May 16, 2019 Nationa Church General Assembly – Closing Mass
Acts 13:13-25, Ps 89:2-3, 21-22, 25, 27, John 13: 16-20
Our readings start tonight with St. Paul. We first met Saul, as he was called then, at the stoning of Steven. Saul was there, graciously watching over the coats of those who were stoning Steven, and he watched as Steven died. Saul was a proud Roman Citizen and an accomplished Pharisee. Saul knew what was being done and approved of it. He believed he was doing the right thing, preventing the spread of Christianity at all costs – even murder. He saw his sin as justified.
If Saul had been a stone that day, we wouldn’t have stopped to pick him up. We certainly wouldn’t think of him as a gemstone; but more like a ragged lump of broken concrete. A lifetime in the tumbler, we think, would not improve him. But everyone has their Steven- the person they should have helped, but didn’t, the cause they should have supported, but didn’t. Did that make Saul any less valuable to God? No. Did God turn away from him? No. God is a God of 2nd chances, regardless of how it appears to us at the time.
From there, Saul headed out on the road to Damascus, not to throw stones, but to arrange for the arrest and death of other followers of Jesus. It was an unusual and dramatic journey. In Acts chapter 9, you can read the whole story of the appearance of Jesus to Saul. Note that Saul’s change was not instant, but there were a lot of Christian believers who helped and a learning curve was involved. It took time for people to believe his conversion and for him to be accepted by the apostles.
Now we see Saul again. There have been some changes since we last saw him. He is a changed man; so changed that his name is now Paul. He is traveling with Barnabas, one of the first Christians to take Paul under his wing. They had been in Antioch in Syria, went next to Paphos in Cyprus, next headed north to Perga in Asia Minor, to go on to the other Antioch, in Pisidia. They had been teaching the Good News of Jesus, telling of his resurrection, baptizing, laying on hands, establishing faith communities, and encouraging those who were persecuted or ridiculed for their faith.
Paul was going to the Synagogues, praying that his fellow Jews might understand Jesus as the promised Messiah, the One Sent by God. He hoped the Holy Spirit would come to them with wisdom and open their hearts, as his heart had been opened. So he speaks in the traditional teaching style, recounting the history of the Israelites, from when God chose them to the Exodus from Egypt, brought them to the Promised Land, and gave them King David, who had the heart to fulfill every wish of God. Now we see Paul as a jewel of a witness and evangelist, a reflection of the glory of God. Not too shabby for a broken concrete; that was all we saw him as before. Perhaps our rating system isn’t always the same as God’s.
Then we have a Psalm about King David. If you remember, his father Jesse did not even bother to bring David in from the fields when the Prophet Samuel (1 Sam: 15) came to anoint a new king to replace King Saul (where have we heard that name before?). David was too young, too simple, not able to be the crown jewel of a nation, his father thought. He was just a boy who sang psalms and who smelled of sheep. Pope Francis would have approved! Scholars guess it might have been 20 years later before Saul was killed in battle and David became king. Again, there was a long learning curve, a slow process of David’s development, and David had a history of mistakes along the way. Oh yes, and David had his Bathsheba, when in a moment of human desire he abandoned his freedom, stole her liberty, and selfishly hijacked his God-given gift of authority. We all do, in one form or another. We all fail; we embarrass ourselves and those who love us. Sometimes, even a King like David must prostrate them self in front of God and beg for forgiveness and face the consequences.
Neither Paul nor David ever became perfect, they both made mistakes, sinned, grieved and asked forgiveness. They struggled and became discouraged, faced betrayal and were let down by others they trusted. In the end, they had to depend on God; they had to face life with all the twists and turns and disappointments. The Blessed Virgin may have been born without sin, the most pure of women, but she still stood in front of the cross and had to watch her tortured son die in agony. My father was a jeweler He often said, “There are no gems that are not cut to reveal their beauty.” There are no smooth stones that have not been hammered or smashed against other rocks to snap off their ragged edges. Even Jesus tells us that “there is no messenger who outranks the one who sent him.” Just because we are Christians doesn’t make us perfect or superior or glorious. The perfection and the glory is God’s.
Does this make us inadequate or without value? No, very much No! We each have great gifts to bring, blessings to bestow on others, the joys of gratitude to share. We have the gift of self to give, again and again, to friends and family and strangers and neighbors and to God. We can bless others with simple acts, with gentle words, with forgiveness and generosity. We can move from just coming to church, to bringing others to church so they might meet the Risen Christ in the breaking of the bread. We can read the story of the Good Samaritan or we can go out into the word and be the Samaritan that ministers to the innocent victims of our society. That is how we bless and share and give the gift that we are. No Christian can just be a spectator.
Jesus said, “(The person) who accepts anyone I send – accepts me…and in accepting me accepts (God) who sent me.” The person standing in front of you at any given time is the one Jesus sends. Someone wrote once that any one who walks into a church is seeking God, although they might not know it. All the stones in you find in the path of life represent the blessings of the past and of the future. They represent your cries for help and your prayers of thanksgiving. They remind you of your choices made and yet to be made. May Almighty God give you joy and be with you every step of your journey.+