You
have it.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.

In the days prior to the first Pentecost, Jesus’ followers were in one place together. In the upper room they followed a single command and awaited a single promise. Jesus enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father.” So they did.

What exactly were they waiting for?

When Peter spoke to the gathered masses from every corner of the world, he quoted, as Paul does in writing to the Corinthians, from the Prophet Joel. The outpouring of the Spirit, the promise of the Father was for everyone: slaves and free, young and old, male and female. Paul calls it the gifts for everyone, different and varied – for the benefit of all. They awaiting ‘having it.’

The advent of the Spirit means that we, along with every Christian, have been endowed, gifted, given, granted, and provided with true power, commissioning, and strength for the work of God. The gift of the Spirit pulls us together to share in the ministry of witness and proclamation. We have it.

That witness and proclamation is simple and straightforward. It is sweet to the ears of those who feel so rejected and put aside; not just by outward prejudice and hatred, but also by inner questioning and doubt. Here is what to say:

The Kingdom of God is here, come take part. The Kingdom of God is for you. There are gifts awaiting you and an inheritance as well. God is ready to bless you with His Spirit, for His work. God, and I, value you beyond any label – world given or self-imposed.

Pentecost power is knowledge that we have it and a call to action. We possess a gift, perhaps several, for the benefit of all. The Spirit of God came to the apostles and disciples suddenly and disturbingly, as the sound of a violent wind and tongues of fire. So it should be with us. Let us allow that strong driving wind to knock the dust off our gifts. Let it burn away our storage shelves. Let the gifts we have stored fall from their closets and break open into the world. Seeing them new again, let us set to work for some benefit.

Teaching love for
me too.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

Are ways of behaving learned or innate (i.e., natural)? A bit of research will show that behavioral scientists have opinions on both sides. This question seems to puzzle us more than in the past. Is parenting natural or learned? Is love natural or learned?

One of the best reflections on this subject states that it is a little of both. The Natural Law tells us that there are certain aspects of every person that are God created. We have built in tendencies to do right, moral, good things. We are naturally drawn to God. We have the call to love within us. Of course, those things can be thwarted by experience or by choice to sin.

Yet, one of the most wonderful aspects of the human person is an individual’s ability to overcome. A great illustration of the ability to overcome is “The Other Wes Moore.” Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence?

The Christian community faced a very hostile world. They were all Wes Moore. Life was cheap. The haves had, the have-nots were slaves. Women and children had no value – were no more than property. Power ruled all, all else bowed. Nevertheless, the natural call remained, the ability to overcome existed.

The love of Christ overcame for that very reason. The message of the gospel and the example of Jesus allow us to overcome and win. Jesus took what is innate in us and said follow me – and you will flourish. God so loved us – and we can be just like Him. People heard of the power of God’s love and said – me too!

So we must put message of the Gospel first. We must love, value, and break down barriers and obstacles like God. The world needed this then, the world needs this now. The old ways have re-emerged, so the triumph of God’s love must once again offer ‘me too’ to everyone through us.

What?
Who?

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.

Today we hear a wonderful testament to what God’s love does when, through the Holy Spirit, He opens Himself to us and calls us into fellowship with Him.

Cornelius was a Roman Centurion – Centurion, like century, meaning one hundred. He had command of at least one hundred soldiers. That means that his commanders held him in some esteem. He was promotable. Acts attests that Cornelius was also a God fearing and generous man: a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. He didn’t just do these things on his own, he led others to God, his family and friends. An angel tells him to send for Simon Peter, so he sends messengers to get him.

In the mean time… Peter was praying at home, and was hungry too. God sent him a vision of a cloth full of food – all kinds of foods considered unclean and impure by the Jewish people. God tells him to slaughter and eat. Peter, of course, objects: “No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” This happens three times and God clearly states: “What I have cleansed, you must not call common.”

Peter, perplexed by all this, is then visited by a delegation from a Centurion. Uh oh… The Romans were here to get him. God reassures Peter, and Peter sets off for Cornelius’ house. We heard the rest today.

The call to Christian love is to love like God, surpassing boundaries, growing fellowship, participating in the communal life of the Body.

This is a testament to the powerful work of God who accepts us and brings us into His Church. He takes what is unclean and common and makes it beautiful and acceptable before Him. He sends forth His Spirit, not as man expects or wills, but as He deems fit and proper. He sees what we do; even small acts of faithfulness and charity, and pours out His graces on us all the more. He sets the ultimate example of love – and if we listen to Jesus, we love one another exactly as He loves us.

Condemned or
free?

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.

Today we witness the baptism of Finley Edward. It is the first step of the sacrament of Baptism-Confirmation by which we enter and grow in the regenerated life. While the two parts of this sacrament, both baptism and confirmation, seem like bookends, they are not. Rather they are steps in a journey, a journey from condemnation to freedom.

What is best and most amazing in the process of Baptism-Confirmation is that by our actions of faith, our proclamation of belief in Jesus and trust in His salvation, and rejection of all sin we are saved and are completely freed. We are changed in the most essential of ways. Theologians call it an ontological change. Really old folks like me were taught that our soul receives an indelible mark – something that can never be undone. This is why we call it what Jesus called it in speaking with Nicodemus – regeneration or rebirth: Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again… Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

Today, St. John reminds us of what we received. We have new hearts and sprits that will not condemn us. They have been freed and that should give us great confidence. At the same time, St. John knew that we know somewhat differently.

While we are able to have confidence, while we have been essentially changed and regenerated, we fall. We fail to keep the commandments of God – the two key ones – to love God enabled by our belief in Jesus because in Jesus we know God, and to love each other. When we fall short in those regards we loose confidence.

When we forget the commandments, are away from the vine, apart from the love of Jesus’ community, we lose confidence. That’s when our hearts condemn us. Yet if we remain on the path of transformation we are freed, and in freedom bear much good fruit.

Who carries
who?

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian images and one of the most popular even to this day.

Early Christian images were often symbolic. This was due to the need to be discreet in a world where Christians were often viewed with suspicion at best and persecuted, even to death, at worst. The image summoned up by the words of Jesus, “I am the good shepherd.”

The image of the Good Shepherd often depicts Jesus carrying the lost sheep on His shoulders, bringing the lost back. The image is evocative of the power and strength of Jesus as well as of His care and concern for each of the sheep. We see Him going off among the brambles and thorns, the rocks and cliffs, among the wolves and other dangers, letting nothing stop Him from His mission of care, His rescue.

As Christians, we have the same call, but it can be muffled by our dual personality.

The call is to be imitators of the Good Shepherd. W e are to live up to our responsibility to search for the lost. How many do we know that have lost their relationship or have a broken relationship with Jesus – we need to seek them out and bring them back. Jesus gives us the grace to have the same strength He has, so we can go among the brambles, thorns, rocks, cliffs, wolves and other dangers of this world to bring them back. As He carried us back or into the fold, we are to carry others back or into the fold.

Our dual personality is such, that while we are His sheep, we too go astray at times. Our call can be muffled by the sinful attraction of the world. It is in those moments that we may have confidence that Jesus will not leave us alone and abandoned in the wild. Jesus will marshal all His resources, graces, and people to bring us back. As we carry others back, Jesus carries us.

There are great temptations and sadness, seemingly impossible obstacles in our journey with Jesus’ flock. Yet we have great power in Jesus and the strong shoulders of a great God. It is time to have confidence; it is time to work out our shoulders in scripture, prayer, and the grace of sacramental encounter. The question is not who carries who, but the confidence that that Jesus carries us and we are strong to carry each other.

We have a gift
to deliver.

He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Beside ourselves, who are the sinners we know? Who are the least of sinners, who are the worst?

Our minds might have wandered to that person who had annoyed us, the one who treated us badly, the one who cut us off in traffic. Perhaps our minds dwell on ourselves, how we fall short.

It is probably best to start with ourselves. There is an old story about a person who went to confession after many, many, years. They sat down with the priest and said ‘I haven’t been to confession in years.’ The priest asks: ‘So my child, what sins do you have to confess?’ The person said: ‘Well, I really don’t have any.’ The priest looks up, takes off his glasses, and said: Well now you do, for St. John tells us: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us.” In other words child, you just lied a big lie.

Frankly, as St. Paul instructed the Church at Rome: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Knowing this, we know we have a real problem, and it is not the problem our minds go to.

Who here is forgetful? I know that I am getting more and more forgetful. Without a calendar filled with appointments, I just might not be where I need to be. Thankfully I have a loving wife and a great secretary who keep me on track. I forget stuff at home and leave things behind. Then I have to figure out where I left it. Is it in the car, on my desk, on the kitchen table? Did you ever go to a party and forget the gift you were supposed to bring?

Today, Jesus reminds us that sin and forgetfulness go hand in hand. Being forgetful isn’t sin, but forgetting what we are about is.

The problem is that we are quick to count sin and offense, either our own or that of others. Every person, even those worst at math, deserves a degree in accounting. We can add up sins with real expertise. Yes, all have fallen short. So we can leave that message to scripture. The part of scripture, the gift we forget is what Jesus says today (and every day). We need to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We are to be witnesses of these things.” We have a gift to give and it isn’t our ability to count! Our gift is word of Jesus’s redemption. Through Him all who confess are free.

All we need is
faith and love!

For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.

We were looking through the closet in our office at home – a closet that has been changed into a set of storage shelves. We were looking for bags and ribbon for our basket social baskets – ribbons found, no bags. A trip to Michael’s and all set.

While looking through the closet I came across a lovely table runner from Poland. It is intricately woven together. That is what today is all about.

The community to whom First John was written was facing a crisis. Former members were denying that Jesus was God’s flesh and blood Son, fully human and fully God. Like many churches facing doctrinal conflict, the community was confused, afraid, and unsure of what to do. Who should they believe? How could they know what was true, and what was not? How should they react? Their closely woven life of faith and love was coming undone.

John’s response in a lesson to the community was both simple and confident: You know who you are – the faithful. You know whose you are – you are God’s. You know what you have been told from the beginning – love God, love the brethren, and keep God’s commandments. God’s own Spirit is with us to show us the way forward. There’s no need for confusion, anxiety, or fear. Focus on living your faith woven together in unity and love.

John echoes Jesus’ conversation with his disciples on the night before his death: “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them;” and “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”

Loving God, loving God’s children, and keeping God’s commandments are all an inseparable part of our life in Christ. They are links in the chain of faith. We live in an interwoven reality that is the Church of God – the basic principles of Christianity. Like that beautiful table runner, every thread is linked together into something beautiful; something that gives joy and that makes love strong and real.

In today’s Gospel we have all the markers from the First John community. Perhaps the first display of fear and anxiety in the Christian community. Jesus settled the Apostles crises quickly. Yet the Apostle Thomas was missing. He was the one thread missing. He exhibits some aggressive non-belief. His thread was not just unraveled, but frayed and nearly broken. We get that way. The comfort is that Jesus returns for him as He returns for us – Jesus won’t let us stay unraveled. Easter is to live restored, interwoven, and unbroken.

The stone is
gone.

Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.

Searching back through scripture we come to the various encounters between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There are thirty-eight verses that refer to her.

Some consider her the prostitute who was going to be stoned by the crowd until Jesus intervened. Some believe she is the woman that anointed Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper, or the one who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them, and dried them with her hair.

While those women were not given a specific name, we do know from scripture that Jesus, specifically, saved her. Luke 8:1-3 is that reference to her: Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out.

Mary comes to the tomb, early in the morning and finds the stone is gone. What a beautiful scriptural testimony to what Jesus has accomplished for her and for us; the stone is removed.

We face many trials and tribulations in our lives. The world is filled with stones that stand in the way of true joy and happiness. When we face these things, when the stones of our existence confront us, we are called to remember this moment of our salvation.

Mary is our example, standing before the removed stone. She is, at first, filled with questions and wonder, and then it hits. The alternate Gospel, for this morning, taken from Mark, adds detail: On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter.

She runs off to the Apostles. She begins to tell of it as she had been directed. She now connects fully to the removed stone.

We have a story to tell. We, the Christian faithful, have experienced the removal of our stones. By His death and resurrection, whatever stood in our way to eternal glory has been removed. Spread the joy!

Will we run across stones and confront roadblocks and obstacles? Most certainly! When we do, recall this most sacred moment, this day of indescribable joy. Whatever we confront can be climbed, and surmounted. Jesus has destroyed and overcome all stones. Alleluia! He is risen!

Why so
long?

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Father, why is he gospel so long?

Jesus was sent to earth as a man. As the Gospel of St. John tells us, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word dwelt among us. The Word lives with us. Jesus, who is God’s Word came to preach the Gospel, the Good News.

God had news for us. It is Good News and was delivered by Jesus as the prophets foretold: Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God (see Matthew 4:23; 9:35; Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1); or the “good news of God” (see Mark 1:14-15). Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom. The whole point of Jesus’ saving mission is in His words of life.

Today we read of the accomplishment, the completion of the Father’s work. The Good News of Jesus is that the barrier is broken. The curtain is torn. The graves have been opened. Curse and separation have ended. Reconciliation is here. What is in heaven is for us on earth. We have full access to the kingdom of God. Thanks be to God we have these words in all their fullness.

Today, we pause to hear the Good News in full. No shortcuts. Nothing – no concerns or worries about our time – getting in the way of God’s time. Like John, the faithful disciple, and the women, we walk through all the words, from Bethany to the cross and to the tomb.

We don’t look for a shortcut – like Judas did, trying to bring on the kingdom through treachery and betrayal. We stand unafraid before God’s word and accept it and Him in full. We do not walk away, denying Him like Peter did.

In my years of ministry and proclaiming the word, I have immersed myself in the Gospel. This is the good news, given for us who are weary. I, and I know you; have said, even in our weariness, this is the word that rouses us.

Again, Father, why is the gospel so long?

It is so we may wallow in it, swim in it, live in it. We are here to live in the moment. From the spectacle of Palm Sunday to the mystery of the Eucharist, to the foot of the cross, to the tomb; every nuance, every emotion, every tear is ours to own.

We are people of the word who center our lives on Jesus, the Word. There can be no compromise in that. We don’t want the watered down version. So today we stood, stood with Jesus, loyal to His word. Roused, energized, ready, we live faithful to His command: to proclaim the kingdom of God, and they went out and traveled from place to place, proclaiming the good news.

Faith discovered.
Faith lived.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours.

This past week we heard news of the death of Stephen William Hawking who was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. He offered the world wonderful scientific insights, theories, and suggestions. We could also connect with his long standing health issues and his courage in moving forward, in spite of challenges. He believed and lived like a person of faith, yet he was not a person of faith. He was an avowed atheist and did not believe in God, heaven, or eternal life. This sermon is not a judgment on his life. Rather, it is an exploration of how we come to and live faith. Can we do at least as much for God as he did for science?

Faith and science are processes of discovery, however their conclusions vary. The ‘scientific method’ is one lengthy testing to find results that are never really final. Science never draws absolute and bulletproof conclusions because a scientist knows that information or thinking might require they back up, re-test, refine, expand, or reject previous thinking. Faith, in contrast, is about making a clear and absolute statement: I believe.

In today’s gospel, Jesus calls the world to faith and to live out faith. For those who seek leadership He sets forth His example that also calls us to leadership. For those who connect with story, he provides analogy and asks us to preach His words. For the scientist, He provides evidence and calls us to testimony. Jesus calls us to get to faith, to accept it, and once there, to live faithfully.

Jesus is drawing near to His death. Hear His words: “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Jesus was totally tuned in to the will of His Father. He makes an absolute statement of trust, placing His faith in the Father’s will alone, no matter where it might lead, even to his death. Jesus calls us to the same faith through His example. He calls us to act in absolute faith. Not ‘oh, but…’ Instead, ‘yes, Lord.’ Yes and, I will live it Lord!

Jesus gives us the grain of wheat and its lesson. We have to let go of the notions we cling to; we have to let our grains of wheat die so that new revelations come to us. Letting go of what we cling to is an act of faith-filled trust. Letting go is an act of living our faith.

God does not leave us to guess. We have Jesus, first hand testimony, and evidence for our sake, yet some will not hear, accept or live faith. Thanks be, we have come to faith and live it.