Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pentecost Sunday 2011: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."


19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.
23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
                                                                                           John 20:19–23 (NAB)

Let’s listen again to the words of Jesus 'Peace be with you " and “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you”, for they are a message as timely in our lives today as they were when Jesus first spoke them, for they speak to a need in our lives as pronounced today as it was on that first resurrection evening.

The scene is electric with anticipation. These remaining disciples had locked themselves into this room, and the scripture explains ‘For fear of the Jews.’ In spite of the rumor of Jesus’ resurrection, these disciples still feared that they too would be crucified.
Imagine what was on their hearts that evening. Doubt, fear, flickers of faith and hope, but probably more than anything else, a lot of disappointment and guilt. Each had proclaimed an unswerving loyalty to Jesus; each had failed miserably. A servant girl had been Peter's undoing; others had fled when the arresting party approached Gethsemane. They could not even remain awake to pray with Jesus! You could not paint a bleaker portrait of failure if you tried.

Such an atmosphere makes the words of Jesus all the more powerful, as he speaks to the need of the hour. He will give them His peace; he will breathe on them the promised Holy Spirit; He will commission them to be sent in a way that was similar to Christ. Jesus gives his peace to those who are most in need of it. Instead of condemnation for their failures, they are forgiven and formed with a new mission. A new start, a new name, a new mission; what encouragement by Jesus!

Jesus' first words to them were words of love and forgiveness- ‘Peace be with you!" They were the prime need of the hour. The second words? “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” In other words, “I have a mission for you.” We read of the power and conviction of these apostles in our first reading today. They would not change their minds, they would not be ashamed, and they would not change the subject. And they turned the world upside down in one generation.

What about us? There are many Christians—and even entire churches—who sit today in "upper rooms" of doubt and discouragement, not locked out by anyone else, but locked in from the inside, for fear of confronting their disappointments or failures. Or perhaps it’s never ever stepping out and trusting God and deciding to be a serious Christian instead of a social believer, a cafeteria Catholic. Maybe we have had great dreams and hopes, only to see them dashed by failure, by opposition, or by sin from within.

Or perhaps, we are ashamed of our church. The clergy scandals, the guilt, the shame we feel when someone starts attacking the thousands—the millions of good priests and the good works and the overwhelmingly ethical foundation of our church—but we are ashamed. We have no words to speak.

And Jesus comes to us in our Upper Rooms today. We again need to listen, to hear the words of Jesus.

"Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”

These are not words of only comfort without responsibility, for Jesus immediately links his peace with the Father's mission: ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. "Neither are Jesus' words dull and onerous duty without inner comfort and peace. The two—peace and mission—are inseparable. To claim inner spiritual peace without living and sharing that peace with others is only selfishness; to get all involved in church activities and miss the genuine peace of Christ is to invite spiritual bankruptcy. Christ’s peace and His mission are both necessary and inseparable.

For each of these disciples, Christ’s peace and His commissioning—being send out as the Father had sent out Christ—meant a radical reorienting of life, of purpose, of mission, and of sacrifice.

Another thing about these 11 that we can relate to—there were some changes in their group, as they sat in the Upper Room. Jesus was no longer there. They had to forge new relationships, they had to step out, they had to rely on the Holy Spirit—same with us….maybe our favorite priest from a few years ago is not here. Maybe our favorite deacon is gone. Maybe the singing is different, maybe things have changed……what am I going to do? Complain, be afraid, hold back—imagine these guys…."well, when Jesus was here he would have paved the parking lot this way…"
Like the apostles, we have to take what we have learned from Jesus, from that priest, from that deacon, and do the very best thing that would make them proud—put it into practice in a new situation.

And God will be with us. He will transform us, He will strengthen us, He will come to journey with us. He will not leave us embarrassed; He will not leave us unashamed. We will partake of his heavenly manna in the Sacrament in a few minutes; He will give us strength for the journey. And we will never be the same…

One of my favorite characters from the world of literature is Don Quixote de La Mancha, a character born in the imagination of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. I especially like the Broadway adaptation of this powerful story, The Man of La Mancha. You probably know the story. 

Don Quixote goes off in search of adventure and encounters a woman named Aldonza who is a prostitute. Don Quixote approaches this woman and respectfully calls her “My Lady.” But when Aldonza hears his greeting, she sarcastically responds by saying, “Me a lady? I was born in a ditch by a mother who left me there, naked and cold and too hungry to cry. I never blamed her. I am sure that she left, hoping that I would have the good sense to die. I am no lady. I am only Aldonza.” However, undaunted by her bitter reply, the Man of La Mancha insists, “Your name is not Aldonza. I give you a new name. You are my lady. And I give you the name Dulcinea.” The name Dulcinea is a name that means something sweet and good, essentially everything that Aldonza was not.

Later in the story, the Man of La Mancha again encounters Aldonza immediately after she has been raped in a barn. When Don Quixote approaches and addresses her as “My Lady,” she screams at him, “Don’t call me a lady! Won’t you look at me! I am only a common prostitute reeking with sweat. A thing men use and forget! I am not a lady. I am Aldonza. I am nothing, nothing at all!” And then, as she runs away, the Man of La Mancha calls out to her twice, “My Lady!” And then he calls out the new name he has given her, “Dulcinea!”

At the conclusion of the play, when the Man of La Mancha is on his death bed, a beautiful woman approaches and kneels at his bedside. Don Quixote looks at her and asks, “Who are you?” The woman then stands and announces, “My name, sir, is Dulcinea!” Finally, at the conclusion of the story, the woman named Aldonza who was so filled with self-hate becomes the unashamed Dulcinea, the kind of person that the Man of La Mancha always envisioned she could become.

I don't know about you, but for a long time in my life, I lived on a steady diet of guilt and condemnation. A great deal of "God is perfect, and you're not!" Not that I quibbled about the difference, but the constant stream of teaching and preaching had just worn down the self-worth and the self-image that God created inside me--at least in my own eyes. Through my own sins and failures, I had convinced myself that I was Aldonza--someone who was not good for much, and certainly not good enough for God.

I am ashamed to admit it, but I heard this message, I absorbed this message, I lived this message, and I even preached this message to (or at) others--a steady diet of "Aldonza, Aldonza."

But Christ came to me, too.

Maybe not in a vision, but certainly through these verses in John's Gospel. Like the apostles, I needed His peace, His forgiveness, His grace, His presence, and yes, His mission. He no longer called me just a man, just another walking breathing pulp of protoplasm on this planet. He called me His child, His loved one, His forgiven one, and a collaborator with His Holy Spirit in a mission as large as the earth and as timeless as eternity. 

He called me "Dulcinea."

And that's what He calls each of us this morning. 

 “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”….Lord, help us to be sent out on this Pentecost, transformed into your followers with the power of your transforming love.” Amen.

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