Reflections on the Readings

April 12, 2015 – Sunday of Divine Mercy

The Unity of the Faith

By Dennis S. Hankins

Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Acts 4:32

The story of Easter continues! Alleluia!

The power of Jesus and his triumph over death, hell, and the grave ignites in his people a living faith that overcomes the world. Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Christ unifies his people through his living breath – the very wind of the Spirit of mercy and truth who brings to the children of Adam the blessing of the forgiveness of sins.

The first Christian community in Jerusalem shared an intimate connection with Jesus and with one another. The Church begins at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit descends upon those gathered in one place and in one accord. (Acts 2:4) The first believers grow in Christ because they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42) Generosity characterized the early followers of Christ who had all things in common. They even sold their possessions to make sure everyone’s needs were met. Their glad and generous hearts attracted others and the Lord daily added to their number. Mutual care and love for one another is where evangelism begins.

Now, we know that there is no perfect congregation. Any parish can have disagreements and quarrel among themselves. For the Church at Corinth, their unity was threatened as they divided over allegiances to various Christian leaders they had come to know and love. Some followed Paul, others Apollos, and some believed there was no one like Cephas. Paul appeals to the folks at Corinth asking them to put away their dissensions and become united in the same mind, boasting rather in Christ – Christ crucified; Christ the power of God; Christ the wisdom of God; Christ in us, the hope of glory!

Unity is a common theme in the early Church. Paul exhorts the Ephesian Church to use their spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. He reminds them that their goal is the unity of the faith, maturity in Christ, the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13) Paul challenges the Colossians to forgive whatever grievances they may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you, he writes, reminding the Colossians that only forgiveness and mercy will bring about genuine unity. (Colossians 3:13)

There is one body of Christ with many members. Among us there are many gifts of the Spirit each one of us is to use in caring for and building up, one another. One in Christ, we weep with our brothers and sisters who weep. If one rejoices, we all rejoice! All of this understanding goes back to the night that Jesus washed his disciples feet. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34 -35)

So the story of Easter continues because it’s about our Savior who loved us and rose from the dead for us. Outside the tomb Jesus stared back into the darkness and said, “Death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” The legacy of Christ’s resurrection is the unity of the faith. And because Jesus is alive, and the unity of the faith is so important, may we take to heart these words from the Letter to the Hebrews:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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April 5, 2015 – Year B – The Resurrection of the Lord

Heaven On Earth

By Dennis S. Hankins

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Jihadists gave the Church the fresh blood of martyrs at the beginning of our Holy Triduum this Holy Week. Descending upon a university in the Kenyan town of Garrissa, the Somali-based al-Shabaab terrorist organization began killing Christian students. If the student could recite an Islamic prayer, he was dismissed. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t were counted as sheep for the slaughter as was our Lord. Mostly male students are among the 147 dead. Many others are wounded and traumatized. We can only imagine the ordeal for those being hunted down like quarry. Some of the killed were gathered together for morning prayer. They were easy prey. Yet we can be sure that Christ, who is our life, gave these new martyrs of the faith a royal welcome home.

Everyone of goodwill decries religiously based violence. But such fire in the minds of men and women is difficult to extinguish when it is fueled by a misguided understanding of God and is holy love. All of us, whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, are better off if we strike our breast in humility rather than beating triumphantly on our drums. But the issue is surrender, isn’t it? And I don’t mean to each other but to the God we all say we profess. But that’s not easy if you think God is on your side and agrees with you. And that mostly creates chaos in families, among friends, in the neighborhood, among nations and on the blog posts.

I surrendered to Christ at the tender age of nine. I was sitting on the second wooden slat pew from the front on the left side of the church that hot summer evening. From the moment the service started I was overcome by the need to surrender to Christ and his love. Tears welled up in my eyes and I could hear my heart beating as I squirmed in my seat. Brother Snodgrass asked me if I would like to pray. I responded and loving people gathered with me at the altar praying with me and for me while I repented and invited Jesus into my heart and life. For the past 51 years, I’ve been learning how and why I must surrender more and more to the love of Jesus. Sometimes I even manage to create a little bit of heaven on earth.

Every baptized Christian is called to be a witness of the way of Christ and his Cross, and his indestructible life. Some doubt and don’t grasp that someone, that anyone, could rise from the dead. So our work is cut out for us. The story of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead still needs telling. So, starting right now, let’s exalt the name of Jesus by loving one another, by forgiving each other, by being the face of the resurrected Jesus to all we meet. Then there will be more heaven on earth and less chaos. For Jesus lives, and he is praying for us to be faithful, and courageous, until that day when he appears, and we appear with him in glory. Those Christian students in Kenya, who loved not their lives unto death, remind us to settle for nothing less.

May you have a Happy and Holy Easter. Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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March 29, 2015 – Year B – Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Thy Will Be Done

By Dennis S. Hankins

And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Into the day I go in a way under the gaze of ordinary light, just everyday life, and treasures in the barn, or in the safe, or in my 401K.
It’s time to pray, there’s no time to pray, no hour of prayer in this comfortable place.
To my own stuff I cling.

Unyielding, yet I know not why, in my own soul I cry: “Why can’t it be my way.” I can’t give up, give in, or give – “Who is that eating scraps at my door? I want seconds, just give me more. I’m fat and I want more.” Unyielding I am to a still, small voice: “Take up your cross, and feed the poor.
To my own stuff I cling.

Why am I so pleased with nothing? This familiar darkness, lost in time, am I lost in space? Is there anyone else out there? This life, well, it’s all I’ve known; don’t take anything from me. Count the silver spoons – there are least 30.
To my own stuff I cling.

Someone said, “There’s a cross for you and me.” But I can’t live unless I have my way. As the siren of the serpent goes: “Look and see! You can have it all. Bow down to me, and all this is yours.”
To my own stuff I cling.

I’ve been told, “You can’t take it with you!” But I’m not sure. I think I might just beat this racket. A friend has died. He didn’t take it with him. Things were left behind. He left other things too, like, things not done, prayers not finished, love not given.
To my own stuff I cling.

Who is that Man I passed today? The smell of spikenard fills the air. Is that my neighbor, I just can’t tell? I think I’ve seen this Man before. I could tell He didn’t have much stuff. Poor soul, but I can’t be bothered. I’m climbing the ladder ‘cause that’s all that matters.
To my own stuff I cling.

What a waster! That Man who smells so rich and looks so poor, should have sold that spikenard and dressed to the nines. The air is rich with His aroma, pungent perfume reeks, but this Man has no place to lay his head. It’s high time to stop this waste so let’s start with this waster.
To my own stuff I cling.

Someone said, “Come meet a Man.” I took one look and said, “What a waste. He could have fed the poor with that spikenard oozing from his pores.” That Man is a waster if there ever was one. He said today, “To whom much is given, much is required.” And I said, “What’s mine is mine.”
To my own stuff I cling.

I walked by tonight that place of the Skull. Wafting through the olive trees is a familiar smell. What’s that poor Man doing up there? Bowed down with weight that I could not see He wept and wailed, and said, “Not my will, but thine be done.” I looked and saw three men sleeping, no sweet hour of prayer for these.
Yet, to my own stuff I cling.

Rising from his first hour of prayer, he noticed that I was there. And before I could resist, he hugged me to his breast. This poor Man cried out for my soul. In one brief moment I felt divine, but that can’t be, He’s only human debris. And then he said, “Ask, and you shall receive.” And I said, “Why? What more do I need?
To My own stuff I cling.

Then eyes of blue with tints of heaven peeked into my soul. I felt empty, and emptier more and I was melting beneath his holy gaze. I had not noticed this before, his eyes were fire and lit my soul. “Please, please, I want more. Oh, you poor Man, my poverty redeem!
You are my Lord,
To thine own will I cling.”

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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March 22, 2015 – Year B – Fifth Sunday of Lent

For This Purpose

By Dennis S. Hankins

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

I’m not sure how the prosperity preachers would handle today’s readings. There are riches in these readings for sure, but not the kind that would line the pockets. Jesus is troubled in his soul and weeps with tears only his Father can understand. Jesus agonizes in the great depths of prayer in anticipation of a cruel and mocking death, knowing that his closest associates will betray and deny him, a grain of wheat that must fall into the ground and die and become fruitful as a field of wheat. The hour is filled with God’s purpose for a new humanity – ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven!

In the days of his flesh, Jesus wrestled in prayer with loud cries and tears. These are some of the most descriptive and moving words in all of scripture. We do well in meditating upon them. Jesus did not seek a way around the cross. He bore the cross before he died on it. In his own body, the Son of God showed what can be known of holiness in the flesh like our flesh. In his flesh Jesus reveals how it is possible to say, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” In that prayer Jesus gives us a picture of humility; humility that comes from obedience of heart, faith that is the sweet aroma of Christ, a new humanity of sons and daughters born again by the Spirit of grace.

“For this purpose,” says Jesus, “I have come to this hour.” Our Lenten pilgrimage is leading us to Jesus, to his purpose for us to grow in holiness. There are moments in time in which we sense a fulness, a resolute purpose of heaven to which we are called. Our day is such a time. News of wars and rumors of war are everywhere. Humanity is enduring the butchering of the innocent in the womb and of faithful Christians in the Middle East. Ours is a moment in history when genuine voices are needed to pierce the darkness with truth, goodness, and beauty. As servants of Christ we are called to a life of surrender to Christ, and to have hearts filled with the prayers and tears of Jesus. That is our purpose in this life, the purpose for which we were created: namely, to know, love, and serve God and to make him known.

Our world surely needs the witness of an authentic Christian life, a witness unafraid to make him known, bringing a little bit of the Kingdom where we are. This requires a heart filled with the aroma of Calvary. Let us make it our Lenten promise to be full of all that Jesus wants to give us, that all of the strength and power and love of his salvation be more and more increasing in us until our world and all the world around is filled with his purpose!

Amen.

Readings for this Sunday

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