CACINA

11th Sunday in Ordered Time

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion, Resurrection, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on June 11, 2015

11th Sunday in ordered time year B, 6-14-15; Ez 17: 22-24, Ps 92, 2Corth 5:6-10, Mk 4:26-34

The first part of the Book Of the Prophet Ezekiel is a harsh indictment of the leaders and people of Israel. The Babylonians had killed the king of Judah, and King David’s line had ended. But our reading today is a promise of hope and assurance of God’s continuing promise of a messiah. It uses a poetic symbol of the cedar tree.

 

So we need to know a little about cedar trees. The cedar tree is a picture of strength. Cedar is beautiful red hardwood, highly prized for building, used for beams, pillars, ceilings and furniture. Cedars grow up to 150’ or higher (2 or 3 times taller than oak tree), with a circumference of 40’ or more. Cedars are evergreens, deeply rooted, and the spread of their branches exceeds their height creating a refuge for birds and other animals. Cedars are an Old Testament image of a powerful kingdom sheltering its people.

 

God tells Ezekiel that he will take just a tender shoot from the very top of a cedar tree, and he will plant it in on top of a mountain (a holy place) in Israel. From this tiny shoot will grow a majestic cedar tree (an image of a messiah who brings eternal life, ending sin and suffering). This tree will provide shelter for “birds of every kind” (people from every nation). From this we are to understand that God is Lord of all creation. God is the God of all trees, all life; God is in control. So when the world of the Israelites seems out of control, when their last hope for a new Kingdom of David (the promise of “forever”) seems out of reach, God acts. God takes a small shoot, like a tiny baby, seemingly insignificant, and makes something strong to protect and to provide for his people.

 

We seem to have a kind of inborn “memory loss” – we seem to need God to regularly remind us of the Promises we have been given. Most of the harmful things we do to each other and to ourselves are based in the fear that it won’t “all work out.” But God does not, cannot forget us. God promises to hold us in the very palm of his hand, to have us as the “apple of his eye”, to dwell with us for eternity. Look at the last two chapters of Isaiah, when God says, “ I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create.” God also gives us the ability to create anew, to change our actions and choices when things go badly.

 

Because we must feel our way through life with faith, without clear sight to guide us, we must guard against that “memory loss”. Paul adds incentive for hope. Paul says that God’s promises give us courage in bad times. Paul chose to act in ways that were right and holy, ways that would please God. One of Paul’s memory aids was to think of the final judgment. We must watch our behavior mindfully; we are held accountable.

 

Two short parables in the Gospel bring all this together. In the Growing Seed parable, seeds grow independently of humans. The ministry of Jesus began a sequence that will lead to the fullness of God’s Kingdom just as surely as sowing seeds begins the spontaneous process leading to harvest. Even if the Kingdom seems hidden now, it is present. In spite of appearances, we can be confident that what has begun will lead to its glorious revelation. While we live our daily lives, the Kingdom is at work. What we know and see is not all that will happen before the promised coming of the Kingdom of God. We do not bring in the Kingdom; we are servants of the Kingdom, not its cause. Patience; all is in God’s hands.

 

As to the Mustard Seed parable, 750 mustard seeds weigh about 1/28th of an ounce; but a mustard seed can germinate in 5 days and grow to a height of 10 feet, with large leaves. The visual point is that a mighty plant grows from a tiny seed.

 

This parable illustrates the presence of the Kingdom in Jesus’ own ministry, even if others do not recognize it, and Jesus’ expectation of the certain and full revelation of the Kingdom to come. Like a mustard seed, God’s Kingdom starts as something insignificant but becomes large. Never forget that Jesus knew the Jewish scriptures intimately, he knew the image of the cedar tree shading and sheltering and protecting, and this parable reminds us of the Ezekiel passage. Inherent in the phrase the “Kingdom of God” is all of God’s care for us, and more.  

 

Both parables respond to a question that was asked of Jesus then and that we ask now. Wasn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to slay evil like a dragon and remove oppression from nations like Rome and Babylon? The Apostles’ expectations were incorrect if they expected a bomb to vaporize Rome. They, like us, thought violence could bring peace; but if the image of peace is birds sheltered in a tree, then a bomb cannot create peace. Miracles and healings are great, but people often demand impressive action, without delay. The promise of the Kingdom’s fulfillment is certain, but frustrating. No timetable is provided, except to know that the timing will be perfect.

 

Have you ever reached out to grasp God by the lapels, to scream and shake him, when a child suffers, when a loved one has a frightening diagnosis for which there is no cure, when everything goes in your life goes wrong?   Then these parables of hope are for you. In the worst times of our lives, we look to the Cross for answers. The Cross was considered the spoiler; on Good Friday, it was seen as a death of shame and finality, an end to hope, a crushing loss. Like the cross, the mustard seed challenges the way we view and judge what is small and what is significant. When God is at work, we come to understand that our ways are not God’s ways. We must develop “mustard seed memory”; never doubting the unexpected ways God acts to fulfill the promises given to us.   In the Words and Love of Jesus, the Kingdom – God’s coming to rule all things – has made its entrance into our hearts and into our lives and into our messed up world. Let the mustard seed of hope and faith grow tall in your life.

 

 

 

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Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily, inspirational by Fr. Ron Stephens on June 7, 2015

Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2015 (June 14)

I planted a garden this year. I have a little more time now, and wanted to get outdoors more, so I put in two raised gardens and planted tomatoes, cucumbers, brussel sprouts, onions, lettuce, melons and a few other things. I know nothing about gardening so I am counting on luck and a little reading to help me along. But God in designing the world also planted a garden and, since God was God, he didn’t need much help. I presume God knows exactly what to do to make a garden thrive.

Ezekiel begins our readings today with a few words from God who talks about planting, but, because God is God, and because this is prophecy, it is probably about something else as well.

God says he is going to take a sprig from on top of a very high cedar tree and plant that sprig on the top of a very high mountain. When it grows big and tall and noble, it will be so big as to be home in the mountains for all kinds of birds. And I can do this, because I can do anything, says God.

I wish I had that kind of confidence in my own garden! But, of course, while God can do anything, this is also a metaphor or a parable. God is telling his people that he took one group of people out of all his creation and he planted them as a special people. He planted them high up so that all can see. For those who don’t know the geography of the Promised Land, Jerusalem is at the top of a mountain, up from the Mediterranean. God placed his people there so that they would grow and bear fruit – in other words, to grow in population and to be a beacon to others through their good deeds and love of God and neighbor. And then God says that through this people he ‘planted’, all nations will be able to live in the shade of Israel. In essence, through Ezekiel’s prophecy, God is foretelling that the Jews as a chosen people will be open to everyone else after they have blossomed themselves. God chose a people, yes, but chose them to eventually open up his grace to the whole world.

That same imagery is picked up in Psalm 92 today with a different kind of tree as metaphor: The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap.”  It is the same image that God wants Israel to be a beacon to the rest of the world, and that it the reason God chose one nation above the others.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that we hear Jesus also talking today about planting and trees, even though he uses a bit of exaggeration to make his point.

Jesus uses a short series of parables today about the kingdom of heaven which he preaches about so consistently in the Gospel of Mark. His first parable is about a clueless gardener like me, who throws some seeds around and then kind of waits for them to do their thing! He doesn’t do much to the garden, but only seems to get up and go to bed each day without paying much attention to it.

And he doesn’t have to, because God, in his wisdom, gave the earth the wherewithal to know how to make the seeds grow, and they do. At some point, the gardener only has to realize that it is time for harvest – the seeds have grown, borne fruit and done their thing. So the gardener goes in with a sickle and reaps what God has set to grow and produce. So is Jesus telling us not to weed or gardens or get rid of the bugs and pests with spray – just leave everything alone and up to him? No, of course not. This is a parable and not really about gardening at all.

To increase the kingdom of God, we have to plant the seed, we have to talk to others, to preach the Word.  If we do this, we can then leave it to God’s grace which has been given to everyone, to allow it to grow, flourish and produce fruit in another. This may also have been a warning to Judean’s that they weren’t to fight Rome to get the kingdom of God established or to use arms, or it also may have been a way to tell his apostles that they should not get too discouraged if it took time for the preaching they were doing to bear fruit. It would all come in God’s good time.

The second parable is about the mustard seed which is very tiny. You plant this very tiny seed, and surprise! – it grows into a large bush, large enough for birds to build nests in and shade themselves. And the kingdom of God is just like that, Jesus says.

So what does this tell us about the kingdom of heaven? Well, the kingdom is a place for living, for shade, for rest. And to get there, all we have to do is plant just a little seed in people’s minds. And again, we can let God’s grace do the rest. Jesus’ preaching is so often directed at what he calls the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God. So once again, let me remind you that this kingdom is a process whereby we gradually begin to see God taking back control of everything and the world changing to a place of peace, serenity and love of God and each other.

We will be hearing a lot more about this kingdom, but please remember that we aren’t just talking about an after-life here, but the process which began when Jesus ascended to glory and which is happening right now. Are we on or off of that train which has left the station?

What can we do this week to plant a seed and to join in that process of making the kingdom of heaven a reality more and more. What in our lives has to change to make that happen? Can we find the strength to be verbal about our faith and not fear to express our faith in both word and action – to love God and our neighbor visibly, every day, and so plant that seed which will eventually create the harvest of God’s kingdom. That is the Good News that we need to preach and act out in our own lives each day, and it is very Good News for the future of our world if we heed it.

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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The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Posted in christian, Christianity, Communion, Eucharist, homily, religion, scripture, Word by Rev. Martha on June 6, 2015

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ year B 6-7-15; Exodus 24: 3-8, Ps 116: 12-18, Heb 9:11-15, Mk 14: 12-26

I can’t image a better Sunday to talk a little about the Eucharist celebration– an act of thanksgiving to God- that we share with one another each. Learning & teaching about all of the Tradition and history and language and meanings of Eucharist is, of course, a lifetime process. Today I want to start what I intend to be an occasional homily on specific aspects of Eucharist, and I being with an introduction to the Bread. 

For the last few weeks, we have heard again and again the story of Moses as a parallel to the story of Jesus- the New Moses, the new covenant, the new law. I am hoping that you will remember the story of the Israelites in the desert, after leaving Egypt, crying out to God that they had been lead into the desert to starve to death. In response, God gives them manna in the morning and birds (quail) to eat at night (Ex. 16). Manna is Hebrew (man hu) meaning “what is it?” Even those familiar with the desert did not know what manna was, and it has never been found there since. If you saw the PBS special claiming it was some kind of insect goo or tree sap, the authors of that script failed to read all of Exodus.   Moses had been in the desert, he knew manna was neither about sap nor goo.  

Manna is described in Psalm 78 and Wisdom 16 as “bread from heaven” and “food of the angels”. It tasted sweet like honey, and gave the people hope for the Promised Land, a land of milk and honey. It was holy, sacred, and a jar of it was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, later to be in the Holy of Holies. Manna was a miracle from heaven, a sign of God’s fidelity, and a foretaste of the Promised Land. Eventually it became a sign to the Jews of the Messiah (the new Moses), to be sent by God in the “Age to Come.” The Messiah would bring manna from heaven to be the food for that “journey”, the time between the Messiah and Final Judgment – the Bread of the World to Come.   

Now let’s look at the Our Father and another famous reference to bread. We read “give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6/ Luke 11) Why, why, do you ask, does the prayer repeat the word day/ daily? Why not give us daily bread, or give us bread today? This is not about grocery shopping. We need to look at the Greek. The Greek word for day is “hemera”. But the word used for daily is “epiousios”. The New Testament is where this word first appears. It appears to be a compound word, a prefix that was used in other places, “epi”, which means above or super, as in superimposed, and ‘ousios”, which means the substance or nature of something. In other words, Matthew and Luke call this bread “super-natural”. St. Cyprian of Carthage, in the 3rd century, translated it “heavenly” bread or the “food of salvation.” Saint Jerome translated it as “supernatural” in the 4th century. St. Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem also in the 4th century, agreed. Now, remember that Jesus told us (Matt6/Lk 12) to not worry about what we will eat, but rather seek first the kingdom of heaven. It is not about pumpernickel, but that bread from heaven, that manna, at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, where we are taught by Jesus to ask God each day for the bread from heaven – or we might even say, the coming of God’s Kingdom, the final days, or God’s Feast (as it says in Luke 13, when “we will recline at table in the Kingdom of God”).  

Finally, let’s turn briefly to John 6 for Jesus’ teaching on “the bread of Life.” The 6th chapter of John begins with the feeding of 5,000 people. (Moses fed people with manna; the new Moses, Jesus, feeds them with bread). The people understand the symbolism. They call him “The Prophet”, they try to take him by force to make him king. The next day the people again track him down, hoping for more free bread, wanting to eat their fill again, and they say, “Moses gave the people bread from heaven to eat.” Their concern is their stomach. These people lived meager lives and, for most, the thought of free daily bread overrides all concerns about politics or Moses. But Jesus replies, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.”  

Now, in moments when you stand in the aisles of a grocery store – not the aisle of a church – aren’t you stunned by the prices of food these days, don’t you feel like you’ve spend your life working for food that perishes? If you try to feed teenagers, worries about the food budget may seem to overshadow worries about eternal life. 

But Jesus knew about the need for food; the Gospels mention Jesus being hungry at least 6 times.   But Jesus said, “ The Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. I came down from heaven… to do the will of the one who sent me. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; (I am) the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat and not die. This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.” Now, manna was amazing, but small in comparison to this. Manna fed people and gave them hope, but Jesus feeds your soul and opens eternity to you!

 

It suffices to say that Jesus was not only keenly aware of our bodily need for food, but that he was also keenly aware of our spiritual needs. There are times to eat and there are times to draw close to God. Jesus did not come to create “Wonder-ous Bread” for everyone for every meal. He changed the focus from just belief, to belief in action. He came to teach us to do the will of God, which includes loving each other and changing the greed of humans into the generosity of humanity. We can provide food for every person born on earth; we have enough wealth and intelligence to feed all the hungry. We have that capability. God draws close to us now, today, in the Eucharist, to teach us how to love and to participate in the Kingdom of God on earth. Now we must choose to eat the bread of humility and act out our love, love that changes our world; love that shows every life is holy. Then is when we will truly understand the Body and Blood of Christ.

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June 3, 2015 Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (First Communion Sunday)

Posted in Called, Christianity, church events, Communion, Eucharist, homily, religion, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on June 2, 2015

body1Today as we celebrate the feast of Christ’s Body and Blood and first communion, our gospel returns us to Holy Thursday and the feast on the evening before Christ’s death. Like any celebration of a feast, the disciples prepared a meal to share together. Evan and Harper, when you were born, one of the first things you did was eat, seek nourishment. It is necessary for all living beings to receive nourishment in order to live and to grow. As you have gotten older you have come to experience and eat different kinds of food and to like some more than others. You have learned how a family shares their life and experiences at body3home and at family meals. You know that on big days there is a sharing of a lot of people around the table. Yes, food is a big way we celebrate life and share it with others.

This morning you will for the first time share in our Eucharistic meal and receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time. Like the disciples in the gospel today we are gathered around this table or what we call an altar and are going to do together what Jesus did that evening with his disciples. We will share this very special family meal, a meal that is Jesus Body and Blood. When we were baptised, Jesus and his Spirit came to us and filled us in a special way. But now we are to receive very special nourishment, Jesus himself. Body_of_Christ_by_ssejllenradHe give us his very body, his very blood, Himself as food to energize and nourish us for all that we do to live out our lives united with him in a special way. This is a day you will remember and relive many times as the years go on. Remember too, as we grow and as our lives change over the years ahead, Jesus is still going to be here still will be ready to nourish and prepare us for all that comes our way. He is the greatest teacher of what love is and the journey to God. His love certainly filled your parents who have shown you the love that has brought you here today. God has given us Jesus and now you share in the way that Jesus has given himself to us.

May 31, 2015 Homily on the Holy Trinity at Holy Trinity Parish

Posted in Called, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

Posted in christian, Christianity, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on May 31, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Year B 2015 (June 7)

The concept of “covenants” has been at the core of both Jewish and Christian faiths from very early on in history. Such covenant are usually seen as agreements between God and the covenanted party. The first covenant was made with Adam and Eve which was broken when they ate of the fruit of the tree, and yet there was a promise of God that the serpent would be crushed.

The second covenant was with Noah and its conditions involved blood. God said he would never destroy the world again by flood, and they we’re never to drink the blood of animals or shed human blood. As a sign he sent the rainbow for them to remember the covenant. A third covenant was made with Abram in which God promised land and posterity. The condition of this promise was that they be circumcised – blood again was involved.

Following this was the Mosaic covenant where God promised that the Israelites would be God’s chosen ones with a Promised land as long as they kept God’s laws and the Ten commandments. The sign of this was the passover which again involved blood. The blood of the Passover lamb was spread on the doorposts so that the angel of death would not visit their homes. Afterwards, as we read today, Moses took the blood from the offerings and splashed the altar, and then splashed it on the people as a sign of the blood covenant they had made with God. (Aren’t you glad we only use water in the New Testament! Could be kind of messy otherwise!).

The fifth covenant with the Jews was made with King David who promised David that he would become a Father to the Jewish people, but a father who would use the rod on his children to discipline them if necessary – again, some blood involvement. The last of the Old Testament covenants was made to the prophet Jeremiah when God promises that his Law would not just be on stone but would be written on the hearts of his people, and all who believed in their hearts would become the new chosen.

In the New Testament we see this last covenant fulfilled in the life of God’s son, Jesus. That we have become the new chosen who believe in Jesus and who carry Christ’s law in our hearts. As part of this covenant there is also blood as we see in the Gospel today when Jesus says “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” The sign of this covenant is the Eucharist which we celebrate today.

I have chosen to talk about mostly the blood today since this feast day has expanded from being about Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, to include the blood of Christ as well. And blood is not something  most of us like to talk or even think about. It is of course, what gives our body life, and so may freak out when we are bleeding because blood is meant to stay inside. A few of us might like our steaks bloody rare, and many of us donate our blood to help others live. Bleeding is part of the life cycle of every woman which is part of the cycle which includes birth.

We can’t really escape from all the images that blood brings – from horror movies to life-saving transfusions.

While the horror type images might be part of the early Judaeo traditions with angels killing oldest children or beating children to discipline them – ideas that are part of a very immature age to our own, all of the more positive images fit in very nicely with the idea of the Eucharist.

Indeed the Eucharist is a like a blood transfusion where Christ can actually be part of us, moving through our whole body as the blood that courses through it, and we can think of it as a donation of Jesus to help save lives.

In actuality Jesus was talking about his own death and the blood that would be spilt a few days later which would bring about the salvation of the world – the sacrifice of the spotless lamb whose blood washes clean the sins of mankind and opening up heaven’s doors again, taking away the power of death.

The second reading today from St. Paul uses the image of Christ, not Moses going into the Holy of Holies to be present with God, but he goes in not splashing blood as Moses did, but by having shed his own blood for us. Paul says that if sacrifices of goats and heifers purified people of their sins, how much more so would the blood of Christ permanently purify us from ours. And that is why, he says, Christ is the mediator, the go-between, of the new covenant between God and us who believe.

When we dip or drink the consecrated wine today, we are using a symbol but we believe it is more than just a symbol – it is the actual body and blood of Christ. Just a symbol would not allow the transfusion to take place – and indeed we are transfused each week. It is God’s gift to help us through the week, to keep us focused on what is good and to help us love both neighbor and enemy. So as you take communion today, please think about what it means to have Christ within us, his blood coursing through our bodies with ours, his body, digested and giving us sustained life.

It is good to look at the thing we celebrate each week but often take for granted, and it is Good News indeed that not only is Christ inside us, but we become part of Christ as well and share his body with all who are here! Another reason why Sunday Mass is so good for all of us!

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 May 31, 2015 Feast of the Holy Trinity

Posted in Called, Christianity, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on May 27, 2015

trinity3In the course of human history, humanity has advanced in its knowledge and understanding of its world and universe. Each century has seen advances and growth, none more than the last century. Yet, it seems as we grow in knowledge, we begin to understand that there is much we don’t know or understand. It would seem that our innate nature drives us to question, to seek answers, to know. Throughout the centuries it has served us well as we advanced in our living conditions. But, how much has our knowledge changed humanity and what we are? As people we are fragile and exhibit the strengths and weaknesses of our ancestors. Disagreements, wars, broken families and all the trinity2complexities of life remain after all the centuries before us. Sure Christ came and planted is way into the world and revealed the Spirit and his Father to the world. This God the Trinity is known to us, but, still today remains a mystery to us. The early church argued and discussed the Trinity and tried to understand it as best they could. They gave us the Nicene Creed which contains our understanding even to today. To the Jews, God would not even give himself a name, saying only that “I am who I am” thus the name they called him “Yahweh” meaning “I am”. Today we call on God, Father, Son , Holy Spirit. He is one God, three persons.

trinity 4What we can’t understand, we seek to investigate to know, to unfold the mystery. Yet, what boldness we exhibit to try to find and explain God, one above and beyond and embracing all of creation, much of which we are only now beginning to see with our technology. What we see is our smallness and our life in a very small limitless universe. Yet, in our smallness, God comes to us, is a part our life, has a way to be united to him. Thus as we consider, God, the Holy Trinity we should give thanks for his presence to us and for his being in our life. We are not past a time when Awe and Reverence are things of the past. We marvel at science and new things, but really we should remember that all is possible only because we are in God’s presence.

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Homily Holy Trinity Parish Pentecost Sunday May 24, 2015

Posted in Called, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, pentecost, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on May 24, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B 2015 (May 31)

Posted in christian, Christianity, homily by Fr. Ron Stephens on May 24, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, Year B 2015 (May 31)

Jewish worship from the earliest times was distinguished from the thought of other nations by the concept of only one God. In our reading today from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes this Jewish belief and makes clear to all his people that there is only one God in heaven or on earth, and that there is no other. This was not the common belief of any of the other nations surrounding them, and so while it may be a concept ingrained in us in our society almost from birth, the cultural milieu in which they lived, the writings, the architecture, the art all around them suggested otherwise.  It was so predominate, in fact, that the history of Israel seems to be the history of a people being tempted and succumbing to the belief in other gods.

Moses tells his people that they are a blessed people, set apart. What other nation has been so honored to hear the voice of God, speaking out of fire. What other nation has been adopted by God, and proven to be so honored by signs, wonders, holy war, and terrifying displays of power as when they were led out of Egypt. Finally, this God has promised them a land, and all they need to do is keep his commandments, commandments which made them more civilized, more sensitive to others, and more holy.

The Psalm today then speaks of the love of this God who has chosen us, and how our soul was created to wait for God, how God is our help and protector. This one true God has made himself known in his creation and in his commandments which raise us up, a similar idea to that which Moses spoke to his people.

Since all of this was true and was the oldest tradition of Israel, imagine how upset traditional believing Jews must have felt with the new idea that Jesus was God. It upsets the whole apple cart! Yet, from the very beginnings of Christianity we see this belief that Jesus was indeed God made human. How is this possible? Then it is further complicated, perhaps, by the coming of the Holy Spirit who is also ascribed to be God.

In our second reading from Paul written even before the Gospels we hear the term Spirit of God when Paul says: All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God, and he speaks of the glorification of Christ, a term that refers to a God-like status. And in the Gospels, Matthew today puts it all together when he tells the Apostles to go out baptizing “in the name of the Father, and of the on and of the Holy Spirit.”

This Trinitarian concept has been around since the advent of Christianity despite the fact that it seems to abandon the earliest Jewish beliefs – and these are all Jews who were writing, remember! From earliest times theologians have tried to explain the concept of Trinity and the belief in the one true God. The bottom line: it is really not explainable!  We can get glimpses of ideas about it, and theologians have come up with theories of three persons in one God – and we intact state those beliefs each week in our Creed, but they are really quite inadequate because they are beyond our total comprehension. The best we can probably do is exactly what the earliest disciples did – pray to one God through the terms which Jesus gave us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Probably not many of us question this because it has been such a part of our Christian heritage, most of us just accept it, realize that it is a mystery, and move on. A few others will contemplate some of the metaphors used in the pst to help our understanding, like the shamrock, perhaps, but it is just that – a small help

So what is important about this Feast today and important to our lives. Jesus once said: No one comes to the Father, except through him. I know that for centuries this has been interpreted as only Catholics get to heaven, but I don’t think it means that at all. I think it means that no one comes to an understanding of the God the Father, except by looking at Jesus and how he lived and what he did and what he said. Jesus is God made visible, so if we look at Jesus carefully and imitate his life to the best of our ability, we can move to be perfect as God is perfect.And what help do we have to do that? The Spirit, first described in the Bible as God’s breath or the wind over the waters, provides the impetus to know God. Again, our Psalm 33 today tells us that “Our soul waits for the Lord”. There is something deep inside each of us that wants to know God, that needs to know God, that aches to understand God and the meaning of life. To know God, we have to know Jesus whose humanity was not just a metaphor but an actuality. He is the example of the human who led a life of perfection. To imitate him is to know God, and it is the best we can do until we die and are able to know God intimately and perhaps even understand the great mysteries which elude us now.

Let us pray that this week’s emphasis on the Trinity in our lives can bring us to living our lives on the road that leads to perfection through imitation of the God-man Jesus, and the through the inspiration and persistency of God’s spirit.

And that is the Good News that was preached from the very beginning of the Christian era of the one, true God, the God of our fathers and mothers.

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 Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on May 17, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Pentecost, Year B 2015 (May 24)

Last week I spoke about the promises that Jesus made before he left the Apostles and ascended. Those promises were all centre around the coming of the Spirit, a free gift of God to those faithful to Jesus, which would allow them to experience and continue to experience Jesus in their lives.

In Acts today the coming of the Spirit is imaged by violent wind and the appearance of tongues of fire resting on each person. Whether that is a literal image or the best description they could come up with for what had happened, the important thing to note is that it had an affect. It changed the Apostles. The first major change that came about was the ability to speak or be understood in many different languages. It is not made clear whether they actually spoke those languages or the hearts just heard everything in their own languages.

The concept of the spirit of God had been in Jewish writings and beliefs for many years. We read in the Psalm today: “when you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.” If you remember back to Genesis it was the breath or spirit of God that originally blew over and created the earth. The Jews looked forward to a renewal of that original creation.

The coming of the Holy Spirit took place on a Jewish holiday – the Feast of Shavuat or in Greek Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. It came to be associated with the giving of the Torah, the Law, to Moses. On that feast God put his spirit into the two tablets of the Law for his people to follow. Now, at the Christian Pentecost, the Spirit comes into their hearts. There are comparisons with both comings. There was a theophany, or visible manifestation of God at Sinai and in the house at Pentecost. Both had fire – one in the form of a burning bush seen by all, the other as tongues of fire given individually. There were many people – non Jews present after both events, and both were accompanied by many tongues or voices. (See Stern, David H.  Jewish New Testament Commentary, p.221). Another word for Torah is teaching and the Holy Spirit was sent also to teach. If Shavuat is considered the birth of Judaism, Pentecost is often considered the birth of Christianity.

The Gospel reading today, however, gives a different interpretation of the coming of the Holy Spirit by having Jesus breathe on the apostles and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Most scholars consider this not the Pentecost experience but Jesus preparing them for that experience. John’s Gospel is often different from he Synoptics because his purposes are more theological, coming longer after the others. The purpose here seems to be one of preparation for the power that they were to receive. John does not concern himself with what happens to the Apostles as much as follow what happened to Christ. So he does not include Pentecost but ends with Jesus talking about coming again.

St. Paul today also expounds about the Spirit. He says that without the Spirit, none of us would be able to believe in Jesus. We see the early signs of our understanding of the Trinity also in Paul today. He talks about the Spirit giving many and various gifts, the many and various services we do in Christ’s name, and the activities we carry out in God’s name. But it is one God activating everything. If we are one body in Christ, the Spirit is our life blood coursing through that body to give life and strength to all the limbs.

So the importance of Pentecost for us today is more than just a birthday; it should be a reminder of our unity through the Trinity and through the workings of the Three Persons in One. Being part of that one body, we should not distinguish any member or part of that body being better than any other member. That is why Paul ends with “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greek, slaves or free. Arguments about priests being better than lay people, men better than women, rich better than poor, different better than same – should have no place in a Christian’s heart. The Spirit unifies us all. And though we may play different parts, just as the function of the heart is different from that of the right arm, we all work together for the wholeness of the body, and we celebrate the health of each part, since it all affects us in some way.

This way of thinking is a different paradigm than we have in modern society. Can we bring our Christian paradigm to the forefront of our own lives, and convince others by our love and care to do the same. That is the challenge of Christians today, and it all began at Pentecost – the Good News that we celebrate at the end of our Easter season.

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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