Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King

The 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Feast of Christ the King

Gospel John 18: 33b - 37
Pilate said to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or have others told you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not Jewish, am I? It is your own nation and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world.If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Temple authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." So Pilate said, "Then you are a king?" Jesus replied, "You say I am a king. I was born and came into the world for one purpose-- to bear witness to the Truth. Everyone who seeks the truth listens to my voice."

On this, the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year, the Feast of Christ the King, we have heard the Gospel reading about the Last Judgment. It is an extraordinary text which is not just about a future moment in history, but about the very essence of being a follower of Jesus Christ today. It is a challenge to each of us and to our Christian community to remember that being a Christian is never just something inward looking. The Christian life is never self-centered. God is love and the Christian life can only be a life which reflects that love. The Christian cannot be unconcerned about or uninterested in those around us, especially those who are marginalized.

There are many examples in art and literature which would tend to depict the last judgment as a terrible and frightening moment in which God appears as a cold judge, separating people into different categories and separating them from him and from each other for all eternity. The first thing that we have to remember is that the judgment is not about how we respond to a collection of abstract or arbitrary rules and norms; it is primarily about how we respond in love to the God who is love.

The judgment is about love, rather than just being about rules and norms. We will be judged by how we have loved and especially about how we have loved not just those near and dear to us but by how we have loved the most marginal, the people with whom we would often not normally have any contact. Jesus lists those who in his own time were the most marginal: those who suffered hunger or thirst, the naked, the stranger, the sick and those in prison. That original list is certainly not off the mark regarding our own times: we can think of those who hunger and are without nurture, physical our spiritual or those who thirst for meaning and hope in the confusion of our world.

We can think of those who those who are exposed with little cover and protection to the rough elements of our times, not just climatically but also economically, or emotionally; we can think of those who are treated as strangers, when they do not fit into how we define the categories of respectability and being like ourselves. We can think of those who are physically in our prisons but also of those who are trapped in the many prisons of human suffering or oppression or anguish or distress. These are the ones with whom Christ identifies himself. If we do something for the most marginalized then we do so because we encounter Christ in them.

The Gospel is however telling us something deeper: if we wish to look for symbols of God, if we want to know who God is, then we should not turn to the powerful, but to those who have no outward earthly support. The poor and the marginalized reveal to us who God is; they are symbols and sacraments of God. The marginalized are also, one can say, sacraments of sin, not in the sense that finding oneself on the margins is the fruit of personal sinfulness, but rather that the plight of the marginalized and our lack of concern for them reveals to us many of the fruits of sin and evil that still exist in our world and about which we as followers of Jesus Christ must be concerned.

The Gospel of the Last Judgement is not just about our own life but about the care of the Christian believer about the roots of marginalisation. The believer cannot but be concerned about models of society which alienate men and women from attaining the fullness of their dignity. In this context I cannot but express my own concern about the plight of prisoners in today’s The judgment mentioned in the Gospel is not just about a future surprise for those who have failed to respond to the call of Jesus.

There is no evidence in our Gospel reading to imagine that those who come to the valley of judgment come already designated or identifiable as sheep or goats. They all enter identical; just human beings one like the other. It is the encounter with the Lord which brings discernment into what their lives are about: any encounter with the Lord results in a judgment, discernment about where our lives are focused.

Put in another way, the judgment about how we lead our lives is not something which takes place in the distant future and which leaves time for us to put off decisions. The encounter with the Lord today and in our everyday circumstances shows up in the light the many notes of darkness in our lives, the darkness which springs when we fail in love.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. On the final Sunday of the Liturgical Year we remember that the history of salvation, the story of our God who accompanies us on our journey here on earth and throughout history, will only come to its conclusion when the salvation won for us by Jesus on the Cross is fully realized all over the world and within the entire creation. Christ’s kingdom will only be fully realized when our world fully witnesses to God’s kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice love and peace. The injustice and inequalities of our world tells us that we have truly much more to achieve.

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but it is not outside this world entirely either. Jesus’ kingdom is already present in seed within our world, through the redeeming power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a kingdom which can be anticipated, even in our time, through grace and holiness, when we as believers attempt to shape our lives in terms of that truth and life, that justice, love and peace which are the signs of the kingdom and of God’s presence.

The Feast of Christ the King is a celebration of community, of community living in harmony and rejecting all forms of division and violence. For many generations this Church has been a place where the values of God’s kingdom have been taught and lived out. As we dedicate this refurbished Church we thank God for the good things we have inherited from those who went before us. We commit ourselves to keep the values we inherited from them alive into the future. We commit ourselves to pass on to the coming generations the same vital Christian values.

The judgment narrative reminds us that the sinfulness in our lives is what causes division and thus separates us from God and from each other for all eternity. The Eucharist is what unites us. The theme of the Eucharistic Congress shows us how the unity which is built up in the Eucharist is the opposite of such separation with God and such division among ourselves. It is communion with Christ and with one another.

May this renewed altar be the place where for years to come this Christian community will be a place of sharing and communion for all, of renewal in our Christian life and of great blessing for all who come here.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Genuine Christian Spirituality

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 13:24-32

Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. "And then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."But as for that day or hour, no one knows it--neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son--no one but the Father .

As we have heard both Daniel and Jesus today, we can see the main significance of the end-time in the fact that it'll be the time of God's final judgment.

There will be a great separation: the people who have lived in conformity with God's commandments will enter into the fulness of salvation. Individuals who have only lived for themselves, who remain hardened in a completely self-seeking stance, will be barred from sharing God's life in eternity.

I don't think we can deny that Jesus regarded this prospect of final judgement, and the possibility of either redemption or damnation, as an important aspect of his whole message, and he often appealed to people in vivid and urgent language to stand ready, to prepare themselves, and to live in such a way that they might confidently face God's judgement if the end of the world were to happen tomorrow.

We don't have to be literal-minded about the lurid and violent images of the "time of distress". But the core meaning of apocalyptic preaching is something that we should take seriously and our spirituality as Christian believers and disciples should always have an apocalyptic aspect.

Christian spirituality should always be conscious, for example, that the purpose of human life doesn't lie, ultimately, within this world. We're destined for eternity, and that means an authentic Christian spirituality never places an ultimate value on anything that belongs to this world: material wealth, the achievements of worldly power or social status, even the emotional ties that naturally mean so much to us. At the end, we leave them all behind.

 Religion, then, for us, properly understood, is more of a journey towards our final destination: fulness of life with God. Our life on earth is an opportunity to render our duties towards God, the source of everything that exists. It's not a matter, as religion seems to have been re-construed in modern consumer culture, as a sort of pleasant pastime, a set of vague activities that foster human warmth and community spirit.

Secondly, the apocalyptic dimension of Christian faith should help to make us aware that our life could end at any time. Every day we should live, as Jesus implies, as though we might meet God before we reach the end of it.

This has always been an aspect of genuine Christian spirituality: that life is short and the hour of death unknown, as we say in the prayers of the funeral service. Many people used to say prayers before going to bed at night made explicit reference to the prospect of death, and they asked God to be merciful and to receive them into his company if they died before the morning.

Again, you can get the impression that many church people now don't give much serious thought to the prospect of their own death or anyone else's, and are spiritually ill-prepared to face it when it happens, especially when it happens suddenly.

A third aspect of apocalyptic spirituality which is valuable is that it encourages us to interpret disasters and catastrophes in the light of our faith in God. In the early centuries of the Church's history many men and women got so weary of the corrupt state of society that they withdrew to the remote desert areas to spend their lives in prayer and reflection, searching for God and preparing to meet God. This was their response to the disaster of a society in terminal decline: to concentrate their energies more single-mindedly on God.

 Nearer our own time, after the end of the Second World War, there was a surge in applications to the contemplative orders of men and women because having witnessed the destruction and cruelty of the War, many people became very reflective about the purpose of life and life after death. Again, this had an apocalyptic tenor to it: reacting to disaster with a more careful fostering of spiritual life.

 We can ask ourselves: how do we follow these examples in the collapsing culture of our own time? It's certainly right that Christians should line up with other people to protest - for example - about unjust wars, threats to civil liberties, efforts to create a political climate that tolerates torture and brutality, the destruction of the environment, and so on. These are the apocalypses of our own day.

 But at the same time let's not underrate the value of small, individual gestures. The person who responds to the corruption of surrounding society by quietly saying his or her prayers every day, by refusing to go along with dishonest practices in the workplace, by living simply and renouncing the whole indulgent philosophy of consumerism, is also getting ready for God's judgement in the way Jesus invites us to.

A lot of these small actions might seem futile to people with no faith, but for us it's a question of doing what God wants, not what impresses other people or achieves "results". The real significance of our small efforts of faith is often hidden and goes unnoticed. But they're no less valuable for that.

 Last of all, let's not lose sight of the fact that the main emphasis of apocalyptic preaching is hope, not disaster, God's love and will to save, not anger at human sinfulness. If we genuinely treat our lives here and now as a preparation for our future destiny, and behave accordingly, there should be no need to worry about God's negative judgement. But it's surely also true that we can't behave selfishly, cruelly, blindly towards other people's suffering, and expect God not to discriminate against us.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Law of Love

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time


Mark 12: 28b-34

One of the religious scholars who had listened to them debating and had observed how well Jesus had answered them, now came up and put a question to Jesus: "Which is the foremost of all the commandments?" Jesus replied, "The first is this: Hear, O Israel! God, our God, is the One God! You must love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."The scholar said to Jesus, "Well said, Teacher! What you have said is true: 'The Most High is One and there is no other.' 'To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself' is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." Jesus, seeing how wisely this scholar had spoken, said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."And after that, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

 Today we continue to read from the Gospel according to Mark. Today we are reminded of the core of the Old and New Testaments. Over the years we have developed and added much to the core through the study of Scripture and through tradition, and so, we sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. Today we look at the forest.

Both the First and Gospel readings today give us the core principles, commandments, mission statement – call it what we will – of all of Scripture. It can all boil down to two statements actually, as Jesus states in the Gospel of Mark, and that is the case in the Moses’ tradition as well. Although we call them the Ten Commandments, we can note all the first three commandments deal with our relationship to God, and the last seven deal with our relationship with others. So what is that relationship and what are the two great commandments, the two things that we must do so that it may, in Moses’ words, “go well with you” and “so that your days may be long”, and so that we may be in a place “flowing with milk and honey.”

 The section of our first reading today from Deuteronomy only deals with the first great commandment, and is about our relationship to God. We are told that “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.” In other words, there are no other gods – there is one God, the God of our Fathers. And the command is this: that we shall love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our might.

A little side trip, now. How can we be commanded to love something or someone? Can we just decide we are going to love someone and do it? I think this would be almost impossible to do. But if we look at love, not as a feeling or ‘being’, but as a “doing” then I think we can. Isn’t it true that we can say that we love someone all we want, but the proof lies in what we do. If we never do anything for that person, how will they even recognize our love? It must express itself in action.

Think of that beautiful list of St. Paul’s: “Love is patient, love is kind..” and so on. These are all action verbs: to love means to take action, to show itself, to express itself. So it used to bother me when we were commanded to love God, but now I know that by doing God’s will, by keeping his words (as Moses says today) I will be loving the Lord God. And the interesting thing is that the more we take action, the more we do, the more we begin to feel love and it becomes a state of being. So after we do things to show our love, we can then state with psalmist today: “I love you, Lord, my strength.”

So in today’s Gospel, a scribe has been listening to Jesus. By the way, a scribe in Israel may have been a person who copied Scripture, but was also a very educated person, comparable to a lawyer today, or a government official who was able to interpret documents. The Scribe today asks Jesus a question because he has been impressed with Jesus’ answers to the religious authorities. He knew the answer to the question he was asking, but he was testing Jesus to make sure that he knew Jewish Law, and could distinguish what was most important in it. So he asks Jesus simply what was the greatest or the “first” commandment. Jesus makes sure to answer the question correctly, but because he feels it is not enough, he addresses the second great commandment as well.

 For the first commandment Jesus recites the very words of the Deuteronomy that we read today, although he does add one thing. Deuteronomy says that we must love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul and strength. Jesus adds “mind” as well. We must love God with all our minds. In other words if love is action, we must attempt to get to know God, understand God and the will of God.

This is the answer that the Scribe was expecting to hear, but it seems like he was also expecting more, and Jesus gave it to him.

The second great commandment involves other people… our neighbors, and it, too, is a command to love. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. Again, this must translate into action. It is no good to say we love our neighbors unless we show that love for our neighbors. This is certainly one of the reasons our church is trying to do more and more in the community and the world, to help those who are needy – to show that we love them, to take action towards them.

The Scribe was pleased with Jesus’ answer because it was precisely what he understood the Law to be. The Scribe adds that following this law of love is far more important than burnt offerings and sacrifice, which is what the religious authorities were concerned about. After all, they couldn’t pay for the upkeep of the temple and their salaries unless people continued to buy animals in order to make sacrifice.

Jesus’ response to the Scribe was a beautiful one: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”. Again, we get the impression that the Kingdom of God is not just after we die, but is here and now, and by our proper understanding, and our taking action to show love, we can be very close to it here and now.

So the main point that I would like you to take home and think about this week is ‘how am I taking action to show my love – both towards God and towards my neighbor. Is my own need for money, for power, for worldly pleasure, causing me to forget that others want and deserve good things, too. Can we show our love by sharing a little more the bounty God has given us. And as far as the first commandment, can we show God our love by trying to find some time to listen to him, to find him in prayer and companionship at church, to host him in the Eucharist. What can we DO to make God more in our heart, in our soul, in our strength and even in our mind’s awareness? My prayer is that we all can take action a little more in our relationships with God and our neighbors.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)