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”]

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

September 14, 2014

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

When we talk about God, we often talk about two rather opposing terms, both of which we ascribe to God – immanence and transcendence. Immanence refers to the fact that God is with us, present to us, all around us, while transcendence treats God as outside, vast and supreme – in other words, beyond us. Many religions in the past have chosen to see God as one or the other of these ways, but as Christians we talk about God being both of those things. God is awesome, all-powerful, so we fear God with high respect and adoration. He transcends our petty little lives. And some of the psalms talk about God like that: “I will extol you, my God and my King!” says Psalm 145. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” Even in the reading of Isaiah today we hear God say: My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.”

The first reading from Isaiah today and the Psalm today, however, also show us the immanent God, the God who is near us, with us. “Seek the Lord,” Isaiah says, “while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. And the Psalm, including the refrain says: The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call on him in truth.”

Many of us brought up as Catholics, I think, saw God the Father as this transcendent Being, and Christ as the immanent, easy to talk to God, and we have carried that into our adult life, but for the hebrew, there seemed to be no contradiction in having a God who both near and transcendent.

In Jesus’ parable today, we see both of these qualities mixed, I think.  God is metaphorically a landowner, someone transcendent, in charge, powerful, rich. Like God, the landowner sees hints differently than the simple workers. The immanence of God, too, is seen in the landowner’s kindness to those who were not chosen to work at the beginning. The landowner felt sorry for the fact that they wouldn’t get a full day’s wages, so he decided to pay them all the same daily wage. It was a generous gift, especially to those who only had worked one hour. The fact that the landowner could empathize with the workers who needed a wage to survive, to feed their families, and so on, shows his care. The fact that it doesn’t seem fair to the workers who worked all day doesn’t enter into his thoughts because it is his generosity which is at work here, not his justice. Mercy often overrides justice for God.

The fact that we all sin, does that not mean we should all be punished – but God shows mercy. God forgives both the minor or venial sinner, and the mortal one, to use the vocabulary of the catechism. We have a God who keeps us guessing, but who has shown over and over his willingness to forgive us, over and over, to work with us, to even die for us.

And that is why St. Paul today can look forward to death, even though he knows that his life means something for his congregations. He wants to be with Christ, he wants his God near him, and so while he is alive he will treat his body as a temple of Christ, exalting Christ, and living in a way that is Gospel based in honor of Jesus.

This week I would like you to think about whether you see God as nearby or transcendent and how that influences your prayer life. re you able to talk to God as a close friend, or do you talk to him as you would a superior being, using great respect and being careful of your words so as not to offend. Today’s reading stress the nearness of God and how we can relate to him and talk to him (or her) in a confident friend like manner. One of my favorite plays is the musical “Fiddler on the Roof, and I often recall how the main character Tevye talked to God, respectfully, but like you might talk to a friend, criticizing and joking even. At one point he says: “ It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not. After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death. Oh, dear Lord. You made many many poor people. I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either. So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune?” Can we capture in our prayer life this wonderful balance between the Supreme God who made us, and the loving caring Papa that Christ preached. In any case, it is important that we take the time to converse with God, both talking and listening, and that is what i hope you can take home with you this week. It is wonderful Good News, and now we too, like Paul, just need to live our lives in a manner worthy of it.

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 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

September 12, 2014

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

The prophets had a rough job. Some tried to escape the job, like Jonah. But in the Hebrew Testament God was insistent, once he chose a spokesperson, that they do the job. God makes it quite clear to Ezekiel this morning just what his job is and the consequences of not listening to God and spreading the words God gave him. God says that prophets are watchmen, and that their main purpose is to warn. If God tells a prophet that someone is doing something wrong and they will die if they don’t turn from their ways, yet the prophet does not tell them this warning, then God holds the prophet responsible for the death of that person. So being a prophet, a watchman was quite a responsibility.

The psalm today also talks about the responsibility of listening to God, but this time from the point of view of the one being warned. “…listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts!” reads the refrain, and then God references the Jews in the wilderness who refused to listen to the Lord and were thereby made to wander the desert for 40 years.

In quite a different way, the Gospel of the New Covenant speaks about people who are sinning and also need to be warned. The admonition this time is to the Apostles themselves and they are being given the ability to speak for God, an awesome responsibility. Instead of God speaking directly to the prophet, the Apostles are given the ability to decide that someone has hurt them in some way, they are given the way to censure them, Jesus providing the way that it should be done. First, he says, the person should be talked to one on one, then if that doesn’t work, a committee should speak to the person and evidence of the sin or fault given, and finally if that doesn’t work, the community as a whole should meet with the person. And if even that doesn’t work, the person should be shunned. If you follow this process, Jesus says, then God will be in agreement with your decisions. It is the community of disciples that can make such decisions, and Jesus will be with them when they do.  We often take this last statement “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” out of context and apply it to community worship and prayer, but in context, it was really referring to decision-making by the apostles regarding how the Christian life should be lived.

It does present a model, however for our church structures. We often today make the comment, as did Pope Francis – who am I to judge? We are told Biblically that we should not judge lest we be judged, so that today we make a big thing about not judging people, leaving it up to God. Does this passage change that view or conflict with it? Jesus does seems to indicate in our reading today that there are sometimes clear wrongs being done to a person, and that disciples have an obligation to try to change the heart of the one doing wrong, first by discussing it with the other person, then taking it to the court with witnesses, then to the congregation. The judgment of the congregation, translated as Church here, will be treated as if Jesus were making the decision, for he gives them the power to decide. How can we bring together these seemingly opposite ideas about judging people? And to complicate it more,  we have, since the time of third century with Tertullian seen this as the power to forgive sins, but in its original Jewish context it was all about making legal judgments in a dispute between two people.

I think we can state that Jesus was talking here about giving the disciples the authority to act in his name in regulating the communal life of the Christian disciples. How should a Christian live out the teachings of Christ? So when an issue comes up and someone is living in a way that is questionable, the disciple meets one on one, then if the problem is not resolved, it is brought to a tribunal, and if still not resolved, the community or congregation itself should vote on it, with the authority of Jesus behind them. We are not really talking here about judging morality, but judging communal behavior and theological interpretations.

All of which brings us to the second reading today from Paul to the Romans where Paul gives us the overview necessary regarding our relationships with others. We simply (yet not so simple!) have to love them. From the beginning of the Hebrew Covenant when the Laws were given, both Paul and Jesus have told us that the commandments are divided between two great commands. They either refer to loving God or to loving our neighbor. They are explanations of how we can do that. If you show true love and concern for the other, you will do what the commandments say without thinking about it. You will fulfill the law. When we are tempted to judge, we have to find ways to love. When we feel wronged, we have to find ways to love. When we disagree with what is going on in our community, we have to find ways to love. It is not simple. It is not always easy. But if we are going to be Christians we have to find the best ways of learning how to show love with Jesus as our model.

I think that is what i enjoy most about the small congregations of our Apostolic Catholic churches. The smallness provides the opportunities to love and allows us to work on our interpersonal relationships. Because we are small, we can get annoyed by small quirks of our neighbor as well. But all the better to build up ways to find love’s acceptance. This week I call on you to try to strengthen a relationship that you have with someone in the parish, perhaps someone you do not know well yet, or someone whose personality may not be all that attracted to, and find the lovable thing about that person. Our love needs to start here if it is ever to spread out and be a light to the world. The old hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” only works when there is true love for each other in the community. Too often in the media they have known we are Christians by our hate or our judgments. We can change that, starting right here. Practice it. Live it.

And that is how the Good News of today can shine out and be a beacon for the surrounding community, state, nation and world!

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 the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Year A 2014

September 7, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Year A 2014

Today is the Sunday that we talk about vocations, in particular to the religious life of priests and deacons, but remembering that we all have vocations with our own particular gifts of the Spirit that can make the functioning of our parish church run more smoothly, and allow us to share our gifts with others.

It is appropriate that today I am ordaining a deacon to the service of God, and that I am celebrating my first anniversary of my Episcopal ordination as well. Service, then, is a main theme of today.

It is also appropriate that the Reading from Paul, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is all about service. God became a servant, a slave – Paul says, totally humbling himself, but through that act, that humbling act, was glorified. If there is a lesson to be learned from Christ’s emptying of himself is that we too need to be like Christ, humble ourselves and be a servant to our community of believers.

Paul’s writing today is full of irony. Our expectations of a God have been turned around, and as I so often remind you, God’s ways are not our ways. It is in service that we are glorified and exalted, not in show of power or wealth or influence. The more we can serve, the greater our glorification will be in the eyes of God.

As you know, in the spirit of St. Charles, our founder, our priests and deacons have to be self-sufficient in terms of supporting themselves. What we offer is service, not tied to earning potential or having to court the rich. We have the same financial problems as do most of our parishioners, and so it can be easier to identify with people and help them in their need. What we do as deacons and priests is to offer our service to the community, mostly in spiritual ways, but hopefully in other ways of support as well. The new deacon to be has been called to service and will become part of a community of like men and women who have been called to this vocation of service.

Our role model is Christ and our goal is to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Not an easy task because the bar is set so high, and while this is no different for any Christian, we feel called in a special way to serve this community in confessing Jesus Christ the Lord.

All of you Christians have callings – vocations – as well. Next week there will be a sign-up sheet of services to our community that I will ask you to consider. In the spirit of service that you see shown through this ordination today, I ask you to consider your calling, your talents, and to share them with this community , just as our new deacon is preparing to share his to serve you.

And now a quick look at the other two readings.The first reading and the Gospel today work together today because John saw a connection between the Hebrew and Christian Testaments with the story of Moses serving God by creating a serpent on a pole which was held high and saved all the people who looked at it.

Similarly, John says, the cross – a symbol of execution, a hated thing – became something that saved when Christ was lifted up on it for all to see. If the serpent on the stick gave life, how much more will Christ, like Moses with the hated stick, his tree, his cross, save all who look at it.

The cross, a symbol of torture, of execution, of criminality, becomes used by God to bring salvation to all the world. The ‘sign of the cross’ becomes the Catholic symbol of the Trinity and the victory over sin – glorifying the Savior that died on it for us. The sign of the cross can be something easily taken for granted because we do it so often. Take the time this week to think about it while you are doing it, remind yourself of the power of it, and what it has meant in your own life. As we continue with the ordination ceremony I ask you to reflect on service – what our new deacon  is doing with his life – and what you can do with yours. If any of you feel called to a ministerial service of priest or deacon, don’t be afraid of it, and please feel free to talk to me about it any time. God could be calling you, too. And think about the way you, too, can be of service to the community and sign our list next week.

And this is the Good News of the Cross that we are given 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 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 24, 2014

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

In our first reading today the prophet Jeremiah tries to explain what it means to be a prophet and how God almost forces the prophet to speak out what God dictates and and wants. The imagery is strong almost rape-like. God entices and then overpowers the prophet, prevailing or getting his way with him. Strong imagery about how strong the need to prophesy is within the prophet!

And the prophet is usually not comfortable with the message because it seems to be so much gloom and doom. How wonderful it would be to say something nice, something good, something comforting, but Jeremiah is forced only to warn of violence and destruction. The word of God that he hears and is forced to speak is words of reproach and ridicule of the Hebrew people. If Jeremiah decides that he can stand it no more and tries not speaking, not preaching God’s word to him, it builds up inside him to the point where it has to burst forth like a burning fire in his bones and he has no control over it. It doesn’t seem that Jeremiah is too comfortable being a prophet, and not many of them were. Jonah even ran away from God, but to no avail!

So the knowledge of the will of God  is to a certain extent with the Hebrew people themselves. In the psalms David uses the image of thirst: My soul thirsts for you. There is a longing in each of us for something more, something transcendent, something that we are being drawn to – and we thirst for it. And as you know, thirst must be quenched. When it is, the Psalmist says, when we give in to God, his soul, he says, is satisfied as with a rich feast. His thirst is quenched.

Similarly, St. Paul tells the Romans that they, too, need to quench this kind of thirst, and that the way to do it is to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice so that God can be heard and we will be able to “discern what is the will of God”. It is by not conforming to the changing ways of the world that can distract and not allow us to hear God speaking to us, so we must make new our minds, centering on God and God’s will for us.

I think what ties this all together is the advice of Jesus about being a follower of him. He says a follower has to do two things – deny him or her self and secondly, to take up the cross. The denying of oneself is basically what the prophet Isaiah talks about when he talks about God burning within him so much that he just has to give up and let it out. When we deny ourselves, we are simply submitting to God’s will as we pray every day: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. By denying ourselves we leave ourselves open to possibilities, to creativity, to hearing God inside us.

The second part of being a follower is to take up your cross. This is a violent image, as violent as the one of Jeremiah at the beginning of his reading today, but we lose some of its violence today because we take the cross for granted. It has become a household sight, a cute symbol of Christ, but in actuality it is a symbol of one of the most violent of ways to be murdered. Here in Christ’s mandate, I think, it means an acceptance of all things life can throw at us – the good and the bad. It is succumbing to the idea that maybe God has something better in store for us because of it, and we don’t second guess what God’s will is. That doesn’t mean we don’t pray for help with our crosses, with our temptations, with our sins, but we know that Jesus has said we will never be tempted beyond our ability to deal with it. When we can do this, we are a follower of Jesus, and to follow means that you are right behind the person being followed, right behind Jesus. He is there with you. And at the end of our time, or of Time itself, when the Son of Man comes again with his Angels in the glory of the Father, we will be a friend, a follower, and we need not fear the repayment that will be demanded.

In today’s reading Jesus predicts what is going to happen to him, and like Jeremiah’s predictions it is violence and gloom and destruction. He will undergo great suffering, be killed, but then be raised. When Peter refuses to accept that this is God’s will, Jesus calls him Satan because it is only in Jesus’ acceptance of God’s will that there would be salvation. Peter is tempting Jesus to question, to fight back against it, and so Jesus calls him Tempter, calls him Satan.

How can all this be applied to our rather uncomplicated lives this coming week? I think a simple answer would be that we have to listen for the God who is inside us, we have to thirst to hear our God, we have to give in to the fact that no matter what we want, “we are not thinking as God does”, and it is only in listening that we can understand and accept and give our lives over to God to do whatever is best for us. So instead of picking up your phone and dialing friends this week, put the iPhone down and dial up God. Spend some time with him, deny yourself by finding time for God this week, remembering that being open to God might mean that God can be seen and heard in another person you meet as well. And pick up your cross by knowing that our end is death and resurrection as well, and that crosses are only temporary, as bad as they sometimes might seem. What they lead to, if we offer ourselves to God’s will” is becoming one with God’s will – which is Paul says at the end of our reading today is“good, and acceptable, and perfect.”

And this is the way we might act out the Good News in our lives this week!

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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

August 17, 2014

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2014

If this Gospel seems very familiar it is because we heard it on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul just a few weeks ago. This doesn’t  make it too easy for the homilists, does it!

For this reason I am going to spend a little more time on the Isaiah reading and the Romans excerpt. First of all, Isaiah.

The name Shebna is probably not too familiar to you, and we don’t know much about him.  Apparently he was a servant who moved up to the position of controller or governor of the King’s household which would be a very prominent position. And Shebna apparently took every advantage that came with it. He was very enamored of things, and was building himself a huge tomb for his death, something that only princes did, and was proud, and more concerned about himself and his luxuries than he was of the people under him. It is also said that he was politically working against Israel to gain profit. For this he was eventually demoted to the position of a secretary.

Isaiah did not like him very much, and the words that God puts into Isaiah’s mouth are strong in their indictment of him. Because of his pride he will be “thrust” from office, “pulled down” and someone else will be put in his place, someone more honorable and respectful of his heritage.

When someone places things ahead of God in the Hebrew Testament, they are often punished for it. The honorable, God-fearing person, however, is highly rewarded.

The person that Isaiah prophesies will take his place, Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. Because of his goodness, he will become the new governor and he will be in charge of all things in the kingdom. That is the meaning of giving someone the key to the house of David. They have complete control of the comings and goings, the finances, who gets to see the King, and so on. He is a man who will be worthy to run the King’s affairs.

For those of you who listen carefully, you may have noticed the similar use of the phrase in the Gospel. Instead of keys to the house of David, we have keys to the kingdom, which is the house of Jesus.

Because Peter has recognized that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of the living God, he is to be rewarded, much the same as Eliakim. Peter is raised to the position of being in charge of the kingdom, and the biding and loosing referred to are similar to Eliakim opening doors that no-one will be allowed to shut, and shutting doors that no one is allowed to open.

Now, although the words of Jesus seem to be addressed to Simon Peter specifically, this was a conversation that included all the Apostles, and Peter was seemingly acting as a spokesperson for all the group. That is why Bishops can be seen to posses the kind of authority they do over spiritual matters.

What is always interesting to me, however, is the constant amazement I have in how the Hebrew and Christian Testaments comment on each other, reflect each other, mirror each other, complete each other.

On a different note, the excerpt today from St. Paul to the Romans is a beautiful tribute to God, poetic in language, hymn-like in structure, and deep in meaning. It is a concluding section to Paul’s study of God’s plan of salvation which would not have been our way of doing things at all.  Paul has been so impressed by the methods and choices God has made in bringing about our salvation that he is thrust into deep awe at the workings of God. The more he understands it, the more he looks at it, the richer he finds it. It is through seeing, understanding and experiencing the works of God that we are led to a place of reverence and awe, a place where we know we can only glory in the Lord. “For from him and through him and in him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” We echo this line at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer each week! We acknowledge that God is our be inning and end and worthy of all praise. When I hold the host and chalice up at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, pay special attention to what we are saying and the implications of it. It is such a beautiful hymn to the power, majesty and generosity of our God, especially when the Eucharistic presence can be seen and touched as we say it.

So, we always get to this point in the homily where I try to let you see how these readings might influence your thought and actions during the following week. Sometimes, however, the readings have no moral implications or easy messages to give. We might ask ourselves whether we are to caught up in worldly things, as was Shebna, or whether we appreciate or take for granted the workings of God, especially the redemptive act which allows us to be kingdom-bound again. For my part, I simply would like you to pay more attention, perhaps, to the words we use each week, like the final words of the Eucharist Prayer, and see if you can find the riches, the wisdom and the knowledge that is there for us.  St. Paul had to work at doing that, and so should we for it provides great reward and enriches our faith.

And this is the hope that I present to you to today as the Good News of our God!

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 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 10, 2014

Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

I thank you for having me here with you today and letting me celebrate with you. But, oh my, why did I get to preach on one of the most unflattering Jesus stories in the New Testament? Jesus seems so cruel here, doesn’t he? In modern terms we could picture Jesus walking down a downtown street and some poor Middle Eastern woman begging for food and Jesus looking at her and saying, “We collect our food for Christians, not for dogs like you!”. Can this be our Jesus! Our meek and mild Jesus? Our good shepherd? Let’s look at this a little more carefully.)

As you may have figured out by now, in the last few weeks the readings have been looking at the concept of “faith” and what it means in our lives. In today’s Gospel we see that having faith can even change the mind of God.

Jesus’ mission, by his own admission, is to redeem the Jews. He states this clearly and simply. That is the reason he seems so cold and uncaring to the Gentile woman who asks for his help. It is unusual for us to see a picture of Jesus that seems that  closed and uncaring. Perhaps Jesus is making this statement so that the Apostles can witness his change of heart, so that they too, later, will spread the Gospel to the non-Jews. Nevertheless, in this Gospel passage today, Jesus seems unwilling to help the Canaanite woman and her daughter.

The woman’s belief and faith in Jesus is so great, however, that she will not let him say no. She even lowers herself in order to make a point to Jesus. She picks up on his shocking metaphor in which Jesus calls her nothing more than an animal – a dog, and turns it around – almost making a joke of it. And Jesus does indeed recognize her faith, he gets the joke, and as a reward for her cleverness and belief and faith in him, he cures the woman’s daughter. She becomes an example to the Apostles of how faith can be a part of the Gentile experience of Jesus as well.

How many of us are willing to debase ourselves in order to prove our faith? What do we do to show Jesus our belief in him? How deep is our faith?

It is really through faith like this, through role models like this woman that the movement of the Christian faith spread to the Gentile world and the Apostles accepted it. Isaiah, of course, predicted it. In the first reading today Isaiah states very clearly that foreigners will be accepted at God’s altar, if they embrace the faith of Abraham’s Lord.

In Genesis we learned that God chose Abraham and his descendants to make a covenant with them. A covenant is not like a contract between two equals, but is a gift of a superior to an inferior. They may have not done anything to merit the gift of the covenant, but the giver promises certain things, in this case God who makes Abraham his friend, promises him descendants, promises him land. In return, the giver may require things of the other party. If we wonder why God chose one particular people and not others, we miss the point of Isaiah today that the Jews were picked in order to bring the one true God to other nations, rather like a man who brings a delicious treat home to his three children, and instead of breaking it up and giving it to all three, gives it to the oldest one and asks him to share it with the others. That is why Isaiah can have God say that his “house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

Even the psalm today, Psalm 67,  stresses the far reaching influence of God through the Jewish faith. “Let all the peoples praise you!”  and “You guide the nations upon earth.” “Let all the ends of the earth revere him”. So, even though we talk about the covenant between God and the Jews, we can see from the beginning that it was meant to be shared.

St. Paul thoroughly embraced the idea that the Judean Christian faith must be brought to other nations. He sees himself not just as an Apostle, but as an Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul has realized, and is saddened, by the fact that his own people, the people God chose, have not accepted Jesus as Messiah, and so he says he “glorifies” his ministry to the Gentiles, he makes it seem more important, to shame the Jews, to make them jealous, to save them. The fact that so many of them  have rejected Jesus has allowed the Gospel to be opened up to Gentiles, and so unwittingly, the Jews have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, and brought the one true God to all the nations. But Paul is still saddened by the fact and wants to find ways to bring about the acceptance of Jesus by the Jews. Right now he sees them as being dead, and he wants to bring them life.

What can we take with us from the readings this morning? First of all, acceptance. All people are called, all people are invited, and we need to accept all people. Our goal as Christians should be to encourage all people to see the model Jesus provides, and through him come to the Father.

Secondly, we need to work on our faith in Jesus. Over the last few weeks we have learned from the readings that faith needs to be practiced, faith means letting go and trusting, faith means concern for others more than for ourselves. The Canaanite woman had such faith in Jesus’ ability to cure her daughter that she was willing to not give up in her attempts to communicate with Jesus, but even to lower herself to prove her faithfulness. Can we move from our comfortable lives and visit the sick, the jailed, those living on the street – put aside our prejudices and let Jesus work through us. These are all challenges presented in the study of faith that we have been seeing over the last three weeks, and certainly they provide challenges to our own lives as well. For those of us we do these things, and I know you have many such things going on (at St. Charles), your faith can be a beacon of light that shines out to others, and maybe others can be jealous enough of your successes to find Jesus themselves as Paul hopes the Jewish people might.

And this is the Good News of faith in Jesus that the readings inspire in 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 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

August 3, 2014

Homily for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

We begin today with a reading about the prophet Elijah. Most of us are not all that familiar with Elijah except perhaps that he was an Old Testament prophet who never died but was taken up into heaven, and is thought to be going to return before the end of the world. In the verses before this reading, Elijah is very depressed, and says he can’t go on and he prays to God that he might die. Rather ironic, since he is one of the few Biblical people that never does die. But God takes care of him and when Elijah goes into the wilderness, God sees to it that he finds food and drink, and that he rests.

Once his physical needs have been taken care of, Elijah goes into a cave and God allows Elijah to vent his anger on the Hebrew nation because they have not heeded him and have turned to other gods. He tells God that he feels alone and isolated and depressed.

God realizes that what Elijah needs at this point in his life is a personal encounter with God and so God tells Elijah to leave the cave and stand on Mount Horeb, the place where Moses had been given the Ten Commandments. As Elijah did what the Lord had said, and he waited to hear God, he began to look for God  in dramatic ways – in thunder and lightning, earthquakes and wind and fire. Just as many of us look for God in extraordinary manifestations, so did Elijah. But God did not come to Elijah in any of those ways, but he came in the simplicity of silence, in a whisper instead of a loud roar!

The lesson here for us is not to look for God in the extraordinary, but in the simple. Listen to the silence. It is there that we will hear God when God speaks to us. It is the same peacefulness that the first lines of the psalm repeat today: Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.

Elijah was depressed and it took God’s voice to get him out of it. Similarly, Paul is depressed today as well in the reading from Romans, and he, like Elijah is upset because the Hebrew nation as a whole has not accepted Jesus. He is greatly saddened by that fact since the promise belonged to the Jews first. Paul says he has great sorrow and unceasing anguish in his heart over that fact. God does not console Paul in his reading. He is consoled, however, by the fact hat he knows he is telling the truth about Christ, and the Holy Spirit confirms this by giving him a clear conscience in regard to the matter.

In the Gospel today, this theme is carried out with the apostles being the ones, who were not so much depressed, but frightened. Jesus had gone, like Elijah, to the mountain to pray, to communicate with God. The Apostles had gone into a boat and were crossing, without Jesus, to the other side of the lake when a storm erupted. In their fear they saw a figure walking toward them on the water, and their fear turned to terror. They really couldn’t believe that it could be Jesus walking on the water even though Jesus spoke to them and told them not to fear. Peter recognized Jesus and wanted to come to him and so he asked Jesus to command him to come and walk on the water as well. So Peter climbed from the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus until he became frightened by the wind and waves, and began to sink. Jesus reached out and caught him but indicated that he sank because he lost faith. And when Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat, the winds stopped and it became peaceful again. Peter had listened to the Lord, and was able to do the impossible – walk on water – but when he was distracted by the winds and the waves, he began to question what was happening and began to sink. This event marked the moment in Matthew when the divinity of Jesus became clear to the Apostles despite other miracles he had performed. It seemed to solidify their belief that this man was truly the Son of God and worthy of worship.

What kinds of lessons can we draw from these readings today? Well, first of all, let’s look for God in the moments we might not expect him – in the silences, in the faces of others, in the stillness. It is in these moments that God talks to us, inspires us, helps us make decisions, leads us. And secondly, let us look to Jesus and not be distracted by other things. If we can keep our minds and hearts focused on Jesus there is nothing that we can’t do. It is when we are distracted and look away, when we lose faith in ourselves and question God in our lives that we are prone to depression and worry. Jesus can come to us on the water, and we can follow him, just like the child who, being thrown into the air, trusts that his father will catch him. That kind of faith and trust will give us the ability to hear God, and to follow him no matter where he leads us, knowing that truth and peace will prevail in our lives.

And this is the Good News of how we communicate with God, and how we need to focus on Jesus in our lives.

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 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 27, 2014

Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

The theme of our readings today is very simply – the Lord provides. Both our physical needs and our spiritual needs can be taken care of if we put our trust in God. If this is so, then why do we still need things? The only answer can be that we haven’t fully placed our trust in our Creator. Let’s face it – it is not an easy thing to do. Even St. Thomas who was so close to Jesus was not able to do it without physical proof. And most of us are not saints yet!

Yet, I am always so very surprised that when I let go and give everything over to God, somehow things get better. But most of us have to be overwhelmed before we end up doing that.

In the Gospel today we see a stunning example of faith and trust in Jesus. We all know that a great crowd of people can turn against someone very quickly, and hunger and thirst are two of the base needs that cause revolution and war. The apostles were worried when the evening was coming and none of this crowd of people had been fed. Yes, Jesus had been very charismatic that day, and had compassion for the crowd and worked all sorts of miracles and healings for them. But hunger can turn a crowd.

The Apostles thought the best idea was to send them away to nearby villages so that they could purchase food. I presume that most of the crowd would not have much money, and purchasing food might not be an option for them.

You can imagine their surprise when Jesus said that their idea wasn’t a good one and that the Apostles better feed them instead. Someone today would probably have looked at Jesus as though he were joking, and say “Yeah…right!”

Bur Jesus was not joking and asked them to gather what food there was – which was really very little. And what did Jesus do? he put his trust in God and prayed to God. he then said the traditional blessing before a meal, and started to distribute the food to the Apostles to give out. The result: 5000 ate supper.

I am reminded of a wedding I performed a few weeks ago.  I had left a ciborium at the door and asked people to put a host in if they were going to communion. When the gifts were brought up at the Offertory, the ciborium was empty – they either hadn’t heard or felt embarrassed to get out of their seats.  In any case, I put in about twenty hosts just in case. Well, at communion, suddenly rows and rows of people got up to go to communion. I looked at my poor twenty hosts and all these people – and said to myself: “Jesus, you fed the five thousand – help me here!

Every time someone came up, I cut the remaining hosts smaller and smaller and in the end, about 100 people came to communion and I ran out for the last five. The last five got a nice blessing and an apology.  Guess I am nowhere as good as Jesus yet!

The Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah both re-iterate the theme of trusting in God to provide for us. Isaiah uses the beautiful metaphor of eating and drinking applied to the Word of God. The Word of God will sustain us even more than wine, milk and bread. So if we are needy, we simply have to come to the waters of Scripture and eat the food that is provided there. The Psalmist cries that “You open your hand to feed, us Lord, and satisfy our needs.” The Lord has compassion on us and he loves us.

One last word about these readings today and that is about the question of “need”. Only the Lord knows what we truly need, and as we have said over and over, God’s ways our not ours.  We may think we need certain things, and in our culture, we always seem to be needing something. None of the things that God provides in Scripture are things of excess – they are base needs: hunger, thirst, love. Too often today our ‘needs’ are tied up in things that are excesses or unnecessary to a simple way of life. And that is why perhaps we only think to ask God, and give things over to God when we are very low and needy – because these are the things God is most likely to provide.

Finally, we need also to pray to God as Jesus did, eyes open – perhaps a metaphor to be very clear in what we are asking – and keep knocking on God’s door. Jesus gave us a way. We just need to follow it.

And this is the Good News of God’s providence that we are given 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 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

July 20, 2014

Homily for 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

If you go through the Gospels to look for the most important themes that Jesus talked about, you would have to acknowledge that his teachings on “the kingdom of heaven” would have to be one of the most prominent. Most of the parables  often begin with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like…”

So just what are we talking about when we say “the kingdom of heaven”. Is this the place that we are able to go to when we die? Is this the place where God the Father rules with his Son and the Spirit. Is it a place at all? 

The modern Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says that the term used in Matthew’s Gospel refers to “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as a King or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men [and women]. I think what Schillebeeckx is saying is that that first of all, the kingdom of heaven is a process that has begun and is continuing to happen. It is not a place away from us – it is where we are at any given time. It is where we live and where we live after death.

Secondly, Schillebeeckx says that is a gradual process whereby God is taking back the world and governing it, and thirdly, it is a gradual realization and growth by us towards a certain way of acting in which the world is able to reflect he God qualities. God is made manifest in the world.

I know this a heavier theology that I am giving you today, but over the next number of weeks in Ordinary Time we will be hearing a lot about the kingdom of heaven and i wanted to give you an overview of just what that teaching is all about. To get it to the simplest terms – God, through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, has taken back our world and is allowing us to God-center it and create a world that has many of the qualities of the original created world. And just what those qualities are, Jesus tries to explain to us in his many parables.

Today we hear about three of those qualities.  First is that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone hides in order to get possession of the field and the treasure. We hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a pearl merchant who at great cost buys the perfect pearl. And lastly, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that captures many fish, though only the good ones are kept.

If we are in process right now of establishing the kingdom rules by God, what are the qualities that Jesus points out to us today that need to be established and rooted.

From the first and second parable we learn that the kingdom has been a well kept secret and that when we discover that secret, we should, if necessary, do anything to make it our own. The buried treasure is whatever has helped us to discover God’s plan – the Scriptures, church tradition, liturgy – whatever in our lives has helped us realize the value of living in the kingdom. Similarly, the pearl is beautiful in itself, rare, worth whatever it takes to own it.

The last parable is a bit more extended, but basically it allows us to see the presence of the kingdom now. Even though we have not yet neared perfection, and there are good people and bad people in the world, the kingdom is a net that stretches out over everyone. We are not to judge, but to live it to God and his Angels to do so. Everyone is invited to this kingdom. But in the end, for the kingdom to be as perfect as God is perfect, the righteous will be separated from the evil ones.

Jesus’ last statement is basically telling the Apostles that their mission is to tell and bring about the kingdom on earth, and they are to do this by mixing the new and the old. tradition and modern thought, God’s original creation and the new creation, so that as Paul says today in Romans “those whom [God] justified he also glorified.” That glory is the fullness of the kingdom. We may not have the wisdom of Solomon that God granted him because of his humility and unselfishness, but the treasure is presented to us, and we simply have to recognize it and make it our own by whatever means possible.

My question for you today then is how much you value this kingdom that Christ is talking about, how much you see yourself as part of that kingdom, and what price you have had to pay to be part of it. Can we work together as a parish to establish the kingdom of God on earth? When we pray “Thy kingdom come” can we be more aware of what part we are to play in making the kingdom in process a reality and advancing it.

The kingdom of heaven will be on our minds over the summer and fall readings of Matthew. Let us take the time to think about the meaning of each of the parables and how best we can react to them to do our part in helping the kingdom come.

And this is the Good News we are all challenged with 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”]

1 Schillebeeckx, Edward (1983) [1974]. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141. 


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