All posts for the month April, 2013

Easter 5

April 28, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 13, 26-33 + Psalm 145 + Revelation 21, 1-5 + John 13, 31-35

There is one thing important to understand in these verses from John’s Gospel that escapes the quick reader and the shallow interpretation. Love is not just the commandment. It is the result of keeping the commandment.  In other words, you get what you give. Or, you can’t have love until you give love. What Jesus reveals to us by his life and what John passes on to us in his account of the life of Jesus is that there is only one source of love; God. Anything else is a cheap imitation, and like all other cheap imitations, it will not hold up to the test of time and trial.

You buy a cheap imitation watch, and it will fall apart before you know it. You buy the real thing, and it will long outlast your expectations. Any love that does not in some way connect us to God’s love is suspicious and doubtful. 

Over 45 years I’ve sat with countless engaged couples with starry eyes gazing with affection upon each other. I’ve seen teen agers helplessly clinging to another totally swept away by the power of emotion and infatuation convinced that they were captured by love and ready surrender every shred of human dignity to prove it. And so, every time I get the chance I ask them, “Has this experience led you closer to God or revealed anything of God to you?” When they say, “Yes” and I see them in prayer and more faithful to the church, I suspect that they truly have experienced love. When a relationship leads someone away from God, away from the community of faith, away from goodness and leads them to sin, it is a fraud. It is a cheap imitation of love. When they say, “No” I know It isn’t going to last. It is not going to hold up to the test of time or the test of pain, loss, suffering, or sacrifice.

Injustice and violence leave deep scars on the soul that justice itself cannot heal. People who seek and demand the death penalty believing that it will bring justice and heal the pain when they have suffered at the hands of some evildoer know that revenge heals nothing. Justice can create order and punish those who do wrong, but justice alone cannot restore a soul to love. Only love can heal the wounds of injustice. Paul, Barnabas, and those early Christians discovered in the midst of their hardships was that the only way to love is to experience it.

Sin and evil are irrational. Poverty and Violence make angry people, and we all know from our own irratonal moments that anger makes us do crazy things. This world is full of poverty and violence, and consequently there are angry people everywhere doing crazy things. Sin and evil leave behind them hatred, anger, and a desire for revenge. We are helpless in the face of this unless we grasp truth of this Gospel and reach deeply into the wisdom of Jesus Christ. Only love in the flesh, Jesus Christ can “wipe away every tear from their eyes.” We are the presence and the flesh of that Christ today.

Love is the very core of God’s very being. Love is the heart of Christ’s incarnation. Love is the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the only purpose of Christian life for disciples of Jesus.

When the Book of Revelation says: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race.” The power of evil, anger, and the insanity of violence is broken. The new order God has established is love, and that is the only tool with which we may combat the old order. Revenge and violence are useless. They only produce more of the same. When love motivates us to change what is unjust, and love lifts people from the helplessness of poverty restoring their dignity, the insane behavior of those driven mad by their anger will be overcome. We shall not possess and know God’s love until we have begun to love one another without condtions or exclusions since that is the way of God’s love. Then all things will be made new.

Easter 4

April 21, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 13, 14, 43-52 + Psalm 100 + Revelation 7, 9,14-17 + John 10, 27-30

That powerful and imaginitive view of heaven that springs out of John’s Book of Revelation almost overshadows the quiet and gentle three verses of John’s Gospel we just heard. The reading from Acts of the Apostles describes the growth and diversity of the young church which Paul and Barnabas moved into the realm of the Gentiles where many converts were made. Bringing those gentiles into the embrace of the community of believers was not easy and it brought many challenges and opposition. Some of the Jews resented the success of Paul and Barnabas and their resentment became a difficlty for these apostles. Yet these two were not distracted from their goal. It probably only made them more focused and determined. The result was the spread of the gospel and an increase in the membership of the Christian community.

As I said, the Book of Revelation teases our imagination and proposes an image of this community growing in diversity among its membership. That multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue is us still living with the same challenge and with some opposition just as before. It is not just the overt and “in your face” kind of racism we hear and feel with the present arguments over immigration. It more subtle and more diguised as we see our society more and more segragating itself. Marketing experts have been the first to recognize it developing stratagies for advertisement focused on the little special interest groups in which we find ourselves. It is clearly obvious that we are rapidly arranging and chosing our housing in order to live with people who think like we do, talk like we do, sharing the same political, cultural, economic and religious values we hold. Even in the work place it is becoming increasingly difficult to find places where this is any diversity of thought.  Unity in Diversity has become nothing but a cliche and cheap slogan as the difficulty of holding that blance is just too much trouble for many who are unwilling to bend, listen, compromise, and discover in someone different anything that is good, valuable, and helpful. This can only produce a new low level of ignorance and intolerance, that is already evident at the highest levels of governance. Blind and deaf to any voice but our own, we are left to talk to ourselves and exclude anyone who does not look like us, think like us, and talk like us. This kind of world bears no resemblance at all to the community that Paul and Baranabas embraced and John could envision in the Book of Revelation. What we Catholics can teach the society in which we live is that the genuine and very real differences among us mark us as unique not as seperaations that push us apart. The differences actually add to the color and the texture of the communitiy of believers rather than alienate and marginalize us. We are all God’s people, the flock he tends, there are no dominant or superior groups within us. I always like to think of like music. Two, Three, Four, or Five part harmony is always a lot richer and more fun than unison singing; and when the choir blends the parts into one, the consequence is a harmony that is very pleasing to the ear and soothing to the spirit.

So today, still in Easter Season, the risen Lord is before us again both as the Shepherd and as the Lamb that was slain. He is the Good Shepherd precisely because he is the victorious Lamb who paid for the undiputed right to lead by the shedding of his blood for the flock. If we hear his voice and follow him, he will lead us to springs of living water and wipe away every tear from our eyes. If we hear his voice, we shall certainly be among the white robed multitude that have been washed in the blood of this Lamb. White robes! Get the image. White is the result of the perfect combination of all the colors of light in perfect balance. The truth and the reality is that we are all indeed, a diverse and great multitude all sheep of the same good shepherd. The very thought of it ought to draw us even closer to each other and to the shepherd. It ought to motivate us to protect each other and respect each other more than we might ever consider until we look around as see what we have become through the blood of the Lamb. It ought to give us every good reason to stand and sing, shout and proclaim: “ Alleluia! This is the day the Lord has made. (let us rejoice and be glad.)”

Easter 2

April 7, 2013 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Acts of the Apostles 5, 12-16 + Psalm 118 + Revelation 1, 9-11, 12-13, 17-19 + John 20, 19-31

Sadly, the world in which we live does not believe in miracles. The way we live today and the way we examine and process information is for the most part completely closed. I am here. You are there. God is somewhere else. Everything has a place. Science can and must explain everything. If it does not, it will, sooner or later, given enough research explain everything to our satisfaction. This kind of thinking raises lots of problems with the New Testament, and especially with the miracle stories. Those stories, all of them, too often find us wondering: “How did he do that?” or “What really happened?” Then some begin wondering about the people who reported those miracles. You know how that thinking goes. They were simple people living primitive lives a long time ago. Lacking the technology of our sophisticated times, they were easily impressed by magic tricks. Think how they would have been astonished over a lightbulb! They would have called that miraculous!

Nowhere in this thinking is there any place for God. Our compartmentalized lives have isolated God to heaven, and left us very much in charge of things, and this makes openness to the meaning of miracles a challenge. The miracles performed by Jesus Christ, and in his name by his disciples were not magic tricks to attract and entertain a crowd of simple people who did not have the entertainment opportunities we enjoy. They did not experience these miracles and report them as just ordinary events that happened all the time. They were astonished. They were stunned enough to drag the sick out into the streets hoping that Peter’s shadow might pass over them. They knew something that we in all our sophistication can’t quite seem to grasp. Something is different here with these disciples of that man Jesus. Something has happened in this life on this earth. Something has changed.

Now this is what we see in the story of Thomas. Something kept him from believing. I think he could not believe because he could not imagine that God would act this way: that in the death of Jesus Christ God could accomplish something. Thomas wanted evidence. It was not enough that the boundaries or the distinction between matter and spirit were broken as Jesus passed again and again through locked doors. Thomas had to have more proof. He wanted scientific proof: touch. But he didn’t touch. It never says that he did. He was invited to do more than touch. He was invited to believe. He was invited to believe that God could do more than Thomas could imagine. The limits that Thomas had placed on what God could do as well as where God was had to go before Thomas could believe.

This all started with a young girl who said “Yes” to a messenger who invited her to believe that God could do something unheard of and unimagined. That incident, called the Incarnation, challenges to this day minds closed to God’s intervention, involvement, and presence in this physical and real world. The Incarnation is the first miracle, the first unmistakable evidence that something new is breaking into humanity. To think of it shakes open closed minds and hearts that live in the absence of God or indifferent to God’s presence and action.

Miracles are signs of God’s care for us. That is what they mean, and that is why the stories of them have been passed down to us for so long. What happened to Thomas that day when he spoke those memorable words: “My Lord and My God” was that the boundaries of his limited expectations of how God works and where God is to be found broke open. God was present in that nail-pierced man with an opening in his side. God was acting and saving, raising up, and healing in a way no one ever thought of. The old expectations of how God would save his people collapsed in a moment. Old ideas about those categories of spirit and matter, heaven and earth, could no longer be sustained, because something new has happened and something new has begun.

Easter is still a challenge to boundaries we imagine and the expectations we have about how God works and where God is to be found. Easter is also a challenge to our ideas about life and death, power and weakness, suffering and strength. Easter can also awaken our expectations about miracles, and stir again some honest astonishment over things science does explain which for those who are invited to believe suddenly become once again signs of God’s love for us.

The final word from these readings today is that God is still expressing God’s love for us in the forgiving and healing ways of real disciples, and believers are still astonished at the discovery of God’s presence and action in the most unexpected and unimagined ways.