Sunday, June 29, 2008

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles June 23, 2008

June 23rd Year A

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Reflection on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  Like A Wise Man

The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded upon the rock.  (Matthew 7:25)

I remember back before I was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church an event forever embedded in my memory.  

The Pentecostal church is the church of my youth.  It's the church where I heard of the love of the Father and received the Lord Jesus as my Savior.  It's the church where I encountered the power of the Holy Spirit.  And it's the church that was founded by my great-grandfather.  Now this church was calling me to be its pastor.  I had preached my first sermon there when I was the robust age of 13.  This was a homecoming made in heaven.  Or so I thought.

Time has a way of changing all of us.  And I had changed.  I was not the same Pentecostal.  The Charismatic renewal was sweeping the world.  Mainline churches including the Catholic Church were receiving what Pentecostals had cherished since 1900, Azusa Street and Topeka, Kansas.  David DuPlessis, an ecumenical Pentecostal had been an invited observer of Vatican II.  I had read his book, A Man Called Mr. Pentecost.  That book was heady stuff for a young Pentecostal learning that the same Spirit in the Pentecostal church was alive, active and filling hungry Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic hearts.  Additionally, I had pastored some student parishes in the United Methodist Church, gotten some college under my belt, and I had changed.  I didn't know it, but the folks who had loved me and nurtured me in the faith knew.  They saw I was open and welcoming to the Charismatic folks who were starting to make our Pentecostal church their home.  

The event I mentioned is this.  It was four months since returning to my hometown and church and the congregation was restless.  They didn't care for the new Pentecostal son they had watched grow up from a baby.  And so the congregation held a business meeting.  One person asked me how much longer would we have to hear that the church was not brick and mortar.  I explained that the lovely church we worshipped in is not the church of Jesus Christ.  Brick and mortar are fine, but the church is more than this I explained.  My family and I left the meeting as the Pentecostal Sanhedrin determined if I would be retained as Pastor.  

We waited at home.  About 3 o'clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon Orville came to give me the not so sunny news.

Orville explained that I had been 'voted out.'  And he presented me with a severance pay check for 2 weeks.  My first anguished thought was, "My God, and this is the church?"  The church of my youth had put me and my family out on the street.

I share this because it was that event that propelled me on a journey I didn't know I was on.  Today's readings speak of Peter, James and Paul and their work and peril they endured to be the foundation upon which the Church was built. (Ephesians 2:20)  And Jesus made Peter the principle Apostle to guide the Church and guard the faith.  Jesus said he would build his Church 'on this rock.'  He looked at Peter and speaking in Aramaic used the word Kepha that is rendered Cephas 9 times in the NT and is understood as a sizable rock.  The indisputable point is that although I have nothing but thanksgiving for the life of Christ I received in the Pentecostal church of my youth, there is a Church that is 2000 years old, has always been and will always be.  And the guardian and guide of that Church is currently Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.  Rome, the place Peter guided and guarded the same Church and where Peter died the death of martyr.  

Since this reflection goes out to my Protestant and Catholic friends I offer this important point.  To this day, I cringe every time I hear of a Pastor being voted on or a Pastor is trying out for a pastorate.  My heart goes out to him and his family, and I hope for him that his experience will not end like mine did.  But in my heart of hearts I know 'if they can vote you in, they can vote you out.'  The splitting and dividing that continues to spiral today has given us about 33,000 denominations.  Read that number again and weep.  There seems to be no end to the proliferation of denominations.  And every one of them claims to be more faithful to the early church than its predecessor.  Peter and Paul, whose feast day we celebrate would weep.  The Church, which is built upon the 'apostles and prophets', is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.  Where do we today see bishops in succession to the Apostles of the early church?  

Jesus did not say he would build churches.  There are not many 'rocks' upon which the church is built.  And the furthest thing from the truth is to believe that the Catholic Church is just another denomination.  They are many wonderful churches, denominational and non-denominational serving many wonderful children of God.  We are united with them in the waters of baptism as long as it is baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  But we are imperfectly united.  Read that again and weep.  Complete unity awaits the day when all of us accept what Jesus said to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."  

The powers of hell cannot prevail against the Church Jesus built.  Churches and movements have been built on personality and slick advertising schemes.  But the Church of Jesus Christ was obtained with his own blood.  It is in that Church in which is appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.  All this and more 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.'

Through the centuries this Church has endured the storms of persecution and division.  She weeps for the restoration of all things in the Church.  She prays and repents of her sins of commission and omission.  But she still stands, because she has been founded upon the rock Jesus the wise builder chose.  Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus said, "You are Kepha, and upon this rock I will build my Church.

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, inspire in me the unity of the faith.  May I be so one with you that your presence will be felt by all I meet.  More than anything else, may your friendship transform me and bless those nearest me.  Amen.

``O Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the the Name of Jesus...Renew Thy Wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost!!''  Pope John XXIII



Sunday, June 22, 2008

If You Deny Me

June 22nd Year A

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  If You Deny Me

But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Frustration abounds whenever a Christian politician explains his pro-abortion views.  It goes something like this.  "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but a woman has a right to choose if she wishes not to give birth to her fetus."  "It's her body," he continues.  "And the government shouldn't tell a woman what she can do with her body," he concludes.  It reminds me of Pontius Pilate washing his hands before the crowd and saying, "I am innocent of this righteous man's blood."  Some would say Pilate was sensible, open minded, not given to persuading others of his personal beliefs.  Similar accolades have been heaped upon the 'open minded' politicians of our time.  And the shedding of innocent blood continues today.

The impartiality of the Father's love was revealed when Jesus ate with sinners and touched the lepers.  When Jesus fed the multitudes and turned the water into wine, this was love that exceeded the needs of the moment and revealed a love that is not of this world.  Jesus, the only Son of the Father, went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.  On Sunday, the Lord's Day, God's friends gather at the Lord's house, and feast at the Table of his Love.  And we beggars, who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, must tell the beggars outside where we found the bread.     

Our Holy Father's general prayer intention for June is:  That Christians may cultivate a deep and personal friendship with Christ so they are able to communicate the strength of his love to those they encounter.  We are first and always to have a deep and transforming encounter with Jesus.  Losing that friendship should be the preoccupying thought of our mind.  Jesus' love persuades us to persuade others of the loving will of our heavenly Father.  It may be convenient to accommodate the slippery slope of appeasement, but accommodation blurs our vision of him is the way, the truth and the life.  Christian witness becomes weak and anemic, when our personal friendship with Christ is lukewarm.  What several popes have described variously as a 'new Pentecost' and a 'new evangelization' is why His Holiness today asks us to pray for a vibrant, deeply held and growing friendship with Jesus.  Jesus said, "I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." 

Today's Gospel is part of the context where Jesus explains in verse 16, "…I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."  Jesus told his disciples they would be flogged in the synagogues, dragged before councils and governors for his name and for his cause.  But today the Gospel reminds us to 'have no fear of them.'  We must never be ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  For our sake and for the life of the world we are to 'shout it from the housetops.'  Jesus promises that the Spirit of our Father will speak through us. 

The religious rulers in Acts chapter 4 were annoyed that Peter and John had healed a lame man and were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.  They were arrested and upon examination it is stated when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. This boldness came from the Holy Spirit.  Speaking in Christ's name and healing the lame man in Christ's name, they were demonstrating the friendship of Christ.  The rulers said, "You can't do that anymore." But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard." 

My daddy was a Pentecostal preacher.  But one day he received a call from an Arkansas District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church asking him to consider becoming a Pastor in the UMC.  When daddy met with the Board of Ordained Ministry, they knowing daddy's Pentecostal background, members of the Board inquired if he would be talking about the things Pentecostals talk about.  They were mostly concerned if my daddy would be encouraging Methodist folks to speak in tongues.  My daddy assured them he would not force anything on anybody, and then he added, "but I can't deny what God has done for me.  And I would recommend it to anyone!"  Daddy pastored 35 years in the UMC.

We belong to Christ.  He bought us with a price.  From the royal precinct of heaven he became incarnate in the holy womb of Mary.  On her breasts he received nourishment.  Her motherly love comforted him and at bedtime she leaned over and kissed the face of God.  It was a deep and personal friendship to which Mary gave herself.  This is a friendship that draws us to the same Jesus Mary held in her loving arms, reminding us that we are of more value than the sparrows and even the hairs of our head are numbered. 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus, may my friendship with you become deeper and personal so that it is in you and you alone I live and move and have my life.   Amen.

``O Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the the Name of Jesus...Renew Thy Wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost!!''  Pope John XXIII



Sunday, June 8, 2008

An Ocean of Love

June 15, 2008 Year A

Eleventh Sunday In Ordinary Time

Reflections on the Readings

By Dennis Hankins

Theme:  An Ocean of Love

When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them.

I have lived long enough to know that people die.  Being the oldest of six living children, I recall my mother having 3 miscarriages.  One of those precious gifts of God was buried in the back yard near a Lily.  Something about the care and love of the least among us and the Christian hope of Resurrection was engraved in my memory.

Debbie and I sang at her Mother's funeral, who at a very young 48 years of age succumbed to ovarian cancer.  But I have an Aunt who has been an ovarian cancer survivor of many years.  And my Grandma Seibert came through breast cancer and died at the ripe old age of 92.  I recall her saying she always believed she would grow old.

Jesus looked on the crowds and had compassion for them because 'they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.'  It is to them we are to say, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."  But how is it at hand?  When we love the sick, the bereaved, the tormented, the dying and the dead, the power of the kingdom is present.  

On a recent Faith and Culture program, Colleen Carroll Campbell interviewed Dr. Michael Brescia.  The topic was Compassionate Care for the Dying.  This riveting interview touched on the disconnect in our society toward those who are 'harassed and helpless.'  Calvary Hospital is located in the Bronx, NY.  It is here where Dr. Brescia has for many years assisted those in their final months, days and hours of terminal illness.  Every patient and family member is treated as the very person of Christ at this renowned palliative care center.

Doctor Brescia described how every patient is approached, loved and cared for as if Jesus was the patient.  The staff genuflects upon entering the patient's room, because they believe the words of Jesus who said, "I was sick and you visited me." 

One such patient was Angela.  She was brought to Calvary Hospital because the other hospital said they couldn't take care of her.  Angela could not speak.  There was no immediate family with her or anyone of authority who could speak for her.  Dr. Brescia described her as having matted hair, rotten teeth and effusing from every orifice of her body.  He asked to be her Physician.  

Angela had a large tumor protruding from the side of her neck.  She was consumed by AIDS and lung cancer.  Angela could not speak.  After Angela was admitted and bathed and made comfortable in her room, Dr. Brescia made his first visit.  He took her by the hand and tenderly spoke to her from a heart filled with the love of Christ for the 'harassed and helpless.'  He said to her, " I hope you had a daddy who loved you."  " I hope you have had people in your life who valued you and cherished you."  With these and similar words he poured the healing love of Jesus into this emaciated tormented woman.  

About 8 O'clock one Sunday night, Dr. Brescia made his last visit to Angela.  When he walked into her room he realized she was dying.  As he had done in the past, he put down the bed rails and took Angela by the hand.  Again he spoke with the love of a man who believed he was holding the very hand of Jesus.  About 90 minutes passed and Angela who had never spoken, said, "Dr. Michael."  Startled, Dr. Brescia heard Angela again say, "Dr. Michael."  Standing closer to her so he could cradle her head in his hands she said, "In a few hours I'm going to see God.  And I'm going to mention your name."

Doctor Michael Brescia stated that every one who dies at Calvary Hospital dies in an ocean of love.  Calvary Hospital is a hospital love has built.

I understand we spend about a billion dollars a day to keep terror in check.  That's about a trillion dollars a year.  We could use just one day's billion dollars and help with the costs associated with the kind of care Calvary Hospital provides for the terminally ill and their families for the next 50 years.  The word 'palliative' comes from a Latin word which means 'to throw a cover over the shoulders.'  Often when nothing else could be done for the sick, a wrap was thrown over the shoulders to keep the sick comfortable.

Each one of us can be an ocean of love.  Let us become close friends to Jesus and we will be able to bring Jesus near those who are 'harassed and helpless.'  Miracles of both redemptive and physical manifestations can happen and will happen.  The kingdom of heaven is an ocean of love.  In the person of Jesus Christ, while were yet sinners, God loved us, and threw his arms around us and immersed us in the ocean of his love.  

In the mercy and love of God let us throw our arms around the least, the lost and the lonely. 

Let us pray:  Dear Jesus you looked for me as a shepherd looking for his sheep.  And then you spoke my name and wrote it down in the Lamb's Book of Life.  Your love has healed me.  Through me may your love flow for the salvation and healing of those near me.  Amen.    


``O Holy Spirit, sent by the Father in the the Name of Jesus...Renew Thy Wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost!!''  Pope John XXIII