Overcoming Fear Leads to Mission

Divine Mercy Sunday (C); April 28, 2019

Acts 5:12-16   Ps 118   Rv 1:1-19   Jn 20:19-31

 

           Jesus is Risen! What a joy to proclaim this wonderful message—one that is the ultimate “game changer”! The Resurrection is THE pivotal moment in all of Salvation History. Everything has changed; everything is relative to this event! Why? Sin and death have been transformed. And, we are given the promise of eternal life, which, incredibly begins here and now: as we abide in the Risen Jesus, we will experience “a joy that will never pass away.” That’s why the celebration of the Easter mysteries brings about much healing. So, most fittingly, the Second Sunday of Easter is aptly named Divine Mercy Sunday because the Risen Jesus graciously extends the Life he shares with his Father to us: “Peace be with you” (Jn 29:19). Before we can receive the Peace of Christ, however, we, like the disciples, have to overcome our fear, which sets the stage of embracing the mission of Jesus, who sends them, sends us, into the world to proclaim the message of forgiveness.

Notice how the Gospel account unfolds: “…when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst…(v. 19b).   The disciples out of fear had locked themselves in the (upper) room. Is there anyone in this assembly who has not been afraid?   Usually we are afraid because we seem unable to control what is happening to us or what might happen to us. As a result, we lock ourselves in; we lock God out. We all have an interior struggle between a closed heart and a call of love to open the doors closed by self-reference and sin.. How do we do that? When we call that which is good evil, and evil good. When we accept vice as normal and virtue as weird. When we accept the values of our society that promotes individualism, consumerism, hedonism, and order that is coupled with violence, we lock ourselves into an interior prison. Out of fear, we stay behind closed doors because it is the only world we know. So, we rely on our ego—with its conniving projects, agendas, rationalizations, tricks and games—to control our lives and those around us.

Despite the locked doors, “Jesus came and stood in their midst…”

(v 19c). And, he calls us to open the doors closed by sin. It is a call that frees us to go out of ourselves. It is that pivotal moment in our lives when we know that our lives our no longer about ourselves, but our life is about the Risen Christ, who stands in our midst today.   Only the risen Jesus can break through any obstacle, can overcome any barrier that we set up. He alone can burst into the confines of our isolated, sinful, fearful soul whether we want him to or not. That was the entire reason why He became man and suffered and died. We are redeemed and He will continue to relate to us. He will never stop hounding us until we surrender to his love.

Brothers and sisters, the risen Jesus wants to enter into each one of us to break open the locked doors of our hearts. Jesus, who by his resurrection has overcome the fear, dread, and anxiety which imprisons us, wishes to throw open our closed doors. For what purpose?: TO SEND US OUT TO PROCLAIM HIS FORGIVENESS AND MERCY TO THE WORLD!

People of God, the Way of Jesus is only a one way street. There is no Plan B. His Way only goes in one direction: into the Kingdom of God, which culminates in our eternal destiny: Heaven. This means we must move beyond ourselves in which (1) I am the center of my life, (2) my life is about me, and (3) and I am in control. We must move from this Ego-drama to the Theo-Drama in which we give vibrant, joyous witness to the healing power of love that has conquered us in Christ Jesus. We look out into the world and we see before us a wounded humanity that is fearful and brutalized, that bears the scars of pain, uncertainty, and neglect. Before the anguished cry for mercy and peace, we hear Jesus’ inspiring invitation: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (jn 20:21).

This is the linchpin: in God’s mercy, all our infirmities find healing. There is no wound caused by rejection, failure, loss, or deadly sin that cannot be healed. His mercy is not far off in the distant future, but it seeks to be poured into our hearts and souls here and now! His mercy want to overcome our addictions and obsessions, to apply balm to our wounds.   Jesus wants to heal us.

That’s why Jesus founded the Church, which is his mystical Body.  He needs apostles and disciples of mercy to touch the wounds that afflict the bodies and souls of many of our brothers and sisters. When we go outside of our “skin encapsulated egos”, to bring healing where people are hurting, we are professing our belief in the Risen Christ. And, in so doing, we make him present and alive; we allow others who experience his mercy to recognize him as “Lord and God” (20:28).     This is the Mission that Jesus entrusts to us, the baptized and confirmed.

That’s why this return of Jesus is the great moment of the forgiveness of sins. Appropriately, the Church designates the 2nd Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy. And, the local Church at our Diocese needs to ask forgiveness for those clergy, priests and deacons, who have abused minors and young people, which leave deep seated wounds and can even bring about the loss of faith for the victims.   We earnestly pray for God’s infinite mercy, which alone can bring healing to our broken body.

Church, let us always keep in mind that the Spirit of the Risen Christ drove out fear from the Apostles hearts and impelled them to leave the Upper Room in order to spread the Gospel. He is doing the same with us. Let us have the courage in witnessing to our faith in the Risen Christ! We must not be afraid of being Christian in homes, the workplace, and in the political/economic arena. We must not be afraid of living as Christians here and now. We must have this courage to go and proclaim the Risen Christ, for he is our peace.

We, the Church now have our Mission: to bring the whole world into the circle of divine love—to experience what the disciples experienced that night. The forgiveness of sins: that’s our job, that our purpose, and that’s our Mission– to be mediators of divine mercy.   Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Easter: God’s Great ‘Yes’!

The Resurrection of our Lord

Easter Sunday, 2019

Acts 10:34,37-43   Ps 118   Col 3:1-4   Jn 20:1-9

Deacon Jim McFadden; St. John the Baptist C.C.

 

       Today we are celebrating the heart of our Christian faith: The Resurrection of the Lord. It is the pivotal event of our Faith, because of its utter uniqueness and its ultimate game-changing dimension.

            In 1st century Judaism at the time of Jesus’s public ministry, there were many views of what happened to a people when they died. Judaism didn’t come to the belief in an afterlife until the Babylonian Exile era in the 6th century b.c. Many people simply believed that death was just the end—“from dust you come, to dust you shall return” reflects that somber belief.

Others believed that the righteous dead would rise at the close of the age. Remember the raising of Lazarus, when Jesus approached the tomb and a distraught Martha said, “Yes, I believe he will rise at the resurrection of the dead.” She was referring to this belief.

Still others, perhaps under the influence of Greek philosophy, said that the souls of the just would float up to Heaven following the demise of their bodies.   The body was seen as a prison that trapped the soul. When the former succumbed to death, the soul would escape and be with God.

Some even believed in some kind of reincarnation. When Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?” his disciples said that “Some say that you are Elijah or John the Baptist coming back from the dead,” which suggests that our souls transmigrate from one body to another.

Here’s what’s fascinating about the Resurrection narratives of the Gospel: none of these existing interpretations of the time was used to describe Jesus’s return.   The first witnesses maintained that the same Jesus who had been rejected and abandoned by his disciples, who had been falsely accused by the religious establishment, who had been brutally tortured and put to death by the Roman authorities and buried in a tomb, that same Jesus through the power of God was alive again. They claimed is that Yeshua, Jesus from Nazareth, whom they knew personally, who had brutally been put to death and was buried, was alive again!  To put it into perspective, what had been anticipated at the end of time, had happened in time to this one particular man, to this Jesus.

People of God, we can’t underestimate just how radical and revolutionary the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus was. It was the utter uniqueness of the event that gave such energy, vigor, and unbridled fervor to the earlier proclamations that Jesus is Lord.   St. Paul didn’t come into the seaport town of Corinth saying, “I want to tell you about this itinerant teacher from Nazareth who once taught wise spiritual reflections and moral platitudes.” No! Paul said, “Anastasis—Anastasis!—He is risen!” The Gospel evangelists and Paul, were trying to tell the world that something unique and extraordinary had happened in Jerusalem and from that day forward, nothing would ever be the same again.

The Resurrection confirms that Jesus is God in the Flesh and that he has overcome sin and death—that we are, indeed, saved. But, people still have trouble with the notion that God could become a human being, let alone that he really, bodily rose from the dead. Over the past few centuries, there has crept in a narrative both within and without Christianity, that reduces the Resurrection to a myth or symbol. Easter, they said, is just one more dramatic instance of the springtime saga you can find in most cultures—namely, life triumphs over death after the bleak months of winter.

Others maintained that the Resurrection was a symbolic way of saying that the cause of Jesus lives on in his followers, just as the democratic ideals of George Washington or Abraham Lincoln live in those who value democracy.   This view easily lets one sidestep the reality of Jesus’s return after his death.

The Gospels do not use abstract or symbolic language.   In describing the Resurrection, they mention particular places, such as Judea and Jerusalem. They specify that the event didn’t happen “once upon a time,” in a “galaxy far, far away” but occurred when Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor. We can date that. There are coins that have ‘Pontius Pilate’ on them. We know exactly when the Crucifixion and Resurrection happened.

They also name distinct individuals: Peter, John, James, Thomas, and Mary Magdalene, who encountered Jesus after he rose from the dead. 500 people collectively witnessed the Risen Christ.   People who knew him, touched him, talked to him, followed him around the hills of Galilee, boldly said that they saw the Risen Christ and they saw him in bodily form. Nearly all the first evangelists of the Resurrection went to their deaths, defending the truth of their historical claim.

Hundreds of thousands of our Christian ancestors went to their deaths because they proclaimed that Jesus is Lord and that he is Risen. And, in the 20th-21st century, there have been more Christian martyrs than even during the Roman era. Christians are still dying for their faith in Jesus. They believe that his Death and Resurrection is the full embodiment that God is love; that God is a gathering force who brings all people, indeed, all of Creation into his embrace.

But when Jesus presented himself to his disciples, we are told that they were afraid. Why was that?   Perhaps their fear may have been a reaction of seeing something uncanny, a dead man coming back to life. But, I wonder if they were afraid that he came back to exact some kind of vengeance. In a normal telling of a story like this, you have an innocent man put to death by the betrayal, abandonment of his followers who ran from him in the moment of truth. Now, this dead man has come back to life and he’s come to visit those who had betrayed and abandoned him and get his revenge.

But, this story is different. After showing his wounds, the Risen Jesus says to his friends, “Shalom.” Peace. The teacher who had urged his followers to turn the other cheek and to avoid violence, exemplified his teaching in the most vivid way possible. What he showed them was that the divine way of establishing order has nothing to do with violence, retribution, or an eye-for-an-eye retaliation. Instead, it has to do with an all-encompassing Love that swallows up hate and conquers aggression. It’s this great Resurrection principle that explicitly or implicitly undergird the liberating work of Martin Luther King in America, Gandhi in India, Bishop Tutu in South Africa, and St. John Paul II in Poland. Those great practioners of non-violent resistance were going with the deepest grain of reality—they were operating in concert with the purpose of God, whose loving presence permeates all of Creation.

This brings us to the second implication of the Resurrection. It means that God has not given up on his Creation. According to the book of Genesis, God made the whole array of all things and he found it all good and precious. All the things of Creation are part of a tightly woven tapestry. As Genesis 3 reveals, however, human sin made a wreck of God’s Creation, but the faithful God sent one rescue operation after another: from the Patriarchs, to Moses, to King David, to the prophets, to the people Israel themselves, and finally he sent his only Son—the perfect icon or incarnation of his Love.

In raising his Son from the dead, God definitively ratifies Creation, including the material dimension—that’s why the bodily resurrection of Jesus matters so much. Over and over again, we say “no” to the Creation that God has made, but God stubbornly says “yes.” Easter calls us to be part of that yes and to be and bring about the Incarnation of God’s love. Jesus lives again in us.

 

 

 

 

The Master Has Need of You

6th Week of Lent:  Palm Sunday (C); 4-14-19

Is 50:4-7   Ps 22   Phil 2:6-11   Lk 22:14-23,56

Deacon  Jim McFadden

 

            In our Gospel reading for the Palm Sunday procession, Jesus sends his disciples into Jerusalem to prepare  for his triumphal entry.  They are told to untether a donkey and if there is any protest from the owner, they are to say, simply, “The Master has need of it.

            Let’s stay with the phrase “…has need of it.”  Strictly speaking, God has need of nothing, since he is perfect: he is the great “I AM”!   Put bluntly,  God does not need our praise or our good works or anything.  Everything we are and everything we have is from him.  So, what does it mean that the Master has need of you?  This phrase signals the wonderful truth that God allows us to cooperate with his grace so that we can participate in the work that he wants us to do.  God allows us to participate in a derivative way in how he operates in the world.   We are privileged to be instruments in his hands so that we can get some of the joy that he gets by exercising his providential guidance of the world. 

            Once we get this, everything changes.  Customarily, we think that our gifts and talents are for us.  We look at them and think they are meant to serve our purposes, right?   That’s how the fallen world thinks.

            But, turn it around.  Think that whatever you have is from Christ Jesus and for Christ.  It was given for you so that you may serve his purposes.   Did it ever occur to you that you can use your mind with your skills and talents to serve the Lord  as  the saints did and do?   What would happen if your gifts and talents were not just  meant  for self-promotion, but so that you could serve the Lord like a donkey: quietly, humbly. 

            In order for the donkey to do his service, it had to be untied.   We are tied to so many things that we think are important: money, status, career, the esteem of others—all of that stuff, the goods of the world.  And, we think we’re so cool when we amass these things.  It’s like that bumper sticker that says, “Those who have the most toys at the end, wins.”  But, you know what—they are tying us down, every one of them; tying us to a kind of stake.  What a wonderful moment when someone comes along and unties us  from what is limiting us precisely so that we can do the Lord a service.

            But, trust me that when that untying happens, that will be the turning point of your life.  Untied from these worldly things and concerns, you can find true freedom.  You can find out who you were meant to be.  I would venture to say that the greatest moment of your life when you realize that the Master has need of you.  That the Master has a plan for you.  That the Master has created you to serve his purposes.  In that moment you will find your real freedom.  Amen.