Sunday, September 30, 2012

In Jesus' Name

Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
26th Sunday Ordinary Time – B

I direct your attention to two lines from the Gospel of Mark.

First, the disciple John, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”

The second line sums up Jesus’ response, “For whoever is not against us is for us.”

I have the privilege of working with the RCIA, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in our parishes.  I’ve worked in this ministry for about 10 years and am always renewed in faith through working to bring people into the Church, the Body of Christ.

Actually, I don’t bring anybody into the Church – that is the work of the Holy Spirit: God’s unceasing call to bring each of us into a closer relationship with Him.  My task, as catechist, is to walk along with them on this part of their journey in the Lord.

I am always amazed by those who desire a closer relationship with the Lord.  Their hearts are truly “burning within them” as they seek to become one in the Lord.  To listen to their stories, - their stories of faith and - their journey to the Lord - are wonderful to hear and see.  They give witness to the power of God and how much we are loved as he seeks to return His sheep to the fold, often carrying us in his arms.

We begin next week with five people who seek to become one of us, - who seek to drive out demons in Jesus’ name – people - who are for us and not against us.  Over time you will meet these brothers and sisters of ours in Christ: who come here to be with us – seeking, as we all seek - in our journey together - a closer relationship with the Lord.

One of the themes in common with those who come to us - is their desire to be part of something larger than themselves.  They seek to become members of a living and active community.  There is a longing for meaning in their lives, which they hope to find in Christ Jesus and in His Church.

·         We are the Church!
·         We are the people of God, the Body of Christ! 
·         We are the living stones, the life in the Church. 
In us and through us - the message of God’s salvation through Jesus, his son, is passed on – person to person, family member to family member, - generation to generation. 

·         We are evangelizers of the faith! 
·         We heed Christ’s call - to go forth making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
·         We are the continued apostolic line - bringing the Word of God to all-the-world. 
·         We preach in our actions and words and make real His presence in the world
·         We are called Christians, - known by our good works - as followers of Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Every organization needs to continually grow and be renewed.  Without growth and renewal, - without attracting new members - the organization will decrease and eventually cease.  We have seen - and experienced - our parishes decreasing. 

Before I came to Asbury Park, I worked and ministered in parishes that have been twinned and combined.  It is not easy to live through – but we must always hope in the Lord.  I asked my bishop to come here because I saw the possibilities and challenges of renewal and growth among this Body of Christ - the communities that have come together here.  These are living communities, full of the power of Christ.  I have spoken with many of you and hear of the care, love and concern for the future of these communities.

BUT – and there is always that word in every situation – The Lord’s work is done through his people.  Each of us, clergy and laity, as disciples of Jesus; - work to bring about God’s promise of salvation to the world.  We are His messengers of His Word – evangelists, teachers and preachers.  As we live truly Christian lives - in our words and in our actions – we evangelize the world of God’s great Love for all people and His promise of Life Eternal.

·         I ask each of us to continue the good work of the Lord, especially as you meet and welcome our brothers and sisters who seek to become part of our communities through the RCIA. 
·         And I ask you continue to help spread the Word of God, - to grow our communities - through evangelizing. 
·         Invite those members of your family and your friends who have fallen away from the Church – to come back to the Lord. 
·         Let them see in you - the miracles and wonders of the Lord: – As you drive out demons in Jesus name – and bring His message of Love and make known His desire for all his children to live with him in heaven for ever and ever – AMEN

Deacon Don Ron

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Whoever receives one child such as this. . .

25th Sunday Ordinary Time
Mark 9:30-37

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but the One who sent me.”

Who is more helpless than a child?  Who is more completely dependent upon the love and mercy of others than a child?  Who is without power, without authority, without a means of independent living; other than a child?

Even in our western culture where children tend to come first; children are completely dependent upon others - to clothe them, - feed them, - provide shelter for them - and tend to all their needs.

Jesus lived in a culture quite different from ours.  It was a social structure that afforded children no status at all.  The cry, “Women and children into the lifeboats first” on a sinking ship would have been a completely foreign concept to the people in Jesus’ time.  In times of famine, children were fed last - after the adult men and then the women.  If a house was on fire the head of the household was to rescue his father first, then his mother, then his wife and, if there was time, his children.

So, for Jesus to bring a child to the center of the assembly of his disciples was a very radical thing to do.  It actually was an insulting gesture toward his disciples to ask them to receive this child. 

In their culture, hospitality was given with an expectation of reciprocating hospitality or for the guest to tell others of the gracious generosity of the host; thereby bringing honor to the host.  What reciprocal honor could a child give?  Would anyone listen to a child tell of the generosity of a host – a child without status or standing in society?  Honor was a very important aspect of the culture, even among the poor.

So, why does Jesus bring this child into their presence? 

Remember, the disciples have all been arguing among themselves on the road about who was the greatest among them.  Which of them was the most important?  Who was next in line to Jesus among their little band?

The disciples were not powerful or influential men.  They were ordinary - everyday people - with no more importance than the next person.  Not one of them had an expectation of being next in line to Jesus: for none of them were exceptional – they were like children - without Jesus. 

Jesus was their center.  He was the reason they had preaching authority when he sent them out two by two.  Jesus was the leader of their band and the sole reason for doing what they did.  Without Jesus they did not “have authority over unclean spirits” and they could not “cast out demons, anoint the sick and work many cures” as they did when Jesus sent them out.

Jesus brings the child into their midst to humble them and show them how they must be like Him; like the child – completely dependent on God, the Father and trusting – with the trust of a child – in God’s love.  Jesus challenges his disciples to welcome the powerless; - the weak, - the vulnerable among them, - for these least will be first in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus himself is like a child – trusting completely in his Father in heaven for all his needs.  He asks the disciples to also trust in the Father.  Jesus places himself among the weak and vulnerable; inviting his disciples to also place themselves among these least and in doing so, accepting the Fathers love and trusting in Him for all their needs.  

For Paul reminds us,
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Cor. 1:27

In Wisdom’s reading we hear the foretelling of Our Lord’s journey into Jerusalem; his suffering and crucifixion.  We hear of the plots of those who despise the righteous.  They plan to “beset the just one who is “obnoxious” to them because he reproaches them for their “transgressions of the law and violations of their training.”  They want to test his gentleness and patience with torture and “a shameful death” to see if he actually believes his words of Trust in God - and if God will take care of him.

Just as Jesus challenged his disciples to accept the weak and vulnerable among them; recognizing that they too are among the least of God’s children: to trust as he trusts - in God for everything they need.  He continues today to challenge each of us accept our weaknesses and vulnerability and to also trust in God’s love for all our needs.

For as with the first disciples, we too are without power or authority - without Jesus.  Jesus too is our center.  And to be like him - we too - need to trust as he trusts in God, the Father.  For we are His children, powerless and weak, except in the arms of God - where we are strong in His love.


Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Man Deaf and Mute

Mark 7: 31-37
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Mark’s Gospel we hear a story of the healing of a doubly afflicted man.  He was a man who could not hear and who spoke with an impediment.  Imperfection of mind and/or body was a sign, in Jesus time, of not being favored by God.

There are some who want to know what was really wrong with the man in the story: was he really deaf or did he just not hear well? Was his speech impediment caused by his deafness? If he could speak, was he really deaf?

We learn to speak as we hear.  Children imitate the sounds of the words they hear as they learn language and begin to speak.  How well they learn to speak depends on how well they hear words spoken by others.

As on other occasions, - people beg Jesus to lay hands on this doubly afflicted man to cure him – so all present can witness the miracle, - but Jesus does a curious thing – he takes the man aside - away from the others.  In private, he touches inside the man’s ear and touches his tongue – very personal actions – far beyond the laying on of hands – Jesus makes an intimate connection with the man. 

Jesus also spits, another curious action by today’s standards, but this action has meaning.  In Middle Eastern culture, spitting was done to ward off evil and cast out demons.  In spitting, Jesus frees the man of the evils that afflict his spirit.  He not only heals the man’s body, but heals his spirit too.

All Jesus’ actions show something deeper has passed between Jesus and the man – more than a mere healing of his outward afflictions – Jesus makes a profound change in the man.  The man receives Jesus’ Grace - a new level of understanding and wisdom - and he now, “Spoke plainly.”

We equate speaking plainly with speaking the truth – speaking in a way that is honest and open – where there are no hidden meanings, - no double talk, no spin. 

This man, - who could not hear well and spoke in a broken way – now “Spoke Plainly” – He now proclaimed what he now heard clearly from Jesus – who had cried for him, “Ephphatha!,” “Be Open!”

In this, Jesus gave the man the understanding and wisdom - to speak plainly, - to speak the Truth.  And in gaining understanding and wisdom, - the man received the Grace of - belief and faith.  Cured in body and spirit - this man’s life was changed in a very profound way – beyond the healing of his hearing and speaking – his life was healed – his life took on new meaning – his life - was now a life of discipleship in Christ Jesus.

As disciples: 
  • ·         Do we let Jesus place his finger in our ear and touch our tongue, so we too may be healed to hear his Word and proclaim the Truth?
  • ·         When we listen to the Word of God, Jesus, the Christ – do we hear his voice clearly and learn to speak as he speaks? 
  • ·         And in hearing, are we brought to understanding and wisdom through our close relationship with Christ? 
  • ·         In speaking – do we speak plainly – the Truth of the Gospel – the Word made Flesh?
  • ·         Do we bring our brokenness: - our afflictions to the foot of the Cross; allowing Jesus to heal us in spirit and body; profoundly changing our lives?
  • ·         Have we asked Jesus, in his love and mercy, to cast out the demons in our lives, so we may receive his gifts of Grace – belief and faith?
  • ·         Are we true disciples – witnesses to the healing power of Jesus; proclaiming it to all the world?
  • ·         Have we come to Jesus, so he can cry, “Ephphatha!” for us, so our lives “Be Open!” to His Grace and Love?"

      Deacon Don Ron