Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Have You Any Room For Jesus?

December 25, 2013 - Christmas at Midnight - Year A

Have You Any Room For  Jesus?

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Unknown in His own House

It's not like Joseph could have gotten online and booked a place ahead of time. There was no Yahoo or Google. No e-mail. No iPhone. No text messaging. All the instant communication we can't live without did not exist at that first Christmas. We don't give logistics a second thought because before we can imagine there's a problem we're already Googling for an answer. We book flights, and hotels, and dining out, online and receive instant text messages confirming our requests. And upon arrival at the terminal, or hotel, or restaurant, or Regal Cinema, we have authorization numbers and bar codes on our handy dandy SmartPhone and presto, we're in without any further questions. 

The journey was slow going for Mary and Joseph given that Mary was 'great with child.' Fellow travelers to Bethlehem had passed them up days ago. And now entering the ancient city of David as the sun set, Mary and Joseph began looking for a place to lay down for the night. Local cousins seemed more distant than they were from Nazareth. It seems that news of Mary's 'strange' pregnancy arrived before they did. Perhaps the local Inn would have a place for them to stay. Sold out. The proprietor was sorry and noticed Mary's tummy brimming with a new life inside. He thought for a moment and hesitantly said, "There is  a corner in the animal shed behind the Inn. I built it myself against a big rock so you will have plenty of privacy and protection from the night air. I can even prepare a fire for you to help keep you warm. The animals will stay behind the low fence separating you from them." The Inn keeper seemed genuinely wanting to help any way he could. 

Joseph looked at Mary who gave an approving nod. 

"Great! I'll bring some food out for you as well. Both of you look like you haven't eaten much in the last couple of days."

And thus began the reality and destiny of this Child's life - the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.

Like Us in Every Way - Except Sin

The evening ended with the warm lamb soup the Inn keeper provided. But close to midnight Mary knew that the time had come. She woke Joseph. He quickly arranged some hay in a feeding trough; no crib for this King's first bed. The minutes passed with great expectation; the air seemed alive in a different way. A local cat meandered closer and a dog followed his lead. The two cows in the stall chewed their cud and the camels knelt down in their regal and reverent posture. And Joseph beheld the handmaiden of the Lord with nervous wonder. In his heart he rehearsed the Angel's message: "You will name Him Jesus! For he shall save his people from their sins."  

Then Mary broke the silent night. Between contractions she whispered, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior." The months of ugly stares and bewildered faces, faded away. In a moment that marked their union, the strong and older hand of Joseph grasped Mary's hand. His strength, and character and faith washed over Mary's grateful heart as the second Adam descended into the birth canal. There was every reason to be fearful, but no fear gripped Mary's heart - that is no fear of a hopeless sort. Gabriel had said, "The Lord is with you." And that she believed with every contraction and with every push. 

Joseph sat at Mary's feet now. His eyes grew wide with wonder as the head crowned. "That last push means one or two more times, maybe three, and"...Then Mary whispered again, "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden and all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name."

There were no CNN or FOX News teams on hand. There were no pictures. Joseph and Mary carried in their hearts the knowledge that in the fulness of time, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. (Galatians 4:4) 

Asleep in a Feeding Trough

In the outlying area of Bethlehem there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. And the sky lit up and the glory of the Lord shone all around. It was a fearful sight. But the Angel of the Lord appeared to them and said, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

And all at once there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!" And with haste they went to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

As the second reading proclaims, the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, to set us free from Satan's power - good news indeed - tidings of comfort and joy! So the question remains, have you any room for Jesus? Is there room in your heart and in your home for Him? Let us today swing our heart's door widely open and let Him in today; let Him in to stay!

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Amen.

Merry Christmas!  

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Spirit of Christmas - 4th Sunday of Advent

Reflections on the Readings

December 22, 2013 - 4th Sunday of Advent - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins

The Spirit of Christmas

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 

A Mysterious Pregnancy

Here we are again. Another Season of Christmas is just a few days away and like last year the Christmas wars continue this year. Somewhere, someone doesn't think the signs and symbols of Christmas should go public. Others dismiss Christmas and the Holiday Spirit with a flat but firm, "Bah! Humbug!," meaning it's all a hoax. Still others, through no fault of their own, find the jubilation and warmth of the season overwhelming; it costs too much, and is too painful, and too burdensome, and for many, it is too depressing. It's for these for whom Christmas is so overwhelming we want to especially pray for so that they may be blessed with the true Gift and Spirit of Christmas to their everlasting happiness and joy. 

The Christmas story is a story worth telling again and gain. Any good story needs to told over and over. And Christmas is such a story. It's a story not everyone knows and we may need to hear it again for the first time. We need to listen one more time to the enduring Story and Mystery of Christmas which inspires the now familiar phrase 'the Reason for the Season'. And because it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas we hear the inspiring story retold in today's Gospel explaining that Mary, a young betrothed virgin, is pregnant. 

It happened like this. The house Joseph was building for his bride was nearly done and soon he would bring Mary to her new home. He always knew Mary to be prayerful and chaste. However, she came to Joseph one afternoon with urgent news. The news she broke to him was painful - painful because her pregnancy meant she belonged to someone else and according to Mary that Someone else was the Holy Spirit. Not willing to dismiss Mary as a farce or even worse as an infidel Joseph contemplates Mary's relationship with himself differently than he ever has before. He thinks about the many promises of the Law and the Prophets about a Savior and Redeemer and concludes that Mary is the spouse of Another for the salvation of the world. Since betrothal in his culture meant that one is married, only a quiet divorce could nullify his relationship with Mary and keep her safe. This he concluded would be his way to honor God and Mary's special destiny as she prepared to bring into the world from her blood and wrapped in her flesh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Do Not Fear the Mystery

Following his evening prayers, which was his custom, Joseph went to sleep with his prayerfully laid out plans firm in his heart. A just and godly man, Joseph pondered about the great mystery of God growing in Mary's womb just  before the shutters on his eyes closed. Not once in his pondering did he imagine that he would have anything else to do with Mary or with the promise of salvation now firmly planted in her womb. 

But as his eyes shut, an angel of the Lord visited his heart in a dream. Like another dreamer of his name's sake in Israel's history, this dream would also prove to be life changing. 

"Joseph, son of David!," the angel said almost loud enough to awake him. 

And then with a powerful whisper the angel continued, "Stop being afraid of God and of being Mary's husband and of what lies in her womb! Just as Mary told you, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus. Name him JESUS! For He will save his people from their sins." 

Embracing the Mystery

When Joseph woke up he did so with a new and invigorating desire to do what the angel had told him to do. After Mary, he is the first to encounter the Spirit of the first Christmas; the first of 2,000 Christmases to date. So washing his face and willing to face a future with faith and fidelity to all that God asked of him, Joseph went to Mary and told her all that the night had revealed to him. And with Mary he embraced the Mystery of the Spirit-Story that they would live out together.

Every Christmas we meet someone who says something about not being in the Christmas Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit of Christmas is something other than what we might think it is. Because it's not necessarily a particular feeling or a favorite holiday cappuccino or even a pungent aroma of homemade apple pie wafting through the house. Those things are fun and special in their own way, but they do not give us the true Spirt of Christmas. We are closer to the true Spirit of Christmas as we embrace the Mystery like Mary and Joseph did. The great and ever inspiring Mystery of Emmanuel, which means God with us! 

Spirit of Christmas descend upon us and tell to our hearts again the great story of God's Love veiled in flesh, even Jesus, our Emmanuel. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Wonders of His Love - 3rd Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2013 - 3rd Sunday of Advent - Year A

The Wonders of His Love

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Solitary Confinement

John's preaching was challenging. Too much so for Herod. Herod had John taken into custody and would have put him to death except for his fear of the people who held John to be a prophet. Instead he put him in solitary confinement. The charge? John had said to him, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife!" Straight preaching and certainly not politically correct. 

John had introduced Jesus to the multitudes at the Jordan River as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. It is John the Baptist who baptized Jesus and witnessed the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus like a dove. John said that Jesus must increase; and about himself he said, "I must decrease." 

Now in prison, John the Baptist felt his very life ebbing away; the end seemed perilously soon. Rumors had it that he would soon go to his grave without his head attached. Questions raced through his heart. News from the outside brought wonder and excitement yet John felt a slight pause; a 'what if' thundered in his head. He asked if he could see some of his closest associates. Ushered in under heavily armed guards they listened to their teacher's last request. "Go to Jesus and ask him this question for me: 'Are you he who is to come, or do we look for another?' " 

 A Sure Word

Wrapped in the darkness of the prison, John waited for the answer to his question. The days were dark and the nights were even darker. Familiar with the words of the prophets, he may have mused on Isaiah's hopeful and joyous words we have before us today. The prophet speaks of a new Eden. Isaiah promises that the very fabric of creation will put off its wildness and dryness and like the Rose of Sharon will blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. How will this be?  

The day Isaiah sees in the future is filled with the glory and majesty of the Lord. Everyone is to take inspiration from his words and begin to live with a new courage and hope: "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, fear not!'" Even the blind will see again and the deaf ears will hear and the lame shall leap like a deer. To all who live in fear and pain and anguish Isaiah proclaims: "Behold your God will come and save you!" 

Peter says we have a sure word of prophecy: "And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts." (2 Peter 2:19)

Peter explains that the prophecy of scripture is never a matter of one's own power, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 2:20, 21) And because this is so, we sense a joy that is the very essence of Christmas. For Christmas and all the mystery it holds for us and for our salvation came in fulfillment of many prophetic words. Those words of scripture are filled with the promise of God coming among the sons and daughters of the earth as their Savior and Friend! 


The Proof and More

What is the real reason John sent his disciples to ask Jesus his question? Is it because that he feared that he had been forgotten? Was it because the news dribbling into his prison cell of the great deeds of Jesus left him wondering about something? Maybe John wondered to himself and questioned why wouldn't Jesus do something miraculous for him. All John wished to do was to return to his preaching and living in the wilderness and eating his locusts dipped in wild honey. 

Then the door of his cell creaked open. His disciples had returned with vital information. John stood up to receive them and to hear what they had to say. His closest disciple, we'll call him Joshua, said, "Master, Jesus sent us back to tell you what we heard and saw. Master, the blind see. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor are among the first to hear the good news." 

Tears begin to stream down the weary face of the servant of God called John the Baptist. Looking into Joshua's eyes he knows that there is something else. 

"What is it, Joshua?"

"There's one more thing, Master. Jesus told us to tell you also blessed is he who takes no offense at me." 

And the greatest prophet in Israel since Elijah fell to his knees bathed in the wonders of the love of him he knew to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 

Friday, December 6, 2013

A New Heart for Christmas

Reflections on the Readings
December 8, 2013 
Second Sunday of Advent - Year A

A New Heart for Christmas

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."

To the east and southeast of Jerusalem, in the area of the Jordan Valley, a strange, yet compelling preacher drew great crowds. He dressed simply and ate sparsely; nothing about John the Baptist was meant to impress anyone nor did he crave attention or accolade. Burning within his heart was a word of hope and promise: The kingdom of heaven is at hand. God is coming near us! Repent and be ready to receive him!" 

Repent. We hear this word a lot. I heard it almost every service at the Pentecostal Church I grew up in. In that church revivals were mostly about preaching to save souls; to draw men and women, and boys and girls, to the knowledge that they should repent and receive their Savior, Jesus Christ. 

But what is repentance? What does it mean to repent? Why do we have times of penance in the the life of the Church? The Greek word for repent is metanoia. It means a change of mind, a change within our inner selves, as in conversion. Further, with that change comes a docile acceptance of the will of God. From time to time we need a little house cleaning; the room in our lives for God gets crowded with stuff and things and God has less space and time instead of all of our heart. 

Advent is a time of personal renewal and conversion of  heart and mind. And it has more to do with the presence of God in our lives than the presents we're buying to put under the tree. The commercialization of Christmas intrudes, if we let it, into this holy time of repentance. If we are to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is necessary to prepare our hearts and make room in our selves for him for whom there was no room in the inn. 

Let's put something really special at the top of our Christmas wish list. Let's ask for a new heart filled with his grace and forgiveness so that in our heart and life there is always room for Jesus. Amen! 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com  



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

There’s a Better Day Coming!

Reflections on the Readings
December 1, 2013 
First Sunday of Advent - Year A

There's a Better Day Coming!

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. (Matthew 24:36)

A Vision of the Future

The prophet Isaiah gives us an inspiring word. Pointing toward the future he reminds the people of God then and now of a glorious and hopeful future. It is a day in which the knowledge of the Lord is known far and wide. This passage fills the imagination of all who desire peace and justice to flourish. It gives us an invitation to seek something higher than our own self serving egos. 

Isaiah thunders with excitement: Come! Climb the mountain of the Lord and see the house of the God of Jacob. Early Christian exegetes saw this passage finding its fulfillment in the Church that Jesus loved and died for in the shedding of his own blood. For from the Church comes the message of divine invitation for all nations; for all tribes and clans; for every color of man to come and receive the powerful word of forgiveness in Christ.  

We need this word today. It implores us to imagine a future that is truly a new time. To wait in humble expectation that one day Christ himself will descend from heaven with a shout and with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God to herald in the day of the Lord. Is this too much to imagine? Is it too good to be true? My friend, if our faith is too small to see this future, let us pray that our faith increases. If our vision of the future is too dim, let us pray for new eyes. If our hope for the world and its existence tomorrow is weak, then let us pray that we will be more hopeful, more fervent in loving our world back to God!

Truly a better day is coming! Every one is called to be instruments of the peace this reading promises. We can begin by no longer fighting with one another in our homes and in our parishes. Let us fulfill the royal law of Christ and love one another. Maybe we can bend a little. Lay down our pride. Even tame our sharp tongue into an instrument of peace. We are brothers and sisters so let us work on being forgiving, and more cheerful, and greet each other with the love of Christ in our eyes.

The Virtue of Christ

Advent is a time to encounter Christ more deeply and personally. We usually get to know someone by being around them. Hanging out with them and doing things together helps in getting to know the other person. If it is someone you really want to know you make special plans and find ways to be with that special someone. And as that works out, you start showing up at her house and meet the family and get more acquainted with everyone and learn what matters to them. Do you think Christ is that someone special whom we should know better? Do you think you could do some special things and plan moments to hang out with him? And then you could also come to his House and meet the family and find out how to be more involved with these Christian folks and the work they do in the world.

The work of being the light of Christ is our work. It is what Christian folks do in the world. It is a world where reveling in the things that satisfy the flesh happen in abundance but do nothing for the soul. We are to reject that by making no opportunity to participate in such things. We are in the world, but we are not of the world. Dressed with the armor of light we shine with the love light of the world to come and invite sinners to come to the Light!

Some may ask why we say so much about the light and love of God. I've met those who prefer more 'hell fire and brimstone' preaching. Self appointed judges are not hard to find and their condemnation is not in short supply. But I'm of the opinion that we can push back the darkness. We can overcome the tyranny of darkness. As great beacons of light and love we can confront the darkness that wants to keep its prey. Let us put on Christ and proclaim to those captives of darkness the promise of a new life and a better day in the name of Jesus! 

Vigilant to the End

Noah was a preacher of the good things of God. He gave a gracious warning to his contemporaries of God's desire to start over. Noah lived in a world where things were going wrong. The imagination of people's hearts was only evil continually. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. And God appointed him to invite his family and friends to get on his boat and ride it into a better tomorrow. 

Noah was vigilant to the very end. He personally invited everyone not to miss their opportunity. Everyone was told in plenty of time to leave their old ways behind and come to safety in the Ark. But the carousing and careless ways of living continued until the very day Noah entered the Ark. 

And then the rains fell and the fountains of the deep broke open and "they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away." Only eight souls believed the promise of a better day and boarded the Ark. We also must be busy like Noah was and invite everyone to come into the safety of the Church. Here is where folks can come and leave behind their old ways. Here is where Christ can be met and his love found and received. Just think what a difference you might make in the life of someone not aware of the bountiful grace and love in Christ and his Church. 

We are to be vigilant to the very end; until Jesus comes again. As long as the sun rises each morning we have an opportunity to help someone find Christ and his Church. It is here everyone is welcome to enter the waters of baptism and be forgiven and to put on Christ. In the Church of His Love Christ receives sinners and still eats with them. For all who live in Christ's love a better day has already begun! Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Mount Calvary

Reflections on the Readings
    November 24, 2013 
Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - Year C


Mount Calvary

For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19, 20)

On a Hill Far Away

I heard a lot of preaching while growing up. And there was great emphasis on the Cross in that preaching. "Jesus died for you, and you, and you!" is a fair recounting of a typical sermon meant to persuade the wayward to embrace Jesus and his salvation. But we did not hang a crucifix in our church. That would have been considered a denial of the resurrection of Jesus. I heard it many times: "Jesus did not stay on the Cross. He isn't dead. He's alive and there's an empty Cross and an empty Tomb! Our Jesus didn't stay on the Cross!" That sentiment was frequently in reference to the Catholic parish in town. 

We surely know that a crucifix is not a denial of the resurrection of Jesus. Far better is the understanding that a crucifix reminds us of a time and place when for us men and for our salvation, Jesus died for us. A popular Christian song reminds us of a hill far away, where there stood an old rugged cross; the emblem of suffering and shame. That moving song continues:

O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained by blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.

So a crucifix is really a very powerful reminder of God's love for us. And the words of that song describe the Cross in the beauty of earthly language the indescribable beauty of Love's precious blood redeeming the world. On a violent Friday afternoon the Prince of Peace reconciled us to the Father; making peace by the blood of his Cross.

The Preaching of the Cross

It is the Apostle Paul who makes the preaching of the Cross central to his preaching and writing. Among the first Christians in Corinth Paul made Jesus Christ, and him crucified, his first, middle, and last point. He did this with one purpose in mind. He wanted their faith to rest in the power of God. For in Paul's preaching, the message of Jesus Christ crucified was a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The factions centering on their favorite priest like Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul, were missing the point. Christ, and him alone, suffered, died, and then rose again in a powerful display of God's affection for us.

The preaching of the Cross is still the central understanding of the Good News; that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. It is the very blood of Jesus, that washes whiter than snow, and brings the world together under the banner of the Father's love. Upon Mount Calvary every injustice, every brokenness, every unlovely and loveless moment in the history of Adam's family finds redeeming Love. The very blood of Christ is an ocean of healing and peace for the life of the world. 

The most eloquent erudition of this understanding exists in the revered Book of Hebrews of the New Testament. In Hebrews chapter 9, the writer contrasts the blood of bulls and goats of the Old Testament purification ritual with the blood of Christ. 

For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with
the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes
of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh,
how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through
the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,
purify your conscience from dead works 
to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14) 

After this, Christ sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Grace is not cheap, nor is his Peace for sale. But Jesus pours into our hearts the healing balm of his blood and there is peace. Alleluia, there is peace. Preach that. Testify of that Love; that Love, the depths of which have never been measured! Preach it! Tell it! Announce it from the house tops, and tell everyone you know that: 

There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins; And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. 
(William Cowper)

Scoffers and Nay-Sayers

In the beginning of his ministry Jesus first retreated in prayer. Immediately Satan challenged him saying, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread." On Mount Calvary the rulers also scoffed at our Lord. On that Friday afternoon those same familiar words pierced the air with contempt: "He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 

The soldiers also mocked him. They offered him a cheap drink of vinegar and taunted him saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" And Luke tells us that there was an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews." It was also meant to discredit the man hanging on the Cross. Then lastly, one of the criminals who also was on his own cross challenged Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 

But the other criminal displayed more faith; more humility. He saw his sentence as just - "But this man," he said, "has done nothing wrong." 

He alone does not mock, challenge, nor scoff. He sees Christ as his Savior, and begs for mercy. His prayer is second to none, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." This criminal is the first trophy of the blood of his Cross as Jesus assures this repentant thief, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

I remember a time many years ago when some of the historic denominations were excising hymns with references to the blood of Jesus from their hymnals. It seemed too messy. Too brutal for the sophisticated folks. Besides it was argued that God was dead. We enlightened ones knew better and could do better without bothering ourselves with ritual and sacrifice and reconciliation with God. But there is no bloodless Cross. There is no Peace of Christ without the shedding of blood. Indeed we were ransomed from our inherited sin, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18, 19)

On a hill faraway called Mount Calvary, we remember a King who kissed the earth with his blood and gave us His peace. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com 


Friday, November 15, 2013

Living in the End of the Age

Reflections on the Readings
November 17, 2013 
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Living in the End of the Age

"But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict." - Jesus

The Sky is Falling!

I've heard my share of doomsday preaching! As a child squirming in the old slat pews at the Full Gospel Tabernacle I heard hell preached hot, and that the end was near. There's nothing wrong knowing that hell is not a vacation destination, but on a hot summer night during Revival Meetings, it was not hard to imagine how hot hell was given we had no air conditioning in the Tabernacle. That fact provided a built in prop to support the message! 

I also vividly remember when I seriously wondered to my self if time would run out before I could get married. I must have been 12 or 13 at the time. I did carry in my memory bank an intense memory about some over zealous Pentecostals who predicted the exact day that the world would come to an end. They camped out at the Marengo caves in southern Indiana waiting for the 'end.' I guess they thought Jesus could find them and take them home from there. That memory is sealed forever in the mind and emotions of a little 6 year old. I remember going outside on that predetermined date on that already hot summer morning. It seemed to me that the sunshine was a hazy orange on that hot and humid morning - it was almost eerie. Eventually that summer Brother Ted and his family and those who where with them went back to their homes and jobs and life went on. But as for this little boy now 58 years old, I will never forget that!

Maybe that's why I have little patience for anyone of any denominational or church stripe whose perceived calling is to scare the hibbie jibbies out of people; whose message is mostly that the sky is falling; predicting or imagine that they know how every piece of the end time puzzle will fit together. Maybe it's because I know better, and believe Jesus who told his Apostles, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority." (Acts 1:7) 

Now, but not Yet!

I believe in the second coming of Christ and the fulness of the Kingdom. We live both in this world and in the promise of the world to come. It's absolutely true that we have here no permanent city. In today's gospel Jesus warns to not be led astray. I take that to mean that we are to keep our eye on the goal. Don't be distracted by the distractions. Many deceptions are out there. Some will announce themselves as the Christ. Others will say that the end is at hand; that the time is at hand, meaning it's over. Don't believe that crap. And don't be terrified. The end is not yet.

Recall the early centuries of the Church. Horrendous persecution inflicted the cause of Christ and his Church. The Roman Emperors saw the Christians as a threat - especially their King. I can imagine that those early believers prayed often and hoped deeply for the soon return of Christ. That is a good and necessary prayer in any generation. For every generation since the Ascension lives in the tension of this age and of the age to come. It is for us during this age to live for Christ and to proclaim his life and love. We are witnesses of the blessed hope that Christ gives. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the same Lord, Jesus Christ for all of time as long as time shall endure. 

In today's Gospel we hear that the Temple will not last forever. It's demise actually was a 'sign' that Jesus predicted. When it fell under the Roman forces in A.D. 70, led by Titus, that event meant the end of the centrality of the Temple. Jesus taught that true worship was in the Spirit. That's why the priest invites us to 'lift up our hearts.' And we respond as people of the Spirit, "We lift them up to the Lord." In the celebration of the Mass we truly experience a foretaste of when time shall be no more. And that's not scary, is it? Nope!

The Crux of the Matter

Jesus invites us to be faithful. His words are meant to encourage us. He knows that we will have trials and tribulations. Not everyone will always speak well of us. Read the headlines. Some do not think that the Church matters nor is it very progressive some complain. But no matter where the opposition comes from, we must live in the power of the age to come. Our life in the Spirit comes from having tasted the heavenly gift; we are partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the word of God. Lofty words from the writer to the Hebrews and what he thought about Christians and how they are sustained in this age. 

And when we are called upon to give an account of our allegiance to Jesus, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. For that is our destiny. To be submissive to the Holy Spirit and to go and do and say what he puts in our heart. That is the crux of the matter - the decisive and most important reality of our time in time. 

Jesus teaches us through the Gospel today that fear is not our destiny. Faith, hope, and love adorn the life of the believer. This is the wardrobe of the Christian. So let us settle it in our minds that always and for as long as there shall be time to willingly bear testimony to the love of Jesus. For the word or deed Jesus gives us to do for a testimony of his love will be powerful. "I will give you a mouth," says Jesus. And if the response is hatred and maltreatment because of our speaking and acting in Christ's name, not a hair of your head will perish. Our endurance, our faithfulness to Christ will bring us deeper into His life. For He whom we serve is the sun of Justice. He will rise like an eagle and spread his wings of healing over the nations, until he makes all things new. This is the missing piece, the center piece if you will, of the end time puzzle most often neglected by those who have endless speculation about the end. Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com  

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Reflections on the Readings

November 10, 2013 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

Jesus said to them, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are counted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.

Going to the Chapel and Gonna Get Married

In a few days my nephew, Jonathan, and his finance, Deanna, will enter into Holy Matrimony. Jonathan's mother, Rachel, my sister, and her husband, Dr. Mark, will see their family circle enlarge. About five years ago we witnessed the wedding of our son, Timothy, and his bride, Kristin. Our family circle got bigger too. It was an incredible time. I wished at the time that the evening would never end. That's as it should be and as it is. Timothy and Kristin live each day as Jonathan and Deanna will, out of the hallowed memory of saying "I do."

After my mother passed, I never saw my daddy express any interest in marrying again. Too soon he had said goodbye to his bride. Their union brought six children into the world. I was the oldest and remember vividly at least three miscarriages. I saw my parents live out their marriage to each other with fidelity and love. It was easy, as a very small lad, to think that this was the norm; that everyone lived in a home where moms and dads cherished each other and the children they brought into the world. Like the song says, Spring is here, the sky is blue. Whooooa! the birds all sing as if they knew. Today's the day we'll say, "I do" and we'll never be lonely anymore. 

But that's not absolutely true - never being lonely again. My mom died at age 60. My mother-in-law passed at age 48. Daddy breathed his last at age 75. And my father-in-law lived to be 85. As I write, his second wife, Agnes, is very ill. The family circle that Debbie and I each married into has shrunk a bit. These are folks we ate with, hugged, and bought Christmas presents for who no longer gather at our family celebrations and sit at our holiday table.

The Sadducees ask a silly question. It's silly on its surface at least. Seven brothers in succession have the same wife. After they all die, the widow also dies leaving no children. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? That's the question the Sadducees speculate will trip Jesus up and put to an end all of this preaching about immortality.

The Memories Never Die

The memories of almost six decades fill me as I share with you my thoughts. Included on the sacred screen of my heart are the prayers, and songs, laughter, tears, and good times and other times. When I'm lonely they comfort me; by that I mean the comforting smile of my mother and words I remember she said to me. Then there is something that daddy said that comes back just when I need it. Somehow I believe that these loved ones whom I cherish, I will see again. That's my hope. 

I have a child-like belief that the loved ones in my life never died. I find myself standing beside Martha. Looking up into her face, I watch her absorb the message of Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this Martha?"

The memories that feed the heart in old age are made out of love. It's the love we encountered as little children sitting on grandpa's lap. A caring and gifted teacher imparting the joy of learning also have a place in the tapestry of our memories. Special moments, family dinners, Sunday singings, evening prayers, are encoded in our personal data bank. And when we go the the Father, I don't believe for a moment that he will dismiss any of these precious memories we bring with us that have their genesis in love. When by grace we walk by the still waters, Love will lead us into green pastures, and Love will restore our soul.

The Age to Come

Satan wants us to believe that there is nothing to look forward to after this life. Jesus counters that saying, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Sons and daughters of the resurrection we'll be - never again to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In the age to come the Father will embrace us in eternal kinship. The embrace of Eternal Love will bathe our natural bodies with spiritual life. And all who have died in faith, and especially those who showed us the way to the Father, we will know and love. No one will outlive another. There will be no more sad goodbyes. Those we loved well and rightly in this age, we will love well and rightly there. I will know you, and you will know me. Love will greet us at the door of eternity and assure us that nothing is broken or incomplete anymore. There is no more sorrow - and no tears stain the streets of that City. There are no funeral homes - death is swallowed up in victory - Christ in his fulness in his people - the Family Circle of Faith complete! Amen.

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com   




Friday, November 1, 2013

Mercy Found Me

Reflections on the Readings
November 3, 2013 - 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Mercy Found Me

And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he made haste and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it they all murmured, "He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner."

Pondering the Mystery of Mercy

Today we ponder more deeply the mystery of our redemption. The more we think upon it, the more we realize the multifaceted splendor of God's love for us. One facet of this unending mystery is the mission of mercy God embraces - not for himself - but for us. It is He who seeks us; searching for and finding the lost. Mercy is not static but dynamic. We see this truth about our Savior. Jesus is not willing that any should perish. His concern for our well being is deep in his heart. This well being is not simply a better feeling, but it is a better life - a life that is God's Spirit in us welling up like a spring of living water. Such mercy should be announced with all the enthusiasm we can harness. There is no greater wonder. No greater kindness has ever been known. Get this. From the realms of unapproachable light, a light of inestimable mercy comes into our world to seek and to save us. Not to overcome and to dominate, but to embrace us and to whisper into our hearts his undying love. That is the majesty of the mercy we receive from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Is it something we should know better, appreciate more? You bet. None of this mercy business should be taken lightly. We ought to approach the whole notion of being Christian with a lot more zeal. A lot more intentional effort. And a whole lot more understanding. Without that mercy we are lost and undone, without God and His Son in our life. That's hell. And multitudes are living below this mercy. The millions who profess themselves to be Christian too often take God's mercy for granted. Starting right now, do you agree with me, that from this moment forward we will be more thankful that grace and mercy found us? That we will pray that more will join us in pondering the mystery of mercy? Good! 

We're Always on his Mind

In the the First Reading we hear that God is a lover of souls. That's an infinitely moving understanding of the character of God. It is His imperishable spirit that we breathe. We live and move and owe our very existence to Him. This is why we value the gift of life. It is life that is God given. He made us, and not we ourselves. We embrace life in all of its imperfections. This is why we do not believe in such things as assisted suicide or in the taking of the innocent life in the womb. All life, with all its quirks or missing parts, or non-working parts, all life is God's gift for all of us to cherish. Each one of us have God as our Creator. All are the object of his love and mercy. We're always on his mind. His thoughts for us and toward us are full of mercy for us. 

He does not abandon us, but rather he looks us up, reminds us gently that we are not yet who we ought to be. He gathers us up in his arms and bathes us in his mercy. It is not possible to speak too much of this. Nor do we have the vocabulary we would wish to have when speaking of things that come from the very heart of God. As we hear in the First Reading: Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from the balance or a drop of morning dew come down from earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent. God is not willing that we should somehow go through this life and not know of his kindness and mercy to the children of Adam. 

The Mission of Mercy

Yes, mercy, God's redeeming mercy is here. Seeking us. Finding us in all of our awkwardness and shame. Today he seeks us. He does not abandon his own. Every one is precious in His sight. When we begin to see ourselves and others through this lens of mercy we too will have an irresistible hope that all the lost will be found. For the life of me, I really don't understand those in today's Gospel who showed disgust that Jesus went home with a sinner. Let us not forget, when we go home today from this Holy Place, we will go home with the Body and Blood of Christ in us - because He wants to go home with us today. Take him home with you and everywhere you go this week. For today mercy has found you once again, and the great salvation of God has come to your house. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com   

Friday, October 25, 2013

Spiritual Snobbery

Reflections on the Readings
October 27, 2013 - 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Spiritual Snobbery

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' (Luke 18:11, 12)

Beating our own Drum

This Pharisee has some qualities that might make him a welcomed member of any parish or congregation. People don't call him a cheater. And he's a faithful husband and family man. Neither does he tip the scales in his favor - equal justice across the board. Who wouldn't want this man sitting on the front row on Sunday morning? When the offering plate comes around, he faithfully supports the ministry of his local Synagogue by giving tithes of all that he earns. Wow! And his prayer life is worthy of imitation; fasting twice a week just like the Rabbi teaches. This Pharisee doesn't have a spot on him. 

Well, almost no spot. Did I fail to mention that he's a spiritual snob? That's right. While he does all of these good things he looks down his nose at everyone else while standing before God beating his own drum. It's a holier-than-thou attitude that all of us have to guard against. I've met Catholics who are more Catholic than the Pope. And then I've met Protestants who didn't believe for a minute that there is truly a Christian Catholic. Even when I was growing up in the Pentecostal church there were folks who believed themselves to be more Pentecostal, more holy, more spiritual than other Pentecostals - and certainly saw themselves more in touch with God than their brothers and sisters in the main line denominations. But is God looking for braggarts or beggars? Does the Father look more favorably on those who beat their own drum or on those who strike their breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner?"

The Confiteor - The Way of Humilty

We often begin Mass with the Confiteor - that is, a confession. It's a good way to pray about any venial hindrances such as a haughty attitude or self rewarding thoughts. The word confiteor means: I confess. Here's that prayer: 

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
[All strike their breast]
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Striking the breast recalls the tax collector in today's Gospel. It puts the worshipper in a more humble frame of mind. This simple act is a profound reminder that even in my Sunday best, I've not always been who I'm supposed to be. So it's mercy, and lots of it that I need. In that moment I leave behind my spiritual snobbiness and remember that you and I stand together on level ground at the foot of the cross. The Pharisee left his prayers the way he came - full of himself. This confession helps me to leave my worship time on Sunday with less of me and more of Jesus. And that means going into the new week as a better witness and evangelizer.

The Christian Act of Libation

In today's second reading, Paul writes of the culmination of his life and ministry. The end is near. And his final moment will be one last effort to give himself, his life's blood for the sake of the kingdom. He's fought a good fight. He's stayed on course and the race is almost finished. The winner's circle is in view. His faith is now at its highest fervency. He sees his approaching martyrdom as a libation; a worshipful act of pouring out his blood for the furtherance of the message in its fulness. He has no desire to take anything with him; he will leave it all on the field.

Football is big here in Knoxville. Our team is in the SEC and some of the best football and basketball in the country is played in the SEC. One of the things I continually hear from Coach Butch Jones and his staff is how they want everyone on the Team to leave it on the field. They want every player to reach down in the middle of his belly and leave his heart out there on the field. Isn't that what we are supposed to do as Christians? We who live in the service of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords have a destiny that is infinitely bigger than any SEC contest. I know that may be a stretch for some, but I'm going to stick to it anyway. Doesn't Jesus ask us to leave no effort undone, no love unspent, no prayer not prayed? Have all the hungry been fed? Have all the thirsty had a drink? Have all the prisoners heard of the freedom in Christ? When we come to the end of our lives don't we want to say like Paul that we're ready to leave it all on the field as an act of Christian love and sacrifice? Until our last breath we are called to be a spiritual libation of self-giving for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of souls.  

Not all of us are called to martyrdom. But all of us are called to live in the deepness of our faith. All of us are called to let the Holy Spirit lead us every day in a way of life that can only be described as Christian libation. A pouring out of ourselves with every effort and word and deed to make Christ known. We don't have time for the pettiness of spiritual superiority. Spiritual snobbery and arrogance is not the way of Christ. Embracing the true meaning of Christian humility is to bear one another's burden; seeing the other better than ourself. That takes away living for an agenda to living for a higher cause. Following Christ means taking to heart his way - loving with a life poured out not for our selves but for our families and friends. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. We can grow closer to Christ and to each other on our knees. And if we arrive at heaven's gates still on our knees, then a reward awaits us - a crown of righteousness. Now to him who humbled himself and loved us for love's sake be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN.  Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: dennishankins@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com