Wednesday, April 30, 2014

He opened to us the Scriptures

Reflections on the Readings

Third Sunday of Easter - May 4, 2014 - Year A

He opened to us the Scriptures

They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"

I love the scriptures. Growing up in the Pentecostal church I breathed air saturated with great preaching and teaching based on the holy scriptures. My mother and father read the Bible and they taught me how to love it too. When my pastor invited me at the ripe old age of 13 to preach my first sermon, I searched the scriptures for what I should share. My first text was Psalm127:1,

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain, Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

Back then I used the King James Version. And verses that I memorized then I still can quote almost verbatim. Why? Because I was taught to 'hide God's word in my heart, that I might not sin against him.' (Psalm 119:11) As a young person I found help and assistance in Psalm119:9 that asked, "How can a young man keep his way pure?" That was the kind of question I had as a young Christian wanting to be pure in mind, heart, and body. So how can anyone at any age keep his way pure? The second part of that verse has the answer: "By guarding it according to thy word."

We find our delight in the 'law of the Lord', and meditating day night on that rich storehouse of God's word we discover that it is indeed alive with the breath of God. (2 Timothy 3:16) As we contemplate the scriptures we become 'like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season.' Then the Psalmist explains, "In all that he does, he prospers."(Psalm 1:1-4)

Recently Pope Francis distributed to a Wednesday audience at the Vatican personal copies of the four Gospels. In doing so the Pope asked the faithful to read a little bit each day from the great stories about Jesus in the Gospels. Oral Roberts, a healing evangelist of recent memory did something extraordinary before he began the ministry God was calling him to do. To become completely familiar with Jesus whom he believed came to save and to heal, Oral read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles through three times on his knees over the space of 30 days. Then in imitation of the Lord, Oral went all over the world preaching that Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever! And thousands upon thousands came to know the Jesus who saves and heals!

Cleopas and his companion walked in darkness of mind and heart. Then Jesus joined them on their journey to Emmaus. Even though Jesus was walking right beside them, they did not recognize him. Hearing their bewilderment about the events of the last few days, Jesus scolds them saying, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus interprets for them all the scriptures concerning himself. Literally, the scriptures became a light shining on all their bewilderment and fears helping them to understand from the scriptures all that Jesus endured for the salvation of the world.

Jesus used the scriptures when he encountered the devil in his temptations in the the wilderness. Three times Jesus responded to Satan with scripture, saying, "It is written…" Paul defended the resurrection saying that it was based on scripture: 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4)

Jesus shows us how to use scripture to make our prayers and to resist the devil and Paul shows us that Christ's death, burial, and resurrection have a firm foundation based in scripture. Paul used the same scriptures Jesus used - Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets.

Do you know your Bible? The scriptures still shed light on our journey of faith and they still give holy heartburn to all who will read them. In the scriptures you will meet friends in high places; a family of faith that surrounds us now with their love and their prayers. And it is through the scriptures we learn more and more about Christ. For we know him first in the scriptures as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the the world. Then with eyes and hearts made new by scripture we recognize him on our altars in the breaking of the bread.  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: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

His Great Mercy

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday of Easter - April 27, 2014 - Year A

His Great Mercy

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. (1 Peter 1:3-4)

No body enjoys being around a grump. Any grump. Especially grumpy Christians. If faith in Jesus Christ as advertised by some of his people were taken at face value I'm afraid folks would not think much of Jesus. Pope Francis himself worries about "Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter."

But really. What's gained by appearing as if we're always returning from a funeral? The first Christians enjoyed each other's company and 'breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.' Glad and generous hearts! How about that? They had the joy of the Spirit way down deep in their hearts. And it bubbled over in kinship and fellowship around the apostles' teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers. 

Who knew that being a Christian and going to Church could be so much fun? Apparently a lot of people got caught up in these Christian's joy because the 'Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' There's nothing more contagious than meeting folks who have the real stuff and show it and share it. You know how, right? Make a friend, be a friend, bring your friend to Christ! There was not a theology major in all the rank and file of those who claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord. Fisherman, tax collectors, women and men of high and low estate, all forgiven, loved, and filled with unspeakable joy! All because of His great mercy!

Advertise that! Say to someone that you were once lost in sin, but Jesus took you in, and then a little heaven filled your heart. Tell someone how you found mercy at the throne of Grace and that the Father above looked down in love and lifted you from the miry clay. Tell that. Shout it if you like. Say with a heart that means it, "It's all because of His great mercy!

And if that is not enough to set your heart on fire then stand by Thomas. That's right. Jump right into that scene of extraordinary power gazing right at Jesus regal in resurrection strength even though the mystery of the holes in his hands and feet and side remained. Thomas, overcome with joy exclaims, "My Lord, and My God!" Indeed! 

Thomas' joy is our joy. As Peter reminds us today, "Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy." And our joy in Christ is sustained by the assurance that the best is yet to be. The glass is not half empty, there's room for more. For by his great mercy we have a living hope! Our future is as bright as the brilliance that filled that first Easter tomb. That same light of Christ will lead us home and reveal to us our inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading! 

I remember when my mother went home to be with the Lord. Lou Gehrig's disease ravished my mother's body but it never diminished her faith. Just before she passed I prayed asking the Lord to either heal her or take her home. A couple of days before she left us I had a dream. In my dream I saw my mother dressed in white ascending into the heavens. I drew near her in my dream and I remember almost not recognizing her, because she looked so new, imperishable and unfading! Sometime on Sunday morning, July 16, 1995, my mother left this world filled with the Easter promise that the dead in Christ shall rise first! And by His great mercy we shall be caught up with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 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: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Come, See the Place where He Lay!

Reflections on the Readings

Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil - April 19, 2014 - Year A

But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." - Mathew 28:5-6

Come, See the Place where He Lay!

My mother's name is Mary. On July 16, 1995, my mother left us and our embrace filled with Easter hope. Four women (five, if you allow me to add my mother's name to the list) share the name Mary in the story of the Empty Tomb: Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, the mother of James and Joses; and Mary, the wife of Clopas. In addition, there is Joanna, the household manager of Herod Antipas, and Salome, possibly the mother of the apostles, James and John. Like these women who share the distinction of being the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, it was a woman, my mother, who first told me about Jesus Christ, Crucified, Buried, Risen and Ascended. The place of mothers in the faith formation of their children is priceless. We see this maternal influence in Timothy as well, a spiritual son of the Apostle Paul. In his second letter to Timothy he says, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice." (3:5)

As a young teenager I remember how I loved to watch NBA basketball on TV upon returning home from Sunday morning church and after Sunday dinner. One particular Sunday my mother made the observation that the sequence of changing from worship to NBA basketball seemed to be incongruous. Of course she was correct in her concern. After all it was the Lord's Day, not Wilt Chamberlain's.

Every Easter we hear the same angel give the same invitation, "Come, see the place where he lay." And then the angel asks, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; for he is risen as he said!" Then we hurry out of Church discussing where we are going to eat today. I wonder today if I truly stop long enough and gaze long enough on the mystery of my salvation. Do I truly come to see where the Lord lay and bask long enough in the light and power of His Resurrection? Does my heart burn with the knowledge of Jesus Christ victorious over death, hell, and the grave?

Don't forget that this is the story; it is our story. Boldly Peter preached, "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day…we ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." (Acts 10:39-41) The invitation for all these centuries is the same, to come and see where they lay him. Do I ever invite someone to come and see the place where they lay him? That is, do others see the joy of the Spirit in me; the wonder in my eye that says "He is Risen?" 

Our story is filled with faith and hope and charity; a threefold cord of God's lifeline to us that will not fail. Our story is about how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Our story is not a story of condemnation of you or me or anybody else but rather is a rousing indictment leveled at Lucifer. The slippery fingers of death could not keep Christ in the tomb nor can the slimy fingers of Satan keep you in his condemning grasp. That's the moving and compassionate truth of Christ who no longer occupies a tomb. On the third day he blazed through his burial garments. Then he made his bed before he left, folding the facial napkin and laying it down neatly in a place by itself. It was a borrowed tomb after all!

Some may go through this Easter Sunday like any other Sunday or any other day of the week for that matter. It'll be like a blink of an eye; a momentary recognition, "Oh, that's right. It's Easter Sunday." Or others may be like a call I took at customer service a few years back just before Christmas. The caller asked, "Is the Bank open tomorrow?" "Not tomorrow," I answered. "It's Christmas day and the Bank is closed." "What's that got to do with anything?" my caller retorted. Interestingly enough I've taken many calls ahead of Good Friday from folks inquiring if the Bank will be open on Good Friday. That cross on a hill far away still holds a wondrous attraction. 

I stand in the shadow of my mother's sense of the sacred. Her love for Jesus and her faith in him was indomitable. She lived with a faith in the risen Christ that inspires me yet to this day. And it will be that faith that was first in my mother, Mary, that will carry me through. How grateful I am that she like so many numberless thousands accepted the invitation to come and see the place where the Lord lay. And then she passed on the Good News to me and my siblings. 

Today we remember the urgent and joyful message of those first women who departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. On their way Jesus met the breathless women and said, "Hail!" C. H. Spurgeon spoke about this greeting of Jesus in a sermon he gave at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington (England) in 1882: 

That is, first, a word of salutation, as if He had said, "Welcome, Friends! Glad to see you, Friends! All hail, My Friends!" There is nothing cold and formal about that word—it seems full of the warmth of brotherly kindness and affectionate condescension. "All hail!" says our Lord to the women. "You are glad to see Me, and I am glad to see you. 'All hail!'" How much more sweet that sounds than that bitter sarcasm of the soldiers, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And yet it seems almost like an echo of it, as though Christ caught up the cruel word, crushed the bitterness out of it and then gave it back full of delicious sweetness to the holy women before Him. "All hail!" He says. "All hail!"

One more time they bow before him and bathe his feet with their joyful tears and worship him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

I urge you to also come, see the place where they lay him. Then, go and tell! 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: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:






Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Meditation on the Mystery of Christ and Our Salvation

Reflections on the Readings
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion - April 13, 2014 - Year A

A Meditation on the Mystery of Christ and
Our Salvation

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. - Philippians 2:6-9

The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Not once did the Master say, "What's in it for me?" For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might be made rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9) He left the splendor of heaven to seek and to save all who are lost, filled with the poverty of their sin, and stuff, and things.  

Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no where to lay his head. The religious authorities, however, questioned his integrity and choice of company. And the Pharisees and their scribes murmured against his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" And Jesus answered them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Mothers let their children run into his embrace. He picked them up and held them close. Sitting on his lap and around his feet he blessed them and in their dreams they giggled and danced on streets of gold and breathed the air of eternity.

Greatness? Not as this world measures greatness. Pointing to a child, Jesus says, "Truly, (that means, this is really important) I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:1-6) Jesus is talking to anyone who exploits our children as play things to be compromised and raped and pillaged of their childness! 

Jesus emptied himself. These profound words fill the imagination of everyone who call him Lord.

Jesus emptied himself and filled the darkened eyes of the blind with new vision. 

Jesus emptied himself and clothed the leper with new skin.

Jesus emptied himself and opened the closed up ears of the deaf.

Jesus emptied himself and said to the woman taken in the very act of adultery, "Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."

As we confess in the Creed, 'For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.'

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

"Sacrifices and offerings thou has not desired,
but a body hast thou prepared me;
in burn offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure.
Then I said, 'Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,'
as it is written of me in the roll of the book." (Hebrews 10:5-8) 

He who knew no sin, took his place among the outcasts and was obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And we preach Christ crucified. 
Foolishness? Folly? Neither. 

The preaching of the cross is the proclamation of the great power and love of God that saves those who believe.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" 
(Revelation 5:11-12)

John Donne died an Anglican priest. I close this Meditation on the Mystery of Christ and our Salvation with the last paragraph from his last sermon given in 1631 titled Death's Duel:

There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that kingdom which He hath prepared for you with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood. 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: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Spirit of Christ

Reflections on the Readings
Fifth Sunday of Lent - April 6, 2014 - Year A

The Spirit of Christ

But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. - Romans 8:9

In the story of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, we observe a deep and reciprocal friendship. John is careful to tell us that Mary's gratefulness to Jesus was once demonstrated in the form of pouring oil upon the feet of Jesus and wiping them dry with her hair. One feels very quickly these folks are profoundly in love with Jesus; the One who found them and brought them into his infinite love.

There is no greater joy than knowing and belonging to Christ. This is the fundamental reality of being a Christian. As the beloved Apostle Paul wrote, who spoke much about union with Christ, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) That is the mystery of the miracle of being touched by the Spirit of Christ. In Christ we discover a living love; a love that is alive with the power of an endless life. (Hebrews 7:16) 

In this holy season of grace, we ask to be more deeply united to the Spirit of Christ, to be filled with the joy of our salvation. Paul wrote, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4) Lent is a season of grace; grace that is greater than all of our sin and will bring us back to that Spirit of Christ in whom is our hope and our joy. Only in Christ are we truly alive and know who we are. And if we are in Christ, we have the hope of Glory; we are no longer overcome by evil; we have all we need in Jesus.

There are some questions we might want to consider in these remaining days of Lent. Do I pray each day to be animated by the Spirit of Christ? Do I know Christ as my life? Do I rejoice in the power of the Cross like Paul and Silas and all Christians have done since AD 33? Do I embrace the gospel of Christ and say with my life and my lifestyle, "I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith?" (Romans 1:16)

Let's remember what Paul says today. Those in the Flesh cannot please God! Flesh and Spirit talk might sound a little spooky, but keep reading. Filled with the Spirit of Christ we live in the friendship of Jesus. Living outside of Christ's friendship is to remain in the Flesh and enslaved to sin. So the most important thing we can want in this life is to be the best jar of clay we can be that ever was filled with the Spirit of Christ. For anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him! I want to belong to Jesus. I want Jesus to look over at me and say, "He's one of my friends!"

On the way to Damascus to continue his persecution of the Church, Paul met Jesus. He's the same Jesus I met at a Pentecostal altar in Huntingburg, Indiana when I was 9 years old. I bow before the same Lord in the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel. In the mornings I trace myself with the sign of the cross to remind me and the devil that I belong to Jesus. And at Mass he's the same Jesus I receive in word and bread.

In this Holy Lent, we desire to know Jesus better, more deeply, and more singularly. Personally, I want my relationship with Jesus to be heartfelt; a  passionate confession of my innermost self. I want to know Christ so richly that I can say freely, "Whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, righteousness that is from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-10) 

Just a short distance from the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus said to Martha, "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." This is not an empty promise. It's a promise that is pregnant with the power of him who called with a loud voice to his dear friend, Lazarus, "Come forth!" 

Let's make this even more personal. What about us? What about you and me? That was great for Lazarus, but what about us when the long shadow appears. Here's the promise: If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through the Spirit which dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)  


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: or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: