Summary: Once we give ourselves over to Our Lord, we compose new melodies with our members.
Seventh Sunday After Pentecost 2017
A few weeks ago I was driving in the Bandera Road area and I passed a little building that advertised itself as an “Acts 2:38 church.” I have a good friend who grew up in a church like that so I understood pretty much what they were claiming. On Pentecost Day St. Peter stood up to interpret what the crowd of Jews from all over the world were hearing in their own language. St. Luke’s account says this about the crowd: ‘they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “repent and be baptized.”
So Acts 2:38 seems to be a summary of what God expects of us who have turned our hearts entirely to Him. It’s pretty simple. Many evangelical communities have made it even simpler: say the “sinner’s prayer” and trust in Jesus, our Lord, and you will be saved. Your sins are forgiven and then no matter what you do from then on you’re bound for heaven. Many don’t even believe in the necessity of baptism, or in its sacramental character. This is a good example of squeezing one passage of Scripture so hard that you strangle the Gospel message. That’s the essence of heresy, and it hurts those who preach it, and hurts those who believe it. Just saying that Jesus is your Lord doesn’t make you a follower of Jesus. You actually have to follow Jesus, doing the will of the Father.
The Catholic Church preaches the full Gospel as handed down over nearly two thousand years by the apostles and their bishop successors. From time to time our reflection on that Gospel needs to be perfected by going back to the fundamentals. So let’s talk about God, and the human response to the existence of God.
Our Introit today is very revealing: “Quonium Dominus excelsus terribilis.” Your English missal probably uses the word “terrible.” That’s a difficult rendering for a modern ear. To most of us, terrible means “awful, ignoble, nasty.” No way to think about God. The better word, I think, is awesome. Realizing that this being created everything out of nothing, and has revealed Himself to us weak humans, should be awe-inspiring. And, yes, a little terrifying, because we know we have not lived up to His expectations.
So we should look at the Gradual psalm as well: “Come to Him and be enlightened and your faces shall not be confounded.” In other words, God is and wants to be very close to us, healing us and uplifting us and filling us with peace and joy.
As with many aspects of our religion, there is a “both. . .and” connected with this attitude we must have toward God. We look to God with awe and reverence, and we look to God with affection and joy. That fusion of two almost contrary approaches is what we mean by “fear of the Lord.” And that is a virtue that is infused by the Holy Ghost into our hearts. It’s a gift that we should practice every day. We can’t have too much, and we need both aspects in balance. One of my teachers explained it like this: We need to love the Lord so much that we are afraid of displeasing Him in the least way. That’s a healthy fear entirely appropriate for a child of God.
How shall we live so that we bear good fruit? St. Paul today gives us the secret. “just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.” The Greek word we translate as “member” is melos, which is also the root word of “melody.” Our members are our physical arms and legs and eyes and ears and every other organ, any part of us that we can use for good or evil actions. Paul reminds us that before we surrendered ourselves to Christ under the tutelage of the Church, we were using our “meloi” to sing a violent or envious or slothful or proud song, one that led to evil fruits. We were led by our passions, our disordered emotions, to do evil. It could have been embezzlement, or gossip, or contraception, or some act of physical or verbal abuse. You know that when you do evil, it’s because your faculties become disordered by your emotions. That’s my story, anyway.
Once we give ourselves over to Our Lord, we compose new melodies with our members. We use our hands to frame a house for Habitat, or to write out a check for the Church’s work. We order our sexual lives according to the good of our spouses and families. We use our lips to encourage others to virtue, or to volunteer for religious education. Isn’t that a song we can all sing along with?