Friday, June 25, 2010

He Who Loves God More

Reflections on the Readings

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 27, 2010, Year C

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

He Who Loves God More

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." - Jesus

Maria.  How do you solve a problem like Maria?  All of a sudden she finds herself in conflict.  Thinking she will be a Nun, she discovers a love for Captain von Trapp; a love she didn't expect to know or desire. Thinking she must hurriedly resolve her conflict, she wishes to immediately 'pledge her life to God.'

Explaining that the love of a man and woman is holy, Mother Superior says to Maria, "If you love this man, it doesn't mean you love God less. Maria is then sent back to the von Trapp family as Governess, to discover 'how God wants her to spend her love.'  

Jesus taught that to follow him we must love him more than anything or anyone.  Maria's greater love for God enabled her to give herself in love as a wife and step mother.  Jesus explained that his disciples learn a greater love; a love that comes before love of father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters or even oneself. (Luke 14:25) Jesus uses the word 'hate' that does not mean in the Jewish culture what its connotation is in English.  It does not mean 'lovelessness,' in cherished relationships, but rather 'loving God more,' in the hierarchy of who we obviously love; like a wife and ones children. 

Jesus' call to follow him, to not look back, is a far-reaching call to be sure.  Peter left his fishing business.  On the other hand, Paul took his tent-making business with him, supporting himself while he evangelized the Gentile world.  Matthew left the tax collecting business.  And lest we think this kind of devotion and commitment is just for priests and religious, Jesus says, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.  

Paul saw the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus as an all consuming task.  It is the task of every believer to embrace this call personally; to be as one who is led by the Spirit.  And the end result of being led by the Spirit is to love your neighbor as yourself; through love be servants of one another.

If we love God more than the day before, we will love one another better than the day before.  We love one another better when we love God more.  In fact, the perfect law of liberty is love, a love that keeps us from biting and devouring one another.  The freedom God gives liberates us from the demands of the flesh: enmity, strife, jealousy, anger and dissension. This way of living must be left behind.  There's no looking back.  To be fit for the kingdom is not to look back.  

Remember Lot's wife.

Jesus' demands are typical of the sages of his day.  Such leaders imposed an 'all or nothing' demand on their followers.  A requirement of this magnitude underscored that what one gains is greater than any perceived loss.  In following Jesus one also gained the hope of eternal life in the world to come.

David Biven of the Jerusalem School comments on First-century discipleship: The call to be a sage's disciple in first century Israel often meant leaving relatives and friends and traveling the country under austere conditions.  It also meant total commitment.  A prospective disciple first had to be sure his priorities were in order.  

Working on these thoughts I remembered a song from the church of my youth.  You may know it.  It is the song "I Surrender All." It was written by a Methodist Episcopal layman in 1896.  Struggling with his own successful career as a musician and administrator of high school art, Judson W. Van DeVenter 'surrendered' after a five year struggle to become a full time evangelist. 

All to Jesus I surrender; Now I feel the sacred flame. O the joy of full salvation!  Glory, glory to his name!

I surrender all.  I surrender all.  All to Thee, My Blessed Savior. I surrender all. 

Father of all love, enlarge our hearts for Jesus and help us by the Holy Spirit to say yes to him.  Amen.  

Friday, June 18, 2010

In the Sign of the Cross

Reflections on the Readings

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 20, 2010, Year C

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

In the Sign of the Cross

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." - Jesus

It's not a message easily embraced.  The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  It just doesn't make sense to them.  

What's that again, "Lose your life for my sake, and you will save it?"  

"Jesus said what?"    

Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Sacrifice.  This is an important word in understanding our life in Christ.  It sums up very much everything Jesus is about.  Why?  Because the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for you and me.  His life for ours.  Say that out loud: His life for mine, for yours, for my family and my neighbors.  For our sake Jesus became sin, even though he knew no sin, that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Sacrifice.  Its a word that defines our life in Christ. It sums up very much what it means to be a Christian.  Christianity is about a cross.  A cross we are called to carry.  Daily.  Until we exchange it one day for a crown.  If we are true followers of Christ, we will like St. Paul, glory in nothing else but the cross.  So much of our witness is emptied of its power because we refuse the power of the cross.  We are powerless until we take up our cross and follow Jesus.  There's no other way to follow him.

I grew up listening to great sermons on the cross.  And I've never heard a sermon on a Christ-less Cross.  Never.  Every sermon on the cross that I have ever heard included Jesus.  Jesus who hung on it, bled his life's blood down it, breathed his last breath from it.  

A crucifix reminds us of these things.  It is these things our daily cross is about.  The servant is not greater than his master.  If we love this world and the gain we get in it rather than Jesus, we've emptied the cross of its power.  However, if we empty ourselves on that cross, in serving our brothers and sisters in the pews or in the streets, we'll have influence with man and God.

Sacrifice.  Its a word describing the presence of the Church in the world as a place of sacrificial prayer.  The crucifix above the altar reminds the Church to pray for the world; her petitions for the world rising to heaven as she lifts up her heart as a living sacrifice.  The culmination of her prayers comes as the Church eats the bread and drinks from the cup; the body and blood of Jesus.  What we eat and drink is not just for ourselves, but for the life of the world. In the Eucharist the Church renews herself and prays for the world.  

Let us lose our life for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the world he came to save. Everyday let us greet the world in the sign of the cross.

In the name of the +Father, and of the +Son, and of the +Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Greek Orthodox Prayer to the Holy Spirit

Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In the Presence of Love

Reflections on the Readings
11th Sunday in Ordinary Time-June 13, 2010 Year C
Season of Pentecost
By Dennis Hankins

In the Presence of Love

Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, you gave me no kiss, you did not anoint my head with oil." - Jesus

The woman Jesus refers to washed his feet with her tears and wiped his feet dry with her hair. Kissing his feet without ceasing, she also massaged his feet with the oil from the alabaster box she brought with her.

As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" (Romans 10:15)

A new life in Christ! This 'woman of the city,' perhaps a sinner of the street walker type, is captured by a love she's never known. So transformed she cannot help but heap her gratitude upon her new love in an uninhibited way. With her new 'self' she senses a completion she has never known. She rightly identifies her new life with Jesus, her faith resting in Jesus as the very Son of God.

This scene is a picture of one who comes to Jesus and truly finds 'rest for her soul.' It is a deeply touching and moving moment, one that focuses our attention on the actions of a grateful woman. This is a woman who for the first time in her life experiences a love that covers a multitude of sins.

Jesus draws the analogy with Simon about two debtors who owed a certain creditor five hundred days' wages and fifty days' wages respectively. Because neither one could repay his debt, the creditor forgave each man his debt.

Then Jesus asks his host, "Which of them will love him more?" Simon responds, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven."

This is where I started this reflection. It is now that Jesus points out to Simon how little he has regarded his presence compared to 'this woman.' Then Jesus says, "I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."

What I get from Jesus' words is this: Forgiveness is forgiveness; how grateful we are depends on how we view its necessity and its effect in our hearts. Who are we most like in this Gospel concerning Simon the Pharisee and a sinful woman of the night? Do we treat the presence of Jesus and his forgiveness in our lives as something extraordinary and precious? When we receive his body and blood in the Eucharist, is it the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, or just something we Catholics do?

The woman caressing the feet of Jesus shows us the way we can fall in love with our Lord. Falling in love with Jesus is deeply personal, heartfelt, and life giving. Some today are lukewarm when it comes to this matter. For these folks, Church is a ritual to complete, to get over with and then get on out the door. In the presence of Jesus, are we more like Simon the Pharisee or the sinful woman?

The nameless woman in today's Gospel tells me all of us need to take time to linger in the presence of Jesus, the Son of the Father's love. What he has given us through his death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven is worthy of our deepest worship.

I believe that in East Tennessee, the Holy Spirit is calling us to a renewal of our first love for Jesus. For others it could be a call to experience for the first time a deep and personal love for Jesus. Whether coming back or coming for the first time, now is the time for you and me to join this sinful woman of the city at the feet of Jesus whose love is immeasurable, whose peace surpasses all understanding, and whose forgiveness creates in us clean hearts and brings us the joy of our salvation.