuned: next week will be the last Sunday of the church year, and Jesus will finish his “last days” homily, which includes more specifics of his expectations and how to meet them.

Church Correction; Growth in Godliness

23rd Sunday Ordinary time, 9-10-17; Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-2

We have been reading in the 4th section of Matthew, which discusses the Kingdom of God and the Church.  It focuses on the care and respect that believers must have for each other; we must guard each other’s faith with correction, seek out the lost, and forgive each other.  Unfortunately, the lectionary chops up Jesus’ discourse. Let’s take a quick look at the three paragraphs just before our reading so we can be centered in the discussion.

First, the disciples ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ response: “Whoever humbles himself like (a) child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  This deflates our egos quickly when we remember what limited value was put on children then, especially girls.  Greatness is not about power or prestige.

Next, Jesus warns the disciples: “Whoever causes one of these little ones (the humble) who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hug around his neck and to be drowned in the…sea.” That image is worth a thousand words.

Just before our reading is the parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus’ own recap: “It is not the will of our heavenly Father that one of these little (humble) ones be lost.”  You can hear a theme of the value to God of the individual, especially the humble and those of seemingly “Little Value”. There are thousands of “lost” people within a couple of miles of our church! “Lost” can be translated as lacking the necessities of life, or treated as worthless, or as unaware of God’s love.

Today our Gospel reading is about Jesus telling us how to function with each other in a church community. Why? Jesus was Jewish.  They didn’t have churches; they had synagogues and the temple.  Jesus never, at any time recorded in the scriptures, told his followers to start “a church”.  Some theologians suggest that Jesus was beginning to realize that at some time his teachings would cause a separation from the Jewish faith.

Others suggest that the growing antagonism between the followers of Jesus and the Jews was due to other political, social, and economic reasons, along with general human hard-heartedness. Remember that the Jews had several internal sects that were in armed rebellion against Roman rule, and that the Romans, completely fed up with them, destroyed the temple, along with much of Jerusalem in the year 70 c.e.  A lot was going on in the first century, and one part can’t really be separated from the rest of the story.

But we also have evidence that Matthew’s faith community was having the kind of problems that many faith communities have. There were some people doing things that annoyed others, things that were counter to Jewish and/or Christian morals, things that were disruptive, or stole the attention away from the faith.

The teachings we read today are ones that Jesus may have spoken as admonishment to the apostles, and served Matthew’s pastoral needs.  They are based on well-known Jewish scriptures in Leviticus19: 17, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him.”  Also in Sirach 19:16 “Admonish your neighbor before you break with him; thus will you fulfill the law of the Most High.” Some corporate headquarters did not create this type of process to settle disputes; it’s been around a long time.

Gerald Darring, a long-time Catholic theologian, professor, catechist, and author of many books, has written this better than I can, so I will quote him,                                                       “We are a church, an assembly of people gathered to do the work of God. This work brings us together around the table of the Lord and sends us out to renew the face of the earth.   The task that faces us in the world is awesome, and the obstacles are formidable. The only way we can succeed is by staying together, with Jesus in our midst, and our staying together must involve community efforts to correct our faults. When there is racism or sexism in our church, we must confront them and work to eliminate them. When economic injustice is found…, we must speak out against it and work to eliminate it. When militarism makes its way into the fabric of our community, we must stand up for peace and proclaim the gospel message of nonviolent change. An essential component of … love should be the help (notice he didn’t say “condemnation”) we give each other in overcoming the shortcomings that get in the way of our becoming a universal sacrament of salvation.”

If you have read, “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road”, you know that one of the issues stressed in that book is not the faults of other religions, but the faults and darkness that have made their way into our own belief systems.  It is challenging to look at the history of our religion and the structure of our religious institutions.  If you haven’t read it yet, you still have time.  As CACINA Catholics, many of us have already had to face up to some social teachings and practices of other Christian groups which we had found to lead away from Christ.  Sometimes someone must be asked to leave; at times some of us have had to leave.  The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America’s goal is open discussions as a way to test our beliefs and grow in Godliness.

Just Two Sentences

Paul’s death row letter to Timothy tells us how to face hard times for the sake of the Gospel.

2nd Sunday Lent A, 3-12-17, Genesis 12:1-4a; Ps: 33:4-5, 18-20, 22;  2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9

We have a pivotal turning point in our first reading. It is the beginning of the story of Abraham.  It is the point in Genesis where the creation story ends and the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all start.  It is the birthplace of so much – a place where a scholar could do their life’s work.  But today we’ll pass it by.  Our Gospel reading is a high point of Matthew’s revelation of the divinity of Christ, just after Peter proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.  It is a mountain-top experience in every sense.  But today we’ll pass it by.  I love the 33rd Psalm, but today we’ll pass it by.  For what?  For two sentences from a short letter to Timothy, which we only read once every three years, and often ignore.

So, are you thinking, “Did they nick her brain during the eye surgery?” Or hopefully, “Who was Timothy, why did St. Paul send him a letter, what’s it got to do with Lent?”

All good questions! Timothy was a young man, the product of a mixed marriage.  His grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice, were Christians.  His father, who goes unnamed, apparently was not.  Timothy was steeped in the Good News since birth.   He traveled for some 15 years as Paul’s traveling companion throughout Asia and Greece, the entire distance of Paul’s 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys, as well as special trips to Jerusalem.   He was with Paul in Rome when Paul was first in prison.  Then he had been “ordained” by Paul and left in charge of the church in the Greek city of Ephesus.  In short, Timothy, like Paul, had given his life, his time, his money, his efforts, and even his safety to spread the Good News of the Risen Christ – as Paul’s helper.

Paul suggests that Timothy was sometimes dismissed as just a young kid who didn’t know much (Paul writes him, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness”); and that Timothy was a little overwhelmed sometimes ( Paul tells him to “use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments”).   I will never forget the first time I really studied the journeys of Paul and Timothy, as described in the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles.  Without exaggeration, I can tell you it was truly amazing, thrilling, scary, and at times I cried.  You might decide to study it yourself. I can help.

Well, let’s take a look at those two sentences we have today. I have to tell you that Paul would have failed any English class writing assignment I’ve ever encountered.  His sentences stretch to the moon and back, and frankly, that’s one of the reasons you seldom hear homilies from the 2nd readings.  What your missal has as two sentences really is one big train-wreck of a sentence.  I made 10 complex-enough sentences out of it in attempt to make it understandable.

First sentence –Paul is saying to Timothy: “Don’t despair in the hard times and don’t give up. Continue to share with me, to join me in the suffering we have done for the sake of spreading the gospel. We do it all through the power of God.”  Paul continues with second sentence, “Remember, it is God who has saved us. God called us to proclaim the gospel.  God called us with a Holy Calling.  It was not because we did such great works, but it was according to God’s own purpose, God’s plan for the world.  God lavishly gave us the grace to do it…grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus since before the beginning of time.  God’s grace now is personified in Jesus, who destroyed death.  Jesus brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”  Two amazing sentences.

Scholars pretty much agree that this letter was the product of time Paul spent waiting in prison, waiting to be put to death in Rome.   The end of his letter tells us Paul knows his end is very near.  This is a death-row letter, looking back at his life as the big picture, the final summary.  And his life had been interwoven with Timothy for many important years.  And with the oppression of Christianity probably near its height, Paul is wondering what will happen to those Christian communities he established and nurtured and prayed for.  Will anything he worked for, literally would give his life for, survive?  It is a letter that could have wilted into self-pity and despair, except for the faith behind it.  Paul tells Timothy “God has not given us a spirit of being timid, but of power and love and discipline.”  He writes, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that Christ is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him.”  Finally, Paul advises, “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

This is beginning to sound like Lent, ah? When you give your all and it all seems to be going down the drain.  When you are discouraged, and your friends and family are no where to be found.  When you have to decide to speak up or shut up.  When you are certain of your values, and feel alone.  When you look into the future and you see the end.

Paul wrote, “Know the strength to bear the hardship comes from God.” God didn’t choose us because we could win our battles single-handedly, but we were called to do what was right and true and just, to be holy and part of God’s kingdom.  Christ Jesus has already won the battle – abolished death, opened the way to eternity, shined the light to show the way home.  Guard the truth in your soul, like Abraham and King David and Paul and Timothy, and our Lord Jesus.  Lent is a time to settle firmly into the unshakeable rock of faith.