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”]

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”]


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