Thursday, April 29, 2010

About Sacred Relationships

Reflections on the Readings

Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 2, 2010, Year C

By Dennis Hankins

About Sacred Relationships

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - Jesus

If I read it once, I read it hundreds of times.  The sign hung just above the doors in my childhood Pentecostal church, a final reminder before we re-entered the world.  I can still see it in my memory.  It reads: Let us all pull together, for we won't be here long. 

Perhaps our parishes should have a sign for us to read, a gentle, but important reminder above the doors, before we go back into the world.  I can see it.  It reads: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - Jesus.  

On the day of Pentecost, those in the upper room are all together in one place.  Luke describes the early church as being of one heart and soul. (Acts 4:32) Paul says the church builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16) Confronting the contentious divisions within the church at Corinth, Paul teaches that Christ's body, the church, has many members, yet it is one.  

In fact, God's arrangement of the body calls for greater honor be given to those inferior in rank or status or ability.  Why?  That there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.  (1 Corinthians 12:22-26)  

We have what scripture describes as koinonia.  It is a rich word in the New Testament translated as fellowship or participation.  It describes the intimate participation in Jesus we experience in receiving his Body and his Blood.  And by extension, because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.  (1Corithians 10:17)

From the earliest days, the Church is known for its devotion to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42) This sacred koinonia comprises the Church, that sacred body where Jesus is found.  Jesus affirms this saying, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."  A clear reference to the Eucharist.

We are a sacred people, sharing together in the mysteries of the faith.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.(Matthew 5:23-24)

You're my brother, and you're my sister.  It is about sacred relationships.  As Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples."

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

Let us pray: O' Lord, may we be of one mind in truth, and of one heart in charity.  Amen.  


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Reflections on the Readings

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 25, 2010, Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday


...I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. - Jesus


Is this not the heart and soul of the gospel that Jesus preached?  

The hurting of heart and body testify of Jesus and his gracious love.  Through him they receive new eyes, new ears, and new skin.  The blind, the deaf, and the lepers, each and everyone, cherished.  Not only loved into new and healthy bodies, but brought into the power of an imperishable life, completely and forever cherished.

Parish renewal begins with the truth that Jesus loves and cherishes his people.  

Parish life thrives as we cherish one another.  

Parish evangelism is empowered as we cherish as Jesus does, those other sheep, that are not of this fold. 

Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice."  In the voice of Jesus, his flock hears the voice of caring, the voice of personal friendship with each one.  He knows us.  Jesus, the good Shepherd, unlike the hireling, stays close to his own, standing between us and the wolf.  He leads and guards.  'No one shall snatch them out of my hand.'

So familiar is the voice and teaching of Jesus, that the voice of strangers is unpersuasive.  No matter how deep and wide the divisions between us, the Father and the Son are one.  And whether we claim one another or not, we are equally loved by the Father and the Son, in whose hands we are safe.

Have I told you lately how much I cherish you, my brother and sister in Christ?

Let us pray: Dear Father, from whom comes every good and perfect gift, even the great Shepherd who loved us and gave himself for us.  Gather into one fold, the sheep of your pasture, and bring us to the waters of life in the Spirit. Amen. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Sacrificial Love of the Heart

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Easter - April 18, 2010, Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

The Sacrificial Love of the Heart

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"

It happened after the singing of the final hymn.  

"Our minds already reeling from the startling and sacrificial words of our Master and now he says this."  

Still rehearsing in their hearts the sacred actions, each of the disciples question way down deep where questions form, "How is the Passover fulfilled in him?"    

"How did that go again? What did he say?  What did he do?"

"Well, Jesus took and blessed the bread and said, 'Take; this is my body.'" 

 And the cup, what about the cup?  

"Well, he took the cup and gave thanks and gave the cup to each of us to drink saying, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"

"Then we sang a hymn and making our way to the Mount of Olives Jesus spoke again to us."  

"I understand, but what did he say?  Why are you troubled?  Come on Peter.  Talk to me."

"Jesus said to us, You will all fall away; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee."

"Then what happened?" 

I said, "Even though they all fall away, (as he pointed to the others) I will not."  Then Jesus said to me, "Peter, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times."  


Then I vehemently said to the Master, "If I must die with you, I will not deny you!  All of us to a man swore allegiance to the Master."  


And today, Peter huddles close to the warm fire when Jesus asks, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these," as he gently nodded toward the other disciples.  Clearly Jesus is holding up the mirror to help Peter see himself.  Just a few days ago, while warming himself by a fire, Peter profusely and adamantly denied three times any affiliation with the Son of God.  

Now, three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me?"  Twice, Jesus uses the Greek verb agapao and lastly the Greek verb phileo.  Both are Greek words for love.  The word agape carries a meaning of selflessness; a freely given and sacrificial love.  It describes the depth and meaning of true relationships.  For example: For God so loved (agapeo) the world that he gave his only begotten Son. 

Peter responds all three times with the word phileo.  This is a warm and affectionate friendship.  It describes a type of attraction for someone: such as the tight knit friendship between best of friends.

Does Jesus settle just for Peter's friendship?  Peter grows restless.  "Lord, you know everything; you know that I (phileo) love you."  

The force of the repetitious question, 'do you love me?' reveals Jesus' intent to completely restore Peter.  And the repeated mandate, 'feed my sheep,' reveals Jesus' desire to deeply plant his calling in Peter.  Denial came from deep inside of Peter.  Deeply our Lord reached into Peter, the one called to love and to serve the sheep.

No doubt, Jesus is asking for a deeper commitment; a deeper and sacrificial relationship.  Jesus describes the ultimate meaning of this for Peter, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.  Church history tells us that Peter, like his master, was crucified.  Peter asked to be fastened to his cross upside down.  

Sacrificial love.  I've seen that kind of love.  My daddy sometimes worked two jobs to make ends meet for his family of six children.  He worked all day, and then painted other peoples houses till the sun set.  

Sacrificial love.  I watched my sister, Mary Rose Hankins, upon completing graduate studies in piano, suspend her life and career to help our mother.  Mary Rose helped daddy care for mommy and her needs until the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) claimed her life.  

Sacrificial love.   Anyone witnessing the birth of a baby knows the depth and almost indefinable sacrifice a mother makes at such a time.  No wonder there is such a bond between a baby and its mother.  

Jesus is asking you and me if we will give him our heart and with our heart serve him in our brothers and sisters among us.  

It's not just Peter's calling.  

Let us pray: Dear Father, you gave the sacrifice of love, even your only Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Breath of Jesus

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday of Easter - April 11, 2010, Year C

Divine Mercy Sunday

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

The Breath of Jesus

...He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit." 

In the breath of Jesus is the impartation of mercy.  In his breathing upon his disciples Jesus gives the Church the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the very ministry of mercy.  Jesus says to his disciples, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

I enjoy imagining the closeness to Jesus the disciples felt that Sunday evening.  That closeness remains with the Church these two thousand years later.  It is in the Church where we experience the power and authority of Jesus to forgive sins.  How so?  In the calling of the Bishop and his priests is the ministry to hear confessions and to forgive the sins of all who confess.  In the absolution of sins, the merciful breath of Jesus is present.

Wonderful things are done in the name of Jesus according to todays reading from The Acts of the Apostles.  Signs and wonders come from the hands of the apostles.  Lives are changed and great numbers of people come into the Church to serve the risen Lord.  Sick people laying on their beds and pallets in the street wait for Peter to pass by in hope that his shadow will fall upon them.  Even those afflicted with unclean spirits receive deliverance and healing as the shadow of Peter passes by.

No one should ever minimize these gracious and miraculous occurrences.  These things are wonderful and the name of Jesus is exalted.  But the greatest power released is in the confessional when the priest says:


"God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

A few years ago, a popular TV series featured the interactions of people from different walks of life sitting around a bar in Boston.  I admit watching Cheers on reruns with some regularity.  Do you remember the theme song?  You can probably still hum: 

"Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came. You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same.  You wanna be where everybody knows your name"

Well, there is a place you can go where somebody knows your name.  He knows every spot and blemish and wrinkle in your heart.  So much of this world lives deep within us.  Sometimes it bubbles up and is manifested in angry words, unforgiving attitudes, and judgmental hatred.  

Just where can an inner work on the inner man take place?  May I humbly suggest that you take it to Jesus' closest representative on this earth?  With a surrendered heart, do a self examination of conscience in the confessional, a place where everyones troubles  are all the same.  

Into Adam, God breathed the breath of life.(Gen. 2:7) With his breath, Elijah brought a little boy back to life.(I Kings 17:21) In Ezekiel 37, the prophet calls for the breath of God to breathe upon the valley full of dry bones.  

Today, the breath of the Son of God breathes upon the disciples in that upper room where they huddle together in fear.  The same breath sustains his Church in the 21st century, providing for her mission of mercy, love, and forgiveness.

Go then and meet with Jesus, present in the person of the priest. Receive again the breath of Jesus for the forgiveness of all your sins. It is the soft, gentle breeze of mercy. 

Let us pray: Dear Father, create in us a hunger for the mystery of thy breath.  Like the wind, you breathe where you will; no one can predict its movement nor ignore the wonder of mercy it brings.  We ask this in the name of Jesus, thy only begotten Son, who rules and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, the very breath-wind of God.  Amen.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Reflection On Holy Thursday

By Dennis Hankins

April 1, 2010, A.D.


...He rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel.  Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 13:4, 5)

A service of washing feet?  

I grew up in a Pentecostal church.  We observed the Lord's supper accompanied by the washing of one another's feet.  The women washed one another's feet and the men did likewise.  

I vividly remember my first experience at washing someone's feet other than mine.  Kneeling down before the feet of George I felt awkward and a little embarrassed.  Well, if the truth be told, I was embarrassed.  What's a teenager to do in such moments.  

Frankly, I would not have chosen George's feet to wash.  I preferred to wash the feet of someone else.  Not that I had any knowledge of there being any better feet to wash.  But George was sort of from a different side of the tracks, as they say.  Since becoming a Christian, that is, since he had gotten saved, he faithfully attended Church services every time the doors opened.  

His teeth needed help.  Looking back, I suppose he needed jaw surgery.  His face appeared to be smashed in a little bit.  Probably due to improper growth of the jaw bones.  His physical features most likely matched his growing up years.   

But George became a Christian and joy came into his life.  He could be emotional about it too.  I think I was a little afraid about that.  What if he took to shouting or something while I washed his feet?  Silly thoughts I suppose, but I was young and new at this feet washing business. 

However, the event deeply impressed me.  It began with the Lord's Supper and ended with the washing of feet.  And I remember thinking if I didn't wash George's feet, what did that say about me?  Did I truly love my brother in Christ?  Could I wash and wipe George's feet in a spirit of prayer?

Fast forward.  When I began to preach, I preached a sermon called: The Foot Washing Service.  With a homemade towel long enough to wrap around my waist, I preached from John 13, the gospel reading for Maundy Thursday.  I preached that sermon more times than I can remember traveling as an Evangelist and then as a Pastor.  

Many years ago in my Pentecostal days, I pastored Houlton Pentecostal Church in Houlton, Maine.  During a particularly intense week of church board meetings, I decided to end our marathon week of meetings with me washing the board members feet.  

No one objected, except Snuffy.  He earned that nickname because he wore a very noticeably large nose.  It looked very much like Snuffy in the newspaper cartoons.  As I write this, I cannot remember his real name.  Everyone called him Snuffy, or in my case, I called him Brother Snuffy.  

Snuffy retired from the United States Post Office.  He was kind, thoughtful, humorous, gentle and sincere.  The phone at the parsonage rang in the late afternoon before the scheduled foot washing service.    

"I don't think I will come tonight to the meeting and get my feet washed," said Snuffy.  

"Oh, Snuffy," I responded.  "I was so looking forward to washing your feet tonight.  I hope you will reconsider and come."  I kept insisting on my desire to wash Snuffy's feet.

Now your getting ahead of me.  Your right.  Snuffy came.  I started at the other end, so Snuffy could get an idea what to expect.  

Lastly, Snuffy's turn came.  I bathed his feet with the water and prayer. Images of washing George's feet filled my mind that evening.  Barely finishing wiping Snuffy's feet, and before I knew it, Snuffy was out of his seat.  Taking me by the shoulders, he gently directed me to sit in his seat.  Kneeling down, he began to untie my shoes and take my socks off.  And then he washed and dried my feet.  

These precious memories came rushing back into my mind tonight as I did Evening Prayer.  The beginning of the Intercessions tonight says:

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior entrusted to his Church the memorial of his death and resurrection, to be celebrated forever.

Jesus says, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."