Archive for the ‘Sermon’ Category

Homily for the 23rd Sunday in ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Sept. 6)

August 30, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

All three readings and the psalm today express the same idea: that God protects and cares for the outcasts, the helpless in society. This is a basic premise of Christianity and has been since Jesus walked the earth. Jesus showed us that care in his healings of the blind, the plagued, the lepers, and the deaf, which we read about today. Particularly in his time, the sicknesses we just referred to were seen as punishments by God for sin, so the people who suffered from them multiplied their woes by being outcasts as well.

From early in the Bible, however, we begin to see references to how God is particularly attracted to helping the helpless in society, those who Isaiah says are of a “fearful heart” because of their plight. Don’t be fearful, Isaiah says. God will protect you, will avenge you and punish the people who treat you badly and do not help you. There will be a “terrible recompense”, he says.

After this “recompense”, this repayment, God will open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf, strengthen the limbs of the paralyzed, and give voice to the mute person.

Why is God so attracted to the needy? Often, it is because they are the ones with the strongest faith. Think of the times that you have needed something and gone to God, when yourself or someone close to you was seriously ill, and you went to God. It is that kind of time that brings out our faith in God.

Secondly, it is a simple matter of justice. Those who suffer in this life will have that turned around in the next. As the psalm says: “the Lord executes justice for the oppressed.” It is like that folk cliché: ‘what comes around, goes around’. The same psalm from today talks about how God will help the alien (the stranger), the orphan and the widow.

St. James, writing late in the first century, reminds the Christians that God has chosen the poor in the world. They are the ones who are rich in faith, and they will inherit the kingdom of heaven. That is why we are not to cater to the rich or show favoritism to those well-off. Unfortunately, we could give the same message to the many churches today that are so into collection of money, that they do favor the rich and court them. But if we really believe in Jesus as we profess we do, then we cannot ignore the cries of the poor and needy in our society.

Coming from Canada as I did, where there is universal health care, whether or not high taxes are a result, I can only think that that country is acting in a very Christian way. Yes, the rich pay more taxes to support the needy, the unemployed, the outcasts – but isn’t that what Christ would want us to do? I don’t often get political in my homilies, but this is one topic that I can only see as something every Christian needs to wrestle with his or her conscience over, and understand that we have an obligation to share our wealth, to share our good fortune with those who have no fortune, who can barely exist.

The Gospel reading today is unusual in that it is one of the three healings we know about where Jesus used physical matter, mud, in this case, to bring about a miracle. Usually, his simple word was enough. There has been much conjecture about it, and I might be able to summarize the reasons he used mud. First, it may have been a return to the creation story where man was made from the mud of the earth, thus paralleling the creation story. Perhaps he used mud as one of many ways of healing to show that it wasn’t something he did and had a magic method he used, but to show through many different ways that it came from God. Lastly, it could be that the spit or saliva which was often used in Jesus time because they thought it had a healing factor inherent in it, was being used a sign that a healing was going to take place.  For whatever reason, Jesus used the spittle and mud to effect the cure of the man’s hearing and speech. Jesus was the healer that Isaiah was prophesying, and the people began to recognize Jesus first as a healer and gradually to realize that he was more than that. Jesus asked them – ordered them, in fact, to tell no one about the healing. Why was that? It could have been a matter of crowd control. Once every one heard what he could do, people would rush to be cured of all sorts of things and that really wasn’t what Jesus was setting out to do. It was more a by-product of his teaching. Secondly, Jesus or God the Father may have been orchestrating the time Jesus was on earth, and it was not time for him to be arrested and to die, which would have happened because of the criticisms he was making of the Pharisees and the revolutionary teachings he was proposing. Lastly, it could be because he didn’t want to be :”Jesus Christ Superstar”. Ask any celebrity how difficult it is to cope with the kind of public attention a celebrity gets. Jesus would find it difficult to hide from that, to find time to pray, to finish what he set out to do. So there were probably very good reasons for Jesus not wanting anyone outside of the observers to know.

What can we do this week to follow Jesus and the gospel message? ( I know that there are a lot of social works going on in this parish, and so I am not really talking to those of you highly involved in them.  But for those who may not be yet.) Obviously, try to find ways to share what you have with others. I don’t mean just financial, either. Time is a commodity which is worth a lot in our culture, especially in the Northern Virginia area. Giving of your time to help another is certainly a way to act out the Gospel message. I am going to be involved in a committee this month to help get drivers to take cancer victims to their chemo appointments, and will be telling you more about that soon. Once again, I remind you that it doesn’t have to be something very big that we give or do. Just giving or doing some thing could be a reminder for us of how we can bring about the kingdom, and to assure that we will be part of that beautiful city!

And this is the Good News preached by Isaiah, David, James and Jesus today. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

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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Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

August 22, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015

Our first reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the books ascribed to Moses and the one dealing with the end of his life and the imminent entry into the God’s Promised Land. Moses and the Hebrews have been wandering through the deserts for forty years and they are about to enter their homeland, but Moses is an old man now and knows that he will not enter it with them. In this reading Moses is talking to his people and reminding them that they have messed up badly over the years, which is why the promise took 40 years too fulfill. Over and over they have forgotten the one true God and the teachings of their God.

In the selection we read today, Moses is being very practical with his people, and giving them good political advice as well as spiritual. In the spiritual or moral dimension, Moses is telling them to remember what God has done for them in leading them out of slavery, and that God has given them a pattern to live by with the commandments. Moses urges them to be diligent in following God’s commands to show their love and gratitude to God, first of all, but that it would also be good for them politically, to show the other nations that they are a cultured, wise nation.  At this time there were not many countries that had as civilized a law as did the Hebrews. Moses says that they could be a light to other nations, and make it possible for other nations to see the immanence of Israel’s God – the fact that God is with them, hears them, and answers them.

The Torah, then – or the teachings of God given to Moses – makes the Hebrews stand out to other nations, achieving two great purposes – serving God and presenting the one God to other nations.

The teachings (which we translate as Laws) that Moses gave the Hebrews were the Ten Commandments certainly, but also other teachings that separated the Hebrews or set them apart from other nations. Many of the Laws, especially those of purity came about as comments on the Law, just as today many of the the ideas in the United States Constitution have been ruled on and more laws and amendments have been created over the years.

When Jesus attacks the scribes and Pharisees because they say he is not following these created laws of purity, many of these were traditions and not always Biblically based. Some of them came about for hygienic purposes or to suit the needs of the priests or ruling bodies.

When Jesus was accused of breaking these so-called laws, he reminds them that they are merely human traditions, and that more importance is being placed on these than on the actual teaching words of God.

So Jesus uses this as a way to explain that God created everything as good and that it is what we do with God’s creation is what creates something bad. Evil comes from inside a person. And this is what the original commandments or teachings of God was really about. When we look at the list of things that Christ calls evil coming from the heart of man, we see murder (5th commandment), fornication and licentiousness (6th Commandment), theft (7th commandment),  deceit and slander (9th commandment), avarice and envy (10th commandment),  with pride, folly and wickedness involved in all ten of them. Jesus was getting back to the basics by reminding them that God’s commandments are more important than the traditions that had become the sole concern of the Pharisees of his day. I think we do the same thing today when we take individual moral problems like abortion, homosexuality, birth-control as ‘the’ most important issues in our religion. We tend to have pet concerns that override the really important issues of loving God and neighbor and sharing with the poor. That isn’t to say they are not at all important or connected – they certainly are – especially abortion – but we enlarge them to be more important issues, honoring God with our lips, as Jesus says, but ignoring the heart.

The letter of James today really summarizes what I have been trying to say when he defines a “pure and undefiled” religion in a way that seems very simple and narrow. Purity of religion is caring for others, loving your neighbor, especially those who can’t care for themselves like widows and orphans, and not following the ways, the traditions of the ungodly world. James also adds that we need not to just listen to God’s word, but we have to follow through and do it.

So how can we be doers of the word this week? First of all let us focus on the two great commandments this week. Find a way to let God know of your love, spend some time with him, talk with him. He is both immanent and transcendent. We acknowledge his greatness and vastness, God he also became one of us and so we can talk with, complain to, beg, and thank God. Then, find a way to focus on our neighbors in need. Perhaps donate time or food to a mission or food bank, or donate to a cause that helps others. Bring extra peanut butter in for next Sunday’s peanut butter drive. Do “something” to remind yourself of the Word of God presented to us this week.

And that will be really Good News for God and for the recipients of our love 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 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 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

August 15, 2015

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 23)

Today the readings are once again about the Eucharist – the bread from heaven – but it is our last foray into that topic for a while. The first two readings, however, are more about service. In the Book of Joshua we find Joshua gathering together all the tribes in a great assembly to praise God. They have entered a land where there were many gods being worshipped, each nation, sometimes each city, having its own God and protector. Joshua knew that moving into these lands and cities would tempt the Hebrews to start to fall in line with he inhabitants and worship other gods, which is exactly what happened in the years to come. This day, however, he asks the people to make a choice. He said you can choose other false gods or you can choose the one true God. Joshua said he had made his decision; he would not be influenced by other cultures but remain dedicated to the God of Israel. The people, having travelled forty years to get to this new land, agreed with him. They recognized, because they had lived through some of it, what God had done for them in taking them out of the slavery of Egypt, feeding them in the wilderness with the bread from heaven, protecting them along the way. that the God of Israel was not to be abandoned. Their thankfulness was so great they as a group they chose Israel’s God to be true to.

The psalm refrain today is once again “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” But the psalm itself is extended and we hear of how God will protect righteous people, even though they have many sufferings and afflictions. In the New testament this becomes the healing power of the eucharist.

The theme of servitude is again picked up by Paul in Ephesians. Again, I remind you that this may not have been Paul since some of the things here go against what he had previously written in the epistles we know to be his. The idea of servitude or “subjection” as it is translated here, is that we are to be subjected to each other – we are to act as servants to each other because that is what Jesus did. The example he uses is a marriage and we have to understand that he was writing from a world view where men were totally in charge. His view of marriage is to see the male as Christ-like and wives like the people of God who are to do service, to be subject to Jesus or the husband. If you can get beyond that thinking of male superiority, it can be an apt image, however, for relationships. The dominant image is of the love that Christ had for us that led even to his death. Husbands, being the Christ image, must love their wives, to the death. Paul actually puts a lot on husbands today. They are to help their wives become holy, to help the wives be without blemish, to love the wives as much as they love their own bodies, they must nourish and care for their wives. The husband as the image of Christ is a daunting model for men who have to also realize that instead of lording it over another, they are to be their servant as Christ was. So, in a sense, husband and wife serve each other in a healthy relationship. The ideal is oneness, the great mystery as Paul calls it, of the two becoming one flesh in marriage.

The Gospel then creates the same kind of question that Joshua generated about choosing the God of Israel or other gods. Jesus has explained ‘the bread of heaven” and told them that those who will follow him will have eternal life. They need to choose – go back to the Jewish rituals and continue to follow the Law or follow Jesus and become something quite different within the LAw. Some could not make that choice. We are told that many left over Jesus’ teaching about him being  the bread from heaven. Some stayed, but all the apostles continued to follow him as one who spoke the words of eternal life, and their belief that Jesus was the Holy One of God.

Just a note on a very debated line from this reading today which seemed to some to say that there was predestination. “For this reason I have told toy that none can come to me unless it is granted them by my Father.” Jesus seems to be saying that believing in him is a gift from God, and God doesn’t give the gift to everyone. Therefore only a few people will have eternal life by following him. John Calvin during the Protestant Reformation took this as doctrine, and they believe to this day that some have been chosen to be saved and others have not.

I see this line, though, in context as referring to the Jews who had been chosen by God. God had prepared them for a Messiah and had given clues throughout their history in the writings of the Torah. Without those clues, how could they ever hope to understand what was happening through Jesus. After Jesus’ death this was opened up so that the rest of the world could participate in this knowledge, to become God’s people. Once you see what is before you, but reject it and do not believe, as did many of the people who heard Jesus, then it was not God’s fault. God has drawn you, but you have refused to believe it.

When all is said and done, the most beautiful words in the readings today may be Peter’s: Lord, to whom can we go?”

What else is there? Once we have been made aware of what God has done and is doing for us, once we have been made aware of the bread from heaven come down to earth for us, once we have been made aware that we can share in that bread and in eternal life and have our sins forgiven, to whom else can we go? Is there a choice if we want to live!

And those are the words of Good News that I ask you to think about this week, the last week of our vacation with the Gospel of John.

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 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

August 1, 2015

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 9)

We continue with Jesus’ teachings on the eucharist today and the idea we began last week with Jesus proclaiming himself to be the bread of heaven.

I want to start, however, with the first reading from the Book of Kings. Elijah was a prophet who was depressed.  I think if we read the selection carefully, we could put together all the elements of a good case for depression.

I checked out a doctor’s list for signs of depression and here’s what I found. A person may be depressed if they can’t sleep or want to sleep too much. Elijah sat down in the middle of the day and fell asleep under a broom tree. A depressed person finds tasks that were all right before to be difficult.  Elijah was finding it difficult to prophesy, especially when no one heeded his prophecies. The depressed person feels hopeless and helpless. Elijah asks that he might die! The depressed person can’t control negative thoughts. Elijah says “I am no better than my ancestors – take away my life.” The depressed person has no appetite. Elijah hadn’t been eating and didn’t want to eat until the angel forced him to. Even after he hate he went to lie down again. The final thing that is noted in depression is that the person feels life is not worth living. And that seems to be the whole attitude of Elijah in this reading.

Many people, maybe even some of us, suffer from depression. Elijah had no diagnosis, no doctors to prescribe for him,but God sends an angel to him to feed him and to push him on. The passage ends with Elijah “went in the strength of that food, forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God.

We seem to have made medical strides with depression today, but one thing a patient is not told is to put some hope in God who told us he would never send anything to us that we couldn’t handle with his grace. It was, in this case, food that God sent, that strengthened him and pulled back on his depressive state.

We, too, need the food that God sends. Our Psalm says “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” “I sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” A little bit of God goes a long way, and a little of the food from heaven can cure us.

That, too, seems to be the message of Jesus in the Gospel today, among a number of theological messages John presents to us.

Our Gospel passage picks up from last week when Jesus proclaimed himself the bread from heaven and some of the literal minded crowd wondered how he could say he was from heaven when they knew he was just a carpenter’s son, the son of Joseph.

In answer, Jesus begins a discourse on how God has sent this bread to them in the form of a human, and has given grace to people to allow them to see Jesus for that bread. Jesus explains that if they have learned from the Old testament and have been taught by God, they will come to him, for they will see him as the fulfillment of that promise of old.

Then the shocking promise comes. If you eat of the bread from heaven, bread which means both the teaching and words of Jesus, and later the eucharistic bread that is his body, you will not die.

On one level the people must have thought he was crazy – how could they eat the bread from heaven and how was someone not supposed to die – ever! It made no sense.  But Jesus doesn’t let it go. He says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world [to accomplish this feat] will be my own flesh.

As I said last week, it makes sense to us because most of us have been brought up with this concept, this idea from our youth, but imagine hearing it the first time. Is it not surprising that many people found him a bit crazy, if this was how he was talking. I asked you last week to reflect on the importance of the eucharist, and this week I would like to to reflect on the healing power of the eucharist. Just as God was able to help Elijah’s depression, the food that came down from heaven which is Jesus, can also help us to be healed, sometimes physically, but most often spiritually. These few weeks in John, we can find Jesus at his most outrageous self in his teachings, something we have never known or have forgotten. But the content of what he says needs to rattle our own brains so that we can come to depend on the eucharist, to know that it is truly a healing gift – not just for forgiveness of sins, its major accomplishment, but for other healings as well.

Do we think about what we are doing when we go to communion? Do we see it as a healing power? Do we see it as partaking in Jesus’ death to give life to us? Do we discover the peace that comes with communion? Does it influence our lives during the week? Do we miss it dreadfully when we can’t partake of it? I hope that you will spend a few moments this next week, asking yourself these questions, and if it has become something rote and ritualistic for you with little meaning, try to discover the true meaning and how it can affect your life for the better. Does it lead to what Paul tells us today – “to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

And this is the eucharistic Good News I proclaim 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 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

July 25, 2015

Homily for the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (Aug 2)

As I mentioned last week, we are taking a mini-sojourn into the Gospel of John and specifically those sections of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. Before we begin that today, though, the Church provides us with the Hebrew background that we need to know in order to put Jesus’ words into the context of Jewish life two thousand years ago.

We begin today with the reading from the Book of Exodus which, as you know, contains the movement of the Jewish people out of their slavery in Egypt and their forty year trip to their new Promised Land.

In our reading today, we hear the Hebrews complaining about their stay in the desert, or what they call the wilderness, and it could not have been very pleasant. There were a lot of people, and because they were traveling, there was no way to grow food. Yet everyone had to be fed. They found there was, of course, not enough food that they could scrounge to feed everyone, so they were starving. It was not an unfounded complaint they were making.

Presumably Moses brings their complaints to God because God sees their hunger and finds a way to feed them. They had apparently brought a few animals with them that they could kill and eat, but they would soon run out and they had nothing else. So the Lord says: “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.”

God then sent quails each night that they could catch and kill, and in the mornings on the ground was a substance much like bread that they could gather and eat. The Israelites named it manna, bread from heaven.

The Psalm today remembers God’s kindness to the Israelites in the desert, and although they never ate or tasted the manna, they remember through the stories that their grandparents and great grandparents passed down to them about it. They thanked God for his goodness for this bread of heaven and this bread of angels.

So the background we need to know is that God took care of his people as God always does, and specifically in this case by nourishing their physical bodies that were starving by giving them the bread from heaven.

Last week in the Gospel, we saw how Christ was able to also feed the hungry with physical bread in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The crowd had been amazed that they had all been fed, and even though Jesus tried to escape them, they followed Jesus. Jesus says that they had followed him only because he took care of their physical needs, their hunger, not for the reasons that they should have followed him. Jesus is more concerned with their spiritual lives, and feeding their spiritual lives with food that will last forever. He says that they need to work for that kind of bread that will last forever, and the work that they have to do is to believe.

We have seen that idea of the importance of belief in Jesus many times over the last few months, and here John picks up that theme as well as Mark had.

Now our background from Exodus will help us. The crowd tells Jesus that Moses gave their ancestors bread from heaven. They ask, what are you going to do to help us believe? Rather odd, since Jesus had just done a rather major miraculous thing for them by feeding five thousand!

Jesus reminds them that it wasn’t Moses that fed them bread from heaven, but God. God sent them bread from heaven and gave physical life to the world. And now God is sending bread to give spiritual life to the world. And this is where it must have really shocked the people listening to Jesus. They asked where is this bread that God is sending? And Jesus tells them…”I am!”

As Catholics, we were all brought up on this outrageous idea and it doesn’t really seem so foreign to us, but try to imagine what it must have sounded like to the crowd following Jesus. Jesus is bread? Jesus was sent to God for them to eat? If they come to Jesus they will never be hungry spiritually? How crazy must that have seemed to them on the first hearing.

We are lucky, because we know what followed, and we know how Christ’s body becomes present in the eucharist – the bread we consume here each week. But the enormity of this idea, the craziness of this idea, the bizarreness of this idea should have shocked his listeners. And maybe we need to be shocked every once in a while, too.

We have this amazing gift each week – bread that gives life, that allows us never to be hungry or thirsty spiritually and food that will bring us eternal life! Yet, so many people ignore all that and try to be spiritual in their homes and away from the eucharist. If we really understood and believed the immensity of this gift, nothing would be able to stop us from having this pure gift each week. Unfortunately, through unbelief, through repetition, through busy lives, it doesn’t seem all that important or amazing to us any more.

We talk about Good News each week. Well, this news of Jesus today really is good. Let us spend the week reflecting on what a gift it is to us, how by taking the eucharist we can never be spiritually hungry or thirsty, and how we can better prepare ourselves and take advantage of the remarkable powers of this sacrament. Truly good news for a truly good people!

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 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

July 19, 2015

Homily for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 26 )

We are taking a side trip, sort of a summer vacation, for the next six weeks and listening to the Gospel of John rather than the Gospel of Mark which this year is dedicated to. And there are significant differences between the two Gospels – the two are probably the farthest apart – in intent, construction and theology.

Mark’s Gospel was the first and it is the shortest, most compact and deals only with the active ministry of Jesus. John’s Gospel was the last Gospel written and is theologically packed as there had been time to ponder the questions of who Jesus was, so this Gospel was more about Jesus himself than his teachings. Not that it doesn’t include his teachings, but they are done in a different format.

Mark uses Jesus’ parables while John tends to have longer discourses. The longest discourse comes while Jesus is preaching to the people on the mountain and is tied into the feeding of the five thousand. And that is some of the discourse that we will be listening to over the next few weeks.

When we are reading the New Testament is if often a good thing to ask two questions of each of the evangelists. Why are they writing their story? and who were they writing to? The answers to these two questions might explain why the four stories differ in some ways in detail, and why some things are more important in them than others.

John is writing at the end of the first century to a group that already has faith in Jesus so he isn’t trying to convert them. Instead, he is looking deeper at some of the teachings of Jesus and is especially dealing with the issue of Jesus as God. More than the other apostles he tends to do this with vibrant characters but also with much poetic and metaphoric language. This is a Gospel explaining in great depth who Jesus was and the Gospel is about him more than his teachings.

John appears to be writing to strengthen the faith of his listeners, to combat some heretical thinking that was going around about who Jesus was, and to give a fresh interpretation to the three Gospels that already existed.

The feeding of the five thousand is recounted in all the Gospels with slightly different details given. In John’s version the feeding becomes a catalyst for Jesus’ running away from the crowd’s attempts to make him an earthly ruler and also to set us up for all the bread images that John will use in Christ’s teaching. He can give them earthly bread, but he is also the bread of heaven as we will soon see.

The feeding of the five thousand had some precedent in early Hebrew scriptures as we read in the Hebrew reading today from the book of Kings. Instead of five thousand, it was a hundred, but Elisha managed to listen to God and told the young man to bring out his twenty loaves and feed the people. Somehow, miraculously, all the people were fed and there was some left over.

And our psalm today reiterates the idea that God will feed us, that God satisfies all the needs of the people who love him. Food here can be taken literally or metaphorically: God will also give us what we need when we need it, if we continue loving and having faith in God.

The letter of Paul tot he Ephesians today doesn’t talk of bread or feeding, but it does talk about the oneness – which is what the image of the bread is also metaphorically about.  All the people ate – there was a unity in that. Later, Jesus will talk about that by all eating his body, all will become one with him and each other. So Paul today talks about “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” which John will later incorporate into Jesus teachings on the Eucharist. Remember, in John, the establishment of the Eucharist was more tied to the feeding of thousand than to the Last Supper.  It isn’t even mentioned at his last supper which is about servitude and reversing the power structure.

As we begin, then, reading from John for the next few weeks, I want you to think about food and how it sustains life, how it is pleasurable, how eating together creates unity, because these are all themes that will come up in Jesus’ teaching on the meaning of ‘bread’.  We pray each day: Give us this day our daily bread. Does this have more connotation than just making sure we are nourished by food each day? When you pray the Our Father, think about what that might mean to you. As we picnic with friends – even with our own picnic  next Saturday – ask how this joins us together. What kind of unity does it create?

Then in the next few weeks, we can apply all this to the bread come down from heaven and what it means to us today.

This is the Good News I ask you to ponder over the next few weeks.

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 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

July 11, 2015

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 19 )

I have had to preach about shepherds quite a few times for it is one of the dominant metaphors in both the Old and New Testaments, and thus comes up in our liturgical worship quite often. But, I thought I would take a little break from that, even though we still celebrate it in song and psalm and readings today, and spend a little more time on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Because the second reading is usually continuous, picking up where we left off the week before, and not thematically based on the first reading and the Gospel, it is often ignored, or it is so dense that a simple reading of Paul doesn’t always make a lot of sense to most people.

So, I’d like to start with an overview of the letter to the Ephesians. First, it isn’t really a letter, it is more like an encyclical, and it probably wasn’t written by St. Paul, but written in his style and using his name, which was very common in early times. It was seen as showing admiration for someone. Quite different than we would think of it today.

But it was written by someone who was close to Paul or understood the themes Paul often talked about, even though there are elements of contradiction with Paul’s earlier work.

Usually Paul’s letters are written to solve problems at individual churches  yet this “letter” could be for any church – it is more universal in content. Paul’s theology in his undisputed letters, that is letters we are sure he wrote, talk about grace through faith, how Jesus’ death on a cross saved us as when he today talks about reconciling “both groups to God in one body through the cross”, and how the Spirit gives us great gifts. This letter also talks about these things. But there are differences from Paul’s early letters, too. Early Paul talks a lot about death, judgment and the end of time. This letter rather ignores all that and concentrates on the now – that Christ is enthroned now and we, as believers,  are already living the “heavenly life”. Salvation for early Paul occurs at the end of time – we will be saved, in the future. Present or future – which is correct?

In this letter the writer says we have already been saved through faith. It says this just before the reading we heard today. In the section we read today this is confirmed when he says that Jews and Gentiles are already united into one. There is no dividing wall or hostility, the writer says. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, though, he says that the process of unification has started but will continue in the future.

The writer today then states that “[Christ] has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances” which is basically throwing out the Old Testament, while Paul in Corinthians clearly states that Christ did not abolish the Law.

In the passage today the writer is explaining how the Christians, who were Gentiles before, managed to come under God’s covenant with Israel. This happens through the sacrifice, the death of Jesus who created in this death “one New Man in place of the two” which Paul claimed also in Galatians when he said “there is neither Jew nor Greek”.  In other words, we have become one with Israel, and the end result of that is going to be ‘peace’. Peace comes by getting rid of differences. When you think about it, most of the world’s problems are caused by “differences”. We don’t like people to be different, and we see ourselves as the norm. So Paul or his imitator says here that peace came through Christ’s death which united all of us under one covenant.

The problem in this passage, though, is the abolishment of the Law, which takes away much of the identity of the Jewish half of the equation. Elsewhere Paul has said that God will continue to be faithful to the Jews .

When there are parts of the Bible that seem to contradict each other, how do we handle it? I want to suggest to you that studying the Bible will both puzzle you at times, but also give you a chance to put things into context. Knowing that Paul did not write Ephesians allows the historian and theologian to evaluate the things we know are Paul with the things that do not sound like him. In context we can resolve what the original thought was, and sometimes dismiss the contradiction. But we don’t dismiss everything because often the newer writings are deeper insights into the original teachings. Yet, that is why it is also dangerous to take the Bible literally and out of context. Terrible things have happened as a result of that.

So what should we draw from Paul’s letter today? I would like you to concentrate this week on the idea that peace comes through unity, and unity often comes through understanding. When we are upset by someone different from us, or an idea that is different than what we have been brought up with, try to keep an open mind, evaluate and then make a decision.

Let’s look at an example. The gay marriage issue has been a complex one and both sides have staunchly held to their beliefs. By reading openly both sides of the argument, understanding why the Roman church opposes it, which is different from the reasons the fundamentalists oppose it, might just allow you to make a decision of conscience.

There are many such issues today which take away peace and cause conflict. Most of them are peripheral to the core content of Jesus’ message. But, let us be reminded of the third part of Paul’s teaching which is preserved in Ephesians – the Spirit will help us if we are open to what the Spirit is saying to us.

And this is the Good News I hope to get you thinking bout more 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 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (July 12 )

July 5, 2015

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 

We continue today with readings that deal with Prophets or Apostles.If you remember from last week, prophets were inspired by the Spirit to speak God’s words. We also learned that it didn’t matter who you were or how much knowledge a person had, if God wanted you to prophesy, you did.

We see that again in todays reading, not from Ezekiel as last week, but from the prophet Amos who was surprised to get a calling from God, told to him by the priest Amaziah. He says that he isn’t a prophet or isn’t the son of a prophet. Why would the king think that he could go and earn his living prophesying. He was just a simple herdsmen and horticulturalist. What was he even thinking?

Again God works in ways that confound us. Amos must have had something that God saw because he indeed call him to be a prophet, and to make his living at it.

We need to be open to God. The Psalm today expresses it well when it says “Let me hear what the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people.” We have to learn to listen to God – God could be calling any one of us, even if we think we are not worthy, not knowledgeable enough, not brave enough. God’s Spirit will come to us and work through us. We simply have to let it happen and be open to it.

As we move into the New Testament in our readings we hear Paul preaching some really good news to us of redemption and forgiveness of sin, and Paul seems to think that we have all become Prophets because the Spirit is in us, and the grace of God has been given to us. “With all wisdom and insight,” he says, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ.” In order for this to happen, he says, we have been “marked with he seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”  We saw last week that that was the first thing that happens to a Prophet – God’s Spirit enters one. So in that sense we are all prophets, and that is why in the Gospel today we see Jesus sending out his disciples to continue his work of healing and preaching of repentance.

It is interested that the new prophets are sent out not alone, but two by two. Unlike Amos, who was paid for his prophesying, the Apostles are to ask nothing in return, and they are to go out with nothing. They will be taken care of in welcoming homes – they will not starve. It is true that in this period there was a great deal of generosity toward visitors – there were no motels – so the traveller was at the mercy of the good will of others. And visitors were treated with care, often more than family.

But Jesus also says that if they don’t listen to your words of repentance, simply leave the house and shake the dust off their feet and move on.

The idea of sending the Apostles two by two intrigues me. We have echoes of Noah’s ark, and even of the Genesis statement – it is not good for a man to be alone.” Certainly the company on the long journey would be good, might also help keep them safer on the road. Probably though, the idea was that two people could witness the truth for each other, showing that they agree on the doctrine of repentance. Two saying and believing the same thing makes a better case perhaps. They were more reliable witnesses to what Jesus had said and done.Many Protestant groups take this literally and send out their members two by two even today.

Finally, Jesus gave the gift of exorcism to the Apostles.  What this indicates is that first and foremost they were fighting Satan, and so they were able to cast out many demons. It isn’t popular for us today except in horror movies to believe in exorcism, but the church right from the beginning of Christianity has always seen it as a fight against Satan in the same way that Christ was tempted by the devil, though he was able to win the fight by himself. We also see here an early example of the Sacrament of the Sick when the Apostles anointed someone with oil and cured them of disease. When most of us were younger this sacrament had morphed into a sacrament for those who were dying, and was even called Extreme Unction – given only in extreme cases. This was never its true use, however, and Vatican II brought back the idea that anointing is for any sick person. So if I come and anoint you, don’t have a heart attack because you think you are about to die!

What I would like you to leave with today, however, is the idea that you are a prophet, and you need to listen to what God is calling you to do or say. We don’t listen enough – we are always thinking of replies to a person today. Just listen. You might be surprised what you hear, and you might even be as terrified as some of the prophets to find out just what God is calling you to. Remember, though, as Paul said last week: ”his grace is enough!” and if God calls you, he will help through whatever it is God asks you to do.

And that is the Good News of our prophetic vocation today. 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 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

June 20, 2015

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 28)

Aside from the second reading today, all of the readings have something to do with death, a rather uncomfortable subject for most of us today. Our culture had done everything possible to shield us from the reality of death which was something quite ordinary in the lives of our ancestors. There were few families in the past, when families were large, that hadn’t had death come to a younger person. The mortality rate for children was high. People grew old and died at home, death was a natural occurrence, part of a cycle. Wakes were held in people’s homes. I remember taking my father to a house that his grandfather had built which had now been turned into a gift shop. I thought I would surprise him by taking him back there and visiting his grandfather’s house once again. I was taken aback by his reaction when he entered the house and tears formed in his eyes. When I questioned him about it, wondering if they were tears of nostalgia, he told me that the last time he had been in this house, the wall across from where you entered was filled with flowers, for his grandfather’s body was lying in state there.

I recently spoke to a young relative of mine who had never been to a funeral or seen a dead person – and she was in her twenties and was quite unnerved.

Death is a part of life that we will all have to experience and go through. An older person once said to me that he was ready to go anytime. He was tired, and death no longer frightened him. I think that is a wonderful attitude, and is as it should be.  However, when death comes at an early age, before one has lived a full life, it seems much more sad and disturbing. In the Gospel today, Jairus may have been quite familiar with death, unlike people today, but the death of a child seemed unnatural to him, as it always does. The love he had for his daughter forces him to do everything he can to save his daughter’s life – even going to a wandering preacher that he heard was able to cure people. Jairus was a synagogue leader, a teacher, a rabbi most likely. He may have heard Jesus speak in the synagogue or he may only have known about him through reputation. Nothing, however, would get in the way of his humbling himself and asking for a miracle for his beloved daughter.

We are not told what Jesus said or what he may have been thinking, but his response was to immediately get up and go to the girl.

If we think of this story as a sandwich with the bread of the tale – the story of Jairus and his daughter, there is a filling to the story as well. Mark often does this. The story is interrupted by an incident on the way to the daughter in which a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years – which would have rendered her unclean, also wanted a cure from Jesus. Her faith was such that she didn’t think she even needed to ask Jesus, but only to touch his clothing to be made well.

Despite the fact that Jesus was being touched and jostled from all sides as he travelled along, he felt something different when the woman touched him – some power leaving him – so he demanded to know who it was that had touched him. In fear because she knew she was unclean and had touched Jesus, thus according to law rendering him unclean as well, the woman admitted her guilt. Instead of being angry with her, though, Jesus praises her for her great faith, and tells her she is cured. Mark is setting up here the “power” of Jesus to heal because now that power is going to be seen as something even greater – not just healing but raising the dead.

We come back to the ‘bread’ of the sandwich now. Jairus’ daughter has died so some people from Jairus’ home came to tell Jesus to forget it. The girl had died. He was too late to heal her.

Jesus speaks only five words, but they are words which we should memorize and apply over and over to our own lives as well. Groups like AA and Al-Anon talk a lot about their little sayings that help them through life’s problems – like the Serenity Prayer or Let go and let God. Jesus’ words here could very well be a saying for us to apply to our lives whenever things get bad – Do not fear; only believe. Do not fear; only believe!

Then, Jesus comes to cure the child amidst laughter and jeering that someone could actually ‘heal’ a dead person. But I am sure their laughter quite stopped when the girl came out and was not only well, but hungry.

I love the way Mark tells this story because he keeps it vivid but simple, and sandwiching the hemorrhaging woman in the middle of it, prepares us for an even greater miracle which is to come.

Wisdom reminded us today: God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Our God is a God of life, and the movement of history is to life and not death. The kingdom of heaven we talk about so much starts right here – by our living – right now – this moment. The psalmist says “you…restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit….

You have turned my mourning into dancing! That is the richness that Paul talks about today when he says that God became poor, so that by his poverty you may become rich. Our God IS a God of life. Only believe that and live! The kingdom of heaven is here now if we give into it, live it, love in it, and never fear. That is the continuing Good News that Jesus gave during his lifetime here, and the Good News that needs to sustain us as we move to our own death and the eternal life that follows it. Do not fear, only believe!

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 Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

The concept of “covenants” has been at the core of both Jewish and Christian faiths from very early on in history. Such covenant are usually seen as agreements between God and the covenanted party. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve which was broken when they ate of the fruit of the tree, and yet there was a promise of God that the serpent would be crushed.

The second covenant was with Noah and its conditions involved blood. God said he would never destroy the world again by flood, and they we’re never to drink the blood of animals or shed human blood. As a sign he sent the rainbow for them to remember the covenant. A third covenant was made with Abram in which God promised land and posterity. The condition of this promise was that they be circumcised – blood again was involved.

Following this was the Mosaic covenant where God promised that the Israelites would be God’s chosen ones with a Promised land as long as they kept God’s laws and the Ten commandments. The sign of this was the passover which again involved blood. The blood of the Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not visit their homes. Afterwards, as we read today, Moses took the blood from the offerings and splashed the altar, and then splashed it on the people as a sign of the blood covenant they had made with God. (Aren’t you glad we only use water in the New Testament! Could be kind of messy otherwise!).

The fifth covenant with the Jews was made with King David who promised David that he would become a Father to the Jewish people, but a father who would use the rod on his children to discipline them if necessary – again, some blood involvement. The last of the Old Testament covenants was made to the prophet Jeremiah when God promises that his Law would not just be on stone but would be written on the hearts of his people, and all who believed in their hearts would become the new chosen.

In the New Testament we see this last covenant fulfilled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. That we have become the new chosen who believe in Jesus and who carry Christ’s law in our hearts. As part of this covenant there is also blood as we see in the Gospel today when Jesus says “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The sign of this covenant is the Eucharist which we celebrate today.

I have chosen to talk about mostly the blood today since this feast day has expanded from being about Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, to include the blood of Christ as well. And blood is not something  most of us like to talk or even think about. It is of course, what gives our body life, and so may freak out when we are bleeding because blood is meant to stay inside. A few of us might like our steaks bloody rare, and many of us donate our blood to help others live. Bleeding is part of the life cycle of every woman which is part of the cycle which includes birth.

We can’t really escape from all the images that blood brings – from horror movies to life-saving transfusions.

While the horror type images might be part of the early Judaeo traditions with angels killing oldest children or beating children to discipline them – ideas that are part of a very immature age to our own, all of the more positive images fit in very nicely with the idea of the Eucharist.

Indeed the Eucharist is a like a blood transfusion where Christ can actually be part of us, moving through our whole body as the blood that courses through it, and we can think of it as a donation of Jesus to help save lives.

In actuality Jesus was talking about his own death and the blood that would be spilt a few days later which would bring about the salvation of the world – the sacrifice of the spotless lamb whose blood washes clean the sins of mankind and opening up heaven’s doors again, taking away the power of death.

The second reading today from St. Paul uses the image of Christ, not Moses going into the Holy of Holies to be present with God, but he goes in not splashing blood as Moses did, but by having shed his own blood for us. Paul says that if sacrifices of goats and heifers purified people of their sins, how much more so would the blood of Christ permanently purify us from ours. And that is why, he says, Christ is the mediator, the go-between, of the new covenant between God and us who believe.

When we dip or drink the consecrated wine today, we are using a symbol but we believe it is more than just a symbol – it is the actual body and blood of Christ. Just a symbol would not allow the transfusion to take place – and indeed we are transfused each week. It is God’s gift to help us through the week, to keep us focused on what is good and to help us love both neighbor and enemy. So as you take communion today, please think about what it means to have Christ within us, his blood coursing through our bodies with ours, his body, digested and giving us sustained life.

It is good to look at the thing we celebrate each week but often take for granted, and it is Good News indeed that not only is Christ inside us, but we become part of Christ as well and share his body with all who are here! Another reason why Sunday Mass is so good for all of us!

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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