CACINA

HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16 (Dec 20)

Posted in Uncategorized by Fr. Ron Stephens on December 13, 2015

HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) 2015-16  (Dec 20)

As we rapidly approach the end of Advent and the arrival of the incarnated God at Christmas, the readings today center on prophecy and on the woman who was to bring this incarnation into fruition – Mary.

We begin with the prophet Micah who predicts the birthplace of the Messiah as Bethlehem, a tiny city south of Jerusalem. This was also the place that King David had been from, and where he was crowned as the King of Israel. Even earlier, It was the area where it is believed that Rachel, Jacob’s wife in Genesis, was buried and there is a place today called Rachel’s Gate which is at the entrance to the city.

So, it is from this city with a varied and rich history that Micah predicts the Savior would be born, that Israel will not be saved until “she who is in labor” gives birth. Then, this Messiah, this Savior, will bring together the children of Israel. He will be their shepherd and he will give them food and he will be “peace” himself. What a beautiful description and how apt a description of Jesus who so many times tells us: “My peace I bring you.”

The image of the Savior as a shepherd is picked up in the Psalm Response today which is also Messianic in its call. “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel. Stir up your might and come to save us.” So it is this image in the Hebrew Testament of a Savior which stirs their and our imaginations today. The image of the mighty warrior that brings peace was not to be the reality of the sent Messiah, however. The Messiah sent by God was one who would perish to become the sin sacrifice which would save us – not from some military enemy but to save us from Sin and Death themselves. This is the thrust of what Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews. By doing the will of God, Christ was able to abolish the kinds of sacrifices and offerings that were used in the Old Testament and to offer one sacrifice for all time to atone for our sins and to make us holy. This is all accomplished by Jesus through his incarnation as he became human to raise us up.

The Gospel today comes from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel and I mentioned to you a few weeks ago that Luke liked to pair things so that there would be two witnesses instead of one. In today’s Gospel, the pairing is that of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Both are pregnant, both are miraculous pregnancies, both were told of their spending pregnancies by supernatural means, both agreed to it, and both have intuitions about what the impending childbirth will mean. Elizabeth’s witness when her child leaps in her womb upon seeing Mary has given us one of the predominate prayers of the Church – the Hail Mary. But if you look closely at what Elizabeth says to Mary when they meet, you can see prophetic signs of what was to come and important witness for Luke of the truth of his narrative.

First of all, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  It was God the Spirit that allowed Elizabeth to prophesy. As with all prophets – it is God speaking through the prophet, and Elizabeth is no different.

Elizabeth first greets Mary with a statement of her “blessedness.” To be blessed means that you have been made holy or have been consecrated by God to do something. So it was quite a greeting to say that Mary, among all women, was the most blessed. Secondly, was that the fruit of her womb, her unborn child was also consecrated by God to do something great. This is an example of the kind of witness that Luke is always concerned with – verification for the Gentiles by other sources that what he is presenting is true and accurate.

There is a second reason that Mary is blessed or made holy, however. Elizabeth adds: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” It is in Mary’s acceptance that we heard sung in the Gospel acclamation: “let it be done to me according to your word”, that Mary’s holiness is seen. Mary had free will. She could have said no, and certainly given the situation, most girls would see the problems that a virgin birth might give her. Fans of the popular tele-novella “Jane the Virgin” have laughingly seen all the problems it has caused her – and they weren’t at all religious in nature. But Mary did not say “no”. She surrendered her will to God’s which is not an easy thing to do. Alcoholics or addicts who follow the twelve steps often have great difficulty following the third step which is turning one’s will over to God. It takes humility, it takes understanding, it takes strength – but the rewards for doing so are peace and serenity.

As we move to the celebration of Jesus’ birth this week let us try to offer ourselves and our wills to God, to pray that his will be done, not ours, trying to develop some real humility in the process. God’s own humility which allowed him to become human as a helpless child should be the very model that we pray for. If we can do that, then we too will have a Christmas which is filled with peace, grace, and serenity. Let us work even harder at our project of doing something each day for others, filling our God box – so that we can offer that to the Christ child this Christmas – a true gift of action towards others which is what the season should be about.

And this is the Good News Mary was bringing to Elizabeth and that Micah prophesied so long ago.

Ronald Stephens

Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[Volume 3 (Luke) of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast from the last Cycle C, is available from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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July 5, 2015 Homily today At Holy Trinity Parish for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted in Called, christian, Faith, homily, scripture, Spirit, Word by Fr Joe R on July 5, 2015

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.