Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (May 3)

April 25, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (May 3)

In John’s Gospel Jesus often speaks with “I” messages – I am such and such, usually as a metaphor.  We saw last week that he metaphorically described himself as the Good Shepherd, a metaphor that would be part of the every day life of the people he was dealing with. They would have run across shepherds all the time, but in our culture we have probably not run across too many shepherds of late,  although most of us know who they were and what they did.

Today, Jesus gives another “I” message, and also uses something very familiar to the Galileans of that time, and even two centuries later, which might be more applicable to you and me since we are very much in a wine cultivating county here. Jesus says he is the true vine, an interesting metaphor.

But if Jesus is the true vine, what is an untrue vine? If a person were an untrue vine, it would seem to me that they would lead lives that looked righteous and good, but were really not good. If Israel was the untrue vine because it gave all the outward signs of following God and believing in the Scripture, but in the end would not acknowledge Jesus or see Jesus as the Messiah, this might be what Jesus was talking about here. Or not.

Let’s look at the extended metaphor a little more closely. Jesus first says that he is a vine, a true vine. He also states that the grower of the vine, the cultivator of the vineyard is God. The vine grows and has to be pruned. God prunes away branches that bear no fruit. What immediately this suggests to me is that if I am bearing no fruit, God will hack away at me to remove those things that are stopping me from bearing fruit.  This is a really positive message of love and care. It is God tenderly taking care of us and lifting us up and helping us realize what we need to do to get rid of the distractions in our life that cause us not to bear fruit.  Even if we are bearing fruit, we will still have to be pruned in order to make us bear more fruit. We cannot reach perfection in this life, though we can and must try.

What does all this pruning and cutting away mean in our lives? How does God prune us? In order to interpret this we need to make sure that we do this in the context of Jesus’ entire message of unconditional love and faithfulness, and knowing his mercy and grace.

Jesus says that “Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Does this mean he helps us to see the sins in our life, or God forces us to repent for the sins in our life, or just feel more sorry for what we have done? The word “pruning” in Greek is also the same word as for “cleansing”. And if you notice in the very next line, Jesus told us that “You have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you.”  Was Jesus contradicting himself?

I am going to prune you, clean you, but then he says, you are already pruned or clean!

Perhaps this is because it is a steady process – we have been made clean by our baptism. We are clean, innocent, sinless, but as life goes on, we do commit transgressions, things that are unworthy of God or Jesus, things that stop us from growing, and so we have to be pruned, made clean again and forgiven. And we know that Jesus is a model of forgiveness, so it should give us great comfort and hope.

The extended metaphor continues and we need to see ourselves as part of the vine of Jesus, getting sustenance from the vine in order to bear fruit. Those who become dead to the vine, who turn away from Jesus and his words will be cut away from the vine and left to wither and be burned. This is not literal, but indicates that apart from Jesus, their lives will not be fruitful and they will be on their own and godless.

I want to say a few words now about “fruit”. What does it mean to bear fruit? Does it mean the eternal goal of being with God after we die? Is being with God the grape, which is rich and ready to be picked? Perhaps. Does it mean learning and applying the Word of God in our lives. Possibly. Does it mean living the kingdom on earth right now – with the two great commandments of loving God and neighbor. Probably.

However, to make it simpler and to be able to apply it to our own lives today St. Paul offers us a definition of fruits of the Spirit in Galatians. He says: …the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self control. (5:22-23) That list is the list of fruits that we should be developing, growing, producing in our own lives, and Jesus says he is there to help us do just that, pruning away what isn’t that, always with the realization that if we are part of the vine of Jesus, if we are in Jesus, that we are already cleansed and have been pruned, helping us to succeed and bear even more fruit.

And I started today with the word “true” when Jesus said “I am the true vine. John’s letter today picks up on the word truth. We can be great fruit and can accomplish what John begins his Epistle with today: …let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. We can’t just talk about love… we really have to take action and show it. If we do this we will truly abide in Christ through the Spirit that continually prunes and cleanses us, just as the early apostles in Acts today built up peace by living in awe of God and being comforted by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray today that we can accept the pruning of God in our lives, recognize that we are already cleansed by God and on our way to bearing the fruits that Paul names, thus bringing about the kingdom of God right here and now.

And this is the God News of the allegory of Jesus as the vine!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (April 26)

April 18, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015

After Pentecost, when the Spirit was directing the Apostles, and giving them the courage and spark they needed to continue to preach Jesus’ teachings and ‘good news’, they were not very welcomed by the establishment. It seems understandable to me, looking at it from the other side of the fence, that the Jewish leaders did not want to hear about anything that would adapt their beliefs or stir up the people to believe in another God – for that was what the followers of Jesus seemed to them to be doing.

So Peter and John were apparently arrested on religious grounds and brought before the men in charge, along with the elders and the scribes. What had them upset was a healing that had taken place, apparently performed by Peter. Their question to Peter is very direct – they want to know what God gave him the power to do this miraculous cure.

Peter is quite straightforward in his reply to them. He said that his cure was merely a good deed done to help someone, and it was not his power that achieved the cure, but it was the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But he also used the word Christ to define Jesus – stating boldly that Jesus was the Messiah.  Then he quotes Jewish Scripture so that they can see the relationship of Jesus to them and how this was all described in Scripture. He quotes the Psalm that we have been singing the last few weeks – describing Jesus as the cornerstone that had been rejected by the builders – the Messiah that the Jewish leaders had rejected. He then states that Jesus, being the cornerstone of salvation is the one that all Hebrews need to recognize if they want to be saved. This last statement would really upset the Jewish establishment for they felt that because they had a covenant with God, there was nothing else needed. But that covenant, though it promised lots of things, did not promise salvation from sin.

The second reading from John’s letter unites us with Jesus because it says that we, too, are children of God, and our inheritance hasn’t yet been revealed to us. It is interesting to note that John expects that we will be like God, seeing God as he is. Some commentators think that John came to this conclusion because in the Old Testament we are told that no one can look at God and live. So, they reason, if we do look at God and live, we have to have been changed in some major way – and that way may be in our resurrected bodies. Just as Jesus had a different type of body after resurrection, so will we, too.

The Gospel today is pre-Easter and is once again about the metaphor of Jesus being the good shepherd.  We have to remember that shepherding was not considered a great job in Jesus’ day, and that many felt that shepherd’s were low and scum. Perhaps that is why Jesus is not just the shepherd, but the good shepherd. Good shepherds, ones who really takes their jobs seriously, will make sure that nothing happens to their flock, even if they put their own lives in danger. He will be the one that will fight the wolf who is attacking the flock, even if it puts his own life at risk.

Jesus calls himself the good shepherd in John. He is willing to die for his flock, his followers. And not just this flock, but he says there are other sheep out there, and he must gather them, and bring them into he protectiveness of his flock, until there is only one shepherd and one flock. The other sheep he is referring to are the Gentiles, and his present flock are the Jews.

Then Jesus makes it clear that he is fulfilling a plan of God’s, and that he is doing it willingly.  There is no plot going on, and he is not being victimized, but is doing this of his own accord and free will, because the Father has asked it of him. In John, Jesus also knows that something awaits after he gives up his life. He doesn’t yet term it resurrection, though he will, but he says: I lay down my life in order to take it up again. And that taking up, seems to refer here to the mission of bringing in the other sheep into the fold of Israel. And this, of course brings us back the first reading because that was what the Apostles were doing throughout the Acts of the Apostles as they opened up Jesus to the non-Jews, the Gentiles.

What can we apply to our own lives today? If we are truly following the wishes of Jesus, at least in regards to what we read today, we will continue to try to be examples through the Spirit of what it means to be a good Christian, and allow others to see our light. Not many of us are ready to go door to door or to proclaim on street corners today, but i truly believe in the phrase – They’ll know we are Christians by our love. If in all our dealings, we can be a reflection of Christ, people will see it and be attracted by it. And if the Spirit gives you the courage to invite others to join us, to celebrate with us, all the better. If it is through the name of Jesus that we can be saved, then we need to believe that with our whole heart and soul and act on it.

And this is the Good News that we need to reflect on and preach in our daily actions and 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015 (April 19)

April 11, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015

The history of the relationship between the Jewish people and the early Christian Jews is an interesting and tragic one. We know that Jesus was a devout Jew as were almost all his followers. Yet, by the second century, the Christians had pretty well pulled away from their Jewish roots and made the Jews out to be the villains. It was I suppose somewhat inevitable, especially since the church came to be made up of more Gentiles or non-Jews than of those with Jewish backgrounds.

We can certainly see it happening in the Gospel of Luke today. Luke is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament and his sympathies throughout his Gospel and certainly in the Acts of the Apostles, his continuation of the Gospel shows signs of this.

In the first reading today we have Peter addressing his fellow Jews, trying to convert them. already though in Luke’s description and in the speech he has written for Peter, you can see an I versus them attitude. Peter begins with their common ground – they all have the same God – they share the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the patriarchs. But then his speech changes to a rather damning “you”… even though he is one of the Jews himself. “You handed over… you rejected…you asked to have a murderer handed over…you killed…” Luke has already had Peter separate himself from his Jewish heritage.

Peter tells them that they acted in ignorance. They just didn’t know or didn’t understand what they were doing. That was true. Jesus himself said the same thing on the cross. And Peter rather justifies their ignorance by saying that it was, in fact, a rather good thing, because it allowed God to fulfill what he had promised through the prophets. Peter the hopes that ‘they” will repent so that there sins will be forgiven.

The second reading from John picks up this theme of forgiveness of sin and sets up the atonement theology which the Church has understood ever since. Christ was the atoning sacrifice for our sins, in fact, the sins of the whole world. This was the gift of God – that we were forgiven, but it also involves acting on that forgiveness – in gratitude we are to keep the word of God, the twofold command to love God and neighbor – and in doing so, we will know that we are in God.

To understand atonement and sacrifice we need to look again at our Jewish heritage when every year an animal would be killed – a scapegoat – representing all our sins and sinfulness – and offering to God. That understanding which was part of the Jewish ritual allowed early Christians to see Jesus as that scapegoat – that lamb – who being sacrificed could take away the sins of the world – something we say three times at every Mass.

That is why in the Gospel reading today Jesus makes such a point in teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus what Jewish scriptures were actually saying. In turn, it tells us why Jewish Scriptures are still so important to us. Jesus, in this reading, speaks particularly about the prophets and the psalms and he taught them how he was the fulfillment of all of the prophecies and of the law. His final words take us back to t he common thread of all three readings which is forgiveness. Jesus says: “Thus it is written, that the Christ is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations…” This is what is meant by Good News!

I know that in the past some of us have not felt the teachings of the Church were always very good news for us. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time, we often get bogged down in detail and add rule upon rule, losing sight of the frighteningly beautiful news that we are forgiven…God forgives us…over and over….over and over. We have only to repent, to try to turn around. We don’t deserve this. It is God’s gift to us, and so we need to give back to God by trying our best to “be perfect as the Father is perfect”. The end result of all this is what Jesus says each time he appears “Peace be with you.” When we know there is unconditional love supporting us, and some of us have seen that in our own parents and in ourselves toward our children, we can feel at peace about ourselves and the world even in troubling times.

Too often we forget the Good News, but we can’t let that happen. It needs to be central in our hearts and in our actions.  Each week, as you have probably noticed by now, I try to find a way to remind you of the Good News because I feel it is central to our religion and needs to be central in our lives. It brings joy, it brings peace, it brings happiness, it brings hope in a too troubled life.

So that is yet another reminder of the good news of the Good News I bring you again his 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 and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter, B 2015

April 5, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year B 2015

In our first reading today we get a description of what was going on in the church not long after the Resurrection event. This reading also takes place after Jesus’ ascension and after Pentecost, so we see a real change in the Apostles. We note that they are quite involved in doing two things, teaching and Eucharist. Both involved what is translated as fellowship, because as I have indicated to you the early Christian church was not a private devotion but was very much communal. Interestingly the work for teaching in the Greek is the same word as for Torah which would indicate that they were teaching from what we now call the Old Testament and putting a “Jesus twist” on it. The Eucharist or what we have come to call the Mass was known as “the breaking of bread”. Bread was the staple of every Jewish household, and since meat was expensive, often he meals contained no meat. So the breaking of bread became synonymous with the whole meal. For example, saying the blessing over the bread meant the blessing of the meal. So again, community was important as they ate together, but this was more than just a meal as it involved prayer, and obviously the memory of the Passover meal before Jesus’ death.

The community aspect was also seen in the fact that they held things in common, perhaps what we would call a commune today, sharing resources, and making sure none of the group was in need. They also retained their Jewish faith, something that we often forget, and the early church, according to our reading today “spent much time together in the temple”. There was not a separation of Jew and Christian at this point, but they were a sect of Jews who acted a little differently because of their belief in Jesus. Because of the “wonders and signs” that they were performing, the life style they were leading and the obvious care and concern they had for each other, their numbers started to grow.

Now some theologians and historians feel that this is a very technicolored canvas that Luke was writing on, that things probably weren’t as rosy as this reading makes it out to be, and that may be true. We tend to remember what we want to remember and gloss over problems when we are trying to show our good side to people. In any case, the concept of solidarity in teaching, and the need for community in worship and in living were the general principles on which Christianity became based. Christ was indeed the cornerstone as the psalm says today. And note that it wasn’t so much about the worship of Christ but the spread of Jesus’ teachings and living the life he had recommended they lead.

St. Peter’s letter today is a little less brightly colored. He does talk about some of the harder things about following Jesus, although he indicates that it is well worth the struggles and that the community rejoices still in the revelations of Christ. He tells us that the early Christians had to suffer various trials, but that suffering could be good. Just as we put gold through fire to rid it of its impurities, so too, the Christian suffers to get to that pure, holy, sacred place in our lives. Peter is writing a few years after the ascension and the Christians he is writing to had apparently never seen Jesus in his lifetime, and they were taking this on faith. Peter is very impressed that their faith has made them so loving, so joyous because they seem to have really understood the message of salvation. Peter has obviously done a good job teaching them.

This idea of belief without sight is again highlighted in our Gospel reading today which takes us back to the time immediately after the Resurrection when the Apostles were terribly confused, did not know what repercussions the Resurrection might bring, fearful of the Jewish group that was anti-Jesus, and in fact, not at all sure whether the stories they were hearing of Jesus’ rising from the dead were actually true.

Their confusion ceases when Jesus appears to them in the room though the doors were locked. They recognized the wounds from his crucifixion and were convinced that their Lord had been raised and returned to them. Jesus wishes them “Peace”, a traditional greeting but a meaningful one in the context of their fear. In this version of the story by John, Jesus mandates the forgiveness of sins as something that the Apostles could do through the work of the Holy Spirit. He creates on them – the first confirmation!

The John returns to the idea that faith is more than seeing is believing.

The apostle Thomas had not been in the room that day for some reason. When he came back – from shopping perhaps – and was told that Jesus had appeared, he didn’t believe them. He wanted to see for himself, through his sensual experience that this was really Jesus and not some figment of their imagination.

Jesus makes a return visit and shows Thomas his wounds, even asking Thomas to touch them and see the reality of it. Thomas, of course, does, but the oft quoted line of Jesus comes right after: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.

This line is, of course, very important, because as time would march on, and the eye witnesses all died, everyone at that point would have to come to faith and belief without seeing for themselves the physical body of Jesus. Other things may have taken the place of that for a few – healings, witnessing of love, being filled with the Spirit – but Jesus has told them that their belief, without seeing, makes them more blessed than Thomas and the Apostles.

So what Jesus is talking about today, my friends, is us. We are the generations who have come to believe without the proof of our senses. Why do we believe and so many others don’t? Some of us were born to families who believe, and so it was part of our upbringing perhaps. Some of us have studied and read and have come to belief, but in all cases it was with the help of the Spirit. I don’t think we can accept all this just by ourselves. I think the Spirit has gifted us with that ability to believe. Not that we never question, but that deep down we see the truth and the light and the beauty that Jesus’ teaching have opened up for us.

Let us today thank God for our blessings, especially the blessing of our belief. This is indeed Good News, and we need to celebrate it as often as we can!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord, 2015

March 29, 2015

Homily for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord, 2015

St Paul in 1st Corinthians tells us, though not in the readings today: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Those are pretty strong words and certainly in Paul’s eyes make the Resurrection of Jesus one of, if not ‘the’ most important event in church history, and indeed in the history of the world. The resurrection is also the one thing that many people find difficult if not impossible to believe – it is a terrible stumbling block especially in this scientific age where we need to have proof before belief.

In reality, I am not sure that Paul is totally correct. I have a feeling that there are many people out there who take the resurrection with a  grain of salt and yet still have great faith in Jesus. The reason that Paul thinks it is so important is because his whole theology hinges on the Jewish idea of sacrifice for atonement of sin and that only in God’s own death can enough atonement be made. The resurrection shows that indeed Jesus was up to the task because he was truly the Son of God. In today’s reading Paul concludes: “For our Paschal lamb has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”

Paul also uses the image of yeast but we have to understand that yeast was not really a good thing for Jews. Yeast was a fungus, and for bread to be pure, it needed to be unleavened. That is why in the Passover feast the bread was unleavened by order of God, and even why we use unleavened bread at Mass (though often what we use looks more like a potato chip that what we are used to as ‘bread’. So in the image Paul uses today, we are to throw out the old bread that has the yeast fungus which in Paul’s metaphor means wickedness and bad intentions, and celebrate with pure, unleavened bread, Paul’s metaphor for sincerity and truth.

The facts of the Resurrection as we know them are contained in Paul’s letters and in some of the Gospels, and particularly in the Acs of the Apostles by Luke. Our first reading today is a news report of sorts, with the eye witnesses telling us that God raised Jesus from the dead and that he was seen by a chosen few after the Resurrection event and that they even ate and drank with him. The eye witness reports were obviously important in pleading their case for this very unnatural event.

When we get to John’s Gospel today, we read a description that was written some forty to fifty years after the event, and has been influenced by the original witnesses surely, but also the stories that built up around Jesus in those fifty years. In that period of time and with communities in different locations it is no wonder that a few of the ‘facts’ differ int he Resurrection accounts, but they are still remarkably similar. In John’s account it was Mary Magdalene that got up very early, before light even, and went to the tomb. She saw that the stone blocking the entrance had been removed. She must have peeked in because she ran immediately to Peter and another disciple and told him the tomb was empty and the body had likely been moved or stolen. The two men she told ran to the tomb, the younger getting there first, but in deference to Peter he did not go in, but merely looked inside from the door.

What he saw were the white linens in which Jesus’ body had been wrapped still lying there.

When Peter came and they both went in, the also found that someone had taken the time to fold the linen that had been on Jesus’ head.

Apparently, however, they still never thought about Jesus being resurrected, even though they had been told by Jesus that he would rise again, and that Scriptures had foretold this as well. The two men went home but Mary Magdalene, upset that she didn’t know where the body was so that she could mourn, stayed at the tomb and cried. Someone came to her – it may still have been dark even – and asked why she was crying. She turned to the man and told him why but didn’t recognize Jesus. She thought he might be the gardener and would know where they took the body. When the stranger called out her name, she immediately recognized Jesus, and apparently fell on her knees and wrapped herself around Jesus legs. Jesus asks her not to hold on to him. It seems that the resurrected body is somewhat different from the ordinary body, and we will explore this fact over the next few weeks as we see that people sometimes do not recognize him, that he can come and go at will, even through walls, and can move great distances. Yet, at the same time he can be touched, he can eat and drink, and he has still the wounds from his crucifixion. It is also interesting to me that the person he first shows himself to is a woman, and that she is the messenger to bring the Good News to the apostles, just as Mary, Jesus’ mother, is the first to answer Gabriel’s message and feel the child in her womb, and brought the Good News into the world. It is clear to me that women are the bookends that hold the story of Jesus together.

This day is the day we have been preparing for for 40 days. After a fast, food tastes especially good.  If you have done things to prepare yourself, this day should especially feel good for you as well. It is our yearly reminder of one of the most important events in the life of Jesus and the church, and foreshadows our own resurrections from the dead.

The Sequence today summarizes what should be our feelings beautifully: Share the Good News, sing joyfully: His death is victory… Christ the Lamb has saved the sheep!

This is the Good News that we all share in today! Rejoice and be glad!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL, YEAR B 2015

March 29, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL, YEAR B 2015

It is not hard to see the both the importance and the beauty of this evening’s ceremony. in some ays it is the most rich and the most beautiful of all the liturgies in the Catholic Church. All our senses get involved in the service, and the symbols reflect that sensuality: images of light and darkness, reflected in the fact that we enter church in darkness and gradually the light of Christ in the Easter candle spreads throughout the church. Incense can add the sense of smell, or the burning wood as we prepare the Easter fire. Our sense of touch is involved as we hold the candles and become ourselves light for the world. Our hearing is enriched by the glorious song of the Exulted, the psalms and the many readings that take on on the journey through time from Creation, through the Exodus, through the Prophets and into the fulfillment that is Christ Jesus. And we conclude by tasting our Lord in wine and bread as we become one with him in his Resurrection.

We use also the symbol of water, remembering our baptismal rite and we are doused again in the waters of baptism, remembering the journey through the Red Sea to salvation and liberation.

In our poster this Lent that invited people to our Holy Week services we asked you to come and spend a Liberating week with us, and so i would like to say a few words about liberation as well.

This week we have seen that through the death of Jesus we have been liberated, freed from our sinfulness by a gift so generous and amazing that it is hard to believe. God so loved us that he gave his only Son. He didn’t have to do it, he didn’t have to do it this way. But he did. He loved us so much that he took away our slavery to sin and opened the gates of the kingdom for us. St. Paul explains this evening that “we have been buried with [Christ] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, … we too might walk in the newness of life.” This is our liberation – that “we might no longer be enslaved to sin… death no longer has dominion…”  The sheer enormity of this event, this act of liberation sometimes fades into something we take for granted, but each year on this night, we hopefully get some sense of the awe that that should inspire in us, the hope it should generate, and make us feel that love that generated such a response from God.

St. Mark’a Gospel, unlike the other Gospels, ends the Easter event with the women fleeing from the empty tomb in amazement and terror – and in fear  They had not yet understood what had happened, they could not yet feel the liberation they were soon to feel. But they did feel! Awe and amazement are striking emotions! The event of he Resurrection had not yet come clear to them and in their fear they did not know what to do, so they did nothing.

I think that for many of us, the implications of the Resurrection create the same response in us. because we have not truly felt or understood the enormity of this event, we do nothing – it doesn’t affect us in any way. We so need to meditate on this event, and to discover along with the travelers to Emmaus, the apostles as they came to slow realization, St. Paul as he saw the light and countless Christians who changed their lives because they finally understood the enormity of this liberation.

I pray this evening that all of our parishioners, those here present and those not with us, come to feel and know the enormity of God’s love, and the amazing richness of the gift God has given us, so that we can have a private Easter in our own lives, and come to God with awe and thanksgiving. Our secular culture has made Easter a bunny rabbit day and a coming of Spring celebration rite, and are so missing the point of the liberation. I was so saddened when I googled Easter images on line to see if i could find some pictures to use, and all i got were flowers, rabbits and eggs. No sign of Jesus at all. How sad.

Let us definitely put Christ back into the Easter of our lives, see the movement through history to this remarkable day, and come to it with great gratitude for our liberation from sin and death. And a truly enlightened Easter to all of you!

This is the tremendous Good News of liberation we bring you tonight!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for Holy Thursday, Year B 2015

March 29, 2015

Homily for Holy Thursday- The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Year B 2105

Today’s feast is the THE feast for the corporate Church. I use corporate in the original meaning of the word “corpus” in Latin, meaning body. THE feast for the creating of the Body of the Church with all its many parts. The Mass, such as we celebrate this evening,  has always been important, of course, in the Church, stemming from Jesus’ own words – “Do this in memory of me.” The THIS is what we celebrate this evening, and indeed each time we say Mass – re-enacting the supreme sacrifice of Jesus to redeem us, remembering it, but also participating in it. When we take communion we become part of the corporate body in a very special and unique way – a mysterious way – And this is the anniversary of that first Eucharist when the mandate to remember was given us.

I want to begin tonight with a quotation from William Willimon that I think might get me into my message of this evening. Many Americans run around today thinking they are religious because they are “spiritual”. Willimon suggests that “spirituality has made religion successful and safe, enabling 90 percent of all Americans to say they believe in God.” And then he really hits hard: “If you crank God down low enough, make the term vague enough, and empty it of any intellectual content, everybody is a believer. Spirituality enables us to be the first generation of Christians in history who cannot get hurt by following Jesus.” 1

I want to support this but want to take it a step further. I don’t think we can call ourselves Christians and not be part of a Christian community. Yes, Jesus went off to pray. But the majority of his time was spent in community – a community of twelve men and many male and female disciples. A lot of that time was spent eating and drinking and celebrating. And the tough messages that Jesus gave us always came in community.

The Last Supper was one of many suppers we read about in the Gospels, although in some ways it should be called the First Supper because it defined what the community would be doing for the next 2000 and more years.We hear from Paul and the 2 earliest Gospel writers about the Supper itself and the command to do the meal in Christ’s memory, but in John we also learn what it means to be a community and we are to treat each other in community.

We have often spoken about the washing of the feet as symbolic of how there is to be no distinction in class, wealth, sex or even religion in how we treat one another. We have often spoken as does John about the commandment of Love, one of the most difficult of all the commandments. It should not be easy to be a Christian – we have to give what we have worked for to others in need, we have to devote time in our schedule filled lives to be part of a community and to find ways to be of service in that community. We are, even when we are not feeling up to it, to think of others first. This is not a namby-pamby spirituality where we sit in our comfortable rocking chairs and meditate or read a holy book though we need some of that as well to recharge our batteries. Just being spiritual makes us an onlooker and not involved. Nothing is at risk. it is too comfortable, and if there is anything about Jesus that we know – he didn’t allow the comfortable to remain that way.

The community that we experience here tonight is probably a little closer to the original meal that Jesus had with the Apostles on that Thursday long ago. We have more food than just bread and wine, though those symbols still stand out as the important ones. We have companionship, common goals, interest in one another, genuine caring for each other, hospitality, and each of us brings something to the table in the way of food, conversation, faith and common belief in Jesus as God whom we will all receive and be in communion with. Thus, “We are all one body”, as we sing. Whenever we in the church are able to love one another, then we experience what it means to be Christian, what it means to be one with Christ and what it means to have eternal life.

This is what Holy Thursday is about. This is what being a Christian means. And don’t let anyone who withdraws from community or who says they don’t need community to be a Christian,  that they can be spiritual, allow you to believe that. If we miss community, we miss most of what Christ is all about. And this is best illustrated to us today on this feast when we celebrate the Supper that will re-enact what will happen to Jesus in the next three days.

This is both the hard-hitting news of the Last Supper and the Good News of our Savior today.

1.Willimon, William H. Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus at the Lord’s Table. Abington Press, Nashville in Chapter Love With the Basin and Towel

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015 (March 29)

March 22, 2015

Homily for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B 2015

Today’s readings really speak for themselves and touch different parts of each of us, so I will keep this short and briefly say how they affect me.

One of the most difficult things to reconcile in our minds and that has given rise to all sorts of ideas and heresies over the century is the combination of divinity and humanity in Jesus.  Of course, it is a mystery and impossible to totally understand but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to.

One of the questions that our reading of the Passion today brings up is the question did Jesus know that he was going to rise from the dead? It seems to me that if he did, it would make less tragic the event of his death and even ameliorate the depth of suffering he endured.

If we knew we had to go through something physical terrible and painful but that it would mean we would be perfectly cured or fine afterwards, it would be easier to go through, wouldn’t it?

So I don’t think, as a human, that Jesus knew he would be resurrected although his faith in God never wavered. Isaiah description of the suffering servant we read today ends with the line “I know that I shall not be put to shame”. That is Jesus’ hope and trust in in God!

And yet, in the Psalm today we also hear the words spoken by Jesus on the cross as well: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Does’t this indicate that Jesus lost hope in God. In the least it proves to me that he did not know of his resurrection.

But I don’t think that this was a loss of hope in God for Jesus. I think it was Jesus feeling the weight of everything he had been asked to do, perhaps even feeling our continual abandonment of him even after his death. He was giving up his life for a people that haven’t accepted him and still after two thousand years have not fully accepted him or his message. The weight of this is on him at that moment, questioning, as he submits, whether he has given himself up freely for a people who abandon him.

In our lowest depths of depression, we too can feel that the whole world is against us and that we have accomplished nothing in our lives. We may even blame God or feel that God has forsaken us. Perhaps that is the point that people get to in order to kill themselves. But Jesus never lost faith in God – but his humanity was very strong in that final moment of being human – his death.

In our own lives we need to constantly remember that there is something beyond death, something that will help us to get through the lower depths of life and our own deaths. The final result of each of our deaths if we have been true to God is what Paul says in the second reading today of Jesus: “Therefore God highly exalted him.” We will never be as highly exalted as Jesus, of course – “the name that is beyond every name” – but because of Jesus death for us, we too can be glorified. That is the glory of the cross. That is what we celebrate today! 

And that is the Good News I want you keep in your hearts, especially when things go bad.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 15, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

The reading from Jeremiah today is one of the most beautiful and inspiring in the Scriptures. God is speaking through Jeremiah the prophet and is explaining to the Hebrew people the difference between the Old and the New Covenant to come. In the beginning Israel was treated as a child and God acted as a disciplining but loving Father. Things were very black and white – do this and don’t this.

But as the Hebrews advanced in their knowledge and understanding of God, God became more of a husband, but in the early sense of husband, not in our understanding of the term today. Today we see husband and wife as equal, but when this was written the husband was totally in charge and the wife was a piece of property which the husband often came to love, but was not equal to the husband. It is in this sense that the second phase of God’s relationship with the Hebrews took form.

God says he was like a spouse to the Hebrews. God was the protector that took them by the hand and led them from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the promised Land. He expected their faithfulness, their love, their gratitude, their service, just as a husband in those days would.

But, God says, there is to be a new adult way in their relationship in the near future. In the new Covenant there will be complete knowledge of each other and the relationship will be based on love and equity. God will not remember how they failed in the past, but all will be forgiven, and all shall be one with God.

So what we see God describing is the movement from a childish understanding to a mature understanding of the relationship between God and people. The maturation process which hopefully all of us will go through in our own lives is reflected here as well.

The Psalm picks up on the forgiveness in its prayer to ask God to blot out our transgressions and wash us from our sins. This too is part of the news covenant as the waters of baptism do just that which their prayer is asking. The psalmist also asks “Put a new and right spirit within me “, and again that is part of the promise of the New Covenant that God talks about today. With that new spirit and having been saved, the psalmist goes on to say that we show our gratitude by helping others to know God and getting sinners to return to God.

The Gospel reading today from John sets up the way in which the New Covenant will be made to happen.

Greek speaking Jews come to Philip, probably because he could speak Greek and ask to speak to Jesus. They are probably there to ask him to widen his ministry and perhaps even go to Greece, but Jesus realizes that his time is coming to an end. Jesus seems to understand from all that is happening that his death is imminent. Jesus feels that the chance for expansion is over but that his death will bring an even greater thing to there world. He knows that this will upset the disciples who are still expecting some sort of hero riding in on a white horse to save them from the Romans. He uses a nature metaphor to help them understand that his death will be much like that in nature. A grain of wheat has to die and fall into the earth if it is to be reborn in the Spring. That is how seeds work. Then Jesus says, as he does in two other Gospels, that those who love their life lose it. In the other two Gospels the reference is to us but in John, I think Jesus is referring to himself and the inevitable about to happen.

John does not have an agony in the garden scene, but uses some of the lines from other Gospel accounts. Note how here when Jesus says “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour”? No it is for this reason that I have come to this hour”, note how much this is similar to the Agony in the Garden accounts. John, however, uses it as a help to explain why Jesus is able to accept the inevitable as part of God’s plan.

When God’s voice breaks through as it did at the Baptism and the transfiguration in other Gospels, we are being told that this is in effect the seal of approval on what Jesus is going through and the end result will be one of glorification and Jesus will be held up as light to all the world, not just to the Hebrews, so that Jesus, with his new understanding can see that he will be lifted up from the earth, and “draw all peoples to [him]self”.

This is the last week before Passion Week. We are almost at the end of our Lenten repentance. The events that are set in motion next week as described by the four evangelists illustrate exactly how this happens and how our salvation comes to be. I hope that you will plan to participate in all of the ceremonies of Holy Week. We will again have the triumphant walk of Palm Sunday, our traditional Passover meal on Thursday, our remembrance of Christ’s death on Friday and the most important liturgy of the year on Saturday night where we are reminded of the whole journey of salvation from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a big commitment of time,  I know, but one that will be well worth the effort as we too come to a mature understanding of what all this mean to us as we journey through this life to death and our final victory with Jesus.

And that is the Good News of hope I want to deliver today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 7, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is an interesting story, repeated many times in Hebrew Scriptures in many different ages, but essentially the same story. The Jews through intermarriage, through melding with other nations, through forgetfulness of their duty to God and God’s covenant fall into sinful ways. But, God never stops loving them, as the reading says, “because he had compassion his people and on his dwelling place.” I

n English the word compassion is the same meaning as “suffering with”. If Jesus exists throughout all time, God had indeed understood his creation and could suffer with us because he was one of us. I

n any case, God uses or allows outside forces to take away the promises of the covenant for a time. In this case it was the Babylonians who conquered the Hebrews and took them back into slavery in a foreign land. Because they had not observed the Sabbath for seventy years, they had to make up for those Sabbaths in captivity. In their sinfulness they had forgotten to keep the Sabbath sacred and devoted to God. And so in the Psalm today we hear the pleas of the Hebrew people far away from their homeland in Babylon, weeping by the rivers there, unable to sing a song in a foreign land. At the end of that time, however, God sent them a gift in the person of a non-Jew – Cyrus, King of the Persians, who let the remaining Hebrews go back to their land, and even built a new temple for them in Jerusalem. Cyrus was apparently visited by God and told to let the people go and to rebuild this Temple.

Now at the beginning i mentioned that this story was oft repeated because the pattern is the same. The Hebrews forget God, they fall into sinfulness, God punishes them, they repent and God rewards them. We hear this same pattern repeated over and over again. Don’t you think they would learn? We would think so!

But don’t we also repeat this same pattern in our lives. How often do we forget God, forget to keep God in our lives, miss Sunday services, don’t recharge our God battery, and fall into patterns of sinfulness? Maybe it is human nature to do this, to forget and take for granted. The one constant throughout this, though, is God’s compassion towards us. And how does that compassion show itself? Through grace!

In the second reading today Paul concentrates on the mercy and the love of God toward the constantly wavering creation. He tells us that we have been saved by grace, not our own doing, but as “a gift of God.” It is because of God’s compassion through Jesus Christ’s life and death that we merit salvation. And what should our response to this be? Doing good works. This is how we show our gratitude for what God has done for us. Note the difference in thinking here – we don’t do good works to merit a heavenly reward, a kingdom come, but we do good works because we have been given that kingdom and we need to thank God for it.

The Gospel today from John is part of the dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus and it includes the very famous lines which helped create atonement theology.. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Atonement theology suggests that human beings, having sinned and lost the right to heaven, are saved and gain back that right through the death and resurrection of Jesus, whose death is the ultimate sacrifice to God. Jesus in essence is a scapegoat for our sins. By his death satisfaction was made to God and we are restored to life and light once again as we were before Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

While there are alternate ways of looking at the God/Jesus story, what we can draw from this most common theological position is that thankfulness and good works are the means by which we can repent. We need to find ways to thank God. The ultimate thanksgiving is, of course, the Mass itself, since it is both a thanksgiving (the meaning of the word Eucharist) and a sacrifice re-enacted, done in memory of him who saved us. So going to Mass more often would be a great way of saying thanks, but the thanksgiving can take many forms in our prayer life, in our attention to the good things God has provided for us and in constant attention to his law of love for others.

The second way was what Deacon Gil talked about in his first lenten homily – doing good works. Choosing, not to take away something in repentance, but to find ways to help another, to do some good work for a neighbor, to be God-like in our compassion to others.  If we can find a way to do these two things during Lent – give thanks and show thanks – then we will better be ready for the great feast of Easter that we are preparing for. Let this be our prayer, then this week, that all of us find ways to thank God and be of service to our neighbor, especially the poor and displaced in society.

And this is the Good News that we are prompted to respond to today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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


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