Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 28, 2014

Let Us All Pull Together

By Dennis S. Hankins

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 4:1-4)

The words are etched in my Pentecostal memory. I suspect it’s because I read them hundreds if not thousands of times. Not only did I read them on the way out of church, but it was something to look at whenever I squirmed enough to be turned around in my seat. After all, we did go to church Sunday morning and evening. There was prayer meeting on Wednesday night and Youth service on Friday night. So there was ample opportunity to read the sign above the door leading back into the world: “Let us all pull together, for we won’t be here long.”

I have mused on these words many times through the years since those days. I think of them almost every Good Friday at the Ecumenical Good Friday service at my parish each year. Somehow we manage to lay aside what divides us one time a year and gather at the foot of the Cross and pray together – a real participation in the Spirit takes place as we come together having the same mind and the same love for Christ.

The relationships we have in the Body of Christ are sacred because together we stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross. No one is better than the other or more saved than the other. The precious blood of the Lamb washes over each of us with love that shows no partiality. Writing to the Church at Corinth Paul pastorally explains the reality of being lost and then found in the friendship of the Savior saying, But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”
I Corinthians 6:9-11

Today we hear from the same Apostle Paul who says to the Church at Philippi, “But in humility count others better than yourselves.” These words contain the secret to the power and strength and resolve in that saying posted above the doors of my church long ago. Those words are a precious reminder that we are brothers and sisters in Christ because Christ loved us and died for us while we were yet sinners.

At the tender age of nine I knelt at the foot of the Cross and asked Christ into my heart. Love mingled with the Blood of Christ bathed away the corruption in this son of Adam and I became a new creature in Christ Jesus. Since that moment the old has been passing away and everything about me is becoming new. My Creator is also my Redeemer and the life that I now live I live by faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to the chief priests and elders, “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

Dear brothers and sisters, may we be free of an attitude of selfishness or conceit in our fellowship and let us rather in humility esteem one another in love, and pull together, for life is too short, and we won’t be here long! Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 21, 2014

That Amazing Grace!

By Dennis S. Hankins

“Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? (Then Jesus concluded,) “So the last fill be first, and the first last.”

By the end of this past work week I was saying to myself and to those who asked about my well-being, “I’m learning again how to live in grace.” It’s amazing how quickly I can drift away from the safe harbor and be tossed about because I strayed from the peaceful shore of God’s love. It’s tempting to ask in such times, “Where is God?” A Psalm of David affirms however:

You set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
You make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
You make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers. (Ps. 104:3-4)

Yes, God is near us; he’s with us in the storms of life. It is absolutely true that He is never far from any one of us. But sometimes we think God is not near because we feel so far away from Him. And this is why we should take to heart Isaiah’s words and “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” It’s grace we need; a moment with him who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. (Psalm 145)

The words of the prophet Isaiah from today’s first reading are especially descriptive. It is a invitation to repentance and renewal: “Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” That’s an announcement of amazing grace for anyone and for everyone, even ‘whosoever will may come.’ That includes me and you!

Yet too often we choose our way, we choose the sword; take things into our own hands and pursue justice in our own strength. Ignoring the still, small voice of grace we huff and we puff and then find ourselves out of wind, out of kilter, and outside of God’s plan. The power of the sword is deceptive and the power of Love is left untapped. G. K. Chesterton summed it up this way, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Is it perhaps time that we ask God for the humility and the courage to try it His way?

Perhaps we should take a few moments looking at a crucifix and stand in amazement of that selfless Love that shed prodigious blood for us? We find pardon, we find mercy, we find amazing grace at the foot of Christ’s cross and hear the standing invitation, “Come unto me all of you who labor and are burdened down, and I will give you rest.” It is the power of the Blood of Christ we experience every time we go to confession. In this sacrament of grace we encounter God’s generosity.

We sometimes measure out God’s mercy and love according to our measurement. Some say, “I don’t see how God could ever forgive me.” Another says, “I don’t see how God could forgive that person!”A few years ago I preached in a medium security prison in southern Indiana to what some humorously say was a captive audience. There was, however, in that room, an immeasurable presence of grace. It was amazing. I preached like a house on fire as my Pentecostal friends would say. All kinds of brokenness and sin filled backgrounds was represented in that room of about 75 or so inmates. Yet in that secure environment, the doors being locked, Jesus walked among us, and once again I was reminded just how amazing God’s grace is.

My dear friend, on that Day when the Friend of Sinners meets us at the Gate, I won’t be asking for fairness. No, my brothers and sisters, I’ll be asking for a generous portion of mercy and grace.

Until then, may our manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ; the gospel of mercy and grace and pardon. Amen

Readings for this Sunday

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Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2014

Look Upon the Cross and Live

By Dennis S. Hankins

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – Jesus

Grumbling and complaining about God’s help and provision Israel berated the Lord’s way and sustenance saying, “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?” And looking at the miraculous manna they protested, “We are disgusted with this wretched food!”

OK then! Well, not so much. That nasty attitude brought some nasty poisonous snakes among them. Their accusative minds spawned death in their heart and because of the poisonous snakes, in their body as well.

Poison begets poison.

Understanding that their behavior precipitated this awful state of affairs, they confessed to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he may take away the serpents from us.”

The Lord had Moses make a bronze serpent which he attached to a pole. Lifting the pole carrying the replica of the fiery serpents in their midst Moses spoke thus to the people: “Anyone who is bitten, if he looks upon this pole upon which this bronze serpent is fastened, he shall live.” This awkward, yet profound remedy prefigures the Cross and for Israel was a foretaste of what was yet to come. Jesus confirms this in his conversation with Nicodemus when he says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Looking upon the Cross and believing that He who suffered for us, even death on a Cross, fills our life with God’s breath. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. And in the Creed we affirm that:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.

I remember as a teenager hearing about the worship wars going on in the historic churches. Something about taking the ‘blood’ and references to the ‘blood’ out of the hymn books. It seemed that some argued that to make God and salvation and church more palatable to the modern world, it would be better to not sing with such clarity about the ignominy of the Cross. There were those who thought we had outgrown the humiliation and gruesome realities of the Crucifixion.

Really?

And there are still those who get squeamish whenever certain songs of worship speak of mission and the cross and our place in carrying its claims into all the world. Anything that resembles “Christian soldiers, marching as to war,” is not proper some might say. Even St. Paul might be out of place in some circles since he speaks of the ‘weapons of our warfare are mighty through God,’ and admonishes believers to ‘put on the full armor of God.’ Some neuter the hymns like my favorite one, ‘Lift High the Cross.’ The third stanza in the 1916 words of William Kitchen and Michael Robert Newbolt reads, “Each newborn soldier of the Crucified bears on the brow the seal of him who died.” Others prefer the modern rendering, “Each newborn servant…”

We wrestle against the dark powers wherever they may express themselves. The venomous presence of the Serpent is never very far away. In recent weeks, enemies of the Cross of Christ have exerted themselves in some of Iraq’s oldest settlements and cities of Christianity. Mass executions of Christians has occurred as they encountered the warlike mantra “Convert to Islam or die.” Clutching the Cross they now live in that eternal and affectionate embrace of Him who said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

May we with them continue our holy gaze upon the Cross, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 RSVCE)

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 7, 2014

Love – The Law of the Kingdom

By Dennis S. Hankins

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-9)

It was only hours away. Beginning to feel the birth pangs of his Passion Jesus longed to be near his disciples. At his Last Supper with his closest associates, he first knelt before each one, bathing the feet of his followers. There was some resistance to this from Peter, but Jesus answered his reluctance explaining, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

After washing their feet, Jesus returned to the table and asked, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anther’s feet. I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Your are servants and the servant is not greater than his master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”

Just before Jesus departed to pray in the Garden, he gave them a new commandment. Even now the droplets of sweat that would become great drops of blood formed on his brow. Knowing that the greatest enemy of his cause would be foolish and divisive bickering and gossip and pride, Jesus wrote on each of their hearts with is Spirit, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

More important than all the beautiful and ornate cathedrals, and the greatest tomes of theology and philosophy, and the loftiest thoughts ever conceived, is this last and new commandment Jesus gave his disciples. More magnanimous than being oracles and masters of great and profound words, or the ability to speak with the tongues of men and of angels, is this last commandment encompassing all of the fulness and meaning for why Jesus came into this world. More powerful than if someone had all the faith necessary to move mountains are these last few words of Jesus that if believed and lived can move the most calloused heart and heal the heart broken beyond all telling.

For more than anything else Jesus calls us to be filled with the great love of God. To owe each other nothing but a gracious and generous heart, moved by nothing greater and most certainly by nothing less than that Love that never fails. Just as sunshine is necessary to sustain us in body and mind no understanding of the Church is complete without knowing what is meant by the Body of Christ which is loving one another just as He has loved us. We love him because he first loved us. And by extension we should love one another with that love that covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

The most impoverished and weak expression of the Church is when she fails to look and live like that love with which Christ loves the Church. As we think more and more as we should about what a New Evangelization looks like perhaps we ought to begin at Home, in the parish where we Worship, Teach, and Serve – where Jesus is present wherever two or three are gathered in his name.

We should be acutely aware that no one really gives a plug nickel how much we subscribe to the letter of the Creeds or how much we can expound upon the finer points of what we believe. For the bottom line is that no one cares how much we know and can recite chapter, verse, and line the Holy writings, or can even pray in Latin. For no one will really care how much we know or how spiritual we are until they know how much we care.

Love is the first and last law of the kingdom. We fulfill it when we do no wrong to one another and forgiving each other when we fail to love each other as we should; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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