Sunday, May 2, 2010

5th Sunday of Easter 2010

Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection transformed his disciples. Following those first few days that his disciples sat cowering in fear in an upper room in Jerusalem, the succeeding months had Jesus’ disciples growing in grace, confidence and courage.

On fire with their faith, the disciples hit the road again proclaiming Christ’s salavific story and more often through their loving deeds – eating with sinners, restoring sight to the blind, freeing those possessed by evil spirits. And all this in the face of detractors, who often rallied opposition, imprisoned them, ran them out of their towns, and even – at times – tried to kill them. And yet they continued … often returning to those very same towns where they met opposition … refusing to withdraw their message of God's love even though it led him to their cross. Try Lystra – a rather daring stop on Paul's part since the last time he was there he was stoned by a mob and left for dead!

Impelled, on fire with the gift of their faith, they drew many more members together, appointing leaders, and a new, young church awakened.

What drew them together? A dynamic vision for a coming Kingdom.

“I, John, saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, and I heard a loud voice, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race … and there will be no more death for the old order has passed away.”

And, this new city that John speaks of in the Book of Revelation is not some far away Kingdom that only appears at the end of time. Every time you and I, individually and together as the People of God – in faith – remember who Jesus is, the one who hung out with those pushed aside, the one who at the table took the role of a slave bending down to wash his disciples feet; Every time we remember that Jesus gave up his very life on the cross for the sin of humankind; Every time we open our hearts in love to another, through our acts of justice, compassion, healing, forgiveness, encouragement, peace-making; then we take part in something very real; With every act of love, we help to forward this strategic vision of a new city, the new Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, wherein all tears are wiped away and all pain is alleviated.

I experienced this firsthand last summer in Burundi.

Visiting Maggie Barenkitze in her hometown, Ruyigi – she first took us to a place called the Garage of Angels. Getting out of the car, she led us to the back of the garage, where about 20 young men - gathered around a table – learned how to put a car engine together. Here in this training center war orphans and ex-child soldiers, who once clashed with one another, now stood side by side learning practical life skills while peacefully sharing the same space in friendship and mutual respect, regardless of whether they were Hutu or Tutsi.

Our second stop took us out to the edge of town, to a recently finished housing development. Driving down a side road, we parked in front of a small masonry-style home with a corrugated metal roof. Walking around to the front of the house, we met two Hutu women, both blind and one suffering from leprosy. Both sat on their front porch, weaving baskets for the next day’s market. Across the way from their home sat another woman, a Tutsi, with her two-year-old daughter. Because she was able to see, she sat sorting the rice for the evening’s dinner for the first two women.

As we left, I thought to myself “In many ways what Maggie is building is paradise, a place where hope can dwell and where Hutu and Tutsi can work and live together side by side in peace and reconciliation.”

Maggie’s example is only one of many … any of one of us can call to mind inspiring stories of modern day saints who with their lives through their very hands have created this holy city, wherein God dwells! The martyrs of El Salvador, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa or Pope John Paul II, perhaps even our grandparents … and any one of our peers. Their faith rouses our faith … moves our hearts to make a difference … to love as Jesus commanded … to help build up God’s Kingdom with our two hands.

It is with our very lives. With these, our two hands, and God’s grace that we are empowered leaders for a just and humane world forwarding the strategic vision of God, of co-creating and co-laboring with God so that together we can transform the world!

One caveat, though! How is this love – that Jesus commands us to – modeled in our community? Sometimes it far easier to minister to those outside of our own community than our very own.

Look around! Are there any divisions that exist? Where are we not truthful? Where have we ignored others, pushed aside their concerns? Who are we unkind towards? Who have we not listened to? Who are we in conflict with? Holding our ground, unwilling to forgive? Where have we not taken responsibility for our wrongs?

Even in the earliest Christian communities divisions existed within its very own rank. In his letter to the Christian community at Philippi, Paul urges two of the community members to come to mutual understanding … to forgive one another. To that community Paul reminds them, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Whatever our reasons, we have a lot of work to do as we try to heal divisions, forgive hurts, care for the poorest and welcome the newcomers into our midst. Perhaps our prayer can be the one we prayed at beginning of this mass:

"O loving Christ, make us a community that mirrors your love so that we can be a sign of your resurrected presence in our world."

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