Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Sermon

May 27, 2012 Whitsunday (Pentecost) Today, let’s talk health …… Well, sort of. If you want better health, you’ve got to hop on a bike and pedal like crazy, go to the gym and get a personal trainer to push you to your limits, get on the trails and run like crazy, or any other myriad of things to get that body into shape. And if you want stronger faith? …… Do the very same thing. No, this is not the end of the sermon. Grant Harrison had a brainstorm one day, as he was working at the Innovation Center at the Humana health-benefits company in Louisville. The Innovation Center is a think tank, so Harrison was … thinking. It was dawning on him that health-insurance companies need to change, that they can’t focus solely on health-policy reform (which seems to be all insurance companies care about these days). Then the light bulb went on: Humana had to become “a health-creation company”! Not health insurance. Health creation! And the goal had to be “to make fun things healthy.” But how to do it? Harrison thought of bicycles and how they could become a healthy way for people to commute to work. A large percentage of people who drive to work, live less than five miles away. Harrison thought they could be doing this on a bike. If somebody starts commuting this way, within a year, he or she will have lost 13 pounds on average he concluded. Plus, “when you get people on two wheels, you unlock this feeling of being a kid again.” The church is sometimes seen as a divine insurance company, providing protection against spiritual disaster and eternal damnation. You’ve probably seen the church sign that says, “The way some people live, they ought to obtain eternal fire insurance.” Sometimes that is more factual than we think. But shouldn’t the church be in the faith-creation business? When the risen Jesus appears to his followers in the gospel of John, he doesn’t ask them to take out an insurance policy to provide protection in the afterlife. Instead, he says, “Peace be with you,” “I send you,” “Receive the Holy Spirit,” “Forgive sins” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus comes back from the dead to do the work of faith creation so his followers will move forward as strong, healthy and vigorous disciples. He doesn’t give them a bicycle, but a faith-cycle, if you will, and sends them out, to make believers of all nations. But just what exactly does this spiritual cycle look like? The first thing to see is that this cycle has a sturdy frame. The disciples are scared to death on Easter evening, hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews,” and when Jesus pops in among them unannounced he says, “Peace be with you”. He immediately assures them that they are safe and secure in his presence and that their world is no longer in danger of falling apart. When he gives them his peace, the disciples feel a sense of health and wholeness that has been missing since his death, and John tells us they rejoice when they see the Lord. The peace of Christ is a sturdy frame that the disciples can lean on and trust, knowing that it can hold them up as they cross any terrain. It was true for them then, and it’s true for us today. But Jesus doesn’t let them stand around admiring the cycle. He says to them, “As the father has sent me, so I send you”. Jesus pushes them out on what we would call today “a mission” — a word that comes from the Latin missio, which means “to send.” The faith-cycle that Jesus is creating for them is not meant to stand still. It comes equipped with strong wheels and knobby tires so the disciples can travel to the ends of the earth on their mission from God. The disciples know they’re going to have to mount up and ride this proverbial bike, and it will not be an easy road to ride. Of course, pedaling is hard work, so Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. He literally inspires them by putting the Spirit into them; to “inspire” means to “breathe into” or to “put spirit into.” Jesus fills his followers with divine energy and insight so they will move forward with God’s own power and guidance within them. While competitive cyclists today might get strength from a PowerBar, these followers of Christ receive their power directly from the Holy Spirit of God. Then Jesus points to the handlebars on their cycle and says, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. Forgiveness is the course that these disciples are challenged to ride, as difficult as the path may be. Here’s an example: In the winter of 1993, theologian Miroslav Volf finished a lecture on embracing enemies and was asked, “But can you embrace a ãetnik?” At that time, the Serbian fighters who were called ãetnik had been doing violence in Volf’s native country, raping women, burning down churches, destroying cities and herding people into concentration camps. He had just argued that we ought to embrace our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ, so the question was concrete, penetrating and personal: Can he embrace a ãetnik — the ultimate other, the evil other? “What would justify the embrace?” wondered Volf. “Where would I draw the strength for it? What would it do to my identity as a human being and as a Croat?” It took him a while to answer, but he knew immediately what he wanted to say. “No, I cannot,” he answered, “but as a follower of Christ I think I should be able to.” That’s the direction Jesus challenged the disciples to travel: toward forgiveness, toward reconciliation, toward embracing our enemies as God has embraced us in Christ. It’s a rocky road and terribly difficult to travel, but as followers of Jesus it’s the course we should be pursuing. After all, Jesus says, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. That is a hard road to travel sometimes, but as followers of Christ, it is something we are called to do. So Jesus presents his followers with this shiny new cycle and encourages them to ride it hard so they can experience some life-changing faith creation. But one of the disciples, Thomas, is out of the room when Jesus makes his presentation. He doesn’t believe what the others tell him about Jesus’ return and says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe”. For Thomas, this talk of resurrection and faith-cycling seems pretty wobbly. He wants proof. He wants that cycle to have its training wheels installed first! One week later, the disciples are gathered again, and this time Thomas is in the house. Jesus pops in and offers them his peace, which is the sturdy frame of his faith-cycle. Then, in a manner of speaking, Jesus says to Thomas, “I know you want some training wheels before you will hop on this bike.” What he really says is, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe”. Thomas receives the proof he needs and answers, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus removes the training wheels from the cycle and says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”. That’s where we find ourselves standing today: in front of a faith-cycle without training wheels. Our challenge is to ride on two wheels, with nothing but faith that Jesus will keep us from falling. We cannot put our finger in the hands of Jesus, or our hand in his side. We cannot take the place of Thomas and see the risen Jesus face to face. Or can we? In the final judgment of Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (vv. 34-35). The message of this passage is that we welcome Jesus our king whenever we welcome a stranger, and that our place in God’s eternal kingdom is connected to the place we make in our own lives for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison or a stranger to us; and as we have seen by Jesus’ example, even those who may be considered outcasts of the community to others. So if you want to see the risen Jesus, welcome a stranger. If you want to experience some real faith creation, show hospitality to people in need. This is a workout that will move you from doubt to faith and make you a stronger, healthier and a more vigorous Christian. God Love You + + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church

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