Sunday, April 28, 2013

God's Presence - 5th Sunday in Easter - John 13:31-33, 34-35

We often hear the man named Barnabas mentioned in scripture as a companion of St. Paul in his many ministry travels.  He traveled with Paul throughout his ministry to the Gentiles as he preached and encouraged the disciples in their faith.  Paul is well known to us.  We know of his miraculous conversion and we have his many letters to the churches he established in the name of Jesus.  But who was Barnabas and why is he mentioned at all, if Paul was the evangelist.

If it were not for Barnabas, we may have never heard of Paul at all.  And certainly not in Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles and his spreading the Word of God to the churches we know so well from his letters and travels, Antioch, Ephesia, Corinth and even Rome. The knowledge of God’s presence in the world may have taken even longer to establish without Barnabas.

In the ancient world names had more meaning than they do today.  Simon became Peter, the Rock to signify the foundation upon which Jesus would establish his Church.  Barnabas was originally known as Joseph.  The name, Barnabas, was given to him by the apostles.  It means “son of encouragement” and aptly fits who Barnabas was, especially to Paul.  Barnabas was an excellent preacher and as Luke described him, “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

Paul was having a tough time of it trying to become a disciple of Jesus.  Most of the Apostles were suspicious of Paul, who had been a grand inquisitor for the Jews and a zealous persecutor of the disciples of Jesus before his conversion.  When he came to Jerusalem to join them, they put him off and finally sent him back to Tarsus, away them.

Barnabas, who was head of the church in Antioch, saw the Holy Spirit working in Paul and invited him to come to Antioch as his assistant.  Together, for a year they preached and taught to the people and made many converts to the faith there. Barnabas gave Paul the encouragement to fulfill his destiny as an apostle and bring the word of Jesus to the Gentiles.  They traveled together to far away lands and Paul, the “student” surpassed Barnabas, the “teacher” to become the great evangelist to the Gentiles, thereby making God’s presence known and greatly furthering the mission of the church in fulfilling Jesus’ command to “go and baptize all nations.”

Barnabas is the loving model for sponsoring the faith in others.  By his encouragement and great love of Paul he gave the church a great gift.  His love of Jesus showed in his love for all and marked him as a disciple of Christ.  His encouragement of Paul to become all he was meant to be played a defining role in God’s plan for his people.  Barnabas’ love helped make disciples of all of us here today.

Together, Paul and Barnabas, in their great love for one another and their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, modeled the Christian ideal of which Jesus spoke, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In showing our great love we are marked as Disciples of Christ.  It is in our actions as followers of Jesus that we are recognized as one of His own.  Our discipleship is witness to our faith in Christ Jesus and our belief in God’s promise of salvation.  We make known God’s presence in the world in our loving discipleship in Jesus.
  • It is in the way we treat the least of His people that we are seen as true believers and followers of the Way of the Lord. 
  • It is in the way we welcome the stranger in our midst;
  • In the way we love one another that we show Jesus’ love for us: the love of God, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. 
  • It is in the way we walk with one another on our journey of faith,
  • In the way we love and encourage one another that makes God’s presence known among the faithful and inspires others to come to Christ

St. Francis advises us to, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

Our actions and our love for one another are inspiration to the world of the power of God’s love and his message of peace and salvation.  Our love for one another encourages others to want to become disciples of Jesus:
  • to know Him
  • to follow Him and
  • to be numbered among his disciples. 

In the love of Christ we have for one another - we bring into the world God’s presence among us.  And in this love we show the world the path into glory of God and his promise of Life Eternal with God in heaven - forever and ever.

Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"The Voice" 4th Sunday of Easter - John 10:27-30

The average American is bombarded by over 5,000 messages in a single day.  Television, radio, internet, cell phone, signs, public address systems, etc. all pour out messages – invading our peace and quiet – over stimulating our senses – fighting for our attention - in an attempt to convince, persuade, inform, sell – products, ideas, philosophies, lifestyles and every other thing.

In every direction we look, in every way we turn our ears – even our noses are assaulted with messages - ever walk in the mall and smell the cookies baking?  Someone is trying to get us to hear their “voice” – trying to get us to pay attention to them – trying to communicate to us – their message.

In simpler, quieter times, shepherds would gather their flocks together in the evening for mutual protection and support.  They would take turns watching over the several flocks gathered together while the other shepherds ate and slept through the night.  In the morning they would each go off with their sheep to separate pastures.

Now, sheep have poor organization skills.  During the night they would wander around; mingling together with sheep of other flocks, so that in the morning who could tell one’s sheep from another?  But the shepherds only had to call out to their sheep and each one’s own flock would follow his voice and separate from the other sheep; going off together with their shepherd.  That’s a pretty nifty thing, don’t you think?

Being a shepherd is a very lonely job. So, shepherds talk to their sheep all day long, singing to them, calling out to them, bringing them to good pastures, as they protect them from predators and the elements that would harm them.  Sheep completely rely on the shepherd for their very lives.  When they get tangled up in the brush, he rescues them. When they wander off, the shepherd searches for them and bring them back into the security of the flock, under his protection.  The sheep belong to the shepherd – they are his own and he spends his life caring for them.

We too have a Good Shepherd – Jesus.  His is the Voice we know, the Voice of God – the voice we listen to and follow - the Word made Flesh.  He watches over His flock, given to him by the Father.  He spent his life for us.  We are his sheep, the flock He watches over.  We hear His voice and follow because we know He loves us and cares for us.  He is our protector and guide.  He leads us to green pastures and beside still waters – He rescues us and searches for us when we are lost, alone and afraid.  He calls us back into His peace, safety – to live with him forever.

We are His forever.  Even after he returned to the Father, he commissioned Peter to: “feed my sheep, tend my flock (and) feed my lambs.”  He sent the Holy Spirit into the world to guide us and lift us up, so that we might be comforted.  Jesus continues today to watch over us, care for our needs and brings us into life eternal in heaven with the Father.

He brought us the Good News of the Eternal Kingdom and love of God, the Father and asks us to continue bringing that same Good News to one another and all future generations.  Despite hardships and persecutions, He brings us joy and peace as we hear His Voice and follow him for we know that Jesus continues to be our Good Shepherd; calling his sheep together – in His Church, - by His Word, - through His people – into the peace and love of God forever and ever.

Deacon Don Ron

Sunday, April 14, 2013

3rd Sunday of Easter - "Do You Love Me?" John 21:1-19

“Do you love me?”  What a very difficult question to ask of another.  Asking it implies that we are unsure if we are loved. We risk asking this question for fear that - the love that burns within our hearts for the other - may not be reciprocated: That we are not loved, as we love, that we are not worthy of the love we want, need or desire.

Just in asking this question, “Do you love me?” we show that in the other, we do not see or sense our love returned.  There is uncertainty in what we feel from the other.  There is fear that our exposed feelings, our very center of self – offered up to the other – will be greeted with indifference or worse – rejected.

I cannot think of a more despairing, painful feeling – than to feel unloved.  Our humanness is so intricately connected in our need to love and be loved.  We thrive on love. Our world without love is a bleak and dreary place – lonely, desolate and sad.

Before the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord - Three times Peter rejects our Lord in his time of most need. 
·         Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus. 
·         Three times Peter denies following Jesus. 
·         Three times Peter denies loving Jesus
In his fear Peter denies love; leaving his world lonely, desolate and sad.

Now on the lakeshore, as Jesus appears to his disciples, for the third time since his resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” 

Jesus asks this very difficult question, not because he senses that his love of Peter is not returned or that he is unsure of Peter’s love for him, but because he knows everything.  Peter’s third response recognizes Jesus’s primacy when he says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” 

Jesus asks Peter this question not for himself, but for all of us – for all humanity!  He asks for each one of us, so we too recognize the heart of Jesus.  In each of his three responses, the love in Peter’s heart grows. His heart begins to love with the heart of Jesus, a love for all. 
·         Peter is the Rock 
·         Peter is the one chosen
·         Peter is to lead the church after Jesus ascends into heaven

Peter’s heart, as does each of our hearts, needs to grow in love with the heart of Jesus - with a very different love – not a selfish, self-serving love that seeks love in return, but – a love that feeds, that tends, that loves completely all others. 

This is not a passive love, but an active – living love, - a love of participation, - a love that asks nothing in return;
·         does not count the cost
·         is given freely,
·         without hesitation, reservation or condition
It is the love of God, the love brought into the world through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the love of Holy Spirit that fills each of us with a burning desire of love - for all of God’s children.

Jesus calls each of us to this love.  He asks each of us, “Do you love me?”  Not because he seeks our love in return, but because he wants each of us to love with his heart – all our brothers and sisters.  We answer Jesus through our action, our participation, our loving - one another as we: feed his sheep, tend his flock, and love with His heart.

So, do not be afraid to love with the love of Jesus.  Do not fear to answer his question, “Do you love me?”  Do not deny knowing the Lord, but answer like Peter - with courage in our heart, saying, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you!”
Then let us live out our love of Jesus - as we feed his lambs and tend his sheep – love everyone with His heart.
~ Amen

Deacon Don Ron

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday - "Trust, Believe and Love"

  • I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6-7)
  • I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:13) 
On Divine Mercy Sunday, the floodgates through which all the graces of heaven flow are open.  Our Lord’s love and mercy freely pours out like the sunshine on a bright clear day; showering down on all human kind.  We, his beloved children, need only to stand in the Light of God, repenting our sins – opening ourselves to his mercy and grace.

Jesus promised that on the first Sunday after Easter that: “The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.” (Diary 699)  What a tremendous opportunity Divine Mercy Sunday presents to us! 

Repent, ask God for forgiveness and receive his mercy and love.  Wipe the slate clean and begin anew - walk in the Light of God, sinless.  Take up our discipleship in Christ Jesus, live fully our life of love and good works – be the face of Jesus to all we meet, spread the good news to the whole world and love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I once received one of those chain emails we get too often.  Most of the time I get prayer chains (goes with the territory of being a Deacon, I guess), but this one was different.  This email was empty of love and good fellowship.  It lacked both of Jesus’ two commandments: to love God above all things and to love our brothers and sisters as we love ourselves.

This email had a list of fourteen statements - each advocating no love for our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ – those seeking a life away from poverty, oppression and corruption.  People: - men, women and children - who come here to our shores, to the land of milk and honey - hoping for a better life.

It is easy to vilify the alien, the stranger, placing the blame on them for a variety of problems; saying, “if we keep them out - all our problems will be solved,” but in our hearts we know that is not true and - certainly we know in our hearts it is not the way we are called to live as Disciples of Christ.

  • Jesus asks us to look into the faces of each of these least of his people and see His face
  • Jesus asks us to look into the suffering lives of each of these people and see His suffering (for our salvation)
  • Jesus asks us to look into the hearts of each of these people and see His heart - burning with love for all God’s children
The Word of God, Jesus, the Christ, asks us to live our lives in a radical new way.  He calls us into discipleship by looking at the world through his eyes; seeing each of us as beloved children of God.  Just as Jesus is not of this world, we too, as Disciples of Christ, are not of this world, - a world which worries itself over worldly things, - but we are called to aspire to higher things – to the things from above.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?
And can any of you - by worrying - add a single hour to your span of life?
Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus asks us to trust in him - by living his Word – to love as he loves – completely - without hesitation:

§  To love our brothers and sisters and not count the cost,
§  To love others as we would love ourselves,
§  To share our abundance with those who have less; - with those who have nothing,
§  To care for the sick, the sorrowful, and the lonely as we too desire care
§  He asks us to greet the stranger with love and hospitality, to welcome him; giving him, comfort and shelter
§  Jesus tells us to speak up for the voiceless, the vulnerable and the oppressed;
§  To make room at the head of the table for the poor, the outcast and the displaced, so they too may have their fair share in God’s bounty
§  Jesus asks us to be peace makers, speaking out against oppressors and warmongers who - for lust and greed, - pride and envy, - fear and hate  - victimize and conquer the weak and defenseless

As disciples of Christ - we can do no less than to be the face of Jesus;   To be called followers of Christ, - to wear the name of Christian - is to live the Gospel message, not only this day, but everyday - and in every way.

So, on this day the Lord has made – on this Divine Mercy Sunday, - when God’s unending love and mercy is poured out through the gates of heaven - let us ask God for mercy and forgiveness of our sins - for what we have done, - for what we have failed to do – and for what might do better. 
Let us seek God’s abundant grace poured forth from the Fount of Christ’s Mercy, - for us and for our salvation.

Trust in Jesus, - Believe in the Gospel - and Love as He loves - by loving God and all our brothers and sisters in the world.

Deacon Don Ron

Good Friday - The Cross of Suffering, The Cross of Love

Today we venerate the cross of Jesus – the symbol of shame that became a symbol of triumph a symbol of death that is now a symbol of everlasting life.

In God’s love and mercy he sacrificed his only son to bring us to new life.  Jesus’ death on this cross has forever changed the cross in the Christian heart, from a symbol of despair to symbolize God’s overwhelming love for his children. 

In God’s love he readily forgives us all our weaknesses, -- without hesitation; clutching us into his embrace, comforting and consoling us – loving us as we desire love, -- as we deserve to be loved.

Recently, I spoke with a young woman who, for most of her life, did not feel love, God’s love or the love of family, and especially the love of her father.  Given up to foster care at a young age by parents who were not ready to care for a child, -- she bounced from foster home to foster home until she was finally settled, in her teens with her natural mother.  As an impressionable young woman, she longed for her father’s love, but (she) was told stories about her father that led her to believe that he never loved her and never wanted her to be a part of his life.

When she was in her late twenties, her father sent word to her that he was dying and wanted to see her.  She had many reasons not to go, but curiosity and a longing to confront the man who had abandoned her as a child led her to make the trip to visit him on his death bed.

When she met her father, -- a man, she discovered, who had never stopped loving his little girl – a man who had suffered greatly the loss of his daughter because of the hard-hearted-ness of others.  She discovered a man who loved her so much that he bent to the wishes of others; -- staying out of her life -- believing it was best for her.

She found pictures of herself displayed in his home from various times of her life, -- in a school play, -- on her sixteenth birthday; -- wearing her prom dress, -- all taken and sent to him by a sympathetic relative.  When she spoke with him -- he knew every detail of her life as if he had been with her throughout.  She discovered her father’s love was constant and unwavering, full and complete.

She carried away from that meeting her father’s love and found new joy in her life – she said it was as if she were reborn.  But she also now carried the lies she had been told by her mother all her life, -- lies that denied her - her father’s love.  It would have been easy to transfer the hate she once felt for her father -- to her mother, but the power of her father’s love overwhelmed her – showing her that love conquers all; helping one to endure all manner of pain and sorrow.  She prayed to God the Father for help and guidance and found forgiveness in her heart.

As we approach the cross today, let us too take all our hurt and disappointment, -- all our pain and sorrow, -- all our suffering, hate and fear and lay them at the foot of the cross.  Let us place at the feet of Jesus, all that separates us from the love of God and from one another – to be reconciled with God -- to find love in our lives – love in our families and friends – love in our relationships – and with all whom we meet. 

For we are all brothers and sisters, children of the one God – who’s sent His Son to live among us:
  • Taking on our human condition
  • Teaching us of the Father’s love for us
  • Showing us how we are to live in love with one another
  • He endured the pains and sufferings of this world;
  • Taking on all our sins and corruptions - to the cross of death transforming it into the Tree of Life
  • All for love of us –
  • To bring us to Life everlasting Kingdom of God's Peace and Love

~ Amen

Deacon Don Ron