Sermon: Easter V RCL A – “I Will Proclaim”

pointDo you remember the name Harold Camping? He died this past December, but for many years was the leader of Family Radio Worldwide. His claim to fame was that through complex mathematical formulas he predicted that on May 21, 2011 the rapture, that is God calling his people home, would occur and the world would end as we know it. Now, if it had occurred and all of you were still here after the rapture, I wouldn’t be surprised, but since I’m still here, I figure he was wrong. For the record, Camping also predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994 and that didn’t happen either. He wrote that off as errors in his computations. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” My logic says, if the angels don’t know the hour or day, then someone with a calculator and a Bible won’t be able to figure it out either.

However, leading up to May 21, 2011, atheist across the country were having all sorts of fun by having “end of the world parties. Although Mr. Camping was wrong, I still don’t know that it is a good idea to mock him and I’ll tell you why: people have been looking for Jesus return for 2,000+ years. They have been praying for his return for 2,000+ years and for good reason. The author Anne Lamott summed it up, she wrote, “We are Easter People, living in a Good Friday World.” We are an Easter people believing in the resurrection, old things passing away, new life, the promises of the Good News, but the world around is in shambles. Some see the world around us and they interpret its condition as the end, “How could we go on anymore?” So in the midst of the shambles, folks want to see the Lord’s return so badly, that they begin to look for it even more closely and want it so much that they even make the mistake of trying to predict it. In a way, it is an act of desperation.

Harold Camping and the others who have predicted Jesus return through this desperation are not alone. Consider the apostles in our Gospel reading today: Jesus has already shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he has predicted his death, he has told Peter and the others that they will deny him.. essentially he is giving final instructions and saying, “Goodbye.” For the apostles, their world is spinning out of control, their world is turning into shambles, so Thomas says to Jesus, “Give us directions on how we can follow you.” Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father. In both cases, instead of breaking out a map or showing a photo, Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “If you have seen me then you have seen the Father.” For the apostles that still sounds a bit cryptic, because they did not fully understand Jesus’ purpose, what his mission was all about. That understanding would not come until later, but the events surrounding Stephen that we read about today are key to this understanding.

You will recall that after Jesus’ death the apostles went about preaching and teaching; however, as more folks came to belief in Christ it became more difficult for these few followers to care for them all, so they elected seven others – the first deacons – to assist in the ministry. One of those seven was Stephen and he was very passionate about his work. Not only did he do the work of a deacon, but he also proclaimed the Gospel message. Just as the religious leadership did not want to hear it from Jesus, they didn’t want to hear it from this young upstart either. So it came to pass that on one particular day Stephen gave them a great tongue lashing. He said to them, you have always been disobedient to God, you have always limited God, and you have persecuted the prophets that God sent. The crowning jewel of this tongue lashing comes when Stephen tells them, you murdered the Son of God.

It is hear that scripture records an amazing scene, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” For his perceived “blasphemy” they stoned him to death.

In believing and proclaiming the Gospel Stephen, the first martyr of the church, saw the place that Thomas had asked Jesus for directions to and he saw the glory of the Father that Phillip had wanted to see. What Stephen was witness to was the Good News. Jesus’ Kingdom was not bound to an earthly realm. You don’t need directions on how to get there or a photograph to know the Father, you only need one thing. Care to take a guess? Jesus – and that is the Good News.

What kind of person do you think of when you consider a person like Stephen? He knew that because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God it got him crucified, but here Stephen is making the same claims. Don’t you think he had to know that it would incite the religious leaders once again? Was he like one of those street preachers you imagine in Time Square, standing on a milk crate, flailing a Bible around shouting at those passing by, but in the case of Stephen knowing what he said could get him killed? Was he on a suicide mission, simply begging for death? Or was he being the light of the world. That city on a hill that can’t be hidden? Was Stephen a hero? Was he someone whose character and behavior we should model and follow?

Now please don’t think I’m picking on anyone in particular this morning. I’m not. Instead, I’m being very equitable and picking on us all, because we are all guilty of something specific in our Christian walk. Folks like Thomas and Philip ask to see God, others like Harold Camping and his followers want to see God so badly that they predict dates when they actually will, but they are not the only ones? The world is in shambles all around us and folks, whether directly or indirectly, ask us those same questions: “Can you show me the way?” “Can you help me to understand and see God?” Indirectly they may pour out to you the turmoil within their souls, their anxious thoughts, and personal concerns; but when they do, what we are all guilty of is being too polite. How many of you have heard this, “Faith or someone’s relationship with God is a personal matter.” “I don’t want to force my religious views on anyone.” “I might make them angry if I talk about God.”

I asked you if you thought Stephen was some sort of madman or a hero and the correct answer is that he is a hero. We should emulate his behavior, which means we shouldn’t always be so polite and say or do what is considered socially proper when it comes to our faith – It is THE Good News and that Good News is not there just so we can have some comforting words to say at someone’s deathbed or worse, their funeral! The Good News is for today. It is for the living and is for sharing. If someone happens to get angry and throws a few rocks then so be it. I love what St. Josemaria Escriva said on this, “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.” You are living testimonies to the Good News and it is worth sharing.

Scripture says that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and we too are filled with that same Spirit, which will allows us share the Good News of Jesus Christ as boldly and as unapologetically as Stephen did. The world did not end on May 21, 2011 or today – at least not yet! – so there are many who still want and need to know the way to Jesus. They want to see the Father. You, each and everyone of you, can provide them with directions.

The Psalmist declares, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Don’ let that simply be something you read or hear. Let it be something you live. A way of life. Be aware of the many opportunities that the Lord provides you to share your faith and then grasp those opportunities and proclaim the Good News that is within you.

Sermon: Matthew 5:21-37

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Foxes’ Book of Martyrs tells us the story of Telemachus, a Christian monk who, in 391 AD, went on a pilgrimage to Rome. While there he noticed crowds flocking to the Coliseum to see gladiators do battle. He followed them in, only to witness a sight that repulsed him.

Emperor Honorius was celebrating his triumph over the Goths. Gladiators armed with spears and swords reenacted the battle.  After their reenactment the bodies of the dead were dragged from the arena and its bloodied surface covered with a fresh layer of sand.

In came a new series of gladiators. Some were armed with swords and spears, others with nets. The crowd watched with excitement as they sought to outdo each other. When a gladiator was wounded, his opponent would loom over him, waiting for the crowds verdict on whether to slay him or let him live. So great was the bloodlust that at times wealthier spectators would climb down to get a better view of the execution.

Telemachus watched with horror as people died, battles raged and the crowds cheered. Prompted into action this bald headed, robed figure found his way onto the arena floor. He ran toward two gladiators locked in battle, grabbed one of them and pulled him away. He exhorted the two gladiators to abandon their murderous sport. He appealed to the crowd to not break God’s law by murdering.

The response was anything but favorable. Angry voices drowned out Telemachus’, demanding that the spectacle continue. The gladiators prepared to do battle again, but Telemachus stood between them, holding them apart, urging them to reconsider. Driven by the anger of the crowd and their rage at Telemachus’ interference, the gladiators cut Telemachus to the ground, as the crowd threw missiles at him. Telemachus was killed.

Legend holds that when the crowd saw the little monk lying dead in a pool of blood, they fell silent and then began leaving the stadium, one by one.  Because of Telemachus’ death, three days later, the Emperor by decree ended the Games.

In this brief history we can see the work of a saint, but what struck me today was the crowd.  Most, I would hope, were opposed to the violence of war and murder.  However, having entered into the arena they were swept up in the event.  They cheered on the violence and encouraged the murder of the innocent monk.  They voluntarily subjected themselves to witness these horrors, they engaged a temptation, and in the process became complicit in then sin.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus makes several statements where he ups the standard, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, `You shall not murder’… But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”  He speaks in a similar manner with regard to adultery, lust, swearing and more.  Like the crowd in the arena, these are offenses that we voluntarily subject ourselves to.  We walk into them knowing full well what we are doing.  Someone might anger us, but they don’t cause that anger to swell into a rage.  I may see a pretty girl walking down the street, but she is not the cause of lust rising up in me.  However, like those in the crowd, when we engage with a temptation instead of immediately walking away, then we may fall into sin.

St. Josemaria Escriva put it this way, “Do not enter into dialogue with temptation.  Allow me to repeat: have the courage to run away and the moral strength not to dally with your weakness or wonder how far you can go.  Break off, with no concession!”

When temptations arise in your life, do not entertain them.  Do not consider the “what ifs.”  Immediately set the temptation aside, not giving it the slightest edge.  In this way we can all live holier lives.

Choosing Barabbas

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Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed.  The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” – Matthew 27:20-21

There they are, side by side.  I can have either and the choice is mine.  Sure, I know good from evil (Genesis 3:22).  I know the “right” choice, but today I think I will choose Barabbas.  That’s who everyone else keeps shouting for.  Even the preacher said it!

“Barabbas!”

Why does that feel so wrong?  Why does it feel as though a piece of my soul just died?   Who is this man?

“Barabbas.”

This can’t be right.  I don’t even know this Barabbas.  What did this Jesus do?  Someone said that if he didn’t die that they would kill us all.  Don’t they know, we’re already dead.

“….”

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34

Each day is a choice between Jesus and Barabbas.  Today you chose Barabbas.  There is tomorrow.

Never despair. Lazarus was dead and decaying: “iam foetet, quatriduanus set enim“–“by now he will smell; this is the fourth day,” Martha told Jesus.

If you hear the inspiration of God and follow it–“Lazare, vein foras!“–“Lazarus, come forth!”–you will return to life.

St. Josemaria Escriva – The Way #719 

Sermon: Presentation of Our Lord RCL A – “Killing Hornets”

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In nature there are some epic battles that take place every day.  One such battle goes on between the Japanese honeybee and the Giant Japanese Hornet.  The Japanese Hornet is five times larger than the bee and is the world’s strongest predatory hornet.

When a Giant Japanese Hornet finds a honeybee nest it will kill a few honeybees and take them back to its nest to feed on it’s larvae. But then it returns, this time marking the honeybee hive with a scent. The scent attracts other hornets, and when two or three have arrived they begin to slaughter the honeybees at an extraordinary rate.  One such event records that 30,000 honeybees were killed by just 30 hornets in about three hours.

But the honeybees have developed a defense, and a defense that puzzled scientists for quite some time. You see, the honeybees can kill the hornets, but not in the way you might think – they don’t sting them to death. Instead, they do the opposite of what might be expected. They begin by doing all they can to annoy the hornet trying to mark its scent on their nest. Over 100 worker honeybees gather near the entrance to the nest, and then, when the hornet comes near, they lift and shake their abdomens in a peculiar dance. And the hornet finds this really aggravating. The bees then dive into their nest, and the steamed up hornet follows, intent to do some damage!

Unbeknown to the hornet 1000 worker bees are waiting for him just inside the entrance. When he gets close enough, around 500 of the honeybees jump on him, enclosing him in a ball of honeybees about the size of a clenched fist. They gather as close as they can to the hornet and start vibrating their muscles.  What happens? The vibrations cause the temperature to rise and rise and rise. In ten minutes or so the temperature’s up to 117 degrees.  Guess what temperature is too hot for a hornet to survive – 113 degrees; whereas the honeybees can function up to 120 degrees.  When the temperature of the ball of vibrating honeybees goes above 113 degrees the hornet dies and the honeybees survive.

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That is a rather remarkable act of God’s creation, and it is a rather profound lesson for the church.  We as individual members of a church can go it alone, doing things our own way and in all likelihood, not only will we fail as individuals, but we may also fail corporately.  St. Josemaria Escriva put it a bit more bluntly, “Convince yourself, my child, that lack of unity within the Church is death.” (The Forge, #631)  However, if we choose to work as a body – recognizing that we are in fact “in this thing together” – then, although there may be difficult times, we will manage to overcome.  Please note, I’m not eluding to a Giant Japanese Hornet buzzing around at our front door.  I’m not referring to some observed problem existing within the church, but it is good for us all to remember that we are called to stand together in the mission of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Consider the words of the Psalmist today:

For one day in your courts 

     is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God 

     than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

“… to stand at the threshold of the house” – that passage can take several meanings: it can mean to be the doorman, or one of the masses just hoping to get a peek inside, or even a beggar, but each implies the same message, “I would rather be a nobody in the house of God, than a somebody outside of it.”  For us: “I would rather be a small and insignificant part of the Body of Christ, than not to be a part at all.”  And not only are we all a part of the Body of Christ, we need one another.

Paul teaches us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  He goes on to say, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”  We are the Body and we need one another.  To say, “I have no need of you,” to separate yourself from the body, from the church, is in a very real way excommunication, not as in an action that has been imposed on you, but as an action you have imposed on yourself.  In the end, not only does the individual suffer, but the body suffers as well.  We are the body of Christ, the church, and he is the head of the body.  “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior,” says Paul to the Ephesians; and the loss of any of its members brings harm to the church.

I’ll remind you again of those wonderful words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, “The Church is not the society of those labeled virtuous.  It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints.”  The church is anything but perfect; but it is far better within its embrace than it is outside.  Outside, the hornets can take us one by one, but together, within the spiritual walls of this place, we can defend one another and conquer our greatest enemies.

Today, following the Confession of Sin we will offer the Sacrament of Unction – of healing.  If you need healing in body, mind or soul, then I invite you to come forward to receive an anointing and the laying on of hands.  I also invite you to come forward to receive the same for the healing of any infirmity within the church, so that we might not only bring healing to our individual bodies, but to this Body of Christ as well.

Furrow #115

esc115: Sometimes I think that a few enemies of God and his Church live off the fear of many good people, and I am filled with shame.  “Furrow” – St. Josemaria Escriva.

A few take Christ out of Merry Christmas.  A few take words out of context.  A few make laws for the many.  A few sow hate.  A few beat their plastic swords against their garbage can lid shields and we think that great armies have massed against us.  They are nothing.  They are clanging cymbals and noisy gongs.  Stand your ground.  There is nothing to fear.  “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”