1ST READING: ACTS 6: 1-7
Hellenists were congregations of Diaspora Jews (those who had lived outside the Holy Land) but returned to Jerusalem. They were more open to new ideas and less rigid in regard to ritual law than their fellow Jews. Because of this, they were despised and persecuted by the non-Christian Jews, and were eventually driven out of Jerusalem. It was providential because it ended up spreading the new faith (Church History, J. Dwyer. P. 25-27).
St. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons. This is one of the primary roles of deacons to bring alms to the widows. The apostles are beginning to organize themselves. The laying on of hands suggests the idea of being called into formal service. The apostles listened to the needs of the people and responded. How do our deacons do this today?
From Celebration, April 2005: Church is not a monarchy, but a community. Note verse 5: “The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen” . . . Some conclusions from this text about leadership in the church:
* leadership within the church arises from the community’s need
* leadership arises from ‘below’, not from ‘above’
2ND READING: 1 PETER 2: 4-9
It is likely that this reading is taken from an early homily, perhaps given as instruction for candidates for baptism (W&W, Birmingham, p.308). This reading calls us. How does it call you?
The early Christians did not ‘build’ a church until the 4th century; they met in homes and, at times, catacombs – What can we learn from their idea of church?
“chosen race” – “royal priesthood” – “holy (consecrated) nation” What does each mean for you? How does each move us from darkness into God’s light? Christians, the living stones, are joined by Christ himself who is the cornerstone – the foundation that supports the living stones. In the Old Testament no one was to approach the rock of Sinai, under penalty of death. Contrast that with Jesus, the cornerstone, who invites his people to come close to him. He has created something new and wonderful. He has gathered his living stones and formed them into a new people, a new religion (W&W, Birminham, p. 308).
From Celebration, April 2005:
At Vatican II, it was reaffirmed that “the Church is all the people of God.” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #9) It overturned the pyramid model, stressing the privileges and responsibilities of all baptized believers. Hans Kung says that “Laypersons do not belong to the Church, nor do they have a role in the Church. Rather, through baptism, they are Church.” Vatican II states: “All are endowed with charisms for the upbuilding of the Church and all share in the threefold office of Christ: priestly, prophetical, and royal. Among all the people of Christ, there is a true equality, a genuine freedom, a profound dignity, a global responsibility, a sense of vocation and a personal union with Christ and his mission” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #30-33,37)
THE GOSPEL: JOHN 14: 1-12
Remember, these words come before the crucifixion in John’s gospel.
Yet, they are truly a life-giving Easter message.
Jesus promises that he is going “to prepare a place for you.” William Barclay explains that this means that Jesus will act as our prodromoi which means a forerunner, a scout . . . it was also used at the time to refer to the small pilot boat sent ahead of great ships to lead them through a “dangerous or difficult harbor.” Jesus tells us that he will go ahead, find a path, and secure our passage from death to life. He just asks us to trust – to “have faith in this.” (Celebration, April 2005)
= THE WAY (the way beyond dead ends): the God we find in Jesus is a faithful God of new beginnings
= THE TRUTH: that which is real, that which will set us free (Jn 8:32)
=AND THE LIFE – that which nurtures, cares, labors, grows, creates, loves
From Mary Birmingham: Only through self-giving love can human beings become their most authentic selves. We were created to love. Jesus shows us what that means. If we live the love that Jesus lived, we will know God, who Is Love. . . the Christians of John’s community were beginning to feel the sting of religious prejudice. They were expelled from the synagogue. The synagogue has been heart and hearth to them. For Yahweh’s chosen people, it was the place of encounter with God. How would they now encounter God? Jesus encouraged them and us, ‘If you know me, you know God.’” ( Word and Worship Workbook, Year A, p..311)
From Celebrations, April, 2002:
There is no secret word, no magic potion, no hidden wisdom. If there were, Jesus would surely have found it. We must learn to read the truth between the lies. Jesus is not the Solution; He is the Way. And the best he can give us is some direction along the way.
My cousin Ellen, who lives a great distance from our once big, close, Catholic family, recently wrote that she has trouble understanding and sharing the Bible with those who don’t believe it. To her, the Old Testament God seemed punitive, not connected to Jesus all that much. So, in a rather playful yet serious burst of reflection (leap-frogging through scriptural time), I tried to off my take on Tale and Truth. As Catholic girls raised in the 50s, we heard of Noah and young David, then memorized the Rosary Mysteries. THE BIBLE as a whole? Not so much. So let me offer this hop-scotch through the Bible act as PART II of my evolving STORYTELLING Ministry this Advent:
During a meeting with Moses, God describes God’s self as I AM. So let’s imagine I AM creating the world in steps. FYI, the Church now sees creation as metaphorical – not 6 literal days. Finally, God rested, teaching us to stop and rest, savor the gifts of I AM. Genesis shows us God through creation’s beauty, its majestic evolutionary ways, its stars and black holes and – then – in several stories with some sweet, lovable, but misguided, egotistical people. Genesis is an amazing dance of human and divine – our likeness to yet chosen separateness from God. In this first book we see God yearning for humanity and humans not quite trusting in God’s providence. Eventually God chooses Abraham and Sarah, offering these two very old people the impossible – descendants as numerous as the stars. Thus, our ancestors in faith, the Hebrew people begin. (The Muslim people too but that story doesn’t unfold for many years.) God’s initial covenant sounds something like: I’ve chosen YOU to carry the message. I AM is all powerful (not that I’ll fix your every woe), nurturing, providing Teacher. I’ll LOVE YOU without limit, send prophets and elders galore, make you prosperous beyond your imaginings. All I ask in return is keep turning to me…NOTICE I’m here. THANK me for creation. RESPECT that I am your guide. And God sent deliverance from oppression, rules for the road, even a promised milk and honey land.
But…for those good but miss-the-mark humans, that was just too good to be true. Soon they were whining, “Can’t we just have a KING – one who FIGHTS for us and wins? Brings us wealth and the spoils of war? You know, like all the other tribal people? Can’t you hear God sigh? Our great I AM, our Mother/Father/Mystery/Wisdom/Parent shook God’s head and said…OK, if that’s what you really WANT. Don’t say I didn’t warn you (through Samuel, God’s spokesman at the time). Human kings can be pretty horrible when they forget I AM! So Saul became the first king that the PEOPLE chose and God said, “OK I’ll bless that king, but he’d better remember I AM. Saul turned out to be not all that devoted to God. (He grew jealous at just the sight of young David and tried to KILL him! You can understand how God did not like that!)
Yet, God saw something special in young David, Jesse’s youngest boy, out there in the fields playing his lyre. So I AM thought, “This one just might make a truly great king.” David, like some humans, got full of himself and made some less-than-wise choices (Bathsheba). But, God’s teacher Nathan set David straight, and he turned to God (good move!) wisely and humbly saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” He wrote the top ten songs to God we call Psalms, and straightened himself out. So God gave David a brilliant son named Solomon who, again humbly, asked for WISDOM! God thought, “Good choice! Just maybe this king thing WILL work.” But Solomon got greedy and arrogant. He thought he’d be famous for THE BEST EVER TEMPLE for God and turned lots of God’s chosen people into slaves to build it. Then he taxed to death the rest to balance the budget. Not so wise. He also partied with concubines galore. Frankly, after that, hardly any earthly king could keep the Hebrew people close to God for a very long time.
The rest of the Old Testament is full of nasty kings, partying and fighting and foolishly building gold statues to OTHER gods like Baal, messing with “sacred” prostitutes and even sacrificing children. BAD IDEA! Poor I AM is now sighing and frowning. Wouldn’t YOU be? God started sending prophets to say, “You don’t get it! Where’s the LOVE AND RESPECT God asks for? Where’s the help for the poor, widows, orphans? And what is it with these not-even-real gods! God commanded us to spread the word about I AM, the only one!
Soooo finally God called some prophets to give a picture of what a truly great king looks like…NOT militaristic, NOT partying wildly (though he will have some good times with friends), NOT warring with factions, NOT overly stuck on himself or even on the law. God’s prophets warned the people and a lot of destruction came to wake the people up. Part of the message was “Imagine God sending a new kind of KING, as a shoot from Jesse’s tree, from the line of David, yes, but a king who will be about LOVE. Yes, LOVE of God and LOVE of others, especially the poor and downtrodden. Why, lions will lay down with lambs. Children will play with cobras. This King will be about justice and service and kindness and peace. THIS KING will GET GOD, see God as the Providential FATHER that I AM has always been for his people. Akin to David and Solomon and the better Kings (Hezekiah and Josiah), he will humbly lead like a Good Shepherd and bring back the lost of the fold.
So God sent Jesus, who truly GOT GOD, who is God, who became GOD’s WORD to the world. Jesus’ whole life spoke of what God wants for and from his people – LOVE. God had made humans hard-wired for communal, loving living! God made them to be generous not greedy, service-minded not overly-selfish, hopeful not despairing. (Not that despair is wrong, it’s just a feeling.) God simply wanted people to TURN TO GOD. Jesus did. NOTICE I AM with you! Jesus did. CRY OUT for help. The humble, broken, Jesus did and showed us how to stay connected to God.
Honor God as Father. Keep Holy God’s name. REST and turn back to God as the commandments long taught. Don’t get overly picky about humanly designed laws, lording them over those who struggle. Don’t cheat the poor. Walk with them. Stay humble. See the children as teachers of innocence and purity. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable. Depend on God. Turn to I AM for all your fears and needs. SEE the widows, the lame, the blind, the demonized. Never turn away in disgust or fear. Offer compassion toward the down-hearted. Lend a hand till they are out of trouble. Walk WITH them, as God has always walked with you. KNOW the Father. Be still and listen in prayer. Give thanks. Sing. Dance. Play the lyre, as David did. You don’t need another King. Remember my promise: YOU are MY PEOPLE and I AM your God.