Saturday, June 11, 2011

Homily for Pentecost Sunday, 2011: "As the Father Sends Me, So Send I You"

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then 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 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:19–23 (NRSVCE)

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.

Having been energized by the peace of Christ, may we be transformed, may we finally own our new name—Christian—and may we transform the world around us with the good news of Christ. 

I don’t know about you today, but I am making a decision. I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. 

I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

And so, we won't give up, back up, let up, or shut up until we've preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. We are disciples of Jesus Christ. We must go until He returns, give until we drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. We are disciples. We are the ones  who are sent. We are not ashamed. Once we were only men and women; but because of His love today here we stand with a new name—a Christian!

 “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 love.” Amen.

--Rick Bauer

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