Tuesday, July 26, 2011

You Give Them Something to Eat - Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 31, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

You Give Them Something to Eat

Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." - Matthew 14:16

Every year it happened. The second Sunday in September was Homecoming Sunday at the Pentecostal Church of my youth. I still remember anticipating the big spread of food and the all day singing and preaching. All day Sunday meetings like this were common in the Pentecostal churches in the southern areas of Indiana and Illinois. Body and soul were fed and everyone left with renewed love for one another.

In today's gospel, Jesus departs for a lonely, deserted place. Learning of John the Baptist's death our Lord seeks a time of prayer. The fulness of time is swiftly coming. John had said, "He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease." John's martyrdom signals a new and larger immediacy of Jesus' ministry. That takes place in this deserted place where the people have followed on foot from the surrounding towns. Here they seek to be near Jesus. In the deserted hours and times of our lives we too can be near Jesus.

Seeing the crowds and moved with compassion Jesus heals the sick among them. All afternoon the people pressed near to hear Jesus teach. As he walked among the thousands little hands reached out to touch the hem of his garment. Withered bodies were laid in his path by caring loved ones. "Have mercy on me," someone pleads, and looking about him Jesus sees a little daddy holding his blind son and his twin sister with legs that looked like toothpicks. Mercy flows without measure as the blind see and the lame walk and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

Time? Well time didn't matter. Perhaps it was a little taste of when time will be no more; when there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more dying. Nothing will ever again hurt or destroy in all of God's holy mountain. Nothing can keep us from this promise of life for evermore. Nothing can separate us from that love; not anguish, distress, peril or sword. Neither can famine, persecution, or nakedness keep us from the divine love. Indeed not anything in this life or in death to come can keep us from being with Jesus. Whether angels or principalities, or things present or things to come, no power, height or depth, or nay any creature will keep us from our appointed destiny with the forever love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

"The markets in the nearby towns will soon close," one of the disciples said to Jesus. Awareness of the time resumes as evening is overtaking the day. "This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away into the villages and buy food for themselves," the disciples urged. "They can come back tomorrow," coaxing Jesus to remember the hour. Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."

We measure God with concepts that are foreign in heaven. We keep him too small. He would fill us with immeasurable blessings. But we dispense love in conspicuously measured ways. We pray for the Lord to feed the hungry, and to bring salvation to our family and friends, and that he would help people to love one another. Does the Lord answer those good prayers? You bet he does. He answers them something like this, "That is a good prayer. How are you going to help me answer this for you?"

I imagine we are as startled at Jesus as the disciples were when he said, "That's a good idea. I mean, the people are probably hungry about now. And it is getting late and, well, why don't you feed them. You give them something to eat." "Dennis, why don't you hug the lonely. You go ahead and love the sinner into my salvation. Go ahead Dennis, and reach out and touch the world around you that his hungry, and thirsty, and longing to see my face," Jesus says. Now go back and put your name beside mine.

When we hear that still small voice it is tempting to respond, "Me? You mean me, Lord?" But that voice is unmistakable and his words make our heart burn within us. The disciples gave Jesus five loaves of bread and two fish. It was all they had, but it was enough. For our little in the hands that made the world is enough to accomplish all that he asks us to do.

May we find new strength to do Christ's work in this memorial of our redemption. Together we look with hope upon this sacrifice. Jesus opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living soul. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Living in the Wonder

Reflections on the Readings
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 24, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Living in the Wonder

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." - Jesus

A little gospel song comes to mind. The lyrics express the deep intent of my soul:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus;
no turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow,
Though none go with me, still I will follow.
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
no turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
no turning back, no turning back.

What or who is our first love? Is our first response revenge and hatred? What do we do when nobody is looking? When temptation comes knocking on the door, how do we respond? Just because everybody is doing it doesn't it make it right. Is our love for Jesus and his Church growing stronger and deeper or is it growing cold?

In the first letter of Peter, the sainted apostle is writing to encourage the persecuted believers in the northern part of Asia Minor. Peter, who would also become a martyr shared with his brothers and sisters in Christ the meaning and depth of their faith: "Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:8, 9 This unspeakable joy is what Peter, James and John felt in the pit of their soul when they left their nets to follow Jesus. And it is this same unfettered devotion to Jesus Peter speaks of when writing to persecuted and maligned followers of Christ.

Paul helps us today to remember that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called to his purpose. That is not a promise that everything will be cushy and plush. Our destiny is to be conformed to the image of God's only crucified Son. Or as Bishop Stika reminds us, we are called to be the face of Jesus. We are a work in progress. One day we will enter into the glory of the sons and daughters of God, if we do not lose heart. That's why we must not grow weary, for in due time we will reap the full measure of our faith, if we do not faint and turn back.

I remember the uninhibited embrace of the mystery of life I had as a child. You remember don't you? Those were days of true adventure. When is the last time you looked at the clouds? What shape did you see or what ship did you sail? Those were the days of living in the wonder of it all. Jesus tells us the one with childlike trust and faith receives the kingdom of God. The simplicity of trust in the Father's love for us is a door into the joys of the Lord. Jesus came to restore the wonder of love and faith and forgiveness. It may be politically incorrect but everybody needs the mystery and the wonder of life in the Son. Our Lord did not come to condemn the world but to restore it and redeem it back into the wonder of life in the Father's love.

As I was preparing to write these words, I asked myself, "When is the last time I said to Jesus, 'Without you Jesus, I can't make it?'" I am reminded that it is a good prayer to pray often. Jesus tells us that without him we can do nothing. Perhaps that is the reason we must eat and drink often from this altar. And so it is as we come to Jesus this morning, he give us himself. We receive him in the bread and wine, his very body and blood, soul and divinity. Let us embrace again without reservation the joy of his resurrection and live this day and everyday in the wonder of it all. Amen.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Increasing in Holiness - Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 17, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

Increasing in Holiness

And the servants of the householder came and said to him, "Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?" He said to them, "An enemy has done this."

Everyone is familiar with this phrase: If it swims like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck - It must be a duck! That seems obvious enough. In the Parable of the Weeds things are not so obvious. The weeds sown among the good wheat seed were not so noticeable at first. It was a poisonous weed that resembles wheat in the early growing time. Jesus explains that the enemy that sows the weeds is the devil. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. - 2 Corinthians 11:14-15

The unique nature of the wheat is seen at maturity. And thus does Jesus teach the unique destiny of the good seed - "But gather the wheat into my barn," He says. And at the close of the age, all causes of sin and all evil doers will his angels gather out of his kingdom and they will inherit the furnace of fire. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. - Matthew 13:30, 41-43

In each of the parables today, the uniqueness of Christ's kingdom is revealed. And what stands out about Christ's kingdom in the life of the Church is that great power of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to save and to sanctify sinners. The truth sown in our hearts by the Son of Man is greater and stronger than every deception and delusion that Satan may throw in our way. From the Church we learn what it is that God has done for the children of Adam. It cannot be said enough - Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!

What awesome love it is that reaches out to you and to me to help us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Savior, Jesus Christ. There is a patient urgency we encounter in our life in the Spirit. The grain of mustard seed and the leaven hidden in fifty pounds of wheat flour remind us of the potency and tenacity of our salvation. As we pray, the Spirit comes to our assistance. When we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes through us. With inexpressible groanings we embrace the urgency of the task: We pray that God's Church grow like a mustard seed into that welcoming bush where everyone will find forgiveness and rest in its shade.

Everyone who comes through the doors of the Church needs to encounter the kindness of God. That happens when the power of the faith is strong in the local community called the Church. The great power of the sacraments of the Church lift us to a higher life, a greater burden of prayer, and to be the face of that holy kindness of which there is no counterfeit. Today there are any number of folks who want to increase in holiness and in that love that is greater than all sin. There is no other god who has such care for all.

Just a little bit of God's love goes a long way. Start somewhere and let the miracle of grace grow in you. Sow some of it in the lives of those who look up to you. Drop little seeds of hope, faith, and love in words that are lifting and loving. Do some little thing that says something about your love and your gratitude. Ours is a fractured world in need of great healing. And if things go better with Coke, how much better is it when we have the zeal of the Spirit and do the smallest things with great love. For the simplest of efforts is great if the love of God is in it. Because little is much when God is in it!

As we eat this bread and drink this wine, we receive the body and blood of Jesus. May his life makes us true wheat and bring the work he has begun in us to holy perfection. Come and let us increase in that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Garden of the Heart - Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 10, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

The Garden of the Heart

For this people's heart has grown dull... but blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Matthew 13:15 - 16 

Gardening is a work of patience.  It requires vigilance and TLC too.  The fruits and vegetables and crops just don't happen to pop up out of the ground.  There's a lot of preparation and planning and praying and patience.  That's right.  Every good farmer and gardener prays for rain to make the stuff grow.  And then they pray again for the rains to stop so they can harvest the stuff.  And patience, well, that comes with the territory and grows over time: ...Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. (James 5:7)

A garden requires attention.  There's soil preparation and seeds and plants to buy and weeds, yes, weeds to hoe.  Well, the heart of the Christian is like a garden.  It is that place in you and me where the 'mysteries of the kingdom of heaven' are sown.  It is the inner place of contemplation and decision; a place where we 'think' about the ways of God.  And it is in that place we decide if we will be docile to the Holy Spirit.  For it is the Spirit of truth who brings to us the words of Christ; he reminds us what Jesus taught us about the Father.  The heart is the garden of the Lord, the inner most of our being where in the hallowed moments God invitingly calls out, "Where are you?"

Jesus spoke in parables to help the rulers of Israel to understand his teaching: "This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." (Matthew 13:13)  The fulness of  the teaching of Jesus was couched in ordinary ways to convey the extraordinary depth of its truth.  The issue Jesus explains is the receptivity of those things he taught.  Deep in the heart there is a war against the truth.  The evil one, tribulation and persecution, the cares of the world and the seduction of riches 'choke the word.'  Jesus is making us aware of the dangers that keep us from the truth.  

We must be on guard for anything that distorts the teachings of the Church.  From her treasury of kingdom knowledge we learn the faith and cease being like children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men along with their craftiness in deceitful wiles.  (Ephesians 4:14) There is clever talk today that calls sin by other names seeking to make it palatable.  Ours is a time when with patience we must teach the faith that was first given to the Church - contending for it even though ungodly persons pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)   It is a time of 'itching ears.'  These are folks whose hearts are not the garden they are meant to be.  They seek approval from teachers who help them to turn even further from the truth.  They cannot endure sound doctrine - the depth of the mysteries of the kingdom.

Jesus said, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  Jesus said that out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander.  This is not the good fruit of a well kept garden.  This is the heart in disarray - the heart that needs some serious change if it is to be the place the thrice Holy God is strolling through.  

God made us in the beginning and placed us in a Garden.  There our Lord communed with us as a very dear and faithful friend.  Upon Adam and Eve God had placed crowns and gave them the Garden to keep and care for.  In their hearts was the law of God and on it they meditated day and night.  What they saw with their eyes was reflected in their hearts.  Within and without was the Garden of the Lord.  Then something dreadful happened.  An intruder came into the Garden - that deceitful and conniving snake - in snake language he distorted the truth that keeps the children of God free.  

That foreign tongue of the snake mocked the God of the Garden and on that nameless afternoon, the light in the heart went out.  But a word went out of the mouth of the Lord - God said to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."  That word did not return to God unfulfilled.  In Mary the Word became flesh.  God in Christ destroyed the works of the devil and healed all of us oppressed by Satan.  The renovation of our heart begins at Calvary.  Therein is the power to forgive sins and to restore the heart to be a Garden of Delight.  

So lift up your hearts.  Lift them up to the Lord.  Come to this Table and let us give thanks to the Lord our God.  Amen.   

Saturday, July 2, 2011

With Wide Open Arms - Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reflections on the Readings
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 3, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins

With Wide Open Arms

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give your rest." - Jesus

Perhaps you are a favorite uncle or aunt.  Mothers and fathers know about it too.  There you stand with wide open arms coaxing that little son or daughter, or niece or nephew to jump without fear into your open arms.  "I'll catch you," you beckon with absolute assurance.  And then she jumps with complete abandonment into your open embrace and you both laugh and hug.  Then scrambling out of your arms she exclaims, "Do it again! Do it again!"

That's what Jesus does for us again and again.  He invites us to trust him with our life - to throw ourselves into his arms.  Revealing to us 'little ones' the heart of his Father,  Jesus invites us into an eternal embrace.  It is in the heart of the Father, that holy place of welcome, where we find this solace of the Spirit; this indescribable end of our estrangement.  This understanding is found deep within the womb of the Church.  It is the place where through baptism Jesus makes known to us the 'hidden things,' the deep things of God.  For no one knows the  Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)

On Monday we will celebrate Independence Day in America.  The Fourth of July marks the time we reflect again on the founding documents of our Republic, and on the high ideals upon which our Country is built.  The New Colossus, a sonnet by Emma Lazarus, is engraved on a plaque affixed inside the Statue of Liberty.  Its inspiring words include: 

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my light beside the golden door!"  

These words form and shape our attitude for all who seek the riches of freedom.  She, the Statue of Liberty, lifts high a guiding and welcoming torch at the doorway of America.  The Cross is also a guiding and inviting symbol.  Upon it our Savior was lifted high to the sky.  Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus died for you and me with wide open arms; arms open wide enough to love and embrace the whole world.  Neil Enloe wrote: 

Oh the cross is my Statue of Liberty, It was there that my soul was set free; Unashamed I'll proclaim that a rugged cross Is my Statue of Liberty! 

The Church invites the confused and forsaken masses of the world.  To its refreshing shores the Church welcomes the broken hearted and the bruised.  Everyone carrying the scars of a wayward and rebellious past are welcome.  All who are oppressed by the devil will find relief.  And those who are  poor from the lack of true love; those who are poor because they never had a loving father or a caring mother; those who are poor because they have no friends, no family, no faith - here in this place will find a haven of rest and unconditional love.  All are welcome in this place - all are welcome in this family!


We are reminded today in this Holy Eucharist that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  As we worship today, we  again feast at the Table of the Lord.  And with eager delight, Jesus, with wide open arms says to you and to me, "Come to me, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  And you will find rest for your souls."  Amen.