Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction

Sheep Without A Shepherd: A World in Search of Direction

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 107

Reading 1: Jeremiah 23:1-6
Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David;
as king he shall reign and govern wisely,
he shall do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah shall be saved,
Israel shall dwell in security.
This is the name they give him:
“The LORD our justice.”

Reading 2: Ephesians 2:13-18
Brothers and sisters:
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, he who made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims,
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two,
thus establishing peace,
and might reconcile both with God,
in one body, through the cross,
putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34
The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught. 
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” 
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat. 
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. 
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. 
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Our readings today are all connected by the theme of guidance and direction for our lives. Last we took up the walking stick of Christ—our guide for the journey. This week we continue down that path—seeking the right way to go. Who is our guide today?

Guidance is hard, because sometimes you have to ask for help. I am so glad we have the GPS systems today, because I get lost when I am out on business trips so often without one. Learned at West Point, “an officer is never lost. He may be temporarily misoriented.” I remember a few years later, when I was leading an infantry rifle company through the jungles of Panama in jungle school, that in spite of my map and my compass, I got 135 people lost. And the company CO was in the chopper above me, and he was decidedly NOT a West Pointer, and he said (and I have to clean this up a bit), “Bauer, where are you?” And I said, “Sir, I’m temporarily misoriented.” And he said, in that clear back woods Kentucky voice, “Bauer, you are not misoriented, you are lost.” Say it, you are lost. Now yell it so everyone around you knows…..and I’m yelling, “Sir, I’m lost.” That was humiliating.
We need guidance, don’t we?

“I just do what feels good.” OK, you are your own guide. How is that working out? Most of us, if we admit it at times we don’t like to talk about at parties, we can’t even live up to our own standards.

Jeremiah 10:23 says, “I know O Lord, it is not in man who lives to direct his steps.”
We have tried it on our own, and we have failed. That’s what the story of Adam and Eve is all about. We get guidance, we get some sense of limit and boundary, and we decide that God is not a good guide. We lose faith that God loves us and wants what is best for us.

Jeremiah speaks as a prophet, a forth-teller of God, in what God thinks of false guides, false shepherds

Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD

Each of us is responsible before God for our behavior, but those who have been assigned to care for the people of God, the shepherds who have been asked to guide the sheep, have a heavy burden when the sheep are scattered and driven away due to the actions, or lack of action, by the shepherds. God chastises the shepherds “who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away.”

Not something like “oh, they mean well”, but woe to them. But it’s so hard to tell who the misleading ones are….they have nice suits and slick hair and they know how to talk about JEEEZus. In and of themselves, religious leaders can and have and do lead people astray. Some of them have Bibles, some have other ancient books, and some have only their own overblown sense of their own authority.

We need better religious guides. Because religious guides can be wrong. This is what happened in the Reformation. People reacted to bad religious guides and abusive money-hungry churches, and they wrongly decided that THEY alone were better guides, that they could interpret the scriptures on their own, without any history or handed on church tradition, teachings that were 1500 years old, as if there was never a church before they walked into town. They picked up the scriptures, they read them as they felt they were led, and they formed new churches, different churches, Protestant churches. OK, but along the way they become misguided, as they formed church after church after church because people look at the scriptures without any history, without any guidance, or animated only by one aspect of teaching—and they go astray.

“Rick, are you saying that the Protestant churches have gone astray?” “Aren’t we all well-meaning, and everyone is basically good, and any church that has a cross on the top of the building must be okay, right?”

Listen to me, mark my words. I would be a misguiding religious leader, a bad shepherd, if I told you that you should just follow some religious leader. They can lead you astray. And in America today we have over 33,000 different denominations, a result of people not being able to agree, people having no tradition going back to the apostles—read the scriptures, the early church was bound together by oral/preached tradition as well as the word of God, and the teaching office of the church—the Magisterium—expressed when Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church….and I will give you the keys to the kingdom….and what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” We need the scriptures, we need the traditions of the church expressed form the words of Jesus to the words of the apostles through their successors, otherwise we’ll go off with the Bible—or even without it—and end of splitting and dividing and splitting and dividing and spitting and dividing—and hurting and misleading the faith of so many people in the process. Look at our own city. One man is in an immoral relationship as a pastor of a major church in town, New Life, and he leaves that church, no sense of closure, of discipline, of repentance to the flock, no guidance from the apostles or from any authority, and then that misguided pastor goes off and forms another church, and another group splits off, and on and on and on….

What happened to the very early tradition, embodies in the creed which we will pray in just a few moments, something that took shape even as the scriptures were taking shape, as a tradition of the church, of the church as “one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic”? It’s gone today. Just going into a church building with a cross or a nice band doesn’t mean you’re going to be guided well. We need a church that is one—not split into tens of thousands of groups—holy, where there are standards, that there is discipline, that there is a call to purity in spite of the culture—and even some churches—saying something else, catholic—not some regional or city isolated group, but tied into a worldwide movement that goes back to the very days of Jesus—that is apostolic—that reflects there teachings and the traditions of the apostles and their successors.

You want religious guidance? That’s what we need today.

Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel,
I am against the shepherds who shepherd my people:
You have scattered my sheep and driven them away.
You have not cared for them,
but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. 

God’s reaction? Opposition. I oppose that. God is not for religion for its own sake, some sort of ecumenical Vitamix that whirls a lot of do-goodisms together—try to be a nice person. And people say “well, I try not to hurt anybody.” This is not guidance; that only scatters the sheep. The sheep start thinking that guidance isn’t that important, that we can be our own guides. We confuse democracy with spiritual guidance, and we seek out those people who tell us what we want to hear.  

And even if we are in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, do we approach the guidance of Jesus as if it were the Golden Corral—Best Buffet in the USA? I like this love, I like this giving to the poor, but I’m not into prayer, and I really don’t have to be in attendance with the body of Christ when we gather together each week, do I? I can just come during Christmas and Easter, right? Man, I don’t want the church to get next to me, either. Start talking about my personal life, what I do with my time, what I do with my girlfriend, how I yell at my wife or my employees….that’s a private matter between me and God, and the church or its leaders have no right to talk about this stuff. “Just stick to the Lilies of the Field, Rick.”

I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them
and bring them back to their meadow;
there they shall increase and multiply.
I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them
so that they need no longer fear and tremble;
and none shall be missing, says the LORD.

God will deal with misguided and misguiding religious leaders. And another thing God is interested in? God wants us to increase and multiply. He wants his flock to go into all the world and make disciples. That is our mission, our purpose—and we are going to be talking a lot about that. “And none shall be missing.”

We have some exciting plans that we will be sharing with you in the weeks to come about ways that we can be those good shepherds, those who seek and save those who are wandering off, that they can find the Way—Christ—the truth—Christ—and the life—Christ.

The Responsorial Psalm today speaks of God as our Shepherd….he leads us to nourishment, his rod and staff (for protection and for guidance), and even if we find ourselves in death’s shadow—in the land of Mordor—we need not fear the evil around us.

When Jesus was alive, the shepherd could name each sheep and each one knew his voice by heart, much like the family dog knows your voice. Good shepherds would search and search for one lost sheep. Or if one was turned absurdly on its back, unable to roll over again because of its full fleece, the shepherd would take his “crook,” and using the big curve on one end would easily maneuver that sheep back onto its feet. If there was real danger, as for instance if wolves were ready to pounce, the shepherd would take out his “staff,” a pole-like weapon, and deal with the predators.

And it is so easy to give way to fear these days. The courts, the culture, the breakdown of morality, the drugs and violence, addiction all around us, and others openly selling those very things that would destroy us and our families. Oh, we are terrified of a world when people slay each other in the name of their God, when our soldiers are slain before our very eyes, when our brothers and sisters are slain in churches because of their color of their skin…we need a good shepherd, for it seems that our world is taking on that shadow of bleakest death—parts of children sold by Planned Parenthood—where is the planning and guidance for parenthood there? They are blind guides, and we need a good shepherd to keep us on the way. Someone not to keep us from a world of evil, but one who will prepare a banquet for us in the very presence of all this misguided hatred and brutality.

And that is what we have in a few moments—and it is a banquet—guidance for the journey, viaticum in the presence of our enemies, and to drink that cup that overflows with grace where we previously found only hatred and bitterness, of love where there was loss, and hope where there was only despair. Oh, and we have a good shepherd, who is so good he laid down his life for we sheep.

And we close with our gospel today. Mark records

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Jesus saw all the crowds—he knew that they did not find guidance anywhere else but in Him—and he was moved by their lostness, he was moved by how they were stumbling and blinded and could not find their way home….
Look at Jesus’ heart here—he was moved.

He had compassion—to feel the same—to be alongside. He wasn’t just sitting at home and watching the news and complaining about how bad the world was. Yes, there was evil in the world, but it is because people have the wrong guides. They trust in themselves, they trust in misguided religions, they trust in politics and political leaders. Do not put your trust in these false guides.

We are surrounded by many voices. There’s rarely a moment within our waking lives that someone or something isn’t calling out to us and, even in our sleep, dreams and nightmares ask for our attention.  And each voice has its own particular cadence and message. Some voices invite us in, promising us life if we do this or that or buy a certain product or idea; others threaten us. Some voices beckon us towards hated, bitterness, and anger, while others challenge is towards love, graciousness, and forgiveness. Some voices tell us that they are playful and humorous, not to be taken seriously, even as others trumpet that they are urgent and weighty, the voice of non-negotiable truth, God’s voice.

Jesus tells us that he alone is the Good Shepherd, and his own will hear his voice and come to him, in the midst of all these other voices. Let us always listen—and listen with a desire to obey—speak Lord, your servant hears”—the voice of the Good Shepherd. And remember these things about the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice of God, that many times His voice comes to us in ways that are paradoxical:

  • The voice of God is recognized both in whispers and in soft tones, even as it is recognized in thunder and in storm.
  • The voice of God is recognized wherever one sees life, joy, health, color, and humor, even as it is recognized wherever one sees dying, suffering, conscriptive poverty, and a beaten-down spirit.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what calls us to what’s higher, sets us apart, and invites us to holiness, even as it is recognized in what calls us to humility, submergence into humanity, and in that which refuses to denigrate our humanity.
  • The voice of God is recognized in what appears in our lives as “foreign,” as other, as “stranger,” as “those lost, like sheep without a Shepherd”, even as it is recognized in the voice that beckons us home.
  • The voice of God is the one that most challenges and stretches us, even as it is the only voice that ultimately soothes and comforts us.
  • The voice of God enters our lives as the greatest of all powers, even as it forever lies in vulnerability, like a helpless baby in the straw of a Bethlehem manger.
  • The voice of God is always heard in privileged way in the poor, even as it beckons us through the voice of the artist, the poet, and the pure of heart.
  • The voice of God always invites us to live beyond all fear, even as it inspires holy fear.
  • The voice of is heard inside the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as it invites us never to deny the complexities of our world and our own lives.
  • The voice of God is always heard wherever there is genuine enjoyment and gratitude, even as it asks us to deny ourselves, die to ourselves, and freely relinquish all the things of this world that hold us so tightly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Touching Jesus

Touching the Master, and Being Touched by Him
June 28, 2015; Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time; Lectionary: 98
Mark 5: 21-43 (New American Bible)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, 
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” 
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

After a series of healings in Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus having authority over life itself, healing a little 12-year old girl who had been ill, the daughter of a synagogue ruler. Jesus enters the house, and says “arise.” In the midst of sorrow and pain, and public anguish and weeping, he is the calmest person in the room. It is an amazing healing.  

But I want us to focus on the earlier healing we read about today, this woman who broke through the crowd to touch Jesus. This is a wonderful healing story, one that also applies to our own healing today. Not sure what affliction you may be carrying today—marriage in trouble, loss of a job, long bout with sickness or illness, a dullness and emptiness in your faith, searching for the life of faith, a separation between you and your children—this woman’s faith and action (and Jesus’ response)—tells us a lot about our own path to healing and wholeness today.

The Bible is not very specific about her problem, it says she had “an issue of blood” for twelve years. Most commentators agree it was some kind of chronic uterine bleeding. As a Jewish woman, she was thus rendered ritually unclean, compounding her health problems with moral ones.

Now Jesus has come to her village. With that, this poor woman makes the decision that somehow, someway she must get through to see Jesus. If only she could touch him. She did not speak to him because she was embarrassed and ashamed of her condition. She thought to simply touch him, receive her healing, and then slip away unnoticed. After so many years, she was used to coping with life that way.

Now she reaches out and touches Jesus. The text is very clear on what happened when she touched Jesus’ garment. Two different words are used. She was immediately (v. 44) and instantly (v. 47) healed. The text even specifies that at the moment she touched his garment, the bleeding stopped.

It was an amazing miracle. Jesus is walking away from her, Jairus the synagogue ruler is tugging at him and talking and crying all at the same time. Meanwhile, the crowd is so tightly packed in the narrow alleyway that a person could hardly breathe, much less move. The disciples are trying to do crowd control, but they are swept along with the flow. No one sees this poor woman off to the side, no one notices as she elbows her way to the center, no one pays attention as she reaches out her hand, no one speaks to her and she speaks to no one.

Here comes Jesus! As he passes by, her hand brushes his robe. Something like an electrical shock moves from her fingers through her hand, up her arm, and into every part of her body. Only it is not an electrical shock, but the infusion of some mighty power with which she was not familiar. And in less time than it takes to tell it, her weary arteries, shrunken veins, diseased organs, withered muscles, and shattered nerves are filled with health and life and strength. The disastrous decay of twelve years is instantly halted and then reversed.

She is well again! Healthy again! Whole again!

She turns to go, not ungrateful—no, not at all—but fearful lest she call attention to herself and she is respectful of the greater work Jesus does. He has gone to heal the daughter of someone important, a synagogue ruler, and has no time for me. She must not bother him. But with a smile on her face, the first real smile in a long, long time, she turns to go home.

But just at that moment, Jesus stops, turns, and surveying the crowd asks, “Who touched me?” It seems to Peter and the other disciples like the craziest question in the world. Hundreds of people were milling and jostling around and he wants to know who touched him? Everybody was touching him! So many people were crowding around Jesus it could have been anyone. Besides, what difference does it make? A touch is a touch is a touch.

But that’s not true with Jesus.

Jesus could distinguish between the bumps and jostles and the press of the crowd and the touch of faith. That’s the touch of this poor woman. If the disciples couldn’t tell the difference, it did not matter—Jesus could. He knew that someone had touched him in faith. He felt the faith in the passing brush of her fingers on his garment.

As he walked down that crowded street, hundreds of hands reached out to him. Yet he felt only this thin, sickly hand of faith. He felt it! He felt her touch ... He stopped ... He turned ... He spoke to her. He was not offended or angry with her. Nor was he too busy or too tired to bother with her. Think of it. She stopped Jesus in his tracks. In the gospels, the only thing that stops Jesus—that stops him in his tracks, that amazes him—two things: faith, or lack of faith.

He asks this question about touching not for the woman who had already been healed, but for the others who had gathered. For their faith. You know what? He also asks that question to us today. “Who touched me?”

“I know some of you are in the crowd, I know some of you are attending Mass today, but who really touched me?” “I know you sang a little, and stayed awake during the homily, but did you reach out and touch me in faith?” “Who reached out with even a feeble, mustard-seed faith?” “Who is struggling with those life-dominating sins, those weaknesses that have accumulated for years?” “Who touched me today?” “Who is going to touch me today?”

And he spoke to her as if she were the only person in the crowd. When he turned, it was just Jesus and her. No one else mattered.

Jesus loves you as if there were only one person in the universe to love. He hears you as if you were the only one speaking to him. He attends to your needs as if yours were the only needs in the universe. What a Savior! Can I get a witness?

All that touches you touches him. If it is your pain today, then he feels that pain. If it is sorrow, then he feels that exact sorrow. If it is loss, then he feels the loss as dearly as you do. If it is failure, then he feels the failure. Whatever it is that hurts you, he feels it. If it touches you, it touches him. That’s what the writer to the Hebrews meant when he said, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15). Thank God it is so. If it hurts us, it hurts him. And he bears that burden so we don’t have to.

This story also shows us the amazing power of even a feeble faith. She didn’t have a huge amount of faith. But she had a mustard seed faith, and through it God moved the mountain of her illness.

Do you ever feel as if your problems keep you from coming to God? Do you ever feel so dirty and unclean that you think Jesus would not have anything to do with you? Do not despair. Jesus is not offended by your problems. He’s seen it all before. I say it again. He will not turn you away. Can I please get a witness?

For those of you who partake in communion in a few moments, we have again the opportunity to reach out and to touch—to taste, to consume—the literal body and blood of Jesus. If we reach out to him with faith during those moments, he will stop, listen, hear, and bless our lives. We will touch him, and He will touch us.

That’s what even a feeble faith can do. Coming to Christ is not difficult. The hardest part is reaching out with the hand of faith. If you want to touch Jesus, all you have to do is reach out to him.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

From the Ashes of Baltimore: How to Change the World (5th Sunday of Easter), May 3, 2015

Reading One: Acts 9:26-31

When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples,
but they were all afraid of him,
not believing that he was a disciple.
Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles,
and he reported to them how he had seen the Lord,
and that he had spoken to him,
and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.
He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem,
and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord.
He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists,
but they tried to kill him.
And when the brothers learned of this,
they took him down to Caesarea
and sent him on his way to Tarsus.

The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.
It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord,
and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.

Reading Two: I John 3:18-24

Children, let us love not in word or speech
but in deed and truth.
Now this is how we shall know that we belong to the truth
and reassure our hearts before him
in whatever our hearts condemn,
for God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.
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.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.

Gospel Reading: John 15:1-8

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them into a fire
and they will be burned.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Homily: From the Ashes of Baltimore: How to Change the World

Those who proclaim from this ambo have a solemn charge to preach the word, in season, and out of season. And what would God have us say in light of weeks of simmering bitterness, of rage and destruction, of injustice that we all witnessed from Baltimore? What should we say? Should we pretend that these issues are not real, or that they do not affect us in safe, secure Black Forest, Colorado?
The first thing we must understand is that man, though created in the image of His creator, lives in a fallen state.  People do not naturally behave well. If man were basically good, we would have no need of a justice system as everyone would mostly behave properly and treat each other well.  This is certainly not the case. The role of the church to shine the light of God on people, one life at a time, so each person can see for themselves how fallen they are.  We cannot legislate morality, but we have an obligation to make laws that protect people from the sin of others.  We also have an obligation to share the truth with people that they may have the opportunity to repent and embrace Christ.

The problems that led to Baltimore and did not manifest overnight, nor can they be fixed in a day, but the focus of the believer in Christ must be on fulfilling his role in the church and in society so change can begin and that change must begin today.  Facts and logic will lead people to a more conservative and godly view of issues, we have that as a great advantage.  We know that the Spirit of God transforms lives through the blood of Christ and we know that people without hope behave desperately.  We have fact, logic and hope to offer.  We have the hope of Christ and the truth of His word.  Find your place in the Body, turn off your TV, put down your video game controller, get rid of the sin that hinders your relationship with God and get busy.  Abide in Christ. You will bear much fruit. I promise you will find fulfillment and peace like you never have before.  

But how do we really love—how do we practically love….our readings this morning give us the answer. You want the world changed? Here is the secret. Just listen with an open heart.

Now, let’s look at our texts this morning……

If you think that the problems of Baltimore, of Ferguson, of New York City, of South Carolina, were desperate and the people there were filled with hatred and resentment, you have no idea what the situation was like in ancient Palestine during the time of Christ, or in the early Church. The divisions between Christian and Jew, between Jew and Gentile, between Jews, Christians, and the oppressive Roman government, who ruthlessly ruled over an empire of 60 million slaves, whose increasing tax burden, rampant corruption, and their focus on providing only welfare bread and circus to its citizens was causing it to crumble from the insides. These ancient issues make our own divisions less overwhelming in comparison.

In this reading of Acts 9, we see human beings behaving the way human beings behave. Hurt people hurting people. Those who has suffered at the hand of Saul the Persecutor wanting justice. Hurt people act out of fear. People doing things, wanting Saul excluded, because of a rightful sense of being aggrieved. After all, look inside this church of Jerusalem. Over here are the parents of Stephen, the first martyr. There is Stephen’s younger brother, his sister. And over here, is a visitor today, Saul of Tarsus. He’s calling himself Paul, but we know who he is. He is a murderer. He is a bigot, he is dangerous. His kind of people don’t belong with our kind of people. We Jewish Christians don’t associate with him and his ilk. We have connection to the history of Israel, and this violent persecutor wants to come into our fellowship? We are going to give him the kiss of peace? We are going to support him? No justice for the family of Stephen. No peace in the church of Christ in Jerusalem.

All we can say is “thank God for Barnabas, and thank God for Jesus Christ” Paul would later write about this in Ephesians 2 that there will be no peace without Christ.

In v 12 he writes
Ephesians 2:12 (NRSVCE)
remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

You want to know why there is unrest, why there is violence, why there is brutality? Not just in Baltimore, but on the streets of our own city. People are without God and without hope in the world.

And now our reading……

He is our peace. Those families who have lost loved ones may someday find justice, and that is a key goal, but they will NEVER find peace, find forgiveness, find rest for their souls, without Christ.
HE is our peace. Instead of looting and violence and danger and depravity, instead of grinding oppression and sin and the scourge of low expectations, here we find the destruction of barriers, the cessation of hostility, and the beginnings of community.

Ephesians 2:19–22 (NRSVCE)
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Let me tell you something….do not misunderstand or misquote me……the laws of the United States of America need to be enforced fairly, equally, without distinction to race, creed, or color.
But the Department of Justice cannot make the two one. The FBI and the ATF cannot break down the dividing wall of hostility. The county Police in El Paso County, or the Colorado Springs Police Department, or the Colorado National Guard cannot pour of balm from Gilead to bring about peace and love. Is it ONLY through the blood of Christ, it is only He who made the two one. And we share in that blood, that flesh of Christ, as we celebrate communion, it is co-union with Christ—it is co-union with each other. We are becoming one.

That’s the way it happens. One person at a time. If we get the individual person right with God, we will get the world right.

And how do we go forward, knowing that while our nation is founded on grounded truths and natural law that is admirable, and a Constitution that should be heeded, it will always be an approximation, and always will fall short at dealing with the issues of the human heart? How are we to ever succeed?

It will be through the example of Christians, salt and light, leaven, making a difference. Let’s look at Barnabas…. 

If encouragement ever had children, they would name that child Barnabas….He was the son of encouragement.

We see him setting an example through his unselfish giving.

We see him standing up for Saul in Jerusalem in our first reading….

One more example in Barnabas’ life

The Gentiles are coming to faith in Antioch. Who do we send? Let’s send Barnabas!
The first thing Barnabas did when he went there was to go look for Saul. Saul had been alone, in Tarsus, in Arabia, for at least three years, and perhaps as many as 8 years.
All by himself, no doubt licking his wounds. Rejected by the Jews, treated as an object of fear by his fellow Christians, he goes home and has to deal with his Jewish relations and his own family. It must have been difficult, and many of you can attest.

And then one day, just doing his own work, perhaps learning his father’s craft in tent-making to support him, in comes an old friend.

His name is Barnabas. And he has a question, he has a request, he has a mission.
Saul wonders, is there anything else left in the tank? I have tried, I have sacrificed, I have apologized for Stephen’s death until I am blue in the face. No, I’m too old for this, I am too beaten up, I am too discouraged. I murdered a Christian (would we want to add a murderer to the masthead of the OLP bulletin? No, you have to prove yourself, Saul…not sure we really want you anymore.

And they had reason.

But they did not think like Barnabas.

Can you imagine that discussion in Tarsus? Barnabas—”Saul, you were called by God, You are called to be an apostle one who is sent by God” “Saul, you will be the apostle to the Gentiles. Maybe we call you by a Greek name—Paulos—because of this ministry we have in Antioch. Saul, I believe in you! You can do it! You will turn the world upside down!

Have to think about what lengths Barnabas took to find Saul: (map)

Here’s one of the original maps Barnabas used from this period….
Barnabas came from Jerusalem to Antioch….a journey that took weeks or months on foot.
And he needed to start a church there.
But he did not stop in Antioch…..he said, “I can’t do this without my brother Saul.”  “I have to go find him.”
We just have to admire Barnabas, and he is our example today.

He sought him out
He went to him
He expended effort, time, and cost to find him
He forgave Saul, he probably helped Saul to forgive himself (although that was always at the back of Paul’s mind)

Barnabas sought after a lapsed believer, a believer not really as converted as he used to be, someone who needed that second touch, that affirmation, that faith.

Paul, you can do it! We’ll do it together! I know you've had those issues, but they are not worth losing your soul over.

They changed history! And why? Because they knew what love is (last bullet)

Not just talk, but action……from our second reading this morning.
So what does this mean for us this morning?

The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Are they called Christians in Black Forest? Are they Christians at Our Lady of the Pines? Not just church attenders, but do that have that passion for God. Do they have that gift of encouragement, Are they looking for the lost, the fallen, the forgotten?

Think about how many tens of thousands of fallen away Catholics there are in this town. How many of them would come back to the true faith if someone was a Barnabas to them. Someone took the time to care, to love, to have a vision.

I was a lapsed Catholic, a washed out preacher, just working a nondescript tech job in Colorado Springs. All those glory days behind. Washed up, washed out, just looking for a place to fall, to be safe. Back in Tarsus, Colorado. Divorced, discouraged, disheartened.

And the sweetest woman I ever met, and a gangling 6 foot 100 inch tall priest name Father Joe Damhorst, refused to accept that low bar for the rest of my life.

They believed in me, they prayed for me, they gave me a vision when I did not have one of my own. It was not easy, but they were Barnabas to me.

Can you be Barnabas to someone else? Can you change the world

Closing Illustration

A haggard working father came in from the factory that day, tired and exhausted from a full shift. He was spent, but his 4 year old boy wanted to play. The father was beside himself, tired and impatient. He looked over at the newspaper with an ad that had a full page graphic of the globe on it…..spying an opportunity for just a moment of rest, he ripped up the page of the globe into scores of pieces, and said to his son, “I have a puzzle for you. Put it together now.”

As he relaxed, finally, in his evening chair, he was astonished to hear, on a few moments later, his son say, “Dad, I’m finished!” The father was stunned that his son made such quick work of the puzzle. He asked his son, “Son, how did you do this so quickly? This is amazing. The son responded, “Dad, there was a picture of a person on the page of the page. I just put the person together. And when I got the person put together right, I made the world right.”

Let us make the world right this week, by making ourselves right, and taking one pragmatic, physical, visible step to love those around us. To be a Barnabas to the world. May God bless us as we change our world.