Posts Tagged ‘baptism’

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

March 15, 2015

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishop Ron Stephens

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

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

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

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Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

February 15, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims 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 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”]