Sunday, May 28, 2017

Suffering and Glory

May 28, 2017 –– 7th Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:12–14 / Psalm 27 / 1 Peter 4:13–16 / John 17:1–11a
Suffering and Glory

The readings today present three things that are hard for us. In Acts, the disciples have just witnessed the Ascension and, even though they have their “marching orders” (the Great Commission, Mtt 28:28), now they are being obedient: they have retreated to an upper room in Jerusalem to wait for the gift my Father promised (Acts 1:4). Waiting is not easy for most of us, but “wait time” can open doors to the Holy Spirit beyond our comprehension. If you are in a major “wait” right now, trust that the Lord is using it for something good he wants to do in your life.

The second thing that is hard for us is suffering. Incredulously, Peter puts a totally different spin on it: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ…. When and how do we do that? Peter gives one explicit example: if you are insulted for the name of Christ…. This happens whenever we give witness to any part of God’s truth and, in response, are ridiculed or rejected or even assaulted. But sharing in Christ’s suffering can go far beyond that. The very reason there is suffering in this world is because of the brokenness caused by the old, nasty word sin. That is not to say all suffering is the direct cause of sin; it’s just that a world where rebellion against God is not only possible but prevalent has repercussions, and everyone is affected. When we choose to see suffering as part of the process God uses to brings the world to repentance and healing, we share in the sufferings of Christ. This is the real meaning, and the proper use, of the phrase, Offer it up…. When you believe that God can and will use a hard thing in your life for your holiness and the salvation of others, you share in the sufferings of Christ.

The third thing that is hard in today’s readings is the word glory. It is hard because it is difficult to define and comprehend. We can see that glory is a good thing, but it’s hard to pin down. Whether we fully understand it or not, there is something in us (it’s God-planted) that deeply desires the glory that is so much the focus of Jesus’ prayer.

Jesus, talking to the Father, is aware of the glory that I had with you before the world began....  St Paul says that Jesus lay that glory aside in his Incarnation (in the form of God.... but emptied himself––Phil 2), and yet here Jesus is anticipating not only the restoration of that glory, but the “joy” of going to the cross (Heb 12:2) because he knew that he was opening the door to glory for us.

And so Jesus prays in today’s Gospel: I am praying for.... those whom thou hast given me, for they are yours (Father); and everything of mine is yours, and everything of yours is mine, and I am glorified in them. Jesus is praying for you…. for me!

Think about this: As we follow Jesus, we are heading to the same place where he has gone. That is the meaning of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus suffered and was then glorified. Because Jesus has gone ahead of us into glory.... because even now the Spirit of Christ is changing those who belong to him into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2Cor 3:18).... because of the hope we have as Christians––Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27), we can wait with patience and we can even suffer in hope.

What is your biggest burden or fear right now? It is not forever. Our Lord is at work even in those hard things. We are being prepared for the full glory of God!

I’m borrowing a few texts from St Paul’s writings: If then you have been raised with Christ, (this is what Jesus is praying about in today’s Gospel) seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (this is the reality of the Ascension). Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (this is what it means to live distinctively for Jesus). Why?! For you have died (this is what baptism means), and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1–4).

As we follow Jesus, we are destined for glory. It’s beyond anything this world can imagine. Let's not allow the world to discourage us.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Ready for Our Eternal Home

May 14, 2017–– 5th Sunday in Easter
Acts 6:1–7 / Psalm 33 / 1 Peter 2:4–9 / John 14:1–12
Getting Ready for Our Eternal Home

Many non-Catholic Christians think that Catholics diminish the importance of the Bible. Catholics who know better can point to the prominence of Scripture readings in the Liturgy. Over the three-year cycle of the lectionary, a majority of the Bible is read aloud. Hearing the Scriptures is vitally important in Catholic life. One of my goals in a homily is to make the readings we hear more understandable, and in understanding to embrace what God is telling us.

In the second reading Peter challenges us: let yourselves be built into a spiritual house….  C.S. Lewis extends this:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of— throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building up a palace.  He intends to come and live in it himself (C. S. Lewis,  Mere Christianity).

This is a wonderful personal application, but the context is not merely our personal lives. Christian Faith is far bigger than that. While our tendency is to focus on ourselves as a “house,” Jesus gives a much broader perspective: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Maybe it’s best to think of this as one house…. many rooms. Or, to use another image, there is one edifice with many stones.

Today’s Gospel is a favorite for funerals, and rightly so. It is a promise from Jesus that there is a place for us after this life. Jesus himself goes ahead of us, through death and resurrection, so that we can know the way. Jesus himself is the way and the truth and the life. As we follow Jesus, we will arrive at just the right place.

But to “follow Jesus” we face all kinds of obstacles. It is not surprising that Thomas asked, how can we know the way?

Many Christians assume the early Church was almost perfect. Some Protestant sects seek to be “restorationist” movements trying to recover some ideal that never actually existed. The Church has been in process since the beginning. Our Lord, the Head of the Church, has been leading his Body to “grow up” into the fulness of what it means to be the “House of God” since he gave these words to his disciples on that night before he went to the cross.

The first reading tells us there was tension between the early Jewish and non-Jewish Christians (the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews…). So even back then there were feelings that some people received special attention and treatment above others. Many of the letters (Epistles) deal with problems the early Church was having (it has been noted that if the early churches did not have those problems, the written record which became our New Testament would be much shorter!).

All of this is to say that the Church exists in a broken world and we need the spiritual healing that Jesus came to bring. Too often we assume that everything is fine except those times when something painful and disturbing comes too close to us personally. The reality is that every day there is catastrophe and pain and despair going on around us. Every day we deal with disappointment and, if we are honest, wish that others understood us better. From the little hurts to the huge pains, we need the healing that Jesus brings.

This is one reason it is important to get a vision of our calling to grow up into the beautiful house that God is making. Each one of us is meant to be a living stone; each of us is to make our own contribution to that spiritual house built on the cornerstone (who is Christ Jesus).

For that to happen, we need the Church. It was out of the early tension about the Hellenist widows that the Apostles initiated the diaconate. I am here in a line that goes back to Stephen and Philip and the others who are named. As we gather, the Church is here in all its parts to help us heal and be beautiful stones in the edifice of God’s “house”.

This brings our personal lives back into focus. We each need to be responding every day to the grace of God that is at work for our healing and ultimate salvation. We seek what Jesus promised the disciples: so that where I am you also may be.

So we open ourselves to be remade…. to be a living stone…. to be a dwelling place for God himself. This week, while you are getting dressed, look at yourself in the mirror. Look yourself in the eyes and into your soul. Then affirm your faith in Jesus and tell yourself: "the risen Son of God lives in me.... I am a living stone in God’s house!” As you do that, God will show something of himself through your life. And some day, you will be with Jesus in the Father’s house.

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