Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Not so much as a slap on the cheek.

November 23, 2008
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King
Mass Readings:
Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

Kingdom. Empire. These are two words that for me at least, conjure images of mighty, wealthy, armed to the teeth countries. Empire and kingdom always trigger for me images of the Roman Empire or Alexander the Great who conquered and claimed the known world as their own.

The New Testament is loaded with tension between the people of God and the powers that be of the Roman Empire. There were zealots of the day who believed that the Jews should physically strike against the Romans and overthrow the empire and reclaim the land. Jesus even had a zealot or two in his rag-tag band of disciples.

In the century and a half before the "Word was made flesh", there was the Maccabean revolt that saw the overthrow of the Greeks. Judas Maccabee was heralded as a "messiah" and that their empire would stand indefinitely. Judas Maccabe also known as Judas the Hasmonean, Judas the Hammer was the model for a messiah. His strength in battle was the ideal and he established a dynasty of security and prosperity. That worked until the Romans decided otherwise. Thing is, the idea of a military messiah was already ingrained in the psyche of the people. The hope was that the messiah would usher in a new empire, a kingdom that would overthrow the Roman Empire and restore control to the people.

So here comes Jesus, the Word made flesh and he doesn't come into the world with a roar and a military brilliance to crush the Roman Empire. Jesus was exactly the opposite of what was hoped for. Jesus enters the world defenseless and dependant. A baby that needs love and support. How could this be the glorious entry of the Messiah sent from God? How can a baby possibly mirror the great Hasmonean Dynasty?

I think in some ways we still look for a "Christian Empire". I am currently reading a book that describes how there are radical, so called "Christian" groups who actually believe that if the Middle East would just devolve into WW III, then Jesus would be forced to return and "rapture" the faithful away and just let the sinners burn! Peace in the Middle East for them is a bad thing. Holy cow! These people even believe that military force is just fine and dandy in order to force Jesus' hand and get him to come back! How can anyone believe such things? Why do some still want to make Jesus a figure of violence? Are some Christians so desperate to escape the world that they believe any means necessary to try and force Jesus' return is okay? As if we mere mortals can force Jesus to do anything! Silly and arrogant stuff yet horrible, terrifying and worst of all, dangerous.

Today we celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Today we celebrate the Kingdom of Christ. This kingdom is eternal and complete. Jesus' Kingdom is one of absolute good, absolute peace, absolute love and absolute joy and it is built without so much as a slap on the cheek. There can be no violence, hatred, malice, or deceit in Jesus' kingdom.

Jesus' kingdom is the promise of God's love! In Jesus there is life eternal for all who call on his holy name and believe. There are no hidden initiation rites that only a few are privy to. There are no physical battles that must be fought in order to enter Jesus' kingdom. There is only the call from Jesus to surrender to his love and accept his salvation. A kingdom that never fires a shot, a kingdom that is for any and all who merely believe and call upon Jesus. That's a kingdom we human beings can never build on our own because it all rests upon Jesus, the true Messiah who conquered sin and death with love and self sacrifice.

Christ Jesus is the one true and eternal King of all creation and no human being can force or hinder his act of love and redemption. Jesus is not a king of violence and hate and he does not wish for anyone to suffer and die. It is our choice to accept or deny his salvation. If there is to be suffering it is of our own choosing, not his.

So what is our part? Any and all of us who have received the Lord's great gift of salvation are the disciples of today and we are called to go forth and invite all people to the great table of the kingdom so that all may dine with the Lord. We are to build the Lord's kingdom by being the very face of Jesus to all our brothers and sisters. Jesus' idea of kingdom is one that sees to the needs of all who suffer and not the quest for geographical boundaries or riches. Jesus' kingdom is one of justice, love, and peace. Jesus' kingdom is one in which prejudice and bigotry cannot and do not exist. Jesus' kingdom is for all and not a select group that knows the secret handshake.

We gather here today and we celebrate the kingdom over which Christ is the eternal King. This kingdom is of spirit and truth. We receive the Body and Blood of our Salvation and we have a foretaste of eternity in the Lord's presence. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall. Nothing on earth stands forever so we should really be careful where we put our trust. We are to rest in the confidence that we are welcome in God's Heavenly Kingdom where Christ is the king that saves and loves.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Power of Yes.

November 21, 2008
Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Mass Readings:
Revelation 10:8-11
Luke 19:45-48

This morning we take a moment to reflect on the powerful ministry of our Blessed Mother. This celebration looks to an important even that happened in the year 543, the dedication of the New Basilica of Saint Mary that was built in the Old City of Jerusalem. That basilica is no longer in existence but it brings today to pause and reflect on the Virgin Mary. This weekend Ordinary Time comes to a close and we prepare to enter the Advent Season but first we celebrate the great feast of Christ the King. It is fitting that we pause today to remember Mary's great part in the plan of salvation for she bore the great King of our salvation.

There is no greater passage about our Blessed Mother than the Magnificat found in Luke's Gospel, chapter 1;46-55. Here we have Mary's beautiful response to the angel Gabriel after he reveals to Mary that she will be the mother of God's son. Mary is faced with an unbelievable blessing but also burden. The mind boggles at the immense task God entrusted to this young woman. What courage and faithfulness Mary shows by saying yes to God!

That brings me to my point this morning, the power of saying yes to God. I am often reminded by staff here at the parish that I need to say no a bit more often. I admit to trying to squeeze as many things into a 24 hour period as possible. Not healthy I admit. However, saying yes to yet another meeting is not what we see today. Today we look at the joy of saying yes to God! Nothing can give greater joy than to accept God's call to serve Him and His Church and Mary is THE example of saying yes to God.

Saying yes to God requires our willingness to set aside our own agendas and desires. Being open to God's call requires us to abandon self and strive to be pleasing to God. This does not mean that we walk away from our life and the people in it. It means we have to be willing to follow God wherever the call may lead. That may sound scary and uncertain and in a way I guess it is. However, God always promises that when we say yes, he is always faithful and will not in any way shape or form abandon us. To say yes to God is to accept a share in the ministry of Jesus himself. That acceptance of God's call may not include fortune or fame but it does promise the joy of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, the great gift of salvation and the promise of eternity with God. Mary understood that and her saying yes to God transformed the world.

The Maginificat is second only to the great prayer that Jesus gave to us, the Our Father. Let us pray together that glorious yes of Mary;

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for 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.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Praise be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Amen!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sacred Space

November 9, 2008
Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Mass Readings:
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17
John 2:13-22

Today is one of those feasts that often make us scratch our heads and wonder. The Lateran Basilica? What does that have to do with us siting here in this church this morning? I think this feast day is a great opportunity for a bit of a Greek lesson. There are two important words when we talk about time, kairos and chronos. Chronos refers to our chronological time. It is the chronological that runs our lives. My wrist watch keeps in tune with the 24 hours a day of chronological time. Kairos time is time that exists outside of chronological time, its God's time. This kairos time is where we encounter the Sacraments. Kairos is the moment when we touch eternity.

There is another Greek word that is important to what we do here today and that is anamnesis. Anamnesis is about remembering, remembering the death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord. Yet is goes further. As we celebrate Mass, we enter into that kairos time and we are present in the past, the present and the future. We are present as Jesus celebrates the Last Supper. We are present here with one another as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet there is more! We are touching that beautiful eternal banquet in the presence of the Lord! Do you feel tired yet? A lot is happening as we celebrate Mass each day.

Now we come to the feast day of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. I had the privilege of attending Mass there in 2000. It is an amazing structure. The Lateran Basilica is the mother of every Catholic church throughout the world. This church we sit in this morning is linked to that amazing basilica in Rome. Today we celebrate sacred space. We are so accustomed to buildings being built, torn down, and built again that we don't really think about space as holy and sacred. This church has been consecrated to the service of God and his people. This church we worship in today has been consecrated by a bishop, a shepherd of the Church, the altar and walls anointed with Sacred Chrism and dedicated to God's glory. This is holy ground! Here we leave behind the demands of our watches and we enter that sacred time that God uses to give us strength on our spiritual journey. Here at this altar we encounter the risen Lord as bread and wine is transformed by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood of Jesus himself. We receive Christ and then go forth to be the very Body of Christ in the world. We are to become that which we have received. Our stepping outside of the chronological into the sacred time of God is so that we can rest our souls and be fed by God's great love.

So here we are, celebrating a building in a far away country. But no ordinary building do we give thanks for. It is from that sacred place that this place is made sacred. We are united throughout the world with every Catholic church from the small to large, the simple to the complex, the plain to the ornate. We are joined as one body proclaiming the message of salvation through word and sacrament proclaimed in our deeds. It is here that we encounter the mystery of the Uncaused First Cause. It is here in this church that our lives are transformed by the glorious mysteries of our faith and we actually touch the Risen Lord as we enter into his time!

So yeah, we celebrate a church building this morning. We celebrate that by God's mysterious love, we have a sacred space that propels us to encounter the Divine. We honor a space that has been made holy by God, where we strive to be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. Let us give thanks this day that God gives us such sacred and holy places to encounter him and to receive salvation from his Son Jesus and be filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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