I Myself Am Also a Human Being

Having settled all the immediate issues of moving to a new state, I decided that it was time to get to Mass. Here in Las Cruces, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble finding an appropriate parish church. I settled on the Cathedral known as the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

But this is not about that, it merely sets the stage for the operation of the Holy Spirit. My experience with the Spirit, is that it usually surprises me. It pops up when I least expect it. I read the readings yesterday and was fairly certain that I would speak about Jesus’ radical statements in Jn 15: 9-17. In it Jesus sets a shocking standard–love others as GOD loves you. Since God loves with pure and complete unconditionality, it is far beyond the standard of loving others as we love ourselves.

But as I heard the first reading from Acts read this morning, I was struck by it in a way that had not been clear upon the first reading. It perhaps speaks to my ongoing tension with Mother Church–its determination to make decisions about who is and who is not welcome at the table of Christ.

In Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48:

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.”

While Peter was still speaking these things,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
should have been poured out on the Gentiles also,
for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter responded,
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Most Christians would agree that Peter was given “custody” of the religious movement that Jesus instituted. He was the Lord’s most trusted disciple, the one, presumably that he shared the most with and taught in the fullest. Certainly the other disciples were privy to most of all this knowledge as well. The Gospels report, individually and collectively, those issues and teachings that they thought were the most important, those things Jesus stressed the most.

While the Gospel today reminds us that Jesus said that our love for each other must be radical and extreme–as God’s love for us is, still we learn that the disciples were often surprised and found themselves in disagreement on many issues as the fledgling church gathered itself and became a church in fact.

Peter of course, reminds the pagan centurion, Cornelius, that he, Peter is a mortal and not to be bowed to. Peter hears Cornelius’s story about how an angel told him to locate Peter and listen to him. When he has finished describing this vision, Peter realizes that God must speak to all nations, not just the Jewish one.

And when the Holy Spirit descends indiscriminately upon the Jewish followers and the Gentiles, he realizes and proclaims:

“Can anyone without the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”

This is something apparently that had not occurred to Peter beforehand, and this is confirmed when we recall the arguments held between himself and the Jewish community and Paul and his new community of Gentiles. The question was, to what extent these Gentiles were required to take on the Jewish faith in order to be these new Christians.

So what is my point?

Peter and the other disciples, male and female had spent three years with the Lord. They had lived with him almost day and night. They had been privy to his every thought, his every expression. He explained the parables to them, he taught them as carefully and fully as he deemed necessary. No one could claim to know more than they.

And yet, they almost to a man and woman were not prepared to understand the breadth and depth of what Jesus taught. The fullest and deepest meaning still escaped them.

Are we to assume any more ability than they? Are we as Church, able to discern without error who is welcome at the Lord’s table?

As we are instructed to accept this or that teaching as “given”, as we are instructed not to discuss this or that rule, as we are instructed who is in sin and who is not, and how to be “reconciled”, should we not  question these limitations? For Jesus placed no limitations–love others in the radical unconditional way that God loves you. Make no distinctions, make no judgement–love period.

Peter, the disciple we trust without question to be the titular head of the Church, thereby living in perfect understanding of Jesus’ teachings, proved to not have that perfect understanding. Are our bishops and priests to be given more faith in truth than him?

Truly the Spirit seems to teach the lesson that every time you think you have loved enough, double, and triple it. Every time you think you have reached the goal, look toward the horizon and see Me beckoning you further.

God’s love is all-encompassing. Can we turn anyone away from the table except at our peril? I think not.

Amen. 

Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen, Yet Believe

I had a good friend years ago who belonged to Christian denomination that did not celebrate the usual holidays of the Church. No Christmas, no Easter, no Lent.

Her church argued that none of the actual dates were known, and that in any case, we should celebrate the events the holidays signify, everyday.

Point one, I totally agree. We don’t know the actual date of Jesus’ birth. We are a bit more certain of his death, since it is tied (at least in three Gospels) to the Passover, John disagreeing.

Yet, I disagree about the second, though laudable claim, that we should celebrate these events daily. We should. We don’t.

Our readings today speak eloquently to this fact. In the Gospel of John, the risen Christ has appeared to most of the twelve, and to certain of the women. They are ecstatic and joyous. Yet Thomas, who was not present, doubts. He has to see the risen Lord with his own eyes before he is prepared to believe in the resurrection.

This brings forth one of the most piercing of statements from Jesus:

“Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

I challenge you to read that and not slightly cringe and your own times of lack of faith and of doubt.

We see how that “first hand” knowing played out in the early community. Luke tells us in Acts that the community, remained faithful. They lived in communal equality, (communism actually) and were generous in their sharing. They attended church faithfully, and they were “looked up to” by everyone.

Yet, several decades later, this is not the case. We find “Peter” (probably not the apostle), writing in the later part (we think) of the first century, exhorting his followers to remain faithful in times of great stress and trial. It is thought perhaps that this was a time in Rome of persecution under Domitian or Trajan.

In any case, the writer reminds the community of all the things that have been promised, and what their reward will be. He commends them for their faith throughout the trials of the day. He notes that they have not seen the risen Lord, yet they believe.

Reading between the lines, we conclude that the writer is trying to buck up a stressed community, shoring up their perhaps weakening faith. “. . .you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.”

These readings remind us, still fresh from the resurrection, that we too are subject to falling away. We are still filled with the excitement of Easter after our long sojourn in the desert. We are joyful.

Yet all too soon our everyday concerns will interrupt upon our joy. We will return to the mundane and all the attendant troubles and trials that life visits upon us all.

Our doubts, now we think forever eradicated, will return, if not as outright questions, at least as lukewarm attendance to God and our faith.

The problem with “ordinary” time is that it is all too ordinary. We get too busy with barbecues and lawn mowing, of concerts in the park and farmer’s markets. Our God-time shrinks to an occasional formulaic prayer each day, and an hour squeezed in on Sunday.

For those of us who are on a knowing and deliberate path, this is a time for vigilance. If we are to progress (and isn’t that our goal?) we need to maintain our seeking, our dedication to all those practices that have so far proven useful to our growth.

We, each of us, must plumb the depths of our being and discover what direction God is drawing us to. Is it more study of scripture? Or is it more meditation? Is it more church attendance? Or is it more study of the mystics? Are we finding God in something we do? Or something we enjoy with our senses? Is it nature? Or art? Or music? Is it service?

These are the questions we need be asking, lest we become stale and as unbelieving as Thomas was before he met the risen Lord. Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.

Amen.

** readings are from:

Acts 2:42-47;  1Pet 1:3-9;  Jn 20:19-31

Be the New Creation

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

 Is 42:1-4, 6-7
Ps 29: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10
Acts 10: 34-38
Mt 3: 13-17
 

 Somehow on this day of deep sadness in our country, it seems most appropriate. God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to behold.

Yesterday, a sick young man perpetrated an unspeakable act upon us, resulting in the death of six and the serious wounding of ten others. We know not yet if they will all recover. People, who just happened to be in a seemingly innocuous place, were struck down by bullets. A mother and father lost their 9-year-old. A judge, just fresh from morning mass, suddenly is gone.

What can we, what must we, learn from such a tragedy? Words matter. They matter so much more than we can ever know. We don’t usually mean the harshness which they sometimes imply, the dangerous rhetoric they evoke, yet we are today reminded that in the hands of the mentally ill, they can set off a firestorm, by their use.

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. (Is 42: 1-4, 6-7)

The Church declares and believes that this is a reference to Jesus, a prophesy of the future coming from the prophet Isaiah. Whether that is true or not is not important. For the words speak to each of us, reminding us that truth and justice come via peaceful, quiet, relentless standing up for what is right. It requires no shouting, no violence. Truth and justice have a strength and security all their own, empowered by the Spirit.

Like Jesus, we too are called upon in these dangerous times to forgo dangerous and incendiary rhetoric. We are called upon to speak truth to power and to stand steady and unfailing for justice. We need not utter a word. We must only stand as silent witness to injustice and inequality.

We need not bruise the reed, nor quench the light of life in anyone to do this. Through our birth and baptism we have breathed in the Spirit, the Spirit of love and peace which speaks for us, as us.

God has taken us by the hand and through his son Jesus, shown us the way. He has made straight our path to righteousness. We follow by example.

In the reading from Acts, Peter says:

“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.

God shows no partiality. His love is unbounded, immeasurable. We are all, sinner and saint alike, made by the One, perfect in creation. This means that this poor demented young man is as much loved by God as the 9-year-old victim. Both are victims of our senseless game of  hate mongering and scoring political points. We as surely made the young shooter a victim when we teased him with our vile speech, and used words of violence to make analogous points. We touched off a series of incoherent thoughts that resulted in his picking up a gun and heading out to achieve his confused ends.

We are acceptable by God for use to the right ends to the degree that we follow his example through his Son, acting always with love and compassion. We are still loved, no matter what, but God can not work in us when we are consumed with not-love, much as Jesus could work no miracles in some towns in Galilee because there was no faith.

In the Gospel, Matthew places these words upon the Lord’s lips:

“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”

Here, John has protested that it is he that should be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus comforts him and tells him to do as he has asked.

“Allow it now.” We cry out, “No, God, don’t allow us to harm each other like this!” But God in perfect wisdom, comforts us, and “allows it now.” Why?

I’m tempted to say the usual thing–we cannot know God’s ways, but only trust. Yet this is never good enough.

There is a tipping point that we as humans must reach. A sufficient number of us, enough to sway our neighbors, our community, our nation, our world. We must each find enough rage and helplessness at the events of yesterday that we are ready to step up and stand up for justice and what is right. It is “fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” We must do this. God calls.

Will we answer?

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