Fifth Sunday of Easter: (C) April 24, 2016
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia. After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
For years Christians have paid close attention to Luke’s narrative of how Mary Madeline and the women with her announced Jesus’ resurrection to the rest of the disciples. The first to spread the news of the resurrection wasn’t an apostle. It was instead a woman who, in those times, couldn’t exercise any official religious office. Furthermore, later in the day when Jesus told his followers that they were to take his gospel to the world, he was speaking not only to the apostles but to all his followers gathered together.
It is becoming common for bishops and other preachers to remind us that we all, not just the priests among us, are missionaries. I haven’t heard cheers, even muffled ones, rise up from lay people at this. Many don’t find image of a missionary attractive. It’s immersed in clericalism, buttonholing and door knocking. But that’s what Jesus had in mind.
When Jesus summed up the Christian message in Luke, he spoke of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That means that he wanted everyone to realize that God isn’t judging them but loving them and underpinning all their efforts for life, growth and happiness. God is with them, not above them. If people can realize this, it will free them from fear of emptiness and failure and fill them with hope and the freedom to love. That is repentance for the forgiveness of sin.
The change of mind that senses God’s unqualified acceptance and love isn’t the result of professional sermons. It isn’t the result of lessons from the catechism. It comes from being loved without question by people who don’t have to love us, who may even have reason not to love us. We are the people who can give that kind of love to our world – every day, everywhere.
Call us what you may, we laypeople are the primary conveyers of the gospel to the lives we touch.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people* and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne* said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
What is the Church? What’s it for? When is it successful?
When John called the Church the “new Jerusalem,” he was recalling the capitol city of Judea which Romans armies had recently leveled. For centuries Jews had believed that Jerusalem was God’s home on earth, the “city on the hill” that would rejuvenate the world. Now the ancient city was gone and John believed that the Christian community would light the way for all people into God’s tomorrow.
Here is the key, John told the communities; in and through you God will touch the hearts of the world and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.
That’s what the Church is – what we are: the touch of God for our world. That touch reveals love, reveals hope and reveals the power of faith to change lives.
If we want to measure the success of the Church, we can ask ourselves this simple question each time we leave a room. Do the folks I just left have a greater sense of being loved because I was with them; do they have a stronger hope for themselves and their world because of me. Are those people freer to respond to the Spirit’s voice in their hearts because I was with them? That’s the touchstone of the Church’s success or failure: do we allow Jesus’ Spirit to work through us for others.
John 13:31-33, 34-35
When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once. My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
It strains the imagination to think that anyone acquainted with the process would ever think of crucifixion as glorifying. It was an execution designed to terrorize a population into submission. It was prolonged, public, excruciating, suffocation. When Rome crucified someone, they wanted everyone to get and remember a stark message: don’t defy the Empire. When the gospel narrator portrayed Jesus speaking of his coming death in heroic terms, he was speaking not of the execution itself but of the astounding commitment to his people that he was about to demonstrate by not running from his immanent death. And beneath that demonstration was the deeper point summed up in Jesus’ statement, “When you see me, you see the Father.”
That a Creator would have such love for a creature makes no sense. It’s inexplicable. It stretches the imagination to the breaking point. But that’s the revelation. That’s what Jesus’ life was all about. That’s Christianity’s core message.
We get the idea at times that we’re to convince folks that God is a trinity of three persons or that the Mass really makes Jesus present in communion or that the Bible is God’s word. As important as those ideas are, they’re wrapping paper for the faith.
What people need to know is that the source of the universe knows and loves them and will never abandon them. We have been told that. It is our job to tell the world; not with bluster or cajoling, not with velvet words or clever ads but by being there for them. Being there in the good times and when things are tough, when folks aren’t appreciative and, especially, when everyone else grabs their stuff and lights out for the hills. That’s when folks will know that we have something true to say, when they see that we ourselves are true – to them.
“Nearing his final revelation of God’s love Jesus told his followers, To be part of God’s future world, you must be there for people in the world as it is. You can’t run away. You have to stand with them. Then they’ll understand.”
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