Welcome to CatholicPreacher! I use this page as a type of archive of my thoughts for my Sunday homily.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Who do you say that I am?

The story in Isaiah this morning about Shebna being denounced by Isaiah is classic. Shebna, a royal steward of the palace, is being rebuked because he has taken upon himself honors associated with the king (viz. having a tomb built in the place reserved for the Davidic kings). Shebna was the one who controlled access to the king, hence the phrase “when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open”(Is.22:23). This is juxtaposed in today’s readings with Jesus’ declaration to Peter, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt.16:20). It’s all about the power to grant access, and Peter has been rewarded with this power through his confessional statement to Jesus’ question of identity, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt.16:17).  For Roman Catholics, the whole “key” issue is understood as referring to the office of St. Peter; he was the first leader of the church, and the primacy of this office has been handed down to present day. As a rather rough generalization, The Orthodox (and Old Catholics) have a more collegial view, with the “keys” power being distributed evenly among the episcopacy, while the Protestant view generally asserts that the entire body of the faithful has been given the “keys”. 
It is easy to get wrapped up in the discussion as to whom the power of access has been granted to “loose and bind”, and forget Jesus’ original question: “Who do you say that I am?” Perhaps the link between the Old Testament and the gospel has more to do with simply a study of ecclesiastical pedigree. Perhaps it also has something to do with the cautionary tale of Shebna, who abrogated the power of the king for himself, to allow the power of the office to go to his head, and as a result lost the office altogether. 
Positions of power within the church today, as in all positions of authority, can become extensions of personal egos. The larger the institution becomes, and the more the power of that institution becomes concentrated in the hands of the few, the legacy becomes not “good news” but an obsession with control. The church, divinely instituted is, alas, administered by humans, and humans have a lousy track record with unchecked control. Such abuse of authority in the Roman Catholic Church is an easy target, but the problem of control extends well beyond the borders of the Roman Catholic Church. What is clear is that Jesus’ question can get buried too easily in the “court intrigue” and political power-plays in any church. 
           While the institutional church is for Jesus, its members must be from Jesus. It is not enough to proclaim ideological affiliation, we must animate our ideology with a living relationship with God through Christ. While the Creed may guide us, it is our responsibility finally to access the deeper reality opened to us by the church. The institutional church, as an institution, will never be “good news”, but only the members of the body working across denominational lines, responding to Jesus’ call to confess him through their lives as The Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus’ action with the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s gospel is troubling for us who experience the universalism of the Church, and the belief that salvation has been offered by God to the entire world. However, the church of Matthew’s gospel were Jews, and the Canaanites were well outside God’s covenant to the Jewish people, and it seems Jesus sided with the popular understanding of such a separation. Although this story is also present in the Gospel of Mark, the change in Matthew to a Canaanite from a Syro-Phoenician woman speaks of Matthew’s desire to emphasize how much outside God’s covenant she was. Add to this Jesus’ words of rebuke and the stage is set rhetorically for what comes next.
The woman’s response to Jesus’ rebuke of “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs” with “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters” is a coup of a well-tempered response that upends Jesus’ harshness; it is a moral drama being played out in front of a crowd who sides with Jesus. So what does Jesus do? He proclaims her daughter is healed because of her great faith to see beyond what the crowd saw: an insurmountable barrier to God’s grace. This event is on the heels of Jesus proclaiming in front of the Pharisees and scribes “…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” The Canaanite woman is yet another instance of Jesus proclaiming God’s reign isn’t localized, or dependent upon the traditions of “the elders”, but upon compassion and justice, making a strong connection with the first reading from Third Isaiah, which asserts that God’s justice and mercy is also a function of allowing “foreigners” to serve at the Temple if they agree to keep the Sabbath and the Law of the Covenant. To do so would be a great act of faith not only for the foreigners but also for the Jewish people.
Contempt for “the foreigner” is a cultural characteristic, it seems, for many. Most recently, children and young adults seeking refuge in this country have had to endure not only exile from their home and families, but also the contempt born of fear from many in our country, and some in our church. Jesus’ morality drama played out to staunch the flow of animosity for the Canaanite who represented the consummate foreigner. Jesus’ clear message to the crowd: faith trumps creed because faith is the foundation of creed, not the other way around.
We worship a living God, not a living document. Too often text takes the place of a living faith. Where the community’s faith is strong, the “traditions of the elders” is always held accountable by living faith. When creed runs contrary to the living faith, it is discarded or altered to reflect the current reality. Ours is a living relationship with God, not a relationship with a text; that is simply another more insidious form of idolatry. Our true worship is as old as Isaiah in establishing justice and righteousness and calling brother or sister all who nurture faith in a living God.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

I'm in way over my head!  Where is God in all of this?

Imagine, if you will, that you have been sent by God to your people to demonstrate God’s power over and against 450 false prophets before the kingdom.  In a mighty display of God’s power, you call down fire from heaven completely obliterating the false prophets.  There is a giant pause as this object lesson settles in. People are amazed; they are frightened and break out into astonished applause. Then the crowd turns and walks away as you begin your well-rehearsed speech about being the true prophet of God. Then, the queen of the kingdom, out of fear, turns against you and forces you to flee to a cave in humiliated retreat. What went wrong?  Where is God in all of this?  Such is the situation Elijah finds himself in in today’s Old Testament reading from Kings.

After the great spectacle of God’s almighty power, the demise of the prophets of Ba’al, God appears now to Elijah, not in a way he appeared to Moses: wind, earthquake, and fire; God was not in the great wind, not in a mighty earthquake, and not again in fire, but only in a “tiny whispering sound”. Elijah hears the sound, but if Israel won’t pay attention to fire raining down from heaven, what will a whisper do? God tells Elijah that he is to go and anoint another leader and that a remnant of Israel will be faithful. So, the whisper leads to a renewal of a remnant of Israel (7,000) who reestablish God’s covenant with the faithful, the faithful who found God in a whisper.

With such great and grand injustices in the world, who doesn’t long for God as spectacle? Fireballs raining down on false prophets (or at least on ISIS!). Fireballs against our enemies, bread for the hungry, hope for the poor. What we get is a whisper that lies below the din of talk shows, political speeches, and mob violence; the whisper speaking to all who listen, who quietly and with great faith assert God’s presence in the whisper of individual acts of love well on the sidelines of social media.

Jesus, responding to the fear of his disciples in a boat on rough waters, accepts Peter’s rather glib challenge, and calls him from the boat. Peter’s salvation comes not by being successful at walking on water but succeeds in having his faith deepened in Christ’s saving him from his own fears and doubts. In this case, again, God was not in the storm, not in the spectacle of turmoil, but in quieting the storm and allaying fears. “Lord if it is really you, command me to come to you on the water” was Peter’s rather dim-witted proof of trust (If it wasn’t Jesus, but perhaps Satan, why not fool Peter?). Somehow, deep in Peter’s consciousness, he knew Jesus—present or absent-- would protect him, and he stepped out of the boat.

Faith didn’t save Peter, but Christ’s unconditional love; you don’t need to have great faith to be saved by Christ, but you’ve got to step out of the boat. You’ve got to be willing to fail at walking on water, at having your spectacular plans fail so that you can fall into the arms of the living God whose call is a whisper no one seems to hear.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Do You See Me Now?

    To be transfigured means to change bodily; in Greek, the word is metamorphosis. Jesus, in today’s gospel, is transfigured to be radiant as God is radiant. Clearly, the event makes clear the divinity of Jesus to Peter, James, and John; but why now?
     The Transfiguration is a “book end” event in Jesus’ life. It marks the beginning of the end when Jesus moves towards his death in Jerusalem. Like the baptism (the other “book end”), the voice of God the Father announces His pleasure towards the Son. More importantly, it positions the disciples Peter, James, and John, as new priests; those selected to mediate God to His people as on Mount Siani when Moses took up Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu (Exod 24:9) to see the presence of God, to enable them to witness to God’s presence. In the case of our story today, Jesus is the new Moses, and the three high-priests are replaced by the new priests of Peter, James, and John. Matthew is connecting the old with the new to reveal the fullness of Jesus’ identity; the one who embodies both the Old Testament Law (Moses) and the Old Testament prophets (Elijah). The story establishes Jesus’ divine authority, the revealing of Jesus’ closeness to the Father.

     What was revealed on Mt. Sanai with Moses now becomes the new revelation of the New Law with Jesus as the law-giver. The new Law becomes the summation of the Law and Prophets in Jesus’ statement of the requirement to love God and neighbor (the summation of the Law and Prophets); only, in this case, it isn’t a text that has been given to the people, it is God who has now been given to His people in the person of Jesus. The message is no longer confined to text but lives in the heart of every believer via the Holy Spirit. It replaces Temple sacrifice and priests who stand between God and humanity and replaces it with priests who stand with every believer who also is priest, prophet, and King by virtue of their baptism. The “Holy of Holies” of the Temple has been replaced by access to God himself in the Eucharist, not mediated by the priest, but offered to the people as the minister of The Sacrament so that we who receive the Body and Blood may, in turn, convey this healing Grace to the world sick with sin.