Sermons

Summary: At the time when we are most tempted to hunker down and hoard our resources for ourselves, I think the Lord is calling us to be generous with our churches and charitable institutions.

Tuesday of the 2nd Week in Easter 2020

The disciple Joseph Bar-nabas is one of the key players in the Acts of the Apostles. As the reading tells us, Joseph was given the name “Barnabas” by the leaders of the first church, the church of Jerusalem. Why? I had an experience when I was principal of a Catholic school that is relevant here. We had some success over the nine years I was with them, and that is mostly because we attained a cheerful staff that shared our Christian mission. One of the critical elements of that success was my hiring people who would tell me what I needed to do to improve. Once folks stopped telling me what I was doing wrong, or could do better, I knew it was time to retire.

There was one math teacher–a wonderful woman who came to us after a career in public education–who came to me one day and said she had to fuss with me about something. She had seen me remonstrating with students on a couple of occasions about their behavior. The teacher reminded me that I had a perfectly competent assistant principal who took care of student discipline, and she was correct. Her advice was simple–spend my time encouraging students, instead of fussing at them. I tried to take her advice, and it changed the whole perception and morale of the school. I was learning to become, like Joseph in this story, a “son of encouragement.” So should we all. Even secular advisors with no religious background tell managers that they should direct their employees using two or three “attaboys” for every fuss.

Saint John reminds us today of Jesus’s teaching moment with the Pharisee Nicodemus, helping him understand what is meant by being “born again” or “born from above.” And John leaves us right on the verge of that famous John 3:16 that we used to see all the time in the endzone of football stadiums: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Now we have seen and heard those words so many times that we might not understand how revolutionary that statement is.

You see, ancient people and lots of modern people have entirely the wrong idea about the world of the divine. Pagans considered every force of nature, and many of the bad acts of humans, to be the result of gods fighting with each other or entertaining themselves at human expense. So war in the heavens brought about war on the earth. Zeus hurled thunderbolts at us when he got mad at Hera. Those fears caused the ancients to sacrifice to the gods to keep them from getting upset with them. But it gave the human race a bad case of terrible theology, because the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, David and the prophets, wasn’t like that at all.

And when God intervened in history to show His love most perfectly, He did so in the person of His Son. God loved and loves us so much that He gave us Jesus as exemplar, healer, teacher, priest and sacrificial victim. We commemorate that action at every Mass, and we take His body, blood, soul and divinity in communion, so that we might have eternal life, eternal communion with the blessed Trinity. That means God doesn’t play with us as toys, He respects us as beings He makes fit for divinization. God became human so that humans could become divine.

And what do we do, or should do, in response? Since Jesus loves us to His own personal detriment (remember that humans murdered Him), we are challenged to pour out our lives similarly for the sake of others. We are called to bring to others what they need, for spirit, soul and body. That’s why Joseph Bar-nabas sold a field and brought the proceeds to the apostles, to fulfill the call he heard from Christ through the apostles.

We are now in the midst of a double crisis–a medical emergency because of a world-wide plague has led to an economic slowdown unparalleled in the life of anyone here. Who are being hit the hardest? The poor and those who care for the poor. That means charities and churches are experiencing a huge divot in their cash flow just when the poor need their help the most. Some of us have significant wealth. Let’s become sons and daughters of encouragement, like Barnabas. At the time when we are most tempted to hunker down and hoard our resources for ourselves, I think the Lord is calling us to be generous with our churches and charitable institutions. In our time of crisis, in our sinful condition, was God not generous in ways we could never duplicate? It’s time to be courageous and to share. Blessed be God who has given us this moment in time to make a contribution toward the good.

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