Homily: 4th Sunday of Easter – Cycle C
One of the very human needs that each of us experiences is our need for security. From the moment that we first touch our hand to a hot stove, we realize that the world can be a dangerous place. As we grow older, we come to acknowledge that it’s not just things in the world that can harm us, but that people around us can be dangerous, too. Thus, we engineer safety features into our cars and appliances and develop best ways to handle dangerous objects like knives and guns; but we have also developed whole systems that make it harder for men and women with bad intentions to be able to follow through with those intentions to harm us, our family members or our friends (we even call them “security systems”). One industry in particular has been built from the ground up to give us a sense of security in a seemingly unsecure world and that’s the insurance industry. From health, to auto, to life insurance, this industry has been built around the idea that the world is an insecure place and that investing some money over time can minimize the loss that you experience if one of these unfortunate insecurities happens to you.
If you take a look at most of the current insurance company commercials, however, you’ll find that they pretty much focus on cost. It seems that most are taking for granted that each of us senses this need for security and so they focus rather on selling the fact that you can get a “greater sense of security for less money” if you go with their insurance policy. One company, however, continues to sell “security” instead of “insurance” and it’s all because it has the perfect slogan: “You’re in good hands with… (congregation responds)”. Exactly. It’s brilliant, really. What place do you feel more secure than when you know that you are in the hands of someone who has the strength to withstand all of the tribulations of life? That’s exactly what they are selling. They might not be the lowest cost insurer, but they are banking on the fact that what we need is more than insurance: we need a sense of security—a sense that we don’t have to fear the world’s unknown calamities.
Unfortunately for the first Apostles, insurance hadn’t been invented yet. Thus, they had to go out to preach the Good News without much of a safety net. Today, in particular, we heard of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch having a little run-in with the authorities. They were having great success with the people but apparently they were ruffling a lot of feathers within the religious elite. And so when Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly against those religious leaders, the leaders turned and incited the prominent members of the society in Antioch to begin putting political pressure on them and eventually they ran them out of town. This somewhat violent persecution left them with nothing, not even a place to stay, and they had no insurance policy to call on to give them some security in the face of this calamity.
Of course, recent events in the life of our nation certainly bring into question just how secure we all are. Although a sense of security can be gained from knowing that the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing are no longer at large, the unanswered questions about the reasons for the bombing still leave us feeling somewhat insecure; and this while we are still trying to answer many of the questions about how to keep our children in schools secure after the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. While we can do (and have done) a lot to increase our security—building bigger bunkers, adding more patrols and creating new laws—it nevertheless seems like it’s never enough to make us completely secure. We acknowledge, of course, that we can’t stop living our lives, and so it leaves us feeling a bit like Paul and Barnabas: kind of out there on our own without much of a safety net to catch us.
One of the things that I wondered about with Paul and Barnabas is why we don’t hear anything about them grumbling against God? I mean, they are out there, following God’s will and doing his work and here they are getting thrown out of Antioch and left to fend for themselves. The ancient Israelites, when they were wandering through the desert after leaving Egypt, wasted no time before they began grumbling against God when the going got tough. Yet these men (and the other disciples as well), instead of turning against God, defiantly “shake the dust from their feet” and march on to the next town. What is it that they had that those ancient Israelites were missing? Well, I think that it boils down to two things: 1) they had heard Jesus’ promise and 2) they had seen his victory.
Paul and Barnabas had heard Jesus’ promise—which is the same promise that we heard in the Gospel reading today—that “no one can take them out of my hand.” That promise alone, however, wouldn’t be enough. Jesus, rather, needed to back it up with something. He did this when he rose from the dead and this is the victory that Paul and Barnabas had witnessed. How could they not feel secure knowing that they were in the hands of the one whom even death could not conquer?
My brothers and sisters, we are afforded this same promise and this same assurance here today. In the midst of the darkness of these most recent tragedies—and the lingering darkness of the tragedies of the recent past—Christ’s promise breaks through: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” And the assurance of this promise is the fact that we are here celebrating today: that God’s Chosen One—Jesus, the Christ—although overcome by death was not conquered by death, but rather arose by his power, destroying death forever and promising life eternal to all those who follow him. There can be no greater security than this: that we are in the hands of the one whom even death could not conquer.
Does this mean, however, that we will never again suffer hardships or that we are now somehow protected from all of the unknown calamities of the world? Unfortunately, no. What we are assured of, however, is that these hardships are never the end. Thus we can stand in defiance of them, like Paul and Barnabas did, shaking the dust from our feet and marching onto the next place, knowing that Christ has won the ultimate victory and that we, indeed, “are in good hands.”
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 21st, 2013