Archive for the ‘Paying attention’ Category

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 8)

October 31, 2015

Homily for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Nov. 8)

It is pretty easy today to come up with the connection between the first and Gospel readings. Both concern the charity of widows who had very little for themselves but were willing to share what they had with those even less fortunate. I love the story in 1st Kings that we began with today because I actually find it a little humorous. Imagine the scene. This woman was a widow who was left with a child when her husband died. She was in dire straits because she had to take care of her boy and there was no way that she could earn any money. When Elijah sees her, she is out gathering twigs in order that she might have a fire to cook the very little she had left. She hoped to make a little bread with the food remaining in the house.

Now it seems pretty forward of Elijah to call out to her – first of all, she is a woman and most male strangers would not put themselves int he position of talking to a strange woman to begin with. But Elijah does and is even quite demanding by our standards. He doesn’t  introduce himself; he just asks for a little of her water, and when he sees that she is amiable to give him some, goes further and asks for a piece of bread.

Now we have talked before how important it was in this time period for travelers to ask for the help of people in villages when they were passing through, and how Jewish custom asked people to be kind to these strangers who were traveling because it was so difficult.

So the woman who would probably like to give him a piece of bread tries to explain to him that she hadn’t baked any yet, and in fact, she was just gathering wood to do so. Unfortunately, though she didn’t have much grain or much oil left. I find it almost humorous the way she adds that she was just going to bake the last of it and then sit down and die. But she probably meant it.

Elijah asks her to bake the bread with what she has left, but to trust in God that a miracle would happen and she would never empty the vessels of grain and oil till the next rainfall. If someone told you that, would you think he was crazy? The woman must have been very trusting or had a great faith in God because she went and did what he said – giving up what was to be the little she had left. But the miracle occurred!

The other story of the widow in the Gospel does not contain a miracle at all, but shows a picture of someone whose faith in God is so strong that she was willing to sacrifice the little she had because it was what God had asked her to do. Tithing was specified in the Bible. If she gave that away, how would she live. She didn’t know, but she did what she felt was the right thing and left the rest to God. Jesus admires her great faith.

What he doesn’t admire so much is the great show that people were making of the large amounts that they gave. The offering of rich people was more to inflate their own egos or make them look great in the sight of others. Their motive was not pure like the poor widow’s.

The story of this widow began with an admonition to watch out for the scribes who loved to put on a show and fought to be respected and given the best place. Scribes were a later addition to Hebrew life and were men who were educated scholars whose job it was to interpret the Old Testament. Their actions show what they are really like. Jesus says that they devour widow’s houses. As if the widows of this period don’t have it bad enough, the scribes were finding ways to take their property from them for non-payment – all very legal, but leaving the widows destitute. We see examples of this all the time today when people call senior citizens on the phone and try to dupe them out of money, or when  tele-evangelists make pleas for them to give up their money for ‘better” causes or by intimidating them with guilt or fear. The Scribes apparently had the same thing down pat. Jesus remarks only that “they will receive the greater condemnation.”

It might be good to note that I don’t think Jesus was indicating that we should give more than we have to the point of suffering. He was using the woman as an example of someone who had been duped into that way of thinking by the scribes. Immediately after these verses Jesus indicates that the very thing she has been giving her money to was going to be destroyed. And the Temple was destroyed not long after.

The real sacrifice that was greater than either widow is the one talked about by Paul to the Hebrews today. Jesus didn’t just give up his livelihood, but he gave up his godhead, becoming human like us, and then gave up the very human life he had taken on in order to remove sin and bring forgiveness. What do we do that could compare with that kind of love? The widows showed love and faith in God, but Jesus went the whole way for us, Paul says.

There has been a lot of talk over the last month of the message that Pope Francis has brought to America, and I find it interesting to read what our “scribes” today have been saying about it, as they try to justify their economic way of life. But the Pope’s message was clear, Jesus’ message today is clear, and the Psalm is a wonderful summary today of the message: the Lord executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoners free, upholds the widow and orphan and brings to ruin the way of the wicked. We need to be as aware as possible of our Christian obligation to the oppressed in our society, and each of us needs to try to find our own way to help – in money, in time, in friendship, in prayer – in love!

My prayer for you this week is that we use today’s widows as examples of faith and concern for others and that we be very wary of becoming scribe-like ourselves, all too easy to do in our capitalistic society that can brainwash us with the wrong motives.

And this is the Good News of Jesus, Mark, the widows and Francis I remind you of today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Prepare for next year! Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

{using Isaiah 42.1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34 and Mark 1.7-11)

Christmas is now quite over and once again we begin the story of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ as we continue in what we call Ordinary Time. I am oftentimes frightened by how many times we have to preach each year on elements of this same introductory story. We get it in Advent, we get it on this feast, we get it on other John the Baptist’s feasts, and it comes up each year in whatever Gospel we are concentrating on. I always wonder whether I can find anything new or relevant for you in the story. But simply because the story is read to us so many times in its different versions in the four Gospel, I realize the import of it, and always manage to find something to say about it.

The opening reading today from Isaiah is not about John the Baptist as we saw in the Christmas readings of Isaiah.  This is not about the man who announces the servant of the Lord, but is about the servant himself, so the focus of today’s feast is not on John but on Jesus himself.

There are four “servant” songs in Isaiah, and today we hear one of them. We often think of Christ’s sayings about being a servant to others, his washing of the feet of his apostles, his dying on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to redeem us. Isaiah talked about a servant who was to come – a chosen one of God, one in whom God puts his Spirit. Those first two qualities Isaiah foretells are picked up by Mark today in his telling of Jesus’ baptism. Being chosen, and being filled with the Spirit are the same two themes Mark uses. God chooses Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and in the baptism the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. So it is clear, then, right from the beginning that for Mark, Jesus is the servant of God that Isaiah foretold.

It will follow then that the rest of the prophecy will also be carried out by Jesus, so if we look at the list of things that Isaiah proclaims about this servant, we should see exactly the same things played out in the life of Jesus. Isaiah says that “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” He will do what he has to do quietly, not like some preachers who cry out and rant and scream. Both of the these qualities we see in Jesus.

The image of the bruised reed and dimly burning wick probably refer to our own weakness and proclivity to sin. Or it may be an image of the poor or derelict in society who delicate and bruised. Isaiah says that the servant will not break the reed or quench the fire that still burns on the wick. It is an image of gentleness, of care for those who are suffering or in pain.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice. Certainly that is an image of the Christ. Social justice issues are all through the New Testament, in the sermons of Jesus and in his actions.

Lastly, the servant will carry through his job till the end: “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”

All of these prophecies of the servant fit Jesus so perfectly, and give us much to meditate on in our own dealings with people and problems.

Lastly, the Isaiah passage talks about what the servant will mean to us. Most important is the idea of our having with a God New Covenant. God says: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

If you haven’t noticed the dominant imagery of “light” over the Christmas season, you really haven’t been listening or singing our hymns.  It has been a major theme during our Christmas celebrations. Christ is our light, just as God says his servant will be a light to all the nations, again opening up the covenant, creating a new covenant that enlarges the scope of the older one.

In the final few lines we hear the lines that Jesus himself so often uses as a description of his mission on earth – his purpose, his goal: “to open the eyes off the blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” And these are both actual and metaphoric . Actual, as we see in the second reading from Acts when we are told that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” and metaphoric since we are often blind to the spiritual realities of life, often held prisoner by our habits and our misunderstandings.

Jesus is the servant of God foretold by Isaiah, and at his Baptism, Mark sees the beginning of the servant’s role announced and played out. If we are to follow Jesus as he asks us to, we must also be servants to others, develop a social justice awareness and act on it, and realize that we too have God’s Spirit within us to help us achieve that state of perfection. It won’t be easy – we will all have crosses to carry – but that is what the readings today suggest to me that the Good News is all about.

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 Advent, Year B, 2014-15

December 7, 2014

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

“REJOICE!”,  the reading from Paul to the Thessalonians begins today! – one of the reasons we wear rose vestments today and light the rose candle, and this seems an odd word in a season of repentance. But Advent is not Lent and the kind of turning back we do in Advent is much different that the sojourn we take with our single lives in Lent. We turn back to prepare ourselves in order that we can welcome the Messiah and welcome the “day of the Lord” that he brings with him. In that world we can, as Paul says, rejoice, not just today but always, pray unceasingly and give thanks for everything. That is the life of a Christian after the coming of Christ. The advise of Paul to day today to us is wonderful advice: let us not quench the Spirit inside us, let us not throw away the Hebrew Testament but take what is good from it, and try our best to stay away from every type of evil. We will have Jesus’ help in doing this. Very hopeful words.

And Jesus will help us with this. One of the verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes is the opening verse today is: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives…to release the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The spirit of God was in Jesus and it is in us as well, his gift to us to help us as we struggle through our lives, trying to ready for the day of the Lord which has begun but isn’t totally here yet. Some days we feel getting to that day has a long way to go, don’t we!

In place of the Psalm today the liturgy gives us the beautiful prayer of Mary who was facing a whole lot of trouble, a birth when she was unmarried, fear of what would happen. But she doesn’t get down. In fact, she trusts God’s plan for her, and her Magnificat is reminiscent of the person that Isaiah has described, and that Jesus becomes. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I wish the translators could use a different word than fear, which in English has all sorts of negative connotations that it doesn’t really mean. Better would be: his mercy is for those in awe of him from generation to generation.We might fear that we are not good enough, but we are in awe of the Creator of all things.

The Gospel today is John’s version of the story that we read from Mark’s earlier Gospel last week, and staying true to John’s very metaphoric and symbolic Gospel, he presents Jesus as ‘light’. Later on he even has Jesus say that he is the light of the world. John the Baptist’s job is to give testimony that Jesus is the light, the Messiah. The gospel writer presents John the Baptist using the words we read last week in Isaiah, and John describes himself as the one crying in the wilderness begging people to make straight the path for God. He again states that his baptism is just a symbol of the washing away of sin, but there is someone coming who will actually wash away sin, and who is so great that John is almost a nothing in comparison. The two versions, though written many years apart, are very complimentary.

So how can we apply this to our own lives this week. I would ask you this week to concentrate on being in awe of God. Think of creation, nature, beauty, art, and face the realization that God is over all these things. He really is, to use the phrase of many today, “awesome”! In appreciating the things of God, the wonders of God, the enormity of God and his universe, we might seem very tiny and insignificant. But, then realize that God really cares for each and every one of us – he goes after the one lamb who has strayed. We just need to repent, turn around and he will be there. So rejoice always, as Paul says, and keep in mind the really wonderful season we are almost through, as we await and awaken to that light that we remember each Christmas day, and that we await to lighten our lives again when Jesus comes in glory.

And that is the Advent Good News the Biblical writers suggest 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 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 Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 30, 2014

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

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

The beautiful Advent readings today are all about anticipation of the coming of God prophesied by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, in one of the most imagery laden and colorful passages in the Scriptures, and again by the New Testament prophet, John the Baptist. Even the second reading from 2nd Peter anticipates with patience the second coming of the Messiah waiting for the “day of the Lord”. So much anticipation, so much hope, so much excitement for what is to come. That is the true spirit of Advent and what should happen in the season of expectation.

We begin our church year devoted to the reading of the Gospel of Mark with the very first chapter of Mark today. As I have mentioned before, Mark’s Gospel is my favorite, perhaps because I was an English Lit teacher and I am impressed with how he has written his story – both the deceptive simplicity of it and the rapid movement of it leading to his climax. In the original language it moves very quickly as every sentence seems to be “Then this happened, and then this happened, and immediately that happened, and then….” It is also a bit of a detective story or mystery story, except that we are in on the mystery and we watch everyone else trying to solve it. And trust me, the apostles in mark are not very good at it!

Right from the first line of the Gospel, though, we are let in on the secret of who Jesus is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”! Mark pulls no punches but tells us straight on that Jesus is the Son of God. Then he proceeds with the rest of this identity story which builds when Jesus asks: but who do you say that I am? and is answered by the Gentile centurion at the foot of the cross who realizes “Truly, this man was God’s own son.”

So for Mark, the anticipation is the wonderful discovery of who Jesus is Mark does not go into any genealogy of Jesus or give us any birth narratives, but jumps right into the beginning of the public life of Jesus. First we meet the prophet John the Baptist, himself prophesied by Isaiah as the messenger of God sent to announce the Messiah and prepare the people for his coming. Right away Mark ties the Gospel story to the Hebrew Scriptures, letting us see that this is the culmination of the Scriptural anticipation.

And what was John supposed to be doing? According to Mark he was first of all, proclaiming the message and vision of Isaiah: getting people ready and fixing up the road so that God had a straight path to us. Secondly, John was asking us to turn ourselves around, the meaning of “repent” and look at our lives and ask for forgiveness, so that we too will be on this straight path to receive the Lord. In the first verses of Mark, John the Baptist did not know who the Messiah would be, but that he would be someone much more powerful than he, and who would baptize not only with water but with the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God would be in him, part of him.

So this first few pages of Mark sets up the movement of the whole Gospel of Mark and even though we now know who Jesus is, we anticipate what will happen when the others find out and look forward to seeing how they do find out.

I do have to say a few more words about the Isaiah reading today, as well, because it is such a moving piece of prophetic literature. God, seen here, is a God of comfort who wants only to speak tenderly to us, to forgive our sins. Isaiah wants the messenger of God to stand on a high mountain and announce the coming. And although he notes that God is a mighty God, and a strong God, we are not to fear God because he is more like a shepherd than a warrior, and he will gather us in his arms and carry us next to his breast, and gently lead us where we need to go. These are the images of God that I hold dear, that give me hope, that allow me to anticipate the second coming and am not afraid of the world being “dissolved” by fire, as Peter describes today. Instead I am filled with peace, which is what Peter asks us to be, because the coming of the Lord then and to come is ‘good news’ and we will be comforted and held in the arms of our God. And that is the anticipation we should be thinking about as Christmas approaches. The Christ child is that image of peace, and so, in the next few weeks of hectic readying-ness, we need to put aside some time to center ourselves, breathe a little, repent for anything getting in the way of that peacefulness and feel God’s arms around us, comforting us and helping us on our journey. That is the peace I wish you this week as we all anticipate God’s first and second coming and the Good News that this implies. God bless.

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 1st Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

November 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

November 9, 2014

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

Homily for the 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”]