Living as God’s own.

Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house.

Welcome and thank you for joining us this Sunday as we testify to our faith in our Lord and Savior, join in fellowship in His Holy Name, and celebrate the entire family of faith which is all of us who dwell in the Kingdom.

As I have occasionally commented, our Church takes this time, about mid-October, to transport us into the Christmas season as we consider the childhood of Jesus and His life within the Holy Family; as we consider our lives within the family of faith, the Kingdom of God.

It seems sort of funny, our Church was ahead of the current day Christmas rush as far back as 1914 when this Solemnity was established at Holy Synod.   

On this occasion, with its focus on family and a kind-of Christmassy theme we may feel transported back to our own childhoods, the lives of our children and grandchildren, especially in their earliest years, our families, the love, events, and even trials we have shared. Family – and the idea of Christmas – we connect with all that, and that is good. For most people it is the place good is first felt.

Considering all that we experience and share in our own families, how do we feel, what do we think, when we consider, hear about, and ponder the family of God, the Holy Church, the Christian Family?

We could consider a gamut of thoughts and feelings. Just as in any family, there will be those who say all things must change, those who say we need improvements, those who say nothing must ever change. There is a whole range of opinions from one end to the other. However, lets step away from all that and consider something completely different – our Lord’s words: Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house.

Jesus’ incarnation, birth, and young life in the family ushered in the very thing He preached. It was the message He was meant to bring: The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, believe.

In ushering in the Kingdom, in drawing us into one family, Jesus seeks an essential change in us, His Kingdom dwellers and workers. We are called to now focus our priorities and lives on the new reality, the Kingdom reality. We are now to live as God’s own family with the Father at the head and Jesus as our brother, united in the Spirit.

In our new reality, the strictures and structures of family have vastly expanded. Relationship has evolved. We have become a new people, reborn, regenerated, and connected one to another. Being there, we have cause to proclaim: Did you not know I had to be in My Father’s house. Saying so, and truly living as a family, we join in carrying out our responsibilities in our Kingdom work of evangelism, fellowship, and worship. We rejoice as family, as God’s very own.

The Lord is my…

Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, and I will lay down my life for the sheep.”

Today is a good day to recall the words of our esteemed English teachers. Recall when they used to ask us to compare and contrast works by different authors, poems by different poets.

Jesus breaks right into a compare and contrast with His listeners today. Compare the good shepherd and the hired worker. He cites their motivations, one of concern, love, and sacrifice versus a pecuniary motivation – getting paid and not really caring. He cites their reactions – defense of the flock or running away.

Beyond that immediate compare and contrast, Jesus speaks of those listening as belonging to a fold and another group of people who do not currently belong to that fold. While they were of different folds at that time, Jesus tells His listeners that they will all be brought into one fold, one flock, with one Shepherd.

What Jesus was trying to impress upon those listening is that there is an ideal – a way of being that is unique to followship with Him. 

In this new reality – in the Kingdom and the gospel way of life – we need not worry about who might care for us. We have a Chief Shepherd Who is I AM – God Himself among us – watching over, guiding, guarding, and caring for us. We need not worry about what tribe, nation, people, or party we belong to for that is all worldly death. Instead, we belong to the one fold, the one flock of Jesus.

Peter, on trial with the other disciples, clearly tells the court of the old Israel, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” There is no other fold, or flock, or Shepherd. There is one, only one, for salvation and it is the flock of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. 

St. John expounds: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Children of One Father, brothers and sisters of the One Lord, no longer separate and apart from God and each other. One flock.

Brothers and sisters, we have a new reality in Christ Jesus. Our esteemed English teachers called us rightly to compare and contrast, and so we should. What was I before Jesus (apart, alone, afraid, without hope beyond today) and what am I now (an heir to eternal life and a member of the eternal family of God)? Who was God to me before Jesus (judge, accuser, punisher) and Who is He now (Good Shepherd)?

As we go forth from this blessed day, let us continually reflect on who the Lord is in our lives. Let us give thanks that we are in Him, the Good Shepherd, the cornerstone, where we together lack nothing. 

Membership.

But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him.

The words membership and identity are hot terms in these days. That said, they have been terms used throughout history to impose or self-impose a sense of communal belonging. 

In some cases, membership and identity were imposed upon others as a result of prejudices – in an accusatory manner – to differ the other from self, to reduce people’s humanity. In other cases, we have taken on our own memberships and definitions of identity.

If we took a moment to pull out our wallets and purses, we could quickly list some of our memberships. Here are some of mine: SEFCU member, NY driver, PACC member, AARP member (how did that happen?), BJ’s Club member, and others. A quick look at someone’s Facebook – memberships and identity markers abound. Where in all of that is our Jesus card?

The most significant sign of our belonging to Christ is that we bear markers that cannot be reduced to a card or social profile.

Our communal membership, our mutuality, our identity as Christians starts with that which was written on our souls at Baptism-Confirmation, our regeneration, from which our membership and identity as family, as brothers and sisters permeates our entire being and way of living.

Jesus, joined with His disciples as recounted today, told them that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in His name to all the nations. This statement directed His disciples to go out and bear witness throughout the world. With the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, as St. John’s letter describes, the keeping of His word, they grew the family of faith. Out of people of every nation, class, status, color, and gender the Church grew as family.

Faithfulness to Jesus does not make us individuals, separate from each other. Rather, we are defined by our belonging, our obligation to God and each other.

We, the people of the Church, are not a separate people, each on his or her own path who just happen to get together for a moment. Instead, our getting together in worship is sign and symbol that we belong to God, that He belongs to us, and that we belong to each other. God infuses us with a grace to see beyond self to the family. He causes us to share with the Body of Christ as a symbol – a sacrament – of our love and of each person’s dignity.

In today’s Psalm we hear, for you alone, O LORD, bring security to my dwelling. This is not just our home, a physical structure in which we reside. Rather, the term my dwelling refers to our house, the place we reside together. He secures us in the family of faith and calls us to show our Jesus card by being “witnesses of these things” and bearing perfected love.

Power of together.

God said, “let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.”

The early Church understood the power of community. The Book of Acts tells us, right from the get-go, after Jesus’ Ascension: All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer. In other words, they were together, of one heart and mind, one in prayer, one in love and support for each other. Even in the face of all they feared, they were together as One in the Lord! 

Pentecost came and thereafter the community grew. People were added, not at distance, but in community. Led by the Holy Spirit, a pattern of life developed: They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life… All who believed were together and had all things in common; Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

We may find it hard to fathom, but they could not get together by phone, Skype, Zoom, or Facebook. They could not support each other by sending a check. In fact, to learn from the Apostles, to pray, and to do what Church does, required them to be together. This togetherness brought them a power and influence beyond human comprehension.

What did this togetherness do? It brought them favor with all the people, i.e., the people saw their goodness, it was apparent and every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. People wanted part of what the Church had and were brought to salvation in Christ exactly because of the together they observed. That’s real power, power from together.

Now, many a preacher could launch into the lack of togetherness in today’s world and heap laments on all of us, but it is not true. The vestiges of the early Christian together life, that power, remain still today.

It starts here in our together and the together we have with every Sunday worshiping Christian. It comes from our baptism into the one body of Christ. It comes from our sharing in the bread and cup, the Lord undivided.  It comes from our reading the Acts and Epistles and reading the ‘you’ therein as the plural ‘you.’

From here, we bring the symbols and signs, the sacrament of together to the world as families. This is where our Christian growth, maturity, and discipleship are most often seen. It is the place from which will come favor with all the people. And those who are being saved. It is what we specially celebrate today.

On the
level.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image.

As family He created them! God’s plan, set out from the very beginning was that we were to live as family. God’s creation and intervention follows along a singular thread that is family. On this special Solemnity, found only within our Holy Church, we focus on what it means to be the Christian family.

As we have just heard, the family that is our God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – created us in their image. Four chapters later in Genesis God calls out to Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain replied, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” God was asking such a basic question – where is your brother, why didn’t you see him as your brother, why didn’t you love your brother? Cain’s insufficient answer, his excuse is a lesson to us. God holds us to a much higher standard.

From the beginning God communicated to family. Abraham came from Ur with his wife and brother, and all their family. God saved Jacob and his sons through their brother Joseph. Those sons were the progenitors of the twelve tribes. God’s people were one family, one genealogy. God sent Moses and Aaron to bring His people, His family out of Egypt. They would be victorious and they would fail together. They would do penance together and they would enter the land of promise together. Over and over they fell and rose together. Together they awaited the promised One of God. Together they failed to recognize Him. The gospel as recorded by St. John, which we will hear at the end of today’s Holy Mass, calls to mind: He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.

St. John goes on to proclaim our hope: But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. What was a family genetically related, born out of the sons of Jacob, has been replaced by a new definition of family. It is the Christian family born as children of God in the blood of His Son, Jesus.

Christian family is inclusion and participation in the Divine family. It means we live in a different way. We live as family from our first profession of faith and our baptism in water and the Holy Spirit. This family means no artificial barrier, no distinction in race or class. We are one family standing at the foot of the cross, where the ground is level, where we all look up and recognize our hope. There we receive salvation on the level. We say with the Psalmist: My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.