CACINA

Today’s Homily at Holy Trinity, September 3, 2017-the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time–Vocations

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July 31, 2016 Holy Trinity Homily for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, ethics, Faith, homily, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 31, 2016

Homily at Holy Trinity Parish January 10, 2016 Feast of the Baptism of the Lord

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on January 10, 2016

Prophets and the Progression of Mark

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, Faith, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit by Rev. Martha on July 4, 2015

14th Sunday Ordinary time, 7-5-15, Ez 2: 2-5, Ps 123, 2 Cor 12: 7-10, Mark 6: 1-6

Prophets and the Progression of Mark 

I hear two messages in today’s readings. The first message is about prophets and the demands of being a prophet.   Last December, Pope Francis offered a great working definition of a prophet: “A prophet is someone who listens to the words of God, who reads the spirit of the times, and who knows how to move forward toward the future.” He went on add a real zinger, “All those who are baptized are prophets…let us not tire of moving forward.” That’s us! We’d better look at this more closely.  

First, a prophet must listen to God. Next a prophet reads the spirit of the times, and finally a prophet moves toward the future. Just three easy steps! Ok! So, how do we listen to God? This isn’t news to us: we listen to God in the scriptures; we listen when we pray and we meditate; we listen when we study the teachings of faithful Christians; we listen when trusted friends and advisors talk with us. Naturally, this takes dedication. Listening to God is not just an occasional thought, but daily scheduled time of focused attention.  

The spirit of the times is found by stepping back from that one-sided, shallow political rhetoric & by disengaging from the sound bites used by those seeking to sell products or ideas. Reading the spirit of the times requires a sense of history, discernment, and attending to the undercurrents of our society. We pay attention to the bold events and the subtle ones, too. 

Moving forward toward the future takes willingness to change and re-create our life-styles, taking on new information, willingness to admit errors. It takes ending the pretense that we’re in control. We must let go of pre-conceived limits and barriers to make room for thoughts and ideas beyond our experience.   

Hmm, This is sounding very idealistic, isn’t it? It sounds like the diet I never go on or the fitness program I never get beyond day 2 with. Is it possible that I may be failing to listen, not reading the times, and resisting moving forward? Even worse than that, am I like the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day who God described as “rebellious, hard of face and obstinate of heart.” Later in that passage from Ezekiel, God told the prophet he would find the people to be like scorpions, meaning Ezekiel would face bitter and painful opposition. If you want some other, more contemporary names, think about how Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Oscar Romero were treated as prophets.  

Of course, the people of Jesus’ time knew about prophets. The saying, “ A prophet is not without honor except … in his own house” was common in both Jewish and Greek literature even then. Could we write this off this bad trip back to Nazareth in our Gospel to a little jealousy? Why should our neighbor be given a gift of healing or wisdom or teaching? Who does he think he is? But, they are astonished at his teaching. His wisdom and power for mighty deeds are quickly acknowledged. Then we find the real problem. If Jesus is simply a carpenter, just a guy from the neighborhood, and his divine authority is denied, where, then, does the teaching and wisdom and power come from?  

If the people of Nazareth do not believe this supernatural power comes from God, then is it from evil? Are “offended” because they assume he brought something deceptive or dark to them? Are they that blind? Jesus was amazed at their lack of belief. They were just like Ezekiel’s people, stubborn, refusing the evidence standing in front of them of the power and presence of God. That is why Jesus could not perform any mighty deeds there. The people of Nazareth rejected the blessings of God because they would not listen, they refused to read the spirit of the times, and they would not move a single inch into the future, as if their feet were in cement. It is an appalling and painfully sad story of eternal love distorted and distained. It is a warning to those who will not listen or read or move. It is in stark contrast to Jesus telling the woman in last week’s reading, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be cured of your affliction.” She had listened, read, and moved into the future.   

The second message in today’s readings is the continuing message of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Mark seems like just a collection of parables, healings, teachings, miracles of Jesus, all one after the other. But that is not the case.   

Earlier in Chapter 3 of Mark (vs 6), the Pharisees have discussed killing Jesus for healing a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. They closed their minds to God, and told themselves that they, not God, were in control.   In vs 21 of the same chapter, his relatives are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind,” speaking of Jesus as if he were devil-possessed. In the very next verse, the scribes who had come from Jerusalem say, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” That is shockingly hard thing to say. The scribes had blasphemed against the Holy Sprit, the spirit of God working in Jesus. Jesus responds, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.”   

This is no flippant theological discussion, but rather a shadowing of what is to come. Mark is building for that day in Jerusalem when the leaders and people join together and call out, “Crucify Him!” Mark not only asks “Who do you say that Jesus is?” but he also asks if we can stand in faith as prophets when others will not.   

When we proclaim ourselves as Christians, we proclaim ourselves as prophets of Almighty God. We must be busy listening to God, reading the spirit of the times, and moving forward into the future.

 

 

 

Homily for May 24, 2015 Pentecost Sunday

Posted in Called, christian, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on May 20, 2015

pemtecost1In the news lately, we hear of multiple tornadoes touching down out west and wreaking havoc all over. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced one, but imagine the devastation that one can do as I am sure you’ve seen in pictures. Getting back to Jerusalem on that Pentecost morning, there was a loud rush of wind that surrounded where the disciples were and in the busy crowed city everybody came to see what was happening. Inside was even more dramatic as fire appeared voe the apostles and disciples as the Holy Spirit came upon them. Imagine, they were so immersed, so overcome they actually pentecost2couldn’t stand still. They burst out the door proclaiming, witnessing, all in different languages proclaiming Jesus to all in their own language. What a scene it must have been, all the different languages, people from different places hearing the word, the beginning of the church, a multilingual, multinational beginning. That beginning was Christocentric and remains so today. Clearly from Pentecost on, the church belonged to all who received and believed in the Spirit. The body of Christ has many parts and belongs to all, not one nation, not one language, but where Christ and his spirit breathe life into it. Each and everyone of us are servants of each other. It is in serving and loving one another that we fulfill the work of Christ.

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s special gift to the church, who comes to each and every one of us at Baptism and completely immerses in us at confirmation. Sure, we have Christ with us and have his body and blood, but the spirit activates us to do the work of our faith. What is often forgotten is that the Spirit is the one who act and acts where He wants, not where we necessarily want or expect him to. How often in our pentecost 3human condition, do we forget or not even know or understand the whole picture of creation and God;s relationship to us. Just for example, the idea of forgiveness is difficult and unreasonable to many until it is for themselves.

Pentecost began a journey for a new church and many believers. Our oneness is in Christ who recognizes all who gather in his name whether we do or not. Division and separation and infighting come out of humanity’s imperfection. Despite that imperfection, Christ calls and recognizes each of us and with the help of the Spirit brings us to Him.

Homily at Holy Trinity May 10th, 2015 6th Sunday of Easter

Posted in Called, christian, homily, religion, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on May 10, 2015

Homily May 3, 2015 %th Sunday of Easter

Posted in Called, Christianity, homily, religion, Resurrection, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on April 29, 2015

5suneas2Today’s gospel from John is from Holy Thursday and the last supper. In John’s narrative, Jesus has discussed his betrayal, washed his disciples’ feet, talks of his departure and his return to his father. He also assures them he will return to them. As a discourse, it is significant that Jesus began it with the words “I Am”. Seven times he used that phrase in John, but what is significant is that it is from the old testament and the phrase God used to identify himself to the Hebrews. It was a phrase used to identify God to avoid using a name for him. Clearly Jesus was identifying himself and his mission as being from God. The vine and the branches was an understandable way for the disciples to know that the relationship was one where Christ continued to be a part of them and of all the works that they would do. Bearing fruit to their work was important and Jesus himself would tend to the vine getting rid of dead branches and pruning the vine so that it would grow and produce more fruit. The image of the vine emphasizes our connectivity and Jesus ssuneas1presence within us. We are a presence in the world seeking to serve others and bring them to Christ. As a vine is a livimg growing organism, so is the church. It is not something static, something like a picture on a wall but a liviing growing organism. Many figures come out of this story, the vine grower, pruning, the idea of renewal, Chist’s presence in his Word, and in his church, and most importantly our attachment to Christ.
Being city dwellers and not all that familiar with farming and vines and such, oftentimes we don’t fully comprehend the richness of the stories and parables of Jesus. But his life and message present to us and continuing on after so many years brings us a faith that gives an insight from our own experience and time, for Christ’s presence is with us now and He and his Spirit act within us today. His life, his forgiveness remains constant and is always with us. As long an we remain faithful and part of the connectivity of his church, we remain in him and he in us. Let us love and serve one another so we can serve him.

Homily for the 1st Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity by Fr. Ron Stephens on February 14, 2015

Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, Year B 2015

First, a parable. Johnny had not been a very good boy this week. He had gotten into trouble at school and had not done the chores at home that had been assigned to him.

His father sat him down at the end of the week, and said: “Look, Johnny, I am going to buy you the bike that you have been dreaming about. Not because you have been good this week, because you haven’t, but just because I want to do it. However, after you get the bike, I expect some things to change around here. I want you to pull your socks up at school, and I want you to be regular in doing your chores to help your mother.  Understood?” Johnny couldn’t believe his good luck. Over the next few weeks after he got his new bike he did start doing better in school and was pretty regular in his chores. But then he started to slack off. He fell into the old patterns and spent more time on his bike than he did doing his chores. One morning he opened the garage to get his bike to go off to school, but his bike wasn’t there. He ran back into the house upset and told his dad his bike must have been stolen! But Dad just said, “You didn’t keep your part of the bargain, boy! I have hidden the bike away and you are going to have to work to get it back!”

What this story is about is “covenant”, a word we hear a lot about in the Scriptures. A covenant is a free gift that we don’t merit from our behavior. But certain behaviors of thankfulness are expected. In Exodus, when the Jews were led out of Egypt, God made a conditional covenant with them, made them his people and gave them the Promised Land. But in return they had to follow certain moral codes, and not worship other gods. When Israel broke that covenant, the Promised Land was taken from them, not forever, because God always keeps promises, but they had to work for it.

In the opening reading today from Genesis, we are given part of the story of Noah, but we also need some context.  God created the world, and after Adam and Eve  left Eden, the population grew. But the didn’t show any thankfulness or keep their part of any moral code and the world became corrupted and ungodly. God could only find one family that kept the covenant. God sent a flood which destroyed everyone except the family of Noah. But God, still in love with the human race despite their turning away, made another covenant with Noah without any expectations – an unconditional covenant that God would never again destroy the world with a flood. And just to remind them of this promise, this covenant, God created the rainbow as a visible sign  of it.

The difference between a conditional and an unconditional covenant is simply that in an unconditional covenant we are not expected to do anything in response, while in a conditional covenant such as at Mount Sinai, we have obligations and so does God.

The Psalm today reflects the Sinai covenant because the response is “Your paths are love and faithfulness for those who keep your covenant.” In other words the Hebrews needed to show faithfulness and love to God and neighbor as a result of the conditions of the Mosaic covenant.

The other major covenant in the Bible is the Davidic covenant, an unconditional covenant where God says  that David’s family line will be blessed and an everlasting kingdom would come from that line. Jesus is from the family line of David and Mark says in Chapter 10 that Jesus is the Son of David and fulfills that covenant because God always keeps promises. Mark’s Gospel is really all about proving that Jesus is this fulfillment of the covenant to David.

This Davidic covenant also has a sign like the rainbow, and St. Peter in the Epistle today describes that covenant sign as baptism. Peter explains that God saved eight persons through water, and that baptism is a saving sign and action which frees us from sin. Peter describes this as “An appeal to God for good conscience” because when sins are taken away that are no longer on our conscience, and we no longer have to worry about them.

So two covenant, two signs! In the Gospel today, in Mark’s direct and uncomplicated way, he explains that Jesus was baptized, showing us what we need to do as well, and then Mark goes on to show the qualities and signs which begin to show that Jesus is Son of God. He was driven by the Spirit, he was tempted by Satan unsuccessfully, and Angels waited on him. We are again told the secret that it will take a while for everyone else to figure out – that Jesus is the promise of the Davidic covenant promised to us.

The reading ends with Jesus beginning his preaching of the good news of God – that God’s kingdom is near. And what must our response be… what is the one condition that we have to fulfill to get in on this covenant…?  We have to repent and believe.

And THAT is what Lent is all about. It is our response to the covenantal promise of our being saved by Jesus Christ. We have to turn around, examine our lives and state our beliefs. This Lenten response leads to Holy Saturday when we renew our baptismal vows and celebrate the fact that we have been part of an covenant in which God has sent a Savior to us, God’s self in the flesh and we are at the beginning of living the kingdom of God.

This is Good News. This is the Good News of Lent, and this is what Jesus proclaims today!

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”]

Homily from Holy Trinity Parish for the Baptism of Jesus January 11, 2015

Posted in Called, christian, Christianity, church events, homily, inspirational, religion, Word by Fr Joe R on January 11, 2015

Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

Posted in christian, Christianity, ecclesiology, Eucharist, homily, inspirational, religion by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 4, 2015

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Year B 2015

{using Isaiah 42.1-4,6-7; Acts 10:34 and Mark 1.7-11)

Christmas is now quite over and once again we begin the story of the public life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ as we continue in what we call Ordinary Time. I am oftentimes frightened by how many times we have to preach each year on elements of this same introductory story. We get it in Advent, we get it on this feast, we get it on other John the Baptist’s feasts, and it comes up each year in whatever Gospel we are concentrating on. I always wonder whether I can find anything new or relevant for you in the story. But simply because the story is read to us so many times in its different versions in the four Gospel, I realize the import of it, and always manage to find something to say about it.

The opening reading today from Isaiah is not about John the Baptist as we saw in the Christmas readings of Isaiah.  This is not about the man who announces the servant of the Lord, but is about the servant himself, so the focus of today’s feast is not on John but on Jesus himself.

There are four “servant” songs in Isaiah, and today we hear one of them. We often think of Christ’s sayings about being a servant to others, his washing of the feet of his apostles, his dying on the cross to serve as a sacrifice to redeem us. Isaiah talked about a servant who was to come – a chosen one of God, one in whom God puts his Spirit. Those first two qualities Isaiah foretells are picked up by Mark today in his telling of Jesus’ baptism. Being chosen, and being filled with the Spirit are the same two themes Mark uses. God chooses Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased”, and in the baptism the Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. So it is clear, then, right from the beginning that for Mark, Jesus is the servant of God that Isaiah foretold.

It will follow then that the rest of the prophecy will also be carried out by Jesus, so if we look at the list of things that Isaiah proclaims about this servant, we should see exactly the same things played out in the life of Jesus. Isaiah says that “he will bring forth justice to the nations.” He will do what he has to do quietly, not like some preachers who cry out and rant and scream. Both of the these qualities we see in Jesus.

The image of the bruised reed and dimly burning wick probably refer to our own weakness and proclivity to sin. Or it may be an image of the poor or derelict in society who delicate and bruised. Isaiah says that the servant will not break the reed or quench the fire that still burns on the wick. It is an image of gentleness, of care for those who are suffering or in pain.

The servant will faithfully bring forth justice. Certainly that is an image of the Christ. Social justice issues are all through the New Testament, in the sermons of Jesus and in his actions.

Lastly, the servant will carry through his job till the end: “he will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth.”

All of these prophecies of the servant fit Jesus so perfectly, and give us much to meditate on in our own dealings with people and problems.

Lastly, the Isaiah passage talks about what the servant will mean to us. Most important is the idea of our having with a God New Covenant. God says: “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.

If you haven’t noticed the dominant imagery of “light” over the Christmas season, you really haven’t been listening or singing our hymns.  It has been a major theme during our Christmas celebrations. Christ is our light, just as God says his servant will be a light to all the nations, again opening up the covenant, creating a new covenant that enlarges the scope of the older one.

In the final few lines we hear the lines that Jesus himself so often uses as a description of his mission on earth – his purpose, his goal: “to open the eyes off the blind, to bring prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” And these are both actual and metaphoric . Actual, as we see in the second reading from Acts when we are told that Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” and metaphoric since we are often blind to the spiritual realities of life, often held prisoner by our habits and our misunderstandings.

Jesus is the servant of God foretold by Isaiah, and at his Baptism, Mark sees the beginning of the servant’s role announced and played out. If we are to follow Jesus as he asks us to, we must also be servants to others, develop a social justice awareness and act on it, and realize that we too have God’s Spirit within us to help us achieve that state of perfection. It won’t be easy – we will all have crosses to carry – but that is what the readings today suggest to me that the Good News is all about.

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”]