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- Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.
- Without the bread of life, you’re toast.
- Trust in God… but lock your car.
- Can’t take the heat outside? This church is prayer-conditioned.
- The fact that there’s a highway to hell and a stairway to heaven, says a lot about anticipated traffic flow.
- Prayer: wireless access to God with no roaming fees.
It is this last one which pretty much sums up every church: Our church is like fudge, sweet with a few nuts (and you know who you are).
Billy Joel’s song, Only the Good Die Young: he’s trying to persuade a good Catholic girl not to be so good and declares: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun.” Well there is one unique place where you can laugh and cry with both the saints and the sinners: the church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.
So often, when we are reading the Scriptures, it pertains to how we are to love—God, one another, and the stranger. However, today’s Gospel reading is not about those out there, instead, it is Jesus prayer for us. His prayer for the Church, that same church that is made up of some sweet ones and, in truth, quite a few nuts.
The passage begins, “Jesus prayed for his disciples,” Then a little further, He says, “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.” He is praying for his disciples, those who were present and those who were to come. You. Jesus was lifting you up in prayer and he is asking the Father to protect and guard you from the evil one. He also asked that you know joy because you have received the truth through the words that the Father has given him, which he has spoken. Then Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
The word “sanctified” can also be translated as set apart or to make holy. “Make them holy in the truth… for their sakes I make myself holy, so that they also may be made holy in truth.” This takes us back to the command in Leviticus 19:2—“You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” Jesus is asking the Father to confer his holiness upon us, and this is accomplished through Jesus’ work upon the cross, his resurrection, and ascension. However, this idea of being holy, which we regularly talk about, is difficult to nail down and when we try, we often become legalistic, in that we say, “If you do this and don’t do that, then you will be holy.” It is true for us and it was true for the disciples. Defining holy can be challenging, but, in the time of Jesus, holiness was not just an idea, holiness had a home. Holiness had a place where you could draw very near to it.
From the sixth chapter of the first book of Kings: “The inner sanctuary [Solomon] prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold.” In the innermost part of the house… in the innermost part of the Temple, Solomon constructed a room that was thirty feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty feet tall—a perfect square. That room is known as the Holiest of Holies and in it was the Ark of the Covenant. The very presence of God on Earth.
As with us, the disciples would have had a difficult time fully understanding the idea of being holy, but as Jesus was speaking, they would have immediately thought of the Temple and the Holiest of Holies, the place where God resided. They would have understood that Jesus was praying that they be sanctified, set apart, holy. Jesus was praying that the disciples would themselves become temples for the presence of God, for the Holy Spirit of God.
In the time of Jesus, holiness had a home—the temple. Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, holiness had a new home—you! St. Paul says to us: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Holiness is not a state of acting or behaving. Holiness is a state of being. It is not about what you do. Holiness is about who you are through the Spirit of God, and it is God that transforms us.
Scripture says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” As the potter re-throws a vessel that was spoiled while being made, so the Father remakes us, transforming us into perfect vessels, temples, awaiting the giving of His Holy Spirit.
In this process, not only do we become individual temples of the Holy Spirit, but we also become a temple corporately, as the church.
Lewis Meyers may be a name that some of you know. He had the Lewis Meyers Bookstore in Tulsa, which the New York Times tagged “the best bookstore in the South.” He also had a half-hour TV show, The Lewis Meyers Bookshelf, where he reviewed books. Apparently he was quite the character. At one point, he met a group of people who completely changed his life. He described their gathering: “It is the only place I know where status means nothing. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is here because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together again. First things are first here…. For one small hour the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The leveling that results is what people mean when they use the word brotherhood.” Was he describing the church? No. He was talking about the AA meetings he attended, but he could have been describing the church if we were all to recognize that through our sins, we too have made slobbering messes of our lives and need the love of a Savior to transform us into Temples for our God.
We are the church—nuts and all—and Jesus has lifted us up in prayer. Through his work, we have been sanctified, set apart, made holy. The Potter has formed us into vessels, temples for His Holy Spirit. Therefore, let us rejoice. We have been sent into the world, but we have not been sent alone. The Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah words that you can make your own:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” The Spirit of the Lord is in you.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.