Saturday, January 19, 2019

2019/01/20 - Christian Unity

* Note: Readings are not the standard readings for the week.  Scroll down below homily for the readings. *
I need to warn you, today's readings are NOT in the books.  We were encouraged to offer a Mass for Christian Unity this weekend, so the readings are completely different.  That’s exciting, actually, because some of these readings you may never have heard before – especially the first reading from Ezekiel – he uses some great imagery – but you might need just a bit of back-story for it to really make sense.
You may remember that King Solomon as wise– but you may not remember that in his later years as King, he did some pretty stupid stuff… so bad in fact, that Israel split into two countries – there was Israel in the north, made up of 10 of the 12 tribes – and Judah in the south – made up of the other two tribes.  This division was not from God – it was because of human weakness – and in our reading, we’ll hear God promise to remove that division.
This is symbolic of the Christian unity we're praying for today.

Imagine if your greatest enemy became your friend… impossible?

I love that story from Ezekiel – those two sticks represented the kingdom of Israel which was split into two – and God promised to bring them back together.  It was a division that never should have happened – it was due to human failings that the tribes became enemies in the first place.  But divisions are not of God… so God promised to remove that division.

So it is with ANY divisions we create among ourselves.  Any time it’s us vs them, we are not of God – Dubois vs Celestine, democrats vs republicans, Catholic vs Protestant, even Christian vs Islam… divisions are not of God.  Yet – how can God possibly remove these barriers between us?

A wise man once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.”  Let that sink in - “Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

That wise man, whom we celebrate in this nation tomorrow, Martin Luther King Jr, saw the injustice and harm to society that came from divisions.  He saw that these divisions were not from God and therefore these enemies were like two sticks which God would bring back together – but not without a struggle.  Humans have a hard time giving up prejudices with which we were raised.  Besides that, we all have experiences in our lives which TEACH us to distrust “them” – whichever group we blame for the current ills of society.  In the 30’s in Germany it was the Jews.. in Mexico 100 years ago – and even in this country – the Catholics were the enemy.  Today ‘they’ might be the muslims or the Mexicans or for some people sitting here today ‘they’ might still be blacks.  We learn these divisions from our culture, our parents, or from personal experience.  Once those wounds are inflicted, it becomes hard – almost impossible for enemies to become friends. 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming enemies into friends.” 

Love is of God – and anytime we allow Love to enter into a relationship, God can transform ANY relationship into friendship.

The same holds true for our religious differences.  Any divisions are not of God.  This country is still primarily Christian, but the numbers are dropping fast.  Part of the reason for that is the in-fighting among Christians.  When we don’t have a common message of Love to take to the world, the world will turn away.  Christ prayed that we would all be ‘one’.  But again, human failings – this time among Christians – splintered the body of Christ.  The two biggest splits came between east and west 1000 years ago – and then in the reformation 500 years ago.  Inside of that, we can find stories of individuals who decided they knew better than the Church – like maybe they wanted to marry someone and the Church said ‘no’ – so they started their own church… creating yet another division.  Over 30 thousands divisions of Christianity in this country alone…

Divisions are not of God.

Even in our own community, there are several divisions of Christians – many of which have walked away from the Catholic Church for one reason or another.  What’s really alarming is the number of un-churched people now in our area.  Somehow, even though we are here – we have not been the light on the hill drawing all people to Christ.  How can this be? 

Perhaps it’s our divisions.  Why belong to Christianity when Christians can’t even agree on what they believe?

Divisions are not of God.

Today we pray specifically that Jesus’ prayer be fulfilled – that we would all be one.  We pray that the Spirit would reach into the hearts of all Christian leaders to work toward unity.  There’s actually been amazing progress made already – just a few years ago, the Lutherans and Catholics signed a document which ended the disputes over Sola Fide – salvation through faith alone – coming to a common understanding and ending 500 years of fighting about it.  There are still other differences that separate us – and they may ‘seem’ impossible to overcome – but so was Sola Fide!  The Holy Spirit can do it- and that’s what we pray for - God can change hearts.  This Ecumenical service we’re having on the 10th to pray for our schools is another sign of our coming together as Christians.

We pray too on a personal level that we could each be convicted of the prejudices, discriminations, bickering – anything is not of God – anything that causes divisions.  God can change our hearts.

I want to end with a very short story.
In WWII, there was a band of soldiers fighting their way across Germany and one of the platoon was killed.  They saw a small church nearby and asked the priest if they could bury their friend in the church's cemetery, but he insisted that only people belonging to THEIR faith could be buried in this cemetery.  If you want, you can bury him outside the fence, though.  The guys were kind of put-off, but what else could they do - they buried their comrade outside the fence.  The next morning, they passed the church one last time as they were leaving the area, and their friend's grave was now inside the fence!  During the night, the priest had moved the fence!!

God can heal our divisions - He can change hearts - and He can even move fences.

(867:3) Ezekiel 37:15-19,21b-22, 26-28
15* Thus the word of the LORD came to me: 16As for you, son of man, take one stick and write on it, “Judah and those Israelites associated with it.” Then take another stick and write on it: “Joseph, Ephraim’s stick, and the whole house of Israel associated with it.” 17Join the two sticks together so they become one stick in your hand. 18When your people ask you, “Will you not tell us what you mean by all this?” 19answer them: Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the stick of Joseph, now in Ephraim’s hand, and the tribes of Israel associated with it, and join to it the stick of Judah, making them one stick; they shall become one in my hand.f 21b I will soon take the Israelites from among the nations to which they have gone and gather them from all around to bring them back to their land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one king for them all. They shall never again be two nations, never again be divided into two kingdoms.g
26j I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them. I will multiply them and put my sanctuary among them forever. 27My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.k 28Then the nations shall know that I, the LORD, make Israel holy, by putting my sanctuary among them forever.

(869) Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13
R. (see 10c) Lord, gather your scattered people.
Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD's blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
R. Lord, gather your scattered people.

(868:7) 1 Timothy 2:5-8
  There is one God.
  There is also one mediator between God and men,
  the man Christ Jesus,
  who gave himself as ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed preacher and Apostle
  (I am speaking the truth, I am not lying),
  teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
  lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

GOSPEL   (871:8)  John 17:20-26
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
"Holy Father, I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them."

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