Peace and Service- What Do You Choose?

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year c, 9-11-16 Exodus32:7-14, Ps 51, 1Tim 1:12-17, Luke 15: 1-10

I had my desk piled high with books & commentaries about the Book of Exodus, looking for ideas for today. Then I read today’s opening prayer.  Let me read it again: “Let us pray for the peace which is born of faith and hope.  Father in heaven, you alone are the source of our peace.  Bring us to the dignity which distinguishes the poor in spirit and show us how great is the call to serve, that we may share in the peace of Christ who offered his life in the service of all.”


Well, this week Mother Theresa of Kolkata was canonized as a Saint, and today we have a Day of Remembrance for the attack on September 11th.  How much more clearly could the Holy Spirit have urged me to talk today about peace and service?


Moses was God’s servant bringing the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  The people all had been born in slavery, as had their parents.  It was the only life they had ever experienced.  Freedom was new, and difficult.  They were accustomed to being dependent, to having decisions made for them.  They escaped from Egypt only 3 months before, and now Moses had been up on Mount Sinai for 6 weeks with God; they were afraid he wouldn’t return.  They fell back on their experiences from Egypt; they made and worshiped a golden cow, and their behavior became wild & uncontrolled.  Worshiping something they made did not bring them peace.


The people still thought of God as being made in their image, like an idol. So God is described as having a human fit of rage.  They expect God will destroy them, just as their Egyptian masters would have done.  But in the next chapter, Moses presents the 10 commandments to the people, and they promise to do their part of the covenant with God.  This is actually the high point of the Old Testament story.  The people commit to worshiping only God and God commits to protecting and loving the people.  Their worship space is filled with the Ark of the Covenant and they work together the make the space ornate and beautiful.  The Glory of God fills the meeting tent & peace returns to the people.


So, I think we can say this: that service is to bring the word of God to one other.  And peace comes from God’s word and from trust and obedience to God’s word.


Our Psalm is the confession of King David after he broke God’s law and took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David was God’s servant, making the nation of Israel a strong and great nation, leading the people into a time of peace, ensuring the people were faithful to their covenant with God.  But there would be no peace for David until he confessed his sin.


Likewise, our 2nd reading is a confession by St. Paul about murdering Christians prior to his conversion to Christianity.  Paul had been a Pharisee, proud & arrogant.  He had actively and violently worked to stop the followers of Jesus after the resurrection.  But then Jesus appeared to Paul, and asked, “Why do you persecute me?”  So Paul became a servant of God, taking the Word of the Risen Christ into the world.  He helped form the faith as we know it.  His peace came from not from hatred and violence; instead he found peace even as he became the subject of violence and hatred.  He was beaten and jailed, all in service of the God he praised and worshiped.


Finally, in our Gospel, Jesus, the ultimate servant of God, tells us two parables of not only peace, but heavenly joy. The Pharisees, like the Israelites led by Moses, wanted God to be in their image.  They were angry and disgusted that Jesus didn’t put people in their place – mainly the people who didn’t make a great pretense of being holy, people who didn’t or couldn’t afford to follow all the complex rules the Pharisees helped create to set themselves above other people.  So Jesus says, “What if a woman looses a tenth of all her money?  Won’t she tear the house apart, frantically looking for it, not stopping until she finds it? And won’t her happiness in finding it be known to everyone?  The angels in heaven, Jesus says, are the same way over just a single person who repents of their sin.”  Like the woman who found her coin, the repentant one will find peace and joy in finding forgiveness.


The shepherd likewise finds his lost sheep, and rejoices, telling all his neighbors and friends. He finds relief and peace, just as there is joy in heaven over a single sinner who comes to repent and find forgiveness.  I always have thought this has a touch of sarcasm from Jesus.  Did Jesus suggest that the Pharisees see themselves as the 99 righteous people, when really their pride and their prejudice creates a barrier to the so-called sinners finding peace?  But still I hear of churches refusing sacraments to people.


My neighbor has a bumper sticker that reads, “We need a Department of Peace.” Peace, like charity, begins at home. Peace, like service, is a choice.  I don’t plan to move to India to pick up the dying off the streets there.  I have found enough abused and forgotten people dying in sub-standard nursing homes right here at home.  There are enough hungry children at our local Elementary school and enough refugees and immigrants in the housing development within walking distance of this church; there are enough social agencies, church charities and social justice groups crying for volunteers and donations to keep us all busy all day every day.


Every death, every injury, every mourner from 9-11 deserves our prayerful remembrance today. As does every one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and adults who still now continue to die from hunger and acts of war and hatred.  We know the one source of peace, and we know a life of service to be the Christian life.  I suggest to you, as well as to myself, to make our act of remembrance in the coming days by finding new ways to be of service, and new openings to bring peace in our own families, our own neighborhoods.  Surely the Holy Spirit whispers in your ears chances to do this service, so let us encourage each other to do it.

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014

Posted in christian, Christianity, church events, ecclesiology, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture by Fr. Ron Stephens on January 19, 2014

Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A  2014

As you know, this year is primarily devoted to the reading of the Gospel according to Matthew, and occasionally I like to give you some insights into what Matthew was trying to do when writing his Gospel. We now believe that it was the second of the four Canonical Gospels to be written and that Matthew had access to the Gospel of Mark and possibly one other lost Gospel. If Mark’s Gospel had already been written, why did Matthew deem it necessary to write another account?

One of the answers to this question is that each of the Biblical authors had a unique point of view on early Christian liturgy, thought and practice, and a unique audience that they were writing for. In Matthew’s case, for example, he was writing for the early Christians who were Jewish in background. One of his main purposes was to provide Jews with material that would be helpful to them to understand who Jesus was and why they should follow the man who had been dead for twenty years, having been crucified as a criminal. It was imperative then, for Matthew, to show the connections between the Scriptures being used by the Jews of his day, and to show that Jesus was the one about whom the prophets had been prophesying, and indeed, how many of the Jewish great heroes – Adam, Abraham, Moses – had been prefigures of Jesus.  In other words, Matthew was trying to show how Jesus fulfilled all the expectations of a Messiah, albeit a decidedly different one than had been expected.

Today’ reading from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel point out a really good example of this. The first lines of Isaiah today probably went right over the heads of everyone in here – I know they did mine at first, as well. I had to do some research and look up some geography to even understand it. The reading starts off: “There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.  In the former time the Lord brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” (Is 9:1) Heavy going!  Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the tribes of Israel, and if you remember each of the twelve tribes were given land by God. The border where these two areas of land met was the sea of Galilee. “Those who were in anguish” were the people in that area who had been attacked, but not conquered by the Assyrians. Isaiah is indicating that God had sent the Assyrian King to wake them up, to shake them up, because they had not been holding fast to the Mosaic law and had even been worshipping pagan gods. These are the Jewish people who “walked in darkness”.

Now Matthew uses these same verses to indicate that Jesus was being sent by God also to wake up, to shake up things. The first reference is Jesus going to Galilee “in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. Same place as in Isaiah! It is here that Jesus “attacks” the people, in the sense that he tries to turn them around, to get them to repent. He is the light that is going to take away the darkness from the minds of these Galilean Jews. And so, Matthew quotes the lines from Isaiah that we read today: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” (Is 9.2 and Mat. 4.16). Matthew was trying to convince the Jews to whom he was preaching that Jesus was sent by God, as was like he Assyrian King, to wake up the Galileans, but more so, to take away the shadow of death and to give life. The Jews of his day would be familiar with the prophecies of Isaiah, and in fact, many of them interpreted Isaiah’s words as a description of a Messiah who would come to save them. Matthew says: Here is your Messiah.  He’s come! Then he continues his story showing how Jesus began his work by choosing four of the Apostles who were fishermen, and convincing them that they would help him to catch souls now instead of fish. Lastly, we get a description of Jesus’ work. He was a teacher, he was a proclaimer of good news, and he was a miraculous healer. His gift of light was beginning to show as he travelled around. Our Psalm picks up this theme when we sing: The Lord is my light and my salvation – both of these are the same things that Matthew wanted to point out today as well.

As for the Epistle today, it is one of those days when it is just a continuation of last week’s reading from 1st Corinthians and has no relationship to the other readings. We are simply proceeding through Corinthians over the next few weeks.  However, while to two main readings might present an interesting historical perspective, it is in the Epistle that we really get direction that can help us in our own lives.  It seems that the Corinthian congregation was being divided because of differences in the messages of some of the apostles or missionaries. One big problem at this point in the church was whether or not Gentiles had to become Jews and submit to circumcision and keep the purity laws. Some leaders said one thing and some said another, and so the congregation began to take sides on these issues and follow Paul or Apollos or Peter. The message Paul sends them is not unlike the message that the new Roman Pope, Francis, has been giving lately. We need to remain firm to the basics of our Christianity – the things that Jesus said were most important and we should not get caught up in battles over small theological points (though I am not sure circumcision would be a small one for any adult!). Paul gets down to the basics here himself: he talks about why Christ was crucified and how it was important to keep the image of Cross and what Jesus death accomplished on the cross, foremost in our minds. We need to be, to quote Paul, “united in the same mind and the same purpose.” There are always going to be debate on theological points because civilization changes, time changes things, perspectives change. But the foundation of our religion never changes – God had saved us, opened heaven for us, out of His great love for us. Christ tells us what we must do in return – to love God and our neighbor. All his preaching goes to show how we can do that – feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and so on.  This is the foundation. We cannot be divided on those things.

So let us this week examine the foundations of our Catholic faith, ask ourselves whether everything we do is a reflection of those beliefs, and whether the things we do follow the pattern set forth for us by Jesus. We see through Matthew today that salvation was a long process but that our Covenant is a continuation and fulfillment of the Hebrew Covenant, and that, too, is all about the Messiah and the saving grace of God. Christ is indeed the new Adam, the healer, the giver of grace, and he went around, as it says today, proclaiming this Good News!

And that is the Good News that I want to remind you of today as well!

 [If you enjoyed Bishop Ron’s homily, consider purchasing his ebook “Teaching the Church Year” available on  It contains the complete Year A homilies from the last Year A.]

Bishop Ron Stephens

Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese

Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

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