In St. Luke’s Gospel - which we have been reading since last December – we hear many stories or parables about people who are neglected, forgotten, ignored, or lost in some way.
St. Luke writes about women, beggars, lepers, upset workers, widows, tax collectors, and the poor – which indicates Jesus, and Luke’s, compassion and empathy for common people.
People were important to Luke – because people were important to Christ – and so people should be important to us.
We used a short version of the Gospel today. The longer version contains two more parables about the lost familiar to us:
A shepherd who leaves 99 sheep in order to find one lost sheep — and the story of two lost sons – one who left home to squander his inheritance – one who stayed home but felt neglected — both of whom – still loved dearly by their father.
I chose to focus on the middle of the three parables – one that is often neglected in favor of the other two.
All three of these stories are about lost things that are found – and even though we are not sheep or a coin – these two stories are also about people who stray and need to be found.
As Pope Francis said of this trio of stories: “God is not a good loser, and this is why, in order not to lose anything –
God goes out and searches – God searches for all those who are far away – strained in their relationships with God and others – like a sheep, like a coin, like a son.”
So picture a woman – living in a small house, one of several on a crowded village street.
A kindly lady who gets by on very little. Her days consist in sewing and knitting, cooking and gardening, cleaning and conversations with neighbors.
Though she is far from rich, she does have some money – ten silver coins that are of great value to her.
But one day she discovers that one is gone!
According to the original Greek, the coins were drachmas – each equivalent to a Roman silver denarius – which represents about a day’s wages. So let’s say in today’s money she had $1,000 and now found $100 missing.
Add to this that in the Middle Eastern culture in which this woman lived – money was not a common commodity among ordinary folks in rural villages – this woman – like most in her town - would have been to a large extent - self-sufficient: making her own cloth, growing her own food, milking her own goat - and getting by the best she could.
Cash and coinage would be a rare thing - hence the lost coin is of far greater value in her home than it would be in ours -
having more value than the day’s labor it represents monetarily.
In any case, we can see that one missing coin amon ten would be a terrible loss for her. We can imagine her heart skipping a beat as she gasps with shock as she discovers her loss.
Has she mislaid it - or dropped it? Has someone come in and taken it? It was enough to send her into a panic. Where could the coin be??
A typical house had a few slits for windows or no windows at all – so there was little light in the house. To search for the lost coin required more light. Oil for a lamp was not cheap – and so she normally saves the lamp for night – but she must find that coin. . .
So with the lamp lit – the search is on. Out comes the broom, and she carefully begins a methodical and thorough search.
Across the packed-earth floor and under the reed mats and pottery vessels – she searches. But nothing shows up.
Again - she goes back over the same area but from a different angle, the light from the lamp casting different shadows.
Just as she is about to end the second search without any success – she sees a small glimmer.
There it is! The coin is found! Quickly she picks it up and blows away the dust. Yes! She exclaims. “There you are! I thought you were gone, never to be found.”
She rushes out of her house calling to her neighbors: “Come, rejoice and celebrate with me! The coin I lost has been found!”
You can imagine the shared joy of her friends – thankful she’s no longer at wit’s end and that she still has all her valuable coins. Inner calm returns. Life is once again normal and peaceful.
It’s a simple, straight-forward occurrence told in just three verses. . . but what’s in it for us?
All three parables in Luke’s 15th chapter - the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son - all concern the restoration of lost relationships: and ultimately how God seeks out people who were lost to Him and bringing them back into a loving relationship with Him.
That’s certainly the point - and we must all realize our need to be found by God. Because all of us are lost in someway.
But a more important point – is that God desires us to be like HIM: to see the importance of relationships with other people and striving to reconcile and restore relationships that are broken.
So who are the lost sheep, the lost coins, the lost children in our lives –who need to be found?
God is not a good loser - and neither should we. Even though God has 99 of the lost sheep – 9 of the lost coins – and still one son at home–
God wants them all – all 100, all 10, both the older and younger son. . . And God desires us to be like him!
It’s God’s plan – and must become our plan – to gather all the lost outcasts and join them together in the larger body that God is building: the kingdom of justice and peace.
That’s the challenge before us – to help build the kingdom of the lost and forsaken – the kingdom for beggars and lepers and women and orphans and all those who are on the margins.
So the ultimate question of the day: will we let ourselves be found – and then go out and find those who are still lost – and bring them to the kingdom – the banquet table of the saint as well as the sinner?
For God rejoices when the lost is found - every wayward soul come to holy ground. Like the silver drachma when it rolls around. God rejoices when the lost is found.
Many of us have heard the phrase – but few of us probably know it was Spanish philosopher Gerorge Santayana who said: “Those who do not learn history — are doomed to repeat it.”
Since I was already making enough mistakes on my own during my teenage years – that gave me a good reason for learning history: so I could learn from other people’s mistakes before I made them on my own.
And then when I got to high school and my American History teacher, Mr. Sims, taught me that history is more than dates and places and events – but great stories – I was hooked on history.
Yes, history is all about great stories - of people, places and things – Like this one about Napoleon:
In the year 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte captured the city of Rome and took Pope Pius VI prisoner.
Napoleon thought he could intimidate the Pope and force him to become his puppet - because the Church had considerable political power at that time.
But Pope Pius refused to cooperate with Napoleon. So in a fit of anger, Napoleon shouted at the Pope: “if you do not do as I command, I will destroy the Church.”
The Pope replied - you can’t do that. And Napoleon said - just watch me - within a year the Catholic Church will be no more.
To which Pope Pius calmly replied: “If we, who are the Church, have in 1800 years, failed to destroy the Church by our sins – I doubt very much if you will succeed.”
Well, as we know by our presence here – the Church still exists - whereas Napoleon has passed on– as just another person in the pages of history.
One of the dangers of becoming mighty and powerful is that one also becomes proud and arrogant.
Power and might can become seen as a RIGHT – that is used to push and to pull in order to get what is wanted.
And usually the casualties are the lowly and the powerless and those who cannot defend themselves. They get swept aside to make way for those who think they are powerful and mighty.
But our first reading from Sirach told us: the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly – and then you will find favor with the Lord; for great though the power of God is – the Lord accepts the homage of the humble.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus told a parable when he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor. . .
The parable highlights the fact that our human desires go for the first place and not the last; our desire is for the lofty - not the lowly - we want the most - and not the least.
But the Lord looks on the lowly and God accepts the homage of the humble — and God fills the hungry with good things.
Yes, there is something that the lowly and humble can teach us about the ways of God – because it is to the lowly and humble that God showers down blessings.
It is also through the lowly and humble that God shows power and might – as this story may help us grasp. . .
A small mouse crept up to a sleeping lion that had just finished his meal. The mouse longed to have some of the scraps of the leftover meal.
“Since he’s sleeping,” thought the mouse, “he will never suspect I’m here.”
With that, the little mouse sneaked up and tried to pull off a scrap for its meal.
The lion awoke and quickly caught the mouse between its claws.
“Please,” said the mouse, “let me go and I promise I’ll come back and help you someday.”
The lion just laughed. “You are so small,” he said, “what could you ever do to help me?”
The lion laughed so hard he had to hold his belly at which point he let go of the mouse and the mouse ran away fast and far away.
The next day, two hunters came to the jungle. They went to the lion’s lair. They set a hugh rope snare. And when the lion came home that night, he stepped into the trap and was caught up in the ropes.
He tried with all his might but that just tightened the ropes – he could not get free. Frustrated he just roared and roared.
The mouse heard the roar and came to see what was going on.
Upon seeing the thick ropes that held the lion tight – he went to work nibbling at the rope until it broke.
The lion was freed and was able to shake off the ropes that held him tight. The lion now turned to his new best friend and said, “I was foolish to ridicule you for being so small. You not only helped me – you saved my life.”
Well, back to Napoleon. Toward the end of his life, he was exiled on the small rocky island of St. Helena. There, the former conqueror of Europe had time to reflect on his life – and even on the life of Christ.
After his reflections – He made the statement: “Other conquerors founded their empires by force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love and humility.”
Napoleon finally understood why he could not destroy the Church – his pride was no match for the love and humility of Christ– the foundation upon which the Church is built.
So as the Church, the members of the Body of Christ – we must remember what Sirach teaches us – be gentle in our living – and we will be better loved than a lavish giver.
For the power of love is seen in gentleness and humility. And to be gentle and humble is what the followers of Jesus Christ are called to be.
And it is only then – that the pride and arrogance of the world can be conquered.
All of us– either belong to, are related to, or are friends of — a family that is divided.
A divided family can come in many shapes and sizes: a husband and wife who are separated or divorced.
Children who no longer speak to their parents or vice-versa.
Brothers and sisters who no longer communicate with each other.
In-laws who don’t - or who are not allowed – to attend family functions.
Grandparents who have never seen, or rarely see – their grandchildren.
We have read about some divided families recently in the Gospel of Luke:
“Lord, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.”
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving.”
Or can’t you just hear the wife of the rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest: “how about adding on to the house— instead of building bigger barns??”
Oddly enough, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come to divide families: “A family of five will be divided: three against two and two against three. . .”
The same man which we call the Prince of Peace now tells us that he has come to bring division – not peace.
What’s Jesus talking about???
Is he really for divided families?
To understand the comments of Jesus, we have to put them in context.
In his day, Jesus found some aspects of Jewish faith lacking in compassion.
It was too legalistic and rigid. More concerned about the keeping of rules and regulations than about people - and meeting them where they are.
Jesus was claiming to be the compassionate Son of God - one who shows mercy and offers forgiveness. Who once said, “I desire mercy - and not sacrifice. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Eventually, many people came to follow him – many people who had previously been faithful members of the synagogue.
And those who began to follow Jesus, no doubt, caused disruption in their families.
Can’t you just hear a devout Jewish father saying to his son: “If you keep following after that Jesus – you will never set foot in this house again.”
Or a distraught Jewish mother saying to her daughter: “As long as you live in my house – you will do as I say – which is to go to the synagogue, not off to some hillside to listen to that man. . .”
Jesus’ “new way” as it was called in the years after his ascension – obviously must have split families: three against two and two against three.
So what Jesus is talking about – is that a person’s choices – based on values – can and will divide families: where your treasure is, there your heart shall be.
Not everyone in a family will treasure the same things – and so hearts will be in different places, focused on different things – and THIS can bring about division.
A person who chose the values of the kingdom Jesus was preaching was putting themselves at odds with traditional Jewish values – especially of the rule keeping type.
Division is a natural consequence when core-values contradict. This was true in Jesus’ day –and it is true in ours.
But just because we disagree – doesn’t mean we immediately move to shutting down communication – stop listening – stop talking – and cutting that person out of our lives - and dismissing them never to interact with them again:
Which seems to be the case in many families - certainly in our country - and even in our Church
Because if we really value these relationships – THEN WE NEVER GIVE UP ON EACH OTHER.
Jesus also told us: if you bring your gift to the altar and know that you are at odds with your brother or sister – go first to be reconciled – then bring your gift to the altar.
So we try our best to forgive and reconcile. We try to understand where the other person is coming from and why they value what they do.
We try to lift each other out of the muddy pit instead of shoving each other deeper by our anger, our misunderstanding, or our judgment.
Where your treasure is - there your heart shall be. . .
The fire that Jesus wishes to set ablaze in our hearts – in our lives – and in our world –
Is the fire of love, and mercy, and forgiveness, and reconciliation.
As Pope Francis recently told a group of Bishops from Malawi: [muh-la-wee]
“There is no aspect of family life – childhood and youth; friendship, engagement and marriage; spousal intimacy, fidelity and love; interpersonal relationships and support – which is excluded from the healing and strengthening touch of God’s love and forgiveness – communicated through the Gospels and taught by the Church.”
We are all in need of God’s healing touch - God’s understanding heart - God’s mercy reaching out to us. God has never given up on the people God has called - no matter how far they have strayed — and we are called to have the mind and heart of God. . .
And so we do pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit - as we partake of the one Bread of the Eucharist - we may be gathered into one Body of Christ who heals every division.
If our family truly is our treasure – then we will set our hearts on making our families the place where no matter what someone says or does – it is a place of compassion. And a place of challenge to become the people God is calling us to be.
Most of you know – I like to read. When I am asked what my hobbies are – I say woodworking, gardening, traveling (especially to any beach) AND reading. . .
I like to read historical novels – either fiction or non-fiction (after all, I WAS a social studies teacher). And I read almost any novel that moves along pretty quickly. I’ve never gotten into westerns – or – surprise – romance novels. . .!
In one of Arthur Conan Doyles’ novels about Sherlock Holmes called A Scandal in Bohemia, which I read many years ago – the detective Holmes is hired to find a discriminating picture of the King of Bohemia taken with a woman named Irene Adler.
The picture poses a risk of scandal for the king and Holmes is supposed to find it and destroy it. So he - of course - must first – find the picture.
He does this by going to Ms. Adler’s home – and then having his side-kick Professor Watson throw a smoke bomb into an open window and cry out: FIRE!
Irene Adler exposes the hidden place of the picture by going to the place where it is kept and taking it – before she flees the building - at which point Holmes is able to grab it from her.
Asked by Watson how he knew this would work – he simply tells Watson that it is elementary.
When a person thinks their house is on fire - they’re most likely going to rush to that which is most valuable to them– and take it with them – as they leave the building.
Where your treasure is - there your heart shall be. . .
People will inevitably reveal what they value most — by their actions. Irene Adler’s most valuable possession was the picture of her with the king of Bohemia, which was linked to her safety and reputation.
Other people may value money more than anything and will go to great lengths to secure and gain more riches – as we heard last week with the man building bigger barns.
For many people, their success or family is the most valued treasure of their lives, which is revealed in how they spend their time and energy.
A person’s heart is tied to what they value most in life – which is why Jesus told us last week: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” And wanted us to grow rich in what matters to God – not to store up treasures for ourselves here on earth.
And this week strikes a similar chord by wanting us to “provide money bags that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.”
For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.
So when the fires rage – as they do in California. Or the flood waters sweep in - as they did in Kentucky. Or when the tornado sirens go off --
Hopefully we make sure we and those we love are safe – and are not like Ms. Adler – needing to stop and pick up some THING that is so important to us we would risk our lives over it.
Remember, it’s perfectly fine to have possessions – to have money in the bank to adequately prepare for our futures. And to be content and happy.
But we have to keep things in perspective.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
If we view our possessions or success in life as the result of our own talent and effort – we will think of ourselves as owners of these things – and cling to them tightly – maybe even risking our lives over them.
People inevitably reveal what they value most by their actions – and how they spend their time and energy.
But remember: in reality – we are all stewards of what God has provided. God gives us the ability to do whatever we are doing: all of us earn our wealth and possessions with borrowed abilities.
And we are called to be grateful – which expands our hearts – which allows us to be generous with the gifts God has given us.
Where your treasure is – there your heart shall be.
All that you possess will never set you free.
Seek the things that last – come and learn from me.
Where your treasure is - your heart shall be.
Jesus was teaching his disciples when he was somewhat rudely interrupted by someone who wanted him to resolve a family dispute over inheritance. This man was not really asking for advice – he just wanted to try to get Jesus on his side: “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”.
We might hear a faint echo of another two brothers disputing over half an inheritance – the two brothers in the parable of the prodigal son. . .
Anyway – this man wanted Jesus to get the money for him. But Jesus was quick to see the real problem in this man’s heart: was greed! – the intense and selfish desire for something: especially wealth, power, or social status.
Jesus uses the opportunity to warn his disciples and the rest of the crowd listening – about the danger of greed and placing one’s confidence in earthly possessions – which is still relevant for us today because so many people’s main priority in life is to become wealthy which they think will bring them a good and happy life.
So let’s look at the parable or story.
I’m sure many of us can identify with the land owner: he is a happy man – a rich man, and he had a good harvest – what farmer would not rejoice in that?
This is the essence of life for many people today – to be successful and to be rich – which this man enjoyed – and there is nothing wrong with any of us enjoying it also.
The man is in a good place – and he is looking forward to more of the same – “and I will say to myself, you have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy. Eat, drink, and be merry.”
And the man’s next move? He wants to build bigger barns — not because he doesn’t have any barns – but he wants bigger ones to store the wealth of his crops. So he will tear down the old and build newer, bigger, barns.
Everything was fine and good. In fact - it describes the typical lifestyle of many Americans. We want to improve our lives, increase our wealth, and find more ways to enjoy ourselves. We want to store up our wealth and possessions so that we can enjoy them in the days to come. We are always planning for the future – making good investments in stocks, life insurance, trusts, commodities, and properties.
Again, everything was fine and good – UNTIL GOD ENTERS THE PICTURE. When God enters –everything changes. Because God said to him, “you fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.”
All the man cared about was BIGGER BARNS. –But God brought a new perspective. The man isn’t going to live to see his bigger barns – he doesn’t even have a chance to get the project started. He was planning ONLY for this life on earth – not what comes after. God was not in his life. He did not even consider God — or others – in his decision to build bigger barns –
God said to him: “You fool, this very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for themselves – but is not rich toward God. . .”
Jesus wants us to see things in the right perspective. He told the man who interrupted him: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”
Did the man really need bigger barns – or did he just want them??? He could have given the excess to those in need — but much like Lazarus who sat at the door of another rich man and was ignored day after day –
This man probably wasn’t aware of the fact that people around him had needs that weren’t being met – the ones who had no food on their tables – perhaps didn’t even have tables — the ones who were lacking their daily bread.
JESUS DOESN’T WANT US TO BUILD BIGGER BARNS OR TO RENT A BIGGER STORAGE UNIT TO STORE ALL OF OUR STUFF – JESUS WANTS US TO BUILD BIGGER HEARTS – one’s that are big enough to realize that we pray “Our Father” because God is father of us all – which makes all of us brothers and sisters – who should care for one another.
God wants us to expand our hearts – so that when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we know we are praying for more than just enough to eat – but praying for roofs over our heads, decent wages, affordable health care, clean water, and safe places to live for ourselves – AND for our brothers and sisters.
Jesus wants us to build bigger hearts – convert or change ourselves so that we think more like God thinks - so that love and forgiveness will take over the earth – and the world will be a better place.
God wants us to build bigger hearts – not so that we store up treasure for ourselves – but so that we can grow rich in what matters to God.
IT IS perfectly fine to have possessions – to have money in the bank – to adequately prepare for our futures –and to be content and happy.
But we have to keep things in perspective.
If we view our possessions or successes in life as the result of our talent and effort – we will think of ourselves as owners of these things.
But in reality, we are all stewards of what God has provided. Whether we are into farming or into manufacturing, or business — it is God who provides
God gives us the ability to do whatever we are doing.
God gives us the ability to think, to calculate numbers, to build, and to make plans — the ability to speak and to breathe.
All of us earn our wealth with borrowed abilities.
And we are called to be grateful – which expands our hearts – which allows us to be generous with the gifts God has given us.
Open our eyes, God our Father, to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened – who have less than we do.
Make us serve them truly after the example of Christ and at his command.
And may your Church, your body made up of all of us here – always stand as a living witness to truth and freedom. To peace and justice. That ALL people may be raised up to a new hope.
Lord, give us bigger hearts – hearts filled with gratitude and generosity —- so that that world can be a better place. AMEN!
It’s a familiar story. One we have heard a hundred times.
It is such a popular story that it has become a cultural norm when we want to point out someone who is doing good.
We’ve even included it in our secular laws, the Good Samaritan Law - protecting anyone trying to help their neighbor - even if things go wrong.
It attempts to convey what it means to be kind in a hurting world.
But this is NOT a story about being nice. This is a story about transforming the world through the power of the Gospel.
In the story, Jesus is sharing that there are three types of people along the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
The first type are the robbers – whose motivation in life is “what is yours is mine at whatever cost.”
And the robbers will take whatever they need through violence, coercion, and whatever means necessary.
These are the people who leave us physically, mentally, or emotionally beaten and bruised along life’s road with nothing left but our shallow breath.
The second type of person to walk along the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho is represented by the priest and the Levite – whose motivation is “what’s mine is mine— and I must protect it even if it means you get hurt in the process.”
They aren’t bad people. Both the priest and the Levite are deeply respected in their communities. They very likely follow all the social rules and norms. They sit on local governing boards. They pay their taxes on time and help in their neighborhoods.
They also show a great deal of love to those within their immediate communities – but because of what crossing the road to help – might cost them . . . they put their heads down and go about their business.
So without even recognizing it – they do more harm than good. Their focus is inward – toward their needs and the needs of those who are most like them.
It’s the motivation that leads the good and decent priest and Levite toward a life of valuing their reputations — instead of their relationships.
And it often results in them choosing their own individual rights over the health and well-being and the rights of others.
Unfortunately, this is the group where I fall most often in my life, and if we are all being honest with ourselves – it’s the group that most of us fall into more than we care to admit: play it safe. Stay in your comfort zone. Don’t rock the boat. And let others take care of themselves.
But then – there is the Samaritan - one of the despised groups for the Jews in Jesus’ day – whose motivation, much to the surprise of Jesus’ audience – is love.
And along one of the most dangerous roads in all of history – is motivated by the understanding of “what is mine is yours – if you need it.”
My safety is yours - if you need it.
My security is yours - if you need it.
My resources are yours - if you need them.
My health is tied to your health.
My well-being is tied to your well-being.
Dr. Martin Luther King preached on this text often and once said that the real difference between the priest and the Levite from the Samaritan – is the question they must have asked themselves.
The priest and the Levite likely asked: “If I stop to help this man - what will happen TO ME?”
While the Samaritan likely asked a very different question: “If I don’t stop to help this man - what will happen TO HIM?”
Fear has a way of making us behave badly. It was true for the priest and the Levite, and it is still true for us today.
When fear is the motivation of our lives - we tend to cling to our own safety and our own individual rights.
When fear is the motivation of our lives - we end up placing our hope in thinking: “It is against my rights.” OR “don’t tell me what to do” as opposed to Jesus’ greatest commandments: “Love God and love your neighbor.”
It doesn’t take looking very long to know that right now – we are all on the road somewhere between Jerusalem and Jericho.
It’s a dangerous world out there. The heart-breaking exhaustion of just getting by is real.
It’s not just a virus we have been dealing with now for two years – but it’s everything else, too.
It’s the layer upon layer of being beaten down and bruised along a dry, hard, and often times, lonely road.
So – we have choices to make. We can choose to make our decisions out of fear. And for a time, choices based on fear have a way of making us feel safe – but that is fleeting at best.
The other choice is to cross the road to help our neighbor. When we cross to the other side, we will get a glimpse of something Jesus talked an awful lot about.
We will see what transformation looks like.
We will finally understand who we are called to be.
And best of all, we will finally encounter the Kingdom of God we’ve been longing for – and are consistently invited by Jesus to help build.
My name is Justus, and I was one those gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem when that noise like a strong driving wind filled the entire house.
Ah, Pentecost – people still ask me about it every once in a while. I remember it as though it were yesterday - though it has been 20 years or so since then.
History was being made: the end of the old era, the beginning of a new - and I was there.
I was 19 or so - down from Galilee to Jerusalem for Passover. A mere kid.
It was the year they killed Jesus, a fellow Galilean, who I had met a time or two and saw him do some incredible things --
And who claimed to be the Son of God.
After that fateful Friday on which he was killed - I just stayed in Jerusalem - hanging around with some of his followers – hiding actually - for we thought we could all be the next ones the Roman authorities turned on.
And then three days later - word came that Jesus had risen from the dead!
And it was true: Jesus began appearing to his apostles and others for weeks on end.
Then, one day, he took us to the Mount of Olives where he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from our sight.
Jesus told us we were not to depart from Jerusalem but to wait, for in “a few days, we were to be Baptized with the Holy Spirit,” whatever that meant.
And so we waited - about 120 of us - meeting morning and evening in that upper room — talking, reading the Jewish scriptures, praying – and waiting.
9 days had passed since Jesus’ departure. And then one morning when we had gathered together for early prayer – the building where we were meeting was hit by a whirlwind – you could hear the wind howling – but could not feel it blowing in the room.
And then came the flames – dancing flames appeared in the room – hovering over each one of us.
“God Almighty,” a person shouted. And Peter began praying loudly and others joined in. It was eerie to say the least –
wind blowing that you could not feel – and flames that did not burn – like the glory of God on the mountain when God appeared to Moses.
All over the room flames were flickering - flaring over people.
And as those flames flickered over each of us - it seemed like the brother or sister would explode! Joy would flood their faces – tears coursed down their checks - the praise of God filled their lips.
People were laughing and weeping – kneeling and standing – dancing and singing. We were all happy and giddy – and bursting with joy.
The sounds – they were amazing, too. Moments before the room had been filled with the sound of a windstorm. Now the room was full of murmurs of voices – some loud, some soft, but all intense.
But it was NOT Greek or Aramaic I heard – languages familiar to me. No it seemed like all kinds of languages were being spoken – powerfully, joyfully, but all unfamiliar to me.
We were pouring out into the streets by then, attracting the attention of others. Since it was a major feast day for the Jews – there were thousands of pilgrims in the city from all over the place.
I did not know what I was saying – but it felt good to lend my voice to God and just speak out to express the fullness of joy I was feeling.
As I was speaking – people began to gather round and listen. A couple of families came by – and then ran off to get others and soon a hundred people or so were gathered around me.
Finally, I seemed to run out of words and just stood there with joy on my face.
Someone called to me in a language I did not know – saying in Greek once they knew I wasn’t understanding them: Don’t stop!
Don’t stop what - I asked
Don’t stop saying all the wonderful things you are saying about God’s greatness in Cappadocian.
Cappidocian? Yes - aren’t you from there like the rest of us. I had know idea how I came about speaking fluent Cappidocian. . .
Some in the street began to accuse us of being drunk. But Peter said: it’s only nine in the morning - how can we be drunk? What you are witnessing is the fulfillment of a prophecy – that your sons and your daughters will speak of the goodness of God – all because God’s Holy Spirit had come upon them.
Then these others began to ask to be Baptized – so that they all could be blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We got the crowd moving to the Pool of Bethesda – where Peter spoke to the crowd:
“This is the baptism of repentance in the name of Jesus of Nazareth - whom God raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place. When you are baptized, I want to assure you that you are both forgiven and loved by God. And you will receive the same gift of the Holy Spirit you have seen upon us this day.”
Hundreds of people came into the pool and were Baptized that day – and they began to praise and worship God. And in that place - it seemed like the languages of all nations were turned toward God on high who had brought salvation and the joy of the Holy Spirit upon ordinary people – from Jerusalem to Cappadocia and everywhere in between.
Pentecost. Ah, Pentecost. That was the day that God began to pour out the Holy Spirit – and it has never stopped since. Over the years I’ve seen the Spirit come in many ways – sometimes like that day – sometimes quietly – sometimes in jubilation. But it is the presence of the Spirit, the Spirit of God, that matters – not our emotions or circumstances.
Pentecost? Yes, I was there, and have never been the same since. Because the Holy Spirit moves and breathes within me. Oh, I know – many of you have already received the gift of the Spirit at your Confirmation. . . but have you used the gift???
If not – why not? Get ready – because I hear that noise of a strong driving wind when you begin to sing: Spirit of God I am yours. . . come fill my heart and make me whole.
Today’s feast of the Ascension is both a celebration of ABSENCE and one of PRESENCE. Let me explain.
The disciples had already lost Jesus once – when he died on the cross spending three days in the tomb to break the chains of death and gaining for us eternal life.
On the first day of the week, when his faithful followers found the tomb empty – St. Matthew said they were filled with both fear and great joy.
St. Mark said that trembling and astonishment came upon those who went to the tomb.
St. Luke says the women came from the tomb frightened and when they told their story their words seemed to be an idle tale - and the Apostles did not believe.
And St. John said the disciples, upon viewing the empty tomb, simply went back home.
It took them a while to overcome their fear, and trembling, and fright, and astonishment – and then all were filled with joy upon having Jesus back in their midst.
But now he was leaving again. And this time they knew it was for good. And so as with any great loss in life – a feeling of grief set in.
Perhaps they expressed their grief in a way like the author of this poem does:
I miss you in the morning.
When all the world is new.
I know the day can bring no joy – because it brings not you.
I miss the well-loved voice of yours - and your tender smile for me.
The charm of you, the joy of your unfailing love.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
I miss you at the noontide, too.
The crowded streets seem but a desert now, I walk in complete solitude.
I miss your hand beside my own, the light touch of your hand.
The quick gleam in the eyes of you so sure to understand.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
I miss you in the evening - when daylight fades away.
I miss the sheltering arms of you, to rest me from the day.
I try to think I see you yet – there where the fire gleams –
Weary at last, I sleep, and still I miss you in my dreams.
The world is full of folks, it’s true, but there was only one of you.
Like any of us who have lost a loved one –
Jesus would now be physically absent from them. And they will miss him. I wonder if anyone said such things to them as:
-Well, he’s in a better place.
-Or it was God’s will that he was taken.
-Or to Mary: well at least you had him for 33 years.
-Or God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.
While meaning well, most such trite sayings do little to lessen anyone’s pain.
The absence of anyone we have loved allows the feelings of grief to set in. And sometimes that grief can be so overwhelming, it can cripple us.
But we know the rest of the disciple’s story. They did not remain in their grief very long. Through the power of the Holy Spirit – they began to do what Jesus told them to do – to go out and witness to others the Good News of his life and message.
In that way, the disciples must have been like the woman in this story:
Once a widow’s son died in a tragic accident. The woman, crazy with grief, mourned the loss so deeply that no one could provide her with comfort.
At last a friend took her to a holy man where she made her sobbing plea:
“Use your powers to bring my son back to me. Surely you are able by prayer or through some means to induce the Almighty to lighten my grief.”
The old man spoke kindly to the woman. “Bring me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. Then I will use that seed to remove the pain from your life.”
Immediately the woman set out in search of the magic mustard seed. “First, I will visit the home of a wealthy family,” she thought. “Tragedy is less likely to strike them.”
Soon she approached a beautiful mansion, knocked on the door, and spoke to the woman who greeted her: “I am in search of a home that has never known sorrow. Is this such a place? Please, it is vital that I know.”
“Never known sorrow!”, cried the woman who had answered the door. “You have come to the wrong house.”
As she sobbed she began to describe all of the tragedies that had touched her family. She invited the widow into her home to explain in greater detail what had taken place.
The widow remained in the home for several hours – listening and showing compassion.
When she left to resume her search, the widow visited a modest home about 5 miles away. The experience was the same.
Wherever she traveled, from mansion to hut, she was greeted with tales of sadness and sorrow. Everyone found her a willing and attentive and caring listener.
After months of travel, she became so involved with the grief of others – that she forgot about her search for the magic mustard seed, never realizing that it had indeed driven the sorrow from her own life.
When the disciples did what Jesus did – and said what Jesus said – they made his spirit present – and their grief was turned to joy.
We followers of Jesus Christ today – are called to do nothing more – and nothing less.
And so in the coming days, we should pray: come, Holy Spirit – empower us as you did the Apostles.
In his book, Go down to the potter’s house, Don O’Shea has a story about a king who had two artists in his realm who were bitter rivals.
One day the king said, “I want to decide once and for all which of you is the better artist. You must paint the same subject, so that I can judge between you. And what I want you to paint is your vision of PEACE.”
The two artists accepted the challenge, and a month later came back with their paintings.
The first artist painted a dreamy landscape with rolling hills and a lake without a ripple on the surface. The whole painting spoke of contentment and stillness – which was his depiction of peace.
However, as the king looked at the picture – he could barely suppress a yawn. Then turning to the artist he said, “your picture is pretty, but it puts me to sleep.”
Then the second artist presented his painting. It showed a thundering waterfall crashing over a steep cliff. It was so realistic that one could almost hear the roar of the water as it crashed onto the rocks - hundreds of feet below.
“But this is not a painting of peace as I ordered,” the king said angrily.
The artist made no reply but motioned to the king to come closer to the painting to see all of its details.
It was then that the king spotted something which had escaped him at first.
There among the rocks at the base of the waterfall – a small shrub was growing. And in the small shrub – a bird’s nest sat in the branches.
And upon looking even closer – the king saw a bird in the nest – a sparrow, sitting calmly on its eggs, her eyes half-closed as she patiently waited for her babies to be hatched.
On seeing all these minute details – the king was delighted at what he thought was a perfect picture of peace.
Turning to the artist the king said, “I like your painting very much – as it conveys a very important message about peace – and that is– it is possible to be at peace even in the midst of the chaos of life swirling around you.”
Jesus spoke to his disciples about peace in the farewell he is giving them in today’s Gospel from John. He was soon to leave them – and he wanted them to know a few things before he left – like:
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you. Not as the world gives it do I give it to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
It was a strange time for Jesus to be speaking about peace – because everything was in turmoil around him. One of his own was about to betray him. Within the hour he would be arrested and before the cock crowed – would be denied three times by his closest friend.
How, then, was Jesus able to talk about peace?
Because the peace Jesus speaks of is being in union with God. And Jesus was in perfect union with God. Which is like the bird at the bottom of the waterfall. With the chaos of life swirling around him - Jesus could talk about peace even as his enemies were closing in on him and death was just around the corner.
Because the peace Jesus talks about is NOT tranquility – which is an external thing – something which occasionally can surround us.
But the peace Jesus talks about and offers to us – is a state of inner calm – which one achieves by being in union with God and with others.
So an essential component of the peace of the kingdom of God — is righteousness – being in right relationship with God and others – and hence there is no peace for the wicked.
Peace results when one trusts God, and when the desire to be like God is the dominant force in one’s life. This is something which we can have even if, and especially if, we are in the midst of turmoil, conflict, and unresolved problems.
It is not the outer circumstances of our lives which brings us peace – but the inner state of our minds and hearts.
This is the peace that Jesus offers us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
This peace is not the calm of escaping from reality. It is something so deep it is independent of outer circumstances. It is the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace which this world cannot give – and most especially – the peace no one can take away from us.
God, to believe in you and your word – even in the midst of the storms of life – can provide a place of peace for us.
In the midst of the seemingly impossible demands, deadlines and tasks at hand, our hearts and minds can be at rest in You.
Strength and boldness are released into us as we confidently rest in your peace.
In your presence we are refreshed, restored, and renewed in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
Moments in time...