Monday, May 21, 2018

Pentecost: the gratuitous warehouse explosion of the Christian life

          For those of you who don't know, I announced this past weekend that Bishop Doherty has decided to transfer my assignment from All Saints Parish to the Cathedral Parish of Saint Mary, the Immaculate Conception in Lafayette, effective June 27th.  Fr. Jeff Martin will take my place as pastor of All Saints, effective the same day.  I refer to this announcement in the homily.

Homily: Pentecost Sunday – Cycle B
          With the action-adventure film The Avengers: Infinity War already making more money than any other film worldwide (…ever!), it seems like the summer blockbuster season is already upon us.  Deadpool 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Ocean’s 8, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom… these are some of the other blockbusters opening in the coming weeks and, I can tell you, the list goes on and on.  As we know, a “blockbuster” is a movie with a lot of action, usually some sort of “end of the world” threat, and, of course, plenty of gratuitous explosions.  One of the classic clichés of these types of movies is what I call the “gasoline fueled warehouse explosion”.  This is where the character douses a warehouse with gasoline (or, some other flammable liquid that, conveniently, is being stored in the warehouse) with the intent of setting it ablaze and destroying the whole structure.  Then, just as he or she leaves, the character drops a lighter onto the fuel and walks away, while the flames quickly spread.  Then, the “money shot”: a wide angle shot where the character is walking towards the camera, away from the warehouse, when suddenly the warehouse explodes in the background, without so much as a flinch from the character.  You’ve seen this, right?  How many of you have seen some version of this scene in a movie before?
          In a way, the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which we celebrated last week, is kind of like that.  Since Easter, the day of his Resurrection, Jesus, in his glorified body, walked among his disciples, teaching about how his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead had fulfilled all that had been written about the Messiah and prepared them for that moment when he would ascend into heaven to return to the right hand of his Father.  Then, he ascended: leaving them the promise of something dramatic that will happen soon.  This “something dramatic” was the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  In other words, for 40 days, Jesus “set the stage” by pouring the fuel of his teaching all over the warehouse, which was his disciples; and as he left he dropped the lighter, which was the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit; and on Pentecost, the warehouse exploded as the Holy Spirit descended and gave the Apostles power to witness to Jesus to the ends of the earth.
          In a way, this is exactly how it had to be.  The blockbuster “money shot” isn’t when the character spreads the fuel.  If the movie ended there, we’d all be disappointed, right?  Instead, the character has to set the blaze and get away for us to feel satisfied by the explosion.  Jesus knew that God’s plan for the human race was bigger than his band of followers from Galilee, that it was bigger than the Jewish people, that, in fact, it was so big that it would encompass the entire world; thus, it had to be that, after Jesus had accomplished man’s redemption, he would then return to the Father so that the Holy Spirit—the power by which God’s plan for the whole world would be accomplished—could explode forth into the human scene.
          To use another example:  Many of us have seen what it’s like when 5 year olds play soccer.  Even though their coaches try hard to teach them to play different positions, as soon as that ball is loose, it’s a free-for-all scrum surrounding it.  This is kind of like the disciples while Jesus was with them.  Even though, on occasion, Jesus sent them out to preach, they always came back around him and followed him wherever he went.  After Jesus’ ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit, however, the disciples looked much more like a professional team: spread out across the field, using their different talents towards one purpose, making them much more effective.  Jesus ascends so that his disciples could spread out and be more effective.
          I actually think that we can sum this up by referring to a statement Jesus made elsewhere in the Gospel.  One day, one of the Pharisees asked him “Why don’t your disciples fast like John’s disciples do?”  Jesus replied and said, “While the bridegroom is with them, they cannot fast, but when the bridegroom is taken away from them, they will fast.”  I don’t mean to change this into a homily about fasting, but rather to focus on how Jesus acknowledges that there will be different circumstances while he is here with us versus after he has been taken up from us.  Adapting this idea to today’s feast, I might re-write it that Jesus says “While the bridegroom is with them, they will be limited, but when the bridegroom is taken away they will succeed freely.”  Jesus ascends not to abandon us, but so that we can be “launched”, if you will, to fulfill the Father’s plan for all humanity.
          Thus, the Ascension, particularly in connection with Pentecost (and, by the way, it’s always in connection with Pentecost!), has something to say to us today.  Many of us are upset that I have been reassigned and, thus, will be leaving All Saints after 6 years of serving this parish.  But what if this is part of the Father’s plan to “launch” you all—the members of this parish—to the next level?  My job has always been to “set the scene”, so to speak, and I hope that I have done that; but now, perhaps, I must “ignite the flame and walk away” so that it can explode into new life for this parish.  My brothers and sisters, this is the hopefulness with which we need to step into this transition: that if I am going forth from this parish, it is so that you can continue to grow “to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ” as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians.
          Thus, today we celebrate and we look forward.  We celebrate that Jesus, Our Redeemer, has gone before us to prepare a place for us in heaven and to advocate for us eternally before the Father.  We celebrate that he has sent the Holy Spirit to us.  And we look forward beyond Pentecost: rejoicing that God has filled us more generously with his gifts—that is, the power of the Holy Spirit to explode into the world in order to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth for the building up of Christ’s Body “to the extent of the full stature of Christ”.
          Therefore, my brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid to worship with our whole hearts the Lord Jesus who, having risen from the dead so as to destroy death forever, has ascended into heaven and now stands eternally at the Father’s right hand; and let us not be afraid to pray fervently for God’s Holy Spirit to fill us more abundantly with his power: the power to witness to Jesus and his saving love to those suffering in mind, body, and spirit—the power of Jesus which has overcome the finality of death—the power that we encounter when we receive his Body and Blood from this altar.
          Friends, the summer blockbuster season is, indeed, upon us.  May our blockbuster—the feasts of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost—be the live action film that tops the Box Office here in our community.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – May 20th, 2018

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