Reflections on the Readings

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 3, 2014

A Love Story

By Dennis S. Hankins

Brothers and Sisters, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” – St. Paul to the Romans

In the darkness of the night an old man, bent by the burden of time, caresses the brow of his bride. Their eyes meet and they hold hands. A long time ago they pledged to each other their love until death should part them. Throughout the years many things challenged that pledge, but their love remained strong through thick and thin.

Tonight, like all the hundreds of nights before, they take refuge in the love of Christ. For it is his love that makes their love possible. It’s been their ritual for fifty years to pray together at bedtime: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God. Pray for us sinners, now, and at the our of our death. Amen.” Afterward they say goodnight with the promise of saying good morning one day in the presence of that love that never fails.

Above their bed is a crucifix. He placed it there on their wedding night. He had said to her, “No matter what comes, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” Pointing to the cross he had just hung he promised his bride, “And with his power in me, I’ll never leave you; my heart is yours.” And from their first kiss until their last kiss he kept his promises and she kept hers.

Imperfections? Arguments? Sure they had their tussles. Some had predicted, “It’ll never last!” But they had a secret power, a secret love to guide them through their disagreements and quarrels. While reading the scriptures together they grew in that grace and love and in the knowledge of their salvation. In fact, after one particular bad week, or was it two, he read in the Bible of his need to tend to the log in his own eye and to stop worrying about the splinter in her eye. After that it was amazing how much more often they saw eye to eye!

Now the old alarm clock on the night stand announces each passing second of time and goes tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock. And both go to sleep with the assurance that as in life so in death, nothing shall separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

In the morning, Mary kisses the old folks on their cheeks and greets them with these familiar words:

“He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Then the old folks replied with vibrant and confident voices, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us!”

And sitting down to breakfast, the old folks greeted each other with a good morning kiss. Then they blessed and broke bread and ate and were satisfied. A new day had begun.

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 27, 2014

For Those Who Love God

By Dennis S. Hankins

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.  (Romans 8:28-30)

Love of God is first. This understanding saturates the Bible’s story of salvation from cover to cover. To know and to love the Lord is to understand that he first loved us. Again, the Bible tells us: But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

See how God dotes on his children calling us into his purpose. And in his arms he looks at us and tells us we are always on his mind and that He has big plans for us and how he sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in His Son. For you see there’s always been plan A. That’s what “those whom he predestined he also called” means. Jesus wasn’t Plan B because from the very immeasurable abyss of Holy Love there’s been only one name whereby we can be saved.

Maybe this is why Peter tells us that even in the Old Covenant the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be ours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined in Christ and the subsequent glory. And get this. Folks like Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah and many more knew that they were not serving themselves but us, in regard to the things we now know concerning Christ. For the Good News about Christ has been declared to us by the Holy Spirit inspired preaching of the Apostles. And then Peter declares, “These things the angels desire to look into!” (1 Peter 1:10-12)

The story of the Treasure hidden in a field and the Pearl of Great Worth are one story. Jesus invites us to invest our whole heart to know Him in the power of his kingdom. I remember singing in the Pentecostal church, “Take this whole world, but give me Jesus…no turning back, no turning back.” Let me ask you something really personal: “Have you fallen head over heels in love with Jesus? Is your heart burning with love for Christ and his Church? Are you being configured to grace daily and learning to search the scriptures daily to find out more about Christ?

A New Evangelization may not make much sense until we have a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. And the single thing that characterizes everyone who encountered Christ in the Gospels is that they want to tell someone else about Jesus. The Woman at the Well went into her community and said, “Come see a man who changed my life.”

Yes my friend, there is always more. More of his saving fulness to know and treasure and tell about. There is more of his Spirit to be filled with. Come to Jesus and say I want more. Pray with courage and some abandonment and say, “I’ll take whatever you want to give me. Let me have more.”

Look deep inside and take the leap and ask for more. Don’t allow any deception of the enemy take back what only belongs to Christ. The deal is that the good, free, and abundant life is found by those who love God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God who are called according to his purpose. That purpose is worth knowing with all of your heart, mind, body, and strength.  Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 20, 2014

It’s Story Time!

By Dennis S. Hankins

Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus told stories. Mothers brought their children to hear Jesus tell stories. Can you imagine listening to Jesus tell stories to the children sitting at his feet? His stories, filled with messages, and sacred meaning, revealed things ‘hidden from the foundation of the world.” And everyone listening, mommy, daddy, and children went home filled with the wonder of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven dancing in their heads.

Some stories begin with, “Once upon a time…” Jesus began his tales with, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” His comparisons were spun of the stuff of everyday life and experience like, wheat, seeds, leaven and dough.

The Story of the Weeds and the Wheat

In this story Jesus describes how good and evil exist side by side and will do so until the end of human history. As in every good story so also in this story, the good guys win. But not without effort and perseverance. It is for us to overcome evil with good; not returning evil for evil but entreating and offering what is noble in the sight of all. (Romans 12:17)

Jesus gives us the secret power of the kingdom of heaven. He reveals to us what comes from depths of the Father’s heart; things that are not of this world, therefore the world cannot know what it cannot know. Jesus said as much in praise to the Father: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” (Matthew 11:25)

What things has he kept from the wise and the intelligent? I think it may be how the mystery of his power is not diminished in the presence of evil. For our Lord said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like a child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4) At the end of the age he will gather all his children together and bring them into his house and nothing will harm or destroy in all his holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

The Story of the Mustard Seed

Jesus tells this story to encourage us. We admire people who seem to have great faith. After all there are many in scripture to pick from like Abraham, Moses, Daniel, David, Mary. Certainly these all showed great faith in many ways and at different times in their life.

But big time faith is not where it’s at. And God is not asking us to use some else’s faith. He wants us to use the faith we have. You might say, “I don’t have a lot of faith.” Look how Jesus compares great faith with the smallest of seeds, a mustard seed. As a young boy I received a birthday card that had a mustard seed encapsulated on it. It really is a small seed. My young heart imagined what great things I could do with just a little bit of faith. And Jesus wants us to use the faith we’ve got. For little is much when God is in it.

The Story of Leaven and the Dough

This story is about sanctification; growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Speaking for myself, God is still working on me. He’s working his will into my life little by little. I’m nearly 60 years old, but still I’m learning to say, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Jesus said his food was to do the will of the Father. Our prayer must also be, “Your will, my Father, is my food.” The Father works on us just like a baker mixes the leaven into the dough, kneading the dough, turning it over and over and working it with his hands.

This process takes place in a hidden way. Like when we enter our prayer closets and seek him who dwells in the secret place, then he who sees in secret will reward openly.

There really is something beautiful being in the presence of someone who is under the influence of the leaven of love. The quality, the grace, the gift of a life touched by the nail scarred hand is truly an inspiring witness of the things of the kingdom of heaven. But that is the witness we are called to be. That is the witness that is being called for to bring a new springtime of the faith into flower. And however we feel inadequate, weak, or powerless, we can pray in the Spirit as our second reading implores. For the Spirit will give us the words to pray that give expression to our deepest desire to know Christ and to make him known.

The world is waiting to hear a good story, a story of forgiveness, life more abundantly, and heaven our home. It truly is time to tell the Story of Christ and his Love. Go ahead and tell it!  Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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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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