THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD(B) May10, 2018
Acts 1: 1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1: 17-23 (Eph 4: 1-13); Mark 16:15-20
by Jude Siciliano, OP
The Acts of the Apostles starts with an injunction by the risen Christ to wait. I wonder if the activists in that early community weren’t frustrated by his directive. You can see that they were ready to get on with things – and they would have gotten it all wrong. It’s their question that reveals their mis-direction, "Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?" Of course, they mean a purely external, politically and militarily dominant kingdom of Israel. No, they will have to wait for the baptism with the Holy Spirit, then they will know how and where to be Jesus’ witnesses.
He wants them to break free of their limited view, their biases and tendency to misinterpret the meaning of his life. What he also wants is that they witness to him far beyond the boundaries of Israel. They will, he says, have to be, "my witnessers in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." For all this they will need help, so they must acknowledge their dependence on God and wait for God’s pleasure to pour that help out on them.
We are not good at waiting. We tire out if we do not get quick results. Waiting on lines, for lights, for our children to come home from the dance, with our aging parents at the doctor’s office, etc. These days we are particularly frustrated and tired of waiting for peace to break out in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East and innumerable places of conflict in our world. Waiting is not what we do well. Why is waiting so frustrating? Because it means someone else or some other power is in charge, not us. And being out of control and subject to other forces reminds us of our finiteness, and vulnerability.
Jesus tells the disciples to "wait for the promise of the Father." They cannot go off spreading the news of his resurrection yet. They are a small, fearful community that has no power on its own. As the Gospels showed, they have a tendency to get Jesus’ message all wrong. What’s more, they flee when things get tough. On their own they will be misguided, perhaps engage in ways that are not of Jesus. Haven’t we Christians made some pretty big mistakes about his message and ways? In our history are tales of promoting our religion by forced baptisms and by trampling over the dignity and cultures of whole civilizations. We also have, like the original disciples, been cowardly when courage was required.
So the disciples and we must "hold our horses," restrain ourselves and wait for God’s promise to be fulfilled. What’s more, the fulfillment will come at God’s timing, not our own. We are action-oriented aren’t we? We have our projects and plans, we want to get on with things. Even when our plans and intentions are noble and serve a good purpose, how does God figure into them? Do we know? Have we asked? Do we wait for an answer, some direction? Maybe we have to "hurry up and wait." "Don’t just do something, stand there!" Waiting on the Spirit is a reversal of our usual mode of operating.
Even as Christ talks to the disciples about their mission to the "ends of the earth," Luke is making sure that we do not forget what had happened in Jerusalem. We recall the Emmaus story and the failed and frustrated hopes of the disciples on the road. "We had hoped," they tell the Stranger. What they had hoped for was their version of triumph and success for Jesus —and themselves. But Jesus had to remind them, by interpreting the scriptures "beginning with Moses and all the prophets," that suffering was to be part of his life and mission. Here, in today’s section of Acts, Luke reminds us again of that link between Jesus’ mission and suffering, when he says that Christ "presented himself alive to them by many proofs AFTER he had suffered." Jesus and now the disciples, cannot escape the suffering that comes with fidelity to the message. Even in the presence of the risen Lord they are not far from the reality of suffering . So, for the disciples who will have to live out and proclaim the Good News, suffering will be the price they and we pay for our belief and for the mission.
We need to wait for the gift of the Spirit who sustains us when the going gets rough. We will be witnesses to Jesus by the integrity of our lives and the commitment to his ways. If we are faithful to what his Spirit teaches us at work, and with our families, in school and in the political arena, etc., there will be suffering. Or, maybe worse, we will just be ignored, discounted as unrealistic and dismissed as impossible idealists. We will need the gift of the Spirit and the wait is worth it.
Thomas Troeger, the Presbyterian preacher and homiletician, in a sermon preached on Ascension Day, recalls the frustration of the disciples and the early church in their waiting and longing for the fulfillment of the reign of God. He says we too know that frustration. After having given our lives over to Jesus Christ, we experience not triumph, but a mixture of triumph and defeat. Has anything really changed? What difference does our faith make? "When will things come together in some whole and enduring pattern?" he wonders. And then Troeger quotes Yeats’ lines to describe our world:
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
the blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned;
the best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity. (from, "The Second Coming")
We are wearied by our waiting. With Yeats we voice our longing, "Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand." It’s a lament, a prayer of need and dependence. We need help that we cannot provide for ourselves. Troeger invites us to hear again what the early church heard in its anguish and yearning, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by [God’s] own authority." How difficult it is for us to hear these words surrounded, as we are, by the kind of events we see and hear on the evening news-- pictures and sounds of tens of thousands of refugees displaced by war and terrorism. What we have, Troeger reminds us, is the belief that Christ reigns and will send the Holy Spirit to help us live as we must. We cannot force the hand of this Spirit, it is a gift constantly coming upon us. And one that still requires waiting.
(Thomas’ Troeger’s sermon was preached in 1982 and is reprinted in, SEASONS OF PREACHING, pages 158-9.)
Click here for a link to this Feast Day's readings:
I am praying for Pentecost! It is not so much about people speaking "in a strange tongue" as it is about believers getting power to be faithful. The church does not need power to identify with the rich and privileged. One gets a subsidiary power from such an identification that makes the church at least a valuable adjunct of the values of the principalities and powers. One does not really need power (dunamis) unless one is standing in tension with the world as it is. If the church were to put the poor first, would we once again receive Pentecostal power?
Maybe we do not desire such power or the consequences of Jesus’ liberation mandate. Yet, I cannot help hoping that such power would come and we would experience the power of the inbreaking, radical reign of God. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
—Keith Russell, "Pentecost: The Power of Liberation." The LIVING PULPIT, April-June 2004, page 13.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
Brothers and sisters, I,. . .urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love. . .one body and one Spirit. . .
Ephesians 4: 1-4
With these words, Paul tells the Ephesians how they are to live as a community imbued with the Holy Spirit. In a homily on May 9, 2016, Pope Francis speaks about the meaning of the Holy Spirit. He states that the Holy Spirit is "the protagonist of the living Church". . .and that "[Christian life] is not just an ethical life: it is an encounter with Jesus Christ." One of the best ways I have found to encounter Jesus today is by accompanying a poor or disadvantaged person. Why do I say this?
In my work with the poor, I have witnessed generosity of spirit and loving kindness despite a lack of material goods. The poor often give the gift of the best of themselves, mirroring the spirit of Jesus for me and reminding me that I must also do the same. Pope Francis warns, "We keep the Holy Spirit as a ‘luxury prisoner’ in our hearts: we do not allow the Spirit to push us forward, to move us. The Spirit. . .reminds us what Jesus said, can explain all about Jesus. . .The Holy Spirit makes real Christians. The Spirit takes life as it is and prophetically reads the signs of the times pushing us forward (…)." This Spirit pushes us out of our comfort zone (if we will only allow it) in order that we may discover our real being and true purpose as a member of a community called "Church." Perhaps, an example will help.
Back in 2002, Anne Werdel opened the parish office door to someone seeking help and realized that we did not have any ministry in place to help with financial emergencies. She and her husband, Bill, went on to start the Door Ministry. In 2017, this little ministry helped almost 500 people keep a roof over their head or provided assistance with electric bills. This is made possible by the generous financial support of parishioners who have stepped out in empathy with the poor through our simple envelope donations to the Door Fund. (These envelopes are found in the display center in the Cathedral.)
How might the Holy Spirit be moving you toward action in the world?
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles"
While meeting with the apostles,
Jesus enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem
but to wait for "the promise of the Father about which you heard me speak."
Jesus has gifted us with the same powerful Spirit that animated and sustained him, not only through his preaching and healing ministry, but through his long suffering and death. Thanks to the Spirit, we are called and empowered to be modern witnesses to the living Christ, who is reaching out in a new age to do through us, what he did in his lifetime – preach the gospel, heal the sick and bring people back to God.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to
the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in
whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736