Jeremiah 20: 10-13 Romans 5: 12-15 Matthew 10: 26-33
Telling us not to fear, encouraging us not to be afraid, is a consistent theme found in the words of Jesus that he addressed to his followers and, thus, he has addressed to us, So, what are some of the things that we might fear, that might cause us anxiety in our lives? The future: what do the weeks or months or even the years ahead hold out for us, whether we are old or young. In many respects, we just do not know. Change: often this is a big cause of fear. We like being comfortable, the way things are. Either experiencing or being made to experience something new or different is stressful. Rejection: this can be hard to face especially from someone who has been a part of our lives but, for whatever reason, decides that we are no longer important to them. Being alone: this is particularly true when it is the result of someone who has long been a part of our lives is no longer physically present. It is a difficult transition to make. Death: none of us can escape this experience, but both the “how” and the “when” are unknown through most of our lives and can cause us to be anxious and, indeed, afraid.
These are all part of being human. They are all part of our lives. They are a part of the life God chose to share with us in assuming humanity in the person of Jesus Christ.
What is it, then, in the message of God conveyed to us in the ministry of Jesus Christ we are called upon to continue that encourages us not to fear, not to be afraid? We need to recognize that the various examples mentioned are a part of the creative act of God in giving us life. This creative act of life is a dynamic gift of love in which we are free to choose and to act. It is the freedom of will, in us and around us, that is the key to understanding. We, or others around us, choose to act and are not, in some way, controlled by God. Life, in us and around us, has been freely given to all by a loving God. Rather than be feared, it is to be embraced as part of a gift oflove.
It is with this perspective that we can look to the future and realize that there are decisions which we might make that can affect our future, but there are also other aspects in the future that will occur as part of life. Change: this often happens despite us. The greatest strength comes in recognizing what in change might enhance us and in ignoring those things that do not really affect us. Rejection: if we are true to ourselves – and here Jesus himself is an outstanding example – what might be unacceptable to others, as was his ministry to many, ought not to hinder us from being true to the best we can be. Being alone: this can often be an opportunity to realize a certain comfort with ourselves. Being alone is not the same as some self-pitying loneliness but can be a challenge to better ourselves. Death: is a genuine reality. In the context of faith it is a transition to an experience beyond what we know or imagine now, a complete union with our loving God.
Even more, what gives us strength and encourages us not to be afraid is the conviction that, in addition to all else that is a part of the creative dynamic of life, we possess true value and dignity in life and in our relationship to a loving God. This is the importance of the example that Jesus uses in singling out the sparrow. As small and as insignificant as the sparrow is, this creature adds to the life and the beauty of all that is. How much more can each of us enhance life and creation around us. We need not be afraid of anyone or anything because our greatest value and worth comes from what we are and what we do in reflecting and revealing the goodness of God.
We can derive additional insight from what else we heard today in the Scriptures. Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet, was convinced that despite the opposition and ridicule he experienced, and despite even the doubts he had about himself, he must continue on in fearlessly trusting God. In the end he knew that he would be vindicated by God. Saint Paul, too, despite all that he would confront, all that he would go through, remained positive in his commitment to proclaim the love of God found in the Good News of Jesus.
Do not be afraid, fear not. Many things happen in different ways, in different circumstances in life. If we are convinced within ourselves of all the opportunities offered to us to recognize what a gift we have received in the life that is given to us, then each circumstance offers the potential to experience and to reveal the truth of our good and gracious God.
Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14b-16a 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 John 6: 57-58
A number of years ago when I would visit St. Mel to attend the First Communions or Confirmations of my nephews or nieces, I was somewhat puzzled by the appearance of this church building. In particular, it was the ceiling that caught my attention. It was different. It was unusual. Unlike many other churches, it was not open, reaching to a visible peak. It was not barrel-vaulted. Nor was simply a flat-ceiling. I thought that there must be something to its unusual design, but what it was escaped me.
When I was assigned as pastor here, I was still puzzled. Enlightenment finally came to me. I realized that the architect, Rolland Johns, a parishioner, wanted to incorporate a familiar sight, a familiar feature found in many homes in the parish. Indeed, it could be found in his own home on W.137th. It came to me that the ceiling of the church building resembled what many of the storey-and-a-half houses found throughout the parish have on their second floor: pitched sides with a flat center. This was not just a convenient and economical design. It was intended and is reflected throughout the church in the windows, the Stations, the framing around various areas. It was a message being conveyed by the architect.
I became convinced that Mr. Johns cleverly wanted those of us who worship here to call to mind the familiar imagery of so many of the homes in our West Park community. These are places where families gather and are raised. These are places were many traditions develop and are practiced. These are places where the love of spouses, children and grandchildren is experienced. It was to be in a similar environment that we would gather to join in and celebrate the Eucharist.
I consider this to be a worthy thought today on the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ- Corpus Christi. In his desire to convey the deep desire for union with us, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, took bread and declared it to be his body. He took wine and declared it to be his blood. It was not a merely symbolic gesture. As the one who had restored health to mind and body, who had changed water into wine, who had fed thousands with just a few loaves and fish, who had returned life to those who were dead, Jesus Christ took simple elements of food and declared their substance to be his Real Presence. So intimately does God seek to be joined with us that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, shares with us the totality of his person, his Body and his Blood.
How appropriate it is that we have the opportunity to gather in this particular home-like setting, with this family of believers that we are, to listen to God speak to us through the words of the Scriptures and then to be fed the meal of the very person, the Real Presence, of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
I know that what we do in gathering for the celebration of the Mass is formalized and ritualistic in different ways: the prayers, the posture and the like. But what we are doing in this way is spending just a few moments out of our week to acknowledge the importance of our loving God to us and to respond in gratitude to this loving God. We are also being nourished with God’s Word and with Food for the Journey (Viaticum) of our lives. It is in the environment of this homelike place that we share, here and now, the reality of our God.
I have also mentioned before another architectural feature of this church building that is unusual. It is also a constant reminder to us. The exterior doors of this building are glass. In particular the doors facing Triskett Road are glass. These doors allow us to be viewed as we gather to witness to our Faith by those who look in. But they also indicate to us that we are to carry forth what it is that we have experienced here to that world out there beyond the glass doors.
The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ has been shared with us in this place so that we can go out into that world, reaffirmed in our Faith and thus declare with our lives this week our belief and trust in our good and gracious God.
Exodus 34: 4b-6, 8-9 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 John 3: 15-17
Whether it is the shamrock of Saint Patrick or a picture of interlocking rings, or even a simple triangle, any attempt at a depiction of the Holy Trinity is inadequate. Any of these falls short of giving a real understanding of it Thus, the conclusion reached after any discussion of the Trinity is that “It is a mystery.”
It should not be a surprise to us to speak of the essence or reality of the God of our faith as a mystery because the ancient, inspired writers recorded in the Scriptures understood human beings like us as being made in the image and likeness of God. Think of it we know all too well that we are mysteries in many ways. Our minds, our emotions, our thoughts, and most especially our ability to know and love are mysterious. They cannot always be fully defined or clearly understood. So it is with the God of our faith, the very source of life and existence, of all we experience in creation – in whose image and likeness we are.
To recognize God as Trinity, as mystery, does not diminish or disregard the reality or significance of God. Rather, if we look to ourselves and appreciate the depth of what we are and the potential of what we can be, even with our own limitations, so much more do we recognize the immensity, the unlimited potential and majesty of our God. Yet, at the same time, because the essence of God is not power but knowledge and love, our God reaches out to us, shares our humanity, and seeks an unending relationship with us.
The mystery of God that we declare today and whom, in our limited human terms we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit, exists for all eternity in a creative and loving relationship that is extended to us in order to be shared by us. This is the fundamental reality of God in which we can participate.
It is not a reality that is founded on power or control or manipulation, but a constant and unending relationship of knowledge and love. It is the reality into which we are made the image and likeness.
God who exists in relationship is to be reflected in us as a relationship, in our interaction with one another. God is to be reflected in the manner in which we seek genuine knowledge, understanding, respect and love with one another. This incorporates the reflection of God in our lives.
What is it that we are told of our God in the inspired words and insights of Scriptures? What are we actively to reflect as images and likenesses of our God? God is merciful, God is gracious, God is slow to anger, God is rich in kindness and fidelity. So are we to be.
In addition, the God our faith is not distant and remote, but “gave his only Son that we might have eternal life.” God does not condemn us for our weakness and failure, but saves us so that we might be united with God.
In an even more specific way we hear how the God of our faith, whom we acknowledge as an unending relationship of knowledge and love, a relationship of Trinity – Father, Son, Holy Spirit – a Trinity of Persons but a Oneness of Being – is to be reflected by us in an active way of living, not just in some pious theory. It is in the encouragement of one another, by being in accord with one another, by living at peace with one another that God’s reality can be discovered through us.
This is the reality that is to be present in our lives,. This is how the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is to be found in us. This is how, through us and realized in our world that this world can come to know our good and gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Acts of the Apostles 2: 1-11 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13 John 20 19-23
A very dramatic picture is presented to us today by St. Luke in the account from the Acts of the Apostles. First, there is Jerusalem. The city is crowded with devout Jews from around the Mediterranean world. They had come to celebrate the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, marking the fifty days since the celebration of Passover. This feast recalled the establishment of the Covenant, the agreement between God and the Chosen People which was marked by the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments.
In addition to the crowds present, we are told of the blowing of the wind and the appearance of fire in the form of tongues. Sounds and sights making evident the action of the Divine presence and action. The Apostles are described as responding to all of this by speaking in various languages. What drew my attention, amidst all of this, was the comment that “each of us hear them in his native language.” The revelation of God was taking place not in what the Apostles were able to do, but in how those who heard them were able to experience something so significant. No matter where anyone came from, no matter what language, culture or background they represented, the message of Jesus being proclaimed by the Apostles through the action of the Spirit could be heard. What clearer understanding of what was taking place could be conveyed than this? Proclaiming the revelation of God that is the mission of Jesus Christ was something that could be understood and appreciated by anyone and everyone.. Those who carried on this mission, who proclaimed this message, were to do so in a way and by such means that each one could “hear. . .them in his native language.”
The power of the Spirit, conveyed in the strong imagery of wind, fire and language, is the same power of the Spirit passed on to us in Baptism and Confirmation. This power of the Spirit is given to us so that through us the revelation of God can be understood clearly and distinctly by all who experience it in and through us. Through the action of the Spirit, day after day, in words and actions, the revelation of God takes place.
What is this revelation that occurs? Here we look to Jesus as told to us by St. John. Jesus breathed the Spirit upon his followers after his Resurrection. The new life, the creative force of the life of the Spirit, was breathed into the Body of Christ that is the Church, just as life was breathed into the First Man in the image of Creation. Now life is breathed into this Body of the Church that we are.
The revelation of God in the conferral of the Spirit by Jesus is the conferral of peace and forgiveness. Peace, that is a wholeness, a restoration of mind and heart and spirit is achieved by forgiveness.
This is the message of God to our world, proclaimed and achieved by Jesus Christ. It is to be continued by us, that Body of Christ, in our world today. Although we are diverse and individual, and often divided, we are to be reconciled and united with God and with one another by peace and forgiveness. It is not a grand and sweeping process. Nor is it weak or cowering or timid. This peace and forgiveness is a true sign of strength reflective of God and God’s presence found in the efforts, each day and often in simple ways, to allow the wind and the fire of the Spirit to take form in us.
In the ancient imagery of the Bible, the divisions in the world began to take place at the Tower of Babel when an inability to understand one another was the result of different languages being spoken. The re-creation of the face of the earth which we pray that the Spirit achieve begins when genuine understanding and respect among diverse peoples happens because all hear the message of Jesus Christ “in his native language.” Peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and union begin to come about as all begin to understand, in their diversity, the one message needed in our world today, the one message made concrete and real in us, the message of genuine peace forgiveness and love found in union with our good and gracious God.
Acts 1: 1-11 Ephesians 1: 17-23 Matthew 28: 16-20
I have grown increasingly comfortable with accounts from the Scriptures which appear to differ from each other in some respects. I am coming to understand them as opportunities for different writers to offer perspectives not only about particular incidents they are recalling, but also what significance their presentations give to aspects of those incidents.
The example that is before us today is the accounts of two inspired individuals, Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, and Matthew in his Gospel account, and the way in which they recall that major occurrence in the life of the followers of Jesus when he takes physical leave of them after his death and resurrection. He will no longer be with them in the manner in which they had known him. But he also assures them that he would not abandon them.
Of these two accounts, the most striking comment for me is made by Matthew. He writes: “they doubted.” He added this observation with no clarification. There was, as he notes, still a sense of uncertainty present in the minds of the followers of Jesus that was evident as they gathered together at the time of his departure from them. At the same time, he remarks, they gave praise and honor to God in worship.
Even as “they doubted” he also reports that “they worshiped.” Despite everything that they had experienced, they were persons of faith and trust. The individuals to whom Jesus had handed on the continuation of his mission and ministry, that is, the revelation and experience of God, were persons of deep faith, deep belief. But why was there doubt? It may well have been doubt about what lay ahead of them at that moment. There was no certainty, no clear awareness of what adventures were before them. It was of that, perhaps, that they may have wondered, they may have doubted. Their doubt was not about Jesus, or his mission. Their doubt may have been about themselves.
What guided them as they were to go forward, was an absolute conviction that was based upon the trust and the belief that they had placed in Jesus and his message. It was an absolute conviction about the promise that had been given to them of the abiding presence and action of the Spirit of God who would be handed on to them.
As the followers of Jesus proceeded with their lives, they could go forth with faith, with trust, with conviction. Through the presence of the Spirit, they were enlightened, as we heard in the letter to the Ephesians, with qualities of hope, the riches of glory, and the greatness of power. Their hope was an optimism and a perspective on life and living that was driven by their union with God through Jesus. The riches of glory were theirs because they possessed a genuine wealth – not in material goods – but in the spiritual goods that appreciated their true source of value as creatures of a loving God. Their greatness of power arose from their source of strength, fortitude, and endurance which was derived from an unconquerable, undefeatable, commitment to a relationship with God.
The doubt the followers of Jesus that Matthew mentions was not, I believe, a cowering fear of the unknown that would, in some way, restrain them. But it was a courageous act of love toward the unknown of whatever was ahead of them. Whatever that might be, it could be overcome, it could be met with their faith and trust. No matter what the days, the years, ahead for them might portend as they went to spread the message of what they had known and lived, they could be confident of the Lord being with them. Of that, there was no doubt.
From what is told to us, we can take much for ourselves – as their lives demonstrate to us. Much is unknown in the lives of any of us and what lies ahead of us. Many times we can doubt our own strength, our own ability to deal with what confronts us day after day. But by the faith and trust in Jesus Christ that we live out sacramentally in our life as Church, and that we live out in particular way by our presence here to worship and be nourished by the Eucharist, we are strengthened as we go forth into our world. We are able to go forth into our world, as they went forward into their world, to proclaim with confidence ad conviction our reliance on and our union with our good and gracious God.