Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday Sermon

May 31, 2010

Whitsunday (Pentecost)

For elementary students, long division is their mathematical nightmare (assuming they even teach long division anymore). As long as the division is simple, they do well. But when it comes to large numbers, it is just too difficult. To top it all off, there is the quandary of the “remainder”. What in the world do you do with the remainder? Obviously 32 divided by 4 is easy. But what about 3209 divided by 5? There would be some left over .What do you do with it?

Let’s look at another quandary. Today we live in a society that is fascinated by many things. Most interestingly we are fascinated by the unknown and/or the charismatic elements of our faith. We love those action movies, like martial arts, The Matrix, Angels & Demons or even the new Legion movie that recently came out. We are fascinated by these movies and get caught up in the moment and wishing we could do those things. Now, I don’t mean killing people, of course, but being able to seemingly move effortlessly through the air; to move things using your mind without touching the item. Like Yoda or Darth Vader or Neo!

So, we have these remainders; and we have these “powers”. Let’s investigate this a bit.

We read in the Gospels, that Jesus is telling us that we should look at ourselves much like a vine. We need to remain in Jesus, so as we will be pruned and thus remain in the Father. In His ministry, we see Jesus do so many wondrous things, and He even tells His disciples that they too can do these many wondered things. Just like long division, our willingness to remain in Jesus is a stumbling block.

Faith to move mountains, as Jesus says ….. How about faith to walk on water? Many of us here today would be quick to state that we can’t do miracles. Many of us, when we are honest, would even admit that our faith doesn’t even dip into the realm of the charismatic to the point that we even sense a God given gift from the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians we read that there are many varieties of gifts from the Holy Spirit. Yet, when pressed, a great majority of us would say we do not have any gifts at all………… Or do we?

The Gospel of John is a bit more metaphorical than the other Gospels. We come away from reading John’s Gospel that things are more Charismatic and Spiritual or “mystical” than the other Gospels seem to imply. The Gospel starts out with: “In the beginning was the Word…” etc. This has caused great confusion among those trying to understand its meaning. Word? “Words” are on paper. “Words” are those sounds we make when we speak. In the beginning was the Word? We have visions in our minds of the letters W.O.R.D floating in midair, like one of those childhood programs on television that attempted to teach us how to spell Life started with a “word”??? How bizarre.

Although, we have come to understand its representation, it is still a bit hard to get our fingers around (much less our brains). The reason is because of its metaphorical meaning. We struggle to believe what it means. But, the point of John’s Gospel isn’t so much a theological point of what “Word” is, so much as when we read it through, we discover John’s approach to Jesus’ life is more on the spiritual or “supernatural” plane. We are being taught the mystical and spiritual ends of God’s kingdom and workings.

John’s Gospel also tends to point to the Church and its ministry and importance on earth. There was a need to assure followers that the services of the “Church” would be ongoing. As we see by reading various passages within Scripture, the ministries that the “Church” was meant to provide were indispensable. The organization of the “Church” was needed to continue transmitting the Word and the Sacramental signs that the Lord had left to His followers. The “Church” was needed after Jesus ascended to help the followers to understand His ministry; to understand what He did for us and what it should mean to us.

The young Church was deeply aware that no one could come to the Father except through Christ. When Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father..”, this question showed the Apostles continued to lack understanding; the same that we over 2,000 years later would find even harder to understand. They had Jesus right in front of them; we have to look at a picture and wonder if this is the true image of Him. Jesus makes it clear that He is in the Father and Father is in Him. To see Jesus’ is to see God. So for them then, and for us now, the energy for accomplishing great things comes from the belief in the person of Christ. The whole point was to give proof of unity that exists between the Father and the Son. “In the beginning was the Word…” Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

At the moment that Jesus is about to leave His disciples behind, He is concerned with the depth and clarity of their faith. Faith is the reality that will direct the Church; thus the Church must continue this role of Christ by showing all peoples to the Father. The Church is not identical to Christ, obviously, but it was Christ who willed that the Church come into existence and continues on in the work He began; to take His place on earth, so to speak. The Church is the instrument that Christ uses to reach and help His people. Therefore, the Church must also be the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

In John’s Gospel, we see the use of the word “knowledge”. The Hebrew form of the word to experience the object of the ‘knowledge’; something like feeling, touching, or sensing. The Hebrew form of this word is to have a concrete experience of God and to know Him through His works visibly seen. The Greek form, however, is what the Gospel of John uses most, which helps support the spiritual aspect that we are talking about today. The Greek form of ‘knowledge’ is more abstract, much like would be found in philosophical work. The Greek form means to contemplate something without an object and therefore form a concept of what it is, like a thought or air; they exist, but cannot be seen in the truest definition. The Hebrew mind of ‘knowledge’ means to experience the object and to enter into close relations with it. The Greek thinks of contemplating God who is changeless and apart from us and thus cannot be experienced in the sense that the Hebrew form means.

If we want to understand the Gospel of John, we must not distinguish too simplistically and undiscerningly between the two styles of knowing Christ, as would be the case of reading the first three Gospels and then reading John’s. Christ Himself wants us to know by means of the two forms of knowledge; by experiencing the concrete experiences and by seeing the works He does. And further, to sense or know in ways that cannot be seen with the naked eye; like cured cancer, an emotional conversion or even an extreme miracle. To hear them or read them is not the same as seeing or sensing them.

The Church, therefore, must continue to give the signs of Christ in order to make God visible and to enable mortals to experience Him. The Church must be at the disposal of human beings who will devote themselves to the ministry of Christ and/or the worship and belief in Christ, which includes the humbler services that sustain even the material life of the faithful. John seems to imply a new Church that is a new building and new city or new Jerusalem whereupon God dwells with mankind. Hence the Church is moving toward the ultimate Jerusalem and we are being called to go with her

As such, we come to a full circle in that we now look to what Jesus did for the Apostles and stated this would be to the end of the age. He breathed on them and said unto them, “…receive the Holy Spirit…what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…” The Holy Spirit, hence, chooses individuals and gives them special gifts for the accomplishments of the tasks of the Church. The Church is a sign of all followers giving access to the Father. As the Church grows, each Christian is a living stone in that spiritual building.

We have become so accustomed to thinking of the Church as sinful on her human side, so much so, that our faith has become less lively. We have become too preoccupied with counting all the wrinkles, that we forget the beauty of the many good things she does; we forget all the miraculous activities that take place every day in our lives. Our criticism, no matter how or what we feel, should never be to the point that it encourages others to leave the church or to not even join in the first place. This is such a tough task in this age of modern communication. The one with the louder voice seems to give the prevalent picture. So sad that the Church suffers because of the few bad apples, all because those sounding the alarm have a bigger voice than those who know the greater majority of the Church does so much good in the world. However, I digress.

So, what has all of this jumble of information to do with Whitsunday?

First, we must “remain” in Jesus because this is the only way to be in a relationship with the Father. Our attachment to Jesus, our relationship with the Divine, is a choice of heart that is affirmed and confirmed not only in word and speech, but also in deed and truth. Further, to “remain” in Jesus, we must be willing to be pruned. Even so, pruning is both the problem and the solution. Pruning is a problem because it is painful and we humans avoid what causes us pain. Yet, however painful pruning may be, it is being done by a God whom we call Father. Only by this personal attachment to Jesus can we be in a personal relationship with the Father and receive all the pruning we need to bear fruit.

Second, we humans tend to gravitate toward the unknown, in an effort to discover what it is that makes the unknown so real. Some 36 plus miracles were performed by Jesus, as recorded the Gospels. We then read in the book of Acts and various Epistles the various miracles that took place through the Apostles. We hear of weeping statues, and/or statues that bleed. We hear of the miracles of Lourdes or answered prayers from devotions to various saints. We hear of people and Saints who experienced the Stigmata. We hear of visions and revelations. We hear of so many things that science simply cannot explain. Even amongst these things, we still lack faith and the drive to be Christians as Christ, and thus the Church, desires us to be. Things I’ve mentioned fascinate us. We desire to know them; to experience them. But, we lack the drive to be them.

I will not stand here and say that you most certainly will experience any of these things in your lifetime, but I will stand here and tell you that it is possible. The Holy Spirit came in the form of tongues of fire. Each Apostle received a gift from the Holy Spirit that day. Each Apostle handed this on to a successor, who did the same on down to today. Many a people touched by them, also received the Holy Spirit as it best suited them. Even here today, we can be touched by the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is be open to it and invite the Holy Spirit to come unto us.

The Church has always taught that each Priest receives a gift, and as a Bishop, tradition holds that he receives more gifts or powers to do God’s work. I am confident I have a gift or gifts given to me by the Holy Spirit, even though I have absolutely no clue what it or they may be. I too have tended to be closed-minded to believing it possible to the point that if I have a gift, I know not what it is. I have experienced answered prayer that I have given for someone. I have experienced “strange” phenomena due to prayers I have offered. I have been told that miracles of one nature, or another, that have been felt was due to my prayer. Was any of this due to me or the Lord choosing to work through me? I do not know. But I do know that like the Gospel of John implies, our God is a spiritual God, and in Him, all things are possible.

Whitsunday is the day we are called to faith. Called to faith, because we are asked to believe in something we virtually cannot see or feel. The coming of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity that no one can put a face to. We each have our own version of what God looks like. Most of us have virtually the same ideal of what Jesus looks like, but nothing is really even said or discussed about what the Holy Spirit looks like, except on two occasions. One of those days was when we visualize the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. On this day, known as Whitsunday or Pentecost, we think of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire. So we ask, "which is it?" That’s what faith brings us, folks. Some conundrums to help us understand that God is so infinite, that to put one title, one face to Him, would be limiting His omnipotence. So on this day, Whitsunday, we are called to believe in what our minds say is impossible. Not only are we called to believe in a God with many faces, but we are called in faith to believe in miracles. Every day is a miracle. Every day a miracle can happen. All we have to do is believe. All we have to do is have a little faith.

God Love You +

+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens

Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

San Diego, Ca.