This Sunday’s second reading (2 Corinthians 6:1-13) is a rich exhortation to seize the incredible opportunity of grace. God blesses us. God “graces” us. God invites us into relationship, and eternal life begins already deep in our souls. And, there is no time to waste. “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”(verse 2). How can we waste time when we, with the same St. Paul (Philippians 3:8), “regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord”?
Now, St. Augustine tells us that "God created us without us; but he will not save us without us”. We will not fully enter into this relationship with God without wanting it, and without loving one anther. We must respond to the divine initiative by opening our hearts—to God in desire and to one another, God’s children.
St. Paul is acutely aware of these demands of divine love and spends himself in response:
As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights…
St. Paul is able to do this because he knows that, in Christ, he is safe and he has all that he needs—and then some! Indeed, the distance between what others think of him (and his band of disciples) and what he knows to be true is striking:
We are treated as dying, and see, we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
“Do we daily seek “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (verse 1) by expressing great desire and, inseparably, by reaching out to those around us? St. Paul movingly beseeches, “I speak as to children—open wide your hearts” (verse 12).
With you, trusting in the grace to love,
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds that “becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”. This rich metaphor helps us to understand that the kingdom of God is not as we may sometimes think: simply a place or a way of life. I often say this—perhaps, with annoying repetition. But, it is true! The kingdom of God is the King reigning, Jesus loving, and inviting and welcoming us (in)to everlasting life.
In speaking of this great shrub that is the kingdom of God, St. Jerome (+420) says that “the boughs which it puts forth are those of mercy and compassion.” The gracious welcome by Jesus, the King, to everlasting life is wide and large. There is room for all of us birds, birds of every species, to rest safely, to build a nest, on the boughs of mercy and compassion.
If Christ’s welcome of us is wide and large, how ought we to welcome one another? “Love one another as I love you” (John 13:34) can be translated “Welcome one another as I welcome you. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the quality of our hospitality with respect to one another directly impacts the quality of our relationship with Christ. Those around us in the pews are not pious décor. They are sisters and brothers who, by virtue of such a bond, have a “right” to my heart. Let us bear this in mind. Indeed, may the Holy Spirit continue to teach us how to open our hearts. And, may this openness of heart be manifest: greeting the new person at church, volunteering for a church event, visiting someone in need, smiling at the cashier at the grocery store, spending quality time with a loved one, or myriad other ways. Let us rest assured as we seek to grow in divine love that, as Jesus promises (John 14:26), “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything”.
Yours in the same Spirit,
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus encounters scribes come from Jerusalem who make the surprising accusation that he is demonically possessed. Who would have thought? Apparently, they did! In response, Jesus cleverly underscores the incoherence of such an accusation: he cannot expel demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. And, he famously says,
"If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand."
Oh, how Jesus desires unity, how Jesus desires our unity as a parish community. He beseeches it of the Father thrice in his intimate priestly prayer in John 17 (verses 11, 21 and 23). Unity follows love. Our unity thus depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in us and upon our response in faith, hope and love to such work. We respond in seeking to love another. Indeed, St. John tells us that“no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12).
As we seek to love one another and to live in unity, we can get wounded along the way—by one another, by others in the complex world in which we live. Our response to the work of the Holy Spirit in us thus necessarily includes a willingness to forgive. Let us hear and heed the words of St. Paul in this regard
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgives you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
(Colossians 3: 13-14)
Yours in Christ,
From the desk of the Rector