Reflections on the Readings

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 13, 2014

Hearing the Message of the Kingdom

By Dennis S. Hankins

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:16-17)

My faith is the result of hearing the rich and deep biblical preaching of God’s word. I can vouch that “faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NRSVCE) Pentecostal preachers of my youth, faithful to bring God’s word to their flock, preached with the unmistakable fragrance of Christ. Because the Holy Spirit blessed their effort, the Scriptures became for me “spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

In my youth I was encouraged to memorize Holy Scripture. And because the preaching I heard was filled with Scripture, only reinforced my desire to “treasure (God’s) word in my heart.” (Psalm 119:11 NRSVCE) Revivals and Camp Meetings were additional feasts of hearing the Bible preached with conviction, and solemnity, and with the Holy Spirit. All of this underscored the truth and served the truth because we understood that to be free from sin and alive to God was to know and to embrace the Truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Here’s what St. Paul had to say about the importance and necessity of good preaching: How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 NRSVCE)

Jesus lamented that some ‘look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us that the world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire to keep us from grasping and growing in our understanding of the ‘mysteries of the kingdom.’ The Evil one is not interested a bit in you or me hearing the message of the kingdom of God’s infinite love and being transformed by that message into followers of Christ. Take the Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Queen Candace for example. He was on his way back home from worshipping in Jerusalem and studying a passage from the Old Testament. Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, ran up to the Ethiopian’s chariot and heard him reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah this passage:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

So Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. (Acts 26-38 NRSVCE)

God made sure that the Ethiopian official got his questions answered. The rest of his journey home he rejoiced in the love of Jesus and his baptism into the family of God. The Lord is just as interested in you and me hearing and understanding the message of the kingdom. We have Bible studies we can attend and Spirit-filled priests and deacons who preach the Bible and other teachers of the Bible. We also have the Holy Spirit in us to guide us into all truth, especially the truth of Holy Scripture.

May the Lord give us the grace to be like the Bereans who welcomed the message with great interest and examined the scriptures every day to see whether the things Paul and Silas were telling them were so. You might say they brought their ‘Bibles’ to the meeting and followed closely the teaching and preaching of Paul and Silas. But not everybody was happy. Some folks from Thessalonica heard that the message of the kingdom had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea. So they came to the community to stir up some animosity about the seeds of faith Paul and Silas were sowing. But God’s word had already taken root; for God’s word cannot return to him unfulfilled. God’s word is alive and filled with power; one sows, another waters, and God gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6)

The message of the kingdom? Let him with ears to hear, listen!  Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles June 29, 2014

Peter, Paul, and Jesus

By Dennis S. Hankins

(This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him. (Acts 12:3 and 5)

As for me, I (Paul) am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:6-7)

Today we go back to the infancy of the Church to remember two apostles who embraced The Way, whose luminous lives still shine brightly. Peter and Paul figure prominently in the narrative of the New Testament scriptures as well as being authors themselves of significant portions of those same scriptures. Through them we grasp for ourselves an understanding of the mystery of Christ whose great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 3:4; 1 Peter 1:3). As Peter explains, life in Christ procures for us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading waiting for us in heaven. (1 Peter 1:4)

The most important thing we know about Peter and Paul is their relationship with Jesus Christ. And it’s that relationship they preached and taught that brought thousands to join them in The Way. That relationship is personal, rich, and redeeming. It brings us into friendship with Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Together with Peter and Paul we are heirs of the grace of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s conversion is immediate and ongoing. Jesus found Peter and Andrew his brother fishing in the Sea of Galilee. On that afternoon dripping with plenty of sunlight Peter did not expect anything but to catch his fish, go to market, and return home. Completing that routine for most of his adult life, Peter lived the life he expected to live since he was a little boy. As Bishop Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville is fond of saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

Jesus said to Peter and his brother, Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” It must have been a memorable experience for Matthew records it in his story of the Gospel. And it must have been an invitation that went straight to their hearts for immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.

From the height of revelation Peter declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” to the depths of denial, saying emphatically three times at Christ’s cruel trial, “I tell you, I do not know the man,” Jesus held Peter in his Sacred Heart. And the angel at the empty tomb told the women that first day of the week, “Go tell his disciples and Peter to meet Jesus in Galilee!” And Peter, well, on Peter fell the burden to be the rock of the revelation of Christ on which the Triumphant Church would be built.

And it is Peter, the first of Jesus’ disciples to write these rich words of reflection: You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Let us look at Paul’s conversion story. Paul persecuted the Church. On his way to Samaria to carry his attacks on the Church, Paul met Jesus. Or shall we say Jesus met Paul. In a blinding light, Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked, “Who are you Lord?” Jesus replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In that moment Jesus brought Paul down from his horse and showed him the depth of his mercy and love for all people. (Acts 9:1-8)

Consequently, Paul writes deeply of our life in Christ, that is, how Christ encompasses all of our life, both our life now and our life that is to come. So Paul asserts, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) These few words capture Paul’s vision of the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love that he knew and what we can know. Such Love is understood best in our innermost being for it is not attained by human knowledge but is rather from the depths of the fulness of God without which we are empty shells.

Both Peter and Paul endured ‘the fiery trial’ for their faith and allegiance to another King. But both understood that no trial or false accusation or assaults to their bodies was worthy to be compared to the glory they believed awaited them. The best way to heaven according to Peter was to “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. And never repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9) As Paul assures us, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”

Peter and Paul might be a little embarrassed about this Solemnity honoring their memory as Paul reminds us, “So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.” (1 Corinthians 3:21)

However, it is with grateful hearts to remember that we are heirs of the grace that Peter and Paul preached and lived. And our faith rises as we stand upon their shoulders so that we may see Christ as they saw him. After all the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. They have entrusted to each one of us, fragile jars of clay that we are, the ‘treasure’, and it was clear to them and must be to us ‘that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7)


Readings for this Sunday

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Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ June 22, 2014

A Communion of Love

By Dennis S. Hankins

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17 NRSVCE)

Growing up in the Pentecostal church I became familiar with the question, “Do you know Jesus?” Any fervent witness for Christ with a desire to make Christ known will begin a conversation with almost anyone with these questions, “Do you know Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship with Christ? Are you aware that Jesus loves you, and died on the cross for you and rose again on the third day for you so that you could be with him forever in his heaven? Do you want to go to heaven?”

It’s a good question, “Do you know Jesus?”

A couple of guys leaving Jerusalem were making their way back home to Emmaus. Their minds racing with confusing thoughts, doubts, and wonder, Jesus caught up with them just on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Overhearing their conversation their unknown companion inquired, “What are you talking about?” Startled they stood still and with a retort Cleopas asked, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened here in the last few days.”

Jesus asked, “What things?” Still keeping their eyes from recognizing him, Jesus said, “Let’s keep walking. Tell me more.” And how anxious they were to bring this ‘visitor’ up to date. They explained how Jesus, a mighty prophet in word and deed before God and all the people was cruelly maligned by their chief priests and rulers and was condemned to death by crucifixion. They told their stranger how their hopes had been dashed as they thought that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. And then breathlessly, Cleopas said, “Today, some women of our little group told us something amazing. This morning they discovered the tomb was empty. Furthermore, they startled all of us as they shared they had seen a vision of angels who told them that Jesus is alive!”

“Alive! Can you imagine?” they said to the stranger.

“You seem to be foolishly slow of heart to believe,” the stranger chided gently. And for the rest of their walk to Emmaus, Jesus opened up the scriptures to explain how it was necessary for the Christ to first suffer and then enter into his glory. Nearing the entrance to the village of Emmaus, Jesus appeared that he was going further. But they pleaded, “Stay with us, there’s hardly any daylight left.”

So the stranger entered their home. In a moment supper was ready and he took his place with his hosts at their table. Reaching for the bread the stranger took the bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

What should you say to your evangelical friend who’s concerned whether or not you really know Jesus? Share with her that you commune with him like Christians have done since the beginning of the Church; that you know Jesus in the bread that you eat and in the wine that you drink, true food and true drink – the body and blood of our Lord – for He said, “the one who eats me will live because of me.” (John 6:57) Is there any greater Love?

So tell everyone you can what Love’s unfathomable depths is and where they can find it too – a Communion of Love that makes us one with Christ and with one another! Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity June 15, 2014

What Love Looks Like

By Dennis S. Hankins

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  (John 3:16-17)

My earliest memories are of a home where love was made visible by hugs and kisses; the ones I received; the ones I saw mommy and daddy exchange. I saw love in the way mommy took care of me and my brothers and sisters; the way daddy worked sometimes two jobs and provided for our large family of six kids. But the family table was always filled with enough food to feed lots of hungry kids. And on hot summer days love came in icy cold aluminum glasses filled with homemade orangeade.

On hot and humid summer afternoons mommy would pack us kids in the car and drive the few blocks to mama’s house. In those days I saw the joy of life and love in the way mama and her daughter, now with a growing family of her own, talked and talked and talked. I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I was looking at love as it was between generations. I know what love that lasts looks like.

Then there were the miscarriages. I know that mommy endured three. Two occurred when I was still at home. I know what love looks like in times like that. It’s when daddy held the fruit of married love and reverently buried his stillborn children. One was buried in our back yard by the Lilly; the other child was laid to rest by a tree at the cemetery. Mommy and daddy made a home where me and my brothers and sisters could learn what love looks like – what love for the born, the unborn, and the stillborn looks like.

Married love between a husband and his bride is a communion of persons and is a picture of the Triune God of Love who in His inmost being is a communion of Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In marriage, husband and wife, the two become one. In their freely given gift of each for the other their home becomes a place where love is increased in its free exchange. We learn of this deep and faithful love when we are born to parents who make a home where love is visible, touchable, and embracing.

There is another birth, a birth of the water and of the Spirit. In Christian baptism we are immersed into the very heart of the infinite Love of the Thrice Holy God and are born again. In paragraph 233 of the Catechism we read: Christians are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: not in their names, for there is only one God, the almighty Father, his only Son, and the Holy Spirit: the Most Holy Trinity. Through the years we learn more and more what this Holy and Redeeming Love looks like. We find it and know it in the Sacraments of the Church. Especially this is so in the confessional. In that Sacrament we feel again and again God’s Love for us in the forgiveness of sins. This Love came looking for us when God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

In the Incarnation God in his fulness came close to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit He became flesh in the womb of the most blessed Virgin Mary, and assumed our humanity. Upon his birth, His mother and ours, bathed the face of the Savior of the world with her joyful tears. In that moment we see in the welcoming arms of the Virgin and in the close and protective presence of her most chaste spouse, Joseph, what Love, Holy Redemptive Love, looks like. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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