Monday, May 11, 2015

I'm choosing joy

Homily: 6th Sunday of Easter – Cycle B
          Sometimes I fear that I suffer from a critical lack of imagination.  Even though I’ve studied a lot about the Bible, I often find it difficult to imagine vividly the dramatic scenes presented in the Scriptures.  My guess is that I’ve watched too much TV in my lifetime instead of reading books, like I should have.  TV, though, has come to my rescue in the form of the NBC mini-series titled “A.D.”  This series was produced by the same people who produced “The Bible” mini-series and the movie “The Son of God” and it is just as good as these two previous productions.  What the “A.D” mini-series does for me is it “puts flesh” on the Scriptures and it helps me to put faces and personalities with the names and the words recorded for us in the Scriptures; help that my weakling imagination so desperately needs.
          Peter, obviously, is a very central character in the mini-series and I’ve become absolutely enamored with him.  He’s shown in all of his raw humanity: a mix of emotions and convictions that is both bold yet hesitant at the same time and it has really enlivened my reading of the Scriptures, including passages like we’ve read today.
          In it, Peter enters the house of the Roman Centurion named Cornelius and, prompted by a vision he had in a dream, he begins to describe how God does not distinguish one nation from another, but rather wills that all men in every nation would fear him and thus be made acceptable in his sight.  As he is doing so, the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and all who were of his household and they began to speak in tongues—a scene that should remind us all of the first Pentecost—thus proving the truth of Peter’s words: that God, indeed, shows no partiality.
          The disciples who were there—Peter included—were astounded at what they saw and joyful because of it: so much so that Peter ordered them to be baptized immediately.  Given what I’ve seen of Peter’s portrayal in “A.D.” I can have a sense of just how emotionally charged this scene must have been as the disciples moved from apprehension over the acceptance of Gentiles to joy that the Gentiles, too, could receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
          One of the things that is very true about human nature is that fear robs us of joy.  Just think for a moment of someone you know who is a “worry wart” and then ask yourself “how joyful is he or she?”  My guess is that not one of you imagined somebody who is both a worrier yet joyful at the same time, because these two characteristics seem to be mutually exclusive: the amount of joy a person has is usually directly proportional to the amount of fear—or worry—that they hold on to.  Those who are full of joy, on the contrary, can stand in what seems to be the most fearful situations without being fazed.
          Jesus has told us—and we heard it today—that “if we keep his commandments we will remain in his love” and that “his commandment is this: to love one another as he loves us”, which means “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”; and that “he has told us this so that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete.”  Elsewhere in the Scriptures we read that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)  Thus, if we keep Jesus’ commandment to love—that is, to lay down our lives by letting go of our attachments and preferences—we will remain in his love, which is perfect because “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Therefore it will cast out from us every fear and make us open to being filled completely with joy.
          One of the fears that I commonly encounter here in this parish is a fear of change.  No doubt change can be a fearful thing and there are many changes facing our parish in the next couple of months.  If we give in to fear of what else we might lose, however, and begin to grasp more tightly the things that remain, then we risk closing ourselves off to the unknown joy that lies ahead.  If we let go of our securities and give in to being uncomfortable, however, we open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit and risk being filled with an even greater joy than we could have imagined.  Just think: if Peter had refused to let go of his prejudice that Jesus was the Messiah for the Jews alone, none of us “gentiles” might be here.  But he opened himself to the movement of the Holy Spirit and thus was filled with an even greater joy than he could have imagined at first: that Jesus is the Messiah for both Jews and Gentiles alike—that is, the whole human race.
          My brothers and sisters, the question for us today is: “what are we afraid of?”  Jesus wants joy-filled followers.  Yet, Christians walking around afraid that the world is collapsing down over them are particular joy-less.  On the contrary, Christians who live detached from the things of this world, and from their personal preferences and prejudices, are typically the most joy-filled.  These focus on giving, instead of receiving; on laying down their lives for others, instead of preserving their lives at the expense of others; in short, they focus on love.
          My friends, this joy that Jesus promises is a joy that I want in my life and so I am going to let go of my apprehension and give in to being uncomfortable so as to see what this movement of the Holy Spirit has in store for me and for this parish; and I invite all of you to come along with me to follow Jesus’ command to love unreservedly: because it is by this that we will remain in his love and it is by this that our joy, made perfect by his, will be complete.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 10th, 2015

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