Homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 23, 2014

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today is the beginning of a new Church year, and once again Advent roles around. I like the word “advent” because I always think it is important to look forward to something. Half the fun of something is the anticipation of it. For many children it is the anticipation of getting some new toy, and for many adults it is the anticipation of seeing relatives and friends and having a good time. Unfortunately, because of the furor in the marketplace today, there are some who do not look forward to Christmas or any holiday, but only have anxiety for it.

For me, Advent is a great season because it can put into perspective what it is I really look forward too, and strip away all those false expectations and anxieties created by the marketing and the media. Let’s face it. They just want to make a living, and that is their job – to get you to go out and buy. But the four Sundays in Advent can balance all of that angst by reminding us of why we are really here, what we really should be looking forward to and figuring out how we can get more love in our lives.

On the last Sunday of the year, last week, we learned that we are to be judged simply on how much love we have shown our neighbors. How can we apply that to the Advent season and help to add to our bank account of love? Last week we saw the final coming of the Lord, but now we put that aside and look at the first coming of Jesus, and are reminded of how that coming was stripped away of any richness or revelry. It was simple, it was peaceful, it was calm.

The Jews for the most part have been living in anticipation for centuries, waiting for this Messiah to come. And they kind of missed it, because in their anticipation they imaged , as did Isaiah today, all the mountains quaking and the awesomeness of the event. It didn’t happen that way. Nor did they think that he would make brothers and sisters of us when he came. He was not to be a conqueror but as Paul says today, “by God you were called into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Interestingly the Gospel today is the first of many Gospels we will hear from the evangelist Mark today – actually my favorite of the four Gospels for reasons I hope to explain as the year goes on – but we don’t hear from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel any kind of Advent story. This is because Mark doesn’t have one. As the first to write a Gospel, his is the most spare in details, and in fact, he doesn’t say anything about Jesus until he is about 30 years old and beginning his ministry. So it isn’t a good Advent Gospel in that sense. So what the Church has done is to take a later section of Mark that is about the Second Coming of Jesus, and have us apply it to his first coming.

“Beware, keep alert;” Jesus says, “for you do not know when the time will come.” Certainly that was true of the first coming as well. And his advise to everyone: “Keep awake.” Be on the look out! Keep the coming in mind!

And so that gives us the theme of the First Sunday of our preparation period. Like the Jews waiting for a Messiah, we too should keep awake in case we might miss him.

Within the context of the metaphor, in which we are seen as slaves with a particular job to do in a household while the master is away, we also have to make sure that we are doing our jobs and don’t slack off. And I think that is pretty good advice for Advent, too.

I know that you and I have now been through many Advent seasons, but maybe the job we have been asked to do is changed. Maybe we are asked to show our love and our charity more in anticipation of the master coming home. Let’s not sleep on the job, then. Stay awake to times that we can prove our love for neighbor, that we can service others, that we can provide peace to others in their misery, pain and grieving. Be awake to the opportunities that will show themselves in our loves to be Christ to others.

It is that vigilance, that active waiting, which Jesus seems to ask for today, as we await his coming as an innocent, powerless child on Christmas today. I hope we are all up to it as part of our Lenten observance to balance out the messages of media and marketing.

That is my Advent wish for you and the Good News I present to you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

November 16, 2014

Homily for the 34th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Christ the King A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

I think there are two interesting things at war in our readings and themes of the day. It is the final Sunday of the Church Year and we are in nature coming close to the shortest daylight hours of the year. We are in dark for many hours now. This darkness inspires the liturgy to look at the last days, the end of the world and the final judgment “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the Angels with him.” For many this is a terrifying theme and we have seen a large number of movies recently dealing with the apocalypse and the rapture. This has always been a dominant theme in many Protestant sects.  St. Paul also mentions destruction. he says: “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24)

But in contrast to the King coming in fierce judgment, we also see the King as a shepherd, and remember shepherds were thought of as very lowly and on the bottom of the social scale. But John says that this Son of Man will be like a shepherd separating his flock from the goats. And then John goes on to explain just who will be seen as a sheep and who will be seen as a goat and that bar line that is drawn is all about love of neighbor. The sheep are those who give their neighbor something to eat, something to drink, some clothes, shelter, welcome, care and visitation. Are we sheep or goats? If you have been an active member of this parish, you have pretty well been sheep, I think. If you have been active in your community, supported social causes, gave of yourself to charities, then you are the sheep.

I think sometimes we think of the final judgment as a counting of our many transgressions – let’s see – I lied 4,500 times in my life, I had impure thoughts 66,007 times – and so on. But that’s not what John says. Our judgment will be in relation to the law of Love – how have we served someone else.

Ezekiel who is often thought to have contributed to the fire and brimstone idea of the end of the world, also uses the shepherd image though. God says, through Ezekiel, “I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out….I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.” And then God shows himself as acting in the way Christ says we should act: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This is the same love that we are asked to show.

The Gospel message is a social message of love for others before it is a recipe book morality – for what is sinful and what is not. The Hebrew Testament is often more about that, and unfortunately through the years, misguided churchmen have made it more about that. But if we get back to the basics and we look at what both Ezekiel and John say we will be judged on, it is very simply on how we treat other people. God says in Ezekiel: “I will feed my sheep with justice.” There it is. There’s the bar we have to reach. And what amazes me is that it is not that hard to do really, and that as so many of us have experienced, it also gives back in joy to the giver.

So my homily is a short one today: I simply want you take a look as the year ends, how much have you done this past year to increase the bank account of love you are developing. Be honest with yourself (only you and God have to know!) and then, see if it is full enough to get you a sheep card!

And this is the Good News that I wish you today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 9, 2014

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.

A woman’s place in the church has never been debated more than it is being debated right now. If I look at my Facebook, I see almost every day not very flattering comments regrading the male dominated clergy and the Roman Curia. We follow the stories of the nuns who seem to be being chastised for doing the very thing that the Gospels tell us to do.

I have no trouble seeing women as the equals of men – never have – and so, it is often beyond me how half the population can be treated the way that have been.

It seems to all stem from the patriarchal societies of the past – certainly seen in almost all aspects of the Scriptures, with the exception of the Gospels and Jesus. And that is where the strange dichotomy lies. If anything, Jesus treated women with love, compassion and with equal intelligence. I see no sign or hint of the kind of lesser treatment, the kind of slave-like submission that has been in everything else.

Even the earliest Epistles of Paul, the ones we are sure he wrote himself, have little sign of this. But apparently culture is a hard thing to change, and soon the early church was picking up the culture around them and suddenly we hear Paul saying that women should keep quiet, and be submissive toothier husbands. Was it Paul, or was it a sort of backward step taken by those Christians who did not know Christ but lived in a chauvinistic age that did not value women except as property.

And yet, even within this unequal treatment of women, the Scriptures can paint beautiful pictures of women. Certainly the description in proverbs of an ideal wife is beautiful and remarkable in that it seems to treat the husband and wife as equals. This ideal wife is trusted by he husband, she does everything to help her husband, she is a hard, willing worker, she handles the finances of the family, she is strong and even able to work in the fields, she is charitable and wise and teaches kindness. She is respected and loved by her children and the community. Quite a woman!

The psalm is a little more sexist in that the woman is seen only as a fruitful vine – a baby machine – but that is, of course, also cultural. Families needed many children to carry on the work of the family as well as the name. In the Bible, nothing was more horrific than being barren.

St. Paul’s epistle is not really about women, but does contain the image of a woman giving birth. It is in reference to the Lord’s second coming which is unknown to us but will come, and will be painful, like a woman giving birth. But the conclusion for Christians is also true. They say women can forget the piano of childbirth when hey see the child born tot hem. Similarly we will be rewarded for our faithfulness to God and all pain will disappear in the vision of our God.

Finally, we hear again the parable of the talents. I find it rather ironic that this is the reading today – almost as though whoever chose the reading was giving a hidden message to the sexist church.

The actual moral of the story of the talents is that we have to use what we are given. In context, what Jesus is talking about is the message he has given regarding the kingdom of heaven and how he has given that message to his apostles and followers and they must spread that message, making converts and increasing the kingdom. We are responsible for using what is given to us and increasing its value.

That’s where I see the irony with regard to women. Women who hide their talents, or who are not allowed to develop them, or who are kept in submission so they can’t increase their abilities and talents would be something that Jesus would consider wrong. The women we most respect in the world and in history are women who often went against the establishment and did remarkable things despite men trying to be put down. From Joan of Arc to Mother Teresa, they have spread the kingdom and used what was given to them. Similarly, the nuns today traveling around by bus and spreading the word despite being told to “cool it” by the male dominated hierarchy, are doing exactly what Jesus tells us to do today.

And so, let us today celebrate women, encourage women, recognize the strengths of women not in men, and perhaps women will take on those leadership roles that are so important for Christ’s kingdom to spread to others and become what it will be on Christ’s return. And this is the God News of hope that i suggest to you today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A  and B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Cycle A 2014

November 2, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Cycle A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) Be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

Water has always been a symbol of life. Because it is so necessary and life sustaining it is often used as an archetype since all people, regardless of race or background, share that common symbolic meaning. Today’s readings use that archetype in the first two of today’s readings.

In the Ezekiel reading today we see water in relationship to the temple. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem was seen as God’s resting place on earth, and as such it was holy. The original Ark of the Covenant which was carried from place to place and was home for God on earth, was eventually incorporated into the Temple that Solomon had built.

Ezekiel’s water imagery signifies that the place of worship, the dwelling place of God was life-giving. Water flows from the Temple, and eventually ends up in the sea and freshens the start waters as it goes.  Also, as the water flows it gives life to the animals and the plants along the way, the plants giving both food and healing because they have drunk of the holy waters flowing from the the place of God.

So the importance of the Temple as a life-giving place is established by Ezekiel. There was only one dwelling place of God, a much different idea than we have of the various churches today. A synagogue in a town was a teaching place, where Scripture could be read, but if they wanted to sacrifice to God, ask of God, meet their God, it would have to be at The temple in Jerusalem, which is why we so often reading of people going each year to the temple – for cleansing, for forgiveness, for sacrifice, for worship.

The slam today re-iterates that message: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most high.” It reminds us that because of the Temple, God is with us.

All of this changed when Christ came.

St. Paul explains to us today that the temple was no longer necessary since God came down to be one of us, live with us, and finally to live in us. Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you… God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

It is the same imagery used when after the crucifixion we read that the cloth of the Temple covering the door to the Holy of Holies was ripped in half. Withe the crucifixion came a major change in how we view the dwelling place of God. With the the institution of the Eucharist, Christ becomes present with us physically at Mass, and when we eat and drink at Mass, Christ is in us. Even more, the Spirit comes into us at Baptism and Confirmation and dwells inside each of us.

The Gospel today shows the only really violent image of Jesus, overturning the tables in the Temple in Jerusalem because they had forgotten the ‘holiness’ of the place of God, and had turned it into a marketplace. Immediately after this, he predicts that he can rebuild the Temple in three days. The logic of this is, of course, totally misunderstood by his listeners, but reading backwards, we see that though God the Father may dwell in that Jerusalem temple, God also was Jesus, and after his death he would be restored to us in three days.

Paul picks up on the moral concerns of having Christ within us as well. If Christ is in us, we must treat our bodies like temples. We must not do anything to make our bodies a “marketplace”, to discredit the holiness of our bodies. Much of our Christian morality stems from this simple truth that God dwells within us.

If we can meditate on this, if we can live our lives, living up to the holiness in our bodies, we can be wonderful dwelling places for God, doing godly things and fulfilling the two great commands of loving God and our neighbor because we will first love ourselves, recognizing the holiness that is in us.

The Lateran Basilica is celebrated today because it is, in a way, like the temple in Jerusalem, in that it is the called the mother church of all Catholics, the oldest church of the western hemisphere, and the cathedral for the Roman diocese. As such, we use it as a reminder that God is present in our churches and in ourselves, and that reminder each year helps us to remember the holiness that we should be striving for in all things.

And this is the Good News of Christ being inside each of us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the Feast of All Souls, Year A 2014

October 26, 2014

Homily for the Feast of All Souls Day, A 2014

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# ) be ready for Year B starting in Advent.)

Today is that special day of the year when we commemorate all those who died and reached the heavenly kingdom – those saints whose names we do not know, but are saints nonetheless. And since we need all the help we can get, we pray that we may be helped by those who have gone before and have already received their reward for staying true to the faith.

There are a number of possibilities given to us today for various readings and it is up to the celebrant to pick and choose from them. I have chosen readings from Isaiah, Psalm 23, Revelation and St. Luke.

I want this Mass today to be a celebration – a celebration of what awaits us and a celebration of those who have gone before us and are already experiencing it. Isaiah is certainly celebratory today, foreseeing what Christ was to accomplish and proclaiming in very human terms and imagery what heaven will be like – “a feast of rich food, of well-aged wines.” But it isn’t just the food and drink, but God will wipe away all tears – there will be nothing to be sad about, and there will be no more death. But best of all, we will be with our God – “our Lord for whom we have waited.” Those who have died in Christ are experiencing this now, and the hope is that each of us will as well.

Today’s well-known Psalm, the Lord is my Shepherd, describes not the journey after we die but our journey during this life. The Jews did not at the time of the Psalms believe in an after life the way we do. Most of the Psalms are centered on God doing his good during the lifetime of the individual. And so, in Psalm 23 we walk through dark valleys in life but are not afraid because God is shepherding us, leading us, feeding us, anointing us. We are taken in by the shepherd and dwell in God’s house while we are alive. As Christians we know that this Psalm also refers to what will happen to us after death as well, and that our cups will continue to overflow and we will always be comforted as are the unnamed saints of old.

The short second reading from John’s Revelations tells us that those who have died in the Lord and have done good things while they were alive, will merit the results of those deeds after death and death will be rest from all the good they have done. This hearkens back to the “comfort” offered in Psalm 23. “Blessed are the dead” proclaims God because they have merited their rest and can see God.

Our reading from the Gospel of Luke today is a longer one and is a retelling of the story of the apostles walking to Emmaus after the death of Jesus. It is interesting that this reading was recommended because it seems to have nothing to do with those people who have died and gone to heaven. It is the story of Christ’s appearance to two men who were leaving the area because they were fearful of the events happening after Jesus’ death and rumors of the resurrection of Jesus were being circulated. They do not recognize Jesus but invite the stranger to accompany them on the journey. As they journey they talk about recent events and tell Jesus of their fears and what they have heard. Jesus then begins to explain to them why all of these things had to happen, why it was necessary that Jesus die. Unfortunately we do not have much of this conversation narrated to us, but we can imagine Jesus opening up the Scriptures to them, reading backwards, we might say, and explaining how Moses and the prophets had all prepared the Hebrews for the coming and death and resurrection of Jesus, and how because of that death, was able to enter into the glory of heaven, saving us, and opening heaven up for all who have faith in him to follow. It is, then, the story of how heaven can now be understood in the imagery of Isaiah, as a rich feast, and how Christ has taken away our tears and destroyed death itself. So it is a very appropriate reading for our understanding of how it is possible that we, too, can share in the heaven of the faithful departed who have gone before us.

Coming as we do after the coming of Christ, we are able to participate in this wonderful hope of ours – the kingdom of heaven, that has begun with Christ, continues and will be finally established at some point in history. We know that if we remain faithful, that we too, will share in this heavenly banquet, and we pray today to all those of our families and friends who have faithfully gone before us, will help us, sustain us, give us the strength we need to continue our journey on the right path and intercede for us to God – the God that have before them eternally.

When we say in our Creed each week that we believe in the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, we prove our hope in this great event that is in process now and will each fruition in the future.

Let us pray that those who have gone before us in faith help us along the way and let us rejoice in their victories over death.

And this is the good news of the readings today, and the Good News of our salvation.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A or Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”] They are different than the ones which will be published here.

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

October 19, 2014

Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

Jesus is noted for preaching what we call the Law of Love. In today’s reading, the Pharisees again try to trick Jesus up, and see how much he really knows about Hebrew Scripture. Jesus summarizes Scripture by saying that it can all be boiled down to two rules – love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The Law and the prophets, the two great Biblical areas used by the Pharisees, he says can be hooked to these two central principals of love which are commanded for us to follow.

God does not do anything that doesn’t stem from God’s own holiness. The law of love stems from God’s love and compassion towards us, and we, too, are to be God-like, aiming to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.

The reading from Exodus today was chosen to show the love and compassion of God despite the fact that it talks about his wrath to those who treat widows and orphans badly, but the concepts that God was giving them regarding how to treat their neighbors were, especially for the time period, very advanced and culturally challenging. They are still challenging for us today to follow.

How in America do we treat legal aliens? Do we offer them comfort and jobs and training or do we try to take advantage of them? I have heard of aliens who were doctors in their own country working at service jobs here in restaurants, for example.

How do we treat people who cannot work, who have no families, who have been left bereft because of deaths? Do our social services, which certainly make some attempt to help people in need, meet that need, or do we just complain about the fact that our money is going to people who ‘could work, if they wanted to”?

Do we provide interest free loans to people who are starting out and have nothing? I doubt the banks would be very willing to even look at that.

And yet, there are people, there are societies, there are group like Habitat for Humanity, for example, that do these things and are truly in the Gospel spirit of loving one’s neighbor.

What is our position on all of this? Do we give generously to help the needy or do we somehow think they can take care of themselves or do we let someone else do it. I know that we cannot support all the good things that come in our mailboxes, but can we choose one or two that may be close to our hearts and be very generous to them. Because my own income has been drastically curtailed since retirement, I have had to choose only three of the charities that I have supported in the past, but hopefully I am still doing enough to follow Christ’s mandate.

Paul speaks today to the Thessalonians about being examples for others. He sees that the Thessalonians have followed the examples of Paul and Jesus, and have themselves become examples for all the other Christian communities. Our parish, though small, does a wide variety of things that hopefully open the eyes of the community to our own caring and loving. I hope that others see us as a very giving parish, despite our size, and that this mandate of love of our neighbor grows and becomes even more visible to the communities around us. We don’t do it for our own glory, but we also don’t want to put this light under a basket since it may inspire others, both in the parish and without, to do more.

The law of love has compassion at its base. Compassion means feeling or suffering with others. Unless we have some sense of the needs of our neighbors, the sufferings of our neighbors, we cannot really be compassionate. We can give because that is what we are told to do, but my hope for us today, is that we can be compassionate as God is compassionate, love as God loves, and show that love by treating everyone as we would want to be treated were we in the same situation.

And that is the good news I wish for you to reflect on this thirtieth Sunday, and is the Good News that Christ proclaimed to us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

October 12, 2014

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

In today’s reading, Jesus continues to be hounded by the Pharisees who are trying to discredit him or trip him up. Today they set a trap for Jesus by trying to get him to say something that would alienate Jesus from some of the people, depending on which side he took on the issue. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the two main parts of the religious establishment during Jesus’ time. The Pharisees focused on the Bible and the requirements that it established for everyone while the Sadducees were more interested in ritual and ceremony. The two groups plotted together, however, to trick Jesus. The Herodians mentioned here were a political party, not religious. The religious establishment did not want to support Rome, but the political establishment did. Jesus’ answer then would alienate one of the two groups. They would do anything it  seems to discredit Jesus.

Jesus, of course, understands that this is exactly what they are trying to do and will have none of it.  The tone of his speech in the original actually indicates his disgust with them – and we translate that as – you  hypocrites! – but it is much more sarcastic than that.

Jesus’ answer simply indicates that there are two realms – the worldly and the spiritual. We are in the world and so, bound by the rules of the world, but we are spiritual and so are bound by the Laws of God as well. We need to pay service to both.

In the early Church the letters of Paul show that Paul was very careful to tell the new Christians to live as good citizens. He, too, saw the need to live in the world as it was, and not be put into a situation where they could be criticized and look bad.

What has bothered me in thinking about these readings is when there might be a clash between the rules of the nation and the rules of God. Because of our democratic process we can vote to follow our beliefs, but since we know God’s ways are not our ways, the vote doesn’t always go the way of God. Issues of abortion, birth control, gay marriage are recent issues, but slavery and war have been other issues that have often seemed to collide with Christian values. Who is right? Separation of church and state is not always possible.

With some issues, like slavery, the political process seemed to be ahead of the church on this issue, and it was church theology that changed as a result. Few of us would look at slavery in the Bible today and see it as God approved, though it had been interpreted that way.

Other good questions might revolve around whether Christians have a duty to force their ethics and morality on the majority of Americans. We must follow the laws of our country and render unto Caesar, but we can work to change people’s minds on issues or show a better way by our example. Or perhaps the democratic will is just and the theological interpretations may change. Whatever the case, I am not sure it is always simple, as Jesus’ answer might indicate. Or perhaps it is. Perhaps we are to follow the laws of the country, and live our own lives according to God’s law, not judging others on their different values or ideas. All interesting material for discussion and thought this week.

The reading from Isaiah this week is more difficult to find a thematic connection with Jesus’ teaching except that we see God’s effort at appointing rulers who will bring things in line with his will. Cyrus was a Persian ruler and was not Jewish, yet God was able to use him to widen people’s understanding of the one, true God and to bring glory to himself and the Hebrew people.

Perhaps God also uses leaders to help us understand the modifications in theology that we might be ready for. Abraham Lincoln changed a lot of people’s minds about slavery and his strong belief eventually paid of both in American life and eventually in our theological understanding. God works in many ways – ‘there is none besides him and there is no other’ as Isaiah says.

This week let us not be afraid to challenge some of our beliefs that may not align with social values of the world. Let us examine Scripture and hear God talking to us for the Scriptures are for every age and all time. And know that whether we are rendering unto Caesar or unto God, that all things will someday be one and God shall reign – that is our Christian hope and our Christian belief.

And that is the Good News we can take refuge in when we are troubled by the world around us.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

October 5, 2014

Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

Jesus’ addition of the last section to the wedding feast parable can be very disturbing, and is only found in Matthew. Luke has a version without it. I want to start with it today.

In the beginning of the Christ’s parable some were called to the feast but chose not to come.  This traditionally in Christian terms has been applied to the Jewish people who were the chosen and were friends of God, but did not accept the invitation  to come to the feast of the kingdom that Jesus preached about. So the King called everyone else and invited everyone. Traditionally that has been all Gentiles. And notice there was no distinction between the good who were invited and the bad. All were invited to come clothed in their best wedding garments to show respect to the king’s son. In fact there was historical precedence  that Kings would give banquets for all and would provide clothing for those unable to afford it.

But then we have the last section of Jesus’ parable. The King now turns to be a judge.  The King host sees one person who has come in but has not shown respect by wearing the wedding garment. He was there to eat the food and enjoy the party, perhaps, but flaunted the rules of dress which would show disrespect to the King.

The question often asked is what the wedding garment is or means. Most seem to think that it means repentance. When we become Christians we are baptized, but if we come to the sacrament without true repentance and are not sorry for our sins, then we are not showing respect and will be judged and cast out. Coming into the kingdom, Jesus says, may be free, but there are conditions that are attached to it. We must continue to be clothed and not just accept Christianity on our own terms. It is God the King who provides the invitation and the terms. And it is God the King alone who will judge through Jesus.

Some people seem to think that if they are baptized they are saved. Period. But Jesus indicates here that there will still be a final judgment, and that we will be judged on whether we have continued to wear the wedding garment, continued to follow the obligations of that invitation.

I am sure that Jesus is not talking about all the minor rules and even major rules that churches have established, but is talking about true repentance and belief in God, and how we have respected that belief. Have we acted in a way that paid respect to the generous invitation we were given and the grace that came from Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So, a parable like this, still causes us to think, causes us to consider why we are sitting here in our somewhat comfortable pews, and whether we have coming truly wearing the garment of humility, repentance and faith. Many are called but few are chosen, can be very sobering words for us.

We can see how Paul put this into practice today when he talks about the balance in his life: he has experienced being poor and experienced being rich, of being well-fed, and being hungry.  He knows what the extremes are, but the Christian needs to balance all these things in order to live his life at the Christian banquet and to keep the proper perspective.

And, in the end, that banquet, that wedding feast of the parable, will be so wonderful Isaiah tells us. The passage we read today is so beautiful that i want to quote it again: The Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear…. he will swallow up death forever. Then the  Lord will wipe away all the tears from all faces.” This is our faith. As we start to come to the conclusion of our church year, our readings will focus more and more on the second coming – that time when the kingdom here on earth begun will be made complete, but when there will also be a judgment made. Both of those contrasting images will be presented over the last weeks of the year.

It seems to me that Catholics, although we profess belief each week in the Creed to the “resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”, we don’t often have it in the forefront of our thinking as do many Protestant sects. Each year the Church re-introduces it, so that we can have a complete vision of God’s salvation for us, God’s plan for us and the conclusion of that plan. It should be something, though, that we look forward to if we are living our lives wearing the garment. Let us conducer these things this week, but as we say after the Our Father each week, let us live in “joyful hope” and without anxiety, living in moderation in all things, and trusting that we will be the guests in the kingdom Gd has prepared for us.

This is the Good News that should push us forward this week to more faith, hope and love.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

September 28, 2014

Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

We live in wine country and there are a great number of vineyards very near to us. Similarly in Jesus’ time and in Isaiah’s time, one of the common sights would be a vineyard. I don’t imagine that drinking wine is any less popular today than it was centuries ago, So both Jesus and Isaiah and David use the image of the vineyard as a way to let the chosen Jewish people know and understand just what has happened to them and will happen to them. Because they were very familiar with the workings of a vineyard, the story made much more sense to them and they could understand the warning inherent in each story.

The section of Psalm 80 today has a refrain which certainly simplifies things if anyone hadn’t gotten this message: “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel”. What David is doing in the Psalm, unlike the other readings today, is simply letting the Hebrews meditate on how well they have been prepared, planted, and nurtured. It is a prayer for this nurturing to continue so they they might produce fruit, since they have come on to difficult times. The wall of this vineyard has broken down and animals eat the fruit as well as passersby. It is a plea to God to continue his good work with Israel.

On the other hand, Isaiah, being a prophet, has often had a harsh message to bring from God to the Hebrews. Prophets were either consoling or full of warning, and in this message Isaiah starts off letting the Hebrews know the wonderful things God has done for them and what the result of that has been. In the parable, the owner of the vineyard did everything he could possibly do to ensure that his vineyard was fruitful and that the grapes that were produced were of finest quality. He made sure that the soil was overturned and all the debris of rocks were removed from it.  He planted only the best seedling vines, and in the center of this garden he built a watchtower. Now a watchtower was traditionally used in war, and was built so that one could see an approaching enemy. Here, the owner of the vineyard wanted to make sure that his vineyard was protected and secure and that no one would break into it and damage the vines or steal the grapes.  yet, despite all this preparation of soil, careful planting and watching over the garden, the only thing that was produced was wild, sour grapes.

So Isaiah asks “what more could the owner of the vineyard do? He did everything possible to see to it that the grapes were the best from which to make the wine. In his frustration with the wild grapes, he decided that he would either have to start over again, abandon the land, or lay it to waste. He decides to do the latter. He will tear down the protecting hedges, leave it to be overcome with weeds, trample it down and not allow it to be be watered so that it becomes a wasteland.

This should have been very frightening to the Hebrews, and indeed it was exactly what happened to them, because they had become the sour grapes, God stopped protecting them, abandoning them to enemies and weather, and soon the Hebrews were conquered and became captives.

But God always keeps his promises, and though we don’t read it here, we do find out that God remains faithful to the Hebrew people and eventually they are released from their bondage and start again. God keeps his covenant even though the people did not!

Jesus, too, is acting the prophet today. Unlike many of the parables that begin “The kingdom of heaven is like…”, this one does not. Instead Jesus tells a story about a landowner much like the one in Isaiah who planted a vineyard, fenced it in to protect it, also built a watch tower and a wine press, but who did not tend it himself, but left the country and leased the land to tenant farmers. In this parable, the grape harvest is not Israel, but the tenant farmers are Israel. We don’t know why the tenant farmers decided not to give the rightful owner the fruits of the harvest, except maybe the harvest was so special that they wanted it all for themselves. In any case, they treated the owner’s slaves very badly, even killing one of them. In desperation the owner sent his own son to collect the produce thinking that they would respect a free man, and rightful heir to the property. But no, the tenants decided they not only wanted the produce but they wanted the property as well, and killed the landlord’s only son so there would be no one the landlord could leave the land to.

Then Jesus asks the question: what is the landlord going to do about all of this? He lets the chief priests and elders come up with the end of the story themselves, for there is only one probable ending – the landowner will come himself and put the tenants to death, and lease the land to more suitable tenants who will give him the produce he deserves at harvest time. Jesus lets the chief priests and elders mull over the story and then draws the conclusion that he wants them to get. Israel is like the landowners who kill the messengers of the landlord, God. God therefore will punish the Israelite leaders and he will give leadership to someone else, who will do what the Father wills and harvest good fruit. There is also a veiled prophecy about Christ’s own death here – the only Son who is killed by the chief priests and elders.

Although the warnings today were specifically for Israel, we can adapt and apply them to ourselves as well.We must never forget who is the landowner and try to take that inheritance for ourselves through pride. Oftentimes we have control issues and think that we are – or at least should be – in control of our lives. It is only when adversity hits that we truly realize we have no control and we turn to God to get help. That is basically one good definition of prayer, isn’t it? And that is what Paul talks about today in the Epistle. Let God know what you want. Pray to him, thank him, and stop worrying, Paul says. Once we know and recognize who the landowner of the vineyard is, we place ourselves in God’s hands, letting him know what we want, but only expecting that he will do the very best for us and knows what is the very best for us. It is hard to give up that kind of control of our lives – the tenants of the vineyard sure couldn’t do it! But we must offer the fruits of our lives to God and trust that all will work out well in the end. Hard to do, but well worth the effort.

And that is the Good News of the vineyard and of prayer that we are told about by God today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

September 21, 2014

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

Today’s reading is about changing one’s mind, or to use a more Biblical phrase, repenting. It is also about justice and mercy, two qualities of God that are in balance and can co-exist.

The parable today is one of the few that doesn’t start with the words: The kingdom of heaven is like….”, but it is still about the operation, if you will, of the kingdom of heaven. It is a parable about a man with two sons. The first son seems rather rebellious and outspoken and when asked to do some work, he states exactly what is on his mind. No, I am not going to do that. The second son apparently had no intention of going either, but for fear of his father, or whatever reason, he would not be so blunt with his father, and told his father that he would go, knowing full well that he had better things to do that day with his time.

As it turns out, the blunt, rather rebellions son changed his mind. We are not told why. perhaps he had time to think about it and felt bad about his refusal, but in any case, he went out and did some work in the vineyard.

Jesus simply asks which one actually did what the father wanted. Obviously, as the Pharisees note, the first son did. Now, getting the answer he wanted, Jesus proceeds to tell the chief priests and elders that they were like the second son. They say they believe in a Messiah, and say that they follow all the rules and regulations of the Hebrew Torah, but their hearts are stubborn and they refuse to recognize who Jesus is and what he brings them. They will not change their minds like the first son, but continue to do what they want and will not even weigh the evidence.

Jesus does not say that they are bad people, but that they will not be the first to enter the kingdom of heaven. No, the people who believed in him, even the much hated tax collectors, and the sinful prostitutes will get there first because they were able to change their ways and follow Christ.

This then, may put the first reading from Ezekiel today into some perspective as to why it was chosen. It, too, is about changing one’s mind and repenting. It is also about justice more than it is about mercy. It is also a little scary. The righteous person, the person who has been faithful to the commandments commits a sin, and they will be punished for it, God says. They might even die because of it. But the wicked person changes their mind, repents, and begins to act in righteous ways, in lawful ways, and is not punished for past transgressions but allowed to live. This reminds me of the parable we just read of the landowner who pays everyone the same wage whether they worked eight hours or one hour. In our minds there is not a lot of justice =e here. Someone lives their whole life righteously and then screws up in the end and dies for it. Because this is a Hebrew Testament reading, what is missing is the fact that Jesus has come to redeem us, and that he has brought forgiveness of sins, so that we all can repent and turn away from sin. The beautiful hymn-like reading of Paul today praises Jesus for that very reason. Because of Jesus, justice can be and is tempered with mercy. And that is why Jesus is the name above every other name, why at the name of Jesus every knee should bend. Jesus is the one who brought mercy for us all into the world. We all get a second chance, and a third chance, and more. We know we fall, we sin, we do not always follow the Gospel, but as long as we don’t despair, don’t give up our faith in Christ, we will be able to turn around, and repent, and have life. This is the way that Jesus has fulfilled or completed the Hebrew Testament. And how lucky we are.

Besides the idea of repenting, I would like to end today with the concise advise of Paul to the Philippians on how to stay true to Christ and the Gospel: “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” That means that we need to listen to one another, respect the opinions of one another and learn to love everyone here. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Look for the good in others, look for the talent in others, look for the uniqueness of others, respecting them and expecting the best from them. And finally, look not just to your own “interests but to the interests of others.” Put your needs aside and look to the needs of those you love. If we can do these things, we will have a happy, prosperous community where we truly show the world how these Christians can love one another, having the same mind as Christ Jesus.

And this is the Good News offered to us in the Scriptures today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - “Teaching the Church Year”]


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